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Thurs. - January 29 - Not ShowingFri. - January 30 - 9:15 pm SSat. - January 31 - 9:15 pmSSun. - February 1 - 6:30 pm SMon. - February 2 - 7:15 pm STues. - February 3 - Not ShowingWed. - February 4 - 7:15 pm SThurs. - February 5 - Not Showing
SYNOPSIS: When JR (Brenton Thwaites) is sent to prison for a minor crime, he becomes the apprentice to Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), Australia's public enemy number one. When JR helps Brendan break out, they go on the run and form a complex co-dependent relationship. JR quickly learns in the criminal world, life is like a game of chess. To gain control, you have to stay a few moves ahead of your opponent. Lose that control, and you risk becoming a pawn in their very dangerous game.
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On first impressions, Ewan McGregor appears to be channeling Russell Crowe in Son of a Gun, a punchy Australian action thriller from first-time feature director Julius Avery. Bearded and brooding in his early scenes, McGregor takes on a rare anti-hero role as a charismatic convict kingpin who becomes a manipulative mentor to a sensitive young fellow prisoner, played by the highly photogenic rising Aussie star Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent). Avery, who won a Cannes prize for his 2008 short Jerrycan, based the story partly on his own early life in a boondocks town.
The past decade has been something of a golden age for superior Australian crime movies, from Little Fish to Animal Kingdom to The Square, whose multi-talented director Nash Edgerton actually plays a supporting role in Son of a Gun. But Avery's debut falls well short of those recent peaks, relying instead on formulaic plot and character elements that pander to the action-driven mainstream. Coinciding with its domestic release, the movie makes its international debut at London Film Festival this week. A staggered theatrical roll-out across Europe begins in November, when commercial returns are likely to overshadow lukewarm critical buzz. A24 has snagged U.S. rights.
Thwaites plays JR, an emotionally wounded 19-year-old locked up in a brutal Western Australia jail for an unspecified minor offense. In time-honored prison-pic tradition, he falls foul of some ugly bad guys inside, but escapes a violent pounding thanks to cell-block daddy Brendan Lynch (McGregor). In return, JR is bound into a Faustian pact with his protector, which begins with him breaking Lynch out of jail in a hijacked helicopter.
The second act sees JR joining Lynch's gang for a spectacular robbery on an open-pit gold mine, backed by a powerful Russian mafia boss (Jacek Koman). But the young rookie is soon making basic errors, antagonizing the godfather's hot-headed foot soldiers while flirting with his sexy young courtesan, Tasha (Alicia Vikander), a sad-eyed refugee from the old country with the obligatory male-fantasy mix of super-hot body and kindly, chaste, adoring heart. Once the gold mine heist is over, all these strained loyalties implode in a bloodbath of betrayal and vengeance.
While Avery handles the kinetic action set-piece with impressive swagger for a first-timer, his self-penned screenplay is a major weak point. The dialogue is clogged with cliches, the characters are stock cyphers and the overfamiliar plot little more than a mixtape of scenes from countless superior prison-break and heist movies. A recurring chess metaphor first introduced in the jail sets the script's general subtlety level, which falls somewhere between heavy-handed signposting and literally punching viewers in the face. Thom Kellar's propulsive score adds to the ear-bashing bombast.
Featuring explosive high-speed car chases and firefights with heavy assault weapons in which hardly anybody sustains even a flesh wound, Son of a Gun gives up any claims on gritty realism around the midway point. The casting of suave smoothie McGregor as a butch serial convict, barking his lines in a coarser version of his native Scottish accent, also stretches plausibility. Lynch's jarring shift from principled father figure to bullying control-freak feels like a dramatic twist dictated more by clumsy third-act plotting than any pretense at psychological complexity.
Of course, assuming Son of a Gun's appeal to a less discerning action-thriller crowd, none of these flaws will hamper its commercial prospects. In its favor, technical credits are solid, and the pivotal heist sequence is well-handled. It also looks good, with an attractive cast playing their lethal games of human chess against the golden heat-haze backdrop of Australia's sun-scorched Wild West. By the time it reaches its overlong final act, Avery's noisy debut could almost be a minor Michael Mann or Tony Scott movie from the 1980s. To a certain target audience, that may even sound like a recommendation.
