Movie Review: “Creed”


At the very beginning of my professional reviewing career, I joked that Sly Stallone needed to finish up this “Rocky” series now — before “Rocky IV” became “Rocky Needs an I.V.”

And damned if that wasn’t prophetic.

It’s amazing how this story, this character and this film franchise has endured. With “Creed,” it has transcended the need for Senior Citizen Stallone to get into the ring. And darned if the formula — the landmarks, the Stations of the Italian Stallion Cross (famous music,museum steps,  seedy gyms, training montages) — didn’t get to me a couple of times.

But let’s read to the end and see if I can force myself to endorse this. Because I left the theater very much on the fence.

“Creed” allows Ryan “Fruitvale Station” Cooglar to invert the Rocky Myth for a new generation. It stars Cooglar’s “Fruitvale” muse, Michael B. Jordan. He plays the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s foe-turned-friend over the course of four “Rocky” movies, who died in “Rocky IV” back in 1985.

We meet the kid, apparently 13, in juvenile detention back in 1998. Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) takes the troubled boy home and raises him rich.

But Adonis Johnson — son of Apollo, the most famous alumnus of the Delphi Gym (All Greek to them) — has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He’s a college-educated financial analyst, but also a self-taught brawler who weekends in Mexico, boxing.

When he can’t get any of his dad’s boxing circle to train him, he seeks out Rocky Balboa, widowed restaurateur.

“Why would you pick a fighter’s life?”

Stallone strains, just a little, to find the working class pug deep inside of the Hollywood royalty he’s become. Stilted dialogue doesn’t help. It takes some effort to deliver an excuse for him to reprise Rocky’s most famous lines, “Yo Adrian” and “Yo Paulie.”  Rocky visits their graves and reads the newspaper to their headstones.

The kid wants to make his own name for himself, so he goes by Donnie Johnson up to the moment the world realizes he’s Adonis Johnson, son of Creed. And that name, that “Creed blood,” is how he leaps into the position of title contender, fighting a British thug (Tony Bellew) about to go to prison.

A love interest — a singer losing her hearing (Tessa Thompson of “Dear White People” and “Selma”) — gets the film’s best line, one that sums up Stallone, Rocky and the movie when she says it to Donnie.

All she wants is to “do what I love as long as I can.”

Stallone gets a couple of sentimental moments with some emotional punch to them.  They don’t add up to a lot without our previous investment in the character. Oscar nomination? I don’t see it.

Jordan is a fine actor who looks nothing like Carl Weathers, and even bulked up, is nobody’s idea of a boxer. These ,movies were never really about “the sweet science.” They’re burlesques of it, its practitioners and its milieu.

The movie doesn’t do enough to break the “Rocky” formula, and Cooglar does little to misdirect us away from realizing this. The “grit” of Philly seems digitally removed. Real ESPN and HBO sportscasters, real HBO voice over work by Liev Schrieber are supposed to add authenticity. As are the freeze-frames showing us each hulking opponent, his name and record.

Alas, this “Greatest Hits” is missing my favorite training trope. No, not the chasing chickens that Mickey made Rocky do. Rocky never takes the kid to punch sides of beef.

There’s a justly-celebrated “long take,” which follows Stallone and Jordan from the dressing room, into the ring and through an earlier fight. It’s a showcase scene and is impressive, if not quite dazzling.

But at this stage of this saga, you kind of know where it’s going and which emotional buttons will be punched, the ones I predicted way back in 1984 with my little IV-I.V.” crack. Another two hours and 13 minutes of it, even with decent “Rocky” style fights (roundhouse punch after roundhouse punch) is hardly merited.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson
Credits: Directed by Ryan Coogler, script by Aaron Covington and Ryan Coogler. An MGM-Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:13

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Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur”

dinoA father’s encouragement to his late-blooming son lies at the heart of Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”

“You’re me, and more,” Daddy dinosaur (the voice of Jeffrey Wright) tells his chicken-livered offspring, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa).

