Category Archives: Romantic Drama Films

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

One thing is certain about the puzzling 2016 film, The Lobster- it is a film worthy of discussion long after the end credits roll and will leave the viewer pondering many facets of the film- a great film to dissect, if you will. This in itself is worth recognition and praise to the power of the film- so many questions abound. I was immediately struck by how heavily The Lobster contains major subject matter influences from “message novels” (and films) such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, as well as creative, stylistic recent film influences from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

The story begins somewhere outside of Dublin, where David (Colin Farrell) has recently been dumped by his wife in favor of another man. Now single, he is whisked away by authorities to a luxurious hotel in the woods, where he (and the other guests) are given forty five days to find a suitable romantic partner, or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David is accompanied by his brother, now a dog, and has decided, should he be turned, that he will become a lobster because he loves the sea and they tend to live to be over one hundred years old.

The hotel management adheres to strict rules- no masturbation, mandatory temptations by hotel employees, and a strange outdoor hunting game where the guests hunt other guests to win extra days extended to their stays. As David befriends fellow hotel guests, he is conflicted and desperate to find a mate. Events take a surprising turn when circumstances allow the rules to change for him and he becomes involved with a short-sighted woman (Weisz).

The plot of the film is strange beyond belief, yet also incredibly creative and thought provoking. The subject matter is pure dystopian- a facility, presumably controlled by the government, with a rebel group intent on ruining the “status quo”. Mixed in with all of this suddenly appears an odd little secret romance between David and Shortsighted Woman that begins only during the final act of the film.

One aspect to the film that I found interesting was the odd monotone dialogue that the characters used- almost matter-of-fact in whatever they were saying, even while expressing anger. This peculiarity perplexed me, but the more I think about it, the more this decision makes the film dark humored and dry with wry wit.

Another interesting nuance to the film are the multitude of quirky characters, many of whom are mainly referred to by their nicknames. Lisping Man, Limping Man, and Nosebleed Woman to name a few. And what viewer would not spend the duration of the film imagining which animal he or she would desire to be turned into and why?

My favorite aspect of the film is the offbeat performance by Colin Farrell- typically a rugged, sex symbol, he goes against the grain and plays a pudgy, socially awkward, insecure man, but all the while instilling the character with enough warmth and likability to make the character work- and his chemistry with Rachel Weisz is fantastic. This turns the strange dark comedy into a strange romantic drama.

A beautiful forest becomes the backdrop for a large part of the film as does the city of Dublin itself, contrasting the film in nuanced ways. Combined with the lavish hotel, the film achieves several different settings for the action, each meaningful in its own right.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion of the film- the final scene in particular- is positively gruesome in what goes through the viewers mind, and the resolution is left very unclear. Does David do it or doesn’t he? Clearly, much of the film is open to one’s interpretation and imagination.

Black humor and cynicism are major components of The Lobster, which is a thinking man’s movie. In fact, I continue to think of this film as I write this review. The film flairs with originality and thought and this is a great positive. Confusing and mind blowing? For sure. A run of the mill film? Absolutely not. The Lobster is a film that gives no answers and is not an easy watch, but an achievement in film creativity- something sorely needed.

Holding the Man-2015

Holding the Man-2015

Director-Neil Armfield

Starring-Ryan Corr, Craig Stott

Reviewed January 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Holding the Man is a brave love story centering on two young men and spanning fifteen years as the men begin as high school sweethearts and progress into adulthood and sadly both contract AIDS. This is a pivotal aspect to the film as it is set during the 1970’s and 1980’s- a time when this disease was dreadful and more or less a death sentence. The film is tender and poignant, but despite these characteristics, I felt at times something with more vigor was missing from the film- I did not have the exact emotional reaction that I thought I might have, and felt a slight blandness. The film is set in Australia and adapted from a 1995 memoir of the same name.

The action begins in 1976 as we meet Tim and John- both high school students. They are from opposite social groups- Tim a theater student and John captain of his soccer team. Surprisingly, they connect romantically as Tim asks John out on a date. For the time period it was, the pair receive little hassle and are quite open with their relationship. Certainly, they face a bit of opposition from officials at the school, but this is not a main aspect that the film goes for. Instead, the main problems come from John’s family- specifically, his father, but this is certainly played safely. Tim’s family is much more accepting. Over the next fifteen years, the couple encounter death directly when they are simultaneously told they have acquired HIV.

The film is mostly told chronologically, but does go back and forth at times- specifically, we are reminded of John’s youthful good looks in flashbacks, when he is close to death-now bald and sickly looking. The main point of the film is the men’s enduring love for each other, which is a really nice message. Otherwise, the film (2015 and long since the AIDS plague), goes for a reminder of how harsh those times were for gay men, though there is a softness to the film that I felt-instead of the brutal reality.

The actors playing John and Tim (Craig Stott and Ryan Corr, respectively) have decent chemistry, but this may have been stronger than my perception was, and the reason I did not feel emotionally invested in the film. The film was nice and sweet-the romance part, but when one of the men succumbs to AIDS I should have been a puddle of tears and I just wasn’t.

