Full Review: STRONGER (USA 2016)

Stronger Poster
Trailer

Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Director:

David Gordon Green

Writers:

John Pollono (screenplay), Jeff Bauman (based on the book “Stronger” by)

Stars:

Jake GyllenhaalTatiana MaslanyMiranda Richardson

The Boston marathon.  PATRIOT’S DAY saw Mark Wahlberg star in the film that hunted down the terrorists responsible for the bombings.  STRONGER, on the other hand, looks at the Boston marathon from the point of view of a victim.  And a really bad victim at that – one that has lost both his legs in the middle of the bomb explosion.

 

To the film’s credit, the film is an adaptation of the memoir by Jeff Bauman, recounting his struggles to adjust after losing his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing.  So, it is a true story, rather than one based on true events.  But unfortunately the film wallows in self pity.

 

The film tells the story of Jeff’s tragedy and rebirth. 

 

Runner Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) was still a mile away from the finish line when the bombs went off.  Her boyfriend, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal), however, was right there.  He is rushed into surgery, but his legs must be amputated.  The bombing’s immediate aftermath provides Jeff with an unexpected sense of purpose as he had seen one of the terrorists responsible for the blasts.  He gives information to the FBI that proves instrumental in their investigation.  But this is not seen in detail in the film.  So one wonders, whether Jeff really saw the bomber or imagined it.  Once that very public drama quietened down,  Jeff’s personal drama, a challenge as much for his morale as his body, is begins.  With Erin by his side, Jeff slowly recovers, one arduous step at a time.

 

Green’s film centres on the travails and sufferings of Jeff.  But it opts out for cheap shots – like showing the parts where Jeff has trouble in the toilet trying to shit or urinate. 

 

Jeff is shown in the film on the road of self destruction.  Erin scarifies her all for him.  But he is shown as unrepentant, unhealed by his mother who want him to get all the glory and money for his mishap. 

 

The film shows Jeff’s change in outlook.  Unfortunately, this change is shown coming from just one event instead of a gradual progression – the meeting of the Mexican who attended to him during the bombing.  Though this might be true, this one event that apparently changed Jeff’s outlook on life seems quite incredible.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Malsany and Miranda Richardson (as Jeff’s mother) deliver excellent performances despite the film’s flaws.  If the film turned out better, they might be up for acting Oscars.

 

The film ends, expectedly during the closing credits with shots of the real Jeff and Erin.  It is revealed  that that the film is based on the book written by Jeff which is not mentioned at all in the film.

 

One can only wish the film would have been a better one that would show more of the triumph of the human spirit instead of one that showed a man wallowing is self pity.

 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6MN0QfQx7I

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TIFF 2017 Movie Review: STRONGER (USA 2016)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Stronger Poster
Trailer

Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Writers:

John Pollono (screenplay), Jeff Bauman (based on the book “Stronger” by)

Stars:

Jake GyllenhaalTatiana MaslanyMiranda Richardson

STRONGER looks at the Boston marathon from the point of view of a victim. And a really bad victim at that – one that has lost both his legs in the middle of the bomb explosion.

To the film’s credit, the film is an adaptation of the memoir by Jeff Bauman, recounting his struggles to adjust after losing his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. So, it is a true story, rather than one base on true events. But unfortunately the film wallows in self pity.

The film tells the true story of tragedy and rebirth. Runner Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) was still a mile away from the finish line when the bombs went off. Her boyfriend, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), however, was right there. He is rushed into surgery, but his legs must be amputated. The bombing’s immediate aftermath provides Jeff with an unexpected sense of purpose as he had seen one of the terrorists responsible for the blasts.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Malsany and Miranda Richardson (as Jeff;s mother) deliver excellent performances despite the film’s flaws. If the film turned out better, they night have been up for acting Oscars. One can only wish the film would have been a better one instead of one wallowing is self pity.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6MN0QfQx7I
 

stronger

 

1987 Movie Review: EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987

EMPIRE OF THE SUN MOVIE POSTER
EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano
Review by Matthew Lohr

SYNOPSIS:

A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.

Nominated for 6 OSCARS – Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Music, Best Costume Design

REVIEW:

After years of being pigeonholed as simply an entertainer, a populist producer of popcorn frivolity, Steven Spielberg has finally won acceptance as a serious filmmaker. His “Schindler’s List” won awards and acclaim and was cited as a milestone in historical cinema, while “Saving Private Ryan” has grown in the public mind into much more than a mere film; indeed, it more or less served the role of a de facto World War II veterans’ monument until the federal government actually got around to building a real one. Even when the public does not embrace his forays into serious cinema quite so fervently, as with the acclaimed but financially underperforming “Amistad” and “Munich”, Spielberg no longer has to fight for respect and the right to be regarded as a cinematic “artiste”.

Such was not the case when “Empire of the Sun” was first released in 1987. Though Spielberg’s previous film, 1985’s deep-Southern drama “The Color Purple”, had won him some acclaim and a Director’s Guild award, many critics charged that the picture prettified human suffering, turning true experience into mere pageantry. It was still hard for audiences to find the artist inside the entertainer, and they responded to “Empire of the Sun” in kind, greeting it with both mixed reviews and lukewarm box office. It would take a few more crowd-pleasers (another Indiana Jones picture, “Jurassic Park”) before Spielberg finally got his due with “Schindler’s List”. “Empire of the Sun” provides an interesting contrast to that film, presenting a vaguely similar subject with all of the Hollywood gloss and glamour that the later film eschews…and ultimately suffering for it.

Adapted from J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, “Empire” tells the story of young Jim Graham (a pre-teen Christian Bale), a pampered son of wealthy English parents living in 1940s Shanghai. Jim is obsessed with planes, and dreams of someday joining the mighty Japanese air force. One day, however, the dreams stop when the Japanese take the city and Jim is separated from his parents. Drifting through a series of increasingly harrowing adventures, he eventually finds himself in a Japanese internment camp, where the once-arrogant son of privilege is forced to get down in the muck and learn how to survive.

