Darkest hour focuses on the period starting in 1940, when Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is forced to step aside as British Prime Minister and Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is the only choice to step up to the role after a close rival Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) declines the offer. Facing the imminent threat of invasion from Hitler’s forces marching across Western Europe, Churchill has to navigate a course to survival against a King who has little faith in him and plotting within his own party after making some unpopular policies and decisions.
Of course, all the talk is of Gary Oldman and a role most would probably never have imagined him playing. He’s a good guy for a start, often Oldman has been cast as the sinister bad guy but here he gets to play the other side and he revels in the role. At first you see the very grumpy and stern man but as the film progresses you see a more human side to the man when his relationship with his wife and secretary are explored a little more closely. This is where Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James come in, respectively. They provide an excellent foil to Oldman’s portrayal as Churchill. Thomas shows a stunning loyalty as his long-suffering wife and although I’m not sure about James overall, her journey from being intimidated by her new superior to trusted confidant is interesting to follow. Gary Oldman’s performance is rightly winning him the accolades coming his way but it’s worth noting he has an excellent support network around him. As well as the main cast there’s fantastic support from the likes of Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn as King George and Joe Armstrong.
Darkest Hour is an excellent film. Anyone expecting this to be about how the war leading to victory then you might be disappointed. That said, these events do pave the way for how victory was actually achieved. The events in this film are told in great detail about how Churchill managed to win round a doubting King and silence his critics, if this hadn’t happened then there would have been no victory. I can’t comment as to how accurate these events are as history was never my strong point but in terms of story telling based on fact this is an excellent example of how to do it correctly. Having already illustrated how well a finely chosen cast make the film well-played is matched evenly by some very straight forward direction from Joe Wright. I really got the feeling that he just allowed the film to flow to the pace of the cast, therefore allowing them to dictate (pardon the pun) how well the film came across. Given the title, it was in some parts much lighter than I expected with some very amusing little quips and moments that showed a British spirit that, these days, is sadly lacking. As historical dramas go, and the focus more on the politics than the war itself, Darkest Hour is a fine film.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars – We will fight them in the cinema
Family man and ex cop Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is travelling home on his regular train having been deemed surplus to requirements to his Insurance sales job in the city. He’s approached by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and told that he can make a quick $100,000 if he identifies an individual also travelling the train. This is the only information he’s given and just when he thinks he should turn the offer down he’s informed that his family have been taken hostage so he has little choice but to co-operate. MacCauley has to use all his skills from his time as a cop to identify the other person and then negotiate the safe release of his family.
I wouldn’t say this is a typical Liam Neeson role when, in actual fact, it’s completely a typical role for him. His on-screen families should come with some sort of health warning, He’s a great actor, of course, but there’s nothing new for him to do here. Vera Farmiga turns in a devious yet charming performance as our lead villain. Patrick Wilson delivers another reliably steady offering as MacCauley’s former partner and best friend whilst I think Sam Neill just had a spare half an hour as his role was not all that demanding.
This has probably already been said but The Commuter is Taken on a train to all intents and purposes. His family are taken and the only real difference is he has to carry out their bidding rather than hunt them down and kill them with his particular sets of skills although they are heavily relying on his set of skills as a cop to get him through the exercise. The film really lacks an identity of its own and just follows the tried and tested formula that has been known to serve a Liam Neeson action film well in recent years and whilst it isn’t an awful film you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen it all before. In its defence it’s well enough made and professionally executed but it’s money for old rope when you get down to the bones of it. The Commuter is a film that gives you what you expect without taking the scenic route and avoids any unnecessary diversions getting in on time at the station.
Some months after the murder of her daughter and with no arrests or progress of any kind made with the case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) spots three billboards on a disused road just outside of the titular Ebbing, Missouri. She takes it upon herself to use the boards to shame the Police department, in particular Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), as to why the murder lies unresolved. Whilst those close to Mildred support her actions the town is divided not least when other circumstances are revealed. Tensions rise between he townsfolk bringing about tragic consequences.
Well, where do you start with this excellent cast? Frances McDormand, as you would expect, leads the line with incredible poise and conviction. She puts across that she is a woman with a real axe to grind and her frustration at the lack of action by the authorities comes across in every scene. She delivers her gritty dialogue with a cutting edge that you can actually feel. In contrast, Woody Harrelson offers the performance of a well-meaning and dedicated Chief of Police carrying a heavy burden but no less sympathetic to Mildred’s case, It’s a sincere performance and for the early stages of the movie the mutual respect, despite their differences, between Mildred and Willoughby comes across really well. From the main cast that leaves Sam Rockwell, and what a performance it is. Given the standards of the rest of the cast and their contributions, to say his is the stand out performance is not an over statement. As understudy to Willoughby, Rockwell’s Dixon is a troubled soul. A known racist with unproven allegations of physically abusing people of colour (his words), he takes real issue with Mildred’s actions and those who aid and support her, I wouldn’t describe it as stealing the show as that wouldn’t be fair to the other cast members, it’s just his was the performance which really grabbed me and left me with that feeling he was the main man here.
