“Catch a Fire” releases catharsis

It’s difficult to remember sometimes while living in the drudgery of Hollywood and trying to create a career in the industry and art form you love the most, why exactly it is that you love it. It’s even more difficult to remember why you love movies in the first place when so many fail to meet expectations, even when failing means that the film was still entertaining enough. Several movies this year I’ve already stepped out of slightly disappointed at the filmmakers because it seemed they were more interested in being clever than in creating a story that was true to the human nature of the characters, and as I said these were movies I enjoyed: “The Illusionist”, “The Prestige”, “The Departed” … all films crafted well, acted well, and thoroughly enjoyable, but somehow disappointing in their final moments of execution – either flashing back to reveal too much, or enjoying a little too much story for their own good.

I’ve experienced one of those weeks (personally) in which nothing it seems like comes to fruition, and that you wonder how things ever could (another symptom created by the world of Los Angeles). You sit, or pace, or wander around in your car wondering if all the hard work you’re putting into every aspect of your life will ever produce something of worth to yourself and others. Hope disappears completely, replaced by large chunks of doubt, worse even acceptance of the fact that you may never get anywhere… what a horrible thing to even consider accepting!

And this is where the two ideas tie together —

A little light headed and slightly hungry I left my theatre last night from fencing rehearsal for the new show I’m working on, also very tired from a weekend with nothing but rehearsals and performances, I found myself driving to a local theatre. I walked up to the ticket counter uncertain what I wanted to see and said “Saw III”. ICatch a poster walked around aimlessly for awhile wondering why I had purchased the ticket, went back, looked over the movie titles, and exchanged it for a film I had only heard about in passing “Catch a Fire”.

I knew Tim Robbins played another political baddie – a role he’s repeated since his directorial debut “Bob Roberts”. That idea kind of bored me when I saw the preview, because that’s all the preview really told me about the film. I had heard some good reviews over the radio though, and since I’m waiting to see Marie Antoinette with someone. I took my chances.

Noyce directs RobbinsMy hopes lifted when at the end of the opening credits I saw over a plain black screen that the director was Philip Noyce. I’ve always been a fan of Noyce’s, I even thought “The Saint” with Val Kilmer was particularly well directed, and with the few slightly independent films like “Rabbit Proof Fence”, my respect for him rose, as did my curiosity level. “Catch a Fire” signifies that moment in which a good director in my book becomes a favorite.

Watching this film I remembered why movies are still made, why movies should continue to be made, because they provide that catharsis that sometimes in life we don’t get. They allow for that release – that conclusive feeling, and when it’s done properly, it can clear up all those cobwebs in your head, and leave you feeling refreshed and alive again. “Catch a Fire” was a beautiful human drama in the guise of a political thriller.

It’s a purposeful film so it takes it’s time, in the end though you are gratified it did. Every character is so fully fleshed out and well rounded that they become some of the most intricately designed characters I have seen on screen in some time. Even the villain of the character you understand and relate to, which makes his excessive forms that much more frightening, because we wonder if we would do that in his situation. Robbins gives the character so much humanity it’s hard not to agree withwife in catch why he does what he does. Though a few times in the film he pulls out a guitar to strum a song and I couldn’t help but giggle at the blatant reference to Bob Roberts. Derek Luke is powerful as the real life family man turned ANS member. And you’ll not see a more beautiful actress than Bonnie Mbuli who plays his jealous wife (pictured to the right).

It’s hard to say whether this will be one of my favorites of the year, because it’s hard to say if I’ll like it as much a second time through. Might it have been a movie I needed at a particular moment in time? Will it bee too sentimental the second time I see it? I’m not sure. A device commonly used at the end of films like this seemed fresh and alive – almost surprising and startlingly so. That device might play differently when I am in a better mood than when I was walking into this triumphant film reeling from a lack of connection with anything. With this in mind I would love to hear other people’s opinions about the film. I know the tomato meter is right around 74%, which ain’t bad.

(As a note this was written the weekend of “Catch a Fire’s” original release. It is unfortunate it has not gotten more notice. People that know of it did the same thing I did, boxed it into a Tim Robbins political thriller, and by doing so uncomplicating (not a word but go with it) what is actually a very complex film. Sad. Either because of poor marketing choices or poor choices by my friends.)

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5 Responses to ““Catch a Fire” releases catharsis”

  1. Paul Martin Says:

    Nice article, Phil. I agree with your comments about films like The Prestige and The Departed (The Illusionist hasn’t opened in Australia yet). I also felt that way with Children of Men.

    ‘Verisimilitude’ is a word that I’ve been trying not to over-use, so I find synonyms like plausibility, believable, conceivable, credible, emotional honesty, etc. For me, many critics and reviewers find merit where it’s not deserved. Yeah, nice film, but what about the friggin’ verisimilitude!!!

    I went to an advance screening of Catch A Fire, with Q&A with Philip Noyce afterward. I have posted both my recollections of that event, as well as a review of the film on my blog, that may interest you.

    Noyce is definitely moving away from the blockbusters of old and appears quite disgusted with the bullshit that goes down in getting films like that made. I had no intention of seeing the film but won free tickets. I was surprised at the quality and integrity of the film. I thought it was an example of a film that was perhaps a little compromised (and that’s not a criticism) in order to get bums on seats, yet was still politically subversive – subversive in the sense that it questions current political issues.

    You may also be interested in my review of Lost Highway, which is how I found your blog, from your post on scanners.

  2. Phillip Says:

    Thanks Paul,

    I’ve actually seen some of your posts on Scanners. I enjoy reading what others have to say; learning differing points of views, though sometimes it’s easy for people to just agree, so I’m going to nicely delineate between two types of truths or verisimilitudes. There are films like “Catch a Fire” in which the reality of a situation has to come through for the point to be made, but then there are movies like “Children of Men” in which I feel the filmmaker has done a great job creating truths within the reality of the film itself, and when it sticks to that alternate reality and doesn’t break from it, I feel the film is just as honest and important as something like “Hotel Rwanda” or “Catch a Fire”. It’s a film like “Primeval” that really pisses me off, in which, somehow while a giant croc is chasing around idiot Caucasians (and one black dude) they want to point out how awful things are in Africa… Which story is the honest one here? Where does the truth lie in a film like that? I think the world in “Children of Men” is so well conceived and directed that it becomes a world unto itself, and like most great science fiction, an allegory for our own troubles and disillusionments. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is another film like this.

  3. Paul Martin Says:

    Phillip: “I’m going to nicely delineate between two types of truths or verisimilitudes.”

    I’m a fan of what I might loosely call ‘quality cinema’ but not of any particular genre (though I have a soft spot for gritty social realism, particularly European cinema). So I can enjoy challenging films, soft-and-fluffy films, escapist films and films of just about any label in-between.

    Verisimilitude refers to a semblance of truth or reality, not the truth or reality itself. So, while there may be no ‘reality’ per se to The Matrix (for example), I can believe it. That’s verisimilitude. Same with Lost Highway. Most of the film is pure fantasy, but there’s a deep dark reality lurking underneath that links the fantasy to the real.


    Yes, actually, exactly my point. That truth within a film is based upon the reality the film creates for itself. There’s always that film that will break a rule within the boundaries it has set for itself…cheaters!

  4. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

    Idetrorce, I would love to hear more, since I’m not sure what it is you don’t agree with or why.

  5. Elaine Says:

    Hi all, here every one is sharing such experience, thus it’s good to
    read this website, and I used to pay a quick visit this blog every day.

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