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Movies - Foxcatcher, Testament of Youth, Whiplash, Taken 3

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Channing Tatum as blue-collar wrestling champ Mark Schultz in the excellent ‘Foxcatcher’

Channing Tatum as blue-collar wrestling champ Mark Schultz in the excellent ‘Foxcatcher’

Channing Tatum as blue-collar wrestling champ Mark Schultz in the excellent ‘Foxcatcher’

Revies of Foxcatcher, Testament of Youth, Whiplash, and Taken 3

Foxcatcher (15A)

What kind of barometer tonight's Golden Globes sets for awards season remains to be seen, but if there is any justice Foxcatcher will get more than polite applause. Bennett Miller showed promise with Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011), but this elegant real-life Faustian drama about obsession and madness displays a proper mastery of the cinematic medium.

Bennett's stealthy, metaphor-laden direction is only part of Foxcatcher's punch. The performances he elicits from stars Channing Tatum and Steve Carell are things of real awe, turns so nuanced and considered as to exonerate both actors' past crimes.

Tatum is disordered and simian as blue-collar wrestling champ Mark Schultz. Scrounging in the afterglow of Olympic glory, he is approached by multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carrell) to coach a privately funded wrestling team on the grounds of his luxuriant Pennsylvania estate.

Mark lunges at the lucrative opportunity to redefine his value, but salt-of-the-earth brother Dave (the effortlessly watchable Mark Ruffalo) takes more convincing to finally uproot his family and join the coaching ticket. Du Pont begins as a gracious if eccentric benefactor, but cracks and conditions reveal themselves increasingly en route to a tragic denouement.

Ignoring the reedy whine and prosthetic nose, Carell is unrecognisable, his expression dead-eyed and hard to read. As du Pont gets to Mark's soul, a dark, irresistible intensity is brewed between Miller, Carell and Tatum as their respective acting careers are each reborn. Now showing.

Review by Hilary A White

Testament of Youth (Cert 12A)

Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain's memoir of World War I, opens in Spring 1914 when Vera (Alicia Vikander), her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and his friends Victor (Colin that-man-is-everywhere Morgan) and Roland (Kit Harrington) are coming into adulthood.

Vera, lovely, headstrong and clever is battling with her parents (Dominic West and Emily Watson) to be allowed to attend Oxford.  Her brother argues on her behalf, a favour she returns when war breaks out a few months later and their parents oppose Edward's desire to do his patriotic duty. Everyone believes it will be a short war.

As it drags on and more and more men are taken for cannon fodder Vera feels that life at Oxford is inappropriately inactive and she becomes a nurse.

The trailer highlights the romance between Vera and Roland but it is just one strand in a much much broader story. It provides a not often enough seen perspective on war - the female one and what it is like to be left behind. TV director James Kent makes his feature debut, creating some fantastic scenes, notably a judicious borrowing from one of GWTW's famous shots of dying soldiers. The overuse of lingering shots and dewy close-ups made it feel, occasionally, overwrought, but Vikander (whose English accent feels flawless) plays Vera bravely, sometimes stubborn and difficult, but always true. It can be difficult not to overlay our hindsight but emotionally it feels genuine. It also looks gorgeous, not least because Consolata Boyle does her magic on the costumes, which throws the emotional devastation into sharp relief. It would have made a better mini-series, but it also works as a film.

Opens Jan 16th. Review by Aine O'Connor

Whiplash (Cert 15A)

JK Simmons has been a reliable and comforting presence in a gigantic number of films and TV shows. In Whiplash he gives the performance of that huge career in a far from comforting role. Andrew (Miles Teller) is an awkward 19-year-old who has got his place at the "best music conservatory in New York" and wants to be a drumming great. The school's star teacher is Terence Fletcher (Simmons) whose unorthodox methods are permitted because of his success and acclaim. He sees something in Andrew and pushes him to be his very best self and in return Andrew sheds blood, sweat and tears, literally, in his pursuit of excellence.

So far, so 45 films you've already seen. Unorthodox but inspiring teacher, hate to love, failure to success story arc. That is the message that many have inferred but it's one which I feel entirely misses the far more interesting dynamic it describes.

This is no inspirational story, it's a cautionary tale. With more than a whiff of Black Swan it looks at dedication vs. obsession and what that drive, which on some level brings a rivalry with all humanity, means in life terms. It is also an astute psychological study. Fletcher is a narcissist who mines other people's talents and vulnerabilities to create the Stockholm Syndrome which cements his fiefdom. Music is a tool, what he wants is power. Fletcher has an educational theory on which he can justify all of his actions and methods, he believes people have to be pushed to produce the genius that will go down in history. Wanting to be remembered is one of Andrew's weaknesses and this opens another interesting strand. What is the drive to be great? And is it really worth having a place in history?

Writer/director Damien Chazelle creates an intense, clever, sometimes funny portrait of human toxicity and his actors bring it to life. Teller, who can play the drums, is raw but nuanced and Simmons is scary and brilliant. Great stuff.

Opens Jan 16th. Review by Aine O'Connor

Taken 3 (Cert: 12A)

Still growling, still lumbering around with clenched fists and still taking everything immensely seriously, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) really deserves a holiday from nasty eastern European types at this stage. In this third and wholly unnecessary instalment of the beat-em-up 80s pastiche, the lethal agent and doting paranoiac daddy is up against the Law in a bid to clear his name. We don't fancy the Law's chances, to be very honest.

Franchise scribes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, and director Olivier Megaton, zig and zag gaily through the happy-family set-up to begin with. The LA sun is shining, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is giving our hero Bryan the glad eye, and baby joy is in the post for once-luckless daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).

Lovely Lenore, however, is soon offered up to the action-blockbuster gods; her throat gets slit and the murder is pinned on Bryan.

Forest Whitaker's fidgety, likeably eccentric detective and a small army of coppers are tasked with bringing Bryan in, but they'll have to keep up and out of his way while he gets to the bottom of who was out to frame him (hint: they have Biro-ink prison tattoos, drink vodka shots and roll their Rs).

Be under no illusions - Taken 3 is as daft and incredulous as its predecessors, and while it fulfils the hi-octane bullets-and-blasts quotient desired by action fans, true and tangible tension is absent.

The fundamental problem is the character of Bryan, who by now seems bulletproof, bomb-resistant and ninja-like in his evasive qualities.

The comparable Fugitive saga has worked so well for decades because Dr Richard Kimble had no training and no help in tracking down his wife's killer. When Bryan and his loyal covert chums gang together to take on the bad guys, there can be only one outcome. What, therefore, is the point?

Now showing.  Review by Hilary A White

Sunday Independent