Film Review : Spotlight (2015)

IMDB Score – 8.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 97%
Metacritic Score – 93/100

Directed By – Tom McCarthy
Starring – Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Neal Huff, and Billy Crudup

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was sitting in my Intro to Journalism class with excitement in my bones because I had finally gotten to the point where I was going to learn how to become something I’ve wanted to become since I was a kid, a journalist. Well, thanks to the very mediocre standards at a particular country college in New Jersey, that dream was, and still is, put on hold. Frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of newspaper journalism. I didn’t care about what was said in the town meeting this weekend because it most likely involved Mrs. Phelp’s rose bush and how she couldn’t expand it due to the stupid creek next to her house which should be filled up. I don’t care about Mrs. Phelps. I wanted and still want to be a conflict journalist. The real dream is travel the world and report on stories that aren’t so readily available to be told. Stories that Vice started to do before they started writing articles on what food is the best before anal sex. I wanted to expose crime and change how people saw the world. This would entail exposing the world as a dark evil place filled with criminals, but at least the rosey colored glasses would be puled back a bit. That dream has been put on hold while I try figure out my life in more immediate ways. That doesn’t however keep me from planning such adventures. They’re still present in my mind. They came back up to the surface in a big way after finishing Tom McCarthy’s 2015 film that thankfully doesn’t star Adam Sandler, Spotlight.

You read the synopsis at the top. You read the newspapers ten years ago. The Catholic Church is fucked up. Like, REALLY REALLY fucked up. My interest in this film was tied to the journalism aspect as I described in the first paragraph, but I also wanted to see how a major market film would handle this kind of subject matter. I turned out to be very pleased with how they decided to do it.

Spotlight is basically This century’s “All the Presidents Men”. Yes, I’m aware that this observation has been realized and written down by probably every single person who has ever talked about this film this year. It does however ring true. McCarthy decided to stay close to the procedural side of telling this story and skip all the shiny dressings that usually accompanies a salad like this. With Spotlight, you have just basic ingredients, except these ingredients are made with extreme care and focus. Gone are the things like romantic ties between main characters. Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton don’t have a secret love fling. Swirling orchestral music isn’t harpooned at us whenever something emotional or powerful happens. The film lets us do all the work when it comes down to feelings and it’s to the films credit that by the end, my gut has been falcon punched into infinity. The film stands for itself and that’s really what I loved about it. The camera work wasn’t flashy but you can really notice it in small movements during pivotal scenes toward the end. McCarthy didn’t paint a new and unheard of masterpiece with his camera, rather he decided to hunker down and make every damn shot and cut count. It’s a reason why the film got nominated for editing, director, and screenplay. Those three things are what make this film special to me. It’s a technically perfect film as far as pace and tone goes, especially with the dark subject matter. It would almost be insulting to try to throw in cheesy love triangles when talking about something as serious as the rape of A LOT OF KIDS BY PRIESTS.

Speaking of subject matter, uhhhh yeah, it’s pretty horrible. The interviews with the victims and in one case, one of the men responsible, were done extremely well. McAdams does her best work here. I’m honestly a little perplexed why she got nominated for this role as I thought that Charlize Theron was phenomenal in Mad Max, but it’s not like McAdams was in any way bad. It wasn’t special to me. Mark Ruffalo however deserved his nomination. The dude killed it like he usually does. Keaton and the rest of the cast were perfect in their roles and you can’t really go wrong with casting Stanley Tucci in anything. The cast were perfect in their handling of such dark and disturbing subject matter. They were just as invested in their roles as the journalists they were portraying were in theirs.

The film is nominated for Best Picture and honestly, I wouldn’t be upset if it won. It’s not a special effects marvel like The Revenant or Mad Max, but it does what it does perfectly and that is tell the story of one of the biggest scandals of the last couple hundred years. It’s a haunting film that stuck with me for a while after I saw it and will hopefully shed a little more light on the church. My journalism path may be on hold, but I’m happy there was a film this year dedicated to the craft of reporting stories that aren’t getting any light.

