Spotlight Blu-ray Review

Spotlight breaks its silence on Blu-ray with a Highly Recommended edition. 4 Stars
Spotlight (2015)
Released: 25 Nov 2015
Rated: R
Runtime: 128 min
Director: Tom McCarthy
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber
Writer(s): Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Plot: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
IMDB rating: 8.3
MetaScore: 93

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hrs. 9 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Case Type:
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 02/23/2016
MSRP: $34.98

The Production: 4.5/5

“All these neat, little houses and all these nice, little streets.   It’s hard to believe that something’s wrong with some of those little houses.”

“No, it isn’t”

-Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) & Woodward (Robert Redford) in All The President’s Men (1976)

 

“You’d better take a good look, because I’m getting two things: pissed off and curious”

-Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) in The Insider (1999)

 

“We got two stories here. A story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry.

Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.”

-Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) in Spotlight (2015)

 

I’ll just start right out by saying that Spotlight is, hands down, one of the two best movies of 2016.   (It shares that honor with The Big Short and we’ll just have to see what happens at the Oscars in a week and a half to know how they do.) It is easily the best journalism movie we’ve had come down the pike since The Insider in 1999, and it can easily stand alongside the classic All The President’s Men. Without spoiling anything, I’ll note that the story follows the Boston Globe’s 2002 coverage of the Catholic Church scandal, which not only up-ended the city of Boston but sent shockwaves around the world.   The movie is tightly written and directed by Tom McCarthy, and features strong performances from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci, standing out among a gifted ensemble. It’s a movie that can give you hope about the power of the press, even while it may shock you with its revelations.   For the strength of the movie alone, this Blu-ray is Highly Recommended.

SPOILERS: The best journalism movies usually rely on a secret being revealed. The bigger the secret, the better the story. This was the case with The Insider, which makes a devastating case about Big Tobacco’s inner workings and the lengths it would go to cover them up.   It was the case with All The President’s Men, which starts with a simple break-in and slowly has the journalists tease out the information until we can see the bones of a devastating cover-up. With Spotlight, the situation is far more insidious. Because it’s happening in plain sight.   And what makes all three of these movies even creepier is that they are solidly based on actual fact. In the specific case of Spotlight, we follow the work of the “Spotlight” team inside the Boston Globe as they slowly uncover the pieces of the priest/child abuse scandal. The power of the film is that the filmmakers understand this is a violation of the most basic part of a community – the trust that families place in their church, that people place in their pastors. To be a child who has been abused by a priest, or the parent of that child is to have one’s entire faith lost. It wasn’t simply the bodies of the people that were abused here – it was their spirits.

MORE SPOILERS: To the credit of the actors in Spotlight, pretty much everyone plays their parts in an understated manner, letting the horror of the facts speak for themselves. (That said, Stanley Tucci does put on a flashy turn as attorney Mitchell Garabedian, but it works in context.) Michael Keaton is actually stronger in this movie than he was in last year’s Birdman. To be honest, Keaton is stronger here than he’s ever been before – just in the quiet authority he exudes as Walter Robinson. Mark Ruffalo is also strong here, although his character’s distinct accent can be a bit hard to understand at times. As the reporters learn more and more about the scandal, and the mire gets deeper, there is a palpable sense of growing unease. First we’re talking about one priest, who apparently was being moved around from parish to parish to keep the situation quiet. Then the reporters realize they’re looking at over ten priests. Then the number jumps above 90. And keeps climbing.   As a grim sidenote to the situation, one of the reporters is shown discovering that one of the halfway houses where these priests were sheltered is actually around the corner from his own home. (This is again based on the actual facts that happened with the reporters.)   And even when the story breaks and you expect a moment of triumph for the reporters, the movie refuses to allow it. Instead, the reporters are given a quiet acknowledgement that they need to stay on it, as their phones ring off their hooks with readers offering leads of even more abuse situations within the Catholic Church.   For the final punchline, the viewer is shown a massive list of cities around the world where additional scandals have been discovered and reported since the Globe broke the story. The sheer size of the list is heartbreaking.

