"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Avengers: Infinity War - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars                  

Popcorn Curve* Rating: 3.9 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you love or are even lukewarm for super hero movies, then definitely see Infinity War in the theatre. 

Avengers: Infinity War, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen Feely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the famed superhero cooperative The Avengers, as they try and stop super-villian Thanos from taking control of the universe. The film stars…well...just about everybody, including, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana, just to name a few. 

Like all red-blooded Americans, over the years I have paid my fare share of Disney taxes to our Mouse-eared overlords presiding over us from their lair at the Happiest Place on Earth®. Just in the last year alone I have already paid hard earned cash to Mickey Mouse to see The Last JediSpider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther and now Infinity War and will no doubt see Solo: A Star Wars Story when it comes out at the end of the month. I have usually been underwhelmed by Mickey's moviemaking prowess and at the end of the day have felt cheated by the Disney tax man. That trend was reversed with my journey to the theatre to see Infinity War.

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Infinity War is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third of the Avenger films, and is the first of the bunch to not feel like a complete commercial for itself. Having sat through the majority, but not all, of the previous Marvel movies, I have to say that Infinity War is easily head and shoulders above all the rest, and is worlds better than the previous two Avenger films. 

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What I appreciated about Infinity War was that unlike all the other Marvel movies it had a villain, Thanos, who is a complex character that is not only worthy of The Avengers as an adversary, but of my attention. Thanos embodies an existential struggle that is much more complicated than just wanting the world to bend the knee to him, which is a refreshing change from previous Marvel ventures.

To the film's credit, Thanos may appear at first glance to be the embodiment of all evil, but upon closer inspection through the lens of Josh Brolin's CGI enhanced performance and the character's motivations, he is revealed to be less a villain of epic proportions than a misunderstood hero who has taken an unbearable burden upon his muscular shoulders out of noble if misguided intentions. 

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Unlike Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and the rest who reside in a Manichean world of black and white, Thanos must make hard decisions from the moral and ethical grey area in which our reality truly exists. Unlike his alleged "good" adversaries, Thanos does not get to cut corners or have happy endings, he is only left with the burden of his calling and the consequences of his choice which make him a multidimensional and pretty fascinating character. 

Infinity War also succeeds because it challenges our conditioning and embraces the notion that there are no easy Hollywood answers to be found, and I found that extremely refreshing after having sat through over a dozen predictable, world destroying, sense assaulting Marvel movies over the years. 

To be clear, I don't think Avengers: Infinity War is a great movie, but I do think it is a very good super hero movie. It, like all other super hero films, pales in comparison to Christopher Nolan's masterful Dark Knight Trilogy, but that is so high a bar I doubt anyone will ever reach it, never mind exceed it. 

The problems with Infinity War are less specific to this film than they are systemic to the genre, and they include too much cringe-worthy dialogue, too much snark, too much mindless destruction and in general…well…just too much.

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And yes, I know I am nitpicking here, but some of the performances in Infinity War are so bad as to be distracting. Mark Ruffalo may very well be the best actor in The Avenger movies but his performance in Infinity War is so abysmally wooden and out of sync as to be startling. I was actually embarrassed for Ruffalo watching him half ass his way through the movie, spewing out his dialogue with such vacuity he seemed more like an extra in a community theater production than an multiple Oscar nominee. 

Another issue I had with the film is an issue I have with all Marvel movies and that is that I find the cinematography to be pretty lackluster. These Marvel films all appear so flat and visually dull to me, and their failure to use color or shadow to further propel the narrative or reinforce the sub-text is a cinema sin. Infinity War, like almost all big budget studio films, relies heavily upon CGI, which I feel is not quite where it needs to be in terms of visual quality and dramatic realism.

But besides Ruffalo, the hackneyed dialogue and my cinematography snobbery, Infinity War kept me captivated for the entire two hours and thirty minutes, which is no small accomplishment. It did so because the fight scenes were, for the most part, interesting, original and well-choreographed and the storyline was dramatically compelling due to a sense of the good guys being in genuine peril. 

