Spotlight Review

Another week and one more film that’s nominated for Best Picture has been watched. Spotlight wasn’t one I had heard of much before its release, only hearing of it when it crept up on the nominations list. I had already made my mind up that The Big Short should take home the prize this year, but does Spotlight make me change my mind?

Spotlight stars Michael Keaton, Rachael McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James and Liev Schreiber and is directed by Tom McCarthy. Based on a true story, the film follows the reporters for The Boston Globe as they investigated priests accused of molestation that had been covered up by the Catholic Church.

Spotlight is a film made on the performances. Everyone already listed are bringing their A-game, with most of the roles being skilfully understated. Their all trying to be good reporters and stick to the facts, but sometimes they break and all their pent-up emotion and anger comes pouring out. These moments are when Spotlight shines, such as a shouting match between Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, as well as a wordless-but-emotional run through the middle of the night by Brian d’Arcy James. These are my favourite moments of the film, but I think it helps that there aren’t too many of them. If there had been more than a couple then the film would have been seen to have been trying to pull heartstrings and it would have diluted it’s end message.

Despite having several high-status actors in the main roles, Spotlight has a very impressive supporting cast. Actors like John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Paul Guilfoyle all help out and bring their best performances in a long time.

One of the things I like about Spotlight is that it manages to take a serious topic and doesn’t water it down. Films have taken the accusations before and spun their own films and stories around them (the one that I can think of right now is Calvary, one of the films that got me into Film Studies) but Spotlight is just like it’s protagonists, it’s only interested in the facts and abut printing every single detail on the page (or in this case, screen) in an attempt into shocking us into a response, instead of giving us something which could have been more filmic. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of a documentary, it tells story through the bare essential facts. But that feeling of documentary is also it’s curse. The film looks very flat and muted. There is nothing that standouts visually, it’s rather perfunctory. I’m trying to think of one mis-en-scene that clearly standouts and I’m drawing a blank every time.

The film’s structure though, is a point I will give in its favour. The film doesn’t give the audience help like many other big-budget films. We only find out the truth behind the accusations and how widespread they are at the same time as the characters, making the screen become more like a mirror, as we almost reflect the characters gasps of astonishment. It all culminates in a final listing of all the cases not just in America but across the world and it shockingly goes on for longer than you would ever think.

I do have problems with Spotlight. The main one I had with the film is that it looks like it’s going to bring up some interesting sub-plots but they never get fully flushed out. The trailer showed the reporters getting ominous phone calls and being followed by shady individuals but I never got a sense of this being an overarching theme. I can’t even remember if it was in the film.

In the end, Spotlight looks very normal, but the story it weaves is incredible. The feeling it leaves reminds me of Sicario, it pulls at your stomach and almost makes you sick, but it reminds you enough that it’s a great film.

Score: 7/10 Exeptional story, even if everything else is flat.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

I have an odd history with superhero films. I’ve caused outrage with some diehards fans of the genre by saying that I quite enjoy Batman and Robin, or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m not really that impressed with The Dark Knight and I do believe that there might possibly be a superhero overload with the eighteen confirmed Marvel films coming between now and 2020. However, I do own the Marvel Encyclopaedia, so I guess I’m a sort-of fan. Either way, let’s get on with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Quick heads up before I get going though. Some details will be on the vague side, due to my views on spoilers (mainly not giving any away). I do hope I give nothing away, but this is just a small note to say that certain details on characters, their arcs and plot points will be missing from the review.

Avengers: Age of Ultron stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner as our usual caped, cowled and suited superheroes, with Elizabeth Olson and an almost unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver respectively.  When a new threat emerges to destroy the world, our old Avengers must assemble once again, this time with the help of the two new recruits, to save the day.

First off, before you watch AAOU, you might need to watch the last couple of Marvel films. With returning plot points and returning characters from the last few films, you might want a small refresher watch just to make sure you can just jump straight into the new one. Luckily, through exposition, those who may have missed on some of the earlier films are brought up to speed fairly quickly.

The acting from all involved, be it the frontrunners or the background characters from earlier films is of the highest quality (did we really expect anything less from Marvel?) Highest kudos goes to Elizabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who look like their having the time of the lives in the film, and also managing to pull off the Eastern European accent very well, unlike some other big budget release recently (Child 44 anyone?) Credit also needs to be given to James Spader, who voices the villain Ultron, giving a CGI robot some fun character traits.

Danny Elfman’s music throughout the film fits very well, giving some scenes a dark sense of danger, a route that many fans had speculated the film was going to take. Despite these darker tones the film is still a great laugh, with the jokes coming thick and fast at the beginning, but petering out relatively quickly so that our attention is focussed solely on the bombastic action scenes that are punctuated throughout. These action scenes are grand affairs, with explosions and destruction being main highlights of a fair few of them. At times they threaten to slip into a vat of sameness (seen one ruined building seen them all) yet each one is spiced with a flair of its own, with enjoyment coming from the times where members of our Avengers team up to see what happens when you cross things like Thor’s lightning and Captain America’s shield.

Now on to what could be considered the “bad stuff” of the film. First of all, the length. At 142 minutes the film feels extraordinarily long, which wouldn’t be a problem, if the film did not skimp on details. Some characters go missing or look to be grievously injured for a while during the film, and when they return we are not given any indication of where they were or how they survived. Second, those bombastic fights scenes that I talked about can be sometimes a handful to take in, and with the pace they are set at, it can feel as if the action has gone right by you and you haven’t a clue who is who and whether any of them have been injured.

Third, The CGI has remarkable dips in quality, with certain scenes looking downright awful. It’s shame because most of the CGI throughout the film is spectacular, with characters like Ultron having great attention to detail. It just pulls you right out of the film when the CGI takes a plummet in quality. Fourth, a blossoming romance between two of the Avengers, to me anyway, felt a bit forced and contrived, mainly because I couldn’t feel any chemistry between the two actors.

Finally, with the setting up of several other films, with older characters coming in to fill roles, absent characters joining the Marvel roster and plot devices being implemented for sequels, the film does set up many plot threads which we will have to wait a while before we get a satisfying end. And while it is fun to see all these characters and objects being slowly added to the Marvel Universe, some of it does seem unnecessary given the already astronomical length of the film. Okay, now I’m probably just being nitpicky.

In conclusion though, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a worthy sequel to one of the most refreshing superhero films in a long while.

Score: 7/10 A second blazingly fun romp with Earth’s mightiest heroes.