Below is a collection of my top five favorite books, songs and albums, and movies from this year. Enjoy, and have a great New Year!
1.All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. (Yes, the book was published in 2014. But I read it in 2015 and it was just so good I had to make an exception for it.) This historical fiction novel, set in Nazi-occupied France was enchanting, emotional, and beautifully written.
2.My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Beautiful, honest, funny, emotional, romantic, touching...this book had it all.
3.Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This combination of romance and magic was utterly perfect.
4.Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. This coming out story was sweet, funny, and inspiring.
5.We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. Four teenagers learn that their lives will end in a matter of weeks because of an asteriod hurtling towards Earth. Their next weeks are written with emotion, heart, and thought.
1.American Beauty/American Psycho (album) / Fall Out Boy. FOB’s latest album delivers with plenty of rock n’ roll jams (Centuries, Immortals, Irresistible, and Uma Thurman) along with slower songs that you can sing your heart out to (The Kids Aren’t Alright, Jet Pack Blues, Fourth of July).
2.25 (album) / Adele. Adele is back in all her glory, and this album proves that she’s just as good (maybe even better) than before.
3.Ex’s and Oh’s / Elle King. Elle King combines alternative and pop into an irresistible jam.
4.Renegades / X Ambassadors. This song will make you want to laugh, cry, and remember all that’s good in the world.
5.Our Own House (album) / MisterWives. A great introduction to this indie pop band features sing-along tracks and catchy songs.
1.Me & Earl & the Dying Girl. This wonderful paper-to-screen adaptation made me laugh, cry, and never stop smiling. (Meeting the actors may have helped this movie win its spot at #1 on my list, but it was still a great movie)
2.The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. The final, emotional, epic conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy was everything you hoped for (and more).
3.Inside Out. Yes, this is a children’s movie, but it was sweet, emotional, and funny. (And you’re never too old for a Disney movie.)
4.Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This movie reboot had the perfect mix of the old and the new for all generations to love it.
5.Paper Towns. Though this movie wasn’t very good in comparison to the book, it was still a fun summer movie.
It seems like it’s been ages since a heartfelt decent romance came out. Oh sure, scores of Nicholas Sparks films have been released (of course no one in their right mind could say they are objectively good), but even they all seem bittersweet, more concerned with tales of sadness than tales of love. Sparks wants to make the audience cry more than he wants to tell a decent story. Luckily for fans of the genre, romance just came back with a bang in the form of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn begins in the early 1950’s and tells the story of a young woman named Elias (Saoirse Ronan). She realizes that there is nothing more for her in her hometown in Ireland, as does her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), so Rose enlists the help of a generous priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to send Elias to America. Elias arrives in New York, where she stays in a boarding house, goes to night school for bookkeeping, and works at a grocery store. Her life really begins when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an honest and kind Italian fellow who wants nothing more than for them to be together. Their relationship progresses, until a member of Elias’s family dies, forcing her to go back to Ireland for a time. In Ireland, where no one has heard of Tony, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) tries to woo her, a kind and soft spoken man. Not only is he trying to be with her, but everyone else seems to be trying to keep Elias in Ireland. And so the decision is up to her. Elias has to choose Ireland and Jim, or Brooklyn and Tony.
The love story between Elias and Tony is one of the cutest and just altogether best things I have seen all year. Cohen and Ronan have unbelievably great chemistry and amazing acting talent. Every time their relationship progresses, it does so with ease and believability. They are so perfect together, I can’t imagine anyone who would root against them. This is really the star of the film.
The film, adapted from the popular novel by Colm Tóibín, is written splendidly. Nick Hornby, who wrote the adaptation, infuses every scene with heartfelt grounded dialogue. The situations come alive because of him; he gives the actors a lot to work with. Which is really to be expected from Hornby, author of numerous great novels and screenplays like About a Boy. There is a reason why his name is featured on every poster for Brooklyn, he is responsible for the film working so well.
All of the actors take Hornby’s words and enhance them further, all giving grounded and entertaining performances. Jim may be an antagonist in some ways, unwittingly trying to take Elias away from Tony, but he is in no way a bad guy. Gleeson gives him so much character and meaning, you can’t help but like him, if only a little bit. Another notable performance is James Digiacomo as Tony’s 8 year old brother Frankie. Every time he’s on screen, he steals the scene with his hilarious antics. This film is an acting powerhouse.
The direction is nothing to ignore. John Crowley directs every scene with patience and grace, allowing the story to fully showcase itself. He sets up every frame as only a master can, and composes the picture wonderfully.
