Monday, January 15, 2018

Film Review - Darkest Hour

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) became Prime Minister of Britain in May 1940. World War II was raging with the Germans about to take Belgium and France. The British troops were being pushed back to Calais and Dunkirk. Other Parliamentarians led by his likely successor Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and the recently deposed Neville Chamberlain ( Ronald Pickup) want Britain to sue for peace. Churchill has to decide whether to fight on or enter a brokered deal with Italy to get the best deal possible for Britain.


Director Joe Wright focuses on those few days in May in the film. On the home front, his wife Clemmie (Kristen Scott Thomas) supports him when he has doubts but is quick to challenge when he is getting out of line especially when dealing with his personal secretary Elisabeth Layton (Lily James) whose appearance is historically inaccurate but the role effective to the plot. Wright alongside writer Anthony McCarten push the thread of Churchill being out on a limb wanting to wage war to the end opposing the appeasers who felt that fascist Mussolini and Hitler would give Britain a fair deal.

This is Gary Oldman's film with the great support of the make up department who worked on Oldman long before anyone else reached set each day meaning that the rest of the cast only saw him in full Churchill persona. Oldman's dialogue, mannerisms, walk and diction are dead on. He is particularly effective when dallying in one of Churchill's two extremes mumbling inaudibly or bellowing at the top of his lungs. Ben Mendelsohn continues a run of strong performances as King George VI. It's notable to see pictures of the current Queen as a kid in his quarters. Bertie goes from seeing Churchill as reckless, dangerous and scary to the only person that can make it possible for him to stay in Britain and see the view from his balcony at Buckingham Palace.

Darkest Hour chronicles key moments in the last century that if things went differently the world would not be as we know it today. Gary Oldman delivers the best portrayal of a historical figure since Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. The scrip has some inaccuracies and a bit pedestrian at times but a worthy  study of a person that stuck by his minority opinion buoyed by his decision to consult ordinary parliamentarians and the people themselves.

*** Out of 4.

Darkest Hour | Joe Wright | UK | 2017 | 125 Minutes.

Tags: World War II, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, Winston Churchill, Boer War, Gallipoli, Adolf Hitler, Calais, Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

levelFilm Review - Badsville

An unidentified time in the near past is the setting for April Mullen's latest film Badsville. The film is a tribute to 50's greaser gang culture where the worst fate a gang member would likely face is a severe beating.  Wink (Ian McLaren) is the leader of the Badsville Kings who are on top for the moment in their never-ending battle with the Ace's. He has a goal of making it out of the deadened town succeeding where no other gang member has done before. He discusses it with old-timer Lucky Lou (Emilio Rivera) who remarked that no one got out from his era. He is the last one left of his crew, all of the others are dead inducing Wink's dad. Wink also has a soft spot for pre-teen Sammy (Gregory Kasyan) who has a junkie mom fed by Wink's unstable right-hand man Benny (Benjamin Barrett).


The story starts out down familiar territory that the viewer has seen before in other gangland member stories. But writers McLaren and Barrett who play the two King's leads shift course first with the powerful first appearance of Mr. Gavin (Robert Knepper) a Lucky Lou era Acer disciplining his son who was on the wrong end of a beating from Wink. The film explores difficult family, friendship and economic issues for a group of people in a space seeming destined to repeat the same rivalries, living and loving patterns one generation after the other.

Wink finds a solid reason to get out after meeting Suzy (Tamara Duarte) who makes him feel better when she's around for the first time since forever. Suzy is in town visiting her cousin Helen (Chelsea Rendon) escaping a serious situation of her own back home. But he has to balance his wishes with his loyalty to the Kings which is put to the ultimate test by a situation engineered by Benny.