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I also must say that even though the preceding Marvel movies were entirely underwhelming, you could not have made Infinity War without them. The rather boring, paint by numbers, eighteen pieces of manufactured Marvel cinematic junk preceding Infinity War did effectively introduce all of the relevant characters to the audience, and so since we know them, we have at least a minimal investment in them heading into Infinity War, which excels at dramatically exploiting our connection to its characters. 

It is no small achievement what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel money making machine. Infinity War has pulled in nearly a billion dollars in just its first week in theaters, which will add to the incredible $15 billion haul (on a $4 billion investment) thus far for the Marvel franchise films. For Disney to keep the franchise coherent, interwoven and so fantastically financially successful is an incredible Hollywood achievement (even if it may be killing the movie industry and cinema in the process…but that is a discussion for another day), especially when you compare it to the more mundane results of the DC Comics/Warner Brothers collaboration.

In conclusion, I was genuinely surprised how much I liked Infinity War, especially considering how much I disliked most of the previous Marvel movies. If you are even a lukewarm fan of super hero films, I recommend you definitely go see Infinity War in the theatre. If you despise super hero movies then it stands to reason that you'll despise Infinity War because it packs more super heroes per capita than any other movie of which I can think. 

One word of warning though for parents, I do not think Infinity War is suitable for kids. I would put the cutoff at maybe 12, but your mileage may vary. The reason being is that there are some pretty heavy themes presented and also there is some surprising cursing. As for adults who like acting like kids, go see Infinity War in the theatre, it is well worth the time and energy of super hero fans. 

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating which judges a film solely on its cinematic merits.

FILM COMMENTARY

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!****

 

****THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING…MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

 

In 2016 Captain America: Civil War came out and its themes and color palette made my take notice. The reason I was so intrigued by Civil War, was not because it was a good movie, I didn't really think it was, but because it was a remarkable piece of evidence in support of my Isaiah/McCaffrey Historical Wave Theory. 

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Civil War's poster was a vibrant battle of red versus blue, Iron Man versus Captain America. The theme of the film was that The Avengers were torn apart (due to an overseas misadventure) and divided into separate factions, globalists versus nationalists, and they went to war with one another. The film was obviously conceived, written and shot well before the 2016 election, but it was the perfect film to represent the struggle going on in America's, and the world's, collective consciousness. 

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Added to Civil War, was the fact that another big blockbuster superhero movie had similar themes and color palette…Batman V Superman. The posters for BvS were also a striking blue versus red, Batman (blue) versus Superman (red). While the words civil war were not in the title, civil war was the best way to describe the theme and sub-text of BvS

The third film of 2016 which resonated with the McCaffrey Wave Theory was X-Men: Apocalypse. That film also highlighted a civil war-esque level of infighting between different faction of mutants aka X-Men, although its poster and its box office made it much less relevant. 

When all three of these films came out in the same year as our very contentious presidential election, it was proof positive that the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory was an accurate way to measure the turmoil bubbling just beneath the conscious surface of the masses. (The Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory accurately predicted in the face of much scorn Trump's and Brexit's victories in 2016). 

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The reason for this quick look back at super hero movies as they relate to my Wave Theory, is that watching Infinity War through the prism of my Wave Theory, was very unsettling. The themes present in the film are pretty obvious to any cinephile with the will to look, namely globalists, in the form of Iron Man and his crew, are able to convince the nationalists, Captain America and his crew, to fight an external enemy that is an existential threat to the status quo and the world order…Thanos. 

To see it another way is to see it as globalist capitalism (Avengers) versus a sort of nationalist post-capitalism (Thanos). Thanos wants to wipe out half the population of the universe because of dwindling resources, so that the other half can live and prosper in peace and harmony. Thanos is not choosing who lives or dies based on their race, creed, class, power or religion, it is totally random who is to be eliminated and who is to live. 