The art direction and costume direction are also great in this film. Elias’s gradually increasing bright colored outfits, mirroring her becoming a New Yorker, is done marvelously. The costumes and sets transport the viewer to a happier, more idyllic time.
A classic romance and period piece at the same time, Brooklyn is a fabulous picture. The acting, directing, writing, all come together to deliver a heartfelt love story. This is not a film to miss. 9/10
Check out more titles by Nicholas Sparks here.
Image Credit: Wally Gobetz on Flickr.
gently spiraling downwards
towards wet bare dirt
each crystal paper thin
and breathtakingly intricate
elegance too much for more than
a few dazzling moments
whispers of beauty
before joining the ground
Standing in line opening night for the new Star Wars movie was a dynamic experience. The excitement in the air was tangibly present, fueled by hushed speculation about different plot points and loads of avid cosplayers decked out in full costume. Everyone waited with mounds of anticipation.
It had been 10 years since the last Star Wars movie, 32 since the last undeniably good one. Everyone was hoping, pleading silently, that Disney wouldn’t mess it up, that they would deliver a good Star Wars film.
Everyone took their seats. The lights went down. The film played, then the credits ended. A triumphant cheer came from the whole crowd. Disney did it, Disney brought back Star Wars.
Episode VII is a fun, good film that captures what classically people loved about the original trilogy. The characters, action, stakes, all are incredibly true to the heart of Star Wars (a little too true in my opinion, but I’ll get to that later). Anyone who loves Star Wars is going to love the new one. Everyone else is still gonna have a good time with it, but may get bogged down in the film’s weaknesses.
Now, I’m going to immediately state that I am not completely enamored with the original Star Wars trilogy. Sure, I watched them when I was little, but I was never completely obsessed or convinced that they were some of the greatest films ever made. I enjoyed them, but did not love them. So this review is going to be a bit more objective than a wholly devoted fan’s review would be.
Also, talking of this particular film is particularly difficult without spoiling anything, mainly due to the fact about everything is a spoiler. This problem stems the way Disney decided to market it. For most every film that comes out, trailers and promotional material tell you the premise, the first act and inciting incident of the film, in order to convince you to pay money and see it. Episode VII doesn’t do this at all, with trailers vague and mysterious, trusting that people will still come see it by the millions just because it’s Star Wars.
This makes every detail about the plot, characters, anything at all, technically a spoiler. So I am going to talk about this film as if is a normal movie. Discuss the premise, some plot points, characters, and everything that would be common knowledge if it were marketed in a normal way. If you really don’t want to know anything about the new film stop reading now.
Alright, so here’s the deal. Luke Skywalker is missing. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has acquired a map that leads directly to where Luke is. He needs to get it back to General Leia (Carrie Fisher), leader of the Resistance-new name for the good guys-so they can get to Luke and get his help.
However the sinister First Order-new version of the Empire from previous films-also wants to find Luke, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleason). They find Poe, but before he is captured, he gives the map to his droid BB 8 on the desert planet of Jakku.
BB 8 finds Ray (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger, who wants to help the droid. In addition they meet Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who abandons the First Order, disgusted by the senseless killing.
The actors are all wonderful in their various roles. Adam Driver specifically shines as Kylo Ren, giving scary but surprisingly human depth to the role. Oscar Isaac has always been a great actor, this film makes him look like a perfect movie star. Everyone in the film does great with what they have.
The film also looks great, cinematography miles beyond anything George Lucas ever pulled off. Each fight scene and chase sequence is paced well and engaging.
If there is one problem with the main components of Episode VII, it’s the writing, specifically the dialogue (although I’ll get to the plot problems in a moment). A lot of attempts at comedy are made, a lot fall flat due to needless repetition or the joke getting extended a bit too long.. Director JJ Abrams is so afraid of alienating any audience member that he spoon feeds us plot points, comedy, events, and most other things just to make sure no one gets left behind or confused. If simply a little more faith was given to the audience, the dialogue would work much better.
The plot is not bad as much as it is overly familiar. It is basically the exact same as Star Wars IV A New Hope. I can’t talk much about the similarities without getting into spoilers, but it’s clear from the beginning. A New Hope opened with a droid escaping the evil Empire, carrying a secret message, getting left on a desert planet, and finding a helpful scavenger. The Force Awakens opens with a droid escaping the evil First Order, carrying a secret message getting left on a desert planet, and finding a helpful scavenger.
