Orson Welles’s ‘Chimes at Midnight’ Toll Again, on the Big Screen

Though Citizen Kane is generally cited as Orson Welles’s greatest film, the man himself claimed the 1965 Chimes at Midnight was his favorite, and it may offer the most clues to his imposing soul.

A bold and sensitive melding of text from five of Shakespeare’s plays, Chimes at Midnight traces the friendship — and eventual rift — between young Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), heir to the throne of England, and his roly-poly surrogate father figure, Falstaff (Welles), a ne’er-do-well layabout given to drinking heavily. 

The picture is by turns joyous and mournful, and it features one of the most arresting battle sequences ever committed to film, all the more amazing for the fact that Welles shot it on a mouse-sized budget in Spain, where he was living at the time. Considering the dinky price tag (and the fact that Welles had to pretend he was shooting a version of Treasure Island in order to collect even those meager funds from his producer), the movie’s craftsmanship overall is remarkable: Every shot is packed with meaning or purpose; Edmond Richard’s cinematography makes the most of sumptuous Art Deco shards of light and highlights the soft fold of royal vestments just so. The performances are just as regal: An effortlessly intimidating John Gielgud plays Henry IV, Hal’s disapproving dad. Jeanne Moreau appears as the amorous prostitute Doll Tearsheet, and Margaret Rutherford is the bustling Mistress Quickly — she delivers that famously erotic elegy for her dear Falstaff, a walking libido of a man, with shivery-exquisite tenderness.

But there is no figure greater than Welles’s Falstaff: Both jolly and cranky, by turns bold and cowardly, with a nose abloom with gin blossoms, he’s the story’s essential, tragicomic spirit. The scene in which Hal disowns his old friend is among the most subtly shaded and emotionally complex in all of cinema: As Welles gazes up at his protégé, now wrapped in a king’s finery, the glow in his eyes says a dozen things at once.

Chimes at Midnight
Directed by Orson Welles
Janus Films
Opens January 1, Film Forum


Wicked, Sensuous ‘Gun Crazy’ Highlights MoMI’s Trumbo Retro

So many of the best movies are really quite sick, and so it is with Joseph H. Lewis’s 1950 crime-spree noir Gun Crazy, playing at the Museum of the Moving Image on November 20 and 21, part of the museum’s tribute to blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. John Dall, with the wholesome gleam of a freshly shucked ear of corn, plays Barton Tare, a small-town marksman who loves to shoot but who, after a rash childhood escapade involving a chick and a BB gun, refuses to kill any living thing. Fairground sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr — Peggy Cummins, almost radioactive with sexual allure and menace — has no such qualms, and a desire for the finer things in life burns inside her like a blowtorch. Bart falls under her spell and joins her on the carnival circuit, and shortly thereafter they break away on their own, get married, and set off on a joyful honeymoon road trip — though that carefree whirl of a montage is over before they, and we, know it. They’ve run out of money, and Annie Laurie uses her considerable erotic magnetism to convince Bart that just a holdup or two would solve all their problems. Her seduction technique makes perfect use of one silk stocking, a gossamer shadow of Eve’s serpent.

Annie Laurie is bad to the bone, and bad right from the start: Her smile is something between a pout and a smirk, and in Bart’s first encounter with her, during a performance, she points a pistol right at him and shoots. It’s a blank, but he startles, laughing. The movie’s shivery, subversive thrills lie in watching Bart fall deeper under her spell: In the early scenes, his cheeks practically glow with vigorous goodwill; by the film’s end — no matter that it’s in black-and-white — we can see that he’s been drained of all color, as if by a vampire’s kiss.

Gun Crazy is one of the greatest, most vital films noirs, in a league with Out of the Past and In a Lonely Place, though it’s more tawdry and feral than either. At the time of the film’s release, the script was credited to Trumbo’s front, Millard Kaufman (later one of the writers of the bold, unapologetically liberal Spencer Tracy drama Bad Day at Black Rock); it was co-written by MacKinlay Kantor, adapted from a 1940 story he’d written for the Saturday Evening Post. The dialogue is mostly straightforward pulp, some of it rather stiff, but it’s really just a skeleton for the picture’s quavering carnality (and a prelude to its surreal, unsettling misty-mountain reverie of an ending).