Iron Man and the rest of The Avengers see that as immoral, unethical and evil, and they fight with all they have to make sure that the status quo, where questions of resources, class and social power are never addressed, reign supreme. The sub-text of Infinity War is a sort of Sophie's Choice, with Thanos choosing and The Avengers refusing to choose, which ultimately is a moral and ethical conundrum due to the fact that, like iconic Canadian arena rockers Rush tell us, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice". 

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Late stage globalist capitalism is equivalent to a cancer upon the planet, devastating and exploiting natural resources and human populations as it spreads across our world. Like cancer, this form of capitalism can only survive if it is expanding, therefore stasis is death, and it must devour everything in its path, which eventually will include the planet we all live on. 

Iron Man is the face of multi-national corporate power (Stark Industries), and he must keep American capitalism alive at all costs, because if it dies, he dies. Captain America's nationalist impulses are very quickly co-opted and overridden in the face of a threat to the globalist capitalist order. Although it is never articulated that Iron Man and the globalists have defeated Captain America and the nationalists, it is very clear this is the case when Captain America and company come out of hiding to fight side by side with the globalists to defeat the establishment destroying power of Thanos. 

The fact that the "good guys" in a Disney film are fighting to save American "free market" capitalism is not the least bit shocking…especially when Disney is on the verge of acquiring 20th Century Fox which will give them an astounding 40% market share of the domestic film market. Disney undoubtedly is the height of globalist corporate power in media, and in Infinity War they have recruited The Avengers to fight their ideological battle to the death. 

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Thanos on the other hand, may have a very bad solution indeed, mass exterminations, to the resource scarcity issue, but at least he is addressing it, which none of the The Avengers dare do. The Avengers only solution is for them to fight tooth and nail for the right to close their eyes and whistle past the graveyard, in other words to make sure that things stay the same, which is untenable and will eventually result in the death and destruction of the entire human race and the planet earth. When comparing those two solutions, Thanos versus The Avengers, as cruel as Thanos' solution is…the chilling reality is that it is the only one that is viable long term. And the even more complicated and unsettling thought is that as unconscionable as Thanos' solution is, it may be the most moral and ethical if the choices are do nothing and do something awful. 

Thanos is symbolic of the uncomfortable questions that America, and the world, desperately ignore, and they do so at their own peril. If Thanos were a presidential candidate, he certainly would not be a centrist Democrat or Republican (or in Euro terms, a Merkel or Macron) like Iron Man and Captain America, no, Thanos would not be part of the centrist establishment at all. Thanos would be a sort of "independent" (meaning he defines himself in opposition to the old establishment) authoritarian (for example- a sort of amalgam of Xi, Mao, Putin and Stalin), who would have harsh, cold-hearted and brutal answers to the questions of immigration, income inequality, global warming and empire that would come at a very high cost to humanity…but he would also bring a solution to the problem of terrorism, environmental degradation, resource scarcity and resource-fueled wars. 

In regards to the Wave Theory, Infinity War is what I consider a level 6 force on the Wave Scale because it is not as dynamic and distinctive visually in terms of color palette (for example, its poster is rather visually mundane without any dominant colors never mind something as obvious as red versus blue) as say Civil War or BvS (both level 9) and also because it not only has no other big budget film buttressing its theme as Civil War did with BvS, but DC's Justice League and Marvel's Black Panther have optimistic narratives that counter it a bit. That said, the reason Infinity War is intriguing is because it portends an ultimate end/destruction to the status quo, and that in and of itself is a staggering statement in a mainstream blockbuster, never mind the fact that so many iconic, archetypal characters vanish before our eyes in the film's final scenes.

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Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the best of the Star Wars films, hit theaters in 1980 and was a sign post for the rising American empire of the coming Reagan years whose laissez-faire, trickle down, Wall Street friendly economics has dominated the globe for the past 38 years, Infinity War is hinting at the end of that system, and the coming of a new one. What that system is, be it a Chinese style-authoritarian controlled capitalism, a neo-Marxism, an authoritarian nationalist socialism, or something else, I have no idea, but if history is any guide, it will be a fierce backlash to the greed fueled corporate globalism of the Reagan era (1981 to now). And if Infinity War, which is quickly eclipsing at the box office and in the cultural consciousness the thematic optimism of Black Panther (not to mention that Black Panther himself, and all he represents, is obliterated in Infinity War), is any guide, the transition to this new system will be tumultuous to say the least. 

