Spotlight: A Powerful and Moving Truth

Directed by Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler, The Visitor) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate, Fringe) Spotlight stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci, and is about six Boston Globe reporters who uncover a decades long cover up of priests who assaulted children all over the city

The Boston Globe & Spotlight

Directed by Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler, The Visitor) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate, Fringe) Spotlight stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci, and is about six Boston Globe reporters who uncover a massive cover up of priests who assaulted children all over the city. As docudrama, Spotlight delivers a powerful and moving truth, that the church, and to a huge degree the city of Boston, swept facts under a rug to allowed pedophiles to continue to prey on their young victims.

The story follows the  journalists who discover that the Catholic Church, via Cardinal Law and the clergy’s  system itself,  actively sanctioned the cover-ups and repeatedly moved priests who were pedophiles and sexual predators. As the team of investigative reporters work to find answers and question new sources, the world carries on and a city’s officials continue to look the other way.

In many ways this is an old fashioned sort of film, harking back to the days of All the President’s Men, Erin Brockovich or even, with a bit of a stretch, Silkwood.  Granted, only the Woodward, Bernstein film is about reporters uncovering a very inconvenient truth, but all of the films deal with coverups by people who should have known better.  Out of the lot, Spotlight deals with something that both offends and dismays; an institution whose figureheads are the Pope and St Mary that condoned the molestation of children.

The title of the film refers to an investigative branch of The Boston Globe who work tirelessly to learn the truth behind allegations that priests were sexually abusing children throughout Boston and that the church, rather than punish those who transgressed, were just moving them on to another diocese. The list ultimately contained 87 names of priests who were sexual predators that the church, and the city, protected.

As a result of their investigative efforts the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage. Just as the film is evocative of other “whistle blower” films, or films about coverups, political and otherwise, the story also feels like a “throw-back” to proper journalism and those investigative reporters who worked so tirelessly to learn the truth. It could, in fact, serve as a training template for new journalists.

Spotlight is not shot in a manner to cause excitement, the hues of color in each scene feel like a blend of Boston coffee house and harsh office lighting.  The ambiance of the sets, which feel as real as any reporters cubicle desk back in the old days, lends a sense of reality to the journey these investigative journalists underwent to finally put all the pieces together.

The acting is grim, real and underplayed.  There are scenes of raw emotion, I defy anyone watching not to become emotional during Michael Rezendes’ outburst later in the film. Mark Ruffalo, as Rezendes, brings a deep seated intensity to his depiction of the “head” reporter on the case.  The Hulk actor has proven more often than not that he is destined to play more than a great green “Avenger” with anger management problems.

Michael Keaton now seems to have returned to the screen in earnest.  After his prolonged absence and brilliant return in the Oscar winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2014, Keaton proves with his depiction of Spotlight head Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson that his chops have not dulled in his absence.

Powerful, and moving performances were given by all. Even Liev Schreiber, who played the  smaller, but relatively important role of The Boston Globe’s “new boss” gives an impressively nuanced picture of the Jewish executive editor who tasks his investigative branch to take on the city of Boston and the Catholic Church.

There are a number of familiar faces in this “biopic” docudrama. All are beyond excellent, from Rachel McAdams’s role of the reporter whose Nan took her to church every Sunday to family man Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) who becomes upset when he realizes that two of these pedophile priests live in his neighborhood.

Spotlight works on a few levels, initially it shows, via the mundane nature  of  fact finding and “door knocking” by the team,  just how sources should be found, vetted and questioned.  “Old fashioned newspaper work” feet on the ground, research, and solid investigation are the order of the day.  The editors, all the ones “in the loop,” continually question their reporters on their status and waver between dropping the case and continuing.

Another factor, not mentioned in the film, but one that anyone in the journalistic field will be aware of is that this all took place not long after the “crucification” of investigative journalist Gary Webb. (The film Kill the Messenger starring Jeremy Renner tells about this travesty which took place in the mid 1990s.)

This story has long reaching ramifications for the church.  The story of sexual predators as priests and their victims coming forward could have been buried when 9/11 occurred. (The twin towers were attacked during the investigation.)  In all likelihood the entire sickening episode would have received more attention had 9/11 not taken place.

