Brooklyn, review

As far as film-making goes the John Crowley-directed, Nick Hornby-written Brooklyn is damn near flawless. With a wonderful screenplay, charismatic cast and envious costume design, the feature is a joy on the eyes as it transports you to another time. That time is the 1950’s, when the American Dream was a hope for many and immigration figures were tripling. We follow shy Irish girl Eilis to Brooklyn and back as she discovers herself and the life she seemingly wants to live.

John Crowley has taken a sentimental novel, written by Colm Toibin, and adapted it into a gorgeous film full of beauty and raw emotion, cleverly capturing the feeling of being young and lost and young and in love. Saorise Ronan portrays Eilis, Oscar-nominated for her role and rightfully so. If you ever had any doubts about the actress who has more than proved her on-screen talents, Crowley’s film will eradicate these surely. Ronan is sensational in her leading role, sure not to over-complicated Eilis – or more importantly, perfect her. Human like us all, the character is relatable and likeable and the transformation we see over a short 112 minutes is masterfully crafted by actress and director Crowley.

cohen and ronan in brooklyn

cohen and ronan in brooklyn

Supporting Ronan is Emory Cohen – almost unrecognisable here from his divergent role in The Place Beyond the Pines – and industry favourite Domhnall Gleeson, with added strength in the shape of Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. The star in this exceptional ensemble is Cohen. He’s endearing as Tony, an Italian-American with more than enough personality, and even more beguiling charm than you’d expect from an actor who is slowly (but ever so surely) rising to Hollywood prominence – and his performance in Brooklyn should sure enough cement him as a force to be reckoned with. The chemistry he shares with Roman is so natural and innocent – the kind of schoolboy love that we all secretly wish we could experience. Crowley does well to translate this from page to screen without an aspect of uncomfortable cheese that is too often present in contemporary romances.

The entire cast comes together to form a full feature that is never lacking in presence or meaning. Hornby writes with a warmth film-goers have come to recognise and appreciate and he transcends a time in history without making this a boring historical feature. Brooklyn escapes the pitfalls of most romantic dramas to make this a beautiful – and timeless – piece of cinema that tugs on the heartstrings in all of the right ways. More than this, the movie shouldn’t just appeal to woman, or fans of Toibin’s novel, for it is a rounded narrative that escapes the normal ties of genre film-making, speaking from a place within us all as it explores what it is to be human as Eilis steps outside of her comfort zone for the first time.

See Brooklyn and as you do, let go of any preconceptions of what this genre is and can be, for Crowley loses them all and recreates it so effortlessly here.

Ex_Machina, review

Acclaimed indie writer Alex Garland released his directorial debut earlier in the year. What followed was a host of critical acclaim as the film fled into select cinemas around the UK. Behind everyone else, but still keen to watch, I finally sat down today to view Garland’s first efforts behind the camera. I wasn’t disappointed. Ex_Machina is a force to be reckoned with – but in an eery, silent sense. If you’re looking for a futuristic action that depicts the rising up of AI and the fall of man, this isn’t your bag. If you’re a fan of intelligent cinema that asks the bigger questions – look no further. Slow but steady is the general pace, with the film divided into small and concise sections based around a question and answer process between Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb and Alicia Vikander’s Ava. The latter a stunning robot, created by the somewhat brutish Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

Garland both wrote and directed the feature, and has included a sense of impending doom that frequents the film. This is only suggested through conversation, and it’s a powerful force. Garland proves himself as a talented helmer, directing his actors with what appears to be simplicity. For Ex_Machina is little less than startling, but in the least imposing way possible. It all sounds rather confusing, but to fully understand you just need to sit and watch. At 108 minutes the film is a perfect length – any longer would inspire tiresome clock watching. Movies based on artificial intelligence are generally a mixed bag. From the classic AI to the blockbuster I Robot, audiences have been provided with a hearty selection when it comes to this somewhat diverse genre. Garland decides not to follow the rules with his take on the sci-fi conundrum, but instead poses interesting ideologies that ask the question; ‘Who’s really the bad guy in all this?’ or at least something along those lines.

