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‘Spotlight’ Movie Review: “Early” Film of the Year Front-Runner

‘Spotlight’ Movie Review: “Early” Film of the Year Front-Runner

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight, which focuses on the Boston Globe’s efforts to uncover the Catholic Church’s wild web of molestation, subsequent cover-ups and corruption in 2002, immediately jumps to the top of the list for Best Picture nominees. A massive and talented cast brings director Tom McCarthy’s insightful and tension-filled drama to life on the big screen and open-minded audiences everywhere will delight in the results. Based on real events, the film becomes a groundbreaking picture in an era known for over the top green screen tomfoolery and barbarianism.

Spotlight is a team within the Globe known for their hard hitting and story breaking journalism. When a new editor (Liev Schreiber) Marty Barron comes on board to shake things up at the paper where layoffs loom, he pushes the team players (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo among them) to abandon their current projects and re-look at the Catholic institution in the most deep rooted faith-laden town in America, Boston. What the team uncovers is corruption bigger than one could ever imagine.

The 'Spotlight' crew figuring things out.

Ruffalo shines brightest as reporter Mike Rezendes. His hunched look and sometimes muffled speech hides a hidden talent, ferreting out information from the unlikeliest of sources. When lawyers, cops, a long line of molested children and their families all bow down to the Cardinal-led churches in the area, it takes Rezendes’ and his counterparts fortitudes best efforts to break the case as it were.

Spotlight is the best-written film I’ve seen in some time and one which restores faith in these smaller, story driven vehicles that seemingly have vanished from the marketplace. McCarthy paces the film perfectly and wrangles strong performances throughout. It would be a shock if this film doesn’t walk away with its share of hardware come awards season. Consider it essential viewing for those with minds out of the gutter or completely turned off in the age of fast, furious, superhero sequels that nobody over 25 ever wanted in the first place. A sterling effort.

 

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‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

‘Steve Jobs’ Movie Review: Performances Solid in Apple Co-Founder Biopic

The hype meter was turned up pretty high for the latest film based on the life of Steve Jobs to deliver. The Apple co-founder, recently deceased has seen several works on his life make it to the big (and small) screen over the last few years, but none with as much talent behind it as Steve Jobs. The film is littered with Oscar level talent: penned by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and sprinlkled with Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels to boot. Still, the unique structure of the film (divided into three “scenes”) will likely divide viewers looking for a thriller.

Jobs covers three product launches, from the original Macintosh computer to the iMac. Therefore, the acts are similarly structured to the film’s detriment in my estimation. The locations overlap and thus become a bit stale, unlike last year’s brilliant Birdman, the visual flare is present but kept to a minimum and thus the play-like delivery for some reason failed to ultimately move me. The acting is very solid, and Jobs is constantly battling issues that linger over the length of the film – his daughter and her troubled mother, his relationship with Apple – the company and it’s players (Steve Wozniak to name one) and his own inner demons. Still, I think the repetitiveness of the setups wore a bit thin. Despite some showcase opportunities, the drama didn’t really hit home.

The film is loosely based on the biography of the man but was littered with trouble and controversy before it made it to the big screen. Jobs was formerly to be helmed by David Fincher and led by Christian Bale, two superstars who may have towered over the project before ultimately falling out. Leonardo DiCaprio was also once attached, so the picture definitely had the interest of  some A-level talent. Settling on the players involved was no real fallback, but one can’t help but wonder what might have been. Steve Jobs may not be a missed opportunity, it is a biopic with a unique structure after all, but not enough deep-rooted inherent drama to turn the wheels for me. I admit, my mood may have played a role in my take on the film, as I watched with a heavy heart due to personal circumstances, nevertheless, my takeaway for the time being is a good film that falls short of higher expectations.

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Tom Hardy Goes Radio Silent in ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ Movie Review

Tom Hardy Goes Radio Silent in ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ Movie Review

Tom Hardy Goes Radio Silent in ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ Movie Review

Mad Max Fury Road stormed into theaters toting a Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh Rating of 98% and an average 8.7/10 score for an action film. Both all but unheard of high marks for reviews. However, while I sat through the mayhem and looked around a capacity crowd for my screening, I couldn’t help but taking in the silent crowd juxtaposed with the chase carnage on screen and wonder…what are we all missing?

