Foxcatcher. Wrestlemania.

foxcatcher__spanFinished a year ago, such was the studio’s hopes for awards season glory, Foxcatcher’s release was postponed until now to avoid competition with 2013 big hitters 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. That’s a lot of eggs to cryogenically freeze in a basket. No pressure…

Based, incredibly, on a true story it centers around two pro-wrestler brothers David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) aka The Smart And Well Adjusted One and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) aka The Not So Smart And Struggling One. Both Olympic gold medalists, they now live in small town anonymity. David is happy, married with kids and running a local wrestling club. Mark, however, lives alone and with limited skills relies heavily on his brother in lieu of a father figure.

But help may unexpectedly be at hand. A phone call out of the blue invites Mark to the home of John du Pont, eccentric multi-millionaire recluse and member of one of America’s most hallowed family dynasties. Alienated by his equestrian-loving mother, John intends to indulge his own passion, wrestling, by setting up his own team housed in a state of the art training facility to gun for glory at the next Olympics and wants Mark as his star athlete. Offered both financial security and the chance to step out from David’s shadow, Mark thinks all his Christmases have come at once. But, kids, we all know i) money can’t buy happiness and ii) if something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Mark soon struggles to deliver so John persuades David onboard, once again relegating Mark back to the sidelines and starting a steady spiral towards destruction.

Shot in muted tones, Foxcatcher is clinically cool, calm and precise with an underlying sense of menace. Often ambiguous – what does du Pont really want with Mark? A surrogate son? Sex? A whipping boy? – and strongly psychological, it deals with themes of family rivalry and parental approval. And boy do the whole cast rise to the occasion. Channing Tatum in particular is heartbreakingly good as Mark, earnest, lonely, desperate for approval and frustrated by his own limitations. The Sloth just wanted to give him a cuddle.

This is no emotional melodrama. Foxcatcher doesn’t pick you up and bodyslam you down on the mat, rather it creeps insidiously into your head, leaving you shaken, not stirred. Commendably restrained.

UK release 9 January 2015

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Begin Again. Band It Like Beckham.

beginYou may or may not know that Keira Knightley is married to a member of The Klaxons. Which is interesting as in Begin Again she plays the girlfriend of a musician tasting new found fame, who then promptly leaves her once the groupies come a-calling.  Let’s not speculate on the chances of art imitating life and move swiftly on.

Dragged reluctantly onstage during an open mike night, songwriter Greta (Keira Knightley) finds herself crooning a self-penned creation to a bar full of disinterested New Yorkers.  Apart from one. Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a shambolic, semi-alcoholic A&R man is enchanted. Fired from his own record label only that morning, Dan drunkenly seizes upon Greta as his ticket back into the business.

Greta is similarly no stranger to troubles. Recently arrived in NYC to support her up and coming musician boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5 frontman, Adam Levine) as he records a new album, Greta finds herself swiftly relegated from co-writer and muse to tea lady. On discovering Dodgy Dave’s been forging more than a strictly professional relationship with one of his new colleagues, heartbroken Greta throws caution to the wind and agrees to record her own album with Dan.

Our Keira’s already proved she can take a neat free kick and fight pirates in a corset. In Begin Again she can add an endearingly girlish, fragile singing voice to her accomplishments.  Taking the decision to record each track outside to capture the background sounds of the city, Dan, Greta and their troupe of session musicians work their way around NYC and through an emotional musical therapy of their own.

Yes, it’s a touch forced in places and frankly, if Dan and Greta reveal their supposed ‘guilty pleasures’ playlists as including the likes of Sinatra and Stevie Wonder, then The Sloth ain’t never showing our Take That collection to nobody. But overall this is sweet and uplifting, helped by an enigmatic, Lost In Translation style relationship between the two leads. A not-so-guilty pleasure.

UK release 11 July. DVD release 10 November.

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