Tag Archives: drama

The Railway Man

It takes more effort to convincingly tell a story about reconciliation than it does one about revenge, as I found with The Railway Man, a gripping study of post traumatic stress disorder, the horrors of war and the scars they burn into people, often having lasting effects years later. Colin Firth plays real life WWII veteran Eric, who was captured by the Japanese along with his regiment and held as prisoner of war for some years in a hellish POW camp. His fixation and uncanny knowledge of railway systems all over the world unfortunately is misunderstood by the Japanese, resulting in brutal torture and interrogation which goes on for months, and when the war is over and they are released, turns him into a broken, haunted man. He eventually meets, falls in love with and marries Patti (Nicole Kidman), but the time spent in that camp has left wounds that seemingly will never heal, and he finds it hard to cope. His friend and fellow veteran Finley (Stellan Skarsgard) complicates matters when he discovers that one of the Japanese officials responsible for his treatment is still out there somewhere, and can be located. It’s a fascinating situation, for the man (Hiroyuki Sanada, full of haunting complexity) has changed and bears scars of his own in ways that Eric could not imagine before coming face to face with him. Their meeting and correspondence raised many questions about the nature of war and what it brings out in a person versus how time changes ones feelings, perhaps heals some wounds and shifts perspectives greatly. Director Jonathan Teplitzky tackles the story in a straightforward, traditionalist manner, letting the emotional beats speak for themselves, keeping the camera and editing mellow to allow the actors to organically perform. Firth is a brilliant actor who too often get me stuck in syrupy roles, he shines here especially well when he’s faced with the darkness of memory and we see exactly that reflected in his eyes. Sanada has the toughest role but lands it squarely, never cloying or reaching for emotional straws but rather letting the anguish build to a tipping point and than breaking down naturally in what has to be the film’s best, most honestly realistic scene. Kidman radiates compassion and is around for less of the story but still says a lot with her screen time and does excellent work. Kind of an under seen gem, this floated by off the radar back in 2014 but it’s rich, well told drama with three brave, finely tuned central performances.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

The Age Of Adaline

The Age Of Adaline shouldn’t work as well as it does or be as great as it is, but there you go. What really holds it together are two spectacular, well thought out performances from Blake Lively and Harrison Ford, who take material that could have come across as hokey and do something really special with it. The lush, garden themed cinematography by David Lanzenburg doesn’t hurt either. Adaline Bowman (Lively) isn’t your average one hundred year old woman. Due to some quasi-cosmic rift in reality, she has been stuck at the age of 29 for going on 80 years, and has amassed both a wealth of worldly knowledge and a charismatic gravitas one might imagine would accompany such an odd life path. When she meets and reluctantly falls for handsome Ellis (Game Of Thrones’s Michael Huisman), it’s a predicament as love has never seemed to really work out, given her condition. When she meets his parents (Ford and Kathy Baker) things get downright weird; decades ago, Ford and Adaline were lovers and the aghast look on his face when he sees her waltz in not only with his son but not a day older than he remembers, is truly something to see. Speaking of aghast, the guy they got to play young Harrison Ford in flashbacks is so uncannily similar to the actor in look and voice that I feel like the director just stole a time machine from the government for the film. It’s kind of like the world’s weirdest love triangle built upon a fantasy concept that’s thrown in from hard left field, and as ridiculous as it all sounds, it’s actually quite the subdued, affecting experience. Her name should be Blake Lovely because she’s just that, always a force of radiance in any role she takes (even as the Boston gutter slut in Ben Affleck’s The Town, an angelic vibe snuck through the smeared eye makeup and hoop earrings), she gives Adaline a dignified independence and occupies every second of frame with the character. This has to be one of Harrison Ford’s finest hours too, ditching the smirky roguish charm and going straight for the heart in a turn that’s both vulnerable and rooted in emotion. Ellen Burstyn does fine work too as Adaline’s daughter, now looking freakishly older than her. The story has none of the silliness you’d expect upon reading a synopsis, and if anything is more down to earth than most romantic films thanks to Lively and Ford, as well as the world’s gravest narration from Hugh Ross. The San Francisco setting is actually a cleverly disguised Vancouver, but plays a quaint role in the setting too. This one is a treat.

