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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Review: Southpaw

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DIR: Antoine Fuqua • WRI: Kurt Sutter • PRO: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Antoine Fuqua, David Ranes, Alan Riche, Peter Riche, Ning Ye • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Derek R. Hill • MUS: James Horner • DES: James D. Bissell • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Oona Laurence, Rita Ora

 

Antoine Fuqua’s recent entry into the boxing canon Southpaw is visceral yet manipulative. It is a generic rags-to-riches story which includes a little girl (Laurence) whose sole purpose in the narrative is to try her best to make the audience weep. The film is steeped in melodrama.

Southpaw originated as vehicle for rapper Eminem who instead just provides the soundtrack. The lead role of Billy Hope (that’s no joke) was taken on by Jake Gyllenhaal. This proves a blessing for the film. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Billy Hope seems like Jake La Motta light. However, he adds a bumbling pathos to an innately clichéd character with an already well-worn path to follow down the film’s over-familiar plot.

Not only does Gyllenhaal borrow from Robert De Niro’s classic performance, Southpaw and its director borrows from almost every boxing film ever made, most glaringly from Raging Bull (1980). Fuqua lifts shots from a film which was so uniquely conceived 35 years previously. Genre tropes are hard to avoid in this kind of film but Southpaw indulges in them without a glimmer of self-consciousness.

Some fine acting by Gyllenhaal, McAdams as his wife and Forest Whitaker as his coach make this film watchable, but such is Fuqua’s appetite for the mundane, none of them can flourish. Gyllenhaal’s transformation is something to behold. The male body is something that has recently come to the forefront of Irish culture as the vast majority gaze toward the form of Conor McGregor in sexualised awe and appreciation. Gyllenhaal’s transformation from night crawler to buff brawler is commendable and raises more comparisons with De Niro’s ‘method’ acting in Raging Bull.

Fuqua not only sexualises his lead but also his counterpart McAdams. He does so for the sake of it. McAdams’ performance already oozes sexual confidence and social awareness. She is the brains of the operation. Fuqua ruins the elegance of her performance by exploiting her with his camera, like she is starring in a 50 Cent or Eminem music video. It is a misguided attempt at gender politics, another staple of the boxing genre.

Leger Grindon posits in his seminal essay Body and Soul: The Structure of the Boxing Genre ‘The boxer’s career unfolds in an exclusively male world which retards the fighter’s emotional development and intensifies his difference from women’. He goes on to say ‘In the romance, the female protagonist is associated with mainstream culture and the family’. All Billy knows is how to box. The distance from women is not as intense because of his relationship with his wife and daughter. However, it is them that teach him everything else he needs to know about life. McAdam’s character repeats the importance of home and family like it is a mantra, her philosophies are echoed by her daughter towards the end of the narrative.

 Grindon continues ‘Whereas the society of the boxer is defined not simply as male, but also as undeveloped and apart’. Billy Hope cannot conform to the rules of society. It is a tragic flaw for him, but especially for those closest to him. He constantly questions societal boundaries, lashing out in anger if he cannot transcend him, flipping tables if he cannot find the words he needs to express his feelings.

Causal filmgoers will probably enjoy this film. However, there are much better examples of this genre. Anyone who has seen the best ones will not enjoy such a clichéd affair. What must be stressed is do not, under any circumstances, watch the trailer for this film. It gives away too much plot points.

Tom Crowley

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

Southpaw is released 31st July 2015

 

 

 

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A Most Wanted Man

images                                               

Dir: Anton Corbijn Wri: Andre Bovell Pro: Andre Calderwood, Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Gail Egan DOP: Benoit Delhomme ED: Claire Simpson Mus: Herbert Gronemeyer Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin

A German intelligence officer, Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), operating in Hamburg investigates and attempts to track down a Chechen Muslim, Issa Karpov (Dobrygin), who has illegally immigrated to Germany and is a suspected terrorist. Gunther must try to strike the right balance between doing the right thing and appeasing American spies all too vicious and eager in their hunt for potential terrorists. Young, idealistic lawyer Annabel Richter (McAdams) gets caught up in the messy goings on when she tries to help Issa. Her help involves Issa’s attempts to get money from a suspect banker (Dafoe).  Needless to say as events progress the film gets ever more complicated and twisty in its proceedings with the viewer not ever quite sure who is good and who is bad. This leads on to an explosive, hugely suspenseful ending.

