Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Daniel Day Lewis     Vicky Krieps     Lesley Manville

     Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, The Master) likes to explore the psychology of people and how types react to one another in relationships.  In the case of the two main characters in Phantom Thread, the power and dependency needs of each are woven into the fabric of their relationship. 
     It begins when couture dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) catches sight of a waitress named Alma (Krieps), something not predictable from what we have come to know about him, and which is another instance of Anderson gleefully heightening the intrigue.  Reynolds is precise in every way, pretentious, and strongly opinionated about his surroundings.  His clients idolize him.  His attraction to Alma is unexpected, since she is rather clumsy, warm, and from a lower class of society.  But she is maximally compliant—at least in the beginning—and one can see he has fantasies of molding her into his ideal woman.  What he doesn’t see at first is a woman who has a strong need to control, particularly when she is pushed.  What she doesn’t see at first is his infantile reaction to rejection that temporarily incapacitates him.  What we don’t see initially are the forms their relationship will take across time and the eventual outcome.
     Complicating the picture is Reynolds’ sister Cyril (Manville).  The two established The House of Woodcock, a couture business years before, and both live in the house where designs are created by Reynolds and sewn up with the help of female employees.  Their mother taught Reynolds his art, and he keeps her within his heart and mind, still missing her long after her passing.
     Phantom Thread is beautifully filmed by writer/director Anderson as cinematographer (although he says it was a team effort) with an award-winning crew (Mark Tildesley, production design; Veronique Melery, set design; and Mark Bridges, costume design), set in London’s couture world in the 1950’s.  The designs Reynolds creates may not be to everyone’s taste, but watching him and his staff create them gives a sense of the passion in the art of design.  Jonny Greenwood’s score is inventive in its expression of the drama ongoing in every scene.
     This work is purportedly Daniel Day Lewis’ swan song, and he puts his whole being into it, swaggering when Reynolds is on top of his game, looking like he is going to die any moment in some scenes, curling up like a wounded baby in others, and in still others courting his lady in the most unusual—but usually appealing—ways.  Lesley Manville as his sister can be cold as ice, never shows much emotion at all except disapproval, but clearly comes across as a mother-substitute to her brother.  Vicky Krieps manages to pull off a servile persona when she needs to, to get what she wants, then shows a cunning, precise calculation that was never apparent in her waitress job.  One of the funniest—and most descriptive and strangely predictive lines in the film is, “What a model of politeness you two are”, observed by Reynolds to his sister after an interaction between the two women.  We should be seeing much more of Krieps after her success in this film.
     Phantom Thread is more likely to appeal to viewers who relish its informed psychology of human relationships and families.  Its slower pace in the beginning is meant to establish the context and inform about the main characters, and it has depth in this sense and in the points Anderson wants to get across; but it is also very funny, sometimes with dark humor and sometimes just goofy.  Others may enjoy it simply as a British period drama depicting haute couture in London in the fifties.

If you are a Daniel Day Lewis fan, take heed; this is likely to be his last.  And Paul Thomas Anderson gives us a fine production in which to highlight talents of the two collaborators.

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland


Jessica Chastain     Idris Elba     Kevin Costner     Michael Cera
Jeremy Strong     Chris O’Dowd      Bill Camp     Brian d’Arcy

