Spotlight

Posted on November 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm

“Spotlight” is about the ultimate betrayal of trust from an institution that literally represented the Word of God to many people. And it is about whether we will continue to have institutions that serve the essential function of monitoring the gap between aspiration and actuality, between what people say they are and do and the reality.

Copyright Open Road Films 2015
Copyright Open Road Films 2015

Spotlight is the name for the investigative group of journalists working for the Boston Globe. While their colleagues reported on stories that could be reported and written in days, the Spotlight group had the luxury and the responsibility of taking as much as a year to do the kind of in-depth original research necessary for more complex and difficult subjects.

The staff at Spotlight was let by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and included Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James).

Like most of the members of the Globe staff they were Boston born and bred, Red Sox fans to the end, and raised Catholic. They had just finished work on a long-term piece when their new editor arrived. He was not Boston born and bred, not a Sox fan, and not Catholic. And perhaps most important, he was not a Boston Globe lifer. He was Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), most recently from Miami. He was an outsider in every way and they correctly suspected that the Globe was just a stop on his career trajectory. (He is now at the Washington Post.) They were not inclined to follow his idea of what stories they should cover.

But when he asked them about following up on a story about a priest who abused young boys, they could not come up with a reason not to other than it was too awful to imagine that it might be true. They begin to investigate. It turns out it was not one priest. It is a city-wide problem. A priest abuses children, is put on “medical leave” and transferred. The families of the boys are paid off and silenced. Then it happens again.

Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”), writing with Josh Singer, really captures the culture of a newsroom, the stale coffee, the stale-er jokes, but the passionate curiosity that drives them all. This film will be compared to “All the President’s Men” because they are both true stories about young reporters getting huge stories everyone else missed. But the more important comparison is the way both movies capture the numbing work that goes into reporting. The doors knocked on. The doors slammed. And in this case, the nine years worth of diocese phone directories gone over, line by line (this was one of the last of the eras of off-line, analog document searches) to follow the “medical leave” priests took weeks of meticulous checking. It shows us reporting on the cusp of monumental technological change as well, when the paper makes the then-innovative decision to make the underlying documents available to readers online.

The reporters face enormous obstacles, starting with overcoming their own assumptions and then the powerful people who try to stop them. The church is an overwhelming force, politically and culturally. Do readers really want to know? Will the paper lose subscribers and advertisers?

There is no betrayal more devastating than to have the most trusted of institutions, the one most intimately involved in family joys and sorrows to be countenancing the abuse of those most deserving of its protection. But by the end of the film, that atrocity, already known to us, is not as troubling as the idea that news organizations may not be able to bring us the next one.

Parents should know that the theme of the movie is the investigation of widespread child sexual abuse and its cover-up, with sexual references, some graphic, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did the arrival of an outsider affect the decision to do this story? Do today’s newspapers have the resources and support they need to do in-depth investigations like this one?

If you like this, try: “All the President’s Men” and “Truth” and the documentaries “Deliver Us from Evil” and “Twist of Faith”

Related Tags:

 

Based on a true story Drama Journalism

Southpaw

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, and some violence
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Intense boxing scenes with disturbing images, gun violence, murder, suicidal behavior, child removed from her family
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 25, 2105
Date Released to DVD: October 26, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B012BPM536
Copyright 2015 Weinstein Company
Copyright 2015 Weinstein Company

Didactic and unabashedly manipulative, “Southpaw” borrows from almost every boxing movie ever made. It telegraphs every development and then, in case we missed it, tells us what just happened. The dialogue is purplish and melodramatic. The filmmaking is self-consciously arty, with shadows and reflections — or smoke and mirrors. The storyline is so soapy it almost slides off the screen. As Thelma Ritter says in “All About Eve,” “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” Scriptwriter Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) has to learn to trust his audience.

Heartfelt performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, and Forest Whitaker give the story more weight than it deserves, and director Antoine Fuqua knows how to film the boxing scenes so that each is a drama of its own.

A movie hero generally has to start with nothing and get something or start with everything, lose it all, and then get it back. Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope (this film really does hit every point home with a sledgehammer), who had nothing and now, as the movie begins, has it all, so we know he has to lose it. Hope grew up in what we used to call orphanages. All he had was a girl named Maureen who believed in him and guided him and an anger so powerful that he could use it in the ring the way Popeye uses spinach.

We see him before a title fight, his hands getting wrapped in pristine gauze under the supervision of the referees, who literally sign off on them before the gloves go on. Billy has a moment alone with Maureen (Rachel McAdams, in a richly observed performance). And then there is the fight. He gets hit until he gets furious enough to battle back with everything he has, and then he wins. He and Maureen return to their mansion, kiss their adorable daughter Leila (Oona Laurence), and go to bed. And then it is all gone, and he has to literally fight his way back, mopping floors at a dingy, inner-city gym and being trained by a crusty old pro (Burgess Meredith, no, I mean Forest Whitaker). He has to learn boxing all over again.

Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation, so soon after his skeletal appearance in “Nightcrawler,” could be stunt-ish — or just a chance for him to get back in shape. But he makes us feel the almost feral elements of Billy’s understanding of the world around him, and he shows us the way his growing understanding of himself as he has to take responsibility for his choices is reflected in the ring. His scenes with McAdams are deeply felt, tender, and sexy. The movie gets a split decision, but Gyllenhaal and McAdams are a knockout.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong language, sexual references and a non-explicit situation, brutal and bloody boxing matches, gun violence, drinking and drugs, sad deaths of a parent and a young teen, references to domestic abuse and prostitution, child removed from family, suicidal behavior and assault.