After the final holdup — a brutal inside job that they’ve spent months setting up, earning the trust of people they’ll betray without blinking — they attempt to separate for a time, believing that will make it harder for the cops to track them. Annie Laurie, her face that of a sale-table baby doll, too hard to be endearing, dashes away from Bart to take off in her own car, while he heads the other direction in his. But they cannot do without each other, not even for a penny’s worth of gas. They stop simultaneously, with a his-and-hers screech of tires, and reunite in an embrace so sensuous and animal that you almost want to turn away. Their futures are entwined forever. Even if it’s true, as Godard said, that all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun, Gun Crazy has that mad, mind-blowing something extra. It’s the most trigger-happy of tragedies.

Gun Crazy
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Playing November 20 and 21, Museum of the Moving Image


Cold and Dreamy, ‘Carol’ Examines Women in Love

Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin’s sweet nectarine of a jazz standard “Easy Living” figures, in a glancing yet potent way, in Todd Haynes’s Carol, adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt. Even though the lyrics speak of contentment — “Living for you is easy living/It’s easy to live when you’re in love” — the melody has a wistful glow about it, a suggestion that while there’s no such thing as living easy, the dream of doing so is very real. It’s the perfect song, then, for a story about two women who defy the rules of society by falling in love, a story that takes place — and was written — in an era when unions like this one needed to be kept exceptionally discreet. In Carol, “Easy Living” is more than a song; it’s refuge from the world, a honeymoon cottage built for two. And it’s a touch of warmth in a piece of filmmaking that, while beautifully modulated, is also as smooth and cool as marble.

Cate Blanchett’s Carol is a suburban New Jersey housewife and mother seeking a divorce from husband Harge (Kyle Chandler, superb as always), one of those classic 1950s providers: He’s solid and reliable, but he’s given his heart to a woman he just can’t understand. Carol has had a previous affair with a woman who is now just a friend (Sarah Paulson’s Abby), and Harge knows about it: That knowledge hangs between them like a piece of poison fruit in a fairy tale — when the two argue, Harge can’t resist biting into that particular plum from Carol’s past, and its bitterness fills them both with anguish. He can’t let her go; she’s aching to go. They’ve been honest with each other, as couples need to be, but the truth has come nowhere close to setting them free.

The further complication for Carol — though it’s also, as all new love affairs are, a source of wonder — is that she has met Rooney Mara’s Therese, a New York department store clerk who’s striving to become a photographer. They first see each other when Carol, wearing a mink coat the color of clover honey, swirls into the toy department where Therese has been stationed. Therese is a slip of a thing with a cautious hyphen of a smile; in the line of duty, she’s been forced to wear an unfortunate Santa hat. Therese stares in disbelief — a kind of suspended animation — when Carol drifts into view. She’s like a waft of perfume with a woman attached.

The affair barely begins as a friendship: Carol is quietly predatory, not in a deceitful way, but in the manner of a woman who has been kept too long from everything she desires. Therese, with her too-short, fringy bangs and anxious brown eyes, is slightly awkward, but she’s also alert and intelligent — you immediately get the sense that she could be Carol’s undoing, rather than the other way around. And both are possessed of an almost unreal beauty. As shot by Haynes’s frequent (and great) cinematographer, Ed Lachman, their faces have a gorgeous but slightly unnatural glow — they look like softly painted store mannequin heads, believably lifelike yet hardly like people you see every day.

[pullquote]Blanchett is like a waft of perfume with a woman attached.[/pullquote]

Carol gives the appearance of having been constructed without seams or joints; its plot doesn’t so much move forward as drift. In a striking sequence, dreamlike to an almost David Lynchian degree, Carol drives Therese out to her lavish suburban home: Just as the lights of the tunnel around them are a filmy blur, their faces also become diaphanous and abstract. This, sometimes, is just what falling in love is like. In its melodramatic scope, Carol makes a fine companion piece to Haynes’s superb 2002 Far From Heaven: Both movies are about Fifties marriages that are built on nothing so clean-cut as a lie; rather, they’re about individuals who have strained to be something they’re not, not just as a way of avoiding scorn or shame, but to keep families together and to avoid causing pain to people they love. But Carol is a much cooler picture. Its emotions run deep beneath the surface, not close to the top like easily skimmable cream. Highsmith is a chilly writer, and Haynes is a warm filmmaker: Maybe the tension between their styles is what makes Carol both compelling and elusive. When the film played last spring in Cannes, it drew rapturous responses from some critics. For me, it’s a movie that’s easy to admire but hard to hold close.