     This is one of the few, or only, major films showing a female character who is strong, cheeky, brilliant, daring, and successful, and who chooses an honorable path regardless of the consequences.  Often, we see a film showing men in that position, but not women. 
     Molly Bloom (cunningly played by Chastain) is a cheeky woman brought up by her sports-obsessed father (Costner) to compete to the death on a ski slope; he’d had great success with her older brothers.  When she was 12 years old, after major surgery for scoliosis and doctors’ recommendation not to ski again, she went on to compete in the Olympics as part of the U.S. team.  Bad luck came in the form of a small piece of pine embedded in the ice slope, which ended her skiing career forever.
      Nevermind.  This is a woman of many talents and formidable determination.  She’s set to go to law school, but against her father’s wishes, she chooses to move to Los Angeles from Colorado and find “temporary employment” as a waitress in a nightclub and as an office assistant, just for a break.  Her employment as office assistant turns into a 24-hour a day job for Dean Keith (Strong) who runs a gambling casino in the Cobra Lounge.  Molly is nothing but smart, and quickly learns everything she can about poker; moreover, she draws up spreadsheets (something Dean has never heard of) showing the bets, wins, losses, and financial information. 
     When Dean sees how much she is making as his assistant, he tries to stiff her (as will another character later on, both planning to do an age-old con on a woman), but she is already ahead of him and opens her own place of business.  Keep in mind that all along, Molly takes great effort to see that her business is legal and above board.  She is circumspect in not indulging in many of the activities men in her position have a history of doing. 
     However, the money is so good, and she takes a few risks in cutting corners.  But she is back on track toward her goal of enrolling in Harvard Law School when she is arrested by the FBI.  This brings her in contact with Charlie Jaffey (Elba), a high-priced, circumspect lawyer who doesn’t regard her as rich enough or ethical enough to warrant his law practice.
Their interactions and conversations are quintessential Aaron Sorkin—fast-paced, erudite, and funny.  Molly has to convince him to take her on as a client with drawbacks that are against his standards of practice as well as money.  That’s when the film takes on the elements of a thriller and an inspiring life story.
     Chastain brings her considerable talent to this role, most likely reinforced by the nature of the character’s challenges and struggles.  It’s another victory of brains and ethical grounding winning out over masculine pride and ego, including those of a psychologist-father, who took many years to understand how much grit she had and how much like him she was.  Chastain tackles the role as she always has in grasping all the elements that make up her complicated character.  Idris Elba is just as much master of his role, and the two of them make an excellent pair in shaping the action.
     This film should be an inspiration to women aspiring to achieve success and to men who want to understand these women in a non-stereotypical manner.

A refreshing and different take on a crime thriller.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Meryl Streep     Tom Hanks     Matthew Rhys     Sarah Paulson     Bob Odenkirk    
Tracy Letts     Bradley Whitford     Bruce Greenwood     Alison Brie

     Steven Spielberg’s production of The Post, based on true events and smartly written by Elizabeth Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Fifth Estate), is as exciting and tension filled as a good mystery story.  (I was glad I knew how everything turned out, so I could relax a bit.)  It’s about the time Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst employed by the Rand Corporation, released classified information to the New York Times, and then to the Washington Post, about the complicity of four U.S. Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon) and their administrations in covering up significant U.S. operations during the Viet Nam War. 
    The Post refers to the Washington Post newspaper, which obtained classified documents after the New York Times broke the story.  The dilemma Publisher Katherine Graham (Streep) and Editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) face after the government has already initiated legal action against the Times, is whether to publish information that came to them from the same source, Daniel Ellsberg (Rhys).  These are papers reporting on a study requested by the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Greenwood) about the progress of the Viet Nam War from 1945-1967, and document the U.S. Government’s complicity in covert operations, rigging elections, and lying to the Geneva Convention, and then covering it up, essentially lying to the American people about the Viet Nam War.  Most egregious of all, is its sending young servicemen into battle for a war they knew couldn’t be won.
     There are numerous aspects of the story that the filmmakers highlight, which are relevant today.  First and foremost is the issue of the need for government secrecy versus freedom of speech.  At the time, President Nixon was so incensed about the actions of the New York Times, he sought legal action against it.  Some of the more clever scenes in The Post are views through the Oval Office windows of Nixon talking on the phone and making his threats. 
     Another theme I appreciated is a picture of how women were regarded during that era, and another of the film’s highlights is how Katherine Graham is treated by men, even though she is the wealthy publisher of a major newspaper.  Her editor somewhat grudgingly gives her respect, as does Defense Secretary Robert McNamara who is a personal friend, but others clearly think she is out of her element in making major decisions, when—in fact and in retrospect—she is highly qualified.  When push comes to shove, she and Ben Bradlee are shown to be brave and heroic at considerable personal risk.
     Steven Spielberg directs a masterful work based on a true story, but with the intrigue and excitement of a fictional drama.  The cast is outstanding, highlighted by Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee.  Their conversations are as enlightening as they are interesting.  Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, and Matthew Rhys providing superb acting support.  Sarah Paulson as McNamara’s (Greenwood) wife shines in her argument to her husband about the greater bravery shown by Graham at a time when he is feeling besieged.  It was rewarding later to see that he listened to her and at a later time gave Graham credit.

Get informed about a critical event in U.S. history while enjoying an exciting drama.

