Tag Archives: Stanley Tucci

Spotlight (2015)

spotlight

I had relatively high expectations going into Spotlight, the film that appears headed straight for this year’s Best Picture Oscar if critics are to be believed. For the most part, the hype is justified.

Most people know about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, but not nearly as many people know about the journalists who uncovered the story. Spotlight is the fascinating true story about the eponymous team from the Boston Globe that worked tirelessly to expose the systemic child abuse being swept under the rug by the Catholic Church for decades.

Like all good true stories, this one feels meticulously researched and respectful to the subject. From the very start, you get a great sense of something remarkable brewing, and director and co-writer Tom McCarthy does a commendably patient job in allowing the characters and story to develop, much like how a real journalistic investigation peels back the layers bit by bit, with the occasional exciting breakthrough. The way McCarthy depicts the subtle push-back from the predominantly Catholic community in Boston helps explain why this dirty secret stayed a secret for so long. The pacing is so important to a film like this, and McCarthy manages to get it perfect.

The film also features without a doubt the best ensemble cast of the year, led by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. The great thing about the cast is that they’re not just there to create an impressive list of names — each of them has a key role to play and they all deliver memorable performances. It’s hard to think of another instance in recent years where so many big names are so balanced that each can have such meaty roles in the same movie.

The thing that impressed me the most about the Spotlight is the way it portrays the church and the Boston Globe journalists. As disappointing and infuriating it is to learn about the extent of the cover-up, I never got the feeling that the Catholic Church was being vilified beyond what the facts implied. The same goes for the portrayals of the Spotlight Team — they’re neither saints nor heroes, just a bunch of journalists who are extremely dedicated to their jobs (and who make me ashamed to think I once considered myself a semi-journalist). This even-handed approach makes cannot be understated — it makes all the difference in a movie like this.

While Spotlight is an exceptionally well-made film that ticks all the boxes, it’s not the kind of jaw-dropping experience that will have most casual viewers running out of the cinema declaring that it’s the best thing they’ve seen this year. Personally, I appreciated the film more than I was entertained, excited or thrilled by it.

That said, it’s not that kind of film. In some ways, Spotlight reminds me a little of last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman, in that the film has it all on paper — intriguing premise, masterful direction, great script and terrific performances — but doesn’t quite hit it out of the park in terms of building an emotional connection . The difference, however, is that I found Spotlight to be the much more involving and compelling film because it at least made me care for the characters and what they were fighting to unveil, as gut-wrenching (especially as a parent) as it was to watch at times.

In all, Spotlight is a fantastic film with an important story to tell, and it’s told brilliantly with a superb cast and outstanding performances. While I consider it a riveting drama that’s perhaps easier to admire than enjoy, that should not stop it from being regarded as one of the best films of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, the last film Tom McCarthy wrote and directed was the Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler.

Movie Review: Wild Card (2015)

Wild-Card

Wild Card is a really unusual film starring action superstar Jason Statham, undoubtedly one of the busiest men in Hollywood. Directed by Simon West, who has some notable credits on his resume including Con Air and The Expendables 2, it’s actually a remake of the 1986 adaptation of the same name starring Burt Reynolds and based on the novel Heat by William Goldman.

Statham plays Nick Wild, a super lethal dude who earns money by doing odd jobs around Las Vegas. We learn early on that he’s a reasonable guy who doesn’t like to rip off his clients and likes to help people out in a no-nonsense way. When a good friend of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia’s real-life daughter) is brutalized by three thugs — led by Milo Ventimiglia (remember him from the TV series Heroes?) — Nick reluctantly agrees to help seek revenge.

So far so good, except that the film then goes off on a completely unexpected tangent, where we discover that Nick is also a gambling addict who has serious trouble knowing when to call it quits. From here, Wild Card turns into a weird gambling movie for a while , which is OK, but then his actions against the thugs come back to haunt him and the film flips into something else again. In some ways, Wild Card is a — pardon the pun — a wild collection of set pieces, each of which works effectively on its own but doesn’t quite come together as a complete motion picture.

The action sequences are very good, with an impressive visual flair that utilizes slow motion and bone-crunching sound effects that almost make you feel the pain. Here is where Statham is at his absolute best, and to his credit he absolutely milks his charisma and knowledge of on-screen fighting to their fullest.

His acting is obviously not as good, which is probably why West decided to pair him with some outstanding performers. Ventimiglia, who has faded since Heroes turned to shit (though I hear it’s coming back without him), is actually excellent as a buffed up, narcissistic douche. The great Stanley Tucci makes an appearance as a crime lord of sorts, while other big names landing extended cameos include Jason “Costanza” Alexander, Hope Davis, Anne Heche and Sofia Vergara.

Wild Card is not great — it’s too all over the place to be anything close to that — but there are aspects of it I enjoyed, such as the action and some of the dialogue. I was quite stunned to discover that it was made for a budget of US$30 million, which feels excessive considering what I saw on screen, though I was even more astonished to learn that it made just US$1.6 million at the box office, which is far too low for what it deserves. While you won’t miss much by skipping this at the cinema, catching it on DVD won’t be the worst decision you could make.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Easy A (2010)

I went to see another preview screening last night, one I had extremely low expectations for — Easy A.  Even though it was showing at a mainstream cinema, I thought the turn out was going to be relatively small.  Boy was I wrong!  The cinema was packed out with people lining up way in advance to see this Will Gluck-directed teen comedy, featuring an all-star cast headed by the up-and-coming Emma Stone (I last saw her in Zombieland).  Luckily, with my (ahem) press credentials, I avoided the crowd and the security check.