Thurs. - January 29 - 7:15 pm SFri. - January 30 - 6:45 pm SSat. - January 31 - 9:00 pmASun. - February 1 - 2:00 - 4:45 - 7:15 pm AMon. - February 2 - 7:00 pm ATues. - February 3 - 7:00 pm AWed. - February 4 - 7:00 pm AThurs. - February 5 - 7:00 pm A
SYNOPSIS: Steve Carell steps into dramatic territory with this docudrama about John du Pont, the schizophrenic millionaire who infamously shot and killed his friend and Olympic Gold Medal wrestler Dave Schultz before locking himself in his mansion as police officers negotiated his surrender for two days. Moneyball's Benett Miller directs from a script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.
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Editor's note: Because "Foxcatcher" is based on a real murder case with details that are public record, this review discusses those events in detail.
"Foxcatcher" is a heartfelt, intelligent, deadly serious drama based on a real murder case in which a wealthy patron hired two wrestler brothers, tried to seduce and control one of them, and ended up murdering the other. Every frame of it is sincere. As cowritten by E. Max Frye ("Something Wild") and Dan Futterman ("Capote") and directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball"), it's also a throwback to a '70s style of commercial filmmaking. Much of it unfolds in long takes, in medium or long distance shots that draw attention to the environment around the characters, and there is minimal dramatic assistance (or intrusion) by music. Parts of it evoke films by the late Alan J. Pakula ("All the President's Men," "The Parallax View," "Comes a Horseman"), a master of understatement.
And yet in the end "Foxcatcher" proves impossible to embrace because of fundamental miscalculations in performance, direction and makeup, along with a certain clumsiness in the way that it tries to make some kind of grand statement about American values, or the lack thereof. If I had to make a list of movies I'm saddest about not having liked, this would rank near the top.
Its heart is a story of brotherly love and rivalry that turns sour, sordid, and ultimately tragic. Olympic wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) have a very deep bond, which we later discover was rooted in shared childhood trauma. They didn't just grow up together, they raised each other, with Dave serving as a surrogate father to Mark. When the story begins, Mark is already withering in his brother's shadow. Both won Olympic wrestling medals, but Dave is the more likable and functional of the two. He's made a career as a coach and settled down to raise a family. Mark is single, seemingly has no friends and no sex drive, and spends his free time in monklike solitude, eating Ramen noodles in his bachelor pad. The way Channing Tatum plays him (and in some cases regrettably overplays him) he's a cartoon caveman with a jutted-out chin, trundling around in sweats.
Then billionaire John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell) calls asking Mark to come out to Foxcatcher, his 800-acre Pennsylvania horse farm, and help him create a world-class training facility that'll prepare the U.S. Olympic team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark hops into a helicopter and quickly succumbs to the promise of lavish living quarters and a steady check. (In one of the film's many agonizingly true observations of how the rich exploit class-based ignorance, John asks Mark to name his price, Mark names an amount that John could probably fish from couch cushions, and John says yes as if bestowing a great favor.)
Two chilling facts become clear. One is that John is mainly interested in Mark as a conduit to his brother, who's better suited to the coaching position and the public duties that come with it. The other is that John is a repressed homosexual who became obsessed with wrestling partly to differentiate himself from his mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), a socialite and horse breeder; and that, even though John gives off not the faintest hit of sexual desire, he wants to possess and dominate Mark, or at the very least keep him at Foxcatcher, because he cannot stomach rejection.
John's aversion to rejection might be the the key to what the film is doing, or trying to do, and all its observations in this regard are insightful. Every person hates hearing the word "no," but rich men tend to treat this ordinary experience as a personal affront, because their lives are built upon being catered to, obeyed, and humored, even when their requests are unreasonable or ridiculous. (This is why John's attraction to Mark makes real-world sense, if not always Movie Sense: when Mark resists him, professionally or personally, it's a knife in the heart of his identity, because there's nothing attractive about him except his wealth, and as the Beatles said, money can't buy you love.)
Mark is not, to put it mildly, the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he finds his ashy, clumsy, prematurely doddering patron as repulsive as we do; but he's also carrying around immense psychic weight thanks to his childhood. He seems to view John as, simultaneously, a father figure, an alternate older brother, a boss, and a friend, not to mention a person who has put him at the center of his life after many years in which Mark felt neglected and alone. John is carrying his own set of burdens, which he never spells out to Mark, his protege, employee, surrogate son, and eventually, lover; but we gather that Mark understands them anyway, on some level, thanks mainly to Tatum's naturally empathetic energy. He plays Mark as a closed-off yet extraordinarily sensitive man. Just because Mark can't articulate his feelings doesn't mean he has no feelings, and there are moments when he seems to look at his boss with pity and tenderness as well as resentment and revulsion.