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Christopher Plummer     Michelle Williams     Mark Wahlberg     Charlie Plummer     Timothy Hutton


    The film begins on the streets of Rome in the evening, and Paul (Charlie Plummer) is outside strolling among the women who are inviting, but when they see his age, they tell him to go home.  Even though he is a sixteen, he looks even younger, with bright blue eyes and an innocent expression.  Still, “I can take care of myself”, he replies with quiet confidence.  And as immediate disproof of that claim, he is grabbed and whisked into a blue Volkswagen van, which speeds off.  The statement becomes even more ironically prescient when it becomes clear that he has been kidnapped and held for ransom—17 million dollars.
  Thus begins a stellar struggle between his mother Gail Getty (Williams) and his grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), the richest man in the world, who stubbornly refuses to pay the ransom, despite his wealth, retorting that with his 14 grandchildren if he paid for one’s ransom, he would have to pay for 13 more of them.  He is a notorious modern-day Scrooge, who periodically delivers mantras about money (e.g., “There is very little in life worth paying full price for”) and is known for his merciless haggling over even low sums.  He is eccentric in his tastes, as well as in his complete preoccupation with himself.
     But one of the most entertaining aspects of this film is seeing Gail, his daughter-in-law, resembling him more than does his own son, her husband.  She is a fair match in making deals with him that ultimately win, despite his vast resources and personal cunning.  It’s a delight to see her negotiate with him during her divorce, but even more, later, during the kidnapping-ransom process.
     All the Money in the World recounts the well-publicized event when J. Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped in 1973.  Getty’s recalcitrance in paying the ransom was covered by the news media, and tidbits about his chintziness, such as having pay telephones in his mansion for guests, was in the newspapers.  (This is noted in the film in a light-hearted moment for the viewers, but exasperating in reality to Gail.)  Ridley Scott and the writer David Scarpa (based on a book by John Pearson) have made it an exciting romp with lots of tension and suspense, as well as demonstrating for us the realities of a kidnapping situation [perhaps prompting discussions about the current U.S. policy of refusing to negotiate with political kidnappers].  It diverges from the real story to some extent in the interest of dramatization and thrill, and it cuts back and forth between the past and the present and different parts of the globe, creating some disorientation for the viewer.
     Michelle Williams is a wonder as a character who is sharp and ever creative in managing an eccentric billionaire’s sometimes bizarre machinations and paradoxes.  One example is his distaste for children except as possessions and as an extension of himself, and fighting with Gail for custody of his grandchildren.  Inserted into the film as a last-minute replacement for Kevin Spacey, Christopher Plummer demonstrates his acumen by showing full embodiment of the Getty character. 

This is a thriller, highlighting a wealthy man’s eccentricities.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Hugh Jackman     Michelle Williams     Zac Efron     Rebecca Ferguson     Paul Sparks     Zendaya

    This is about P.T. Barnum’s early years in the beginnings of his productions.  It shows him as a young underprivileged boy needing to scramble even to feed himself, but with such an optimistic outlook, you know that in the glory days of 19th Century America, he is likely to succeed.  He’s even able to win the heart of Charity Hallett (Williams), to the horror of her wealthy parents. 
    As an entrepaneur, Barnum (Jackman) starts with purchasing a wax museum of historical figures, but moves on to real people who are distinguished by their unusual appearance (height, weight, etc.) or identity (gender race), then adds live performances, and eventually renames his production a circus.  Barnum is an open-minded, accepting person and is shocked when the circus elicits strong criticism and outright demonstrations from the public, some objecting on the basis of exploitation of the performers, and some because of frank prejudice against them. 
     But with the help of his production manager Phillip Carlyle (Efron), Barnum perseveres, and even engages the legendary Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), known for having “the voice of a nightingale” for a contracted number of appearances.  The production becomes a huge success, and by this time, he lives with his wife and two daughters in a mansion.  Trouble begins to appear when he makes plans to go on tour, but he doesn’t anticipate the furor in mainstream America against what they would call “freaks”, the downturn in the economy, and disagreements with Lind.  Soon, Barnum is in the deepest trouble he has ever been in.
     This is a musical with lyric tunes and choreographed dancing.  The stars Jackman, Williams, Efron and Ferguson have beautiful voices, and the music is lyrical with catchy tunes by John Debney, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Joseph Trapanese, two of whom (Pasek and Paul) composed the lyrics for La La Land.  Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams are accomplished actors who manage their roles very well, as do Zac Efron and Rebecca Ferguson.
     The production has been criticized for giving a rather white-washed view of Barnum.  I gather from a cursory reading on the internet that he was a very complex person with both an admirable and questionable history.  He was a talented, convincing salesman—as depicted in the film—but sometimes went beyond strict truthfulness.  Business and making money seemed of paramount importance, and he was successful in this; but he was also an author, publisher, and philanthropist, giving large donations to Tufts University, property for a city park, and while mayor of Bridgeport, CT, he helped to improve the water supply and install gas lights in the streets.  In defense of his heavy-handed marketing, he said, “I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting then pleasing them.”  Although he did use black-faced minstrels in his shows—not uncommon for the time—while he was in the Connecticut legislature, he defended the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and advocated politically against slavery. 
     I think critics should keep in mind that The Greatest Showman is not intended to be a comprehensive look at P. T. Barnum’s life, but to offer an uplifting musical that highlights his positive attitude and showmanship, and his exemplification of the American spirit and ingenuity.

