Christopher Robin

August 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings
Directed by: Marc Forester (“Finding Neverland”)
Written by: Alex Ross Perry, (“Nostalgia”), Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) and Allison Schroeder (“Hidden Figures”)

If you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear that there’s a new Winnie the Pooh movie called “Christopher Robin,” bear with us. Last year’s drama “Goodbye Christopher Robin” was a biopic on English Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne and the inspiration that led him to write children’s books. In “Christopher Robin,” we return to the fictional world of Pooh, 30 years after Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien as a young Christopher) is sent to boarding school and leaves behind his fluffy friends in the Hundred Acre Wood in Sussex.

Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge!”) stars as an adult Christopher, all grown up with a wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael) and heaps of responsibility as an efficiency manager at a struggling luggage company in London. His daughter is heartbroken when he has to skip out on their family vacation because his boss orders him to overhaul the budget on his weekend off.

It’s a theme we’ve seen countless times before: the balance of work and home life, and a father who can’t seem to understand which is more important. None of it rings very original in “Christopher Robin,” although the scenario is more complicated since Christopher is faced with not only family obligations, but also having to “put away childish things” once again when the huggable, anthropomorphic Pooh comes for a surprise visit, which leads to Christopher traveling to Sussex to get him home.

Directed by Marc Forester, who explored this same type of narrative in the 2004 fantasy biopic “Finding Neverland” about Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, “Christopher Robin” doesn’t break any new ground with its human characters, but there is plenty to love when Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang come out to play.

The appearance of these computer-generated, vintage-looking stuffed animals is flawless, and their interaction with Christopher provide some of the best examples where live-action meets animation in recent memory. It feels like the actors and animated characters are inhabiting the same realm, which is a testament to the incredible creativity and realistic design by VFX studios Framestore and Method Studios.

As a family-friendly film, some viewers might be a bit turned off by the gloomy, quiet nature of the picture as a whole (“Christopher Robin” is more “Where the Wild Things Are” than it is “Alvin and the Chipmunks”), but the charm is never lost when Pooh is delivering one of his clever Poohisms (“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”) or even when Eeyore is sulking in sadness. If anything is impossible, it’s not being enchanted by the film’s many adorable qualities.

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

February 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the true-life drama “Spotlight,” director/writer Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation in the early 2000s that led a team of journalists to uncover a sex abuse scandal that reached the highest levels of the Catholic Church. McCarthy, 50, was nominated for two Academy Awards this year for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. I spoke to him this week about “Spotlight” and whether he think his film has made an impact on the way the church operates.

“Spotlight” was released on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 23.

“Spotlight” is the first film you’ve directed that deals with real-life events. Did that put added pressure on you as a director and writer to not let people down, whether it was the victims or the journalists?

When you take on a project like this, you develop relationships with people like reporters and editors, but also some of the survivors. It does add a burden of responsibility to get the story right and to make the storytelling feel authentic.

Now that awards season is almost over and you’ve been able to process the film even more, do you think “Spotlight” can be the type of film that brings closure to this story or do you think it has drummed up past pain that people are still trying to put behind them?

Well, I don’t think it’s a question of past pain. I think this is still a problem that is playing out within the Catholic Church. The Vatican screened [“Spotlight”] just last week and the discussions were still going on there. I think that’s exactly why we made the movie, so people could understand that this was not just something we were drumming up from the past. It’s something that is very much still playing out. Hopefully this film will help continue the dialogue. We’re not condemning anyone. This happened. We all know it. What can we do to make sure it never happens again? That will come through action and transparency.

Do you think that transparency has been taking place in the Catholic Church since the scandal was revealed?

I don’t think we’ve seen enough action or transparency yet. Just last week, this council that Pope Francis put together (Vatican Commission on Sex Abuse) had two survivors on that council. One of them (Peter Saunders) had been speaking up to the press a lot saying, “Hey, we have to be more transparent and let everyone know exactly what we’re doing. We have to let the Archdiocese know if there is a bad priest in their midst.” Unfortunately, they removed [Saunders] from the council, which doesn’t really send a strong message. It speaks to the way the Catholic Church worked in the past. We’re hoping Pope Francis starts putting things into action. The church is a very big and old institution, so I think it’s going to take time.

