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: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Starring
Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu was part of the Mexican Invasion that took Hollywood by storm in the early naughts alongside such visionaries like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. But after his little-seen 2010 drama “Biutiful,” he went on an unexpected sabbatical that left many wondering if he’d ever return. Iñarritu spent the last four years licking his wounds over the mixed reception of that film (as well as globe-trotting Oscar bait “Babel”), but he’s officially back with what’s arguably his best movie to date: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a daring piece of filmmaking that’s as refreshingly original as it is wildly ambitious. The movie doesn’t always work – in fact, it’s sometimes as messy as the characters that inhabit it – but it’s also the type of magical cinematic experience that, just like fellow countryman Cuarón’s “Gravity,” you can only gaze in childlike wonder as it unfolds before you.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor best known for playing a superhero called Birdman in a series of successful Hollywood blockbusters. Desperate to revive his career and earn a little credibility in the process, Riggan mounts an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of the actors is injured in a freak accident, Riggan’s indebted co-star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), recommends her boyfriend and theater luminary Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as a last-minute replacement. There’s no denying that Mike is a talented actor, but his unconventional methods lead to a clash of egos between him and Riggan, and with only days to go until opening night, the whole production becomes in danger of shutting down before it even begins – especially if the cynical and malicious voice in Riggan’s head (a manifestation of his Birdman alter ego) has anything to say about it.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Pam Grier (TV One’s ‘Unsung Hollywood’)

Fans of TV One’s documentary program Unsung, which shines the spotlight on performers whose mainstream profiles aren’t as substantial as they perhaps out to be, will be pleased to learn that the network is branching out with the series, expanding its coverage beyond the world of music and into the field of acting. Tonight marks the premiere episode of Unsung Hollywood, which kicks off with a look at the life and career of Pam Grier, and Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Grier and discuss the episode and how it came about while also chatting a bit about her career…but without giving away too much about the program, of course.

Pam Grier as Kit Photo: Max Vadukal/Showtime Photo ID: LW3_21D-05

Bullz-Eye: How did you find your way to Unsung Hollywood? Did they pitch you on the idea?

Pam Grier: I had turned them down several times, because I wasn’t interested, but then I saw one of their episodes. My mom was so enthralled by one of the shows they had done on musicians – they did an excellent job – and she said, “I didn’t know that!” And, of course, no one knows what inspired the music and the tenacity of people to get their music played and all that except for the musicians. So we talked, and they said what they were going to do, and I said, “Okay, but you know it’s very difficult to get photographs.” Because as I learned from doing my book (Foxy: My Life in Three Acts), you have to have the rights if someone owns the photographs, and if someone else is in it, you have to get the rights from those people.

I said, “I don’t know if I can do that, because you’re going to get maybe five pictures, because a lot of people do not want to participate.” So I said, “I don’t want to marginalize it, but I can only give you so much, and I don’t know when I can do it.” But they kind of gave me an outline, and I said, “Oh, I think we can do this…so I just have to find the time!” And I did. And I think they did an excellent job.

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Movie Review: “RoboCop”

Starring
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L. Jackson
Director
Jose Padliha

At the rate that Hollywood is plowing its way through Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi catalog, you’d expect Vegas bookies to start slashing the odds on an eventual “Starship Troopers” remake. Though it’s only been two years since fanboys got their panties in a bunch over Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” reboot, many of those same fans have been dreading the release of the new “RoboCop.” It will probably come as a surprise, then, that the film isn’t nearly as bad as people feared it would be. In fact, it boasts a better cast, better effects and a better story, even if the 1987 original – which is admittedly pretty cheesy by today’s standards – is still the better movie. So why bother with this remake? For starters, because it’s not really a remake at all, instead taking the basic premise and carving its own path that falls more in line with current politics.

The year is 2028, and with the exception of the United States, the rest of the world is now policed by a robot military force operated by technology giant OmniCorp. The government has blocked the use of robots in the U.S. due to the belief that they can’t be held accountable for killing, so OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides to give the American public someone they can identify with by putting a man in a machine. And it’s not long before they find the perfect subject when Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured in a car bombing after he’s targeted by a local drug kingpin. With the help of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a pioneer in robotic prosthetics, Sellars convinces Alex’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), that the procedure is the only way to keep him alive. But the very thing that makes Alex unique (his emotions) also affects his performance in the field, and when Norton tries to counteract that by programming his brain to act more like a machine, Alex’s human side begins to fight back as he investigates his own murder.

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Yippie Ki-Eggnog: Five unconventional Christmas movies

So you’re stuck spending some “quality time” with the family around the holidays, when you’d rather be at the bar around the corner with your friends, or even in jail, as long as no one from your family is in jail with you. Someone wants to watch a Christmas movie. Everybody starts chirping like newborn chicks. You reach for the knitting needles, praying that they’ll hit something vital in your skull before you’ve experienced any pain.