It’s grand material for a cinematic treatment, but Tom Stoppard’s screenplay does not take it far enough. We never really get a clear sense of exactly what Jim learns from his experiences. Sure, he finds out that life’s not as easy as he thought it was, and that the Japanese army he so idolized is indeed vulnerable, but these lessons are never clearly articulated by the script’s events, and we’re left to piece it together later in our heads (I think this is where the playwright in Stoppard comes through; film scripts often don’t bear up to such abstraction). Jim’s plane fixation likewise seems meant to hold a metaphorical weight that it never truly assumes. What’s more, when Jim is finally delivered from his predicament, we get no scenes showing us his life after his ordeal. How can we really know how he’s changed, what he’s learned, if we don’t get to see the new Jim in action? Spielberg and Stoppard don’t bother to provide any answers, and the film becomes too remote as a result.

Bale, admittedly, makes even this truncated Jim a compelling and fascinating character. The actor holds the screen with utter command; it’s not a stretch for us to follow him anywhere. He’s equally convincing as the snobby, snide boy of early scenes and as the haggard, battle-hardened survivor of the later camp sequences. Spielberg has always been one of our best directors of children, and Bale’s performance here is some of the best work he’s ever solicited from a young actor.

The supporting cast, while impressive, is unfortunately hamstrung by insufficiently defined roles. Miranda Richardson and Peter Gale have some nice moments as Jim’s surrogate prison-camp parents, and Nigel Havers makes us wish we saw more of his dedicated camp doctor. Masato Ibu is also commanding as the cold-eyed Japanese commandant, and Emily Richard has a few moments of chilling power as Jim’s mom. Still, these characters are never given much to do by the story, and merely seem to be around to react to Jim’s actions. The only truly vividly drawn supporting player is Basie (John Malkovich), a former merchant sailor and full-time survivor who teaches Jim the hard facts of camp living while plotting an escape and a new life as a river pirate. He’s a complex and interesting character, both a pragmatist and a dreamer, and Malkovich invests him with hard-bitten smarts and a surprising soulfulness that makes his every scene compelling.

This being a Steven Spielberg picture, naturally, everything looks just great. The cinematography by Allen Daviau is gorgeous, and the production designers craft an always-convincing facsimile of World War II China. John Williams’ score is undistinguished, but the soundtrack makes use of a haunting Welsh lullaby that stayed in my head for days. And, of course, there’s plenty of Spielbergian set pieces: the harrowing moment where Jim loses his mother, a tense sequence where a Japanese gunman stalks the boy through a field of weeds, Jim saluting a band of Japanese kamikaze pilots, and a well-staged air attack on the camp, with Jim cheering wildly for the planes about to destroy him.

Still, should a film like this even HAVE set pieces? “Schindler’s List” had memorable moments, to be sure, but none of them seemed to be there just so the director could show off; everything emerged naturally from the events of the story, and thus became organic parts of a whole, not “big scenes”. “Empire of the Sun” gave Spielberg a serious subject matter and a broad canvas to explore, but the populist was still too much at play. It would take a few years and a few more films, but Spielberg finally got it right, proving that even the most financially successful director of all time can learn a few new tricks every now and again.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.

The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.

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EMPIRE OF THE SUN, 1987

Film Review: CHURCHILL (UK 2017) ***

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churchill.jpgA ticking-clock thriller following Winston Churchill in the 96 hours before D-Day.

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: Alex von Tunzelmann
Stars: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
CHURCHILL begins with the scene of an image of World War I and II Prime Minister Winston Churchill standing on an isolated beach. He imagines blood washed by the sea on its shores while his black bowler hat eventually floats out into the vast horizon. The scene is rich in metaphors while being solemn, setting the mood for a 2-hour film on a Winston Churchill most of the world do not know. It is a Churchill depicted as a bully, drunk and opinionated self-pitying cad.

It is the week before the planned D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy which everyone knows led to the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one is aware of the victory of D-Day in the film, and the planning is set with uncertainty. Churchill, after his failure of the Gallipoli war which resulted in the loss of thousands of young British men, was intent not to let the mistake of leading thousands to their death happen again. So, he would stop the D-Day landing at all costs. But planning was already under way,. Everyone including Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham) believed that the landing would be instrumental in winning the War against the Nazis.

The trouble with this film is hat there is not much story but much repetition of the same storyline. Churchill is against the landing. He is shown the truth and he will only budge at the very end after learning that he had no choice. Still, the film still hails Churchill as a great man, as the title ‘the greatest Briton that ever lived’ is flashed on screen.

There are scenes that show Churchill at his worst. These include those where he is constantly pouring himself whisky and more so, when he takes it out on his secretary, screaming at her for little reason. The script, written by Alex von Tunzelmann is full of great oratorical speeches, which is expected as this is a story of a man who gave the great speeches.

British actor Brian Cox is nothing short of stunning in the title role of the Prime Minister. Cox is currently of the same age as Churchill during the time of the story. The supporting performances of Slattery and Wadham are also impressive. But arguably, the best performance comes surprisingly from Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill, his long suffering wife. She does not have the freedom of the luxury of leaving her husband no matter how tortured the marriage had become. The film emphasizes the importance of duty during the War.

CHURCHILL is a war drama without any battle scenes. It would serve as an effective prelude to the upcoming summer blockbuster DUNKIRK, directed by Christopher Nolan which reported is supposed to depict the horrific realities of the landing of the Allied forces on the Normandy beaches. CHURCHILL only hints of the horrors of the landing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVOzMZ4IrMA

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