This classy John La Carre adaptation is a slow-burning, engrossing and tense espionage thriller.  Anton Corbijn, director of the solid Ian Curtis adaptation Control and the stylish but empty George Clooney vehicle The American, tells the film’s story in a patient, decidedly competent fashion. There are few traces of the flair he sporadically showed in those other pictures or in his famous work as a photographer. He does bring a coldness to the picture and utilises his Hamburg setting effectively but he also occasionally utilises some lazy techniques to instil emotion in the viewer and ultimately the direction is mostly workmanlike rather than inspired. The acting, on the other hand, is superb. Naturalistic, utterly engaging performances are what draws the viewer into the murky, slippery world of the film. Such is the quality of the actors on show they even make you forget the silliness of the fact that the majority of the characters are German yet constantly speak in English.

McAdams brings a strength and vulnerability to her role as Annabel. Dafoe is as watchable as ever as a somewhat shady banker. But this film will, of course, be best remembered as the last leading role for the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His brilliant performance ensures it’s a fitting if terribly sad end to his career. He brings such an understated touch, such imagination, command and complexity to the role. Gunther is a tough, chain-smoking, moral man. Hoffman plays him as weary and hard-edged but retains a twinkle in the eye, a certain charisma. There are some delightful moments of unpredictability. Hoffman chuckling at a prisoner making an offensive signal at his camera or a terrifically bizarre scene where, in the middle of a meeting with American CIA operative Penn, he breaks up a domestic fight that breaks out in a bar.  It’s impossible to think of any other actor that could have made something so interesting from the role.

Film fans are urged to check this out if only to see the master’s swansong. He’ll be sorely missed.

David Prendeville

15A (See IFCO for details)

121 minutes

A Most Wanted Man is released 12th September 2014

A Most Wanted Man – Official Website

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYORzJ3e-Og

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Cinema Review: About Time

About Time trailer - video

DIR: Richard Curtis WRI: Richard Curtis, PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner. DOP: John Guleserian. ED: Mark Day. DES: John Paul Kelly. CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams

Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is a sensitive man. He adores his sister, worships his father and is desperate to find love. However, Tim has a secret weapon when it comes to romance, time travel. He can fix problematic interactions, re-experience fantastic moments and generally find the woman of his dreams. But, as his father (Bill Nighy) who shares his son’s unusual gift explains, there’s a catch, Tim can only travel back through his own lifetime and not past certain life altering incidents. Nonetheless Tim excitedly tries out his new talent only to be met with unrequited love and general disappointment. That is until he meets the beautiful shy American Mary (Rachel McAdams) his perfect woman who just happens to reciprocate his romantic feelings. However, his relationship with Mary doesn’t run smoothly as an intervention in the life of a friend leads him to lose her number forcing him to travel back in time in order to re-meet her. Tim is then continually motivated by his love for Mary to perfect every moment of their relationship so that they can have a wonderful, regret free life. But as time passes and various events arise Tim realises he can’t change everything, nor protect his loved ones.

About Time marks Curtis’ third outing as a director and in many ways it is his most successful. The usual criticism of Curtis’ work is that it is far too syrupy and sentimental. This film is very sweet, however, the inclusion of time travel manages to some what dilute the saccharine elements and inject life and interest into the story. Nevertheless this is still very much a Curtis fairytale with beautiful shots of Cornwall and London forming the backdrop to Tim and Mary’s romance, which is filled with bumbling interactions and heartfelt declarations. But, it is Tim’s relationship with his father that is the true heart of the film. Nighy and Gleeson have excellent chemistry creating a believable father and son relationship which forms the backbone of the story. Gleeson offers a natural, endearing performance although he occasionally veers into Hugh Grant territory, particularly throughout the voiceover.

