Brooklyn

Today we are going to take a look at John Crowley’s historical drama Brooklyn. Directed by Crowley and starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, and Emory Cohen, it is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

From IMDB: Eilis Lacey leaves small town Ireland for a better life in New York, arranged by an Irish priest in Brooklyn. Working in a shop she takes a bookeeping course and participates in the Irish community. There she meets an Italian, and falls in love. They marry but she wants to see her mother after the death of her sister in Ireland. Returning home she falls into the life of the small town, meets a local guy, but also a nasty neighbour who knows she was married in the US.

8.5 out of 10

This movie gave me all the feels. I think I cried three or four times while watching it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a love story.

Though Brooklyn may not have the celebrity-studded star power that some other Oscar contenders have, Saoirse Ronan did a terrific job playing Eilis Lacey. Her counterparts, Emory Cohen (what a cutie) and Domhnall Gleeson, also created lovable characters as her two romantic interests.

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Brooklyn takes you through Eilis Lacey’s journey from Ireland to — you guessed it — Brooklyn. At the beginning, Eilis is shy, soft-spoken, and visibly unhappy in her hometown. The frequent use of close-up shots of her facial expressions manage to say everything without words. Along with these close-up shots, cringe-worthy scenes (for lack of better film terminology) are used to further develop Eilis’s character. From the scene where she gets seasick on the boat to America, to when she attempts to make awkward small-talk with customers at Bartocci’s, viewers feel for Eilis during her struggle to adjust to her new setting.

While the storyline was very formulaic, the unique characters made it enjoyable. There is something to be said for a movie that takes you back to simpler times. With the detailed costumes and sets, along with ancillary characters like the God-fearing Irish boarding house keeper, Mrs. Keough, the ambiance of 1950s Brooklyn is captured perfectly.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the pacing of this movie. At the beginning, I immediately thought this would be a slow film, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Everything transitions very nicely, from Eilis’s homesickness in America, to her falling in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), to her going back to Ireland. Which brings me to my favorite part of the movie: the romance.

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The love story of Eilis and Tony is what makes this movie exciting, unlike the boring immigrant story I thought it would be. It was refreshing seeing a film set in simpler times, especially with this romance. It was also interesting to see two different cultures collide (how much more cliche can I get). Tony, the poor Italian boy who comes from a big family, and Eilis, the prim Irish girl, unaccustomed to American traditions, make for a unique yet adorable couple. One of the best scenes in the entire movie is when the other girls in the boarding house teach Eilis how to eat spaghetti in preparation for her dinner with Tony’s parents.

I was so invested in Tony and Eilis’s romance that I was screaming at my laptop screen when Eilis had to go back to Ireland. Eilis is soon torn between two lovers, as she becomes closer with Jim Farrell (Gleeson), a boy from her hometown. She is soon confronted with the decision to stay in Ireland or go back to Brooklyn.

2015, BROOKLYN

As I mentioned before, the plot is rather formulaic, but nevertheless, very enjoyable. At the heart of it, it is a beautiful love story, and by the end of the film, I was so attached to the main characters, Tony and Eilis. Amidst all the other Oscar contenders that everyone is buzzing about, Brooklyn may be a simpler story, but it is just as entertaining.
~Jen

8.0 out of 10

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domnhall Glesson among others, telling the story of a young Irish girl (played by Ronan) in the 1950s who comes to New York looking for work in the new land, and then once acclimated, has to choose between her two homes.

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The film has been nominated for three oscars including best picture, best actress for Saoirse Ronan, and best screenplay for Nick Hornby, the same screenwriter from About a Boy, and the last two are definitely well­ deserved. Ronan has a sweetness and charm in her performance that matches the film perfectly, slowly maturing from the innocent girl to a brave woman that is so natural and understated you don’t fully realize until the ending when she is confronts another character how strong she has become until the end. This subtlety in its protagonist arc is also due to its excellent script by Hornby, which is able to make the
character’s journey and conversations with other people seem real, almost like it was taken right out of a history book. The look of the film also sells the 1950s feel of Brooklyn and creates the
borough as a character itself.

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With that being said, the subtlety in the script is not met in its direction, done by John Crowley. It is directed in a very standard fashion, but makes the big moment painfully obvious
with a shot put in super slow motion or an extreme close up during an emotionally important scene. I would have liked to see a few more directorial interesting yet understated moments that are up to the standard of the writing.

Aside from Ronan, everybody in the cast does a very solid job, except for, in my opinion, her Brooklyn boyfriend, played by Emory Cohen. From the beginning, he tries to be cute and
mumbles his words together in a Brooklyn accent, but ends up looking more like an actor going for a type than a natural performance, especially when he’s compared to Ronan. But Cohen did grow on me as the film progressed, putting enough charm into his awkwardness to not fully offer
it as a real complaint.

But another point that I do feel has merit against the film is what the main character’s main focus is. When Ronan’s character moves to New York, she is faces many problems, most
of which appear to be fitting in, and seems really accurate to the time period. But it seems like all of her problems go away when a man comes into the picture for a brief time. It is this over reliance on men in a female driven film that brings down her character a bit for me. Yes, that is
somewhat true to the time period, but is doesn’t need to be the focus of this character when made in 2016.

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Yet overall, the film is delightful yet has a maturity to it with an outstanding performance by Saoirse Ronan, and a great date movie as well.
~Seth

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The Theory of Everything

Up next is a look at The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s biographical romantic drama about Stephen Hawking. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Tom Prior, The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything is the story of genius Stephen Hawking and the relationship with his wife Jane, as they experience Hawking’s fight with ALS together.

7 out of 10

I think I’ve said on numerous occasions before that I am a sucker for romance films. But this one was different. They all had accents, there was a lot of math and physics involved- really just a bunch of things that set this movie up to be pure boredom for me. Essentially, I was prepared for two hours of stodgy, stereotypical biopic film-making. While this was definitely true at points, The Theory of Everything proved to be a solid film, large in part to its exceptionally strong lead actors.

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The first thing I saw Eddie Redmayne in was Les Miserables where he played Marius, and was actually pretty good. I remember being impressed with how genuine he was (which I guess is what acting is). My point is, that’s the trait that most stood out to me in his turn as legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. You could tell how hard he was fighting. His humanity was still evident, despite the almost supernatural persona Hawking has grown into. Redmayne is the perfect combination of intelligent, charming and visceral in a performance that would usually be good enough to be considered a lock for Best Actor, if not for Michael Keaton. That’s not to say he won’t win, in fact I think he’s the favorite. He’s just not a lock.

And his opposite, Felicity Jones, was superb. The first thing I saw her in was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, quite a change of speed from this if you ask me, and she was kind of a throw away. I mean that entire movie was a throwaway (zing!), so I guess she didn’t really make a difference. Back on topic, I was super impressed with her performance opposite Redmayne. It would have been easy to be swallowed and forgotten in his shadow, but Jones proved to be a nice contrast, strong and cunning as Jane Wilde, and stood her ground, in turn receiving a much-deserved Best Actress nod.

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And often overlooked is the fact that the whole film is a technical spectacle as well. The cinematography is authentic and gives the film a very old fashioned British feel, using some nice color contrasts and finding moments to show off dazzling visual effects. The soundtrack is  nostalgic and gripping, adding to the poignancy the film is going for. 

That being said, there is certain something to Theory of Everything that prevents it from individualizing itself from the rest of the films this year. Especially considering that this year was heavy on biopics, you have to do something to separate yourself if you want to be remembered. With a long list of films including Foxcatcher, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Selma, Mr. Turner, Wild, and Unbroken, to be remembered requires standing out. The Theory of Everything, in my opinion, did not do that. The structure of the film was too regular– there were no risks taken with the story, the storytelling, the characters. Side note, I thought that was the same problem with The Imitation Game (coincidentally another story about a British genius in the mid 20th century).

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One of my main problems was that it was so one-sided. Once the romance wore out, our interested waned. The Theory of Everything had so much at its disposal to prevent this from happening, but instead it was all wasted. Hawking is maybe the smartest man in this world’s history and you don’t even talk about his science at all? That would have added a powerful second layer that the movie lacked behind the the relatively basic quest for a successful rom-dram. 
Alas, there’s no denying the strength of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ sintilizing performances; it gives this film exactly what it needs to be to assert itself as a good film, even if its not a great one. Though it indefinitely lacks a second dimension behind the romance, which doesn’t help considering the story is rather bland being a biopic, the direction and acting are superb and allow Theory of Everything to justify being nominated for best picture.
~Vig

7.5 out of 10

This is the first year I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees – Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and now The Theory of Everything – and in my personal opinion, it’s one of the strongest years for movies in recent memories. I thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all of the nominees, and there is no nominee that makes you scratch your head and ask yourself what kind of drugs the Academy is on. (Her? Really? [though Vig, the sappy, sentimental person that he is seems to love that one]).

I liked The Theory of Everything quite a bit more than past Best Picture Winners, namely the Academy-congratulating Argo, but unfortunately this movie comes in a year of fantastic movies, and some fantastic biopics (The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and Selma, among others). Other years, sure, The Theory of Everything would be a serious contender, but personally I think it falls in last place this year.

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That’s not to say that Theory doesn’t have its winning elements. Eddie Redmayne has a standout performance as Stephen Hawking, capturing effortlessly his character both before the onset of ALS and after. What really defined Redmayne’s performance, in my opinion, was his ability to retain Hawking’s cheekiness (it’s a British movie) even when physically crippled to the point where he can barely communicate. Even as Hawking transformed from a dashing, physically active college student into a wheelchair confined, aging man Redmayne showed Hawking’s refusal to submit to the disease. He’s a co-favorite with Michael Keaton to take the Best Actor award later this month. I personally prefer Keaton, but Redmayne is certainly equally deserving.

Opposite Redmayne was Felicity Jones. Her performance as Jane Wilde, Hawking’s first wife and the woman who cares for him for the first years of his disease, was incredibly compelling. She was alternatingly incredibly strong and heart-achingly vulnerable, able to communicate even the subtlest emotions with a simply look. Unfortunately for her, Julianne Moore is a virtual lock this year to take Best Actress.

These two leads were undoubtedly the top duo of the year, surpassing Keaton and Norton in Birdman, Cumberbatch and Knightly in The Imitation Game, and maybe even Simmons and Teller in Whiplash (which, by the way, just might be my favorite movie of the year). The chemistry between them was very alluring and very real and each complimented the other brilliantly.

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Aside from the acting, there was some very interesting camera work done here. Some shots were composed entirely in subdued hues of blue, while transition shots between scenes often reflected Hawking’s theories – latte foam was styled like a swirling black hole, for example.

My only problem with The Theory of Everything is that it was truthfully a little bit boring. It wasn’t oppressively long but was largely dearth of dynamic scenes. Yes, the film is about the evolution of Hawking’s disease and his refusal let it stop his work, and I get that that entails a slow process, but there was too often a lack of tension on the screen. Theory was also a relatively convention biopic. It failed to make a significant statement on illness, strength, or loyalty and instead seemed to be a mere retelling of Hawking and Wilde’s relationship which, while incredibly inspiring, fails to set it apart from the other biopics out there.

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Overall, The Theory of Everything is a moving and emotional – if not entirely exceptional—film about Hawking and Wilde that is carried almost completely by Redmayne and Jones, who give some of the strongest performances in recent memory. But unfortunately for Theory, that’s just not enough to set it apart from the other great films of 2014.
~Will

Her

The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.

joaquin

It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.
~Vig

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

The Great Gatsby

To start things off, we will be taking a look at The Great Gatsby, recently released on DVD and originally in theaters in May of 2013. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo and Juliet), it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton and Tobey Maguire. It is rated PG-13 for sexual content, smoking and drinking, violent images, and brief language.

Set in 1922, the story follows Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a World War I war veteran from the Midwest, as he travels to New York, taking a job as a bonds salesman. Carraway also serves as the narrator of the story. Soon after he arrives, he visits his cousin, the beautiful Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to his former classmate at Yale, Tom (Joel Edgerton). Nick has rented a small house on Long Island, next to the grand mansion owned by the illustrious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is known solely for his large, exciting parties that are thrown week after week.

Shortly after, Nick meets and befriends Gatsby. Gatsby has been in love with Daisy for five years, and desires to meet her once again, asking Nick to invite her to tea. The two slowly rekindle their love, and Gatsby attempts to steal her away from Tom.

7.0 out of 10

On the surface, this film is enjoyable, and interesting. But when you dig deeper, it is more glamour and style and less F. Scott Fitzgerald and actual content, something that truly disappointed me in the end (even if i have not read the book).

DiCaprio is the best thing about this film. He has the charm, the looks, and most importantly, the hope to play Jay Gatsby. Obsessed with Daisy, Gatsby refuses to lose hope, insisting she must leave Tom. And what helps is his chemistry with his cast mates, especially Carey Mulligan. Their relationship was intimate and loving, and without this bond, the film would have fallen apart. The rest of cast does a very solid job as well, with surprisingly strong performances from Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher, and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker) has a solid performance as well. We will get into Tobey Maguire’s performance a little bit later.

