REVIEW: ‘Foxcatcher’

Carell and Tatum

Bennett Miller has only directed a handful of feature films: Capote, the stark, ominous true-crime  story behind gay author Truman Capote’s efforts to write his masterpiece, In Cold Blood; and Moneyball, about A’s manager Billy Bean’s formula for for turning a last-place ball club into pennant champs. Combine the catchwords of both those films: True-life, gay, sports, crime, murder, even one-word title … all elements that emerge, in various levels, in Miller’s newest effort, Foxcatcher. It could — should? — be the perfect confluence of topic and talent. But while there’s no denying the craftsmanship and sincerity that goes into the film, it’s also difficult to shake the sense that there isn’t enough undergirding its tone, its artistry, its seriousness.

The film is based on actual events that, while shocking at the time, haven’t lived on in popular culture like they might have. Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) hasn’t lived well off the glory of a gold medal, remaining in the shadow of his more legendary older brother David (Mark Ruffalo). Then one day the eccentric billionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell) calls on him: How would Mark like to join Du Pont and his band of merry athletes at his Foxcatcher estate to train for the next Olympics? Du Pont fancies himself a world-class coach and sports benefactor — equal parts Bela Karolyi, Vince Lombardi and Tex Schramm, but it’s apparent to everyone but him he’s merely a world-class creep. Du Pont — remote, humorless, socially awkward, patently sexually repressed and lacking in any self-awareness — is a professional dilettante, a dabbler who has found the homoerotic world of pro wrestling as a weird outlet for his need for masculine physical contact. He writes laudatory speeches about himself for others to deliver. He creates a seniors wrestling league so that he might win a trophy. He commissions a documentary about himself and dictates the outcome. (It is not, in the world of the film, totally his fault. He is part of a profoundly disconnected family that has a history of making documentaries about themselves. The rich really are different from you and me.)

Tatum and Ruffalo

You know — both because pre-opening press mentions it, and the tone of the film practically projects its ominous outcome from get-go — that Du Pont is a brittle twig who will snap and commit a seemingly senseless act of violence, a crime made more tragic because of its pointlessness. You hope that the goal of the movie will be to provide context — to frame the crime and make it seem less random than inevitable. You want to, if not assign blame, figure out not just what happened by why.

And that’s where Foxcatcher fails. Indeed, it never even comes close.

There are many images and a spooky vibe that linger after the film ends, but what you never get is a sense of purpose. Miller has made a haunting story that doesn’t haunt you, a tragedy with no flawed protagonist to sympathize for. The film, like John Du Pont, is a cypher.

Miller has allowed all the artists involved so much latitude to create that he seems to have forgotten his role is to unite them together. I venture to guess that half the below-the-line budget was spent on singlets, nose putty and false teeth: Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo are all made the physically transform for their roles, getting seemingly lost in the characters, the way Philip Seymour Hoffman did in Capote. But Hoffman had a deceiver’s heart at work behind the scenes; you could tell what he was thinking. Carell is a wall of unfathomable mystery, like the patients in the criminally-insane wards of bad horror movies. You can’t understand him, just observe him. All of which keeps everything perpetually on the surface.

The actors are all quite good at their impersonations: Tatum is lurching and damaged, and you feel for him as an inarticulate man daring to find a form of expression that makes sense to him; Ruffalo’s big-brother pal-ness feels lived in, his accent authentic; and Carell is sometimes so strange that it gives you gooseflesh. But their characters, like the pacing and tone of the film, never alter. Miller’s preoccupation with silences and stillness begins to feel like a cheat, a substitute for figuring out these characters and really providing insight. (The horrible events for which the entire incident is remembered occur in the final minutes of the film, with only a few post-script paragraphs to inform us of what eventually happened. Wikipedia is more informative.)

Foxcatcher has a distinct European air to it, not unlike Capote, but without the passion that European films usually find simmering beneath. It’s OK to be cold, but to make the audience care, there has to be a spark of humanity. This film never generates that kind of heat.