-Nate Hill

JC Chandor’s All Is Lost

Somewhere out there in the endless ocean, a lone man sails a small schooner across the great blue, cut off from his life before, isolated out there and eventually tested to the limits of both physical endurance and internal turmoil. The film is JC Chandor’s All Is Lost, and the man is Robert Redford. Using a hypnotic, minimalist and very ‘need to know’ approach as far as the audience is concerned, the story unfolds in what feels like real time, patiently and dutifully showing us a man who is lost, both literally and metaphorically, in the loneliest environment a human could find themselves in. Redford weathers storms, breaches in his boat’s hull, pesky birds, the baking sun, dehydration, desperation and the ever present threat of his death out there. Worse still is the prospect that no one would know if he did die, his story would never be told save to us who are a dimension away through the tv screen, and that’s a haunting atmosphere for any film. Very little, if anything, is revealed about Redford’s character or why he’s out there, except a few vague passages read from a journal in which we get the sense that he very much meant to be alone, and blames himself for a life that must seem eons away to him by now. What is real for him, and for us, is the fact that his boat is damaged, no help is coming and the elements are hammering him at every turn. It’s a survival story, but a very immersive one, which is why I keep mentioning us as the audience. The best way to watch this is with as few people as possible, perhaps even alone, lights out and on a quiet, deeply still night that allows one to absorb, process and reflect on this man’s journey. Then it’s allowed to affect the viewer at full capacity. Powerful stuff.

-Nate Hill

Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far

I love Colin Firth very much as an actor, I think there’s a wealth of intensity and charisma behind that befuddled, cute British persona, and I love how in recent years he’s branched off and started trying out all sorts of roles and genres he hasn’t done yet, he’s really underrated in terms of versatility. I also love delving back into the last few decades with actors and perhaps finding hidden gems I never thought of or didn’t notice before. (Every time someone calls me out on being lost in my phone or texting some girl it’s usually because I’m just intently perusing an actor’s IMDb for titles I’ve missed). Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far is one such gem, a lovely, charming piece based on the memoir of Dennis Forman, a man who grew up in a great manor in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by friends, family and nestled in that calm period between World War One and two, where life seemed idyllic. Young Fraser (Robert Norman) lives an eclectic life out there that’s the perfect setting for a poignant memoir. His loving father (Firth) strives to be a strong disciplinarian but has a tender heart and a playful disposition, his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, gorgeous as ever) is the same. The conflict arises with the arrival of a beautiful distant relative (Kelly MacDonald) who gets everyone a little hot and bothered and awakens the first hints of sexual desire in Fraser. The grandparents hover in and out of their lives too, played by Rosemary Harris and a gruff, hilarious and compassionate Malcolm McDowell. Life gets topsy turvy in all sorts of ways, especially when an aviator from royal descent (Tchecky Karyo) crash lands his plane directly on their property and immediately tries to woo MacDonald. It’s one of those slice of life comedy dramas that doesn’t strive to say something lofty about the big picture of humanity or plumb for subtext beneath, but simply exists to enjoy as the recalling of one person’s life, or rather a piece of it. A lovely one.

-Nate Hill

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

Debra Granik‘s Leave No Trace is the most important film about post traumatic stress disorder I’ve ever seen, and a potent, timely and very frank father daughter story that will leave you reeling in the final frames. Not that it’s cloying or melodramatic either. On the contrary, Granik, who made waves with Winter’s Bone some years back, chooses to tell her story in a spare, hushed, realistic manner that at first seems to keep you at a bit of a distance, but before you realize it you’re drawn right in. This immersive story sees Ben Foster as a haunted veteran suffering from PTSD who has chosen to raise his daughter (Thomasin Mackenzie) in the wilderness of Oregon, just outside Portland, living off of the land and keeping mostly to themselves. This is a haven until social services gets wind of their situation and makes every effort to relocate and integrate them back into society, something which Foster’s character just can’t seem to do anymore. Moving from county to county, always on the run from something he can’t even put into words, holding onto his daughter because she’s the only one he has left, this is the life of someone who has been broken and forgotten by most, and it’s tough to see. I read that in pre-production Foster and Granik workshopped the script to remove almost forty percent of the dialogue, to let the silences in between words do the talking. A wise move. Him and Mackenzie are so good you believe them as family for real, seemingly tuned into each other on an elemental level, these are the two best performances I’ve seen from anyone so far this year. They meet many folks on their journey along the Pacific Northwest belt of Oregon and Washington (cue lush,

