Spotlight – A Review

Todd McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight a story based on true events that led to the 2002 Boston Globe expose on systematic child abuse in church that caused a global uproar and eventually a decade later got Pope Francis to publicly apologize on behalf of the catholic church.

Spotlight is the special team of investigative journalists who work in isolation from the rest of the paper following up and priming a story before it is ready for an editorial publication. Here the team consists of Ruffalo’s Mike, McAdams’ Sasha and D’Arcy’s Matt who all report to Keaton’s Robbie. While working on a story on PD numbers they are asked by Live Schreiber’s Marty Baron the new editor of Boston Globe to follow up on a story that another reporter from Boston Globe wrote a small column on about a Boston priest who molested boys across 6 parishes over 20 years and a lawyer Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci claims he can prove that the Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese knew about it and turned a blind eye.

From here on it opens a veritable Pandora’s Box as more victims and more abusive clergy come to the notice of the spotlight team. Through one of the victims they are put in contact with a former priest who used to work at a treatment facility where these abusive priests were sent when they were accused of such wrong doings. By his estimate he thinks that as many as 8% of all priests exhibit such abusive behavior and when cross referencing records of priests sent on sick leave of other similar euphemistic terms they uncover 87 priests who may have abused children while the Cardinal looked the other way.

For a story so important they couldn’t have chosen better actors. Ruffalo, D’Arcy and Keaton are great. Rachel McAdams makes a brilliant comeback and shows what she is capable of. Liev Schreiber underplays the editor role with a nuanced performance, there are no histrionics or loud outburst but a methodical dedication to the job at hand. The only complaint I have is with Ruffalo – while in most part earnest and believable the thing he does with his mouth when he talks in a manner that is supposed to seem like a Bostonian accent is weird. He sounds like that annoying person at the table who always speaks with his mouth full.

The editing and pacing of the movie is where this goes a bit haywire. There are no crescendos, no high points in the movie – it mostly maintains the same pace throughout and feels overlong. The story keeps shifting focus from the spotlight team writing the story, Tucci fighting the case, other auxiliary characters who appear to be shady but aren’t really bad eventually and this whole plot about Keaton pondering over why the Boston globe didn’t cover the news 20 years ago seems to allude to some complicity on the part of John Slattery which doesn’t go anywhere. There are many amazing support characters like Phil Saviano the leader of the victims organization, Patrick the junkie father of one who is garabedian’s client who agrees to be interviewed by Ruffalo, Billy Cudrup as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience Eric Macleish but they unfortunately are not the focus of the story and the procedural investigation is what takes up more of the story’s time and it is eventually what hurts the narrative.

Spotlight is a very important story that needed to be told. The acting is not bad and neither is the direction but there is something missing that makes me question whether this is really the best film of the year. Certainly one of the most important stories of our time and within a confused narrative and directionless acting there are little gems of insight like when the former priest who studied this phenomenon in abusive priests says that the vow of celibacy is one of the primary reasons for this behavior. Or when Matt played by D’Arcy goes and drops a stack of newspapers when the story breaks on the front porch of another abusive priest who lives in his neighborhood. Or how McAdam’s devout catholic grandmother asks for water half way into reading the story. Or when on the sunday when the story breaks and Robbie and Mike come to the newspaper office and there are no picketer or how the usual newspaper phone lines are not ringing but the Spotlight lines for the victims is ringing off-the-hook. It is moments like these that lift the story and make it worthwhile.

Avengers Age of Ultron – A Review

Joss Whedon directs the second chapter of the Marvel superhero multiverse in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremey Renner, and Scarlett Johansson return along with new stars like Elisabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader.

Because I hated the first Avengers move my expectations going into this were abysmally low and that is perhaps why I came off more impressed than I expected. While there are still plenty of gaping plot holes but there is a lot more done in terms of a worthy villain, a plausible catastrophe-in-waiting and in terms of character development with respect to the hulk and especially black widow and Hawkeye.

