Monday, December 28, 2015

Movies: Three To See Right Now

It's Christmas and end-of-year movie season as we head up to the Oscar nomination rush.
And among the current flock there are at least three good movies that are worthy of your consideration. Depending on where you live, two of these films may have already been yanked from theaters to make room for blockbusters such as the one (we won't mention the name lest we give it more publicity) that has already grossed more than one billion dollars.

Anyway, let's start with the one that's just arrived at theaters -- the new David O. Russell written and directed Joy, the story of Joy Magnano, the hugely successful businesswoman who started her empire with the invention of the Miracle Mop.
The film reunites Russell with his three favorite players, Jennifer Lawrence (as Joy), Robert De Niro (as Joy's father) and Bradley Cooper (as a TV producer and sometimes mentor).
Lawrence gives a bravura performance as Joy. She embodies a fierceness that reaffirms our belief that women are indeed the stronger sex and always have been. She takes on her role with no less authority and self-assuredness than Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce or Bette Davis in All About Eve.
De Niro is fine and Cooper does his best to make the most of a small role. But it's co-stars Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Édgar Ramírez and Virginia Madsen who manage to steal one scene after another. Rossellini plays De Niro's love interest and Joy's financier with great gusto. Ladd is Joy's soap-opera addicted mom and she dominates her scenes even though she hardly ever leaves her bed. What a joy it is to see these beautiful (and beautifully talented) actresses on the big screen once again! Ramírez is so convincing as Joy's Latin lover, ex-husband and loyalist that he makes you wonder why she ever divorced him. And Madsen is loving and lovable as Joy's grandmother and the wise narrator of the proceedings.
Joy is a big, messy film that juxtaposes times and places and real life sequences and dreams. There are times when it seems like it could use that Miracle Mop that Joy road to fame and fortune. It's not as tight as Russell's Silver Linings Playbook nor as raucous and edgy as The Fighter nor as emblematic as American Hustle. But this is a meaningful and entertaining film nonetheless and it contains important lessons and observations on what it takes to succeed in business and the nature of modern American capitalism.

Trumbo is the updated telling of the story of the dreaded McCarthy era, a time characterized by the Hollywood blacklist and malicious, career-destroying witch hunts in search of communists.
The tale is told through the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who actually was an American communist and someone who eventually survived the blacklist, living to once again write screenplays under his own name and also receive numerous honors from an industry that once rejected and scorned him.
Movies about the movie industry have always been tricky endeavors but this one works because, as serious as the subject matter is, the film spotlights the absurdity of the whole era and even manages to interject dashes of irony and humor into the proceedings. And the sheer hypocrisy of most of those involved in the sanctimonious "laundering" of the entertainment industry is/was nothing short of laughable.
The great Bryan Cranston is superb as Dalton Trumbo and the luminescent Diane Lane is wonderful as his always patient, ever supportive, keenly perceptive wife. On top of that, the movie is worth it just for Helen Mirren's depiction of bloodthirsty gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, she of the ubiquitous chapeau. You'll also be treated to a fine performance by Louis C. K. in a supporting role and you'll enjoy the treat of Dean O'Gorman as a young Kirk Douglas.
The movie intermixes actual newsreel footage from the era with recreations of particular events in an effort to give it an air of authenticity. But don't be entirely fooled. There really was an effort by American communists in the 1950's to take down our government from within. And yes, it did involve treason and espionage and some of it was directed from Moscow. Still, the suspicion, panic, suppression and outright tyranny that this was met with in some quarters remain virtually unjustifiable.

Someone has commented that Brooklyn has to be one of the first movies about Ireland and the Irish that doesn't depict the Irish as dark, brooding, violent or drunk and that doesn't mention the IRA or The Troubles.
For that alone, Brooklyn is worth your time.
There are films that unfound like fine novels and watching these films is like reading a wonderful book. You become engrossed and you simply don't want the tale to end.
Such a movie is Brooklyn. There's a finely-crafted human story here. The characters are three-dimensional and believable and the tale is engrossing. What's more, all of the details are marvelously authentic.
Brooklyn tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. When she arrives in America, she's so lonely and homesick that her awkwardness and detachment is palpable. You truly ache for her. But later in the film, when she returns to Ireland to tend to some family matters she finds herself torn between two nations, two cultures and two loves. How this all resolves itself is the real (and wonderfully romantic) story of Brooklyn.
This is a story about growing up, making your way in the world, trusting your instincts and ultimately, moving on.
You won't find any major stars in Brooklyn but you will find an outstanding cast of Irish, British and American actors under the steady, knowing direction of John Crowly combined with a spare, convincing screenplay by Nick Hornby based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. 
This is a beautiful film to watch and a finely-told tale to treasure.
Don't miss Brooklyn!


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