gorgeous cinematography captured by Michael McDonough), and the one running theme that comes across is compassion. Everyone they meet, from the Oregon social services bureau to an RV park full of quiet, peaceful folk, everyone shows them kindness and tries to understand their plight as best as they can. I’d like to believe that human beings are inherently good, and clearly Granik shares this hope here, with an intimate realism in every character interaction and the direction to anchor every actor, from the two leads right down to the bit players, in something believable and very much human the way we’re used to outside the cinema. PTSD is not in the forefront here either, not used as an emotional device or explored in an analytical manner, it’s subtly hinted at and the most we ever see is the mannerisms playing at the corners of Foster’s eyes, and his blunt inability to exist in a societal way anymore, which eventually drives a heartbreaking wedge between him and his daughter, laid bare in an ending scene that affects to the core and is the gold standard of what acting could, and should be. Other fine work can be found all over in the people they meet along their way, including a kindly farmer (Jeff Kober) who runs a homestay program, a sympathetic ex army medic () and the owner of a Washington RV Park (the great Dale Dickey, who also stole scenes in Winter’s Bone). This film starts out slow, comes on strong and the end will leave you tearful, ponderous about the situation of so many in their country afflicted by this condition, hopeful that family bonds can provide a modicum of healing, and altogether fulfilled in terms of story and atmosphere. One of the year’s best so far.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Breaking Point

There’s some debate on whether rappers are decent actors. Some think they have no place in a business that requires training and practice. Other are more accepting. I’m somewhere in the middle, but Breaking Point (aka Order Of Redemption) makes a pretty good case for them, particularly Busta Rhymes and Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones, who star in this urban crime/courtroom drama alongside genre veterans Tom Berenger and Armand Assante. This is a very solid flick by direct to DVD standards, one that actually says something about the state of the streets, poverty, evil, corruption and second chances. Berenger plays a once mighty defense attorney who has fallen a long way following family tragedy and drug addiction. He’s brought back onto the scene when an ex athlete turned gang member (Fingaz) is embroiled in a complex murder case involving an infant and the vicious, psychopathic crime boss played by Busta Rhymes. Igniting matters further is a hothead rival attorney (Armand Assante in full sleaze mode) who has it in for Berenger. He and Fingaz make a strong alliance and both try to find some light at the end of a very dark tunnel by saving the baby from Rhymes, smoking out corruption in both the police force and the DA’s office with the help of a friend on the inside (the always lovely and vastly underrated Musetta Vander) and get their lives back on track in the process. Berenger is brilliant as the fallen avenger trying to burn bright again, while Rhymes does a chilling variation on the cold hearted killer archetype with his own angry twist. This may be low budget and not very prolific, but they say that all you need for a good film is a good script, and this has an excellent one that’s brought to life vividly by everyone involved for a bristling, provocative, emotional crime drama.

-Nate Hill

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives is a fascinating one, if a bit too cluttered with spare vignettes for a feature film. It’s one of those mosaic pieces where we see a string of unrelated episodes about various people here and there in the midst of some life changing moments, and as is usually the case with these, it is absolutely star studded. There’s two formats for these, the one where everyone’s story is interwoven and the vignettes collide and weave (ie Paul Haggis’s Crash) and the linear template where each story is a standalone piece, with no blurred lines or cross crossing. This film falls into the latter category, and themes itself on nine different women in various instances of their lives, be it tragic, joyful, passionate, penultimate or simply everyday life. The issue is, nine of these stories is just too much for a film that runs under two hours. Or perhaps it’s not and what I meant to say was that nine stories that are this thoughtful, complex and important shouldn’t have shared the same compacted narrative, for its too much to keep up with from scene to scene. Anyways there’s quality to be found, some actors cast brilliantly against type and any flick that rounds up a cast of this pedigree deserves a high five. My favourite by far of the bunch is a two person scene between Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright Penn as two former lovers who meet in a supermarket after being apart for many years and try to reconcile their feelings. Both actors are tender, attentive to one another and it’s some of the most affecting work I’ve seen from either. A more lurid one involving Amy Brenneman and William Fichtner lands more with a questionable thud, both are great as well but their scene needed some backstory. My second favourite stars a young Amanda Seyfried as a girl who alternates speaking with her father (the excellent Ian McShane) and mother (Sissy Spacek) who are in different rooms of the house. It’s intimate family drama through a prism of casualty and works quite well. Other sequences, including one that sees Glenn Close on a picnic with her granddaughter (Dakota Fanning), aren’t as memorable or striking. But the cast alone is enough to stick along for the ride, and includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Mary Kay Place, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Stephen Dillane, Molly Parker, Aiden Quinn, Joe Montegna and more. A worthwhile watch for the handful of stories that have some weight, but falters here and there and could have axed some of the commotion of too many solo narratives buzzing about.

-Nate Hill