Tuesday’s Reviews – The Darkest Hour (2017)

blogger, blogging, film, film blogger, film blogging, film reviews, films, fucking awesome, Gary Oldman, politics, review, reviewing, reviews, war, world war II

darkest-hour5_star_rating_system_4_stars1 With less than a week until the Oscars, my quest to watch all of the Best Picture nominations is getting quite tense. I’ve got three more to go and I’m not really super keen to watch either of them. I managed to watch two in quick succession last week so, if I’m clever with my time, I should be okay. It’s just a shame that the film I’m talking about today marks the end of the list of films I really wanted to see. The Darkest Hour is something I’ve been excited about for months. Combining my love of history and Gary Oldman; what could be better? When the first pictures of Oldman in his full Winston Churchill costume came out months ago, everyone was apparently amazed by the transformation. The picture was placed on the front of newspapers along with the tantalising caption of “we bet you’ll never guess who this really is” or something. I didn’t get the uproar. I mean anyone that looked at the photo should instantly be able to see Gary Oldman’s eyes staring back at them. Don’t get me wrong, the transformation was incredibly but it’s quite clearly the actor underneath all of that makeup. I admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for Oldman so I might be more familiar with his face than many people. It meant that whenever I saw photos from the set of The Darkest Hour I only ever saw Oldman and not one of the greatest Prime Minster’s the UK has ever seen.

Tuesday’s Reviews – 6 Days (2017)

British, films, history, jamie bell, Mark Strong, meh, Netflix, politics, review, terrorism, Thatcher

The problem with an actor playing an iconic role early on in their career means that they are forever carrying that character around on their shoulders. Look at Daniel Radcliffe who, despite seeming to take every random opportunity that comes his way, is finding it difficult to come out of the shadow of the Boy Who Lived. As much as I want to watch every new film he stars in as a new Daniel Radcliffe film I can’t help but see Harry Potter everywhere. Similarly, I have often had problems separating Jamie Bell from Billy Elliot. As such, every role that I’ve watched Bell play has just seemed more childish than it should have done. He’s tried to do plenty of serious stuff over the years but all I see is that young ballet dancer pretending to be a grown-up. Which is a massive shame because I really like Jamie Bell. He just hasn’t ever quite found that one role that changed the way people, or at least I, perceive him. For the last few years he’s done a variety of different thigns that have had varying degrees of success. He was perfect as the title character in The Adventures of Tintin but was recently in the reboot of Fantastic Four that never really worked. I admit that I was

unconvinced after seeing that he was going to star in a film as a member of the SAS. Would I ever be able to see anything other than Billy Elliot with a gun?

Going into 6 Days I didn’t really know a great deal about the Iranian Embassy siege that took place in London in May 1980 but, considering the number of recent terrorist attacks around the world in the last 12 months or so, it seems like a rather prescient story to make a film about. 37 years on, the world is facing even greater atrocities than the ones carried out at Princes Gate just 1 year into Margaret Thatcher’s government. On 30th April that year a group of Iranian Arab men stormed the embassy in Kensington and held 26 people hostage. Threatening the lives of those they hel, the group demanded the release of a group prisoners in Khuzestan and their safe passage out of the UK. The Prime Minister and her Tory government refused to agree to these demands so a siege ensued for the next 6 days. Whilst the SAS were on standby to storm the building, negotiators successfully saw the release of a handful of hostages by agreeing to a few of their more minor demands. It wasn’t until one of the hostages was killed that the special forces regiment carried out an assault and brought the siege to and end.

