It Takes a Village in Spotlight

Spotlight

At one point in Tom McCarthy’s deftly handled expose on the exhaustive investigative journalism done by the Boston Globe to uncover the labyrinthine and monolithic Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in 2002, a character coldly observes, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse one.”  Logically it then follows, that it would also take a village to shine a light on corruption.

There’s another great line uttered by Liev Schreiber (who shrewdly plays the Jewish city-hopping editor who turns the Spotlight team onto the case) at the dawn of the story going public where he says something to the effect of, “When we’re fumbling around in the dark and you finally get to shine a light on something, it’s easy to find blame in your own fumbling.”  The journalists in Spotlight (all former or current Catholics) are riddled with the guilt the Church (and life) drill into you, knowing that something should’ve been done earlier, and the film is filled with these types of keen insights and great lines without ever becoming didactic. Continue reading

God Help the Reader in Toni Morrison’s New Novel

Toni Morrison God Help the Child Cover

It’s a strange, disturbing thing to read a contemporary Toni Morrison novel – a woman who has been at home for decades exorcising the demons of our collective American past.  Yet even in the present day, her characters are hung up on ghosts.  God Help the Child is a story, like all Morrisonian tales, woven in different voices, all tied to the cycle of abuse that starts in childhood and seems to never end.  There’s Sweetness, a mother who finds it impossible to love her too-dark child, Lula Ann.  There’s Bride, the reborn adult version of Lula-Ann, wielding her beauty like a scythe across the scorched western landscape.  There’s Booker, a man who refuses to let go of his dead brother who was brutally murdered when they were just boys.

At times, the abuse is overwhelming.  No one in this Morrison novel is left untouched.  It almost verges on melodramatic parody as each dark secret is revealed.  In some ways the novel comes across as a bourgeois version of Precious, where instead of an inner city girl, we have a fashionista – both surrounded by horrors that know no bounds.  Oprah and Lee Daniels must be drooling over this.

But Morrison refuses to let the reader get away that easily.  The novel can not be dismissed as artsy, exploitative trash.  The book is as insular, intimate and twisted as her A Mercy was expansive, remote and mangled (in oh so many beautiful ways).  Her handling of the surreal adds an otherworldly gravity to an otherwise modern tract.  Continue reading

The Spin on Paul Thomas Anderson

A master schooling a master.

In honor of the release of The Master later this month, The Spin is turning its wheels towards Paul Thomas Anderson – writer/director extraordinaire – a true auteur. The great chronicler of Southern California, cancers both physical and metaphorical, dysfunctional makeshift families, deranged father-figures, damaged sons, melancholy and death is arguably the most ambitious American filmmaker working today. But he has only achieved that status through evolution…through finding his voice. Here we will revisit his three most signature works: Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood and track the course of his discovery.

“This is the film I want them to remember me by.” – Jack Horner, Boogie Nights

On its surface, Boogie Nights – the grand piece of nostalgia celebrating a pre-AIDS, pre-video porntopia – would appear as a lark – a jokey, ballsy, “Look, Ma, I’m a Hipster Director!” type feature designed to showcase a young man’s skill behind the camera and his cocky nerve to tell a scandalous tale. When you look deeper, the film is anything but that.

Continue reading

Splice of American Gothic

Looking at the poster above, you would think the new sci-fi horror flick Splice was some kind of cloning-era mish-mash of Alien and Species.  Based up the trailers, you would think that too.  On the surface all would point to this.  Well, golly, who knew you would be so wrong?

The film opens with a terminally hip power couple turned scientists-du-jour (Oscar winner Adrien Brody and indie film darling Sarah Polley) working for a pharmaceutical company (headed by a cold and demanding French woman played by Simona Maicanescu) splicing away to create a new species that can be used for the harvesting of therapeutic and disease curing genes.  Upon threat of being shut down and not allowed to continue their experiments, Polley’s character has the awful idea to splice in some human DNA on the sly — just to see if they could’ve done it, you know, that old song and dance.  The result — you guessed it — is a fast growing super-freaky French mutant (Delphine Chaneac) with wings and a long-tailed stinger who likes to play Scrabble.

But lurking underneath the guise of this well-worn Frankenstein-style think piece is a depraved little piece of American Gothic hullabaloo complete with hysterical women and family secrets.  Continue reading

Village of the Damned

In the year preceding the start of World War I, a small German village is quietly rocked by a series of cruel events (crimes against the seemingly innocent) committed by unknown culprits in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.  The town’s children are both potential victims and suspects as the twisted natures of their parents’ sins are soon laid bare.  In the midst of paranoia and gossip (though not as pointedly delicious as Clouzot’s Le Corbeau), a kind schoolteacher woos a sweetly naive nanny, a baron’s marriage disintegrates, a steward’s family crumbles, a pastor spares no rod and a doctor commits the greatest of sins.  Originally conceived as a mini-series, there are many narrative threads and characters to keep track of, and Haneke provides glimpses into the varied lives of the different classes at work in the village and constructs something akin to a psychological case study of the personality types on display.  One wonders how much more some of the stories would’ve opened up had Haneke the luxury of six or more hours to weave his tale.

The biggest problem with a Michael Haneke film is that it’s a Michael Haneke film.  Continue reading