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Darkest Hour – ★ ★ ★ ½ Review

Darkest Hour35

Darkest Hour tells the story of how Winston Churchill came to be British Prime Minister at the height of WWII.  I found the story quite fascinating as it’s not one that I had ever heard.  I don’t think that British politics and British history were really taught in Canadian high schools, so it was interesting to learn of Churchill’s path to the Prime Minister’s office.

Darkest Hour was up for several Oscars, winning for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling and Gary Oldman took home the Lead Actor award, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design and Production design.  Oldman certainly delivered an excellent performance, while heavily made-up to look hauntingly like Churchill.  That Makeup and Hairstyling award was very well earned, but sometimes I’m torn when someone wins an award for playing the part of a real person, especially a famous historical figure. When the audience is familiar with the person there is an expectation of what the performance should bring.  We know what Churchill is supposed to look like, how he should walk and how he should talk.  Is there much room for interpretation by the artist?  We would cry foul if Churchill all of a sudden spoke with a French accent or only spoke in rhyme or something else completely and ridiculously “non-Churchill”.  When playing a figure like that, does the artist just have to follow the template?  Oldman’s Churchill was believable to me, and he brought great emotion to the role, and I suppose that’s what any award is recognizing in a way.

The rest of the cast was very good as well, though I didn’t really know the significance or the true roles played by some of the political figures.  I don’t know if Lily James’ secretary character was real, a combination of several real people who surrounded Churchill, or completely fabricated for the film, but I felt she gave an excellent performance as well.  Overall the film was good, and I enjoyed the story.  It was obviously quite serious but it managed to mix in some humour, and at the end some fairly emotional and heartfelt scenes.  The pace was a little slow, which is kind of to be expected with the dry subject matter it was covering, but the end result was worth the wait.

Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: WWII?  We win.


Criminal – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Criminal3.5 Stars

A CIA agent in London (Ryan Reynolds) is killed while trying to track down a hacker nicknamed “The Dutchman” who has gained control of the world’s missiles and plans to create havoc and initiate World War III.  The only chance the CIA has to stop it all is in now dead, until they try an experimental procedure to transfer his memories into a dangerous death row convict named Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner). Jerico wakes up with Agent Bill Pope’s memories, and is supposed to adapt and continue the dead man’s mission, but the memories are scrambled and Jerico erratic, which becomes a bigger problem when he returns to Pope’s home and scares his wife and young daughter.  Will the treatment work?  Is it possible to map the memories and personality from one person to another?  Can Jerico be stabilized enough to complete the mission?

I enjoyed the film, it had a light touch of science fiction, and some pretty good action too.  The cast was very impressive; Gary Oldman was the CIA director in charge of everything, Tommy Lee Jones was the doctor who performed the procedure and Gal Gadot was Bill Pope’s widowed wife.  Ryan Reynolds played Bill Pope, and really wasn’t in the movie very long.  Ironically, I remember reading about the movie Self/Less where an aging Ben Kingsley has his mind put in to the body of the younger Ryan Reynolds character.  I haven’t seen that one, but it does sound kind of interesting.  This time of course Kevin Costner takes on the mind of the Ryan Reynolds character, so kind of sort of the reverse of the Self/Less idea.  I couldn’t help but compare Costner’s Jerico to his character in 3 Days to Kill.  Both were skilled spies/agents (though Jerico’s skills weren’t really his own, but Bill Pope’s), and in both instances Costner’s character was “sick” or dying.  Still, the storyline overall was fairly original, and fairly entertaining; the characters were well developed, as we saw Jerico go from virtually an emotionless animal to a person dealing with having feelings for the first time; and the action was good and consistent.  The film didn’t really slow down or let up.  Quite an enjoyable ride.

