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Film Review: Stronger

“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”

Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.

Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.

Overall Score: 7/10


Film Review: Life

“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”

Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.

Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Nocturnal Animals

“Do You Ever Feel You’re Life Has Turned Into Something You Never Intended..?”

With only his second feature after A Single Man, designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford returns to the cinematic spectrum this month with Nocturnal Animals, a gripping, white-knuckle thriller featuring a stellar cast on top of their form and a film which not only develops the reputation of Ford as an intelligent and sophisticated filmmaker but a film which resonates with you long after you arise from your sweat-covered seat and leave the cinema. Not only is Nocturnal Animals one of the most original films of the year, it is undoubtedly one of the toughest thrillers I can remember seeing in a long time, producing scene after scene of unbearable tension all the while mixing between a wide range of genres in an effective and unashamedly top-notch fashion. With an unbelievable bunch of A-List stars such as Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and the always brilliant Michael Shannon at the film’s core, Nocturnal Animals is an essential movie for anyone tough enough to withstand its’ scorching sense of nihilistic suffering.

After receiving the first print of former husband’s latest novel “Nocturnal Animals”, fashion designer Susan Morrow (Adams) begins to delve deep into the dark and twisted story that her former lover has created, all-the-while reminiscing not only her own, personal life struggles but the way in which her relationship with former husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal) came to an end. Mixing in a somewhat Lynchian nihilism to developments as well as a wide range of thrilling yet hard-going set pieces, reminiscent of films such as Lynch’s Blue Velvet and even films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in terms of the film’s relentless darkness, Nocturnal Animals will indeed not be for everyone, yet much like Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon earlier this year, some will revel in its’ extreme genre crossing boundaries; myself included. Whilst the film’s rather off-kilter and entirely misjudged opening title sequence prevents the movie from being anything close to perfection, Nocturnal Animals is one of the most refreshing and original movies of the year.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Everest

Snow, Lot’s of Snow

When a challenge with an intensity such as climbing Mount Everest is set upon us humans by the greater gods, aliens, those weird blue things from Prometheus, or whatever you believe in in regards to our creation, the natural response from almost everyone on Earth is to stay as far away as humanly possible from almost what is near-certain death, but in the case of the mad minority, a chosen few in the last century or so have decided to attempt such a feat in climbing safely to the top of Earth’s highest mountain, with the latest popcorn-fueled, 3D epic in the form of the aptly named Everest, attempting to tell the tale of the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster in which SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. Obviously if you are well versed in the National Geographic channel or other alternative options to observe our recent history, such spoilers limit the film’s appeal in some sense, but if unbeknownst to the facts, like myself, Everest brings a sharp cinematic appeal to one of the world’s most spectacular wonders.

Boasting a cast so A-List top-heavy, you could have been fooled for thinking actors such as Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Josh Brolin, were set to appear in a arctic spin-off of Avengers Assemble, Everest’s first half consists of both character development and build-up to an almost inevitable conclusion, particularly if you had seen the trailer, regarding the group’s attempt to accomplish their goal of reaching the top of the mountain, Not only does Everest suffer from the familiar movie trait of giving too much away in its’ pre-release trailers resulting in a feeling of, “oh, just hurry up and reach the top,” but subsequently suffers from an almost cramped amount of characters seemingly all played in cameo fashion from A-Lister’s such as Gyllenhaal and Brolin, without having one solid lead or hero, even if it is suggested that Clarke’s role as Rob Hall was the intended recipient of such with the movie switching from focus between Clarke and Brolin in the first and second acts.

If the first half of Everest is somewhat lacklustre, the second half of the film more than makes up for it and undoubtedly saves the film no-end, with the sheer horror of survival in the face of certain death being expertly displayed across gorgeous cinematography whilst scenes of sheer horror in which the effects of such perils are unpleasantly displayed result in a heavy sense of squeamishness. Although scenes in which the true horror and danger of climbing such a feat could have been added to, the film did at times leave me with a sense of vertigo but not in a fashion I would have deemed adequate from a disaster movie in which the tension should definitely be current throughout, something of which cannot be said of Everest, even with the mountainous terrain being constantly adhered to by the film-makers. Everest is a film that aspires to be a metaphorical equivalent to its’ title, with an A-List cast undoubtedly boosting the appeal but it suffers heavily from a slow first half and too many characters with none sticking out from the crowd in an attempt to form any meaningful emotional bond with throughout the course of their life-or-death situation.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Southpaw