Spotlight is a re-creation of events that took place in the early 2000s. While in some instances it feels a little like a newspaper version of Dragnet, it lacks the harsh delivery of the hit television show about Joe Friday. Instead it gives us a sober look at the less pleasant side of reporting and shows how investigative work should be done.

McCarthy allows us to see the pain, doubt and indecision behind the actions taken by the investigative team and all the people they interact with.  There may be elements of the “coverup” genre (which arguably should be a genre all its own) but the message is simple:

Any organization, despite its intent, is capable of protecting its own.  

Just like the police force closes ranks when a brother (or sister) in blue commits an offense, so too the Catholic Church closed ranks to protect its pedophiles.

Spotlight is easily one of the top ten films of 2015  that should be seen by all. Not just a message film, or even biopic per se, it is powerful indictment of the old fashioned virtues of the press that is missing in this day and age of Internet news and citizen journalists.

A 4 out of 5 star film that you will feel compelled to watch at least twice, if not more.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Somber Revisit to the Verse

Poster for Avengers 2

After having to wait for iTunes to stop offering Avengers: Age of  Ultron for purchase (sorry but if it’s to own, Blu-Ray with a load of extras is how this reviewer rolls) and giving punters the chance to just rent Joss Whedon and Marvel’s follow up to The Avengers (Assemble) the viewing experience turned out to be a somber revisit to the Marvel verse. The sobering sequel introduces two new characters, one lasting much longer than the other (Scarlet Witch aka Elizabeth Olsen) who becomes a member of the home team before the end credits roll.

This sequel is darker than the first. It also has less of the obvious Whedon touches. There are, most likely, a number of reason for this holding back of the Joss effect.

Firstly, it is not news to anyone who loves the Avengers films that Joss “Is Boss” Whedon  is bowing out of the business of forging the films.  As Whedon also has a small screen version of the Marvel world to produce weekly, it makes a huge amount of sense to leave the big screen shenanigans up to another director/writer to play with.

Secondly, things in the comic book world of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (Tony Stark) Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, et al are due to become very dark indeed with the next installment dealing with the infinity war, civil war, the death of Cap and any number of dark and disturbing issues in Marvel land.

The Avengers did have  Joss Whedon all over it, a clear stamp of his wit, framing, dialogue and directorial genius. Avengers: Age of Ultron feels grim, in comparison, and dangerous. The overly clever wit has been toned down and is less Joss than usual. (Although the Iron Man scene where Stark says, after shooting all the bad guys in the room is, “Good talk,” and an obviously in-pain shot guard moans, “No it wasn’t.” Pure unadulterated Whedon.)

*Sidenote* Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury gets what may just be the best, i.e. funniest, line of the film. Speaking about Ultron’s building up of an army, he says that he is producing quicker than a “Catholic Rabbit.” While this may not necessarily go over very well with the Pope, is it very, very funny. Although Spader’s Ultron comes a very close second with his “I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but …”

Why?

Well, as stated above, Whedon is due to hand over the reins of power to Joe and Anthony Russo for Avengers 3 Part one (due out in 2018).  Also, as mentioned above, fans of the comic books for each of the main characters know that dark days are coming and this has also, apparently necessitated a change in style. The franchise should not have a huge shift in directorial influence with some transition. Hence the darker feel.

The film is not, however, without its amusing moments but the banter is either missing or toned down to near nonexistence.  The entire storyline is sobering, so much so that even the re-emergence of Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury fails to elicit  a cheer.  James Spader, who plays Ultron, kills it, sounding uncannily like Tony Stark, with the way he delivers many of his  lines  and feeling like the ultimate rebellious teenager who wants desperately to overpower/outperform  his father (Stark).

The plot in the second Avengers film has Tony Stark doing what he does best,  acting independently, although he has Dr. Banner (the Hulk) helping him. He develops an AI peacekeeper to help defend earth. Ultron, his creation, is flawed and ultimately decides that mankind must evolve to survive. Unfortunately his idea of evolution is an enforced extinction of the species therefore allowing  one to take over.

