Movie Man Mike finally reports in.
Brooklyn. A. There is a good reason this film got an Oscar® nomination for Best Picture. It’s terrific. Everything about it is terrific. The screenplay is well-written. The characters and their interactions are so very charming. From the little old lady who runs the boarding house where Eilis lives in Brooklyn to her rigid supervisor at the store where Eilis works, these characters are engaging and believable. What’s more, with the exception of Jim Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson (both appearing in the Harry Potter films), the cast consists of relatively unknown actors. Yet each and every one nails their performance. Set in the 1950’s, the story is about a young woman named Eilis (Saiorse Ronan, City of Ember) living with her sister and mother in Ireland. The job market in Ireland is not good but America is the land of opportunity, so the family arranges through their church to send Eilis to America. The story follows Eilis on her journey to America and we get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1950’s for the single working woman. Eilis is homesick until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines), an Italian boy with an eye for Irish girls. As the story moves forward, Eilis finds herself in conflict over her love for Ireland and the place she makes for herself in Brooklyn with Tony. This is truly a beautiful story filled with rich characters. Sairose Ronan received a well-deserved Oscar© nomination for her role in this film.
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Brooklyn (B). This new movie has generated tons of critical acclaim and lots of Oscar buzz for its star Saoirse Ronan (City of Ember), who also happens to be one of my favorite young actresses. But as my grade indicates, I liked it; I didn’t love it. It’s a straightforward and rather old-fashioned coming-of-age/romance tale. Around 1950, a young Irish woman named Eilis (Ronan) is leaving her little seaside town in Ireland, where her prospects are poor, for New York City. Her beloved older sister Rose has helped pay for Eilis’s passage, and Rose will stay behind and care for their widowed mother (who doesn’t seem like great company, so Rose is quite the martyr). A kindly priest (Jim Broadbent, Another Year) has arranged for a job and a boarding house to be waiting for Eilis on her arrival. She’s badly homesick for a while, but Eilis is a plucky gal, and the attentions of a nice young man named Tony ease the pain. Life throws some curveballs at Eilis, and the rest of the movie is seeing how she deals with them. This is Ronan’s picture, and I thought she gave a good performance. And yet, somehow I was never quite swept away–never quite forgot I was watching a movie. I think maybe the character is part of the problem. Eilis is smart and seems to be basically nice, but she is pretty quiet, takes her time to make her mind up about things, and definitely doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve. So she’s kind of hard to relate to or root for. We’ll see what the Academy’s voters think soon enough….
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The Grand Budapest Hotel (B). I hardly know what grade to give the latest movie from writer-director Wes Anderson. He is known (to me, anyway), as director of whimsical movies, some of which I have liked (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and some of which I haven’t (The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket). The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very watchable film, with a madcap story that barely pauses to let you catch your breath. Although the movie is imaginative and occasionally amusing, it is so suffused with nostalgia and deeply felt loss that I left feeling pretty sad. The cast is a who’s who of working actors, but Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) is the star and really steals the show. He plays M. Gustave, a concierge at a fabulous resort hotel somewhere in eastern Europe just before World War II. He takes a young refugee (from the Middle East, I think?) under his wing as the hotel’s new lobby boy, and the two have quite a series of adventures. Among the many familiar faces who turn up are the lovely Saoirse Ronan (The Host), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Jeff Goldblum (Nashville), Jude Law (Side Effects), and Edward Norton (Fight Club). If you like Wes Anderson, I think you will almost certainly like this movie. But don’t go expecting a straight comedy.