Another similarity between Infinity War and The Empire Strikes Back is that main characters symbolizing "good" are "killed". In Infinity War there are a plethora of super heroes turned to dust, and in Empire, Han Solo is frozen. But just like Solo was unfrozen in the Return of the Jedi, I have no doubt that all of the now vaporized superheroes will return in the next Avengers movie (Disney ain't turning off the Marvel money machine just to maintain narrative integrity!). But just because the actions in Infinity War, just like those in Empire Strikes Back, are cinematically reversed, does not mean that they do not hold the secret to what lies ahead for our collective consciousness. The turning point of the collapse of the establishment genie is out of the bottle (collective consciousness), and reviving a coterie of evaporated superheroes will not change that fact in the wider consciousness. 

Think of it this way…if, for example, there is another 2008 level meltdown in our economy, then the political and financial establishment are toast. Apres the unbridled corruption of Reagan (Bush/Trump/Clinton etc.) era American Capitalism, le deluge. The deluge is Thanos. Prepare accordingly while you can. 

©2018

Spotlight : A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONATINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

MY RATING : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!!

Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, is the true story of a team of reporters from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team, who investigate and report on child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston Diocese. The film stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Liev Schrieber.

Spotlight is one of the very best films of the year. It is a tense drama, exquisitely acted by a sterling cast, deftly directed and intricately edited. Spotlight is the type of film that seems like it could have been made during cinema's golden age in the 1970's. It feels like a distant cousin of that decades All the President's Men, another story of journalism and hard-driving reporters investigating a scandal deep at the heart of a thought to be untouchable power. Interestingly enough, in Spotlight, John Slattery plays Boston Globe journalist and editor Ben Bradlee Jr., the son of famed Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, one of the key players at the Post during their Watergate reporting, who was played by Jason Robards in All the President's Men.

Even though Spotlight is set in the late 1990's and early 2000's, it is really an insightful period piece about the last days of the relevancy of newspapers, and of the dying craft of investigative journalism. The film pays homage to the last generation of journalists who will have had the opportunity to work full-time doing investigative reporting for a newspaper. Corporatism and the internet have devastated the newspaper industry, and Spotlight shows us that industry's last gasp, and what we are missing now that it is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Spotlight is also about the scourge of institutional blindness and the insidiousness of silence in the face of that blindness. The willful institutional blindness of the church, the press, the courts and law enforcement, and of the people of the city of Boston is on full display in the film. At its heart, Spotlight is really an indictment of the city and the people of Boston. Boston is one of the most parochial places you could ever imagine. For a place filled with legendary institutions of higher learning, it is remarkably narrow-minded and short-sighted. As the film shows us, the suffocating claustrophobia, knee-jerk myopia and the vicious parochialism of Boston created a toxic brew of dysfunction, arrogance and deference in which predatory priests and the Church hierarchy thrived. Only an outsider could break the spell of Boston's willful blindness, and in Spotlight that role is played by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, a Jewish editor from Miami who is new to the city and the Globe, and not beholden to the Church. Baron is the one who instigates the Spotlight team into investigating the church and pushes them to dig deeper and reach higher up the hierarchy in their work.

When the story of Spotlight ends, and the indictment of Boston is complete, a very long list of other cities and town scrolls across the screen. These cities and towns are places where other Catholic sex abuse scandals have been uncovered, and the viewer gets the dawning realization that Spotlight isn't an indictment against the city and people of Boston, it is an indictment against all of us, no matter where we live. We are all guilty of the same blindness and cowardice, to one degree or another, on display in Spotlight.

