Thursday, December 31, 2015

CAROL (2015)

Rated: R

STARS: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson
DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
GENRE: Drama/Romance

How can I know what I want when I always say yes to everything is the line that nails the character of Therese (Rooney Mara), looking for all the world like a young Audrey Hepburn and exuding a similar Holly Golightly air of innocence and naivete. She is the perfect prey in waiting for Carol (Cate Blanchett), something of an older lesbian cougar who locks gazes with Therese at the New York City department store where the younger woman is employed behind the counter.

Carol is set in the early fifties, and the title character is a married woman, as many gay folk were during that era, due to the ubber stigma that homosexuality carried with it at the time. They played the game and tried to fit into "normal" societal roles... peering cautiously at the world from behind stacks of hatboxes inside the closet.

To further complicate matters, Carol is in the middle of obtaining a divorce from her from her hapless hubby, Harge (Kyle Chandler). He knows what she's up to, as she's had a previous lez affair with one of her longtime friends, Abby (Sarah Paulson). But he still loves his wife, and doesn't want to lose her. They have a young daughter, Rindy, and Harge is threatening to out Carol and have her declared an unfit mother--in which case she will surely lose custody of the child. So as Carol pursues her passionate desire for Therese, she must consider the consequences of her actions.

There is the obligatory lovemaking scene between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, with an ample amount of skin on display. (In case you're curious about these two in real life-- Blanchett, who is married, has stated she has had previous relationships with women. Mara, who starred as the gender-bending Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is also rumored to be bisexual).

These are two heavyweight performances from the co-stars--Blanchett as the somewhat jaded, chain smoking Carol; Mara as the young ingenue discovering herself as a sexual being breaking through boundaries, pulled in different directions by members of both genders who want her.

Carol--adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price Of Salt--is a tale of how two people find love and try to keep it alive in an us-against-the world scenario. It deftly captures the mood and the feel of a repressive era in our history when we weren't allowed to love just anyone of our own choosing.

Grade:  B +


Before commenting on Carol, I have to confess that I wasn't really in the mood for a movie, having seen two previous flicks in the past three days (The Big Short and Joy). My lids kept getting heavy and I was concentrating more on not nodding off than whether these two love-starved ladies would get it on or not. Like me, Carol was a bit lethargic.

In discussing it afterwards with Tim, I was still able to voice my dislikes (slow-paced direction, lugubrious content) and likes (Cate Blanchett's acting and Carter Burwell's score). Edward Lachman's cinematography also stood out for me as it lavishly set the stage for this clandestine love affair. I was reminded of John A. Alonzo's cinematography in Chinatown which had the same haunting feel to it. I guess my main gripe was how quickly these two ladies' sexual attraction turned into genuine love. (I'm sure it took longer in Highsmith's novel!)

I was also amazed that a mid-week, mid-afternoon showing of the film packed the movie house with viewers. I guess the promise of seeing two well-known movie stars getting naked in bed is a major draw.

Grade: C

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CREED (2015)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
GENRE: Drama

Creed might have aptly been named Rocky 17 (or whatever number fits in there). It follows the tried and true Rocky formula from start to finish. And since Rocky was number five on my Top 100 Favorite Films of All Time list, that's absolutely fine with me. (I"m going to use "absolutely" a lot in this review-- as, if you remember, it's one of the champ's favorite words.)

Sylvester Stallone was born to play Rocky Balboa. He IS Rocky Balboa. And this current incarnation of the ultimate underdog who inspired an entire generation has been rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I absolutely concur.

Apollo Creed, the flashy heavyweight champ whose epic duels with Balboa were a cornerstone of the first two films in this franchise, is no longer with us. But his son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), is a chip off the ol' block. A born fighter. From an early age, he gets into scrapes and plenty of trouble. Eventually, he's taken in by Apollo's widow, Mary Anne ( Phylicia Rashad). She raises him right. He has a good job in the business world. But a leopard can't change its spots. Donny wants to be a boxer. He secretively piles up some victories over a series of tomato can fighters in Tijuana. He feels he's ready to follow in his dad's footsteps. He quits his job (to Mary Anne's chagrin) and looks for someone to train him. Lo and behold, he finds Rocky, living a quiet life as the proprietor of Adrian's Restaurant. It takes some doing, but Donny convinces the retired ex-champ to take him on as a project. I shouldn't have to tell you the rest. Together, they will take on the world.

To illustrate my next point, I'm going to insert an excerpt from my review of the original Rocky:  Bill Conti's music score MADE these films--and inspired a generation to tell their crummy bosses to shove it and go out and do...well, I don't know, and neither did they. They were just INSPIRED, dude!

Following in Conti's footsteps for Creed is Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson, who does the master proud with his stirring, fist-pumping score. 

