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.

Lion (2016)

I finally had the chance to see Lion, which was nominated for six Academy Awards earlier this year. I was blown away by the film, and it caused me to reflect on everything that I take for granted in my own life. Films like Lion show us just how much we have to be grateful for.

Lion was released in limited theaters in November of last year, but it expanded to more theaters in early January of 2017. It was directed by Garth Davis and written by Luke Davies. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family in India at the age of five. Saroo was adopted and raised by an Australian family. He tends to cover up his unknown past, but guilt and questions concerning it keep arising. Saroo is faced with the difficult task of delving into his past and not disrupting his current life.

The acting in Lion was incredible, and probably my favorite part of the film. Young Saroo was played by Sunny Pawar, and he stole the show. Pawar is adorable and he is able to show so much emotion with his eyes and expressions. I was captivated by his performance. Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel both received Oscar nominations for their roles as Saroo’s adopted mother, Sue Brierley, and older Saroo. Their performances are extremely heartfelt because there is so much love between the characters, even though Sue is not Saroo’s real mother. There is one scene in particular where Saroo acknowledges everything that Sue has done for him, and there was not one dry eye in the theater. Rooney Mara took on the role of Saroo’s girlfriend, Lucy. I read that Saroo actually had several girlfriends when he was older, but certain qualities of each girl were written into this one role. Mara’s character allowed the audience to see an unfamiliar side of Saroo; a side that was less ethnic and more general for a young adult. The cast of Lion was in a unique position because the screen time of the actors, for the most part, was equally divided. Each actor was able to give their own special attribute to the film.

I love films that can open the audience’s eyes to global issues. I left the theater wanting to adopt an Indian child or somehow help those in need. It was crushing to see how many children were in the orphanage that Saroo was saved from. Lion allowed me to reflect on how I can use my life to help those who may not have the opportunities that I have. There is one part of the film where older Saroo tells Lucy that she does not understand his situation. Saroo has lived in two contrasting scenarios: one in poverty and one in upper-middle class wealth. He knows how privileged he is. I think that the director wants audiences to realize the opportunities and gifts he or she has been given. It can speak to those living in poor situations as well, because Saroo was able to climb out of his past and make a successful life for himself.

Films like Lion sometimes have the tendency to gloss over the hardships that one may endure on demanding journeys. This is ironic and usually makes the films unrealistic. However, Lion does not do that. The amazing cinematography accompanied by a great score help convey the tough and emotionally exhausting life that Saroo leads. Not every moment is sad or gloomy, but there are some challenging circumstances. I love the relationships within the film. Although Saroo and Sue have an unbreakable bond as son and adopted mother, Saroo’s birth mother always holds a place within his heart. Saroo looks up to his older brother, Guddu, as a role model. Saroo carries the guilt of causing his family pain, especially Guddu, after becoming separated from them. This drives him to look into his past. These complex relationships give the film depth and help it connect to the audience.

I highly recommend Lion. It ranks in the top three of my favorite films of 2016.  The cast is perfect and the story is one that needs to be heard. I am excited to see what Sunny Pawar works on next, because he has such a bright future ahead of him. If you saw this film, please comment your opinions below!

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and intense situations. 

Image credit: The Huffington Post India

Trivia and facts from IMDb.com

 

Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight has received tons of buzz ever since it clinched the Oscar win for Best Picture, squeaking past The Revenant and The Big Short. The latter two were both excellent films, so why did Spotlight win the most coveted award?  Let’s take a look…

Directed by Tom McCarthy, the film was released in November of 2015. It won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. It stars Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson, Mark Ruffalo as Mark Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, and Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron. The cast was great and part of what makes the film so entertaining. Honestly, I forgot that the actors were not actual reporters. But the real hero of the film was the screenplay.

For those who do not know what Spotlight is about, it reveals the investigation into the child molestation scandal within the Catholic Church. The film is set in Boston and follows The Boston Globe “Spotlight” reporters as they go to great lengths to discover all the information they can in order to write a story that tells the truth about the conflict. The team interviews priests, victims, and lawyers that were involved in the scandal. What they uncovered was unbelievable and sad. The screenplay was written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. It definitely deserved the Oscar. I was totally captivated by the story because of it. The screenplay kept me on edge and told the story perfectly.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”- Mitchell Garabedian

The acting in this film was flawless. According to IMDb, both Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo met and took advice from the real people they were portraying. It is obvious that the two of them deeply cared about their roles. Keaton’s performance was my favorite to watch. His character was witty but sincere. The real Walter Robinson said: “My persona has been hijacked. If Michael Keaton robbed a bank, the police would quickly have me in handcuffs.” (IMDb). I’m surprised Keaton did not get an Oscar nomination. However, Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams did receive Oscar nominations but did not win. The characters in the film were fascinating and well-developed.