Moving forward in your career, is “Spotlight” the kind of film you think you’ll be able to completely let go of? What I mean by that is do you feel like you have a responsibility to continue talking about the topic or are you the kind of filmmaker that wants to start a new film and put past projects to the side?

A little bit of the latter. I’m not an expert on this. I probably know more than most people because I’ve spent the last three and a half years of my life immersed in it. I take that very seriously. Certainly, many of the relationships that I’ve formed throughout I’ll continue to be involved in. But ultimately I feel like I’ve done my job in making the movie and telling the story. The movie will continue to live on and I’ve got to get on to the next project. But sometime over the course of the next couple of years if I’m asked to speak or attend fundraisers or social action campaigns, I will stay involved in that way. But I do feel like I have to get on to my next project.

“Spotlight” has been given a lot of credit for not hero-worshipping the journalist characters and turning them into saviors. How important was it for you as a storyteller to make this decision and present these characters as flawed human beings?

Just like everyone else in the film, they are authentic characters. Reporters, like all of us, are flawed. They’re human. I think we were trying to capture that. In doing so, you see how difficult high-end investigative journalism is. To really get it right, it’s very tricky and takes great commitment and support. I think, ultimately, this movie champions that. It champions investigative journalism on that level and the impact it can have. But at the same time, these are people, just like you and me, who are just doing their job and doing it at a very high level.

I come from a newspaper background, so I’m a little bias when I say that the procedural elements of the film were extra fascinating to me. What surprised you about the way journalists work on a daily basis?

I think it’s the details. I think this movie celebrates the craft of journalism. Maybe it’s all in the bits and pieces and how every little piece of information can really unlock an investigation and how detail orientated it is and how tedious it can be. Ultimately, I think what I was most fascinated by was the spirit of the journalist and their commitment to finding and revealing the truth. It’s incredibly noble and honorable in my mind.

You’ve made five feature films in the last 12 years. Do you see any kind of connective tissue between them, whether it’s thematically or stylistically?

Stylistically, I think it sort of speaks for itself. I’m trying to find humanity in the films and let them feel as authentic as possible. Thematically, it varies, but in my movies I feel like I’m dealing with some sort of outsider and the impact they can have on the community. In this particular case [in “Spotlight”] it was [editor] Marty Baron coming to the Boston Globe from Miami and on Day One setting a course for this incredible investigation. So, again, another outsider and the impact he can have. Thematically, that’s what I was interested in.


November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) and Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”)

It might not have all the complexity of journalists tracking down a serial killer, like in the 2007 crime thriller “Zodiac,” or the melodrama needed to spur scribes into breaking open a story on the suspicious death of a congressman’s mistress, like in the 2009 political thriller “State of Play,” but the relevancy of a newspaper reporter’s job is made evident in the sincere, insightful, fair and extremely well-paced “Spotlight.”

In a news industry where Buzzfeed headlines and Kardashian selfies are constantly trending for the mainstream masses, it’s refreshing (and equally discouraging) to know a majority of wordsmiths just a decade ago cared more about reporting the truth than creating click-bait content. Not only is “Spotlight” great cinema, it also has the power to remind audiences that a hard-hitting exposé should always be a crucial element of the ever-changing media landscape. Without professionals doing this kind of work (and not just recording grainy cell phone footage), how can anyone be held accountable?

Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Tom McCarthy, whose track record has been so impressive (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win”) since breaking out in 2003 that we might one day forgive him for whatever the hell last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle “The Cobbler” was supposed to be. Spotlight brings the filmmaker back to true form. Set in the early ’00s, the drama tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s investigative “Spotlight Team” of reporters who uncovered a global sex abuse scandal and cover-up rooted deep inside the Catholic Church that ultimately spawned criminal accusations against 250 Roman Catholic priests. For their work, the team was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

That journalistic determination leading them to the source of the crimes is the main focus of “Spotlight.” While the stories of the individual victims and perpetrators is paramount in breathing life into the story, it’s the Globe’s writers’ efforts to deliver these remarkable revelations that serve as the lungs of this compelling narrative. Oscar-nominated actors Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) lead this impressive ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams (“Southpaw”) and Liev Schreiber (“Pawn Sacrifice”) as the Globe‘s new earnest editor who wants the paper to concentrate more on local coverage. What they find at the core is a corrupt system where the crimes of Catholic priests had been swept under the rug for years.

Where McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”) shined most with the screenplay is in the fact they did not sensationalize the subject at hand, respected everyone involved and stayed fiercely objective (even the Vatican’s official radio station called the film “honest”). In doing so, “Spotlight” is also able to point out the faults of its hero reporters and show that despite the immense accountability they inherit when they choose to take on an assignment like this, they are still flawed human beings that make mistakes. Nevertheless, this isn’t a film about the people, per se, as much as it is about the procedure. “Spotlight” takes the research, analysis, interviews, red tape, dead ends and backroom politics of investigative journalism and turns it into an art form.

Million Dollar Arm

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”)

More than any other major North American sports league, Major League Baseball has truly gone international.  Last season, more than a quarter of the league’s players on opening day rosters were born outside of the United States, representing 15 countries.  As the game continues to expand, areas of the world once considered a new baseball frontier like the Dominican Republic are a fixture of any scout’s itinerary.  Just as “Moneyball” showed the competitive edge that can be gained from tapping into a market inefficiency, “Million Dollar Arm” shows how creative strategies and unconventional thinking can continue to mine talent from unexpected places.

As a last ditch effort to save his sports agency, agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) comes up with a reality TV show idea with the intent of converting cricket players to major league pitchers. When the two players from India are selected (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) they embark on an unlikely journey to earn a professional contract.

From early on in the film, it is clear the cast is one of the strong points of the film. Despite playing the lead on a massively popular TV show (“Mad Men”), this is one of the first leading film roles for Hamm. It’s a good performance, albeit one that doesn’t require much other than occupying a lot of screen time, which he does quite capably. Nonetheless, he is charismatic enough to make his role worthwhile. As actors with little recognition to American audiences, Mittal and Sharma, are able to capture elements of culture shock without overdoing it.

With such a brilliant past output, it makes sense that Disney would hire such a talented screenwriter in Thomas McCarthy. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s writing is stifled and slightly generic. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it does go through the motions and hits every expected narrative and emotional arc you’d expect from a Disney movie, which makes it more of a by-the-numbers sports film than something truly special.

Though there isn’t a terrible amount of it, director Craig Gillespie does a good job of building a convincing world of baseball and constructing the pitching montages and an even better job of photographing the streets of India. By the sometimes desolate and cramped living spaces, Gillespie does a great job of showing the cultural differences that go both ways.

At its core, “Million Dollar Arm,” like many other underdog sports films, is about pursuing a dream against all odds. As a film, it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, but rather a decent job at several things. While many of the notes are certainly familiar, none of them are false and the film does a solid job of developing emotional investment. It’s far too long and there is nothing particularly unique or imaginative about it, but for a family sports movie, you could do a lot worse.

Paul Giamatti & Alex Shaffer – Win Win

April 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Interviews

“What is it like to be as good as you are?” The question comes up in “Win Win,” director Tom McCarthy’s family dramedy about a high school wrestling coach whose life finds new meaning when he and his wife take in a troubled teenager who happens to know his way around the mat.

The same question could be asked of the film’s leading men, Academy Award-nominee Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) and rookie actor and high school wrestling state champion Alex Shaffer. As acclaimed stars in their respected fields, Giamatti and Shaffer share major screen time as Mike and Kyle, a coach and athlete who together learn that winning doesn’t always mean finishing first.