My first instinct was that Easy A was going to be another hopeless teen flick that’s stupid, vulgar, and not particularly funny.  Wrong again.  As it turned out, Easy A was, suprisingly, a rare teen flick that’s actually funny and clever!

Emma Stone plays Olive, a super-nice, witty and “normal” high school girl who one day decides to lie about a sexual encounter to her best friend.  And before she knows it, the school rumour mill turns Olive into the local skank.  As her life spirals out of control, Olive begins to see the parallels between her life and that of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s literary classic, The Scarlet Letter (hence the “A” in Easy A).  I know it doesn’t sound all that great but don’t let that put you off.

Easy A‘s impressive all-star cast is led by Emma Stone, who carries the film from start to finish as the immensely likable and endearing Olive.  If this film takes off she’s going to be huge.  Amanda Bynes plays her arch-nemesis, the ultra-religious Marianne (with Cam Gigandet from Twilight as her dim-witted boyfriend), while Penn Badgley plays the too-nice, always-around Woodchuck Todd (it was worth putting up with him just for the Gossip Girl reference) and Dan Byrd (from The Hills Have Eyes) is Brandon, the obvious closet homosexual.  Others include Thomas Haden Church as the wonderful teacher, Lisa Kudrow as the guidance counsellor, and Malcolm McDowell as the principal.  But it’s Olive’s quirky parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, that absolutely steal the show with their crazy antics.

My problems with Easy A are relatively minor.  First of all, it’s hard to buy Emma Stone (as pretty and sassy and witty as she is in this film) as just an “ordinary” girl who was virtually invisible at her school before gossip made her notorious.  Why the heck would she not have been a superstar at school?  Secondly, it doesn’t really make sense that someone as sensible and intelligent as her would ever want to perpetuate vicious rumours in order to become more “popular” amongst her peers.  And thirdly, there were times when she was simply too nice to be believable.  But if you can overlook those things, Easy A is a stand-out teen comedy in almost every other way.

Easy A is a throwback (or even a homage) to those classic 80s films made by John Hughes, such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (there are numerous references to them throughout the film).  There’s a huge cast of characters, mostly caricatures but at least with interesting quirks.  The story is compelling but grounded and at least semi-plausible.  It’s funny without being outrageously hilarious or over-the-top.  And there’s a social message about high school life (in this case, how gossip can get out of hand) that adds a dash of poignancy to the whole affair.  It doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, or at least not yet, but considering the crap teen comedies that have been churned out in recent years, Easy A is a refreshing, pleasant surprise.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Lovely Bones (2009)

When I first heard The Lovely Bones (directed by Peter Jackson and based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold) was being made into a movie, I had some reservations.  Sure, the story was amazing, but adapting it to the big screen was going to have its fair share of challenges.   Those who have read the book will know what I mean.

And after watching it on Christmas Day, I must say I was right in some respects.  There are parts of The Lovely Bones that are genuinely beautiful and heartbreaking, full of pain and yearning from a life tragically unfulfilled.  Those are the same elements that made the novel such a magnificent success.  However, the more troublesome aspects of the adaptation, while probably handled as well as they could have been, just didn’t quite work.

Without giving too much of the plot away, The Lovely Bones is what is best described as a drama fantasy set in the 1970s about a teenage girl and her family, and how each of them deal with unexpected death and loss. There’s a lot more to the story than just that, but as usual, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.

The dramatic aspects of the film were done well.  Jackson manages to capture that gut-wrenching ‘what might have been’ sensation of regret and melancholy at all the right moments, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the film as a tear jerker.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the emotional impact lives up to the book, but with the medium and time constraints, it came fairly close.

The suspenseful aspects of the film, on the other hand, were simply outstanding.   There were probably only a handful of such scenes, but Peter Jackson applied his magic touch to them and it kept me on the edge of my seat every time.  It made me wish there were more of them.

Of course, much of the credit has to go to the cast.  Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who plays Susie Salmon, delivers an excellent performance beyond her years.   She has a touch of class that is rarely seen in young actors these days.  In a few years she will be a big star.  Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play her parents, and are both good, but not exceptional.  Apparently, the film was initially set to go with Ryan Gosling in Wahlberg’s role, but he looked ‘too young’ to pull it off, even with a full beard.  While that may be right, I got the feeling that Wahlberg may have been too young as well, especially with that floppy 70s haircut.

The standout though, has to be Stanley Tucci’s Mr Harvey.  Tucci has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance (and I predict an Oscar nomination as well).  Every time he’s on screen he unsettles you and makes you feel uncomfortable.   I don’t know if he is more deserving than Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds, but Tucci is right up there after delivering one of the creepiest performances I’ve seen in a long time.

So that’s what’s good about The Lovely Bones.  As I mentioned earlier, the film is a drama fantasy, and it’s because there are a substantial number of ‘fantasy’ scenes, filled with expensive special effects and an abundance of pretty imagery.  These sequences take up a large part of the second half of the film, and that’s when my interest in the film really waned.

Those sequences were an integral part of the novel, so I wouldn’t have expected Jackson to cut them out completely, but there was too much of it for my liking.   They were too long, too weird, and dare I say even somewhat silly.   It just didn’t match the rest of the film as well as I would have liked.   I don’t know if anyone else could have done a better job with it, but the bottom line is that those sequences, for the most part, didn’t work.  If Jackson could have limited such scenes to an absolute minimum and ramped up the suspenseful and dramatic scenes, The Lovely Bones may have been a classic.

So overall, The Lovely Bones is a very solid, albeit uneven film.  There are moments that can get to you on an emotional level, but it’s unfortunate that the lengthy fantasy sequences dragged it down.  A minor disappointment as I had been looking forward to it and expected it to be better than it actually was.

3.5 stars out of 5!