There’s no sense in relaying a plot of Mad Max to you, because plot and story clearly take a back seat to on screen action. Loosely, there is a water shortage in a desolate future that is controlled by an evil dude with five wives or something like that. We meet Max when he is scooped up by the baddies and is reawakened in what I believe is as a blood supplier to one of the bad cronies. Furiosa, an adversary of the baddies who breaks off on her own agenda, gets tracked down by the bad guy set, until Max helps her and they form an uneasy alliance to achieve (what end again?). None of it really matters anyway.

AP FILM REVIEW-MAD MAX: FURY ROAD A ENT

An intense search for Furiosa’s arm ends in catastrophe.

You are here to witness spectacle and exciting action and on that front, I supposed Max and director/creator George Romero (also of the original Mad Max films) delivers. The whole film is a long chase with general carnage in the desert along the way. Thrilling CGI and real stunts take place to some effect I guess, it’s just that none of it means anything. The audience, myself included, didn’t appear to be having much in the way of fun, and with no story to engage us, to me that is a virtual failure.

I can’t really rip on the film in full, because there aren’t really any specific expectations you can have upon going to see it, you just sit back and take it in. There is just no emotional involvement to the would be excitement so therefore it all lacks a certain punch. Innovative silence and chase scenes mixed with good enough performances (particularly Charlize Theron as Furiosa) aside – it’s hard to tell who is bad and who is good, everybody looks the same and despite all of the weirdness, it just didn’t add up to more than a shoulder shrug for me. I don’t think I am remotely alone in this thought. I’m not mad about Max or Romero’s attempts at entertainment, but I’m also not prepping another trip down Fury Road any time soon. Whatever.

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Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts in Noah Baumbach’s ‘While We’re Young’ Review

Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts in Noah Baumbach’s ‘While We’re Young’ Review

Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts in Noah Baumbach’s ‘While We’re Young’ Review

Noah Baumbach broke into filmgoing consciousness by co-writing projects with the newly Oscar-nominated Wes Anderson. He contributed to The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox while also directing the well-received Squid and the Whale and the under the radar Greenberg, also with Stiller in a lead role. In While We’re Young, Baumbach further pushes down familiar territory with a mid-forties couple (Stiller and Watts) caught in challenging times since they don’t have children.

Their relationships with other couples their own age, primarily their close friends including MC Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys, are centered around their kids, which leads them into uncharted territory. When a young couple (Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver) enters their world, they rediscover some of the spark seemingly missing from their relationship.

Stiller and Watts find the fountain of forced youth in 'While We're Young.'

Stiller and Watts find the fountain of forced youth in ‘While We’re Young.’

What Baumbach does well is have us laugh at ourselves. The interplay between the younger and older couples contains the most interesting moments, especially when it comes to the laughs. Driver sparkles as a wanna be documentarian, the same field Stiller is in, and Watts (particularly in a hip-hop dance class) and Stiller (in his usual just off-kilter style) gain the gut punch guffaws.

The message behind the story is a solid one, but it gives way to an all-too predictable ending which in many ways is the antithesis of the whole film in the first place. How we get there loses steam about halfway through as a plot twist if you will interrupts the feeling of an otherwise strong independent film. While We’re Young is best for those a bit older but in the end doesn’t quite carry out the promise of its premise to its fullest. Still, its worth seeing for those with an eye on thought provoking cinema.

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David Oyelowo Pretty Solid in the Dipped in Saccharin ‘Selma’: A Review

David Oyelowo Pretty Solid in the Dipped in Saccharin ‘Selma’: A Review

David Oyelowo Pretty Solid in the Dipped in Saccharin ‘Selma’: A Review

Selma is the very poorly-titled Martin Luther King Jr. biopic from Ava DuVernay. The title is bad because it’s boring and non-descript and despite its roots, doesn’t tell us enough about the star of the story, Civil Rights leader and legend, Dr. Martin Luther King. David Oyelowo does his best to rescue the film that follows MLK’s march in Selma, Alabama. The story is steeped in history and is a monumental point in the history of our nation, unfortunately, in the too often clumsy hands of DuVernay, we’re left with a would-be weeper that doesn’t cut to the heart of the man and his struggles to achieve this significant outcome. Cue the heavy violins, since we should be touched.

Selma sees a host of civil rights activists, led by MLK, perform non-violent protest, in opposition to a lack of right to vote. MLK did it the way that Malcolm X couldn’t. The story is well-known for anyone who made it through the 8th grade and therefore, a greater probing of the man with less sentimental actions would have served the film better. MLK leads his followers, blacks and women, who eventually are joined by other races, up against the tyranny of the US government and its racist ways. The politicians and president are typical villains and MLK the righteous man standing up the injustice.

