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.

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

Big Fish The Musical Review

The Plot

Likeable charmer Edward Bloom is a romantic larger than life figure with a rare gift for storytelling, but as his son embarks on his own family life he struggles to separate fact from fantasy, hoping to figure out who his father really is beneath all his fantastical tales before it’s too late.

The Good

Frasier star Kelsey Grammer marks his west end debut with a pitch perfect performance as the affable older Edward Bloom. His deep charismatic voice, armed with a slight southern drawl is a perfect source of narration. He perfectly ties together the various strands of the story, intertwining fantasy and reality seamlessly as he sets the scene for the rest of the cast of young musical stars. It’s simply hard to imagine any actor better suited to the role as Grammer magnificently encapsulates the gruff bluster, flamboyant showmanship and poignant romanticism that makes Edward Bloom such an endearing hero.

Credit for the astonishing success of the show goes of course to the creative team and original author, but the impressively versatile cast deserve perhaps the biggest praise. Often playing multiple roles they make it easy for audiences to be swept away in the charming fantasy world of Edward Bloom. It would be unfair to single out individual cast members as each member of the well-chosen ensemble delivers flawless vocal and well-choreographed performances.

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to this new production is that it succeeds in adding new music and a fresh layer of charm to a much beloved and already familiar story. This new musical dimension lends itself perfectly to the oratory flare of Edward Bloom and his whimsical fables. While some of the songs inject added humour and playfulness, the show is at its absolute strongest when the music lends extra emotional weight to its more tender and heartfelt moments. Sincere well-crafted ballads massively amplifies the emotional impact of a story that deals with genuinely epic love, new beginnings and bittersweet endings. The show builds momentum steadily towards a truly tear stained and uplifting finale.

Aside from the poignant subtext of the show, what is perhaps most special and memorable is the unbridled sense of fun that the production offers delighted audiences. At times the production literally leaps out amongst the audience or drags them up on stage. It’s a fully immersive experience packed with all the very best that live theatre has to offer.

The Bad

Over familiarity with the original book and Tim Burton’s film adaptation will obviously rob this stage version of the element of surprise for some audiences. Particularly as most of the changes the musical makes to the story are simplifications to streamline proceedings for a more modest cast size. Likewise at times despite the innovative set design and costume work, it’s tough to entirely escape inevitable comparisons with the special effects infused magic of the big screen adaptation. Though the musical does the very best possible with minimal set dressings and a confined space, those that struggle to rely on the power of their own imaginations will occasionally notice those limitations. But this could be said of any live theatre and shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is a truly brilliant production.

The Ugly Truth

Big Fish is one of the most delightfully fun and poignant new musicals to grace a West End stage in quite some time. Capturing the very best of both the original book and the popular film adaptation the new musical version is a raucous crowd pleasing spectacle guaranteed to deliver laughs, smiles and more than a few tears. Make sure you don’t miss a golden opportunity to see this wondrous show in a magically intimate space, book your ticket today!

Review by Russell Nelson

Darkest Hour Review TIFF 2017

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.