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Posts Tagged ‘Lily James’

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

“DARKEST HOUR”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Dec. 22)

A confession.

I’ve often found Gary Oldman  a shameless scenery chewer. Villainous roles were especially problematic; you could actually see Oldman twirling his mustache, metaphorically speaking.

2011’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” gave us a more settled, thoughtful Goldman, who portrayed John LeCarre’s good gray spookmaster George Smiley with an admirable degree of restraint.

Now, in  “Darkest Hour,” Goldman tackles the iconic role of Winston Churchill, and it’s a match made in heaven.  Sir Winston was, after all, no slouch at scenery chewing; yet Oldman’s performance here is subtle and balanced, a deft blend of  bombast and inner activity.

It’s a performance of such insight and power — abetted by David Malinowski’s spectacularly effective makeup design — that it immediately propels Goldman into the front ranks of this year’s Oscar contenders.

Joe Wright’s film centers on one month, May of 1940, when the long-out-of-favor Churchill was elected Prime Minister after the collapse of Neville Chamberlain’s ineffectual government.

The P.M. is faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. The Nazis have taken over much of Europe and are pounding the British army at Dunkirk. If those 300,000 or so soldiers are captured or killed, it will leave Great Britain defenseless.

Voices within his own party are urging Churchill to sue Hitler for peace. It’s the only way to escape a bloodbath and an armed invasion.

Churchill doubts that Der Fuhrer is in any mood to grant concessions. If only he can save the troops waiting on the French coast, galvanize public opinion, and overnight turn his country’s prevailing ethos from dovish to hawkish. (more…)

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Jai Courtney, Lily James

“THE EXCEPTION” My rating: B-  

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At 88 years of age, Christopher Plummer just keeps getting better.

In “The Exception” he portrays an historic figure — Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — and pretty much mops up the floor with actors half his age.

The premise of David Leveaux’s directing debut finds a young German officer — Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) — assigned to the thankless task of heading the household guard for Wilhelm II (Plummer), who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since abdicating the German throne two decades earlier after losing World War I.

Though the Nazi hierarchy has little use for the old man, Wilhelm still is regarded by some members of the German public as a beloved figurehead.  It would be a p.r. black eye should he be lost to an assassin or kidnapped by the Allies and spirited off to England. Brandt’s presence is meant to prevent that.

For the young officer — who was wounded in the invasion of Poland — the assignment is a bit of an insult. Wilhelm and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), live as high as they can on the cash Hitler’s henchmen provide, all the while dreaming of restoring the monarchy and once again wearing the crown.  Brandt is expected to tolerate their pretensions without encouraging them.

There’s one bright spot in this assignment. The Kaiser has a new housemaid, Mieke (Lily James), who catches the Captain’s eye.  Before long they are having a grand old time despite Hermine’s rule against copulation among members of the staff.

(more…)

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cinderella“CINDERELLA”  My rating: B

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Don’t go to Disney’s new live-action version of “Cinderella” expecting post-modern irony, a feminist perspective, or even psychological realism.

The makers of this movie take their fairy tales straight up and undiluted by any such intellectual folderol.

In last year’s “Maleficent” the Disney Studio reinterpreted its 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” from the evil fairy’s point of view.

But “Cinderella” director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have no use for such revisionism. The fairy tale is enough for them. They aim for the heart, not the head.

Darned if they don’t pull it off.

This isn’t precisely a remake of Disney’s acclaimed 1950 animated version, but fans of the original will see plenty of references, from the evil stepmother’s pampered cat Lucifer to the fat mouse Gus.

(Now if only they’d had Helena Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother sing “Bippity Boppity Boo”…well, can’t have everything.)

(more…)

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