Movie Review: “Spotlight”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Director
Tom McCarthy

Writer/director Tom McCarthy’s reputation took a pretty hard hit following the release of his abysmal fantasy-comedy “The Cobbler,” but he’s quickly redeemed himself with “Spotlight,” an excellent, no-nonsense newspaper drama that falls closer in line with his previous work. It also happens to be one of the finest movies of the year and a safe bet for a Best Picture nomination. Though the film is fairly low-key for a potential awards contender, “Spotlight” relies on some top-notch acting and writing to recount the fascinating true story about a group of journalists who lifted the lid on a massive child molestation scandal within the Boston archdiocese that changed the way we looked at the Catholic Church forever.

Set in 2001, the movie begins with the arrival of the Boston Globe’s new Editor-in-Chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), an outsider from Miami who was brought in by the newspaper’s parent company to help shake up the newsroom and stop the leak in the dwindling subscriber base. When Marty takes an interest in a recent column about a local priest who was accused of sexually abusing children in his parish, he convinces editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) – who leads the four-person investigative team (played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) known as Spotlight – to drop what they’re doing and discreetly poke around to see if there’s more to the story. Robinson reluctantly agrees, but is skeptical that they’ll find anything of substance. As the team begins to dig further into the list of allegations, however, they expose a decades-long cover-up that’s bigger and more far-reaching than any of them could have possibly imagined.

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Movie Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Starring
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Director
Joss Whedon

Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a Hydra base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.

Inside the aforementioned Hydra base is a gold mine of military weapons, both mechanical and human, created by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). He’s used Loki’s scepter to give orphaned twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) superhuman powers, namely (and again, respectively) super speed and all sorts of telekinetic abilities. The Avengers do not get any of Hydra’s data, but they do acquire the scepter, and in studying it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the brilliantly stupid idea to convert the scepter’s alien power source into an artificial intelligence that will work to achieve world peace, an idea he’s had for years but has never been able to perfect. This time, it works, and the new consciousness, which he had nicknamed Ultron (James Spader), has a plan for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, his plan involves the extinction of mankind.

Wanda can get people to see things, namely their worst fears. We see the nightmares of everyone she touches, except for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who goes on to do the most damage: he terrorizes a large city, the very thing he spent years of his life in exile in order to prevent. Of all the nightmares that the audience absolutely has to see, this is the one. Instead, we get Hulk’s reaction to his visions without context, which culminates in a ridiculous street fight between Hulk and Iron Man that does tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage (though it admittedly has a good laugh halfway through). Everything about this is wrong, and the opposite of what Whedon normally stands for as a storyteller. Just one line explaining that Stark will pay for everything, or that the Avengers are losing the people’s trust, would do. We get neither.

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Movie Review: “Begin Again”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden
Director
John Carney

It’s incredible what can be achieved when you combine music with film, and John Carney exploited that perfect pairing with his musical drama “Once.” It’s been eight years since the small indie walked away with an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in that time, the Irish-born writer/director made a couple films in his native country that flew so far under the radar that they never saw release here. So while it may seem a tad desperate of Carney to mark his Hollywood debut with another music-driven relationship drama, he’s simply playing to his strengths. “Begin Again” doesn’t quite have the same magic of “Once,” but it’s a sweet and cuddly crowd-pleaser highlighted by a pair of great performances and some catchy tunes.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan Mulligan, a self-described “selfish, depressed prick” who’s just been fired from the very record label he helped found. While on a bender later that night, he stumbles into a bar hosting an open mic event and is immediately moved by an original song performed by Greta (Keira Knightley), a British singer-songwriter who’s just had an equally bad day after being dumped by her rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine) following his first taste of success. Determined to share Greta’s indisputable talent with the rest of the world, Dan convinces her to record an album with a live band in different locations across New York City in the hope that he can convince his former business partner (Mos Def) to sign Greta to their label and rescue his job.

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Movie Review: “Thanks for Sharing”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Gwyneth Paltrow, Patrick Fugit, Alecia Moore, Joely Richardson
Director
Stuart Blumberg

Sex addiction is a tricky topic – some believe that it’s a genuine disease that deserves to be treated on the same level as drugs and alcohol, while others think it’s a convenient excuse for a certain type of behavior – which is probably why so few movies have been made on the subject. But whereas 2011’s “Shame” took a darker look at the effects of sex addiction, writer/director Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing” is more interested in the recovery phase. As a result, it’s bound to garner much less attention than the NC-17 rated Steve McQueen drama, and rightfully so, because this is pretty standard indie fare that’s only elevated by its ensemble cast.

The film follows the intersecting lives of three men in various stages of recovery. Eco-friendly businessman Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been sober for five years, and when he finally jumps back into the dating pool at the behest of his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), he meets the beautiful Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has obvious concerns about his “addiction.” Mike, meanwhile, is a 12-step guru who trusts so much in the program that he doesn’t believe his drug addict son Danny (Patrick Fugit) – who suddenly returns home one night after a years-long absence – could possibly get clean on his own. And lastly, there’s Neil (Josh Gad), a schlubby doctor who’s been court ordered to attend sex addiction meetings and assigned Adam as his sponsor. Neil is in denial about the whole thing, but when he gets fired from his job for secretly filming up his boss’ skirt, he decides to take the program more seriously with the help of a fellow sex addict named Dede (Alecia Moore, aka Pink).

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Movie Review: “Now You See Me”

Starring
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Dave Franco
Director
Louis Leterrier

It takes balls of steel to write a film like “Now You See Me.” It’s the screenwriter declaring to the moviegoing public that he or she is smarter than they are, which motivates the audience to prove them wrong. Now, to be fair to the screenwriters of this particular film, anyone who says they figured out the ending before the Big Reveal just got lucky. At the same time, there are a lot of things about the movie that are a little…off, and not in a ‘this is a clue in disguise’ kind of way. The characters themselves tell you that you’re too close to see the big picture. As it turns out, the movie is the same way. It’s a thrill to watch while it’s happening, but take a step back when the credits roll, and it reveals itself to be a house of cards.

J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are talented illusionists with varying degrees of success – a couple of them are actually cons – when they receive a mysterious invitation to meet in an abandoned building. One year later, they are performing together in Las Vegas as the Four Horsemen, and they execute a dazzling stunt that involves robbing a bank halfway around the world. This, naturally, attracts the attention of both the FBI and Interpol, which leads to cynic Fed Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) being teamed up with French desk jockey Alma Day (Melanie Laurent). Watching from the sidelines with bemusement is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an illusionist who has made a career out of debunking other illusionists. Rhodes isn’t sure whether he is trustworthy or another piece in a larger puzzle.

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