Director Tom McCarthy and his editors do a spectacular job deftly maneuvering the viewer through the morass of the allegations and the cover up at the heart of the film. He keeps a solid and steady dramatic pace, never letting the story lose steam or the viewer lose interest. McCarthy shows a great skill in pacing and tempo throughout the film. Spotlight is littered with detailed little gems which frame and shape each scene and propel the story through the entirety of the film. McCarthy is an actor himself, and his understanding of acting is on full display in Spotlight. He keeps the scenes tight and the actors loose. McCarthy directs the drama to be  vibrant, but never pushes the pace too hard that we lose the subtlety, specificity and humanity at the heart of each of the performances.

The acting on display in the film is exquisite across the board. Even the small, local hires, playing abuse victims and local residents, hit it out of the park. This is a top-notch, professionally acted film from top to bottom. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D'arcy James play the Spotlight reporters perfectly. They bring a tangible sense of purpose and vivd detail to their work that drives each scene and ultimately the narrative of the entire film.

It is great to see Michael Keaton follow up his great artistic success in last years Birdman, with his solid work in Spotlight. Keaton is pitch-perfect as Walter "Robby" Robertson, a native son of Boston and well-respected journalist. I hope Keaton continues to make these kinds of choices in the projects that he chooses as he is such an asset to any film where he can bring his skill and experience to bear.

McAdams does the best work of her career as reporter Sacha Pfieffer.  McAdams is as grounded and genuine as she has ever been on screen. She displays a humanity and a compelling internal life that is both steady and captivating.

Mark Ruffalo follows up his terrific work in last years otherwise disappointing Foxcatcher, with a dynamic performance as reporter Michael Rezendes. Ruffalo brings a magnetic power and a tangible wound to the role that is mesmerizing. Ruffalo has been on a roll lately with great work and Spotlight is some of his best.

Both Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci have smaller roles but they do spectacular work. Both men are actors of extraordinary craft and talent, and they both bring all of their skills to bear in Spotlight. Without Schrieber and Tucci's multi-dimensional portrayals, the film would have suffered greatly.

Spotlight is the type of superbly crafted film of which I wish Hollywood would make more. Spotlight, The Big Short, which is another great film from this year, and 12 Years a Slave from 2013, all had minuscule budgets around $20 million and all of them at least more than doubled their budgets in profits. Instead of spending $100 or $200 million to make a monstrosity like The Avengers or some action piece of crap, why not take that money and make five or ten Spotlights, or The BIg Shorts or 12 Years a Slave? Those three films combined cost $60 million to make and have grossed $363 million. With moderate budgets like that, there is less risk and higher reward, as opposed to a $200 million film, which will nearly double its budget on marketing and then need to make a billion dollars just to be considered a success. Spotlight shows that good and great films can be made relatively inexpensively using just the skill, craft and talent of the people involved. I wish for all of our sakes that Hollywood would learn that lesson, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they won't. Regardless of the state of the film industry, Spotlight is proof that there are still artists out there capable of making high quality, smart films. 

In conclusion, Spotlight is one of my favorite films of the year. It teaches us hard lessons about our own cultural blindness and the price that the most vulnerable among us pay for it. It also shows us a time not long ago, when the press could, on its better days, hold those in power accountable. Those days are long gone, and Spotlight reveals to us that our culture is lesser for the loss of true investigative journalism. Spotlight is well worth your time, money and effort to go see it in the theaters. I strongly encourage you to do so. 

©2016

 

****WARNING, THIS FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT****

FROM THE KONSPIRACY KORNER!!

(This section is written by my lifelong friend and our resident conspiracist, Prof. Rev. Dr. Steve Keithans a.k.a The Mayor of Westfield. The good Professor Reverend Doctor Keithans views may or may not be the same as my own, but regardless, I am happy to share them here with you now.)