The siege was broadcast live for its 6 days and rocked the British people. It was eventually overshadowed after the Iran–Iraq War broke out a few months later but it did, however, bring the SAS into the public eye and showed the world how Thatcher would approach acts of terrorism. It was a pretty defining moment in British history but, if I’m honest, it doesn’t exactly seem like the one event that demanded being turned into a film. Especially one that is trying to sell itself as some kind of British Argo starring the kid from Billy Elliot and Inspector George Gently. But somebody disagreed with me and went and bloody did it. The structure is pretty straightforward: we start from the beginning of the siege and move between the action inside the embassy, a group of journalists looking on in horror, the police negotiators trying to reach a peaceful solution, and the SAS lying in wait next door. There are moments when director, Toa Fraser, tries to build the tension by showing the soldiers waiting outside doors with guns at the ready until another deadline is reached. However, there just isn’t that much drama here.
This is a very short film that, if I’m honest, feels more like a reconstruction that you’d be made to watch in GCSE history or something. It feels less like entertainment and more like the basic facts. There is so little time for develeopment that you don’t really know anybody or really understand what drives them. The closest you get is Mark Strong as Chief Inspector Max Vernon who speaks to one of the terrorists on the phone and attempts to keep the hostages alive. He has some emotional resonance as his connection with the man he’s talking leaves him hoping for a peaceful end. And I guess Jamie Bell does something in role as Lance Corporal Rusty Firmin, the man who ends up leading the assault on the embassy. Again, you don’t really get to know much about Rusty but Bell does a good job at portraying the brooding military man who believes he and his team are the only solution to this problem. He is a perfect mix between cocky young thing and highly focused killer. It’s a breakthrough role for him.
Still, 6 Days doesn’t really have a great deal going for it. It’s not bad, per se, but it doesn’t seem fully formed. It’s like there wasn’t enough in the real-life event to give any detail to the film. A lot of the performances end up being flat or forgettable; non more so than Abbie Cornish, as BBC journalist, Kate Adie, who is decidedly stiff in her portrayal. The details of this film are great and Fraser really does create a historically convincing reenactment. It’s something of period piece thanks to its interiors and set dressing but, beyond that, it just doesn’t feel like we needed to be retold this story. I get that there is a certain amount of tension between each possible assault and the instant return to silently waiting but this film really isn’t the thriller is tries to be. If we’d seen more of the SAS in their training and got to know more of the characters it would have felt more complete?

Ranting about Game of Thrones: A Week of Irk and Ire – Jon Snow-Way Should He Be King

death, fucking idiot, Game of Thrones, George RR Martin, irk and ire, King, politics

So, I promised you all a week dedicated to all my angry thoughts about Game of Thrones after the end of season and I fucking delivered. I’ve already spent a long time ranting to my friends and co-workers about the events that transpired this season but there a few massive points that I feel need reiterating here. Now, don’t worry, there won’t be any lengthy, petty rants about how Rickon was a fucking idiot to run in a straight line because, by this point, I’m starting to believe the kid’s better off dead. I mean I’m sad that another Stark has bitten the dust but he was a fucking moron for not even trying to zig-zag. Who, after being captured by Ramsay Bolton and being set free, doesn’t think “hmm, this is awfully convenient. I can’t imagine anything going wrong in this scenario.” I don’t think I’ve ever screamed at an episode of television as much as I have during ‘The Battle of the Bastards’. What a bunch of idiots. None more so, of course, than our new King in the North, Jon Snow.

Now, being upfront with you all, I’ve never had any warm and fuzzy feelings for Jon Snow. Obviously, having read the books, I’ve realised his importance but that doesn’t make me like him. I mean Dany is obviously important but that doesn’t stop her being an irritating fuck all the time. So yeah, knew he was destined for greatness but never believed he deserved it. For one thing, his fucking man ponytail has been the worst thing about season 6. I mean his hair has always looked shit but this takes the fucking cake. Then, let us not forget that Jon Snow has royally fucked up everything he’s ever tried to do.

