Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Darkest Hour (2017)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Focus Features

Darkest Hour – Film Review

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendolsohn, Stephen Dillane

Director: Joe Wright

Synopsis: In the early days of World War II, with the rest of Europe falling under the iron grip of the Nazis, Winston Churchill ascends to the role of Prime Minister, with the country seemingly on the brink of almost certain defeat…

Review: In periods of war, strong leadership from those who hold positions of power can be the difference between victory and defeat. Never is this more applicable than for the United Kingdom in the early years of the Second World War, which like the film’s title success was truly some of the darkest days for the country. The Nazis closed in having swiftly conquered the majority of Western Europe, and there seemed to be no one capable of stopping Hitler from his mission of total domination across the continent. This is of course, until one man came to the fore, and that man is of course Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Being one of, if not the most prominent Prime Ministers in UK history, there has been a great many actor to play Churchill, and Gary Oldman becomes the latest man to assume the role, and it is one that he fully commits to, giving an absolutely incredible performance that has rightfully installed him as a hot favourite to finally scoop a Best Actor Oscar this year. His performance captures Churchill and his mannerisms so well that at times you forget that it is indeed Oldman under all that makeup.

Having seen his predecessor Neville Chamberlain being forced into resignation, Churchill assumes office and immediately realise the enormity of the task facing him as the British forces find themselves stranded on the French coast with the Germans closing in fast. While Churchill favours a more guns blazing approach, there are those who would prefer to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and as one character calls him, his “lackey” Mussolini. As the days go by and the situation worsens, pressure and indeed opposition towards him grows stronger, but Churchill will not yield.

Given the gravity of the situation, it would be easy for the script to be completely dreary. However, the screenplay by Anthony McCarten allows for plenty of humour, of which Churchill is of course front and centre. Aside from Oldman’s towering performance, the rest of the supporting cast all deliver assured performances. Chief among these are Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and Lily James as his secretary Elizabeth Layton, while neither are given extensive amounts of screentime, they both make their mark on Churchill and are figures of support as he battles his opponents who are calling for him to negotiate for peace, led by the stern Viscount Halifax, who is expertly portrayed by Stephen Dillane.

With meticulous production design by Sarah Greenwood, director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel capture 1940s London in intriguing visual style. The scenes in Parliament especially stand out in the way Wright shoots them, using lighting that gives the scenes an almost melancholic feel to them, which to be fair wouldn’t entirely be out of place in war time. Yet it is here where Oldman shines brightest, giving the rousing “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech that has taken its deserved place as one of the best speeches in history.

In what is almost a companion piece to the gripping retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation from Christopher Nolan, while that film focuses on the evacuation itself, Darkest Hour focuses on the man who at a time when his country needed him most, rose to the challenge and helped to make it all possible. In the darkest hour that perhaps the UK has ever faced, one man showed us the light.

A gripping story of a country on the brink at its centre, with a magnificent performance from Oldman at its core, this is Wright’s and Oldman’s finest hour.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heydey Films

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter is facing a new threat, in the form of the dastardly Sirius Black who escapes from Azkaban Prison and is believed to be after Harry.

Review:  The Harry Potter fandom are certainly a passionate bunch, and although there are those out there who may not have enjoyed what he brought to the franchise, every Potter fan ought to raise their wands to Chris Columbus. The director behind the first two films brought a steady hand to both movies and ensured the solid foundations of the franchise were laid. For the third outing to Hogwarts however, Columbus chose not to direct. Instead the director’s wand was passed to Mr Alfonso Cuarón, and what an inspired choice that turned out to be.

After his brave battles in taking down You-Know-Who on the back of a man’s head and You-Know-Who again in his younger self, Harry has plucked up the courage and decided enough is enough with his ridiculously evil muggle family, and escapes into more familiar and friendly terrain, in the company of his best friends Ron and Hermione. Yet before he goes, there is a hilarious incident with another member of his nasty muggle relatives. He soon finds himself back on that train to Hogwarts for the commencement of his third year, and it’s on that train when the viewer realises, that this year at Hogwarts, things are going to get darker and creepier than ever before, not least with the sinister Dementors that are lurking around Hogwarts.

Cuaron is certainly an outstanding visual director, and with this film he shows off his considerable talent in more than a few brilliant sequences. The film’s visual qualities have certainly taken a big leap forward when compared to the first two movies, and the film takes on a considerably more darker tone which is epitomised by the presence of these Dementors who are at Hogwarts because of the man who has escaped from Azkaban and is said to be coming to kill Harry, this would be one Sirius Black, played excellently by Gary Oldman. Kloves is again penning the screenplay, and he understandably does have to axe some material to streamline the script, yet the translation from  page to screen remains at a consistently solid level. Additionally, the action is much more intense in this instalment and incorporates some very exciting elements such as time travel into the story.

