Archive for December, 2017|Monthly archive page

“Darkest Hour”: Better than Dunkirk

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2017 at 16:01

darkest hour

I expected ‘Darkest Hour’ to be a bland, dull trudge through Churchill’s rise to prime minister of England with some stellar acting by Gary Oldman. It wasn’t dull, and Oldman was excellent. 

The film had intrigue, backstabbing, blind faith, propaganda (from all sides, including Churchill), British nationalism, and more. It highlighted Churchill’s faults: his alcoholism, his failed decisions in India (not the racism, alas), Gallipoli and elsewhere, his nationalism and imperialism. And it featured his talents for reading people and using the English language. For anyone interested in history, especially WWII, it is worth a view. 

‘Darkest Hour’ was limited in scope and it ended right on time. The events at Dunkirk are in the background as Churchill is manipulated to consider a peace accord with “that man” Hitler. His own party, including Lord Halifax and the now discredited Chamberlin, line up against him in the film. Much of the opposition party supports him, partly because the Conservatives in Churchill’s own party distrust him. 

His wife, played beautifully by Kristin Scott Thomas, stands by him as does his secretary played by Lily James. James certainly knows how to look concerned, frightened and put out. But the star is of course Oldman. At times, Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill’s internal contradictions, the brusk exterior hiding an insecure interior, comes across as false. I can see the acting. Overall, it is still a great performance. 

The cinematography, editing and music are top-notch, not drawing attention to itself while adding to the overall impact of the drama. The costuming was immaculate and period accurate. Then again, I am no expert. See it for yourself and decide if the hats were spot on. 

There are some events in the story that I don’t trust. Did the king finally support Churchill for Prime Minister or not? Did Churchill really walk among the commoners for guidance? Was there really a secretary he confided in? I don’t Churchill’s history well, regardless, it made for compelling drama.

Do I like Churchill more after seeing ‘Darkest Hour?’ Not at all. And to the credit of the director and writer, Joe Wright and Anthony McCarten, understanding Churchill was the goal. Liking the Prime Minister was secondary. The drama is compelling and after seeing ‘Darkest Hour’ I have more of an insight into what was happening in the halls of power in England while Europe was taken over by the Nazis.

Rating: Matinee
If you like history and WWII, see it. If you want simple answers and clearly defined morals about good and evil and a lack of character development, watch the inferior film ‘Dunkirk’ instead.


Del Toro Shows his Knowledge of Filmic Language in ‘The Shape of Water’

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2017 at 20:03


The first thing I noticed about ‘The Shape of Water’ is the color. Guillermo Del Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen utilize a muted yet vibrant pallete as if they splashed sepia tones on technicolor film stock. The light that filters throughout the scenes in the science lab, in the city, on the bus and in their homes enhances the tones. It’s not natural, it’s supranatural, creating a tone that is more real that realistic. The color and lighting brings out the full potential of the film medium. 

Layered on top of the color is the movement of the cameras that brings the audience into the action without taking away from the story. Like sentences in a piece of literature, the camera angles and movements are varied depending upon the needs of the scene. Sometimes the camera is running and sometimes it is framed in a still shot that is composed to enhance the drama. Often, the audience doesn’t know where to focus on in a shot. Should we look at the protagonist, the water, the entrance to the lab in the background, or the egg on the edge of the pool? 

Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkin, is a cleaning woman at a military facility near Baltimore. The facility stores a secret ‘asset’ brought back from the Amazon by Agent Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon. Both the protagonist (Elisa) and antagonist (Strickland) are well defined though stereotypical. While personalities are more complex in real life, Strickland and Esposito clearly embody the dichotomy between our caring and domineering natures. There is nothing positive in Mr. Strickland and no ill intent in Elisa. The story is about what it means to be human, and within that framework, the characters are well drawn. 

Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s sympathetic neighbor Giles and Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s coworker Zelda Fuller both do good work as does the rest of the cast. The ‘Amphibian Man’ as he is credited in the film is both beatiful and scary. The make up and design department deserve some recognition for this outstanding work.  

The music is interesting and well chosen. It highlights certain plot elements and helps Elisa make a connection to the Amphibious Man. It’s charming and effective.

There were problems with the certain plot elements. Why was security so lax in the lab? Also, why were the Soviets in the film so inept? At least we didn’t get the stupid, brutish James Bond stereotypes of the Soviets in ‘The Shape of Water.’

Rating: Pay Full Price

“The Shape of Water” is a simple, lovely, endearing film by a team of artists that clearly know their film history.

The Killing of a Sacred Hour

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2017 at 20:29

The film goes wrong when the main character,
like the director, can’t decide how to end it.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is from the director of  “The Lobster.” Like “The Lobster”, the film had a promising premise that failed in the end. Perhaps director and writer Yorgos Lanthimos needs to bring in some other writers and directors to poster killing of a sacred deergive him a reality check on his next film ending. And he isn’t the first auteur who needed help. Lynch and Trier come to mind with some of their incomprehensible films. I don’t mind the incomprehensible, it’s stupidity I can’t abide. 

The film is too drawn out and too predictable for all its length. Once the main premise was revealed, there were few surprises left in the film. What was a surprise was just how predictable the ending was. There were several ways the film could have gone that would have been more interesting, compelling and surprising. However, the film chose the easy ending by not deciding and leaving the ending to chance. Literally. 

The motivations of the father in the film, surgeon Steven Murphy, played dully by Colin Farrell, were unclear. Moreover, his ability to make simple decisions had been long damaged by an apparent, unproven mistake, made in his past. And it is that mistake, one that is pivotal to the plot, that moves the story. If you are going to use an event as a driver of action, it better make sense within the narrative. And it better be clearly true. We needed more detail on that event, but why make it easy for your audience to understand your film?

Steven is haunted by Martin, the teenage son of a former patient. It makes no sense that Steven would keep him around and allow Martin to harass him. The script lacks the clues to Steven’s motivations, perhaps empathy, perhaps guilt, and even if it did, I don’t think Farrell could have pulled it off.  

The film plays like an episode of Black Mirror, minus a focus on technology that is a hallmark of the television series. The problem was that it wasn’t as good as a Black Mirror episode and it was much more predicable. That’s too bad, because the first act of ‘Sacred Deer’ was compelling. 

Things happen in ‘Sacred Deer’ without a reason. There is no underlying motive for too many of the key actions in the story. We are supposed to take it on faith the way the characters act. Only Martin’s motivations are clear within the film. 

As long as critics tout films that have incomplete scripts full of cracks, characters with unclear motivations and endings that certainly fit with the narrative but offer no surprises, films such as “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” will be touted as great cinema. And we can expect more mediocrity.  

Certainly, with a slew of mindless block busters on screens, superhero films, robots, Star Wars and horrors film, critics clamor for more art films. But that doesn’t mean we have to cheer mediocre ones.

Rating: Rent it. 

We shouldn’t reward lazy story telling. See ‘Lady Bird’ again instead or for a laugh you want to avert your eyes from, see ‘The Disaster Artist.’ If you want a good creep fest, I recommend “Borgman”, the Japanese film “Creepy” or last years “Split.”

Tex Shelters