Tag Archives: Catholic Faith

“SPOTLIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“Shine a light, and let the whole world see.”

In the Boston Globe story on the 1990 Church abuse scandal, the Spotlight team reported that there were over 130 sexual assault victims from just one Catholic priest. In the film Spotlight, we eventually learn that over 80 Boston priests were sexual predators, and were being continuously circulated from parish to parish. If those numbers are consistent, how many victims of sexual assault does that spell out for Boston? My math came down to over 10,000.

I don’t know if that’s accurate because I haven’t dug much further into the Boston Globe’s reporting, but I don’t think that matters. What matters is that Spotlight made me think of those victims. It made me think about the people that you don’t normally think about, the problems that you don’t think exist, and the secrets that you don’t think are being hidden behind prayers and confession booths. Like any great piece of reporting, Spotlight brings importance, urgency, and truth that needs to be known about. If Spotlight isn’t the best film of the year, it is definitely the most important.

The Spotlight team consists of lead editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and reporters Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo). The team is specifically reserved for investigative reporting, previously breaking stories on transit mismanagement and political corruption in Massachusetts. At the time when they were given this assignment, it was not as a follow-up to a news story, but to a column written and published by one of the Globe’s staffers.

At first, no one really thought much of the project. When originally pitched, it had to do with the Catholic church finding out that one priest had sexually assaulted children in six different churches, and did nothing about it. But when the team kept digging, they found out that it was bigger than they anticipated. Much bigger.

While watching Spotlight, I was thrusted upon an early memory of one of my first major news assignments. It was a story called “Seconds Away,” and it was about a university alumna who was just seconds from crossing the finish line before it blew up during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The story wasn’t that she survived. It was that she went back the following year to finish crossing the line that she never did.

While getting ready for our interview, I was excited, nervous, and petrified all at once. This was a woman who had survived a near-death experience. She had faced something few other people have had to face, myself included. I didn’t know how to approach it. Was she comfortable with me talking to her? Would I be insensitive by asking serious questions? Would I be disrespectful by asking what was going through her mind? What would that say of me as a person, by asking her to relive something traumatic that she already went through?

The reporters and editors behind Spotlight face these same questions and concerns of morality every day they step into the office. Yet, they handled this difficult subject in the same way that the movie does: with grace and respect.

The greatest thing that can be said about Spotlight is its transparency: in how its characters charge towards this groundbreaking story and the emotions and conflicts they experience while doing their jobs. Writer-director Tom McCarthy, who was raised Catholic, juggles this behind-the-scenes story with real people’s traumas and emotions in mind. The result is a portrait that is genuine, astounding, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking all at once.

Take the interview scenes as a demonstration of this. During the film’s first scenes, Spotlight reporters sit down with a few sex abuse survivors, their brokenness and vulnerability made evident on the spot. The interesting thing you’ll find in between these intercut scenes is that it’s not Rachel McAdam’s mannerisms we’re noticing. It’s not Mark Ruffalo’s reactions or face of shock we’re noticing. It’s the supporting actors playing these victims, whom I can’t even identify off of the film’s cast list. Every detail of them is absorbing and introspective.

We notice the gay man in a coffee shop as he twiddles his thumbs nervously on his coffee cup. We notice the skinny drug addict sweating, entering the room cautiously, seeing scars up his arms from when he injected himself with heroin. We notice that while their testimonies are overwhelmingly tragic, they talk about it casually and on a whim; like it’s a scar that has already been healed, but will never go away. We listen to their silence as they quietly relive their traumas, the quivering in their voice as they slowly speak, the tears building up in their eyes as they come to once again realize what they are. I find that so compelling, that one of the best things in this film are the actors that I can’t even name.

The rest of the film is like that: finding value in the areas that you can’t exactly point out, but you know they are there. For instance, who’s the main protagonist? You could argue Rezendes, because he has the most visible reaction from working on this story. In reality though, this story is impacting the entire Spotlight team and more. It impacts everyone, in ways that nobody realizes until it walks right up to their doorstep.

This movie takes time and dedication to build up its story and collect the necessary information, just like Spotlight’s reporters do. In doing that, this is undeniably a slow film, but the pace doesn’t matter as much as the payoff. Spotlight deserves to be sought out. It is one of those rare films that not only makes us better viewers, but also better human beings.

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“DON JON” Review (✫✫✫)

Oh, Donnie boy…

 “There’s only a few things I really care about in life,” a rich, deep boston voice says as we look at him staring  at his bright laptop screen shirtless in a dark room. “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn.”

That last one doesn’t really belong there, but whatever, its in there.  The man we are looking at is Joe Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a thick, cut, and strongly appealing young man who has a slick, black haircut and a grin on his face that looks like he just finished up business in the bedroom.  His friends call him “The Don” because he’s able to score “dimes” on the weekends, which is another way of saying “That woman is a ten!”

One night in the bar, Donnie meets the best dime he’s ever seen: Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful blonde bombshell that turns heads and raises attention everywhere she goes.  To Donnie, this is simply another case of trying to score a hot night, but Barbara isn’t that easy.  She wants something more meaningful than just a one-night stand: she wants an affectionate, fairytale relationship, the cheesy kind you see in those unbearable romantic comedies starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum.

So Donnie takes a deep breath and waits it out, hoping for her to come around eventually and give him the chance to slip under the covers with her.  The more time he spends with her, however, the more his addiction to pornography gets in the way and stops him from having a more meaningful relationship.  Now conflicted between his feelings between Barbara and his dependency on pornography, Donnie needs to figure out which is more important to him before she leaves him and all he has left is his laptop and his internet wifi.

Before I continue, let me issue a short disclaimer.  If you do not like R rated movies, do not watch this movie.  If you don’t like looking at nudity, do not watch this movie.  If you don’t like swearing, do not watch this movie.  And if you don’t like movies about sex, DEFINITELY do not watch this movie.  This is a picture stuffed to the mouthful with sex, nudity, T&A, F-words, censored and uncensored pornography to the point where I believe it deserved, and should have been rated, NC-17.

The only reason I issue this warning is because I know my readers, and the majority of my readers do not appreciate sexually explicit films that make jokes about the male/female anatomy and what goes on inside the bedroom.  Their views are warranted, and in many ways I share many of those same views with my readers.  I, however, am not as close-minded to this idea if it means not enjoying Don Jon, and believe me, that is a very hard thing to do.

That’s probably the worst word I could have used to describe this picture just now, but nevermind.  Don Jon is good.  Very good.  How good?  So good that it made me, a conservative reviewer who hates excessive nudity, enjoy it very, very much.  Trust me, I am not easy to please.  If you don’t believe me, you will when I tell you I rated The Hangover as the worst picture of 2009.

I find it interesting how effective Gordon-Levitt is here as a filmmaker.  His writing is fresh, fun, and original, exercising dialogue that is both clever and witty while at the same time being deeply meaningful and expressive.  The cast is equally brilliant, as their charismatic portrayals breathe life into these characters in ways that not even an animated rendition could do.

What I find more interesting, however, is how Gordon-Levitt handles this film as a director, using space and situations in his film to define Jon’s character and to show what sort of emotional state he’s in.

For instance, look at how he shows Jon’s everyday routine.  When Jon wakes up in the morning, he cleans his room the best way a bachelor knows how, he drives to Church, he goes to confession, he eats lunch with his family, he works out at the gym, he goes to a club to meet some beautiful lady, and then he ends his nights watching a skimpy porn video.

Got it?  Okay, now look at the variations of this same routine shown throughout the film.  At first its just the same thing over and over again, but later as Jon’s character changes, so does how he behaves during his routines.  When he’s depressed, his room get messy.  When he’s excited, he sings to Marky Mark in the car.  When he’s optimistic, he exercises with other people when he goes to the gym.  But what remains consistent in all of these sequences is him going to confessional and confessing his sins to the Catholic Priest he’s never met, hoping one day to have a clean slate in the eyes of the father.

I don’t think this movie is about a man struggling with his addiction to pornography.  I think this movie is about a man struggling between his lusts and sexual desires and the guilt he silently feels he needs to be redeemed from.  Think about it for a second.  Why else would he go to Church so frequently despite his promiscuous lifestyle?  He’s a grown man, he knows he doesn’t have to go to church if he doesn’t want to.  So why does he go so frequently even though his lifestyle isn’t congruent to that of a catholic?  There’s a deepness developing silently to Don Jon that can only be barely noticed, and if you don’t look out for it, it will slip you past you.

There’s obviously the negative element of watch a movie about pornography, and I would be the first to agree with you.  Even though the pornography is at times censored, its still there, and we can’t help but visualize everything because we’re seeing a rendition of it on the screen.

Still, since we’re talking about pornography, let me retaliate with another film that is also about addiction: a 2011 film titled Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen.  Like Don Jon, Shame is about a man who holds an unsatiated lust for porn and sex, and his life sinks into a swamp of sadness and depression because of his unsatiated hunger.  Unlike Don Jon, however, Shame is downtrodden, depressing, sickening, despicable, ugly, demeaning, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, outside of the acting and the composition.

Don Jon is different.  Unlike Shame, it is upbeat, energetic and joyous, and even though there are dramatic moments in the movie, there is never a moment that feels ugly, sickening, or unclean.  Don Jon is a stylish, articulate, and simply brilliant dramedy.  It is not only a film filled with clever dialogue and solid character development: it actually has a good, wholesome message to take away from the story, something to make you appreciate the small things in life that you never really notice.  I know some people are going to look at this movie from a first glance and ask “Why would I want to watch a feature-length pornography?”  Believe me, fellow reader, if this film can even be categorized as a pornography, its probably the best of its kind.

On a closing note, please don’t tell my mother.

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