I Won’t Stop, I’m Gonna Work Harder (Stronger review)

I will never claim to be an expert on sociology, politics or any of the major social sciences, but I’m acutely aware of their importance, and I hope that by providing reviews on films like Stronger, my voice can contribute towards a positive world view, curbing hate and reducing ignorance about these kinds of social issues.

The movie does a pretty damn good job too though.

 

Stronger (2017)

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Director: David Gordon Green
released on blu-ray December 19, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ****/*****

David Gordon Green is an American filmmaker, best known for films like Joe, Prince Avalanche, George Washington, and All the Real Girls. He’s also done some pretty bad comedies – The Sitter, Your Highness, Pineapple Express. Thankfully, Stronger fits nicely into the biography drama camp, where Green can really shine and do his coming of age (enlightenment) thing well. That said, I just read that he is going to direct the next Halloween instalment with Danny McBride, so maybe he’s still figuring out his film identity.

He could take some notes from his characterization of Jeff Bauman…

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a well-intentioned but underachieving Boston native who works at the deli counter of a Costco and lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with his alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson). One day at the local bar, Jeff runs into his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who is attracted to his kindness and charm but finds herself constantly frustrated by his lack of commitment. After learning that Erin is running in the Boston Marathon to raise money for the hospital she works at, Jeff asks every patron in the bar to donate and then promises Erin he’ll wait at the finish line for her with a big sign.

The day of the Marathon, Jeff scrambles to make it to the finish line on time but reaches it just before Erin reaches the finish line. As she approaches a bomb goes off right where Jeff is standing. After being rushed to a hospital, both of Jeff’s legs are amputated above the knee. When he regains consciousness, Jeff tells his brother that he saw the bomber before the explosion. Patty calls the FBI, and Jeff is able to give them a description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Local authorities capture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev days later, and Jeff is hailed as a hero.

Jeff struggles to adjust to his condition as well as his newfound fame. Patty books several interviews and constantly surrounds Jeff with news reporters during his rehab sessions which Erin, who has since rekindled with Jeff, objects. Jeff and his family are invited to the Stanley Cup Finals by the Boston Bruins who ask Jeff to wave the flag during the game’s opening ceremony. The crowd triggers traumatic flashbacks from Jeff, and he breaks down in the elevator. Erin comforts him and insists he talk to his family about the fragility of his mental state and the impact his newfound exposure is having on it. Later that night they make love for the first time since his injury.

Patty books Jeff an interview with Oprah Winfrey without telling him causing Erin to speak up and tell her that the constant media attention is intensifying Jeff’s PTSD. After an argument between Patty and Erin, Jeff finally admits that he does not want to do any more interviews. Patty, disheartened, tells him that she only wishes for the world to see how amazing her son is. She soon begins enabling Jeff’s worst tendencies including his laziness and affinity for drinking. He begins missing physical therapy appointments due to long nights of drinking usually with Patty equally as drunk. Erin, who has since moved in, finds Patty blacked out on the couch and Jeff in a bathtub unconscious and covered in vomit. The next day she snaps at Patty for her selfishness and negligence before calling Jeff out for his self-pity and refusal to stand up to his mother. She storms off leaving Jeff and Patty to drive home alone.

That night, Jeff blows off Erin to drink with his brothers at a bar. Two patrons at the bar begin asking Jeff questions about the bombing insinuating that the event was a government conspiracy to start a war in Iran and Jeff was paid to look like a victim. Insulted Jeff and his brothers initiate a bar fight with the patrons. Erin picks him up later that night and tells him she’s pregnant. Jeff begins to panic and tells her he isn’t ready to be a father causing Erin to scold him for constantly running away from his problems. She leaves him in the car without removing his wheelchair from the trunk, enters their apartment, and packs her things. Jeff crawls to the apartment door and has a PTSD flashback of the bombing in its entirety.

Jeff meets with Carlos, a man who cared for him in the immediate aftermath of the bombing saving his life. Carlos tells him about his son, a marine who died in Iraq. After attempting suicide Carlos was forced to attend his son’s funeral in a stretcher. His younger son, unable to cope with the death of his older brother and the constant state of pain his father was in, killed himself. Carlos confides that saving Jeff helped him make peace with the death of his sons and the blame he placed upon himself because of them. Jeff begins to understand that his will to live in the face of adversity is what both comforts and inspires people. He stops drinking and begins to take his rehab more seriously. He leaves Erin a voicemail apologizing for his behavior finally taking full responsibility for his immaturity and fear of commitment. A few days later he and Carlos throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game where he meets Pedro Martinez. Erin watches at home and smiles. After the game dozens of people come up to Jeff and tell him how and why he has so heavily impacted their lives.

He and Erin meet at a diner where he walks with his prosthetics for the first time without assistance. He tells Erin he loves her, to which she replies “Good.” He grabs her hand and smiles.

It really does an excellent job of using a real story to showcase a survivor’s journey towards acceptance of his new life, and luckily for us, it hides very little of Bauman’s personal life. He has regular flashbacks of the bombing, his eyes hiding ghosts and his arms curled up in pain. His emotional voice often comes through girlfriend Erin, until the very end anyway.

Pros: It’s a series of moments but it never feels like a made for TV mini series, and Tatiana Maslany does an amazing job as the female lead. I hope to see more of her in the future.

Cons: I wish there weren’t patriotic shots of flags and orchestral music that hit your heart strings at key moments. A little obvious for my taste.

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Points of Interest:

Featuring some solid character actors performances on top of all the emotional core, Stronger is a film about a life examined, dissected, and reassembled, not whole, but as a sum of its parts. And it’s incredibly satisfying to watch a story about tragedy, without glossing over the ugly parts and managing to avoid cliche of overcoming adversity. Jeff Bauman is no hero, he only plays one on tv.

I only wish I had seen it in theatres, because I would have recommended the shit out of it way earlier on then I am now. So many bio pics attempt the impossible, being dramatic without overexerting themselves, and this story about an amputee does it one better. He’s a slob, self-destructive, and not morally sound either, but Bauman is surrounded by so many people just as flawed as him, you can’t help but root for a change in his heart.

theories Summarized

Overall this is a film that works incredibly hard at avoiding all the well known cliches, and it’s a cinematic treat to watch. I highly recommend you give it a shot, and set aside any preconceived notions you might have about triumph films, bio pics or Jake Gyllenhaal. This is a seriously good movie. And that’s not a theory.

Speaking of visual treats, have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? No, well check out this Watch Culture video in that case. And even if you have seen it, Mike and I have some great reminders of why this needs another viewing. I personally consider it to be Wes Anderson’s best. But tell us what you think! Leave a comment, share the video, and don’t forget to subscribe, for more great reviews.

Tim!

Red Cross, Blue Cross (First Aid Kit, Ruins review)

What is the difference between a red cross and a blue cross, dear readers? One is a humanitarian organization, which receives all resources through donation, and the other is an insurance company that specializes exclusive in the health sector. It’s the little things that make a difference, after all.

Which is why this album is immediately better then their last.

 

 

First Aid Kit – Ruins

released January 19, 2018
******** 8/10

First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk, indie, americana and country based sister duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’ve been officially making music since 2007, and now have four albums under their belt. Their first studio-length album may have been 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue, but their international attention came from a cover they performed of Fleet Foxe’s Tiger Mountain Peasant Song which blew up on the internet.

In addition to their studio albums, First Aid Kit (FAK) have also made a couple of EPs, and some other singles over the past few years. Their early exposure to artists like Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Louvin Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris all played a big part in forming their musical sound, but the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Are Thou? was especially inspiring and a major catalyst for Johanna.

Their newest album, Ruins, was recorded in the early part of 2017 and they slowly released the singles It’s a Shame, Postcard, and Fireworks over the back half of the year. Thank God for that, as these singles are momentous and a welcome addition to the canon.