Hard not to be moved by the march moment in the poorly-titled 'Selma.'

Hard not to be moved by the march moment in the poorly-titled ‘Selma.’ but DuVernay tried to ruin it.

Oyelowo, though pequeno in stature, does his best to embody the legendary MLK. I have a little issue with a Brit portraying such a significant man, but he is solid enough in handling the task. What his performance can’t overcome are the stereotypes in the writing and directing that seem paint-by-numbers in these stories. A man is beaten down, but he rises up and the music swells to accompany it. A stare down in public is counterbalanced with tears and emotional strife in public. However true these cliches may be, I would have preferred a more intimate, even look at the man rather than a fairytale-like take.

Selma isn’t a bad movie per se, but it breaks no ground for a man that broke it all. This, in and of itself, is enough to turn me off. I wanted to feel this man’s journey rather than have the film try to manipulate my feelings. I’m capable of getting there on my own with a great story, acting and directing, instead I get tried and true tropes that are a disservice to the historical events and my time and intelligence. There were a handful of scenes that hit the right notes, but far too few in the grand scheme. Too bad, because the man and moment deserved more.

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A Long Road to Nowhere: The Experience of Watching ‘Boyhood’ – A Review

A Long Road to Nowhere: The Experience of Watching ‘Boyhood’ – A Review

A Long Road to Nowhere: The Experience of Watching ‘Boyhood’ – A Review

Considering the critical praise that has been leveled on the odds-on Oscar favorite Boyhood, a viewer can surely go in hoping that film would be a worthwhile experience. With Patricia Arquette, director Richard Linklater and the film itself bagging award wins everywhere, I wish I could say I did not expect the film to be what it is – a snoozefest leading to nowhere. I hate to be that guy – the bearer of bad news – and hate being right sometimes.

Boyhood spans twelve years, capturing a boy and his somewhat dysfunctional family’s experiences over that time frame. The film felt like it took twelve years (2:45 runtime to be exact) to finish with zero payoff. I think Linklater is being lauded for presenting life as he believes the experience to be like. Kids and parents growing up or growing old and little experiences along the way that shape who they are and what they do or do not achieve. This may be true on a surface level but is certainly not something that any of us need to watch to capture.

The boy dramatically changes hairstyles and fingernail color, throughout 'Boyhood.'

The boy dramatically changes hairstyles and fingernail color, throughout ‘Boyhood.’

Arquette plays a mother to a boy and his sister; she is divorced/separated from Ethan Hawke, the boy’s father at the beginning of the film. Hawke spins his wheels while the single mother Arquette soldiers on. We see her relationships with men and the effect it has on their kids. All of this is in theory fine and dandy. The problem is, there is no captivating storyline to keep us engaged in the proceedings. Again, I see Linklater winking at the audience (“just like life!” he says), alas, that is not entirely true. Life is far more interesting than the stilted dialogue and overhyped performances seen here. The boy is by no means good, while Arquette and Hawke are serviceable, but the concept is clearly what has attracted audiences to this film, but…nothing happens.

I can in no way recommend this movie. Regardless of the director’s intentions and meanings, movies should generally have some narrative, but this doesn’t. One could argue that taking a child and having him eventually move out of the house to become an adult is narrative enough, but the wooden performances from nearly everyone involved has me seriously questioning Linklater’s talents as a writer and director. Speaking of directing, the film lacks any flair or visually interesting shots. To that end, I truly believe that a film school student could do just as well as this in most cases. I’d like to say I am shocked, but my faith in the film and those that heap praise upon it has long ago been swallowed up by the drain hole. To review this on a bad/good scale is almost pointless. It simply is not that well done, conceived or most importantly, entertaining. Skip it and live your own life instead.

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‘American Sniper’ Review: Cooper & Eastwood Team For Intense Tale

‘American Sniper’ Review: Cooper & Eastwood Team For Intense Tale

‘American Sniper’ Review: Bradley Cooper & Clint Eastwood Team For Intense Tale

The first trailers for American Sniper were effective at hooking audiences. That is not a new phenomenon. What is important is that the trailers give an effective glimpse into the actual film. There are few false notes and the film – based on the life of Chris Kyle, known as the most lethal sniper in US military history – reels you in from the first frame. While Kyle (Bradley Cooper) looms silently behind a rifle with targets in sight, captivation ensues. Sniper is an important comeback for Clint Eastwood and another benchmark performance for Cooper, who after earning his third straight acting nod at the Oscars has become a keystone star of the modern era. Sniper has already banked $200m in under two weeks at the domestic box office and each dollar is rightfully earned.

