Mini Movie Reviews
By Mark Boyer
BRIDGE OF SPIES—This Steven Spielberg movie has received enthusiastic reviews from critics and generally positive responses from audiences. It is a dark and moody movie based on a true story during the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviets in which Tom Hanks plays lawyer James Donavan who is given the unpopular task of defending suspected Soviet spy Rudolph Abel, played magnificently by Mark Rylance. Spielberg and his team masterfully nail the period with perfectly designed scenes, Tom Hanks charmingly holds the unfolding plot together, but Mark Rylance’s expressive and yet restrained performance was the highlight for me. I thought the opening 20 minutes when we are introduced to the characters of Donavan and Abel were vastly interesting, but then it proceeded to often feel ponderous and too predictable to me in its technical execution.
BROOKLYN— A beautiful, quiet, nostalgic view of a young woman’s emigration from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 50s. Thoroughly enjoyed the sweet and unforced pace of this movie and the subtle eloquence of Irish actress Saoirise Ronan who masterfully plays the lead role of Eilis Lacey. Eilis seeks a better life in the U.S., and yet finds herself torn between her life in Ireland and life in the U.S. In many ways, this movie explores the theme of finding one’s true life and home. In my opinion BROOKLYN and ROOM are the two best movies of the year.
SPOTLIGHT—Based on the true story of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative Spotlight team as it uncovered the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests in 2002. While it becomes clear that there was an implicit agreement among many people that the sanctity of the Roman Catholic Church was above reproach, this event shines a light on how we are all complicit when we choose not to do the “right thing” or even worse — choose to do nothing. This is an intriguing film in which there is no real hero. Instead it is a straightforward story of an investigative team that is challenged to discover and tell the truth. Spotlight is ultimately an important film about our humanity and commitment to inconvenient truths, and the closing notes of the movie offer a haunting statement.
THEREVENANT—This film is relentless and of epic proportions in themes of revenge, survival, and man vs. nature, but also has quiet moments of unexpected humanity. My guess is that there are only about 30 pages of actual dialogue, and the rest is Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography that complements, juxtaposes, and extends the story with a fierce serenity. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of his career, and Alejandro Iñárritu shows that he is truly one of the great directors of our time. This is not a movie we will soon run to see again, but it will remain a hauntingly deep and unforgettable visual experience that further defines the power of story and cinema.
JOY—Jennifer Lawrence is nominated for an actress Oscar. JOY is based on a true story of inventor Joy Mangano. It is at times inspiring to see a person vigorously pursuing her dreams against the odds. The movie started, however, with several engaging stylistic choices and then oddly switched to a realistic and fairly straightforward story approach. While it is an intriguing story, Lawrence seemed at times to weave in and out of character and the story moved through the plot without ever quite reaching a fully empathic emotional level.
THE BIG SHORT—How several traders and hedge fund managers made fortunes because they bet that the U.S. housing market’s decline would cause an economic collapse in 2008 of bonds contrived from sub-prime mortgages. While major banks engaged in fraudulent, criminal activity, the U.S. government bailed them out at the expense of taxpayers. A few financiers became extremely wealthy from this shuffle and many U.S. citizens never recovered from their losses of jobs, homes, and investments. The movie jumped around too much for my taste, but it’s a masterful portrayal of how the financial system of the U.S. is easily rigged.
(Ed. Note: Mark Boyer is an alumnus of the Yale School of Drama Directing Program, and has worked professionally for theatres on the U.S. east coast and taught Theatre at the University of Illinois. His plays have been produced by professional, university, and children’s theatre companies. He lives full time in Ajijic with his wife Marianne.)