In the early 1980s, a Brooklyn kid (Vicellous Reon Shannon) living in Toronto becomes interested in the case of Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington), the middleweight boxer who was sent to prison in 1966 after a triple murder. One of Norman Jewison’s last films follows in the tradition of In the Heat of the Night (1967) as it tells the story (so vividly dramatized in Bob Dylan’s classic song ”Hurricane”) of the boxer who spent almost 20 years in jail after being wrongfully convicted. The film was criticized for taking too many liberties, but is still an engaging and emotional experience. A towering performance by Washington, going rounds with his inner demons in prison.
1999-U.S. 125 min. Color. Produced by Armyan Bernstein, Norman Jewison, John Ketcham. Directed by Norman Jewison. Screenplay: Armyan Bernstein, Dan Gordon. Books: Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter (”The 16th Round”), Sam Chaiton, Terry Swinton (”Lazarus and the Hurricane”). Cast: Denzel Washington (Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter), Vicellous Reon Shannon (Lesra Martin), Deborah Kara Unger (Lisa Peters), Liev Schreiber, John Hannah, Debbi Morgan… Dan Hedaya, Clancy Brown, David Paymer, Rod Steiger.
Golden Globe: Best Actor (Washington). Berlin: Best Actor (Washington).
Last word: “People say [to me] ‘I don’t know whether you showed the rage [in the film]’ But I think all those scenes in solitary, when he’s struggling with his own demons, when we show him struggling with his own rage, they’re very powerful scenes. I think it’s one of the best parts of the film for me and I think it’s some of the best acting in the film, I think what Denzel did in those scenes is just brilliant. It’s not too often in a film we see a character playing different parts and arguing with himself. This is pretty original stuff. I think Denzel’s said what I felt the first time I met Rubin Carter. After I decided to direct the film I spent 4 or 5 hours with Rubin, we were walking in the woods and I was amazed, ‘Where’s the anger, where’s the angst, where’s the rage? God, you were locked away for 19 years for something you didn’t do, your career was ruined, your family destroyed, why aren’t you angry?’ and he said, ‘Rage only consumes the vessel which contains it’.” (Jewison, The Guardian)
It’s unbelievable that so many talents would be willing to work on and off on this collection of raunchy sketches for ten years and come up with so little. The title has nothing to do with the movie itself and there doesn’t seem to be much of a theme, even though Peter Farrelly’s influence might be the most discernible. A few vaguely amusing ideas are buried in some of the sketches, but the sight you’re likely not to forget is that of Hugh Jackman with a pair of testicles hanging off his chin.
2013-U.S. 94 min. Color. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Brett Ratner, Jonathan Van Tulleken. Cast: Elizabeth Banks (Amy), Kristen Bell (Supergirl), Halle Berry (Emily), Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler… Bobby Cannavale, Common, Kieran Culkin, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Seth MacFarlane, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Chris Pratt, Dennis Quaid, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Tony Shalhoub, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet.
Trivia: George Clooney was allegedly considered for an appearance.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of legendary heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, talks his father’s one-time rival and best friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) into training him. After six Rocky movies, Stallone was done… but then came the talented director of Fruitvale Station (2013) and convinced him to do a glorious comeback. Thanks to a good script that admittedly follows the formula of the old movies but finds a fresh, youthful and compelling way to do it, and very solid performances by Jordan and Stallone (the latter giving one of the best of his career), it works. The film paints portraits of both Adonis and Rocky at their stages in life that we can believe in, and the climactic bout is intense.
2015-U.S. 133 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Sylvester Stallone, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, Irwin Winkler, David Winkler. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington. Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson Creed), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish. Voice of Liev Schreiber.
Trivia: Followed by Creed II (2018).
Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Stallone).
