Dunkirk (2017)

Most history buffs and movie fans have been waiting for the release of Dunkirk for a while. I, of course, was one of those people. With a name like “Christopher Nolan” attached to it, the film comes with extremely high expectations. I was not disappointed.

As I mentioned above, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this summer blockbuster that opened on July 21 in the U.S.A. Although Nolan has a long list of film accomplishments, Dunkirk is his first war picture. Despite the huge cast, the film does not have a list of recognizable stars besides Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy. Nolan used mostly young and unknown actors to highlight that fact that the soldiers at Dunkirk were young and inexperienced as well.

Although most people are familiar with the story of Dunkirk, it does help to have some background knowledge before seeing the film. During World War II, approximately 400,000 British and French soldiers were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk after having been forced to retreat from the advancing German army. They were stuck with little food and water; survival looked bleak. Fortunately, the German advance was stopped for 48 hours, giving the Allied troops time to evacuate off the island and head to England. Hundreds of civilian boats and some military boats came to the rescue. War and humanity are not often synonymous, but this feat displayed otherwise.

The cinematography of Dunkirk is stunning. Nolan teamed up with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema for the second time, the first being for the critically acclaimed Interstellar.  There are many breathtaking shots involving the water and boats, but the shots of the planes flying throughout the sky caught my attention. The color palette perfectly fit the theme of the grit of war, but it also brought moments of warmth. Sky blue, dark blue, and orange were the dominant colors, and this was done on purpose to incorporate the idea of the air, the sea, and the land. Every color worked together to create a visually appealing product that added to an already compelling story.

Although Dunkirk has received extremely high praise from critics and audiences, there have been some complaints. The biggest criticisms seem to be that there is a lack of depth in the characters, providing no reason to be emotionally invested in them. While, compared to other successful films, this may be true, I do not believe that is what Nolan wanted to accomplish. Instead, he focuses on the battle as a whole. His script concentrates on the heroic act of a whole country, not just one person. If he were to narrow in on one or two characters, then the audience may have disregarded the other hundreds of thousands of men on the beach. Nolan was able to present a narrative that allows the audience to care for every single character. He is telling the story of Dunkirk, not the story of one particular brave soldier. There would not be much to develop anyways, because the only thing the men wanted was survival. To make something more out of that would be unrealistic.

I cannot write a review of this film without talking about Hans Zimmer’s music score. Nolan has used Zimmer for five of his other films, so this collaboration was no surprise. The combination of ominous instrumentals and a ticking clock increased the pulse of the Dunkirk. Zimmer actually used Nolan’s pocket watch to create the ticking noise on the score. I loved this aspect because it was a reoccurring theme and reminder that the time for evacuation from Dunkirk was limited. The score was not overpowering, but instead effectively complimented the pace and purpose of the film.

Dunkirk forces the audience to look beyond the characters and into the thematic elements of a major historical event. This was not a typical heroic war story. In fact, it was a serious blunder. But courage and perseverance shine through as the film presents a crucial moral victory. Nolan captures the importance of patriotism and how selfless civilians put their lives on the line to try and rescue the stranded soldiers. Disaster turned triumph and the Dunkirk incident ended up being a turning point in World War II. Dunkirk is authentic and a truly great historical film. I recommend!

Rated PG-13 for intense war sequences and some language. 

Image Credit: IndieWire

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.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

I have not done a review on an Old Hollywood film in a while. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  was sitting in my DVR recordings, so I finally decided to watch it. I absolutely loved it, and it made me want to read the play so I could compare the two works.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was directed by Richard Brooks and released in the fall of 1958. Brooks also assisted with adapting the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was written by Tennessee Williams, into a screenplay. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, Burl Ives as Big Daddy, and Paul Newman as Brick. It was actually Newman’s break out role and eventually pushed him to stardom. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Academy Awards but failed to take any home.

The story revolves around the Pollitt family and takes place within one weekend. Everyone has gathered at the family plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Although the festivities are supposed to be happy, the family is shrouded in conflict. Brick, the younger of the two Pollitt sons, is experiencing marital issues with his wife Maggie. He is victim to alcoholism and depression. Big Daddy is suffering from terminal cancer and the older son, Gooper, appears to be conniving with his wife to take Brick out of Big Daddy’s will. The plot covers the thematic topics of relationships, truth, masculinity, loneliness, and death. It is captivating and touching.