Abrams and crew seem so afraid of alienating any Star Wars fans that they didn’t even attempt to do anything unique. They went back, analyzed the original Star Wars components, updated them, changed a few things around, and assembled The Force Awakens out of all the parts. Star Wars is a great universe, where possibilities are almost endless for different adventures. It disappoints me that the filmmakers decided to just tell the same story a second time.
If The Force Awakens is essentially a reboot of A New Hope, at least it’s better than the original movie. It’s fun, fast paced, and frantic. Everything you love about Star Wars is probably in the film, just waiting to be discovered. Unoriginality does not make a bad movie, it just tainted the experience for me a little bit. What the film really does well though is point to Episode VIII probably being an even better, bigger, narratively and thematically rich film that continues the intriguing story of The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, we have to wait two years. 7/10
For more film reviews, visit my blog.
Image Credit: Rooners Toy Photography on Flickr.
Warning: This film is rated R.
Seth Rogen vehicles have been an almost annual event since 2013, and every year they seem to decline in quality just a little bit. This is the End was widely regarded to be great, Neighbors was thought to be good, and the Interview is just kinda bad. His contribution to cinema this year is a christmas movie called The Night Before, which serves to subvert the current Seth Rogen movie trend. It is hilarious, enjoyable, and surprisingly heartfelt.
The Night Before follows three best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) as they spend the night before christmas together, per tradition, with the ultimate goal to attend the greatest party ever, the nutcracker ball. The tradition started years before, when Ethan’s parents died in a car crash leaving him alone on Christmas Eve, until Chris and Isaac came and cheered him up. This year, however, is the last year for the tradition; both Chris and Isaac have moved on and have different things to worry about, one with a family and the other with a sports career.
First and foremost, a comedy ought to be funny, otherwise it’s pretty pointless. This premise leaves a lot of room for hilarity, and delivers fairly well on that promise. Most every scene is funny and had me laughing heartily.
The actors all do well in their roles, delivering their lines with great comic timing. The group’s pot dealer, Mr. Green (Michael Shannon), is a surprisingly wonderful character. He’s unexpectedly funny and welcomely relatable.
Funny movies are not uncommon, released it seems almost every week. Neither are comedies with good actors. Christmas movies are also numerous, it seems ten or twenty are released every year. The Night Before isn’t just like all of these other movies though. It is better than most, unique and defined in an oversaturated field. What elevates it and truly cements it as an annual Christmas movie, a movie that friends will watch together for years to come, is the heart behind it.
More than a stupid stoner comedy, or a throwaway Christmas movie, The Night Before is a story about friendship. The pain Ethan feels throughout the movie is real and tangible. The emotions are legitimately affecting. It’s a movie about moving on while still maintaining a connection. There were moments that I started to tear up (although it might be because I’m a bit soft). People will go see it for the jokes, and see it again for the heart.
Are there better Christmas movies? Of course. Not everything works in the film, but all of the problems fade away next to the great moments and great jokes scattered around it. I suspect it will quickly become a Christmas classic.
Check out more Seth Rogan films here!
Image Credit: Taminator on Flickr.
Summer is gone now.
The sun, the green, the fun. Gone.
We will be waiting.
Warning: This film is rated R.
Last year a small film called The Cobbler was released to the public. I say it is small not because of the budget, a respectable 10 million, but because of the gross, a humiliating $24,000. Most people haven’t heard of it, let alone seen it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was one of the few to see it. The Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman led film was an absolute mess, one of the worst movies of 2014. This trainwreck was the product of one Tom McCarthy, who wrote and directed the picture. Basically, The Cobbler was all his fault. But fear not, for McCarthy's new film Spotlight just hit screens, and it serves to redeem last year’s blunder.
Spotlight tells the true story of the Boston Globe newspaper uncovering the scandal of child molestation within the Catholic church, and the cover up by various Church officials. A new editor Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) shakes things up at the Globe, suggesting a long term investigation be conducted on the Catholic church. The Spotlight team takes up the case, a secretive 4 person outfit whose very purpose is to thoroughly investigate and uncover scandal. Members Walter (Michael Keaton), Matt (Brian d'Arcy James), Mike (Mark Ruffalo), and Sacha (Rachel McAdams) dive deeper and deeper into the conspiracy, each revelation exciting and horrifying in equal measure.
The acting in the film is resoundingly wonderful. Several Oscar nods are definitely in store for the cast, who all are excellent. A standout is Mark Ruffalo, who fully embodies his character and gives one of the most dedicated performances I’ve seen all year. Liev Schreiber is also notably excellent, portraying a particularly complex character with unequaled warmth and depth.
The screenplay is beautifully written, intensifying the situation with every scene, revealing new information at a methodical pace. It’s not afraid to take it’s time, wallowing in the struggle of it’s characters, and delivers comic relief at the exact right moments.
The directing, courtesy of our good friend Tom McCarthy, is top notch (unlike his previously mentioned film). The pacing is well executed, as is the minimalistic style. He made a picture that digs deep into the viewer’s skull and refuses to leave even after the credits role.
And that’s how simple it is to make a great film. Great actors coupled with a great script under a great director. It’s really astounding that McCarthy made a film of this caliber after the Cobbler, but it’s a welcome surprise. The story is what really drives the film forward, everything else in service to it. Spotlight is highly recommended for anyone looking for a haunting and cerebral experience, as opposed to just the usual explosions and such. 9/10
Find more work by Tom McCarthy here!
Image Credit: Steven Saccomanno on Flickr.
A veces la amistad es una cosa divertida.
Usted tiene un amigo que se puede ir en viaje y pasar un buen tiempo.
A veces la amistad es una cosa mala.
Usted puede entrar en peleas con tu amigo.
Pero al final, la amistad es la mejor relación que podría tener.
Sometimes friendship is a great thing.
You have a friend you can go on trips with and have a good time with.
Sometimes friendship is a bad thing.
You can get into fights with your friend.
But in the end, friendship is the best relationship you could have.
Learn about writing poetry here!
Image Credit: Felipe Bastos on Flickr.
The past few years, numerous films have been made about civil rights and the lack thereof. Selma brought us the story of African Americans, led by Martin Luther King Junior, fighting for the right to vote. Stonewall told the story of gay rights, as did Pride. Now we are presented with Suffragette, another film about rights, but this time as they pertain to women.
Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan as Maude Williams, a timid housewife in early 1900s England. She loves her husband and child George. She works everyday at a laundry. Maud is rather unremarkable and tries to stay that way. And it works for her, until the suffragettes, women demanding voting rights, start to involve themselves with her life. As they start speaking up, specifically around her place of work, Maud slowly gets sucked in more and more into the world of activism until she becomes a suffragette herself.
The standout piece of this film is the story. Heavily fact based, the atrocities suffered and committed by these women are unthinkable. They were beaten, jailed, force fed (through a tube inserted into their nose and down their esophagus), among other equally heinous things. They themselves would throw rocks at stores and blow up various things, all in the search of equality. It’s amazing, hard to believe, and true.
The acting was also terrific, Carey Mulligan specifically wonderful. She perfectly encapsulated her character’s emotional journey in every scene. Without her the film would not have been nearly as good as it turned out being. Helena Bonham Carter, whose character lead a group of suffragettes, was also quite good. She was a great foil for Carey Mulligan. Meryl Streep is also in this movie, that is for one scene. It annoys me that they plastered her across all of the posters and trailers for what amounts to no more than 7 minutes screen time, but she’s Meryl Streep. She does well with what she’s given.
A particularly interesting character was the chief inspector, played by Brendan Gleason. In a movie like this, it would have been easy to write off the villain as some evil sexist pig who loved to triumph over the women. Gleason goes a more interesting route luckily, giving his character real warmth and meaning. Just because his character’s job is to stop the suffragettes, he doesn’t seem to enjoy it, in fact he seems to sympathize with their cause. At one point in the film, he indicates that he agrees with their goals. But he knows it doesn’t matter what he thinks is wrong or right. His job is to uphold the law, however unjust it may be. It’s a real interesting choice, that I feel pays off in the end, giving the whole movie a more human feel.
If there’s a weak part, it’s the direction. Sarah Gavron felt the need to almost never use a tripod for the entirety of the runtime. This works well for some moments, when women are getting beaten is a good example of this. It also works not so well at other moments, like during simple conversations. It was hard to focus on the words when the camera was shaking so much for absolutely no reason. There was nothing special or remarkable about the directing, nothing unique. It was just fine.
As great as a lot of the parts were, Suffragette still seems like a bit of a disappointment. The combination seemed to have somehow lessened how good they were. In spite of the direction, the story manages to get across and be impactful. One only can imagine what could have been made with a more artful person at the helm, but in the end, it is a good movie. Not great, not bad, just good. 7/10
Image Credit: Leonard Bentley on Flickr.