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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Movie review: Suffragette

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the good things about living in the UK is getting British films early. However, nowadays, finding time to review them is pretty problematic. So, in honor of Suffragette’s limited release in the US (a week later), let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.

Feelings

Personally, I get really angry when watching movies about minority rights. Although, I should not call women a minority, since we inhabit half of the world. Anyway, Suffragette, like 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, The Butler, and a plethora of other movies, angered me in a good kind of way – in a way that makes you want to do something with your life and change the world for the better. For this reason, I believe that everyone should watch Suffragette. In addition, I appreciate movie industry’s efforts to bring important issues to the forefront. How many people would actually research historical facts themselves? But when you put the same story into a visual media format, it instantly gets more attention.

Story&Writing

The film’s script was written by Abi Morgan – a British playwright and screenwriter. I have not seen her previous films, but would love to check them out someday, when I have time to do that. I believe that she did justice to this story. I would like to discuss a few plot points:

  1. The thing that really added a lot of flame into my overall angry/inspired physiological state after watching the film was the male characters. And not the ones who were actual douche bags. The main character’s husband was a terrible person. He acted like a victim and then just gave his son away. Even the detective, who was trying to stop Suffragette movement was a more likable character since he at least could justify his actions by saying that he was only trying to enforce the law (though, the law was definitely wrong that time). But the husband, who should have been supportive, was a complete disappointment. The film did a great job of reversing the roles of male characters and playing upon the viewers’ (or at least my) expectations.
  2. The movie also portrayed the fact that not all women wanted to fight for the cause. And while I disagree with their decision, I still believe that they were entitled to choose. I have already explained to you that I believe in feminism (contemporary way of fighting for women’s rights) as a choice when I reviewed Cinderella. Also, I have recently studied lots of fairy-tales in my English course at university and definitely realized that these stories are not as black and white as one might think.
  3. I loved how the film portrayed Suffragettes as a group. Although the movie focused a lot on one individual, you could still sense that she was a part of something bigger.
  4. Lastly, the end credits included the list of historical dates when women received voting rights in various countries. And sadly, some of the dates were not past but present ones. This just shows that the fight is not over and we have a long way to go. The film’s narrative also portrayed the idea of a long fight: the film was set in 1912 and the actual voting rights in the UK were received only in 1918 (partly) and in 1928 (fully). Other countries established equal voting even later.

Directing&Visuals

Suffragette was directed by Sarah Gavron who had her start making documentaries and later transitioned into narrative films. It is not really surprising that this film was made by a female director since it tackles women’s issues. However, I am really happy that it was directed by a woman, because I do not think that a male voice could have brought this story to live in a proper way. Although, I am not the kind of movie goer who pays a lot of attention to gender, race or skin color of a director, screenwriter or an actor and I believe in absolute equality, I still think that some individuals can tackle some issues better than others. I love how I contradict myself in the same sentence. Eh, what the heck: we can have ‘to each their own’ and ‘everything to all’ in the 21st century.

Talking about the visual aspects of the film, I have to admit that I did not really noticed them since the narrative was so strong. It overpowered both the Mise-En-Scene and Cinematography or it would be better to say that all three elements worked in perfect unison to create a flawless continuity. On a side note, some scenes for the film were filmed in the actual Houses of Parliament! 

Acting

  • Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts was a great leading lady. Her on-screen transition was simultaneously heartbreaking and empowering. Mulligan did a great job. I am a fan of hers – especially loved her last film – Far From The Madding Crowd – where she also played a strong female in a male world in a slightly different (earlier) period. She has also previously worked with the screenwriter of Suffragette in 2011’s Shame.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn was also amazing as one would expect. I became a fan of hers back when she was in Harry Potter films, but I also really loved The King’s Speech, Les Miserables and Alice, which she also has starred in. Interesting fact, according to Wikipedia, Bonham Carter is the great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1908–16, the prime years of the suffrage movement, which he opposed. Great granddaughter is going against her great granddad’s will – props to her.
  • Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst was also a nice addition to the cast. However, I can definitely understand why a lot of people were angry about the false advertisement. Streep had one scene/speech in the film and one encounter with our main character and while she definitely played an important figure of the movement (the leader), she should not have been put on the poster of the film. I would not even call her a supporting actress in this film, at best it was a cameo appearance.
  • Natalie Press as Emily Davison. Interestingly, I was not familiar with this actress only a few weeks ago, but then we watched the short film Wasp by Andrea Arnold in the film class. I really enjoyed that short movie, which portrayed raw social realism realistically. It was one of Press’s early films and she was great back then and is still a great actress now. She should have had that 3rd spot on the poster because of that spoiler-y reason at the end.
  • The cast also included Anne-Marie Duff as Violet Miller. I loved the contrast between her’s and Mulligan’s characters: one was becoming more fearless and independent, while another had to lose her independence for, again, a spoiler-y reason.
  • The two males of the film, whose stories I have already discussed were played by Brendan Gleeson (the detective) and Ben Whishaw (the husband). Previously, I have only seen Gleeson in Harry Potter films as well as in Edge of Tomorrow and Stonehearts Asylum. He will also star in In the Heart of Sea later this year. Speaking about Whishaw, I am a fan of his since Cloud Atlas, so it was quite weird to not like him as a character because he usually plays very likeable ones. He will also star in In the Heart of Sea, which comes out on Christmas, but we will also see him in Spectre next week. He will also be in The Danish Girl – another quite controversial film, which I can’t wait for. Whishaw sure is having a busy 2015.

