Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Daddy’s Home 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Christmas season at the cinema continues. This is the review of Daddy’s Home 2.

IMDb summary: Brad and Dusty must deal with their intrusive fathers during the holidays.

Two weeks ago, a mother-daughter Christmas-themed comedy sequel has premiered – A Bad Moms Christmas. Daddy’s Home 2 is a father-son Christmas themed sequel. Coincidence or a conscious decision to target both genders? How about just making *gasp* one movie that everyone could enjoy? Anyways, onto the review.

  1. Back in 2015, the first Daddy’s Home film completely skipped my radar. I don’t think I even heard any coverage about it or seen an ad for it. Nevertheless, before going to see the sequel, I streamed its predecessor and found it to be a slow and silly but watchable comedy. Thus, I didn’t have any expectations for a sequel and was actually pleasantly surprised, as Daddy’s Home 2 felt like an improvement.
  2. The movie’s script was written by John Morris and Sean Anders, who also directed the film (the duo also worked on the first picture as well as on a bunch of B level comedies before). The story was fine. Firstly, I liked how this movie (and the first one too) spotlighted a non-nuclear family – a reality that a lot of people can relate to today. The doubling up of the parental competition worked well too (or tripling up if you count the moms’ plotline, which was basically what Bad Moms have already done). The family issues that were explored had some heart to them and the film’s attempt to put a comedic spin on the emotional moments was fairly successful.
  3. Speaking about the jokes of the movie in general, they were a mixed bag (as usual). Daddy’s Home 2 had some brilliant moments of humor (the thermostat joke was my favorite and the nativity scene wasn’t bad either) and some jokes that just didn’t land. There were some product placement-related jokes and some fun celebrity cameos. As this film dealt a lot with the concept of family, its humor was generally more family-friendly and less raunchy that the humor of a lot of modern comedies.
  4. The film’s direction was okay. The cabin setting felt a bit Grown Ups-esque (a.k.a. actors wanting a vacation), while the pacing wasn’t perfect – the picture slowed down a lot its third act. The callbacks to the first movie (the airport setting, the repetition of Ferrell’s character supposed death) were fun to spot. The musical number at the end was cute. Lastly, that pandering to cinemas ending was either a great meta-references or a super forced and out of place way to end the film. Can’t decide yet.
  5. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon, Transformers 4 and 5), came back as the co-dads at the center of the picture and were good. I’ve never been a fan of Ferrell but his comedic skills are growing on me (might give his other Christmas comedy Elf another chance). On the other hand, I’ve always liked Wahlberg in comedies and action-comedies (Ted 2), so I was just happy to see him in another one. The dads of the dads were played by Mel Gibson (who was actually hysterical to watch; plus, I guess this means that he is back, not only behind the camera (Hacksaw Ridge) but in front of it too) and John Lithgow (who was kinda jarring to watch in a comedic role cause he is engrained on my brain as Churchill on The Crown). Other cast members included Linda Cardellini and the celebrities/non-actors like John CenaAlessandra AmbrosioChesley Sullenberger (Sully) of all people.

In short, Daddy’s Home 2 was a perfectly serviceable but messy Christmas comedy that is more suitable for the whole family that the female version of the same film – A Bad Moms Christmas.

Rate: 2.75/5 

Trailer: Daddy’s Home 2 trailer

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Movie review: Churchill

Movie reviews

Hello!

Churchill is the first of the two biographical dramas of 2017 about ‘the greatest Briton of all time’ Winston Churchill (or the second of the three if we count his appearance on Netflix’s The Crown). Let’s see how good it is!

IMDb summary: 96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

While The Crown mostly touched upon Churchill’s second term in the office (1951-55), both biopics of this year are looking at his first term as the Prime Miniter. The second drama that’s coming around Christmas – The Darkest Hour – will look at the beginning of that term and the start of WW2 (1940-41), while Churchill explored the closing months of the said war and the D-day preparations (1944).

Writing

Churchill’s script was written by a British historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, thus, all (or at least the majority of) historical facts in the screenplay were most likely true to life, while the film-writing specific mistakes could be explained by a lack of experience in writing scripts (she has worked on a historical TV series before but only a little bit).

The biggest flaw in the writing for Churchill, to my mind, was the fact that a plethora of brilliant ideas were introduced or hinted at but never fully explored. I loved the nods to the strained UK/US relationship (like a parent/child one or an old married couple type of one) and the brief showcasing of the Churchill/King George VI relationship that was a complex combo of professionalism and friendship. Churchill’s relationship with his wife was also on display – she was his reality check as well as the biggest supporter – and I wanted to see more of their confrontations and reconciliations.

The writing for the character of Churchill tried being complex but ended up confused. And yet, it still managed to surprise me. For one, I’ve never thought of Churchill as the leader of the ‘everyman’, who thought about the war in terms of the lives lost. I have also seen him as a very conservative leader, while this film depicted him as kinda a rebel in the eyes of the other war generals. This type of rebellious imagining also clashed with the other side of his persona – the fact that he was always seen as too old or living in the past (here the experience versus the inability to move forward debate comes up). His public vs private sides were also touched upon in the movie but were never distinguished well enough one from the other. Lastly, this film suggested that Churchill felt underappreciated for his efforts, which kinda goes against the ideas of today, where he is hailed as ‘The greatest Briton’ and statues of him are to be found in every major city in the UK (and on every corner in London, basically).

While I usually appreciate ambiguities as well as opposing ideas being presented in the motion picture, this time around, I felt that Churchill was just grasping all over the place and not only didn’t have a clear final message but didn’t even have an initial outline of what it wanted to achieve. It’s really a shame because a lot of ideas that the film introduced were ripe for exploration but were either wasted or wrongly mixed with other creative concepts.

Directing 

An Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky directed Churchill and did an okay job. I loved the opening images of the film – the signature hat in the bloody water – and thought that they were really cinematic. However, all of the following visuals really lacked grandness and felt like they belonged in a BBC TV movie or a miniseries. The lack of cinematic visuals could partially be explained by the fact that the movie’s script was very personal, more fitting to a long format analysis on the small screen. Speaking about longness, while the film itself was just around 100 minutes long and quite slowly paced, it, sadly, wasn’t always engaging to justify the slowness of the plot.

Acting

The best part of the whole film was its cast. Both Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson delivered transformational performances as Winston and Clementine Churchill. Cox brought vulnerability as well as a stubbornness to the performance, while Richardson was the perfect embodiment of the female strength.

Ella Purnell played Churchill’s secretary Helen Garret. Her role in the film really reminded me of another Churchill’s secretary character of Venetia Scott, played by Kate Phillips in The Crown. King George VI was played by James Purefoy. His character is probably one of the most recognizable movie characters of the British monarchy because of the slight stutter, explored in The King’s Speech.

In short, Churchill was an okay biopic that deserved a clearer and more concise writing and should have had more cinematic qualities in its visuals.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Churchill trailer

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