  1. He was desperate to join the Night’s Watch and then instantly regretted his decision. He immediately made a ton of enemies and beat the shit out of many of his fellow wannabe brothers. Not a great start.
  2. Almost as soon as he has said his vows Jon is ready to break them to join the fight with Robb. If it hadn’t been for his friends, Jon would have been branded a deserter and killed… helping nobody fight anybody,
  3. (TV show only) Jon pisses off Crastor by not following the Old Bear’s commands and gets the Night’s Watch kicked out into the fucking cold.
  4. Lets Ygritte go causing him and Qhorin to get captured. This leads to Jon having to pretend to turn traitor and kill Halfhand to prove it. Once again, Jon breaks his vows by succumbing to Ygritte’s womanly wiles. Like a bloody idiot.
  5. Leaves his post as Mormont’s steward leaving him vulnerable to a murderous mutiny. Like a bloody idiot.
  6. Becomes Commander of the Night’s Watch, sends his only ally away and pisses off the rest of his brothers to the point that they all stab him repeatedly… to the death.
  7. (TV show only so far) Vows revenge of Ramsay Bolton for taking his home, kidnapping his brother and raping his sister. Fails to take any advice from aforementioned sister and walks straight into Ramsay’s trap. Nearly gets himself and Tormund the Epic killed. Like a bloody idiot.
  8. (TV show only so far) Somehow manages to get Winterfell back but, instead of keeping Ramsay alive for potential political leverage, he allows his sister to set starving dogs on him. No matter how justified it was it was a fucking stupid military move to kill your greatest prisoner.
  9. (TV show only so far) Becomes King of the North whilst failing to see the potential enemies he has in Sansa and Little Finger. Also, fails to have his main source of protection, a fucking Direwolf, with at all times. Like a bloody idiot.
So, yeah, that’s Jon Snow. As my old Graphic Design teacher once told me, “you have good ideas but lack the skill needed to carry them out”. Jon desperately wants to live up to the kind of leader that his (believed) father was but he isn’t anywhere near as great a man as Eddard. Yes, Ned was too trusting and didn’t have a great idea of the game but he was also the kind of man that people rally behind. Jon isn’t that kind of man. He focuses on doing what is right without thinking about the consequences of his actions.
Even Robb, the last man to be named King of the North, was a great leader and was shrewd in terms of battle. Robb understood his enemies and managed to catch them all unawares. The only way the Lannister’s could kill him was by doing something unimaginably evil with the help of the sadistic Bolton’s. Robb Stark deserved the name King of the North because he showed great potential, understanding and had actual victories behind him. Jon’s victories only come with the help of the slimiest man in the seven kingdoms. Not a great start.
Jon is even more trusting than Ned was and is incredibly naive. If the Stark patriarch didn’t understand the game of thrones then Jon definitely doesn’t. It wasn’t for nothing that Ygritte kept reminding us all “you know nothing, Jon Snow”. He really doesn’t. What are his plans now? Hold up in Winterfell and hope for the best. He must know there will be repercussions. He needs to get a plan and he needs to start listening to fucking Sansa. Without her the battle would have ended with everyone being killed. Jon needs to get her advice more often.
The mark of a good King is realising your limitations and making up for them. Jon knew he didn’t know Ramsay and he knew that he had a great resource in Sansa. Out of brotherly love or just ignorance he failed to utilise her and look what happened. On the battle field he let his emotions get the better of him and he rushed into a fight he was ill-prepared for. If he’s got any chance of keeping Winterfell and earning his title then he needs to do a bit of boning up on battle strategy. I mean, who has a fucking Giant fighting for them and fails to provide him with any weapons or protection. That guy could have saved Rickon, stomped on Ramsay and ended the whole fucking battle himself. Instead, he’s dead.
So, for all you people out there suggesting Jon Snow deserves to sit on the Iron Throne at the end of this or, at least, wed Dany when she does, I urge you to think again. I cried more when the Red Woman brought him back to life than I did when he “died”. He’s a fucking idiot who has too much of a temper. We don’t need another ruler that lets his heart rule instead of his head. I get that people out there like his face but, looks aside, is this really the man you want protecting the Seven Kingdoms? Does he deserve it? Let’s ask Wun Wun shall we… oh, wait, we can’t.


book haul, books, currently reading, EU, George RR Martin, politics, referendum
This week the United Kingdom took part in a huge political decision that had the power to rock the whole world. The decision to leave the EU isn’t one I voted for nor was it one that I believe we should have been left to decide in this manner. Politicians have made massive gambles to gain power and it has royally fucked the country. It has also created a situation in which hatred, anger and prejudice are becoming the norm. It’s a sickening and worrying time to be here and there’s fuck all we can do about it. I’ve spent days trying to understand what has happened and try to find some positives. But I can’t. Instead I’m thinking of all the opportunists that have been ripped away from young people. All the chances that have been ripped away from me because Boris Johnston and co. have fed lies to us all for months. All I can feel is numb. Numb and upset that things are so bad in this country that a large proportion of people felt so marginalised that they targeted our connection with Europe as the reason for their suffering. Instead of getting back their rights they only voted for a situation in which their suffering will only get worse before it could possibly get better. They have created such uncertainty that we will get a Prime Minister who will, if anything, care about them even less. When they can’t blame Europe who are they going to blame for their lack of benefits? This country is slowly being torn apart and we can do nothing but wait. The EU wasn’t great but living in a country that is defined by its isolation and xenophobia can be no better for anyone. I never wanted to use this as a platform for this kind of thing but its where my thoughts are this week. The real world is a fucking mess and the only thing I want to do is retreat into a fictional world. I imagine my reading slump will come to an end any day now.

