Movie Review ~ Spotlight

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The Facts:

Synopsis: 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.

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: More than anything, Spotlight reminds us what true journalism used to look like.  In this day and age of up to the minute coverage that often relies on conjecture, I think we as a public have forgotten what it meant to do your homework, cite your sources, and deliver honest news.  Sensationalism may have sold more papers but it wasn’t the driving force behind most true-blue journalists.

That’s the overall message I took away from writer/director Tom McCarthy’s slow burn look into the investigative unit of the Boston Globe (the Spotlight team) that first uncovered the molestation scandal within the Boston Archdiocese.  Setting into motion a global outcry for justice, the members of the squad took their time in gathering information, pounding the pavement, asking the tough questions, and documenting the horrifying answers.

Drawing justified comparisons to All the President’s Men and filled with several genuinely troubling passages where shocking admissions of guilt are made as off the cuff remakrs, there’s nothing salacious on display.  If anything, audiences may start to pull their hair out that Spotlight didn’t come forward with their evidence sooner…but to jump the gun before all the facts had been hammered out would have left them open to doubt when there was little to be had.  They put their careers on the line to tell this story the right way and in doing so they likely saved lives.

Singling out any one person doesn’t feel fair because Spotlight is the very definition of an ensemble film.  McCarthy has cast his movie well starting with Michael Keaton (RoboCop) as the team lead that ultimately makes the call when they bring their findings forward.  Mark Ruffalo (Thanks for Sharing) is the impassioned champion of the down-trodden that wants to push forward even though his journalistic side tells him Keaton’s path is the right one.  Rachel McAdams (The Vow) underplays her role so much that the actress basically disappears inside herself while Liev Schrieber (Fading Gigolo) crackles as the editor-in-chief that prods Spotlight to keep going.

The film isn’t flashy or overly sentimental so as a whole it’s not as ingrained in my memory like other films I’ve seen in 2015.  It does have several moments, though, that are hauntingly present when anyone brings up the film.  It’s easy to see why it’s been heralded as one of the best films of 2015, it’s old-fashioned in construct and forward thinking it its execution.

The Silver Bullet ~ Spotlight

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Synopsis: 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.

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: A drama that looks to be along the lines of All The President’s Men, Spotlight is a glimpse into the investigation by the Boston Globe that wound up exposing a now-famous cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. This material could have been delivered in any number of cinematic ways and has been covered in one way or another in documentaries already…but director Tom McCarthy has assembled some top-tier talent for this dramatization. Oscar nominees Michael Keaton (Minions), Mark Ruffalo (Thanks for Sharing), and Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) join Rachel McAdams (The Vow) and Liev Schreiber (Fading Gigolo) as journalists seeking to uncover the truth and dealing with the landslide of backlash. It’s an important story to tell and I’m hoping that the roster of stars on board bodes well for its overall success.

 

Movie Review ~ Nightcrawler

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmad

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: The best horror film of 2014 wasn’t even marketed as a horror film at all…it’s this nail-biter of a tale from writer Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) who also makes his feature film directing debut.

Over the past decade I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, turning up my nose at his more straight-forward/commercial fare (Love and Other Drugs) and having my socks knocked off at this recent penchant for flawed anti-heroes (End of Watch, Prisoners). With the arrival of Nightcrawler my cinematic romance with the star is in full bloom.

Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a nobody that happens upon a way to become a real somebody…at the high cost of life and livelihood of others that have the misfortune of being in his dangerous hemisphere.  Taking place in the seedy world of crime journalists/photographers, Nightcrawler documents how ever-the-opportunist Bloom moves quickly up the ranks from slimy outside observer of the crimes and accidents occurring in Los Angeles to orchestrator of the right angles that will help him advance his star and bank account.

He’s aided and abetted by hungry news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Thor, also Gilroy’s spouse) who is also fighting to keep her head above the ever rising waters of crowded newsroom politics.  In many ways, Lou and Nina are the  perfect pair…he supplies what she needs to maintain her station while her willingness to buy what he’s selling only helps to encourage Lou to brush off any moral dilemmas the sleazy work could present.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Gyllenhaal’s movie choices is his willingness to take a character, craft a backstory, and then not let anyone else in to this knowledge he has.  Like his haunted detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal makes Bloom a fractured loner.  We don’t know where this guy came from or what troubles he’s had so far in life…making him all the more dangerous because we have no idea of what he stands to lose as he falls deeper and deeper under fame’s spell.