Last word: “I told [Stallone] all about my dad, and he goes ‘wow, hmm, okay.’ I can’t tell if he’s into it or not. I kind of got the vibe that he wasn’t, which I could understand. So I finally said, ‘Hey, maybe we could take a picture for me and my dad?’ He said, ‘Man, no problem.’ I’ve still got the picture. He says, ‘You want some stuff?’ And he grabs a bunch of T-shirts and signed them all for my dad. I’m freaking out, going home with this stuff. So right there it felt like a victory for me. Just the fact I even told Sly the story that was based on me and my dad’s relationship.” (Coogler, Deadline)
There’s a scene near the end of the film that will get the adrenaline pumping in any journalist. That’s when the Boston Globe printing presses start rolling and the scoop everybody’s been working on is finally published. The film takes place in 2001-2002, before the Internet started killing printed newspapers, and it is indeed a special feeling watching those mighty presses get to work. Printed media isn’t dead yet, but a sad aspect of this revolution is that part of what’s always been romantic about newspapers is gone forever. It’s been a staple in movies since forever. Will future stories about the media feature exciting moments where someone… just… clicks “enter”?
We’re in Boston in the summer of 2001. The Globe has just hired a new editor, the timid Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). At his first meeting with the newsroom reporters, he brings up a recent column where the writer discusses a possible cover-up of a sexual-abuse case involving a Catholic priest, John Geoghan. Marty wants Spotlight, a group of investigative reporters led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), to look into the case. This is not the first time that the paper has written about Geoghan, but not much has come of it since the records have been sealed.
For the Globe to request those records essentially means suing the Boston Archdiocese, which is not taken lightly in a city where the church and its charities are powerful and a vast number of the readers are Catholics. As the Spotlight reporters begin to investigate, it’s clear that many, many more priests may have abused children…
Painting an ugly portrait of Boston
Based on the actual story of how Cardinal Bernard Law spent decades helping pedophile priests escape justice by moving them to a new parish, or sending them on “sick leave”, this film and Black Mass of the same year do not paint a pretty portrait of Boston. Corruption seems to have been rampant and director Tom McCarthy, together with co-writer Josh Singer, depicts the city and its people living in the shadow of a church that refused to address the problem of so many priests preying on children. Shame and the general belief that the church did so much to help the poor were reasons for the victims to keep quiet, while men like Law used attorneys and money to make sure the crisis remained hidden.
McCarthy also shows how the Boston Globe can’t go without blame; there were moments when the scandal could have been exposed earlier. We get the full story, with only a brief prologue that takes place a few decades before and shows how pedophile priests were not this new thing that just popped up in 2001. As Stanley Tucci’s character, a lawyer, says at a pivotal moment: “It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to abuse a child”. McCarthy keeps our attention throughout, with credibility as a leading mark. Some may compare this film with All the President’s Men (1976), but you won’t see any shadowy figures in garages; tension is achieved in other ways. It’s the interviews with victims and perpetrators, staff meetings and investigations that bring forth all the emotions of what becomes a massive scandal.
A great cast includes Keaton as the level-headed Spotlight editor, and Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as two of his most devoted reporters.
Much of the film may look ordinary. McCarthy’s approach is very straightforward; there’s nothing fancy about it. He seems to believe in the strength of his cast and the script and feels no need to spice things up. McCarthy likes comedy, but Spotlight is just as compelling a drama as the director’s The Visitor (2008).
Spotlight 2015-U.S. 128 min. Color. Produced by Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar. Directed by Tom McCarthy. Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer. Cast: Mark Ruffalo (Mike Rezendes), Michael Keaton (Walter “Robby” Robinson), Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer), Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James… Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Len Cariou. Voice of Richard Jenkins.
Trivia: Matt Damon was allegedly considered as Rezendes.
Oscars: Best Picture, Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay.
Last word: “[Ruffalo’s] an actor first and I think he just responded to the script. I know he wanted to work with me and I think he responded to the character. I think as an actor, that’s what you’re looking at. As a human being, it’s no secret that Mark’s quite an activist, and specifically for social causes, social justice. I think he saw in this movie a great injustice and ultimately a great justice, and he saw the opportunity to tell a story where justice was served in some regard, although there’s still work to be done, I think everyone agrees.” (McCarthy, Deadline)
In 1941, after the murders of their parents, the Bielski brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell) hide in a forest in Belarus where they organize shelter for other Jews, and an armed resistance movement. Edward Zwick has shown a knack for portraying exciting historical chapters in the past; this one is pretty standard but remains compelling throughout. At the center is a classic conflict between siblings that mirrors differing attitudes to how an enemy should be fought. Craig is good as the severely tested leader of the shelter, and the film is well staged with beautiful wintry cinematography contrasting the suffering.
