Darkest Hour (2018)

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All hail Gary Oldman, he may not be playing a king in this war drama, but his turn as Winston Churchill is unarguably incredible and deserving of golden awards and a crown.

During May of 1940, Germany are on the attack and reaching the worrying position of heading onto the shores of Britain. People and politicians alike have demanded the resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and his position becomes available for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). At such a crucial point in politics and the war effort, it becomes a huge task for him to stick true to his grit and dogged determination to fight on.

Joe Wright captures this massively important passage of time with such stunning detail. There are plenty of tracking shots that sweep through frames of locations heaving with extras and ornate rooms. Birds eye shots are seen on numerous occasions which truly help the audience realise the scale of the scene; as most of these are overhead shots from the men out on the fields fighting for their lives. This is a film that settles you in and makes the ticking over of these integral dates in May feel as significant as they clearly were.

Cinematography and music combine in this biographical war movie in such a beautiful fashion. There’s a captivating sense of weight to what is seen and heard which perfectly reflects the dramatic choices on Churchill’s shoulders. Sadly, the narrative itself isn’t as in keeping with the captivating score and mise en scene. It’s a screenplay that mostly manages to carry the ordeal of political power at the brink of UK failure but there are times that the film chugs along, almost dragging out the days. Also some scenes/moments just screamed of being contrived for pure cinematic, awards season value. The Underground visit being something that yanked me right out of the film.

Luckily, there isn’t too much that did take me out of the movie and one aspect that really immersed me was the creative skills of the hair and make-up team who have achieved a wonderful character in turning Oldman into the well known war leader. The look is incredible and I forgot through almost the entire feature, that I was watching the actor under such inspired prosthetics.

Speaking of which, Gary Oldman is a force of acting nature as the British bulldog. The inner depths of conflict and concerns whether his decisions are the right price to pay are utterly felt in every delivery of the lines; from nuanced engaging moments between the PM and his wife to more ferocious and sometime humorous words of wisdom that roar to life thanks to the apparent effortless talents of an actor well deserving of all award talk. Kristin Scott Thomas has a serene and wonderful presence in the film. She plays Clementine or ‘Clemmie’ as Winston calls her and the scenes with her are great moments that display her emotions to how her life is but they nicely give us respites in Churchill’s usual fiery resolve and show his human side when not performing. Lily James plays secretary Elizabeth Nel and her role, though softened and there to provide easy ways to inspire Churchill when necessary, isn’t entirely bland. James gives grace and helpful assistance to Winston and the film. I must also mention the wondrous Ben Mendelsohn who plays the stammering King George VI with a gracious believable touch and his change in heart to the once disliked Churchill further gives this film the rousing applause to an iconic figure in history.

The plot may not always be a searing delight, but the spotlight on Churchill’s achievements at the crux of British ruin is an intensely detailed marvel to look at and with Oldman stepping into the shoes and hat with a cigar to hand, Winston has never looked and sounded more alive than in this mesmerising showcase.

8/10

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Rogue One (2016)

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Jumping into hyperspace is this Star Wars story, slotting before ‘A New Hope’, it’s a fantastically expansive kick-start to the Lucasfilm and Disney anthology series, with the overall feel of this operatic space blockbuster being somewhat different to what has come before.

After being freed by Rebel Alliance officer Cassian (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) comes to realise her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been building a powerful weapon for the Imperial Army. Hoping to find some plans to destroy the Death Star, Jyn leads a troop of fighters to do just that and avoid the evil grasp of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

A film such as this is obviously going to arrive with trumpets tooting and hype at an all time peak, so it’s always a task to live up to expectations. Mostly, this movie does succeed if not having a few minor weaknesses. The detail and visual splendour of every planet alone is enough to delight and even more so when seen on the IMAX screen. The new characters are engaging enough to take us on this rebel journey and they’re written with that classic Star Wars code of either bad or good to fit this standalone story snugly with the other movies.

What works so nicely and what I liked the most wasn’t just the impressive scale of the hero’s mission but the attempt at a different tone set up here. It’s not exactly darker but threat is certainly on the line and with everyone’s favourite masked baddie back again it’s clear that the good guys need to watch out. The narrative we receive is unique enough in not tripping fully down nostalgia lane and it has us thrown into a murkier spy-like sci-fi with lives very much on the line.

It’s a simple focused story which is why it’s easy to follow this film and immerse yourself amongst the new creatures, wonderful Michael Giacchino score and fan pleasing links to the Star Wars galaxy. Gareth Edwards directs confidently and with his team the structure of the movie is sound, it all works well, maybe too well because there’s times when the movie feels safe even when it’s treading down an unexplored road of danger and rebellion.