4.5/5



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Film Review : Foxcatcher (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 88%
Academy Award Nominee for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Makeup, and Best Original Screenplay

Directed By – Bennett Miller
Starring – Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Venessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice

The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

(I’m going to try a different writing style with this one and see if it works out. Just a FYI)

Like Whiplash, I’ve been aware of this film for a long time as it had a very early run at film festivals early last year. I heard Steve Carell was a revelation, that the film was a contender for Best Picture, and that Bennett Miller crafted a tight thriller aimed to get under your skin. Well, some of those things ended up being true, some didn’t. Let’s get into this.

Steve Carell – This was really the first thing I heard about the film. Steve Carell, Michael Scott himself, can act with the big guys. Considering he was recognized by the Academy, I’d say that he has found his way into talk of great working actors today. I didn’t think however that his performance was as monumental as most are claiming. I think that the fact that it was Steve Carell behind that enormous shnoz added to the talk of greatness. The guy who was speaking gibberish on Bruce Almighty and throwing tridents at people in Anchorman was now taking on a serious acting role in trying to portray John duPont. I think he did as fine a job as anybody could have, I just think the actual part was a bit underwhelming. duPont doesn’t say much. This role was all in the eyes for Carell and by all means did he nail it. My favorite parts of the film were when Carell, as duPont, is confronted with a problem, and his gaze goes cold, and his mind seems to be racing, but there is zero emotion on his face. That’s all Carell. He was able to give off such a creepy and subtle psychosis that even though I didn’t know the outcome of the story, I knew something bad was brewing. David Oyelewo should have been in the Best Actor category, but I had no problem with Carell being there.

The screenplay – This is where the film had its flaws. I love quiet films. This film is VERY quiet. There is a very subtle score consisting of light piano and strings but most of the film is dialogue and while that is happening, there is silence. There were times where this kind of slowness was totally important in the building of these characters. Other times it meandered. There were scenes involving duPont and his obsession with being in control that were important theme wise but seemed to drag on film wise. The two hour and fifteen minute run time felt like three hours mostly due to this meandering. The end of the film was also very abrupt and didn’t really give us reactionary points of view from all parties. Shocking? Oh, hell yeah. The pivotal scene that begins the end of the film is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve seen this year, but after that the film just kind of fades away. I needed more resolve. There was also a lot of holes in the film where Shultz and duPont start to get closer to each other. There’s a scene on a helicopter before a ceremony that leads right into bad haircuts and total character change. Nothing explained it other than what happened on the helicopter. Just felt forced.
Other than that, I felt that the comparison and development of duPont and Mark Shultz was fascinating to watch. Both these characters had father/mother issues, felt like they were in the shadows of somebody else, and loved America a whole lot. It’s a great character study.

Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum – Both of them, teamed with Carell of course, kicked major ass in this film. I said as the film was starting that I wanted to see if Tatum could actually act or if he was just a one trick pony with his sexy dancing and his buddy cop comedies. The dude can act. I’m now in the group of people that sees him as an actor rather than a celebrity who tries to act. For the record, I loved him in 21 Jump Street. Like Carell with duPont, Channing portrayed Mark Shultz as a silent time bomb, ready to explode at a given point. I was impressed. Ruffalo has been a favorite actor of mine for a while and even I didn’t understand the praise he got for this film until about three quarters of the way in. Then I got it. The last quarter of this film, Ruffalo becomes one of the more sympathetic characters I’ve seen in film in a while. He portrays the character and personality of Dave Shultz so well that all sorts of emotions were flying by the films end. He earned his praise.

The liked the film. I’m glad I didn’t see it in theaters because I may have fallen asleep but the film worked in most ways in telling the chilling tale of what happens when you mix immense power and money with mental illness. The three actors knocked it out of the park and the film had great tone and color. It dragged in bits, but overall it’s a film that I can see getting better with age. The character study alone of duPont and Mark Schultz was worth the watch.

3/5




Quick Review : Force Majeure (2014)

Rotten Tomato Score – 93%
IMDB Score – 7.5

Directed By – Ruben Östlund
Starring – Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Vincent Wettergren, and Clara Wettergren

A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.

What would you do in a situation where your life could be in immediate danger? It’s the classic fight or flight scenario that really can’t be answered until the time has come. Tomas and his family found the answer to that question after their vacation lunch is interrupted by a controlled avalanche, or so it seems controlled. What follows is a unique, entertaining, cringe worthy film that deals with the aftermath of such an event. I didn’t expect it to be so funny.

I like to think that I would be the kind of man that stares danger in the face and puts up a fight. Fact is, I have no idea if that’s true or not. I’ve been in some situations where I was able to handle myself. I was in a car accident, helped rescue a hurt ATV rider calling for help in the woods, and two friends pass out on me, one from heat stroke and one from exhaustion. All these however were instances where I wasn’t involved or wasn’t involved minimally. The car accident was a low speed rear ending. My life has never truly been in danger. The lives of my friends and family have never been in danger. I’m waiting for the day that I’m walking down the street with somebody I care about and get approached by a man with a knife. Would I run? Would I shield my loved one? I’d like to think the latter, but can I be sure? The reaction is pure instinct and that’s where this film stores all of it’s interest. It provokes these thoughts in the viewing while simultaneously conjuring thoughts about the characters in the film. It was very entertaining.

The film should have been included in this years Oscar ceremony, but what are you going to do? There were so many scenes where family members and friends are trying to get a hold on what happened and how they feel about it. Those instances show the true person behind all the presentation we show other people. It was fun getting to see how this is handled, by both the people affected by the decision, and the person who made it.

Did I mention Tormund Giantsbane is in this? His beard is still amazing. Don’t know what I mean? That’s too bad, I’m not telling.

The film is also shot very well with many standing shots of the Alps with the action happening around the frame, like a moving picture. There was so much white filling every space that it really made you appreciate the darkness and the shadows, much like how we explore the parts of ourselves that aren’t bright and in your face.

It’s a great film.

4/5




Film Review : Selma (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 98%
Nominated for Best Picture

Directed By – Ava DuVernay
Starring РDavid Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth, Andr̩ Holland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Colman Domingo, Omar J. Dorsey, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, Dylan Baker, Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Keith Stanfield, Henry G. Sanders, and Stephen Root

A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Pencil me into the group that is upset that both Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo were not chosen as nominees in this years Academy Awards. I don’t think it was politically fueled like some people are claiming, but rather just an injustice to superior work in the film/acting industry. They flat out should have been included.

Man, this was a powerful film. It took me a long time to see this because I knew it was going to be a powerful experience. I guess I just didn’t want to go through such a thing until I knew I was ready. I wasn’t ready though. I was choked up throughout most of the film. It’s funny how just the presence of David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. was enough to get me emotional. The man was almost identical to Dr. King. That wasn’t enough though. His performance is what drove this thing home for me. He’s mesmerizing in every single scene that features him. My eyes focused on him as if I were really looking at the man who fought so hard for equality years ago. I would never go as far to call myself an activist. I’m far too lazy in my life right now to appoint myself with that title. Ideally though, I stand tall for equality. I believe that every person in this country deserves equal rights. I’m a big supporter of the LGBT community and the legalization of gay marriage. I’m a supporter of a government that creates laws for the people and not their own gain. I’m in favor of a military and police force that would just fucking relax. I do this all from my bedroom though. I know in my heart that if the opportunity arises where I can help make a change, I’d do it. I guess it just hasn’t presented itself yet. Watching David Oyelowo portrayal Dr. King stirred up a lot of these emotions inside me though. It takes a tremendous performance to do that and Oyelowo accomplished that. It may be the performance of the year for me.

There is still some political hoo-ha that I need to get off my chest. I’ll try to relate it to the film as much as I can.

Ferguson was fascinating/revolting to me. When the big riots were going on, I was able to watch on my computer thanks to the miracle of iPhones. This film couldn’t have come at a better time. People think that what happened in 1965 is ancient history. Ha. That shit ain’t over and it probably never will be over 100%. We still have rampant racism going on all over this country. We have military police lining the streets with assault rifles and tanks to try to “defend” themselves against protesters armed with and harsh words and numbers. Sure, we aren’t lynching black men in the streets anymore. There are laws now that says we can’t do that. I have no doubt in my mind that if those laws weren’t in place, they’d be happening every weekend like Bingo. Racial crimes are still being committed out there on both sides. That’s what gets me about Ferguson and why this film is so important right now. The film focuses on the non-violet march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. Non-violent. Hell, not only were they non violent, but they were polite in doing so. That’s why Martin Luther King is remembered today in the same way Ghandi is also remembered. Fighting violence with violence is never the answer long term. I remember seeing video of the riots in Ferguson. There were people antagonizing police. They threatened them and covered their faces with bandannas as if they were going to rob a house. Oh wait, that’s what they did. They looted the business of their city because they could. They didn’t care about what was going on. They just needed a reason to fuck shit up. It’s a horrible way to look at things.

This is still happening. Racism isn’t over. It’s hiding in the shadows. Selma is a film that brings light to the darkness I feel.

It’s a beautifully shot film. I haven’t seen Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, or The Imitation game. I can’t comment on those directors. I can say however that this film couldn’t have been filmed better. There isn’t any exposition in the beginning of the film. This isn’t a bio-pic or a History Channel movie. The film doesn’t insult our intelligence by giving us the back story on how Dr. King became who he was. This was about the march on the capitol. I liked this way of telling the story. I was able to be drawn in more with the attention to detail being focused on an event that took place over the course of a couple weeks. You lose a lot of the power when you’re telling a story that spans years. This film stayed focus on the march and in doing so kept me focused on the message at hand. The camera work was also impressive. Many shots involving Dr. King bathed in back light were just a beautiful thing to see. Emotional scenes didn’t feel forced or unearned. I was fighting back tears in most of the brutal scenes of what went down during these marches. None of it felt heavy handed or too dramatic.

There were other great performances besides David Oyelowo. Tom Wilkenson and Tim Roth did fantastic jobs portraying LBJ and George Wallace.Both are actors that in my opinion don’t get enough work for how great they are when they do. Stephen James, who had a smallish role as a young John Lewis, was also very impressive.

I’ve always been an admirer of Dr. King and what he did for equality in this country. I always viewed people with racism in their hearts and speech as confusing because I don’t see people as divided. I’ve always laughed at people who claim that we live in the greatest country in the world. It takes some pretty big balls to make that claim while there is so much wrong still going on. I don’t know which country is the greatest. I like to think that we have the potential to stake claim to that title. There is a lot of work to do though. A lot of work. Political activism in the media comes and goes. People, including myself admittedly, get bored and move on to the next story. Ignorance makes us think that just because something else is happening that the previous news stories just kind of went away. Ferguson is still a mess racially. There may not be riots in the streets every night, but it’s still a city full of ignorant people on both sides of the argument. We’re a country in debt. We’re a country who can’t decide if we should be teaching Creationism/Evolution, whether we should grant gay people the right to marry, or even whether we should be at war or not. How can a country with so many divided segments call itself the greatest country in the world? It confuses me.

What gives me hope however is the arts. As long as films like Selma are being released to the mainstream, there will be new people with views that they never had before. Dr. King started a new way of thinking for a lot of people and granted new rights to people who already had it figured out. It’ll never end though. Hopefully people will see this film for what it is, a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, powerful remembrance of what we were at one time as a country, what what we still are today.

5/5




Film Review : Inherent Vice (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 69%
Academy Award Nominations for Best Costume Design and Dapated Screenplay

Directed By – Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Joanna Newsome, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, ERic Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Michael K. Williams, Hong Chau, Jena Malone, and Martin Dew

In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.

It’s been just over two weeks since my last post. Apologies for that. My viewing habits happen to be changing week to week but good news is that I should have a few more posts coming up after I finish seeing the Oscar nominated films. I also may write up an actual post on the Oscar nominations but I’m debating it because I’ve honestly stopped caring about the show. Anyway, thanks for reading as always.

PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON HAS A NEW FILM OUT! YES!

Being my favorite living director right now, I have been excited for this film while also actively avoiding anything related to the film. I wanted to go into this thing fresh. Turns out, it doesn’t matter how many times I watched the trailer or how many articles I read, I would have left the theater confused either way. I honestly have no clue what the hell happened in this film. Now, normally this would be a negative. Normally, this would be an indication that the screenplay was weak, disjointed, or too complex. That isn’t the case for this film. I heard and understood every single line of dialogue in the film. I just don’t know what most of it means. Sure, the film is complex and offers about a thousand different characters with their own connections with the story. Some of these characters appear in the beginning and disappear for two hours only to be revealed at the end as a major plot device. Some of these characters only grace their presence once and after the scene changes they’re gone. I don’t have a problem with too many characters. Hell, Magnolia is one of my favorite films of all time and there are just as many characters in that as this. What makes this such a hard watch is simple, we experience the film like our main protagonist Doc Sportello experiences it, in a very foggy haze. It’s this haze that makes things murky and confusing. There is nothing wrong with that in my mind. PTA has crafted a film that even he doesn’t understand. Seriously, he said that in an interview with Marc Maron. While I haven’t read the source material, he states that a lot of the films dialogue and story arc is just how Thomas Pynchon wrote it in his book. Pynchon, who is one of the most unique writers of the last thirty years, had his book translated into film beautifully by PTA. The only problem with that is how it affected the audience which was a mixed bag.

I had two reactions during the two and a half hour run length of the film. The first half I was actively trying to keep up with the story and understand everything that was happening. I wasn’t enjoying the film that much. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a grasp on the significance of each character or that Joanna Newsome, who acted as the narrator of the film as well as a friend to Doc, would keep chiming in with Pynchon jargon. Don’t get me wrong, Newsome was great in this, and I liked the narration. It just didn’t help with the frustration of trying to figure out what’s going on. Halfway through the movie I decided to give up and just let the amazing cinematography, acting, and 70’s vibes wash over me. I should have done that from the beginning because I enjoyed the film so much more.

Joaquin Phoenix plays our protagonist Doc, a weed smoking private eye who is tasked to put this puzzle of a story in the right pieces. I’m not even sure if he does by the end or if everything that he went through was even real. PTA did a fantastic job of making the film feel like you just smoked a huge doober. The cast is overbearing at times. Del Toro, Short, Witherspoon, Wilson, and Roberts aren’t in the film enough. This is all Phoenix, Brolin, and Waterston. Josh Brolin plays Bigfoot, a longtime acquaintance of Doc and also the person who wants to see Doc arrested. Waterston plays Doc’s ex ladyfriend whom has gone missing. We see her in flashbacks and sporadically through the film but she’s incredible whenever we do. The last scene we see her in is especially impressive as it’s a long, almost seven minute take with just her and Doc talking, and then some. The comedy comes mostly from Brolin, Phoenix, and a hilarious Martin Short. The cast kicked ass is what I’m saying.

Obviously I’m going to have to see this again. Even if I wasn’t confused I would see it again given that it’s a film by a living, and young, legend of cinema. There’s just something about PTA’s films where these whole other chambers reveal themselves and open up on repeat viewings. This review is a lot shorter than what I expected a PTA review would be but honestly, I can’t talk much about what I don’t understand. I’ll say this though, there is literally nothing like a Paul Thomas Anderson film. It’s a strange, hypnotic, hysterical, haze of a film that demands repeat viewings and crackpot fan theories. There are scenes in this film that are bizarre and puzzling mixed in with scenes that are just flat out outrageous and funny. It’s always a fun time in the cinema with PTA.

Plus, I don’t mean to spoil anything, but at one point Josh Brolin tells Doc that he smells like a patchouli fart. That’s hilarious. Damn hippies.

4/5