There are a few elements, though, that are beyond irresistible, like Judy Becker’s gorgeous production design (Carol’s car is a creamy silver-taupe Packard, a chariot to swoon over) and Carter Burwell’s tremulously sentient score, a wintry sky-wash of woodwinds and French horns. And don’t even get me started on the clothes, by Sandy Powell, who knows the secret power of pearl-gray wool paired with soft coral silk, or of a tomato-soup-colored tartan dressing gown. Carol is a film you want to reach out and touch, if only you could reach anywhere near the top of the pedestal it’s perched on. It is itself an unattainable love object, the goddess Venus disguised as a movie.

Directed by Todd Haynes
The Weinstein Company
Opens November 20, Angelika Film Center

Directed by Todd Haynes. Written by Phyllis Nagy. Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, and Carrie Brownstein.


‘Love the Coopers’ Could Make a Hater Out of Anyone

What a difference a comma makes — or would make, in the case of Jessie Nelson’s lumpy, wretchedly unfunny Love the Coopers, whose title commands us to love people it’s impossible even to like.

Diane Keaton and John Goodman head up a family that’s supposed to be delightfully dysfunctional but is really just a clutch of ill-conceived characters forced into sub-sitcom situations: Son Ed Helms is a deflated, divorced dad who’s been hiding his joblessness from his family for months; daughter Olivia Wilde feels misunderstood by her parents and acts out like an unbearable two-year-old. To make things extra-complicated, Mom and Dad are planning to separate just after the Christmas holiday — they can’t take it anymore, and by the end of Love the Coopers, neither can we.

There are one or two places where the picture almost ignites: Alan Arkin plays the family’s gruff-love granddad, who has befriended a diner waitress (Amanda Seyfried) — at one point he tells her that he feels closer to her than to anyone else, and their tender kinship is the most believable element of the movie.

Otherwise, if you’ve been wishing and hoping for a movie in which June Squibb — here playing a dementia-riddled relative named Aunt Fishy — shows her underpants yet again, you’ll love Love the Coopers. For the rest of us, to know them is to hate them.

Love the Coopers
Directed by Jessie Nelson
CBS Films
Now playing


It’s Well Acted, but ‘James White’ Strains to Make Us Care

Cynthia Nixon is such a terrific actress that she can steady even the wobbliest material. In writer-director Josh Mond’s modestly scaled family drama James White, she plays Gail, the mother of twentysomething underachiever James (Christopher Abbott, of Girls), a guy who can never seem to lay hands on a clean shirt, let alone a job. Shortly after the movie opens, he’s arriving — barely — at his mother’s apartment for the shivah of a man he barely knew, his own father. It turns out Dad left James and Gail long ago, eventually starting a new family. That woman and her daughter (neither of whom, it appears, James has ever met) show up, inexplicably, to help Gail mourn; even more unbelievably, someone pops in a video of Dad’s second wedding, right in front of Gail, ostensibly to have a gander at the deceased looking happy in his new life. Who could even conceive of such a rude and heartless thing? Almost no one, except a filmmaker desperate to manufacture an opportunity for loose cannon James to fly off the handle: He yells out self-righteously, shooing every single mourner away and embarrassing his mother (though there’s no reason at all for her to be embarrassed).

The mourners huff and haw indignantly and try to reason with him: What’s wrong with watching a little home video? In their view, he’s crazy, a hothead who can’t be trusted. The audience is cornered into taking his side: Poor James! He’s so misunderstood! And he is something of a mess — but our sympathy would be deeper and cleaner if the people around him weren’t such obvious jerks.

Luckily, James White gets better from there, though it’s sometimes hard to feel for James precisely because Mond — making his feature debut — has pulled so many strings to make him sympathetic. The guy is certainly facing some painful circumstances: Gail, we learn, has been treated for cancer, and her condition seems to have improved. But just as James, in his typical, aimless manner, takes off to Mexico for a little break (where he falls for a high-school-age cutie played by Makenzie Leigh), Gail summons him back with a panicky phone call. Her cancer has returned; can he come home immediately? The dynamic between the two is fascinating and at times wrenching. Earlier, James seemed like the needy one; now we see where he gets it from. Gail is childish and selfless by turns, not a pure manipulator but a complex one, and her physical suffering is genuine. Nixon is so good in the role that watching her waste away seems to shave off bits of us, too.

And by the end, you do feel something for James as well. Abbott plays him with the right amount of guilelessness. Pressed to make some sort of life for himself, James has expressed an interest in writing. When a family friend — played, with economical empathy, by Ron Livingston — interviews James for a job at New York magazine, the writing sample he brings in looks like chicken scrawl on a few wrinkled pages. When Livingston’s character sets James straight about his job prospects (they’re nil), we see the first glimmers of self-awareness in his eyes. When James White really digs in, it’s an affecting portrait of grief and of feeling lost in life. So often the two go hand in hand.