A musical account of the birth of showmanship in the form of P. T. Barnum.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Matt Damon     Hong Chau     Christoph Waltz     Kristen Wiig     Jason Sudeikis     Neil P. Harris     Laura Dern

     Alexander Payne has come up with a way to save the planet:  Downsizing.  Yes, we could all do with a lot fewer material possessions, but he and his co-writer Jim Taylor realized that if WE weren’t so big, if our bodies were a fraction of their current size, we would consume so much less, and our world would be in much better shape.  Well, this movie clues us in as to how that would work.
     Paul Safranek (Damon) is an occupational therapist who was attentive to his mother before she died, and is now happily married to Audrey (Wiig).  They’re struggling a bit financially, in the sense that they’d like a larger, more modern house than the one he grew up in.  Then comes the news about the possibility of downsizing (which would bring one’s standard of living up substantially as one is reduced to about five inches tall), and when some friends who have done it brag about their lives now, Paul and Audrey decide to take the plunge, get downsized and live in “Leisure Land.”  This has all been worked out such that financial resources go so much farther for smaller bodies, enabling the downsized to live like the wealthy—golf, tennis, swimming, big house, etc.
     As we go through this transformation with Paul and Audrey, Payne lets us in on some of the pitfalls that ensue following unpredictable events.  It’s best to know as little as possible about the story beforehand, so that the viewer can get a taste of the experience.  I will focus my review on what happens to Paul.
     Paul is transformed in ways he could not have imagined.  He becomes more open to the world, to people, and to himself even.  It takes a good while for him to realize who he is and what makes him happy.  He is able to let go of some of his uptight ways and join his neighbor’s (Waltz) party rather than complaining about the noise.  He gets into charitable work through his acquaintance with Ngoc Lan (Chau), whom he initially tries to help with his knowledge of occupational therapy.  She opens up a whole new world for him.  Then when his noisy neighbor, who has really taken to him, invites him to Norway, where the idea and method of downsizing began, it all seems too good to be true.
     Downsizing, like Payne’s previous successes (Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska), brings laughter as well as provoking contemplation.  The combination makes a wonderful mix of humans at their best and their most hilarious, but also their most sympathetic.  The character of Ngoc Lan is the embodiment of all in her keen intelligence, her “bossiness” that everyone is respectful of, and her huge heart that yearns for goodness and truth.  But Payne likewise sensitively shows us the underside of the idealist’s—or perhaps more accurately entrepreneur’s—dream, which is a slum, where some of the downsized enjoy none of the accoutrements others are enjoying.  Another character brings up the fact that the downsized don’t support the economy to the same extent as regular citizens.
     Matt Damon shows his ability to portray still another character he is so adept in capturing (such as the characters he played in The Martian, Suburbicon, and The Informant).  Here, he is someone who is rather na├»ve, but smart enough to figure things out and, in the end, knowing the path to take.  Hong Chau is a star in this production, aptly showing the complexities of a character who is an activist, a famous person, a lowly housekeeper, a caretaker of others, yet canny and aware of her own needs.