Get In The Ring

Sitting side-by-side with the release of Inside Out this week is the release of Southpaw, a boxing drama which focuses on the rise and fall of Jake Gyllenhaal’s (Donnie Darko, Zodiac) Billy Hope after witnessing the death of his beloved wife (Rachel McAdams, True Detective) whilst being directed by Antoine Fuqua, the American mastermind behind the Oscar Winning Training Day and the not-so-Oscar-winning The Equalizer from last year. What brought the most anticipation from the film for me personally however, aside from the brilliant Gyllenhaal, was its’ scriptwriter, Kurt Sutter, the architect behind one of the most addictive shows of recent years, Sons of Anarchy, who takes full control of the story for the very first time in a cinematic format after years of making waves on the small screen. The question that needs to be answered therefore is does Sutter’s first taste of Hollywood pull out all the punches or does it find itself seriously on the ropes? I’d say somewhere in between.

Throughout the course of the movies two-hour runtime, there are examples of Sutter in his prime, particularly in regards to scenes in which we witness out hero Hope break down under the influence of his wife’s loss, showing how in moments of desperation and despair, Sutter’s writing can flourish. One obvious difference for me between Southpaw and Sons of Anarchy for example was the way in which I never felt guilty or treacherous in my support for the films’ lead, something of which I felt whilst watching Sons of Anarchy where the bulk of the time, our supposed “heroes” are off committing murder or some other form of major crime. Of course, one of the reasons Sutter’s writing works so well is mainly due in part to the performance of Gyllenhaal, who once again astutely showcases his talent as an actor and gives the best sporting performance I’ve seen since Christian Bale in The Fighter, a performance that subsequently won him an Oscar, whilst solidly being supported by the veteran of cinema that is Forest Whitaker as coach Titus Wills.

In terms of the overall quality of the film however, Southpaw’s connection with The Fighter ultimately stops there however with the latter being a much better piece of cinema as a whole, whilst the former having flashes of brilliance, particularly in the nail-biting fight sequences, but overall feeling rather cliched and even cringe-worthy in some places, particularly the “guest” additions of both the pimp-looking Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and the rather worse-for-wear Rita Ora, who although improves from her rather pants cameo in Fifty Shades of Grey, doesn’t exactly inspire hope for any chance of a future career away from BBC One and into Hollywood. So for a first shot at the gates of Hollywood, Sutter gives it his all in producing a script worthy of a one-time viewing, but definitely nothing more, whilst director Fuqua definitely improves on the rather arduous watch that was last years’ The Equalizer and succeeds in producing a film that lasts as many rounds as it needs to, but ultimately fails to launch that final, winning blow.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Enemy

You Only Live Twice…

A film starring Jake Gyllenhaal always seems to attract me, and it always will do, due to the knowledge that Gyllenhaal portrayed one of my favourite characters in one of my all-time favourite films. That film was Donnie Darko, a film so unlike anything I had seen before in my lifetime when it was released, a film that had endless meaning, a film which featured an awesome soundtrack, capped off with a perfect performance by Gyllenhaal as the titular character. Now we have Enemy, the second film from the Gyllenhaal/Villeneuve partnership, filmed instantly after the completion of their first effort, Prisoners, in 2013, and boy, is it a weird one.

In terms of the plot, Gyllenhaal plays history teacher, Adam Bell, a man whose life seems to be going nowhere and is stuck on repeat, whilst his relationship with Melanie Laurent’s character, Mary, follows suit, and is seemingly only held together by the physical aspect it brings with it. During one evening, Bell watches a film recommended to him by another teacher, named, Where There’s a Will There’s a Way, and sees someone physically identical to him starring in the film. That’s where I will end the plot synopsis, as what follows is a film laced with mystery, suspense and downright creepiness, in a vein which reminded me of works by David Lynch, particularly Mulholland Dr., bubble-wrapped with notions of identity, totalitarianism and arachnophobia, particularly for me.

Features of the film include top-notch performances, particularly from Gyllenhaal, who practically has to play two completely different roles, a heavy sense of surrealism, accompanied by an almost grunge-esque feel to the film, and an ending which freaked me out so much, I had to lie down and digest slowly what had occurred before my eyes. On the bad side, the film obviously won’t appeal to a mass audience, with its’ ambiguous tone throughout leaving a range of questions unanswered, whilst the dark colours of the film sometimes required me to peer nose-first into my screen in order to figure out what was happening and bring clarity to the situation.

Overall, Enemy is dark, bizarre, and features an ending that will shock almost everyone. Honestly, i’m still shaking. I believe it is a better film than Prisoners and will take some beating to not be in my Films of the Year List for 2015. Please feel free to comment on your feelings, ideas, and meaning of the film and i hope you enjoy it as much as I did and remember, “chaos is order yet undeciphered.”

Overall Score: 9/10