James White
Directed by Josh Mond
The Film Arcade
Opens November 13

Written and directed by Josh Mond. Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, and Ron Livingston.


Minor Drama: ‘The 33’ Works Best When It’s Underground

How do you dramatize the unthinkable? On August 5, 2010, 33 Chilean miners were trapped when the 100-year-old gold and copper mine in which they were working collapsed around them. For weeks, no one knew if they were alive or dead. But 69 days later, after a team of international drilling experts had worked around the clock, every one was brought safely to the surface. The 33, directed by Patricia Riggen, makes a valiant effort to tell this harrowing story onscreen, and there are moments when every shifting plate clicks right into place. In the end, though, the picture stumbles, and it may not completely be the fault of the filmmakers. Unless you drastically alter the details of real life, they don’t always translate meaningfully to the screen. But at the very least, The 33 errs on the side of honorability in telling the men’s stories.

Riggen — whose previous credits include the 2007 drama Under the Same Moon — takes great care in setting the scene, underscoring just how much these dirty, dangerous jobs mean to these men. The picture was filmed in the Atacama Desert, just kilometers away from the actual mine; cinematographer Checco Varese captures the rugged, dispiriting beauty of the place, all golden and dry, like a forgotten planet. It’s there that we meet the ragtag group of miners, innocently unaware of the trial that awaits them: Mario (Antonio Banderas) is a family man who needs more work, so he approaches supervisor Luis, also known as “Don Lucho” (Lou Diamond Phillips), for some extra hours. Álex (Mario Casas), a mechanic by trade, opts — reluctantly — to try mining work as a way of making more money for himself, his wife, and their unborn child. There’s also Darío (Juan Pablo Raba), an alcoholic who has become estranged from his only family member, his sister, María (Juliette Binoche, in a stock earth-mother role); Edison (Jacob Vargas), a jovial Elvis impersonator; and Yonni (Oscar Nuñez), who, it turns out, has both a wife and a lady friend on the side, a secret life that ends up causing amusing reverberations above ground.

The sequence showing the miners’ being trapped is a nightmare for claustrophobics, with hurtling rocks and sheets of dust falling like hard, gray rain. The men pile into a rickety-looking open truck and gun the engine, desperate to make it out in time. This is the moment you might fear, as I did, that The 33 will turn this extraordinary real-life story into a cheap disaster movie.

But Riggen and screenwriters Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas (using a story by José Rivera and Hector Tobar’s 2014 book about the disaster and rescue, Deep Down Dark, as sources) quickly shift gears. The action in The 33 toggles between the story of the trapped men below and the families and rescuers waiting and working above. (The latter group includes Laurence Golborne — played with low-key determination by Rodrigo Santoro — Chile’s stalwart minister of mining, who had been on the job only four months when the disaster occurred.) One of the chief problems with The 33 is that when we’re aboveground, we long to be below, with the men. That’s partly because the actors who play them are so appealing. At one point Banderas, gazing upon the gargantuan boulder that blocks the men’s path to the surface, says, “That’s not a rock; that’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.” You could call the dialogue corny and overblown, but it more than suits the moment and the mood, and Banderas delivers it like a line of folk poetry.

The movie falters in the last third, once the families and rescuers discover that the men are alive but must still find a way to get them out: Even if, in real life, the situation was still desperately tense at that point, the picture loses some of its urgency. But parts of the movie’s midsection, in which the men negotiate dim, cramped quarters and meager food rations, are superb: The sight of Banderas’s Mario, the de facto leader of the group and the keeper of the food, carefully pouring a few inches of milk into each of 33 plastic cups, is both comical and wrenching. And there’s a lovely dreamlike sequence in which a small blob of tuna mixed with water becomes, for each man, an imaginary feast fit for an underground king, a bountiful repast shared with loved ones. Cinematographer Varese has done beautiful work here: Even when the men are at their skinniest, dirtiest, and most discouraged, their skin glows with a soft light, as if they’re absorbing as much heavenly grace as possible to get them through this ordeal. The heart of the mountain may have broken, but they didn’t.

The 33
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Warner Bros.
Opens November 13

Directed by Patricia Riggen. Written by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas. Based on the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar. Starring Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, Mario Casas, and Jacob Vargas.


