Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one of those movies that will be unbearably inspirational and patriotic. But thanks to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), this is a gritty, honest drama that never dips into sentimentality. It's also a strikingly involving story about a young man who is forced to confront things about himself far beyond his injuries. And that makes it genuinely inspirational.
The man at the centre is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gylenhaal), a happy-go-lucky lad who is cheering his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) at the marathon's finish line. Jeff loses both legs in the explosion, returning home to live with his boozy mother (Miranda Richardson) as he tries to put his life back together. But he feels uneasy that the entire city is celebrating him as a hero. So while his working-class family enjoys the celebrity, Jeff goes quiet. Erin tries to get him to take a more proactive approach to his physiotherapy and get on with his life, but Jeff instead slips back into his old habit of drinking too much with his buddies (Richard Jane Jr. and Nate Richman). And this leaves him without much desire to work toward a full recovery.
Against expectations, the filmmakers refuse to sensationalise either the bombing or Jeff's injuries, instead taking a matter-of-fact approach that feels edgy and authentic. Gyllenhaal plays Jeff as a likeable slacker who knows he's a loser, so can't cope with his status as a symbol of hope. This gives his internal journey some real resonance, and Gyllenhaal gives Jeff a remarkable intensity that's sympathetic even when he's being a jerk. Maslany is also skilfully understated in her pivotal role, while Richardson is the standout as an uneducated woman who makes some very bad decisions but is fiercely protective of her son.
Continue reading: Stronger Review
There's something about national tragedy that has the ability to unite human beings and incite personal growth within the souls of individuals. The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was just one such example, and proof that as a united force we'll never let the terrorists win.
On April 15th 2013, Erin Hurley (played by 'Orphan Black' star Tatiana Maslany) decided to run the marathon to raise money for Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. As usual, her boyfriend Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) was hugely supportive of her decision, but she was left with much doubt that he would show up to the event, cheering her on at the finish line with a huge sign as he had promised. It just wasn't in his nature to be reliable.
In a cruel twist of fate, however, it seems this one time he decided to honour his words was at the moment that two terrorists decided to detonate two homemade bombs in the crowd. The incident killed three people and left hundreds of other people injured. Jeff was one of the unlucky 16 who lost limbs in the blast, and it took him a long time to come to terms with his life now that it had been turned upside down.
Continue: Stronger Trailer
This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over just a few pivotal days during the Second World War. It's skilfully written and directed, and anchored by a wonderfully layered performance by Brian Cox. But there's a nagging sense that there's nothing new to see here, mainly because this is such a well-documented and dramatised point in history.
The story takes place over the first few days of June 1944, as the Allied military leaders make final preparations for the D-Day invasion. Due to his lingering trauma over his experiences in WWI, Winston Churchill (Cox) has serious misgivings about the plan, and challenges both the American commander Eisenhower (John Slattery) and senior British officer Montgomery (Julian Wadham). He even makes an appeal to King George (James Purefoy) to intervene. The problem is that he is coming across as a cranky man stuck in the old world, unable to see how warfare has changed in the previous 30 years and reluctant to relinquish control to the next generation. His wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) is also becoming fed up with his ranting and raving, so she sets about trying to make him see reason.
Director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man) tells this story in a style similar to The King's Speech, a more revelatory true-life drama that fictionalises backstage conversations. This is an artfully made film, beautifully shot and edited. And Alex von Tunzelmann's script digs deeply into the characters and themes. So it's a bit frustrating that it's impossible to watch the movie without knowing full well whose argument wins the day and how the events will play out. At least the actors make the most of their roles. Cox delivers an awards-worthy performance as a veteran fighter struggling to remain on the sidelines as the battle approaches, continually adding emotional weight to Churchill's towering tirades. Richardson is limited to a series of isolated scenes, but shines as she takes him on.
Continue reading: Churchill Review
It's June 1944 and the war has been waging for five long years. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wants to end it once and for all, but the last thing he would ever do is surrender as a nation. Despite the fact that the allied forced are standing at the coast ready for the orders to invade Normandy and take back the parts of Europe that Nazi Germany has taken over, Churchill doesn't want to rush in until he's certain they have the best chance of success. Naturally, the allied military leaders General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery are becoming frustrated with the man's fear of failure - for it is only that that stands in the way of their D-Day victory. But there's a lot more behind this stubborn and volatile human being than most people see; one who does see it is his dedicated wide Clementine who may be the only one who can save him and, in effect, save Europe.
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By Rich Cline
A classic British memoir gets the full costume drama treatment with this beautifully crafted World War I drama, although it never quite transcends the "beloved book" tone, remaining so worthy that it only rarely springs to life. The acting is sharp, as is the filmmaking, so it's frustrating that there's so little in the film that resonates with present-day audiences. And as the story sinks into a murky gloom, it's difficult for audiences to stay engaged.