Track opener Rebel Heat sets the tone, a deep sadness and finality, telling us not to mess around with First Aid Kit or their hearts. Sure it might seem a bit on the nose, at first, but there is a deep pain hidden within these lyrics.

This is even more smartly said when we do get to the finish line. There is a tired sincerity to Nothing Has to Be True, and in the end nothing really matters, except for the moments and these two women who’ve shared them with us.

Pros: These singles are amazing on their own, but when paired together, they really shine and showcase the range of First Aid Kit. Postcard, Fireworks or It’s A Shame, take your pick, excellent songs to move to.

Cons: The second half of the record isn’t quite as strong as the first, and as a result it feels somewhat tacked on, despite the beautiful vocals and intelligent instrumentation.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of InterestDid you know that the name First Aid Kit came from the duo thumbing randomly through a phone directory?

Their strength has always rested in their shared songwriting and harmonious sound. Ruins continues in that strong tradition of enriching tradition and emphasizing the romance of country music. To Live a Life is an excellent example is an excellent worship song of the art of solitude and exactly the kind of thing their heroes would have done.

Taking the road less travelled and sticking to the truth has always been the name of the game, and Ruins doesn’t deviate from that vein of glorious history being rewritten on their lips.

theories Summarized

This is gorgeous music and whether or not it completely devastates with earnest lyrics or not, theSöderberg sisters know how to make dark clouds seem warm and inviting. I hope it wins some new fans to the First Aid Kit brand, and diehards will enjoy it too, but let’s hope that red cross doesn’t turn blue.

Tim!

When The Student Is Ready (Matthew Ankerstein influencer interview preview)

Matthew Ankerstein is not your typical Edmontonian. He didn’t grow up believing that that things would be handed to him. Even though his family had a farm, and he was involved in minor league hockey, he wanted to make a difference in the business world and connect with more people.

If you visit his website (http://beeinfluenced.com/), you’ll quickly learn that he loves to read and learn new things. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but in his own words, he states that a major influence in this way of thinking came from seeing his father balancing the business books – he thought to himself, I can figure out a way to do this myself, and so he went after a post-secondary education, but he also started to hit the books in his spare time too. Reading books from successful leaders like Warren Buffet, M. J. DeMarco, and Dale Carnegie, he quickly learned that he loved business and seeing businesses grow.

In his time at post-secondary he worked hard to make friends in the technology sector and in computer programming. The combination of this experience lead him to develop the Bee Influenced brand.

What started as a website for a school project, quickly evolved into a startup business about startup businesses… It’s a weekly blog that teaches individuals how best to build and market their online businesses. One element of particular interest on his website is the podcast that features entrepreneurs who have built successful companies.

Matthew takes their ideas and experiences and explains the strategies these people use in their own businesses. Which made me theorize that he probably knows a thing or two about recognizing authentic leaders from the phonies. In this preview question, I ask Matt how you can find these kinds of business teachers in life, and what to do when you run across a charlatan.

theories Summarized

If you’re like me, and you love learning new things, but can’t make sense of world of online marketing, life coaches, influencers, and all of the social media… then I think I’ve found the creative interview for you! Come back in a week for the full interview and all of the great discussions Matt and I had about growing your business, especially in times of adversity. He’s really got some good theories, and I can’t wait to share them. 

Tim!

T-Minus 287 Days OR 6888 Hours OR 413291 Minutes OR 24797452 Seconds (Weddings)

At the time of writing this post it is less then ten months until I get married to my fiancee Mysticque Moore. I’m living in that space between potential and reality, what will be and what already is, and for the first time in my life, I’m not really wondering about how things are going to play out.

I know it will be a good day. We’re going to have a practical wedding.

A beautiful and blushing wedding. A beloved wedding. A unique and individual wedding. A story book wedding. A traditional wedding. A masculine wedding. A feminine wedding. An authentic wedding. A glamorous wedding. A momentous wedding. A lovely wedding. A rock ‘n roll wedding. An intimate wedding.

But most importantly, it will be our wedding. And whether all of that hyperbole comes true or not, I wouldn’t want to have anyone else by my side.

