SPOTLIGHT: NOT JUST ONE OF THE YEAR’S BEST PICTURES BUT AN EMOTIONALLY RIVETING STORY

The Boston Globe was founded in 1872 by six Boston businessmen and by the 1890s Wikipedia tells me it was a stronghold with an editorial staff dominated by Irish Catholics. Wikipedia also tells me Tom Winship succeeded his father as editor in 1964 and transformed The Boston Globe from a local paper into regional paper of national distinction. When he stepped down as editor in 1984 it had won not just its first Pulitzer Prize during his twenty year reign but a dozen. From 1993 until 2013 The Boston Globe was owned by The New York Times. In the 1990s it launched an online website which has regularly been ranked as one of the ten best newspaper websites in the country. The quality of their digital work can be seen for example here in this piece. It is a prestigious publication with a storied history, something Boston can be proud of. There are several shots in Spotlight with The Boston Globe marquee; a little romanticism is shown not just for The Globe but for print journalism in general.

This is not a tale about regular journos doing the regular beat to hit that print deadline every day. Spotlight is a specialised team of veteran and talented reporters who are given sometimes months to unearth the specifics of the story. When they pull the lever it needs to be good and it needs to be right because litigation lawyers for the paper have to be ready to stand firm. They are good and they do get it right and in doing so they make the world a better place. They are able to do this type of long form investigative journalism due to the deep coffers of major broadsheets. Coffers that are getting smaller in the digital age it should be noted. In 2001 the team started work on their biggest story, the covering up of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church in Boston. As the story broke the scope of it has increased to a global crisis for the Church and its faithful. As Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendez has been quoted by People magazine as saying “Even though I was a lapsed Catholic, I still considered myself a Catholic and thought that one possibly, some day, I would go back to being a practising Catholic. But after this experience, I found it impossible to do that – or even think about doing that. What we discovered was just too shattering.”

The Spotlight team is led by their editor Walter “Robby” Robinson portrayed by Michael Keaton who carries tremendous gravitas as an elder statesmen in this film that it is hard to believe this guy was Beetlejuice. I’ve spent my lifetime watching this man and even in something like Duplicity or Batman he brought such energy to his performance. Not here, here he is quiet and he carries the movie – Mark Ruffalo is not the star. Speaking of Mark, he’s terrific as Michael Rezendes the type of role you might have handed to a young Michael Keaton both professionally determined and yet often radiating a certain swagger. Brian d’Arcy James, predominantly a stage actor, plays Ben Bradlee Jr. who uncovers some interesting facts in old archives before realising uneasily that former perpetrators might be living close to his house. Rachel McAdams one of the most talented young actresses working today plays Sacha Pfeiffer who is the journalist who gets the brunt of the interviews with actual victims. A personal viewpoint of the abuse is never really shown. We meet the victims as adults hurting but determined to tell their story and we see them from the perspective of the journalists who are moved by their stories but have to be professional and have to discern what is true. The reporters confide in each other as the story begins to make them confront their own beliefs, heritage and feelings.

Many years ago a very wise man came to my house with a DVD to watch called The Station Agent. It was reflective of his taste and of many experiences where my best friend introduced me to great films I had never heard of. Director Tom McCarthy has been a filmmaker I have followed ever since. In that film he dealt with broken people discovering they could love again and have a place in the world. One character was getting over the death of a child and McCarthy was spellbinding in the way that he would cause greater effect by underplaying everything and showing wise restraint. That wonderful gift is on display here in a film that deals with something very painful.

Demographics have changed in Boston as they have throughout the rest of America but for the purposes of popular culture there is something distinctly Irish Catholic about Boston, MA. You can imagine then the trauma at the heart of an old respected local broadsheet staffed predominantly by Irish Catholics unearthing the first real proof of the Catholic Church’s cover up of abusive priests. It is arguably two great big Boston institutions at war with each other and there are several small meeting room scenes where old Boston guys sit down and talk about what to do with the kind of polished charm that makes one uneasy. Michael Keaton is riveting in these moments.