Based on Vera Brittain's iconic memoir, the story opens in 1914, as Vera (Alicia Vikander) begs her parents (Emily Watson and Dominic West) to let her sit entrance exams at Oxford, which simply isn't the done thing for a proper young woman. She also has to convince them to let her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) sign up for military service in response to the conflict breaking out in Europe. But Vera is shocked when her sweetheart Roland (Kit Harington) also decides to enlist along with two close friends (Colin Morgan and Jonathan Bailey). Suddenly the war seems far too close to home for her. So she's provoked to leave university and volunteer as a nurse, serving in both England and France while the war rages around her.
The film's opening section contains a beautiful spark of hopefulness as these young people face the possibilities ahead of them, revelling in their education and then deciding to do their duty for their country. The rising-star cast packs the characters with cheeky humour, high energy and, yes, suitably repressed Britishness. But of course the realities of WWI change everything. Vikander handles this mood-swing very nicely, conveying Vera's resilience as she is bombarded with intense emotions. Her chemistry with Harington is strong, packed with passion. And the surrounding cast is terrific, even if most of the roles are relatively slight. The stand-outs are Richardson as a prickly Oxford professor and Atwell as a feisty fellow nurse.
Continue reading: Testament Of Youth Review
Vera Brittain is an extraordinarily talented young woman who battles the odds to land herself a scholarship at Oxford University despite the attitudes of all the people around her frowning upon her desire to enter into a career in literature. Her life becomes even more promising when she falls for her brother's best friend Roland Leighton. However, the war is becoming ever closer and he is forced to abandon his own prestigious studies in favour of the frontline. Filled with grief over Roland's life-threatening circumstances, she decides to make the decision of a lifetime and leave her dreams behind. Instead, she decides to volunteer as a nurse for the sea of wounded troops that are yet to pour back into the country. Even as all that she holds dear are quickly annihilated by the vicious First World War, her determination keeps her focused on making the best of such horrors.
Continue: Testament of Youth Trailer
Patsy Byrne, the actress best known for playing Nursie in 'Blackadder II' has died "peacefully" at the age of 80.
Patsy Byrne, the British actress best known for her role as Nursie in Blackadder II, has died at the age of 80.
Rowan Atkinson starred alongside Byrne in Blackadder II.
By Rich Cline
The plot feels like a Jane Austen novel infused with a hot-potato political issue, but this is actually a true story. It's been somewhat fictionalised, but the central facts are accurate, and while the production is perhaps a bit too polished for its own good, the solid acting and filmmaking make the story involving and provocative. And its themes feel just as relevant today.
In 1769 London, a young half-black girl named Dido Belle is taken by her soldier father (Matthew Goode) to live with his uncle, the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson). With his wife (Emily Watson) and sister (Penelope Winton), he is already caring for another niece, and the two girls grow up as inseparable friends. Hidden from society, Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) inherits a small fortune from her father. And while Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) is penniless, her white skin makes her a more suitable spouse. Then family friend Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson) foists her son James (Tom Felten) on Elizabeth. To their horror, his brother Oliver (James Norton) falls for Dido. But she's more interested in an impoverished law student (Sam Reid).
Along with these rather standard period-movie romantic shenanigans, there's a major subplot about Lord Mansfield's imminent ruling in the first court case to take on the slave trade, which could destabilise the entire British Empire. And this is where the film jolts into something significant: the UK's top judge had an adopted mixed-race daughter who probably influenced the first landmark decision against slavery. Meanwhile, director Amma Asante also vividly portrays the gritty realities of this young black woman's precarious position in society.
Continue reading: Belle Review
Continue: Maleficent - Featurette
Maleficent is a cruel sorceress who will stop at nothing to destroy those who have stolen her wings and ruined her world. As a child, she lived happily in the forest kingdom with a powerful force inside her that she was mostly unaware of. However, it wasn't long before it spun out of control at the arrival of the human kingdom's brutal army, who were intent on taking over. She fought bravely as the guardian of her land, but her valour soon turned to viciousness when she is callously deceived. A new person now filled with a dark desire for vengeance, she takes it upon herself to curse the daughter of her betrayer's successor, forcing her to die when she reaches her sixteenth birthday. Can Princess Aurora persuade Maleficent to turn her curse around, or is the wicked fairy truly a lost cause?
Adapted from the 1959 animated Disney movie 'Sleeping Beauty', 'Maleficent' is the untold story of the film's embittered villain. It marks the directorial debut of double Oscar winning visual effects designer Robert Stromberg with a screenplay by Linda Woolverton ('Beauty and the Beast', 'The Lion King'), Paul Dini ('Superman' animated TV series) and John Lee Hancock ('The Blind Side', 'Snow White and the Huntsman'). It is due to hit the UK on May 30th 2014.