All in all, Suffragette was a great movie about an important issue. While it might not be an entertaining film to watch, it is definitely an important one. This historical and, at the same time, very recent story was brought to life by amazing on screen performances and splendid off screen work.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Suffragette trailer

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Movie review: Kingsman The Secret Service

Movie reviews

Hi!

I haven’t done a movie review in a while and kinda missed it. So, I just came back from the cinema and now I am going to take a break from my studies and will review Kingsman: The Secret Service film. (Minor spoilers ahead).

Summary: According to IMDb, this movie tells a story of “a spy organization” which “recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.”

The film is based on the comic book The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar and directed by Matthew Vaughn who previously directed the first Kick-Ass movie as well as X-MEN First Class. While I hadn’t particularly liked Kick-Ass I loved the X-MEN prequel. Kingsman is in the middle – I didn’t love it but didn’t hate it either. Actually, I liked it much more than Kick-Ass, so it’s probably more to the plus side than in the middle.

To begin with, I really enjoyed the story of the film. It was modern and fresh but payed homage to the old spy movies. However, the story was  really quite complicated and full of twist and turns. So much happened in this film and it was quite long (129 min), I practically felt like I watched 2 or even 3 movies in one. Speaking about the believability of the story: it pushed the boundaries at some parts and, to my mind, went a little too far. Surprisingly, the movie still wrapped everything up nicely and neatly. I also loved that the film understood that it is just a film and broke the third wall between the characters and the viewers with lines like: “This is not that kind of a movie”.

Visuals: The world building was amazing! All the sets were exquisite and beautiful. The fight scenes were also amazingly filmed: the 360 shots and the shaky cam really worked well. But I have to warn you: the movie has a lot of blood and well…deaths. And a lot of popping heads…

Acting+Themes 

Now, I will go character by character and not only talk about actors’ performances but will also mention their story lines.

Colin Firth as Harry Hart/Galahad

Colin Firth – Action movie star? Yeah, this sounded strange to me too until I actually saw Colin in action. He was perfect! Such a cool and collected gentleman with a killer side. He reminded me of James Bond – a Brit in a suit with a secret identity. (Colin’s previous film’s review).

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Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin

Why I haven’t heard about this actor before? He was great in the role and played nicely with Colin’s character. He brought a breath of fresh air into the film and was the character that every young adult could connect to and root for. I believe we will see this actor much more often in the near future.

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Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine

Valentine – the villain – was super weird and crazy with a cool style (damn those hats). However, as a Marvel fan girl, I can’t say that I didn’t like Samuel and neither do I want to say that. Still, his accent was quite strange but it went well with the whole look of the character. His intentions were also strange but nicely portrayed our dependence of our mobile phones. That story line also tackled the issue of all consuming human aggression and our inability to deal with it. The last themes: overpopulation and global warming and the terrible means to fix these problems. BTW, anybody want to go to McDonalds?IMG_3989

Mark Strong as Merlin

I’m not really familiar with this actor’s work but I do know that I have definitely seen him in a film before. The only thing I would like to say about his character: I believe he provided a great balance to Egerton’s character in the last part of the film when someone else wasn’t around anymore.

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Sofia Boutella as Gazelle

I have only seen Sofia in Street Dance 2 before and liked her so much more in this film. Her character showed that disability doesn’t hold you back. I could probably watch the whole movie about her: she was a strong and fun character which could have been developed more deeply.

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Lastly, Michael Caine as Arthur/Chester King did a great job as always. (I talk more about Michael as an actor in this review). Sophie Cookson as Roxy was the only weak character for me. I couldn’t connect to her and wasn’t interested in her faith too.

All in all, I believe that this is a fun, quirky and interesting film. It has unexpected turns and while it sometimes goes a mile too far, it still manages to keep you focused and interested till the end. I would really like tho see this movie turn into a franchise but I doubt that will happen. However, if you don’t like weirdness and a lot of unnecessary killing – take my friendly advice and don’t watch it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Secret Service

UPDATE: They are making a sequal for 2017!!!!

IMG_3993Photos: screenshots from the trailer