There is also superb support from Peter Dinklage and John Hawkes and a special mention for Samara Weaving who plays the dim-witted nineteen year old bimbo, Penelope; the new girlfriend of Mildred’s abusive ex-husband. She’s given some great little bursts of dialogue and plays the role to a tee.
The film is marvellous. I enjoyed it from start to finish. It’s a great story told with a gritty panache that you rarely get these days. A superb script and great set of players bring the story to life with impeccable class, it’s just a joy to watch. Despite the bleak and dark elements involved with the story it is a comedy when all is said and done but it still manages to evoke the emotions of sympathy and detestation towards the characters and the film is able to be able to pull those feelings to their opposites as the tale unfolds. It may only be January and this may have been on limited release last year but it’s noThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri exaggeration to say this is a contender for the best film this year. I loved both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards is an excellent addition to those brilliant offerings from the ever impressive writer/director Martin McDonagh. His ability to tell a story and put it to film in such a consistently impressive fashion proves he is a credit to the film making and I hope he has plenty more to come.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars – How much talent can one film have?
Following on directly from the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has sought out the last remaining Jedi – Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). A mission with two goals for Rey, to understand what has awoken inside her and to bring Skywalker back into the fold of the battle between the dark side and the light. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), meanwhile, are suffering great losses at the hands of the First Order and are almost at the point of being wiped out. The universe needs Luke Skywalker but will the former farm boy now jaded and bitter old Jedi master come to their aid and right the wrongs he feels so responsible for in the evolution of Ben Solo (Han and Leia’s son) to becoming the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)?
Let’s get the big one out of the way. As with Han and Leia in episode VII is was great to have Mark Hamill back, in full, after the drawn out wait in The Force Awakens. Hamill steps back as if he’s never been away and the only difference is, naturally, that he has aged somewhat. A jaded and apparently quite bitter man he battles with the demons he faces after his role in the loss of Ben Solo to the dark side which is only exacerbated when he learns of Han’s demise at the hands of his own son. He’s very cynical towards Rey to the point where he begins to fear the power she possesses.
Sadly this will be the last we see of Carrie Fisher in the saga, at least in her true form. After the close of Rogue One, we can’t rule out anything similar happening in Episode IX but that would be very disrespectful to the great work she has given to the Star Wars saga. Here, she’s a very dry and majestic leader of the dwindling rebel forces but no less determined. It was heartwarming to see the siblings Luke and Leia “reunited” after so long.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), for me, holds the key to where the saga goes next. Ridley has been an excellent choice to take the story forward and keeps that momentum going in Episode VIII. She’s now a very confused young woman who has resolved to “find her place”.
Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), like Rey, is also a key character that will have a huge influence on where we go next. At first here he still seems conflicted with Rey trying to entice him into embracing whatever good remains in him but as time goes on and he sees Skywalker emerge from hiding he becomes even more resolute to complete his destruction of the Jedi and what remains of the Rebel Alliance. Unfortunately Kylo Ren is becoming a little of a comedy figure within the story, as have The First Order, and the writers will do well to return him to a darker perspective similar to that of his Grandfather, Darth Vader.
John Boyega and Oscar Isaac seem to have been reduced to a completely irrelevant subplot within the movie and their characters have little time to develop.
So there’s some very good elements to Episode VIII but, equally, there’s some very disappointing elements which stop The Last Jedi from being great. The good parts mainly surround the relationship between Rey and Luke, this is very reminiscent of when Luke first encountered Master Yoda in the Dagobah system in Episode IV. The characters are clearly at odds with each other, especially as Luke begins to see the power Rey has and he fears the same outcome for Rey as with Kylo Ren. There’s some excellent dogfight scenes in the films early stages as the remaining rebels battle to evade the First Order but sadly as we reach the closing battle scenes we’ve edged back into Episode I territory as it all become as little bit cartoony and slapstick. This is isn’t the only time there are similarities to the terrible Phantom Menace. The whole subplot with Finn and Rose seeking out a codebreaker on the casino planet of Cantronica is just a largely redundant side plot that bears no relevance to the overall story of The Last Jedi. It just serves as to introduce Rose as a love interest for Finn. The subplot also tries to illustrate something of a class war upon the planet from the flashy and privileged world of Canto Bight to the surrounding slums. It also tries to suggest that arms dealers are fuelling the war between the rebels and the First Order by selling weaponry to both sides. This is also where Benicio Del Toro is introduced but as this part of the story really doesn’t belong here, neither does his character despite whether he’s a welcome presence or not.
