Movie Review: BROOKLYN

Movie Review:  BROOKLYN

An Age of Innocence Tested

It’s the 1950’s and a young Irish Lass, Eilis, played with luminosity by Saoirse Ronan leaves her mother and sister in Ireland to pursue life in the Irish section of Brooklyn.  Fighting back homesickness and fear of the unknown, Eilis navigates seasickness, Mrs. Keogh’s women’s boarding house with assorted residents (Julie Walters in top form as Mrs. Keogh) and a salesgirls job arranged by a benevolent Irish Catholic priest (a jolly and deeply humane Jim Broadbent) and overseen by a caring and classy Jessica Paré (of Mad Men fame).

Enter Tony, an Italian American plumber from the neighboring Italian quarter whose sweet and tender disposition and attentiveness to Eilis is remarkably portrayed by Emory Cohen.  The chemistry between these two is utterly captivating.  Watching so honest, so genuine an interplay between the two almost-soon-to-be-maybe lovers is heartbreakingly beautiful.  Anyone with any dating history is bound to recollect the joys and vulnerabilities of his or her own early romance.  If you have experienced them, you may find yourself shedding a tear of gratitude for those blessed early encounters.  If not, you might sigh deeply over what might have been. Romanticized as they are, these two young people are not perfect, but I’ll let you enjoy witnessing their imperfections for yourselves.  That’s part of the fun.

The film’s third act teeters nervously on a potential fall from grace both before and during Eilis returns to Ireland.  Once back in her homeland, she finds herself torn between Tony (who represents, among other things, the life she’s begun in Brooklyn) and the familiarity of her home turf.   Family and friends attend to her homecoming with considerable fanfare and Eilis finds herself a sudden celebrity on account of her new, confident persona and Americanized sensibilities.  See how beautifully Ms. Ronan conveys her enjoyment of her new-found acceptance from people who hadn’t paid much attention to her before.  Enjoy and empathize as you watch Eilis basking in the esteem of others, toying with the advances of a never-would-have-been—otherwise potential flame (Domhnall Gleeson, absolutely right!) as she negotiates allures and temptations she may never have imagined.  Ms. Ronan’s performance takes your breath away.

But, in truth,  all the actors offer outstanding performances.  There is not a fake or phony word or expression to be found. You’ll also enjoy Eilis’s relationships with her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott also perfect!) and their mother (Jane Brennan, excellent) that not only justify Eilis’s homesickness but add layers of meaning about family and the importance of intimate relationships in every aspect of life.  To all this, I must add that John Crowley’s direction is, well, impeccable and cinematographer Yves Bélanger creates just the right atmosphere in both Brooklyn and Irish locales.  I urge you all to take a trip to Brooklyn.    

Disney’s CINDERELLA

Let’s cut-to-the-quick: With its beautiful Art and Set Direction, outstanding Costumes, lush Special Effects (a perfect pumpkin-turned-coach sequence), and a gorgeous waltz-laden score (composer Patrick Doyle a most excellent choice!), the film deserved a superior script. Having chosen “Courage and Kindness” as the film’s central theme, (the values Cinderella embraces from childhood) seasoned screenwriters Chris Weitz and Aline Brosh McKenna could have been far more clever and less heavy-handed in their set-up.* The result: the first third of Disney’s CINDERELLA is ponderous and overly simplistic up to and including the Stepmother and her daughters’ arrival. The early scenes with the child Ella (to become Cinderella) and her parents are superficial. Her mother’s story would have been better served in the form of memory (or even flashback) instead of the short moments provided here to portray her dying words to her daughter. Moreover, the writer’s attempt to convey Cinderella’s apprehension regarding her father’s remarriage lacks sufficient motivation until we actually meet them. With no nuance, no subterfuge –even in the presence of Cinderella’s father!–the characters as written provide no sense whatsoever as to why Cinderella’s father would have chosen them or tolerate their behavior! Worst of all, the script handicaps Cate Blanchett’s captivating performance as the calculating Stepmother with far more caricature than depth. Her two poignant motivational scenes arrive a bit too late and they feel more like inserts than part of an organic whole. Anticipating those scenes, I would have welcomed a little more guile and giddy manipulation from the Wicked Stepmother earlier on. Instead of the abrupt way she banishes Cinderella to the attic, for example, I could easily have accepted Stepmother sending Cinderella on an errand to allow the stepsisters moved into Cinderella’s room! And, alas, in regard to style and pacing, I expected more from Director Kenneth Branagh whose HENRY V and HAMLET remain among the most outstanding modern Shakespeare films. He does a fine job, however, in the scenes between Cinderella and her Prince. Indeed, Branagh makes “Love at First Sight” believable. Overall, once Cinderella’s father is out of the picture, the pace quickens, the performers take flight and the magic begins.