The acting from the main trio remains at a steady pace, they’re certainly not Oscar worthy, but their performances are assured and it’s clear that they are growing in confidence. The performances of the veterans if you will such as Rickman and Oldman certainly help bring the acting standard up a couple of good pegs. This is further aided by the tremendous work of David Thewlis playing new Professor Lupin, and the introduction of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, having taken over the role from the late Richard Harris, proved to be another excellent casting choice. The film’s effects are also for the most part, considerably improved, except in the case of the werewolf, well the less said about that the better, it could and should have been so much better.

Nevertheless, Azkaban marks a noticeable improvement in quality from Philospher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. The shift to a much darker, more ominous tone is immediately noticeable, and it helps to deliver a really engaging and gripping story that helps set the wheels in motion for the franchise. This is because as we all know, a certain dark wizard, thought to be long since dead, is stirring…

Darker in tone from the word go, but with plenty of humour too, Cuaron delivers terrific visuals and a really gripping story that can delight, and maybe intimidate, viewers of all ages in equal measure.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Image is property of Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Film Review 

Cast:  Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman,  Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Kodi Smit-McPhee

Directors: Matt Reeves

Synopsis:  Ten years after the events of the first film as humanity has been devastated by the virus. The colony of Apes, led by Caesar are prospering . However when  a last batch of surviving humans resurface, tension resurfaces and it is poised to erupt into a war  to establish control over the planet.

Review: Sequels, seemingly an ever present in the world of Hollywood and film making.  Sometimes, they come along and disappoint, failing to top its predecessor, or nothing more than a cash grab. Yet when a sequel takes the first film and tops it, in many ways, it is something to be admired. 2014 showed itself to be the year of remarkable sequels.  With the Matt Reeves directed Dawn, a sequel to 2011’s Rise, we continue that great sequel trend with a beautifully directed and riveting story that will ensure that the Planet of The Apes franchise is not going anywhere any time soon.

With humanity obliterated in the wake of the Simian virus that was unleashed at the end of Rise, Caesar, once again brilliantly motion captured by Andy Serkis, and his crew of apes have their spot where they live. With a whole community established, it is enthralling to watch the apes interact with each other. They have their own language and their population is thriving. There are no humans about (or so they think) and all is right in the ape world. They live, and they prosper. This is, until a group of humans come along looking for something to help their population return to normality. Instantaneously,  conflict threatens to break out once more between the two factions amid uneasy truces. Distrust is brewing in the ranks of both camps and it threatens to completely boil over into all out war as there are those on both sides who simply do not trust the other. In some cases, these reasons are clear and in others, they are not.

Through the marvel of motion capture realised by WETA Digital, it is Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar who completely steals the show once again. His performance is incredible to watch, it is almost as if it is not brilliant computer generated imagery and is actually a real life ape communicating with the humans. He is the glue that binds the ape community together and he is the star of the show. The motion capture technology looks astoundingly for all of the ape community, with different actors playing different apes, the different personalities of all of the apes shine through. Yet Caesar’s not the only ape who takes the limelight, the more hostile angry Koba, portrayed by Toby Kebbell is an ape on a mission, to eradicate humanity. He is vicious and angry, and is determined to gain the revenge on the humans.  The computer generated imagery is flawless and it is a strong contender to scoop some awards for its breathtaking visuals in this year’s awards season. With great apes also come some interesting human characters, namely Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) also come into conflict about what to do with the Apes. One wants peace, the other wants war, and it threatens to boil over at any given moment.

The action in this film is taken up a notch from the first movie, with some enthralling battle scenes. 2014 offered some sweet action scenes but some of the battles in this sequel are some of the stand out moments of cinema in 2014. As the title poster illustrates, apes on horses is a sample of this brilliance. Under Matt Reeves’ masterful direction, Dawn provides a compelling and somewhat moving story about a fight to survive, mixed with compassion and a desire for both species to co-exist, whilst some factions of both communities strive for supremacy over the other. With a third film in the works, once again directed by Reeves and scheduled to be released in 2017, more Apes goodness will be on the way.

With incredible visuals, interesting human characters and even more interesting apes, combined with a really well told and interesting story, this is arguably the best entry of the revitalised Apes franchise, and with Reeves returning for a third outing, the stage is set for something special. 

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