Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy (2016)

Stop the press for this Oscar nominated drama of award winning journalism.

Based on real events, a US newspaper team fight to reveal the industrial scale cover up of child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church in Boston.

It’s gripping tale which allows for the redemption of an individual, the validation of journalism and the recovery of civic pride.

So exactly the sort of worthy subject matter which allows Hollywood to feel good about itself and self-righteously pat itself on the back for making.

Consequently it’s garnered 6 Oscar nominations including best picture and director ,as well as for individual nods for performers Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams in the supporting acting categories.

It’s set in the early 2000’s in the basement office of the close knit Spotlight newspaper investigations team of The Boston Globe. The real Spotlight Team earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Michael Keaton is weathered and wary as ‘Robby’ Robinson, veteran leader of the four strong department.

Sporting a supportive if volatile chemistry, they’re played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James.

They face the double threat of the burgeoning new media world and a new editor, played with softly spoken steel by Liev Schreiber.

Marty requests the team investigate complaints made against the church.

Being from out of town Marty is immediately considered someone not to be trusted. A situation compounded by being Jewish in a Catholic dominated city.

It is strongly in part to this insular attitude which allows members of the Catholic clergy to spend years abusing their flock, and for the hierarchy to systematically cover it up.

The powerful and wealthy institution has long put the fear of god into legal profession, justice system, police and even parts of the press.

We follow the team undertaking journalistic procedure of voluminous research, copious coffee consumption, door knocking, meetings with lawyers, prodigious note taking and telephone calls.

As files of evidence go missing from the courthouse, the team realise they can’t trust their colleagues, the police or the courts.

This is all familiar procedural stuff and it’s the high stakes and charisma of the actors which brings it alive.

We are drawn in by the performances, intrigued by their work and disgusted by the subject matter.

Covering a difficult subject in a dignified and sensitive manner, a strong narrative framework provides essential information in a clear manner.

But the film struggles to open out from a series of meetings into something more grand and cinematic.

More than one scene has the team gather around a telephone speaker to receive vital information from a Deep Throat type whistleblower.

As efficient as Spotlight is, it‘s the grim truth which keeps us watching, not the drama.

 

Robocop

Director: José Padilha (2014)

This grim-faced mechanical reboot of the 1987 sci-fi classic stomps through the motions with all human interest surgically removed.

The action sequences are incoherent, dull and lacking in tension. And the gleefully satirical edge of the original is sadly absent.

Set in Detroit in 2028, the remake offers no sense of a wider society or vision of the future – it’s just like today but with robots and amazingly little internet use.

Joel Kinnaman is trigger-happy, straight backed and taciturn. And that’s before his character Alex Murphy is transformed into the relentless crime-fighting cyborg.

When Murphy’s life is saved by the technician’s of OmniCorp, he’s turned into a crime-fighting war machine and put back on the streets as the ultimate deterrent.

When investigating his own attempted assassination he uncovers a trail of corruption and once again becomes a target.

There is some lovely design work in the new streamlined suit. And when we first see the extent of Murphy’s injuries there is a promisingly nightmarish feel. But it’s quickly lost thanks to the plodding direction.

Computer-generated images mix unconvincingly with live action and although Robocop looks very cool when riding his neon and black motorbike, we see him doing it far more often than is necessary.

There is wit in the casting of actors associated with that other faceless crime-fighter Batman – but even the considerable talents of Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman can’t tease any humour from a dour script.

Keaton plays the duplicitous CEO of the powerful OmniCorp and Oldman co-stars as a technical genius with compromised principles.

And Samuel L. Jackson has fun as a TV commentator – but his scenes seem disconnected from events happening elsewhere.

Key catchphrases are lifted from the original to be chucked around. But the new dialogue is as leaden as Robocop’s thudding footsteps as Murphy hunts down the men who had tried to kill him – and unleashes powerful forces that are hellbent on finishing the job.

☆☆

Birdman

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

This extraordinarily ambitious black comedy about a desperate actor having a nervous breakdown is funny, sexy, brave and bold.

Michael Keaton, former star in blockbusting Hollywood superhero franchise Batman plays Riggan Thomas, former star in the blockbusting Hollywood superhero franchise Birdman.

That was twenty years ago and now Riggan, aware of his age and lack of artistic legacy, wants to reboot his career as a serious artist by starring and directing in a Broadway adaptation of an important literary work.

However he’s beset by professional and personal problems – not least being haunted by his gravel voiced masked-man alter ego of yesteryear who preys on his many insecurities.

As an accomplished actor Riggan is an untrustworthy guide to his own existence and it may be best not believe anything he says, sees or shows us.

He has re-mortgaged his house to pay for the production but influential critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) threatens to bury the show and a former employee wants to sue him.

His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is out of rehab and last minute replacement actor Mike (Edward Norton) is re-writing his lines and stealing the limelight.

Meanwhile co-star girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is pregnant and manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is constantly lying to him.

Dressing rooms are trashed amid scenes of fights, affairs, drunks, drugs, and attempted suicide.

It all leads to an astonishing scene in Times Square where Riggan clutches at his rapidly shrinking dignity.

As shamelessly superb camerawork (Emmanuel Lubezki) and editing (Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione) create the astonishing illusion of a single continuous shot that lasts the entire film.

Dynamic and fearless performances embrace the vanity of the flawed characters and offer moments of insight creating an exhausting, energetic and constantly surprising experience.

Birdman is a soaring success.

★★★★★