Film Review: DARKEST HOUR (UK 2017) ***1/2

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Darkest Hour Poster

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.


Joe Wright


Director Joe Wright returns to his period World War II roots of ATONEMENT with a theatrical historical drama set during the first year in office of Sir Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as Prime Minister of Britain. The United Kingdom was then on the brink of invasion by Adolf  Hitler’s Germany.  Wright covered in ATONEMENT the evacuation of troops form Dunkirk, France and in this film covers the same event but from another angle – the difficult planning and fight that championed it.  It is in many ways a more difficult endeavour as witnessed in this film, appropriately entitled DARKEST HOUR.

The film opens with the forced resignation of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) less than a year into the war due to his incompetence.  Churchill is selected as his only viable replacement despite his controversial career (the most important being the loss thousands of men of men at the Gallipoli War).  With British resources dwindling, France having already fallen, and the U.S. not helping much at the time, a contingent led by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) pushes hard for peace talks with Hitler. 

There is much to enjoy in this feel-good, rouse up ones emotions war drama.  Wright provides Churchill a grand theatrical entrance as he is shown first in bed lighting his signature cigar.  The film even ends with his most famous speech in the House of Commons (We will fight in the streets, in the hills etc.)  Between them, Churchill is shown as a man, supported by his wife, who finally gets the courage to fight for his convictions.  His stately residence, the Parliament house, the cabinet rooms all form the mighty props in the grand venture.  The cinematography by Bruno Delbonneland with camerawork is superb, mainly of the interior rather than exterior.

Oldman’s performance of Churchill is magnificent.  Oldman, looking like Churchill, aided by Kazuhiro Tsuji’s great prosthetics and make-up, goes right into character rather than just impersonating the man.  This is an Oscar worthy performance.  Other performances are excellent all around with Kristin Scott Thomas making an impression with her little written role of Mrs. Churchill.

The chief complaint of the film is the manipulative segment of Churchill’s ride on the London Underground, where he speaks candidly to a number of tube riders on their view of entering the war.  He speaks to a too good to be true assortment of characters – a child, a black, a housewife, the working-class who all are able to voice their opinions (including the child and the black who can quote Shakespeare) too eloquently with the scene ending with Churchill crying into his handkerchief.

DARKEST HOUR is the second film this year with Churchill as the main character, the first one being Jonathan Teplitzky’s CHURCHILL starring Brian Cox.  Both films show two different sides Churchill took on the War – the first with Churchill against the Normandy Allied Invasion.  Both are worthy war dramas, both worth a look with DARKEST HOUR being the bigger more splashy production. 


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1997 Movie Review: NIL BY MOUTH, 1997 (Directed by Gary Oldman)

Movie Reviews

Directed by Gary Oldman
Starring: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles, Laila Morse, Edna Doré, Chrissie Cotterill, Jon Morrison
Review by Russell Wray


The family of Raymond, his wife Val and her brother Billy live in working-class London district. Also in their family is Val and Billy’s mother Janet and grandmother Kath. Billy is a drug addict and Raymond kicks him out of the house, making him live on his own. Raymond is generally a rough and even violent person, and that leads to problems in the life of the family.


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In 1960 Albert Finney starred in Saturday Night Sunday Morning, a film which brought social realism to British Cinema. It stood out as it showed working class characters in extremely realistic scenarios. These characters usually struggled in their down and out positions in society. Saturday night Sunday Morning attempted to break stereotypes of working class people by showing them as intelligent and articulate youngsters. We fast forward almost forty years to see Gary Oldman bringing social realism back to the screen but with a much bleaker view for a modern audience.

The film focuses on the Raymond family in working class London. Raymond (Ray Winston) is the alpha male of the house hold. He is an aggressive alcoholic who is always out for a good time at the expense of someone else. Val (Kathy Burke) is the subservient wife who is victimised by her husband and does not have the strength to leave him. Their son Billy is a drug addict. He is forced to live on the street due to his father finding out about his addiction. Nil by mouth shows these characters struggle but is it their fault or the fault of their hierarchy in society?

Nil by mouth is a film about failures but there are not many to be seen here. The cinematography works brilliantly to provide beauty in the strangest of down and out places, the performances are terrifyingly accurate, and the direction is brilliantly constructed. The only problem is with the script.

