Review: Spotlight

Spotlight

DIR:Tom McCarthy • WRI: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy • PRO: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo

Modern history has been forever dirtied, tarnished by organised, uniformed mortal sin. Fifteen years of worldwide media coverage has revealed the horrific experiences of what is understood to be hundreds of thousands of victims of clerical abuse, inflicted by members of the Catholic Church. And now, one of the world’s most powerful institutions, bewildered and suspended in the spotlight, finds itself a very uncomfortable position. In spite of the many words humans use to apologize, the Church’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing has served to underscore how alien it has become to modern culture, and in turn, this is how our culture has come to represent it. As frozen out Florida priest John Gallagher poignantly pointed out this week, they are an organisation “so far behind that they think they’re ahead”.

These phenomenal events of the past number of decades have been captured before in cinema: The Magdalene Sisters, Song for a Raggy Boy, more recently in Amy Berg’s shocking documentary Deliver Us from Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is to name but a few. Cinema has been a medium used to honour these victims; by listening to their stories it has offered empathy and compassion where there was none, and a culturally truthful response to something that originated in hurt and deceit.

That is one of the most prominent features of Tom McCarthy’s latest bidding, Spotlight. Joined by acclaimed ‘real-life to screen’ writer Josh Singer, the film tells the remarkable true story of a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper known as ‘Spotlight’, who broke the story on clerical abuse in the Boston diocese in 2001. The opening scene, set in 1976 in a Boston police precinct is glimpse at what was to come: a priest has been brought in on allegations of abuse, the victim and their mother are cajoled, arrangements are made for secrecy, said priest is collected by his superior who sweeps while the judiciaries hold the rug. This was the process, until a number of these stories reluctantly found their way onto the pages of the Globe newspaper, only to disappear again, almost unnoticed.

Fast forward to 2001 when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the paper and almost overnight the disappeared stories of reported abuse are back on the table. Encouraged by the first non-Bostonian editor in chief, the Spotlight team comprising of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Mc Adams) and Matt Carroll (D’Arcy James) start to dig, and with the surface barely scratched, cases of abuse, payoffs, smear campaigns, stolen documents and cover-ups begin to emerge. As the investigation quickly progresses, the sheer scale of what had happened in the Boston diocese became apparent – with the help of senior Catholic officials, in both the US and the Vatican, the most devoutly Catholic city in North America had been plagued by paedophile priest for decades, a sum of over 90 in total, whom had knowingly been shipped from parish to parish, given predatory free-reign and a thumbs up to sexually and spiritually abuse at will.

Visually, the films authenticity is marked by the somewhat non-descript decor, having shot much of the office scenes at the Boston Globe. Great efforts were made to ensure the production design and costume were reflective of the time, and succeed in being unobtrusive – you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a film set in 2001 as being a period piece but alas, ‘the times, they are a changin’.

The four leads have been hailed by their real life counter-parts for their adopted characterisations – dozens of trips were made by cast and crew to Boston to meet with victims, journalists and lawyers involved and it is apparent throughout, authentic to the bone. The ensemble is formidable and above all, the performances and McCarthy’s direction convey the importance of investigative journalism which is all but obsolete in a world of bloggers, and the vitality of a free press whose fundamental action is to keep our institutions in check. From a decidedly disadvantaged position, they took on world’s oldest government – whose corruption is unique to itself – and won. Before the credits roll, presented on screen are over two hundred countries which have had cases of a similar scale, ensuring we know the ugliest phenomenon imaginable is actually bigger than we can imagine.

Definitely worth catching, this one, even if you just want to kick back from a place of knowing and relish in the excavation of damning truth, which by now we are all familiar with. A harrowing story has been recounted here, and you’ll probably be pissed off for most of it but you’ll leave feeling a little ping of triumph, a pride in humanity, and maybe even a little further compelled in the great divide between the Catholic Church and everyone else.

P.s. It’s never graphic so the faint-hearted are catered for.

Grace Corry

15A
118 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Spotlight is released 29th January 2016

Spotlight – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Last Days On Mars

last-days-on-mars-liev-schreiber-s-crew-members-turn-into-zombies DIR: Ruairi Robinson  • WRI: Clive Dawson  PRO: Andrea Cornwell, Michael Kuhn • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Peter Lambert • MUS: Max Richter • DES: Jon Henson • CAST: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams

The Murphy’s Law of Movies states not only that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but that the concentration of aforementioned ill-starred events is inversely increased relative to how many days you have left until retirement.

In the case of Last Days On Mars, retirement is a team of international astronauts wrapping up their term on the Red Planet after long months of fruitless research has left nerves frayed and fuses short. When one scientist makes an unexpected discovery before suddenly going missing, the rest of the crew must scramble to make it off the planet alive.