The strangest thing…when speaking with my good brother Michael McCaffrey about the film Spotlight, one of the great elements that we both noticed about the film was how fantastically well paced it is. But to my eyes there was one small hiccup which stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Films have a visual style, rhythm and pace to them. Shots are consistently framed and lit in a certain style and held for a certain length creating an unconscious rhythm for the viewer of a film. Each shot informs the shot that follows it and is informed by the one that preceded it. Spotlight quickly establishes its visual rhythm and sticks with it through the entire film…except for one…single...shot.

The shot in question takes place at exactly 1 hour 23 minutes and 22 seconds of the film. The shot is of the Boston Globe parking lot as editor Mark Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives to the office. It is a wide shot, one which we have not seen yet, nor will we see it again. We have seen this same parking lot before but only in close ups and two shots of the actors in their cars. In this shot, from a high angle wide shot, we see Baron pull his car in to the parking lot. Looming over the parking lot, and dominating the shot, is a big "AOL Anywhere" billboard and the background is the skyline of Boston. Here is a screen capture of the shot.

It is an odd shot in the context of the visual style and rhythm of the film and it is jarring to the unconscious of the viewer because it breaks that rhythm. It is pretty striking that the one shot that is out of rhythm with the entire film is that of an AOL Anywhere billboard which happens to have a giant pyramid with an all seeing eye in it. What makes the shot all the more jarring is the context of where it shows up in the film. The scene directly following this shot shows Mark Baron entering the Boston Globe office, in the foreground a group of people are gathered around a television watching breaking news. The breaking news is the 9-11 attack. Baron stops in front of the television long enough to see a jumbo jet crash into the World Trade Center. 

When I first saw the film I felt uneasy with the parking lot shot, but didn't really give it much thought. The sensation was one of slight discomfort, something just seemed off, nothing more. It was more subconscious than anything and it barely registered in my conscious mind except to say…"hmmm…that feels…off".

Upon my second viewing of the film, I was more consciously jarred by the visual anomaly, and I wondered if this was just a very unsubtle case of AOL product placement.  

Then I thought, well, maybe the director is trying to symbolically say that newspapers in general, and the Boston Globe in particular, don't know what is coming at them, the black swan theory if you will…that they are blind to their own on-coming demise in the form of AOL (the internet), much like the U.S. was blind to the 9-11 attacks. 

Then I wondered if maybe this shot has a deeper meaning that the director was not even conscious of, or maybe he was…who knows, right? Maybe the all seeing eye highlighted in that shot is symbolic of one of the shadowy "secret societies" that are known to use child sex abuse rituals when they practice their dark art. Or maybe it is symbolic of the all seeing eye of "the powers that be" in the military-intelligence-surveillance industrial complex who were either complicit or entirely behind the 9-11 attacks in order to increase their power and control by creating a "new Pearl Harbor". Or maybe those two groups, the child sex abuse ritual people, and the military-intelligence-surveillience industrial complex people are cross pollinated and are actually one in the same and this shot shows us a brief glimpse of their vast power and control…the billboard does say "AOL Everywhere" after all.

Then I wondered if maybe this shot was a secret warning from an insider of one of these groups, alerting anyone with the eyes to see that this nefarious, shadowy group was behind both the sex abuse in the Catholic church, and 9-11 and most everything we see in the media (once again…"Everywhere"). And then I wondered if this shot was indicating that another 9-11 was coming, this time aimed at Boston.

And then I wondered why my head hurt so much, and then I realized that my tinfoil hat was on way too tight. Sadly, after I removed the tinfoil hat from my head, the aching still remained…and even more unsettlingly, so did the anomaly of that shot and the all seeing eye in the pyramid looming over the city of Boston, and glaring right at me…and seeing right through me…knowing and controlling…"EVERYTHING".

©2016

FOXCATCHER and the Problem of Perspective

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WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN A FOXCATCHER VIRGIN!!

