comedy, drama, musical

The Last Five Years


The Last Five Years, 2014

Blame it on work or relationships or really burning through awards season. I’ve got eight hopeless reviews in draft mode, and while I’ve been seeing movies in theaters and at home and on planes and trying to fulfill my #52FilmsByWomen challenge… there hasn’t been anything posted in a while, huh? But tonight I finally sat down to watch The Last Five Years. Building on Jason Robert Brown’s musical of the same name, the film focuses on the relationship between Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). What makes it far more interesting than a love story is that it starts with Jamie and Cathy telling it from beginning and end, respectably. That, and it’s a musical. Because of the alternation of devastatingly sad and heart-fluttering cute, it’s an emotional tour de force complete with both actors belting their hearts out.

Brown was a big deal among kids I grew up with (no, seriously, worship level), so I knew the songs but had never seen them performed, and was admittedly wary of it. At the start though, the typography was nice and the film started with credits against a black screen, New York City’s own sounds in the background. In this immediate nod, the city became the third character. Part of what makes Years so intimate and sad is that you know nothing of anyone but Cathy and Jamie. Even regarding those two characters, we know very little about them other than their relation to each other and their jobs. Jamie is a wunderkind author while Cathy is a struggling actor, and the portrayal perfect. From phone calls and Skype dates to living together and attending work functions, there is clearly effort being put into showcasing the growth (and decay) of a relationship.

The camera angles are sweeping, often feeling handheld (maybe some were handheld?) to the point of disorienting a viewer. The color correction makes some scenes nearly neon, with trees far greener than need be. Kendrick’s blonde hair and Daisy Mae sweater are incredibly distracting. If you don’t like musicals, skip Years. It’s cheesy and  nearly all sung and occasionally features choreography from plot bystanders, but if you like musicals you can look over all of this and become sucked in. From the first note of “Still Hurting” (if you went to theatre camp, you know it) you’re done. And at an hour and 34 minutes, you can afford to be.

awards show

2016 Academy Awards


Best Picture nominees, via Mashable.

Before the best televised event of the year, Robin Roberts said to Leonardo DiCaprio, “Tonight the carpet is red, and the nominees… are dreaming in gold!” This year the Academy is really forcing that We All Dream in Gold line, but Roberts could have easily quipped, “Tonight the carpet is red, and the nominees… are white!” Chris Rock came onto the Oscar’s stage as host and owned it. He made every anticipated joke but in a way I rarely saw coming.  The #OscarsSoWhite controversy goes beyond zero black nominees, and while Rock (unfortunately) didn’t touch on that, overall he made the show feel personable and, consequently, inclusive. Unfortunately in its own attempt to be inclusive, the broadcast included strange pop-ups sharing “accomplishments” of presenters. The music included was also awful. But let’s focus on some positives, like Black History Minute and the clothes worn by Kerry Washington, Kevin Hart (“This is Dolce and Gabanna head to toe, and I’m shinin’!”), Charlize Theron, Lady Gaga, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams…

My Questions: Is Jacob Tremblay’s dad Juan Pablo? Who messed up the live camerawork during the monologue’s mention of Best Cinematographer? Coincidence? Who invited Stacey Dash? Did Jennifer Garner take a selfie with Common and, if so, can we see it? All that laughing during the Minions presenting was pity laughing, right? Why did Sacha Baron Cohen get to present the clip for Room? Who decided to move forward with those Kohl’s Drunk History ads?

The Highlights: Jacob Tremblay standing up for a better view of C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB8. Chris mentioned Girl Scout cookies the moment I began eating my Tagalongs – I absolutely would have bought cookies from those Girl Scouts. Let it be noted, Kate Winslet also began eating Tagalongs. The Weeknd has the greatest focus I may have ever seen, first performing on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway and now surrounded by gymnasts (?) literally circling him. Mark Ruffalo WINKING into the camera, was he trying to kill me?  Lady Gaga proved once again that she’s one of the greatest, and most influential, performers of this decade. Sam Smith’s “Thank You Ticker” included “Barbara Broccoli,” and I hope she’s real. When J.J. Abrams had to stand by winner Alejandro González Iñárritu mid Best Director speech as he’s being cut off by the orchestra, who’s playing the Star Wars theme…

The Awards Themselves: I need to see The Danish Girl now, since apparently Alicia Vikander’s performance in that was award worthy (though she was unreal [ha, but truly] in Ex Machina and yet not nominated). “What another lovely day” was a perfect start coming from winner of Costume Design, Jenny Beavan. The clips prior to announcing Sound Editing were fantastic. Mark Rylance as Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies made me so pleasantly surprised and his speech was the first that made me smile. Louis C.K. presenting an award deserved an award. I’m sorry, “Rehab” was played after Amy won Best Documentary? Not cool. I couldn’t help but wonder if The Academy has avoided giving Leo an Oscar because they didn’t want to hear him talk about global warming. Even after watching several films, including every Best Picture nominee, my ballot may not have been great, but Spotlight winning Best Picture made my night. My week! I know the week has just begun but… how do you top that moment?