Arlo, we know, will have to prove that, to be brave to “make your mark.”

But along the way, he has to befriend — OK, adopt — a feral human boy, a growling bundle of teeth and moxie whom he names “Spot.” They have assorted random adventures, and in the end, some message about “family” is imparted. It is the Pixar way.

But “Dinosaur,”which boasts stunning, photo-realistic animation of water, trees, bugs and Pterodactyls, is a movie best described by that word — “random.”

It’s pretty, occasionally cute, but trippy — random. Yeah, there’s one credited screenwriter, but more than all but the worst Pixar product, it shows the signs of “written by committee.” Here’s a cute critter, here’s a cuter one, here are a couple that will make great fast food joint toy tie-ins.

Arlo was the runt of his litter, but Mom (Frances McDormand) and Dad love him anyway. Everybody else on the dinosaur family farm contributes. Arlo, not so much.

Then he gets lost. And the non-verbal human “critter” is his only help as he tries to make his way home.

When I say “Dinosaur” is “trippy,” I’m not just talking about the hallucinogenic scene where dinosaur — sort of a Saturday morning cartoon (cutesie, anatomically inaccurate)  version of a Brontosaurus — and human boy get into some fermented fruit and go a little loopy.

There’s their run-in with a cultist clan of Pterodactyls, led by Thunderclap (Voiced by Steve Zahn, who else?). They follow “The Storm,” because the “Storm giveth” and taketh away.

And then there’s the Texas-sized T-Rexes, in the middle of a “longhorn roundup.” Sam Elliott is their patriarch, and purt-much steals the picture, pardner.

“Hey kid, if you’re pullin’ my leg, I’m gonna EAT yours.”

There’s a touching moment or two, a maybe five laughs. And as I said, the best looking water and flora of any computer animated cartoon. It’s not “Monster University,” but it ain’t “Inside/Out” either. Not by a long shot.

“Good Dinosaur” is preceded by the very cute “Sanjay’s Super Team,” about an Indian boy who embraces the gods of his father’s religion, eschewing the caped superheroes of American TV.

MPAA Rating:PG for peril, action and thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, Steve Zahn
Credits: Directed by Peter Sohn, screenplay by Meg LeFauve . A Disney/Pixar release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “Carol”


Dry as a martini and as perfectly composed as a Christmas card, “Carol” is is the gay “Far From Heaven,” if that’s not redundant, another tale of “forbidden love” amid the polished Packards and crisp fashion lines of the 1950s.

Austere in its longing and soapy in its romantic sentiments, it benefits from a lovely, considered performance by Cate Blanchett and nicely understated work by Rooney Mara.

And if it generates little heat or longing between its characters and their relationship, at least some of that can be written off to its era and the once-notorious source novel. Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) wrote “The Price of Salt” in an age when when homosexuality was still called “the love that dare not speak its name.”

They meet at the toy department in a New York department store. It’s 1952, the terms “gaydar” hadn’t been coined. But when the immaculately turned-out Carol Aird (Blanchett) turns her posh locutions on shop girl Therese Belivet (Rooney), the younger woman picks up on…something.

Carol is shopping for a Christmas gift for her little girl. The shop girl recommends a toy train set, adds that it can be delivered. There’s a name and an address as part of that transaction. The suggestion, a “boy’s toy” for a little girl in the “I Like Ike” age? Another signal.

Conveniently, Carol forgets her gloves. Therese sends them with the train. And next thing you know, they’re meeting for martinis and creamed spinach, talking in code, looking each other over.

Carol is going through a divorce, and she has history. Her rich husband (Kyle Chandler) knows about her women.

Therese is an aspiring photographer, and is being courted by Richard (Jake Lacy of “Love the Coopers) who wants to take her to Europe, and flirted-with by others.


Director Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven,” “I’m Not There”) makes much of the naivete of the era. Even in New York, there are New Yorkers too young or unworldly to know that there are women attracted to other women. Even the educated and sophisticated — lawyers, psychotherapists — wonder about phases, “crushes” and cures. Therese’s young men don’t even know what this is called.

