Pick of the week: “Spotlight“ — My full review is here. Last year’s Best Picture winner was something of an underdog, fitting for a complex, cool-headed but quietly furious drama about a team of Boston Globe reporters who painstakingly unearth a conspiracy of silence around priest abuse in the Catholic Church. Writer-director Tom McCarthy avoids Hollywood melodrama, instead showing us the relentless legwork that went into reporting the story, making things such as searching through archives and interviewing witnesses the stuff of high drama, and heroism.
“T(ERROR)“ — My full review is here. This documentary would be hilarious if it weren’t so sadly true, as the filmmaker got unbelievable inside access to an FBI informant who, for cash, basically entraps a seemingly innocent Muslim into a very sketchy terrorism conspiracy case. After I saw this film, I never looked at news reports trumpeting FBI investigations busting “terror rings” the same way again.
“The Fundamentals of Caring“ — My full review is here. Netflix scooped up this indie comedy-drama from the Sundance Film Festival, not surprisingly, since it trafficks in the usual Sundance cliches — blocked writer dealing with personal loss, road trips, young person with fatal disease, Paul Rudd. But writer-director Rob Burnett’s film transcends those same cliches with dry humor and genuine performances from Rudd and co-star Craig Roberts.
“Theeb“ — My full review is here. Like the flip side of “Lawrence of Arabia,” this rousing adventure film is set in 1915 Jordan, only from the perspective of the natives, using only Bedouin non-actors. Two brothers get conscripted into a British officer’s secret mission, and their journey involves bandit attacks, near escapes, and some sweeping cinematography.
“Cemetery of Splendor“ — My full review is here. The latest film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) is a typically elusive and haunting one. In telling the story of soldiers suffering some kind of sleeping sickness and the spirits who watch over them, Weerasethakul peels back the layers of his country to look at memory, history, and the thin curtain separating the living from the dead.