Room – Lenny Abrahamson

Room starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
Photo Credit: George Kraychyk/A24 Films

Lenny Abrahamson is an Irishman you’ve probably never heard of before, but you’ll be hearing a lot more of him after this year. With only 4 other feature films under his belt (none that would have played outside of film festivals), Lenny Abrahamson has done something extraordinary with Room. This little film won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and had an audience of critics and movie lovers on their feet applauding with fresh tears in their eyes. Since then, it has been one of the most talked about movies to snag three Oscars nominations for movies in 2015.

The majority of the movie is a mother and young son confined to a small room, with very minimal supplies and not much hope for a better future. Brie Larson puts in a powerful performance as the young mother who was kidnapped as a teenager and repeatedly raped by her captor while she was forced to live in a small space with a few amenities. Her son Jack, played by Canadian newcomer Jacob Tremblay, has lived his entire life without seeing the outdoors, other than through a small skylight. His reality is “Room” – the generic name they have given their tiny home; not the room, not a room, but just simply Room.

Instead of a completely devastating film, what you get with Room is a bit of a roller coaster ride. At first you just watch them live their day-to-day life and begin to understand their relationship and Jack’s lack of understanding of what life is really like outside. When they decide to escape, you hold your breath, hope they succeed, and likely hold back some tears. As expected, Jack handles their homecoming and his new reality better than his Mom, but it is a slow process as he adjusts to the other people in his life. It is difficult to watch the young mother struggle with her emotions, the unwelcome fame, and with her parents – who are also having a tough time – but the whole thing is incredibly intriguing. At the back of your mind is always the thought that this has actually happened to people, so coupling that thought with the fact that the acting is absolutely flawless, you truly feel for the characters in the movie. Supporting cast includes Joan Allen (The Bourne Series, The Upside of Anger, The Notebook) and William H. Macy (Fargo, The Lincoln Lawyer, Wild Hogs).

Brie Larson (Don Jon, 21 Jump Street) deservingly won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actress and it’s a real shame that Jacob Tremblay did not receive an acting nomination because he was the other half of the movie and essentially made her performance better. Seeing such range from an 8-year old is incredible and he was certainly more deserving than the winner of Best Supporting Actor category in 2016 (Mark Rylance) and at the very least on par with the other nominees (Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, Sylvester Stallone).

Room is both unforgettable and rewarding. You may not watch it more than once, but you’ll be better for having seen it. It is based on the book “Room” by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue.

Room was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015 and was released to an increasing number of theatres in Canada and the U.S from October 2015 to January 2016.

Watch the official trailer for Room here:

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Carol – Todd Haynes

Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Photo credit: Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company

If all you’re looking for is a nice, sleepy, Oscar-nominated musical score by the guy who does all the Coen Brothers’ movies and some slick production design, then Carol is the movie for you. To say this movie starts out slow is an understatement; and to some, the entire two-hours of this 1950’s love story will be torture to watch. The sad reality of Carol is that it will not appeal to everyone, but those who live for the Oscar categories of costume design, cinematography, and production design will be completely engaged. For this movie to captivate you, you need to be very patient and you need to be the type to appreciate the art of film-making and film direction.

Based on the novel “The Price of Salt”, Carol tells the story of two women – a young one (Rooney Mara) who doesn’t yet know who she is, and the older, unhappy one (Cate Blanchett) who she falls head over heels in love with. It’s the 1950’s, so lesbian love is not something that is widely accepted or tolerated to a great degree. The main point of drama is the fact that Carol’s husband (from whom she is separated) is trying to get their daughter taken away from her because of her pattern of “inappropriate behaviour” with women – which also doubles as a silly attempt to “get her back” because if he can’t have her, no one else should, especially not a woman.

The reviews from both critics and viewers have been very positive, but it truly takes a certain type of movie-watcher to appreciate the subtleties of the performances and the artistry of the film-making. It won’t knock your socks off unless this is the only thing you look for in a movie experience. It’s unfortunate, but the general population just won’t see the tragic beauty in Carol and the love story will be lost among the countless scenes of silence, frustratingly long gazes, and the general lack of climax.

Cate Blanchett’s performance is good, there is no question, but compared to her other Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated performances (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There, Elizabeth, etc.), this is nothing special and certainly not something the masses can get behind. Aside from one steamy lesbian love-making scene, there are only a couple other scenes that stand out. Like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett could be nominated every time because she’s just that good, but maybe the standards should have been set a little higher for her this time. All in all, Carol is walking away with two acting nominations (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), and four others for its cinematography, musical score, costume design, and screenplay (adapted).

The many accolades it has received from prestigious film festivals proves that, in a way, Carol is just like poetry – a select few find it beautiful, powerful, and deep, and most others will just be bored and unimpressed.

Carol opened in limited release in the USA in November 2015 and Canada in December 2015. Worldwide gross is only $29M to date and it can still be found playing in some theatres leading up to the Oscars on February 28, 2016.

Watch the official trailer here: