The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

It is the most wonderful time of the year! Holiday films are popping up on all of the movie channels. It is a great time to watch some classic Christmas stories while spending time with family. Turner Classic Movies features some of the best holiday films during their November and December schedules. The Shop Around the Corner is one of the great seasonal stories that features charming individuals and serves as a reminder of what the holidays are all about.

The Shop Around the Corner premiered in the winter of 1940. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it stars Jimmy Stewart as Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak. The plot takes place in a small shop in Budapest, Hungary. Alfred and Klara are pen pals who fall in love through their letters to one another. Because the letters are anonymous, neither has any idea that they actually work in the shop together. Ironically, Alfred and Klara despise each other in real life. The story follows the relationship of the two as well as the rest of the characters that are employed in the shop. It is a classic Golden Age romantic comedy with timeless and universal themes.

Jimmy Stewart was born to play these kinds of roles. His character, Alfred Kralik, has the audience’s attention throughout the entire film. He is the one that everyone roots for. Margaret Sullavan plays the perfect female lead opposite Stewart. She is funny and intelligent. Sullavan is not a “sex symbol” as some other Old Hollywood actresses were called. Her simplicity adds to how special and meaningful this film is. Apparently, Lubitsch was so insistent on having Stewart and Sullavan as the leading roles that he delayed shooting until they were both available. The chemistry between the two may be attributed to the fact that Stewart and Sullavan were long-time friends prior to the making of the film. Both of them feed off of each other’s charm and quick wit. However, unlike many formulaic romantic comedies, all of the characters are given depth. My favorite supporting actor was Felix Bressart who played Pirovitch. He is a humble family man who truly cares about his friends. He frequently acts as Alfred Kralik’s right-hand man. Every single character has his or her place within the film and adds value to the overall story.

Although this film is nostalgic and romantic, there is a very real and serious element to it. One of the main characters, Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan), discovers that his wife is having an affair. He tries to commit suicide, but luckily one of his employees prevents him from doing so. Mr. Matuschek suffers from loneliness, but realizes that he can be fulfilled through acts of humanity. At the end of the film, he offers a Christmas feast to the new errand boy who has no family to celebrate with. This moment is touching and acknowledges the true “holiday spirit.” The universal love for this film is a credit to its ability to reach to all audiences, no matter who might be watching.

The importance of family and love shines through in The Shop Around the Corner. Even though the employees at the shop are not related, they resemble a family. They quarrel but also rely on each other. They get lonely but love reminds them of what they have. Life has its ups and downs, but sometimes the positive notes are so great that they can outweigh any negativity. After finishing the film Ernst Lubitsch said, “It’s not a big picture, just a quiet little story that seemed to have some charm. It didn’t cost very much, for such a cast, under $500,000. It was made in twenty-eight days. I hope it has some charm.” I believe the reason this film continues to be an annual holiday classic is because of its simplicity and honesty.

I highly recommend The Shop Around the Corner. If you have seen it or if you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

This film is not rated. 

 

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October Sky (1999)

Since it is Thursday, I figured I would do a “throwback” review to one of my favorite films. October Sky is a film that I grew up watching, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a good family drama and a genuine story.

October Sky, directed by Joe Johnston, was released in February of 1999. It is a true story adapted from the memoir, Rocket Boys, written by Homer Hickam. The film follows the story of Homer, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a teenager who lives in a small town in West Virginia. Homer grows avidly interested in rockets after the Soviet Union’s launch of the first Sputnik. With the help of his math teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), and several friends, he builds many successful small rockets. However, Homer faces several obstacles along the way, including his own father, played by the great Chris Cooper. Gyllenhaal’s role in this film is often considered his break out performance; he was only 18 at the time.

“No. Coal mining may be your life, but it’s not mine. I’m never going down there again. I wanna go into space.” – Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Storytelling is one of the features that makes October Sky stand out. It is simple and incredibly touching, especially since it is a true story. There is conflict between father and son, which many viewers can relate to, no matter their age. The film depicts a traditional coal mining town, and how there is a cycle of what boys are expected to do once they graduate high school. The only way they can escape the life of a coal miner is to receive an athletic scholarship. Homer is different. He wants to be a scientist. He does not want to follow his father’s footsteps into the coal mining business, and he is not good enough at football to catch the attention of a collegiate scout. It is no surprise that Homer’s uncommon rocketry interest causes a rift in the Hickam family. Homer fights to win his father’s approval, but he matures from the experience. The story gives every audience member something to focus on or take away from the film.