The film's studied funereal tone (overcast skies, fall colors, mournful solo piano music) tips you to where this tale will eventually end up: in a doom spiral, climaxing in murder, that could have been titled "An American Meathead Tragedy." John du Pont eventually did succeed in luring Dave Schultz out to Foxcatcher to take over coaching the team, after ruining Mark with unhealthy food, cocaine, alcohol, psychological terrorism, and sexual exploitation, thus guaranteeing that he would fail at a job he wasn't suited to anyway. Years after Mark got fed up and left, John shot Dave dead in a driveway on the grounds of Foxcatcher, outside of the small cottage that the wrestling coach shared with his wife (Sienna Miller, who's charming despite having been given little to do). The brothers' patron died in prison in 2010. Mark eventually remade himself as a cage fighter, a sport that's depicted earlier in the film as a degrading spectacle compared to the Greco-Roman classicism of the Schultz brothers' great love. Such sadness, such waste.
Dave's death is genuinely piercing, not just because it's presented in such a mundane way (everyone at the murder scene seems to be having a hard time believing that this is actually happening), but because, as written by Frye and Futterman and performed by Ruffalo, the character seems like that rarity of movie rarities, a good man who's also fun and exciting to watch. In one of the movie's most revelatory scenes, Dave is asked to sit for an interview with a filmmaker creating a laudatory video about John's stewardship of the team. He's asked to state that his emotionally cold and athletically inept boss is a great leader and sportsman. Dave hesitates and stammers, turning the request over in his mind, trying to find words that will please his patron without betraying his principles. Ruffalo's exquisitely modulated reactions—captured, like so many "Foxcatcher" moments, in long, uncut, squirm-inducing closeups—make this scene a short movie in itself, about how hard it is to reconcile integrity with the need to earn a living.
What, though, are we supposed to make of this—any of it? That's the question you might take away from "Foxcatcher," and I'm sorry to say that the film doesn't give much in the way of an answer, beyond, "Here is an incredibly sad story based on real events." This may sound strange, given how quiet and visually restrained "Foxcatcher" is, but it has a habit of overdoing and overselling Big Ideas that aren't so big, and that in any case are already being explored through the main characters.
Chief among these is that the John-Mark dyad is some kind of metaphor for American capitalism's exploitation of labor; Miller and his screenwriters shoehorn this in via talk of American history and shots of historical monuments and battlefields, and the U.S. capitol, and verdant fields, and via patriotic standards and American folk music, including "America the Beautiful" and "This Land is Your Land." I am not convinced that any of this iconographic mucking about was advisable or even necessary, because the low-key, realistic tone doesn't go well with overt symbolism, and because John and Mark's relationship is about a rich old bastard literally sticking it to a working man, so what else needs to be said there, really? The personal stakes, and aftershocks, are clear enough, and the larger implications radiate outward—or should—as we watch these men flounder and suffer and delude themselves.
We're given to understand that the murder was a delayed reaction to John's being rejected by Mark, and also the culmination of unchecked volatile behavior by John seen throughout the story, including a moment in which he tries to "motivate" his wrestling team by firing a revolver over their heads during training. This, too, makes the arrogance of the rich and the cowed pliancy of working people implicit, even as it merges with the characters' psychology. The film is quite effective when it's portraying the central triangle of Mark-Dave-John in terms of power and money, with John repeatedly demanding to be flattered and indulged and refusing to respect boundaries (emotional, sexual, financial, professional), and both brothers trying, to the extent that they can, to shrug off John's horrible behavior, or rationalize it in context of the opportunities he gives them.
The other major problem is Carell's performance and the makeup that's supposed to serve it. Both struck me as grossly (in every sense of the word) miscalculated, at once too much and not enough. Carrell is a terrific actor, especially in a light or broad comic mode, and I don't doubt that he'll get an Oscar nomination from playing John du Pont, because the character is multilayered and grotesque and the film is tonally miles away from the likes of "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "The Office." But this just struck me as the most misguided Important Performance under heavy makeup since Nicole Kidman and her nose won an Oscar for "The Hours," or maybe since Jack Nicholson sputtered and yelled through "Hoffa" beneath a false nose and forehead that seemed to have been mushed onto his face.
The proboscis in this film doesn't so much join with Carell's face as perch there, beneath an obvious latex forehead extension. These prosthetic additions are a slightly different color and texture than the rest of the actor's face, and Carell (under Miller's direction) uses them in too-obvious ways, as if the makeup were a physical prop, like a hat or cane. In fully half of Carell's screen time, he is actually looking down his nose at other people, and when he walks, he juts his head out ahead of his chest like a broken down old turkey. In a sketch comedy-derived movie, this would all seem just right, and be hugely funny; it seems bizarrely out-of-place here, though, as if the role of John du Pont had been incarnated by the most repugnant "Saturday Night Live" character ever. (Tatum's face has been built out with putty as well, and Ruffalo's hair and beard are meticulously tended, but they don't overwhelm the actors' work quite so jarringly, save in one regrettable scene: a cut revealing Mark post-sexual exploitation by John has him wearing a frosted Kept Boy hairpiece that looks from a distance like a fur cap.)