oscar isaac and domhnall gleeson in ex_machina

oscar isaac and domhnall gleeson in ex_machina

Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander all share the screen equally as the story of Ava, her creator, and the middle-man, comes together. Isaac provides us with a character who is possibly the most intelligent man on earth, yet hounded by drink and violence – these pivotal flaws come to the surface when necessary and before they are visible the actor makes sure he delivers an underlying malevolence through carefully selected mannerisms, and dialogue delivery. Isaac is the stand-out performance from the moment he welcomes Gleeson’s Caleb into his home. Vikander is of course striking as Ava; graceful, charming and naive, as a spectator you can’t help but root for this manufactured being who longs to survive. This point brings me to the main theme of Garland’s piece – humanity and the contemporary age. Technology is rapidly evolving, and with it society becomes increasingly attached and dependent. This is of clear concern to the director, who suggests we are all being watched from the opening scene. Could technology be the thing to wipe us all out? It seems Garland may think so.

The idea that we gaze upon things we perhaps shouldn’t is reiterated to us throughout, and it becomes clear towards the end that Ex_Machina is not so much about a future world, but the world we live in today. The creation of Ava (who is the object of admiration here), as an AI with a human face and robotic body is a triumph. Realistic and unnerving, Garland and his team have managed to design a character who may appear as alien to the human race as is possible, but comes with enough wisdom, and apparent heart, to suggest otherwise. Beyond the look of Ava, the set-pieces and locale deserve an applause, too. Rob Hardy took charge as director of photography and juxtaposes harsh interior with visceral locations, meaning the claustrophobic environment of Nathan‘s hide-out never becomes too over-bearing.

Not everyone will enjoy – or even understand – Alex Garland’s bold debut, but those that will, will treasure it. Understated, intense – and even a little scary – the writer come director has proved he can successfully translate page to screen, and do so with clarity and elegance.

Unbroken first look – trailer review

Audience’s have finally been granted a look at Angelina Jolie’s third effort as a director; Unbroken. Starring a very British Jack O’Connell doing a very convincing American accent (shock all round), at a first glance Unbroken looked like a sports move of-sorts. However, there is much more to this latest offering from actress turned director Jolie, as the trailer delivers scenes of war horror in a Japanese Prison Camp. From this first trailer release it looks like an epic is on the cards, with the film looking as though it follows the true life story of Louis Zamperini from his early athletics days to the brutality he experienced at the hands of the Japanese, to his journey of recovery after. The trailer makes promises of a film full of moments of O’Connell at his best; hard, brutal and unforgettable. This could just be the film that breaks the Skins actor into the American market. With a supporting cast of Garrett Hedlund and Domhnall Gleeson, and a screenplay written by audience favourite’s Joel and Ethan Coen, Unbroken is shaping up to be a unique epic, which with Jolie at the helm should certainly be achievable and rather enjoyable.

By the looks of the trailer and as already mentioned Unbroken will follow Zamperini from his childhood right through to his time after the war, a generational story which with O’Connell’s powerful charisma could  lead him to be this years new filmic hero. O’Connell’s boyish charm, and cheeky-chappy air are all on display in the trailer, hopefully indicating he has put his all into embodying Zamperini, at his best and worst. The ties of family and friendship look to be key in Unbroken and the determination and will of Zamperini as both an athlete, soldier and survivor of a prison camp all look like vital elements to an already seemingly compelling story. However, the scenes showing Zamperini’s training look almost Forest Gump-esque, and surely a film so far apart from the 1994 classic shouldn’t be reminiscent of it. For now, we’ll forget that and hope that the cliches of war and sports films wont let down what promises to be one of the best features of 2014.

Looking as though Unbroken combines aspects of the journey, war and sports feature, it could look to be a little sloppy and perhaps over-whelming (not in a positive way). But, with an actor like O’Connell as the lead, and a feminine approach with Jolie as director, Unbroken shouldn’t be put to one side yet.