Currently Reading

  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

I know I know. I’m still reading this and it’s fucking ridiculous. It’s been weeks and I feel like I’m getting no further with it. That’s not because it isn’t good but because I’m just not in the mood. It’s really well written and, in my opinion, easier to read than A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s less intense and more fun than that but still as detailed and engrossing. I just need to get into the reading spirit or I’ll never move on. 

Recently Purchased

  • A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

I already own this book but my old edition is so battered by this point that I wanted a nice one again. I decided it was time to start amassing the beautiful photographic covers that were released a few years ago. I’m not sure I’m completely on board with them but they look a lot sleeker than the previous illustrated ones. At the very least they’ll look better on my bookshelf. The main reason I bought it? I contemplating reading the series again. At the very least, I think I need to go back to all of book 5 before book 6 comes out. There’s so much I think I rushed through and the whole Mance Rayder at Winterfell plot needs to be revisited. Otherwise I’m going to be fucking clueless by the time The Winds of Winter comes out. 

  • The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Not really sure where the idea for this one came from. I think I read it on one of those stupid lists I’m so fond of. However, here I am with a copy and no real idea what the book is about. It’s something to do with memory and loss or something. Still, I’ve heard good things about it so I’ll give it a chance. A few Amazon reviews claim it’s too weird and “out there” and I’m always a lover of that kind of thing. 

  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Stephen King writing a Medieval murder mystery? Doesn’t that sound perfect? Yeah, I know my relationship with King has been iffy in the past but I’m always willing to give it another go. This book seems more relaxed than his other books but I’m looking forward to seeing his spin on the genre.

Recently Watched

  • Game of Thrones

Started re-watching this in time for the finale of the current season. The last episode was so good but I have many issues. So much so I think I’m planning a week of Game of Thrones related rants starting next week. It’s a change to our scheduled programming but I need to get a few things off my chest. 

  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I haven’t seen Age of Ultron since it came out in the cinema but, when buying a Father’s Day gift last week, I couldn’t resist an offer. Age of Ultron still isn’t that great but it let me see just how many great lines Ultron had. I mean just look at the scene where he accidentally rips of Ulysses Klaue’s arm and tells him it’ll heal up nicely. There are some really funny moments in this film but it still doesn’t live up to what I hoped that it would be. It’s a shame.

TBT – Election (1999)

Matthew Broderick, politics, review, TBT, teen movie
Last Thursday I voted in the second General Election that has taken place since I’ve been of the legal age to vote. It was an election that had everyone confused until the last second. I was still umming and ahhing on my walk to my nearest voting station. I’m still not sure I made the right choice now because, in the words of Tim Minchin, “the more you know the harder you will find it to make up your mind”. Unlike my two co-workers who unquestioningly did whatever the fucking Daily Mail told them to but I’ve argued with them about it until my voice was hoarse. Suffice it to say, election fever has been rife throughout the UK for what feels like a lifetime and, despite the results being in for nearly a week, it’s not going away any time soon. So I’m jumping on the bandwagon and looking back to a political film that I only first watched because it came in a box-set with Mean Girls.

