Some ‘must see’ films from my week…
2018 has been really busy for me so far, so regrettably my blogging has taken a back seat! I have founded my own community group, quit my job, and found a new one! I’m starting tomorrow (eek!), so I took this past week off to catch up with some things, and take some time out for myself to more importantly, catch up with some films that have been on my ‘to watch’ list for ages! I also went to the cinema on my own for the first time! I admit, I have always put this off for fear of judgement from others or just being too shy but it is strangely enjoyable. Furthermore, the sight of others attending on their own was both surprising and comforting so my aim is to do this a lot more.
Of the films I saw this week, there are three I want to talk about and urge you to see! I hope I can convince you.
Darkest Hour (2018)
Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James.
Directed by Joe Wright.
I’ve seen many films that focus and centre around WWII, whether it be different aspects of war or just living through the era. The most recent (before this one) was Dunkirk, which actually tied in very nicely with Darkest Hour. In contrast however, I realise I never actually knew the extent of Churchill’s contribution to the outcome that shaped Great Britain forever.
Darkest Hour tells the famous story of Europe during May 1940, with Hitler rampant and Europe on the brink of defeat. Freshly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill is under pressure, with calls intensifying for him to make peace and negotiate. As we know, he resolves to fight on whatever the cost.
It’s a story of love, compassion, fight, courage and so much more. It serves as a painful reminder of the critical decisions leaders of war faced, and the result of such orders. With Darkest Hour, Wright takes history at its most momentous, wraps it around a figure that couldn’t be more potently iconic, and places this rich but heavy package almost entirely in the hands of his leading man, Gary Oldman. An actor who, despite impressing us for decades has astonishingly been rewarded with only a single Oscar nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). It is truly a gift of a role, and Oldman repays Wright with the performance of a lifetime.
Given the nods he has been given at every awards ceremony this year, that is all likely to change. He is absolutely incredible. Make up and fat suit aside, his ability to encapsulate Churchill down to every single mannerism is breath taking.
Despite the terrifying era in which it is set, Darkest Hour offers humour in the most unlikely of places. For many, I imagine none of us knew what Churchill was truly like as a leader or even a person. He barrels around Westminster on surprisingly light feet, with a cigar always on the go (Oldman actually had tobacco poisoning by the end of the shoot). He’ll dictate to his secretary Elizabeth Layton (James) amid the sploshes of bath-time before suddenly announcing his emergence “in a state of nature”, and spends so much time making life-or-death decisions in the loo, the WC on the door may as well be his initials. It’s as if he didn’t really fully understand or comprehend the true extent of the problem he faced as a leader. Some would say Boris Johnson bares a scary resemblance.
As foreign secretary Viscount Halifax piles on the pressure to negotiate, we see Churchill flag and flounder. I knew the outcome, but I still found myself hoping Churchill wouldn’t surrender or agree to negotiate with Hitler. Not only is it impressive evidence of Oldman’s dynamism and flexibility as an actor, it’s also a timely reminder that world leaders should pause, absorb critique and question themselves. Here’s to hoping.
We knew it was coming, but the film ends with Churchill’s famous speech. It’s so emotional, so patriotic and guaranteed to give you shivers.
The Shape of Water (2018)
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
I had never heard of this film until it absolutely smashed it’s way into the nominations for every award. It looked really bizarre but I was so intrigued. You know from my previous posts too – any film with Michael Shannon is a film for me.
It’s set in the early 1960s, which I would say is the right era for a film about fear and liberation. In an underground secret lab, scientists are studying a creature captured in South America, which is humanoid but amphibious, and has gills, spines and very sharp teeth. A fearsome government agent called Strickland (Shannon) oversees the experiments on the creature, insistent that it be, quite literally, picked apart so the US can extract all its secrets and get one over on the Russians. The creature is described as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind, worshipped as a god in its original environment. But it’s used as research material — a way for powerful men to gain more power.
Along comes sweet but mute Elisa (Hawkins), who offers a ray of sunshine in such a menacing environment. She is so beautiful in this role, with her lack of voice proving very endearing and loyal. Elisa is practical – Hawkins uses every muscle in that expressive face to give us a woman who exists without sound but whose emotions scream.
She is a cleaner at the lab, but strikes up an oddly friendship with this creature once she overhears the team’s intentions and the creature’s fate. For me, this was lovely but once it became romantic, I couldn’t quite get my head around it.
The way del Toro builds this highly improbable romance is incredibly clever, but for me I couldn’t see past the oddness. The fact that Elisa is as silent as the creature puts them on an even footing. If she could speak, her attempts to converse with him might make him seem like a pet, but because they both communicate through action, they’re equal in the conversation. They grow closer through sign language, body language and music. Before you know it, it seems completely reasonable that a human woman might fancy a buff sea creature. To most people, anyway.
It’s a cute film, but it’s not cutesy. There are musical dream sequences and magical-realism, but there’s violence and blood and harsh reality. It’s not just a fairy tale, but also a pretty urgently moral, political film. Finding modern parallels for greed-motivated leaders who fear equality isn’t hard.
For me at times I found it very strange, but I can see the hype. It’s a very enchanting film and it’s so different. The Shape Of Water is a movie that will grow with repeat watches, quiet side stories getting louder with familiarity. On first viewing it’s a flood of wondrous moments and sinister, beautiful images. As it settles, as you think on it for weeks after, its deeper meanings rise to the surface. This has certainly been the case for me, and I can’t wait to watch it again.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen and William H. Macy.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
I didn’t see this film at the cinema this week, it was on Film4 and it was another on my list. Again, why do I wait so long to watch these films? I think it’s because I know the sort of thing to expect, and I feel I need to be in a good headspace and be willing to concentrate and not disturbed during the film before I commit to them. Seriously though, Room is wrenching and difficult to watch, but so liberating. It’s a story so abhorrent and seemingly hopeless that there may be times you don’t want it to go on, but within its tight confines you find warmth and hope. It is, against all odds, uplifting.
Ma/Joy (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live in a ten-square-foot space. To Jack this is the entire world, where objects — Table, Rug, Wardrobe — are the only one of their kind and anything outside is as intangible as heaven. To Ma/Joy, this is her prison, a cell in which she’s been kept for seven years since she was kidnapped at 19 by a man who has raped her countless times and fathered Jack, but she keeps all these hard realities of life from her son. The brilliance of Lenny Abrahamson is in making us see these two worlds as one, Jack’s magic and Ma’s horror, like oil and water, emulsifying into a twisted truth that helps both characters keep a grip on sanity.
Brie Larson is haunting in this film, and at times quite difficult to watch. She’s so raw with emotion that it verges on uncomfortable, and the pain she conveys is just too upsetting to sit with. Nine year-old Jacob Tremblay however gives one of the best child performances I have ever seen. He is the star of the show completely, and carries it the entire way. He is so good we see the film through a child’s eyes, with him somehow convincing us that remoteness and isolation are somewhat tolerable situations. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Abrahamson. Very young child actors are only ever as good as their director.
Room asks an enormous amount of its audience, dragging you further into darkness in the journey to find some light. It’s a mark of how well Abrahamson has told his story that by the end, which takes you to places once unimaginable, you’ll likely be willing to go through it all again. This film was worth every accolade it received and I’m so cross I didn’t commit to seeing it sooner!