Cleaning Out The DVR: Stickman (dir by Sheldon Wilson)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 191 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded Stickman off of the SyFy on October 21st!)

When she was seven years old, Emma (Hayley Law) was accused of two terrible crimes.

The authorities say that Emma murdered both her sister and her mother.  She’s spent the last ten years in an institution, haunted by nightmares of the demonic monster that she claims committed the murders.  According to Emma, the Stickman comes for you if you make the mistake of reading a poem aloud.  The only way to keep the Stickman at bay is to draw a picture of him every night.  Of course, no one believes Emma.  At the institution, she has to regularly deal with smug doctors who refuse to accept that she’s being stalked by an unstoppable monster.  Obviously, they’ve never watched It Follows or that HBO documentary about Slenderman.

When 17 year-old Emma is finally released from the institution, she is sent to a half-way house where she is to live with 5 other girls.  They’ve all committed different crimes.  One of them is an arsonist.  Another one has a paranoid obsession with the dark web.  Emma’s the only one to have been accused of murder.  Even though Emma is assured that, as far as the other girls are concerned, “their bark is worse than their bite,” she soon finds herself targeted by Liv (Zoe De Grand Maison).  Not only does Liv refuses to believe in Stickman but she also doesn’t want to live with a murderer.

(I have to admit that sounds kinda reasonable to me.)

Anyway, as you can probably guess, that poem gets read again.  And, on her first night of half-way house living, Emma has a nightmare about the Stickman.  However, this time, Stickman doesn’t just stay in her dreams.  Instead, Stickmsn shows up in the real world and starts killing people.  Emma thinks that she can find a way to stop Stickman if she returns to the hospital.  Liv, meanwhile, remains convinced that Stickman is a myth and somehow, Emma is responsible for it all…

Stickman was aired as a part of SyFy’s 31 Days of Halloween.  I really wish that SyFy would show more original films.  Years ago, they used to show a new movie every weekend.  Now, we only get original movies during Shark Week and October.  (And, this October, SyFy devoted one weekend time slot to Jeepers Creepers 3, directed by convicted and admitted pedophile, Victor Salva.  Seriously, what the Hell was up with that?)  Original SyFy films, like Stickman, are always fun to watch and live tweet so it really does seem, to me, that SyFy is missing an opportunity by not showing more of them.

Anyway, I enjoyed Stickman.  Sheldon Wilson has directed several SyFy films and he obviously know how to create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere.  Stickman is full of dark shadows and sudden jump scares and, even if he is a bit of a familiar monster, the Stickman is genuinely creepy.  Though none of the characters are particularly complex, everyone goes a good job making enough of an impression that you can keep everyone straight.  If I really wanted to, I could probably devote another 500 words to picking apart the plot and citing every logical inconsistency but you know what?  That would be totally missing the point.  This is a horror movie.  It doesn’t have to always make sense, it just has to be entertaining.  In the end, Stickman was a fun movie for Halloween.  I wish SyFy would make more like it.

Review: The Girlfriend Experience


The Girlfriend Experience

In 2009, Steven Soderbergh released a little independent film called The Girlfriend Experience starring, who at that time, was one of the adult industry’s biggest stars in Sasha Grey. The film explored and dealt with the life of a high-class escort by the name of Chelsea as she navigated the world of powerful men and the effect of money in monetizing something as intimate and personal as being someone’s girlfriend. It wasn’t a film that had many supporters. Most saw the inexperience of Sasha Grey as a dramatic actress hamstringing what was an interesting look at the dual themes of sex and capitalism.

It’s now 2016 and the premium cable channel Starz has released a new dramatic series inspired by the very same Soderbergh film mentioned above, but not beholden to it’s characters and storyline. Where Sasha Grey’s character of Chelsea seemed more like an on-screen cipher the audience was suppose to imprint whatever their expectations onto, this series has a more traditional narrative of a young woman whose attempt to balance in her life a burgeoning career in law (she’s just earned an internship at a prestigious Chicago law firm) with her discovery of her inherent sexuality while dipping her toes into the high-end sex-workers trade of the so-called “girlfriend experience.”