You see, dear readers, movies and television make wedding planning seem entirely more hectic and also less hectic then it actually is. Whatever the hell that means. And no, wedding planning, like anything else in life, is not a series of moments strung together in a magical way and which leave you feeling glossy all over. Wedding planning is work and it takes time, but it’s also wonderfully straightforward. Every time you complete one task, there is yet another one to work on. At first this bothered me, but I had an epiphany the other day.

Because I’m working house renos, revitalizing my team at work, and investing more time into timotheories, I’m just busier then I have been in the past. Being tired isn’t an excuse to be in a bad mood though, so whatever I can do to stay positive is essential.

Earlier that day, I was feeling fairly tired. Especially after work; but I was also excited to see Miguel and Mysticque. So I headed right over to her house, and then I quickly found out that she had a hard day too, and was tired as well. On top of that, Miguel wasn’t feeling very good about some classmates and he was restless. We had dinner and sat down for some family time, but because they were both on edge, and I was tired, it didn’t take much for frustrations to come out.

I’ll admit that I was part of the problem, but the bigger lesson I learnt was that much like wedding planning, life is nowhere near as hectic nor as simple as entertainers make it out to be. I should always strive to do what I can, but more importantly I can control my attitude, I cannot control others. Wedding planning is just a lot more decisions being made at a higher pace then normal life, once it’s over, if you look back on it, it’s better to have fond memories then bad ones.

timotheories Summarized

And so I leave you with this theory creative cuties. Treat your daily life exactly like planning a wedding, make decisions, plan the best you can, expect things won’t go according to plan, and most importantly enjoy yourself during the process.

Because once that time has past, you’ll be left with two realities. Either you look back fondly on the planning or with regret about how you behaved during the process. That, and your partner wants you to enjoy yourself too.

Tim!

Stories Written Before Space Travel, But About Space Travel (Blade Runner 2049 review)

Like tears falling in the rain, so too do many movies leave a minor impact upon our hearts. Thankfully this movie doesn’t ruin a legend, but makes it more compelling.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana da Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Carla Juri
Director: Denis Villeneuve
released on blu-ray January 16, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Audience Score 85%
The Guardian: ****/*****

In case you’re unfamiliar, Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian film director and writer. I’ve reviewed his movies before and I generally like whatever projects he works on. Arrival was a great addition to the science fiction catalogue, and thankfully won an Academy Award, while Sicario is just beautiful to behold. Interestingly enough, I haven’t reviewed Enemy or Prisoners, yet – but I loved those movies too. Maybe there are some Watch Culture videos in the future coming for those films, because they are totally worth a watch. And even though Villeneuve doesn’t have the reigns on the Sicario sequel, I’m still excited to see it.

That’s how influential his directorial work is. Now he’s taking up the Blade Runner mantle, to excellent consequence.

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

In 2049, K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant, works for the LAPD as a blade runner, and “retires” (kills) rogue replicants. At a protein farm, he retires rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and finds a box buried under a tree. The box contains the remains of a female replicant who died during an emergency caesarean section, demonstrating that replicants can reproduce sexually, previously thought impossible. K is asked to find and retire the replicant child by his lieutenant (Robin Wright).

K visits the Wallace Corporation headquarters (successor of replicant manufacturer Tyrell Corporation, which went out of business), where the deceased female is identified from DNA archives as Rachael (Sean Young), an experimental replicant designed by Dr. Tyrell. K learns of Rachael’s romantic ties with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Wallace CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to discover the secret to replicant reproduction to expand interstellar colonization. He sends his replicant enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachael’s remains from LAPD headquarters and follow K to Rachael’s child.

At Morton’s farm, K sees the date 6-10-21 carved into the tree trunk and recognizes it from a childhood memory of a wooden toy horse. Because replicants’ memories are artificial, K’s holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana da Armas) believes this is evidence that K was born, not created. K tracks the child to an orphanage in ruined San Diego, but discovers that the records from that year are missing. K recognizes the orphanage from his memories, and finds the toy horse where he remembers having hidden it.

Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a designer of replicant memories, confirms that his memory of the orphanage is real, and K concludes that he is Rachael’s son. At Joi’s request, K transfers Joi to a mobile emitter, an emanator. He has the toy horse analyzed, revealing traces of radiation that lead him to the ruins of Las Vegas. There he finds Deckard, who reveals that he is the father of Rachael’s child and that he scrambled the birth records to protect the child’s identity; Deckard left the child in the custody of the replicant freedom movement.

After killing Lieutenant Joshi, Luv tracks K to Deckard’s hiding place in Las Vegas. She kidnaps Deckard, destroys Joi and leaves K to die. The replicant freedom movement rescues K. Their leader Freysa (Edward James Olmos) informs him that Rachael’s child is female and he is not Rachael’s son. Freysa asks K to kill Deckard for the greater good of all replicants and to hide the freedom movement.

Luv brings Deckard to Wallace Co. headquarters to meet Niander Wallace. He offers Deckard a clone of Rachael for revealing what he knows. Deckard refuses and Luv kills the clone. As Luv is transporting Deckard to a ship to take him off-world for interrogation by torture, K intercepts and kills Luv, but is severely injured in the fight. He stages Deckard’s death to protect him from Wallace and the rogue replicants, and leads Deckard to Stelline’s office, having deduced that she is his daughter and that the memory of the toy horse is hers. K dies peacefully from his injuries while Deckard approaches Stelline.

This is a film which acknowledges a rich history of material that precedes it, and yet it manages to venture out into the void of philosophy and bring back ideas to explore. While the first film examined intimacy, gender politics, the evolution of humanity and other topics on such a scale that we felt included, this film does the opposite. Every scene is one of a barren wasteland, monotlithic buildings and open caverns force the moviegoer to examine the sheer insignificance of K. His lifespan is severely shortened, his love is with a hologram, and even his possibility at an identity is taken away from him.

And yet, he strives for a life well lived. I would argue that his relationship with Joi is far more human then any of the other characters we see on screen, and it is very sad when he loses her. And thankfully Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a beaten down shadow of what he once was too, not dominating the screen as he did in The Force Awakens, but helping to make you feel discomfort about the future of humanity.

Pros: It expands upon the story that we loved from over thirty years ago. Better yet, it manages to be impressive on it’s own. Ryan Gosling is fascinating to watch as K, while Dave Bautista, Ana da Armas, and Sylvia Hoeks all add to the allure of this fantasy world.

Cons: Jared Leto falls flat with his performance, perhaps it’s the limited screen time, or that he often appears to be rebelling against his profession. And the film is a very slow burn.

Runtime: 2 hours 44 minutes

Points of Interest: David Bowie was slated for the role of Wallace, but passed away before the film started production. The role of K was also written specifically with Ryan Gosling in mind, Villeneuve had no other actors chosen to audition. In this future, wood is incredibly rare and valuable – that Wallace has a house made entirely of wood is no accident.

I was really glad to learn that Villeneuve had originally cast David Bowie as Niander Wallace, even if he passed away before filming started. Bowie was a staple of innovation, futurism and all of the things that go into making good art. If my minor concerns with the casting of Jared Leto, and the somewhat forgettable CGI Rachael (Sean Young) could be removed, this movie would have been my number one pick for 2017, but even good simulations are always just a tad unrealistic.

theories Summarized

I hope at this point you’ve made the decision to check out this sequel, and I’ll be curious if you note the same things I did about the scale of the film, the beautiful intimacy of K and Joi’s relationship, and the poetry in a decaying Rick Deckard. Just like the original, I’ll likely have to watch this film a few times before all of the themes really sink in, and I have a theory that’ll be for my own good.

And incidentally, we have a new Watch Culture video to share with you too. It’s the original, the masterpiece, the timeless Blade Runner. This short review should give you some insights into why the 1982 classic deserves those accolades. And hopefully you enjoy it enough to like the video, leave a comment, and subscribe to both my blog and the YouTube channel!

Tim!