Equally outstanding is Russo in the best role she’s ever been given…no surprise that her husband wrote it specifically for her.  A female news director in a largely male climate, she’s desperate to hold on to her role and is willing to overlook some clear indicators that Bloom is off his rocker and may in fact be creating some of the crimes he’s delivering to her as news pieces.

In supporting roles, Bill Paxton (Million Dollar Arm) plays an old dog of a crime journalist that Lou first comes to for advice and Riz Ahmad (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) makes a strong showing as Lou’s dimbulb assistant.  Both men underestimate the length to which Lou will go to lock down his place in the food chain and Gilroy’s Oscar nominated script cleverly works out a doozy of a finale that is as frighteningly perfect as it is maddening.

Nightcrawler was an unexpected treat for me, I hadn’t planned on it being so skillfully constructed or so breathlessly paced.  It truly is a horror film masquerading as a psychological drama and one that should have gotten more love from The Academy when the nominations were announced.  Maybe it wouldn’t quite have made the cut for Best Picture but recognizing the work of Gyllenhaal or Russo would have been absolutely justified.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rosewater

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Synopsis: A journalist is detained in Iran for more than 100 days and brutally interrogated in prison

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: Writer/director Jon Stewart has a lot riding on his directorial debut centered around the true life story of a journalist suspected of spying and imprisoned in Iran. After all, a key piece of evidence in the trial was an interview he conducted on Stewart’s popular The Daily Show back in 2009. So it’s interesting that Stewart responded by crafting Rosewater, a film generating a nice amount of buzz as it screens on festival circuits before its release in early November. Always one to shine a light on the truth, as ugly as the truth can sometimes be, Stewart could accomplish a new stage in his varied career here while exposing audiences to a story they weren’t aware needed to be told.

The Silver Bullet ~ Nightcrawler

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Synopsis: A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.

Release Date: October 17. 2014

Thoughts: Every time I’ve heard this movie mentioned in the last few months I instantly think that Jake Gyllenhaal is joining the X-Men crew. So it’s helpful to have this teaser trailer for the fall release to remind me that this is a hard-boiled drama that looks to sit comfortably within Gyllenhaal’s wheelhouse. I find that Gyllenhaal is making the kind of movies that Leonardo DiCaprio should be making, both are gifted actors but Gyllenhaal has the good sense to pick movies that are as interesting to audiences (End of Watch, Prisoners) as they are to himself. Nice to see Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as supporting characters here – this is one I’ll keep my eyes on. Also…what’s with fall movie posters having their Oscar nominated leads wearing sunglasses at night? See Kill the Messenger for another example.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Green Inferno

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Synopsis: A group of student activists travel from New York City to the Amazon to save the rainforest. However, once they arrive in this vast green landscape, they soon discover that they are not alone – and that no good deed goes unpunished.

Release Date:  September 5, 2014

Thoughts: Though I’m an aficionado of horror and have welcomed with open arms the resurgence of the retro scare fest, I’ve never totally warmed to what director Eli Roth has done so far in his career.  Though his films have had their share of style, they’ve wound up feeling like the juvenile product of an overgrown frat boy making movies that his friends would get a kick out of.  After brutal films like Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel: Part II, Roth’s directing has taken a backseat to producing and acting.  Roth’s back behind the camera for his take on the popular jungle cannibal films from the 70s/80s with The Green Inferno and it looks like he’s developed another challenge to the stomach and squirm factor of his audience.  I’ll catch this one (behind covered eyes, I’m sure) to see if Roth has matured as a filmmaker…but one can only hope for so much.

Movie Review ~ The Nut Job

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Surly, a curmudgeon, independent squirrel is banished from his park and forced to survive in the city. Lucky for him, he stumbles on the one thing that may be able to save his life, and the rest of park community, as they gear up for winter – Maury’s Nut Store.

Stars: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gadon, Jeff Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: No one owes a bigger debt to the advent of cheaply produced animation more than the vermin of the world.  Where else but in a colorful bit of family friendly fluff can your run of the mill flea infested squirrel be transformed into a purple-ish hero voiced by Will Arnett?  Well squirrels, moles, raccoons, rats, and a host of other hairy creatures get their chance to shine in this well-intentioned but subpar attempt by small studio Open Road Films to weasel into the playing field with the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.