All of the Avengers must reform and evolve  in order to face and defeat this threat, in the process, Tony and Banner create Vision (Jarvis with an infinity stone in his biotic forehead).  While the film feels a bit sobering, there are a still a few moments of levity and a couple of things that tell us these uneasy team members were meshing very well, until the rise of Ultron.

Hawkeye and The Black Widow are Clint and Nat. Bruce and Natasha have “a thing” and we learn a whole lot more about Barton. For instance, he has a house in the country with kids and his wife Laura is played by  Linda Cardellini.   Clint also has DIY fever and constantly remodels the house.  

This iteration of the Avengers has our heroes fighting an even bigger army with a huge threat going on all about them. A huge section of ground that, when released from its ever increasing height, will annihilate life on earth is the battleground setting where all the heroes fight Ultron’s mechanized troops.

Andy Serkis has a  brilliant cameo and he is not in a mo-cap suit for once. Elizabeth Olsen kills it as the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)  as does Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays brother Pietro (Quicksilver). Paul Bettany finally gets to show off more than his dulcet tones and he proves to be just as impressive in the “flesh.”

The ubiquitous Stan Lee cameo comes at the start of the film and is said to be Stan’s favorite one to date. “Excelsior” aside, the film has a lot of memorable moments.  The scenes are on par with the first foray into the big screen world of Marvel heroes.  We have some backstory for Natasha, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, and we learn what Tony Stark really fears.

By the time the film ends, we have a new group of Avengers, Stark has stepped away from the new “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Cap is still heading up the organization.  Vision looks to be the new “in the trenches” leader of the group and Earth is still under threat.

As a sort of PS type sidenote, the whole Captain America schtick of “Language” was amusing as was Stark in his Hulk suit beating the Hulk’s head into the pavement while  repeating desperately “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to…” Almost as good as Tony then knocking out one of the big guy’s teeth and saying in a very little voice, “I’m sorry.”

Even though the overall feel of this Avengers outing was  a little less Joss and more transitional, the film is, like the first, an exciting experience.  There were, however, no goosebumps inducing moments, as in the first film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment value and because (Duh!) it’s Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chis Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Cobie…

Foxcatcher: Steve Carell Disturbs In Olympic Murder Story (Review/Trailer)

Foxcatcher: Steve Carell Disturbs In Olympic Murder Story (Review/Trailer)

Boasting a tagline of “Based on a shocking true story” Foxcatcher features comic actor Steve Carell who disturbs as the millionaire benefactor of two Olympic gold medalist brothers who turns his patronage into a murder story. Audiences do not need to be aware of the background of the senseless and shocking death of Dave Schultz in 1996. While the film Foxcatcher merges some facts and time periods are shortened or not made clear, the tale is chilling, disturbing and upsetting. This is a personal and somewhat fictionalized version of what happened between the two brothers and John du Pont, who approached the older brother and shot him three times.

Miley Cyrus Cheating and Pink Twerking Like a Mofo

Miley Cyrus Cheating and Pink Twerking Like a Mofo

According to Pink, real name Alecia Moore, Miley Cyrus is cheating. Not that Pink is complaining, on the contrary, she thinks that Ms Cyrus is “freaking talented.” But in the terms of her MTV VMA performance, Pink says she didn’t need to perform so outlandishly. She added that Miley is beautiful and she can, “sing her a** off.” But in the area of twerking? Pink says that she herself, “twerks like a mofo.”

Shutter Island (2010): A Scorsese Screamer

Shutter Island (film)
Shutter Island (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director Martin Scorsese’s film Shutter Island was touted as ‘Scorsese does horror’ by the studio marketing department. The teasers and trailers that cropped up in theatres and television as early as 2008 slotted the film firmly in the scary screamer category.

So I was a little bit more than confused when I finally got to watch the film in 2010. Munching my popcorn in the darkened theatre, I expected to lose at least half of it from jumping and jerking at the scary bits. Thankfully, that was not to be (thankfully, because I love eating popcorn while watching a movie, it is as perfect a combination as say, peaches and cream).