The presence of Miss Riley, Homer’s math teacher, has a huge impact on the outcome of the rocket building adventures. She encourages the boys, specifically Homer, to follow their dreams. Miss Riley acts as a silver lining in a town where the “Rocket Boys” are mocked and insulted. She allows them to see that there are other options besides being a coal miner, and that it is okay to stand up to the barriers that block them. Laura Dern was an excellent choice for this character because she brings tenderness to the role. The audience sees how supportive she was of Homer, and how much that attributed to his success. Miss Riley is a reminder of how important teachers are to young students, and how teaching can be such a rewarding job. Of course, Chris Cooper nailed his performance as Homer’s father, John. He took on the role of an extremely stubborn person that seemed incapable of showing his soft side. But Cooper does let the audience catch a glimpse at his vulnerability. As mentioned before, this film pushed Jake Gyllenhaal into stardom. He always has an incredible ability to show emotion through his expressions. He acts charming but intelligent, which makes his character immediately likable. Apparently, the real Homer Hickam looked like a “typical nerd” and Quentin (one of the “Rocket Boys”) was more handsome. But Gyllenhaal was considered a teenage heartthrob at the time, so the physical appearances of the characters were reversed for the film. The cast was solid and supported the compelling story.

October Sky is an authentic “Americana” narrative. Because it is based on a true story, it is considerably influential. It displays the working class sector of a small and struggling town. American pastimes such as football are involved as well as the coal mining industry, which helped build the economy for the country. And of course, the space race. By taking Homer Hickam’s memoir and putting it on the screen, Joe Johnston is able to reach to various backgrounds and individuals. The significance of perseverance when striving for a goal is highlighted along with the trials of a middle class family. These factors, plus the all-star cast, are why the film remains timeless and relevant.

I highly recommend watching October Sky if you have not had the chance. Please comment below if you have any questions or remarks about the film.

Rated PG for some mild language and sensuality. 

For more information about Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favorite actors, click here.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Everyone knows, or should know, the classic tale of Belle and the Beast. The original Disney animation of Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, and it soon became one of the most popular princess films ever created. I was excited to see this live action adaptation because of the stellar cast attached to it.

The live action Beauty and the Beast was released this past weekend on March 17 (USA). It scored a huge opening and is bound to set box office records for Disney. It was directed by Bill Codon and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Most people know the fairy tale of the prince who was turned into a beast. He can only be saved by true love, which he finds in Belle. Belle, a village girl, shows the Beast what he has missed in his years of captivity. When I was younger and first saw the animated Beauty and the Beast, I failed to realize the significant messages hidden within the storyline. Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate the many themes of the tale. The power of love is shown as well as the importance of looking at someone internally rather than just at his or her appearance. The film is something that both children and adults can learn from or relate to.

The casting for this film could not have been better. Emma Watson was radiant as Belle, a role she seemed born to play. One can tell that Watson loved playing the role and she did not half-heart her efforts. In interviews, she has commented that it has been her dream to play Belle since she was six years old. She actually turned down Emma Stone’s role in La La Land to play Belle. Ryan Gosling turned down the part of the Beast in order to star in La La Land. It is funny how things work out. Watson was joined by Dan Stevens, who did a magnificent job as the Beast. Stevens, who is primarily known for his role as the beloved Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, was able to bring an amusing personality to the Beast. Both he and Watson had to take dance classes and singing lessons to perfect their roles.

The mischievous duo of Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) was remarkably entertaining. The scene where Gaston, LeFou, and several of the villagers sing “Gaston” was one of my favorite scenes in the film. Luke Evans is very convincing as the arrogant and vain Gaston. Even though he is not a likable character, I loved watching his scenes. Josh Gad is fantastic as LeFou, but I did not expect anything less after seeing him as Olaf in Disney’s Frozen. The allegations of LeFou being gay are overblown. Although he does show admiration for Gaston, it is nothing out of the ordinary or shocking. There is no need to boycott the film or protest what Disney has done.

The production design of Beauty and the Beast was breathtaking. It is no surprise that the film cost $160 million to create, making it the most expensive musical ever released. The production designer, Sarah Greenwood, worked on the Sherlock Holmes films previously. It is no surprise that the sets for Beauty and the Beast were extravagant. Most of the filming was completed in England, which is apparent by the beautiful landscapes. I felt as if I was transported to a magical place. The music was done by Alan Menken, who wrote the original score for the animation. Although the classic tunes are present in the film, there is a new one. Dan Stevens performs “Evermore,” written by Josh Groban, as the Beast. I like the fact that the Beast was given a song, because he did not have one in the original.

This film carries a lot of expectations from those who are big fans of the original Beauty and the Beast animation. I was pleasantly surprised by it, because remakes have a reputation of falling short. The all star cast of Beauty and the Beast, along with the impressive sets, make it entertaining and engaging. I would recommend people of all ages to see it, because there is something for everyone. Please comment your opinions or questions below!

Rated PG for some frightening situations and action.

Image credit to Rolling Stone magazine. 

 

La La Land (2016)

It would be an understatement to say that I was merely excited for La La Land. I have been waiting for this film for a little over a year. Luckily, I had the chance to see it a month earlier than its release date at a local film festival. I love musicals and grew up watching them, so the idea behind La La Land – along with its incredible cast and crew – was a dream come true.

*There are very light spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk.*

La La Land makes its nation-wide debut (USA) on Christmas Day. It is being released in several cities today, December 16. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, it follows the journey of two aspiring artists in Los Angeles. One is a jazz pianist, Sebastian, who is played by Ryan Gosling. The other is an actress, Mia, who is played by Emma Stone. The story takes place in modern times, but there are inklings of classic Hollywood, which I appreciated. Both Sebastian and Mia start off struggling to achieve their dreams. Eventually, the two fall in love, and their dreams begin to grow realistic. Bittersweet sacrifices must be made in order for Sebastian and Mia to accomplish what each person wants in life. I walked out of the theater with all different kinds of feelings. I was amazed and overjoyed, but I was also reflective and emotional. I absolutely loved the film, and might even put it up on my list of favorites.

“Here’s to the fools who dream.”

La La Land was one of those films that was on my mind for days after I saw it. I have so much to say about it, but bare with me and I will try to condense most of it for this review.

First of all, I think that Damien Chazelle (who is only 31 years old) is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. La La Land is his third feature film, his second being the critically acclaimed Whiplash from 2014. Chazelle actually came up with the idea for La La Land when he was a student at Harvard University, which was long before he started on Whiplash. However, studios were not willing to fund his idea because they did not believe that this type of musical could be successful. Not to be defeated, Chazelle put La La Land aside and began to write Whiplash. After the huge praise and success Whiplash received, studios were willing to give Chazelle the money he needed for La La Land. 

Chazelle was inspired by the musicals he grew up watching, and it is evident in the finished film. Some of those musicals included Singin’ In the Rain, Top Hat, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Chazelle was so passionate about those films that he would actually screen them for the cast and crew during production to show them what he envisioned for La La Land. He teamed up with his close friend and composer Justin Hurwitz, whom he attended Harvard and worked on Whiplash with. Hurwitz wrote six original songs and the score for the musical, making sure each one matched the tone and mood needed for the specific scenes that they would be featured in. The song that is played in one of the film’s trailers, “City of Stars,” took Hurwitz thirty-one rewrites to satisfy both Chazelle and himself. The music in the film was fantastic, and I had several of the songs stuck in my head for days. All of the songs fit their scenes perfectly.

Although I loved everything about La La Land, if I had to pinpoint my favorite aspect, it would be the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This is their third film together, including Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Both have said in interviews that it makes the experience a lot smoother and more fun when acting alongside a good friend or “buddy” as Emma Stone puts it. The two talented actors make the romance between Mia and Sebastian seem so authentic, that it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life. I found myself so attached to both characters, and I wanted to see both be successful. Both Gosling and Stone give such great performances that fit their personalities so well, so I was shocked to learn that they were not the first choices Chazelle had. Originally, Chazelle reached out to Emma Watson and Miles Teller (who was the star of Whiplash). Watson was busy with another project, and Teller did not have the right chemistry with Stone. Thank goodness for this, because I truly think that Gosling and Stone are the closest modern-day comparison to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Obviously, Rogers and Astaire had more dancing talent and experience, but Gosling and Stone do match the chemistry of the legendary pair. There is one scene, which is probably my favorite, where Sebastian and Mia walk to their cars after a party. They are still acquaintances at the time, but that soon changes. The two begin singing and dancing with the Los Angeles skyline in the background, which creates a great cinematic moment.

It is fascinating to read about how much effort and practice went into nailing the song and dance scenes (choreographed by Mandy Moore) in La La Land. Damien Chazelle had the cast rehearse in warehouses for three months prior to when they began shooting. Ryan Gosling claimed in a recent interview that he spent four hours a day for three months practicing the piano pieces his character plays in the film. Yes, that is Gosling playing the piano himself without a hand double. My favorite story from the set is how the cast and crew managed to pull off the opening number (“Another Day of Sun”). Chazelle got a 48-hour permit to film on the 105-110 interchange in Los Angeles. Keep in mind that this interchange is 100 feet high; one of the production designers even questioned that someone might fall off. Somehow, Chazelle managed to pull it off in scorching 100 degree weather. The final result is stunning, and it brings the audience right into the film.

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop here. La La Land is a must-see for 2016. It says a lot that I saw the film for the first time over a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It will affect everyone in a different way, so I am curious to see what the final consensus will be. The film is already getting stellar reviews and awards buzz, but time will tell. The musical numbers and dialogue scenes are so well blended; there is no awkward jump from song to reality. It has something for everyone, whether that be a great love story, entertaining music, or witty dialogue. La La Land will speak to idealists and those who have big aspirations. All dreams have little snags here and there, but that does not mean the next step should be to give up. It is happy and it is sad, but without that, there would not be much of a story to tell. 🙂

P.S. There are appearances by J.K. Simmons and John Legend that make the film even better.

