Darkest Hour Review

The Plot

As Western Europe teeters on the brink of collapse at the start of World War 2 popular political outsider Winston Churchill becomes the new British prime minister. During Britain’s darkest days Churchill must not only find a way to win over a reluctant political establishment but more importantly avoid total military destruction and inevitable Nazi invasion.

The Good

Gary Oldman reconfirms his long held status as one of the most versatile and compelling character actors with a performance that outshines even his elaborate physical transformation. Thanks to some flawless makeup and prosthetics wizardry Oldman is physically unrecognisable, literally becoming the iconic British leader. However what’s most impressive is how even underneath copious layers of makeup and bodysuits Oldman is able to deliver a subtle portrayal that goes well beyond Churchill’s jowl shaking oratorical skills.

Around Oldman director Joe Wright has assembled a fine cast of character actors who breathe further life into the tense political landscape of Britain on the brink in 1940. Ben Mendelsohn deserves special note for his portrayal of King George VI, a daunting prospect in the wake of Colin Firths Oscar winning version.

Director Joe Wright manages to create a sense of momentum and carefully crafts the full weight of historic significance resting on Churchill and Britain’s shoulders during these most perilous moment sin world history. Much like recent crowd pleasers Dunkirk and Their Finest, Darkest Hour is innately imbued with a swell of pride that lingers still today from the immeasurable bravery and idealism demonstrated by a small island nation that stood utterly alone against evil.

The Bad

Anyone with even a most basic grasp of 20th century history already knows the ultimate outcome of the Second World War and Churchill’s personal destiny as one of the most iconic leaders in modern history. In particular Christopher Nolan’s recent blockbuster reminder of the miraculous Dunkirk evacuation is also still overly fresh in people’s minds. The inevitability of Churchill’s success and Britain’s military survival essentially robs the film of much of the dramatic suspense it seeks to create.

Winston Churchill is one of the most visual and vocally distinctive figures of the 20th century, consequentially he has been immortalised in film and television by countless actors already including most recent efforts by Brian Cox and The Crown’s John Lithgow. Unfortunately this leave Oldman with little room left for fresh discovery. At this point the highest compliment possible for the capable Oldman is that he manages to avoid slipping into flamboyant caricature.

In truth Churchill has been so frequently idolised and scrutinised by books, television and film that it is now simply impossible for this film to create any genuine sense of discovery or fresh insight. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is restrained and nuanced but always identifiably familiar. More critical or exaggerated versions of Churchill that have appeared on screen at least had the excitement of controversy or cartoonish fun to offer.

The Ugly Truth

Gary Oldman’s physically transformative performance and a splash of patriotic pride manages to make some overly familiar historic material feel once more compelling if not exactly original or surprising.

The Last Jedi Takes Over $1 Billion

Star Wars The Last Jedi has dominated cinema screens across Christmas and New Year to inevitably break through the $1 billion box office barrier after just three weeks on release. By New Year’s Eve the much debated new chapter in the Star Wars saga had amassed $1,040 billion with half coming from the USA and the rest coming from worldwide territories. The UK proved that the force is still very strong with it by providing over $90 million on its own.

Though these impressive number look certain to continue to rise as the film lingers in cinema for many many weeks to come, for now both Fast & Furious 8 and Beauty and the Beast remain slightly ahead of The Last Jedi’s box office haul.

Molly’s Game Review

The Plot

The true story of Molly Bloom an Olympic class skier who launched a multi-million dollar empire running the world’s most exclusive high stakes poker games, only to become the target of an FBI investigation.

The Good

Aaron Sorkin has spent years garnering acclaim and respect as one of Hollywood’s most distinctive and compelling screenwriters. Finally making an effortless transition to directing as well, he bring his own well-polished script to life with considerable style and technical skill. He has clearly learnt well from the long list of talent directors who have lined up to work on his brilliantly fast paced and intelligent material.