For me at least, the ending is orchestrated greatly, sky fights and ground battles combine in harmony but there comes a time when casualties of war become commonplace and drastically lose impact. Also a near end deus ex machina is totally cliched and felt lazy. Everything just comes to a head, it’s like they tried set up but it didn’t quite work and thinking on it the simple story is non-daring and tightropes the line of being not Star Wars but yet a thoroughly Star Wars picture.

Felicity Jones is brilliant in this, she portrays a gritty determination and hopeful look for a better Empire. The wavering teary eyes give great character emotion and then she can do steely Lara Croft action or engaging empathising smiles to round Jyn Erso as a cool addition to the Wars World. Ben Mendelsohn does a fine job in almost stealing the show, snarls and calm villainous stares make him a marvellous antagonist. Forest Whitaker is a believable guardian yet with a shaky moral core being good yet having a mean streak for intruders. Diego Luna pairs nicely with Jones, the writing of an affection is lame but he’s a rough and ready soldier and a capable male lead. It’s great to hear James Earl Jones voicing Vader once more and trust me, Darth does force choke his way to bad-assery during the film.

Mostly, Rogue One is an entertaining change to the galaxy we know, as it tries to conjure up something a bit different which is almost 100% successful and aside from a couple of near-end niggles, this is a movie to excite all ages and comfort you whilst blasting you with new faces and new worlds.

7.5/10

Lost River (2014)

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Tying in drama, fantasy, darkness and suburban American life, Ryan Gosling’s feature as debut director is a far cry from the interesting piece it could have been. It received both a chorus of cheers and boos when it premiered at Cannes and it isn’t difficult to see why. It has some neat moments but comes to a sticky mess of ideas that feel majorly pretentious.

In a neighbourhood losing houses fast and emptying of folk lives single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) who is trying her best to keep her home and raise her boys. Bones (Ian  De Caestecker) is the eldest who learns from Rat (Saoirse Ronan) that the town is cursed and a beasts head must be removed to stop it. Against shady bankers and twisted criminals, ‘Lost River’ is a place in dire need of saving and fast.

You instantly get that feeling from this film that Ryan Gosling has picked up some mannerisms from ‘Drive’ mentor Nicolas Winding Refn. The surreal and mostly slow pace to the film builds that dream like sense that both ‘Drive’ and ‘Only God Forgives’ had. Though this fantastical tale sadly falls into the weird and not wonderful category that ‘Only God Forgives’ is in. It’s a bit too much of all things and though the style is there, it over runs substance or can even feel indulgent.

Great shots and interesting cinematography stop you completely nodding off in this obscene dream landscape and some frankly odd neon set ups showcase that Gosling has some potential in crafting some different to the norm, but I believe it’s something that needs a lot of honing because even for the off circuit festivals and art house places this movie suffers from being less than subtle and disturbing in the story it’s telling.

Ryan Gosling also writes, showing he really means it when he wants to step down from the acting lark he was involved in. He is truly a better director than writer. The script incorporates a lot of themes and ideas that feel like an acid Alice in Wonderland style trip, character names are the least obvious trait that this film will take you somewhere unexpected. A nightclub portraying bloody acts, underwater towns and a Miss Havisham granny play their parts in this mix of nightmares.

The music, I must mention is top notch listening. He’s clearly picked up a knack of hearing fine electronic sounds that wash nicely into your ears, tunes that gently provide that backdrop for a cool nighttime drive. Of course it pales in comparison to the vibe of ‘Drive’ and that soundtrack but Johnny Jewel’s score helps the film stun the senses.

Christina Hendricks is a fine actress, getting the emotional mother role to play, she becomes stronger as she falls further down the rabbit hole. Saoirse Ronan is masterful in everything I’ve seen her in. A beautiful young actress who gives this Rat character guts, fear, intrigue and kindness that feels the most real amongst the other characters. Ian De Caestecker doesn’t do much for me here, it’s a good enough role but not enough to break the mould I see of him from ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’. Ben Mendelsohn rises up here in a thoroughly creepy portrayal as no nonsense Dave. The almost still facial expression and slither of his push towards Billy is gross and Mendelsohn can rival Oscar Isaac’s dance from ‘Ex Machina’ with the moves he puts on show in this film. Matt Smith shaves his hair, buffs up and plays a nasty bully aptly named Bully. It’s a panto sort of role but he does sell this villainous crime lord well.

It might seem unfair to call it a mess because it does have some magical imagery and cool ideas but it’s not something that evoked any strong desires to watch it again, think of it other than to write this up or recommend it to anyone else. I can say I’m glad I saw it to witness Gosling’s clear knowledge of building atmosphere and lucid fairy-tale points and that’s about that.

4.5/10