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Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Brooklyn

Brooklyn is the story of Irish girl Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who comes to America and is swept away by a Brooklyn boy (played by Emory Cohen).

Brooklyn is the story of Irish girl Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who comes to America and is swept away by a Brooklyn boy (played by Emory Cohen).

Brooklyn looks like a film that would be a favorite for a Best Picture Oscar, under traditional standards. Nevertheless it’s worth seeing.

It’s 1952 and Eilis Lacey is about to emigrate from Ireland to the United States through the arrangements of her sister Rose. It’s not like Eilis will miss much. Life in her hometown of Enniscorthy has been redundant as she works at the mercantile run by the spiteful Miss Kelly part-time and she’s also unable to win the affection of a man at the local dance hall while her best friend has better luck. So what does she have to lose?

She bids a tearful farewell to her mother and sister Rose as she departs. The ship ride is trying as she has to cope with rocky waves that make her seasick and cabin neighbors who lock her out of the bathroom. Nevertheless she finds a cabin mate whom she gets along with well. Her cabin mate is actually on her second trip to the United States returning home. She gives her advise on what to do at immigration and informs her of what to anticipate in the United States.

Once in New York she makes her home at an Irish boarding house in Brooklyn run by a traditionalist woman housing young women. She’s able to find a job at a Manhattan department store but is uneasy with it at first. She meets with Fr. Flood who helped her make her job arrangements and she’s able to enroll in bookkeeping classes. She goes to dances at the Irish hall but is surprised to learn the young man who’s interested in her is Italian. He’s smitten over her but she’s reluctant to admit she loves him. Eventually she finally does and meets his family.

Unfortunately tragedy in back in Ireland interrupts her stay in Brooklyn. Fr. Flood informs Eilis that her sister Rose died and her mother doesn’t know how to cope. Before returning to Ireland, Tony wants to marry Eilis. They wed secretly in a courthouse. Upon returning to Enniscorthy, Eilis already has a return to Brooklyn planned out but over time she feels more at home. Her best friend is about to marry, she gets offered an accounting job on an emergency basis at her sister’s business, and she wins the affections of Jim Farrell, an eligible bachelor who stands to inherit huge property.

Over time she wins the love of Jim, gets admiration from her workplace and starts falling in love with the town she left behind. It’s like the life that eluded her before she left has happened once she returned. Her feeling at home in Enniscorthy has left her comfortable to the point she doesn’t open the letters Tony send her. None of them. However a visit to Miss Kelly and what she has to say to Eilis seals her fate and where she makes her final decision.

This film is one that will remind one of Oscar winners or nominees of the past. Often you think you’re watching a film that would’ve had what it took to win Best Picture 20 years ago. However what it does is it helps bring back the magic of those films set in the past and takes one back to an easier time. Usually nostalgia pictures like these have become too cookie-cutter over the years especially as the critical ‘powers that be’ in the film world have recently been giving the lauds to more innovative fare. I will admit myself this looks like something the Weinstein brothers would have shelled out during their Miramax days. However the film succeed in making such a nostalgia film a refreshing alternative around the awards season. The film even adds a certain charm or magic that seemed to be missing in a lot of nostalgia films as of late.

It’s a question what the film’s best quality is. Whether it’s the story line or setting of the environment. However I think the best quality of the film has to be a very relatable story. Sure, we’ve seen many Ellis Island or ‘Coming To America’ stories before. What I feel is the movie’s best quality is a common story that’s relatable time over time. In fact just last week, a person I know who came here from Ireland years ago and just received her permanent residency just this month said she saw the film and it reminded her of her own homesickness and even her own frustrations of not knowing what will happen next or whether things will work out for the better. Reminiscing over the film, I think that’s it. I believe its magic is this is a common story that any Irish immigrant to the United States, whether they came early in the 20th century or in the 50’s like Eilis or even just recently, can relate to and even see themselves and their own stories in that film.

Saoirse Ronan is the perfect pick for Eilis Lacey. She has the grace and the youthfulness to play her well. She also does a very good job of playing a young woman from back in the 1950’s with the elegance and innocence coming with it. Overall, Ronan’s role of Eilis is the centerpiece of the film. Nevertheless there are good performances from the other actors despite not having as complex of roles. There’s Julie Walters who did a good job as Madge Kehoe as well as Jim Broadbent as Fr. Flood. There are even those that give comic relief like Emily Rickards and Eileen O’Higgins as Patty and Nancy, Eilis’ two laughing girl friends in Brooklyn, and James DiGiacomo as Tony’s littlest brother Frankie who knows how to steal the show. There were however roles that could have been more. Firstly, Emory Cohen was also good as Tony Fiorello and had the right charm to play him but the role lacked complexity. Also there were times I feel Jane Brennan’s role as Mrs. Lacey and Domhnall Gleeson’s role as Jim Farrell could have been more.