AJ Gallardo's original music fills the spaces between the dialogue giving a dusty tinge to the town's settings as the Kings drink whiskey in between fights or drags of a cigarette. McLaren's and Barrett's complicated relationship as Wink and Benny is at the centre of the piece. They have known each other forever but are very different especially in their approach to Winks' mentee Little Cat / Sammy. Robert Knepper puts forth another world wind bad guy performance as Mr. Gavin while Tamara Duarte turns the head of every young male in the place as Helen's mysterious cousin Suzy.

Badsville is a dark violent, story of people from the wrong side of the tracks. Wink literally walks along train tracks heading to his job as a dishwasher. ballads give the piece flavour supporting a narrative that builds as it progresses. McLaren and Barrett offer a different interpretation of a familiar subject that is well worth a look.

*** out of 4.

Badsville | April Mullen | USA / Canada | 2017 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Gang, Crew, Family, 50's Era, Greaser, Rumble, Smack, Wife-Beater T, Cigarettes, Pick Up Truck, Legacy, Escape.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Film Review - The Post

The relationship between the media and politicians is an every changing dance that has a particularly high position in the American experience. The first amendment to the document that set the country finding principals was to ensure the freedom of the press. In the time before the setting of the film editors and publishers dined with Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries, and congressmen both sides knowing  that they would likely not print anything to hurt their friends. All this changed during the Vietnam War and into the early seventies as the country was bogged down in a foreign war halfway around the world with no sitting President wanting to be the one to concede defeat for the first time in American history.


The Pentagon Papers were the result of a study commissioned by Defense Secretary McNamara on the history of the U.S. role in Indochina. When the report came back unfavourable McNamara who was former counsel for the Washington Post continued to portray that the war was winnable and going as planned. Academic Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) objected to McNamara's position taking the copy of the study from his employers office at Rand Corporation leaking it to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan. The Times decision to print the documents turned the paper into an enemy of the Nixon White House singling out specific journalists for vitriol in the Oval Office. An Attorney General cease and desist order shut the Times down sparking the tracing of a source by Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) landing the Post with 4000 pages of the papers with 12 hours to sort, vet, write, proof and decide if they should publish.

Meryl Streep is firmly standing at the top of her craft in the role of Kay Graham. She finds herself at the head of the family paper built by her legendary father then handed over to her husband who met with an untimely end. Graham is often in a room full of men who placate but don't respect her often leaving her to take counsel that doesn't have the newspaper's best interest in mind. Bob Bradlee (Tom Hanks) knows that the paper can grow to national status but to do so its leaders can't put personal Washington relationships ahead of the paper's obligations to the public. It's the first time Streep and Hanks have shared the screen and from their first scene together for a breakfast meeting in a swanky Washington power room the audience can see that they are in for an acting masterclass. Bob Odenkirk continues his acting renaissance as Ben Bagdikian the reporter that follows the breadcrumbs of the Times source to the doorstep of his former Rand co-worker Daniel Ellsberg.

Director Steven Spielberg gets off the fence and takes a side with this film. Departing from his last couple of outings in the director's chair that played it pretty much down the middle. Here he's against the notation that the role of a paper is to protect government secrets instead it's to serve the interest of the American people. Spielberg often chose to go without music in the piece a choice that helps the viewer to focus on the monumental importance of the events as they unfold. The side that Spielberg plants his flag is that of the Supreme Court in their July 71 decision very timely today as the current occupant of the White House often sees the media as the enemy and like Nixon tries to bring the power of the Presidency to bear against those in the press that dare attempt to hold the government to account.

***1/2 Out of 4.

The Post | Steven Spielberg | U.S.A. | 2018 | 115 Minutes.

Tags: Vietnam, New York Times, Washington Post, Stock Offering, National Security, Espionage Act,  Supreme Court, Rand Corporation, Leaking, Lemonade.


Film Review - Phantom Thread

A deep dive into the world of high fashion houses in 1950's London is the setting for Director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film Phantom Thread. In Thomas and actor Daniel Day-Lewis you have a paring unequaled in their ability to immerse themselves in a subject. Mix in little known to North American audiences Vicky Kripis the Luxembourgian actress whose previous work has mainly been in French and German cinema as the muse and British stage and screen Grand Dame Leslie Manville to complete the four sturdy pillars supporting the project. Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock head dressmaker of a world famous design house clothier of the upper crust of England, Europe, America and the world at large. He even has groupies that approach in restaurants pleading to one day purchase one if his dresses then a desire to be buried in that dress. Reynolds does not pass up the chance to take a shot at his dismissive sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) remarking that she would be quick to dig up the dress to sell it again. Woodcock meets Alma (Krieps) on a winter weekend trip out of town while his sister Cyril dispatches the last muse that Reynolds had grown tired of.


Anderson noted that the idea for the film came to him after he was sick in bed and his wife cared for him in such a loving manner. He found Krieps by stumbling across a little known German film The Chambermaid and Day-Lewis, of course, he directed in his Oscar winning role of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Anderson scrip it detailed and particular lingering on every aspect of the dressmaking process including a lengthy scene in the first act of Reynolds taking Alma's measurements for the first time with Cyril writing over a dozen numbers down in a notebook. The film is also obsessed with tight spaces from Woodcock's two-seater sports car that he often drives too fast to attic type sets where Reynolds applies his craft bringing his drawings to life on Alma's frame while she boasts that no one can stand for longer.

There are some comedic moments in the piece especially when the dressmaker whines about distractions or seemingly minor occurrences or alterations to his routine. His quirks are challenged by both women with Cyril plainly announcing the peril he will face if choosing to pick a fight with her. The best of these moments occur at the breakfast table with Reynolds drawing in his sketchbook while in his mind Alma loudly butters her toast or pours hot water from a high altitude.

Phantom Thread is a study in how a person who needs no one comes to realize by the not too subtle act of another that he does at some points, he must slow down to do other things. The film is superbly acted backed by an absorbing script and visual eye of the director. The luscious score composed by Jonny Greenwood featuring the London Philharmonic sets the tone and mood of a time that is modern enough and recognizable to today's audience but does not have the early stages of any electronic devices that would look dated. It's a fitting last statement from Lewis if the rumors are true featuring a deathblow to the word "chic" that I highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

Phantom Thread | Paul Thomas Anderson | USA | 2018 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Fashion House, Dress Maker, Brother-Sister, Muse, Taking Measurements, Dreams, Ghost, Wedding Dress, Belgium, Countess, Princess, New Year's Eve, Mushrooms, Chic.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 10 Films 0f 2017




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Film Review - Get Out

Microaggressions, casual racism and black being in and chic are the main topics forced to the surface in Jordan Peele's sublime balance of satire, comedy, and horror in Get Out. The film is perfectly timed for today as the majority feels they have done their part for the moment having elected Barack Obama twice (A topic that's broached in the film) feel free to go back to American values in their leaders and heroes as they strive to Make America Great Again. Peele, infact, got the inkling for the film during the 2008 democratic primaries where you were either in the Hillary or Obama camp meaning you could not be for both women's rights and racial advancement. Chris ( Daniel Kaluuya) is headed to the country to visit his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) parents. He's concerned how it will go as he's not sure she has told them that she's back. Rose senses his anxiety and assures him that there is no need for a heads up. Roses educated parents a doctor (Bradley Whitford) and psychologist (Catherine Keener)  are welcoming to a fault with no hint of any tension until Rose's brother Caleb Landry Jones appears.


Next, the story shifts to a weekend to honour the work of Rose's grandfather where rich guest appear all seeming to know that Chris would be at the event although Rose claimed that she did not know it was to be that weekend. The all subtly watch his very move then when he goes to engage the only other balk person present the reaction is not what you would expect from a fellow African-American in syntax, action or body language. His presence is similar to the two Armitage employees their housekeep and groundsmen who stayed on after taking care of the grandparents.