What makes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof great is the acting ensemble. Everyone was perfectly casted, even the supporting actors. Many A-list actors turned down the role of Brick, giving Paul Newman the chance. He went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He and Elizabeth Taylor work well together as a troubled couple and both are able to convey impactful emotions. Several words go unspoken between Brick and Maggie, but their expressions say it all. Even though their marriage is on the rocks, the convincing performances give the audience wistful hope that everything will sort out. Originally, the film was to be shot in black and white. Brooks then decided that color would be better so that the famous striking eyes of both Newman and Taylor could be enhanced. This decision was smart and the color adds to the dynamic appearance and personalities of both Brick and Maggie. One cannot help but root for both characters. Burl Ives was fantastic as Big Daddy. He is supposed to be a strong and belligerent man, which is what he comes off as. But Ives allows the audience to see a more vulnerable side of the powerful character as well. The seemingly perfect Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) are deeply flawed. They both strive to do everything that Big Daddy and Big Momma deem to be right, but they still fall short of love and approval. Although their characters are not likable, the actors display how problematic the Pollitt family is. Every single family member is deeply flawed.

Because this film was produced in the 1950s, there were many topics that Hollywood censorship would not allow. Tennessee Williams’ original play had heavy implications of homosexuality between Brick and his deceased best friend, Skipper. Williams claimed to strongly dislike the film because the screenplay cut the relationship out. He thought that Hollywood was making a mistake, and that the industry was blocking necessary progression. Not everyone disagreed with the “scandalous relationship,” even if studio executives did. George Cukor turned down the offer to direct the film because of the removal of the homosexual references and Paul Newman expressed his great disappointment.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof gives the audience a glimpse at the vanishing Southern plantation lifestyle. It is the mid-1950s, but the family still relies on servants. Big Daddy, who represents the traditional way of life, does not show much regard for the help. He also expects Brick to continue running the family plantation, but Brick shows no interest whatsoever. This creates a rift in their already troubled relationship. Big Daddy shows his “love” through gifts and money. He lacks the ability to show real love to not only his sons, but his wife as well. Probably the most emotional scene takes place in the basement. Big Daddy and Brick have come to terms with and discussed the complications in their relationship. They both help each other up the stairs, the beginning of a more caring and loving relationship.

I highly recommend this film. The actors transform the story into something tender and relatable. Although there are some differences between the film and the play, it is still worth the watch. Please comment below your opinions or questions. 🙂

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


Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Wow! 2016 has flown by, and sadly this will be my last review of the year. Thankfully, I am going out on a high note. No matter what other people say, I believe that 2016 was a good year for the film industry. Some truly amazing and quality films were released.

Manchester by the Sea opened in theaters nationwide on December 16 (USA). Kenneth Lonergan directed and wrote this film that explores a realistic story of a man named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his relationship with his nephew Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges). Patrick’s father, Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler), dies suddenly, and Lee has to take care of Patrick. Lee and Patrick must rekindle their formerly close relationship once Lee moves back to Manchester, his hometown. The audience catches glimpses of Lee’s depressing past as he is reminded of the tragic events that caused him to leave his hometown. Guilt, redemption, and the importance of family are common themes that arise throughout Manchester by the Sea.

This film has received tons of Oscar buzz, specifically for Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture. I was curious to see if those claims were valid. After seeing it, I definitely agree that Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges should be rewarded with Oscars. However, I still think that La La Land deserves Best Picture. Manchester by the Sea was excellent, but it is not as unique or stunning as La La Land.

The acting is what makes Manchester by the Sea great. Lucas Hedges is extremely talented with his comedic timing. His witty character, Patrick, foils Casey Affleck’s brooding character, Lee, very well, and this is what ultimately makes both of them likable. Because of the flashbacks to Lee’s past, Casey Affleck has to play two different roles. Although it is the same character, he had to prepare for two contrasting personalities. Lee from the past has not yet been hurt by tragedy, so he is much happier and carefree. Lee in the present has been damaged by past events, so he is a loner and filled with grief. Affleck gives a fantastic performance because he is able to convey a lot of emotion with looks rather than dialogue. I agree, along with many others, that he is the frontrunner for this year’s Best Actor.

Another aspect I loved about Manchester by the Sea was the setting. It was all shot in Massachusetts, most of the locations being the exact places named in the film. The cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, was able to incorporate the sea and the snow to fabricate some gorgeous images. I love when films are shot during the winter because the whole production becomes visually appealing. Lipes gives the film an authentic feeling because of how the Massachusetts towns are portrayed.