Nick Hornby wrote a very good adaptation for the screen despite having some underdeveloped roles. John Crowley also did a good job in direction. This film should be considered the Irish director’s North American breakthrough. The technical aspects of the film like the sets, the costuming, the hair and the make-up worked perfectly for the film as it fit the times and the cities perfectly. Michael Brook also gave a fitting score to the film.

Brooklyn may look like your common Ellis Island story but it’s a film that does all the right moves and captures the right feel that makes this film great.

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Double Movie Review: Paddington and Cinderella

Normally I don’t see live-action family movies unless the renown for it catches my eye. In the last three months, there were two that caught my eye: Paddington and Cinderella. I’m glad I had the chance to see them.

PADDINGTON

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

For the first time, Paddington Bear comes to the big screen. And in live-action format rather than animation. However this did involve taking some chances. The first chance was making a movie that could entertain today’s children. The second was not having to mess with the Paddington Bear people know and love.

The film does a good job of keeping many aspects of Paddington such as his love of all things British, especially marmalade. The film also does a decent job of not trying to resort to too many cheap laughs like one would come to expect in today’s children’s films. It’s not to say there were some questionable moments, like the scene where Paddington thinks the toothbrushes are ‘earbrushes.’ The film also does a good job in presenting Paddington in today’s world and meeting the Brown family who are actually reluctant to adopt at first.

I give kudos to director/writer Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl for coming up with a very good adaptation of Paddington Bear into a feature-length film. It was no easy task to make such a film especially when Paddington has resorted to being simple children’s books since the 1950’s.  The plot where Paddington boats from Peru to London only to find a cold country, a reluctance to adopt from the Brown family and being pursued by the daughter of a poacher whose goal was to make him hers to kill and stuff worked well to entertain crowds. The inclusion of the effects in the film couldn’t be avoided as nowadays family movies have to have some special effects to win crowds. Even though Paddington wouldn’t be the type of movie for a lot of visual effects, the effects included did things right without messing with the story.

I also give them credit for not messing with the spirit of Paddington whose sweet charm is the reason why he has become one of the most beloved children’s book characters in recent decades. He’s even so beloved in England to the point there’s a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station where he got his name from. I also give them kudos for adding character to the Brown family. They may not be much like the Browns in the Paddington books but the character of the Browns do fit well in the movie.

Just as much deserving of respect are the performances of the actors. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins did a very good job playing the Brown parents. Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin also did well as playing the Brown children. They both played their roles well without being too overly-cutesy. Julie Walters succeeded in stealing scenes as the wise Mrs. Bird. Nicole Kidman also did a good job of playing the evil Millicent Clyde without becoming too hateable. Actually Millicent Clyde was rather entertaining as a villain. Finally Ben Whishaw did a very good voice-over as the voice of Paddington. Paddington needed a sweetness in order to make the story work and Whishaw was the right fit.

Paddington is now out on DVD and BluRay. For those that didn’t see it in theatres, it’s worth seeing. I don’t know if it’s the type of family movie one won’t need to see with a family of their own but it is entertaining and very good quality entertainment.

CINDERELLA

In ofor Cinderella to work as a live-action movie, the set design and costuming had to be top notch.

The live-action version of Cinderella had a lot of expectations placed on it but it delivered.

If you think making a film about Paddington Bear is difficult, try making a live-action version of Cinderella. And knowing that it will be Disney doing the work, you can understand they’d be under a lot of pressure. We’re talking about the film company that made their 1950 animated version a staple into many people’s hearts. So it would not be surprising that there would be a lot of questions surrounding the make of the new live action version. Will it have the same Disney spirit? Will it stray too much from the animated version that lives on in the hearts of millions? Or even the book? How will the sets and costumes be done? And will it entertain crowds of today?

There’s no question that making a live-action version of a fairy tale can be expensive in production. Cinderella wasn’t too expensive to make but $95 million is expensive enough. For a film like Cinderella to work, there’s no question that one of the top aspects to focus on would be the technical areas like set design and costuming. Dante Ferretti was a top choice for set design. We’re talking about a set designer whose works have earned him nine Oscar nominations and three wins for The Aviator, Sweeney Todd and Hugo. Ferretti did not let anyone down. In fact his set designs in all scenes worked perfectly for the movie. It was hard to notice a glitch.