Sidenote: Many years ago Keaton starred in another journalism ensemble The Paper, one of those good dramedies Ron Howard did so well back in the day, which was about the daily beat of a regular journalist but also carried this film’s romantic idealism for the good, good journalism could do. Film Critic Roger Ebert who always considered himself a journalist first and foremost loved that movie. I think he would’ve loved this one too and Roger I miss you, I miss your thoughts and your wonderful words about movies even when I disagreed with you.

Films like this make a splash at awards season but often can struggle to find a wide audience. They get labelled ‘Important’, ‘Well Made’ with a ‘Terrific Ensemble Cast’ but people may hesitate to know if the film will involve them or worse be too confronting. Yes Spotlight is well made and about something important boasting an All Star Ensemble. However it is so much more, it’s terribly moving as the victims tell their stories and also as various forces seek to turn around our heroes. The crowd I saw it with on a Tuesday night was visibly moved . At the end we got up without a sound and left the cinema quietly and solemnly. Like we were leaving Church.

-Lloyd Marken

10 PICS FROM THE STICKS: MAPLETON TO UBAJEE AND BACK AGAIN

Inspired by Cindy Bruchmann’s ongoing Five Shots  series I’ve decided to post a little about my hiking jaunts. Lacking Cindy’s editorial ruthlessness I’m posting ten photos. Cindy hails from a beautiful part of the world and her photos are quite breathtaking so be sure to check it out.

First up for my series are photos from a day hike I took with my beautiful wife and an old friend last June. I often hike on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk track which is 58km from start to finish. We parked at Mapleton Falls, hiked 7.2km approx. to Ubajee Walkers Camp and then came back the same route. You can read more about Great Walk here.

The Mapleton Falls lookout is wonderful but was closed at the time so instead we walked to the Peregrine Lookout just off our track by a few metres. It gives an interesting vantage of the same view as the more often utilised Falls lookout.

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After that you pass through neighbouring properties on your way to Delicia Road and heading back into deeper rainforest. On the day we went there had been some rain and we noted we were on a path that was not used as much as other ones. It was exciting though to be finally doing a new part of The Walk we hadn’t done before.

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After walking through the rainforest for a while we were happy to get the next part of the walk where some land clearing had occurred for multi-track use.

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It impresses at first but if I’m being honest I was ready for new terrain by the time we neared Ubajee Walkers Camp.

Unlike previous walks to Baroon Lookout, Kondalilla Falls and Mapleton Falls I had no idea what awaited us at Ubajee lookout and secretly feared it would be a tad disappointing. However while the lookout is just a modest perch on the side of a hill the view was just as spectacular. 5kms from any car parks it felt more isolated and earned as a result too. It made it all worthwhile as we began the 7km trip back.

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As we neared home it was nice to take one final view from Peregrine lookout at sunset.

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I leave you with one spectacular photo of a truly beautiful thing.

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A Capriccio’s Special.

-by Lloyd Marken

JAMES CORDEN WINS THE LATE NIGHT SUPERBOWL SPECIAL

Post Super Bowl programming deserves sports parlance as much as anything and in the case of CBS this year you could describe it as Stephen Colbert fumbled a great opportunity and James Corden showed up to play.

Late Night Talk Show Hosts are cults of personalities. Always have been. Johnny Carson the story goes turned to a young producer once about a show he was about to start. The producer had been explaining the skits, the formula, the guests, the production values. When the producer was done Carson leaned in and told him “These shows are all about the guy behind the desk.” They are and I can tell you this because without my guys Craig Ferguson and David Letterman the genre has held less appeal this past year. All that remain are talented entertainers but they’re not Craig Ferguson and David Letterman and so I have not felt compelled to write about them. Where I live and with the technology I have I semi-regularly catch whole shows of Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Jimmy Fallon. I chase down viral bits from Conan, Kimmel and Meyers on YouTube. Alas I’m not catching anything from Comedy Central because “I’m an overseas viewer.” Their loss or mine? Who knows in this social media driven culture. What I see I like and champion.

