Taking Center Stage

There isn’t a good or bad time to release a film like Spotlight. Journalism shapes the issues discussed at a societal level, and, under the massively ambiguous term “the media,” seems to be largely blamed for many nationwide issues. Tom McCarthy’s film covers The Boston Globe’s investigative reporting of the Massachusetts Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, remaining as objective about its source material as a journalist ideally should. A film like Spotlight could and should (and in this case, does) highlight the utmost importance journalism (and more importantly, the handling of journalism) wields. A film like this is important.

In the early 2000s, Boston’s Globes investigative team Spotlight began digging for leads in a child sexual abuse case from a Catholic church. The team (here portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James) uncovered evidence for almost 90 child abuse charges in Boston alone. They had to dig deep for that number – any prior documentation was swept under the rug by legal or journalistic powers to prevent any knowledge of the scandal.

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Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation


Mission Incomprehensible

There aren’t many things more difficult than breaking into an underwater computer security system. Leaving the movie theater knowing exactly what happened in the fifth Mission Impossible is one of them. For every genuine thrill the movie has, it packs a cringe-worthy cliché or plot twist into its overlong script. The movie excels when Tom Cruise pulls off one of his many mind-bending stunts. But when anything else is happening, mission abort.

The film blasts off the runway with one of its best scenes – Cruise hanging on for dear life outside of a plane as it takes off. Director Christopher McQuarrie knows this is the meat and bones of Mission Impossible movies. The scene is as exhilarating for the audience as it must have been for Cruise – the camera angle and roaring sound effects had me clenching my fists in my seat. There is, after all, a reason Mission Impossible is so well known.

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Inside Out


Reshaping Pixar

For anyone who experienced mood swings in their youth, we now have an explanation – there was a tiny, Tinkerbell-looking Amy Poehler in your head. Either that or you were watching Inside Out, a movie meticulously designed to make the audience feel all emotions, from joy to sadness, within its short run time. Handling the delicate issue of an 11-year-old girl experiencing depression after moving from her childhood home, Pixar juggles its most serious premise yet with grace and imagination. If Monsters University and Cars 2 were sadness, then Inside Out is joy.

Though it never explicitly drops the d-word, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) falls into depression after a move for her father’s work. Little does she know, the depression is actually caused by the 5 brightly-colored, fuzzy-looking monsters in her head representing core emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.

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If you came here hoping to learn a little more about what Aloha is about, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have no clue. The only thing I do know is director Cameron Crowe was pretty dedicated to bringing Hawaiian culture to the screen, though that doesn’t at all explain his choice in an almost all-white cast. The film probably worked on a purely conceptual level, but when it came time to put all the disparate ideas together, it seems everyone involved said aloha and decided to just enjoy the islands instead. You should too.

The film is light on Hawaiian scenery but heavy with the culture – there’s a lot of exposition to showcase various Hawaiian traditions, like mana and hula dancing. Despite this, the most thought-provoking thing about the movie is how so many big name stars signed on, including Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, two of this year’s Academy Award nominees. They couldn’t have been interested in the script, which was immediately disengaging and tried to balance multiple, completely unrelated plot threads at once.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron


“There are no strings on me.”

You sure about that Ultron? Because even though you were marketed as Marvel’s answer to an overall lame roster of movie villains, you still failed to shake up any long-held expectations about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Actually, nothing about this movie did. It delivered more of what Marvel has been doing for eleven films now, which is by no means a bad thing. The franchise is one of my personal favorites. However, Age of Ultron did make it painfully obvious that the series is cautious to break away from its tried-and-true formula that we’ve seen almost a dozen times now, when this deep into the franchise, a little change may feel welcome. Ultron is more tied down than he thinks he was.

Still, the movie is packed with a heaping portion of the action-and-explosions goodness that fans have come to expect. Even Ultron, the creepy robot king (voiced by James Spader) is satisfyingly freaky and intimidating, until he’s not. Spader’s impeccable voice acting could outmatch director and writer Joss Whedon’s cringe-worthy writing of the character.

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So, Shailene Woodley cut her hair.

Haunted by the events of Divergent, in which she was responsible for the deaths of three people important to her, Woodley’s character Tris Prior arms herself with a pair of scissors and a mirror near the beginning of Insurgent. Okay, sure. But, one quick question: Why? Logistically, the haircut does nothing but transform the film’s recognizable star into a doppelgänger of a timid high school boy (come on, that was your initial reaction too).

As the movie’s plot charged forward and I continued to scratch my head (which has hair only slightly shorter than Woodley’s, btw) over this seemingly insignificant question, the more I realized that even the film itself didn’t know the answer. Female characters chopping their hair as a symbol of strength is the “cool new trend” in film and TV. Look at Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra, in which its title character stopped by the barbershop after a traumatizing near-death encounter. Kristen Bell did it as Veronica Mars. Allison Pill on The Newsroom. Kiernan Shipka on Mad Men. Heck, even the female protagonist of the Pokemon anime did it recently (not that I… watch that).

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Ranking 2014 fall-winter movies

The last few months of 2014 saw a very abnormal trend for movies. The fall season produced its usual mixture of top-notch thrillers, sci-fis and teen franchises. On the other hand, December, normally the Mount Olympus of movies for the year, was one of the weaker release periods of the year.

Welcome to my eighth annual movie rankings list, as long as ‘annual’ means ‘whenever I feel like it every few months.’ This list will determine the order of the movies I’ve seen and may or may not have reviewed since last September. The nominees for Logan’s favorite (and least favorite) movies are, in order of release:

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Into The Woods


Are we out of the woods yet?

Watching Into The Woods is like taking a pleasant stroll, preferably through the woods, then realizing halfway through that you are hopelessly, irredeemably lost. And being hunted by an annoying giant. At least the first half of the movie was fun, and the entire run time is packed with consistently strong musical numbers from a fun and varied cast. However, a combination of strange plotting from the original musical and director Rob Marshall seemingly running out of steam in the second act makes the movie less than the massive family holiday event it could have been.

Adapted to the big screen by original playwright James Lapine, the film has quite a few plotlines, but starts out with a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) venturing into the woods to collect various items and lift a curse that a witch (Meryl Streep) cast on their house. Other fairytales happen to be passing through, like Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) on the way to that ball she’s always been obsessed with; Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) looking to sell his dying cow for some money and/or magic beans; and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) on her way to visit her grandma, because that’s all she does. The bakers begin their plunder, as each fairytale holds an item they need.

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When Reese Witherspoon yanks out her dislocated toenail in the opening shot of Wild, Jean-Marc Vallée’s biographical drama, a clear message is sent: this woman is tough. And we’re about to witness all the tough things she did on the 1,000-mile hike she forced herself to complete. Especially when her boot tumbles down the cliff almost immediately after the nail. But what follows this brief scene is a completely average film – a normal series of events told with a weighted optimism that is never anything more or less than good. It’s the opposite of wild.

Which is not to detract from the accomplishments achieved by Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the autobiography that serves as source material. Strayed (a name chosen after her divorce) never backed away from the monumental undertaking she assigned herself. As a self-declared feminist, she’s fixated on being one of the few women found on the trail, and one of the even fewer people, gender regardless, to complete it. In that aspect, and in showing her journey, the film is triumphant.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Why not just add a sixth?

I’ve given Peter Jackson a hard time on the two previous overwrought Hobbit movies, but somehow I feel shortchanged on our grand finale in Middle Earth. The Battle of the Five Armies (a suitably long title) embellished the least on the epic trilogy’s single source material, which by all means should have been a good thing. But with an entire movie to fill and only about one chapter of the book left to cover, all that was left to do was strip down the gooey sentimentality that made the previous two movies cheesy but memorable, and instead inject empty-calorie action scenes that try so hard to be “cool” they should have come wearing a spiky leather jacket.

The film picks up with the dragon Smaug (transcendently voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) terrorizing a nearby town after someone certain provoked him in the previous movie. Bilbo the Hobbit (Martin Freeman) and his mostly silent group of dwarf friends watch uselessly from the mountain, admiring Smaug’s truly impressive CGI. “Wait, there’s more movie?” Bilbo mumbles, flicking through the screenplay while Cumberbatch’s voice once again is a highlight of the film, even if he is (dare I say) underused.

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