Such dense film theory as Murphy’s Law of Movies is not quoted by this reviewer lightly, but rather to establish that viewers should already know what to expect from a film with “Last Days” in the title. Based on a seventies pulp short story which sees Martian bacteria reanimate dead flesh, the premise for Last Days On Mars can be boiled down to a pitch that almost certainly contained the phrase “zombies, but in space“, and this is largely what we get. A moment in the opening scenes sees a towering dust-storm sweep over the Martian base while Jack Hytland croons “Blue Skies Around The Corner” in the background, both sounds competing softly for dominance in a premonition of the life/void struggle to come. There ends the film’s last flare of originality, however, as we rattle through introductions to our typical cast of horror film fodder before jumping right into a fray of power tools, virus paranoia and dialogue more on the nose than Alien‘s facehuggers, which is but one of the many influences director Ruairí Robinson borrows from.

While most horror films tend to rely on the occasional bout of protagonist shit-wittery if they aim to last longer than the time it takes to dial 999, Last Days on Mars takes the biscuit on this particular score. From the very moment the nature of the threat is revealed each highly intelligent astronaut on the Tantalus crew seems determined to stand above the rest as paragon of poor decision making – I began to wonder if a space agency suffering buyer’s remorse hadn’t jettisoned them to the surface in the hopes of eradicating them from the gene pool, only to throw in a zombie virus just in case they couldn’t quite stumble into extinction without a little push.

Technically, the horror is visceral but somehow never quite reaches in to wrench the guts, the camerawork aiming for claustrophobia but often falling short on clutter. This is not to say that the film’s early moments aren’t tense or well-shot – simply that each horror film has a boiling point beyond which no amount of jump-scares or internal-organs-suddenly-rendered-external can register the reaction they should, and this is a point Last Days On Mars reaches far too soon.

We’re also introduced once more to the reluctant astronaut trope as seen in Gravity, where we’re invited to believe that engineer Vincent Campbell, played by the always-enjoyable but rarely-pronounceable Liev Schrieber, suffers from a debilitating fear of small spaces and yet could find no other work than that which involved squeezing into a pressurized tube to shoot off to a cramped base on our barren neighboring planet. Indeed, when the time comes for Vincent to overcome his fear by squeezing through a small tunnel in order to repair a comms array – a mission which seems mandatory to any space survival story – his quest culminates in a bit of technical wizardry which essentially extends to pressing a button and whispering sweet nothings to a flickering screen. Nitpicky, perhaps, but then when a film’s main problem lies with a script, small issues snowball until they ultimately drag everything down.

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty to commend in Last Days On Mars – the cast manages to pull some character moments from lackluster material, while Max Richter’s score is on-form as ever. The ambition here belies what had to be a relatively small budget, the production design pulling together an organic, lived-in feel reminiscent of Moon or Sunshine. However, where those films manage to marry high concept to the humdrum, Last Days On Mars never quite strikes the same balance. While loath to criticize any forays into the fantastical made by an Irish director as capable as Robinson has proven himself to be, Last Days On Mars ultimately aims high and finishes strong, but never quite slips the orbit of its many influences.

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)

98 mins

Last Days On Mars is released on 11th April 2014 Last Days On Mars – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Mental

 

 

DIR/WRI: P.J. Hogan  PRO: Todd Fellman, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker  DOP: Donald McAlpine  ED: Jill Bilcock  CAST: Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Deborah Mailman

A lot of people would consider the area of mental health as a minefield for comedy where one should tread carefully and lightly. On the other hand, P.J. Hogan charges gleefully across the same territory with heavy handed abandon, indiscriminatingly setting off politically incorrect bombs in his wake.

Perhaps Hogan’s irreverent attitude stems from the fact that he is apparently drawing on his own family’s history for this companion piece to Muriel’s Wedding. In one way, it’s commendable to tackle this potentially touchy-feely subject matter in such an aggressively brash manner. Unfortunately though, subtlety is the first and continual casualty of the incessant explosions of colour and volume that swamp any message in the material.

The film focuses on the sprawling Moochmore family comprised of five daughters, a Sound of Music-obsessed mother Shirley and a mainly absent dad. Acutely aware of their mum’s loon status within the local community, the girls are locked in a strangely competitive battle to self-diagnose themselves as crazy. When Shirley’s tenuous grip on reality slips, she is institutionalized leaving bad dad Barry (Anthony LaPaglia) desperate to find a child minder. His bizarre remedy is to pick up a random hitch-hiker Shaz (Toni Colette) and install her as a nanny for his moody brood.