The story may be a little bit too observant at times. The constant arguments and scenes of failure make it hard to maintain attention for some parts of the film as it almost slips into an x rated watershed soap opera. The film is relentless as there is not much comic relief provided. This is forgivable by the scenes which really stand out, such as Ray Winston on the lash with his mates.

This scene strangely forces the audience to relate to the characters playing drunken fools around town but also makes them scared of them at the same time. Oldman is not afraid of getting close to these characters. His frequent use of big close ups allows the audience to see every action and reaction from the characters in precise detail. Being an actor himself Oldman understands the importance of performance especially in an intense character which is presented here.

Winston is comfortably at home here playing the working class villain. The intensity of the character is evident but also the humanity is presented brilliantly by Winston who shines in those drunken moments in the film where he is on his own. Here Winston is allowed to bring the character to life as the audience witnesses his self destruction. Burke also offers an effective performance but is not as memorable as other characters because of the shy nature of the character in which she is playing.

Nil by mouth is an unflinchingly hopeless film. The characters are not taunted of a better life in anyway even though that is their desire. The film simply allows the characters to live without any feeling of pre constructed character arcs.




1997 Movie Review: THE FIFTH ELEMENT, 1997

Movie Reviews

Directed by Luc Besson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry
Review by Emma Hutchings


A former government agent grudgingly sets out on a quest to save the world from an ancient evil after the only hope of thwarting destruction falls into the back seat of his cab.

OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing


The Fifth Element is Luc Besson’s big budget futuristic blockbuster, which, at the time, was the most expensive film ever produced outside of Hollywood. Besson again called on the might of Gary Oldman to play the bad guy, following his fantastic performance in Léon (1994). Besson helped out as producer on Nil by Mouth (Oldman’s hard-hitting directorial debut), which was also released in 1997 and also starred Charlie Creed-Miles (Cornelius’ protégé David in The Fifth Element and Billy in Nil by Mouth).

This film is a visual extravaganza. The rich and vibrant colours ensure that the future is a bright and appealing one, not bleak and dystopian, as in so many futuristic films. Besson said that he wanted to show a vision of the future that wasn’t dark and dangerous. Mark Stetson, the Special Visual Effects Supervisor on the film, who had previously worked on Blade Runner, said “One of the most gratifying aspects of working with Luc on this picture is the fact that it’s not another Blade Runner. The look of this film is very different and fresh.” What comes across most about the visual effects is the amazing attention to detail. The shots of 23rd century New York are some of the highlights. Leeloo’s POV shot when she sees the skyline for the first time is remarkable. The skyscrapers, packed closely together, ascend high into the clouds, with subways zooming up and down their sides and the areas in between packed with flying cars. The quirky, original costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, who even checked over the extras individually before scenes to make sure they were looking their best. Two famous French comic book artists, Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières developed the production design. They were responsible for much of the iconography of the film; the vehicles, spacecrafts, buildings, human characters and aliens.

There are references to other films in The Fifth Element. Although described as the Anti-Blade Runner, the cityscape with enormous advertising screens and the flying cars are definite similarities. Brion James (who plays General Munro, Korben’s former commanding officer) played the character of Leon in Blade Runner. The machine that regenerates Leeloo is very similar to the one used to create the robot in Metropolis (1927). The thermal bandages that are strapped to her are reminiscent of the metal bands covering Maria when the Man-Machine is converted into her.

The story boils down to a straightforward good vs. evil narrative. A huge, dark sphere of absolute evil attempts to destroy Earth every 5,000 years and five elements are used together to stop this happening. Earth, wind, fire and water, along with the Supreme Being; an ultimate warrior created to protect life. A simple but effective technique used a number of times throughout the film is cross-cutting. Used to switch between action taking place in different locations at the same time, it is cleverly used here because characters often finish each other’s sentences. For example, when Zorg meets with Aknot (leader of the Mangalores) to exchange crates of weapons for the case of stones, he shuts the lid and then states “This case…is empty.” The scene then cuts to Leeloo laughing and Cornelius asks “What do you mean, empty?” Cut back to Zorg, who tells his lackey “Empty. The opposite of full. This case is supposed to be full! Anyone care to explain?” Cut back to Leeloo, explaining in the divine language that they gave the stones to someone they could trust. Cornelius says “We’re saved” and then a final cut back to Zorg, who says “I’m screwed.” This is an intelligent use of dialogue and editing that is both interesting and efficient.

