One of the better ways to grasp a tragedy, in this case the Boston Marathon bombings, is through the experiences of individual victims. On that April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman went to the legendary race's finish line to root for his ex-girlfriend Erin. He had the misfortune of standing next to one of the two homemade bombs. 

Bauman lost both his legs from the knees down. A man in a cowboy hat, captured in a photograph that became an iconic image representing strangers aiding the injured, helped save Jeff after tourniquets stopped his legs' hemorrhaging. Most of us know the story of Jeff's fight back through a multitude of challenges, psychologically as well as physically; and we can anticipate the film's trajectory. 

What distinguishes Stronger is the care with which it presents Jeff's fight, including in the film physical therapists and hospital staff that actually worked with Bauman. We come to understand more fully the battles facing him, his family, and friends. But Jeff is not a Dudley Do Right angel without demons before and after his tragedy. In fact, one of the recurring motifs is "Just show up!" since Jeff didn't always do so, as Erin points out, leading to her breaking off their relationship in the film's first scene. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to restore a traumatized adult, and the Boston Strong pitch in through diverse activities, showing that attention, and even fame, brings its own trials.

As Bauman, Jake Gyllenhaal disappears into the role, giving an Oscar worthy performance, one of restraint that levels a much stronger impact than emotional excess would. Sentiment here is honest, earned and deeply moving. Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother Patty and Tatiana Maslany as Erin communicate their own complex reactions. I wish Jeff's supportive friends had received more attention; they remain a bit too much Boston stereotypes (partying, cursing) and more sophisticated depictions would have enriched the loyalty they showed, despite their apparent need for education about the trauma's aftermath as well. Jeff faced a torrent of conflicting emotions he had to navigate. 

Still, director David Gordon Green knows exactly where cinematographer Sean Bobbitt should put the camera; often an unusual, powerful perspective; for example, and notably, the scene when the dressings are removed from Jeff's knees. Green wisely saves the most horrific bombing images and the most clichéd triumphant ones until the end, leaving us with an upbeat finish but also a depth of knowledge about the difficult, zigzagging path to get there. At its core, Stronger thereby delivers a fine tribute to the human spirit. At area cinemas. 

 

 

Home Again almost begs to be made fun of. It encourages the critic in everyone to have a field day with adjectives describing its mediocrity, with phrases applied like plasters to its clumsiness, with capital letters to proclaim its failure as an end-of-summer romantic comedy, known by the conflation "romcom."

Home Again""Home Again" almost begs to be made fun of. It encourages the critic in everyone to have a field day with adjectives describing its mediocrity, with phrases applied like plasters to its clumsiness, with capital letters to proclaim its failure as an end-of-summer romantic comedy, known by the conflation "romcom." should be called "Three Men and a MILF," the latter an acronym for "Mothers I'd like to [ahem] Fornicate." Alice recently removed to L.A. from N.Y.C. She's separated from an egoist and trying to make it as a designer while living in her filmmaker father's fabulous old house. The three young men are screenwriters and actors trying to make it in Hollywood. The quartet meets as Alice celebrates her 40th birthday, and, based on Alice's mother's nudging, the threesome ends up living in her guest house. They end up loving Alice, one of them intimately, and her kids and her life, the one she's still trying to get a handle on. Then her soon-to-be-ex shows up and farce ensues. Not good farce. Farce with a lot of pregnant pauses plus Johnny Mathes singing "Chances Are."

Some of the blame for this flaccid film has to go to the cast. Jon Rudnitsky is the best of the three men, and Nat Wolf is passable, but Pico Alexander is just not ready for prime time. Michael Sheen must have had a mortgage payment due, and Witherspoon, who hasn't been very good since Election in 1999, phones in her lines from a flip phone. Lake Bell is steady as the termagant, but what is Candace Bergen doing here besides raising the level of professionalism?

Home Again tries to be a hurray for Hollywood, with the boy troika of filmmakers longing to make a good movie. This isn't it. Most of the blame goes to Hallie Myers-Shyer, who used the kiss-cam too often. Myers-Shyer wrote that one young man was happy to let the steam out of old Alice's kettle. Home Again never had any steam. Let it go. Just keep walking. 

 

Based on a true story, Crown Heights exposes the injustice, indifference, and brutality meted out to Colin Warner by the judicial and legal system that repeatedly victimized him. It began April 10, 1980 with a teenager's murder in Flatbush in what police called a drive-by shooting. Forensics unmistakably showed otherwise since the bullet had a strong downward trajectory.  