Although the subject matter may seem bleak, the frequent humorous dialogue between Lee and Patrick creates lighthearted moments. Other film reviews I read led me to believe that Manchester by the Sea would be a serious tearjerker, but I did not feel that way at all. I laughed out loud at various parts, and I only remember being sad during one particular scene. Maybe it is just me, but the film is not as dismal or unhappy as some viewers made it out to be.

The only real question I would have after seeing Manchester by the Sea is about the hype surrounding Michelle William’s acting performance. She plays the small role of Lee’s ex-wife, Randi. Critics seem to think that she may win Best Supporting Actress, but I do not agree. There is one scene where both Randi and Lee are brought to tears as they discuss their past marriage. Her character is not developed well enough for me to like or care for her. In fact, I was actually annoyed by her. If Williams is going to receive an Oscar for a role, it should be for a character that the audience can connect to or get to know better.

I really enjoyed Manchester by the Sea and I can see why it is one of 2016’s best films. The acting is flawless thanks to Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges. It is beautifully shot and presents Massachusetts in a genuine fashion. The ending might be unsatisfying to some, but it drives home the point that this story can happen, and does happen, to any family. Feel free to comment your opinions and questions below!

Manchester by the Sea is rated R for language, violence, and some adult matters are discussed. 

Happy New Year!

Image credit: http://www.latimes.com

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

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

I have always been interested in improv because that is how several of my favorite entertainers got started in the film or television industry. Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell…the list goes on. Don’t Think Twice focuses on an improv troupe in New York City. There are six comedians, and one of them gets a big break. This film gives an inside look into the lives of the members of the troupe and the conflicts they deal with.

Don’t Think Twice, written and directed by comedian Mike Birbiglia, was released in July of this year. As mentioned before, the film follows a popular improv troupe, called The Commune, through their adventures as comedians. The troupe is like a close-knit family, but they all have their individual goals and desires. All six of them aspire to be on Weekend Live, which is supposed to represent the well-known Saturday Night Live. Jack, played by Keegan-Michael Key, finally receives his chance and takes it. This changes his life as well as the rest of the troupe’s lives.

I loved the messages in this film. As an aspiring filmmaker, I found the lessons to be helpful and a reminder of what “success” really is. Miles, played by Mike Birbiglia, is the leader and oldest of the troupe. He was Jack’s former improv coach, and has always had joining the cast of Weekend Live at the top of his bucket list. Miles auditioned once before, but did not make it. The big breaks never seen to come to him, as he watches the rest of his “improv family” move up in their careers. However, Mike finally realizes, near the end of the film, what his purpose in life is. This is his version of success.

The acting in this film was very authentic. I felt as if I was actually watching a real improv troupe and their documentary. Although the film is not made in documentary style, it sometimes felt that way. I felt as if I was just standing off in the corner of the room as the troupe performed, or sitting at a nearby table when the troupe was at a bar. The audience and character connection is strong. All viewers care and want to see each character achieve their dreams and do well. It shines an honest light on the trials that the troupe endures, whether that be envy of another member or the change in a relationship caused by diverging paths.

Personally, Sam (short for Samantha) was my favorite character. Gillian Jacobs does a great job of presenting a well-liked, sweet person who is happy with the little things in life. She, like Jack, has the chance to audition for Weekend Live, but she chooses not to go. Sam realizes that her version of success is being in the improv troupe and performing shows every night. She does not want the fast-paced, glamour life that she sees at Weekend Live. Sam is someone who is content with herself and her position in life. She has a moment of self-discovery at the end of the film, when she performs on the stage by herself. She knows that the small stage is where she belongs.

Don’t Think Twice shows that “making it big” does not make life any easier. It might even make it harder. Jack’s new job thrusts him into the limelight, and they have a hard time understanding that. The rest of the troupe has the impression that Jack can put in a good word for them and they will be hired for Weekend Live just like that. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Just because Jack is on a higher level does not mean he has a secure job where he can just say or do whatever he wants. This whole dilemma puts a strain on the friendships in the troupe. These clashes not only happen in improv, but in other professions as well. This is why the film is so relatable.

This film is different, but it is probably one of my favorites (if not my favorite) that I have seen this year. It was a limited release, so it has not gotten the buzz it deserves. Don’t Think Twice is a comedy, but it contains touching and emotional aspects that capture the audience. It is rare to watch a film these days where one can enjoy such a caring connection with the characters. It shows that even as one chases his or her dream, reality always gets in the way. But eventually, everyone finds their place and where they belong. If Don’t Think Twice is in theaters near you, I really recommend seeing it!