Korben Dallas is rather a reluctant hero. He was living a lonely, uneventful life before Leeloo crashed through the roof of his cab. At the beginning of the film he says he wants to meet the perfect woman. He hasn’t had very good experiences with women; his wife left him for his lawyer and his mother continuously calls him just to moan at him. He is laconic and very humourous at times. When sent in to negotiate with the Mangalores, he casually strolls in and shoots their leader in the head asking, “Anyone else wanna negotiate?” It is interesting that our hero Korben and the villain of the film, Zorg, never meet or communicate with each other. Usually there would be an epic battle at the end where they would fight until the villain was killed. However, they narrowly miss bumping into each other as Korben gets into an elevator and Zorg leaves the one next to it, ultimately getting himself blown up by the Mangalore’s bomb. There is a connection between hero and villain though; Zorg gets rid of 1 million people from one of his smaller companies, a cab company, and in a later scene Korben gets a message telling him he’s fired. The name ‘Zorg’ is clearly visible at the bottom of the message.

Leeloo is the heroine of the film. Beautiful and very strong, she is often referred to as ‘perfect’. She is a fast learner, able to absorb large quantities of information; she learns 5,000 years worth of Earth’s history from a computer in a very short amount of time. She is kooky and has lots of funny moments in the film, usually when she is trying to understand certain words in the English language (“Big ba-dah boom”, “Auto-wash”, “Mul-ti-pass”). The ‘divine language’ spoken by Leeloo has 400 words and was invented by the director and Milla Jovovich. Jovovich stated that she and Besson wrote letters to each other in the language as practice and by the end of filming they were able to have full conversations.

The number 5 is a recurring motif in this film. Apart from the obvious 5 elements there are also lots of other notable occurrences. Evil returns every 5,000 years, Korben has 5 points left on his licence, the Council asks Zorg to fire 500,000 people, and Korben says to General Munro “Nice to see you in the 5,000 block”. The bomb in Fhloston Paradise has around 5 minutes left when Ruby notices it, Zorg stops it with 5 seconds remaining and the Mangalore’s bomb counts down from 5 seconds. Ruby’s radio show starts at 5, Korben says “If we don’t get these stones open in 5 minutes, we’re all dead.” Ruby says “”Every 5 minutes there’s something, a bomb or something!” and right at the end the scientist says “They’re not ready. They need 5 more minutes.”

Any observant viewers (actually that should be listeners) may notice two occurrences of the infamous ‘Wilhelm Scream’, a distinctive sound effect that has found a following with many sound editors and movie fans. First used in Distant Drums, a 1951 film starring Gary Cooper, it was later adopted by sound designer Ben Burtt who named it after the character of Pvt. Wilhelm in The Charge at Feather River (1953) who screams when he is shot in the leg by an arrow. Burtt included it in many of the films he has worked on including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. It grew in familiarity and continues to be heard in new productions released every year. In The Fifth Element it can be heard when Zorg blows up Right Arm at the airport and during Leeloo’s fight with the Mangalores, as two are sent flying out of the Diva’s suite (turn the volume up for this one).

The film ends after the world is saved by the power of love. Leeloo finishes learning all about Earth on the computer and becomes particularly disturbed by W for War. She watches all of the images flash by of chaos and destruction and she despairs at how people could do such things to each other. She tells Korben, “Everything you create, you use to destroy” and he replies “Yeah, we call it human nature.” Her faith in humanity needs to be restored in order for her to save them, Korben must show her the world has some good and there are beautiful things worth saving, like love. She doesn’t know love, she says “I was built to protect, not to love”. She needs him to tell her that he loves her, this empowers her and she draws on the other four elements and destroys the ancient evil. Earth is rescued from annihilation and the two of them can live happily together (he’ll need to get another job though). I highly recommend this film. It has a great cast of actors all having a good time, the visuals are fantastic and it’s very enjoyable as long as you don’t take it too seriously.


1997 Movie Review: AIR FORCE ONE, 1997 (starring Harrison Ford)


Movie Reviews

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, William H Macy, Dean Stockwell, Tom Everett
Review by Emma Hutchings


After Russian terrorists hijack the Presidential plane, the only hope of regaining control and averting disaster is the President himself. He has just made a speech stating he will not negotiate with terrorists, but is he willing to stand by that if it means sacrificing his wife and daughter?

OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Film Editing, Best Sound


‘Harrison Ford is the President of the United States’. If that tagline fills you with dread, chances are you probably aren’t going to enjoy Air Force One. However, if the image of the great American action star playing the President, as a tough, heroic, Medal of Honor winner, beating up the terrorists who dare to take control of his plane, makes you grin, then you’ll love this action-packed thrill ride.

At the start of the film, President James Marshall makes a brave speech in Moscow condemning terrorists and saying he will not negotiate with them. Coincidentally, upon leaving, a group of Russians sympathetic towards General Radek (the once tyrannical leader of Kazakhstan, now in prison) board Air Force One posing as a press crew, helped by a mole in the Secret Service.

When things get hairy, the President is rushed to an escape pod in the cargo hold. But what the hijackers don’t know is that the President refused to leave and while his staff and family are held captive, he endeavours to rescue them single-handedly.

Consequently, what ensues is your typical ‘lone hero against a group of criminals’ scenario (think Die Hard or Under Siege). The terrorists conveniently prowl around the plane individually and he is able to pick off a few before being rumbled.

This rather tired formula is given a new lease of life and works mainly because of Harrison Ford’s star power. Ford inspires confidence; he does the right thing no matter how difficult, the audience know this and have that expectation before the film even starts. We know he’ll do the right thing, take care of his family and be a great leader of his country because he’s Harrison Ford, the Hollywood star. If it was an unknown actor we perhaps wouldn’t know how he’d respond in certain situations, and we wouldn’t be drawn into the film as much as we are, knowing Harrison Ford is going to save the day. This is basically, ‘what would happen if terrorists hijacked a plane and Indiana Jones was on board?’ or Jack Ryan, or any number of the characters he has previously played.

Praise must go to Gary Oldman as Ivan Korshunov, leader of the group of terrorists. He excels at playing the bad guy but I think this character is something special. Usually the villain’s motives aren’t explained, they are de-humanised and the audience feels no sympathy for them. But far from being a crazy lunatic, he makes Korshunov human, which can be quite unsettling. There are times when his persuasive rhetoric (combined with a convincing Russian accent) makes you wonder if he isn’t just a regular guy who was pushed to the very edge and foolishly chose to resort to extreme methods. In using the argument, “You, who murdered a hundred thousand Iraqis to save a nickel on a gallon of gas, are going to lecture me on the rules of war?” he makes the audience see the Americans, and by association The President, in an unflattering light. Korshunov is a powerful character, and pitting him in opposition to the President adds an extra interesting facet to the film.

The bottom line is that Air Force One is completely unbelievable. It’s a fantasy story about the President saving the day. Yet it keeps you hooked. It’s a little longer than I like my action movies but it held my attention. There are some great action sequences; the pilot’s urgent attempt to land the plane at a German airbase near the start of the film is a remarkable set piece. My advice is don’t think about it too much because if you start to examine the plot you will find gaping holes and you’re likely to realise it’s all a bit silly. But it’s a very enjoyable film if taken for what it was meant to be; a summer blockbuster, a popcorn movie, a film you can sit down and enjoy without taxing your brain. So, just go with it and enjoy the ride, or should that be flight?


Film Review: THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (USA 2017) ****

 THE HITMAN_S BODYGUARDThe world’s top bodyguard gets a new client, a hit man who must testify at the International Court of Justice. They must put their differences aside and work together to make it to the trial on time.

Director: Patrick Hughes
Writer: Tom O’Connor
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung

Review by Gilbert Seah
Actor Samuel L. Jackson is one bad ass mother f***er. When ever he appears in a film, even when playing the President of the United States, he has never failed to use his favourite catch phrase ‘mother f***er’, which he gets to use multiple times in this movie. Jackson is one of my favourite actors in films currently as he can always be counted on to deliver a solid, spirited performance, no matter what. In THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD, he also gets to utter the film’s best joke: “If life deals you shit, you go out and make kool-aid.” to which Ryan Reynolds remarks: “That is not how the saying goes.” Jackson also gets a lot of laughs doing his HOME ALONE expression. Another good joke (though this one belongs to Reynolds) is the one regarding the pen-knife. But the best thing in the film, is a segment where the two leads discuss the usage of the ‘mother f***er’ phrase. Priceless!