In fact, Warner, busy stealing cars and merchandise, wasn't in the area. Never mind, the police pick him up on a false identification by Anthony Gibson, the real shooter. Even with contradictory information, the police hang on to Colin, who gets fifteen years for second-degree murder. That's just the beginning. A travesty of justice prevails every step of the way -- witnesses who continue to lie or who tell the truth and aren't believed, years in solitary, appeals, a probation hearing, and more, including a beating by guards. And yet for twenty years friend Carl King refuses to give up on Warner gaining freedom despite sacrifices for his own life.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin heard the 2005 This American Life summary of Warner's and King's tragic story, leading eventually to Crown Heights the movie, named for the area Warner lived. To add some context, briefly Ruskin contrasts Colin's early years in Trinidad with Brooklyn. As Colin Warner, Keith Stanfield artfully presents his emotional journey from disbelief to determination to frustration, never wavering in his assertion of his innocence but yielding to despair. As Carl King, Nnamdi Asomugha, retired in 2013 as an NFL Oakland Raider cornerback, digs into his first acting role by resisting histrionic grandstanding. In fact, director Ruskin's approach is, for the most part, a restrained, factual account of these events. We bring the outrage rather than having the characters sensationalize incidents so appalling they need no emotional exclamation points.

Various Innocence Project cases have received media coverage the past few years. Colin Warner's story is one that deserves the attention given here. Crown Heights won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic Film for its strong, clear call for a better justice system. Check local listings.

 

It's more than half-way through Viceroy's House, a historical look at the partition of India, before the word "oil" leaks out. The film explains so terribly much about then, 1947, as well as now, 2017. And it pays to watch this well-crafted look at that moment over there. 

That summer, the temperature rose to 114º F in the shade in a country where almost half the babies died before they turned 5 and 92% of the population was illiterate. King George VI sent Lord Montbatten, known familiarly as "Dickie," to oversee the independence of India from colonial rule. His Lordship finds himself also called on to split the whole country with Muslims cast off to Pakistan. As Montbatten notes sadly, "New nations are rarely born in peace."

He hastens the deadline to make tearing off the bandage less painful and calls in Cyril Radcliffe to map the new countries. What he does not know, but history has recorded, is that Winston Churchill when he was prime minister had already described the lines of partition. Explaining the history is tough, and sometimes tedious enough, but scriptwriters Paul Berges and Moira Buffini, working with director Gurinda Chadha, added the sous text of a love story.

Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey and Gillian Anderson from The X Files, portray the Montbattens, and their every moment on screen, in voice or face, is worth noting. In fact, the whole supporting cast acquits itself well, including Simon Cowell, Michael Gambon, Om Puri (who died just this year), Manish Dayal, Huma Quereshi, and Denzil Smith. Gandhi, Churchill, and Nehru appear, too.

Chadha, whose grandmother was one of the millions involved in the mass exodus, directed the complicated history, adding real and imagined newsreels for credibility and foundation.

 

I took the loveliest little nap during the screening of Tulip Fever. The theater's temperature was just right, the seat was comfy, and the company was cozy, so I drifted off. When I awoke, I hadn't missed much in this romance where two lips kiss while tulip prices rise.

Tulip Fever is based on that era in Holland's history known as "tulipmania." That was when tulip bulbs were pricey little onions, but that aspect of the economy pales next to the timeless quest for love in Tulip Fever. Lust is as hot as the speculative market for bulbs known as "breakers," that is, the tulip flowers wherein red breaks through the white of the blossom. 

People were willing to gamble on the rising prices of tulips, including people without other resources. That would be people like an artist, played wanly by Dane DeHaan. He has been commissioned to paint portraits of a couple, the Sandvoorts. Christoph Waltz plays an older, successful man, married to a former orphan. He rises above the rest of the cast. Alicia Vikander plays the dependent and hungry wife, who provide him with more children. An Oscar should go to the costumer, who provided Vikander with cleavage in her blue ball gown even though, in her many nude scenes, she shows no such bosomy promise.

Director Justin Chadwick also directed another history, The Other Boleyn Girl, but he fails to boost Tulip Fever above its cliched script. Writers Deborah Maggoch, who wrote the novel, and Tom Stoppard, renowned playwright, really should have managed the screenplay and avoided lines like, "All we have to do is put all our eggs in one basket." Trite, not tight.

However, the film looks good -- all those tans and taupes, the crowded streets and fishy markets. Along the way, Tulip Fever can deliver neither a believable scene of a birth -- or even a credible story.

Stay Involved on Social Media