Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Darkest Hour

Published

on

Director: Joe Wright

Stars: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn

Released: 12th January 2018 (UK)

Reviewer: Menachem Rephun 

With his drooping jowls, ever-present cigar, and bottomless supply of witticisms, the Winston Churchill of Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is very much the figure we have come to know from countless wartime newsreels, photographs, and history books. In his portrayal of Churchill, however, actor Gary Oldman reveals a more human dimension to this larger-than-life persona, capturing the Prime Minister’s vulnerability, intelligence, eccentricities, charisma, and shrewdness as a political and military tactician.

It is no small feat for an actor as recognizable as Oldman to vanish so thoroughly into a role (admittedly with the help of cosmetics). It is even more challenging given the number of actors who have already taken turns portraying Churchill (including Brian Cox in Churchill just this year). In Darkest Hour, however, Oldman gives his competitors a run for their money with what is less a performance than a cinematic resurrection, capturing Churchill’s voice, mannerisms, and character with an eerie, pinpoint accuracy. It is a depiction that captures both Churchill’s humanity and his greatness, making a convincing case that the two are inextricably related.

Oldman’s Churchill is one forced to undergo a baptism by fire, confronting both the Nazi peril, and the scepticism of many regarding his own capabilities. As the film establishes from the get-go, Churchill was far from the first choice for Prime Minister following the resignation of his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain.  At the outset, we see Churchill appointed with grumblings only after all other options have been exhausted. While others can debate the historical accuracy of this and other segments of the film, it certainly works from a dramatic standpoint, turning Churchill into a sympathetic underdog triumphing in the face of adversity that would crush all but the strongest of us.

It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic subject than the Second World War. Yet Darkest Hour functions as a fairly modest character study, capturing the embattled leader’s struggle against the policy of appeasement advocated by Chamberlain and Edward Wood, Earl of Halifax and British Foreign Secretary. Following Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister, Halifax and Chamberlain hatch a conspiracy to expose him as a war hawk hell bent on destroying any chance of peaceful negotiation with Germany. This possibility, Churchill understands, is non-existent, and worse, a dangerous fantasy he refuses to indulge.
“When will the lesson be learned!” Churchill thunders at Halifax during a stormy War Cabinet meeting. “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Even U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt seems slow in appreciating this message, as he rejects Churchill’s plea for additional planes to help Britain stave off the looming Nazi invasion.

While the restricted focus of Darkest Hour may dampen some of the excitement, it does create a claustrophobic atmosphere as we follow Churchill through subway tunnels and corridors and smoke-filled cabinet meetings, brooding over his next move. This ominous atmosphere does not spare his staunchest allies, including his wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Though Thomas poignantly captures Clementine Churchill’s superhuman patience and affection for her at times overbearing husband, she and other characters cannot help being eclipsed by the complex, towering personality at the heart of the story.

Darkest Hour is not without its flaws in other respects as well. Given its risk-taking, larger-than-life protagonist, it is unfortunate that Wright’s script and direction could not follow his example. With the exception of Churchill himself, the dialogue of those around him is often jarringly stilted, sounding less like natural speech than one being delivered, or the words of a historian placed into the character’s mouths. Wright’s impersonal, workman-like direction suffers from its fear of going out on a limb, unable to shake off the dry stuffiness that plagues most historical dramas.

Despite these shortcomings, however, the film succeeds thanks to its sincerity, and the power of its central performance. It may be the Darkest Hour, but that hour belongs squarely to Churchill and Gary Oldman, the actor his ghost decided to possess. Given the masterclass of acting on display here, there are certainly far worse things one could ask for.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

Published

on

Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

Published

on

Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

Published

on

Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

Continue Reading

Trending