SPOILERS CONTINUE: I also must acknowledge that the movie makes a point not to shy away from any of the difficult questions that come up. There is a direct acknowledgement that the Globe could be criticized for having an outsider like Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) direct the team to dig into this story. There’s even an acknowledgment that Catholics could resent a Jewish editor ordering this story to be done.   And there’s one situation that I’m not sure the movie handles as deftly as the others – it’s the reason I’m giving the movie 4 ½ stars rather than 5. As the movie progresses, we are repeatedly told that the Globe ALREADY had this information but sat on it for years.   The matter is brought up to Robinson several times and he seems to be curious as to who knew about the scandal and let it lie. But in the final moments, we’re suddenly told it’s Robinson himself who knew about this. Keaton does the best he can with this scene, but the whole revelation is odd. If in fact he already knew about the problem, then his entire arc in the movie should have been of a different shape. That said, the one misstep is not enough to derail the movie, and the sheer power of the overall material is enough to keep the viewer floored all the way to the list of shame that is the last thing we see before the credits roll.

The Blu-ray of Spotlight contains the movie in solid high definition for picture and sound, and again, on the movie’s own merits is Highly Recommended. But I need to warn viewers there’s almost no bonus features here. You’d think there would be a documentary on the issue, an extensive interview with the reporters, a commentary, something. Instead, all we get are three short featurettes, totaling just about 12 ½ minutes of material. For a high profile release like this, I’d frankly expect something more in-depth.

Spotlight will be released to home theater viewers on the 23rd, just in time for the Oscar ceremony in another week.  The packaging includes Blu-ray and SD DVD editions of the movie, both containing the same materials. Instructions for downloading a digital copy of each movie are included on an insert in the packaging.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

Spotlight is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC transfer (avg 34 mbps) that accurately depicts the array of Canadian locations and a few Boston landmarks that were used for the filming of the movie. The movie has a grainy look, which is appropriate to the material.

Audio: 4/5

Spotlight is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (avg 3.3 mbps, going up to 4.0 mbps in the big scenes). As one would expect, this is a dialogue-centric mix. The movie is a fairly quiet one, tending to avoid sweeping vistas of sound in favor of quieter atmospherics.

Special Features: 1.5/5

Spotlight comes with three short featurettes as its entire complement of bonus features. The same featurettes are available on both the Blu-ray and the DVD editions. Both editions contain previews for other releases – the difference being that the Blu-ray uses online previews while the DVD has them on the actual disc.

 

Uncovering The Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable (6:33, 1080p AVC) – The real Boston Globe reporters are assembled here for a group discussion about this story. The featurette intercuts between several clips from the movie and soundbites from the reporters as they discuss their work. There’s one interesting bit where the guys discuss how computers and spreadsheets made the difference in this story – even though this was happening in 2001 and one would think that all these guys already had that technology…

 

Spotlight: A Look Inside (2:30, 1080p AVC) – This featurette is so short that half of the time is taken up with the movie clips. The remainder consists of the usual soundbites.

 

The State of Journalism (3:14, 1080p) – The final short featurette addresses the dying industry of newspapers and print journalism. But it’s so short that they’re barely able to even start the discussion before it’s over.   And once again, I have to note that there is NO POINT to having multiple tiny featurettes when everything could go on a single piece. If you cut out the duplicative movie clips between the three featurettes, you’d probably have a 10 minute featurette, which is still really slight for this movie, but is more honest in terms of how much real material was presented here.

 

DVD Edition – An SD DVD of the movie is included in the packaging, containing the movie in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (@448 kbps) and the same short featurettes. The DVD also holds a Previews menu, containing trailers for the following Open Road productions: Rosewater, Nightcrawler, End of Watch, Pawn Sacrifice, Trash, Dope, Rock the Kasbah and Mr. Robot Season One.

Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions for obtaining digital and Ultraviolet copies of the 2D edition of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging.

 

The film and special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.

Overall: 4/5

Spotlight is one of the very best movies of 2015, and on its own strengths as a movie, it is Highly Recommended for Purchase. The movie takes an unflinching look at how Boston Globe reporters uncovered the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal, and the effect can be overwhelming at times. The Blu-ray offers the movie in solid high definition. But don’t expect much in the way of extras here.

Published by

Kevin EK

administrator

24 Comments

  1. Spotlight, I think, could be the film that sneaks up on everybody and wins the Best Picture Oscar. It has everything the Academy loves. A wonderful cast, great writing, good direction, a real life story that shook up people all over, and it is the kind of film that allows them to pat themselves on the back for telling "important" stories. All this and it was a really good old fashioned newspaper "reporter gets the big scoop" yarn that has always been something Hollywood likes to do. Having it continue Michael Keaton's "comeback" streak helps too I think. For me The Revenant is actually the film I would go with for Best Picture but I have a hard time believing that the Academy (who now seems to have this strategy of spreading the awards around to attract as much attention as they can to as many pictures and people as possible) will not give the same director the Best Picture two years running. This despite the fact that I think The Revenant is a greater achievement than Birdman and features yet another full throttle performance from Leo DiCaprio so this is the film Inarritu should have taken home Best Picture for. It's really a stunning film that I think few people could have made. These are both really great films so whichever wins I think is deserving and I really liked The Big Short too…so just my two cents. Also excellent review of a really great film that I will certainly pick-up on Tuesday, Kevin.

