Showing posts with label Becoming Beyoncé (Book Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Becoming Beyoncé (Book Review). Show all posts

Friday, December 4, 2015

"Brooklyn" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Brooklyn" and the DVDs "Southpaw" and "The Stanford Prison Experiment." The Book of the Week is "Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story" by J. Randy Taraborrelli.  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."]


Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant who finds love in 1950's Brooklyn.  However, when tragedy strikes her family back in Ireland, Eilis must choose between two countries and two loves.

Eilis is a shy, sweet Irish girl who makes her way to New York to try to make a new life for herself.  There was nothing for her in Ireland, so her sister Rose arranged with a priest in Brooklyn, Father Flood, for Eilis to have a job and a place to live in Brooklyn so she would have a better life.  Eilis has a rough crossing on the boat to New York and is befriended by an experienced traveler who gives her tips on how to look presentable when entering the country and advice on making a go of it. 

Eilis moves into an Irish boarding house for young women run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters, who also was stunning in the recent first series of "Indian Summers" on "Masterpiece Theatre" ) and works in a high end department store.  However, Eilis is not comfortable interacting with customers and has a difficult time adjusting to her new life.  She becomes very homesick and depressed. She meets with Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), who counsels her and gets her into a bookkeeping class because Eilis wants to be an accountant like her sister Rose. Then she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a charming Italian "fella" at a dance and they fall in love.  What better antidote to homesickness than to fall in love?

But all is not peachy keen for our lovers. A tragedy back in Ireland forces Eilis to return and the pull to stay in Ireland threatens their future.

Ronan first made an impression in a small part as the young girl who set off a series of tragic events in "Atonement (1997).  Now Ronan is all grown up and this film is all about her.  She beautifully captures what it would be like to be a young girl in the pre-Internet age of the 1950's struggling to make a life for herself all alone in a new country far from everything she had known. Ronan's performance is lovely and spectacular in its sublety.  She starts out shy and uncertain and slowly Eilis grows into a strong woman.  She carries this film in an Academy Award-worthy performance. 

All of the other actors are also first rate. Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe, the landlady of a boarding house for young ladies who runs a tight ship, brings humor and a bit of edge in a lovely nuanced performance to this otherwise romantic film. Emory Cohen, who you might remember from the TV show "Smash" is adorable as Tony. Who wouldn't want to be his girlfriend?  But there is another suitor in the picture back in Ireland played by Domhnall Gleeson, who we were first introduced to in the Harry Potter films and who was able to show his romantic side in "About Time."  I even liked the kid actor, James DiGiacomo, who plays Tony's wise-cracking kid brother.  And you know how I feel about kid actors.

This is a lovely romantic film. And who doesn't love a good romance?  This film beautifully directed by John Crowley with a script by Nick Hornby (based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toibin) has all of the bells and whistles that makes for a dreamy love story. The cinematography by Yves Belanger creates that dreamy feel and you will be transported to another time and place as you take this journey to Brooklyn with Eilis.  Bring your hankies.

Early Oscar prediction:  Ronan will get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this (she just won the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Award).

Rosy the Reviewer says...This movie is a must see!  One of the best performances of the year.  You will thank me!

Some Movies You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

***Now Out on DVD***

Southpaw (2015)

Things don't look good for boxer Billy Hope after a tragic accident.

The ironically named boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a tough guy who grew up in foster care in Hell's Kitchen.  It doesn't get much tougher than that.  His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), had a similar background and is also a tough cookie.  The two were childhood sweethearts and are clearly in love and in an "us against the world" relationship. Billy fights and Maureen keeps Billy together

When the film begins, Billy and Maureen are doing well.  Billy is an undefeated light heavy weight championship boxer and they live in a nice home with their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence).  But unfortunately, tragedy strikes early on at a charity event when Billy gets into a brawl with a rival boxer's entourage, Maureen gets shot and then things all fall apart for Billy.

Billy is not an easy guy to relate to.  He's not very smart and makes a lot of his own problems.  He goes on a binge, making one bad decision after another until he loses everything, including his manager (50 Cent) and custody of his daughter. Nobody wants anything to do with him. But he finally pulls himself together and approaches Tick Willis (Forrest Whitaker), a local gym owner and trainer and begs him to let him train.  With Tick, Billy learns that he needs to train his mind as well as his body if he is going to win in the ring and in life.

