As I enter my second and final weekend at the Mill Valley Film Festival, I find that my comfort level has risen considerably. I no longer use the Google Maps app to navigate my way around the area. I know where to find free parking at every venue, from San Rafael to Larkspur. I can look at the length of a standby line and know exactly how bad my seat will be. And if that wasn’t enough, the free beer at the Filmmakers Lounge was upgraded from Lagunitas IPA to Lagunitas Lil Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Meanwhile, the temperature has dropped in Mill Valley since last weekend, and while walking back to the car after my last screening, I could even see my breath in the cold night air. But just like the first Friday of MVFF37, yesterday night was all about star power and presumptive Oscar bait on the screens at the Sequoia Theatre.
Bill Murray stars in Theodore Melfi’s cute curmudgeon comedy St. Vincent, but since I’m reviewing it for next week’s issue of the SN&R, I’ll keep my remarks fairly brief. Sufficed to say that Murray is great, nesting inside of this character’s skin like a deer tick, but most of the performers surrounding him – whether it be Naomi Watts’ Russian prostitute or Terence Howard’s loan shark or Chris O’Dowd’s priest – feel inauthentic and cartoonish. See it for Murray, and forgive the script.
Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher needs no such apologia. It’s an absolutely riveting film, with three astonishingly great performances, especially by Steve Carell. But especially by Mark Ruffalo. But ESPECIALLY by Channing Tatum. BUT ESPECIALLY… Well, you get the idea, they’re all good. Miller’s Capote left me cold (I’ll take Douglas McGrath’s Infamous any day of the week) and Moneyball was a little less than the sum of its impressive parts, but Foxcatcher is a real breakthrough. The film tells the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), and his strange relationship with the insanely wealthy John E. DuPont (Carell), a wrestling enthusiast and self-styled guru who collects Mark like a prized thoroughbred. Foxcatcher is wound tighter than a magnet’s coil. Without tacking on a flashback framing device or manufacturing suspense, Miller slowly builds a borderline absurdist sense of dread. Carell’s DuPont seems capable of anything, because, as the richest man in America, he is.