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15 Jan

Brooklyn

Grade: A

By Vivian Rhodes                When I went to see it, I didn’t know much about the film, Brooklyn, other than the fact that it was a period piece, primarily set in the borough in which I grew up. Having lived there in the sixties and seventies, the story, set in the early fifties, was before my time but hey, Brooklyn is Brooklyn.

The story, based on the novel by Colm Toibin and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, is that of a young Irish immigrant, EILIS LACEY (Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in Brooklyn circa 1952. Having traveled there alone, her trip sponsored by FATHER FLOOD, (Jim Broadbent) a benevolent priest, Eilis is bewildered and somewhat intimidated by her surroundings. She is also extremely homesick for her small Irish town and for the company of the mother and sister she left behind.

Though she would like to study to become an accountant, Eilis initially takes a job working at a department store where it is suggested by her supervisor (Mad Men’s Jessica Pare) that she shake her depressive state, which is all too apparent in her lack of interaction with customers as well as in her drab appearance.

Eilis resides, with several other girls, in a boarding house run by a no-nonsense landlady, MRS. KEHOE (played with just the right amount of cheekiness by Julie Walters.) Several of the other girls, more seasoned than Eilis, tease her about her innocence and general “just came off the boat” demeanor.

One night, Eilis decides to attend a dance thrown by Father Flood. Here she is approached by an earnest young man, TONY FIORELLO (Emory Cohen) who finds Eilis’s unassuming appearance charming. In fact, he confesses to her later, that though he is Italian he attends these dances because he is attracted to Irish girls.

A sweet romance slowly blossoms between Eilis and Tony during which Eilis, no longer depressed, becomes almost radiant. The transformation is subtle but visible. Eilis and Tony’s relationship is only threatened when tragedy strikes and Eilis must suddenly return to Ireland.

Brooklyn manages to do what few films can in this day and age: it truly captures the hearts of viewers. The performances of the leads as well as the supporting cast are brilliant, and the story itself, while simple on one level, has many layers to it. The cinematography, particular in the scenes shot in Ireland, was captivating as well.

Personally, I loved the way the director, John Crowley, captured the flavor of Brooklyn in the fifties and the fact that the authenticity was consistent throughout the film. I recently saw another period piece that, with costumes and period automobiles, went to great lengths to recreate New York during the same period, but neglected to pay attention to small details. For example, the seats in a scene shot in a subway car were modern and framed in chrome, whereas a similar scene of a subway car in Brooklyn depicted the seats just as they were then, upholstered in a straw-like material. Such details may seem minor, but collectively they add up to the authentic feel a film conveys and how that feeling is delivered.

Brooklyn, in my opinion, delivers big time. I would recommend it highly.   A

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14 Jan

5 FLIGHTS UP

Grade: B

By Vivian Rhodes

In the past few years there have been an abundance of films too obviously designed to attract the aging baby boomer audience.  Most of these have been propelled by predictable story plots and clichéd dialogue.  5 FLIGHTS UP  targets this same audience, but with greater success possibly due to its engaging stars (MORGAN FREEMAN and DIANE KEATON) and the fact that it was based on the novel Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment.

Helmed by British director, Richard Loncraine, 5 FLIGHTS UP tells the story of Alex and Ruth Carver, a Brooklyn couple who have been happily married for forty years.  Having lived in the same 2 bedroom apartment for all of their married lives, they are cajoled by Ruth’s aggressive real estate niece, Lily, (CYNTHIA NIXON) to take advantage of a booming real estate market and to put their apartment up for sale.  With the money made on a sale, they could afford to purchase a more modern apartment – one with an elevator – something worth considering now that they are in their “sunset years”.

Though Alex would much prefer remaining in his home, the money is tempting since living in New York City is expensive and they are by no means rich. Ruth is a retired teacher and though he has been a somewhat successful artist, sales of Alex’s work have diminished over the years. In addition to this, their beloved dog, DOROTHY, has to undergo some very expensive surgery.

Though the story is a good one, some of the perspective buyers who invade the Carvers’ home tend to be stereotypes of the “typical” New Yorker:  The abrasive yuppie whose cell phone is glued to his ear, the lesbian couple and their dog, the “lookie-loo” woman who visits all the open houses simply because she’s nosy.  In all fairness, these characters might have been more developed in the novel.  Unfortunately, because of time restraints, it is often necessary to offer up quickie versions of characters who then frequently come across as caricatures.

The other element that seemed forced was a subplot of a hunt for a suspected bomb -wielding terrorist.  Apparently, the hunt was resulting in gridlock on the Williamsburg Bridge, something that could ostensibly hurt the open house.  It seemed that the true purpose of the subplot was to open up the set.  Most shots were those of interiors of the various apartments; the manhunt being aired on various televisions throughout the film, served to bring in the outside world.  The media’s supposed rush to judgment also made somewhat of a political statement, but this was very subtle.