2008-U.S. 137 min. Color. Produced and directed by Edward Zwick. Book: Nechama Tec (“Defiance: The Bielski Partisans”). Cinematography: Eduardo Serra. Music: James Newton Howard. Cast: Daniel Craig (Tuva Bielski), Liev Schreiber (Zus Bielski), Jamie Bell (Asael Bielski), Alexa Davalos, Allan Corduner, Mark Feuerstein… Iben Hjejle, Mia Wasikowska.
A brisk walk through American history and the civil rights movement in particular, as we follow a black man (Forest Whitaker) who serves seven presidents in the White House from Eisenhower to Reagan. How is the cause best served is the most important question asked in the film. Through the butler’s quiet and dignified way, or through his son’s aggressive, brave battle alongside the early heroes of the movement? Never subtle, and it doesn’t dig deep, but still intriguing and heartfelt. Terrific performances by the two leads, but the star-studded casting of the Presidents is very uneven.
2013-U.S. 132 min. Color. Directed by Lee Daniels. Screenplay: Danny Strong. Cast: Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines), Oprah Winfrey (Gloria Gaines), David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines), Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz… Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Mariah Carey.
Trivia:Inspired by real events, chronicled in a Washington Post article. Originally titled The Butler, but renamed after a copyright struggle with Warner Bros. Matthew McConaughey, Mila Kunis and Liam Neeson were allegedly considered for roles. Winfrey’s first role onscreen since Beloved (1998).
Nathan Flomm (Larry David), who’s moved to Martha’s Vineyard and assumed a new identity after botching the greatest business deal in history, suddenly sees his former partner (Jon Hamm) there and plots revenge… This HBO project was made in the same vein as David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, right down to the point where it’s impossible to separate Nathan Flomm from the David we know on the show. That’s probably one reason why many critics were unnecessary harsh in their reviews. We get spoiled, because the truth is had it not been for the show, this TV movie would have been celebrated. It’s simple, laidback, with improvised dialogue – and very funny.
2013-U.S. Made for TV. 90 min. Color. Produced by Larry David, Alec Berg, Monica Levinson, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, Bradley Thomas. Directed by Greg Mottola. Teleplay: Larry David, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer. Music: Ludovic Bource. Cast: Larry David (Nathan Flomm/Rolly DaVore), Jon Hamm (Will Haney), Kate Hudson (Rhonda Haney), Danny McBride, Amy Ryan, Eva Mendes… Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, Philip Baker Hall. Cameo: Liev Schreiber.
Trivia: The members of the band Chicago appear as themselves.
Last word: “I heard that Larry was pitching this improvised movie, that he was meeting with directors and my name came up. And before I ever met with him, I thought, ‘God, how do you do that without making it like ‘Curb’?’ Then the flip side of that is that I thought, ‘Well, why, would you not want to make it like ‘Curb’?’ Obviously, you wanna differentiate it, but… What would you do if you were asked to direct a WC Fields movie? Would you be trying to push WC Fields away from playing WC Fields?” (Mottola, Indiewire)
In 1873, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wanders into a small Arizona town, unable to remember what he’s been through… and then aliens attack. There’s nothing wrong with the visual effects or the cast in this spectacular summer blockbuster; Craig is even trying to channel his inner Clint Eastwood. But one has to ask oneself why a movie with a setup this silly can’t have a lighter touch. It’s slick, earnest and empty. The clashes between the Old West and the superior alien technology are fun at first, but the rest of the story is routine.
2011-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Jon Favreau. Graphic Novel: Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Cast: Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano… Keith Carradine. Cameo: Liev Schreiber.
Trivia: Also available in a 135 min. version. Robert Downey, Jr. was allegedly considered for a role.
After failing to marry the woman (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) he loves, Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) decides to wait for her as long as it takes; the following fifty years are devoted to uncomplicated sexual pleasures. This take on Gabriel García Márquez’s widely celebrated novel drew lots of scorn from critics, and capturing its magical realism and complex depiction of love that hits you as hard as a bout of cholera was never going to be easy. It does avoid disaster though thanks to an engaging story as well as competent and emotional work from the filmmakers and cast… but nothing ever stands out.