In January of 1996, John du Pont, heir to the massive du Pont family fortune, shot and killed Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Dave Schultz in front of the house Schultz lived in with his wife and two children on the sprawling du Pont family compound. I remember when this incident occurred and watching the national news stories about it, which were heightened because of du Pont's famous family name and tremendous wealth and Dave Schultz's standing as an American Olympic hero. After committing the murder John du Pont locked himself in his home and refused to come out. It all had the shades of a sort of O.J. Simpson type of situation. The stand off with police lasted two days before John du Pont was apprehended. It was a riveting, fascinating and incredible story. The one thing I remember most from watching the story unfold in real time was asking myself the question, why would a guy with so much money and power, the things we are taught to value the most here in America, throw it all away by killing an olympic hero? What was the real story? It was a compelling mystery and I always thought that answering that question would make a great movie. Which is why I was so excited to see the story made into the film Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller and starring Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

In the film, Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, an olympic wrestler and Dave Schultz's younger brother, Mark Ruffalo plays Dave Schultz and Steve Carrell plays the eccentric John du Pont. The main focus of the film is the odd relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont who is one very strange wrestling enthusiast and philanthropist.

Since nearly twenty years had passed since the murder, I had forgotten the majority of the details of the crime, and only vaguely remembered the basics of the story, and upon seeing the film I realized I had mis-remembered a lot of the actual story, so consequently I was surprised by how the story played out. Usually being surprised by a film is a really good thing, but in the case of Foxcatcher, the reason I was surprised was also the reason the film fails, and that is because the film has a gigantic problem with the basics of storytelling perspective. To illustrate my point I have to give away the end of the film, so even though I've already given a SPOILER ALERT at the top, here is your final SPOILER ALERT. 

The biggest issue with the film is that it never comes to terms with it's perspective problem. The film is shown from Mark Schultz's perspective. We see everything play out from his point of view. Miller uses the camera to show us what Mark sees through his eyes, and we hear what Mark hears, we experience the world as Mark experiences it. This technique creates a connection between the viewer and Mark. We empathize with him, we root for him, we project ourselves onto him. The choice to do this is a really critical error in telling this story. The filmmaker had basically four perspectives to choose from in telling the story. There was Dave Schultz's perspective, John du Pont's perspective, Mark Schultz's perspective and there is the 'God' perspective, where the audience sees everything and knows everything. Miller chose Mark's perspective, which to me is the weakest perspective to choose of the four because in reality, Mark is a secondary character in the story, but in the film they make him the main character. The main characters in the real-life drama are Dave Schultz and John du Pont. They are also the more interesting characters. That is not to say that Mark isn't interesting, it is just to say that he isn't AS interesting as Dave Schultz and John du Pont.

An example of how Miller establishes that this is Mark's story, and why he shouldn't have, is one sequence where Mark, who at this point in the story has turned against his one time benefactor du Pont, must work out extra hard prior to a weigh-in in order to lose the twelve pounds he gained in a self-loathing binge the night before, in order to be allowed to wrestle. In the sequence Mark rides a stationary bike in the bowels of an arena trying to sweat out the weight while brother Dave encourages him. Then we see du Pont enter the hallway in front of them and Mark is obviously unhappy to see him, so Dave intercepts du Pont before he can get into ear shot of Mark and he has a conversation with him. Just like Mark, we don't get to hear that conversation, we only get to see it occur through Mark's eyes and through the glass of the door. That would have been a great scene to watch and listen to. The older brother protecting his little brother from the strange du Pont, but also keeping du Pont happy because du Pont was Dave's benefactor at this point too, and Dave has a wife and young kids to feed. We don't get to see that scene up close or hear it at all, that is the choice director Bennett Miller made. That is okay, and could have worked in the film if the actual, real-life story turned out another way, with du Pont shooting Mark instead of Dave (which is what I thought would happen since I mis-remebered the true story and since the film was showing us everything through Mark's perspective), or with Mark at least being present for the shooting. But it didn't. In the end, when du Pont shoots and kills Dave, Mark is all the way across the country when it happens, and entirely off-screen.  In the climax, we see everything that Mark couldn't see after spending two hours seeing only what he could see, and on top of that, we are never even allowed to see Mark's reaction to the news of the murder. We never get any closure with the story because we have been forced, through the choice of the director, to project ourselves onto Mark for the first two hours of the film, now in the final act of the film, we are abruptly and jarringly pulled from that perspective and thrown into the "God" perspective of seeing all. The film ends with Mark in an arena about to go into an octagon and compete in an MMA fight, but as the scene begins he sits backstage waiting to go on. I kept thinking someone would come up and say "Mark, phone call" and he'd go to a pay phone and get the news that the creepy du Pont had killed his brother, but we never got that.  That scene never happens and it is such a massive mistake on such a basic storytelling level that is is absolutely shocking. The ending of the film undermines the entire choice to use Mark's perspective to tell the story. It makes absolutely no storytelling or filmmaking sense. Never getting to see the impact of Dave's death on Mark is not only a truly baffling filmmaking decision, but an unforgivably wasted opportunity.

