(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Singlets Scene

Though its dark true story may prove a turn off to some, Foxcatcher’s dream pairing of Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestling brothers in form-fitting gear will no doubt appeal to gay viewers and others. This highly-touted new film by Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend and hopes to capture awards season attention. Indeed, Miller already snagged Best Director for Foxcatcher at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his older brother Dave (Ruffalo) both won gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, making them one of only two pairs of siblings to do so to date. Soon after, Mark found himself recruited by billionaire John du Pont to train the US freestyle wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Steve Carell plays the eccentric du Pont in Foxcatcher and in so doing gives a memorably dramatic, image-busting performance. Once Mark proves himself a disappointment, at least according to the film, du Pont hired Dave Schultz to co-coach his team. This leads to an explosion of the long-simmering rivalry Mark feels toward his brother as well as to Dave’s shocking murder in 1996 at the hands of du Pont, who was convicted and died in prison in 2010.

As always, Miller exhibits observant, masterful control as director and coaxes excellent work from his great cast (Vanessa Redgrave also appears as du Pont’s condemning mother). But I found the screenplay, by E. Max Frye and Capote collaborator Dan Futterman, problematic in terms of failing to provide much psychological insight into its tragic trio of lead characters. Though du Pont was eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, this is never mentioned in Foxcatcher. Carell succeeds in making du Pont appear sketchy physically even if the beak-like, predatory false nose he dons (du Pont was a published ornithologist, among other things) is a bit excessive. Similarly, Mark’s conflicted feelings of love and hate toward the older brother who raised him are largely unexplained, which risks making them seem exaggerated as well.

There is palpable homoerotic tension in Foxcatcher, which seems natural given its wrestling backdrop, but little is seemingly known or revealed about the late du Pont’s sexuality. However, his impromptu, late-night demands of Mark for “practice in the gallery” in the film, with Mark wearing nothing but tiny workout shorts as du Pont rubs up against him, certainly invite speculation. I came away from this unquestionably provocative film (the pursuit of “the American dream” is also frequently evoked) feeling somewhat empty-handed despite the considerable talent on display.

Another stranger-than-fiction story newly available on DVDand VOD from Wolfe is Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story. It is also gunning for documentary awards consideration. The film opens disarmingly at a meeting of several transgender former military personnel, one of whom is Kristin Beck. A former Navy SEAL for over 20 years and born Christopher Beck, she came out as trans following her retirement in 2011.

Declaring “I’m not used to doing anything halfway,” Kristin has shared her experiences via numerous television appearances, online videos and public speaking engagements. She has largely received nothing but support from fellow enlisted, past and present, one of whom says of Kristin “that sister is my brother.” Most but not all of Kristin’s family members have also been supportive, including her older brother who tearfully contemplates “The shit he’s been through? Unbelievable.”

Co-directors Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog have obvious respect for their subject and her journey, which Kristin admits has been “more mentally and physically challenging than anything else I’ve done.” Honest and engrossing, Lady Valor demands attention.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Foxcatcher: B
Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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