Riley Keough (last seen as the Citadel wife Capable who both romanced and mothers Nicholas Hoult’s War Boy Nux) plays Christine Reade as a struggling law firm intern who has worked hard to get where she’s at and continues to do so both as an intern and as a continuing law student. Yet, she also has the same problems many young people the past couple decades have had when it comes to earning their degrees. Debt has become a major issue and finding ways to make ends meet while still holding onto their dream profession becomes more and more difficult. Christine, at the encouragement of a close friend (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), tries her hand at becoming a high-price escort.

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Just like the film it’s loosely based on, the series tries in the beginning to paint the high-priced escort profession that Christine gets herself into as very glamorous. Christine’s clients are white men who are older, rich and powerful. Men whose own interpersonal relationships with those close to them have been left behind in their quest for power. They see in Christine a sort of commodity to help fill in a need missing in their life even if false and just a transactional role-play experience.

Showrunners Amy Seimetz (who plays Christine’s sister Annabel) and Lodge Kerrigan (independent filmmakers and writers of renown) have created a show that explores not just the dual nature of how sex has become just another commodity in a world that’s becoming more and more capitalistic, but also a show that explores the nature of a professional woman in a world where they’re told that in order to fit in with the “men” they must suppress their sexual side. It’s a series that doesn’t hold back it’s punches in showing how the patriarchal nature of the professional world (it could be law, business, Hollywood, etc.) makes it difficult for women like Christine to try and be a successful professional and still retain their sexual nature. It’s a world up-ended and shown it’s cruel and ugly nature by Christine with every new client she meets and entertains.

The show and it’s writers (both of whom took turns directing each of the 13-episodes of the first season) don’t pass any sort of judgement on Christine’s choice of working as a high-paid escort. This series doesn’t look at these sex-workers as beneath what normal society expects of it’s women, both young and old. They instead want to explore the why’s of their decision to enter into such a career even if it means hampering their initial chosen profession. They’ve come up with some intriguing ideas of this world of escorts and powerful men walking through their lives always pretending to be one thing then another. A world where half-lies and made up personas have say much about the true natures of each individual as it does of the world around them.

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Christine enters this world of becoming a “girlfriend experience” as a rebellious, adventurous lark, but finds out that her keen, observant and adaptable mind which has served her well in her rise as a law student and intern also serves her well in her new side-career. While her friend Avery who first introduces her to the world sees it all as a rush and exhilarating experience to be done here and there, Christine finds herself drawn deeper into the world as she goes from being represented to finally going off on her own as a freelancer. She’s her own boss and she controls what goes on with this new life.

Yet, The Girlfriend Experience is not all about the glass and steel, cold and calculating glamour of Christine’s new world. Just as she’s reached the heights of her new found power over the very system which tells her what she can and cannot be, outside forces that she thought was in her control brings her back to the reality of her choices throughout the first half of the series. For all the money, power and control she has achieved her old world as a law student and intern begins to fall apart as it intersects with her new one. It’s to the writers credit that they don’t give Christine any easy outs, but do allow her character to decide for herself how to get through both her professional and personal crisis.

While both showrunners Seimetz and Kerrigan have much to do with the brilliance of The Girlfriend Experience it all still hinges on the performance of it’s lead in Riley Keough. She’s practically in every scene and she grows as a performer right before out eyes. From the moment we see her we’re instantly drawn to her character. Hair up in an innocent ponytail and dressed very conservatively as she starts her internship, we still sense more to her character and we’re rewarded with each new episode as Keough’s performance with not just her acting both verbal and silent. Whether it’s the subtle changes in her expression as she transitions from an attentive “girlfriend”, supportive “confidant” and then to a calculating and all-business “escort” and all in a span of a brief scene.

