Sundance 2015 Review: Coming of Age Stories

For my last double-bill recap for Sundance 2015 (one more singular review tomorrow), I would like to focus on a couple of dramas about young women, coming of age in two separate time periods: 1950s post-war Brooklyn, New York and 1970’s swinging San Francisco. These also have the honor of being a couple of my favorite films of the festival.

 

Brooklyn

Adapted by author Nick Hornby (based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín), Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Ireland sent across the sea to find a new life in the land of opportunity. Under the patronage of a fellow transplant, a priest played by the always delightful Jim Broadbent she finds work and a place to stay. But is it enough to make a life? We witness Eilis’ struggles to make this new place her home; the residents and matron (the ebullient Julie Waters) of the all-female boarding house where she resides help her along the way. It also doesn’t hurt that she meets a young man (AWWW).

As all of this is going on, we catch glimpses of her family’s (mother and sister) life back in Ireland. And at the point where these two threads converge, like Eilis, we are caught in having to make a very harrowing decision.

If it sounds like I am being a bit vague – well yeah, I am. I don’t want to spoil anything for you because for me it was so lovely to watch the layers fall away on this film.

It has been said before, but I will say it again – Ronan is a talent to be reckoned with. Her face is so expressive, especially in the quieter moments – you feel what she is feeling because she makes it seem so real.

She is supported of course by an awesome cast including the aforementioned Broadbent and Waters, as well as Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen.

Brooklyn is directed by John Crowley (Boy A). Since its debut at Sundance, Fox Searchlight has acquired distribution rights to the film; wide theatrical release dates TBD.

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Sourced from the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl regales us the always-relatable growing pains and misadventures of a teenager – here in the form of aspiring comic book artist Minnie Goetze (played by newcomer Bel Powley). While these aspirations do play a role in our story, the “main event” centers on the relationship she has with her mother (Kristen Wiig – the coolest librarian EVER) and Monroe, her mom’s latest boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Christopher Meloni makes an appearance as her professorial ex-stepdad who still serves as a father figure in her life.

When I found out that this was the feature film debut for director/screenwriter Marielle Heller, I was equally surprised and pleased. This was an imaginative, inventive and overall fun journey through Minnie’s world, even as it dealt with some of the darker elements that lie therein. And be warned, her world, especially for that of a young woman, does have decidedly twisted and unfortunate turns. It is again (in my opinion) a marvel that Heller was able to extract from this the lightness that many of the moments deserved.

This of course is bolstered by the strength of the performances of her cast. They all were able to successfully balance the material and modulate between the hilarious moments to the more serious matters when they present themselves.

The film also has a great sense of time and location, and not necessarily in a postcard sense either. The Diary of a Teenage Girl does well in capturing the spirit and vibe of that San Francisco counterculture era.

Not sure about the distribution/release date on this one, but rest assured, it is one to look out for.

diary

* The Diary of a Teenage Girl was the winner of the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography.

Images credit: The Sundance Institute

On Location with On Location Tours

As many of my readers have gathered from many of my posts, I am almost equally as passionate about travel as I am about cinema. On several occasions I have attempted to marry the two loves of my life in a set of featured articles tagged as On Location.

This month, I spent a balmy Saturday afternoon in the borough of Brooklyn, NYC. It was all part of an excursion put on by a touring company aptly named On Location Tours.

Founded in 1999 by Georgette Blau, On Location Tours has grown to become one of the largest media orientated tour operators in the world!

According to the press kit, On Location Tours is:

“… a one-of-a kind sightseeing company specializing in TV and movie location tours, brings fans closer to their favorite on-screen characters. The company’s stated mission is “to create tours that allow people to straddle the border between fiction and reality, letting them feel as though they are part of the show, ultimately bringing them closer to the characters and TV history itself.”

A visit to their website, http://www.screentours.com, reveals a variety of options of tours:

  • Sex and the City Hotspots;
  • Gossip Girl Sites;
  • Central Park TV & Movie Sites and
  • Sopranos Sites, to name a few.

And if you find yourself in Boston, you can book a Boston TV and Movie Sites tour!

