Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Spotlight (2015)

* * * *

Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

In a perfect world, we could all at least agree that children are deserving of protection and that their safety should take priority over everything else. That we don't live in that kind of a world, that we live in one where people who exploit and abuse children can be not just shielded from prosecution but given multiple opportunities to perpetuate abuse, proves that we still have some evolving left to do. The story told by Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is not surprising - the specific story on which the film is based was well-publicized and there have been so many other stories of systematic sexual abuse by priests that that's now the first thing many of us think of with respect to the Catholic Church - but it's nevertheless shocking to see in action the workings of a conspiracy of silence and the abuse of institutional power undertaken to keep the ugly truth hidden. Yet Spotlight is no David and Goliath tale of taking on a massive, powerful entity and defeating it; rather, it presents itself as a story in which there is a lot of complicity to go around and even the protagonists aren't necessarily without some guilt in helping to perpetuate the silence and, by extension, the abuse.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Margin Call (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons

"It's just money; it's made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don't have to kill each other just to get something to eat." It's true to a point, society is built on constructs that exist because we've all agreed to recognize that they exist but, on the other hand, the notion that it's "just money" is a lot easier to take when no matter what happens you'll still end the day with over 7 figures to your name. For the ordinary people who have been sold a false bill of goods and are about to discover how unstable the house of cards they've been allowed to build really is, money isn't so much a concept as it is a matter of life and death. But J.C. Chandor's Margin Call isn't about the ordinary people, it's about the masters of the universe playing their games on Wall Street. It might just as well have been called "Sympathy for the Devil."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Tyrannosaur (2011)

* * * *

Director: Paddy Considine
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan

Kindness is a rare commodity in Tyrannosaur and even when it does appear, it is laced with the same violence that marks everything else. Written and directed by Paddy Considine, and based on his short film Dog Altogether, Tyrannosaur is an unrelentingly bleak film about broken people who know nothing but brutality. It's one of those rare films that is so absolutely excellent that you're glad to have seen it, but so incredibly depressing that you look forward to few things as much as never seeing it again (it's not quite the same combination of great and soul crushing as, say, The Road, but it's not that far off, either).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Vera Drake (2004)

Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Imelda Staunton
Country: UK

To watch a Mike Leigh film is to be dropped into such a completely realized, fully-fleshed out world that it's almost as if you're living the story alongside the characters rather than watching a film. This is especially true of Vera Drake, a film in which even minor, one scene characters are made to feel as though they have these entire lives that we're only seeing a little snippet of in medias res and that the film could, conceivably, follow any of them out of the scene and carry on with their story for the rest of the movie. But the story that Leigh wants to tell is that of Vera Drake, a woman who is described as having a "heart of gold" but whose inherent goodness and pureness of spirit does not rob her of complexity. Indeed, as depicted by Leigh and star Imelda Staunton, her goodness only makes her more complex and utterly compelling.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Unfinished Business (2015)

* *

Director: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco

God bless Dave Franco, the Franco who makes all other Francos worthwhile. What a delightful little imp he is and how close he comes to single-handedly making Unfinished Business, a lesser Vince Vaughn comedy even by the increasingly lax standards of Vince Vaughn comedies, worth seeing. Well, okay, Tom Wilkinson is pretty good, too, and doesn't let the fact that this is clearly a role he took solely for the paycheque keep him from being an utter professional and turning in an actual performance, one that even has just a tiny bit of pathos to it. But, still, this is Dave Franco's show, which is all the more impressive when you consider that, by any objective standard, his character is kind of offensive.