After a brief intro showing us how Kyle came to be and his desire to enter the armed forces, the bulk of the film is made up of Kyle’s forays into battle and his ensuing battles on trips home, where he struggles to leave the war behind. Raised to be a fighter, Kyle not only becomes a deadly sniper, he also enters into Call of Duty-style front lines combat. The amount of violence in Sniper is coming under fire by critics, but that is misguided, because what is war if not violence? The film also has been viewed by some to strike an anti-war tone, one that I won’t argue but ultimately fall in the middle of the debate. Cooper, who put on forty pounds to play Kyle works wonders under Eastwood’s guidance. His embodiment of Kyle’s violence internal and external is true to life.

Bradley Cooper targets the foe in the intense 'American Sniper'.

Bradley Cooper targets the foe in the intense ‘American Sniper’.

Director Clint Eastwood smartly never veers into the sentimentality that he can swerve into as shown by some of his recent past. This is a Hollywood sort of theme as well, but importantly Eastwood lets the action and Kyle’s actions speak for themselves. There is little score to speak of so we are not hammered with violin strings to tell us we are supposed to be moved or haunted by particular moments, though a patriotic drum beat can be heard during scenes leading up to battle. This is part intense video game and part heavy drama, where Kyle’s home life with his wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids are affected by Kyle’s status as a Navy Seal “legend.” I can only imagine war at its most affecting being similar to what Eastwood and Cooper provide us. That is a testament to the powerful film that we are privy to in American Sniper. It may not be the best film of the year, but it is certainly in the top handful and one that deservedly should be talked about during this awards season.

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‘The Imitation Game’ Review: Movie Imitates What Academy Loves

‘The Imitation Game’ Review: Movie Imitates What Academy Loves

‘The Imitation Game’ Review: Movie Imitates What Academy Loves

The Imitation Game is about Alan Turing, the man who developed the world’s first computer. He was an outcast, a genius, a social misfit and a closeted homosexual at a time when the truth of his sexual preferences would in no way be acceptable. Turing (embodied well by Benedict Cumberbatch) applies for a job with the military during WWII hoping to help crack an Enigma code machine from the Nazi-Germans which relays their missions and attacking desires. If the machine can be hacked and the codes deciphered, then the war could be won.

Turing, however, is the least type of candidate that the military desires. He’s flippant, has no political aspirations and is only there for the challenge. He manages to land the gig, agitate his superiors by gaining control of the team in place and launches into his scheme alone – while the team works on their own operatives – attempting to design a computer to Enigma’s codes. The Imitation Game is a double or triple layered title, meaning someone is imitating something, someone, etc.

imitationgame

Turing (Cumberbatch) and crew work to screw the Nazi’s over.

The film focuses on two eras a decade apart, Turing in present day (1951) and a decade earlier working for MI6 in the war. We don’t learn until later what the modern day Turing looks like compared to the earlier man working against Enigma. Game allows for Turing to meet a woman (Keira Knightley), have a few laughs and go about his business. The threats lie in his ability to keep his sexuality a secret and keep his job. Turing must maneuver his way through a world which doesn’t quite jive with him, a feeling not unfamiliar to many of us, no doubt.

That is where Director Morten Tyldum’s Game suffers. His 2011 thriller Headhunters (shot in his native language) is superior and more entertaining in almost every way. Here, for Hollywood, he dances around the fringes of everything. We are able to enjoy the drama unfolding on screen enough, but the stakes don’t seem particularly heightened. The war is happening, but is only a backdrop in the story at most. His sexual feelings are probably given proper weight, but most of that is shown via flashbacks with a boy he “loved” as a youngster. Thus, despite strong performances and a solid enough film, The Imitation Game simply imitates a better movie. It’s the type of film that wins over the often snooty Academy, but won’t win over the hearts of those who care about movies. That is another area, I suppose, in which it is simply an imitation of something more meaningful and tangible. It’s sufficient but not transcendent filmmaking, so give Cumberbatch his props, but that’s where it stops.

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