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.
One would expect a Baz Luhrmann, Tim Burton, or Steven Spielberg to be responsible for tedious, rambling fluff like The Aviator. Indeed, I can scarcely believe that this way-overlong, splashy biopic about the aviation movie-maker and entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) could have been directed by the same man who helmed Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. Yet it was. The man’s name is Martin Scorsese, and his understanding of the word “sellout” is second to none among Hollywood’s elite.
From the outset of The Wrong Man, it’s evident that this is a very different kind of Hitchcock film. Which turns out to be both good and bad. For one thing, Hitch’s beloved cameo appearance is absent for the first and only time in his oeuvre. Instead, he sets the stage by walking toward the camera as a brightly backlit silhouette in a dark alley, informing us that unlike any of his other pictures, this one is a true story. Whereupon the ensuing explanatory note tells us that this tale is “stranger than the strangest fiction.” In this stark docudrama, in other words, Hitch’s characteristic flair for the melodramatic and suspenseful take a back seat to realism. The result is a film that becomes a bit clinical at times, dragging from event to event along a timeline as the wheels of justice churn ahead slowly. Nevertheless, as audiences had come to expect from Hitchcock, The Wrong Man exhibits a trenchant eye for details of both the visual and the verbal kind.
Like the film Capote about the iconic American writer, Hitchcock achieves a mild success largely because of the masterful impersonation of Anthony Hopkins in the eponymous role. All the more impressive since, unlike the lisping, snickering-over-cocktails Truman, Hitch didn’t exactly have the spiciest personality—at least on the surface. But Hopkins admirably captures the deadpan wit, the jaundiced critical eye, the automaton-like walk. Which makes for an entertaining watch, especially for those who remember the corpulent film master from his introductions to the famed Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series.
The subject of the sumptuously photographed and artfully directed French film Renoir is not immediately apparent from the title. One might expect a biopic about Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), a key figure in the French impressionist movement. But the film has almost as much to tell us about Pierre’s son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), a skilled artist in his own right who would go on to become one of the world’s most influential movie directors by creating such critically acclaimed classics as Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game. No matter. Renoir is less about artists than about the muses who inspire them.
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.