Two and half stars. Now playing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ’22 Jump Street’

Ice Cube;Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum

I confess that I never watched 21 Jump Street — not the late-’80s cop show with Johnny Depp, not the spoofy movie comedy from 2012 with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. No judgment there — I just didn’t imagine either would be my thing.

So I went into 22 Jump Street open-eyed: Not with low expectations, but rather no expectations. And the result? An unexpectedly laugh-filled two hours of enjoyably wasted time. That’s because 22 Jump Street knows what it is — a craven, ridiculous sequel intended more to make money that achieve art. Indeed, the front quarter of the film is laden down with jokes about how much more expensive everything is — the operations headquarters, the investigation at a college, etc. “As if doubling the budget will double to grosses,” one of the undercover cops (played by Hill and Tatum) smirks.

And that’s the thing: They are, like the audience, always aware they are in a movie. And they have fun. So we do, too.

The plot (as they suggest, stolen directly from 21 Jump) involved these mismatched 30-year-olds posing (ineffectively) as teenagers, this time at Metro City University. Jenko (Tatum) enjoys the college experience — and why wouldn’t he? He’s a stud, a football star, a popular fraternity pledge. Schmidt (Hill), though, is still the lovable loser, the pudgy, nervous kid who creeps people out.

They get a lot of mileage out of the Mutt-and-Jeff combo, with some hilarious riffing on looking like adults, being narcs, etc. Like Judd Apatow movies, there’s a sense that much of this is improvised; unlike Apatow, it doesn’t rely on men sitting around a table constantly one-upping each other in some pot-fueled fantasy of what men talk like. This is a pretension-free film, like the Airplane! movies — the point is simply to chuckle.

And chuckle, guffaw and knee-slap you do, thanks to the enjoyable comic energy between Hill and Tatum, and the bromantic, homoerotic interplay between Tatum and, well, every other man on screen. (Hey, when you have Magic Mike in your movie, you gotta expect some swooning, even by other men.) It’s all in service of the best thing a heartless, money-grubbing summer blockbuster wannabe can be: Worth your time.

Opens in wide release Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

It’s official: ‘Magic Mike: The Musical’ will be headed to Broadway

Mike

It’s become depressing how many Broadway musicals aren’t truly original, but start off as movies first, from The Lion King to Kinky Boots. But we can’t say we’re upset to learn that last year’s hit male stripper movie, Magic Mike, will be headed to Broadway as Magic Mike: The Musical, Deadline is reporting.

Talk of a stage musical has been around for a while now, but this week the film’s producer and star, Channing Tatum, officially confirmed that Next to Normal composers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey will write the songs. And now-omnipresent gay scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Glee, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the upcoming Carrie remake) will write the book to the show.

That last bit of news gives us hope. Even the film’s director, Steven Soderbergh, acknowledged that gay men really turned out to make the film a hit. Aguirre-Sacasa could well add a gay subplot to the script. And we can wait to see how they do the penis-pumping scene.

No word yet on whether any cast members from the film will be in the show, or even when the production will make it to the Great White Way, but trust us: We’ll be in line at TKTS as soon as it is.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

National Pride month is almost over, but there are still a few things you can do to prove how gay you are.  For example, Dallas’ first-ever gay darts tourney starts this weekend, and it’s not too late to late-register. And The Real L Word makes a Dallas appearance for ladies’ night out at Winston’s Supperclub on Sunday … which, I guess, is technically not June anymore, but still ….

July 4 falls awkwardly mid-week this year, but you can still head up to Addison for Kaboom Town on Tuesday night, or go out to see The Amazing Spider-Man, which opens Tuesday and promises to be one of the summer’s box office hits; the movie is not bad, either — look for a review next week.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie Monday: Eye some beef at ‘The Eagle’

Homoeroticism fuels the beefcake battles of ‘Eagle’

The first great gay love story of 2011 is here, though you have to read between the lines to see it. The Eagle is part of the historical beefcake genre (formerly known as the sword and sandal flick), re-popularized by Gladiator and 300. Fans of the latter will be disappointed to see these Romans wearing more than those Greeks, though they do occasionally shed their tops and sleep in loincloths.

