Starring Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton
Just after World War II, a writer based in London, Juliet Ashton (James) starts a correspondence with Dawsey Adams (Huisman), from Guernsey, who tells her of his unique and peculiar book club. The club began during German occupation which intrigues Juliet, and she soon goes to visit. Arriving on the island, she grows fond of the members of the club as she learns of their remarkable story. A very familiar romance plot mixes with a different perspective of the war to fine results. I had no idea that Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis, and that lesson alone makes the film more than its typical story book romance. Though its sadder elements failed to strike a chord, and you know exactly where the story’s going, sometimes you want what you expect, and this is a well done movie. Picturesque. Engaging. Well-crafted.
Starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, Ronald Culver, John Laurie
Forty years in the life of Clive Candy (Livesey) as he grows from Lieutenant in the Boer War to Major-General in World War II. Deborah Kerr costars as the woman who keeps cropping up in his life, playing three separate roles, and Anton Walbrook plays Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer chosen to duel Clive on behalf of all German officers, who later becomes his closest friend. Romantic vision of a British soldier, beautifully captures the passing of time, with much joy and sadness in between. Endearing performances from the leads who would all factor in to other great Powell and Pressburger films, and like these other films, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a magnificent testament to Technicolor. Among the most handsome pictures ever produced. Epic. Intimate. Lovely.
Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian McKellan, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Bernard King, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean
Final chapter in Peter Jackson’s landmark fantasy series finds Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) following Smeagol (Serkis) into a trap on their quest to rid Middle Earth of the One Ring once and for all. Sauron, having suffered a defeat at the end of Two Towers, launches an all out assault on humans in this installment. Aragorn (Mortensen), knows that Gondor, his kingdom, will not stand a chance unless he can muster reinforcements, so he looks for aid from the Dead Men of Dunharrow (an army of undead warriors) with the help of Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies). Gandalf and Pippin fight to defend Gondor stronghold Minas Tirith from a devastating siege from Sauron. Wholly gratifying end to the Lord of the Rings tale, with multiple absorbing story lines, dozens of indelible characters, and a vast array of technical skill. One of the great visual spectacles of modern cinema. Surprisingly, I found The Two Towers superior to The Returns of the King, which ends on at least thirty minutes of unnecessary epilogue. The battle of Minis Tirith also ends frustratingly with the Dead Men of Dunharrow finishing the battle within minutes. While not quite “deus ex machina,” because there is plenty of build up towards it, the conclusion of the battle did make the preceding hour seem like a waste. And then there’s the eagles. They are “deus ex machina,” and a bewildering turn in the plot. Still a great film. Unforgettable. Indulgent. Satisfying.
Starring Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian Mckellen, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Cate Blanchett, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies
Continuation of Frodo Baggins’ (Wood) epic journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mordor, he’s led by the pitiable, treacherous Gollum (Serkis), and accompanied by brave, loyal Sam (Astin). The rest of Frodo’s former travel mates-Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom), and Gimli (Rhys-Davies)-search for Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), who’ve been captured by Orcs. This leads them to the center of Saruman’s plan to wipe out the remaining humans, and Aragorn fights back with the men of Rohan. The entire Lord of the Rings Saga is top of the line fantasy and world building. This second chapter brings in new great characters, and offers one of the best battle sequences in movie history: the final 40 minutes is dedicated to the extended fight at Helm’s Deep in the rain.
Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Richard E. Grant
Catrin Cole (Arterton) works closely with a sardonic screenplay writer, Tom Buckley (Caflin), on a propaganda film in 1940’s London. Though married, Catrin begins to have feelings for Tom, as they work through the daily struggles of filmmaking and interference from the government. Though structurally generic and predictable in many ways, Their Finest is very humorous and insightful on the process of filmmaking. It’s also and engaging period drama and romance.
Starring Mel Gibson, Jason Isaacs, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson, René Auberjonois
A reluctant patriot, infamous war hero of the French and Indian campaign, and intimidating father figure, Benjamin Martin (Gibson), now a widower, does all he can to protect his family as the Revolutionary War rages on. After a sadistic Redcoat Colonel, Tavington (Isaacs), murders Benjamin’s second son, the old veteran finds that he can standby no more. There’s such a long and equal list of pros and cons for this film that they should cancel out rendering me neutral on its verdict. However, though the cons make equal the pros in quantity, there’s a significant difference in quality. All this to say, I recognize that The Patriot is a flagrant Hollywood fantasy. I recognize some of the absurdities of the action sequences and their contrived nature (Benjamin and Tavington having a one on one in the midst of a battle for example). I wince at some of the treacly moments, and yet The Patriot is a completely satisfying film. It’s 18th century Die Hard, and I’m fine with that. Mel Gibson goes a long way to making the trumped up revenge plot believable, giving an excellent performance, and Jason Isaacs makes a character that is over the top evil seem perfectly natural. The visuals and action sequences too, are first rate.
Starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, B.J Novak, Diane Kruger, Michael Myers, Eli Roth
Unfolded in a lengthy episodic style, a renegade (or clandestine) group of Jewish soldiers led by Aldo “The Apache” Raine wreak havoc and vengeance on the Nazis during World War II time. Meanwhile, pure evil masquerades as a mischievous rogue in the form of Colonel Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Waltz in a star making turn). He’s coined the Jew hunter, and makes it his mission to track the Basterds down. With only a handful of scenes, the film’s 2 and half hour running time blows by. Each scene is a tour de force of verbal suspense, and the finest example of Tarantino’s unique gift. A fantastic cast fills out even the bit parts making every character memorable; Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz for example. At the end, when Pitt’s character says, “I think this might just be my masterpiece,” I feel that it applies to Tarantino and this incredible film he wrote and directed.