  2. Thanks for the review, Kevin. I agree 100 percent about the importance of this film.I'm surprised the video is described as grainy since the film was shot digitally on Alexa cameras (mainly because Toronto no longer has the infrastructure to support productions on film). I figured the image would just be a downcovert from the digital files. The Vudu HDX rental I watched last night certainly seemed to be.

  3. Thank you for the review of this outstanding film. Following a viewing of Spotlight I revisited the Showtime movie Our Fathers with Christopher Plummer. Tells the same story from a different perspective and is every bit as impactful as Spotlight.  I highly recommend both films.

  4. My instincts tell me that next Sunday will see a battle between Spotlight and The Big Short for all the key awards.

    I wasn't as happy with The Revenant.  It's an hour too long, and there simply isn't very much story to keep things going.  A 3 hour epic needs to have plenty of events to keep it going – an essentially single straight-line narrative of Glass' journey and Fitzgerald's journey can't sustain interest for that kind of time.  (Similarly, Tarantino's Hateful 8 is a bloated, overlong mess – I was not pleased to realize the "glorious 70mm epic" was actually going to spend over 40 minutes inside a stagecoach carriage and then at least another 90 minutes of its running time inside a saloon.)

    I believe the breakup we're looking at next week is:

    Hateful 8 – Score

    Revenant – Cinematography (bringing Chivo to a hat trick of 3 times in a row), Makeup, Sound Effects Editing, possibly Best Actor

    Spotlight – Original Screenplay, possibly Best Editing, possibly Best Director, possibly Best Picture

    The Big Short – Adapted Screenplay, possibly Best Editing, possibly Best Director, possibly Best Picture

    (my instincts say that whoever starts to run the table of Editing and Director will also pick up Best Picture.  Either way, I don't see it going to The Revenant and there are no other serious contenders.  The Academy will not be awarding Best Picture to Mad Max: Fury Road.)

    and just for fun in the Acting arena

    Best Actor – possibly Leonardo DiCaprio, unless Eddie Redmayne pulls this out

    Best Actress – Brie Larson in a walk

    Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander in a walk

    Best Supporting Actor – possibly Sylvester Stallone if Academy voters are feeling sentimental.  If not, watch out for Mark Rylance.  (I personally really liked Tom Hardy's performance, but I don't know that he'll actually get an award for it.)

  5. I saw the look as being somewhat grainy.  Not heavily so.  But not looking like the sheen of, say, one of the Marvel movies.

    This is a lower budgeted movie, with a look that matches the newspaper roots of the story. 

    I'm actually very happy with the way the movie looked, so my comment wasn't meant as a criticism.  More that it's part of the texture of the movie, and it's an intentional touch.

    BTW most productions these days seem to be shooting with Alexas.  I've worked with them almost exclusively over the past 5 years, from the moment that Private Practice switched itself over at the end of our 4th season.   It's interesting that Arri wound up moving into prominence and that Panavision is primarily dealing with lenses these days.   We keep waiting to see when the major Panavision digital motion picture camera is introduced.

  6. I wasn't aware that Panavision had one in use on productions.  They've repeatedly said they will have one soon, but I haven't seen one yet.  If they have one running, it hasn't popped up on the shows I've worked.  I've seen Red cameras and Sonys, but mostly the Arri Alexas these days.

    The Alexas on the shows I've worked have been pretty much on a par with the last generation of Panaflex cameras we were using when we switched over on PP.  I don't work in that area of production, so I gauge it by how they react to exposure and how reliable the equipment is on set (ie does it break down).   The main difference I've noted, other than a greater sensitivity to night lighting, is that instead of checking the gate for hairs, we just press the button to make sure the clip recorded.  We still call it checking the gate on many sets, but the term now goes to mean a double check.

  7. I wasn't aware that Panavision had one in use on productions.  They've repeatedly said they will have one soon, but I haven't seen one yet.  If they have one running, it hasn't popped up on the shows I've worked.  I've seen Red cameras and Sonys, but mostly the Arri Alexas these days.

    The Alexas on the shows I've worked have been pretty much on a par with the last generation of Panaflex cameras we were using when we switched over on PP.  I don't work in that area of production, so I gauge it by how they react to exposure and how reliable the equipment is on set (ie does it break down).   The main difference I've noted, other than a greater sensitivity to night lighting, is that instead of checking the gate for hairs, we just press the button to make sure the clip recorded.  We still call it checking the gate on many sets, but the term now goes to mean a double check.

    I thought that they had a digital camera in use. My bad.

  8. I could well be wrong.   If they do, I have not seen it in use.  My understanding is that they are still in development on building one.  I think they're in partnership with another company on it, but I only know what cameras I see on the floor – and 90+% of them today are Alexas.  (And there are multiple types of Alexas, by the way)

  9. Josh, I believe you're correct.  I think the Genesis was a co-production between Panavision and Sony.   But I haven't heard about anyone using it in the last few years, at least not on anything I've seen.  There were Genesis cameras being used between 2007 and 2012, but I'm hard pressed to find a major production using one now.  Something about various features not working out the way camera crews wanted. The Alexas came on by the spring of 2011 and really took over at that point.   Since 2012, I've heard about Panavision wanting to come up with their own new camera to compete with the Alexa but I still haven't seen it yet.   The word I tend to hear on set is that Panavision primarily works with lenses now.   At least for the present.

  10. I think the other thing that limited the Genesis is that it was a 1080P camera, whereas the Alexa and RED cameras are true 2K and higher. The first Ted is the last movie I can recall being shot on one. The movie that always comes to mind when I think of the Genesis, though, is Captain America: The First Avenger. I loved the look of that picture.

  11. I believe the breakup we're looking at next week is:

    Hateful 8 – Score

    Revenant – Cinematography (bringing Chivo to a hat trick of 3 times in a row), Makeup, Sound Effects Editing, possibly Best Actor

    Spotlight – Original Screenplay, possibly Best Editing, possibly Best Director, possibly Best Picture

    The Big Short – Adapted Screenplay, possibly Best Editing, possibly Best Director, possibly Best Picture

    (my instincts say that whoever starts to run the table of Editing and Director will also pick up Best Picture.  Either way, I don't see it going to The Revenant and there are no other serious contenders.  The Academy will not be awarding Best Picture to Mad Max: Fury Road.) [MY NOTE: Just the lion's share of everything craft-related, six in all, including Editing]

    and just for fun in the Acting arena

    Best Actor – possibly Leonardo DiCaprio, unless Eddie Redmayne pulls this out

    Best Actress – Brie Larson in a walk

    Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander in a walk

    Best Supporting Actor – possibly Sylvester Stallone if Academy voters are feeling sentimental.  If not, watch out for Mark Rylance.  (I personally really liked Tom Hardy's performance, but I don't know that he'll actually get an award for it.)

    Not a bad batting average Kevin. Any dough in the pools?

    My own picks were less prescient (and less profitable), except for Rylance, whom I stubbornly stuck with when all around me were saying "No way; it's going to be a career roll-up for Stallone" Well, "Nyah, Nyah."

    My other outlier pick was Ex Machina for FX…nobody in our group believed it had a chance up against its spectacular competition.

    However, that same stubborness didn't pay off with The Big Short for Picture. Coincidentally, I had just watched the Blu-ray of Spotlight (aka All the Cardinal's Men) two days before the awards, and couldn't shake the feeling it would fade from voters minds as quickly as it was fading from my own. Make no mistake, Spotlight was a fine movie, solidy done overall, but sort of TV-ish in style and easily digestible in a single sitting. Nothing to really nag and draw me back like The Big Short, which was both an important subject and dazzling in execution. Close on its heels was Spielberg's woefully underappreciated Bridge of Spies.

    2015 was just an odd 'grab-bag' year…so it was amusing to read in retrospect how closely you pegged how the Oscars would ultimately play out.

  12. The problem with Genesis was the film Panavision selected to use as their showpiece for the camera (Superman Returns) produced flat, soft, and lifeless images; strange askew color choices, and all sorts of digital artifacts and it never really got any better from there. And then Soderbergh started boosting the Red Epic as the new hotness even though it literally had an overheating problem.

  13. It's rare that I ever work with a Red – I'm simply used to dealing with Alexas since 2011.   But people are always on the lookout to see if Panavision can ever give us a really good digital Panaflex.   I would never count Panavision out, even if it takes them a few more years. 

    Regarding the Oscar picks:

    -I never expected Mad Max to pick up 6 craft awards.  And frankly a couple of those should have gone to Revenant – sound effects and makeup.   Costumes really should have gone to Danish Girl or Cinderella. 

    -I would have been killed in an Oscar pool as I didn't expect the Academy to give all the crafts nods to Mad Max.

    -BTW the Sound Mixing award seems to be misunderstood, sometimes even by the Academy voters.   When they were running that award, they kept giving audio examples of more post-production sound EFFECTS.   Sound Mixing covers the actual recording of sound and dialogue on set.   The best example I can give of this is Les Miserables winning it in 2012, which was quite appropriate given all the live recordings of the songs.   It's possible that they were thinking that a lot of the dialogue for Mad Max was recorded live in the moving vehicles.  I tend to think a lot of the movie was looped in post, but I wouldn't know.

    -I was very happy to see Ex Machina get the VFX award.  But we should keep in mind this was a case where there were three other nominees who split the vote.   I'm betting Mad Max and Martian carved out a lot of the votes but couldn't get enough on their own, and Star Wars carved out another section, leaving the middle lane open for Ex Machina, a movie the Academy voters really liked but couldn't find another place to reward.  And the VFX were good in it too.

    -I was very happy to see Mark Rylance, a brilliant Shakespearean actor, win an Oscar.   He gave a great performance.  My thinking was based on neither Mark Ruffalo or Christian Bale being likely to get the nod, and knowing that Hardy wouldn't get it unless Revenant was sweeping.    As for Stallone, I could never see the Academy giving him a lifetime achievement award here.   They did this in the past with Paul Newman in 1986 – but look at the movies Newman had done over his career, and then look at the movies Stallone has done.   Most of Newman's were good, if not great movies.  Occasionally a silly one (like When Time Ran Out or Towering Inferno) that everyone knew he did for the paycheck, like DeNiro with most of his output since 2000.   Most of Stallone's movies have been awful.   It's more appropriate that he win a Golden Globe than an Oscar.  But I'm happy he was able to at least get a nomination – that was a sign of affection and personal respect and I believe he accepted the situation as such.

    -I was amazed to see The Martian totally shut out of crafts.   Surprised to see Revenant get Best Director, given how overlong and indulgent the movie is.   Resigned to see DiCaprio get Best Actor when Redmayne actually did the best work.   (I would have reversed the back-to-back situation, giving the Best Director nod to either Spotlight or Big Short, and giving the 2-in-a-row to Redmayne…)

  14. It's rare that I ever work with a Red – I'm simply used to dealing with Alexas since 2011.   But people are always on the lookout to see if Panavision can ever give us a really good digital Panaflex.   I would never count Panavision out, even if it takes them a few more years.

    Regarding the Oscar picks:

    -I never expected Mad Max to pick up 6 craft awards.  And frankly a couple of those should have gone to Revenant – sound effects and makeup.   Costumes really should have gone to Danish Girl or Cinderella.

    You have to admit that Jenny Bevan is a very versatile designer though. How much farther could she get from her Merchant/Ivory designs?:)

  15. She's a great designer – all the nominees are.  I just thought the other movies offered far more interesting costumes than the usual mode of leather biker gang stuff for Mad Max.  And that basic costume design motif was established over 35 years ago with the first two Mad Max movies with Mel Gibson.

  16. BTW the Sound Mixing award seems to be misunderstood, sometimes even by the Academy voters.   When they were running that award, they kept giving audio examples of more post-production sound EFFECTS.   Sound Mixing covers the actual recording of sound and dialogue on set.   The best example I can give of this is Les Miserables winning it in 2012, which was quite appropriate given all the live recordings of the songs.   It's possible that they were thinking that a lot of the dialogue for Mad Max was recorded live in the moving vehicles.  I tend to think a lot of the movie was looped in post, but I wouldn't know.

    Gee, you'd think that the people putting together the clips for the awards would try to work with people from that section of the Academy that selects the nominees, and have the clips highlight what they award's all about.  But at least they're making some effort nowadays to focus on the movies themselves.  Remember the days when, in showing the clips, they would have them scrunched up to one quarter of the screen in the corner, with three quarters of the screen taken up by nonsense like a row of rotating Oscar statuettes?  Hey, this is about the movies–show us the MOVIES!  (/rant)

  17. I think that Louie CK in giving the award for documentary short had a little fun with this.  In addition to noting that the winners of that category would be driving the Oscar home in a Honda Civic, I believe in announcing the winner, he initially said, "And the winner is…Mad Max… oh, wait…"

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