Sometimes, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as the slow burn. Director Todd Haynes’ latest movie, Carol, demonstrates the fine art of the build-up, the anticipation, the slow burn—the subtle, yet quietly intense lighting of a spark that takes its own sweet time to ignite, but, when it does, the resulting flame is glorious.
Written by Phyllis Nagy and based on the famous lesbian novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith, Carol is a sumptuously produced and flawlessly acted film that pulls you into its world, dramatic and passionate, longing and lonely, tragic and consuming. Set in 1950’s New York, Carol tells the story of department store clerk Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, and unhappily-married (and soon-to-be-divorced) older woman, Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett, whose newly-formed friendship develops into a love affair. But nothing is easy or simple as Carol is fighting for custody of her child and Therese is trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Each woman is seeking something from the other but what they end up getting turns out to be nothing they expected.
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I won’t waste much of your time (or mine). You know whether you will go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 or not. I seriously doubt there’s anyone who is waiting for the reviews of this final installment of the Hunger Games movie franchise to decide whether to go see it or not.
So, without further adieu, to those of you, like me, who promised to see this franchise through to the bitter end, because we fell in love with the first Hunger Games movie and we adore Jennifer Lawrence and the powerful role of Katniss that she plays with natural grace and raw emotion, I say this: I’m glad it’s over. I love this franchise and I loved the books, but it needed to be over now. The first two movies were great but they were great because they were about the actual games. Once the movies left the arena and became about this weird war with President Snow (played by the great Donald Sutherland), the movies became just another dystopian sci-fi disaster movie disappointment.
Mockingjay – Part 2 promised the payoff that Part 1 spent 2 hours prepping us for and, sadly, it was a serious letdown. Save for one cool action sequence underground, which was effective more for the way it was shot than for the story, this movie bordered on dull, especially for being the final installment in a film franchise that excelled so often in tension and thrills.
One other note: seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on screen for the last time was heartbreaking.
Finally: I saw this movie on opening night with a theatre full of teenage girls and I never fully realized (until now) that there is apparently a whole Gale vs Peeta thing going on, and every girl has a favorite who she is rooting for Katniss to end up with, ala Twilight. So, every time there was a scene with Katniss and one of these guys, every girl in the theatre, who was either Team Gale or Team Peeta, went gaga. If I had known about this earlier, I would have wished for the franchise to end much sooner. Or would have petitioned for someone to die. Most likely me on opening night.
I’ll miss you, Katniss. You had a great run. Fight the power.
The new movie Trumbo is the true story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the most prominent of the “Hollywood 10,” a group of movie artists who were jailed in 1947 for refusing to testify before Congress when they were called in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. They were all suspected of being members of and/or having ties to the Communist party and were subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood, making it impossible for them to work. It destroyed careers and lives, and the effects of the blacklist was felt for decades. It is an absolutely essential American story to be told and I, for one, cannot believe it’s taken this long to get to the screen.
Maybe it’s because this is the perfect time for Trumbo. A movie about a man standing up for what he believes in—and getting unfairly persecuted for it—feels perfect right about now. And, especially now, when it feels like history’s a bubbling cauldron everywhere you look in the world, a story from sixty years ago that could easily be played out today if we allow it, Trumbo is not only still relevant, but bone-chillingly familiar.
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It’s disheartening to think of a story-driven, intelligent ensemble piece as a throwback, but, sadly, in this current studio system, it is. The 1970s is commonly thought of as the golden age of serious movie-making, the decade when movies were dramatic, thought-provoking, political, successful and entertaining all at once. Movies like Network, The China Syndrome, Coming Home and All the President’s Men are just a few of the more spectacular and timeless masterpieces from the era that gave us Lumet, Pollock and Pakula, in addition to Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola. Now, 40 years later, director Tom McCarthy is threatening to place his name in those ranks, as his current film, Spotlight, not only harkens back to the smart and sophisticated current-events dramas of the ‘70s, but has almost all the same energy, power and passion of its predecessors.