The film is shot using a 3-D camera, thus bringing out the bright colors and sights. The use of computer graphics is something that this film hasn’t been credited for in its first few months of release. Not many people realize how much of this film really is CGI. The city, Gatsby’s mansion; it’s pretty remarkable. This, along with the extravagant sets and costumes provide beautiful scenery. Luhrmann also utilizes colors very well, making the first half very bright and lively, in comparison to the darker second half, which is sadder and more dismal in tone.

The only problem is, the film concentrates too much on making it look good instead of actually It is not the appropriate music for this film. I like the idea of translating the era of jazzy music to modern day hip hop, but it stills concerns me to hear ‘Empire State of Mind’ while Gatsby and Nick are driving through the city. Now, being completely honest, it works. They somehow make it work. But this film is not a modern-day retelling. It is not Romeo + Juliet. So the choice to have modern music in a non-modern film is a bit odd. It doesn’t allow the viewer to actually get a feel of the time period when Jay-Z and Beyonce are blaring in the background. Again, this is just an opinion.

Tobey Maguire does a fine job as Nick Carraway. He is smart and sharp, playing the character with the right amount of innocence. But him as a narrator? Not so great. His designated narration scenes were boring and unconvincing. I don’t blame this on him, though. The storytelling was questionable in general. Having Nick write a book as a recovering alcoholic was unnecessary. Nick commonly recited passages from the novel and then those passages were written out while he was speaking. To me, this was just annoying. It was messy and unappealing and did nothing to advance the story. It constantly interrupted the flow of the film and gave us unwanted scenes with Maguire talking to some therapist. Not to say he does a bad job, it’s just unneeded and stupid. It’s unfortunate that is was a weak point, especially since it’s such a huge part of a movie. The storytelling really lets this film down.

Overall, this film was solid. It was nothing memorable, but it’s worth a watch if you have nothing else to do. The movie is far from perfect, but after multiple sub-par attempts at creating a movie that meets the expectations Fitzgerald set, this one is definitely at the top of the ladder.

~Vig

6.5 out of 10

Like the title character, Gastby seemingly has a lot going for it. However, both are ultimately brought down by the glitzy, superfluous excess of the world that surrounds them.

But, at the risk of sounding undecided, the things that are good about this movie are very good. It’s simply that, as mentioned previously, those things do not delve into the deepness that’s to be expected. Besides that, the few great emotional moments, the ones that strive to go beyond the visuals that are seemingly expected to carry the weight of the entire movie, are too few and far between. But, we’ll get to that later.

I am going to try not to touch the story so much with this adaption simply because everyone has their takes on the Gilded Age and Fitzgerald’s commentary on it. I’m focusing on the style over substance in this case because I really think that’s what the director is exclusively about: visuals that dazzle and distract. And when Empire State of Mind blasted over the glitzy world of the roaring twenties’ Long Island, I couldn’t help but be taken out of the period it presented to me (Or tried to, at least).

That’s where, to me, the main problem lies and I’m certainly going to keep harping on it. I’d much rather be taken away by cinematography, music and scenery that really captures an era (See films like Glory, Catch Me If You Can or, heck, Forrest Gump) rather than a film that constantly takes breaks from the time to try and draw connections between said age and today.

Would F. Scott Fitzgerald himself be pleased with it? I guess I am not quite the one to say. However, if the lesson of the source material is that materialism cannot fill the emotional gaps in one’s life, is it not blasphemous to the book that the film seems more focused on the parties and fashion then the thought and lost-ness of a generation?

F. Scott Fitzgerald

As far as acting, I really did enjoy every performance put out. But DiCaprio will forever be listed as a tragedy as long as he goes without an Oscar simply because he tragically suffers from what I like to call the Morgan Freeman-effect. When an actor is in the game long enough and has such established characteristics, the MF-effect is that nagging part of your brain that points directly at Leo, no matter how much he’s giving to the role, and says: “THAT’S &@$&ing LEONARDO DICAPRIO!” . He’s suffered from it a lot (See his puddy-covered face in J. Edgar) but I know he’s smart enough to escape it. The rest of the supporting does a nice job of sucking you far enough in to the story at times when the visuals detract you.

So, overall? I wasn’t particularly kind to the movie when I first etched it but now it’s been promoted to a hard “Meh.” but I guess I’d recommend seeing it since its polarizing nature continues to divide everyone who’s viewed it.

~Zach

Bonus Video! A breakdown of the use of CGI in this film.
IMDB: 7.3
Metacritic: 55
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%