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Even the scenes where some audience may find titillating (even for premium cable like Starz, the sex in The Girlfriend Experience are quite eye-opening without being exploitative.), Keough manages to convey her true feelings with her eyes, while her body language convinces her latest client that it’s all real. She’s able to slip into whatever fantasy her client pays for and, in the end, whatever fantasy she wants to insert herself into in order to escape the terrible reality which has hardened and prepared her for the “real world” that all young people in college aspire to join.

The Girlfriend Experience might have been born out of an cinematic experiment by the icon of independent filmmaking, but it more than stands on it’s own take on ideas and themes (while adding and introducing some of their own) that Soderbergh tried to explore. With Sasha Grey’s performance as Chelsea proving to be a divisive reason whether Soderbergh’s film was a success or a failure, with Seimetz and Kerrigan they found in Riley Keough’s performance as Christine Reade a protagonist that engenders not just sympathy but at times frustration. Her Christine Reade doesn’t conform to what society thinks women should be when out and about in public and, for some men, when in private, as well.

The same could be said about this series as it doesn’t fit into any particular narrative and thematic box that we as a viewer have become trained to. It’s both a series exploring the existential idea of sexual identity and the commodifying power that capitalism has had on things intimate and personal. It’s also a series about a young woman’s journey of self-discovery that doesn’t just highlight the high’s but also shows how precipitous the fall can and will be when the traditionalists object. The show also performs well as a thriller due to the exceptional score composed by another brilliant indie-filmmaker. You may know him under the name of Shane Carruth.

The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t have the pulp sensibilities of such shows as The Walking Dead or the rabid following of Game of Thrones, but as of 2016 it’s probably the best new show of the year and here’s to hoping that more people discover it’s brilliance before it goes away.

Hallmark Review: Flower Shop Mystery: Snipped in the Bud (2016, dir. Bradley Walsh)


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Sure looks like the same place from On the Twelfth Day of Christmas and Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery. It may be the same place as in those movies, but I’m not sure. This is North Bay, Ontario you are looking, which is where the film was shot. That’s a step up here since last time they put the title card over a shot of Littleton, New Hampshire.

It looks like these Flower Shop Mystery movies are a thing now. I don’t mind. Especially not when they are written by good old Gary Goldstein. It seems you can always count on a Hallmark film written by Goldstein to have something odd in it. I would love to know if these things are in his scripts and if he does it on purpose, or if it is just a strange coincidence. Regardless, this one is no exception.

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The Chicago Cafe has still been changed to the Chicago Bar. Although, you will see Marco (Brennan Elliott) walk around the kitchen of his “bar” carrying groceries. Not sure what that was about. Art On Main has also still been changed to Bloomers Flower Shop via a tarp. It looks fine on her shop, but I don’t get why they bothered with his place. Also, if you go to Google Maps, then you’ll find a Asian character next to the word “Chicago”. I’m guessing that was photoshopped out or the place changed between July 2015 and when they made this. That’s possible seeing as it changed drastically between September 2013 and 2015 according to photos on Google Maps. I lean towards photoshopping because of a scene later, but let’s move on and talk about the movie now.

The movie begins and we get three for the price of one with this screenshot.

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First, Abby Knight (Brooke Shields) has been sent money anonymously to deliver black roses to someone. Second, Abby’s assistant Nikki Bender (Kate Drummond) was just reminded she truly works for a nutcase. Turns out Abby already compared the handwriting to signatures on old receipts. She also said she couldn’t get DNA off the envelope flap because it is self-adhesive. That is Nikki’s reaction. That was me when I saw a shot later in this film. Finally, they put the two prominent actors from Degrassi in the same cast listing. But that’s not all!

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That’s right! Someone involved with these movies realized they accidentally called it Mills College in the first film. They make sure you know they fixed it. Yes, the plot does revolve around the college, but they show that name a lot. They also have a scene where the news gets the name of the flower shop wrong and they repeatedly yell at the screen to correct them.