Spotlight tells the true story of a team of Boston Globe reporters, who, back in 2001, uncovers what would turn out to be the tip of the iceberg of one of the biggest international scandals in history: the widespread accusations of child molestation within the local Catholic Archdiocese, and the subsequent cover-up by the Church. The comparison to All the President’s Men, in both scale and style, cannot be denied here. Director/writer McCarthy (along with co-writer Josh Singer) has crafted a brisk and dense yet easy-to-follow narrative that hits every important beat, communicating all the necessary information, but never belittling either the subject nor the target while keeping the drama and the conflict intact. This is, naturally, a delicate subject, but every second of this film is handled with precision, and you feel you are watching masters of their craft, because, honestly, you are.
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I realized something as I was watching Spectre, the 24th installment in the James Bond superspy movie franchise. If I only had to judge Spectre next to other mainstream Hollywood fare, the typical action/adventure big budget escapist entertainment that the studios churn out to drain our wallets and raise their tentpoles, then Spectre would be exceedingly above average and comparatively entertaining. But here’s the problem: Bond movies aren’t measured against other movies, they are measured against other Bond movies. They’ve set their own standard and, with every new installment, we—the audience—expect it to be met and, if it’s not, we consider it a disappointment. And, lately, with Daniel Craig as the current Bond, that bar has been set even higher. Two of the three Craig-as-Bond movies, Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) were arguably two of the best in the franchise, critically and commercially (the third, Quantum of Solace (2008), was considerably weaker), so we expect not just good, but great.
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I finally caught up with the rest of the world the other night and saw Jurassic World, a movie which not only is (so far) the biggest box-office money-maker of 2015, it currently sits in #3 position in all-time domestic box-office, behind only Avatar and Titanic. Sadly, all it did for me was remind me of the original, Jurassic Park (#19 on the list), and how infinitely better the original is than this recycled, unimaginative and surprisingly dull reboot. And that, naturally, got me to thinking of Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park’s director. If you’re going to try to live up to the standard he has set, you need to understand where the bar is, because it’s higher than most other directors. He is able to do anything and do it well. Spielberg’s best year was 1993, the year Jurassic Park came out. Not only did he direct that film, one of the greatest action/adventure/thrillers of all time, but, in the same year, perhaps his greatest film, Schindler’s List, came out, the film that not only changed how we thought about Steven Spielberg, but, perhaps, how he thought about himself.
Before Schindler’s List, Spielberg was widely considered to be the world’s greatest blockbuster moviemaker. After Schindler’s List, he was finally considered to be a serious filmmaker. And, since then, while he has not totally given up making the occasional popcorn flick, he has morphed from the man who gave us Jaws to the man who prefers to teach us about Lincoln. In short, Steven Spielberg has become our most entertaining civics and history professor instead of our greatest showman.
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The real world is hard, tragic and depressing enough without having to go to the movies to be reminded, right? It’s true, I often look for movies to provide escapist entertainment from an increasingly pessimistic world-view and a growing lack of faith in humanity. And movies that would further plunge me into despair are never at the top of my must-see list. So, you can imagine going to see a movie that is about an all-too-real and all-too-common subject of a woman who has been kept hostage by a kidnapper on his property for seven years wouldn’t have been one that I would have been rushing out to see. But this movie, called Room, directed by Lenny Abramson (Frank) and written by Emma Donoghue (from her novel), surprised me and will surprise you and not only should be on your list of movies to see, it should be at the top.
