Darkest Hour

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PGDarkest Hour

Directed by: Joe Wright

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Lisa Bruce, Douglas Urbanski

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn.

Set over the course of four weeks in 1940, Darkest Hour is based on the true story of Winston Churchill and the immense burden he carried as newly-appointed Prime Minister when Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe.

It’s a critical time in history.  A decision must be made to either fight in another world war against all odds, the Germans surrounding the entire British army on the shores of Dunkirk – or to negotiate with a madman.

The fight on Dunkirk is fresh in the minds of film enthusiasts after the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s memorable, ‘not-a-war movie’, Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour shows a different version of WWII, focussing on the same time in history yet here the story unfolds not on the ground – the soldiers dodging bullets or falling into the icy waters – here, we follow the men making the decisions and observe the politics and strategies of war held behind closed doors.  And with Churchill, sometimes the most important conversation taken on the telephone behind the door of the lavatory.

Darkest Hour is based on the beginnings of WWII, yes, but the story is about the man – Winston Churchill and all his flaws.  A man who has never taken the tube (well, only once during the strikes), a man whose wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) finds him intolerable but loves him anyway.  And no matter his power or position will always know him as, Piggy.Darkest Hour

Churchill never gives up, and it’s precisely his flaws that give him the strength to succeed.

Gary Oldman is every bit deserving of his recent Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.  See his acceptance speech here.

As Winston Churchill, Oldman’s barely recognisable as he embraces the part and becomes every bit the British Prime Minister affecting all the required mannerisms of the mumbling, alcoholic, cigar smoking, yet brilliant mind and oration of the man.

Ben Mendelsohn finally gets to be the good guy, here as King George VI.  Not the regal performance of Colin Firth in, The King’s Speech (2010) but suiting the tone of the film better with the gritty human nature of the characters used for amusement amongst all the seriousness of the story.Darkest Hour

And there’s not many tricks here – director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina) keeping any effects subtle with a sometimes lofty birds-eye-view to convey the overall feeling of politicians seeing the population as small parts to be manuvered for the greater good.

Mostly, this is a character-driven film, focussing on the dialogue and emotion of those who discuss the fortunes of thousands of lives.  We, as an audience, get a window into the world of Churchill as he weighs the cost; to ultimately decide no cost is too much – there is only perseverance to fight until the very end.

So, for all Churchill’s flaws, we are shown true grit and the character required when the world ceases to make sense.  And can the man speak!  The real pleasure of the film watching Churchill use his words to win over a nation, his famous speeches delivered by the believable performance of Gary Oldman.

Would I watch the film again?  Probably not.  This isn’t a thriller that keeps you on the edge, this is a stirring education and insight into just how close we came to losing our freedom.

All The Money In The World

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+All The Money In The World

Directed by:  Ridley Scott

 Written by:  David Scarpa based on the book by John Pearson          

Produced by: Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Quentin Curtis, Chris Clark, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam and Kevin J. Walsh

Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg. 

When a movie such as this is labelled ‘Inspired by True Events’ I can’t stop my mind constantly evaluating which of the events portrayed are true and which are pure speculation.

In this case the basic facts are that Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is an American-born British industrialist who negotiated a series of lucrative oil leases with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was declared the richest American in 1957.

On 10th July 1973, Paul, his grandson, (Charlie Plummer- no relation), then age 16, was kidnapped off the streets of Rome. Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) spends the rest of the film negotiating with a grandfather reluctant to pay the demanded ransom.

The film is based on a book on the Gettys written by John Pearson and this adaption from book to film does cause some narrative problems.

Although the kidnapping occurs very early in the film, a series of flashbacks quickly follow in succession, each dated to supply the necessary biographical information about the family’s background. I found this constant interruption of the main narrative quite disconcerting.

This is a film that moves slowly despite the potential for drama of a kidnapping. The tension is muted, crisscrossing between scenes of Paul and the kidnappers and his mother’s increasingly frustrated attempts to convince his grandfather to ‘pay up.’ It is only in the last half hour that the adrenalin really starts pumping.

Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams give solid if somewhat pallid performances with Williams reprising the mood of her role as Alma, wife of Ennis Del Mar, in Brokeback Mountain – all stoic endurance.

Surprisingly, moments of emotion are few and far between and unexpectedly more often between the young Paul and Cinquanta, one of the Calabrian captors (played convincingly by Romain Duris), who does what he can to make the captivity endurable.