Jimmy Kimmel

I love Mean Tweets, Halloween pranks not so much. Kimmel general does well with his celebrity interviews and can engage politicians well enough. For example his opening up of Harrison Ford with a Chewbacca recurring bit is gold, Jimmy’s search for Austin’s Best BBQ which parodied The Bachelor was neat too. The stuff with Matt Damon is brilliant too even if the peak was that clip with Sarah Silverman all those years ago now.

Conan O’Brien

Coco’s ratings scores have been as low as 300,000 viewers during the low season and he has never crested a million on a regular night in years. Yet a little Cuban special snagged two million viewers taking in DVR recordings after the telecast last year. Relegated to TBS O’Brien has a social media presence and a youthful demographic that belies his years. He is the epitome of punching above his weight. Kids watching him now may not even know about the Leno fiasco of ’09 but they know about Uber, Tinder and Grinder, Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, Call of Duty, Archer, Magic Mike XXL and crucially they know funny and Conan O’Brien remains as funny as he has ever been. At 53 he is out doing remotes when Letterman was sending Biff Henderson and Rupert Jee into the fray. His cultural reach far exceeds his real numbers. Sure some of the interviews are boring, sure sometimes the monologue is lame. Who cares? This man shows up to work again and again and rather than coasting on old NBC bits he’s been reinventing himself for a new generation. GO COCO!

Jimmy Fallon

Fallon is King and moment to moment I doubt there’s anybody funnier that’s why he regularly rates higher than his competitors. You tune in for Trump on Colbert. You watch Fallon no matter who’s appearing because Fallon is appearing. His monologues actually make me laugh; he has an easy rapport with his house band The Roots which amongst being bonafide musicians all have unique personalities which are comfortable to get involved in sketches and on the spot riffing. It’s true they’ve had six years to get this down pat but they’re running like a well-oiled machine at this point. The question remains when will we get tired of this routine. Will Fallon ever mature into the statesman Carson and Letterman became? Does it really matter? Jimmy Fallon has no edge, so what? Late last year he asked a question of Trump who replied “These were not the question we agreed to.” In this simple gesture he made Jimmy Fallon more badass than any question he was going to ask would have made him. He once turned to Hilary Clinton and asked “Why don’t you release the e-mails? I’m sick of hearing about it, aren’t you?” and she agreed. He asked the question and he put it in terms that were on most American’s minds. Frustratingly they just moved on but that is not to say Fallon is a push over. He has actually been very steadfast that he wants to make a fun show and he wants his guests to have fun on his show like everybody else. You can tell Fallon’s politics as clearly as Colbert but like Conan O’Brien his show is not about politics but about having fun. As long as that is happening I don’t think he’s going anywhere. Can he be the fun guy for multiple generations? Can he do dance offs with the next pop sensation when he’s 55 or will it lose something when it isn’t a peer like Justin Timberlake? Time will tell but the man is incredibly talented, hardworking and he has the most entertaining show on late night television consistently. However short the reign he has not been a flash in the pan. He is the current King of Late Night Television. Fact.

 

Stephen Colbert

Colbert is booking CEOs, civil rights leaders and journalists in a way nobody else on network late night television is. This is classic counter programming which won’t place him in No.1 but will hopefully snag enough of a high income audience to justify his existence. The thinking person’s alternative though lost to Kimmel and Meyers throughout the month of December and those guys provide some of what he is selling to audiences as well. That makes it tricky. Plus nobody really bitches about Meyers lack of viralness because his lead in from Fallon makes him the highest rated in his timeslot by a country mile. The Colbert Report was so good for so long that we took for granted what an upheaval a new show would be. Colbert a former improve actor could sing and dance, his quick wit and intelligence was undeniable, his interviews in his old persona were actually really insightful and on top of it all he had a youthful openness, a yearning to ask questions and find answers rather than accuse and demean. Yet The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been rife with teething problems of any first year out program. Jon Batiste is a talented musician and Colbert and he appear to genuinely like the other but chemistry comes from a variety of factors and right now… they don’t have it. Joe Biden’s interview on Colbert was a gift that reminds us what a great television moment of authenticity can be. A man clearly laying bare his emotions in a public forum without anything to gain from it as it turned out since he didn’t end up running.