The Nut Job centers on Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who of course is pretty surly (har har) and doesn’t like sharing his carefully gathered nut goodies with his fellow dwellers of a spacious park.  When he’s responsible for the eradication of the food gathered for winter, he’s cast out of the park along with his silent rat friend.  In the hustle and bustle of the big city just outside the quaint park, he has the good fortune to find himself in front of an honest to goodness nut store and his worries are over.

Trouble is, the nut store is really a front for a bunch of gangsters using it to rob a bank across the street. In a variation of your classic caper comedies, they’re digging underground to break into the vault just as Surly and his growing gang of scampering rodent folk keeps trying multiple methods to gain entry into the store for all the walnuts they could every dream of.  Despite the somewhat quaint set-up of a robbery within a robbery, the movie never comes off as clever as it wants us to think it is.

Arnett is just fine but is perhaps a bit too sly in his delivery to truly open up his character beyond a grumpy squirrel who winds up changing his tune.  There’s nothing particularly memorable about his low registered characterization and when paired with regal sounding Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) it feels like a basso-profundo face-off.

Saying this is Katherine Heigl’s best work may sound like a dig…until you consider her long long LONG string of failed films over the past several years.  Heigl (One for the Money) for once sounds as animated as her character, one of the few to be given a name other than their general moniker: Raccoon, Mole, Rat, etc…only species with multiple representation get their own names in the world of The Nut Job.  I’d say that Brendan Fraser was awful voicing a doofus brawny popular squirrel but as the film went along it became clear that Fraser was really the only one that fully embraced his surroundings and turned up the dial on the exuberance…and then busted the dial right off and went higher.  Though he’s exhausting, it’s the kind of liveliness the film is sorely lacking.

Running a long 80 some odd minutes, The Nut Job caps off it’s time with us via a curtain call finale set to South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style…nearly two years after it become popular and then went the way of the flashmob.  I know an animated film takes time to make its journey to the screen but including a song that was a dated cliché before the release date approaches is a true puzzlement.

The kind of film that could be popular since there’s little in the way of family entertainment at the movies this month, The Nut Job is exactly as good as you think it looks.  Falling into the mid-tier of animation efforts, it’s neither here nor there how well it does at the box office because it can’t have cost that much to make.  I’d say skip it…but if you have kids driving you crazy at home there are a lot worse ways to take them to the movies.

Movie Review ~ Homefront

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.

Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Frank Gillo, Izabela Vidovic

Director: Gary Fleder

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  What possessed the filmmakers to put star Jason Statham in such a hilariously awful wig for the ten minute prologue of Homefront is a mystery akin to the whereabouts of the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.

If you can make it past the truly awful first moments of Homefront (and trust me, it’s reach for the remote bad), you’ll find that a better movie emerges after the opening credits have run.

Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2) had long wanted to bring DEA Agent Phil Broker to life on screen and had held the rights to Chuck Logan’s novel Homefront for years.  After renewing his option to the material several times, Stallone wisely realized that he was too long in the tooth and heavy on the filler to play the middle aged agent and adapted the screenplay into a star vehicle for friend Statham (who also turned in another good 2013 performance in the undervalued Parker).

Statham has never been called on to use much in the way of actual acting chops before, favoring karate chops instead so this was a nice departure for the action star.  Though the screenplay maybe takes the actor too far into sentimental territory, it’s bursting with Stallone’s “integrity above all else” morals that he’s so in favor of putting into his screenplays.

After a small potatoes incident on a school playground puts Statham’s single father at odds with the hick-ish parents of a bully, he gets into even more trouble when the bully’s uncle (a small time drug kingpin played by James Franco, This Is the End) is called in to teach Statham and family a lesson.  When Statham strikes back, it sets into motion events that will put his idyllic life in jeopardy as Franco and his girlfriend (an ageless Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie) make a play for the big time by turning Statham over to some bad guys out to settle an old score.

Though the film has about five climaxes (all more than decent sequences, I should say), there’s no escaping the fact that there’s more loose ends in the film that there are complete sentences.  Characters (like a pretty schoolteacher that Statham and his daughter take a shine to) appear and disappear, never to be heard from again and there’s an element of convenience in every twist the film introduces.  Even so, the film works almost in spite of itself.