This fantasy/social satire is entertaining and thought-provoking.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Voices of:  John Cena     Jeremy Sisto     Bobby Cannavale     Lily Day     Juanes
Jerrod Carmichael     Kate McKinnon     Anthony Anderson     Peyton Manning    
David Tennant     Carlos Saldanha     Miguel Angel Silvestre

     How do you tell a story about a pacifist bull?  Well, Twentieth Century Fox Animation and Director Carlos Saldanha do just that, based on a book by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson.  We don’t know why Ferdinand (Cena) doesn’t want to fight; his father is a champion bull, but Ferdinand likes to smell the flowers—literally!  He is teased unmercifully by his peers, especially Valiente (Cannavale), a barnyard bully.  But Ferdinand is smart, and when it looks like he is going to be chosen to go to the arena for a fight, he bolts (no easy task, since the bull pen is highly secure). 
     I won’t say how he gets away, which is part of the fun, but he ends up on a ranch owned by Juan (Juanes), who indulges his daughter Nina (Day) in keeping as many pets as she wants.  She falls in love with Ferdinand, and they become fast friends.  He is SO happy with Nina and her father, smelling dozens of flowers on the countryside as he roams wherever he wants, and only has to contend with the testy Paco (Carmichael) the dog who is feeling like his special place has been usurped.  Ferdinand is fed and treated well at the ranch and grows to be “a beast” of a bull.
     All would have been fine ever after, but Ferdinand sees no reason why he can’t accompany his new family to the annual flower market in the city.  Juan says it is not a good place for Ferdinand, and he is left behind.  Alas, he argues with himself about complying with his owner’s wishes, but ultimately decides he should go to the festival.  Once there, he is so enthralled by all the flowers, he makes some bad decisions, and thereafter the festival becomes truly like “a bull in a china closet”, because his appearance terrifies people, and in trying to get away, he upsets more than one apple cart.
     This escape costs him greatly, and he finds himself once again in la Casa del Toro where bulls are trained and from where Ferdinand had just run away.  Now, we see the more mature Ferdinand taking a leadership role in trying to persuade his fellow bulls why they should resist going to the bullring.  These sequences are good for children to see how political positions are reasoned out based on observed facts. 
     After this, the story devolves into the contemporary popular car-bus-train chase.  (Every exciting film has to have a car chase, right?)  I didn’t get the impression the children in the audience were as fascinated by this as were/are filmmakers, but this goes on for a significant number of minutes in the film.
     When the story finally gets back to the basic idea of the film, it ends on stirring moments when the concept of/reason for pacifism is shown very clearly, both in the evidence about what actually happens at bull fights, and what can go on in the ring when a bull doesn’t want to fight.  It ends in a way that preserves everyone’s pride.
     Ferdinand has some very clever, funny scenes (e.g., a dance contest, of all things, between the Germanic sounding, haughty horses and the inhabitants of the barnyard at Casa del Toro), and some lines tossed out for adults in the audience (e.g., “Let’s try to Haagen-Das (hug) it out”, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t giddy-up”, and a reference to re-gifting.)  But most of its value is in modeling for children a) how to make decisions about whether to fight or not to fight; and b) showing that bravery can be shown by leadership just as much as by muscle.  Related to that, it shows how maturing in a loving atmosphere is strengthening.

This is about a brave bull who had good reasons for not going into the bullring.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Daisy Ridley     Domhnall Gleeson     Adam Driver     Oscar Isaac
Mark Hamill     Carrie Fisher     John Boyega     Kelly Marie Tran      
Benecio Del Toro     Andy Serkis     Laura Dern     Justin Theroux