However, he has excellent comic timing and can deliver humorous lines with more conviction than other leading men who have appeared in Curtis’ films. Indeed the casting of Gleeson was a wise move as his presence acts as another way to infuse some freshness into the film, which for the most part is populated by Curtis’ usual collaborators, like Bill Nighy, whose performance is highly watchable, if not particularly new or taxing. The rest of the cast represent many of the traditional stereotypes used in romantic comedies particularly British romantic comedies, the sarcastic drunk, the lovable innocent and the trampy best friend. Fortunately these stereotypes are toned down enabling them to actually contribute to the comedic moments. Therefore Curtis has managed to include some devises which mitigate the nostalgic sentimentality and the cheesy characterisation and make a film about time travel that’s more believable than previous work.

However, the film is too long and drawn out repetitively making the same point, that we should remember every moment, however small or mundane. This point was reinforced by saccharine dialogue and a cringe inducing montage of normal people enjoying simple pleasures, which was unnecessary. The time travel theme can only do so much to temper the inclusion of such soppy elements which in the end do make the film overly sweet. These aspects of the film also lead to the plot becoming messy and unwieldy particularly during the films conclusion. About Time would certainly have benefited from a more concise ending.

Nonetheless, Richard Curtis’ film is enjoyable, funny and at times moving. The time altering element and Gleeson’s performance help to curtail the sentimentality but the film is let down by a messy conclusion that allows for too much indulgent sentimentality. Regardless of its flaws romantic comedy fans will still be entertained by this gentle comedy.

Ruth Hurl

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

123 mins
About Time is released on 4th September 2013

About Time  – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Vow

get a room

DIR: Michael Sucsy • WRI: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn • PRO: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Paul Taublieb • DOP: Rogier Stoffers • ED: Melissa Kent, Nancy Richardson • DES: Kalina Ivanov • Cast: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange

The interestingly-named Michael Sucsy’s new romantic drama The Vow is best encapsulated by not so much a single word as a single sound, and that sound is ‘eeuuchh..’. Released to coincide with Valentine’s Day and designed in every aspect to ensnare as many hormonally-charged teenage couples as possible, this is a Hallmark card of a movie, pre-packaged and sanitised to within an inch of its life. The Vow is loosely based on a true story, and concerns young artist Paige (Rachel McAdams), married to recording studio owner Leo (Channing Tatum), who survives a near-fatal car accident only to be left with no recollection of her husband or their marriage. Leo subsequently sets about re-staging the key events of their courtship as he tries to make Paige fall in love with him a second time.

Now I realise that as a mildly grizzled thirty-something male I am probably not the ideal audience for this type of froth, but it seems to me that the least that even the most easily-pleased of audiences should expect is a script that manages to rise above the level of something churned out over a wet weekend by a gaggle of lovestruck 12 year-old girls. There are lines of dialogue in The Vow so hideously clunky that you can practically feel your seat buckle beneath you. The performances are similarly insipid, Rachel McAdams (apparently the go-to actress for those dealing in this type of slush) sleepwalks through an unchallenging role, vainly trying to establish a connection with love interest Channing Tatum. To be fair to McAdams though, this is in large part due to the fact that Tatum, who seems to be some class of talking bicep, is impossible to take seriously in any kind of dramatic role. He’s even harder to buy here as a cool and charming music producer, being possessed of all the charisma of a filing cabinet. His primary task in The Vow seems to be to proudly exhibit his chiseled linebacker physique and predilection for chunky knitwear at every available opportunity, while failing utterly to convince as a love interest to McAdams’ free-spirited artist / sculptor. The idea that anyone would fall in love with this mug not once, but twice, is risible. In terms of the rest of the cast, Sam Neill and Jessica Lange have the good grace to look mildly embarrassed to be involved, with Lange in particular looking suspiciously as if she’s ingested a small wheelbarrow full of Xanax just to get through the experience.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of romantic mush at this time of year, the least one should expect is a modicum of playfulness and wit. The Vow is devoid of these qualities, and plays out its awkward, sickly-sweet melodrama over a soulless, charmless 104 minutes. In fact, I’ve seen Health and Safety instructional videos that inspire more romantic ardour than this foul potpourri of cynical sentiment and putrid cliche. I repeat, eeuuuch….