We find out that the black roses are for a Bruce Barnes (Daniel Kash) who happens to be the pre-law professor for Abby’s daughter Sydney (Celeste Desjardins). Abby is apparently terrified of him. We also find out that Kenny (Ricardo Hoyos), her TA, is the only thing keeping her in the class. It is pretty cool when your TA is Zig Novak from Degrassi.

Marco now comes in to remind us he still exists. Normally that would be me trying to be funny and cynical, but he seriously only gets in a couple of words before Abby is off and running to the college. Abby runs into an old lawyer friend of hers who teaches at the college. I think this screenshot sums up how much she likes him.

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They had some bad experiences in the past. Abby does bring up that up that he “dated and dumped half of [her] friends.” However, I don’t think it helps when one of your answers to that is “I showed every one of your girlfriends a great time, and I would’ve shown you the same, if you’d ever given me a chance.” So, it was all but her that he went out with rather than just half, and he would have shown all of them a “great time.” Good work, pal! No seriously, good job! You made sure no one will care when you are dead. A case they both once worked on that he won is also brought up here to give us information for the ending of the movie.

After talking with her daughter so Sydney can setup a red herring by telling us the guy getting the black roses has famous black pencils, she goes to his office. But first, we have to pass by his secretary to introduce her character and find out there is some obvious friction between her and the professor.

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He likes black pencils, is being delivered black roses, and has a black secretary. I totally didn’t spot that while watching the movie. Then we meet Bruce. She winds up calling him a “tool” to Marco, but this site isn’t Hallmark. His character is an asshole. Plain and simple. That’s all you really need to know about him. This is just another setup for Abby to become the prime suspect in the murder that is about to happen. This happens because Abby doesn’t put up with assholes. She decides to turn around outside and go right back to his office after having initially left the building.

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Actor Jeff Teravainen has part of a black pencil glued to his chest and isn’t moving. He’s dead. That’s when Abby runs out to get help and I realize just how obvious this film tried to make who the killer is so I’m skipping this part. All you need to know is that no one but Abby was in their with the body. I love how they have Brooke refer to the black roses as “theme roses.” It’s too bad he doesn’t ask what theme. This whole bit is the equivalent of an old murder mystery movie where the detective says the killer is somewhere in this room so nobody leave the house.

She returns to the shop where Marco and Abby have a little back and forth about Abby keeping a “low profile.” Then we find out that this must be the official news station of Hallmark movies…

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seeing as it’s the same one from A Christmas Detour.

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

A Christmas Detour (2015, dir. Ron Oliver)

Then we meet Connor McKay of the Illinois-Eagle Times.

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Pat Mastroianni can call himself whatever he wants in this movie, but he will always be…

Degrassi Junior High

Degrassi Junior High

in my heart. By the way, between him and actor Ricardo Koyos, that means we have an actor from the first episode of Degrassi-discounting The Kids of Degrassi Street-and an actor from the most recent episode of Degrassi in the same movie together. That’s awesome! Sadly, he’s barely in the movie. Maybe he’ll be a recurring character seeing as the press is bound to keep popping up in these movies.

Now it’s time to vent to Beau Bridges, which also reminds us he exists because he’s gone as fast as Marco. This is followed by another fly over of the actual place they filmed this in. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is after that last few Hallmark movies I watched that pieced together stock footage from all over the place. Along those lines, I give them credit for this too.

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Often when a Hallmark movie shows a newspaper or an article online then they just use someone else’s writing. Sometimes they slightly modify it. The first film did it. That’s probably here as well, but they made sure to put this wrapping on it so that I wasn’t able to notice. Good work!

The detective comes in to remind us that Abby had knocked over pencils in the professor’s office earlier so that her fingerprints would be on the one that killed the guy. With his lines done, actor Paulino Nunes makes his exit. He has to get back to beating out other actors for having the highest number of acting credits in a lifetime. He’s a busy man.

Now the suspects board comes out.

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I hope you like that board because you will be looking at it and listening to a lot of conversations around it during this movie. Explaining all the info dropped at this board would be really boring. So, let’s laugh at this lady’s shocked look on her face when she sees Abby, who is now famous as a potential murderer, walking on the street.

