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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The Judge – David Dobkin

The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

This is a movie that the average movie-goer will enjoy more than the critics. Most of the reviews for The Judge say that the movie is riddled with clichés and that the characters were weak. The reality is, if you have/had a father, you will find this movie moving and will likely be brought to tears on more than one occasion. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play father and son in this courtroom drama that takes place in a small Indiana town that, in the words of Robert Downey Jr.’s character Henry “Hank” Palmer, everyone “just wants to leave”. Upon hearing that his mother passed away, Hank, a big-shot defence attorney in the city, makes the trip to his home town where he must face “The Judge”, his father Joe Palmer. It is obvious before they even meet face to face that their relationship is strained, to say the least. When The Judge is suddenly faced with a manslaughter charge in the wake of his wife’s funeral, Hank is forced to stick around and deal with the siltation, much to his father’s dismay. The two characters clash all the way down to their basic ideals, Judge Joe Palmer has been the town judge for over 40 years and firmly believes in justice and the law’s part in it, while Hank operates under a somewhat different principle, summed up in this perfect line: “Innocent people can’t afford me.”

The Judge has been labelled as a courtroom drama but most of the movie actually takes place outside of the courthouse and deals with the intense family dynamic and Hank trying to cope with his old demons rather than the trial itself. The acting is superb, with a great supporting cast that includes Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton, and there are just enough quick-witted one-liners to lighten up the mood when things get a little dark. And they definitely do. You’ll find yourself more interested in the family and how they are going to get through it, than finding out the details about the hit-and-run that started the whole thing.

Watching this movie, it is hard to believe it is directed by the same person who brought audiences Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up. Upon further inspection, it appears that the screenplay was written by Nick Shenk, who also wrote Gran Torino. Suddenly things seem to make a little more sense. The Judge has a hefty runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes which some critics have complained about, but there is enough suspense (in terms of the trial), unanswered questions (in terms of the relationships), and impending re-conciliations to retain the audience’s interest. The argument that the movie is “something we’ve all seen before” sounds like its coming from all the people who thought Avatar was “just a Pocahontas rip-off”. Sure, there is a formula (there usually is), but that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t worth watching, because it certainly is worth it.

The best advice is to stop reading reviews and just go see it for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, and at the end you’ll be happy you saw it.

The Drop – Michaël R. Roskam

The Drop starring the late James Gandolfini,  Tom Hardy, and Noomi Rapace

Dennis Lehane, the author of  Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone that were famously adapted into award-winning films with amazing ensemble casts, brings us another adaptation of one of his short stories called The Drop. Teaming up with Director Michaël R. Roskam, they deliver a film that in many ways has the same feel to it as those other crime dramas but is significantly less disturbing than the two mentioned above.

The film takes place in a gritty part of Brooklyn where the local watering hole doubles as the occasional “drop bar” for the city’s thugs and their money. Tom Hardy plays bartender “Bob” who just tries to keep his head down and his nose out of everyone’s business but his own. The late great James Gandolfini, in his final role before his unfortunate death, plays “Cousin Marv” the bar’s acting manager who now answers to some mean Chechens after losing ownership of the bar some years ago. Things start going wrong when the pair are robbed early on in the film, and the rest just follows from there.

There isn’t much to the film in terms of plot but it never feels that way. We follow Bob as he rescues a Pitbull puppy and takes on the responsibility of being a dog owner with the help of a woman played by Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). As usual, Tom Hardy all but disappears into the character. He’s quiet, calculating, maybe a little naive, and yet it always seems like there’s something else hiding behind his sad puppy dog eyes and small smirk that makes a very rare appearance on screen. Noomi Rapace is equally as good as a woman with her own secrets.

It’s a slow-burning film but it never loses your interest as you try to piece everything together. The odd scene will actually generate some laughs, or at least some chuckles, and are mostly brought on by Bob’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude, which also makes him the only truly loveable character in the film, next to Rocco the puppy of course.

The Drop is a drama through and through but there is enough intrigue and there are enough moments that lighten the mood in order to sustain most viewers, even those who typically prefer more action to dialogue. It is possible, however, that some will find it a little too dull and seriously lacking in the shoot-em-up department. So those people looking for a lot of action and a true crime thriller will be a little disappointed but will likely still enjoy the film because as a viewer you really do want to find out where the story is going and how everything turns out for each character. Whether you notice it or not, you’re invested.