The story involves a bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Reynolds) assigned to keep a previous Hitman, Darius Kincaid (Jackson) alive so that he can be transported to Hague, to testify against a corrupt Russian warlord Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). The film plays the two against each other. The chemistry works, the laughs come fast and furious and the action segments are expertly executed.

The climax of the film includes a spectacular car chase that appear to take on the recent BABY DRIVER. Jackson takes off in a speedboat on the canals around Amsterdam pursued by the bad guys speeding on the streets around the canals. The sequence is well shot with good continuity that also includes another boat contains merrymakers split right into two. The camp factor is increased several notches with screaming prostitutes running around the streets. There is also n funny window-eye view of the chase as if seen by one of them through the glass.

As if this was not exciting enough, the car/boat chase is intercut with a foot case with Reynolds under pursuit. The two chases are brilliantly brought together with the fire of an exploding vehicle from which the camera pulls back now only to show the fire now from the grill in the kitchen in a restaurant which Reynolds breaks into.

Though the script is occasionally lazily written, with details left out, for example why Jackson landed in a Manchester prison, the jokes and punch lines are perfectly timed.
The camera placement is also excellent throughout the film, often with images to show Jackson’s expressions through the car front window or to see Reynolds somersault through the front windscreen to land standing up in front of the car after.

The main plus of THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD is that the absolute unexpected can and actually always occurs at any time. The two for example, end up at one point, hitching a ride in a van full of nuns with Jackson joining them in a singalong.
The film’s speed and spirit matches its message on life, that things happen but you got to do your ‘thang’. They just do not make enough films like this one.


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Movie Review: CRIMINAL, 2016. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner

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criminal.jpgCRIMINAL (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Ariel Vromen

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Michael Pitt

Action films about the lead character with the past erased make good money at the box office. Examples are THE BOURNE IDENTITY, Liam Neeson’s UNKNOWN and last week’s recently released HARDCORE HENRY. CRIMINAL though not identical in concept, plays along the same lines with the lead character having to piece together a new identity.

Based on a script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, the film takes the amnesia plot up a few notches. It is an international story dealing with Americans, British, Russians and a Dutchman. The film contains countless London sights in the first 15 minutes, making audiences wonder if the London Tourist Board is subsidizing this film. There are shots of Bank Tube Station, the Thames, Albert Hall, the docklands, Big Ben and the Overground Tube to make the film look more modern.

The film opens with a chase involving CIA agent Ben Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is caught half way through his assignment and killed. His brain needs to be implanted into someone else for the mission to be completed successfully. Or the world will be destroyed. It really does not matter how ridiculous the plot is as director Ariel Vromen (THE ICEMAN) has proven that he can make anything credible and exciting. So, a wanted imprisoned criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner in super-gruff mode) with zero conscience but meets the surgical criteria is implanted with Pope’s memories by Dr. Frank (Tommy Lee Jones) under command of no-nonsense British chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman).

For an action thriller drama, the action segments are handled efficiently, particularly the car chase involving the British police car pile up n the highway and the brief underwater scenes.

The film is aided with an impressive cast that includes no less than the new Wonder Woman, French actress Gal Gadot as Pope’s wife, Brit Oldman and Americans Costner., Jones, Reynolds and the long time unseen Michael Pitt as the Dutchman.

Though I do enjoy a bit of violence in movies, I am not one to condone it. CRIMINAL is exceptionally violent, evident in scenes like the electric torture at the film’s start, the bloodied photo of one of Jericho’s victims the brain surgery and the segment where Jericho beats a number of people up to get food and nab a van. Tools used in fights also include a hammer.

Though there is ample opportunity for the script to moralize, the script thankfully stays aways from it. Jericho is a man with no conscience, a killing machine who is given a chance to have feelings after being implanted with Pope’s memories. Once Jericho begins to feel, he is torn for example between saving one life – Pope’s daughter against sacrificing hers to save many, many more. The main villain has the purpose of creating a software wormhole i order to destroy all the governments in the world as he believes every government is corrupt and that conglomerates rule the world all for money. There is some truth in the villain’s way of thinking and the script leaves it for the audience to debate the issue in their own minds.

CRIMINAL is a good action drama, a good blend between drama and action with not too much ridiculous discontinuous action scenes as in recent films like BATMAN V SUPERMAN and HARDCORE HENRY. For this reason alone, CRIMINAL is a compelling and rather entertaining time-waster.


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