Movies: Their Finest, After the Storm and Patriots Day

Their Finest

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.

Movies: 2017 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

2017 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

In many cities, including mine, audiences can see the 2017 Oscar nominated shorts (live action, documentary and animated).  In the time it normally takes to see a regular movie, you can see the 5 nominated films back to back.  It’s a great way to see these films.  I usually watch the Live Action Shorts and skip the others although I might try to get to the documentaries this year.  I found the Live Action Shorts to be more upbeat this go around than in previous years where it seemed like the first movie was like Manchester by the Sea and then got progressively more depressing!  I was pleasantly surprised by the 2017 group.  This year’s films:

Enemis Interieurs (French)

This film is very relevant to what is happening around the world right now.  A Muslim man (Hassam Ghancy) born in Algiers and raised in France is attempting to get French Citizenship.  He is in a dimly light immigration room which almost looks like an interrogation room.  His “interviewer” is at times aggressive, hostile and calm and watching the interplay between these two men as the conversation goes from cordial to hostile with the introduction of religion and terrorism into the discussion.

Despite the fact that both men are French and have spent their entire lives in that country (Algiers was a French Colony at the time of Ghancy’s birth), history and politics have created a gulf between them and one is now in control of the other’s fate.  You can’t help but watch this film and think about how there are likely similar interviews going on across America every hour of every day.  It is a sobering 30 minutes.

Sing (Hungary)

Sing is about a young girl coming to a new school that has a famous children’s choir.  The shy Zsofi loves to sing and joins the choir.  She also makes friends with another girl in the choir (Liza) who is extremely popular.  The film explores the themes of power and corruption in the apparently uber competitive world of elementary school choirs.  Sing has a nice twist at the end as the children deal with the choir’s dark secret of success in an innovative and creative way making the audience smile.  It is a story of the little guy standing up to oppression and the power of the underdog.  Along the way, there is some great singing and the two young girls who star in it are mesmerizing.

Silent Nights (Denmark)

Silent Nights explores another very relevant aspect of the immigration issue as Kwame, an immigrant from Ghana to Denmark tries to make a living in a land far removed from his home.  He has a family back in Ghana and struggles to get money to send home to them.  He meets a young woman at a homeless shelter where she volunteers and they begin a relationship that gets quite complicated very quickly.

Kwame is a complex character and he lies, steals and commits adultery with this young, naïve Danish woman.  I never bought their relationship.  I understand what the film maker was trying to achieve by asking the audience to have compassion for someone in a difficult situation.  The film might have potentially been able to achieve its goals had it been a full-length feature film where the characters could have been much better developed.  As it was, I just didn’t buy it and thought the ending was contrite even though the actors were quite good.

Timecode (Spain)

This is a very short (15 minute) film that captures two parking lot attendants at work.  One has the day shift and the other,  the night shift.  The two just give each other a cursory acknowledgement as they change shifts every twelve hours.  With cameras, everywhere and an immensely boring job monitoring them, the two workers begin communicating through dance videos done while on the job.  The story of two individuals performing rote jobs quickly turns into a romantic comedy and it is all contained in 15 minutes.  The Director is able to accomplish everything he needs to in this short amount of time.  The dancing is great, the idea cute and the movie ends on a bit of a high note which is always appreciated.

La Femme et la TGV (Switzerland)

Every day, Elise a widowed baker, opens her window and waves the Swiss flag to the TGV train as it passes by her home which sits a few feet from the train tracks.  One day, the Train Conductor, Bruno, drops a note to her out of appreciation and the two of them correspond each day until one day, the train does not come.  The route was changed for the train. Elise, clearly already a depressed individual who does not interact with anyone in the town shuts herself off even more until she finds that Bruno stopped by her home and left a good-bye note.  She enlists the help of a young man to drive her to Munich where Bruno is about to take a train home and catches up with him.  I won’t spoil the ending but it is bitter sweet and the actress playing the lead role is excellent.

Summary

I’d highly recommend seeing these films.  It’s hard to predict which one will win the Oscar  but several are worthy.  The critics seem to like the French interrogation film the best but the predictors think La Femme is probably the favorite.  I personally liked Sing the best followed by La Femme.  I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.