Tag Archives: 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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“LIFE OF PI” Review (✫✫✫)

A boy, a boat, and his bengal tiger.  

If there is any film that will stick out in your mind more than any other film in 2012, its going to be Life Of Pi.  How could it not be?  With spectacular visuals, daring execution, and a solid story, Life Of Pi may very well be one of the most memorable experiences of the year, even though that doesn’t strictly mean it is of the highest standard in movies.

Based on the novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Life Of Pi follows the story of Pi “Piscine” Patel (Suraj Sharma), a young indian boy who is a believer in many religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.  To Pi, all of these religions lead to the same path: a greater understanding and relationship with God.  In one wonderful moment of the film, he described faith like a mansion, with room for both belief and doubt on every floor.

Besides being a follower of many faiths, Pi’s family also runs a local zoo in India, an exotic place filled with vibrant species and animals of all kinds.  Most significant to Pi is a 450-pound bengal tiger named Richard Parker, who got his name after the hunter tha caught him switched the names around by accident, with the hunter’s name appearing on the sheet as “Thirsty”.  The name stuck on Richard Parker ever since.

Eventually, the day has come where Pi’s family can no longer support themselves in India and have to move themselves and the animals to Canada, where they can hopefully find a living and start anew.  But when the ship his family and livestock are on crashes and sinks into the Pacific Ocean, Pi ends up stranded on a lifeboat all alone with Richard Parker. Now, armed with little more than a life-vest and the clothes on his back, Pi must find a way to not only co-exist with Richard Parker, but to also find a way to tame him and stay alive in the lonely abyss of the ocean.

The best thing about this movie is its faithfulness to the original novel, in how it portrays Pi as a strange, introverted, religiously diverse human being but also a spiritually focused young adult.  Pi’s story is a unique one, with the film dwelving into his story with such emotional maturity and observation, that we cannot help but understand Pi and his spiritual connection to God.

I especially loved one line Pi said to a friend at one point at the film, but when looking at it through a closer lens, maybe he was saying it more to himself:

“Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, he was watching.  Even when he seemed indifferent to my suffering, he was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, he gave me rest. Then he gave me a sign to continue my journey.”

I also like the connection Pi shares with this 450-pound man-eating animal named Richard Parker: dare I say they have chemistry with one another? Yes I can, because the tiger is rendered here with such precision and detail that he actually looks like a living, breathing man-eating animal, not just another CGI creation. The rest of the movie is no exception, as it takes us  through many wonderfully dazzling visual moments that are just as impressive as when we watched James Cameron’s Titanic for the first time.

Here is, truthfully, a genuinely good movie.  The score is settling, ambient, and beautiful.  The visuals are transcendent, amazing, and stunning.  And the underlying context Ang Lee adapts from Yann Martel’s novel retains its strength, as Lee knows how to balance emotional relevance with visual splendor.

Unfortunately, the greatest strength of this film is also its greatest weakness: it follows too closely to the original novel.  Thinking back to when I read the book back in high school, I remember a story that was ambitious, daring, creative, deep, emotional, spiritual, and unique all at once.  It wasn’t just another survival-fantasy-advenure: it was a spiritual journey that has as much to do with faith and God as it does with friendship and sacrifice.

The movie doesn’t reach into this idea as deeply as the book does.  That’s to be expected, considering books are typically more in-depth than their movie counterparts.  Still though.  Haven’t other book-to-movie adaptations benefitted moreover their novel counterparts when they branched out and embraced other possibilities the original writers didn’t?

I bring two other novel adaptations from earlier this year as an example: The Hobbit and The Hunger Games.  Those movies, unlike Life Of Pi don’t just retell their stories: they rework them.  They change it to better fit their narrative, and they expand upon the stories they are helping to re-create within their own cinematic universes.

Life Of Pi doesn’t do that.  It relies too heavily on its novel-based counterpart, it refuses to branch out any more than the pages of Yann Martel’s novel will allow it to, and it has one of the slowest beginnings ever known to mankind.  The scenes where an older Pi converses with a young novelist searching for a story were especially unnecessary: why not just replace thirty-minutes of exposition with a simple narrative voice-over?

Again, I will stress this: Life Of Pi is the most memorable film of the year.  That does not mean that it is the best film of the year, and that does not mean that everybody will enjoy it.  It just simply means that when somebody watches the movie, it will mean something to them.  Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Still though, to have a movie that actually says something for a change is significant enough.  Take the ocean Pi is trying to survive itself as an example.  One could say it is symbolic to everyone’s spiritual journeys in life: there are quiet moments, and then there are chaotic ones.  But your journey is never truly complete, even if you do end up washing onto the shore.

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