Spotlight: Movie review.


“I’m just a poor boy from a poor family” says one of the victims of systematically covered up child abuse by paedophile Priests in Boston “and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say ‘no’ to God?”.

The victim might well have added, as I did, subconsciously, the paraphrased words of Freddie Mercury “spare me my life from this monstrosity.”

Because let’s make no mistake here.  This was a monstrosity.

The story is, on the surface, a journalistic procedural about the ‘exposing’ (no pun intended) of paedophile priests in Massachusetts (Boston specifically) by The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ tiny hit squad at the turn of the millennium.  The investigation is set into motion at the instruction of the ailing paper’s then Editor, Marty Baron, played with callous inscrutability by Liev Scriver.  It’s a  masterful performance.

Or at least that’s how the movie’s billed.  In actual fact it becomes a complete deconstruction of the ‘Three Estates’ and commentary on their deep rooted self protection; the clergy, the news industry, the legal sector, the monied are all systematically pulverised in Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy’s acid script.

No one comes out alive.

Including, tragically, many of the thousand and more victims of this institutionalised psychological ‘phenomenon’ that is peculiar to a significant minority (6% apparently) of the Catholic clergy, and it hasn’t just happened in Boston Massachusetts, but the first world over.

That’s why this film is so important, because as we bemoan the effect of islamic fundamentalism of the World order right now the Christian religion has been breeding just as insidious an evil, but from within and of its own, for decades (maybe, no probably, longer).

As the movie opens it quickly becomes apparent that Spotlight is a commercial indulgence in the context of falling newsprint sales and the fledgling ‘internet’ bringing with it, as it did, almost unlimited, free 24 hour news.  The new editor, with a reputation for cutting the workforce elsewhere, initially looks at Spotlight (a team of four) with skepticism.

They grow their stories at leisure and have an unhealthily parochial attitude towards them.  They look set for the chop until Baron learns of a retired priest who’s been exposed and thinks it’s a story for the Spotlight team.  Apart from eager beaver, Mike Rezendez (another magnificent performance by the chameleon-like Mark Ruffalo) they’re initially reluctant because they know the city ‘mafia’ (it’s strongly Catholic and protects its own) will not make the task easy and could, in fact, boycott the title if the accusations are distasteful.

The Spotlight team go for it with vigour.  The meat of the film gradually excavates the layers of deceit, and cover up, executed by the Archbishop, his cronies and the legal profession who carry out extensive, but not particularly elaborate, burial of evidence, misfiling of case reports and the turning of blind eyes; right left and centre.

The pollce are implicated (no, accused) the most senior judiciary (some of them also Catholic) subvert and seal important files.

Frankly, the whole thing sucks.

And then 9/11 strikes, suddenly the world’s eyes turn to Islam, including Spotlights’.

How ironic.

It’s a tragic intervention in many ways because the team is making real progress; extracting victim stories from grown men, mainly but not exclusively, that agree to tell their stories and closing in on the legal, clergy and city movers and shakers that are at the heart of the cover up.

But eventually the case resumes and we reach our inevitable and well publicised finale.

What Tom McCathy has achieved here is turn a movie into a fly on the wall docudrama, shot, as it is, in unglamorous fluorescent light for the most part.  The lead performances by Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and John Slattery are selfless.  Spotlight is bigger than any of them.  (A special mention must also go to Stanley Tucci for playing the lawyer with a heart in an award worthy turn.)

The script is a whodunit of epic proportions and the content is both worthwhile and necessary; the sum is most certainly greater than the parts.

Praise to the real Spotlight team was ultimately massive (they won the Pulitzer prize for their efforts) but the impact it has had as it has resonated across not just the Boston Globe but its entirety makes this an effort of monumental proportions and the basis of a truly great movie that should win best picture at the 2016 Academy Awards.


Room: Film Review.


Emma Donoghue’s novel, inspired no doubt by the likes of the Josef Fritzl case in Austria, 2008, has been rewritten by the author herself for the screen.  It’s a mighty challenging undertaking and benefits to some degree by not being ‘based on a true story’ even if the inspiration was so obviously horrifically apparent.

It tells the tale of a young mother, credited as ‘Ma’ but actually known as Joy (how ironic) played to Oscar winning standard by Brie Larson and her five year old son, Jack, who was born in captivity some time after Joy was absconded by a man entrapping her with the aid of a sick puppy.

Thus begins Joy’s nightmare.

At some point Jack is conceived at the hands of her rapist jailor, Old Nick, played by Sean Bridgers.  (It’s a casting that may have given him some personal nightmares because he’s not what you could describe as a sympathetic character). It’s fair to say that although Ma tolerates Nick’s visitations, she has to to protect her child and to be fed, no Stockholm Syndrome has developed.

The movie begins on or around Jack’s fifth birthday.

Jack has never left the room in which he was conceived and into which he entered his insular world.  He knows no place other than this, has never experienced any weather (or air even), never played with other children, never been admonished for fear of upsetting a very delicate ecology between him, his mother and the ‘room’ where they live.

Aside from the nightly visitations of Old Nick for the daily rape of his mother he knows no other human being.

Ma and Jack have a TV, so Jack has a perverse awareness of the ‘world’ but it’s seen through juddering images and is as real to him as martians are to you and I.

But somehow Ma and Jack soldier on.

We catch them at the end of Ma’s tether.  After five years of protecting Jack from the fact that they live in a parallel existence she’s decided it’s time for the facts of life and so begins a plan to escape.  You’ll have seen the trailers so you’ll know that ultimately the escape bid is succesful and so begins the painful psychological process of leaving an almost feral yet totally sheltered  existence into a world that’s overwhelming.

Relationships in the family have moved on in the years since Joy’s disappearance.  Mum and Dad, although both still alive cope in very different ways.  The media go mad for the story, Joy finds the whole thing extremely difficult to cope with and we spend a very moving hour or so watching them come to terms with an existence that’s completely alien to Jack and totally overwhelming for Joy.

This is a life affirming movie.  It’s directed with great skill and sensitivity by Lenny Abrahamson and in Brie Larson and five year old Jacob Tremblay we can pretty much believe that this is not fiction but very real reality.

A remarkable film that deserves all the awards that are about to come its way.

Deep respect.


The Hateful Eight: review


In which Quentin Tarantino sticks two fingers up to the American film industry and thinks to himself; if there’s nothing else left to parody it’s time to parody myself.

Tarantino’s films have increasingly taken themselves less and less seriously.  Look back through his seven previous movies and you’ll see that he started with a pretty full on, totally original, but relatively serious ‘take’ on Mean Street type hitmen, mafia stooges and mobsters with his only real moment of pure humour being the Stealer’s Wheel ‘ear scene’ in Reservoir Dogs..

Pulp Fiction was a full blown paean to, um, pulp fiction and rather than reaching for the humour button instead drew entirely on style.

Jackie Brown was a stunning tribute to blaxploitation and pulp fiction of a more cerebral kind, drawing as it did on Elmore Leonard’s superior crime noir and was an instant classic.

But Kill Bill 1 & 2 started to see Tarantino play games with his audience.  This time he sought out humour as he dialled up the violence to ridiculous, but glorious, proportions drawing from Manga, Kung Fu, Bruce Lee, and Monkey to delight all who sailed with him.

Death Proof I’ll have to comment on only from reviews I’ve read.  It pastiched B movies and Grindhouse.  His descent into levity was beginning in earnest.

Inglorious Basterds (war films) continued that journey and it reached new highs with the remarkable performance of Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained; this time Westerns being the genre of choice.

It’s perhaps a surprise to see him tackle the same genre two movies running as Westerns are the source of The Hateful Eight’s inspiration but, for me, it’s actually Tarantino that is the inspiration, because he’s made a conscious decision to rip the piss out of himself in this wondrous three hour epic.  Every excess that Tarantino has brought to our screens in the past is amplified in this shoot ’em up, completely joyous and utterly unpretentious homage to Quentin Tarantino.

He lampoons himself by appearing as a voice over, very briefly, on two occasions, thereby giving us his ‘Hitchcock Moment” – another nod of reverence to a master of the big screen.

But it’s the killings (and there are many) that provide the greatest glee and give Tarantino the most fun.  Buckets of blood mixed with suet and bits of bone spray liberally across the set, and regularly onto the magnificent countenance of Jennifer Jason Lee (an actress that’s clearly up for the ride and vies with Samuel L. Jackson for star billing).

Cowboys vomit gallons of gore in brilliant fountains of rouge and heads are dramatically obliterated with barely a by your leave.

Even his cast is a parody of itself.

Michael Madsen is back for the first time since being Mr Blonde, as is Tim Roth who was Mr Orange; Kurt Russell follows up his Death Proof appearance, Samuel L. steps out for the sixth time, Bruce Dern does a quick reappearance after Django, as does Walter Goggins who is terrific as the Sheriff.

It’s glorious (inglorious really).  A pure romp.  A very clever storyline, beautifully filmed, hilariously, and I mean laugh out loud hilariously, scripted and the ensemble cast is a pure delight.

From the very first bar of Ennio Morricone’s masterful score (in itself another parody) to the last note of the closing credits this is filmmaking at its most uninhibited, most irreverent (the n word appears many more times than any other white man could get away with) and most crafted.

A triumph.

I cannot wait for his forthcoming horror movie.

The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu: Review


In Iñárritu’s sixth full length outing (his fourth English language movie) he makes a change in direction, although much of his interest in the human spirit and particularly the afterlife, fuelled presumably by his Catholic upbringing in Mexico, remains in place.

He describes The Revenant as a ‘Grizzly thriller” and that’s a fair summation, although the pace is often really quite slow.

What Iñárritu excels at is creating a mood of intimacy and foreboding that characterises this epic journey from start to finish.  In one sense it’s an unashamed star vehicle for Leonardo Di Caprio who must surely sway the Academy judges to finally reward him with his long sought best actor statue, for this is a truly remarkable and physical performance from an actor that has deserved the formal acknowledgement of his peers for several years.

The photography, unaided by anything other than nature itself, is both oppressive (often downright gloomy in the Albertan and British Columbian winter) and intense.  More than once Di Caprio’s breath unapologetically fogs the lens, so close is the filming.  But it can also be beautiful in its naturalistic capture of the rivers, and particularly the forests, of its locations.

The music by Ryuichi Sakamoto quite often dominates scenes with its full orchestral chords booming across the barren and forlorn landscapes that are doing their best to destroy Di Caprio’s character, Hugh Glass.

It’s a tale of revenge, but more importantly of determination and faith ( in both the human spirit and in God).  Iñárritu draws on religious iconography, as he often does, to represent the afterlife because, through much of the movie, death is either a sudden outcome for many of the cast or is imminent for Glass.

Recurring themes are the angelic dream-state vision of his dead Native Indian wife floating in mid air and an image of a foreboding hill of skulls (representing Golgotha, AKA Calvary).  These dream states sit alongside a number of set pieces (the Grizzly fight in particular) in which special effects are put to quite remarkable effect, but these are short episodes in what is essentially a tortuous journey from near death.

The story goes like this.

A gang of 44 fur hunters/traders are attacked by a posse of Native Indians seeking the daughter of the chief who has been taken by another group of traders.

These guys are in no mood for taking prisoners and lay waste to the fur traders’ settlement.  We then follow a small band of trapper brothers who escape (including Hugh Glass) but it quickly becomes apparent that they are no harmonious group and one in particular, Fitzgerald, played woefully in my opinion by Tom Hardy (really, his backwoodsman dialect is unintelligible and this ruins nearly all of the narrative scenes in the film), has money and self interest at heart.  When Glass is attacked and nearly killed by a Grizzly Bear Fitzgerald is left to look after him, for a bounty, while the remaining group head back to the traders’ fortified settlement on the other side of the Rockies.