The gang is busting up some shady looking eastern European mobster who seems to be using Loki’s sceptre in some form of weapons development. After a scene reminiscent of Nolan’s Inception where blurry blobs fight other blurry blobs we are introduced to the Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro Aka Scarlett witch and Quicksilver. RDJ aka Tony Stark is shown a vision of what future looks like which set off a series of events which will lead to the downfall of the avengers and the possible annihilation of the human race.

Recovering the Sceptre Stark goes about trying to uncover its secrets and sets in motion the Ultron project – where robot proxies of iron man will do the dirty work instead of the avengers having to go in and fight the good battle themselves. I find this to be a very interesting point of view where the heroes are weary of the burden of having to be the saviours of humanity. But what transpires splits the avengers with every single one of them turning against Stark as he sets of a rise of the machines, every AI-enthusiasts worst nightmare ( did you know that Elon Musk aka real-life Tony Stark has paid 10 million to stop AI from turning against humanity?)

The rogue AI-bot is voiced by James Spader and I have no shame in admitting that I giggle like a little school girl every time Spader speaks. And especially when Ultron tilts its head when speaking “down” to the Avengers you know IT IS James Spader. Through curious turn of events the voice of Jarvis – Paul Bettany comes to life as Vision and this is where the plot made no sense.

Skip ahead a paragraph if you dont wish for the movie’s surprise to be spoilt

Spoiler Alert ->

why would Ultron a Machine with the ability to traverse the internet try to create an android using human cells infused with Vibranium? And why not spend the time it takes to create this vision and transfer Ultron’s consciousness into the Vision be spent on creating more clones of the AI-bots to fight in Ultron’s army? Why are the marvel super-villains so patently stupid? Also once the plan to create a meteor like big-bang which would wipe out the entire human race is unveiled – how exactly does Ultron think he will be able to spawn and spread? I am guessing the big-bang would destroy the internet as well?

<- Spoiler Alert

 

The problem with marvel franchise is that it takes comic-book stories which were written in 80s and continues to push forward with the outlandish theories which make no sense in today’s world. A director of Whedon’s talent must find ways of bringing this forward into the 21st century. They rely on self-deprecating humour to overcome the inherent ridiculousness of the source material.

With Age of Ultron however they try to make inroads into the other neglected aspects of the storytelling, fleshing out the back stories of Black Widow via flashback and visions of what she fears and introducing to the secret side of Hawkeye’s domestic bliss and his out-of-place ness with the avengers in general. Also the romance between Bruce and Natasha is a welcome relief to the general Bayhem of NYC and Sokovia blowing up.

All in all this movie defies the curse of the sequel and ends up being the better movie in the avengers multiverse with the introduction of many many interesting characters and more importantly character development of existing ones.

Watch it for decent action, almost plausible end-of-world scenario and marvel’s coming of age. finally they don’t spend half the movie going into everyone’s back-story and get on with the task of saving the world

 

Foxcatcher – A Review

Bennett Miller directs Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in the psychological drama Foxcatcher. It is a story based on the life of mentally unstable heir to the Du Pont family fortune, John E. du Pont and his association with the Olympic wrestling heroes the Shultz brother.

Bennett Miller last took on the world of baseball in Moneyball and made a surprisingly entertaining movie from a story based on the dry world of player statistics and the mechanics of putting together a winning team. And with the Oscar winning Capote under his hat it was no surprise that my expectations were sky high from Foxcatcher, especially after the moody, creepy and intriguing trailers first hit the web. The end result unfortunately an indulgent and dull exercise at story telling.

If it took E Max Frye and Dan Futterman 8 years to put the script together it feels like the running time of the movie lasts just as long. I am all for moody methodical deconstruction of a character and the inherent drama involved. But with Foxcatcher the story telling is so staccato and the characters so two dimensional that it verges on being unbearable.

