Spotlight, a bland chronicling of the uncovering of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church by an investigative team at the Boston Globe around the turn of the millennium, is so dim in its perception that it could more aptly have been titled Nightlight. Suffering in particular from an obtusely linear script, this mediocre piece of documentary-like storytelling illuminates few aspects of the seamy affair that we couldn’t have discovered ourselves through a bit of Internet detective work.
Alexander Payne’s acerbically witty satire Election could have been a prequel to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The film points out that American high schools, far from functioning as the nation’s first line of defense against ignorance, are petri dishes for the infectious disease of political power. Student government is this breeding ground, and all who oppose it are—as any crook or liar could tell you—lepers who should be quarantined for their nonconformity. Hypocrisy, thy name is politics.
Sideways, an excursion of two middle-aged friends into California wine country that has all the outward trappings of a nachos-and-cheese experience—bromance; loose women; and, above all, near-constant imbibing—manages to retain its own philosophy without crashing headlong into the aesthetic dead-end of excessive pleasure-seeking of either the bibulous or libidinous kind. On life’s roads, there’s rarely a direct route, might begin an interpretation of the film’s intriguingly cryptic title. And that’s a good thing. The smaller side streets that wind around the detours of human sorrow often arrive at sunnier shores.
South Park got it right: George Clooney loves the smell of his own farts. The whole audience could be holding their noses, and he’d go right on smirking. So smug and talentless is he that he even manages to be vomitatious in a role that’s tailor-made for him. In Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman features this bronzed hunk of I’m-better-than-you manflesh in equally shallow soap-opera-level claptrap about a smarmy smartass named Ryan Bingham who fires corporate employees for a living.
Baz Luhrmann’s rehashing of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic American masterpiece The Great Gatsby is a slight improvement over the 1974 iteration with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. By this, I mean that it has ascended one rung of the film-quality ladder by becoming likably cheap razzmatazz instead of eye-reddening ennui. It’s hard not to enjoy it, much as one might enjoy sucking on a lollipop or lying on a tropical beach in the moonlight and staring blankly at the stars. But what a shame that a film about a novel of such depth and complexity—with an underlying message that’s as intriguingly shadowy and oneiric as the eponymous character—should suffocate meaning beneath gyrating flesh and party confetti.
Though billed as a dark comedy, ultimately there’s very little funny about Bernie, a docudrama directed by Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Me and Orson Welles) and based on a true story about a mortician and funeral parlor director, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who weasels his way into the affections of a wealthy widow, Marge Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), then murders her. Not that I didn’t chuckle a few times. It was hard not to, given the magnitude of the lie that was concealed behind the complacent smirk of the protagonist, masterfully played by Black, as he carried himself as a paragon of charity, spreading God’s word and working as a community volunteer in the small town of Carthage, Texas.