     Not many films and filmmakers can keep up the momentum that the two space fantasies Star Wars and Star Trek have, and in this eighth sequence of Star Wars, writer/director Rion Johnson proves that this franchise is still good to go.  He does a good job in preserving and renewing beloved themes and images while introducing new ones that point toward the future.  We see two of the original characters, Luke Skywalker (Hamill) and Princess Leia (Fisher); and new interactions between Rey (Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Driver)—both introduced in the last episode, The Force Awakens—set up so that we know they will meet again.
   The Last Jedi opens with an attack on the Jedi resistance forces, which now consist of only 400 fighters on three ships.  The story will shift back and forth between attacks from the Jedi’s arch enemy, the First Order, commanded by General Hux (Gleason) and their own attacks, commanded by General Leia Organa, upon the First Order.  General Hux must answer to the supreme leader, Snoke (Serkis), who initially denigrates him for his failure to stop the destruction of some major artillery.
   Meanwhile, Rey, who finally located Luke Skywalker on the planet Ahch-To in the last picture, revisits him with the message that his presence in the battle is critical for the survival of the Jedi.  He has been coming to the philosophical conclusion that the survival of the Jedi is not that important, so her job will involve many hurdles, meditations, and encounters.  Will she convince him to go? 
   There are additional scenarios and encounters to keep the story intriguing, like the relationship between Finn (Boyega), Rey’s missing co-pilot, and Rose (Tran) a mechanic with impressive knowledge and skills; Poe (Isaac) and whoever is in charge of the Jedi at the time; and the triangle of Snoke (Serkis), General Hux, and Kylo Ren. 
     It’s not all drama; there are many scenes that make the audience laugh out loud, like that with Chewbaca and the bird-like creatures, the Porgs; the trip through the casino planet and recruitment of the code-breaker DJ (Del Toro); and Poe’s hacking into the First Order’s communication system.  
    This episode in the Star Wars saga boasts a huge cast of talented, actors already famous for other roles and for previous Star Wars productions:  Mark Hamill (still packing a punch of the rebel Luke Skywalker; Adam Driver (writhing under the struggle within himself about identifying with the dark side); Domhnall Gleeson [reveling in his shaky command of the First Order, which is threatened by Kylo Ren (Driver) and, ultimately by Snoke himself (Serkis)]; Oscar Isaac, the “trigger-happy” Poe trying to influence the Jedi leadership of General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern); Benecio Del Toro emerging in the casino to volunteer his hacking skills as DJ; and, finally, the funny, flirting, techno skilled interactions between Finn (Boyega) and Rose (Tran). 
     The star, Daisy Ridley, has held onto her success in capturing the previous role of Luke Skywalker in the Jedi forces as Rey, a fearless, persistent, cheeky young woman who is relentless in pursuing her goals.  This involves her own personal exploration (who she is, where she came from) as well as perfecting the art of The Force. 
     Star Wars fans are likely to be jubilant over this production that seems to have preserved much of the character of the previous films and ventured into new territory, all while keeping the elements of surprise and humor.

Rion Johnson’s production appears to cover all the bases for fans in its preservation of the beloved, surprising twists and turns, and comedic bursts.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Jim Belushi     Kate Winslet     Juno Temple     Justin Timberlake

     Wonder Wheel is classic Woody Allen, even to one of the characters taking on his persona (a common motif in his films).  It’s his typical family drama in which relationships are tested and sometimes remain intact and sometimes not.  Humpty (intended reference to Humpy Dumpty?), played by Jim Belushi is somewhat down and out, but is managing to squeek by as a mechanic at the Coney Island Amusement Park.  He’s married to one of the waitresses at a clam shack, Ginny (Winslet), a chronically disappointed (with everyone and everything) woman who often appears to be doing her best, but consistently freaks out and has migraines.  One big problem is her son from her first marriage, a budding arsonist—which doesn’t bode at all well for his future.
     Ginny feels trapped in her marriage to Humpty, whom she has managed to wean off alcohol, but is bored with, and has become involved with the lifeguard Mickey (Timberlake).  But everyone has to go into emergency mode when Humpty’s enchanting daughter Caroline (Temple) appears at the door one day.  Her father disowned her after she married a mobster against his advice, but now she is desperate with no place to go (her mother died), begging her father to take her in.  She appears to be very sincere in recognizing her mistakes of the past, and genuinely tries to make positive changes, helping Ginny in the restaurant (making some mistakes along the way) and taking classes.  Her father is overjoyed that she has seen the error of her ways and wants to help her continue with her education.  But tension stays high, as we learn that her ex-husband’s cronies are looking for her because she “knows where the bodies are buried.”  So her life is in danger.
     Then fate seems to do its work, along with coincidences and human weaknesses.  Conflict heightens when no one seems to “get” Ginny; her husband, Mickey, and Caroline all misunderstand her in very different ways—none of them seeming to know what to do as they gain insight into her past and present experience.  It becomes a chaotic Woody Allen scenario. 
     The four main characters fit their roles hand-in-glove.  Belushi knows very well how to play the underdog man who has had to fight for everything he has, but isn’t the brightest bulb in the room.  Winslet is extraordinary in portraying a woman deeply disturbed who somehow manages to cope outwardly with everyday practical issues.  It’s just in the emotional areas she shows bewilderment and even hysteria, and her judgment falters.  Timberlake manages to pull off the man you both admire and become impatient with, depending on the situation.  He shows the character’s great efforts in being open and honest and still being oblivious to its consequences.  Juno Temple as the blonde, sexy, young Caroline, balances out her appearance with thoughtful consideration of those around her, and has clearly learned from her mistakes.  She is the most interesting character, showing adaptability to change and the only one not blaming others for her mistakes.
     The production is weakened by 1) appearing too “stagey” at times (you could swear you’re watching a play); 2) including the part about Ginny’s son withD psychological problems (which doesn’t seem to fit in the story and is left completely unresolved); and 3) by replaying standard Allen themes.  I though it ironic when Ginny, starting to feel suspicious, grills Caroline about whether Mickey took her hand, touched her, or kissed her. She is obviously over-reacting, but in view of the current news stories about powerful men preying on younger women, it’s an odd thing to include in a current film.  Because of Allen’s own family situation, one wonders upon whom he is basing the Ginny character.
     On a more positive note, the music—which I assume are jazzman Woody’s selections—captures so well the mood of each scene, especially the views of the amusement park and the merry-go-round.  The music merges with the story and lifts the movement of each scene.  Cinematographer Vittorio Stararo’s camera and palette elevate the production artistically.

