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.


Film Review : Life of Pi (2012)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 87%
Academy Award Winner for Directing, Cinematography, Original Score, and Visual Effects

Directed By – Ang Lee
Starring – Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, and Rafe Spall

A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Sitting on my DVR for over three months, Life of Pi finally was able to breach the wall into my procrastinating face. I regret not seeing it sooner. I regret not seeing it in theaters. I regret not seeing it in 3D. It’s honestly one of the very few films that I am literally kicking myself for not seeing in the theater. I sat through “Avatar”. I paid to see “World War Z”. Yet I couldn’t get off my ass to go see this film while it was in theaters for three months. What a missed opportunity. Let’s just get this out of the way. I LOVED the film. I couldn’t have loved it more. It was perfect in my eyes. Is it one of the best movies I’ve ever seen? No, but just because a film doesn’t make your all time favorite list, doesn’t mean it isn’t a flawless film. I don’t think I can explain it other than I’ll be watching this film for many years to come. It just so happens to be a film that goes against all my favorite films. It’s like rainbow in a universe of thunderstorms. I love thunderstorms.

So let’s try to get through this piece as coherently as possible. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably going to get lost along the way, but this is how I write and the world will have to accept that. “Life of Pi” is a film about the meaning of life. There. I said it. Ang Lee, who has always made films with moral themes, constructed a film adapted from the Yann Martel novel of the same name with an idea. The idea was that he wanted to change the way you think and look at the world. Did he accomplish his goal with me? No. I’ve been pondering the meaning of life for a long time now and I think I have it figured out.

Guys. I’m not serious. Calm down.

There is actually some truth in that though. I’m not a religious person. In brief, my beliefs lay in what I like to call “agnostic ignorance”. In short, I don’t believe in a God, but I’m a 24 year old kid from New Jersey. What the hell do I know? There have been countless unexplained events throughout history that no living being on this earth can explain. Science has been able to explain about 99% of that, but that last 1% is where my doubt lays. I can’t possibly adhere to a belief that God exists or God doesn’t exists. I just have no way of knowing. I am however, entirely open to the idea of change. If something happens in my life that expresses the true meaning of life, then I’ll embrace it with open arms. Until then, I’ll be the casual observer trying to take in as much as possible…much like our protagonist, Pi.

From a small age Pi learns the wonder free thinking and choice. He studies and tries to find connections with many things such as animals, people, and religion. He practices Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Pi grows up and eventually has to move away from his country. The family, which owns a zoo, is moving to Canada and is bringing the animals with them to eventually sell to American companies. In order to transport the animals safely, the family boards a freight barge and starts out for the pacific. Disaster strikes, and Pi finds himself on a raft with a few animals, including an adult Bengal tiger. Giving away anything else would only ruin the experience so I’ll stop there.

When the movie reached this point I was being entertained but I did not know yet what I was in store for. I expected a survival story, maybe a few scenes where we see Pi trying to befriend the tiger and a harrowing rescue. What I ended up getting was much more than that. It was a soup of symbolism, astonishing camera work, visuals, and purpose. Ang Lee and his visual effect team took me into their world. Isn’t that what film is supposed to do? I have always found the great films of our generation to be time machines. They transport you from one place, this case being my bed, to an entirely new and different world. The thing is, you can’t just have great visuals. “Avatar” was a marvel to watch but substance wise it was basically Pocahontas with green people and future war helicopters. “Life of Pi” managed to transport myself into the pacific ocean with a Tiger. I was on that boat. The screenplay was crisp and the opposite of boring. There was just the right amount of space in between progressions to let the viewer take in the situation Pi has found himself in. Like great fantasy films before it, “Life of Pi” was able to show me thing I’ve never seen before while still holding my attention in the story.

The film was beautiful. Like I said, I’m kicking myself for not seeing this in the theater. The incredible night time shots mixed with dark vibrant blue and green colors were seriously some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The tiger which was mainly CGI, looked so real that I was actually surprised when I read that only a few of the scenes had an actual tiger in it. They were mostly scenes of the tiger swimming. The ability to direct a film that takes place mostly on open sea and doing so without boring the audience is why Ang lee won his second Oscar for best director. He utilized his incredible visual effects team and a beautiful story by Yann Martel to create one of the most immersing films I’ve ever seen.

Before I finish, I want to talk about the moral themes of this films. If you haven’t seen the film and want to go into it without any knowledge of the ideals brought to light at the conclusion then please stop reading and go watch it for yourself. Otherwise…

The whole theme of God is very prominent throughout the film but it’s the message told by an adult Pi at the end that really stuck with me. As I said before, the idea of going through life trying to figure out its mysteries is what keeps me from falling into a dark depression. I hope I live to 120 years old to try to figure it all out and while that is unlikely, I hope to still get as close to true enlightenment as possible. I don’t think I’m there yet. I don’t believe in a higher power. I don’t feel it in my heart. I don’t particularly think that life is meaningless either. I used to. I used to think that when we die we lay in the ground and become ash. The light just goes out. I’m starting to realize that there is more to it than that. There has to be a reason for all this discovery. I would hate to think that everything we experience is lost when our body finally decides it has had enough. It is this urge to live on that keeps me from going down dark paths. This was the overall message for me. The film lets the viewer decide what is real and what is not. If you like the story with the 600 pound tiger afloat with a man at sea for months then it is your right to believe it. If you find that story completely unrealistic and silly then you have the right to do so. Many people like to believe the former. I myself like to find a balance between the two.

Life isn’t all rainbows and happiness. Dark and cruel things happen in this world that can not possible be explained or justified through the eyes of man. You can not blame a higher power or cast that name in vain. Life happens. Ships sink. People die. It is what you do in the face of all these things that gives life its meaning. The relationships you have with people and the relationship you have with yourself is where you should find true meaning. If it is in fact true that there is no life after death and that we all just flicker out like candles during a windy night, then I would at least take solace in the fact that my life was a good story. That’s all I can ask for.

Wonderful film.