The strength of this movie is in the depiction of a married couple, devoted to one another, despite having faced challenges throughout the years (they are a bi-racial couple who married at a time when it was illegal to do so in many states and they also had to deal with Ruth’s devastation at learning she was infertile.)

The casting of Freeman and Keaton is what makes 5 FLIGHTS UP well worth seeing if for no other reason than for the warmth they emanate and the remarkable chemistry they share.

Out of a possible 5 bags of popcorn, I’d give it 3 ½ bags.

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13 Jan

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Grade: B-

By Vivian Rhodes

Admittedly, I have never been a particular fan of author, Thomas Hardy, having been forced to read his works when I was a college student. That having been said, I find the story Far From the Madding Crowd, set in Victorian England, to be more compelling than others by Hardy.

Briefly, it is the portrait of a proud and headstrong young woman, Bathsheba Everdene (Carrie Mulligan), who finds herself, thanks to a deceased uncle, the recipient of a rather huge inheritance.  Her lifestyle naturally changes, though her determination to be independent of men remains the same.  Throughout the film, Bathsheba attracts three suitors: Gabriel Oak, (Mathias Shoenaerts) a steadfast sheep farmer, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) a reckless sergeant, and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a prosperous and eligible bachelor. Her attractions and her involvement with all three of these men basically comprise the core of the movie.

This adaptation by director, Thomas Vinterberg, differs somewhat from the classic 1967 film which starred Julie Christie and Alan Bates.  For one thing, Christie as Bathsheba had more of an ethereal presence where Everdene’s Bathsheba is decidedly more earthly.  It is always difficult to try to compete with a film that many consider a classic, but I think this was a good attempt.  While some have questioned the casting of Belgium actor, Shoenaerts, I found his acting to be quite effective.  Regardless of one’s preference for the 1967 film or the 2015 film, Hardy’s message still comes through, that of a woman trying to balance her desire for independence with emotions over which she sometimes seems not to be in control.

The pacing of the film, however, is slow and geared more to women who favor period pieces such as this. (To be fair, when I saw the film in the movie theater there were two men in the audience – though they both appeared to be accompanying their wives.)

Still, if you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey, then Far From the Madding Crowd might very well be your gently brewed cup of tea.

Out of five bags of popcorns, I’d give it three bags.

Have a great week and feel free to follow me on Twitter @VivianWrites

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12 Jan

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS

Grade: A-

By Vivian RhodesI had arrived at the movie theatre to see I’ll See You in My Dreams fully expecting to see what was, at least for the most part, a funny or at least upbeat movie, based on the previews. A luminous Blythe Danner is cast in the role of Carol, a widow who finds herself grappling with the challenges that face many people, particularly women, in their twilight years.

Previews, however, can be misleading.  The film was, what is often referred to as, a “dramedy” and while it had touches of humor (particularly a scene in which Carol and her 70- something friends get high and develop the munchies, and one in which Carol takes a stab at speed dating) it was more poignant than funny. In fact, there were moments when the story takes a depressing turn.

The film begins on a sad note (this is hardly worth a spoiler alert since it occurs within the first 10 minutes of the movie) when Carol is forced to put down her beloved 14 year old dog.  The loss of that companionship highlights the fact that she now finds herself completely alone.  Widowed for 20 years, Carol has not dated in all that time.  Her daughter Katherine (Malin Akerman) lives miles away and Carol spends much of her time in the company of three close friends (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place, all of whom are equally well cast) golfing and playing cards.

(On a personal note, I enjoyed seeing the photo that sits on Carol’s mantel; it is a photo of a young Carol and her late husband and is actually one of Blythe Danner and her late husband, director Bruce Paltrow, with whom I worked many years ago.  There is also a karaoke scene, which I suspect is a nod to the film Duets, which was directed by Bruce and which starred their daughter, Gwyneth.)

While some might find Carol’s life enviable (she is after all, in apparent good health, has good friends, is great looking, and is financially secure) her sense of aloneness will resonate with most viewers.

In her quest to meet new people, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with her pool guy, Lloyd (Martin Starr) with whom, while consuming a lot of wine, she philosophizes about unfulfilled dreams.  Carol also develops a relationship with Bill (Sam Elliott,) an extremely handsome and charming man who is very attracted to her.

The story, written and directed by Brett Haley, unfolds as a series of sequences, examining the realities of life at a certain age, and the uncertainty of choices we’ve made in life.  Unlike The Great, Exotic, Marigold Hotel, which was geared towards a similar demographic and which tied things up neatly and offered viewers a satisfying ending, I’ll See You in My Dreams takes a more realistic view of life.  Ultimately Carol comes to accept the importance of living life to the fullest and making the most of each day.