Peele sees the monster in the film as current society itself. He puts in a subtle clue as a cop asks Chris for ID after Rose has an accident while driving.  She sticks up for him confronting the officer as to the reason why. Peeler sees this category of film as the social thriller. When the plot moves to the crux of the situation Chris has already been effected with little prospect to escape. He's been chosen as a chassy for an aging community member and there's not much he can do to prevent it.

Get Out is a study on race relations in America. It's opening and closing scenes serve as bookends on what breeds anxiousness in minorities that would be totally unexpected by the majority in the same situation. Walking along minding your business on a suburban street or expecting the worst when a police car rolls up on a scene where you have done absolutely nothing wrong.


**** Out of 4.

Get Out | Jordan Peele | U.S.A. | 2017 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Photography, Family Gathering, Hypnosis, Captive, Brainwash, Brain Surgery, TSA, Teaspoon, Missing Keys.





Film Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ends with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally marking it to Luke ( Mark Hamill) on his island and handing him his iconic lightsaber. In the latest installment, Rian Johnson's first act is to blow up J.J. Abrams vision having Luke toss it over his shoulder towards the cliffs. That opening act is a signal that Johnston planned to go after the secret tenants of the Star Wars universe imploring the religious followers of the films to get over themselves. At the opening the resistance is trying to evacuate a base before the First Order can wipe them out. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads the charge against the enemy forces with a reckless plan to take down a Starkiller costing a huge price in personnel.  As they jump to a new part of space they are followed by The First Order who have a way to track their movements. Former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) teams up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)  heading to a casino planet to find a code breaker to get them into the room on the First Order lead ship to deactivate the tracker. Meanwhile back on his island Luke is the reluctant teacher to Rey plus while there she develops a quizzical link to Kilo Ren( Adam Driver) underneath Luke's nose.


The writing in the film suffers from holes in the plot. It's not clear why the main resistance ship puttering along running out of fuel is able to stay out of range of the First Order's Battleships. Nor why Rose who has the ability to disarm the tracker is not able to pick the lock herself to get into the room that houses, said tracker. Considering the second part of that equation is a much large task. Meaning the mission of the casino planet is only there as a social commentary against arms dealing, animal cruelty and a general attack on the top 1 percent. Johnson does turn up the comedic moments starting with the lightsaber toss. Chewbacca's interaction with this generation loveable creatures the progs and Rey's misadventures with the architects during her time on Luke's island.

The most stunning aspect of the film is its visuals. The vistas on Luke's personal chunk of rock, weather coming in off the sea, Jedi fishing and the dark place down below where Rey goes looking for her parents to only find herself. Another attack on the tenant of lineage leading to strong The must-see sequence comes from the Salt planet where the resistance retreats.The ground is salt over a red underpad that shows through when the salt is disturbed. The blood red base cuts quite the visual as the resistance forces head out to face the First Order walkers.

Adam Driver's Kylo Ren/ Ben Solo continues to be the most difficult character to come to grips with. He's supposed to be the most powerful Sith lord since Darth Vader but doesn't seem to have the chops. He's manipulated into a mind meld with Rey and again needs to be saved by her in the main lightsaber battle in the film. But on the other hand, he matches wits with the all-powerful Snoke (Andy Serkis) and has fellow baddie General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) fearful of his next move. Laura Dern has a memorable turn as Vice Admiral Holdo. She manages to keep Poe Dameron more or less in line. teaching him along with General Leia ( the late Carrie Fisher) the painful lesson to put the long-term benefit of the rebellion ahead of short-term gain.

It must be remembered above everything else that Star Wars is a fantasy story aimed at kids. Therefore if technical aspects don't work or there are holes in the plot or a big McGuffin like Finn and Rose's mission that just doesn't matter as long as the film delivers on the action and this one does.

*** Out of 4.

Star Wars; The Last Jedi | Rian Johnson | 2017 | 152 Minutes.

Tags: Sci-Fi, Sequel, Franchise, Casino, Codebreaker, Training, the Force, Jedi, Sacrifice, Mission, Demotion, Deserter.