You might rather see Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in a dance-off than playing a master and slave who exchange roles — or maybe you wouldn’t. At least they have choreographed battle scenes, and a fight that gives them an excuse to roll around on the ground together.

Read the entire review here.

—  Rich Lopez

Screen Review: ‘The Eagle’

BIRDS OF A FEATHER | Shields and longswords give homoerotic meaning to the master-slave relationship in ‘The Eagle.’

Roman holiday

Homoeroticism fuels the beefcake battles of ‘Eagle’

STEVE WARREN  | Contributing Writer
thinhead@mindspring.com

The first great gay love story of 2011 is here, though you have to read between the lines to see it. The Eagle is part of the historical beefcake genre (formerly known as the sword and sandal flick), re-popularized by Gladiator and 300. Fans of the latter will be disappointed to see these Romans wearing more than those Greeks, though they do occasionally shed their tops and sleep in loincloths.

You might rather see Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in a dance-off than playing a master and slave who exchange roles — or maybe you wouldn’t. At least they have choreographed battle scenes, and a fight that gives them an excuse to roll around on the ground together.

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is trying to restore the honor of his family and Rome by recapturing the symbolic eagle — the original gold standard — that disappeared 20 years before, along with 5,000 troops of the Ninth Legion under his father’s command. He volunteers for duty in Britain, near where the Ninth was last seen. When he arrives there’s a shot of some men checking him out that could have come from a prison movie. He immediately takes charge and orders the fort redecorated.

Wounded and transferred after a disastrous attack, Marcus saves that slave Esca (Bell) from a gladiator. That’s when Marcus’ uncle (Donald Sutherland), with a matchmaking gleam in his eye, assigns Esca to serve Marcus; Esca does so, “even though I hate everything you stand for.” They then meet Guern (Mark Strong), a survivor of the Ninth, who directs them to the “painted warriors” who have the eagle.

Those colorful natives have maintained their fighting skills, even though there’s no sign of anyone for them to fight. Esca and Marcus swap identities, with Marcus posing as the slave. The plot then comes down to the adage, “If you love somebody set them free.” And how far that love goes … well, that’s where the mind wanders wildly.

Tatum, though not a bad actor, is out of his depth here. It doesn’t help that he occasionally picks up an accent from one or another of his co-stars, who come from all over the Anglo-American map. Bell gives Esca the same fierce determination Billy Elliot had, but less ambiguity than the script demands.

That The Eagle was directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) explains why it looks like a class act. His battle scenes are the trendy chaotic sort, offering no context for individual close-up conflicts and making you wait until the dust clears to figure out what happened.

As serious historical fiction The Eagle doesn’t soar but neither does it crash. As a bromance … please! Closeted as it is, The Eagle may be the hottest gay love story until Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar has Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer going at it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Is Bella spinning her wheels? Patz may be gay

Maybe he's faking it. He is pretending to be a vampire, after all.
Maybe he’s faking it. He is pretending to be a vampire, after all.

There’s speculation out there that the star of Twilight might be gay … the wrong Twlight star from my perspective, but we work with what we got.

Robert Pattinson (not Taylor Lautner — sigh!) gave an interview to Details magazine where he claimed to be “allergic” to vaginas. “I really hate vaginas,” he told the reporter, following a 12-hour photo shoot with many women. He also dodged the question of whether he was dating anyone, saying only his current and most meaningful relationship is with his dog.

How much of this is hoo-ha manufactured by the blogosphere is anyone’s guess — maybe he was just waxing about the numbing effect of nudity — but that hasn’t stopped sites like MTV Australia from reporting it as basically news: Robert Pattinson has indirectly come out.

Please. I know what coming out looks like, and it’s not that.

Nevertheless, it’s worth reading just to hear Edward Cullen — who, keep in mind, no one had even heard of 18 months ago — say something other than the dreadful trite dialogue of thse terrible, terrible movies.

You can read the interview here. though if I were you, I might scroll over to the interview with Channing Tatum, where he talks about his penis in detail. Even shows the interviewer a picture of it.

I need to get that gig.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones