‘Let there be light!’ and there was ‘Spotlight’

Spotlight

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. – Marty Baron, The Boston Globe

Spotlight is painful to watch because it speaks so much about the truth. And the truth hurts. It talks about one of every parents’ worst fear for their children, and it talks about every child’s greatest nightmare, the boogeyman. This boogeyman comes in the guise of the man of the Lord. He befriends the child at church, takes him out for ice cream, visits him at home where he is always welcome because single Mom is grateful for the father figure, tucks him to bed, then fondles his wee wee while he, the Rev. Fr. also plays with his own wee wee. Next, the Father starts asking for ‘little’ favors like oral sex and anal sex from him, and asks the child to keep this between them. And before the child realizes that he is the boogeyman, he has already developed a faulty conception of sexuality, is beset by shame and guilt, and is suicidal.

One will get this mood throughout the film. The truth is at every corner of the city of Boston, waiting to scare and shock the main characters, but it starts out in a subtle mood. A journalist retires, a new boss gets hired to navigate the thriving paper, reporters search out for a new beat… But when the boss gives the investigative team a new assignment, they started to sail in dangerous waters. And as they gather more facts and are confronted with more evidences, they realized just how close they are to the victims and to the perpetrators themselves.

Even though this is based on real life events, the film did not sacrifice entertainment for documentation purposes, nor did it come out moralistic and preachy. Perhaps, this is what makes it hit home on the viewers. You know that what happened to the victims could happen to just anyone. They are real people. The journalists who fought tooth and nail to uncover the truth did not do it out of heroism – they felt it is their social responsibility to challenge an institution as old as the centuries and the justice system.

Spotlight will evoke fear in you, and this is not even a horror film. The fear is real because sexual predators are everywhere, even in the most unlikely places like the church, and the offender could be just anyone, even the priest who just celebrated the Holy Mass. At the same time, the film evokes a feeling of fearlessness. One doesn’t have to be a journalist to expose any wrongdoings and to possibly save a life. One only has to be a mindful citizen, a concerned neighbor, and a morally responsible individual to ensure that our little ones are safe.  After all, in the words of Edwin Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. The Spotlight team knows this.

Quotable Quotes:

The church thinks in centuries.

I don’t mean prayed for. I mean preyed upon.

It’s not just Boston. It’s the whole country. It’s the whole world. And it goes off to the Vatican.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

45 Years (?)

45 Years

They should have added a question mark after the title (45 Years?) to ask how the two main characters have managed to stay that long as a couple without the wife knowing about her husband’s previous lover. Aside from wondering in exasperation how she did or didn’t, you’d also be left wondering why it is such a big deal to know about her spouse’s past – after all, past is past. But not in this film where the wife’s predecessor comes back after 45 years to create a ripple in the couple’s otherwise peaceful marriage.

Kate and Geoff Mercer are planning their 45th wedding anniversary party when an unexpected letter arrives saying that Katya’s (his former girlfriend) body has been found after being trapped in a glacier for 45 years. They pretended to be married that time in Switzerland, so Geoff has been notified as the next of kin. Kate pretends not to care, but when Geoff acts strangely (buying a book about climate change, rummaging over old files at the attic, and inquiring a ticket to Switzerland in a travel agency), it dawned on Kate that the foundation of their marriage has been built on Katya’s icy grave.

The concept of time has been emphasized in this film, from the title to the watch that Kate intends to give Geoff as a present (but didn’t). We are presented with Geoff and Kate’s daily routine for only a week, but we get an idea about this couple’s life before and we are left wondering about what’s going to happen next. It seems that time got suspended and we get transported to how Geoff was when he was with ‘my Katya’. Something shifted in Kate (doesn’t it sound like Katya?), especially when she finds out that Katya was pregnant before she died and that they intended to get married.

The cinematography of the lush English countryside makes up for the minimal dialogue and plays a contrasting metaphor to the couple’s childless marriage. Charlotte Rampling as Kate and Tom Courtenay as Geoff breathe life to their characters with convincing performance.

We could only wish that everything will work out for the Mercers that instead of asking 45 years (?), we shall cheer for the couple along with their friends and without hesitation exclaim, 45 years (!).

Quotable Quotes from George:

It’s funny how you forget the things in life that make you happy.

I like not knowing the time.

 

Anomalisa’s Ironies

anomalisa.jpg

*Spoiler Alert

For one, this is an animation that is clearly not for children. Nor is it a funny kind of animation, unless you find amusement in the melancholia of others and you are used to Charlie Kaufman’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) dark sense of humor. These are just two of the several ironies found in Anomalisa, a bittersweet tale of Michael Stone whose name is an allusion to his insensitive, lost and lonely character who finds it hard to connect with other people even if he is an expert in human relations.

Such is the magic of love that it turns an ordinary woman into a goddess. For Stone, a best-selling customer service author who flies to Cincinnati to give a talk on the subject, it’s love at first sound as she hears the ‘goddess’ from her hotel bathroom. The goddess turns out to be a shy, uninteresting and physically scarred baked sales rep who is there to attend Stone’s talk. But that does not matter to Stone who practically hears the same voice for every person, from the taxi driver, to his wife and son, down to the aria artist who sings in his iPod. He thinks Lisa could save him from his bleak existence after spending an exhilarating night with her. Love is not what it seems, however. The goddess turns out to be just like Everyone Else, and Michael Stone is achingly pushed back to his own kind of reality.

This film is a meditation on what it means to be lonely and even mentally ill. It is clearly no fault of his own that Stone has interpersonal problems. He tries hard to reach out, that is after all, his expertise. But his sadness is so deep and so desperate that is pitiful yet fascinating to watch – similar to the scene where he breaks down in front of audience, yet no one dares to stop him. Lisa, on the other hand is a genuine yet flawed character who just wants to love and be loved. Anomalisa is about two people who thought they found love in each other yet ends up disillusioned and disappointed.

Voiced by David Thewlis as Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, and Tom Noonan as Everyone Else, this is one brilliant and interesting film. The interplay among the characters has a universal appeal, but the humor might be offhand for some, such as Stone’s unintentional buying of the sex doll present for his young son. But perhaps, this is still one of the ironies you will find in Anomalisa.

Quotable Quotes:

Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.

I’m ugly to look at in bright sunlight.

I have no one to talk to.

I need tears.

 

Cold Revenge in The Revenant

the revenant

Everything is cold in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant – from the breathtaking cinematography of the winter skies, snow-covered mountains, and frozen river to the way the characters kill each other in cold blood. It is so cold that Leonardo DiCaprio’s breath blurred the camera at some point. But beneath the icy exterior, something is smoldering in this movie. It started with a small blaze, then gave a steady glow, until it reached a final burn, then swiftly died again.

In his career-defining role, DiCaprio as the frontiersman Hugh Glass carried the torch all throughout this film and unselfishly and equally shared the torch to the supporting cast. Much has been demanded from him in this film, and whether he was attacked by a bear, chased by the Arikari Indians, or buried alive, he was giving it his all both physically and emotionally.

The Revenant follows the legendary fur trapper and hunter Hugh Glass, considered to be the angriest man in U.S. history. The film begins with Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) hunting on their own in the Missouri wilderness. When they went back to their camp, they are aghast to find their fellow trappers being attacked by the Arikari Indians who are looking for the kidnapped daughter of their leader. They hurriedly load their boats and run for safety. They trudge up the Grand River valley where Glass is attacked and fatally wounded by a grizzly. When the trip back to their fort becomes burdensome because of the dying Glass, the captain, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to leave him with two men who will make sure to give Glass a decent burial when he passes away. The two men John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the younger Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) volunteer after Henry said they will be given $300 each for their services. Even with the severe back wounds and the scraped throat, Glass continues breathing, increasing the infuriation of the greedy Fitzgerald. By lying to Bridger and by killing Hawk, Fitzgerald leaves Glass for dead and literally buries him alive. And it is from here that we take the journey with Glass as he crawls from his dug up grave, regains his strength and fights off the harsh elements and the Arikaris until he takes revenge on Fitzgerald.

The bear’s attack destroyed Glass’ body, but it never broke his spirit. The resilience of a human body when motivated to rise up and take revenge has been aptly shown in this film. In fact, this is the central theme of The Revenant. Perhaps, this is what makes this film so moving – the thought that a strong and burning emotion such as revenge could make you defy all the odds. To let the audience sit for two hours and let this theme sink in might be dragging for some, but the film has enough eye-candy to hook you until the very end. Tom Hardy as the villain is so convincing that it is easy to hate him and root for Glass even from the beginning. It is Hardy’s hostile presence (and the bear’s too) that set the events in motion. The apparition of Glass’ dead wife and son seemed unnecessary, but they added mysticism to the plot.

Just like any films anchored on legendary men and their exploits, this one also has its pitfalls. It did not stay true to the real accounts in Glass’ life. For one, Glass did not have a son nor a wife. Another is that Glass was not able to kill Fitzgerald – he only got his rifle back and shamed the latter. By romanticizing the real Glass’ journey, the film fell short on convincing the audience about Glass’ heroism.

Aside from telling us that revenge is literally best served cold (DiCaprio and Hardy’s fight scene in the snow should be watched out for), this film also tackles belief in God, capitalism, and morality and ethics. DiCaprio embraced Glass’ character, but there was a scene where he still sounded like Jack from his Titanic days. Nevertheless, this is truly DiCaprio’s film.

This film will make you sympathize with Glass’ character, and even with its uncertain ending (did Glass die?) and long playing time, this is one movie you will not regret watching.

Home is Spelled in Brooklyn

brooklyn poster.jpg

The first film I saw of Irish actress Saoirse Ronan is Hanna, where she played as an ass-kicking and neck strangling superteenager who was raised in the wild. So it is rather refreshing to see her in new role as Eilis (pronounced as ey-lish) Lacey, an Irish immigrant who sought greener pastures in the US – a role where she is required to show off her Irish brogue and act as a mature and sophisticated young woman.

Behind its historical diaspora theme of the Irish to the US in the 1950s, Brooklyn really is a sweet and charming tale of a woman’s homesickness and sense of belongingness. It is also a tale of romance as she tries to choose between two suitors, one American-Italian and the other, a true-blooded Irishman. Whom did he choose? I will not spoil it for you. Let us just say that she chose the one whom she felt she could make a home with.

The movie truly captured the quintessence of homesickness. You only have to look at Ronan’s face and look at the myriad of emotions there. The supporting cast also played their parts well. Eilis’ sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) could make the audience weep with her. The scene where Eilis is already on the ship and she looks down to say goodbye to her mother and sister is one tearjerker. When her mother turns her back so she will not have to see her daughter about to depart, then Rose flies a kiss to Eilis, is one scene that should be in the Hollywood teary goodbyes Hall of Fame. Domhnall Gleeson as Will Farrell, the Irish suitor is captivating as a shy yet persistent man. Emory Cohen as Tony, the American-Italian, is a sweet guy behind his rather tough upbringing. I think this is one well-casted movie. Its comic relief comes from Eilis’ fellow dormers and from her landlady. I always look forward to the scenes where they all sit together for dinner. The sarcasm and the verbal banter among the ladies are downright witty.

We have got a really simple plot in this film. Knowing that she does not have much chance in her small town in Ireland, Eilis sails for America through the help of her sister’s friend, a priest – Fr. Flood. She arrives in Brooklyn New York where she battles with homesickness while working in a store. So the priest enrolls her in a night school where she learns accounting. She then meets Tony and after a series of dates and an amusing meeting with his family, they become a couple. Everything seems bright for Eilis in Brooklyn until her sister’s death calls her back home. She goes home and intends to stay only for a short time, but then she meets Will Farrell with whom she gets attracted to. Both have mutual feelings for each other, but what of Tony who is waiting for Eilis in Brooklyn? Again, the audience just have to watch the film to see whom Eilis chooses.

When Eilis first sailed for America and suffered bouts of seasickness, she was taken under her wing by a worldly woman a little older than her. She gave advice and prepped her for immigration pass. The second time Eilis sailed back after her brief stay in Ireland, she was already the one who gave advice to another greenhorn in the ship. The viewer will enjoy Eilis’ transformation in this film. Also, in this film, we will get to realize that sometimes a home is not just a place – it is also a person.

Perhaps, the reason why this movie touches homesickness down to the core is because the director himself, Joh Crowley is also an Irish and has experienced being homesick when he moved to London and the US. Ronan, too felt a deep longing for her country.

But this movie is not just for those who have experienced what it means to be away from one’s country. It offers so much more.

It also offers more than what Saoirse has shown us in her Hanna-esque days.

Room (2015) Review

Room_Poster

What do Josef Fritzl, Ariel Castro, and Old Nick have in common? It is the fact that they all kidnapped young women, placed them in a room, imprisoned them there for a number of years, raped and starved them, but were eventually caught and convicted to life imprisonment. The only difference is that Fritzl and Castro are real people, while Old Nick is a fictional character from Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room, which was subsequently made into a film with the same title. Donoghue’s book was also inspired by the Fritzl case – he kept his own daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.

Watching the film Room, one can’t help but recall the shocking stories of Fritzl and Castro, and the ordeal that the women they kidnapped had to go through.

Room introduces us to Ma (Brie Larson) and her son, Jack (Jason Tremblay), who just turned five years-old. The room is actually a shed on the backyard of Old Nick’s compound. We learn that Ma is actually Joy Newman who has been in that shed for seven years. When she was seventeen, she was tricked by Old Nick that his dog fell down somewhere and that it needed help. She helped him, but as a result she got trapped. She eventually got pregnant, but she decided to keep her child claiming later in an interview that her son is nobody’s but hers. She has developed a certain co-existence with her captor because he brings necessary items like food and clothes for survival, but for her son, Old Nick is someone you had better stay away from and avoid. Every night when Old Nick comes to sleep with her, she would place Jack in the wardrobe. When Old Nick showed an interest to Jack, she was very protective. They had managed to escape, but after seven years of being caged in a tiny windowless room, Joy found the world too much to take in.

This film does not show the harrowing details of being imprisoned in a room, since it is told from the point of view of a child. One can catch the fragmented cinematic movement in the film as Jack’s playfulness and imagination are emphasized. Proving to be resourceful, Ma used eggshells and tissue rolls as toys for Jack. Ma’s fierce love for her son, Jack allowed the boy to grow up with fondness for literature and much gumption. When Ma came up with a bold plan for escape, it was through Jack that it was materialized. When Ma decided to take an overdosage of pills, it was Jack who discovered her and called for help. That tie that connects the mother and son, akin to an umbilical cord is stressed without so much drama.

Larson and Tremblay gave such outstanding performances here. Tremblay’s acting is so innocent and raw that it feels like he is not acting at all. Joan Allen as Ma’s mother also gave brilliant supporting act by displaying a range of emotions from relief, anger, and guilt. If there is one downside to this film, it is casting William H. Macy as Ma’s Dad. He overplayed the part, and the script could have given him more speaking parts more than just his saying sorry over and over again.

Fritzl, Castro, and Old Nick also have another thing in common. The women they have kidnapped managed to successfully escape and lived to tell their tales. Room will give you a glimpse of what it means to be in their shoes.

The Girl in the Book (2015) Review

girl-in-the-book-poster-lg“Let go and move on” are one of those catchphrases that are easier said than done. Admit it, you have at least one issue in your life that you have not resolved yet. This could be in a form of anger, resentment, fear, envy or any of those destructive emotions that hinder you from growing into a mature person. Unknowingly, we sometimes resolve the issues on our own by creating a vicious pattern of damaging habits. The anti-hero, Alice from the film, The Girl in the Book is one such person who is trapped in her past, and when the very person who caused her to have issues re-enters her life, she had no choice but to face her fears.

Alice in a Not-So-Wonderland

We are greeted by the opening scene of Alice in bed whom we assumed to be just a casual hookup after she dresses up and leaves the room and goes to work (sans her underwear) without even a romantic hug or kiss. Later, we will find out that he is just one in a series of one-night-stands. Working for a publishing house, she is especially assigned to manage the the publicity of a bestselling novel ‘Waking Eyes’ that was released 14 years ago, and that they are now turning into an e-book. She is hesitant to accept this, but her boss insisted that she is the perfect person for the job since her father is the agent of the author, Milan Daneker.

In a flashback, we are then introduced to a 15-year old Alice who is introduced by her father to the author during a party at her home. Both her parents are writer’s agents, thus, she too has an inclination for writing.

But even with a privileged upbringing, she gets ignored by her parents’ preoccupation with work and constant bickering. This is where Milan notices Alice and takes her under his wing by mentoring her on her writing. He wins the affection of the insecure teenager. When their relationship goes beyond just mentor-mentee, Alice becomes confused but allows him to corrupt her.

A Tale of Betrayal

And so we take a glimpse of Lolita here. But more than the case of taking advantage of a young girl’s naivete and loneliness, this is a story of betrayal. There is more to Milan’s purpose of just ‘mentoring’ Alice on writing and pleasure, and this is what hurt her the most. It is this hurt that catapulted her to be paralyzed emotionally and professionally. Her desire of becoming a writer is never materialized and her philandering ways cause her to lose her best friend, Sadie and her new lover, Emmett’s trust on her.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

When all seemed lost and broken, Alice did what she needed to do. She faces her greatest fears and tries to win back the affection of Sadie and Emmett. She confronts Milan, stands up against her father (little by little), and catches up on her writing. Even when this is a tale of betrayal, it is also a story of redemption and resolutions. What Alice did to have Emmett back in her arms again is just heartwarming.

Emily VanCamp captured the essence of the troubled Alice, but she could improve on her facial expressions, instead of just displaying her bewildered and confused look most of the time. Fresh-faced with a sweet and sultry combination, Ana Mulvoy-Ten as the 15 year-old Alice played her part well. But the cast who stood out most here is the culprit Milan Daneker by Michael Nyqvist. He did not even have to say anything – his eyes conveyed the emotions that he was feeling, from being sympathetic and helpful towards Alice to being lascivious and jealous of Alice’s youth. The supporting cast also fared well enough to make this movie at least endurable. The movie is predictable, but it will make you want to sit down and watch it until the end. So did Alice resolve her issues? That is for you to find out.