Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: SPOTLIGHT

spotlight-pic-2Making a good film about journalism isn’t easy, but when done right can be great. The defining example, in what will come as a surprise to no-one, is the 1976 film All The President’s Men, and the golden rule of such films (and of journalism as a whole) is that journalists tell the story, they don’t make themselves the story. It is the steadfast sticking to this rule that makes Spotlight, the latest film from Tom McCarthy, such a resounding success.

Starring an ensemble cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, the film depicts the true life events that occurred in 2001 when the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team uncovered a child abuse scandal within the Catholic church. The team won the Pulitzer Prize for their work, and the story is a shocking one. The film has been nominated for a total of six Oscars, making it a surprise success during awards season.

McCarthy’s direction is reminiscent of police procedural shows, perhaps unsurprising seeing as he penned the script with Josh Singer, who is known for his work on various shows including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. McCarthy opts for a relatively straightforward form of filmaking, allowing the story to speak for itself in the starkest form.

Spotlight-462365831-largeThe cast are intrinsic to the films success, with Ruffalo and McAdams picking up Supporting Actor/Actress Oscar nominations respectively, though it is a surprise that Keaton did not pick up a nomination for the second year running for his phenomenal turn. Ruffalo is certainly the moral conscience of the film, picking up some of the best lines, but Keaton’s more understated performance is just as affecting.

McCarthy and Singer’s script manages to make quite a dense topic accessible without oversimplifying it, and they also avoid the traps of exageratting the true story for dramatic effect or over-relying on use of the victims to get their point across. This means that Spotlight remains fully grounded in the facts, which are shocking enough on their own. The film is a slow burner, which makes sense considering investigative journalism is built around slowly bringing the jigsaw pieces together.

The film pays enormous detail to its 2001 setting and is hugely convincing in its portrayal of journalism before technology took over. McCarthy has said that at its core the film is about the power of journalism, something he believes has been lost in the present day as we are constantly bombarded with information. It’s a strong message and it raises some interesting questions about the power of the media and how, especially before the rise of social media, select people were in charge of what information went out to the masses.

Spotlight is everything that a film of its sort should be, with a fantastic cast and a story that will make you stand up and take notice, there is a good chance that the underdog at the Oscars could turn out to be a real frontrunner next month.

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Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: DADDY’S HOME

Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell team up for the second time in Sean Anders’ comedy.

daddys-home-movie-2015-reviewsWill Ferrell is nothing if not consistent – whilst he has been the star of some of the most hilarious comedies of the 21st century, even his lesser efforts are sure to make you laugh. He’s a funny guy, and he can be counted on to make funny films – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? It will therefore as a surprise to no-one that Daddy’s Home is funny. Ferrell first teamed up with Mark Wahlberg for action comedy The Other Guys in 2010, and they have proven their comedic chemistry again here in a film about everyman Brad (Will Ferrell), who is married to Sara (Linda Cardellini) and step-father to her two kids. Brad wants nothing more than for the kids to call him Dad, and he seems to be making progress in that direction until Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), the kids’ biological father, shows up. Cue a step-father v Dad stand-off where everyone involved learns a lesson or two.

Sean Anders is in the directors chair, with his previous credits including Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) and writing gigs on We’re The Millers (2013) and Dumb and Dumber To (2014). He doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the film is clearly in capable hands. His camera work on the more physical scenes is strong, but he does little to elevate Daddy’s Home above typical Friday-night movie fare.

daddyshome-mv-4Brian Burns’ screenplay (which is loosely based on his own experiences as a step-father), breaks no new ground and the plot is as predictable as the trailer makes it out to be. The film is largely propped up by the aforementioned chemistry between its leading men. The juxtaposition of over-earnest and by-the-book Brad and the wild and unpredictable Dusty is a trope in itself (“It’s a story as old as time” remarks Dusty in an amusingly self-aware moment), but that doesn’t stop it from being funny to watch them attempt to one-up each other.

The cast is rounded out by some hilarious supporting players, most notably Griff (Hannibal Buress), the handyman who becomes friends with Dusty and Leo (Thomas Haden Church), Brad’s over-sharing boss. Buress and Haden Church’s dry humour acts as an effective balance to the more over-the-top and slapstick elements of the central duo, keeping it from becoming overpowering. A cameo from John Cena is also expertly executed, getting one of the biggest laughs of the film.

The kids (played by Scarlett Esteves and Owen Vaccaro) are nowhere near as insufferable as the children that populate many a comedy (the kids in last years Vacation, albeit older, immediately spring to mind). It’s also worth noting that the film is the epitome of a boy’s club, with Cardellini given little to do other than to stand around and shake her head at the men, but if anything that’s more of a reflection on the wider problems about women in comedy.

daddyshome-mv-6The product placement is so hilariously blatant that it deserves special mention – from Ford cars to numerous types of beer, the film cannot be accused subtlety in either its storytelling or shafting of products, but it’ll at least give you something else to laugh about. Whilst critics have been mixed in their opinions, the film has been a smash-hit financially and is close to hitting the $200 million mark in domestic grosses, which makes it Ferrell’s second largest non-animated opening. All in all, it’s nothing new and you will be hard pressed to remember it in a month’s time, but Daddy’s Home is still well worth a watch based on Ferrell and Wahlberg’s comedic duo alone.

 

 

 

 

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Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: THE DANISH GIRL

Tom Hooper brings the story of Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first gender reassignment patients, to the big screen.

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander

Certificate: 15

The Danish Girl is a film that has been fighting to get made for a long time, yet it has finally come along when the subject matter couldn’t be more relevant. Trans issues are finally being talked about, and 2015 was a big year with Caitlyn Jenner – love her or hate her – making the issue a household topic, whilst the likes of Laverne Cox are bringing the issues to the mainstream. It feels like the perfect backdrop to tell the story of Lili Elbe, born Einar Warner, who was one of the first patients to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Hooper fully embraces the classical film-making style, and the result is a dully beautiful 1920’s Copenhagen, as pleasing to the eye as one of Einar (Eddie Redmayne) or Gerda Warner’s (Alicia Vikander) paintings, but lacking the substance that one would expect in a film of this sort. The narrative is fairly straightforward and the paint-by-numbers biopic arguably doesn’t do the extremely interesting real-life characters justice.

Redmayne and Vikander are at the top of their game and have both received Oscar nominations for their fantastic work as the married couple at the center of the tale. They make the film watchable and their dynamic as a married couple and, above all else, as friends is what is at the heart of the story. It can be disappointing to look at the backstory of the real Einar/Lili and Gerda however, and see that Hooper has opted to take a decidedly bland version of the tale to the screen. The supporting cast are equally strong, with Mattias Schoenaerts in particular becoming a key player.

The film has proved controversial in it’s depiction of Lili, with criticisms being aimed at Redmayne’s casting and the fact that the narrative bases itself on Einar ‘learning’ to be a woman, with various scenes showing the character mimicking female gestures. This could almost be perceived as a step backwards in the representation of trans issues, but Redmayne’s performance itself is well executed. Much like his Oscar-winning turn in The Theory of Everything, the actor carried out extensive research for the role and it shines through, with the films issues instead being down to the script.

The score, whilst pleasant, is nothing special and continues the ‘by the book’ feel that blights the entire film, though the costume and set design is stunning. In his review for The Atlantic, David Sims said:

“It’s a film that’s sensitive and often touching, but not remotely compelling.” 

All the elements for a great film are there, but a story as interesting as Lili’s should not be this boring to watch. It could have been a film that broke new ground, but instead it feels like Hooper is playing it safe and gunning for the Oscar’s.

Ultimately, The Danish Girl is a story of what could have been – perhaps in the hand of a different director it may have been a very different film, but as it stands it has fallen far short of the wider cultural impact it could have had.

 

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