Filmed on a relatively low budget, I’ll See You in My Dreams is a movie with some great insights and terrific acting, despite its sometimes melancholy tone.  Well worth seeing.  (A-)

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11 Jan

INSIDE OUT

Grade: A+

By Vivian Rhodes            When my son and daughter were young I had the perfect excuse to go to the movies and watch animated features produced by studios like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks.  As my kids got older, however, and their tastes changed, I didn’t have many occasions to see the multitude of animated films coming out each year (although I still managed to see a few with my daughter who, like me, still enjoyed them into adulthood.)

Though animated films from Pinocchio on have always given sly winks to adult audiences, this became particularly widespread in the mid-nineties.  By the time Shrek was released in 2001 audiences of all ages were gravitating to what was essentially an adult film containing many allusions kids couldn’t begin to fathom.

Striking a balance between a film that will draw kids and one that will also appeal to the adults accompanying them is not an easy task but Inside Out, produced by Pixar Studios and released by Disney Pictures succeeds in doing just that.

When I was informed that my neighborhood would be without power from 8 AM to 3 PM, I decided to go to a matinee and wait it out in an air-conditioned theater.  I purveyed the title of films I’d already seen and those I had no desire to ever see before purchasing a ticket for Inside Out.

At midday the theater was nearly empty except for a sprinkling of elderly women and a young mother with her daughter.  The premise of the film is fairly straightforward.  We are taken into the inner workings of the brain of an adorable eleven-year old girl named Riley.  Her actions are dictated by various emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust (Characters voiced respectively by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling.  Actor Richard Kind also voices a significant character that is introduced half-way into the story.)

Riley and her parents relocate to another city, something with which Riley has difficulty coping, especially when the emotional mechanisms in her brain undergo a glitch causing a huge change in her behavior. All of the actors voicing the emotions are comics who add just the right flavor to the excellent script written by Peter Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen.  There is a particularly funny scene in which the audience is privy to the inner workings of the brains of Riley’s mom and dad.

The visuals are exciting so the film moves quickly and succeeds in engaging viewers under the age of twelve as well as their parents and grandparents. And the message one takes away from the film is as valid for adults as for children.  The goal at first is to keep Riley happy, a goal orchestrated by Joy. Her Sadness emotion is sulky and pretty much dismissed by the others until it is discovered that without the occasional presence of sadness we cannot fully appreciate joy.

My emotional state was definitely a positive one when I left the theater and I would highly recommend this film to adults and children alike.

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10 Jan

MR. HOLMES

Grade: B+

By Vivian RhodesThere has been a trend in in the past few years to re-visit our literary heroes and take them down a peg, or at least present them with flaws.  Dorothy Gale, the heroine of The Wizard of Oz, is portrayed as annoying and a little boring in the book and subsequent play, Wicked.  More recently the superior moral compass of Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged by the newly released sequel, Go Set a Watchman, in which Atticus is depicted as a racist.  A similar fate awaits famed sleuth Sherlock Holmes in the new film, Mr. Holmes.

Set in 1947, the film, directed by Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters fame, introduces an elderly Holmes, (Ian McKellen) now retired, as living out his final years raising bees on a farm in England. His former housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, is with us no more and instead residing on the farm with him is his new housekeeper, war widow, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker.) Though Mrs. Munro feels overworked and is not a particular fan of Holmes, her son is quite fond of him and the feeling is mutual.  Holmes more or less takes the fatherless boy under his wings, teaching him the finer points of tending bees while encouraging Roger’s naturally inquisitive nature.

One of the things Roger is most inquisitive about is the story that Holmes has been writing about his last case, a story he has difficulty finishing because he has misgivings about the way in which he handled the case.

Holmes frequently flashes back to two different time periods and settings: one in England where his last case took place, and one in which he visits Japan, seeking a natural remedy for his worsening memory loss.  Some of these flashbacks are somewhat disconcerting in that they disrupt the flow of the movie.

What drives the film is what is revealed as Holmes’ basic flaw and one with which he must ultimately come to terms.  Holmes, who has always been revered for his knowledge of facts and for his uncanny sense of logic, painfully reflects on his last case and concludes that in stressing the former he neglected to take into account the human factor, with disastrous consequences.

The film gets off to a slow start, but eventually engages the audience. Ian McKellen turns in an expectedly brilliant performance, having had the same theatrical training as Sirs Olivier and Gielgud.  Also exceptional is young Milo Parker, who manages to be believable and cute though not overly precocious.  However, Laura Linney, though an excellent actress, was totally miscast as Holmes’s frumpy housekeeper. For one thing, her English accent keeps slipping.  The part would have worked far better with a solid English actress (Isn’t Downton Abbey on hiatus?  They could have had their pick of the litter with that cast alone.)