I did enjoy how the film does not focus too much on the opposition by John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia). He certainly would wish his son’s sexuality differently, but is more concerned with how his son’s relationship with a male looks to Dad’s friends and neighbors. The deeper story was the love between the men that knew no barriers.

It was nice to see Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce in supporting turns as a drama teacher (Rush) and as Tim’s father, Dick (Pearce). Both do well with limited roles and I adored how the film portrayed Dick as a supportive father- even dancing a slow dance with his son at a wedding- free of embarrassment. Also notable is the sweet ending of the film where a photo of the real Tim and John is shown during a narrative from an interview the real Tim did before his death.

Holding the Man is a nice film, but does not quite have the power that other LGBT films in recent decades had- Brokeback Mountain immediately comes to mind as a similar film, but one which was more emotional and engaged me much more. A nice, honest effort, though.

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Reviewed January 26, 2009

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road is an outstanding film- and what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The duo reunite in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic.

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one. Both characters are certainly flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He a successful doctor, she the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they? Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it, and Revolutionary Road is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think. It really shows the depth of DiCaprio’s  and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow moving, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

An Education-2009

An Education-2009

Director-Lone Scherfig

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard

Reviewed November 12, 2009

Grade: B+

An Education, a British film released in 2009, is a small, little gem of a film. The story-telling and the acting are very good. Since it is a British film, the accents can be a little distracting for some, but I enjoyed it very much.

It tells the story of an intelligent, college driven teenager, named Jenny, who falls in love with an older, charismatic man (Sarsgaard). She is faced with conflict from her family and teachers, most notably her father, played by Alfred Molina. The individuals in her life have differing opinions in which path Jenny should choose in her life. This leads to the main conflict in the film.

The setting is rainy, cold, London in 1961. Certainly headed for Oxford and a successful career (not common for a female in those days), Jenny is willing to risk it all for love, but is she being taken advantage of?

The film is romantic, comical, and serious all rolled into one. The story is nothing original, to be frank, but specifically, the excellent acting makes it worth seeing. An Education proves film makers can take a good story, told before, and make it compelling to an audience.

Carey Mulligan deservedly received an Oscar nomination for this film and made her debut as a high caliber young actress to watch.

Up in the Air-2009

Up in the Air-2009

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Reviewed January 16, 2010

Grade: A

Up in the Air is a fantastic film, but for some odd reason, circa its release to theaters in 2009 some reason it was categorized as a romantic comedy. While there is a bit of romance involved, the film is really a dark romantic drama. The content is absolutely perfect for this period in history- the terrible economy, and the unemployment rate rising sky high. The acting by the principles is excellent, and is worth watching, but do not expect a happy, uplifting film.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate “downsizer”, who travels the country firing employees from companies that hire him. Ryan has no qualms about what he does and enjoys traveling around the country. He mentors a young employee, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who is more sympathetic to the people whose lives she changes. Ryan meets another frequent flyer, businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an affair. He becomes a more sympathetic character as he develops real feelings for Alex, but will Alex return the affections?

The tone of the film is sarcastic and sardonic, and Clooney is dynamic in the lead role- carrying the film. He is charismatic and energetic, performing his work duties in an emotionless way. We slowly get to know him better and realize, through Alex, that he does have a heart. Alex is a more mysterious character, and Farmiga is equally as engaging in the role. When a big reveal is learned about Alex, the audience does not see it coming.

As the years go by, my hope is that Up in the Air is remembered for being a film that was released at the perfect time, given the difficulties many were going through. I love how the film carries smart dialogue- the characters questioning each others motivations and becoming intertwined. Jason Reitman and the screenwriters craft an exceptional film.

The Last Station-2009

The Last Station-2009

Director-Michael Hoffman

Starring-Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

Reviewed February 17, 2010

Grade: A-

The Last Station is a wonderful film. It contains many worthwhile elements- history, culture, good drama, and great acting. Starring seasoned veterans such as Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, the fantastic acting is as good as it gets.

The film tells the story of the final year in the life of famous Russian author Tolstoy and the relationship he has with his family- specifically his wife, Sofya, and his disciples. The year is 1910 and Tolstoy is ailing. He has had a stormy yet passionate relationship with his wife for decades, which is explored in the film. The film’s main point is of greed and in-fighting for control of a great literary figures legacy and money.

The main strong point of The Last Station is the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya- both characters are headstrong, opinionated, but also madly in love, which lead to many sessions of battle.

This is a film of substance. Director Michael Hoffman also mixes some humor in with heavy drama. At the conclusion you might need to use some hankies.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Reviewed December 5, 2010

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969. The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content actually. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each become enamored with a member of the wedding party. Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sisters individual relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other. All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion-some tender and some quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in  a gratuitous fashion. The film’s theme are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character driven, told from each of the characters perspectives, and is quite the intense experience. Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

45 Years-2015

45 Years-2015

Director-Andre Haigh

Starring-Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay

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Reviewed October 1, 2016

Grade: B+

In the case of 45 Years, acting is the clear highlight of the film and the main reason to view it. Seasoned veterans take center stage and give tremendous performances and lessons in the craft of acting. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling carry the film. The subject of 45 Years is an enduring marriage tested by an outside revelation that escalates in importance into conflict and mixed emotions. The film moves at a very slow pace, and can be a challenge to the most patient of viewers, but the slow pace is warranted as the longevity of the characters marriage is the key to the film.

Geoff and Kate Mercer, a happy couple living in rural England, are excitedly planning their 45th wedding anniversary (the 40th having been canceled due to Geoff’s heart condition). They are a popular couple within their town, both kind and decent people, and the event will be attended by many. One day Geoff receives a letter from authorities in Switzerland- a young woman (Katya) he was once involved with, and presumed dead in 1962, has been found. Having fallen into an icy glacier, her body is preserved and she looks the same as she did then. Not knowing the extent of their relationship, Kate is riddled with multiple feelings including jealousy, curiosity, and guilt. Geoff and Kate’s marriage is tested.

45 Years is a mature film involving mature characters. Geoff and Kate are still in love after decades of relationship, but the introduction of Katya becomes unwelcome conflict. The film plays out in a slow way, but a realistic way, as marriage moves along slowly. Many scenes of Geoff and Kate’s day to day activities are shown- they walk their dog together, travel into town to shop, or simply relax and read the newspaper. Like real people do. This is an asset to the film. Real life is sometimes mundane and dull, but these little tasks are also pleasurable and soothing.

Geoff and Kate’s marriage contrasts with the relationship Geoff and Katya briefly had all those years ago (excitement, risk, youth) and one can understand Kate’s point of view. As details reveal themselves, Kate feels inferior. She is not young anymore and she thinks of Geoff and Katya and the life they may have had together if the accident had not occurred. Despite being dead, Katya becomes an obstacle in Kate’s mind.

The film wisely does not write Kate as a jealous shrew or one-dimensional. She fights her jealousy every step of the way and tries to be strong and realistic. Charlotte Rampling gives such a good, subtle, understated performance that it is easy to overlook how good she is. She does not have hysterical moments or a scene where she loses control. Rather, Rampling shows a series of complex emotions with her facial expressions.

Let’s not forget to mention Tom Courtenay. Imagine being in the golden years of your life and a long-lost lover (in spirit anyway) returns to the fold. Geoff cannot help but be transported to imagining a life with Katya had she remained alive. Kate asks Geoff if he would have married Katya- he cannot deny that he would have.

Several scenes show the couple engaging in “old people” issues- awkward lovemaking for example, which enhances the differences between when Geoff and Katya were in their prime. Geoff cannot help but be whisked back in time with thoughts and what-ifs.

A standout scene is when Kate and Geoff dance at their anniversary party. Having given a fantastic speech professing his enduring love for her, they causally dance. Kate is both touched and pained and as the scene goes along she unravels in a quite manner. She explodes internally.

Sometimes perhaps a tad too slowly paced, I get the point of pacing 45 Years in this way. After all, nearly 50 years of marriage is a long time and a multitude of similar days will pass with few important moments. Thanks to superlative acting, I was able to overlook this and be astounded at the complexities both Rampling and Courtenay bring to the table.

Daisy Miller-1974

Daisy Miller-1974

Director-Peter Bogdanovich

Starring-Cybill Shepard, Cloris Leachman 

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Reviewed March 6, 2016

Grade: B

Daisy Miller is a largely forgotten 1974 film based on a Henry James novella of the same name, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring then-girlfriend Cybil Sheperd in the title role. I admire the film in certain aspects, but ultimately rank the film as good, but not spectacular. I pondered the film afterwards and had a feeling that there was something missing from it.

The story, set in the late 1800’s, tells of a wealthy upstate New York family, led by the naïve Daisy Miller (Sheperd), visiting Europe in the hopes of becoming more cultured and worldly, but instead, are largely met with defiance and snobbery from European sophisticates. Daisy attempts to find love with her numerous potential suitors. The film is largely shot in Switzerland and Italy.

The romantic story between Daisy and upper class Frederick Winterbourne is the focal point. Daisy, a chatterbox and flirtatious, captures Winterbourne’s fancy and he gradually woos her, but is conflicted by social norms and her innocent involvement with other men, most notably dashing Italian Giovanelli. This leads to conflict. I noticed some chemistry between Daisy and Winterbourne.

Bogdanovich, who only directed a handful of films, including the masterpiece The Last Picture Show, uses a number of great actors in both films. In addition to Sheperd, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan appear in supporting roles. Leachman as Daisy’s equally chatty and naïve mother, and Brennan as the vicious socialite Mrs. Parker. Brennan, in particular shines. Outstanding at playing snobs and unique character roles, this was right up Brennan’s alley and she almost steals the show.

I adored the cinematography and the costumes featured in the production and thought both the films main strengths. The clothing that the characters were dressed in are both gorgeous and believable for the time period. The backdrop during the hotel garden scene is exquisite and picturesque as the lake, sky, and mountain are all in full view adding a unique viewing experience.

I also found the subject of cultural class distinctions quite interesting. The Millers are rich, but uneducated and unlikable- they live in Schenectady, and are considered far beneath the clever, intelligent figures of Europe. They clearly do not measure up and they lack the same breeding and class as many of the characters. Adding to this is the fact that the Millers never really seem all that interested in being in Europe, almost taking the opportunity for granted, so I was never completely captured by the Millers or found them particularly sympathetic as a group.

Given that she is the focus, I found the character of Daisy Miller a bit unlikable and this could be due to the casting of Sheperd. Daisy’s endless rants, largely about herself, teetered on annoying to say nothing of her irritant little brother. Sure, Daisy is sweet and is kindhearted, but there is something that did not compel me about me. She was a less charismatic, northern version of Scarlett O’Hara. I kept wondering if another actresses might have brought more to the character and given her more muscle. Was this role a showcase for Sheperd because of her relationship with Bogdanovich?

The conclusion of the film surprised me and features a downcast ending that I did not expect given the sunny mood of the rest of the film, and this is to Bogdanovich’s credit. He certainly did not make a mainstream film and I admire that. Daisy Miller is a mixed bag for me. I give my admiration for some aspects, but the story and the casting could have used a bit of altering.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

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Reviewed January 26, 2017

Grade: A

1997’s Titanic is a sweeping, gorgeous epic, directed by James Cameron, that is perfection at every level. This film has it all: romance, disaster, gorgeous art direction, and flawless attention to detail. The film will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with the characters, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. The film is based on the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 after the ship tragically collided with an iceberg. I have witnessed this film be derided for being a “chick flick” or too “sappy”, but I vehemently disagree, and feel it is a classic for the ages. Titanic successfully re-invented the Hollywood epic.

Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a penniless artist who meets high class socialite Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet) aboard the luxurious Titanic, headed from the coast of England to the United States in its maiden voyage. Rose is engaged to cagey Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Depressed, Rose contemplates diving overboard to her death, but Jack saves her and convinces her otherwise. They spend time together and he draws her portrait. As their romance blossoms, Cal catches on and plots revenge. In the mix are Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, played by Frances Fisher. A main theme of the film is social class and the difference that separate the haves from the have nots.

James Cameron desired perfection from this film and he sure got what he wanted. Every detail of Titanic is flawless and historically accurate, from the dining room silverware to the costumes to the set pieces barely visible in the background. Cameron even had a replica of the original Titanic built for filming purposes- certainly with limitations, but what a vast undertaking this must have been. That, along with the smoldering romance between Jack and Rose, are what makes Titanic one of my favorite films.

Two fantastic scenes are when Jack is taken under the wing of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. Molly is not the snob that many of the other upper class is, and lends Jack a tuxedo so that he will look dapper for Rose. She also tenderly teaches him the appropriate way to use silverware. Tragically, the other scene is more melancholy- a gorgeous classical piece plays in the background as the vast ship is engulfed in water and slowly sinks, causing many deaths.

At well over three hours in length, the conclusion of the film is quite sprawling- and one has the feeling of being aboard the ship. By this time I was invested in the characters, both lead and supporting and the tragedy that ensues is both a marvel and heart-wrenching. Titanic is a film that simply must be viewed on the big screen for full effect, and is a timeless masterpiece that has aged perfectly.

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Julie Christie, Terence Stamp

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Reviewed January 1, 2016

Grade: A-

A sweeping, gorgeous epic from 1967, Far from the Madding Crowd is pure soap opera (this is not a negative), done very well, which features a woman with three male suitors and contains many similarities to another brilliant epic, Gone with the Wind. The cinematography, score, and writing is excellent, and, at close to three hours, is a lengthy experience. The film is based on the popular novel, written by Thomas Hardy.

The setting is lovely, rural England, the landscape green and lush- mostly farmland, where Bathsheba resides having recently inherited her Uncle’s enormous estate and is, frankly, overwhelmed with the heavy responsibility required to successfully run it. Three men appear in one form or another to lend a hand and each falls madly in love with her- she having her choice of any of them. Throughout the film each is given a chance to win her heart and the trials and tribulations of each occur. The wealthy neighbor, William Boldwood, is older and insecure. Frank Troy is a bad boy who is a cavalry sergeant, and Gabriel, a former farmer, who has lost all of his sheep.

Having only seen this film twice (so far), I notice more and more the similarities to Gone with the Wind. Both are set around the same time period (1860’s) and both films feature very strong, independent, gorgeous female characters with multiple male suitors. Unlike Gone with the Wind, though, Bathsheba is not self centered, but wholesome and honest.

Julie Christie was certainly the “it” girl during the time period in which the film was made, having recently starred in Darling, Doctor Zhivago, among others, and Far from the Madding Crowd is a perfect film for her, focusing on her beauty and earnestness. She is exceptionally cast.

What I enjoy most about the film is we do not know which of the men Bathsheba will wind up with….if any of them. Gabriel Alan Bates) is my personal favorite, but in the beginning of the film she rebuffs his marriage proposal. In a heartbreaking scene, one of his dogs goes mad and leads his entire flock of sheep to their death. He then is forced to work as her shepherd, a job beneath him. He is the most likable of the three men and it is fun to root for their ultimate union. But is he prone to bad luck?

