Film Reviewer: DESTROYER (USA 2018) ***1/2

Destroyer Poster
Trailer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Writers:

Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay)

There is a new super hero in town.  But this is a super hero of a different kind – not a Marvel or DC super action figure hero but a female down to earth cop with the super power of survival.  

As the film opens, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity.   The responding officers clearly dislikes her and unafraid to show their feelings.  She gives them the finger when they ask the identity.

At the police station, Erin receives a $100 bill stained from a dye pack in an unmarked envelope. Using a contact at the FBI, she confirms that the bill is from a bank robbery committed by a California gang many years prior that she and her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were embedded in as undercover officers.  She tells her superiors that she believes the bill and the John Doe murder to be proof that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) is once again active.

Erin is forced to work her way through the remaining members of the gang in order to find Silas. She begins with Toby (James Jordan), who was arrested but is now gravely ill and living with his mother on compassionate release. She manually stimulates him in exchange for the location of Arturo (Zach Villa), a member of the gang who attempts to atone for his past crimes by offering pro bono legal services to immigrants.  Arturo provides Erin with the location of DiFranco (Bradley Whitford), a lawyer who launders the money from the original robbery and from whom Erin deduces that Silas is active again because the money from the heist is almost gone. After threatening him, DiFranco gives Erin the location of the next money hand-off, which is performed by Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Erin tracks Petra, eventually intervening in a bank robbery committed by Silas’ new gang, and kidnaps Petra.

But the beauty of all this is that there is more than meets the eye.

Via flashbacks throughout the film, it transpires that Erin and Chris developed a romantic relationship while undercover, with Erin eventually becoming pregnant with Chris’ child.  Nothing more will be revealed of the story but that it is a bit annoying at the start for the audience has to piece the puzzle of the story together.  But the work pays off.  The fragmented narrative works eventually.  One also needs to take time after the film has ended to piece everything together to see how the time line has worked.

Kidman is marvellous and the almost unrecognizable Erin who strives for redemption for an undercover operation gone all wrong.  She even stole the money.  Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance but lost out to Glenn Close.  The young Tatiana Naslany also proves herself a rising star.

The nitty gritty atmosphere of bars and rundown towns is effectively captured.  Director Kusama (GIRLFIGHT) again proves herself as a strong female presence in films.

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

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

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

 

Film Review: THE OTHER HALF

the_other_half_movie_posterDirector: Joey Klein
Writer: Joey Klein
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Tom Cullen, Diana Bentley

Review by Gilbert Saeh

THE OTHER HALF is a Canadian romance drama between one grief-stricken man and a bipolar woman suffering from Rapid Cycling Bipolar 1 Disorder.

Chosen to open the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto this year, which serves as a warning that the film is not an easy watch, the film shows no attempt at easing the audience towards its subject. The result is therefore, yes – a film that is not an easy watch.

The film features two prominent TV actors, Tom Cullen (2016 SAG winner/ensemble cast – TV’s Downton Abbey) and Tatiana Maslany (2016 Emmy winner/lead actress – TV’s Orphan Black). The two actors also serve as executive producers which implies the film being a love project for the two. The film’s simple story follows the couple, Nickie (Cullen) and Emily (Maslany) from the time they first meet (it is love at first sight), to their brief separation to the romance at the end where something happens (not revealed as would be a spoiler). They meet at the same time as another couple (Mark Rendall and Deragh Campbell), who interesting enough, face problems as well but for other reasons. The romance is not helped by Emily’s parents (Henry Czerny and Suzanne Clement). They believe the couple should separate and perhaps try again once Emily is normal. Clement is the actress featured in many of Xavier Dolan’s mentally disordered dramas (LAURENCE ANYWAYS, I KILLED MY MOTHER, MOMMY).

The film’s message is simple enough. Love conquers all. But as it is a fiction film, anything goes.

In a way too, THE OTHER HALF is a personal film with the director’s friends and family helping out. Klein’s father, a doctor with a background in English literature, advised on the script. Klein’s sister, a psychiatrist, helped prep Maslany before the shoot. His brother did Emily’s paintings.

The film, shot in Toronto, feels like Toronto from the familiar streets and the signature streetcars that often come into the frame.

For a film featuring mental disorder, the film contains many disturbing club scenes, shot in dim lighting with strobe lights, lasers and annoying sounds and music.

For a couple with disorders (Nickie also loves to fight), it is surprising that the couple never gets into any heated fights – only into minor arguments that are easily resolved. The one scene in which Emily freaks out at home and has to be handcuffed by a cop is the most effective one showing realistically, the mental anguish. Other than that, the film falls into the same story line about troubled couples – the parents refuse to help, the couple struggles on their own, and final survives.

THE OTHER HALF is an ok film with performances and everything passable in all departments. Yet, there is nothing that will draw a crowd to see the film. Who really wants to watch a film of a a troubled couple with mental disorders? The film also provides no insight about the disorder or how a couple can manage through the difficulties.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvPHGgZB5ys

 

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Happy Birthday: Tatiana Maslany

tatianamaslany.jpgTatiana Maslany

Born: September 22, 1985 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Sci-fi sheds light on what’s going on in society, albeit in a kind of fantastical world. It is resonant with what’s actually happening, but I think people overlook it because it’s not very on-the-nose.

THE VOW
dir. Michael Sucsy
Stars:
Rachel McAdams
Channing Tatum
EASTERN PROMISESEastern Promisese
dir. David Cronenberg
Starring
Viggo Mortenson
Watts
Diary of the Dead
2007
dir. Romero
Starring
Michelle Morgan
Joshua Close
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