A classic Woody Allen production.

Grade:  B-                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Gary Oldman     Kristin Scott Thomas     Stephen Dillane     Ronald Pickup     Ben Mendelssohn     Lily James

     Timing.  If only this picture had preceded Dunkirk, I think we would have a better understanding of both films.  Darkest Hour informs us about Winston Churchill’s darkest hour just after he’s become Prime Minister (without the firm support of key Parliament members and even King George VI) when Hitler’s Germany has occupied the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.  Viscount Halifax (Dillane) and Lord Chamberlain (Pickup) are urging him to start negotiations for peace with Hitler—which is anathema to Churchill.  But to this film’s credit, we feel the tremendous burden the conundrum places on someone with this degree of power.  And Churchill sincerely looks at all sides, finally being convinced of the road to take, delivering one of the most rousing speeches of his career about standing up to Hitler’s military threat.  (The ride on the underground, where he elicits riders’ opinions is the filmmakers’ invention.)
     Writer Anthony McCarten and Director Joe Wright have made Darkest Hour a study of Winston Churchill the man—his relationship with his wife Clementine (Thomas) (who continually reinforces the better side of him), his interactions with Parliament members and his staff and the King (Mendelssohn), and frequent periods of doubt and concern over doing what was right for the country and its people.   He seems hardboiled about sacrificing thousands of troops in Callaix, yet when it is made personal by his secretary Miss Layton (James), he is clearly moved and saddened.  When his family toasts him on winning the post of Prime Minister, his own toast is, “Here’s to not buggering it up.”
     This may be the role of Gary Oldham’s career, and one that may earn him a long overdue Academy Award.  The makeup and his portrayal of the great man completely hide his own identity.  I tried in vain to see a trace of Oldham the actor in his appearance.  He’s known for a wide range of roles and pictures, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Nil by Mouth (writer, director), Sid and Nancy, The Dark Knight (2), Batman, Planet of the Apes, and Harry Potter, and he well deserves accolades for his performance here.  Kristin Scott Thomas is exemplary in her acting as well, and Lily James is noteworthy in her role as Churchill’s new secretary. 
    Director Joe Wright is acclaimed for his British productions, particularly Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, but is respected as well for his other films, The Soloist, Hanna, and Anna Karenina. In Darkest Hour, he elects to shine more light on Churchill’s personality, particularly during a tenuous period when he has little support and must convince so many that it’s better not to negotiate with Hitler and Mussolini but for England to stand its ground.  He was a voice crying in the wilderness, because so many in the government were not taking strong stands against fascism, and his good friend President Roosevelt did not feel free (because of America’s neutral stance) to lend air support. 
     The film highlights that period of time when Winston Churchill proved himself a hero.  Not much will be new to the viewer after so many Churchill movies; the primary reason to see it is perhaps Gary Oldman’s performance.

Behind the scenes government in Britain leading up to the Battle of Dunkirk.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland