Never Never Never Surrender (Darkest Hour review)

When your reputation is on the line, what do you do? Stand and fight for what is right, or give into the endless parade of voices telling you that you won’t be successful. Motivational to say the least, essential viewing for our youth.

This, is Darkest Hour.

 

Darkest Hour (2017)

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Joe Wright
released on blu-ray February 20, 2018
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Joe Wright is an English film director. Best known for Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Hanna, Anna Karenina, Pan, and most recently Darkest Hour. As you can see, he generally sticks to British content, which as the old adage says “write what you know.” Fortunately for me, and this review, Darkest Hour is his best rated film to-date, and demonstrably so given that Gary Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

I’ve been known to have a difficult time getting invested into war films, but luckily for us, this is a drama set within war-times. Easily digested and taken with some milk.

Special thanks to IMDB user Nick Riganas for the synopsis.

With Europe on the threshold of World War II as Hitler’s armies rampage across the continent’s once proud nations, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), is forced to resign, appointing Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as his replacement. But even in his early days as the country’s leader, Churchill is under pressure to commence peace negotiations with the German dictator or to fight head-on the seemingly invincible Nazi regime, whatever the cost. However difficult and dangerous his decision may be, Winston Churchill has no choice, but to shine in his darkest hour.

I can say with absolute certainty that this film benefits greatly from it’s first act, in which major players are established, and we become invested in the relationship between Clemmie Churchill, deftly played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and Winston. And this is crucial because without his wife humanizing his behaviour, Churchill is hardly a man at all, merely a brute trapping about in “a state of nature.”

It’s a dense story, with lots of oration, conversations behind closed doors, and tense speeches that appeal to our sense of reason. It is well established with Oldman at the helm, but there are definitely moments that I wish could have been cut, to make it feel quite literally set at a brisk pace, rather then eluded to with video and audio editing.

Pros: As I mentioned already Oldman is magnetic, but it’s the dynamic between Thomas and him that really sets the story on fire. And Lily James plays her role perfectly.

ConsDespite all of the stirring speeches, somehow a great political figure has been simplified to the point where you wonder if he’ll pull it all off, making the actor great, but the film a little dull. And Ben Mendelsohn is featured far too little.

The first few weeks of Churchill’s ministry included subterfuge amongst his political peers, navigating the disaster of Dunkirk, and rousing a nation into action. Nothing less then spectacular when you think about it. There is no denying it, Gary Oldman is Churchill personified under that makeup, which is why the film works so well.

Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes

Points of Interest:  While Winston Churchill did regularly speak with the public on their opinion of the war efforts, there is no official record of him taking a train and quizzing it’s passengers. The entire movie takes place during May 1940, around the time of Operation Dynamo at Dunkirk.

This is a story which has been told and retold a few times over, and yet, somehow it has been made fresh for a new generation, with a distinct perspective from competing entries Their Finest, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkrik. And it’s more interesting then both of them.

theories Summarized

If you can forgive the film itself of a few flaws, there is a lot to glean from the performances of this stories leads. And yes, I recommend watching it at least once, I myself have seen it twice now, and I can say with confidence that while it may have been Britain’s Darkest Hour, there is a fair amount of light in this story.

And speaking of war, violence and strong character stories. You should definitely check out this Watch Culture video review on 2015’s Sicario. Mike helmed this video on his lonesome, and there are a ton of great anecdotes to pull from his review. So watch it, watch it, watch it, watch it!

I’d love to hear what you think of Mike’s review and of course tell us if you plan on checking out Darkest Hour. I know you’ll get something out of both flicks, but either way… Check it out! And remember… Like! Comment! Subscribe!

Tim!

Stories Written Before Space Travel, But About Space Travel (Blade Runner 2049 review)

Like tears falling in the rain, so too do many movies leave a minor impact upon our hearts. Thankfully this movie doesn’t ruin a legend, but makes it more compelling.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana da Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Carla Juri
Director: Denis Villeneuve
released on blu-ray January 16, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Audience Score 85%
The Guardian: ****/*****

In case you’re unfamiliar, Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian film director and writer. I’ve reviewed his movies before and I generally like whatever projects he works on. Arrival was a great addition to the science fiction catalogue, and thankfully won an Academy Award, while Sicario is just beautiful to behold. Interestingly enough, I haven’t reviewed Enemy or Prisoners, yet – but I loved those movies too. Maybe there are some Watch Culture videos in the future coming for those films, because they are totally worth a watch. And even though Villeneuve doesn’t have the reigns on the Sicario sequel, I’m still excited to see it.

That’s how influential his directorial work is. Now he’s taking up the Blade Runner mantle, to excellent consequence.

Taken from Wikipedia and modified…

In 2049, K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant, works for the LAPD as a blade runner, and “retires” (kills) rogue replicants. At a protein farm, he retires rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and finds a box buried under a tree. The box contains the remains of a female replicant who died during an emergency caesarean section, demonstrating that replicants can reproduce sexually, previously thought impossible. K is asked to find and retire the replicant child by his lieutenant (Robin Wright).

K visits the Wallace Corporation headquarters (successor of replicant manufacturer Tyrell Corporation, which went out of business), where the deceased female is identified from DNA archives as Rachael (Sean Young), an experimental replicant designed by Dr. Tyrell. K learns of Rachael’s romantic ties with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Wallace CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to discover the secret to replicant reproduction to expand interstellar colonization. He sends his replicant enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachael’s remains from LAPD headquarters and follow K to Rachael’s child.

At Morton’s farm, K sees the date 6-10-21 carved into the tree trunk and recognizes it from a childhood memory of a wooden toy horse. Because replicants’ memories are artificial, K’s holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana da Armas) believes this is evidence that K was born, not created. K tracks the child to an orphanage in ruined San Diego, but discovers that the records from that year are missing. K recognizes the orphanage from his memories, and finds the toy horse where he remembers having hidden it.

Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a designer of replicant memories, confirms that his memory of the orphanage is real, and K concludes that he is Rachael’s son. At Joi’s request, K transfers Joi to a mobile emitter, an emanator. He has the toy horse analyzed, revealing traces of radiation that lead him to the ruins of Las Vegas. There he finds Deckard, who reveals that he is the father of Rachael’s child and that he scrambled the birth records to protect the child’s identity; Deckard left the child in the custody of the replicant freedom movement.

After killing Lieutenant Joshi, Luv tracks K to Deckard’s hiding place in Las Vegas. She kidnaps Deckard, destroys Joi and leaves K to die. The replicant freedom movement rescues K. Their leader Freysa (Edward James Olmos) informs him that Rachael’s child is female and he is not Rachael’s son. Freysa asks K to kill Deckard for the greater good of all replicants and to hide the freedom movement.

Luv brings Deckard to Wallace Co. headquarters to meet Niander Wallace. He offers Deckard a clone of Rachael for revealing what he knows. Deckard refuses and Luv kills the clone. As Luv is transporting Deckard to a ship to take him off-world for interrogation by torture, K intercepts and kills Luv, but is severely injured in the fight. He stages Deckard’s death to protect him from Wallace and the rogue replicants, and leads Deckard to Stelline’s office, having deduced that she is his daughter and that the memory of the toy horse is hers. K dies peacefully from his injuries while Deckard approaches Stelline.

This is a film which acknowledges a rich history of material that precedes it, and yet it manages to venture out into the void of philosophy and bring back ideas to explore. While the first film examined intimacy, gender politics, the evolution of humanity and other topics on such a scale that we felt included, this film does the opposite. Every scene is one of a barren wasteland, monotlithic buildings and open caverns force the moviegoer to examine the sheer insignificance of K. His lifespan is severely shortened, his love is with a hologram, and even his possibility at an identity is taken away from him.

And yet, he strives for a life well lived. I would argue that his relationship with Joi is far more human then any of the other characters we see on screen, and it is very sad when he loses her. And thankfully Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a beaten down shadow of what he once was too, not dominating the screen as he did in The Force Awakens, but helping to make you feel discomfort about the future of humanity.

Pros: It expands upon the story that we loved from over thirty years ago. Better yet, it manages to be impressive on it’s own. Ryan Gosling is fascinating to watch as K, while Dave Bautista, Ana da Armas, and Sylvia Hoeks all add to the allure of this fantasy world.

Cons: Jared Leto falls flat with his performance, perhaps it’s the limited screen time, or that he often appears to be rebelling against his profession. And the film is a very slow burn.

Runtime: 2 hours 44 minutes

Points of Interest: David Bowie was slated for the role of Wallace, but passed away before the film started production. The role of K was also written specifically with Ryan Gosling in mind, Villeneuve had no other actors chosen to audition. In this future, wood is incredibly rare and valuable – that Wallace has a house made entirely of wood is no accident.

I was really glad to learn that Villeneuve had originally cast David Bowie as Niander Wallace, even if he passed away before filming started. Bowie was a staple of innovation, futurism and all of the things that go into making good art. If my minor concerns with the casting of Jared Leto, and the somewhat forgettable CGI Rachael (Sean Young) could be removed, this movie would have been my number one pick for 2017, but even good simulations are always just a tad unrealistic.

theories Summarized

I hope at this point you’ve made the decision to check out this sequel, and I’ll be curious if you note the same things I did about the scale of the film, the beautiful intimacy of K and Joi’s relationship, and the poetry in a decaying Rick Deckard. Just like the original, I’ll likely have to watch this film a few times before all of the themes really sink in, and I have a theory that’ll be for my own good.

And incidentally, we have a new Watch Culture video to share with you too. It’s the original, the masterpiece, the timeless Blade Runner. This short review should give you some insights into why the 1982 classic deserves those accolades. And hopefully you enjoy it enough to like the video, leave a comment, and subscribe to both my blog and the YouTube channel!

Tim!

Begin Again (Arrival review)

Sometimes artists are misunderstood, and sometimes it’s just a case of poor translators. Or maybe those artists are operating on another level of language?  A love language if you will. Oooh foreshadowing…

I personally would like to think that our attempts to understand the alien are important and when a film does well at the box office, more so when it’s a film which is about the other, it’s time to stand up and take notice. And reframe some thoughts.

Another first contact film you say? Well, I say it’s the best one.

Arrival (2016)

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Jeff Nichols
released on blu-ray February 7, 2017
********* 10/10

arrivalposter

IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ****/*****

 

Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian director. Yay for Canadian content! He’s a pretty swell guy too. I’ve reviewed one of his films before, but this time I think he has a shot at real international success: if you consider the Academy Awards a big deal that is. And since I wrote that review he also started development on the new Dune movie, so yeah. Cool guy. Cool cool cool.

Arrival is a story about aliens. Well, on the surface anyways.

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) relives the childhood of her daughter, who has just died of cancer. Fast forward to Louise in the midst of a university lecture, when twelve spacecraft land across the Earth. U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists Louise to aid physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in decipher the alien language to find out the purpose of their visit.

Visiting the spacecraft of the “heptapods” the scientists discover that the aliens have an advanced circular language which is communicated via ink flares and in which whole thoughts appear in ink circles within seconds, regardless of the complexity of the sentence. Louise also beings to dream of her daughter and the father.

When Louise unravels that the aliens want to “offer weapon” to them, similar translations of “use weapon” are uncovered at other spacecraft sites. Certain countries like China respond by closing off global communications, while other prepare for an attack. Louise further argues that weapon might mean tool in this case. Some US soldiers plan to bomb the spacecraft and succeed.

After an explosion goes off which almost kills Ian and Louise, Ian determines that the circular symbols relate to time, and that the twelve alien sites are each sharing part of the technology.

China prepares for war, and Louise finds her way back to the aliens. They explain that she has been seeing the future and that their tool AKA language allows humanity to change their understanding of time. They offer this gift in exchange for help 3000 years into the future. Louise returns to camp but has a vision of the future wherein the UN has implemented the language and the Chinese general who ordered the attack on the heptapods is thanking her for turning him around.

She was able to do this by calling him on his personal mobile in the present, while he shows her his number in the future – she convinces him of the truth in the present by repeating the same whispers of his wife’s dying words to her in the future. This is when we learn that Ian is the father of Hannah and the husband of Louise. It just hasn’t happened yet. Ian admits his love for Louise, while Louise knows the reason they eventually split up is because Louise knows Hannah will die.

Despite this future knowledge, when Ian talks about babies with his wife, she agrees to it.

Pros: The plot twists are original, the story is realistic, and the tone is gripping. The idea of language is carried throughout the film, and somehow we are taken right along with it, to a very satisfying conclusion. Amy Adams is a showstopper in this film.

Cons: At times the moodiness and melancholy are a bit much to take in. You need to be completely relaxed and willing to sit still for the full runtime in order to enjoy the payoff. The details are key in this story and Villeneuve is relying heavily on them. It’s a thinking persons’s scifi.

Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Points of Interest: The ink circles were created by Montreal artist Martine Bertrand. Yay Canadian content! It is also the artist’s son who created Hannah’s drawings. The movie is based on a short story titled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

It might seem obvious at this point what Arrival is about. Aliens. Well no, actually. It’s about time and the relationships between people define our sense of time. Language is merely an activator towards that resulting outcome, and once we can appreciate another language, we open ourselves up to visiting and revisiting themes of our lives, and in some cases, becoming available for new ones.

theories Summarized

I cannot say enough good things about this film. I have to admit when I first sat down to watch it, I was a little bit tired and disappointed at how slowly paced it was, but then on a second viewing, starting over, which I find a tad ironic now, I was able to settle into Villeneuve’s dirty sci-fi and appreciate the thoughtfulness. And I kept thinking about it all week, which is what a good movie should have you do. The arrival of this realization was worth the wait.

Tim!