Oldman Channels Churchill in Character-Driven Docudrama
Curiously, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk basically cover the same ground, namely, Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) first month as Prime Minister of Great Britain. When he was sworn in on May 10, 1940, the country was at war with Germany, which had already conquered most of Europe and was just starting to invade Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) had unsuccessfully employed a diplomatic policy of appeasement, which had only served to embolden Hitler. And soon after entering office, Winston found himself facing a daunting task once the Nazis’ blitzkrieg had broken through the Maginot Line.
Suddenly, the Allied forces were in full retreat, including hundreds of thousands of British soldiers. They were being driven to the sea, where they would be sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe.
Now, where Dunkirk focused on the evacuation of the troops by an impromptu flotilla of private citizens, Darkest Hour narrowly focuses on Churchill’s leadership and oratory skills. After all, it was no mean feat to convince a woefully-equipped nation that it could successfully ramp up its defenses to take on the ravenous war machine practically on its doorstep.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), Darkest Hour does a magnificent job of plumbing the depths of Churchill’s psyche as well as recreating a number of his inspirational speeches, concluding with his historic, “We shall never surrender!” address delivered to Parliament on June 4.
Unfortunately, Darkest Hour pales in comparison to the visually-captivating Dunkirk. Too bad the introspective and action-oriented productions weren’t spliced together. Nevertheless, Gary Oldman might finally win the Oscar that has long eluded him for his sterling portrayal of the British Bulldog.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes
Running time: 125 minutes
Production Studio: Working Title Films / Perfect World Pictures
Distributor: Focus Features
What Lies Upstream
Eco-Expose’ Warns of Fallout of Unchecked Pollution
On Jan. 9, 2014, a coal industry cleansing agent called MCHM started leaking from an above-ground storage tank into West Virginia’s Elk River. The major chemical spill was covered up by Freedom Industries, the company that owned and operated the tank.
The 300,000 residents of Charleston were lucky that the substance emitted a noxious odor, otherwise they might never have known that their tap water was toxic. Still, some 700 folks called the local poison control center to report rashes and a variety of other symptoms.
Six days later, instead of caring about the health and safety of its customers, the water company closed ranks with the prevaricating corporation by declaring the licorice-tasting H2O safe to drink. Unfortunately, most of the other official agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Center for Disease Control, also ran interference for Freedom Industries.
This shocking state of affairs came to the attention of filmmaker/investigative journalist, Cullen Hoback, who made his way to the scene of the crime, camera in hand. Leaving no stone unturned, he doggedly pursued the truth, until justice was served, albeit belatedly.
The upshot of Hoback’s efforts has been chronicled in fascinating fashion in What Lies Upstream, a jaw-dropping documentary which reveals most regulating agencies to be untrustworthy puppets of big business interests. Besides the Charleston disaster, the film covers similar events, which transpired elsewhere around the country (most notably in Flint, Mich.), again and again illustrating how politicians and bureaucrats have routinely failed to protect the people who elected them.
A sobering expose’ issuing a dire warning about the whole damn nation’s being on the brink of ecological collapse!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 85 minutes
Distributor: Hydrax Films
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Jan. 12, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
The Commuter (PG-13 for profanity and intense violence) Liam Neeson stars in this suspense thriller as an insurance salesman who finds himself caught up in a criminal conspiracy on his way home from work after being offered $100,000 by a mysterious stranger to uncover the identity of a passenger hiding on the train. With Vera Farmiga, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Patrick Wilson and Jonathan Banks.
Condorito: La Pelicula (Unrated) Animated adaptation of the popular, Chilean comic strip revolving around the attempt of an anthropomorphic condor (Omar Chaparro) and his pals to save the planet from an evil alien, one plop at a time. Voice cast includes Jessica Cediel, Cristian de la Fuente and Jey Mammon. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)
Paddington 2 (PG for action and mildly rude humor) Kid-oriented sequel finds the anthropomorphic bear (Ben Whishaw) living with the Brown family until he’s wrongfully arrested for stealing a valuable old book from an anitques shop. Ensemble cast includes Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters and Michael Gambon.
Proud Mary (Unrated) Taraji P. Henson plays the title character in this tale of redemption, set in Boston, as a mob assassin who rethinks her line of work after accidentally orphaning a little boy (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) while performing a hit. With Danny Glover, Margaret Avery and Neal McDonough.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game (R for profanity and sexuality) A baby-daddy comedy about a couple of childless retirees’ (Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino) competition to convince a nurse (Maria Dizzia) that he’s her long-lost father. With Pamela Dubin, Alexander Cook and Kayla Harrity.
Humor Me (Unrated) Father-son comedy about a struggling Manhattan playwright (Jemaine Clement) who reluctantly moves in with his elderly father (Elliott Gould) only to be pressured to put on a production starring residents of the Jersey retirement community. Featuring Annie Potts, Bebe Neuwirth, Ingrid Michaelson and Willie Carpenter.
Ku Qian (Unrated) The impact of modernization on Eastern China is examined in this documentary chronicling a day in the life of a migrant worker in the garment industry. (In Mandarin with subtitles)
Lover for a Day (Unrated) Third wheel drama, set in Paris, about a just-dumped, 23-year-old (Esther Garrel) who shows up at her father’s (Eric Caravaca) looking for a place to crash, only to learn that he ‘s already sharing the tiny apartment with a new girlfriend (Louise Chevillotte) half his age. Support cast includes Paul Toucang, Felix Kysyl and Michel Charrel. (In French with subtitles)
My Art (Unrated) Laurie Simmons wrote, directed and stars in this character-driven drama about a 65-year-old teacher craving recognition as an artist. With Lena Dunham, Parker Posey, Robert Clohessy and Grace Dunham.
The Room (R for sexuality, profanity and brief violence) Re-release of the 2003 flop which inspired The Disaster Artist. The abysmal production revolves around a love triangle, which arises when a successful banker’s (Tommy Wiseau) best friend (Greg Sestero) starts sleeping with his girlfriend (Juliette Danielle). Featuring Philip Haldman, Carolyn Minnott and Robyn Paris. .
Saturday Church (Unrated) Poignant character study chronicling an effeminate, 14-year-old boy’s (Luka Kain) struggle with his sexual identity until finding support at an LGBTQ support group in the transgender community. With Margot Bingham, Regina Taylor and Evander Duck, Jr.
Vazante (Unrated) 19th Century saga, set in Brazil’s Diamantina Mountains, about a slave-trading plantation owner (Adriano Carvalho) who decides to marry his 12-year-old niece (Luana Nastas), after his wife dies during childbirth. Supporting cast includes Sandra Corveloni, Roberto Audio and Jai Baptista. (In Portuguese with subtitles)