Foxcatcher in the Rye

SONY-FXOS-03_102414_SteveCenter_FINAL.inddOne day in late January 1996 my mother called to tell me in a voice projecting both anxiety and relief that she had just seen a TV news report on the murder of a Coach Dave Schultz somewhere in southeast Pennsylvania. As my brother, Dave Schultz, was a coach on the road at a swim meet in Pennsylvania at the time, you can understand my mother’s emotional roller-coaster ride. It turns out the deceased was not my brother but a 1984 Olympic Wrestling Gold Medalist who had been subsequently hired by the extremely wealthy and creepy John E. DuPont to help coach the U.S. wrestling team (dubbed “Team Foxcatcher” after the name of DuPont’s estate) that would compete in the 1988 Olympics and other world class events. The star of the team for a few years until he wearied of DuPont’s overbearing demeanor was Dave’s younger brother Mark who had also won 1984 Olympic gold in a different weight class.

Because of the name-confusion angle, I took a passing interest in the crime: John Éleuthère DuPont, an heir to the E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company (aka. DuPont) fortune that had been built up from a small firm supplying gun powder during the American Revolution to a global conglomerate running the largest chemical company in the world, had casually shot Schultz point blank thrice killing him. Perhaps drug-addled at the time, DuPont seemed to have been motivated to do evil by the perception that Schultz hadn’t been properly appreciative of the millionaire’s largesse. John DuPont went to jail and died there in 2010.

I saw the new movie “Foxcatcher” the other day and was duly impressed by the acting, directing and cinematography; and although the story as told has some jagged edges, I fully expect Oscar nominations in multiple categories. Directed by Bennett Miller, the film immediately establishes the beauty and grace of free-style wrestling as a kind of kinetic dance, a paso doble maybe. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo who play Mark and Dave Schultz obviously underwent intensive training to pull off the wrestling scenes. And the brotherly interaction between them comes off as genuine.

Tension between the brothers begins when DuPont reaches out first to Mark to join his team, then quickly leans on Mark to convince Dave to join as well – a request he cannot fulfill. Used to buying whatever he wants, DuPont is flummoxed when he learns Dave isn’t interested. Mark wants badly to measure up to DuPont’s high bar, and feels he let his benefactor down when Dave the family man declines to join his brother.

As played by TV and film comedian Steve Carell, John DuPont is a tortured middle-aged man, uncomfortable in his own skin, who despite his enormous wealth desires desperately to prove to his aged mother that he can accomplish great things on his own. Carell’s hesitant elocution and awkward physical mannerisms are mesmerizing to watch. And if you think Carell goes over the top, watch this video of DuPont shot in 1988 at the Foxcatcher Farm to see the subject in action.

When I first saw ads for the movie, I had no idea that the actor playing DuPont was Carell, given the prosthetic nose he wears, and the serious nature of the film itself – but his performance is powerful and convincing. Commenting on the casting of TV’s bumbling Michael Scott of “The Office” as the villain, Miller said, “I think all comedians are dark.”

Given the movie is based on the tragic Schultz story, the looming murder comes at an obvious time in the film and consumes very little screen time, which is fine. The more important element is the treatment of the complex relationships: between the brothers, between DuPont and his mother, and between Mark and DuPont.

As I mentioned, there are some jagged edges in the plot. Mark Schultz leaves the Foxcatcher compound shortly after the 1988 Olympics; Dave is murdered in 1996. The movie makes it seem as though mere months elapse between the two events. Where did Mark go? What did he do? The movie closes with Mark entering a cage to fight bare-knuckle against a burly Russian. How did he come to be a side-show attraction? Is this scene even relevant?

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Multi-Millionaire John DuPont practices for his day in infamy.

There has been debate as to who is the main character of “Foxcatcher.” It would seem to be Mark Schultz, as he is the one who goes through the usual movie arc; but the director compels the audience to pay more attention to DuPont. The movie studio, in pushing for a Best Actor nomination for Carell, implicitly sees DuPont as the main character, but the story really seems to be more about Mark Schultz. Which is why it seems odd that he drives off the compound and out of the movie. Anyway, I read that the original cut of the movie exceeded four hours – so undoubtedly in the effort to shrink it to a length tolerable to antsy viewers context was lost.

Nevertheless, “Foxcatcher” is highly recommended.

Microsoft: Hopelessly Inept

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Three times this week my laptop automatically and without warning shutdown and restarted, thanks to a forced reboot initiated by Microsoft Windows 7. By the time the system came back each time, a good half hour had frittered away. Microsoft invokes this disruptive procedure because their operating system continues to be a miasma of severe bugs and flaws in need of constant repair. Even after two decades in market the product remains a piece of garbage. Presumably complacent in the belief that the Windows hegemony could never be broken, Microsoft is shitting now that “personal computing” is moving fast to mobile devices that primarily run Android and iOS systems.

And in another wave of embarrassing news for the toads in Seattle, Ford Motor just announced it is kicking Microsoft off its in-car technology platform and replacing it with a system from Blackberry called QNX. Apparently drivers found the old system – called MyFord Touch – difficult and annoying to navigate because of the clunky, menu-driven Microsoft software. Again, the preferred user experience today hews more closely to the design of a smart phone than a PC.

In a tasty piece of snark, AutoTrader.com called the MyFord Touch system “the modern-day equivalent of the Edsel.” I guess Ford decided a forced reboot was the only viable action.

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