During an interview with the me at the SXSW Film Festival last month, Giamatti, Shaffer, and McCarthy discussed the intense nature of wrestling and who kicked whose ass during the shoot.

Paul, I imagine you doing your research for this role by going to wrestling matches and just staring intently at the coaches the whole time. Is that how it worked out?
Paul Giamatti: Yeah, I was looking at the coaches. I paid more attention to them. Those guys are a whole different thing within themselves. The really good ones get so involved and then there are the not really good ones. I was really amazed. When I smack [Alex] in the movie, it’s really a thing these [coaches] do, but some of them smack [the wrestlers] in the face without the headgear. They get really physical with those kids. It’s intense to watch.
In the past you’ve talked about losing yourself in a character. Was it more of a challenge to play someone who seems to be more like who you are in real life?
PG: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever played a character before where I thought, “This guy feels like me.” I don’t know if [Mike is] like me or not. It was different for me to do. In some of the more central roles I’ve done in movies I’ve played guys who have much more complicated places they go. Not that this guy isn’t a complicated man, but he doesn’t dwell in those places. He doesn’t go take refuge in those places, which was tricky for me. Part of it is because I’ve gotten used to doing that and part of it is just my interest as an actor to flip over the rock and look at the crawly, ugly things underneath it.
And in this role there wasn’t as much underneath the rock?
It’s not that he’s vapid or not a complex, rich guy, but he just doesn’t have those places. [Director] Tom [McCarthy] constantly had to say to me, “This guy doesn’t go there.” So, it was hard, actually in a lot of ways – harder to feel like I had to constantly walk that line because he is conflicted. He’s done something wrong and it’s always gnawing away at him. But that sense of how much he reveals or how much he takes it in and how much he compartmentalizes it is a different thing than I am used to doing.
Alex, talk about the scene where you wrestle Paul to the ground. Were you worried you might hurt him?
Alex Shaffer: I remember there was a stunt double, but he didn’t do that scene. Before we shot that scene Paul was like, ‘You never let me do [my own stunts]. I want to do it!’ so we ended up doing it. I wasn’t that nervous. Paul’s a tough guy. He told us he woke the next morning and he was like, “[moans in pain].”
PG: It’s not like I was scared of the kid or anything. I could kick his ass.
Tom McCarthy: It’s a pretty good takedown. It’s a pretty violent take down even for wrestling.
Alex Shaffer: It’s a blast double.
Tom McCarthy: Blast double? We’re breaking that here. No one has heard that before.
Alex Shaffer: I went home and I was thinking, “What’s the name of that move?” The blast double, it’s like…Well, I don’t know.
TM: Well, show him. Sir, would you mind standing up?
Alex, do you consider yourself a jock or an athlete and is there a difference between the two?
TM: Oh, that’s a good one.
AS: An athlete, just because I’m an athletic kid. Jocks are like…I don’t know. (Turns to Tom) What is the difference?
TM: I don’t know. What’s your interpretation of a jock?
AS: It’s like that nerd movie (“Revenge of the Nerds”) and that one guy (“Ogre”).

TM: Yeah, I think you’re an athlete. I don’t think you have the jockness.
Tom, What kind of wrestler were you in school? A team? B team?
TM: I was trying hard to get on the A team. I was pretty good. I started wrestling like in the third or fourth grade, but I was never near [Alex’s] level. I never made it to state. I was decent. But by my senior year I just burnt out. I realized it was a brutal sport and I wasn’t having fun. Going back and spending time revisiting the sport was a lot of fun. We went everywhere to watch matches. When I heard about Alex, he had a match coming up that weekend. I actually knew the guy he was wrestling. It’s like Shakespeare. As soon as you start to understand the language it opens it up in a beautiful way. With wrestling it was like, “Well, that kid is tough. We have to go to that match.” Joe [Tiboni] (who is co-credited with the story) and I were dropping stuff all the time to go to these matches. He’d be like, “Guess who’s wrestling this week?” and we’d run out to see it.