What intrigued David Scarpa, the scriptwriter, about the story were the psychological aspects, how “the obstacle wasn’t paying the ransom and rescuing his grandson – the obstacle was psychological, he just couldn’t bear to part with his money.”

This is a visually beautiful film from Dariusz Wolski, (Director of Photography) renowned for each of the first four films in the record-breaking Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

The Italian landscapes fairly hum with an erotic energy and the lush interiors of the Getty mansions with their shadowy corners and opulent décor are more like scenes captured from the Old Masters that hang on the Getty walls.

The film however, exists in the shadow of that space where art and life often collide. Originally, Kevin Spacey, transformed by elaborate make-up and prosthetics, played the iconic tycoon. But when many men came forward alleging that the actor had sexually abused them, Christopher Plummer was hastily signed on as the replacement.

Many scenes had to be re-shot and interestingly Michelle Williams re-shot all her scenes with Plummer, refusing to accept recompense in solidarity with all those who had allegedly been abused by show business luminaries.

Perhaps this unfortunate interruption of reality goes part way to explain some of the film’s deficiencies and its rushed feeling. Sometimes the action verges on melodrama, especially in the several scenes where paparazzi on steroids surge like locusts around the Getty entourage or the one thousand newspapers delivered by Gail to Getty senior to capture his attention, swirl about him like snow. Nothing subtle here.

In the end Getty senior is a somewhat clichéd portrayal, the lonely old rich tycoon without no attempt to understand the causes of his rigid personality. There’s a deeper story here somewhere but unfortunately it’s tricky to find, much like the Getty ransom.

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Final Portrait

GoMovieReviews Rating:
MFinal Portrait

Directed and Written by: Stanley Tucci

Adapted from: James Lord’s memoir, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’

Produced by: Gail Egan, Nik Bower, Ilann Girard

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy.

‘No question of the portrait ever been finish’, states Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush).  As a portrait is never finished.

And it certainly begins to feel that way to James Lord (Armie Hammer) after agreeing to pose while on a short trip to Paris in 1964.

Based on James Lord’s memoir, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’, the film is written and directed by Stanley Tucci (also known for his acting and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in, The Lovely Bones (2009)), the film centres on the battle of wills between the two men: Alberto, the cantankerous genius, and the ever-tolerant James: forced to sit on a rickety wicker chair, day after day as Alberto paints and then repaints his portrait.Final Portrait

What began as flattery turns into a test of endurance as he bares the rantings of the aging Swiss-Italian.  Alberto at one point telling James, ‘Don’t scratch’

‘I itch’, James replies.

‘Don’t itch.’

Yet, through all his vitriol and terrible treatment of his ever-loving wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), he shows warmth and love for his favourite model and prostitute, Caroline (Clémence Poésy).

Funnily enough, a film about an artist is shown in drab colours as most of the scenes were shot in Alberto’s destitute studio – filled with sculptures, finished and some just begun, with long faces resembling their maker.

But I couldn’t help smiling.

Geoffrey Rush is just so believable as this grumpy genius, embracing the artist’s technique of painting, speaking fluent French and Italian and most importantly showing the movement and attitude of the artist.

‘Have you ever wanted to be a tree?’ he asks James.

‘No’.

Alberto might be cranky, but there’s also vision.  And we’re given a glimpse into the mindset of the man.Final Portrait

The quietly knowing brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub) balances the tone of the film, lightening the mood as he’s well aware of Alberto’s moods.  And still loves him in spite of it.

Set over two weeks, the idea of showing a character through the process of painting a portrait simplifies the peeling away of layers.

The film is really, a character study.

I was surprised when the film finished as I was happy to stay in the wry, exasperating yet thoughtful space.

And the clever way of showing Alberto’s personality was a pleasure to watch.

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Victoria & Abdul

GoMovieReviews Rating:
PG-13Victoria & Abdul

Director: Stephen Frears

Based on journalist Shrabani Basu’s book: Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant,

Screenplay by: Lee Hall

Casting Directors, Leo Davis & Lissy Holm. Casting Director – India, Nandini Shrikent. Music by Thomas Newman. Make-up and Hair Designer, Daniel Phillips. Costume Designer, Consolata Boyle. Production Designer, Alan Macdonald. Editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, ACE. Director of Photography, Danny Cohen, BSC.

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward.

Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Pigott-Smith, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Paul Higgins, Robin Soans, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow and Michael Gambon.