Main Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard

*Don’t Think Twice is rated R for language (minor) and marijuana use (minor)*

Image from RollingStone.com

Half Nelson (2006)

Many people have probably never heard of Half Nelson, a film that was directed by Ryan Fleck and released in 2006. It had a budget of $700,000, which is considerably small compared to other modern day films. However, this film is the source of Ryan Gosling‘s only Oscar nomination (so far), one that was rightfully deserved. Gosling is joined by Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps, two solid supporting actors.

“The sun goes up and then it comes down, but everytime that happens what do you get? You get a new day.”- Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling)

Half Nelson follows the day-to-day struggle of drug addict Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling). Dan is a history teacher and basketball coach at an inner city middle school in Brooklyn (NYC). He truly wants to inspire his students to make a difference in the world. He encourages them to speak their minds and use their imaginations. However, Dan simultaneously fights a deep drug addiction that he cannot seem to stop. As the film progresses, his addiction spirals. Fortunately, one of Dan’s students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), realizes the problem and stands by his side. The responsible Drey faces conflicts as well, with a full-time working mom and a drug dealing “friend” (Anthony Mackie). The chemistry between Dan and Drey is special, because both need each other to survive the situations they live in. Both are dreamers that want to do more for the world, but they are hindered by their backgrounds and surroundings. The challenge for the pair is how to overcome and have faith that things will become better. The film ends with a glimpse at Dan and Drey as they turn over a new leaf, giving hope to the audience that the silver lining has been discovered.

The acting performances are what make Half Nelson so convincing and touching. As mentioned before, Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Dan Dunne. Surprisingly, that was the only Oscar nomination the film received. Gosling did an excellent job portraying such a likable but struggling person. One cannot help but sympathize for him since he shows such a good and promising personality when he is with his students. His performance is very authentic. Shareeka Epps does a fantastic job playing the role of Drey. Drey is very mature and Epps shows powerful emotion through her expressions. Anthony Mackie portrays the person that Drey does not want to become, and this is significant. Each presentation of the characters is raw and believable.

Half Nelson focuses on just how destructive addiction can be. It shows the unfortunate reality that a good person, like Dan Dunne, can fall into an extremely deep hole. There is one scene in particular that gives the audience a hint to where Dan’s addiction originates. His parents are alcoholics, so he is not able to turn to them for assistance with his own problem. It is within his DNA to have an addiction, which makes it easier to get lost and more difficult to escape. Drey lives in a similar situation. Her parents are divorced and her mom works a full-time job. Her brother is in jail and she does not have any close friends. Drey does not have anyone to reach out to when she faces conflict. She is only thirteen and has to act as an adult. These circumstances are why Dan and Drey form a close bond.

This film is compelling to those who have faced addiction or know someone who has. It can be relatable or shed a new light on something one might not be familiar with. The portrayal of the struggles are real and eye-opening. The cast and crew deliver a strong story about an unusual bond and the fight to conquer an intense battle. I really recommend this film!

Please comment below your opinions about this film or if you have any questions 🙂

This film is rated R for language, drug use, and adult content. 

Image found on sky.com


The Nice Guys (2016)

I have been waiting for The Nice Guys to be released ever since I saw the first trailer last year. I knew immediately that it would be a film that I would like because of the cast and story. Let me just say, my expectations were met and exceeded. I have never laughed so hard in a movie theater before, thanks to this film.

The Nice Guys made its United States debut today, May 20. The film was directed and written by Shane Black, who also directed Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black was assisted by Anthony Bagarozzi on the screenplay. It stars Ryan Gosling, who plays Holland March, and Russell Crowe, who plays Jackson Healy. This is the first film with the pairing of these two A-list actors, and it should definitely not be the last one.

The film is set in 1977 in Los Angeles, California. The film was actually mostly filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, but one would never know. Holland March (Gosling) is an always-drunk private investigator who does not take his job seriously. He is truly “in it for the money.” March has a thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly, who is played by Angourie Rice. Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a more “under the radar” private investigator who likes to play rough. The two characters cross paths when a girl named Amelia, played by Margaret Qualley, is brought to their attention. March and Healy team up to form an improbable crime fighting duo that brings tons of laughs and entertainment.

I have said this before and I will say it again: Ryan Gosling is at his best when he plays the comedic role. He was perfect in The Big Short as the comedic role and he is perfect in The Nice Guys. Gosling’s timing with his smart aleck remarks are on point. This film contains a lot of slapstick comedy as well, and Gosling flawlessly executes. The witty screenplay helped, but not many actors can carry such a funny role.