Frank Troy is dashing- a clear ladies man, yet I did not root for him. A character, which I found to have strange motivations, having impregnated, and almost married a young lady named Fanny, only to turn her away based on a misunderstanding, then ultimately change his mind about Bathsheba. In one scene he manipulates his way into getting the townsmen drunk on brandy, which leads to a crisis. He is charismatic and used to getting his way.

Finally, Boldwood is wealthy and sophisticated and appealing to Bathsheba in a certain way (mainly stability), but there is also something I find “off” about the character throughout the film- unstable maybe, needy? I did not find his character likable either.

The overlap and the relationships between the men are also an interesting aspect to Far from the Madding Crowd. Will they become friends? Would they kill each other for Bathsheba’s affections? There are many emotions that run through all four characters, which makes the film rich in character development.

Grand, sweeping, and beautiful are words to describe Far from the Madding Crowd, a film that I enjoy exploring and evaluating upon each viewing.

Brooklyn-2015

Brooklyn-2015

Director-Jon Crowley

Starring-Saoirse Ronan

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Brooklyn is a classic style Hollywood film that I adored watching. It has a genuine innocence to it with wonderful, powerful acting and perfect cinematography/art direction. The film is conventional and mainstream, but never sappy. Based on Colm Toubin’s popular novel of the same name, Brooklyn takes place in the early 1950’s and is set in both Ireland and New York City.

Eilis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan, is a young Irish girl with good morals and traditional values. She is faithful and Catholic, with a good upbringing. Not rich by any means, she is very intelligent and uses good sense, working hard on weekends in a grocery run by an unkind woman, in order to save money. Thankfully, her older sister Rose, whom Eilis adores, has scrimped and saved enough for her to go the United States and study, via a church program. Rose does not want Eilis to be trapped in the small Irish town in which they live an adequate, but not extraordinary life. While in New York City, an event occurs that necessitates Eilis’s return to Ireland. While home she develops a romantic dilemma that causes her to ponder whether to return to her new life in New York City or stay in Ireland. Eilis is conflicted, which is the main focus of the story.

On paper one might assume that Brooklyn is sappy, “chick flick” or a trite romance with predictability for miles- it isn’t. Everything about the film is perfect and it is very detail oriented.  All of the pieces somehow fit together- good direction, good camerawork, good acting, and good story-telling.

Throughout the film I found myself teetering in an emotional state. When Eilis meets the young and charming Tony, a working class Italian American, who becomes infatuated with her, I worried how their different backgrounds would be handled. Their courtship is sweet and tender and I found myself cheering  for them as their slow romance builds. From different worlds, she is taught to eat pasta correctly to impress his traditional parents. He walks her home every night. Tony and Eilis have a sweetness and purity that is tough not to fall in love with as an onlooker.

On the other hand, when dramatic events unfold, the excellent acting makes Brooklyn a delight and quite emotionally powerful. One might find themselves a flood of tears by the end of the film. Thanks to Ronan, an impressive talent to me since my discovery of her work in 2007’s Atonement, she elicits in Eilis a strength and stoicism that is tested when she breaks down at one point in the film. Important to mention are the awe-inspiring performances by Fiona Glascott as Eilis’s sister Rose, and Jane Brennan as Eilis’s mother. Unknown actresses (to me), both give highly dramatic and dynamic performances in their respective roles.

Always wonderful to see are veteran character actors Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters as Father Flood and Madge, respectively.

What a visual treat Brooklyn is! As the title reveals, most of the action does take place in this New York City borough, and the influx of Irish and Italian immigrants during this period of history is apparent with the clothing and the cinematography. In Ireland, the lush green and the vast landscape makes this simply divine to view.

A story of bravery, romance, and kindness, Brooklyn is a wholesome and feel good film, yes, but, I was immersed in the story and the look of the film from the very first shot.

The Immigrant-2013

The Immigrant-2013

Director-James Gray

Starring-Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix

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Reviewed December 5, 2015

Grade: A-

The Immigrant is a lovely, classic, old-style Hollywood film set in early 1920’s New York City. The film is a classic tale of a poor Polish immigrant who travels to America in hopes of a better life, only to be met with hardship, manipulation, and conflict. However, The Immigrant is not a downer. Rather, a powerful and intriguing story of life and the clichéd pursuit of happiness with a compelling love story mixed in. Nominated for Best Actress for Two Days, One Night, eligible the same year as The Immigrant, this is a good example of the Academy getting it wrong as Marion Cotillard really should have been nominated for this performance instead of the former.  The actress was, however, recognized with an Independent Spirit award nomination for Best Actress for this role. A true talent, she gives a wonderful performance.

Little is known about Ewa’s (Cotillard) life before she arrives on Ellis island with her sister Magda in tow. We meet them as they disembark a ship and wait on line on the immigration line, weary from their escape from war torn Poland. Obviously, they have escaped their native country in hopes of a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, Magda is ill and cannot hide a cough and is sent to the infirmary most likely before being sent back to Poland. Ewa desperately needs money and is told that her Aunt and Uncle have not shown up to collect her as she had originally thought. Ewa is now on her own and desperate in a land where she knows not a soul.