Blanchett’s take on the title character feels filtered through the lens of gay icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Carol is regal, imperious, spoiled and guarded.

“Just when you think it can’t get any worse,” she grouses, striking another perfect pose, “you run out of cigarettes!”

The leads seem drawn together by mutual appreciation of beauty. Therese is inexperienced, put off by the butch lesbians she spies in parties, who also give her the once-over. But the chaste “chase” of the Carol-Therese courtship just adds to the feeling that this is missing a sense of real attraction and longing.

It’s far easier to believe that every guy in their orbit is somehow blind to the fact that he’s getting nowhere with this gorgeous woman who may be forced to be passive by the times, but who cannot muster the simplest feelings for him. And that is hard to swallow in itself. It helps to think of Lacy’s resemblance to Ben Affleck and remember “Chasing Amy” in those fruitless flirtations.

It might have been a coming-of-age story (Highsmith would never have had that), or as some gay columnists have suggested, an “initiation” tale. But it isn’t. Haynes never lifts “Carol” above over-dressed melodrama. And with every perfect bar where every perfect martini is served, every perfect dive of a motel on the “Lolita” roadtrip that the “just friends” abruptly take together, “Carol” betrays its true priorities.

We’re here for the drinks, the fashions and the smokes, not smokey looks and not passion.


MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Sarah Paulson, John Magaro
Credits: Directed by Todd Haynes, script by Phyllis Nagy, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel. A Weinstein Co.  release.

Running time: 1:50

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Movie Review: “Victor Frankenstein”


“You know this story,” the sidekick soon-to-be-known as Igor narrates. Lightning, corpses, “a mad genius.”

But what if you didn’t? You know, “know the story”?

“Victor Frankenstein” is a madcap mashup of three stories — at least as they’re traditionally adapted for the screen — a re-introduction of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in a world that has seen Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies.

And for about 30 sem-frenetic minutes, it works. No, hear me out.

Daniel Radcliffe is a hunchbacked mid-Victorian Era circus freak who pines for the aerielist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay, Lady Sybil on “Downton Abbey”). Whatever his lot in life, this bright young man doubles as the circus medic. And when Lorelei takes a fall, he springs into action.

A cocky passing med student, played by James McAvoy, helps. They “see” the body the same way — through book-learning and training, muscles and ligaments and bones underneath the flesh. The med student frees — literally — the “freak.”

“You’re not a clown, you’re a physician!”

The med student — Victor Frankenstein — has his sidekick. He gives him the name “Igor,” gives him a makeover (a hunchback “cure”), and despite the younger man’s occasional call of “Master,” treats him as his colleague. They will use science and cadavers to make history!

Here’s what we’re to go along with — two of Britain’s most adorable and adored acting exports, in ’80s hair metal coiffures, engaging in staccato banter as they set out to prove that “death can be made a temporary condition!”

In the stunningly-recreated Victorian England here, anything seemed possible.

There’s a crucifix-packing Scotland Yard detective (Andrew Scott) who smells the “roots of an evil, sinful mischief.” And a disapproving Frankenstein-the-elder (Charles Dance, fatherly menace incarnate).

The “science” is a series of grotesque — OK, gross — fleshy experiments, all leading to exactly what we expect.

Treat the whole thing as a vamp and it kind of works. That first half hour of “makeover” crackles with as much wit as scripter Max “American Ultra” Landis can give it.

Alas, the film goes flat as it reaches for the familiar story beats and we realize that all we can recall from director Paul McGuigan’s “Lucky Number Slevin” is its overdose of production design.

Still, those who adore the two stars will find some fun here. And if you don’t “know the story,” you won’t be nearly as bored as the rest of us.


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Charles Dance, Andrew Scott
Credits: Directed by Paul McGuigan, script by Max Landis. A 20th Century Fox release.