Family discussion: Why did Tick make Billy clean the gym? Was the judge right to take Leila away? Why did Billy need to change his style of fighting?

If you like this, try: “Rocky,” “Warriors,” and “Body and Soul”

Related Tags:

 

Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports

Aloha

Posted on May 28, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Copyright 2015 Columbia Pictures
Copyright 2015 Columbia Pictures
Writer/director Cameron Crowe presents us with an attractive and talented but messy and compromised hero in “Aloha,” and asks us to root for him. The problem is that the film itself is attractive, talent-filled, messy, and compromised, and harder to root for than the hero of the story.

That hero is Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), once an 11-year-old who loved the sky so much he wanted to identify everything in it. In a quick narrated recap that opens the film we learn that after he grew up things went well for him (in the military) and then not so well, and then badly. While working for a private contractor in Kabul, he was badly injured, and apparently not in the way that gets you a Purple Heart.

Brian arrives in Hawaii and needs to prove himself. His former employer, Carson Welch (Bill Murray) is one of the wealthiest men in the world, presiding over a telecommunications empire. He and the Air Force are working together on a big project that involves the development of land on the island that was a burial ground for the indigenous people. The Air Force assigns a “fast burner” named Sergeant Ng (Emma Stone) to work with get the cooperation of the King of the native population to build on that property, and to show that by performing a blessing ceremony. The King is played by real-life King Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, and he is one of the few from Brian’s past who seems to like him much. Welch does not. The Air Force General (Alec Baldwin, volcanically angry) does not. Then there is Brian’s ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married to an Air Force pilot and the mother of two children.

It totally goes off the rails several times, with a plot that would daunt a Bond villain thwarted by a completely ridiculous hacking scene, plus a last-minute redemptive reconciliation that is so far off the mark of any known human response the characters would be just as likely to sprout feathers and levitate off the ground. While the Hawaiian natives and their struggle against what they see as American imperialism and colonialism are sympathetically portrayed, it is still a story that is about white people and their problems. And the casting of Emma Stone as bi-racial is insensitive at best.

But like its hero and its writer/director, it won me back with the crackle of its dialog and charm of its poetry, even in the hacking scene, and especially in a statement of romantic intent that is one of the best I’ve seen in many months. It is also very funny, with a wonderfully expressive performance from Krasinski as the taciturn Woody, and thoughtful work from Cooper, who keeps getting better at finding moments of surprising insight and nuance with every performance.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situation, paternity issue, references to war-related violence and injuries and to weapons of mass destruction, references to imperialism and colonialism, and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why did Ng talk so much about being one-quarter Hawaiian? Why was the King the only person from Brian’s past who seemed to like him? What happens when billionaires make decisions that used to be made by government?

If you like this, try: “The Descendants,” and “Almost Famous”

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Drama Romance

About Time

Posted on October 31, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, scary car crash
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 1, 2013
Date Released to DVD: February 3, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEIYGK2

about-time1Richard Curtis perfected the art of the 21st century romantic comedy in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and “Love Actually.”  They were witty and sophisticated and had posh British accents that made them seem twice as witty and sophisticated.  They were filled with of pretty people wearing pretty clothes in pretty settings, seasoned with self-deprecating humor, magnificent friendships, pop-y soundtracks, and happy ever after endings.  “About Time” has all of that, plus a twist.  I don’t mean the addition of a fantasy time travel element, thought that is something of a departure.  The real twist is that the important love story here is not between man and woman but between father and son.

Oh, there’s a romantic love story, of course, and it’s the part that’s featured on the poster.  Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, son of the Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and best known as one of the Weasley brothers in the “Harry Potter” films) lives in Cornwall with his family, a blissfully happy group that includes his slightly starchy mother (Lindsay Duncan), slightly dotty but impeccably dressed uncle (Richard Cordery), wild child of a sister (Lydia Wilson), and book-loving, family-loving dad (the indispensable Bill Nighy).  Dad explains to Tim that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time.  There are limits, of course.  Like “Quantum Leap,” he is limited to his own lifetime.  He can’t go back and meet Queen Victoria or ride a dinosaur.  And, as Tim will spend the rest of the movie discovering, while he can go back to correct a mistake, the ripple effect of even the tiniest change may have very big consequences that are not so easy to fix.

It may sound all very precious and cutesy, and it is, with Curtis’ trademark adorable eccentrics that are less adorable than he intended.  Even an English accent can only make up for so much.  Tim’s use of his time travel powers to make up for various gaffes is entertaining in a “Groundhog Day”-lite sort of way.  (There’s something rather meta about a feeling of deja vu in these repeated, slightly improved encounters.)  The romance between Tim and a pretty American named Mary (Rachel McAdams), while refreshingly free of the kinds of agonizingly silly misunderstandings that plague most romantic comedies, is on the bland side.  The first meeting with Mary’s parents is supposed to be awkward and funny, but it’s just awkward.  Things get more interesting later, as Tim and Mary get married and start a family.  The stakes are higher and the choices are more complex.

It is in the third act when things start to get interesting, because that is when the focus shifts to the father-son relationship.  Curtis, who says this is his last film, opens up his heart for a piercingly bittersweet engagement with the big questions of who we are, making peace with not being able to fix everything for everyone we love, and finding a way to make pain and loss deepen us.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, some explicit, and some sexual situations, very strong and crude language, car accident, and a sad death.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, would you correct a mistake or take time to enjoy what already happened? Why did Kit Kat have such a hard time making good decisions? Was there anything her family should have done differently to help her?

If you like this, try: “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually” from the same writer/director and “Groundhog Day”

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Date movie Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Fantasy Romance
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik