Friday, November 20, 2015
Secret in Their Eyes
The movie opens with the camera tiresomely roaming around the shoulder of ex-FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He is combing through mugshots of criminals on his computer screen while hearing the screaming of a tortured girl in his head. The person he is looking for is the killer of Carolyn (Zoe Graham), the daughter of his close friend Jess (Julia Roberts) who is a veteran cop in the LAPD. The noisy sound effect gives us a cue that Ray is lucky today. Indeed, he finds a match from the sea of mugshots and he takes his finding to the district attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman).
The man Ray is looking for is Marzin (Joe Cole) who is believed to be Carolyn's killer. However, unable to get a conviction, Marzin walked away free thirteen years ago. Ray has been haunted by the case and has never stopped searching for him. Never mind that Marzin was released back then, Ray tries to persuade Claire to reopen the case and to zoom in on the guy he finds. In the meantime, teamed with another cop Bumpy (Dean Norris), Ray begins his manhunt despite the fact that he is no longer in the law enforcement.
If the narrative sounds like a stretch, it is. There are countless moments which are so ridiculously coincidental that makes the film looks like a nightmarish fairy tale. The writer-director Billy Ray is surely in charge here and if he wants something to happen, it happens. These characters don't miss a single chance to cross each other's paths and are always able to find what they are looking for: they can walk into the same elevator and come to the same office at the perfectly timed moment; Ray can spot his target in a giant ballpark just in a few minutes; out of many cops from the LAPD, Jess has to be the one coming to the crime scene and finding out that the victim is her own daughter; the only thing Ray and Bumpy steal from a stripper's house is a comic book that happens to be the road map of a horrendous crime.
Chiwetel Ejiofor carries his painful expression from one scene to another, which makes you wonder if the director wants him to play the role in "12 Years a Slave" all over again. But that sad face looks pale compared to Julia Roberts who plays the grief-stricken Jess. She effectively shakes off all her glamor and beauty and looks like a zombie, which maybe the only interesting aspect about the film. And Nicole Kidman plays an absurd DA Claire, who dresses like a Barbie doll and seems to enjoy being treated as a sexual object by her male colleagues. It becomes even more preposterous when she uses her sex appeal to provoke the suspect.
There may have been secret in these characters' eyes, but either you already know them from the original Argentine film, or you might never know because you can't stand another dumb word coming out from these characters and walk out of the theater before the film ends.
Friday, November 13, 2015
For as long as people can remember, the powerful and influential Boston Archdiocese has been an essential part of the Boston community which is predominantly catholic. The church, the justice system, and even the press look the other way when it comes to crimes or misconduct by priests. That status quo is challenged when a soft-spoken new editor-in-chief Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the Globe in 2001. With a clear vision and commanding leadership, he assigns Globe's investigative reporting team—Spotlight—to look into Boston Archdiocese's role in clerical sexual abuse after the notorious crime by a priest John Geoghan is exposed.
The four-person Spotlight team is led by the editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton). Although he is regretful about the fact that he dropped the ball as the Metro Section editor when the story came to him 20 years ago, he wastes no time to reflect and dives into the investigation with his best reporters. The energetic Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) work restlessly to obtain documents sealed by the Archdiocese and gets cooperation from abuse victim's lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci). The sharp Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) knocks on doors of abuse victims no matter how many times those doors slam shut on her. The nerdy Matt Carroll (Brian D'Arcy James) brilliantly finds a way to narrow down a list of pedophile priests without the help of Internet searches. Their painstakingly detective work pays off and astonishingly shakes the previously untouchable institution.
The film is a salute to all the outstanding journalists who work tirelessly in digging out stories that not only inform the public, but also profoundly impact the society. The director Tom McCarthy magically puts us on the shoulders of these terrific reporters to witness firsthand how they conduct their daily work which earns little compensation but is enormously rewarding. Although the film is full of conversations in the office and very few explosively dramatic moments, it is remarkably engrossing and even thrilling sometimes.
While the film's focus is the investigation process of uncovering a deeply buried story by a few best reporters, the film says little about these driven reporters themselves. Obviously they are passionate about their work and dedicated to it. However, once the story is out, they recede from the spotlight and become invisible again, even perhaps struggle to survive the next round of layoffs. How sustainable is the old-fashioned investigative reporting? What is the effect on society if their important work becomes extinct? You can't help but to ponder these questions during the movie. The film bluntly illustrates how important the free press is to the health of our society.
Just like the fine reporters uncovering the truth in the film, this movie is a superb journalism in its own right in pursuing the truth about these journalists at work.