Running time: 1:49

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Movie Review: “Brooklyn”

brook2“Brooklyn” is a sentimental Irish immigrant melodrama that’s in many ways every bit as generic as its title. A young Irish woman “with nothing FOR me” over there, comes over here.

There’s a weepy mum and sister in Ireland, a kindly helpful priest in America and assorted feisty , slightly-more-experienced fresh immigrants to show her the ropes.

And there is love.

But “Brooklyn” isn’t “Brooklyn Bridge,” or “Avalon” or any of the scores of earlier films and TV shows dating back a century, all covering pretty much the same ground. It is that comfort-food, cliched experience approached with the care one takes with a Jane Austen period piece as filmed by Merchant and Ivory, with a love triangle that pulls its heroine here, and tugs at her to return home.

Saoirse Ronan (“Hannah”), one of the finest actresses of her generation, is Eilis, who leaves the confines of County Wexford, where her job prospects are limited and her marriage prospects more so.

The wealthier lads at “the club” are the prize catches among her peers. But even they have rarely traveled and will never leave.

Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has other ideas for Eilis, so off she goes, leaving the class-warped world of her birth for the seasickness of an open ocean passage.


Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), played with the sort of old-fashioned twinkle the movies used to give Catholic priests, is the New York sponsor who brought her in.

“We need more Irish girls in Brooklyn.”

Not that you could tell at the time. A fellow passenger on the boat warned her, “Try to remember that sometimes it’s nice to talk to people who DON’T know your aunties.” So Eilis fights her homesickness, tries to master her department store job and fit in with the young ladies at her boarding house, where the lightly-tyrannical Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) presides.

“A giddy girl is every bit as dangerous as a slothful man!”

Then, Eilis meets a young man, an Italian-American Brooklyn Dodgers fan (Emory Cohen) with a genteel approach to courtship that suits her small town ways. And they lived happily ever after, with no drama and zero conflict, right?

Fortunately, there are complications back home, which animate a movie that could have sat listlessly in the “Isn’t that nice? Here’s one we can take Grandma to over the holidays” shelf.

Director Jim Crowley (“Intermission,” “Boy A”) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”, “An Education”) play it so safe that you seriously wonder if their ambitions run no further than reaching that “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel/My Big Fat Greek Wedding” audience.

But Crowley wisely keeps Ronan center stage and often in close-up. She lets us feel the pain of leave-takings, the depression of homesickness in that pre-digital age, the dilemma of first love, and maybe second love overlapping, the pull of the familiar vs. the hope of the new and different.

It’s a great performance in a meticulously observed slice of 1950s life in Ireland and New York, the bustle of the city vs. the serene green calm of the country. Surrounded by lovely young support talent and perfectly-cast veterans (like herself) in Walters, Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson, as a shyly dashing young squire back in Ireland, Ronan gives a stand-out turn in a narrative as familiar as the American experience, a warm and fuzzy postcard from the past to remind us all of how we got here. Even if every so often we forget we all got here, one way or other, by boat.





MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott
Credits: Directed by Jim Crowley, script by Nick Hornby, based on the Colm Tóibín novel. A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:51

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Movie Review– “The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young”

bar1You won’t find The Barkley’s Marathons listed online in any of those Outside/Outside Times magazine compilations of the “world’s toughest ultramarathons.”

It isn’t held in the Moroccan desert, above the Arctic Circle or in Death Valley. There’s no “Canyon to Canyon” Grand Canyon hook, no Peruvian jungle to add exponential degrees of difficulty.

So take the organizers’ self-described “world’s toughest trail race” for what it is — hype. Rather like the name of the Tennessean who runs it, who goes by Lazarus Lake — real name, Gary Cantrell. “The truth is malleable,” he reminds us.

But what it lacks in ultra-marathoning community luster, the Barkleys makes up for in exclusivity and eccentricity — mainly Cantrell’s.

“The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young” is a laugh-out-loud look at Cantrell’s 30 year old walk-hike-run through the mountains of Tennessee. It’s a running documentary about the annual five-lap race through the wilds of Frozen Head State Park, near Wartburg, Tennessee.