2007-U.S. 138 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Mike Newell. Screenplay: Ronald Harwood. Novel: Gabriel García Márquez. Cinematography: Affonso Beato. Song: “Despedida” (performed by Shakira). Cast: Javier Bardem (Florentino Ariza), Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Fermina Urbino), Benjamin Bratt (Juvenal Urbino), Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber… John Leguizamo.
This is undeniably an original way to tell the story of the Chicago Eight and their lawyers. Director Brett Morgen’s partially animated documentary portrays the chaos surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago where police and protesters clashed violently in Grant Park, but it also dramatizes the subsequent trial against some of the movement’s leaders, based on court records. The filmmakers have an eye for the absurd, especially in the trial where the age difference between the judge and the defendants becomes painfully obvious. Entertaining, and the voices are well cast, but the severe impact of these events are not lost either as the filmmakers point out several instances where both the police and the judge helped fuel hostilities.
2008-U.S. Part Animated. 110 min. Color. Produced by Graydon Carter, Lewis Kofsky, Brett Morgen. Written and directed by Brett Morgen. Voices of Hank Azaria (Abbie Hoffman/Allen Ginsberg), Dylan Baker (David Dellinger/David Stahl), Mark Ruffalo (Jerry Rubin), Roy Scheider, Nick Nolte, Liev Schreiber… Jeffrey Wright.
Last word: “I didn’t want to make a valentine to the important events of the 1960s. I didn’t want to make a movie about a bunch of people talking about how great they were back then, and how meek and apolitical Americans are today. I decided, let’s do it in a language kids understand, and let’s do it without talking heads and a narrator and all the other trappings of non-fiction works.” (Morgen, EmanuelLevy.com)
A Russian defector walks into CIA headquarters and identifies one of their agents, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), as a sleeper spy; minutes later, Salt is on the run. Originally conceived as a Tom Cruise vehicle, this action-thriller gets a boost from a female lead; Jolie is cold, tough and fast, and the same is true for the movie as a whole. Phillip Noyce delivers a thrillride, but he probably wouldn’t want us to think too hard about it. Both the story and some of the action sequences defy logic, which does turn into a problem… but one has to admire the sheer balls and playfulness of the filmmakers.
2010-U.S. 100 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Cast: Angelina Jolie (Evelyn Salt), Liev Schreiber (Ted Winter), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peabody), Daniel Olbrychski, Andre Braugher, August Diehl.
Trivia: Michael Mann was allegedly considered for directing duties.
“THE ONLY THING NECESSARY FOR EVIL TO FLOURISH IS FOR GOOD MEN TO DO NOTHING.” – EDMUND BURKE
The story of how a young Austrian came to Germany, survived poverty, fought in the first World War and by a combination of personal charisma and the right contacts became the most dynamic (and dangerous) politician of the 1920s is certainly a dramatic one, but this miniseries is too conventional. Maybe it needs Oliver Stone to shake things up. Money has been spent on recreating the environs and well-known actors have been hired; Robert Carlyle brings us a hateful and disturbed young Hitler, but is not entirely convincing, and Peter O’Toole chews the scenery as the geriatric Hindenburg.
2003-U.S.-Canada. Made for TV. 180 min. Color. Directed by Christian Duguay. Cast: Robert Carlyle (Adolf Hitler), Stockard Channing (Klara Hitler), Jena Malone (Geli Raubal), Julianna Margulies, Matthew Modine, Liev Schreiber… Peter Stormare, Peter O’Toole.
Trivia: Originally shown in two parts. Ewan McGregor was allegedly considered for the part of Hitler.
In the 1840s a young boy discovers that he has special powers; 160 years later he’s a veteran of every American conflict since the Civil War, but is about to face his greatest challenge yet. The fourth movie in this franchise provides us with a background for Wolverine before he met Professor X. It’s an interesting set-up that soon degenerates into a clichéd battle between good and evil. The characters are paper-thin, but Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are fun to watch and the action scenes deliver the goods.
2009-U.S. 107 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Gavin Hood. Cast: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed), Danny Huston (William Stryker), Will.i.am, Lynn Collins, Ryan Reynolds. Cameo: Patrick Stewart.
Trivia:Zack Snyder and Bryan Singer were allegedly considered for directing duties. Reynolds plays Deadpool and got his own movie in 2016, Deadpool. Followed by X-Men: First Class (2011).