This is all maddening considering how solid, even great, "Foxcatcher" often is. Tatum and Ruffalo are mostly superb, especially when they let the naturally intimate physicality of wrestling communicate the love that brothers might not otherwise express. There's a deep sadness and coiled anger at the heart of the story, a pervasive despair that's at once personal and political. But the encrusted Americana and jarring performance/makeup touches and dramatic elisions (there are really no characters but the main three) suffocate it. John du Pont's nose becomes a metaphor for the film's lapses in judgement: it's not good, and it probably wasn't necessary, but the film has committed to it, so we're stuck with it.
Thurs. - January 29 - Not ShowingFri. - January 30 - Not ShowingSat. - January 31 - 4:15 pmSSun. - February 1 - 4:30 pm SMon. - February 2 - Not ShowingTues. - February 3 - 7:15 pm SWed. - February 4 - Not ShowingThurs. - February 5 - Not Showing
SYNOPSIS: A talented young jazz drummer experiences a trial by fire when he's recruited by a ferocious instructor whose unyielding search for perfection may lead to his undoing. For as far back as Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) can remember, he's been watching his father fail. Determined to make a name for himself no matter what it takes, Andrew enrolls in a prestigious east coast music conservatory where his talent quickly catches the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a esteemed music teacher who's notorious for his caustic approach in the classroom. The leader of the school's top jazz ensemble, Fletcher promptly transfers Neyman into his band, giving the ambitious young drummer a shot at true greatness. He may achieve it, too, if Neyman's methods don't drive him to madness first.
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"Whiplash" is cinematic adrenalin. In an era when so many films feel more refined by focus groups or marketing managers, it is a deeply personal and vibrantly alive drama. Damien Chazelle has taken a relatively staid subject like the relationship between a music student and his teacher and turned it into a thriller built on a brilliant undercurrent of social commentary about what it takes to make it in an increasingly competitive and cutthroat world. How far are you willing to push yourself to succeed? How far are you willing to push someone else to force them on the path to success? Carried by two electric performances, the tightest editing in a film this year and a daring screenplay that writes itself into a corner and then somehow finds an unexpected way out, "Whiplash" is as breathless as a drum solo, rising and falling just as the hopes and dreams of its protagonist climb and crash.
A young man named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is practicing late at night at his New York music school, one of the best in the country, when his drumming catches the ear of the infamous Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the most important teacher at the school and the conductor for its most important jazz band. Fletcher pauses, listens, barks a few orders at the young man, and moves on, seemingly dissatisfied with what he heard. Andrew had his chance, that one brief moment many of us have to impress the people who can change our lives, and he didn't cut it. He goes back to his routine class band, telling his dad (a wonderfully genuine Paul Reiser) that his opportunity to move up probably passed him by.
Of course, Fletcher's dismissal of Andrew in that first scene is just the first of many examples of what could politely be called his "teaching style." Fletcher likes to tell the apocryphal story of how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker's head one night when he messed up, thereby pushing him to the breaking point at which he became Bird. Without that cymbal, would music history be the same? Would Charlie Parker have gone home, refined, practiced and driven himself without the threat of not just failure but physical violence? Fletcher uses that kind of barbarous technique on his students: throwing furniture, calling Andrew names, playing mind games and physically torturing him with repetitive drum solos until he bleeds on the kit. But that blood feeds his musical passion. And Andrew blossoms, asking out the cute girl he's been afraid to talk to before, and taking first chair in the most important band at the most important music school in the country.
Miles Teller, so great in breakthrough roles in “Rabbit Hole” and “The Spectacular Now,” does the best work of his young career here as Andrew, finding the perfect blend of insecurity and confidence that comes entangled in the core of a young talent. Andrew is naturally apprehensive, but he also knows he has a drive, a passion, a skill that is unique. Teller walks that line, never faltering by making Andrew too confident while also carefully letting viewers see the spark within that Fletcher fuels.