Instead I found myself watching a damned good psychological thriller.  There was a mixture of mystery, drama, horror and tragedy thrown in for good measure, but, it was undeniably a thriller. So despite the studio publicity hacks best attempts at dooming the picture because of misrepresentation, Shutter Island shot straight into the Blockbuster category.

I mean was there ever any doubt that Scorsese, the Wunderkind who grew up, wouldn’t pack the cinema’s with his ‘tribute’ to Hitchcock?  Not in my mind. Scorsese has hit more out of the metaphorical ball park than Babe Ruth. Okay, time to move on from the Scorsese fan-boy stroking.

The film opens with US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) on a ferry heading to Shutter Island. They are going to Ashecliffe Hospital and institution for the criminally insane based on the island. They’ve been sent there to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer).

Rachel was imprisoned for murdering her three children by drowning them. As Ashecliffe Hospital is, despite it’s name, a maximum security prison located on an island, the disappearance has a ‘locked room’ mystery air to it.

On the journey out to the island, we learn that Teddy is a decorated war hero and that this is the first time he has worked with his partner. When the men land on the island they are met by a hostile group of  ‘prison officers’ who demand that they hand over their weapons.

The two Marshall’s are then escorted to a meeting with the head psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley). Dr Cawley is oddly reluctant to deal with the investigating Marshall’s and refuses to hand over medical records of the missing woman. He explains that Rachel’s doctor is on holiday and he refuses them access to the ward that she went missing from.

Cawley then explains that they have already searched the island and it’s broken lighthouse, he is of the opinion that the officers have wasted their time coming to the island.

We learn that Teddy suffers from migraines and he also has flashbacks about the war and the death of his wife. The war flashbacks are from his unit coming across a ‘death camp’ and his subsequent ‘execution’ of the SS Commandant who ran it. The flashbacks of his wife’s death involve the man who killed her, an arsonist that had a grudge against Teddy, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas).

While the meeting is going on, Teddy and his partner Chuck meet Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) who questions Teddy about the war and makes certain assertions about him and his personality. Teddy reacts aggressively and his flashbacks about the war increase as does his migraine.

Teddy and Chuck questioning the staff.

Teddy starts questioning the staff and patients who, like Dr Cawley, are reluctant to help. The staff come across as bored and hostile, the patients unfocussed. Only one patient appears to be ‘with it’ and she slips Teddy a note telling him to run.

Teddys get frustrated at the lack of cooperation and decides to break into Ward C. Teddy’s migraine gets so bad that he passes out and when he wakes up he has been given ‘hospital’ clothes. He begins to think that the entire hospital is engaging in a conspiracy to hide what really happened to Rachel and he has found evidence that his wife’s murderer is a patient there.

Teddy thinks that a trap has been laid for him and his partner, but they are both stuck on the island as a hurricane blows in.

As a thriller Shutter Island works brilliantly. The plot twists and turns and as we follow Teddy around on his investigation, we get as lost as he is. The truth is hidden behind lies and misdirection. There are scary bits in the film as well as disturbing ones.

We grow to like Teddy and his partner, although, as the film progresses we start to mistrust Chuck and begin to question his motives and his loyalty to Teddy. We struggle with Teddy as he finds clues as to what is really going on at the hospital and we share his frustration at the many dead ends and false leads he encounters.

Shutter Island is Scorsese at his best. He masterfully weaves the threads of this tale and neatly ties them up at the end. The cinematography of the island and the hospital is dark, uncomfortable and unsettling. When Teddy has his many flashbacks the scenes are brightly lit and jarring. The music suits the mood of the film and helps to sell the finality and  sadness that the doomed Teddy faces.

Shutter Island

I feel that Shutter Island is a thriller, but Teddy’s own story could very well be classified as horror. The film is a worthy adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane it manages to evoke the same feelings and reactions about Teddy and his predicament.

I mentioned that I love the combination of popcorn and movies. Well, I can generally measure how good a film is by the amount of time it takes me to consume a large bag of popcorn. The better the film, the faster the popcorn runs out.

I ran out of popcorn before a quarter of the film had gone by and I lost not one kernel to ‘jumps’ or ‘scares.’