For my trial run I decided to on the Brooklyn TV & Movie Sites Bus Tour. The tour originated in Manhattan and focused mostly in the area of downtown and Northern Brooklyn – DUMBO (aka, Down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Boernum Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, etc.

 

Brooklyn Bridge

 

The tour was an informative, entertaining exploration into this eclectic and diverse borough and its place in film history.

At the start of our three-hour-tour, we made stops at Junior’s (Sex and the City), the coffee shop (now named Marybelle’s) where Nic Cage’s character works in Moonstruck, and the dock in DUMBO – a site featured in several films, including Coming to America, What Happens in Vegas, and Two for the Money.

 

Junior’s Restaurant (exterior)

We also made passing stops by a bookstore featured in Eat, Pray Love, the firehouse featured in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and, notably, the Hotel St. George, which was seen in The Godfather.

As we travelled from place to place, we received on-board entertainment in the form of video clips from the places featured along the tour route. As an added treat (and surely to keep our blood sugar up) we each received a piece of Junior’s cheesecake.  Do not fret: each tour has a similarly themed “treat” that its participants receive. I suspect, however, that on the Brooklyn tour, we fared the best! 🙂 And sorry there is no photo of the actual cheesecake … it was inhaled.

From our tour guide, we learned that Brooklyn has also stood in for other cities/locales – Boston (The Departed), Georgetown, Washington, D.C. (Burn After Reading), New England (Mona Lisa Smile) and even Paris, France (in Julie and Julia).

I have not even mentioned the ‘small screen’ (television) portion of our tour. Allow me o do so now. We learned about the various television shows that film in part or in whole in Brooklyn (Bored to Death, White Collar, 30 Rock, etc.).

One interesting factoid: while The Cosby Show was filmed in a studio in Brooklyn (and later, Queens), the exterior shot of the iconic “Huxtable Brownstone” was in fact of a home over the bridge in Manhattan’s West Village.

Our last major stop was a drive-by of the largest film production studio outside of Hollywood – Steiner Studios – on the site of the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Steiner Studios

 

As the day wound down and we crossed the Manhattan Bridge on our way back to lower Manhattan, we reflected on all the sights that we have seen; it surely gave me anew, interesting and different perspective of the borough.

If any of you get the opportunity, I recommend that you seek out these types of tours, no matter the city you live in. I have lived in the greater New York area for the majority of my life and a lot of the information I received on this tour was new to me. And of course, when you are New York City or Boston, check out On Location Tours.


One last thing, for anyone who is interested in booking any of On Location Tours’ tours, you can go to their site and enter the following code, LUVCINEMA10, to receive an exclusive, 10% discount on your booking.

* Note: if you are to take any of the tours mentioned, the stops may vary.

For Movie Lovers in the NYC Area (Summer 2011)

It is that time of year again – summer is very nearly upon us. And for cinephiles in the greater NYC there are plenty of opportunities to catch some old and new movies in the great outdoor. Here are just a couple of events to whet your appetite:

Rooftop Films

Rooftop Films is celebrating its 15th year of offering some overlooked fare on – you guessed it – rooftops! Please go to the website for screening information as well as locations, tickets and to learn more about how you can contribute to this non-profit organization whose mission it is

to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

Every Monday during the summer, I walk by Bryant Park on my way home from work determined that this will be the year I stop and take a seat and catch a movie. I have yet to partake but having attended other events during the summer in this space, I can highly recommend that if you are in the area you should participate. Although the list of films has not yet been confirmed, if previous years are anything to go by, I would say you are in for a treat. Here is just a sampling of some of the things that have been screened:

  • The French Connection
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • 12 Angry Men
  • The Sting
  • How Green was My Valley
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Superman
  • High Noon
  • The Birds

… and on and on. Believe you-me, the full list is quite impressive. What I especially love is that it gives great exposure to some of the “classics” of cinema. For many passers-by this is their first experience seeing these landmarks of cinema. This year I am determined to go! Hope to see you there!

Now it is your turn – if you are not in the NYC area, post your favorite summer cinema activities wherever you are!