The film was very authentic and really affected me. I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried during a film or TV show viewing, and this was one of them. Being a Roman Catholic, it was very sad to see this corruption happen within the Church. I was also upset because it gives another reason for people to criticize Catholicism. Within the film, it mentions how 6% of priests have probably molested children. But one must remember that 94% priests are still trustworthy and good. Priests are human and are not exempt from falling to temptation. After all, we put our complete faith in God above and not in the people who act as messengers or intermediaries. The Catholic Church is not the only system that is victim to this problem.

Many people are wondering whether Spotlight really deserved to win the top honor at the Oscars. I believe it does deserve Best Picture because all of the components to making a film were superb. The acting, plot, and script were all ideal. A film has not affected me the way this one did in such a long time. It is a film that will make viewers think and reflect.

I recommend that everyone see this film in order to formulate their own opinions and thoughts. Spotlight is entertaining and informative. It touches on a sensitive topic and does an exceptional job of telling a story. If you have seen it, please comment your thoughts below!

The film is rated R for sensitive and adult subject matter. There is also profanity. 

(Image from Newsweek.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. 

The Big Short (2015)

This is my favorite film of 2015.

The Big Short was released nationwide (USA) on December 23, right before the surge of the numerous films being released on Christmas Day. Directed by Adam McKay, the film features a star-studded cast with combinations of drama and comedy. Ryan Gosling (Jared Vennett), Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Christian Bale (Michael Burry), and Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert) deliver excellent performances that accurately depict the chaotic times prior to the house market crash of 2008.

One might think that the topic of this film might be slightly difficult to comprehend. Fear not, because the film is set up in a way to where the average person can follow what is going on. It helps to go into the theater with a little knowledge of the story, so here is the background. (See first paragraph for casting references). Michael Burry discovers that the mortgage bonds are predominantly filled with high risk mortgages. They are given an acceptable label, and sold to investors. He sees that this process will lead to a market collapse. Ultimately, Burry goes to several banks, seeking to make an investment on the idea that the mortgages would fail. Jared Vennett catches wind of the prediction, and shares it with Mark Baum and his crew. Ben Rickert, a retired bond trader, aids two young traders in taking advantage of the prediction as well. Each of them made a huge profit once the market collapsed. Shockingly, out of all the people in the industry, it was only these guys who actually examined what was being sold. Of course, the bad guys-the ones who caused the failure-never got punished.

See, that wasn’t so bad. Plus, several celebrities including Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez make cameos to explain the events along the way.

Why was The Big Short my favorite film of 2015? First of all, it was definitely the most creative. Wall Street events are not the most simple events to explain. I love the way Adam McKay went about explaining things to the audience. The unique editing style really made a difference. If you have ever watched The Office, this film will appeal to you. The way certain shots and segments of dialogue were delivered reminded me of the popular TV show.

It was comedic when necessary, but still delivered an overall dramatic and upsetting story. Jared Vennett was my favorite character. Ryan Gosling perfectly executed his role of an arrogant, stereotypical Wall Street investor. Most of his lines provided comedic relief. One of my favorite scenes in the film was a scene where Vennett is talking on the phone with Mark Baum, while in the bathroom. Several people walk into the bathroom, but Vennett orders them to leave so that his secret will not be heard. The way he asks people to leave is witty and hilarious. The fact that Vennett has a “sidekick” just adds to his conceited character.

Christian Bale and Steve Carell were both nominated for Golden Globes (Best Actor in a comedy or musical). In my opinion, these nominations were well-deserved. Bale’s character, Michael Burry, is an awkward man who has a glass eye. One cannot help but cringe every time he has to interact with other people. Nobody believed him and his prediction. But Burry really did not care, because he knew that he was right. Mark Baum (Carell) suffers from personal problems that affect his every day decisions about people and situations. Surprisingly, Baum is not the character that provides most of the comedy, as one might assume. Both performances are fun to watch.