Let’s be clear: there’s absolutely nothing new in the film as directed by Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) or in Stallone’s script.  Whatever opinion you’ve formed about the movie from the preview is exactly the kind of movie you’re going to get…and that may not be a bad thing if you know what you’re getting into.  You may actually feel better about the film waiting to watch it on Netflix or picking it up from Redbox.  Miss it in the theater but consider giving it a look when it’s easier to fast forward through the prologue.

The Silver Bullet ~ Homefront

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Synopsis: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.

Release Date:  November 27, 2013

Thoughts:  Just looking at the poster for this thriller you’d get the impression that this was merely another Jason Statham (Parker, The Expendables 2) beat-down movie.  While the latter half of the preview indicates that butts will be kicked by Mr. Statham, I was impressed that the set-up seems deeper than similar movies that have come out of Statham’s wheelhouse.  Boasting an impressive stew of actors (and James Franco, Oz the Great and Powerful), Homefront is mysteriously arriving during Thanksgiving where I’m wondering if it will have any target audience available to buy a ticket when other higher profile films are releasing around that time.  Time will tell if Turkey Day will find crowds lining up for this or Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Oh, did I forget to mention this was adapted from Chuck Logan’s novel by Sylvester Stallone for his old pal Jason Statham?  It actually makes me more interested…

Movie Review ~ jOBS

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Steve Jobs’ ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 122 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  If this biopic of the late founder of Apple had been produced as a television movie for HBO I have a feeling that it would have fared a little better.  As it is, this big-screen examination of the life and career of Steve Jobs feels strangely small as it struggles against bigger ideas…in Apple speak, it’s a iPod Shuffle that wants to be an iPad.

Last week I reviewed Lovelace, another slight biopic that seemed more interested in dramatizing situations that were public knowledge rather than getting under the skin of its central character.   So instead of presenting a story that’s equal parts character study and history lesson, jOBS seems content to portray the head honcho of Apple as a prick (which is totally fine because most everyone agrees it was more or less true) but never gives us a glimpse into how his life brought him to that place.  In 2010’s similarly-themed The Social Network, we learned just as much about the life of founder Mark Zuckerberg as we did about his path to leading Facebook into history.   There’s precious little of that insight here…the movie simply tells us Jobs knew the right people, created something innovative, and continued to refashion himself and his company as the years went on.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

Though jOBS works well enough to hold the viewers interest most of the time, there’s a trivial blandness to the proceedings that the movie and performances never can seem to shake.  Lacking a true oneness between the source subject and the events of his life, the performances are middle of the road with no one really standing out.  That turns out to be a problem for its star who can’t complete the climb in transitioning Jobs from a hippie college student to a steely mogul that succumbed to cancer in 2011.  Ashton Kutcher’s boyishness gets in the way of truly succeeding in the role and instead of having the reserved character lash out from fear of failure; it only comes off as unfounded petulance.  Though Kutcher nails the shuffling gait and hushed line delivery (I swear,78% of the entire dialogue in jOBS is spoken in a near-whisper), he just isn’t able to tie the two ends of this famed life together and the result is only half convincing.

Surrounding Kutcher is a fraternity of dependable actors like Lukas Haas as a college friend of Jobs and Dermot Mulroney (Stoker, Copycat), J.K. Simmons, and Matthew Modine as Apple execs that wind up getting in the way of the plans Jobs has for the future of the company he founded.  I normally don’t care for Josh Gad (The Internship, Thanks for Sharing) but his performance as Steve Wozniak is one of his better big screen turns though it’s frustrating that the script by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely gives Gad not one but two closely timed big monologues that essentially say the exact same thing.

Director Joshua Michael Stern’s last film was 2008’s Swing Vote and he’s a surprisingly little known choice for a project with a topic as well-known as jOBS.  The film isn’t a mega-budget spectacle but it looks fine for its humble origins and the money was carefully spent on making the last three decades look especially believable without making a left turn into parody.

Perhaps reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs would be a better primer for those interested in learning more about what made this notoriously private man the way he was.  If you’re heading into jOBS thinking you’ll learn more the man who helped create the iPhone, you’ll be disappointed.  Those who prefer their late-summer films non-challenging and moderately entertaining might get a bit more out of this.