Stronger (2017)

Stronger

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal, together, are Stronger.

Though I have not seen all of his films, I have been a fan of director David Gordon Green. Before he gave such comedies like Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (also 2011), he gave much more dramatic works such as George Washington (his debut in 2000), All the Real Girls (2003), and the highly underrated Snow Angels (2007).  Now he tackles the true story of Jeff Bauman in Stronger, proving again he is a director that is rather unsung.

The story is there in the previews. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an everyday man of Boston. He works at Costco, lives with his mom Patty, and is a hardcore fan of the Bruins and Red Sox. He has been in and out of a relationship with Erin (Tatiana Maslany from the BBC show Orphan Black). He decides to cheer her on at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Of course, tragedy strikes and the two bombs go off. Jeff survives, but loses his legs.

Green is a director who knows the importance of supporting characters, and you get the clear sense of family in Jeff’s life (though I admit I am still confused how they are all related). We get some actors such as Nate Richman, Richard Lane Jr., and that great character actor Clancy Brown, to name a few. The stand out, however, is Miranda Richardson as his mom. She is given scenes that she plays with power and ease, and are likely to be remembered when the talks of Oscar begin in the next month or so.

The same can also be said of Maslany and Gyllenhaal. I doubt I can keep calling Jake Gyllenhaal an underrated actor, because he has given solid performance after solid performance in nearly all of his movies (even if it is a bit over the top, like in this year’s Okja). Maslany is also rather effective as his girlfriend (she herself is not injured, but notices Jeff in the picture of the aftermath). She is clearly what Jeff tries to lean on for support (for the most part), but also is not just playing a thankless woman role. The chemistry between the two is authentic and palpable.

Parents, the movie is R, and for good reason. David Gordon Green does not shy away from the violence and graphic details (though it is not as bad I guessed it would be). There is a lot of swearing, and one sex scene with partial female nudity that lasts about a minute. High School and above.

Though the movie does have some parts that drag, Stronger is still a movie with backbone and grit. I am not from Boston, but I can’t imagine any native of that great city not wanting to see this movie.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

 

67% is where Snow Angels stands on Rotten Tomatoes. It made a little over 400,000 dollars GLOBALLY. I state these facts not to turn you away from the movie, but as proof that this may be one of the most underrated films I have ever seen. I named it my favorite movie of 2008, and I still stand by that.

It starts off at a Marching Band practice (I did Marching Band in High School, and this movie gets it right). We here two gun shots, and we know this movie is about a small town. The story is a slice of life. There are two main characters (the first is Arthur) that we see the lives of. The first is Annie (Kate Beckinsale, in what may be her best performance), a run down, divorced mom of one living with her own mother. She works at the local Chinese Restaurant with Arthur, (Michael Angarano), who Annie used to babysit. The dialogue here is so real it is almost scary (notice the scene at the begining where Annie is talking about a time she “married” Arthur to another kid when Arthur was young).

Both characters have flaws that are not like ones you will find in cliche movies, but that you would find in life. Annie is trying to recover from her divorce from Glenn (played outstandingly by Sam Rockwell), who is trying to recover from his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her co worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). Katt plays Nate as someone who is (like so many in real life) really REALLY bad at lying.

Arthur’s parents are on the eve of divorce, and then meets the new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby, also great here). There are seldom scenes in any movie I have ever seen that are truer than those with Arthur and Lila. Their chemistry together is truly magical, and is a testament to the young actors’ talents. It is one of the best examples of young love I have seen on celluloid (the scene where they say they like each other is sensational).

Things happen in “Snow Angels” that are funny, but also things that are very sad. I won’t ruin them for you. All I will say is that the director (David Gordon Green, who made this before he was making comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”) has made a film about normal people with normal struggles. There are so many examples of human behaviors that are hidden in site on the screen: a kid opening their eyes during a prayer, people saying “Cool Beans”, a school getting out early to help with a community issue, and so on.

Parents, the movie is rated R for Language and some sexual material. There are a lot of swears, but none that the normal High Schooler has not heard. The sexual material is there, but very brief. That all aside, this movie is a forgotten masterpiece, that deserves more attention.

Rating: Five Stars *****