action, drama, thriller

The Revenant


The Revenant, 2015

It’s a 2015 film set in the 1800’s. It’s beautifully shot on location (a grueling shoot, we get it), it’s got plenty of snow and blood, there’s lots of focus on a beverage container, and a man loses his, uh, assets. This is The Hateful Eight… but also The Revenant. The difference is that while Tarantino’s eighth film is laced with his infamous quick-wit dialogue, the script for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest is mostly a wheezing Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a member of a hunting team who, after being mauled by a bear, is essentially abandoned by his fellow frontiersmen. It’s an extended episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, with Glass somehow surviving attacks from Native Americans and Frenchmen, free falling, infections from that bear attack, and so forth. By his fifth miraculous moment I was over it, and yet, Iñárritu keeps one hooked through over 2 hours of this. While the score is predictable and occasionally clunky, the sound mixing is unbelievable. I’m not one to necessarily notice the surround sound in a theatre, but Revenant makes one feel as if he or she is in the middle of the frontier, whether it be a quiet nature scene or an attack. The attacks are definitely brutal but perhaps the second best part of the film, as they are intricately choreographed and shot with an energy hard to put into words. Just watch the first five minutes and you’ll understand.

The locations, as mentioned above, are undoubtedly beautiful; however, Iñárritu can try too hard, namely the desktop screensaver-esque images between scenes. Seriously, that northern lights shot was laughable. In these moments of too-good-to-be-true shots and CGI bison, what keeps the film grounded is its performances. Tom Hardy is insanely good as Fitzgerald, and seeing Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter were pleasant surprises. DiCaprio, our five-time Oscar nominee with zero wins, could win this year. At first I wanted to be mad about this, thinking it could be a win long overdue and consequently not based on the film. Glass experiences dreams of dead wife, but so did DiCaprio’s Cobb in Inception. DiCaprio ate raw fish (and bison liver), but so did Taran Killam in Hobbit Office and he didn’t get any praise (only somewhat kidding here). But… looking at his competition, and remembering Revenant‘s final shot, it’s easy to imagine Leo receiving a standing ovation as he accepts the award.

A coworker has repeatedly called The Revenant “the perfect man movie,” and while it’s far from perfect and isn’t a “man movie,” is is a very good revenge movie. Seeing it without the Academy Awards so close would’ve been a completely different experience, but alas, it’s the time of year where films fight to the death. Revenant is pretty good at that.






Room, 2015

I’d stupidly picked up a copy of Emma Donoghue’s Room in a used bookstore and put it back on the shelf, thinking the premise was too strange. Then I saw the chill-inducing trailer for the film adaptation, immediately went back to that shelf, and read the story in a day. Donoghue wrote the screenplay while the novel’s manuscript was still in the process of being purchased, and her dedication to the story is a rare treat. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is a five year old boy who believes the room he and his mother, Ma (Brie Larson), live in is the entire world. As the film progresses, one learns how the two became stuck in “room,” and though the film leaves out the most grueling parts of the book, the intensity remains. A couple who’d clearly never read the book (and maybe never saw the spoiler-filled trailer?) exclaimed disbelief through the entire thing: “No way!,” “That’s not gonna work,” “Omigodisthisforreal?”

The book is told from Jack’s point of view, and the film manages to include his thoughts in poignant voice-overs and several beautiful, scary POV shots. Director Lenny Abrahamson also does a decent job making one feel cramped alongside Jack and Ma, though it wasn’t as claustrophobic as I would’ve liked. I came in ready for Diary of Anne Frank shots. The score was loud and applicable in more open spaces, but I’d wished it didn’t play in room – I loved the silence. Better than any positive element though (and there were many) were the performances. A scene between Tremblay and Tom McCamus about cereal made me cry, Joan Allen (as Ma’s ma) was breathtaking, and Larson is receiving praise for a reason (though her character has a name other than Ma in the film, why?). Her fascinatingly intentional performance is simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring, and at last the indie goddess is being noticed by the Hollywood powers that be. Many think she’ll win the Best Actress Oscar which is made more wonderful by the fact that in one scene, Larson sits underneath a poster of young Leonardo DiCaprio – a real contender for Best Actor. What does it mean, what does Abrahamson know?! We’ll see come February 28th.

comedy, drama, mystery

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight, 2015

The Hateful Eight, 2015

Sometimes I play a game so that I don’t eat my popcorn at the movies all at once – wait for a certain word to be said or an actor to appear. Going into The Hateful Eight, I decided I wouldn’t eat until the first gunshot; fortunately, my self control was pitiful and I caved after 20 minutes or so because Eight is a slow burn. And I mean that positively. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (as if that hasn’t been stressed enough) is a whodunit set in post-Civil War Wyoming. In a single “day” nearly all inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, two bounty hunters, one’s captive, a Confederate general, a sheriff, a hangman, a cowboy, and a Mexican (phew) find themselves stuck together in a snowstorm. Various tensions, like race and gender and class and roots, build throughout this 187 minute masterpiece, and being Tarantino of course it’s violent (eventually) and excessive but it’s also remarkably theatrical, hilarious, and stunning.

