People often complain “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” proves the opposite. It’s an old-fashioned charmer ripe with humor, humility, and unaffected dialogue.
Following an honorable Irish naif from her seemingly hopeless village to an eventual home away from home in Brooklyn, from stunted teenager to strong young woman, director Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby have crafted a love letter to the love stories of yore, as well as a poignant tale of finding oneself far away from the one place that defined you growing up. As Eilis, Saoirse Ronan’s brilliant blue eyes convey everything in an Oscar-worthy performance, further crowding the already fruitful Best Actress landscape. Having endured motion sickness and the guidance of a well-traveled New Yorker on the boat over, Eilis arrives a true fish out-of-water, her rich makeup and fashionable attire designed to distract Americans from her immigrant status. She has no idea she’ll one day arrive as the well-traveled New Yorker doling out advice to a skittish Irish girl.
As the blue-collar Italian kid who quickly takes to her, Emory Cohen is perfectly charismatic as twinkly-eyed Tony, enjoying a rather graceful chemistry with Ronan not often seen in contemporary romances. As the chivalrous suitor Eilis meets upon her return home, Domnhall Gleeson has certainly fallen far from the tree, emitting a quiet charm that doesn’t go unnoticed. However, despite their pleasantries, Eilis is a woman torn between two countries, not two men. A bright future and a brighter love live in New York, but so does big-city pressure. The workaday trials of a busy department store are a far cry from the cozy cottages across the pond. By the same token, her mother and her sister’s memory live on in Ireland, but so does small-town gossip. The judging whispers of neighbors and co-workers alike are a far cry from the city that doesn’t sleep, and doesn’t care to notice.
“Brooklyn” might be the most romantic film of the year, but Hornby’s script isn’t so concerned with a love triangle as it is with one woman’s journey to find a little home in a big world.
“Creed” is a nearly perfect combination of old and new, of rap lyrics and Rocky trumpets, of beautiful tracking shots and bountiful shaky-cam. Directed by the utterly talented Ryan Coogler, it’s a veritable black liberation story in the guise of an underdog boxing saga.
Michael B. Jordan is Adonis “Hollywood” Creed, or Donnie Johnson as he prefers, adopting his mother’s name for fear of being pigeonholed as a wannabe or a “false Creed.” Son of the late, great Apollo, Donnie bounces around foster homes, flitting in and out of juvie until his father’s widow, Donnie’s step-mom (Phylecia Rashad), finds him and offers an olive branch. But all of those years fighting his peers in the system have made him a fighter, no matter the Creed blood. Jordan proves “Fruitvale Station” was no fluke, making up for “Fantastic Four” and “That Awkward Moment” with a confident, star-making performance, where street bluster and good nature go hand in hand.
Like Eilis in “Brooklyn,” he’s searching for that home away from home, to carve out his own identity, and he finds it in the unlikeliest of places: Philadelphia, under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, the man who killed Apollo in the ring, and the man who will give Adonis life in the ring. Sylvester Stallone makes a case for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, picking up where he left off in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” as an old war horse besieged by loss, having survived his wife and friends and on the verge of giving up. That is, until Donnie shows up asking for a trainer. Reluctant though he is, the kid wins him over, and soon Uncle Rocky is sharing those prized lectures, motivating young Creed to forget his checkered past, to embrace his family legacy, to look beyond the opponent in front of him and see himself.
Coogler’s film recalls the working-class spirit of yesterday’s sports drama while forging its own path as inspiration for today’s troubled youth, and in doing so, solidifies itself as perhaps the best sports drama to come along since the original “Rocky” in 1976. With “Creed,” the franchise has come full circle.