Kudos to all the actors! Lily James is an enchanting Cinderella. We need and want her in every scene. As noted, Cate Blanchett is a wonderfully menacing and wounded Stepmother and I liked Holliday Granger’s and Sophie McShera’s buffoonery as the selfish step-sisters. As the Prince, Richard Madden is fittingly charming and understated. Helena Bonham Carter makes for a most bewitching and fun-filled fairy godmother in both her old lady and youthful guises. Oh, what fun had her role been expanded! Still, what we have in CINDERELLA is, in the end, enough to be good. Once our impatience to “get to the magic” is addressed, a grand time at the ball awaits.

*FYI: Weitz’s best films are IN GOOD COMPANY and A SINGLE MAN; McKenna is best known for THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA.

More on BEGIN AGAIN

Lyric in the Song “LOST STARS” sung by Adam Levine in the movie BEGIN AGAIN: “God, tell us the reason youth is wasted on the young, it’s hunting season & the lambs are on the run, searching for meaning.” It’s a very good song. Shall I buy the Sheet Music and use it in my mission work? Listen and let me know. The entire soundtrack is good, too. See my new blog: frjamesdiluzio.wordpress.com

PS: when I first heard the song I thought the lyric was “God, tell us the reason YOU’RE wasted on the young”. And I thought, ” Wow! This is intense!”

BEGIN AGAIN — my personal film review

Even more than the lovely Irish film ONCE, the stage version of ONCE on Broadway (and on tour) celebrates the Spirit. Not just the human spirit but what Christians call THE HOLY SPIRIT. For both film and stage show revel in depicting joy in the creative process of music-making when the creators love, respect and reverence one another When I attended the Broadway show, I was taken aback with it’s almost mystical honesty. I found the experience akin to a Eucharistic celebration in the way it manifested all that we long for: belonging, solidarity and hope. The penultimate and culminating scenes of the current movie BEGIN AGAIN (now in movie theaters) impacted me in a similar way. Not surprisingly, BEGIN AGAIN has the same writer and director as the film ONCE: John Carney. Although it is not as perfectly crafted as ONCE (BEGIN AGAIN is loose and rambling in structure), the new film has many moments that are sweet, charming and just right. And yes, unlike ONCE, other scenes represent far too easily resolved tensions and succumb to cliche. (I.e., NOT a realistic representation of alcoholism). With that said, I recommend it to you particularly for its Eucharistic moments when the characters manifest HOPE struggling through the pain of broken relationships via their collaborative music-making. Like ONCE, BEGIN AGAIN explores the joy and comfort we feel expressing our deepest feelings through music as we strive to love with integrity. Here are some other reasons you may want to see this movie:

1. For the simple pleasure watching these appealing actors-at-work: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightly, relative newcomer James Corden (of THE HISTORY BOYS and soon to be seen as the Baker in the movie INTO THE WOODS premiering in December), Catherine Keener, and the extremely popular and talented singer/ musician Adam Levine (lead singer of Maroon 5 and judge on the TV show THE VOICE) who is making his film debut. True, he ‘s best when he sings and not quite so effective as an actor. Still, he makes for a solid screen presence amidst the seasoned screen stars. For her part, actress Keira Knightly has a lovely singing voice and performs her songs appealingly.

2. Really good soundtrack. I downloaded it.

3. R rating is misleading. Some foul language but no nudity or violence or evidence of casual sex. The subject matter is clearly about adult relationship and dysfunction. ONCE also received an R rating with the same profile. Fine as they are, these are not family films. Fine for high school level students with an adult to explore the themes and dysfunctions.

4. A lovely little escape film for all adults engaged in making music in any way, shape or form and those who enjoy watching music-in-the-making.

5. For reference, IMDB.com gives BEGIN AGAIN. A 7.8 rating compared to 2006 ONCE with an 8.0 favorable rating. ROTTEN TOMATOES posted an 83% / 86% critics / general audience positive rating.

Homilies and more film reviews forthcoming!