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Peter Rabbit (2018)

DIRECTOR: Will Gluck

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, David Wenham, Sia

REVIEW:

Devoted fans of Beatrix Potter’s gentle children’s stories will likely be appalled at how it’s been souped up with Home Alone-esque action, sometimes crude humor (though nothing that pushes the family friendly envelope very hard), and busy pop soundtrack, but Peter Rabbit keeps the action and comedy flying fast and furious enough that it will probably entertain small children while being at least passably enjoyable for the adults accompanying them.  It’s not the most high-brow family friendly entertainment to be found, but parents on the lookout for something to take their children to that’s not an endurance contest for themselves could do worse. Continue reading

Darkest Hour (2017)

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup

REVIEW:

2017 has been a good year for the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal event in WWII but an incident which had previously received little Hollywood attention.  Combined with Christopher Nolan’s “you are there” docudrama Dunkirk, which took us to the beaches, onboard the ships, and into the sky, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, about a British propaganda film made about the event, Darkest Hour takes us to the vantage point of 10 Downing Street and centers around Winston Churchill himself.  To this end, Darkest Hour features no real battle scenes—apart from fleeting glimpses—and its stodgy, talky tone will limit its primary audience to history buffs, especially those with a particular interest in Churchill, but for those who consider themselves in that category, Darkest Hour is an engaging docudrama about the first two weeks in office of perhaps Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, and how he almost lost the position no sooner than he’d been offered it. Continue reading

Breathe (2017)


DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis

 

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, Andy Serkis (best-known as Hollywood’s go-to guy for motion capture performances) has elected to eschew the CGI and special effects his career is so entwined with, and tell the true story of Robin Cavendish.  Cavendish, who passed away in 1994 at age 64, was one of the longest-surviving responauts (people who relied on a respirator to breathe) in the UK.  In its portrayal of a real-life quadriplegic, and its focus on his marriage, Breathe is a sort of cousin to The Theory of Everything (about Stephen and Jane Hawking), and might appeal to some of the same audience, although those seeking something fresher and more stimulating than the standard-issue “inspirational biopic” formula won’t find it here. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

Legend (2015)

Legend (2015)DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Taron Egerton, Paul Anderson, Paul Bettany, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell

REVIEW:

My opinion of Legend is much the same as that of another true crime docudrama, Black Massa few months earlier; a tour de force lead performance(s) and some memorable individual scenes doing too little to enliven an otherwise dull and generic gangster flick.  If you’re a big enough fan of the gangster movie genre, or of Tom Hardy, Legend may be worth a look, but “legendary” it is not.  Those hoping for a gangster epic conveying the true story of 1960s London’s notorious Kray twins will be left wanting.  For writer/director Brian Helgeland, who made a name for himself with 1997’s LA Confidential (and also wrote and directed 1999’s deliciously hard-boiled crime caper Payback), this is a disappointingly uninspired and generic effort that like Black Mass comes across as “Scorsese-lite”.  LA Confidential won Helgeland an Oscar, but while a case could easily be made for a nomination for Tom Hardy, the rest of Legend is far from Oscar material.   Continue reading

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

kingsmanDIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CAST: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophia Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Edward Holcroft, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport

REVIEW: 

With Kingsman, Matthew Vaughn has done for the ‘60s British spy genre what he previously did for the comic book superhero genre with Kick-Ass: part tongue-in-cheek, part affectionate homage.  Like Kick-Ass, Kingsman won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of the over-the-top action and cheeky humor of Roger Moore’s 007 outings might find much to appreciate here, even as it pokes fun at the conventions of the genre without going so far as to completely mock its obvious inspirations. Continue reading

The Imitation Game (2014)

DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum

imitation gameCAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, Charles Dance

REVIEW:

Does the name Alan Turing mean anything to you?  Chances are it doesn’t, despite him being credited with shortening WWII by as much as two years, saving an estimated 14 million lives, as well as giving birth to the prototype of the computer.  Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore, working off Andrew Hodges’ Turing biography, is a belated attempt to bring some deserved recognition both to Alan Turing’s accomplishments and the disgrace of what eventually happened to one of the most unsung war heroes of WWII. Continue reading

Locke (2014)

2F3A9835.jpgDIRECTOR: Steven Knight

CAST: Tom Hardy, voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner

REVIEW:

So, how engaging can a movie be centering entirely on 90 minutes of a man driving in a car and talking on the phone, with the other characters only present via their voices?  As it turns out, Locke is often surprisingly absorbing in the moment, even if it’s ultimately unable to withstand the onset of monotony.  A small, low-key, low-budget indie movie initially opening at independent film festivals in the UK, Locke moved on to a limited theatrical release in the US amid positive critical reviews  and a much-praised performance by Tom Hardy, but the prospect of spending an hour and a half watching a film in which nothing happens but a man driving in a car dealing with a series of personal crises on the phone is not a premise to draw mainstream crowds.  Locke may be a critical darling, but it’s strictly indie art-house fare, and while an intriguing cinematic experiment, its gimmicky premise ultimately wears thin. Continue reading

About Time (2013)

DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

REVIEW:

Writer-director Richard Curtis might not stray out of his romantic comedy comfort zone (he was previously the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the writer-director of Love Actually), but for his latest installment, he’s souped it up with a time travel twist.  Actually, given how the premise hinges on it, how fast and loose Curtis plays with his own established time travel rules might annoy some sticklers for consistency too much to appreciate the film’s charms, but while riddled with topsy turvy internal logic, About Time is a pleasant, sentimental little romantic comedy-drama that offers an enjoyable diversion for those who appreciate this sort of thing. Continue reading

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tina Desai, Diana Hardcastle, Lillete Dubey

REVIEW:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those low-key, quiet and inoffensive little comedy-dramas (steeped in oh-so-British reserve) that serve as counter-programming to the big summer action movies.  To that end, it’s not anything unpredictable or edgy, and doesn’t really venture out of its safe zone, but it serves up enough sweetness with dashes of romance and just a drop of poignancy to make it an enjoyable experience that goes down easily, even if it doesn’t necessarily leave the biggest lasting impression.  Those who have a soft spot for lighthearted predictable drama (boosted by a distinguished ensemble cast of respected elder British thespians) might enjoy (one wonders if the movie might play better with those who have more in common, in age and perhaps nationality, with the main characters, than with younger viewers who might want a little more “pep”).   Continue reading

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