I like a lot of the sketches Colbert has established written by his clever writers like “A Big Furry Hat” and even more so “Big Thoughts with even Bigger Stars.” Yet Colbert’s celebrity interviews are often as awkward as Fallon’s ass-kissing routine where everyone is so great and so funny. An easy rapport with Chris Pine and Josh Brolin recently had me questioning why can’t all Colbert interviews be like that?  This may not be entirely fair for someone who just renovated a theatre on Broadway and has big numbers in it but Colbert doesn’t seem to do remotes. Neither does Fallon to an extent but you feel it with Colbert. The guy is busting his ass, dabbling in live shows and doing five nights a week but when you take a break six weeks after your debut it feels lazy.

Which brings us to the Superbowl.

CBS took the unprecedented step of following their Super Bowl 50 coverage with a live telecast of their late night programs The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. The Late Show started strong with a monologue that involved him throwing the football to first soldiers overseas, an astronaut and then the President. It’s the kind of extra expense stuff you save for such shows which also tugs at the heart strings of Americana. Support the troops, we can reach outer space and our Commander in Chief enjoys a throw of the ole pigskin as much as we all do. It got even better when Colbert involved in some meta humour. The President pointed out he was in a pre-taped bit to which the host insisted he was doing the show live. President Obama proved his point by bringing Colbert onscreen in the bit to talk to his live studio self. It was a neat sketch and was true to Stephen’s comic sensibilities.

Unfortunately the rest of the show was not as strong at all. Colbert followed with an interview with Tina Fey and Margot Robbie that was average despite Fey usually being funny. It was awkwardly interrupted by a cross to the Super Bowl stadium to have a satellite interview with MVP winner Von Miller. When it concluded Fey joked “Now about this movie.” Will Ferrell followed with a neat joke about being a new animal expert for the show and refusing to talk about Zoolander 2 which he was there to spruik. Yet I couldn’t help but flashback to his lip sync battle with Kevin Hart last year on Fallon and just feel these were half measures. A popular sketch from Key and Poole related to football also made an appearance before finally Megyn Kelly showed up to engage Colbert in the type of interview that he’s good at but at that point the hour had drawn near. 22,000,000 viewers watched this fucking show. Two decades ago at the height of his powers with a four network landscape and a Winter Olympics lead in David Letterman mustered 14 million on a weeknight. Last year when he retired he pulled 13.7 million. You’ll never get 22 million again, this was a golden opportunity to draw a wide net and grab some extra casual viewers over the long haul to hopefully remain a viable competitor. To be fair it wasn’t for lack of tyring, Key and Poole, Fey and Ferrell are all comedy superstars and were well chosen. They referenced football, they got the President and the First Lady to show up and Megyn Kelly is a high profile reporter and brings an audience that doesn’t tune into Colbert. It was the kind of aisle crossing inclusivity the late show host has practiced since he booked Jeb Bush on his first night on CBS. Yet it didn’t flow seamlessly, it was a mess of ideas and priorities. Look here’s celebrities but we’ve got to cross to an actual footballer. Here’s a sketch from another show because it involves football which means it will be fifty minutes before I talk to Megyn Kelly which arguably is going to be the best bit but will not be funny and we need to be funny right?

James Corden On The Other Hand

The Late Late Show followed and scored a franchise high of 5 million which is impressive when you consider some affiliates were going with local news at that point after cutting Colbert’s last few minutes. So let’s talk about James Corden. James Corden a portly British television and theatre star has spent twelve months on his show embracing American culture including kicking a half time field goal at a local game and hanging out at a tailgate party.

As a result when he got engaged with elements of the Super Bowl for his show it seemed more authentic and he more comfortable. Unlike Fallon and like Colbert he stayed in his home town and his home theatre but he did send his parents down to the Super Bowl to report from the field which was surprisingly funny and a little moving. Their son has been successful in the arts for a while now but in their bits there is a touch of grounded people marvelling at the opportunities afforded them and a wicked unfiltered sense of humour about life in general. James Corden had a great gag putting all Denver Bronco supporters in his studio and leaving Carolina Panther supporters in the car park where they set up rain machines to pour water on them before making it snow in L.A. Crossing back later in the show to show them huddled in ponchos he offered snacks for them punching through corn chips and dip through the rain machines. It is humour with a bit of bite but then the Bud Light crew showed up for the Panther fans and all was well. Corden was due to interview Peyton Manning but instead his bandleader Reggie Watts played a big musical number throughout before they lost the satellite feed. It’s a re-occurring gag they’ve done before and shows that Corden is prepared to be the butt of jokes as much as Panther fans. Referencing nostalgia like a boss James also starred in a parody of a classic Super Bowl advertisement with original star Cindy Crawford. Finally two strong bits that Corden does were brought into the show. He roped in young and hip performers Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine and Zac Effron to go through every sports movie in 7 minutes. It was a bigger scale version of the silly, low tech and funny sketch that has met with some success for him before. You know?! Kind of what you’re supposed to do with a post Super Bowl audience.

Following this formula he did a similar thing with his signature sketch- he did Carpool Karaoke with Elton John. This part of the show referenced nothing about the Super Bowl but it was Corden’s superstar sketch with a major superstar in it for his biggest audience ever. That’s how you do it. By organically filling the rest of the show with football the Elton John bit did not need it and since Carpool Karaoke is such a signature Corden bit its inclusion did not feel awkward or out of place either in the Super Bowl special. Speaking of Carpool Karaoke, a recent one with Adele has hit 67,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s more than anything on YouTube from any late night TV show. The Late Late Show with James Corden is not perfect but I marvel sometimes at it. It has a spirit of fun, has established its own identity within weeks of airing for the first time, Corden’s chemistry with Reggie Watts is easy and Watts is not a sidekick but his own thing. One night I tuned in and James Corden and Tori Kelly went out to restaurants in a remote and sang for their supper. Working outside the studio with a shaky premise and uncertain of how crowds are going to react makes for exciting if awkward television. As it advanced Reggie’s house band came out and Tori Kelly got people up and dancing to her song Nobody Love. The punch line made me smile.

Zoologist Jack Hanna of Letterman fame showed up with Betty White a great animal lover along with Amar’e Soudemire. Rachel Platten closed with a powerful rendition of her pop hit Stand By You. My God it was fun!

 

-Lloyd Marken

THE HATEFUL EIGHTH FILM FROM TARANTINO

The Hateful Eight may be the year’s most accurate movie title. An exciting cast of Quentin Tarantino regulars and Jennifer Jason Leigh headline this film and they are colourful, memorable, vital and challenging but they are not to the very last one of them likeable. This will prove to be the director’s most divisive and unloved film since Death Proof which at the very least had those incredible car stunts, Zoe Bell doing her thing and the words of poet Robert Frost.

We open on a stage coach wagon making its way through a snowy landscape trying to outrun a blizzard. Given the urgency of the situation, the film is wonderfully slow paced in this opening and throughout. The camera moves at normal speed, the dialogue is relaxed and the music is given space to play out rather than repeat a drumming chorus alongside quick cut editing. It is a neat reminder that genre films can engage in build-up and not always be a slave to pumping up the volume. Bounty Hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is inside the stagecoach with his bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whom he is taking to Red Rock to hang for her crimes. Unable to outrun the blizzard he is hoping to make it to a lodge named Minnie’s Haberdashery in time to bed down until it passes. Along the way they pick up another Bounty Hunter Major Marquis Warner (Samuel L. Jackson) with his own dead bounty and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be travelling to Red Rock to take up his newly appointed post as Sherriff of the town. Mannix and Warner were on opposite sides of the Civil War so there is already tension in the air when Ruth agrees to take them both into his coach.

When they reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, Minnie is not there but there are a host of other characters in the form of Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) running the lodge in Minnie’s absence, Oswaldo Mobray the Hangman (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a cowboy and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) a former Confederate General. At this point the story having been mostly confined to the interior of the wagon is now mostly confined to the interior of the cabin while being filmed in 70mm. While this may seem an indulgence on the part of Tarantino the larger lenses allow for more detail to show up in the background and in the expressions of faces that might be hiding secrets.