Bottom Line: I was going to say the usual “parts of the story may have been done before” line, but it struck me how we really do seem to be running out of stories to tell…

Guns, Girls and Gambling

Product Details3 Stars

I saw the trailer for Guns, Girls and Gambling on Hit & Run last week and thought it held some promise.  Any movie with multiple Elvis impersonators, a busty blonde assassin, a casino heist and a recognizable ensemble cast should be entertaining.  Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining, but it was also a little annoying at times.  There was a lot of potential in this film that fell a little short in my opinion because of the style it was shot in.  I’m not a film student, so I don’t know if this has a name or not, but I’ll do my best to try and explain one of the things that bothered me.  Remember in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly when they introduced each character?  They’d kind of zoom in on the face, do a freeze frame, and flash the character’s “name” on the screen?  That worked back then.  The characters didn’t really have names, the “names” they were given matched to the title of the film, it was only done in the first few minutes of the movie, and there were only three of them.  Guns, Girls and Gambling did it for every character.  And they were introducing characters probably until the halfway point.  Perhaps someone was trying to be a little too stylized?  Also, in my opinion, the film used the “Yesterday” “Day Before Yesterday” “Today” captions either poorly or just too many times.  You should be able to tell your story properly without aids to map out when things are happening.  There was one other case where the movie tried too hard to be too clever: a character asks for a quick recap of why something was happening, and the other character tells them, but we’re shown quick flashbacks of the first twenty minutes of the movie.  Kind of poor I thought.

Guns, Girls and Gambling follows the story of John Smith (Christian Slater) who has been left by his girlfriend and decides to hit an Indian (Native American) casino in Utah to bury his troubles.  After having his wallet stolen he figures things can’t get any worse so he enters an Elvis impersonation contest.  He fails miserably, giving a terrible Elvis performance, but things aren’t all that bad, he gets invited to the inner sanctum of the casino to play poker with the other contestants: the winner (Gary Oldman), “Asian Elvis” (Anthony Brandon Wong), “Gay Elvis” (Chris Kattan), and “Midget Little Person Elvis” (Tony Cox).  Waking up the next morning at the poker table he finds he has been framed for the theft of an ancient Apache mask.  After avoiding death at the hands of the casino’s enforcers, Smith sets out to track down the real thief, running into more interested parties than you can count. That’s chronologically how the plot proceeds, but on screen we first see the the middle act of the film where an Elvis gets shot by “The Blonde” (Helena Mattsson), an Edgar Allan Poe quoting assassin, then we flash back to Smith being beaten up by casino security.  But since that doesn’t help us, Smith/Slater narrates us back to the previous day where we see the initial events that I described.  Along his quest to find the mask and avoid being killed, Smith runs into “The Girl Next Door” (Megan Park), a pair of killers “The Cowboy” (Jeff Fahey) and Mo (Danny James), “The Rancher” (Powers Boothe), “The Chief” (Gordon Tootoosis), two corrupt sheriffs (one owned by The Rancher, one owned by The Chief) (Dane Cook and Sam Trammell) another killer called “The Indian”, “The College Kid” and probably a few more characters who were given titles that I can’t remember….but don’t worry, they all had freeze frames and title cards, and I’ll admit movies like this remind me that I’m still a sucker for blondes.

As you can see, the cast was quite large, and actually quite good.  The quality of the acting and the humour were all that kept me going in this one.  Some of the humour did become stale after a while, because you can only tell so many “Native American” / “Indian” or “midget” / “little person” PC jokes in one movie.  That’s not to say that Guns, Girls and Gambling didn’t try to make more of them…  It did play nicely with a few film staples that I thought were quite funny such as the classic “look behind you” which turned into a pretty good running gag, but the film as a whole could have been a lot better.  The plot was well written, if not well presented.  Everything is tied up a the end, brought together and explained in full detail, maybe not realizing where less explanation could have been more.  There were a few twists, quite a few laughs and a bit of a history lesson in Guns, Girls and Gambling as writer/director Michael Winnick seemed to want to educate almost more than he wanted to make the real movie, by telling parts of the story of Pocahontas and John Smith at several points in the film, or through The Blonde’s Poe quotations.  Guns, Girls and Gambling was still fairly enjoyable even though it seems like it was trying a bit too hard at times to win us over.

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