There are just enough new twists on the familiar theme to make Creed feel fresh and up to date. Donny jogs through the streets, but instead of a big crowd of supporters fanning out behind him on foot, he's accompanied by a cadre of bikers showing off their riding acrobatics, as that exhilarating music kicks the scene into high gear.  It works.

Tessa Thompson, as Bianca, is Donny's love interest--the new Adrian, as it were. But unlike Talia Shire's introverted character in Rocky, she's a singer. She's eye candy, but she's got some fire to her as well.

Does a timeless story ever get old?  Methinks not. That's why, from stage to screen, Romeo and Juliet has been reworked and retold so many times.

It's the same thing here. Absolutely. 

Grade:  A   


Methinks Tim is perhaps punch drunk. Or such a Rocky fan that the franchise and it's creator can do no wrong. It's not like I didn't dig Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky III. (After that, I got tired.) But seriously, folks. Creed is entertaining – for awhile. But the boxing sequences are really drawn out and the on-and-off romance between the boxer and his corn-rowed neighbor doesn't compare to Rocky and Adrian's love story. I will give Sylvester Stallone points for his acting chops. But is it award-worthy? Let's not go overboard.

I wouldn't want to give away too much of the story line, but I did like the motivation the scriptwriters (director Ryan Coogler for both screenplay and story, Aaron Covington and Sylvester Stallone for 'character') gave Rocky for continuing to coach his protégé against all odds—including his own.

In general, I'm not big on sequels. They rely too heavily on fans whose loyalty spells 'big box office' no matter how repetitive the story is. Creed may have a different title and age may have slowed Rocky Balboa down a bit. But I suppose if you are a fan of fight movies, this one is worth seeing. Then again, you might be better off renting Raging Bull.

Grade: C


Friday, December 4, 2015


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen
DIRECTOR: John Crowley
GENRE: Romantic Drama

Normally I would keep you in suspense for a little while as I work up to my ultimate assessment of a movie, but this time I'm just going to gush, because Brooklyn may be the best film I have seen all year ( and we're very late in the year!)

Young Eilis Lacy (Saoirse Ronan) languishes in her small town in Ireland, until she gets the opportunity to emigrate to America and live in Brooklyn (where there are so many Irish folks it feels just like home!)  There she will work in a department store, receiving pointers on how to be personable with the customers. She'll live in a boarding house for young women. She'll meet a great Italian guy (Emory Cohen) and fall in love. But circumstances will draw her back to her native land--temporarily, or so is the intent--to console her emotionally manipulative mother following a death in the family. There she will become drawn in by one of the local bachelors, setting up a bigtime emotional conflict-- her heart stretched between two continents...the small town and the big Irishman and an Italian--as we ride the edge of our seats (and it's not even a thriller), fully invested in the outcome.

And the reason we are invested is because everything about Brooklyn is perfect. The early fifties milieu...the fashions...the giddy girls at the boarding house...a world where politeness and reserve in speech and manner still prevailed...but most of all the extraordinary talent of the two leads and the chemistry they develop.

Emory Cohen has the stage presence of a young Brando, and Saoirse Ronan --whose beauty shines more from within than without--inhabits her character so thoroughly and convincingly that it seems she was born to play Eilis Lacy.

It there's anything here for my critical eye to land upon, it's that Brooklyn moves rather languidly, from a plot standpoint, through the first third or so of the film. But you're getting tons of character development along the way, augmented by a fine supporting cast.

 If Brooklyn isn't well represented come Oscar night, someone will surely deserve a good whuppin with a shillelagh!!!  In light of the current immigration debate, it stands as a shining testament to a time when strangers were welcome here. 

Grade: A


    Ready for some more gushing? I couldn't agree more with everything Tim has said about Brooklyn. It's romantically nostalgic without being cloying. Although the times were far more innocent (nobody was texting during sex), I could totally relate. In fact, it made me yearn for those bygone days when being shy was endearing. And virtue wasn't a character defect. Yes, there have been plenty of movies about immigrants coming to America, hoping for a better life. But this one has a uniqueness that won't quit. Whether it's dealing with homesickness, the angst of being an outsider, cultural differences,Brooklyn has it all.

I hadn't heard of the two leads before. But I guarantee, after this film, both Saoirse Ronan (even with a name like that!) and Emory Cohen will become familiar to all of us. Both actors have such incredible eyes. Mesmerizing!

The cinematography by Yves Bélanger is superb. Whether it's a crowded Coney Island or the sweeping dunes of a deserted beach in Ireland, the visuals are poignant and perfectly memorable. My only beef – and it's a real stretch for me to find one – is an interior scene where snow flakes suddenly appear, falling slowly to the floor. I assume the director felt it added to the mood. I felt it was distracting. That being said, I urge anyone reading this to run right — NOW!—and see this gem of a movie.

Grade: A +