In particular Sorkin has developed a reputation for dealing well with the unique challenge of transforming biopics of famous figures into entertaining big screen experiences. In the past the one criticism made of his well-crafted scripts for The Social network or Steve Jobs has been the liberal use of fiction in retelling supposed autobiographical material. With Molly’s Game Sorkin offer more of a conventional narrative, relying a little less on copious poetic licence. Molly Bloom’s reluctant attorney may be an invention of Sorkin’s imagination, but the core facts of her remarkable story remain true to life.

Sorkin always writes with a uniquely dense and rapid fire dialogue, thankfully leads Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are fully capable of handling the demands of the script, delivering brisk and compelling results. Elba lends some gruff gravitas to Molly’s sceptical attorney, providing a useful narrative vehicle for audiences making their own discovery of Molly’s extraordinary journey. However the lion’s share of praise must deservedly go to lead actress Jessica Chastain, her emphatic narration and nuanced performance gives Molly Bloom far more dimension and depth than the easy stereotypes Hollywood could so easily have made her.

The Bad

While Molly’s Game starts with a relentless pace the film does lose some of that exciting momentum as it moves through a lengthy two hour twenty minutes run time. Even armed with Aaron Sorkin’s bristling dialogue it’s difficult to inject sufficient suspense to carry the story through its final third. In truth stories such as Molly Bloom’s do traditionally struggle during a final act where they must seemingly choose between whether to be cautionary tales or statements of defiant celebration.

Although Jessica Chastain and the rest of the supporting cast are all well-chosen fits they can’t entirely obscure the fact that beneath a heavy layer of glitz and glamour Molly’s story is often actually easily predictable and lacking in the kind of sensational twists that pure fiction so readily supplies.

The Ugly Truth

Molly’s Game is an accomplished directing debut for Aaron Sorkin and showcases a truly masterful performance from Jessica Chastain. The film delves into a lot of familiar Hollywood territory but does so armed with a smart script that mostly voids clichés and offers plenty of entertainment.

Review by Russell Nelson

Pitch Perfect 3 Review

Pitch Perfect 3 Review

The Plot

Acapella singing superstars the Barden Bellas have grown up and grown apart, but a chance to reunite for one last chance to compete for musical glory on a European Tour might just put each of their individual lives back on track.

The Good

Pitch Perfect 3 will be a welcome return for those who have previously much enjoyed the Bellas’ endearingly daft musical shenanigans. Though the plot of this final chapter may feel like an obviously contrived excuse for a series of jaunty musical numbers, those acapella karaoke mashups are nonetheless still infectiously fun to watch.

Likewise the franchise’s astonishingly well assembled cast continues to pour a surprising amount of charm into otherwise one note characters. Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson are among the returning stars that shine yet again. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins also return to provide their usual scene stealing tongue in cheek commentary throughout proceedings.

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Pitch Perfect 3 is that it seems entirely self-aware of the fact that it’s a final celebratory farewell tour nothing more. The plot of the film oddly mirrors real life, with plenty of in jokes about the need to move on and the inherent comedy of performers so unashamedly desperate for that final piece of the spotlight.

Luckily the film manages to resist the temptation to pull a Fast and The Furious style genre switch, utterly reimagining the characters or throwing them into too many implausibly new situations. This is perhaps the worst and most common crime of ill-advised sequels but thankfully Pitch Perfect 3 doesn’t quite fall into this trap, even if it does knowingly flirt with the idea during its opening scenes and later stages.

Overall a talented cast and the winning formula of slapstick humour, one liners and musical set pieces blends to form a pleasing harmony easily capable of raising a smile for 90 minutes.

The Bad

The original Pitch Perfect was a fun novelty act but didn’t obviously lend itself to sequels thanks to a largely self-contained plot that had been neatly brought to a close. Instead box office success and apparent audience enthusiasm swiftly prompted a follow up that made the most of a talented cast to squeeze even more musical comedy from the niche world of competitive acapella singing. Unfortunately for some audiences stretching the franchise now into a full blown trilogy may feel a little unnecessary and greedy.

For anyone who felt their enthusiasm damper by the end of the last sequel, this time may feel even more like a lazy repeat combined with at least one embarrassingly farfetched subplot. In particular the film comes dangerously close to ‘jumping the shark’ during its desperate efforts to inject action into its final act. Hollywood so often mistakes bigger for better and adding martial arts and explosions to acapella singing is never really a sensible idea.

Even if the final Bellas adventure does its very best to milk more laughs out of the increasingly familiar characters, it’s hard to entirely avoid feeling like you’re watching performers taking a superfluous curtain call after the applause has already started to fade out.

The Ugly Truth

Pitch Perfect 3 ends the unlikely trilogy of musical comedy on a mostly satisfying note giving fans of the series a final farewell performance. Stars like Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson have just enough musical and comedic appeal to make it feel like easy watching fun.

Review by Russell Nelson

London Critics’ Circle Awards Nominations

Martin McDonagh’s drama earned seven nominations from UK critics, who also singled out smaller films like Lady Macbeth, God’s Own Country, Phantom Thread and Call Me By Your Name, alongside Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Paul King’s Paddington 2.

Martin McDonagh’s drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was out front with seven nominations, including Film, Director, Screenwriter, Actress for Frances McDormand, and Supporting Actor for both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. In addition, as a British production the film is nominated for British/Irish Film of the Year.

Following close behind with six nominations each are William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Four films earned five nominations each: Luca Guagadino’s Call Me By Your Name, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Paul King’s Paddington 2, and Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. The 10 films contending for Film of the Year are Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, The Florida Project, Get Out, God’s Own Country, Lady Bird, Loveless, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Sunday, 28th January at The May Fair Hotel. Actor-filmmakers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram will return to host the ceremony, at which Kate Winslet will receive the critics’ highest honour, The Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film.

Full List of Nominations:

Call Me By Your Name
The Florida Project
Get Out
God’s Own Country
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Handmaiden

Human Flow
I Am Not Your Negro
The Work

God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Paddington 2
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sean Baker – The Florida Project
Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape of Water
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk

Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Annette Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

Emily Beecham – Daphne
Judi Dench – Victoria & Abdul/Murder on the Orient Express
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water/Maudie/Paddington 2
Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird/Loving Vincent

Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Colin Farrell – The Killing of a Sacred Deer/The Beguiled
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Josh O’Connor – God’s Own Country
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour/The Space Between Us

Harris Dickinson – Beach Rats
Tom Holland – The Lost City of Z/Spider-Man: Homecoming
Noah Jupe – Suburbicon/Wonder/The Man With the Iron Heart
Dafne Keen – Logan
Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk

Alice Birch – Lady Macbeth
Simon Farnaby – Paddington 2/Mindhorn
Francis Lee – God’s Own Country
Rungano Nyoni – I Am Not a Witch
William Oldroyd – Lady Macbeth

The Cloud of Unknowing – Mike Hannon
The Dog and the Elephant – Mike Sharpe
Tuesday – Charlotte Wells
We Love Moses – Dionne Edwards
Your Mother and I – Anna Maguire

Baby Driver – Darrin Prescott, stunts
Blade Runner 2049 – Dennis Gassner, production design
Dunkirk – Hans Zimmer, music
God’s Own Country – Joshua James Richards, cinematography
Lady Macbeth – Holly Waddington, costumes
The Lost City of Z – Darius Khondji, cinematography
The Love Witch – Emma Willis, hair & makeup
Paddington 2 – Pablo Grillo, visual effects
Phantom Thread – Mark Bridges, costumes
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ben Morris, visual effects

EXCELLENCE IN FILM: The Dilys Powell Award
Kate Winslet

Winners will be announced Sunday, 28th January 2018