As the plot unfolds, Ewa encounters two men who enter her life- Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and Emil (Jeremy Renner)- brothers with a rivalry, both professionally and in regards to Ewa. They both fall in love with her- she is gorgeous and innocent after all. But can the men be trusted? Are their feelings true? We begin to get to know the men better and all may not be exactly as it seems or originally appeared to be.

The Immigrant perfectly captures the 1920’s era cinematically with gorgeous cinematography and camera work. Directed by James Gray, a director with a tendency to direct films set in New York City and feature a romantic element (Two Lovers comes to mind- also starring Joaquin Phoenix as a Jew pursuing a blonde girl). In The Immigrant, I felt like I was transported to the 1920’s with Bruno’s dark coat and bowler and the characters costumes in general. The Lower East Side, from the automobiles to the theaters, seems like that’s how it was back then- charming, artistic, and yet combustible too.

Marion Cotillard gives a soft yet tough performance as the long-suffering, heart of gold Ewa. The character’s yearning to keep her traditional catholic values while transported into a new and dangerous world filed with corruption and the need to survive is heartbreaking and Cotillard wears her heart on her sleeve. She is also tougher and more stubborn than we first think she is- she will not be taken advantage of and these aspects give the character complexity. I did not see her as a victim.

Let’s not forget the men in the film and while it borders on turning into a “woman’s movie” towards the climax, and Cotillard is certainly front and center, Phoenix and Renner are flawless. Phoenix, with the larger role, is extremely complex and it takes the audience until the final scene to entirely figure Bruno out.

I wish The Immigrant would have found a wider audience, but for fans of a traditional, classic, romantic Hollywood experience, this film is a treat. It will take you back to an earlier time in the world- in a completely authentic way.

A Little Chaos-2014

A Little Chaos-2014

Director-Alan Rickman

Starring-Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts

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Reviewed August 22, 2015

Grade: B-

A Little Chaos is a difficult film for me to review. The film does not kick into high gear, or much of a gear at all, until the final thirty minutes or so as the drama hits a crescendo and past events are suddenly explained. At this point it becomes a very entertaining film. Until then, it is largely a bore and slow paced. Starring Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman, who also directs the film, A Little Chaos is a good film with beautiful period piece costumes to marvel over, and looks and feels great, but misses the mark with a lack of balancing the momentum throughout the length of the film. It is also largely fictionalized, which makes viewing it a bit less enjoyable.

A period drama set at the gorgeous Versailles in France, the time period is the late 1600’s when King Louis XIV of France is in power and lives on the illustrious estate. Landscaper, Andre Le Notre, hires unconventional gardener Sabine (Winslet) to create one of the gardens. Sabine is progressive and does not live in the past. Rather, she has ideas of creating a unique pattern. Sabine is instructed to incorporate a wonderful fountain within the garden. She faces hostility from staff members for simply being a woman and they refuse to work for her. Others admire her creativity. As the plot unfolds, Sabine has romantic feelings for Andre, a man trapped in a loveless marriage with Francoise, and they begin a tender courtship. Sabine is haunted by past events and frequently hears a little girl’s cries in her dreams. The audience does not know what her past life was, only that she is widowed. The final act of the film brings everything together nicely. We learn Sabine’s past and her suggested dalliance with Andre comes to fruition. At the conclusion of the film I was left thinking how exceptional the film was, but then remembered the majority of it had dragged.

The theme of A Little Chaos are class systems, feminism, and societal views. At first snubbed by some for being a commoner, Sabine slowly is accepted by the royal figures, including the King himself, who Sabrine humorously mistakes for the gardener at one point. Ideally, it would have been lovely if a woman had actually been hired at the time to create the garden. Sadly, events did not happen this way, but rather, it is someone’s fantasy.

A Little Chaos has great potential and looks beautiful- my main complaint is for most of the film nothing much really happens. Also disappointing is that the film was not filmed at the historical Versailles, nor was it even shot in France. Every exterior scene was filmed in England. This is not a deal breaker, but some genuineness would have been nice. Another major detraction is that Sabine De Barra is not even a real life figure, but rather is fictionalized- sort of how the past should have been, but wasn’t really. Having been a real person would have made the film more interesting. What is the investment?

From an acting standpoint the film succeeds. Winslet, clearly a highly talented actress, is well cast and the chemistry between she and Matthias Schoenaerts is palpable. Both actors are believable in their roles. Stanley Tucci, typically great in whatever he appears in, plays Phillippe, a silly, slightly effeminate Duke that does more to annoy than to amuse and is a trivial character.

Throughout my viewing of the film I kept thinking of it as the type of film that ought be liked because it looks great, but something was definitely missing. The royal drama, sexual dalliances, and antics were fun, but I felt like the film could have been much more than it ended up being.

Fifty Shades of Grey-2015

Fifty Shades of Grey-2015

Director-Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring-Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson

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Reviewed August 5, 2015

Grade: B-

To quote a humorous phrase that I once coined years ago, when I decided to give in and see Fifty Shades of Grey, despite negative reviews, “I was not expecting Citizen Kane” fits perfectly with this film as I pondered my own review of it after the conclusion. Based on the titillating book series by author E.L. James, the film is sudsy, steamy, and pretty poorly acted. However, there was something charming and sexy about the badness of it. To be fair, it is actually not a terrible film, but the negatives outweigh the positives.

Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and granddaughter of Hollywood royalty Tippi Heddren, plays a shy literature student named Anastasia Steele, pretty and grounded, who meets and becomes enamored with a 27 year old billionaire named Christian Grey after driving to Seattle to substitute interview him for a sick friend. Throughout the interview the chemistry between the two is palpable and an instant romance ensues. Christian courts Anastasia mercilessly, becoming somewhat controlling, and she is willing to be his “victim” as she adores his attentions. As the two get to know each other, it is revealed that Christian is a dominant and desires Anastasia to sign a contract, thus becoming his submissive and belonging to him. Anastasia is conflicted by this notion. She loves Christian, but wants a traditional romance with flowers and chocolates, something Christian has admitted he does not do.

I confess to have gotten caught up in the kinky romanticism of it. The film has a smoldering, dreamlike style to it. The scenes in the “playroom” are hot and the film does its best to make the entire film erotic, but not going too far as to make it pure smut- boy meets girl, girl falls head over heels, boy conquers girl. The film makes sure to portray Anastasia and Grey as complete opposites- he wealthy and sophisticated, calm, cool, and collected- she a struggling, naive girl ripe for the picking. Perhaps this was part of her appeal to Grey.

Certainly the acting is not great- especially on the part of Johnson. I did not find Jamie Dornan (Grey) to be so bad, however and he seemed likable enough to me. For the most part the character of Anastasia irritated me and I found her quite unlikable. Here is how it seemed to me- Anastasia becomes enamored with Christian, allows herself to be pursued, not to mention showered with gifts, considers and then more or less accepts his offer to be his submissive, and then gets furious and dumps him. Huh?

Fifty Shades of Grey is told clearly from a female point of view as evidences from the marketing and the strategic opening on Valentine’s day weekend. I get the sense that the character of Anastasia is made to be the sympathetic one and Grey was drawn to be the cad and the bad character. A brief backstory was mentioned as to what turned him into a dominant male who likes to have females submit to his desires coupled with his lack of desire for any affection, but this was not too deeply explored and the film did not want the audience to really “get him” or delve too deeply into the psychological reasons, instead going for the kinkiness and the female side of the story.

A poorly structured film that made a ton of money and will undoubtedly spawn at least another sequel, the film is a guilty pleasure to be sure, and one I shamefully confess to have somewhat enjoyed.

Carrie-1952

Carrie-1952

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Jennifer Jones, Laurence Olivier

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Reviewed May 2, 2015

Grade: B

Carrie, not to be confused with the Brian DePalma horror classic from 1976, is a drama from 1952 starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones- two big Hollywood stars of the time. Shot in black and white, the film tells the story of the self-titled ingénue (Jones) of mid-western upbringing, who travels to Chicago to make her fortune. Attempting to launch her own career, Carrie becomes immersed in a love triangle with Olivier- who is unhappily married and runs a restaurant, and salesman, Charles Drouet, played by Eddie Albert. Directed by William Wyler, the film has a melancholy tone to it as one of the characters sinks into a world of despair.

The highlight of this film is the performance of Laurence Olivier. He is excellent, as his character of George Hurstwood goes from successful restaurant manager with an affluent existence, to poverty stricken, lonely, broken old man. Olivier is so effortless and believable in his performance as his always was. I felt, however, that Jennifer Jones was miscast. Attractive, yes, I did not feel that every man would lust after her on sight alone, as was needed for the character of Carrie. Her acting, while okay, is not on the level of either Albert or especially Olivier, who she shares much screen time. Perhaps Vivian Leigh, Teresa Wright, or Kim Novak might have been wiser choices?

The story itself is compelling and interesting. Here we have a woman- at the turn of the twentieth century- forging ahead at an attempt to make it on her own- almost unthinkable for a woman at that time, taking menial jobs as a sewing worker in a factory to scrape by. Carrie resists the urge to become a rich husband seeking gal and believes in marriage and true love. That is why she is devastated when she learns that George is indeed married. Will true love win out for them? This seems to be the main aspect of the film.

Behind the scenes issues may have contributed to the problems that appear onscreen- Wyler reportedly did not want to cast Jones, Olivier did not like Jones, Olivier was injured during much of the filming, and the ending of the film was changed to provide a “happier” ending. Originally, George was to commit suicide, which might have successfully made the film more shocking and heartbreaking.

Containing beautiful costumes and interesting cinematography, Carrie has positives, but might have been much better than the final product ended up being, but for poor casting and real-life dramas that hurt the film.

Jezebel-1938

Jezebel-1938

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Bette Davis

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Reviewed April 17, 2015

Grade: B+

A wonderful showcase for the young and lovely Bette Davis, Jezebel is a very early film role for Davis that has many similarities to Gone with the Wind, a film that Davis reportedly lost out to Vivian Leigh. One wonders how she would have made the character of Scarlett O’Hara her own and Jezebel is a journey exploring that possibility.