Part of why that is a wasted opportunity is because it would have been a great scene to see Channing Tatum sink his teeth into. I must admit, I have never really understood the Channing Tatum phenomenon. I know women go crazy for him, but I just don't get it (not surprisingly), and I have never seen him be anything other than passable in terms of acting on film. I don't think he's terrible, I just don't think he's ever been very good, or much of anything for that matter. But to his great credit, he does a really good job as Mark Schultz, and I would've appreciated seeing him tackle the scene where he learns of his brother's murder. What I did really admire about his performance was that he fully committed to the part physically. He had a very distinct gait and carriage and even transformed how he held his jaw and forehead. When you are Channing Tatum, you don't have to do stuff like that. He could have just gotten all ripped physically and been a piece of eye candy, but instead he decided to actually become another person and inhabit a character. I commend him for the hard work and putting thought and time into it. It is a sad thing to say, but an actor actually committing to their work and doing their job is worthy of praise in the Hollywood of today.

Mark Ruffalo is fantastic as the older, and more successful, brother, Dave Schultz. His complicated relationship with his younger and more emotionally fragile brother Mark is a really rich and layered piece of work. We don't get to see too much of his relationship with du Pont, which is a shame because it really would have been fascinating to see him handle the eccentricities as deftly as possible while trying to keep the money train flowing in order to provide for his family. Again, another wasted opportunity that is all the more glaring since the majority of the film is undermined by the final fifteen minutes. I think using Dave's perspective to tell the story would have been a much wiser storytelling choice and also would have let us see much more of the subtle and intricate performance that Ruffalo delivers.

Steve Carrell's work as John du Pont is good but I have to say, through no fault of his own, it feels incomplete. Carrell embraces the oddities and eccentricities of du Pont, and there are lots of them, and he believably transforms himself into the character, but once again, the choice of using Mark's perspective to tell the story robs us of the chance to really get to know du Pont, to get into his head and to understand him on anything other than a surface level. I would have loved to see just a single scene of John du Pont by himself in a room, for instance. Carrell is much more than just a comedic actor, and I would have really loved to see him get the opportunity to do more with such a fantastic part, but sadly the script does't permit it and the film suffers for it. A really fascinating film would have been one told from John du Pont's perspective because he is the real mystery in all of this. The film never really even approaches the topic of why, exactly, John du Pont killed Dave Schultz. I have done a bunch of reading on the murder since seeing the film, and the more I read about it, the more obvious it is that the story of John du Pont, and the twisted and dark world residing in his head, is the real treasure that the filmmakers should have gone after.  But I guess they didn't have the courage to reach for that brass ring. Their film is so much the lesser for it.

Foxcatcher is one of those films that really could have been great. It is a fascinating story with really unique characters and is populated by a cast of very talented and interesting actors. It has all sorts of intriguing issues boiling just underneath it's surface…America's corruption, moral decay, and hypocrisy, class warfare, the degradation people will sink to in order to get money, fame or success.  But sadly, the film, not unlike John du Pont the man, is a failure, and not unlike the murder of the great Dave Schultz, I think it is a senseless and tragic waste.

© 2014

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .