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Review: ‘The Darkest Hour’ Is Gary Oldman’s Brightest Performance

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the darkest hour.

You do have to look twice at Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour to believe that is Gary Oldman. Director Joe Wright gives us plenty of time to examine Oldman’s performance, drawing the camera so close to his face we can see the glint in his eyes. Though the film doesn’t feature anything else of such stellar qualities, it doesn’t matter. This is Oldman’s movie, and he owns this role in a manner that no other actor could hope to nail with such palpability.

the darkest hour gary oldmanThe film begins when Churchill is considered for the role of the Prime Minister and ends with his most moving speech before parliament. His cantankerous and electric nature is present in the very first scene where his new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) enters his bedroom. He greets her with a lit cigar and an immediate dictation, occasionally broken up by a phone call. The correspondence is not double-spaced, and he explodes in anger, only to calmly coax his cat out from under the bed. He’s a strange fellow that his own political party views as an odd chap and King George (Ben Mendelsohn) views as a scary fellow. Upon being inducted as Prime Minister, their conversation is brilliantly awkward with talk of scheduling and naps.

One member of Churchill’s political party refers to him in the halls as a man of too many bad ideas and a handful of good ones. It’s those good ideas that the United Kingdom desperately needs when facing the threat of Adolf Hitler. The clock is ticking for as World War II has just begun and requires the most critical of decisions. Churchill seems confident in his decisions but, then again, he always seems to have a plan. So many ideas burst from his rhythmic mouth that he requires Elizabeth to follow him into his car and outside the bathroom, continually stating orders and speeches that must be heard.

As the casualties begin to mount higher, Churchill has to make the tough call of continuing to fight Germany or enter into peace negotiations with Hitler. It’s a decision that continues to weigh heavily on his shoulders reducing him down to mumblings and late nights of drinks. A lesser man would have caved, but Churchill’s spokes only ground harder during this period whereas others would have bent and broken under pressure. Only a man so lively and active could lead a nation into war with vigor for victory.

I don’t know if Joe Wright was aware of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk when making this film, but he makes the smart choice in not focussing much footage on Operation Dynamo. If you’d like to see all the horrific action that went down during that rescue, Nolan’s film fills in this gap. In that same sense, Wright’s movie gives us a fuller picture by shifting focus to the political tensions going on back in England.

There are many meetings with figures in Churchill’s life; this includes the sympathetic strategies of King George, passionate empathy of Churchill’s wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), battles with the disagreeing Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and personal banter with Elizabeth Layton. There are a few shots of the war, including the boats that headed to Dunkirk and the German bombers that decimated English troops. We don’t get much of these scenes and rightly so. It’s more inspiring and intriguing to watch Churchill seek the opinions of the people on the London Underground than watch as another bomb goes off or a soldier shot.

The film is still fantastically entertaining as a whole, barring Oldman’s domination of the screen. The cinematography feels grand and exciting, filming the commons room as a towering enclosure of great importance. The scenes of Churchill staring perceptively out of windows from cars and planes are mesmerizing, especially for one shot that transitions from a bombed land to a close-up of a decaying face. There’s a fast and invigorating pace to this history lesson, the days ticking for Churchill’s first month in office that was paramount to the war effort. When he meets with the public, he’s responsive and talkative, welcoming the astonishment of onlookers when he tries to navigate public transit. When in talks with his advisors, he booms with fury about the correct course to take with hardly anyone behind him.

This isn’t so much a puff piece on the figure as it is a humanizing one, the camera drawing close for those bitter moments of doubt, as in the momentary freeze he has before addressing the country over the radio. It’s one of the year’s best film for taking an exciting and inspiring take on history’s most significant political players, treating him as more than a textbook hero, as a man of great fear and emotions that are buried and embedded in his work. King George at one point asks over lunch how a man such as Churchill could effortlessly drink so much alcohol in a day without being drunk. “Practice,” he states.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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“Alita” Fights For First, Romance and Horror Behind in Box Office

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Valentine’s Day weekend wasn’t exactly the weekend where the romantic comedy took the top spot. But, surprise, the top spots were taken by a sci-fi action picture and an animated comedy about toys. #1 for the weekend was Alita: Battle Angel, the cyberpunk tale based on the manga and directed by Robert Rodriguez, premiering to a debut of $27 million. Though at the top spot, the film cost $170 million so it remains to be seen how well the film will do over the course of the next few weeks when it goes up against other blockbusters.

At #2 in its second weekend is The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, the animated sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, making another $21 million. Though not terrible for its second weekend, the film has only made $62 million so far, way less than the previous film. It, too, remains to be seen if it can weather the storm of new films on the horizon.

We now come to the romantic comedy for the weekend, Isn’t It Romantic, a satire on rom-coms starring Rebel Wilson. Debuting at #3, the film made $14 million, not as strong even when considering that it debuted on the 13th for a box office total of $20 million. The other new film, Happy Death Day 2U, didn’t fare much better with an early debut and a weekend total of $9.8 million. Although it should be noted that Happy Death Day 2U was a somewhat cheap production at $9 million so the film has already made its money back.

Though the box office was pretty low all around, the drops were fairly low, with the thriller Cold Pursuit and the horror The Prodigy taking the biggest drops of 45% and 46%. With the lowest drops, no surprises, were the soft dramas of The Upside and Green Book, both proving to have the legs to carry themselves over months in the box office.

Take a look at the full top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

Alita: Battle Angel ($27,800,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($21,215,000)

Isn’t It Romantic ($14,210,000)

What Men Want ($10,920,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($9,816,000)

Cold Pursuit ($6,000,000)

The Upside ($5,590,000)

Glass ($3,859,000)

The Prodigy ($3,150,065)

Green Book ($2,751,000)

Next weekend is all about the dragons and warriors. How to Train Your Dragon 3, the animated fantasy adventure of the on-going saga, will hit over 4,000 theaters. Fighting with My Family, a comedy about a family of professional fighters, will debut in over 2,500 theaters.





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