In 1887, Abdul travels from India to present a ceremonial medal as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

As the title suggests, Victoria & Abdul is a film based on the (mostly) true events of a previously unheard of close friendship between Queen Victoria and a Muslim Indian, Abdul Karim.

The film opens on a caricature portrait of the queen: an elderly, overweight woman, bored and cantankerous as she attends seemingly endless engagements to celebrate her 50 years on the throne.  Until a tall, handsome ‘Hindu’ catches her eye.

Aside from the difference in age and race, Queen Victoria blossoms under the attention of this most attractive, warm-hearted man.  And you can see the romantic overtures of the relationship as the elderly monarch falls in love with Abdul’s (Ali Fazal) bright eyes and unique perspective of the world.

Although not a physical relationship, Abdul becomes her close confident and Munshi, a spiritual advisor and teacher – completely unheard of in 17th century England.

She persists in keeping Abdul by her side against the pressure and ultimate rebellion of her Court and family, demanding she stop keeping the Indian man’s company, let alone promote him.

And it’s fascinating to watch the iron will of the Queen as she insists – because, after all, isn’t she the Empress of India?

In 2001, journalist Shrabani Basu, while researching the origins of curry, discovered not only Queen Victoria’s love of curries but also a portrait and bronze bust made of an Indian gentleman.   After further investigation, 13 volumes of Queen Victoria’s diaries were found, previously unread because they were written in Urdu (a Persianised and standardised register language of the Hindustani language).

After translating the diaries, Basu discovered the unconventional relationship between the Queen and a young clerk, Abdul.Victoria & Abdul

The book has been adapted for the screen by writer, Lee Hall (who also wrote the beloved, Billy Elliot (2000)), changing the journalistic style of the book into a drama more suited to a wider audience.

Victoria & Abdul

The setting and costuming were carefully crafted, showing the extravagance of royalty while also showing the silliness of ceremony.

Victoria and Abdul is a period drama, which isn’t really my cup-of-tea, but there’s true brilliance in casting Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria (again) – Dench depicting the Queen’s grit beautifully with guidance from director, Stephen Frears (both Frears and Dench having experience portraying Queen Victoria with Frears directing The Queen back in 2006 and Dench cast as Queen Victoria in, Mrs Brown (1997)).

Victoria & Abdul gives a glimpse into the personality of the woman, her iron will and the simplicity of her nature; the drawing reflected so well in Abdul’s eyes.

It was like watching an elderly, sick woman come to life.

And inspiring to see one so sure of her wants and needs against all other opinions, even those of her son.

Fan’s of Judi Dench you will enjoy seeing her play the borderline dirty old woman cradle snatching a younger man (Abdul, 24 when he first arrived in England and the Queen, in her 80s), and to admire her strength of character while surrounded by pompous idiots.

So, an enjoyable watch with highlights of humour and emotional undertones – a chance to look behind the curtain of English Royalty, to glimpse a remarkable woman who, against all odds and so late in life, found love and friendship in the most unlikely person, her Munshi, Abdul.

American Made

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA 15+American Made

Directed by: Doug Liman

Writer: Gary Spinelli

Produced by: Brian Grazer, Brian Oliver, TylerThompson, Doug Davison, Kim Roth

Executive Producer: Ray Angelic

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Roger Mitchell, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays.

When a film is promoted as ‘based on a true story’, I’m always curious to know which parts are factual and which take more creative options.

This was the question lingering at the back of my mind as I watched American Made, the story of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot, recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance over the camps of communist rebels in South America in the 1970s. In Universal Pictures’ American Made, Tom Cruise reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman.

Barry, played by Tom Cruise, establishes his ‘devil-may-care’ attitude in the movie’s opening scene when he tries to liven up his own TWA flights occasionally by turning off the auto-pilot and giving the passengers a quick bouncy thrill.

Barry’s entrepreneurial skills also include picking up black market cigars on his South American stopovers and soon CIA agent Monty Schafer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) makes an offer that Barry just can’t refuse.

Very quickly Barry’s taking more than holiday snaps as he flies low over Communist guerrilla camps in Nicaragua. He’s a natural adventurer and next he comes onto the radar of the Medellin drugs cartel, an organized network of drug suppliers and smugglers originating in the city of Medellin, Colombia.American Made

Barry’s task is to pick up drugs in Colombia and drop them off to contacts in America so when he is eventually nabbed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he does a deal that sees him further recruited to deliver arms to the Contra rebels who are fighting for the overthrow of the Sandinista left-wing government in 1979 in Nicaragua.