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How I Live Now (B-). What is the deal with this movie? It stars up-and-coming actress Saoirse Ronan, who has talent to spare (her recent appearance in The Host notwithstanding). It’s based on a supposedly-young-adult novel that won some awards and was presumably somewhat popular. Yet, I never saw a preview for it, and it opened in only two theaters in the Dallas area. And, in fact, I was the only person in the movie theater when I saw it! Anyhoo, it is an odd movie, and its R rating is well earned. Ronan plays Daisy, a Goth girl with some serious anger issues. Her mother is dead, and her father has shipped her from America to England to stay with some step-relatives. (It is important that they be step-relatives, because one of them is Edmond, a brooding hunk to whom Daisy is instantly drawn.) But this is a strange England, with tons of army guys everywhere on alert for some nameless threat. And suddenly, England is at war and apparently being invaded, and Daisy and her step-cousins are cut off and isolated in their little English farmhouse. After that, the movie gets surprisingly violent and ugly, and I emerged from the theater feeling a little shaken and brutalized. I cannot really recommend the movie in good conscience, but Ronan gives a good performance.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
The Host (C-). I knew this movie, based on a book by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, was almost certainly going to be terrible, so why did I see it? Because it stars Saoirse Ronan, a young Irish actress who has impressed me with her talent in pretty much every film I have seen her in (City of Ember, Atonement, Hanna, The Way Back). I wondered, would she be able to overcome the almost certainly bad source material she’d be working with here? The answer is: not entirely. The premise is mostly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, mixed with a bit of Starman. Aliens called “souls” have taken over the bodies of almost every human being on Earth, leaving only a few pockets of human resistance out in the hinterlands. Ronan’s character, Melanie, gets captured and possessed by a soul within the first few minutes of the movie, but her alien possessor is surprised to find out that Melanie’s consciousness is still present inside her head and quite resentful of the occupation. Melanie persuades the soul to go AWOL with her body, and the rest of the movie involves pursuit by a dogged alien “seeker” (Diane Kruger, Troy) and Melanie’s efforts to persuade the alien in her body that maybe it’s not so nice to steal other species’ bodies from them. Unfortunately, the movie is weak in several respects. It’s too long (2 hours and 5 minutes) and draggy. The dialogue (including the occasional internal dialogue between Melanie and her alien soul) is frequently wooden, and the suspenseful moments are not very suspenseful. Several of the actors are just not very good. Still, Ronan deserves some credit for making her weird character at least somewhat believable and sympathetic despite the underwhelming script. In sum, the movie’s not a complete turkey, but I really can’t give it a thumbs up.
From the desk of The Movie Snob
Hanna (B-). This movie is quite a change for director Joe Wright, who helmed the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice and also 2007’s Atonement. It’s a PG-13 thriller about a girl named Hanna who has been raised by her father in complete solitude in a remote part of Finland. There, her father (Eric Bana, Troy) has taught her survival skills, martial arts, and about a million different languages. Now about 16, Hanna wants to see the world, and soon enough she is on the run from the CIA, especially the cold-blooded agent Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). Hanna is played by the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who deservedly gets top billing in this flick. I have liked her in everything I’ve seen her in — City of Ember, The Way Back, and Atonement, for which she was Oscar nominated. (Tom Hollander, who played the dorky Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice, turns up as a German assassin.) It’s a decent thriller, but I was never totally engrossed in it.
New movie review from The Movie Snob
The Way Back (B+). Australian director Peter Weir (Witness) brings us this ode to human endurance. It’s based on a possibly true story (apparently there’s some controversy about this) about a small band of people who escaped from a Siberian gulag during WWII and walked all the way to freedom in India. Jim Sturgess (The Other Boleyn Girl) plays the group’s leader, a thoroughly decent young Polish fellow named Janusz whose wife was tortured by the Soviets until she accused her husband of being a spy. He is joined by several others–a hard-bitten American (Ed Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), a Russian thief (Colin Farrell, Ondine), and a few more. Along the way they are joined by a Polish teenager who’s also on the run, an orphaned girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement). I really enjoyed it, although it’s certainly sad in parts. Ronan, whom I’ve liked ever since seeing her in City of Ember, is probably too pretty to be playing a supposedly starving orphan, but she certainly makes it believable that the men would adopt and protect her like a daughter. I think the film’s definitely worth seeing.