Brad Pitt’s character, Ben Rickert, retired from the bond trading business because of the corruption he experienced. He is just a simple man who is fully aware of the consequences of the house market crash. His focus does not seem to be completely on money. Pitt was a terrific choice to play this role.

Overall, The Big Short did a fantastic job in explaining the story in a entertaining, innovative but compelling fashion. It is a film that I would not mind seeing again. Go see it over the Christmas break; I do not think that you will be disappointed.

Merry Christmas!

(Image credit to ComingSoon.net)

Black Mass: The Story of Whitey Bulger (2015)

Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, was released in U.S. theaters on September 18th. The film stars Johnny Depp (Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), and Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire). With this cast of actors, the movie has to be good! (Well, there have been plenty of films with all-star casts that have turned out to be awful, so…)

Black Mass is a true story about the notorious Whitey Bulger during the 1970s and 1980s. He is the leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang in South Boston. He controls most of the organized crime within this region. Whitey becomes an FBI informant (unbeknownst to his fellow mobsters) in order to take down an Italian mob family within the southern Boston neighborhood. Whitey creates this deal with John Connolly, an FBI agent whom he grew up with. Loyalty, honesty, and trust all are factors within this relationship.

I went and saw Black Mass this past weekend. I LOVED it. There are so many things I liked about the film that it is hard to narrow them down. But I will try. Black Mass was excellent because of the acting, the setting, and script. Maybe those are not the narrow categories I promised, but there really is a lot to talk about.

As mentioned above, this cast was expected to do great things in this movie. Well, they delivered. Johnny Depp was captivating in his role as Whitey Bulger. He completely captured the character and personality of Whitey Bulger. While watching the film, I forgot that it was actually Johnny Depp. He perfectly displayed Whitey Bulger’s tough and relentless attitude. There are some times in the film where Whitey’s softer persona is revealed. Depp is just as convincing in these situations.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Billy Bulger, who is Whitey Bulger’s state senator brother. It is very ironic that a powerful mobster has a brother who is a state senator. But, I guess this relationship could come in handy. Surprisingly, the brothers seem to be close and friendly towards each other. Billy does not get involved with Whitey’s affairs. Benedict Cumberbatch (a British actor if you do not know who he is) does a terrific Boston accent throughout the whole film. Cumberbatch flawlessly presents the good side of the Bulger family. Joel Edgerton portrays John Connolly, the FBI agent who strikes the deal with Whitey. Connolly is a very loyal person who sticks to his roots within the south Boston neighborhood. Edgerton expertly shows the emotional and physiological problems he faces because of his relationship with Whitey Bulger. Kevin Bacon plays the role of Charles McGuire, who is Connolly’s boss. It is obvious that McGuire cannot relate and does not understand the hardships Connolly faces because of the history he has with Whitey Bulger.  Bacon executes this perfectly.

The setting is something that really caught my eye in this film. Black Mass is set in Boston, particularly in South Boston. Almost all of the film was actually filmed in Boston. In fact, according to IMDb, many of the murder scenes were actually shot where the real-life murders took place. This just adds to the suspense and crime-like atmosphere throughout the whole film. All of the 70s- and 80s-styled houses, cars, and clothes make you feel like you went back in time to watch this story play out.

Lastly, the script was very well written. I loved how some light dialogue was added during tense situations. One of my favorite scenes was a dinner scene with Whitey, Connolly, Flemmi (one of Whitey’s buddies), and Morris (one of Connolly’s colleagues). There is obvious anxiety in the air. Whitey asks Morris about the recipe he used for the steaks he cooked. Morris tells him it is a “family secret” but proceeds to reveal the recipe anyways. Whitey then turns mad and exclaims that if Morris so easily tells an important family secret recipe, then he might just as easily tell about the secret of the informant deal between Whitey and the FBI. After this, there is a bit of a pause in the air. Whitey then starts to laugh and says that he was just kidding. Connolly and Morris both share relieved but skeptical facial expressions. It is this kind of levity that makes the screenplay of Black Mass so good.

If you have not gone to see this film yet, I urge you to go see it. Do not wait until it comes out On Demand. Johnny Depp does an outstanding job of portraying the infamous criminal, Whitey Bulger. Depp, plus the long list of other all-stars within the film, only add to the already captivating story.

Rated R for language (a lot) and violence (not as bad as I thought it was going to be).