Holland March: Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.

Jackson Healy: People got hurt.

Holland March: I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.

Of course, it helps to have chemistry with the other leading actor. Both Gosling and Crowe compliment each other extremely well. Jackson Healy is more of the straight man, while he lets Holland March make a fool of himself (more often than not). Crowe is great at doing this. His comments about certain situations are ones that the audience can relate to. There are some truly hilarious exchanges between the two characters, whether it is fighting over something trivial during a tense moment or trying to figure out the best way to solve the mystery. The biggest surprise in the cast was probably Angourie Rice. As I mentioned before, she plays Holly March. Even though she is young, Holly March is in some ways more intelligent and effective than her father. Young actors can sometimes overact in their role, but Rice did not. Her character saves the detective duo from several traps and frequently assists them in their investigation. Based on this performance, I would say that her acting career looks promising.

Shane Black knows how to successfully incorporate comedy and drama. He has done it in all of his films. While The Nice Guys is mostly comedic, there are several situations where the audience can feel for and connect with certain characters. One can see that these guys actually have hearts and do not always enjoy going out and killing whomever is in their path. It takes a toll on them. All of the characters have their own story and personality. Although Holland March is a drunk and pretty much a failure (at the beginning), he is a caring father. The characters were not one dimensional.

If you are thinking about going to see this film, I highly recommend it. I could not stop laughing at certain scenes – it was absolutely hysterical! It is a very entertaining story and has a sturdy plot. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe shine in this film with the help of a comical screenplay and several supporting actors like Angourie Rice and Matt Bomer. If you have seen it or have any questions, leave a comment in the section below!

This film is rated R for language, nudity, and violence. There is a lot of cussing and fighting, but nothing too gory. There is some nudity towards the beginning of the film since the story does involve the death of an adult film star.  

Image credit: http://www.knoxnews.com


Brooklyn (2015)

On a rainy day, I finally decided to watch Brooklyn, which made its United States debut in November of 2015. I have been wanting to see this film for months, and it did not disappoint.

Based on the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, the film follows a young Irish immigrant, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), as she seeks to start an independent life in America. Eilis experiences love, new methods, and friends of different backgrounds upon her arrival. However, a sudden tragedy forces Eilis to return to Ireland, where her old lifestyle entangles her. She must make the decision whether to continue on with her new life or fall back on her old one.

John Crowley, the director, did a fantastic job of moving the story along and not focusing too much on certain parts. There was not a moment where I was disengaged or bored. While Brooklyn is a fairly simple story,  the many different characters and two contrasting settings added many layers. One was easily able to watch Eilis transform from a shy and insecure girl to a strong and confident woman.

The acting in the film was very good and realistic. I genuinely felt connected to some of the main characters. Saoirse Ronan was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Eilis, which was well deserved. Emory Cohen (Tony Fiorello) and Domhnall Gleeson (Jim Farrell) were very entertaining as well.

As mentioned before, one of my favorite aspects of Brooklyn was the assortment of characters from different backgrounds. Tony Fiorello, Eilis’ American boyfriend, comes from a large but humble Italian family. His little brother provides most of the comedic parts of the film. His family worships the Brooklyn Dodgers and is impressed with Eilis’ spaghetti eating skills. On the other hand, there is Mrs. Kehoe, played by Julie Walters. She is the strict landlady of the boarding house that Eilis lives in. She is a strong Catholic and immediately takes a liking to Eilis, whom she ends up trusting deeply. Lastly, Jim Broadbent plays the role of Father Flood, who looks after Eilis every step of the way in America. He is kind hearted and always looking to lend a hand. The variety of characters adds to the charm of the film.

Both settings, Brooklyn and Ireland, are beautiful in their own ways. The coloring and lighting helps create the story. Brooklyn is cold and dreary at initially, but as Eilis becomes more comfortable, the city becomes warm and inviting. Even the harsh winter looks pretty. Ireland’s vastness and simpleness would appeal to anybody. Both places are home to Eilis. I loved the style of clothing within the film. Because it is set in the 1950s, the women and men dress modestly but with elegance. While in Brooklyn, Eilis wore many green colored outfits. Although she was thousands of miles away from home, the spirit of Ireland never left her.

Brooklyn was a very delightful film that told an engaging story about Eilis and her transition into the American lifestyle. She is faced with tough decisions, but never forgets her identity or where she came from. It is a film I would recommend and watch again. Please, if you have seen the film, comment your opinions below!

(Image credit to: Gwinnett Daily Post)