Their Finest is described by one site as a “Comedy, Drama, Romance”. It is a drama with some romance interspersed with comedic relief by Bill Nighy. Don’t think for one second that this movie isn’t a drama about World War II and what it was like to make a movie in the forties. The film focuses on a small group of screenwriters tasked with creating propaganda for the British war effort during the London blitz. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired based on some work she did in a newspaper that was viewed as campy enough for the writing a lighthearted film with a female perspective. She is briefly caught up in a three-way romance but it is clear from early on, who she should end up with.
Bill Nighy plays an aging actor with few options other than to agree to act in this “B” film and he is excellent as the vain elitist who over the course of film integrates with the cast. This culminates in a scene where he sings a beautiful melancholy song that one never could have predicted having listened to his crass Christmas rendition in “Love Actually”. Nighy does deliver important comedic breaks in an otherwise serious drama with both predictable and unpredictable war deaths. Arteton is quite good as Catrin and fills the screen admirably. There is also a wonderful cameo by Jeremy Irons as he gives a dramatic speech about the criticality of using the film to draw America into the war.
In the words of one of my favorite Washington Post critics, “Their Finest” is an old-fashioned movie about old-fashioned movies, where sincerity and optimism can often look like kitsch but in which values are rightfully celebrated, without a trace of condescension”. I think that sums up the movie perfectly. It is a very good movie albeit not great that will please those viewers not expecting a war movie with lots of battle scenes or a comedy. It is emotionally gratifying as you move from laughs to tears and even gain an understanding of the sausage making machine that is the movie industry.
After the Storm (subtitles)
After the Storm is a slow-moving journey into one man’s day to day existence as he struggles to get through life. To say Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is not a success is an understatement. He is divorced, unable to pay child support and thus denied frequent access to his son Shingo. Although he has written one relatively successful novel, he can’t come up with the inspiration required to do another. He works for a private detective agency where he shakes down deadbeats, gambles away the few dollars he receives and even steals from his mother. His beautiful ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) has moved on with her life while looking back at the disappointments it has brought her.
When a typhoon strikes, Ryota, his ex-wife and son are stuck in the tiny apartment of his mother and the emotional interplay as they reflect on their lives is the heart of the movie. At one point, Ryota, Kyoko and Shingo hole up outside in a large pink children’s play apparatus outdoors in the park at the height of the storm while they reminisce on their lives. The Director is asking the viewer to forgive the generally unappealing Ryota before he can forgive himself. There is no definitive ending to the movie. The only hint as to what may happen in the future is that Ryota says to his mother earlier on that he wants to be the man he is capable of being. As he walks into the crowd at the end, has he turned the corner or has his mother mentions more than once, has this late bloomer started to bloom?
Patriots Day (Now Streaming)
Patriots Day went in and out of the theater so fast this winter that I totally missed it. The story of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred just a few blocks away from where I played squash for years is one of horrific tragedy followed by the hope and spirit of the Boston community. The movie, staring Mark Wahlberg as a Boston cop is at its best when retelling the story of the massive manhunt for bombers. The first part of the film flashes back and forth between victims and police to set the stage for the main event. This part of the film is slow, confusing and difficult to follow. Once the bombing occurs and the FBI and Boston/Watertown police engage, the plot takes on an edginess that keeps the viewer completely engaged until the end. The way the authorities pinpoint the bombers in the various Commonwealth Ave. establishment’s security videos is fascinating and the hunt through Cambridge and Watertown thrilling.
The film is part documentary, part thriller and part police procedural with plenty of stars (in addition to Wahlberg there are Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and J.K. Simmons as Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese). Anyone who enjoys documentaries, thrillers, police procedurals or any movie about Boston should be happy with this film.