Yes this sure is a bumpy ride and viewers need to hold onto their seats lest they get lost in the dramatic twists and turns of Barry’s story.

There’s not a lot of acting required here.

Cruise as Barry, whose moniker became ‘the gringo who just gets things done’,  roller-coasters through the action despite a slightly puzzled look on his face.

Sarah Wright as Lucy, his wife, plays the role of a pregnant, frazzled mother one minute and next the good-time party girl when the dollars start rolling in.

Domhnall Gleeson, as the CIA agent, is really just the stereotypical, emotionless cog in a well-oiled machine.American Made

However, the surprise for me was Caleb Landry Jones, playing ‘Bubba’, Seal’s brother-in-law. He was outstandingly creepy in the recent excellent thriller, Get Out. Here his character displays a truly believable feeling of pathos, with albeit, just a little bit of creepiness too.

This movie is billed as comedy and plays for laughs and even occasionally morphs into Keystone Cop routines, choosing to pay no attention to the hidden but real human casualties of the drugs cartel and of the arms Contra deal. The USA-supported Contras were later accused of widespread kidnapping, torture, murder and rape of civilians.

However, in the end it’s difficult not to be swept along, as Barry obviously was, by the movie’s excitement and adrenalin rush and to leave these more serious questions for another time.

The 1970s – 80s look of the film is totally convincing in music, costume and style – there’s a sort of brown and orange haze that reminded me of an Australian 1970s beach house.

And despite his tragic end, Barry obviously made the most of it all so why, I suppose, shouldn’t we?

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All Eyez On Me

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+All Eyez On Me

Director: Benny Boom

Screenplay: Steven Bagatourian

Producers: L. T. Hutton, David l. Robinson, James G. Robinson

Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohan, Jamie Hector, Annie Ilonzeh, Kat Graham and Jamal Woolard.

After being hit in the stomach by a patient at work (hospitals aren’t always the safest places), I was feeling feisty going in to see the biography of controversial rapper, Tupac Shakur (AKA 2Pac) in, All Eyez On Me.

I didn’t expect to get into the film as I wasn’t a fan, but I became absorbed by the tenacity of the man (rhyming intended).

Taking me back to the late 80s to early 90s, back to a time when I was still at high school, put off rap when lyrics from, The 2 Live Crew’s track: Me So Horny, were sung by oh so horny teenagers – the story of Tupac was unfamiliar.  Sure, I’d heard of him.  Anyone alive during that time would have, and that’s a testament to his fame, but I didn’t know the details of his life.

By the time Tupac was 25 when he died a week after being shot by, to this day, persons unknown, Tupac Shakur had sold over 75 million records had starred in six films and one TV show all in the space of 5 years, including his time in jail for ‘indecent touching’. This guy was a trail blazer.

All Eyez on Me is a biography and thankfully not a rap music video featuring gangsters and tits and arse, for which 2Pac was famous, there’s also his political side, his poetry and his relationship with his mother.

Both his step father and mother were part of the Black Panther’s back in the 70s, his mother jailed while pregnant with Tupac only to be released after her self-representation.  His step father also jailed after being charged for armed robbery whether a set-up by the police for being a Black Panther leader or because he did the robbery or for all of it.

It’s interesting how times have changed and how artists who survived those days such a Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have been washed and rinsed and sanitised.  And I felt that the perspective of the film laundered Tupac’s life for the big screen.  Yet, there’s effort to show the controversy, the gangster attitude and misogynous stance to then switch to Tupac’s defence to give a little understanding as to the why.  And the, Why not?

It was interesting to be shown a slice into the life that was Tupac.  From his life as a child to his final hours as partner of Death Row Records, still dreaming, still creating, still getting out there to stand.

The opportunity for Tupac to defend his life style was shown through an interview with journalist Kevin Powell (who’s now suing for copywrite infringement, see article here) while he was jailed.  The premise being just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  And although sometimes disgusted, I admit I got into the film and the charisma of the character, Demetrius Shipp Jr, well-cast as Tupac.   But wow, the man himself would have been so much better.

A few pieces of old footage are spliced into the film which I would have liked more if possible without taking away from the drama and character of the film.

And 2Pac’s music was a slow reveal and used in triumph as Tupac makes a comeback, again and again.

All Eyez On Me is an interesting film if you can stomach the macho BS that is the attitude of the 80s rapper.  Particularly the history of West Coast Rap and where artists like Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac come together.

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