There’s a creeping edge of slapstick as the film progresses and although the moments of humour are very enjoyable you can’t help but think this is at the expense of the darker sides to the story. This should have been that “Empire” moment but it just wasn’t and my feeling that killing Han off in the previous instalment was very premature is just brought to the fore here. Despite what some reviews may suggest there are no huge twists. None at all. It, pretty much, goes as you would expect. It isn’t, by any means, bad. It’s just isn’t brilliant. In some ways The Last Jedi shows that the positive feelings towards The Force Awakens were born more out of relief than the film being fantastic given how bad the prequel trilogy was. This gets nowhere near being as good as Rogue one, which for me is just as an important piece of the story as the new episodes are. The First Order also seem to have become something of a Spaceballs style arch-enemy, they do not present the sinister edge the old empire did and have become something of an exercise in incompetence.
I will see this again, doubtless any number of times but in the meantime here’s my new chart of the Star Wars saga in descending order having seen The Last Jedi, one, at a midnight showing!
After a fatal home invasion leaves a man mourning a wife and a little boy mourning the loss of his mother, the lives of the residents of the all too perfect Surburbicon community are left reeling as their idyllic lifestyles are left in tatters. There’s more to this home invasion than meets the eye and the little boy, Nicholas (Noah Jupe) learns some horrifying facts about his family and finds his own life under threat.
I thought Matt Damon pulled off his role as Gardner really well. On the outside he seemed the all round decent family man but underneath that there was a quite devious individual with unsavoury intentions and motives.
Julianne Moore played both Rose and her sister Margaret, although one of those characters did not make it very far into the film before being bumped off. Moore puts in a decent performance without any real frills. Oscar Isaac pops up briefly as the insurance investigator who fancies a piece of the pay out action but it’s a short appearance and doesn’t offer much to get your teeth into.
It’s Noah Jupe who really deserves the most credit as the young boy at the centre of the deception and foul play. Nicky is the tortured soul of the movie and Jupe moves between terror and anger will some ease.
This was an interesting avenue for George Clooney to take in his directorial career. Clearly Surburbicon is heavily influenced by the time he has spent working with the Coen Brothers. So much so that there are a lot of glaring similarities to be made with the original Fargo. In fact it’s almost the exact same story. It’s no bad thing to want to emulate the Coen Brothers or such a heavyweight classic as Fargo but you have to do it well. Unfortunately, whilst Suburbicon is a good watch it doesn’t achieve the lofty heights of the aforementioned Fargo. It’s well put together and well-played by both a decent leading and supporting cast. There’s only a few laughs for what is presented in a black comedy format and at times there was some moments of boredom but not so much as to make it disappointing. The film is very dark in tone as you would expect from the content of the plot but isn’t beyond employing some farce humour intermittently.
The Verdict: Something a little different from the norm without reinventing the wheel.
When the Russian leader, Stalin, dies unexpectedly chaos descends upon his closest subordinates as they try to maintain a dignity to the outside world whilst going to treacherous lengths to further their own ends and designs on becoming his successor at the expense of their rivals.
This is an expertly chosen cast which offers an array of talent to die for and perfect for the sort of satirical farce you would expect from Armando Iannucci. It’s very hard to separate the characters and analyse them fairly as the film moves along at quite a hectic pace. Once one exchange of unpleasantries has finished it’s straight onto the next. This plays partcularly well to the skills of the main competitors to become the new premiere such as Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale and Jeffrey Tambor backed up well by Michael Palin,Paul Whitehouse and Dermot Crowley.
The film is a very funny political farce, well written and played out by the cast. it’s no less than you would expect from the team behind The Thick Of It. It would be lazy to make comparisons to The Thick Of It but it wouldn’t make it any less accurate to point this out. It’s just a different setting, country and environment but Armando Iannucci proves that that kind of humour can be transferred to a variety of situations. I wouldn’t so far as to say it’s one of the funniest films ever made but it’s certainly a comedy that you should give your time to, particularly if you’re a fan of Iannuci’s previous offerings.