Movie Review – “Darkest Hour”

 

“Darkest Hour” is a top contender for Film of the Year! – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In a historic masterpiece, “Darkest Hour” presents us with a battle-weary England on the verge of collapse at the evil hands of Adolf Hitler in World War II. Covering a politically troublesome and potentially devastating four-week period for Great Britain and her King, this stunningly shot film delivers a remarkable look inside Winston Churchill—a trusted parliamentarian with an abrasive personality and a penchant for cigars.

Selected by King George VI to replace ineffective wartime leader and prime minister Neville Chamberlain, Churchill faces steadfast opposition from nearly every direction. With Hitler and his German forces quickly invading European countries with growing ease, Churchill must convince his Parliament peers that are pushing appeasement towards Hitler to fight for outright victory instead.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, left, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI  (Jack English/Focus Features via AP)

A strong argument can be made that “Darkest Hour” outshines this year’s earlier film “Dunkirk” in dramatizing the military significance and heroic civilian flotilla rescue of British soldiers facing certain death on the shores of France. While “Darkest Hour” focuses mostly on political infighting and those challenging Churchill’s “Victory” at any cost rallying cry, the film does a wonderful job of instilling a sense of peril from Hitler’s approaching troops.

The film’s best feature is the behind-the-scenes, intimate look at Churchill as he interacts with his political roadblocks, supportive wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), British commoners, and personal secretary Elizabeth Nel…perfectly played by British actress Lily James (“Baby Driver”). Look for this sensational cast to compete strongly with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Mudbound” for Best Ensemble honors in 2017.

This incredible British drama about one man conjures up rich comparisons of greatness and political power found in the mesmerizing 2012 American story “Lincoln” – which earned the most Oscar nominations (twelve) that year. I suspect, and truly hope, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill garners as much critical acclaim and reward as Daniel Day-Lewis’ role achieved playing the sixteenth president of the United States…earning the Academy Award for Best Actor.

History buffs won’t find a better film in 2017. With an exceptional cast, splendid cinematography and intricate look at the charisma and leadership inside one of the best orators in modern times, “Darkest Hour” delivers exquisite movie flair to moviegoers.

This Oscar game-changer goes wide release in the U.S. on December 22. Just remember how to properly do the “V” for victory hand gesture!

Grade: A+

“Darkest Hour” is rated PG-13 for language. Its running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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Best in 2017: Actor in a Leading Role

Congratulations to these nominees! The winner will announced in my “2017 Best in Film” article later this month.

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Best of 2017: Best Actress

My finalists for 2107.

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The Oscar Race: “Darkest Hour”

“A historic masterpiece!” – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

This incredible British drama about one man conjures up rich comparisons of greatness and political power found in the mesmerizing 2012 American story “Lincoln”. I suspect, and truly hope, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of (Winston) Churchill garners as much critical acclaim and reward as Daniel Day-Lewis’ role achieved playing the sixteenth president of the United States (the Academy Award for Best Actor).

History buffs won’t find a better film in 2017.



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Movie Review – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“The intricate, and often hostile, interaction between the strong-willed personas of Harrelson, McDormand, and Rockwell makes for sensational filmmaking and movie watching…  The early Oscar front-runner for Best Picture!”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

A trifecta of superb acting performances will surely earn “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” a well-deserved spot on nearly everyone’s shortlist for Best Picture in 2017. This crime drama, depicting a grieving mother seeking answers for her daughter’s brutal murder, moves at a brisk pace while character development intensifies throughout the cast.

Headlining this remarkable group of actors and actresses is Frances McDormand, who portrays Mildred Hayes…the upset and angry mother of a teenager killed just outside the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. One of only 14 women to ever achieve the “Triple Crown of Acting” (earning an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award), McDormand forcefully shakes up local law enforcement officers and moviegoers in her steadfast quest to find the person(s) responsible for Hayes’ unimaginable heartache.

Recipients of McDormand’s razor-sharp tongue and activism are Woody Harrelson (as Ebbing police chief William Willoughby) and his stormy second-in-command (Officer Jason Dixon), played impeccably by Sam Rockwell. Both must reopen the homicide investigation of Mildred Hayes’ daughter after three billboards are painted which openly calls out the police chief for his inaction in finding clues to the killer of the young girl.