Steve Carell plays John E Du Pont the eccentric billionaire who offers Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz a sponsorship and a place to come and live at the Foxcatcher ranch as he trains for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark’s brother Dave is played by Mark Ruffalo who is the only character who makes sense in this travesty. The story seems to suggest sibling rivalry in the eyes of Mark as he feels he is always in Dave’s shadow while Dave loves his brother unconditionally. There have been suggestions of a homosexual undertone to Du Pont and how he felt about Mark but I failed to see any. Carell’s Du Pont is certainly creepy but there is no depth to it, the one scene that stands out for me though was when Du Pont puts on a show for his own mother by delivering a pep talk – that to me the essence of Du Pont’s eccentricities, he is still a boy trying to win the approval of his own mother. The spiralling out of control of Mark and his anger towards Du Pont when he invites Dave at Foxcatcher seems abrupt at best and unbelievable at worst. Sienna Miller plays Dave’s wife and is for most parts unrecognizable and an almost unnecessary character.

The movie is scored beautifully by Rob Simonsen with an almost atmospheric soundtrack that seems to be always present but entirely unobtrusive. And the wide shots of the Foxcatcher ranch in the different seasons by Greig Fraser are beautiful as well. There is huge potential in the story with all the underlyin tension between the brothers, the patron and the benefactor and the two men competing to play the father figure, but all of that potential is blown to bits by an uninspired screenplay and overlong quite moments when nothing happens and you fail to stifle a yawn of two. The reason why Moneyball was so good must have had something to do with Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian because here Miller is let down by the screenplay.

I saw this before the Oscar nominations were out and am posting the review after the fact. Seeing Bennett Miller nominated for best director seems unfair to me. Having seen and loved Nightcrawler and The theory of Everything I would happily swap him for Dan Gilroy or James Marsh in a heartbeat.

Now You See Me – A Review

Louis Leterrier directed Now You See Me brings together the worlds of magic and high stakes heist. Starring Jesse Eisenberg the illusionist, Isla Fisher the escape artist, Woody Harrelson the Hypnotist and Dave Franco as the small type pick-pocket cum lock opener are summoned together by a mysterious benefactor to come together as a headlining act “The Four Horsemen”. What ensues is high voltage magic trick which has you involved from the very beginning and will have you guessing till the very last minute.

The story kicks off as the four horsemen are headlining a Las Vegas show and invite an audience member to participate in the act and teleport him to rob a bank. The way this is accomplished is spectacular and it drew an audible gasp from the audience. The foursome are chatty, witty and absolutely engrossing and that is what draws the audience in, you as an audience feel involved in the magic trick. The subsequent 2 tricks only get successively better and more unpredictable and therein lies the strongest moments of the film.

Of the cast Eisenberg is his Social-network chatty best with cocky arrogance and nerdy charm. Isla Fisher again continues to impress with her enthusiasm and eager portrayal of the magician’s assistance turned into an escapists act. Woody Harrelson is witty and funny and has some of the best lines in the movie. Dave Franco is competent and shows signs of the talent that obviously runs in the Franco family. Morgan Freeman plays Thaddeus Bradley a former magician who now debunks the magic tricks by exposing the magicians and how they performed the trick. He also plays the FBI-consultant when Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent come up short trying to apprehend the magicians. Michael Caine rounds out the cast as Arthur Tresler the Insurance magnet who plays benefactor to the Four Horsemen Act.

Where the movie comes up short is when towards the end it tries to tie up loose ends and in doing so does a rush job of revealing who’s who and why so. It could have been handled so much better. Rather than the reveal of the identities happening in the conversation between 2 characters it would have best suited as a conversation that happens at the very end. Melanie Laurent is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful but is left with an unresolved character, the myth of the eye of Horus which plays such an important role in the overall story is blurted out without context and left hanging there with nothing to move it further and then just as summarily dismissed without much thought.

In hands of a better director and with perhaps a little more attention to the screenplay this could have been truly a fantastic movie instead of just ending up as a pop-corn fare. But make no mistake the time you spend watching this movie will be time spent being entertained and that is purely because of the fantastic star cast and some very witty writing.

While certainly no Prestige or Illusionist Now You See Me is a perfectly entertaining Magic-Heist movie that will not leave you bored for even one second. Watch it for the fantastic chemistry between the four lead magicians and some spectacular effects which truly bring alive the Magic and brings you in closer.