Spotlight

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Spotlight  (A*).  It’s time to try to catch up on at least a few Oscar-bait movies, and this is the one I sought out today.  It is a terrific movie but a painful and even sickening experience.  That’s because it is about the Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandal that became headline news in early 2002.  More specifically, it is about a handful of reporters who worked for the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” project and who did the investigative reporting necessary to write the stories that finally forced the Catholic Church to confront the scandal.  The movie features fine performances by Michael Keaton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again), Liev Schreiber (The Painted Veil), and even Rachel McAdams (The Family Stone), who is not usually one of my favorites.  I put an asterisk on the grade only to note that my opinion in this case is very much contingent on how strictly the filmmaker stuck with the facts, and I am in no position to make that call.  Assuming director and co-writer Tom McCarthy (Win Win, The VisitorThe Station Agent) stuck closely to the facts, I think this movie is a very impressive achievement.  If he didn’t, my opinion of the movie would change quite a bit.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Movie Man Mike checks in with a blockbuster.

Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+).  This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film.  It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson).  With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story.  But Whedon is no newcomer to this.  There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance.  And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader).   By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids.  There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film.  I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin.  Certainly, there will be more to come.  And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.

The Skeleton Twins

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Skeleton Twins (B-).  I wasn’t sure if this movie was really going to be my cup of tea, but I just like the heck out of star Kristen Wiig.  She was such a lovable basket case in Bridesmaids, and such a sweet naïf in Paul.  Well, she’s not so lovable in this tale of adult-sibling dysfunction.  As our movie opens, Milo (Bill Hader, Adventureland), a fairly flamboyant gay man, is unsuccessfully attempting to commit suicide.  After that, his equally depressed twin sister Maggie (Wiig) drags him away from L.A. to stay with her and her amiable husband Lance (Luke Wilson, The Family Stone) for a while in some small town in New York.  Milo and Maggie haven’t spoken for ten years, so it’s tough for them to live under one roof together, but they sort of try to help each other work through their issues in their dysfunctional, sabotaging sort of way.  Hader and Wiig are good actors, so I enjoyed it pretty well, but there have been better movies about the sometimes difficult relationships between adult siblings.  I’d recommend You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, or The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and, again, Laura Linney.

Begin Again

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Begin Again (B). Remember that sweet little Irish movie Once from several years ago? Writer-director John Carney is back with another movie about the power of music, only this time it’s set in New York and he has actual movie stars in it.   Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) plays a down-and-out record executive named Dan who is stirred back to something like life when he hears a winsome gal named Greta (Keira Knightley, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) playing acoustic guitar and singing one of her own songs in a bar. She’s emotionally bruised herself, having been recently dumped by her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine, TV’s The Voice). Unable to get record-label attention without a demo, Dan and Greta set out to record an entire album in various NYC locales. It goes beyond being a feel-good movie; I’d have to call it a fairy tale, since some potentially serious problems (like Dan’s relationship with the adolescent daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, 3 Days to Kill) he ran out on) seem to just take care of themselves. But the actors turn in nice performances, and nobody does winsome like Keira Knightley, so just go with it and you should have a good time. There was a smattering of applause in the theater after the movie was over, so I’m not the only person who liked it.

The Kids Are All Right

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Kids Are All Right (B). This is probably not a movie a card-carrying member of the Religious Right like myself would ordinarily go see. The tale, as told by the trailers, is that two lesbians are jointly raising a teenaged daughter and son; each woman conceived one of the children by artificial insemination from the same anonymous sperm donor. When the daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland), turns 18, her 15-year-old half-brother, bizarrely tagged “Laser,” goads her into calling the clinic to try to arrange a meeting with their father. Dad agrees, and he turns out to be a cool, motorcycling dude who promptly starts causing friction in their unconventional family. It’s a well-made film in which the characters behave in what seemed to me like a reasonable way, given the unusual circumstances that bring them all together. (Although it did seem a bit unbelievable that the two moms would have used the same sperm donor to conceive their respective children three years apart.)

*** SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

So unless you are totally on the sidelines of the culture wars, you must be wondering whether this movie is simply a preachy cheer for the gay-marriage movement. To me, it does seem like a cheer, but not a terribly preachy one. The lesbians’ relationship is certainly not idealized; Nic (Annette Bening, The Women) is a semi-alcoholic control-freak doctor, while Jules (Julianne Moore, Children of Men) is a vaguely discontent homemaker. Their roughly 20-year relationship has gotten so rocky that Jules and baby-daddy Paul (Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island) eventually have a full-on affair, her homosexuality notwithstanding. Once the affair comes to light, the moms and kids circle the wagons and send Paul packing. At which point, I realized how differently different people will view what has gone on. As the main characters (except maybe Paul) and presumably the director see it, and as lots of other folks will see it, Jules has committed adultery, and Paul is nothing more than a home-wrecker, a foreign invader who is properly repulsed by movie’s end. On the other hand, folks who oppose the gay-marriage movement might acknowledge that Jules has committed a breach of trust, but they won’t consider it adultery. Although Jules and Paul’s affair is an extramarital one, it won’t seem particularly worse than the hundred other extramarital affairs Hollywood will depict this year–especially given the weird angle that they have already conceived a child together. Whether the director intended it or not, I couldn’t help having a little sympathy for Paul at the end. He’s an immature troublemaker, to be sure, but when he signed up to be a sperm donor almost 20 years earlier to make some quick cash, he surely never dreamed he’d ever have any experience of fatherhood out of the deal, or so quickly bond with his kids, or equally quickly get shut back out of their lives. Whatever this movie has to say about gay marriage, it seems like a bit of a warning on the whole artificial-insemination biz.

Shutter Island

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Shutter Island (B-). I’m generally not one much for twisty psychological thrillers, but what the heck — it’s Easter! Martin Scorsese again directs Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), who plays federal marshal Teddy Daniels. When the film opens (in 1954), Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me) are on their way out to Shutter Island, a creepy asylum for the criminally insane run by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, Species). It seems a female prisoner (Emily Mortimer, Match Point) has disappeared into thin air, and everyone on the island seems to be covering up some big secret. Teddy has a lot of baggage himself (the murder of his wife and his participation in the liberation of Dachau have taken their toll), and the place starts to get under his skin in a big way. The movie is more suspenseful but less scary than I had expected from the previews, which was a relief. Worth a look.

13 Going on 30

DVD review from The Movie Snob

13 Going on 30 (B-). This is like my cousin Diane’s favorite movie, but she did not succeed in making me watch it until just recently. The film started out with two strikes against it: (1) I did not particularly like Big, and I assumed that this movie was basically a remake, and (2) I am not a Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) fan. Anyhoo, the movie was a pleasantish surprise, even though it was extremely similar to Big. Jenna (Garner) is an unhappy 13-year-old who wakes up one day to find herself 17 years older. (Unlike Big, in this movie the 17 years really have gone by. In a sense, it’s kind of a Rip Van Winkle sort of scenario.) Although Jenna finds that she is a successful magazine editor, she also discovers that she has no real friends and has fallen out of touch with both her parents and her childhood best friend Matt (Mark Ruffalo, Thor: Ragnarok). Lessons are learned, “Thriller” is danced to, yada yada yada. Cute.