‘Madam Phung’s Last Journey’ Is a Tender Story of Aging, Carnival-Style

The accoutrements of traveling carnivals are always poignant: the pennants and banners that get rolled up and toted from place to place, the cheap-and-glitzy sequined costumes, the rickety amusement rides.

Nguyen Thi Tham’s tender and low-key documentary Madam Phung’s Last Journey tells the story of a troupe that treks, like citizens without a country, through the small villages and towns of Vietnam, making a living by performing, running low-stakes lotteries, and hosting fairground games of chance (like the one in which the audience is invited to place bets on the direction in which a penned guinea pig will run).

This troupe is made up mostly of gay and transgender individuals, most of whom can’t easily find jobs doing anything else. Their leader, Madam Phung, is both taskmaster and den mother, lecturing her charges about the dangers of gambling, drinking too much, and getting involved in fights. Tham is discreet about how she films these women: When we see them changing backstage, or slipping wigs over their cropped or pinned-back hair, their grace and decorum always comes to the fore — even though they make very little money, these workers and performers are anything but tawdry carny types.

Most moving are the women’s ruminations about suffering for love. At one point the fortyish Madam Phung, who has been alone since her husband was sent off to prison, confides to a colleague, “I’m not scared of dying but of aging,” adding that “when real women age, it’s normal” — an explanation that, even in its impressionistic vagueness, makes perfect sense.

Madam Phung’s Last Journey
Directed by Nguyen Thi Tham
Icarus Films
Opens November 12, Anthology Film Archives


Superb Reporting Drama ‘Spotlight’ Is a Rallying Cry

When veteran Village Voice metro reporter Tom Robbins left the paper, in early 2011, it’s said that he offered the staff a few words of wisdom: “Newspapers will break your heart.” Then his phone went off — it was a source — and the words of wisdom ended there, though what more could he have added? Those of us who have always loved newspapers in their traditional, printed form have watched them stumble — or, worse yet, die — in the face of that clamorous and tragically convenient info-funnel known as online media.

Newspapers are dead, except in the hearts of anyone who has ever loved them — which means there are still narrow slivers of hope. One of them now comes to us in the form of a movie: Tom McCarthy’s bold, shirtsleeve-sturdy newsroom drama Spotlight, which shows how a team of Boston Globe reporters exposed the scope of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church not just in Boston but worldwide. The film is less an elegy for the art and craft of news reporting than a rallying cry. If journalism were really dying, how could it inspire art this vital? Though it’s set in 2001 and early 2002 — practically ancient times in the distressing recent history of newspapers — Spotlight feels both timeless and modern, a dexterously crafted film that could have been made anytime but somehow feels perfect for right now.

This is also the story of the difference an outsider can make in a historically clannish city: The picture opens with a prologue, set in 1976, that dramatizes in fleet shorthand the way the Boston Archdiocese had, for many years, quickly and efficiently dealt with clergy members who’d molested children — by hustling those priests into a “treatment center” and then off to a faraway parish, where the cycle could all too easily be repeated. Flash forward to the summer of 2001, when the pedigreed Boston Globe gets a new editor, direct from the less highborn Miami Herald: Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) hadn’t grown up in Boston, as many Globe reporters and editors had; he was also Jewish, as many Globe reporters and editors were not.

But in his early days at the paper, after reading a seemingly minor piece by columnist Eileen McNamara about the archdiocese’s propensity for covering up abuse cases, Baron picks up on a potentially explosive story that seems obvious to him, while everyone else treats it as business as usual. Baron, low-key to an almost comical degree, asks his staff if the church’s record of protecting sex offenders isn’t something the paper should be looking into. The protests and excuses come from all sides, including deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) and longtime reporter and editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), who together lead the paper’s Spotlight team, a crew of reporters devoted to long-term investigations. No one wants to tangle with the church in Boston, or with the aggressively affable and unnervingly powerful Cardinal Law (played, with creepy precision, by Len Cariou). But Baron, seemingly with little more than an arched eyebrow, persuades the Spotlight staff to investigate.

[pullquote]You don’t crack a story like this one by trolling the Web.[/pullquote]

In fact, Schreiber deploys an apparently infinite variety of arched eyebrows to construct a complete and marvelously detailed performance. Spotlight is perfectly cast, and the performers melt right into their roles: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James play the three Spotlight reporters, Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matty Carroll. Ruffalo plays Rezendes as a man who’s given over his body, and not just his mind, to his work: He’s all sloping shoulders from too much typing, too much note-taking, too much hands-free phone-cradling. (It may be hard to believe, but Spotlight takes place before cellphones were ubiquitous.) McAdams’s Pfeiffer is the understated, empathetic listener who draws the deepest secrets from her subjects, in one case an abuse victim who has suffered privately for years, afraid to come forward: Joe (Michael Cyril Creighton, in a deeply touching, gently modulated performance) freely admits he’s gay and says he knew it as a schoolboy, when he was repeatedly molested by a priest he trusted. The upsetting clincher comes when he explains to Pfeiffer how much it meant to him that a priest let him know it was OK to be gay — a supreme example of the sinister power these megalomaniacal “servants of God” could have over innocent kids.

Spotlight, co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, gets everything right, down to the Dockers: The upper-echelon Globe staffers, like Robinson and Bradlee, tend toward the safe, blueblood-approved uniform of chinos, loafers, and pale-blue oxford shirts, while the dogged foot soldier Rezendes — who at one point reveals that he comes from a Portuguese family — looks as if he’s picked up whatever looked cleanest from the floor. (If Oscars were handed out to the costume designers who get real-life clothes exactly right, Wendy Chuck would surely win one.) But Spotlight also makes it clear that the Globe draws much of its staff from people who grew up in — and know — the area, regardless of class. Going for the story is the thing that unites them, and McCarthy nails that bristling, bustling newsroom vibe.

The Spotlight team’s research uncovered nearly a hundred sex offenders who had been protected by Cardinal Law and the Boston Archdiocese; after the initial story ran, in January of 2002, many more victims who had long remained silent came forward. Still, considering those astonishing results, what’s remarkable about Spotlight is how unflashy it is. Reporters aren’t always heroes — mistakes come with the territory, and Keaton’s Robinson has to reckon with some himself.

Keaton is terrific here — his performance has more depth, more subterranean layers of anguish, than the one he gave in last year’s Birdman. Rather than making journalism look glamorous, Spotlight captures its workaday nature: When I look back on the film years from now, I’ll picture McAdams’s Pfeiffer, dressed in unflattering pants and an untucked shirt — she’s clearly not a person who thinks much about what she’s wearing — hoofing her way to meet a source at a South End café. News reporting means writing, but it also means getting out of the office. You don’t crack a story like this one by trolling the Web to see what already-broken news you can repackage.

Spotlight is a great American newspaper movie in the tradition of All the President’s Men. It’s exhilarating, as that picture was. But the fragile state of newspapers today gives it a more urgent, melancholy context. Even if Spotlight is largely about journalistic ideals, it’s also attuned to the ways in which a paper is bound up with the life of its city or town. When Rezendes quizzes a sex-abuse victim — played with anguished gravity by Jimmy LeBlanc — the man says at first that he doesn’t want Rezendes to use his name; he has a very young daughter and isn’t sure he wants her to know about his own childhood trauma. He’s a belligerent-looking guy, instantly recognizable as a specific Boston type, with a gaze that’s both direct and guarded, as if he wants to take down the world before it takes him down. Even though the articulate, inquisitive Rezendes also comes, presumably, from working-class roots, the two seem a universe apart.

But by the time the victim has reached the end of his story, harrowing in its straightforwardness, his Boston could be anyone’s Boston. That city — I lived there for sixteen years — is so striated that Carhartt-jacket Dorchester, just a T-ride away from suede-elbow-patch Cambridge, may as well be on the other side of the Earth. Yet Patrick — in the end, he allows Rezendes to use his name — collapses that distance with his story. When a newspaper dies, the stories of its city and its people are in danger of dying with it. Spotlight stands in defiance of that and asserts that the price of that defiance is worth paying. As reader or employee, newspapers will break your heart. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be worth the cost of the paper they’re printed on.

Directed by Tom McCarthy
Open Road Films
Opens November 6, Regal Union Square and AMC Loews Lincoln Square

Directed by Tom McCarthy. Written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup.


‘Spectre’ Grinds Through Plot, but It and Craig Look Great

Because women are particularly beguiling when viewed from behind, the camera loves to follow them: Anyone who’s watched James Stewart’s lovesick detective trailing Kim Novak, a platinum dream poured into a pale gray flannel hourglass, understands the voyeurism at the heart of Vertigo. With Spectre — the twenty-fourth James Bond picture and the fourth and probably final one to feature Daniel Craig as 007 — director Sam Mendes takes a tip, perhaps unwittingly, from Hitchcock, as well as from Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil: The picture opens in Mexico City with a regal, ambitious, Wellesian tracking shot that begins in the midst of a Day of the Dead parade and eventually finds its way to Craig’s Bond, standing in the crowd.