Martin Cusack

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Vow is released on 10th February 2012

The Vow – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Midnight in Paris

Typical Woody Allen sci-fi

DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures, Stephen Tenenbaum • ED: Alisa Lepselter • DOP: Johanne Debas , Darius Khondji • DES: Anne Seibel • CAST: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates

Since leaving his native New York to set up shop in Europe, Woody Allen has reached some of the highs (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point) and lows (Cassandra’s Dream, Scoop) of his career. Thankfully, Midnight in Paris counts not only as one of the best of Allen’s recent output, but also his biggest ever box-office hit.

Owen Wilson plays a self-deprecating Hollywood screenwriter who is trying to finish his first novel. While holidaying in Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), her secret crush (Michael Sheen) and her parents, Wilson goes for a walk alone in the city at night and somehow finds himself transported to Paris circa 1920, and soon he is in the company of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali and almost every other early 20th century artist or writer you can think of. In the middle of this creative hub is Adriana (Marion Cotillard), whose beauty was the muse of many of the famous names mentioned above, and who Wilson promptly falls in love with. But will he decide to stay in his perceived ‘Golden Age’ of Paris with this new love, or return to the 21st century and a life he’s unsure of?

This vaguely sci-fi-ish central premise is played loose, so as not to weigh down the inherent comedy and romance of the situation. Allen uses this film not only as a love letter to Paris, with every shot brimming over with the city’s natural beauty, but also a love letter to writing, to music, to history, to love itself. Reminiscent of the fantastically romantic Amelie, this is exactly the kind of movie they hardly ever make anymore. And prepare to feel the overwhelming urge to buy a ticket to Paris the second the end credits begin.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Midnight in Paris is released on 7th October 2011

Midnight in Paris – Official Website

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Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
DIR: Guy Ritchie • WRI: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg • PRO: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: James Herbert • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Robert Downey, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan

It’s no mystery why Sherlock Holmes has remained popular since his inception by Arthur Conan Doyle. As a benevolent private investigator, Holmes employs his keenly trained mind, skilled fists and invaluable partner to resolve issues beyond the grasp of the police.

However, it doesn’t take Holmes’ genius to deduce that in direct comparison with a more contemporary, muscle-bound, gadget-wielding, cowl-wearing private investigator, poor Holmes seems decidedly dated.

Sherlock Holmes is no Batman. Thankfully, director Guy Ritchie knows this.

So, how to resolve the issue of said comparison? Elementary: focus on Holmes’ wit, which extends beyond his ‘not inconsiderable’ analytical skills. Next add genuine chemistry between the charismatic lead (Robert Downey Jr.) and the stiff-lipped Watson (Jude Law). Finish with a perplexing case, and the result? Sherlock Holmes.

Rest assured there were furrowed brows, clenched fists and gnashed teeth when this honour was not bestowed upon a British actor. Well, if you can’t have a British one, might as well have a bloody good one. And as expected, Downey Jr. does the role justice. His eccentric, energetic portrayal is a divergence from the common depiction, but it suits the pacing of the film. It will also make you laugh. Alot.

Without seeming ridiculous or worse still, unprofessional, Holmes tackles his mysterious case with all the vigour and conviction one could hope for. He is not alone in his endeavours though, and his cooperation/constant bickering with the stalwart Watson and the mischievous Adler (Rachel McAdams) make up the bulk of the humour. And a considerable bulk it is.

Unsurprisingly, apprehension aplenty is afoot for Holmes and Watson, evidenced by some cracking fights. Unfortunately the only real criticism of this fun venture is that these scenes employ unnecessary close-ups that tarnish the viewer’s experience. Sadly this has become common practice in many studios, and it’s difficult to decipher why. Perhaps Holmes should take a crack at that mystery.

Despite the humour, action and mystery, the attraction of Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly the nuanced, inventive ways in which clues, revelations, inferences and general cleverness litter the film. You are never far from Holmes smugly reasoning away another problem, at which point you will kick yourself for not figuring it out and smirk at the ease with which the good inspector unravels it.

Sherlock Holmes could have been torn asunder by a modern audience, who demand a darker, edgier, Kevlar-clad hero. Mercifully, due to nice pacing, clever writing, engaging action and strong performances, with tongue slightly within cheek, viewers should be too busy enjoying themselves to complain.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 12a (see IFCO website for details)

Sherlock Holmes is released 25th Dec 2009

Sherlock Holmes – Official Website

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