Fun Fact: The score composed by Justin Hurwitz was recorded with a 90-piece orchestra on a scoring stage. The stage was the same stage that many classic musicals, such as Singin’ In the Rain, had their scores recorded on.

La La Land is rated PG-13 only because of the very infrequent use of curse words. Other than that, it is a family film that everyone can attend. 

Please leave your comments below! I am very interested to see everyone’s opinions about this film.

Image credit to : http://www.theplaylist.net. and http://www.imdb.com

Joy (2015)

Joy, directed by David O. Russell, was released nationwide (USA) on Christmas Day. I have been wanting to see this film since I first saw the trailer at the beginning of October. The cast made up of Russell’s usual people: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Robert De Niro (Rudy), and Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker). These three stars worked together on Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle; their chemistry is evident. This film has not received the best reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This film is based on the story of Joy Mangano and her “Miracle Mop” adventure during the 1990s. I would say “loosely based” because there are many facts that are missing and/or different. It is amazing to see how Joy overcame all the adversarial situations and pessimistic individuals in order to create and lead her own company. This film really showed the importance of family, even if they are difficult at times, and how determination can go a long way. Joy is very inspiring when it comes to following one’s dreams. To me, David O. Russell’s quote about the film sums up the basic theme:

“If you’re going to live a fairytale, you’ve got to go through the goblins.”- David O. Russell

Jennifer Lawrence was terrific. Throughout the whole film, I felt like she was actually Joy! She completely grasped the role, including Joy’s unyielding personality. Surprisingly, Bradley Cooper does not have as much screen time as one might expect. Because of this, Lawrence carries this film on her shoulders, which is very different from many male-dominated films in theaters today. Her performance creates a strong connection with the audience. When she struggles, the audience feels her struggles. One of my friends even said that she could feel the stress that Joy was feeling. Lawrence’s Golden Globe nomination (Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy) is rightfully earned.

Bradley Cooper is one of the headlining actors, but his role does not give him much screen time. In fact, he does not make his first appearance until the plot is well on its way. Despite his limited participation, Cooper shines as Neil Walker, the head of QVC at the time. He acts as a boss, mentor, and confidant towards Joy. It is fun to see Lawrence and Cooper’s characters support each other through a strong friendship, which they have carried over from the several other films that they have starred in together.

Robert De Niro plays the role of Joy’s dad, Rudy. Rudy is divorced (twice, actually) and always looking for love. He supports Joy, but often has a hard time showing it. Joy takes care of him more than he takes care of her. Rudy provides much of the comedy, since he has a very blunt personality and really no filter over what he says. His girlfriend, Trudy  (played by Isabella Rossellini), financially supports Joy. Both Rudy and Trudy frequently doubt Joy and her company, but they are always there for her. Loyalty is one of the main messages in the film.

I really enjoy David O. Russell’s directing style. There is a sense of comfort and warmth in the way he presents the setting. The camera movements are also very noticeable, in a good way. It is clear that Russell is inspired by many of cinema’s greats, like Steven Spielberg. He uses techniques that are lost in many of today’s films. The film was created in a unique and unconventional fashion that was refreshing.

Overall, Joy was an entertaining film that provided many themes relating to family and love. I really appreciated the inspiring message that hard work will eventually pay off. It was nice to see a director who uses artistic techniques to tell a special story. The acting was fantastic as well. Joy is a great film to see over the holidays with your family. I encourage you to go see it and share your opinion.

The film is rated PG-13 for one (I repeat, one) curse word. Other than that, it is a clean film that everybody can enjoy. 

Feelings About “Inside Out”

Inside Out, released on June 19 (2015) in the United States, has already captured the hearts of its many viewers. Is it too early to say it will be the animated movie of the year? Directed by Pete Docter, it stars an extremely talented cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith. What makes it so special (besides the amazing cast)? Well, here’s the plot. Riley, an eleven-year-old girl from Minnesota, is forced to leave her home and friends when her dad starts a company in San Francisco. As expected, Riley becomes upset. She tries to see the positive. Unfortunately, mishaps with the moving van and the drastic change in the overall atmosphere depresses her. She loves hockey, but it is not the same as it was in Minnesota. Enter the emotions. Joy, played by Amy Poehler, is a cheerful and bright individual. She creates all the happy thoughts in Riley’s mind. Joy, along with Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) try to steer Riley in the right direction. Once you meet this cluster of emotions, you will understand why things go a little awry. I do not want to spoil the movie, so I’ll just leave it at that. Inside Out contains many hilarious moments as well as lessons to be learned. Anybody at any age can take something away from this movie. Please go see it if you have not; I doubt you will regret it!