He’s wearing a holiday-appropriate costume, a sexy-threatening skull mask and a black topcoat with a silkscreened skeleton’s spine winding up the back. There’s a masked beauty on his arm, but who’s looking at her? The camera trails the couple as they trek through the reveling masses, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off that spine, a sensuous, rippling, imaginary x-ray of the man beneath. Why, oh why, don’t real 3-D glasses — the ones advertised in the backs of comic books and sold to young boys hoping to see through women’s clothes — actually exist?

We don’t really need to see through Daniel Craig’s clothes, because eventually he does take at least some of them off. But dressed or un-, he’s the chief pleasure to be had in Spectre, along with the joys of gazing at the feral-flower beauty of Léa Seydoux (as Madeleine Swann, the headstrong psychologist Bond falls for), Monica Bellucci (who appears only briefly, as an Italian widow in a merry widow), and the radiant charmer Naomie Harris (who again plays MI6 administrative assistant Miss Moneypenny, although like most administrative assistants, she’s sorely underappreciated and given only unimportant things to do).

Spectre on the whole is gorgeous, shot — by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema — in a bevy of locales including sandy-gold Morocco, glowing, gray-marble Rome, the winter-white Austrian Alps, and, of course, dazzling, polychrome Mexico City. Every action sequence is beautifully staged and edited clearly: There’s a rough-and-tumble dustup set in a train’s dining car and a breathtaking midair scuffle in which the two principals dangle precariously from a flying helicopter. Mendes and his screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth) give us multiple villains to thrill to and hate, one played by appealing muscleman Dave Bautista, another by Christoph Waltz, who’s perfectly fine if you’re not yet tired of his trademark death’s-head grin. This isn’t your average James Bond movie; it’s more of a SuperBond, packed with all sorts of things you didn’t know you wanted — but also with things you don’t really need.

Because in the end, Spectre is just too much of a good thing. Though each scene is carefully wrought, there’s little grace, majesty, or romance in the way the pieces are connected. The whole is bumpy and inelegant — entertaining for sure, but hard to love. It’s easy to see how all this aggressive splendor could fall flat: Both Mendes and Craig have said in interviews that they were nervous about being able to top the over-the-topness of 2012’s rich, resonant Skyfall, Mendes’s first film in the franchise; Craig has also said that he’s “done” with James Bond, and though that could be exhaustion speaking, it’s easy to see how the excesses of Spectre might cause anyone to say, Enough.

The shaky plot mechanics don’t help: Acting on a tip from his late, and beloved, boss M (Judi Dench, who appears here only in a small, moving snippet of video), Bond goes rogue to root out the mysterious head of bad-guy syndicate SPECTRE. In the process, he flagrantly disobeys his new boss (played with bespoke tastefulness by Ralph Fiennes) and messes up the beautiful Aston Martin DB10 he’s stolen from fidgety gadget mastermind Q (an adorable Ben Whishaw, dressed in a series of amazing jackets, in plum tweeds and dark-blue windowpane-checks). Meanwhile, an evil new boss (Andrew Scott, of Sherlock) has taken over MI6 with plans to dissolve it. There’s enough plot here for six movies, and Spectre groans under the weight. Mendes has dropped in some lovely details that nearly get lost: Not surprisingly, Bond’s underfurnished bachelor-spy apartment is lacking in tchotchkes, but we do get a glimpse of a miniature bulldog figurine, its back adorned with a Union Jack, that in the old days used to sit on M’s desk.

Touches like that personalize a living space, and they help humanize Bond, too. If this really is Craig’s last go-round in a 007 dinner jacket and bow tie, let’s make the most of it by objectifying his beauty to the max. Let’s drink in the sight of him standing alone in the window of his apartment, gazing at the twilight London view beyond — he’s in his shirtsleeves, his gun holster still strapped across his back. We can’t see his face, but we know he’s brooding. This is how Craig’s Bond unwinds, when he unwinds, which is hardly ever. In those pre-Spectre interviews Craig expressed boredom with the 007 character, but if that’s the case, he’s a good enough actor that his ennui serves the performance. When Bond scowls, we see a man dissatisfied with himself; when he strokes Madeleine’s cheek, he’s shutting off, if only for a few moments, the almost relentless macho current that drives him. This scrappy bulldog Bond is tired, but he’s also capable of tenderness. And no matter how frustrating or exhausting Spectre may be, there’s nothing but sadness to be felt in watching him walk away.