Put the needles down, friend. There are other options that are more enjoyable and less permanent than death’s sweet, sweet kiss. Here are five movies that get us through the holidays with murderous impulses held firmly in check. Merry Christmas, everyone. Pass the bourbon.

Die Hard

Admit it: you secretly fantasize about a gang of white-collar criminals hijacking your holiday party and killing the fast-talking weasel in sales who won’t shut the hell up. You’ve read the praise about “Die Hard” serving as the blueprint for every action movie made since – and it’s true, as the most popular studio sales pitch between 1989 and 1997 was “Die Hard on a ____” – but it is grossly overlooked as a holiday classic, and that is just wrong. It’s funnier than “Home Alone,” more heartwarming than “The Santa Clause,” and it has what all Christmas movies lack but some real-life families have: a body count. Bruce Willis has rarely been better, and Alan Rickman completely rewrote the rules on action movie villains. If you feel like going for camp value, watch the sequel, “Die Harder,” with the TV dub track. Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon.

The Ref

The definitive dysfunctional family (which is really just a polite way of saying normal family these days) holiday movie. A cat burglar (Denis Leary) trying to lie low reluctantly kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) on the verge of divorce, just before the in-laws come over for Christmas dinner. Armed to the teeth with a before-they-were-stars cast (it also includes Christine Baranski, J.K. Simmons, and the great Raymond Barry) and directed by the gone-too-soon Ted Demme, “The Ref” is caustically funny, and one of the more quotable movies you’ll ever see. (The marriage counseling scene alone has a good dozen zingers.) Why did this movie fare so poorly at the box office? We’re guessing the release date may have played a part in it. Yep, they released it in March, just when the snow is thawing for good. Well played, Touchstone.

Better Off Dead

Up there with “Heathers” in the teenage suicide canon, “Better Off Dead” is one of the most diverse teen comedies of its time, combining clueless parents (love the scene where Kim Darby nearly kills John Cusack while vacuuming), animation, claymation, ski racing, exploding neighbors, the awkward first date, and a Japanese Howard Cosell impressionist. And it all takes place at Christmas, setting up the painful call when Cusack calls his ex-girlfriend Beth and learns that her new boyfriend bought her “a giant stuffed teddy bear, bigger than you.” Yes, Beth was a hottie, which explains why everyone from the mailman to Barney Rubble wanted to date her, but as longtime fans of “The Last American Virgin,” Cusack did well to bag the lovely Diane Franklin as a so-called consolation prize. Just make sure and pay that paper boy on time.

Go

Drug deals gone wrong. Actors forced into being informants. Cops selling Amway. (“It’s Confederate Products, it’s completely different.”) Threesomes. Vegas hotel rooms on fire. Strip clubs. A hit and run. Monologues about “Family Circus.” And tantra, baby! Whatever crazy things you’ve done in your life, chances are you’ve never had a night like the characters in “Go,” and if you did, it sure as hell didn’t happen on Christmas Eve. Even funnier, the characters don’t even think about the day’s events in terms of being something out of this world. Indeed, a few of them – including the one who just pawned over-the-counter drugs as ecstasy in a club in order to pay her rent – immediately starts planning ahead, wondering what they will do for New Year’s Eve. Whatever it is, it won’t be as wild as what takes place here. Doug Liman has gone on to make some big, successful movies, but this one remains his best, as far as we’re concerned. It has a hell of a soundtrack, too.

Night Shift

Hookers and Christmas, together at last. Hey, what better way to come up with a little extra scratch around the holidays than to serve as the pimp for the girl down the hall? (We readily admit, though, that the idea of Shelley Long as a prostitute is even funnier now than it was then.) The movie may have served as a springboard for director Ron Howard and Michael Keaton (not to mention a comeback vehicle for Henry Winkler), but take a closer look at the supporting cast. Shannen Doherty as a Bluebell (“Mugger!”), the late Vincent Schiavelli as a surly delivery guy, and don’t blink during the party scene or you’ll miss Kevin Costner walking behind Keaton when he balances a beer bottle on his forehead. It may seem tame by today’s standards, but hey, it’s Christmas; not a bad time to show a little propriety.

Other holiday faves

Gremlins
Arguably the meanest movie here. It’s not often that you get to kill an old person for laughs.
Click here to view Mrs. Deagle’s death scene (embedding disabled)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
For doing what we have all secretly wanted to do to rental car employees, or anyone else who fucks us at the drive-thru.

Trading Places
Jamie Lee Curtis is in this movie. You may have heard about that. Sadly, YouTube hasn’t, so you’ll have to settle for this.

Batman Returns
All we want for Christmas is Selina Kyle. Me-ow!

The Long Kiss Goodnight
After extensive research, we have concluded that chefs most definitely do not do that.