You might not see the world’s big names in the sport there on any given spring. The selection process for the 40 annual entrants leans towards committed, Type-A science and engineering types, with at least one “sacrificial lamb,” somebody they all know “has no business being out there,” running 20 miles laps through bracken and brier, in day and night, 12,000 feet up, and 12,000 feet down.

Runners have to figure out where to register, no mean feat. They have to pay the entry fee — arbitrarily set at $1.60, and “a white shirt,” or socks or whatever else the folksy Cantrell figures he’s in need of this particular year. And you need to bring him a license plate from whatever state or country you’re from.


The runners go up those mountains, down unmarked trails, trot through a creek-tunnel underneath a prison. And at various points, they have to locate a battered paperback book on an ironic subject or with an ironic title. Surely “The Naked and the Dead” has turned up among the vandalized literature.The runners are given numbers for each lap, each number is the corresponding page they must tear out of each waypoint book.

They have to cover 100 miles — actually, closer to 130 — in 60 hours, in the Tennessee spring. There’s little time for rest, little pause for recuperating or mending one’s ruined feet or brier-torn legs. Judgement fades, fatigue makes finding the waypoint books hard in daylight, impossible in the dark.

All they have to go by are their own maps, copied from this year’s trail course, and each other. No GPS.

And almost nobody ever finishes the damn thing — 14 finishers in 30 years. So yeah, it’s plenty tough.

Filmmakers Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane capture the 2012 race in all its quirky glory — following runners (people with a LOT of training time on their hands) from California and South Carolina, Belgium and Germany as well.

But mainly, the camera’s on Cantrell and all the odd rituals and mythology attached to the race. It started as an “I could do better’n that” challenge to the James Earl Ray prison escape from Brushy Mountain Prison. Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King Jr., took days to find in the Tennessee wilderness. But he covered very few miles in that rough terrain.

The ultra-marathoners cover 15 times as far, every year. The ones who finish, anyway.

Cantrell piles on the colorful quirks. Those granted entry to the race “are sent a letter of condolences.” He announces the impromptu start time — day or night — by blowing a conch shell. He starts the race by lighting a cigarette.

If you quit, you are “tapped out.” A bugler plays “Taps.” The runners take this surprisingly well.

It’s all about the suffering, and good clean muddy fun — testing your body to its limits without having to travel to above the Arctic Circle for the 6633 Ultra, to Greece for the Spartathlon, or Morocco for the Marathon des Sables, the toughest of all.

The film could have used a little context (mentioning, by name, these better known races, for a start), outside experts to talk about its degree of difficulty. No, starting off with a quote about the truth being “malleable” doesn’t excuse you for swallowing the corny hype.

But “The Race that Eats its Young” is still a fun and quick introduction to a sport that, to most of us, seems so extreme as to invite the sort of eccentrics the filmmakers capture here.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, blood, smoking.

Cast: Gary Cantrell
Credits: Directed by Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane. A FilmRise release. Running time: 1:29



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Movie Review — “Janis: Little Girl Blue”


Director Amy Berg managed to land all the “big gets” she needed for her documentary, “Janis: Little Girl Blue.”

She got interviews with Kris Kristofferson, and the surviving bandmates from Janis Joplin’s three-band career. There are surviving boyfriends, including “Country” Joe McDonald, and a surviving girlfriend.

And she rounded up the two biographers — sister Laura Joplin, and Joplin’s road manager John Byrne Cooke — whose books bookend the life of the great ’60s soul singer. That granted Berg access to the many letters Janis wrote to family and friends (read in the film by singer Cat Power), and to the behind-the-scenes world of her stardom and the drug abuse that would lead to her untimely death.

“Little Girl Blue” is thus definitive, a thorough portrait of this “American Master”  (it will appear on PBS in 2016, after a limited theatrical release this November and December.

The arc of her musical life has never been more understandable, from folk to folk blues to hard blues. Her growing understanding of how to use her voice is explained (ripped from the pages of Cooke’s book) and explored through footage from shows in San Francisco to Woodstock, Europe to Canada.