In Rocky-like fashion, Billy starts over and trains to seek his redemption.  We've seen this film before many times but Gyllenhaal's, Whitaker's and McAdams' performances, and the relationship between Billy and his daughter, make for an emotionally satisfying film.  And Director Antoine Fuqua shows us the gritty world of professional boxing with impressive "you are there" fight scenes.

Gyllenhaal lost weight, learned to box and trained for this role and once again shows his versatility as an actor.  He seems to like the loner roles, like his nutty rogue photographer in "Nightcrawler" and characters on the edge.  McAdams is always lovely to watch and here plays an edgier character than we are used to.  Whitaker and 50 Cent also put in impressive performances.

I almost didn't review this one because I had decided I was only going to review films I really liked and wanted to recommend (with the occasional review to warn you off something). The film itself has issues and I am not a big fan of boxing films, but Gyllenhaal's performance is noteworthy.  He plays a character you don't like, a not very smart punch drunk guy, but when you think of all of the various characters Gyllenhaal has played: the sensitive Jack Twist in "Brokeback Mountain," the creepy Louis Bloom in "Nightcrawler," to name just a couple, it is worth seeing how he transforms himself here. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...See it for the performances and if you like boxing films, you will like this one.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)


In the summer of 1971, 24 male students took part in a proposed two-week mock prison experiment in the basement of a building at Stanford University.  Each was randomly assigned to be prisoners and guards and let's just say, the "guards" took their roles very seriously.

This is a dramatic reenactment of what took place during that real life experiment.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup), a psychology professor and researcher at Stanford University, placed an ad in the newspaper to recruit 24 male students to participate in an experiment to study the psychological effects of being a prisoner or a prison guard and "the effects prisons can have on human behavior." Since it was summer, the school would be deserted so classrooms and hallways of one of the buildings on campus became the prison. The students were offered $15 per hour to participate and as the film unfolds, we see that each student had his reasons to participate and many of them needed the money.

At first, each student thought he wanted to be a prisoner. No one wanted to be "the man," a guard. The prisoners and guards were chosen randomly and the guards wore uniforms and sunglasses to establish their authority.  All were told that once the experiment started, they were not to refer to it as a study or experiment and no one was allowed to get physical.

At first the guards used a script and got a kick out of play acting as they picked up each prisoner from their home, blindfolded him and made him strip so they could "delouse" him.  Each prisoner was given a number and addressed as such and had to wear a uniform that was more like a dress, also part of the dehumanizing process meant to strip away their individuality as part of the experiment.

It only took one day for everything to get very out of hand and for the experiment to become a harrowing exercise of the haves and the have nots.  As things would unfold, the guards would step up their punishments and the prisoners would start to rebel.

The prisoners created their own hierarchy:  those who wanted to do what they were told and just get through this thing and those who rebelled. Likewise, some of the guards took their guarding more seriously than others.  When the guards realized that the prisoners would do whatever they told them to, including participating in humiliating acts, the guards continued to step it up.  They would wake them up in the middle of the night to do jumping jacks and push-ups and it quickly became clear that you don't have to use physical violence to terrorize people.  One of the most vicious of the guards (Michael Angarano) loved the film "Cool Hand Luke" and adopted a southern accent to mimic one of the nasty characters in that film.

What do you do when you sign on for some role playing but no one stops playing and you begin to question your own sanity? Why didn't the students playing the prisoners quit?  Why did all of the guards go along with the torture when they didn't really want to?  And, you keep asking yourself, why doesn't Zimbardo step in and stop it?

Zimbardo was always torn between protecting the students and protecting his own research. Today watching this film, one can't help but be struck by its timeliness in light of recent reports of police brutality and what happened at Abu Ghraib. 

This dramatization, directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez with a script by Tim Talbott, is an excruciating exercise in the darkest side of human nature.  But the film showed that goodness still existed, too, even in the most torturous of situations.

Crudup is the only big name here and he is one of our most underrated actors. I have never forgotten him in "Waking the Dead." Not sure why he failed to make it to superstardom, but he certainly has been a working actor, which, I guess is what most actors wish for. He has been in at least one feature film every year since his first one in 1996. Here he puts in a wonderful performance as Zimbardo, a good man who made some bad decisions in the name of research.  All of the performances from the ensemble cast of young actors are also believable and memorable.