A bit of trivia here:  In a brief homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the director has a woman standing in front of a taxidermy shop, above which reads the name, Ambrose Chapelle. (This was the name of the taxidermy shop in The Man Who Knew Too Much, though possibly only an avid Hitchcock fan such as myself would have caught it.)

The name Sherlock Holmes conjures up images of the pipe and the deerstalker cap but apparently neither of these were affectations created by author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In fact, Holmes states he always preferred a good cigar to a pipe. Holmes also claims that the 221 Baker Street address was bogus. His confidante and close friend, Watson, is mentioned only to dismiss what Holmes feels was Watson’s sentimental take on Holmes’s adventures.

While Mr. Holmes, based on the novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch McCullin and adapted for the screen by Jeff Hatcher, offers an interesting perspective of a literary figure with which so many are familiar, some diehard Sherlock Holmes fans may well be turned off by a revisionist view which offers a decidedly more human but at the same time weaker figure of a man.

B+

Thanks for reading.  Follow me

@Vivian.Writes

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09 Jan

THE INTERN

Grade: B+

By Vivian Rhodes

Producer/director/writer Nancy Meyers creates adult comedies for, well, for adults. She has cast past hits like Private Benjamin, Something’s Gotta Give, and Father of the Bride, with the kind of actors baby boomers would most likely feel an affinity towards: Goldie Hawn, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Alec Baldwin. This, and her gift for zeroing in on the lifestyle challenges associated with that generation (becoming a father of the bride, intimacy at a certain age, retirement) has given her an incredible track record for making hit films or at least films that are likely to draw that particular demographic.

The Intern, written and directed by Meyers, is the story of widower BEN WHITTAKER (Robert DeNiro) who would like to spend his retirement years doing something that makes him feel useful. Having worked for the greater part of his life he decides to apply for a position as an intern in an online startup company founded and run by a driven JULES OSTIN (Anne Hathaway) Though Ms. Ostin is hesitant to take on a “senior” as an intern, she eventually comes to lean on Ben both professionally and personally.

DeNiro, with the mere raising of an eyebrow, has the ability to play comedy with a subtlety not all actors can manage and much of the appeal of this film rests on his capable shoulders.

Rounding out the cast are a trio of young men (played by Andrew Rannells, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley) who are colleagues of Ben and who, rather than dismiss him because of his age, actually look up to him as does Jules.

Is this a realistic scenario? Probably not. But Meyers doesn’t necessarily aim for realism; she sets out to create an enjoyable movie that, incidentally, makes one think about our perceptions of marriage, age, and so on. (The young actress who plays Jules’s daughter, Paige, (Jo Jo Kushner) steals every scene she’s in by the way.)

There is one particular instance in which Ben and the three young men set out to steal a computer (the details aren’t important.) Watching this scene actually made me laugh out loud, something I don’t do very often in a movie theatre. That in itself would make me recommend this film.

B+

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08 Jan

Thor

Grade: B

Thor is a nice surprise.  My husband and I got to see it early with Australians in Film – Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, is an Aussie and he introduced the movie.  Thor is based on the Marvel comic book series of the same name.  Thor is the hero, of course, and based on the Norse Mythology.  Anthony Hopkins plays Odin, Thor’s father, the king.  Rene Russo is the queen.  Natalie Portman is the mortal who ends up stealing his heart.  I guess since I didn’t expect much I was happily  surprised that the movie was so cute.  It’s in 3-D, so it has that going for it, plus some great special effects, and some funny lines.  Not a typical comic book movie!  Kind of fun!
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08 Jan

The Words

Grade: B+

The Words is a powerful, intelligent drama that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.  Bradley Cooper plays a struggling writer who faces a moral dilemma – and his decision has a long-reaching impact on the various characters.  Zoe Saldana plays the wife – elegant, passionate, trusting.  Jeremy Irons is the mysterious Old Man who turns the writer’s life upside down.

This is the kind of movie you end up talking about all the way home.  There are so many “what if”s and unanswered questions that the viewer’s perception of events plays a key role in the overall experience of the film.  Compelling.

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07 Jan

The Upside of Anger

Grade: B+

Look for a “Best Actress” nomination for Joan Allen for her role in this family drama. I have seen “The Upside of Anger” billed as a romantic comedy, but I sure wouldn’t call it that. Yes, there are some sweet and funny moments between Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, her would-be paramour, but the emphasis here is on family dynamics, and how a family functions after a crisis. The four daughters in the story are all very rich, layered characters. This is a wonderful film for women! Definitely thought-provoking.
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