In fairness, depicted with limited screen time LaPaglia’s patriarch is a truly despicable creation. Incapable of distinguishing his daughters by name, the damage of his deliberate on-going absence from the family home is only matched by the equivalent havoc inflicted by his rare appearances.  In that context, it’s actually imaginable that he would consider it a good idea to put a homeless hippie with a switchblade in her boot in charge of his clan.

The re-union of Hogan with Toni Colette was probably crucial to this film securing funding. In turn Hogan’s clear desire to create a star turn for Colette unbalances the film.  Sadly, Shaz is probably more fun to play than she is to watch. Her campaign to convince the Moochmore girls that they are sane and normal is intermittently touching but contains plenty of dud moments too. Hogan populates his vision of stifling suburbia with a gallery of grotesques and clichés who are only present as easy targets to rebel against.

The film works in fits and starts but rarely reaches critical mass as a comedy. The first hour is particularly fitful coming across like a high pitched Australian version of Shameless. The vast central cast vie for screen time leaving fringe characters feeling completely indistinct and redundant. Again, the audience’s threshold will be tested to the limit by the film’s unfocused climax. Frankly, there are endless endings as Hogan indulgently ignores ample opportunities to tie the film up. It’s like a broken toy that can’t be turned off – but an audience will be turned off.

While the film may be an uneven blend of shock therapy and wholesome homespun wisdom, anyone in the mood for a colourful and camp confection with plenty of bawdy humour will find Mental fits the bill.

James Phelan

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

115 mins

Mental is released on 16th November 2012

 

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Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock

DIR: Ang Lee • WRI: James Schamus • PRO: Ang Lee, James Schamus
• DOP: Eric Gatutier • ED: Tim Squyres • DES: David Gropman • CAST: Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber, Imelda Staunton

It’s the summer of ’69 and Elliot Tiber, a down-on-his-luck interior designer from Greenwich Village, returns home to Catskills in upstate New York where his parents’ down-market motel, the El Monaco, is on the verge of closing down. In an effort to boost the local economy and family business, Elliot gets a neighbour’s farmland to be an alternative venue for a music festival that has had its permit pulled, completely unaware of the generation-defining event it would become.

Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, penned by the director’s long-time collaborator James Schamus, and based on Elliot Tiber’s own memoirs, never intends to recreate the awesome scale of the festival and the cultural zeitgeist it encompassed – instead it focuses on the effect an influx of half a million hippies had on a small community, and on the conflict between a young man who helped bring about this event and the old-fashioned values of his parents. Unfortunately these domestic tensions are not nearly engaging enough to warrant the long stretches of the running time they occupy – and, for a film with ‘Woodstock’ in the title, the lack of musical performance and spectacle is pretty disappointing.

In terms of casting this would appear to be a strong ensemble. However, comedian Demetri Martin is rather wooden in the central role, unassuming but unrevealing as the young man attempting to come out to his parents and come into his own. Soft-spoken British thespian Imelda Staunton heaves every line of dialogue as Elliot’s mother – necessary to show the character’s oppressive roots perhaps but still verging on an overbearing Yiddish caricature rather than a believable person. Meanwhile Emile Hirsch is wasted in the stereotype of a crazed Vietnam vet, and Liev Shrieber’s curiously blasé transvestite never receives much pay-off. These characters are inconsequential people on the periphery, existing simply to make Elliot’s journey seem more weird and wonderful (the run-down resort even plays host to a truly terrible theatre troupe who workshop in the barn and are prone to impromptu nudist rituals…)

Admittedly, the production design is stellar – paying careful attention to detail in the radical signage and new age paraphernalia of the time – long panning shots of crowds of hippies making their mellow way uphill in a haze of good-time vibes provide a flavour of the kind of bohemian energy that must have been in the air. The film picks up when Elliot joins the masses on their journey towards the abstract notion of the unattainable stage – however, just as he seems to be getting there and the music grows louder, he takes a detour into Paul Dano’s parked VW with said stoner and his girlfriend. This low-key acid trip culminates in a view of the stage and spectators, the hills themselves rippling in waves of drug-fueled elation. It’s a fleeting vision, about as close to witnessing the concert as this film is willing to bring us. And perhaps that’s all we can be allowed to expect? Those dissatisfied can go to the original 1970 documentary or simply take comfort in the fact that many who went there never actually saw the stage; but ultimately this is a flat offering that lacks the ambition and deliberate intent of previous Ang Lee works of Americana such as Brokeback Mountain or The Ice Storm – less a picture of the world at the time, all the music and cataclysmic new ways of thinking, and more a sour little family drama of greed, secrecy and acceptance.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Taking Woodstock is released on 13th November 2009


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