The performances are almost uniformly hair-raising — her command of the blues patter and scat between verses of the epic songs of her repertoire.  “Cry Baby,” “Tell Mama All ABout It,” “Me & Bobby McKee,”every song serving up a another “Piece of My Heart.”

Her TV interviews range from the bitter/bittersweet one from the night she went to her Port Arthur, Texas high school reunion, to her free-wheeling chats with Dick Cavett. The self-adoring talk show host has never come off warmer than he does in talking with Berg about Joplin, who was at her most unguarded in TV conversations with Cavett, who asked tough questions with a hint of concern and tenderness that will surprise you.

We learn who her biggest influence might have been — Otis Redding. We see just what it took to get her on stage and on film in the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival from filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.

Her bandmates — Dave Getz especially — talk about the good and bad influences swirling around her, and how she “turned into a caricature” of the earthy Blues Mama persona the media gave to her.

“Little Girl Blue” is a terrific film, not as moving or damning as this year’s Amy Winehouse expose, but a warm piece of cinematic scholarship. Berg rounds up all we remember and has those who knew her best explain those memories for a musically revealing portrait of a mercurial talent who has been dead far longer than she was alive, but who seems as vital and relevant today as she must have on the cusp of the ’70s.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with substance abuse, nudity, profanity

Cast: Janis Joplin, John Byrne Cooke, Laura Joplin, Dick Cavett, the voice of Cat Power
Credits: Directed by Amy Berg. A FilmRise/PBS release.

Running time: 1:43

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Box Office: “Mockingjay” has the worst “Hunger Games” opening ever


I told you it sucked. Word of mouth may be working against, the lingering bad taste of “Mockingjay Part 1” may have filmgoers leery.

And then there’s the matter of the audience aging and perhaps maturing out of the YA target range.

It is opening 33% below “Hunger Games” peak, which was the $158 million “Catching Fire” earned.

Yeah, stretching the last book into two films will pay off financially. But we knew the moment they split them that they would both fail, artistically.

The problem is one you can see with every successful TV and cable series — the staggering amount of filler, dragging a story out with weak, invented cliffhangers.

Anyway, $104 million is nothing to sneeze at.     (OK, it’s dropped to $102 million, based on lighter Saturday numbers as well). “Spectre” for lunch, wiping the James Bond film off the top spot.

“The Night Before” will manage only $10 million on its opening weekend. Reviews were not overwhelming, and it still feels a little early for a holiday picture. Better movie and better box office than “Love the Coopers,” but too soon, too soon.

“Secret in Their Eyes” will manage a barely respectable $7.5 million, based on Friday’s numbers.


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Weekend Movies: “Hunger Games” sent off with relief, “Night Before” endorsed

So “The Hunger Games” make their exit with a wildly overrated 72% on the Rottentomatoes tomatometer.Rottentomatoes tomatometer.  Even the more reliable Metacritic reflects this bias, tho not to the same extent. tho not to the same extent.

Godawfully dull film, poorly acted, glum and action-starved.

But a few fangirls/boys and a couple of pandering newspaper critics worried about annoying the mob costing them their jobs endorsed it. So there you go. And good riddance to this one.

It occurred to me how much more young adult fiction there is today than there was when I was a kid. But the formulaic sci-fi Maze Runner/Giver/Hunger/Insurgent slop that dominates the genre, just based on the movies, makes one long for the return of an appreciation for the works of S.E. Hinton.

Seth Rogen and his “Interview” crew have baked up a stoner holiday comedy, “The Night Before.” And if you don’t giggle and grin at the bulk of it, or fall on the floor howling at Michael Shannon’s sage weed dealer turn, then forget you.

Mixed reviews for this one, in the same positive territory that “Mockingjay” sits. Comedy being totally subjective, that’s perfectly understandable.