Rather than looking after Glass, Fitzgerald abandons him, killing his half-cast son and sets off to reclaim his bounty.  What follows is a long and tortuous adventure as Glass seeks refuge back at camp.  It’s a Bear Grylls expedition of monumental proportions with plenty of adventure, much misery and very little in the way of food.

This isn’t Iñárritu’s best movie (despite all the awards).  There are serious flaws in the believability of Glass’ survival techniques and Tom Hardy knocks a full point off my rating for his irritating and wilfully obscure, frankly preposterous, dialect.

But put that to one side and you have an adventure epic that bears little comparison.  It hangs onto Iñárritu’s arthouse sensitivities and it serves up a number of fantastic scenes that will stick long in the viewer’s mind.

I give it a 7/10.  Sorry Tom.  You blew it.


Are we witnessing the start of Iñárritu’s global domination?


Alejandro González Iñárritu is quite simply a phenomenon.  He’s only made six movies but I can’t think of a director, maybe Orson Welles excepted, who has made such an impact from a standing start (although, note, Welles only one a single Academy Award – for the screenplay, not direction, of Citizen Kane).

Consider this.

Amores Perros, his brilliant four part debut feature about the love of dogs was nominated for the Best Foreign movie Oscar.  It is monumental.  See it.

21 Grams, his brilliant movie about the afterlife (21 grams is the weight of the human sole) won Benicia Del Toro and Naomi Watts best Actor and Best Actress Oscar Nominations.

Babel, his brilliant four part feature connected by guns set in Morocco and around the world won a best music Oscar and was nominated in seven categories including Best Picture and best director

Biutiful, his brilliant fourth feature about the horrific life of Javier Bardem’s cancer ridden father of two living in utter squalor in Barcelona.  It’s brutal.  OOnce again he garnered Best Foreign Language movie nomination and a Best actor nomination for Bardem.

Birdman, his brilliant fifth feature about the crazy life of a failed actor (Michael Keaton) in a dead end Broadway play won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (he wrote it) and was nominated in nine categories.

The Revenant, his sixth and current movie has been nominated in 12 Oscar categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Leonardo Di Caprio who will almost certainly win at the fifth time of asking) and Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy).

This is no fluke.  Six movies, all six Oscar nominated, three of them for Best Picture and two for Best Foreign Language Picture,  is nothing short of a phenomenon and the reason for this is that Iñárritu has a sublime eye for cinematography, a magnificent command of plotting and an innate ability to draw forth truly extraordinary performances from actors that makes all his technical ability shine like a diamond.

Joy; Movie Review.


In 1990 Joy Mangano invented the Miracle Mop.

It was a complete flop and nearly bankrupt her and her family in the process.

The US shopping channel’s top sales on screen sales people couldn’t work it and so her ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to make her millions turned into standing on the cusp of losing them instead.

So she took matters into her own hands.  She asked QVC to let her sell her mops herself on screen explaining  “I’m just like everybody else out there. I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them.”  This came across in a very real and engaging way on QVC and the rest was history.  She is now a $3 x billionaire.

In Joy, Jennifer Lawrence puts in a performance that not only captures this spectacular rags to riches story but breaks your heart along the way.

There really only is one Jennifer Lawrence with her myriad looks, faces and delightfully subtle intonations.  JLaw is a force of nature.


So too is David O. Russell, her doting director, who has now cast her in his last three excellent movies, including Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (and, in all three, he places the brilliant Bradley Cooper alongside her).

Always, the effect is cinematic magic.

No less so here despite the relatively lukewarm reaction from IMDB voters and critics alike. (How can this be so?)

The script appears to takes many liberties with the true life story for both comic and dramatic effect, but who cares it’s a movie.

The ensemble gathered around J Law’s star vehicle performance also include a rejuvenated Robert De Niro as her morally dubious father, Isabella Rossellini (no really), Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen and Elisabeth Rohm (as her rather hateful half sister).

It works.

Three, maybe four, times this movie made me completely fill up, not because of the fantastic human story but because of the remarkable performance by Jennifer Lawrence and the stunning direction of her by Russell.

Ignore the critics.

Just, not this one.

You’ll thank me.