Tag: kristin scott thomas

Darkest Hour


Darkest Hour (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Joe Wright’s biographical drama “The Darkest Hour,” focusing on Winston Churchill’s appointment to become the British Prime Minister as Adolf Hitler takes over Western Europe during World War II, is filled with strong performances, particularly by Gary Oldman as the iconic leader and Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife and source of endless support, but the material does not find a way to make the drama as thoroughly engaging as it should be. This is a common problem with many biographical films because we already know what is going to happen. One way to boost intrigue is to provide details not considered to be common knowledge. While I learned a few bits of information, the rest is a waiting game before the famous “Fight on the Beaches” speech.

Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, one looks at the images and is immediately convinced at the authenticity of each furniture, clothing, spectacles, extravagant paintings and artifacts because the lighting hits these objects in such a way that they almost glow age. Particularly stunning are two scenes in which Churchill addresses the Parliament, one a failure and the other a rousing success. It is amazing how one room, with the help of Delbonnel’s eye, is able to communicate two different moods. I wondered how it might have been like in the actual room back then and I wished to look closer at the books neatly stacked in the heart of the room where the main source of light is focused.

Oldman is thoroughly convincing as the renowned British leader. Despite the pounds of makeup and fat suit, he is able to communicate the necessary emotions and thought processes that come with being in charge of a nation mired in war. However, I do have to say, even though it happened only occasionally, there are moments when I was taken out of the performance. Take a look at Oldman’s eyes. They do not look like an old person’s; they lack a feeling of weariness and wisdom of someone over eighty. And when you focus on those eyes and then look at the face that houses them, the cosmetics become apparent, distracting. I wish the filmmakers had found a way to make the eyes look more aged, perhaps with the use of CGI, because the performance itself is wonderful.

There is one questionable character and casting choice. Lily James plays Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s new secretary. As the picture goes on, one cannot help but wonder what purpose this character serves other than the obvious that is her occupation since she neither does nor says anything particularly interesting. It is possible that Layton is supposed to be our conduit to the story, but a conduit must function as more than a mousy observer. James’ one expression drags down an otherwise strong collective.

“Darkest Hour,” written by Anthony McCarten, is at its best when Churchill is with his war cabinet. Disagreements abound when it comes to the subject of Britain’s survival. The irony is that the cabinet members are almost at war with one another. Even more ironic is the fact that Churchill filled his team with political rivals. There are threats of shame, taking the wrong side in history, resignation. Stephen Dillane is great as Viscount Halifax, convinced that peace negotiations with Hitler is the better choice than fighting the Nazi scourge.

Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Two brothers run a fight club in Thailand which functions as a cover for the family drug business. After killing a sixteen-year-old prostitute, Billy (Tom Burke) gets beaten to death by the girl’s father. Having received the news of her eldest son’s death, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) flies in and is enraged when she learns that although Julian (Ryan Gosling) had the chance to avenge his brother, he had failed to take the man’s life. Not realizing the complexity of the situation, Crystal commands her men to punish everyone responsible.

No one can take away the fact that “Only God Forgives,” written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is beautifully photographed, often bathed in a cascade of blues and reds, and there is thought put behind how or when a camera should move in order to underline the manic intensity of an increasingly messy and violent plot. However, the film is, for the most part, a sort of a poetic dirge—eyebrow-raising at its best and somnolent at its worst.

The clash of stoic and hyperbolic acting works. Gosling embodies the former and Thomas the latter; the twisted mother-son relationship is one that I found to be somewhat fascinating. Because Crystal is such a harpy, truly despicable from the moment we meet her checking into a hotel, one wonders if she is the reason Julian has so many issues. On the other hand, because Julian, a full-grown adult, fails to speak his mind when his mother has crossed a line, mistaking subservience for respect, the cycle continues. Their relationship is one that cannot be fixed or untangled because, even though they are complete opposites in many ways, the two are so intractable.

But the picture is not so much a character study. Rather, it is an experiment of mood reflected by the soundtrack and images that are inspired, shocking, trashy, and arresting. In the closing credits, Refn dedicates his work to Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of “Santa sangre,” which so happens to be about a boy who grew up to have serious issues with his mother. Parallels are abound, hands being chopped off among them, and because I loved that film, it was wonderful seeing a director being blatantly inspired by it.

The main difference between “Santa sangre” and “Only God Forgives” is that the former commands control with its images, feelings, and plot during its entire duration. With the latter, I caught myself vacillating between being genuinely interested and not caring. The middle section is a trial to sit through when one craves to be shown something new. Another parallel involves both pictures containing almost dream-like sequences. However, Refn’s work brings up questions that are really not that worth answering.

I believe the picture has artistic merit. I found about half of its content to be quite daring and in some scenes I found myself wishing that more directors were willing to take a chance as Refn does here. Not all of them work but the wonderful thing about movies that push to make a creative leap is that they demand to be seen more than once.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) works for a firm that represents a sheikh (Amr Waked) who wishes to introduce native Atlantic salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen, so she contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries specialist, to ask if this course of action is possible. The scientist responds and expresses that the idea is ridiculous, claiming that salmon live in cold waters and Yemen is anything but wet let alone cold. But Sheikh Muhammed is determined and willing to pay millions to get what he wants. Soon, plans are underway, the British government onboard, with the consultant and the scientist teaming up to make the unfeasible project feasible.

Though propelled by a bizarre idea, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” based on the novel by Paul Torday, is rendered beautifully, from its rapturous landscapes to the human relationships involved in taking fish out of their natural habitat onto somewhere new which, in theory, will serve as a symbol of East and West having a closer, stronger link.

The film is anchored by a professional relationship between Harriet and Dr. Jones, the screenplay playing upon the idea that opposites tend to attract. Blunt plays Harriet with a commanding joie de vivre, intelligent but unafraid to be silly, open to new experiences without losing track of what she considers to be her roots. McGregor, on the other hand, portrays Dr. Jones as a cerebral person but far from blind to the poetries and ironies of words and situations, one who is hungry for something exciting while keeping the majority of the yearning repressed, and having a very droll British humor. There is a joke about him acting like someone with Aspergers syndrome and the material gets away with it.

Their eventual romance is underplayed which is the right decision in a movie like this. If there had been more relationship viscera about Dr. Jones’ marriage and Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison), focus would have been on the melodrama instead of the attempt of making the impossible possible. Despite minimization of the central character’s original relationships prior to them falling for one another, it is nice that we are allowed to understand and sympathize with the scientist and the consultant’s struggles. For a while, there seems to be an equal number of reasons why they should not be together as opposed to the alternative.

The direction allows the landscapes to breathe. Though it does not barrage us with overhead shots of the water, the desert, and the grassy mountains, we get a specific feel for each of them in the backdrop of characters walking from one place to another or simply by standing still. The simplicity in the way it is shot looks sharp, clean, and effortless. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more fish.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” directed by Lasse Hallström, is slightly inadequate only in the political maneuverings executed by Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), the press secretary to the British prime minister, who hopes to use the eccentric project–and a bit of spinning–to establish better international relations. It is supposed to be a satire, I guess, but it looks and feels more like a farce. Such scenes manage to take away some of the poetry and rhythmic groove that make us want to believe and participate in the mystic veins of having faith, the exhumation of the land, and the conflicting matters of the heart.

Gosford Park


Gosford Park (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A British wealthy couple, William (Michael Gambon) and Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas), invited their friends to their estate for a bit of hunting. Set in the early 1930s, their guests took their maids and valets along; the guests lived upstairs while the helpers lived downstairs. None of them saw what was coming: one of them was about to be murdered… twice. Written by Julian Fellows and directed by Robert Altman, “Gosford Park” was a sharp observation of the British class system and a wonderful murder mystery. The majority of the comedy was embedded in the dialogue, from the juicy gossip among the staff to the vitriolic remarks among the socialites, the material made fun of everybody. The enmity and jealously seemed to penetrate the walls. I particularly enjoyed listening to Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith) speak her mind and watching her maid, Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald), solve the murder mystery. Constance was was one of the most vile of the socialites. She was an interesting specimen because, despite being an aging woman, she essentially acted like a child. She craved attention, positive and negative, and she saw self-reliance as a sign of weakness. Her philosophy was why rely on yourself if you have the money–or a maid–to do everything for you? As much as I disliked her, I could easily imagine people like her especially given the setting of the story. Mary, on the other hand, was an unlikely heroine: she was soft-spoken, she tried her best to mind her own business, and she was actually willing to listen. I think the reason why she was the one to solve the mystery was because she was able to take the back seat, select which conversations held meaning, and ask the right questions. She was a good detective. I also enjoyed watching Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe), a Scottish man with a questionable accent, and his homosexual boss, Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), a movie producer in Hollywood. Their relationship was one of the many subtleties worth noting upon multiple viewings. I admired the film’s cinematography. Despite being shot inside for the majority of the time, it looked bright. The grand paintings on the walls caught my attention as well as the utensils on the dinner table. Most impressive was in the way the camera slithered from one conversation to another. There was a natural flow to it. It always felt as though the camera did the walking for us, sometimes over the shoulder, other times from afar, without bouncing about. When the picture did make rapid cuts, it only served to highlight the parallels of the conversations between the rich and the poor. Both viewed each other’s roles as easy when, in reality, nobody was really happy with what they had. Despite the comedy and the mystery, there was sadness in it, too. “Gosford Park” remained focused despite having over a dozen interesting characters. More importantly, Altman found a way to comment on the symbiotic relationship between master and servant without getting in the way of the mystery.

Mission: Impossible


Mission: Impossible (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Phelps (Jon Voight) and his American spies (Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Béart, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Emilio Estevez) were assigned in Prague to intercept a disk from a terrorist before a trade was made. The disk contained the aliases of undercover agents in Europe. If coupled with another disk, bearing the real of names of the IMF agents, important long-term missions would be compromised. But something went wrong in Prague. Phelps and his agents ended up dead with the exception of Ethan Hunt (Cruise). Kittridge (Henry Czerny), an IMF operative, was suspicious and believed that Hunt was a double agent. Like a pest inside a controlled system, he was to be captured and exterminated. Based on a television series by Bruce Geller, “Mission: Impossible,” directed by Brian De Palma, was a tense and atmospheric spy film but it wasn’t afraid to jump into cheekiness when it came to the dialogue and physically demanding stunts. As a result, coupled with a handful of creative twists and turns, it was very entertaining to watch. The best scene involved Hunt breaking into the CIA vault with the help of disavowed agents (Ving Rhames, Jean Reno). The way the trio handled complicated hurdles in order to prevent triggering the pesky alarm was suspenseful because it turned the viewers’ expectations upside down then turning it right back up just when we think we had it all figured out. I was particularly impressed with the small details. Hunt and Krieger had to crawl in the vents before getting into the room of interest. When Hunt slowly descended in the room, his arms were actually covered with dust and grime throughout the entire relentless, breathless, soundless mission. Even though there was something silly about the way it all unfolded, like the CIA analyst (Rolf Saxon) having to go in and out of the restroom while Hunt and his team extracted information from a computer, that level of attention to detail was a small but important reminder that the filmmakers respected the project as well as their audiences. Another scene that stood out, for a different reason, was the train sequence. The way the score was piled on top of one another as danger increased then capping them off with the movie’s main theme as the tension reached a peak was executed elegantly. It’s impossible not to feel roused when that classic theme blasts through the speakers. The film’s main criticism was it got confusing due to a combination of its tech talk, spy vocabulary, and plot twists. If a person takes a bathroom break while the movie runs, he ends up having no idea what’s happening when he returns. But that’s what I loved about it because it opted to challenge instead of allowing us to passively sit and fall asleep. Sitting through it was like examining a detailed chain and to understand the big picture required a bit of autonomy, to think and weigh the possibilities that maybe the person we trusted initially was a dire mistake. Since it was involving not merely on a superficial level, we could still feel the endorphins working even after the big explosions.

Nowhere Boy


Nowhere Boy (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“Nowhere Boy,” directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, chronicled John Lennon’s difficult childhood. John (Aaron Johnson) was raised by his aunt (Kristin Scott Thomas) and uncle (David Threlfall). Even though he was never close to his aunt because she had a very cold personality, he had a good relationship with his uncle because they shared the same interests. But when his uncle died, John was forced to live with a woman who expected him to abide by her rules without question. After seeing his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) at his uncle’s burial, John began to question where her mother lived, which happened to be within walking distance, and the two got to know each other to make up for the years she’d been absent from his life. This caused great tension between John’s biological mother and the mother who raised him. The film had an interesting second half but a heavy, repetitive first half. The first forty minutes felt like pulling teeth because it shifted from the feelings of frustration and resentment John felt while staying in his aunt’s house to the joy and freedom he felt while spending time with her mother and making music. He saw his aunt as a thorn on his side because she wanted him to stay and school and do well. They barely said a word to each other unless they had no choice but to confront a serious issue. On the other hand, he saw his mother as a gift because she couldn’t care less about his education as long as she spent time with her son. She nurtured his passion for music. The difference between the two households felt so obvious. I had some serious doubts about how much of it was based on actuality. The picture only started to take off when John finally met Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) and both began to hone their talents while being in a band called The Quarrymen. Even though their friendship wasn’t as deeply explored as much as I expected, their relationship didn’t feel strained. When the focus was on them, the tone felt more dynamic because the actors fed off each other’s energy. The scenes I found most effective were when the band played their rock ‘n’ roll and their audiences couldn’t help but get on their feet and when John and Paul were just in a room together. But since the film was more about John’s troubled childhood, it had to switch back to the tired family drama. In the end, some big questions I had, such as John’s relationship with his biological father when he was a child, were left unanswered. Why did the five-year-old John choose to stay with his father over his mother? Was John’s biological mother’s illness some sort of a mood disorder and was she a danger to herself? As for John’s aunt and uncle, why did they seem to distant from one another? Those were important questions that should have been answered because John’s relationship with his family fueled his angst and it was what made him an artist with a distinct voice and perspective.

Tell No One


Tell No One (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

I was really impressed with this French thriller because of how well-constructed the story was. In the first scene, the wife (Marie-Josée Croze) of Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) was murdered. Eight years later, he received a mysterious e-mail that suggested that she was alive. Questions then start popping up like hives and the film only gets better from there. Did the wife really die? Who was sending those strange e-mails? Who was really behind all the murder and deceit? There was no straight answer up until the very end so the audiences get a chance to play detective and get really involved with the plot. I liked the fact that when answers were being presented, they weren’t just done in a series of brief flashbacks like in mainstream American films. This movie really takes its time to explain what happened, why certain events happened, and how conclusions by different characters may get tangled up. There’s this constant theme of trying to stay one step ahead of another. This happens to the characters (especially Croze’s) and to the audiences (as we try to catch up and reevaluate the “truths” when each twist is revelead). Even though this is, without a doubt, a thriller motion picture, I found it interesting that there’s this gloom that pervaded the film. Moreover, even though the lead characters’ questions–one way or another–gets answered, the ultimatel message is what’s lost is lost; you can never go back to the way things were. The acting must be commended: François Berléand (as the detective), Kristin Scott Thomas (as Dr. Beck’s friend) and Nathalie Baye (as the thick-skinned lawyer). Each of them brought a certain edge and intelligence to their characters and it was fun to see how their dynamics with Croze change as the film progressed. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel, Guillaume Canet directed “Tell No One” with such focus and enthusiasm. That scene involving Croze running away from the police which involved a freeway is still so vivid in my mind. If one is looking for suspense that is astute and memorable (yet strangely touching), this is the one to see.