By the Sea
In a vintage convertible on a winding scenic road, a well-dressed couple Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) from New York City arrive at a seemingly empty hotel by the sea on the top of a cliff in Melta. They hardly speak to each other, especially Vanessa who hardly speaks at all. But during frequent visits to a cafe on the foot of the hill over a few drinks and cigarettes, Roland chats openly with the bartender Michel (Niels Arestrup) who candidly offers life lessons about relationship, in French. Soon we gather that Roland is a novelist who has hit his writer's block. His fourteen years of marriage with Vanessa is also in jeopardy. By spending time at this breathtaking location, Roland hopes to find his inspiration to write and to reestablish the love connection with Vanessa.
However, Vanessa shows little interest in repairing the relationship with Roland. Instead, she either stays in bed or hides under her heavy make-up and floppy hat when she is not. When she occasionally comes to the window and looks over the beautiful sea, she looks like a lifeless ghost appearing in a window frame in a haunted castle.
Their uneventful routine is disrupted when Vanessa finds a peephole in her hotel room and watches a newlywed couple Lea (Mélanie Laurent) and François (Melvil Poupaud) check in. It turns out that the voyeurism on the frisky young couple is much better medicine for Vanessa than all the pills she has been pouring into her mouth. The power of porn is not to be underestimated.
Is it possible that the happy-go-lucky couple's lovemaking is so therapeutic that the marriage between Ronald and Vanessa might be saved by peeking at it? Too bad the magnificent ocean view doesn't seem to have the same effect.
It's perplexing why the writer-director-actress Angelina Jolie Pitt crafts such an unlikable and unsympathetic character Vanessa, and drags her beloved husband into the project. Her screen presence is visibly awkward and uneasy. Her every pose and every move seems self-conscious as if she is taking a selfie as a centerfold of a fashion magazine and tries hard to find the best possible angle. Even though Vanessa is a former dancer, that doesn't make her look any more natural or less painful as she poises her feet consciously whenever she lies on a chair or stands next to a door.
Angelina Jolie Pitt's very publicized cancer prevention treatment also becomes a liability for her to play Vanessa whenever she exposes her skin, especially when the moody character is neither engaging nor convincing which leaves your mind plenty of room to be distracted easily.
However, the film's European look and feel is both mesmerizing and seductive. It even makes the long running hour and dull narrative becomes bearable. The fantastic location makes you want to take your next vacation at that very spot, but you might want to double check if the room next door belongs to Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, and don't forget to check if there is any hole on the wall.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Bridge of Spies
In 1957, the Soviet Union and the United States are actively spying on each other through their agents during the raging Cold War. A quiet painter Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is one of those spies. When the federal agents storm into his apartment in New York City, he is remarkably serene and calmly requests to collect his teeth before heading to prison.
Despite the extremely hostile sentiment toward Abel from the public, Rudolf Abel is assigned a defense counsel—an insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks). Although James Donovan has never defended a spy, he is competent, intelligent, and focused. But that doesn't mean he can change anything in Rudolf Abel's conviction because the trial seems merely a show.
However, when an American pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured by the Soviet Union after his U-2 spy plane is shot down in 1960, the US government asks James Donovan to negotiate with the Soviets to swap Austin Stowell with Rudolf Abel. James Donovan not only tries to bring Austin Stowell back, he also wants to take home another American student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) who is a prisoner in East Germany.
It's interesting that even though the film's screenplay is penned by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, the Coen brothers handed it over to Steven Spielberg instead of making the film themselves. Of course, Steven Spielberg knows what he is doing and doesn't disappoint us. He effortlessly and convincingly brings the '50s and '60s back on screen and straightforwardly unfolds an engrossing story. The film sometimes looks exceptionally unsophisticated and it makes you wonder if he made the film with one eye closed.
That languorous attitude becomes even more evident when the director includes some scenes that appear to be nothing more than stiff propaganda. For example, when James Donovan looks out of the window of a train, what he sees is a few people are shot dead while trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Yet, Steven Spielberg is able to make these scenes look less rigid and a little forgivable.
It's hard to think of anybody else other than Tom Hanks to play the warm, intelligent, patriotic, and all-around good-natured lawyer James Donovan. It's probably also a role that Tom Hanks can play without any preparation. But the film's most mesmerizing moments come from the terrific performance by Mark Rylance. He marvelously shows how Rudolf Abel never loses his cool and charm and is forever loyal and patriotic. More than once James Donovan feels alarmed by Rudolf Abel's usual calmness and asks Rudolf Abel if he is afraid. Rudolf Abel always amusingly responds with a question "Would it help?" Mark Rylance deserves an Oscar nod for his arresting portrait of this singular Soviet spy.
It's unlikely that the relationship between the US and Russian is going to roll back all the way to the status quo during the Cold War. This film serves as a reminder of that part of history with mixed feelings of nostalgia and fascination.