|12/9/2021 4:58:00 PM|
Belfast is the Best Movie So Far This Year
If you’re finally getting back to the movies, the one you want to see is Belfast, writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film about life in strife-ridden Belfast in 1969. Young Buddy (Jude Hill) seems to have the perfect life, friends to play with, a community of folks who know his name, a crush on the smartest girl in class, loving and extremely attractive parents and adoring, eccentric grandparents. But one day, while he’s out playing and being summoned for dinner, a violent anti-Catholic mob disrupts life in his tight-knit Belfast neighborhood.
Buddy and his family are protestant, but his Pa (Jamie Dornan) has been marked as a troublemaker by the instigators. It doesn’t help that Pa works in England and isn’t around all the time to protect his family.
Belfast (PG-13) is a series of lovely, wistful moments; the family goes to the movies, Buddy makes an adorable move on his crush, his grandparents fake bicker the way couples who have been together forever do, and, in my favorite scene, Buddy’s gorgeous parents sing and dance to “Everlasting Love.” All of this is filmed in absolutely stunning black and white and much is set to the music of Irish crooner Van Morrison.
This Belfast is the family’s home. As barricades go up and police and civilians patrol the streets and stores are looted, it becomes obvious that Buddy’s idyllic life in this beloved place is ending. While Branagh sidesteps the complicated political issue, he successfully conveys a feeling of impending and overwhelming loss. Ma (Caitriona Balfe) does not want to leave. But Pa has seen the writing on the wall.
Belfast does get a bit heavy-handed at times and fittingly, since, in real life, Buddy grows up to be an actor/writer/director, there are a lot of film references which don’t always work. However, Belfast is consistently involving and smart. The cast, especially Hill, Dornan, Balfe and Ciaran Hinds as the grandfather, is exceptional and Branagh conveys a sense of time and place that you rarely see in the movies these days. Belfast is the best film I’ve seen this year.
Belfast (Movie theaters only): 4 and a half stars out of five.
tick, tick… Boom!
tick, tick...Boom! (PG-13) is the feature directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda, on a subject the Hamilton creator knows something about, the process of creating a Broadway musical. It’s an adaptation of a musical by Jonathan Larson, who went on to write the groundbreaking musical Rent, then died on the day it opened. But tick, tick...Boom! isn’t about that.
Set in New York City in 1990, Jon (Andrew Garfield) works at a diner while trying to finish a musical he has been writing for years. With his 30th birthday approaching, Jon prepares for a make-or-break presentation of his work and the pressure is getting to him. He’s ignoring his girlfriend and best friend and is living and working in a community dealing with the AIDS epidemic.
Since tick, tick… Boom! is Larson’s musical, we get lots of singing and dancing and Garfield is more than up for it. He has a strong voice and surprising dance moves. Jon narrates parts of the movie as well from the stage. I’m still not sure if that’s part of Miranda’s vision or Larson’s play. It works so it doesn’t really matter.
Like Belfast, tick, tick...Boom communicates a very specific sense of place and community. The song “Bohemia” brilliantly and comically showcases life with “14 roommates and a shower in the kitchen.” It’s followed by Jon’s best friend singing an ode to his new apartment with parquet floors and a dishwasher. Almost all the songs work seamlessly with the narrative, but again, Lin-Manuel Miranda knows a thing or two about making a musical work.
The big surprise is Garfield, who completely inhabits the struggling Jon and never takes a wrong step and he is in almost every scene of the movie. Watching Garfield deal with writer’s block is way more compelling than watching Daniel Craig deal with 1,000 bad guys with knives and grenades. You don’t have to be a fan of Broadway musicals to love tick, tick…Boom. And it’s OK if you don’t recognize half of the many theater stars Miranda sneaks into a diner scene, “Wait is that Chita Rivera? And Joel Grey?” You just need to appreciate a great performance, catchy songs, and a thoughtful look at the creative process.
Tick, tick... Boom (Netflix): Four stars out of five.
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