It's difficult to imagine that the real Zimbardo would be happy with this film as it does not paint him in a very good light.  However, when this film first came out, he appeared to be endorsing the film as he made the talk show rounds but when asked what he would have done differently, he replied that he would have stopped the experiment sooner. Duh.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a harrowing but incredibly compelling ensemble piece about the abuse of power.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

270 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Auteur Werner Herzog gained unprecedented access to film inside the Chauvet Cave which was discovered in 1994 and is considered one of the "greatest discoveries of the history of human culture."

German film director, producer, author, and actor Herzog is considered one of the greatest figures of the New German Cinema with such classic films as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo" and "Grizzly Man" under his belt.  He has directed as many documentaries as he has feature films.

Here he directs yet another documentary, this time turning his camera to the Chauvet Cave in southern France.  The cave contains immaculately preserved cave paintings dating back over 30,000 years, the oldest in existence. It was unprecedented that he was given access to film inside the cave as only a small group of scientists had ever been inside.  Because a rock face had fallen and sealed the cave, it provided a perfect time capsule and today it is still sealed off from the general public.

Written, directed and narrated by Herzog, he used a tiny, non-professional camera rig, minimal lighting and could only film four hours per day, but he was still able to add his artful direction to produce what appears to be a labor of love for him.  As he films, he asks the scientists questions and comments on the paintings, wondering who these people were, why they drew these pictures, what their hopes and dreams might have been and drawing a parallel between those ancient humans and ourselves.  We are all the same. The paintings are amazingly drawn, not what you would expect from ancient people who lived over 30,000 years ago.

Why it's a Must See:  "All of the hallmarks of Herzog's work are present, but 3-D technology allowed the filmmaker to explore motifs of landscape, mythology, and the eccentricities of his subjects with new guile... [This film] provides a critical milestone for those with reservations about 3-D technology and 'serious' cinema."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

Not sure how this film would appeal to the general public, but artists and history and archaeology buffs would be in heaven here as the cinematography is amazing, even though I didn't see it in 3-D.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a chance to see something that few have ever seen.

***Book of the Week***

Becoming Beyonce: The Untold Story by
J. RandyTaraborrelli (2015)

How Beyoncé became Beyoncé - in 400+ pages.

I was drawn to this book for two reasons:  One, I realized I knew nothing about Beyoncé other than her fame, and since she is one of our biggest superstars, that wasn't good for a pop culture queen like myself.  And two, I knew that J. Randy would tell me more than I ever wanted to know about her.  And he delivers.  He is, in fact, one of my favorite biographers.  You can count on him to do his research and find out every fact possible about the celebrity he is writing about.

It's all here from Beyoncé's early years as a child pageant winner growing up in a middle class community with her successful Dad, Mathew, glamorous mother Tina and her sister Solange (who has become a celebrity in her own right), to her first singing success at the age of eight followed by big success in Destiny's Child at the age of 16.  That was followed by her highly successful solo career, her marriage to rapper Jay Z and the birth of their little girl, Blue Ivy, to Beyoncé being named by Forbes Magazine as the #1 wealthiest celebrity in 2014.

However, her success was not without hard work, sacrifice and single-minded focus.  And I'm talking about her Dad, Mathew.  He gave up a lucrative career as a tech salesman to spend all of his time promoting Beyoncé.  But that's not to diminish Beyoncé's own drive, which she had from a very early age.  Her talent at delivering a song was recognized early and belied her shyness in real life.

Taraborrelli's strength and the reason why I enjoy his books so much is his extensive research (24 pages of acknowledgements and notes) and attention to detail as well as his ability to tell a compelling true story and make it as exciting as the best fiction.

Want to know what really happened in that elevator when sister Solange went off on Jay Z or if Jay Z really had an affair with Rhianna? Then you will just have to read this book!

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look at just what it takes to make it BIG and stay there!

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for
"Grounds for Divorce!"

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Note:  Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Find the page for the movie, click on "Explore More" on the right side panel and then scroll down to "External Reviews."  Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list. Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."