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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.


Arrival – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review


Well, this one was a real treat!  It has been quite a while since I’ve seen a really good science fiction film, and Arrival really was good science fiction.  That being said, it won’t be for everyone.  Sure I loved the latest Star Wars movies but those are really more fantasy science fiction films this was in my opinion a true science fiction film.  It made you think, and if you paid attention, things were pretty obvious and made perfect sense.

The film opens with quick clips, almost like a dream, of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, from her birth through childhood to her premature death in adolescence from an incurable disease.   Twelve alien ships simultaneously arrive at different places on Earth.  One in America, one in Russia, one in China, one in the UK, one in Australia, and so forth.  Hovering above the planet, the ships silently wait as the armies and scientists of the world approach and study them.  In America, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician lead one of the teams attempting to make the historic “first contact”.  On-board the alien crafts they meet the seven-limbed aliens, who they call “heptapods”, and they begin attempt communication first by creating a written language.  The heptapods of course don’t look like we do, don’t sound like we do, don’t breath like we do, and seemingly don’t exist in dimensions the way that we do, so it is no surprise that their written language is nothing like ours, but eventually the team finds a way to decipher the circular symbols that they use for their words.  Naturally with humans being involved the process isn’t that easy, as some groups seek to attack the aliens rather than wait to see what they want.  It’s a race against the clock between militarized factions and science, with a “gift” promised by aliens as the reward and the fate of our planet hanging in the balance.  The film asks some pretty deep questions.  What is the gift?  Are the aliens giving each area only one-twelfth of their message to force humanity to unite and work together?  Why would the aliens offer a gift to Earth?  And why is Louise dreaming about a child she has never had?

I really enjoyed this one, it won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and was nominated for seven other categories including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I really think Amy Adams deserved a Best Actress nomination, but for some reason that didn’t happen, though she was nominated for the Golden Globe.  The characters were well written, and the acting was top notch all around, as was the sound and the visual effects.  The film draws some comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact, but never feels like it is a simple derivative.  The story unfolds rather well, and for a moment, it seems like there is a massive twist in the plot, but a moment later you begin to realize there really is no twist, but just the realization that the film had already explained itself to you.  Arrival was a smart and sophisticated sci-fi that even those who don’t love sci-fi will enjoy.

Bottom Line: Arrival was based on the Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” which was first published in 1998.  Also, I really wanted to talk about the reveal here, but it’s a massive spoiler, just watch it for yourself!

Brooklyn – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Brooklyn4.0 Stars

Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a young Irish girl from the small town of Enniscorthy who takes an opportunity provided by the local church to go and live in Brooklyn, New York.  Though she is sad to leave her mother and her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) in Ireland, she has no problem at all leaving behind the job she held in the local shop run by the strict and miserly Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan).  Though the land of opportunity is not always easy, Eilis battles seasickness, homesickness and loneliness.  Finding some comfort from Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), the priest who sponsored her, she slowly makes a few friends at the boarding house she lives in run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), finds a job at Bartocci’s department store; where she is befriended by Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré) her supervisor who teaches her some of the finer points of fitting in in America; and even enrols in Brooklyn College to study bookkeeping.  One night while out at an Irish dance with other girls from the boarding house, she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber who has fallen in love with her from across the dance floor.  Eventually Eilis reciprocates his feelings and the two start dating, fall completely in love and we’ve seen Eilis come full circle and emerge a confident young woman, until she is called back to Ireland for a family tragedy.  Returning to her former home her confidence, maturity and now worldly nature shine through winning her the heart of another suitor in Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) who she also falls in love with.  What does this mean for her life in Brooklyn?  And her love for Tony?  And her secret marriage to Tony that happened just before she left the States?

This was an excellent movie, and I really enjoyed it.  It was simply a story.  I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a love story, or a drama, or anything.  It was just a really well told, very natural feeling, everyday story.  It involved the viewer emotionally, challenged them to think a little bit, and just told the tale of a life that does not seem unrealistic for anyone to have lived.  The entire cast was excellent, and so were the performances.  Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, were each very entertaining in their supporting roles.   I’m a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan though and with Brooklyn she once again earned my admiration.  The twenty-two year old actress has been nominated for two acting Oscars and has won other awards in the past for her roles in Atonement and The Lovely Bones.  Again, I think this was just a year of poor timing for some, as Brie Larson was pretty much a lock for the Best Actress Oscar.  I have little doubt though that Ronan will capture an Oscar in her career, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in the very near future.

Bottom Line: I think I’m finally caught up with everything I watched for the Oscars this year!  I guess I should really watch Revenant too….

Danish Girl – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details3.5 Stars

I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in seeing The Danish Girl, but I was completing my Oscar set and since both Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne were nominated for the awards formerly known as Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor but now for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role respectively, I gave it a watch.  Redmayne won last year for his portrayal as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Vikander had a really big year with The Danish Girl, BurntMan From U.N.C.L.E. and Ex Machina.

The movie is inspired by the true story of one of the first sex change operations ever performed.  Gerda Wegener (Vikander) and her husband Einar Wegener (Redmayne) were two successful artists living in Cophenhagen in 1926.  When her usual model is unavailable (Amber Heard), Gerda needs someone to model as a woman for one of her paintings, so she uses Einar dressed up in the model’s dress and stockings for the part.  As Gerda’s paintings become more and more popular, and the art world becomes obsessed with her model, Einar starts to accept his feminine side more and more, eventually becoming “Lili” the name they’ve given for his alter-ego.  Embracing “Lili” even more, he begins masquerading as her about town and eventually falls in love with a young man, who knew who he really was.  With the support of his wife, Einar undergoes a sex change operation to fully embrace his female side.

I was a little confused by this film and a little frustrated too.  I don’t know how accurate this depiction was to the true story, but I found the Einar character to be kind of selfish.  He seemed to have a great wife who he just kind of leaves in his quest to become a woman.  Yes, she was supportive of this, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as she seemed to be just going along with Einar’s wants.  It seemed as though there were a lot of “love triangles” in the film; there was Gerda, Einar and a childhood friend of Einar’s who seemed to want to step in for Gerda when Einar wanted to step out; there was Gerda, Einar and Henrik (Ben Whishaw) the man Einar has fallen in love with; and there’s even the triangle between Gerda, Einar and Lili which Gerda may be responsible for.  It’s clear though that the film was written so that the audience feels empathy for both Einar and Gerda.

The story was okay and everything moved along fairly well.  The costume and set design were also very well done (and Oscar nominated), but the acting is really what I came for.  Redmayne was very good as Einar/Lili and Vikander was quite excellent as Gerda, but was she deserving of her “Best Supporting Actress” win?  I think that Alicia Vikander definitely deserved an Oscar, but maybe not for The Danish Girl, and maybe not for Supporting Actress.  She should have been nominated for Best Actress, as Gerda was the lead female character and even had more screen time and dialogue than Redmayne according to the IMdB.  I personally think that her performance in Ex Machina was better than this one, so I am of the opinion that she was nominated in the wrong category and for the wrong film.  I say this, but after having seen Room, I don’t think anyone else stood a chance against Brie Larson, so going in for Best Supporting Actress really did pay off.

Bottom Line: Ex Machina won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and while technically the award went to the crew and effects team,  I feel it really was Alicia Vikander’s award too.


Product Details4 Stars

This year, I’ve only seen a handful of movies that are nominated for the Oscars this year.  Of those (Hobbit, Skyfall and The Sessions) none were nominated for any of the “main” awards; well, except The Sessions I suppose, with Helen Hunt being nominated for Best Supporting Actress; but none were up for Best Picture.  This year, of the nine nominees, the only two I was remotely interested in seeing were Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook (and that was only after I saw the trailer, the commercial did absolutely nothing to sway my interest).  I know I missed Life of Pi at theatres, and I think Silver Linings as well, but I did want to see something before the Oscars and with Argo coming to DVD, I decided to watch it tonight.

Argo has been receiving very good reviews, and has won the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes.  Without having seen it, I did not think that the picture would have a chance against Spielberg and Lincoln, which seemed to be the early (and critics) favourites to win.  Now having seen the film, Argo could headline my picks for the Oscar pool at work.  I can see why the film has won the awards it has, and I they are well deserved, that being said, you may ask why I didn’t rate it five stars?  It didn’t really do a lot for me personally.  It was enjoyable, but a little dry, and I’m not a huge fan of movies “based on true events”, especially when it is a historical event that I was alive for….granted I was only six years old, but I did know how the events were going to play out.

In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was taken over by Iranian revolutionaries and the American staff and diplomats were taken hostage.  Six of the workers did manage to escape and hid in the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran.  With limited options, the CIA with the co-operation of the Canadian government devised a daring plan to extract the six “houseguests”.  They created a fake Canadian film project led by CIA agent Tony Mendez alias Kevin Harkins, who were looking to shoot their film in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew.  With the help of some trusted Hollywood insiders, a backstory is created for the fake film crew and the fake film: “Argo” a Star Wars-esque film with a Middle Eastern flavour.

It was a little ironic at times to have to view the CIA as the heroes, as when you think about it (and it is touched upon in the film’s opening sequences) the CIA helped create this situation in the first place.  It was partially their decades of influence over Iran’s government that led to the  corrupt and oppressive regime, eventually inciting the 1979 revolution.  It was also nice see some real world cloak and dagger work which was a lot less glamorous than that of James Bond.  It’s obvious that dramatic license was taken with some of the situations because looking at it from the outside, an awful lot of coincidences occurred at the climax, and after watching the special features of the DVD we learn that things didn’t play out exactly as Argo shot them, but as we should know, real world climaxes don’t usually equate to Hollywood climaxes.

The story was actually quite interesting and I liked how it all came together. The real world techniques used were what really fuelled the story, and drove the suspense for me.  Again, having a film based on real recorded historical events does kind of kill the suspense, but that’s where a skilled director and good script can return them.  Fortunately Affleck did manage to do this, and Argo did manage to hold my interest for the most part.  I did find that some parts of the movie moved rather slowly, and I didn’t really care for the glimpses of Mendez/Harkins’ personal life,  I just didn’t think they fit in this film.  Ben Affleck, as I said, did a good job directing, but I didn’t find his acting very good at all.  He wore one expression the entire movie, covered up by an ’80s beard and I think when he tried to inject humanity into his character he was forgot what the movie was doing at that time.  Instead of being a taught spy movie or a political thriller, a few times he looked like he was trying to make an “absentee dad” redemption film.

Of the rest of the cast, I can only say good things about Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin.  Cranston was excellent and believable in his CIA role, showing some of the life and passion that perhaps Affleck could have shown in his. Goodman and Arkin actually injected a lot of humour into the film, despite the overall serious nature of the situation, with their observational quips on Hollywood being both well scripted and well delivered.  Goodman plays John Chambers, a Hollywood effects and makeup artist who has done work for the CIA before; and Arkin plays Lester Siegel, a movie producer who is actually a composite of several Hollywood executives.  I find it unlikely that Arkin will win another Best Supporting Actor Oscar as he has already won that same award for Little Miss Sunshine, but if he did win, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

One nice little touch I personally enjoyed was a line near the end of the movie (I don’t think this will be a spoiler, since it is recorded history) when back in the States; Cranston’s character Jack O’Donnell congratulates Mendez on his work and quips “If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus” and Affleck’s Mendez replies “I thought we did”.  I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I thought the line to be a nice nod to John le Carré who wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; thought by some to be the definitive real world spy novel; a story about the British Intelligence agency, that he nicknamed The Circus.  When watching the special features, one of the real “houseguests” told of how they were thankful that Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor had such a large library in Iran to keep them occupied in the months before their escape, and that she had read all of his John le Carré novels at the time.

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