Shown in 70mm film, hearing the projector clicking behind me and seeing a ridiculously large, crisp picture felt more submersing than any film experience I could have imagined. The limited time roadshow came complete with a beautiful program and plenty of “ooh”s and “ah”s. Whether or not one appreciates the viewing experience, the amount of work that went into the cinemas using such dated (and arguably forgotten) equipment is thrilling. Pair this with its sheer attention to detail and Eight easily becomes the most beautiful film of the year. The (few) locations are astounding, and the refrigerated set allows the intimate feel of Minnie’s to be exaggerated to a point of reality, in which each spoken word comes with visible breath. Chalk-full of dialogue (but using silence wisely), Eight is a story of each character telling stories. Getting to learn about each individual provides momentum to the mysteries until a wild few minutes before intermission. From theatrical to cinematic extreme, Tarantino keeps the second half of the film bloody, tense, and absolutely hysterical.

As soon as it ended I wanted to see Eight again. Stefon would maybe go far as to say, this film has everything – an interesting plot, dynamic cast, tense drama, laugh out loud humor, gore and guts, and it looks good to boot.

drama, romance



Brooklyn, 2015

Let me go ahead and admit that I went into Brooklyn fiercely cynical due to various other films being snubbed by the Academy Awards. Was John Crowley’s Brooklyn really one of the best films of 2015? Much like my viewing of The Imitation Game about this time last year, I realized all of Brooklyn fit into its two minute trailer, and a Best Picture shouldn’t be able to be summarized in two minutes. There’s no spoilers here – an Irish girl (Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan) sets sail to America, she gets in (!), she has a job and lives in a boarding house, but she’s homesick. But there’s a priest who’s nice to her, and a boy (Emory Cohen) who’s nice to her even though he’s not Irish, he just likes Irish girls. They fall in love and he has an annoyingly cute little brother. Someone dies, she goes back to Ireland, Domhnall Gleeson dances. And really, that’s the film. It’s a love story, through and through.

Ronan plays the part well (again, being cynical – is it Best Actress good?), and the supporting cast is full of oddly familiar faces, including Jessica Paré (can she only do period pieces?). It’s pretty but oh so melodramatic, with musical flourishes and an entrance to the United States you’ll have to see to believe, or get a glimpse of in the trailer of course. Granted, the telling the tale of immigrating to America is crucial, and I would never say otherwise. Sure, moments in Brooklyn tugged my Irish heritage heartstrings. I longed for something tougher though, a story with a girl not well off enough to travel to and from Ireland, who didn’t have, all things considered, a smooth transition, who struggled in romantic endeavors rather than falling into them. 

Unfortunately, while this department-store-girl-starring love story set in 1950’s New York is the talk of awards season, other beloved films of the year were overlooked – even another department-store-girl-starring love story set in 1950’s New York, Carol. Choosing between the two? Watch Carol.



Earlier this week I pledged to participate in #52FilmsByWomen, a challenge brought about by Women in Film encouraging people to watch one film made by a woman a week for a year. In light of the Oscar nominations, I was even more excited to begin. In 2015, just 9% of top grossing films were directed by women. And that’s an improvement from 2014. The celluloid ceiling is real, and daunting, but in a small way, viewing films made by women may remind the Hollywood powers at be that eyes are on, and care about, this work. Sad, isn’t it?

Rather than writing a review for all 52 (I plan on watching films beyond this challenge as well), I will continue to update my list here, for anyone who’s curious, wants to participate, or is up for discussions when his or her favorite comes up! Any film directed by a woman is fair game, and recommendations are more than welcome.

Week 1: Jenny’s Wedding, directed (and written) by Mary Agnes Donoghue. Catch it on Netflix.
Week 2: Advantageous, directed (and co-written) by Jennifer Phang. Available on Netflix.
Week 3: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, directed (and written) by Marielle Heller. Currently in Redbox.
Week 4: Sleeping with Other People, directed (and written) by Leslye Headland. Watched it on a plane, but it’s also in Redbox.
Week 5: Take This Waltz, directed (and written) by Sarah Polley. Available on Netflix.
Week 6: Fantastic Lies, directed by Marina Zenovich. It’s an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary available online.
Week 7: The Intern, directed (and written) by Nancy Meyers. Available in Redbox and on Delta flights, for now.
Week 8: Fish Tank, directed (and written) by Andrea Arnold. Available on Netflix.