By Matt Chouinard
When Harry Met Sally… (4.5 Stars)
Let’s be frank, When Harry Met Sally… is not exactly a “hidden gem”. Actually, it’s quite the opposite, as this flick is widely considered to be one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made. Regardless, in today’s age, this is a film that isn’t viewed nearly as much as it should be. Released in 1989, When Harry Met Sally… is a fantastic blend of whit and romance in a story that is as down to earth as one can get. The story follows Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), two people who meet following college. Their paths continue to cross over the next 10 years as their pursuits at love fail and their friendship builds, but can a man and a woman be just friends? Every member of the cast is delivering at the top of their game, from the comical everyman Billy Crystal performance, to the slightly neurotic while incredibly earnest Meg Ryan performance. Even Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are great in supporting turns as the humorous best friends. The top-notch script, sharply written by Nora Ephron, serves as the MVP of the film and constantly positions the actors to thrive in this dialogue driven story. The screenplay is forced to cover a lot of ground due to the premise, resulting in some brisk pacing at times, but this is a minor grievance. Overall, When Harry Met Sally… is a cultural touchstone of the genre, filled with iconic moments and a memorable climax. This is a must-see cinematic experience that succeeds in every way to create a joyous and heartfelt journey through every day life.
Almost Famous (3.5 Stars)
Almost Famous, released in 2000, offers a nostalgic peak into the world of Rock and Roll through the lens of a fan. The story follows William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old aspiring rock journalist who lands his first gig for Rolling Stone Magazine. His first assignment involves touring with the fictional band Stillwater, and chronicling his experience during the early 1970s. It is a story packed to the brim with the vibrant energy of the period it is set in. Director Cameron Crowe reckons back to his youth when he spent some time as a music journalist to help navigate the setting with a sense of raw honesty that can be intense, but at the same time, overwhelmingly sincere. The success of the final product is truly a team collaboration, with the entire cast creating nuanced and memorable characters. Any viewer will walk away from watching this movie with two thoughts... "Wow! That had some fantastic music!", and "Man, I wish Philip Seymour Hoffman and Frances McDormand could just appear in everything." Frances McDormand has two Best Lead Actress Oscars sitting on her bedside mantle for other roles, yet her performance here as William’s overly protective mother is emphatically the best of her career thus far. She perfectly personifies the emotional complexity that accompanies motherhood as if pulled right out of the real world. Additionally, while Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't appear much, he is absolutely delightful and steals every second of screen time he is given. Overall, Almost Famous is an impassioned look back at a bygone era filled with rockin' tunes and colorful performances. The central protagonist is a bit stale, yet the journey he takes the audience on is an enjoyable one filled with humor, romance, and drama that is sure to induce a few smiles.
Stronger (3.5 Stars)
Stronger, released in 2017, is an endearing real-life story that centers around the heartbreaking event that was the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013. The film follows Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ordinary, everyman Boston native who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He loses both his legs during the bombing and is now forced to pick up the pieces of his broken life. This is a film that is carried firmly on the shoulders of Gyllenhaal, as he delivers career-best work in this tour de force. The character of Bauman is thoroughly layered, as he is a real man, with real flaws. The film takes a closer look at the period following the infamous event and how those affected were tasked with pushing forward through their individual lives. "Boston Stronger" was a mantra adopted by the nation at large, but Stronger shines a light on one of the people who unwillingly had the brightest light shined on him as the face of that movement. The storyline is a simple one and the supporting cast doesn't bring much to the table, but in the end, it doesn't matter all that much. What matters most, is that Stronger is a heartfelt real-life story of a man striving to overcome incredible adversity. Jake Gyllenhaal puts on a show, continuing to demonstrate his wide range as one of the most talented actors working today.