A brilliant screenplay slowly unmasks the film’s key players, shining a spotlight on how each character’s past and present are interwoven into this chilling storyline. Although McDormand is the central figure and antagonist for finding the truth, it’s Woody Harrelson as the police chief that pulls this movie plot together. Harrelson’s rapport with his family, Mildred Hayes, and his own police officer (Rockwell) all combine to profoundly grab viewers’ full attention using crude language, revenge, and violence. A simplistic, but hugely effective, soundtrack captures the film’s many boiling points and overall potency.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” boils down to complicated relationships which are perfectly marinated and presented by British director Martin McDonagh. The intricate, and often hostile, interaction between the strong-willed personas of Harrelson, McDormand, and Rockwell makes for sensational filmmaking and movie watching.

Simply put, McDormand and Rockwell deserve Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor nominations during next month’s Academy Award announcements. Both deliver career high points in this thought-provoking and heartfelt drama. Likewise, don’t be surprised to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” land Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay nominations at the same time. The film took the top prize at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and I don’t see it losing momentum as it expands to an additional 1,000 theaters later this month.

Grade: A+

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is rated R for language, sexual thematic elements, and violence. Its running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Mudbound”

“Powerful! Easily the strongest ensemble cast we’ve seen thus far in 2017.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Over the past several years, Amazon and Netflix have dramatically stepped up their own studio’s production and distribution of high quality motion picture films. In fact, by the second week of January, don’t be surprised to see both movie makers get several Academy Award nominations for best acting and one for best adapted screenplay. One such film guaranteed to garner a hard look by Oscar voters is Netflix’s “Mudbound”.

Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel by the same name, “Mudbound” takes viewers back to 1939 and race relations along the Mississippi Delta farming locale. Still deeply rooted in southern segregation at the time, the film depicts the growing hostilities formed between the white McAllan family and the black Jackson family. As each family sends a son off to war in Europe during World War II, the plot thickens with other hardships faced by the joining land owner and tenant farmer.

“Mudbound” tells a powerful story that will punch you in the stomach too many times to count. It emotionally illustrates the severe challenges faced by these neighboring farmlands. Examined the closest is how each family responds to flooded crops and serious injury & sickness sustained by loved ones while waiting for their sons to return from war. These devastating tests all promulgating the growing distrust between the families.

Phenomenal performances abound throughout this exceptional film. Easily the strongest ensemble cast we’ve seen thus far in 2017, expect to see Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell compete for best supporting actor nominations this awards season. Although both are critical components to this narrative as returning WWII service members, I give a slight preference to Hedlund’s headstrong role as Jamie McAllan. The always selective Hedlund, who turned down the part of Christian Grey in the 2015 “Fifty Shades of Grey” bondage film, acts as the film’s forceful voice of reason and compassionate soul.

This film’s ultimate success, however, can be traced back to superb female influences found on both sides of the camera. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Dee Rees directed and co-wrote this dramatic screenplay, giving audiences the most gripping story on race relations since 2013’s “12 Years a Slave”—which earned 3 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Aside from Rees’ astonishing work as director and screenwriter, two female stars of “Mudbound” deliver second-to-none matriarch performances. Mary J. Blige as devoted mother and wife Florence Jackson and Carey Mulligan as Laura, the wife of landowner Henry McAllan (and brother to Hedlund’s Jamie McAllan).

The combined greatness found in the acting, directing and script all make “Mudbound” and Netflix worthy of Oscar talk come March 4th.

Currently, the film is available to all Netflix subscribers on-line and in select theaters nationwide. Expect a wider release of “Mudbound” into additional theaters by later next month.

Grade: A+

“Mudbound” is rated R for brief language, some disturbing violence, and nudity. Its running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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Today’s scorecard: Best Actress

Who ya got on your list (as of today)?

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Current: 2017 Film Awards

Where the race stands right now…

Next: Best Actress.

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Movie Review – “Justice League”

“The DC Extended Universe is back….bigger and brighter!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Although “Justice League” failed to break the $100 million mark in U.S. ticket sales last weekend, this latest DC Extended Universe’s action feature did achieve its longer-lasting goal: Reestablish Warner Bros. and DC Comics back on their feet in the superhero movie death match against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After 2016’s disastrous “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, that’s no small feat for director Zack Snyder to overcome.

