Summer Catch

There's no escaping it now. We're in the sweltering days of summer, where I'm drenched in sweat by the time I get to work, to say nothing of that state I'm in by the time I get home. Truly, these are the days best spent indoors, watching the movies I should have seen last year, when they were being critically praised and given all sorts of awards. Now the cultural conversation has moved on, but I've finally found enough time to get some of 2015's hits under my belt, though there are still plenty to go. Today, though, let's breeze through a trio of movies that really deserve to have more than a short little blurb written about them, but that I'm just now getting around to.

Not that movies like Spotlight didn't get plenty of ink devoted to them. I had zero interest in The Revenant, and so I took a degree of smug satisfaction when Spotlight beat it out for Best Picture, even though I hadn't seen either one at that point. Thankfully, Netflix added it to streaming, so I happily set aside an evening to take in a lighthearted flick about child molestation. I took an almost anthropological interest in Spotlight. I have no personal experience with Boston, with the Catholic Church, or with sexual abuse, so it was up to the filmmakers to convey just how entrenched the first is, how powerful the second is, and how terribly transformative the third is. To me, priests aren't anything special. Reporting them for misconduct would be no more difficult than reporting a plumber. To families in Boston, though, a priest showing personal interest in you can be like getting attention from God himself, so when that trust is abused, feelings of guilt and shame can set in. The Church and law enforcement didn't help, shuffling the few priests that were accused around, but taking no real steps to discipline them or change the system.

That finally came to public light with the investigative reporting of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, who dug up all the details, and published a series of earth-shattering articles about the abuse the Church allows. In a way, this is a very quiet film. It deals with a very serious topic, but it had to make scenes of reporters finding old newspaper clips or interviewing sources exciting. That's a tough feat, but director Tom McCarthy makes it a very compelling journey. The movie is chock full of terrific actors, but ironically, the one I would single out for not quite fitting in is one of the two to get a nomination. Mark Ruffalo is a shade too hammy in his role as one of the reporters, but everyone else, from Michael Keaton to Rachel McAdams to the always-wonderful Stanley Tucci shines. Spotlight is not a movie that I feel like I'll want to revisit in future, but it certainly accomplished everything it set out to do, even if the problems it elucidates still persist.

Speaking of problems, how about an apocalyptic desert dystopia? My only excuse for avoiding George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road until now was that I was afraid it might be too gory for me. This is where having good friends comes in handy. They explained to me that there was really only one scene I should avoid, and if I watched the movie with them, they'd tell me when to hide my eyes. That sounded good to me, and it worked out incredibly well. I'm not a huge fan of the original movies. The first one was okay, I fell asleep during the second one, and the only other thing I remember from the series is Tina Turner looking awesome and singing an amazing song. So even with the rapturous critical praise and audience adoration this movie received, I went in with measured expectations.

Well. Finally, a Mad Max movie I truly enjoyed. The plot is extremely sparse, but somehow, that seems to work in its favor. A woman named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is trying to get back to her home, but must rebel against the tyrant who runs the settlement she works for. She also is working to break a group of female prisoners out, and though she is reluctant to work with the drifter named Max (Tom Hardy), he eventually wins her over, and they work together to outrun their pursuers. It's a gorgeous movie, it's full of thrills, and it doesn't put its female characters on the back burner. Now I can see what all the fuss what about.

Finally, it's back to another quiet movie. I always enjoy movies that try something new and show some ambition, even if the results are mixed. "Trying something new" is a phrase that can definitely be applied to Charlie Kaufman's animated movie, Anomalisa. On the surface, you'd think it's pretty well-worn territory: A visiting motivational speaker meets a woman who sparks his interest, and he pursues a romantic relationship with her, only to discover complications. So what makes this different? A look at the cast list should give you a clue. David Thewlis as Michael Stone. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa Hesselman. Tom Noonan as Everyone else. Michael Stone is so bored by his family and his life that everyone seems to have the same voice. When he meets Lisa, she strikes him as different, so he's naturally enchanted with her.

That's the aspect of the movie that intrigued me most, but if you've heard of this movie, you've probably heard about the other draw: Explicit puppet sex. Yeah, that was strange. Not off-putting or out-of-place, but... Well, it's just tough to contextualize explicit puppet sex when you're not watching a farcical comedy. That said, it was a really interesting movie that I enjoyed a lot. Kaufman is one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today, and this is a character study that is well worth your time. Even with that puppet penis.

Spotlight: B+
Mad Max: Fury Road: A-
Anomalisa: B+


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