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On the upside for Abby, business has picked up since she has become a prime suspect in a murder. People all want those black “revenge roses”. Nikki says they are “for bad occasions. Arguments, divorces, breakups, just to say ‘I hate you’.” That part is immediately followed by a scene with the detective where Brooke Shields does this after venting about the dead man, which included calling him a “womanizer”.

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After Marco and Abby talk to each other, they go on a stakeout like they did in the first movie. This time it’s of the dead guy’s funeral on the ground floor of a building with windows. Marco heads in to scope things out while Abby uses her binoculars. Joey Jeremiah stops by her car to remind us he is still in the movie before leaving again. In here Marco gets in a conversation with the dead guy’s wife so I can be proven wrong part way through writing this review. Turns out it’s “Chicago Bar and Grill”. He even calls it a restaurant. This only leaves me more confused. We can clearly see neighboring businesses have their real names. Well, they did seem to remove where it says “Lingerie & Luxuries” on Cintra May’s, which is next door to his Bar and Grill, but still. I guess they thought it would constitute official endorsement, or maybe that’s what it was called in the book. I don’t know.

We are also reminded that Barnes is a jerk to his secretary. Kenny also shows up to the funeral to again remind us he is in the movie still. I really think this movie wanted you to constantly think that it had to be one of the actors from Degrassi since they are kind of on the periphery of all the action. Heck, Joey is actually seen in the background looking in Abby’s flower shop in the dark at one point. We also learn that Kenny was real friendly with a guy who was involved in a case awhile back.

Board time!

Abby goes and talks with Kenny who mentions some internship that the dead guy supposedly secured him. He also mentions that the dead guy had just split up with a woman so that we suspect the secretary.

This is when Kelly Taylor popped up to tell me it’s time to dance.

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I will not! I looked through a bunch of episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 to find an onscreen writing credit for Gary Goldstein to include here, but failed. I’m not happy. Help me, Beau!

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Yeah, but I’m not supposed to eat ice cream anymore. However, we’ve now reached the point where you have the setup of this film. I could take you through the rest, but it would be me regurgitating their mulling over the board and getting information to add to that board by talking to people. It’s as boring as it sounds.

My final thoughts are these. They dropped the extra guy who was in the first one. That’s a plus. Another plus is that they didn’t have to do any setup so we could cut right to Marco and Abby solving a mystery. However, I swear I remember more snappy screwball comedy back and forth between them in the first film, and it just isn’t here. Luckily, we do have another one of these films coming in June. Gary seemed to try to improve between the first and second, so maybe the third one will bring in more of that kind of dialogue. Also, the board thing really gets annoying. It didn’t help to organize the facts, but seemed to just confuse me more. Maybe that was the intention. Regardless, I can’t recommend this one even if it did have Pat Mastroianni in it who I really hope will be playing a recurring character.

Now, if you want to know who did it, then scroll past this picture of another fine moment of Joey Jeremiah from Degrassi Junior High. This was back when he was probably small enough that Brooke Shields could have easily broken him in half. He’s really tiny in that first episode.

There are no songs to include this time so you can stop here.

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Okay, here you go. Kenny did it. He had worked on a case with the guy who was killed. A case Abby was on back when she worked as a lawyer. He wasn’t given the credit for his work. Kenny wanted to get away from his father. His father bribed the dead guy to not give Kenny a clerkship far away since he wanted him to take over the family business. Kenny saw an opportunity to kill the professor and blame it on Abby. He made sure to do it before the dead professor sent out any of the letters about the job. That way he could arrange to get it himself. Thus, he would escape his father.

Not too satisfying of an ending. Not too satisfying of a mystery. Not too satisfying of a movie. Skip this one.

Film Review: Brooklyn (dir by John Crowley)


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OH MY GOD, HAVE YOU SEEN BROOKLYN YET!?

If I seem a little bit excited, that’s because I am.  I’ve been excited about seeing Brooklyn ever since it was first acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.  I was excited before I watched the film, I was excited while I watched it, and now I’m excited about the prospect of you seeing it.

The thing is, it’s a little bit hard to explain just what makes Brooklyn such a wonderful film.  I will admit that, in my case, it probably helps that it’s a deliriously romantic (yet realistic) portrait of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s.  Since I’m an incurable romantic of Irish descent, I suppose it was somewhat predestined that I would love Brooklyn.  But, ultimately, you don’t have to be Irish to love Brooklyn.  The story that Brooklyn tells is a universal one.

When we first meet Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), she is a quiet and meek girl living in a small Irish town.  She spends her weekends working in a shop owned by the spiteful Ms. Kelly (Brid Brennan) and looks up to her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott).  It is Rose who contacts Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) in Brooklyn and who arranges, with him, for Eilis to come to America.

After a nightmarish crossing that is marked by a Hellish case of seasickness, Eilis finds herself in Brooklyn and living in a boarding house, under the watchful and protective eye of Miss Kehoe (Julie Walters).  At first, Eilis is homesick and struggles to adjust to her new surroundings.  It’s only after Father Flood arranges for Eilis to take a night class in bookkeeping that Eilis starts to discover her confidence.  (Somewhat poignantly, Rose is also a bookkeeper.  Even separated by an ocean, Eilis is still trying to impress her big sister.)

Eventually, Eilis meets and starts to date a sweet-natured plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen).  Now, in the past, I’ve actually been pretty critical of Emory Cohen as an actor.  On twitter, I made some unkind comments about the performance that he gave in the TV series Smash.  (He played Debra Messing’s son.)  Though I didn’t make a point of mentioning it in my review, I also thought he was the weakest link in the otherwise excellent ensemble of The Place Beyond The Pines.  So, when I first heard that he gave an excellent performance in Brooklyn, I was a little bit skeptical.  But then I saw the movie and believe it or not, Emory Cohen gives an excellent performance.  As Tony, he is sweet and tough and funny and truly the ideal boyfriend.  He also flashes the sweetest smile imaginable, which is one thing that he was not allowed to do in either Smash or The Place Beyond The Pines.

Brooklyn handles Eilis and Tony’s relationship with a commendable honesty.  This is a wonderfully romantic movie but, at the same time, it retains a realistic edge.  As characters, Eilis and Tony are never idealized.  When Tony tells Eilis that he loves her, we’re just as torn as she is because we’ve gotten to know both of them.  We know that Tony is a good man but we also know and understand Eilis’s struggle to establish a life and an identity of her own in America.  We know how important her independence is to her and it’s equally important to us.

As a result of unforseen circumstances, Eilis eventually finds herself returning to Ireland.  Though Eilis insists that she’s only going to stay for a few months, she soon finds herself torn.  Should she return to her old home, where she is now viewed as being a bit of a glamorous celebrity and is romantically pursued by the handsome and charming Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson)?  Or should she go back to Brooklyn, to Tony and an unpredictable future?

Brooklyn is a deceptively low-key film.  Eilis changes from being a shy and insecure girl to being a strong and confident woman so gradually that both she and the viewer are initially taken by surprise when the new Eilis emerges from her shell.  This is a film that both demands and rewards your patience.  At the same time, it’s also a film about universal desires and experiences to which we can all relate.  At some point in our life and in some way, we have all been Eilis Lacey.

Saoirse Ronan — oh my God, what can I say about Saoirse Ronan?  How can I possibly describe what a wonderful performance she gives?  Ever since she first came to the public’s attention in Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has been one of the best and most underrated actresses around.  In Brooklyn, she gives her best performance yet.  She deserved an Oscar for Hanna and she’ll hopefully win one for Brooklyn.

(Incidentally, Brooklyn was written by Nick Hornby, who also wrote another one of my favorite films, An Education.  Hopefully, Brooklyn will do for Saoirse Ronan what An Education did for Carey Mulligan.)

See Brooklyn and see it soon!