Spotlight (2016)

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Delicately handled considering the subject matter, this biographical film balances the story between the seekers of truth and the victims in a great way. It’s a movie that pulls you in by being interesting and giving enough time to the key characters that we understand all motives at play. I can really see why this is up for Best Picture and why it might win.

At the Boston Globe, a small group of 4 journalists called ‘Spotlight’ take their time in documenting big stories. After new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives, he suggest they look deeper into the allegations of perversion and molestation of children from priests in the Catholic Church. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) wants his team to do it right so they trawl through files and reports uncovering a shocking statistic.

There’s never a moment in this film where it feels slow, even when briefings or meetings occur it all feels right for the story and therefore keeps the bubbling pace of this plot going nicely. It’s a film with something always around the corner and you want to find out what that is. Also, this film never comes across forced to seem more interesting or explosively damaging to the Church. It’s done with a calmness in the way the Spotlight team meticulously go over findings and try to help victims come forward. This movie could easily have been terrible if the four journalists were more dynamic for the sake of cinematic entertainment or if the whole uncovering was twisted in a more typically dramatic way, but gladly the film knows it’s dealing with a tough issue and focuses on the subtle moments building to the findings they make.

Tom McCarthy does a great job in firstly letting us buy into the film’s people and see their understanding of what’s happening slowly hit them. Secondly he does a greater job in reversing away from panned Adam Sandler flick ‘The Cobbler’ to prove directors need second chances. One of the good things here is that McCarthy still weaves a gripping dramatic tale even though the trailer gave us the knowledge of what’s to come. So a movie that has no true mystery left but is still overly engaging and thoughtful is one that must be seen and I’m glad I have.

McCarthy wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer and the two of them; like the Spotlight foursome are a great unison of harmony and talent. The story is done really well, they don’t make the journalists into heroes, in fact we learn hard truths about them. They don’t write harsh pot-shots at faith or the Church but more at the necessary problem of the system failing time and time again. It’s a narrative with no unneeded embellishments and that’s an admirable quality to look upon.

It’s a film that has to be seen, the true danger of the priests and their constant replacements is unbelievable. The lasting feeling this film gives is of overwhelming shock at the amount of locations listed and with this, there’s a feeling of laughable madness in a certain figure’s new position. It’s more than scary to think what’s being gotten away with and therefore this is a movie that must exist to shine a spotlight on what many people know but turn away from.

Michael Keaton is fantastic, toning his performance with direction and leadership, there’s a constant presence of damaged knowing to his character that comes into fruition later on. Mark Ruffalo transforms into his role, leaving Bruce Banner behind as he becomes the workaholic and fiery Michael Rezendes. It’s clear to see why he was nominated for Best Actor because he does bury his teeth into the character and give passion to the project. Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer is gently reserved but bold in looking like she wants to do this story right. She brings compassion and morals to the piece. Brian d’Arcy James is magnificent also, not one of the four feels shaded or left with no meat on the bones so to speak. James does really well in showing his worried character and the home-life he faces with danger on the doorstep.

For me, this feature should win Best Picture, I’d give it to Room if I could. but in all likelihood I’d root for this excellent portrayal of character development and detailed professionalism concerning an absorbing and worrying subject matter.

8/10

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Birdman (2014)

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Zany, arty, mad, poetic and thoughtful in design and structure, Birdman soars to extravagant heights in its exploration of fame and the media. One of the smoothest yet surreal showcases I’ve witnessed and absolutely superb because of it.

This film sees Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to shed his superhero acting days of theĀ Birdman series by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway play. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is having financial problems until supremo actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) comes along. Soon acting wars arise and the issue of celebrity and theatre take centre stage as Riggan uses apparent powers to be the respected talent he craves to be.

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this tale has a crazy amount of flair and style. He displayed that unwinding criss cross of direction in the brilliant ‘Amores Perros’ and in this movie he lets the story play out through near full length unedited wonder. The film glides and floats through scenes making the whole story seem oddly smooth considering the madness centered in the plot. This fluid one shot appearance is perfect and as it winds around through the theatre it feels like a promenade performance, as if we the audience are following Riggan and his life, a theme key in the film as it explores culture and the obsession of fan followings.

The writing is smart and beautifully written in making the many exchanges feel real. The entire scripting team have conjured up a poignant yet absurd narrative and though there can be a lot of dialogue that some may get bored with, others will lap up the neat and well constructed study of celebrity and identity. The ending itself is one that you always wonder how it’ll play out and when the screen goes to black and the first credit appears, I at least felt happy in the clever and open ending.

Antonio Sanchez gifts this movie a heroic amount of tempo and charisma through repeated percussion. The drum beats really strike the speakers well and ramp up either tension or feelings of bewilderment as Riggan goes about his ever odder days. Having the drummer planted into the scenes is a nice out of body touch and breaks the fourth wall, it also adds to the way Riggan sees himself as powerful, a possible illusion to him believing the drummer is soundtracking his life.

The movie is genius in the design and content. As simple as a background billboard of Superman reflecting the hero-like stature of Riggan as he stands atop a building. Then there’s the fact of having two former superhero actors in the movie. One time Batman and Hulk squaring off against one another is fantastic, piled tremendously on top of this is Thomson’s story of George Clooney and a plane crash, a wink to another Batman alumni worrying Riggan’s mind. The near end in a hospital features neat mask imagery too.

It’s a mysterious film and it grandly details the desire of fame, recognition, plaudits and love. These are running themes that go alongside the main issue of media and especially concerning the artistry of the theatre. The whole critic vs performer debate is brilliant from both sides and added to all these other themes is the magnifying glass on audiences and their expectations. We crave action and fast moving plots as much as Riggan craves to be adored for something understated. The insane explosive, robotic bird, birdman journey that Thomson takes around New York is the brief action filled superhero-esque nonsense that so many want in movie releases.

Michael Keaton is a shoe in for an Academy Award, if not then it’s a terrible snub from the Oscar panel as his performance is mad, emotional, subtle then big and overall a fascinating character comes to life because of Keaton. The echoing voice over of Birdman is fantastic and every look Keaton gives breathes further life into Riggan, a high flying role deserving of every credit. Edward Norton is also insanely good, the jerky arrogant talent runs through every nuance and as he faces off against Keaton we get some of the best scenes in the film. Zach Galifianakis steps away from his usual shtick and gives comedic yet panicked sidekick material to producer Jake. Emma Stone is doe eyed and unhinged as Riggan’s daughter Sam, her pieces of dialogue about twitter, social media and the clawing of attention are powerfully spoken about and she acts as a brilliant opposite to Riggan.

Birdman is a technical triumph stuffed with dizzying spectacular performances. The smooth one take centre is wonderful, the plot is beautiful and mad and the look is stylish and haunting. This has to be seen to believed and in my thoughts, seen at least twice just to admire Keaton, Norton and the magical direction.

8.5/10