Directed by acclaimed director William Wyler, Jezebel is set in 1852 (pre Civil War) New Orleans. Davis plays spoiled southern belle, Julie Marsden. Julie is engaged to wealthy banker Preston Dillard, played by Henry Fonda. After a dispute in which Julie selfishly feels her needs are not being catered to, she shockingly wears a red dress to a sophisticated ball where unmarried women are expected to wear white. This causes a scandal which results in Preston dumping Julie and leaving town. Cocky Julie expects Preston to return to town and grovel for her forgiveness, but when he does return with a life changing twist, the drama unfolds. Circumstances include a savage duel, longing love, and atonement.

Fans of Davis will love Jezebel for the sheer excellence that she brings to the screen. Mesmerizing with those soulful, big eyes and wonderful mannerisms, she exudes confidence and sophistication. Admittedly this is my earliest Davis experience and she shimmers on-screen. Bette Davis is perfectly cast. Interesting to note are the innocent qualities early Davis possessed. Later afflicted with a hoarse, deep voice and ravaged beauty after years of alcohol and cigarette abuse, Davis in Jezebel is virginal and debutante looking.

Interesting to me are Julie’s wardrobe choices- her horseback riding outfit, the vixen-like red dress, the virginal white dress, and the dark raven cape at the climax of the film, and various lighting techniques that Wyler used to showcase Davis’s face- almost look like candlelight.

The film itself has several similarities to Gone with the Wind (which it in fact preceded by a year). Julie, like Scarlett, is a rich, selfish girl who likes to manipulate men and both films feature a love triangle prevalent to the story as well as broken hearts. The slaves in both films resemble each other though are a bit more glamorous in Jezebel. The introduction of the yellow fever storyline and the sick and weak lying around in droves is similar to the wounded and dying soldier scene in Gone with the Wind where the sick and dying lie in pain. The time periods, triangle, and southern charms all heavily play in both. It is impossible not to compare the two films.

Melodrama done very well, Jezebel is to be admired as it is a film featuring a strong female character something lacking in film then (1938) and shamefully still lacking in film today! Jezebel is a true “ambitious woman’s movie”.

The Great Gatsby-2013

The Great Gatsby-2013

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire

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Reviewed May 19, 2013

Grade: A

Despite some mixed reviews of this movie, I loved it. Having read the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was familiar with the story of lavishness and scandal during one sweltering summer in the well-to-do Long Island, NY community during the 1920’s.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) I found the look of the film lavish, realistic, and gorgeous- perfect ambience and a dream-like quality.  I loved the casting of Leonardo Dicaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Caraway. The chemistry among the three leads is apparent and visually the film is spectacularly dressed, from costumes to gorgeous sets, and the speech patterns of the era- “old sport”, and “row”, are used frequently and seem authentic.

Many complained about the mixing in of modern rap music with a film set in the 1920’s, which does sound strange on paper, but I personally enjoyed that aspect of it and feel like it gave a contemporary edge to the film. There are slight adjustments from the novel, but I thought it was a very successful transition to the big screen.

Anna Karenina-2012

Anna Karenina-2012

Director-Joe Wright

Starring-Keira Knightley, Jude Law

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Reviewed June 12, 2013

Grade: B+

Anna Karenina is the film adaptation of the classic Leo Tolstoy novel. Shamefully, having not read the novel, but being familiar with the story I was not sure how successful the transition from novel to film would be. The transition proved to be quite successful, as it would turn out.

Being a fan of director Joe Wright, who did wonderful work on his direction of Atonement in 2007, he is a master of costumed period pieces and Anna Karenina is no different in that regard. It is vastly different, however, in the way it is shot- the film is non-traditional as it is shot with jarring, quick camera movements interspersed with musical numbers. It resembles Moulin Rouge in this style and is certainly not for everyone’s tastes. I enjoyed this technique and, combined with the wonderful art direction/costumes, made for modern, unique storytelling.

Keira Knightley was adequate as Anna, but nothing special. I have to wonder if she was cast simply because she is typically the lead in Joe Wright films. It is a tragedy, of course- a tale of a lonely love torn young woman conflicted between two high class men. In fact, on a broader scale, it is a story of the romantic entanglements of the high class world and their trials and tribulations, centering on Anna. The look of the film is what impressed me most, more than the story did.

Doctor Zhivago-1965

Doctor Zhivago-1965

Director-David Lean

Starring-Julie Christie, Omar Sharif

Top 100 Films-#47

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Reviewed December 16, 2013

Grade: A

Doctor Zhivago is a great film to watch on a cold winter’s night. It is a classic masterpiece directed by the talented David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India) whose perfectionism is evident in his epic films.

The film is set in the bitter cold of Russia (though in reality it was shot in Spain) and the bitterness of the climate and the Russian revolution are mixed perfectly with a doomed love story set against the backdrop of war.

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie (a gorgeous star in her day) are cast perfectly. The set pieces are magnificent and flawless in design and detail (my favorite is the ice palace). The cinematography is breathtaking and the content is very close to the obviously superior novel by Boris Pasternak and a feeling of “really being there” encompasses the viewer. It’s a brilliant film.