As for Simmons, Fletcher could have been such a caricature in the wrong actor’s hands. An over-the-top, abusive teacher is a part riddled with pitfalls. Simmons falls into none of them. He walks such a line that, even after the kind of inhumane mind games and physical abuse that should produce legal charges has unfolded on screen, we find ourselves drawn to Fletcher. He’s not 100% wrong when he says that the most dangerous two words in the English language are “good job.” Whether you think it's the right approach or not, we’re in an era of praise, where encouragement is the teaching tool and every kid gets a medal for participation. Have true talents been left to wither because they were over-watered? Simmons perfectly captures the drive of a man who believes his abusive degree of pressure is the only way to produce a diamond.
While “Whiplash” would be a notable film purely for Teller and Simmons’ performances, it reaches a different level when one considers the execution of its tempo. Editor Tom Cross and cinematographer Sharone Meir often put us right on stage with Andrew and Fletcher, cutting and panning in rhythm with the beat of the drum. It is captivating, to say the least, particularly in a climax that produces more tension than any action film or thriller this year. The title refers to a song played multiple times throughout Chazelle’s film. It could also refer to that sense of wowed exhaustion you’ll feel when it’s over.
Thurs. - January 29 - Not ShowingFri. - January 30 - Not ShowingSat. - January 31 - 7:00 pm SSun. - February 1 - 2:15 pm SMon. - February 2 - Not ShowingTues. - February 3 - Not ShowingWed. - February 4 - Not ShowingThurs. - February 5 - 7:15 pm S
SYNOPSIS: James Marsh's biopic of the celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, stars Eddie Redmayne as the famous figure. Enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge, Hawking establishes himself as one of the leading minds of his generation, and begins to win the heart of Jane (Felicity Jones). After one of his earliest breakthroughs, Hawking is diagnosed with ALS, and he becomes less and less able to control his own body. With the loyal Jane at his side, he continues his work. However, as the years progress, Jane begins to feel more like a nurse than a wife, and Hawking begins to have feelings for a woman who is hired to care for him. The Theory of Everything screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Blow past the notion that biopics about genius have to be stuffy, pious, by-the-book endurance tests. Not always. The Theory of Everything gives us the real, breathing, sweating, bleeding world that British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking calls his own. Challenged by a progressive neurological disease that robs him of movement and speech, Hawking nonetheless carries on, his mind racing to solve the mysteries of the universe.
I expected director James Marsh to cue the violins and hard-sell the triumph over adversity. Instead, the emotionally charged, surprisingly cheeky Theory of Everything gazes unflinchingly at the untidy, ornery humanity of a thinking, feeling, sexual being caged by his own body. Hawking is a role that demands miracles of an actor. And Eddie Redmayne, in a landmark performance, delivers them. He's matched by Felicity Jones, who is simply sensational as Hawking's blunt, determined wife, Jane.
It's Jane's book Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen that serves as source material for the witty, well-observed script by Anthony McCarten. Director Marsh, whose 2008 documentary Man on Wire walked the tightrope with Philippe Petit, takes to the high wire again by refusing to reduce Hawking to a saint martyred by symptoms related to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Since Hawking wasn't born with this affliction, Marsh and the skilled cinematographer Benoît Delhomme zap us back to 1963, with a whirling shot of Hawking – thick specs in place – biking around the Cambridge campus, his head perpetually in the clouds until meeting pretty student Jane Wilde, a poet and chorale singer with a belief in God that Hawking doesn't share. That sight alone will be a revelation to those stuck with the image of Hawking shackled to a motorized wheelchair, his head lolling, his muscles limp, his voice computer-generated.
For a start, The Theory of Everything is a Big Bang Theory-ish romance between two young geeks, bodies and minds colliding. And its exuberance is as bracing as it is unexpected. Hawking is just 21 when he's diagnosed and given two years to live. It's Jane who kicks him out of depression and into a marriage that will last 25 years and produce three children. When a friend asks Hawking how he gets it up for sex, he cracks, “That part is automatic.”
There is nothing automatic about the life Jane painstakingly builds for her husband as his condition deteriorates. Marsh is unsparing with the details. And Redmayne (Les Misérables) and Jones (Like Crazy) reach for the stars in two of the year's best and most fearless acting feats. It's irksome that the film treads too lightly on the couple's divorce, partly resulting from Jane's attraction (and later marriage) to her husband's caretaker Jonathan Hellyer Jones (the excellent Charlie Cox). Then there's Hawking's 1995 marriage and 2006 split from flinty nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). These are the few instances when the film feels reticent and removed. Otherwise, The Theory of Everything, referring to Hawking's dream of finding an equation to explain all existence, is riveting science, emotional provocation and one-of-a-kind love story all rolled into one triumphant film. Bravo.
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