Directed by Sam Mendes
Sony Pictures
Opens November 6

Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth. Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw.


No Sizzle: Restaurant Drama ‘Burnt’ Is Dead on the Plate

Before Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential, in 2000, mere mortals who simply eat in restaurants had little idea about the drinking, debauchery, and drug use rampant among the folks responsible for getting their fettuccine alfredo to the table. The book was eye-opening if true, and a rambunctious, vicarious pleasure even if only semi-true. But although it eventually made Bourdain a TV star, it surprisingly didn’t spawn a legion of movies set in restaurant kitchens. There have been a few, like Scott Hicks’s tepid 2007 No Reservations (with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart). But John Wells’s Burnt is the first mainstream picture to attempt to serve up the full Bourdainian-bacchanalian experience, even though Bourdain has no involvement in the film.

The result is an overflowing, oddly seasoned plate. Bradley Cooper — who actually did play a version of Bourdain in a 2005 TV series based on Kitchen Confidential — plays Adam Jones, formerly a star chef at a hugely successful Paris restaurant. Drink, drugs, and other crazy stuff got the better of him, and he dropped out and got clean: As the film opens, he’s serving a self-imposed sentence doing the lowliest of tasks, shucking oysters. But even if his liver is a shambles, his ego is fully intact. He launches a plan to restart his career in London, persuading an old associate, Tony Balerdi (Daniel Brühl), to take a chance on partnering with him. Tony reluctantly agrees, and Jones proceeds to be his obsessed, perfectionist self, throwing tantrums in the kitchen every five minutes, often for no discernible reason. Plates fly against the wall and pan lids get dashed to the floor, where they spin and clatter like wayward symphony cymbals.

You might need all that noise to keep you awake. Wells (director, most recently, of August, Osage County) and screenwriters Steven Knight and Michael Kalesniko pack as much stuffing as possible into this rubbery squid of a film — and then jam in yet more, and the movie gets duller and less focused as it wears on. Jones has a sous-chef love interest (Sienna Miller, charming in her no-fuss bobbed blond hair) and a sultry ex (Alicia Vikander, who graces just a scene or two with her Mona Lisa smile). Uma Thurman shows up as a tough-ass lesbian restaurant critic: When she takes a bite of the meal Jones has prepared for her, the cartoonish glow of ecstasy that crosses her face wouldn’t be out of place in a lo-cal-pudding commercial aimed at beleaguered housewives. Have I mentioned that Tony also happens to be in love with Jones? In one scene he’s given the opportunity to gaze with lovesick longing at this asshole chef’s shirtless form, though the movie treats his feelings as a tossed-off joke.

But wait, there’s more: Omar Sy plays a struggling chef bent on avenging a past wrong, Matthew Rhys is a rival chef who cuts Jones down every chance he gets, and Emma Thompson is a well-heeled psychiatrist sporting an unflattering assortment of tent dresses and brogues. A kid gets into the act, too: Miller’s single mom has an adorable moppet of a daughter, one who appears to have emerged from the womb with the sophisticated palate of a 50-year-old Le Meurice habitué. (She is pretty cute, and she’s played by Lexi Benbow-Hart.)

What figurative sauce, seasoning, condiment, or rare truffle oil doesn’t find its way into Burnt? English chef Marcus Wareing and New York fixture Mario Batali served as consultants on the film, and though I can’t really say if it’s a realistic depiction of behind-the-scenes restaurant action, the actual cooking looks rather convincing. There’s lots of shouting and chaos and shaking of pans, though the picture isn’t as food-porny as you might expect: Wells gives us quick close-ups of prawns being bathed in butter and chunks of meat sizzling away but never time enough to ogle any of this rather ravishingly styled food.

We are expected, of course, to ogle Cooper’s Jones, looking surly and scruffy and bedroom-ready, even when — maybe especially when — he’s toiling in the kitchen. His arrogance is presented as swoon-worthy swagger. He doesn’t really sweat; he merely gets dewy. But when he’s finally humbled — as all alpha antiheroes inevitably must be — he’s actually less appealing than when he was a full-on jerk. Overcharred on the outside and soggy in the middle, Burnt just can’t get it right. Back to the kitchen with it.

Directed by John Wells
The Weinstein Company
Opens October 30 

Directed by John Wells. Written by Steven Knight and Michael Kalesniko. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Uma Thurman, Daniel Brühl, Alicia Vikander, Lexi Benbow-Hart, and Sam Keeley.