Costumer Sandy Powell was another top pick with loads of cred including ten Oscar nominations and three wins. Here she again adds to the reputation by making costumes perfect not only for Cinderella but for all characters in the movie. My favorite costumes were actually the bratty looking outfits for Drisella and Anastasia. It fit their brattiness perfectly. However Cinderella’s glass slippers really caught my eye. They looked more like crystal slippers. The visual effects team also did a top job in adding the necessary visual effects for the film and giving them the magic that will remind people of the magic Disney movies are famous for. They even succeed in making the mice and lizards human enough without being too ridiculously cartoonish.

Credit should also be given to director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz. People easily forget that Branagh is as much of a director as he is an actor directing films from Shakespeare (Henry V) to comedy (Love’s Labor’s Lost) to superhero action flicks (Thor). Now he ventures into the territory of fantasy films. The result is excellent. Just as excellent is the writing from scriptwriter from Chris Weitz. He does a very good adaptation by retaining the spirit of Disney and even including some aspects not included in the original. Actually his writing makes you forget he wrote American Pie!

Despite all those efforts, the success of the movie would have to bow down to the roles being done right. The inclusion of the king, the prince’s father, added to the story as did the appearances of Cinderella’s parents. The characterizations of the mice and lizards were well done and didn’t go over the top or even cheesy. The characters of the two stepsisters were very good depictions. They were nasty and bratty but you’ll actually find yourself laughing at how stupid they are rather than hating them. If there’s one character you will hate, it’s the stepmother Lady Tremaine. Cate Blanchett did an excellent job of depicting Lady Tremaine as both cruel and hurting on the inside to the point she feels she should hurt Cinderella. Her depiction also fits within the common Disney theme of featuring a female villain who’s beautiful rather than ugly. Blanchett’s depiction actually seems more like the queen from Snow White rather than the stepmother of the animated version.

There were some radical choices for character depictions in the movie. The first was the prince as being more of an awkward young adult rather than the flawless Prince Charming we come to expect. Even referring to himself as ‘an apprentice’ during the casual contact with Cinderella is something no one would have expected. The most radical of character depictions has to be Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. I found it very different to have a clumsy fairy godmother this time around. I wasn’t expecting another fairy godmother that sang ‘Bibbity Bobbity Boo’ but this was way different from what I expected.

Finally I focus on the character of Cinderella. Lily James did a very good job as Ella. She’s already an experienced actress in her native England and she does a very good portrayal here. She portrays Ella as a young woman who doesn’t make having an imagination look like a weakness. We shouldn’t forget her imagination has kept her holding her head high during the toughest of times such as the deaths of her parents and keeps her going strong with her stepmother and stepsisters whom even her father described as ‘trying.’ Hah, ‘trying’ is an understatement! However she does not come across as naive as most would come to expect of her or anyone with an active imagination. In fact it’s the scene where she says to her stepmother: “You were never my mother and you never will be.” shows Cinderella to have more inner strength than most thought.

Focusing on Cinderella lastly seems appropriate because she is essentially the epitome of the theme of the movie. The movie showed two people who had a lot of tragedy in their lives: Cinderella and Lady Tremaine. One was bitter about it. The other did what her mother said: “Have courage and be kind.” Cinderella’s courageous positivity upset Lady Tremaine to the point she had to hurt her however she can. Cinderella stayed strong. There were some points where her courage was tested but she still stayed strong. I guess that’s what this version of Cinderella was trying to say. That staying positive is not being oblivious. That having an imagination is not a weakness. That’s what was not only shown in Cinderella but almost every Disney movie.

Both movies have had their own box office success stories. Cinderella has grossed $197 million in North America and over $500 million worldwide. Paddington was not as big of a hit but it did have its own success with $76 million in North America and $259 million Worldwide. Impressive since it was done with a $55 million budget. The marketers of Paddington did a common job but a smart job in releasing it in most of Europe, South America and Asia first during the latter weeks of 2014 before releasing it in the US on January 16th. That’s a common technique used to plug movies with characters common in European pop culture. They did that with Tintin back in 2012.

Paddington and Cinderella are two family movies that have pleased the critics and will also please audiences alike. Both have what it takes to entertain children but they both also have elements that will please adults.