“Secret in their Eyes” is a remake of a better Argentinian film. Still, Billy Ray’s met many of the challenges of Americanizing this twisty tale of the obsessive search for a killer and getting justice. Julia Roberts is great, Chiwetel Ejiofor not bad, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina sharp. Too melodramatic, and the reviews reflect that clumsiness.

“Spotlight” goes into wider release this weekend. It’s one of the best pictures of the year, everybody says so. Oscar nominations for…Ruffalo and Keaton? I could see that.





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Movie Review: “Spotlight”


“Spotlight” is the best movie about journalism since “All the President’s Men.”

Director Tom McCarthy and a cast of master underplayers deliver the tale of the Watergate of our times. It’s a newspaper picture, a great one, about the shoe leather, the door knocking, the cold calls, the dogged days of research, the persuasion and the courage it took for four intrepid reporters at the Boston Globe to uncover the vast, worldwide pedophile priests scandal and the all-the-way-to-the-Vatican cover-up that kept this under wraps for decades.

And with every outdoor scene — church steeples in the background, children playing in the foreground — it’s a movie about a city, “a small town,” that grew used to living under a near theocracy, a city and a newspaper that accepted a good ol’ Catholic  boys’ dictum that they just look the other way as this monstrous crime grew and grew.

Michael Keaton is Robby Robinson, veteran editor of the “Spotlight” section of the Boston Globe, leading three reporters on the newspaper’s investigative team. It’s 2001, and a story crops up, not the first one, about adult victims of sexual abuse suing the Church. Robinson and members of his team — the manic workaholic Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, in the best performance of his career), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) are intrigued. But they’re already deep in another story.

It’s the outsider, the new Jewish managing editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber at his most poker-faced) who suggests this is “an essential story.” He’s the one who shakes Robinson and other editors (John Slattery) out of their “hometown paper doesn’t fight the hometown church” lethargy. They sue to get the sealed court papers that the church doesn’t want anybody to see.

What follows is a two hour journalism procedural. This is how you pick at a story nobody wants you to tell. You get names, you make calls. You try to move lawyers, victims and priests from slamming the door in your face to opening up.

“You want to be on the right side of this,” Keaton’s Robinson tells an old golfing buddy (Jamey Sheridan).

Stanley Tucci is Mitchell Garabedian, the determined, shell-shocked attorney for a huge group of victims. A Church that has gotten the legislature to limit “non-profit” liability in cases like that has been trying to get him disbarred for even bringing it up. And he’s leery of the Globe, too. And of this city of insiders that mistrusts outsiders (he’s Armenian).

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


Billy Crudup is a slick attorney who has worked for the Church on past payoffs to victims, and won’t admit it.

Neal Huff plays a traumatized victim who has organized other victims, who brings urgency to the reporting by damning the Globe for not acting on his blunt, documented tips to them years ago. He lays it out loudly and plainly, the Church played musical chairs, reassigning priests who “used their collar to rape kids.”

But Ruffalo’s Rezendes is the audience’s surrogate here, shocked at what he’s learning, committed — as the great reporters are — to not let a roadblock and long line of hostile, uncooperative sources, court employees and even a controlling, high-handed Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) beat him.

There’s a sad nostalgia to the details McCarthy (“The Visitor,” “Win Win”) zeroes in on — the tight-knit newsroom culture, the sense of duty, the all-hands-on-deck teamwork best viewed as the paper mobilizes its resources on 9/11. Newspapers are dying, a fact underlined by the 2001 AOL Everywhere billboard in front of the Globe’s headquarters. This sort of reporting is expensive and vital (TV and web-based ventures rarely uncover stories this huge) and virtually no papers have the money for such teams any more.

But if history’s tide runs against the Globe, at least those who worked there have the satisfaction of exposing a global wrong, and helping to end it. And they have McCarthy’s film, one of the best pictures of 2015, as a permanent record, a tribute in cinematic form, to their art and craft in its finest hour.
MPAA Rating:R for some language including sexual references

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci
Credits: Directed by Tom McCarthy, script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. An Open Road release.

Running time: 2:08

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