I was surprised at just how good “Justice League” was and its wildly entertaining introduction of new comic book characters. The movie also cleverly expands our knowledge of the other action heroes as they form a bond to save the world. It’s a humorous trek throughout with quick one-liners and inflatable egos. And that Lasso of Truth tells us all we need to know!

This plotline moves quickly, but deliberately, coming in at just under 2 hours—minus the two bonus scenes after the post-film credits. Whereas past DC adventures seemed to dwell on the villain for far too long, this narrative mostly sidesteps the evil Steppenwolf history and the formidable New Gods. Instead, “Justice League” focuses on our newest action figure additions and delivering laughs within the newly formed group of crime-fighters.

Excellent casting abounds all-around: Jason Momoa is edgy as Aquaman and Ezra Miller delivers a youthful exuberance, a la “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, as The Flash. Newcomer Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is also very effective to the overall story. Diane Lane and Amy Adams return along with a star-studded ensemble that includes Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, Robin Wright, and a brief appearance by Jesse Eisenberg.

Gal Gadot once again delivers a mega-blockbuster in 2017 as Wonder Woman. Make no mistake, Gadot drives “Justice League” from start to finish. Even awkward, extended scenes of a shirtless male superhero is offset by gratuitous shots of Diana Prince wearing sexy leather pants. Talk about justice.

The best compliment that can be bestowed upon “Justice League” is that it summarily cleans up and improves last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” by tying up loose ends and giving us closure. Additionally, the film miraculously discards the darker cinematography found in more recent DC adventures and injects brighter lit scenes that help viewers catch every moving part on the set.

“Justice League” reminds me of the successful ingredients found in the Marvel editions since Iron Man ten years ago…excellent leading characters, humorous camaraderie shared between superheroes, and a laser focus on new character superpowers. Combined, they make this DC Extended Universe theater experience the best we’ve seen in years!

Grade: A

“Justice League” is rated PG-13. Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes, not including two post-credit bonus scenes.

 

 

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Movie Review – “Blood Stripe”

“Powerful! In what’s bound to be (Kate) Nowlin’s breakout movie, I can’t remember a better female screen portrayal of the U.S. Marine Corps.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

A hallmark of many successful films is their ability to tackle common, often repeated topic areas found in other big screen endeavors and, yet, still surprise viewers. These different perspectives or cultures take us into uncharted characters, adding unique story twists to already well-established plotlines. Marking the scarlet band running down the dress uniform of officers in the United States Marine Corps., “Blood Stripe” does just that.

The fictionalized “Blood Stripe” follows the final return home of a female Marine sergeant following deployment tours to Afghanistan and Iraq. As the sole woman assigned to a combat unit, this “Lioness” led checkpoints, established civil operations, and helped clear house raids at night.

Despite arriving back in the United States looking strong and well, we find this Marine’s real wounds are festering in emotional turmoil inside her. Using a series of flashbacks, sleepless nights, and a growing uneasiness around friends and family, “Blood Stripe” methodically traces the Sergeant’s reintegration into civilian life.

Whereas most post-traumatic stress disorder war films focus on the battlefield causes or the band of brothers and family members pushing to give these warriors the help they richly deserve, “Blood Stripe” boldly shows this combat veteran taking it upon herself to decompress and find her own solutions.

A spectacular performance by Kate Nowlin, as our Marine, spearheads “Blood Stripe” and provides the film its believability and human touch. In what’s bound to be Nowlin’s breakout movie, I can’t remember a better female screen portrayal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Nowlin gives a gripping and memorable screen tour that honors members of the Corps and all women serving in the United States military.

“Blood Stripe” is powerful! It’s a great film that all Americans would benefit from seeing and understanding. The story gives us the ground truth on the emotional wounds our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coasties pay for the price of freedom…but from a unique perspective not seen in most military dramas. And that makes “Blood Stripe” well worth your time.

You may rent “Blood Stripe” from iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, or YouTube.

Grade: A-

“Blood Stripe” is Unrated with a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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