This is the time of year when small, well-made, independent films get noticed and this is the one that deserves all the attention. Room is a deeply-felt, intense, moving and heartfelt movie about the love between a mother and a son that will shake you to your core. There’s no other way to say it. If you don’t feel this movie deep in your soul, then you really don’t have one. It stars Brie Larson in yet another star-making turn (she first made a name for herself in 2013’s well-received Short Term 12) and 9-year-old newcomer Jacob Tremblay as the mother/son captives being held by a kidnapper in a “room” on his property, which turns out to be a garden shed in his backyard. We learn that Brie’s character, Joy, was abducted when she was 17 and, after her kidnapper raped her, she gave birth to a son, Jake. Jake, now 5, is starting to be able to understand things, so Joy feels they might finally have an opportunity to make an escape attempt. What follows is both thrilling, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking and emotionally riveting. You might expect a film like this to be exceedingly depressing, but it never is. Instead, it is filled with optimism and even moments of laughter. Screenwriter Donoghue never gets caught in the morass of the situation, instead, she tells a compelling story and brings us two deeply-drawn characters who feel real and whole—and together can survive anything. Brie and Tremblay’s performances are at times so powerfully real you forget they are actors. Young Tremblay carries the movie, narratively and viscerally—I haven’t seen a child performance this compelling since Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
I found it hard to shake this movie, hours and hours after I left the theatre, possibly because of the disturbing and haunting reality that circumstances like these in the movie actually happen—way too often—in today’s world, but probably the movie stuck with me because Room is such a deeply intimate and moving portrait of resilience, love and, yes, despite its clichéd and corny sound, the strength of the human spirit. Escapism is good, but, once in a while, there’s something just right about a well-made movie about the world right here and now.
I’d be lying if I said my expectations hadn’t been dizzyingly high for Steve Jobs. Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter (Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin), and a powerful cast, headlined by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, two of the best actors in the world—and that’s not even mentioning the subject, which is a glimpse into the psyche and genius, if you will, of perhaps the most influential inventor/entrepreneur of the late twentieth century. Yes, I couldn’t help but be excited to see this movie about the man who brought Apple back to life and might just be the one responsible for the computer revolution that has taken over the planet and our lives.
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I was loathe to give director Denis Villenueve another try, after I hated his 2014 film Prisoners so much (I know, many loved it, but not me). But I was encouraged by the positive buzz his latest film, Sicario, was getting and I really wanted to support a movie with a strong female lead, so I gave it a go. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?
Anyone who watches TV and is sick of seeing any of the following things in their favorite shows over and over and over, raise your hand: cops, drugs, drug busts, shootouts, drug dealers, good cops, bad cops, good cops vs bad cops, bad guys vs good guys and anything having to do with the drug war with Mexico. Ok, you can put your hands down. Now, I know you’re sick of it, but how would you like to see all that stuff in a piece of fiction actually done really well, with really great actors, an exciting story and it looks REALLY GREAT?
It’s called Sicario. And boy, is it good.
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Before I begin, I need to address the giant floating astronaut elephant in the room. About a month ago, as I was feverishly racing to finish the book “The Martian,” by Andy Weir, upon which the movie, The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, is based on, I found myself excitedly talking it up to friends, both because I was finding the book to be riveting and the advanced buzz on the film from movie bloggers who had seen it to be incredibly strong. It turns out, however, that no matter my excitement about the book, nor the critical praise about the film could get my friends past one simple thing: they felt they’d seen this before. As in last year before. The most common response, when I gave them the quick, one-sentence description of the story, was, “wow, sounds like Gravity.” Next most-heard response? “Wasn’t Matt Damon just stranded on a planet in Interstellar?”
So, before I go any deeper, let me just get this out here and now: The Martian is not Gravity. Nor is it Interstellar. The only things these movies have in common is space and, in the case of Interstellar, a couple of actors and one particular plot point. Well, ok. It’s a pretty big plot point, and Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain are pretty hard to ignore, especially when they are the rescued and the rescuer, respectively, in both movies, but, not being able to enjoy both movies, just because they share genres and actors, is like saying you won’t see Casino because you already saw Goodfellas.
Not only is The Martian a far different movie from both Gravity and Interstellar, but most people reading this will love The Martian much more than both of those movies combined. It is neither too cerebral nor too ambitious for its own good (or for its audience) and it is a genuine popcorn flick that makes you almost even forget that divisive term that makes some run screaming for the exits: SCI-FI. In fact, where The Martian really separates itself from every other space movie is in its groundedness, i.e. its constant grasp of things we can relate to, as opposed to all that fantastical, alien, outer-spacey stuff from the genre that non-fans usually hate. Maybe The Martian is the first film in its own genre: Science Non-Fiction?
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