The filmmaker has staged two great interrogation sequences in his recent movies, shot elegantly with no music and revelling in the intelligence of the characters as well as their physical positioning. The Hateful Eight plays like a feature film version of these memorable scenes, so much on display is done well as effectively the tale of a murder mystery is played out. Audience members may pay close attention to see if they can foresee an upcoming reveal or figure out ahead of other characters whom can be trusted.

All of what people have grown to love about Tarantino is alive here, witty dialogue, cartoonish violence and shock value storytelling. Something is not quite right though, the balance is off. At the end of Django Unchained white masters were shot and blown across the room in a splash of crimson. I laughed at it along with everybody else in the audience because I could recognise it was over the top but also because the victims of the violence had it coming to them. Here Jennifer Jason Leigh is repeatedly smashed in the face, her eyes blaze defiantly and her demeanour harkens back to the indestructibility of a Looney Tunes cartoon. We are told she is dangerous and a criminal but we are not shown it and I grew uncomfortable at the attempt to make humour out of being violent towards the only onscreen actress. There is more involving oral rape which may or may not have taken place but I suspect, without providing a likeable protagonist carrying out extreme vengeance like previous Tarantino films did, all the cruelty takes on a darker edge. Said victims of violence may have it coming but we aren’t really shown it and while white slave owners or Nazis carry enough cultural inference to not have their sins displayed onscreen here there is no comparable shorthand here. It’s difficult with just one person but I moved on rather quick from Buck of Kill Bill when his fate was revealed. The barbarity of his actions and his death trouble me less given justice had been served. Alas there is no The Bride to rally around in this film. That creates a challenge for the audience even if Tarantino is being honest here, after all he didn’t title the film “The Hateful 7 and the Somewhat Justified 1”. I have seen some troubling nihilistic films in my day which I respected for their brutality and message. Tarantino has a message in this film and the message is that America was borne out of savagery, injustice and robbery. Yet the ideals that the country’s common folk coated themselves in like freedom, civilisation and brotherhood will ultimately project us forward closer to their fruition every year. We’re getting there and that is not a bad sentiment and it is not lacking in ambition to want to tell a stylish rather than realistic tale nevertheless rooted in these hard truths. The Proposition, an Australian western for example dealt with similar themes and while slightly less violent was even more brutal because it played more realistically. For a more positive review on The Hateful Eight which I think makes good points please click here.

I can’t dismiss this film outright because it lacks a central likeable lead. The performances are stellar. Some characters don’t get arcs you expect or even their stories fully told but that is okay if it creates unpredictability in the plot. Too many narratives now play to too many rules and conventions straight out of arts majors. Samuel L. Jackson by the way is stone cold brilliant in this film, possibly the greatest character Quentin has ever written for him. Kurt Russell too comes in with his John Wayne cadence, hard demeanour and reveals both a viciousness and naivety we don’t get to often see from him. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays up the physical comedy of her character but like the rest of the cast there is a great deal that will be revealed throughout the course of the film. Walter Goggins might just get the biggest arc but I enjoyed Bruce Dern and Tim Roth just as much.

The film moves at a slow pace for 3 hours but I wouldn’t say it is too long. One scene played as an introduction for a whole raft of new victims that seemed pointless until it became obvious that the scene showed the bonds of certain characters before tearing them apart. The choice to shoot in 70mm is neither a bad or good choice, merely an interesting one for a film that is mostly bound to one set. Ennio Morricone’s music fulfils its purpose but does not remain after you leave the theatre.

I can’t fault a lot of Tarantino’s work here and I’m still of the opinion that Quentin Tarantino is one of the great filmmakers of my generation but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this movie. If this film is designed to enrage then the understated The Big Short and Spotlight are far more moving and thought provoking. If The Hateful Eight is not designed to enrage but to merely make fun of the absurdity of how cruel we are to each other well then I’m sorry Quentin, I get the joke but I’m not laughing.

-Lloyd Marken