Electiontakes us to a small community in Omaha as popular High School teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), prepares to supervise the election for Student Council President. Jim is a simple man who loves his job, his wife and his students: all except the over-achieving Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) who is a constant pain in his ass. Jim has an ingrained hatred towards Tracy because she has been brought up to believe that she should do anything in her power to get what she wants, no matter who gets hurt in the long run. Like her maths teacher, and Jim’s best friend, who lost his job and family when news of his affair with Tracy became public.
Unfortunately, Tracy is the only candidate in the election, meaning that she and Jim would have to spend a shit load of time together. Understandably, Jim is eager to ensure that his time with the girl who ruined his best friend’s life doesn’t get everything she ever wanted. So he enlists the help of popular Jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to push smug Tracy off her pedestal. Paul is a dumb but incredibly well-meaning guy who Jim easily manipulates in doing his bidding.
The pair quickly become a trio when Paul’s angry younger sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) uses the election to exact revenge after being scorned by the cheerleader she was secretly hooking up with. Tammy threatens to make a mockery out of the proceedings in order to get kicked out of school and being sent to an all-girls school. I’ll just wait for my eyes to stop rolling before I continue with this. Whilst I do, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the sensitive way in which Election deals with sexual identity in young people. Insert slow clap here.
Anyway, horrible stereotyping aside, Electionprovides an often witty and shrewd satire about the world of high school politics. It deals with issues of popularity, aspirations, and morality. Alexander Payne is the kind of director who likes to satirise in equal measure and there is no side of the Election story that doesn’t become a target. All of the main players have their positives and negatives: Tracy isn’t just the obnoxious know-it-all and Jim isn’t simply the poor teacher dealing with a difficult student.
Helping dole out his satire bullets evenly, the narration is split between all four parties. Reese Witherspoon is brilliant at playing the stoic Tracy whose façade occasionally slips and shows off a delightfully violent anger. This is Witherspoon in some of best early work: Tracy is the perfect mix of demure student, sultry vixen, and aggressive opponent. As someone who has never really been a fan of the actress, this went some way towards changing my opinion.
Matthew Broderick is on equally compelling form as the crumbling Jim who finds himself on a path leading onto increasingly murky moral ground. His narration is so often caught between wonder and horror. Jim hates Tracy’s attitude and sense of self importance but at the same time he is both impressed by her and annoyed by his attraction to her. Broderick’s performance makes this balance clear and he manages to portray all of Jim’s conflicting feelings.
Electionisn’t just the story of a High School election and the complicated social structure that plays such a massive part in deciding who wins. It is about the need to get what you want and how far you are willing to go to achieve that. Both Tracy and Jim put themselves fully into their desires and we get an interesting character study amidst all of the hormones. Election is a film that is haunted by the self-serving attitude that has the risk of tearing apart a happy life.

Electionis a fun and interesting dark comedy that has a lot of confidence in the message that its trying to give out. It is not an unpleasant experience but it is definitely a more superficial film than it wanted to be. Sure the satire is there but it never really runs deep enough. It is a film that spends so long trying to reach a destination before ultimately breaking down before it gets there. The place it ends up is fine but its not what you expected when you set off. 

’71 (2014)

history, Ireland, politics, review
It was a busy Saturday afternoon at work when my friend suddenly decided I was a suitable back-up plan for her evening. I was spared an evening of bowling failures (spared… geddit?) thanks to her raging hormones. We’d seen the trailer for ’71when we went to see TheRiot Club although our reactions to it were pretty different. Whilst I’d seen a historically and aesthetically interesting thriller, she saw an opportunity to stare at Jack O’Donnell for nearly 2 hours. Never mind, eh? I can think of worse reasons to sit in a dark room on a Saturday night. Plus, she’s been threatening to drag me to endless Zac Efron films for the last few years so I’m just too grateful when our interests overlap to really care why.

Yann Demange offers up a fantastic debut with ’71, a film set just before the most brutal year of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Taking place in the year preceding Bloody Sunday, it’s safe to say the tension is rife: there are rifts between the British and Irish; the Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists; and between the different factions on each side.

Unfortunately for Private Gary Hook, he’s about to be thrown in at the deep end. Hook (Jack O’Connell) is a young man who joined the army in an attempt to escape his fairly dismal upbringing. However, rather than finding an easy path to honour in Germany, Hook is deployed to Belfast to get a handle on the increasingly shitty situation that’s unfolding.
Through a series of military oversights, Hook’s unit find themselves in one of the most dangerous areas in the city without adequate protection. The group are tasked with assisting the Royal Ulster Constabulary to carry out raids in Catholic residences. The situation soon gets out of hand and Hook is cut off from his fellow soldiers with pretty much everyone baying for his blood. He has to find his way home in an unfamiliar environment and weave his way through all of the double-crossing going on around him.
Gregory Burke ends up juggling a large number of balls throughout his screenplay, as he introduces people from all sides of the conflict, all of whom have their own agenda. Unfortunately, this means that there is little in the way of real character development and a certain amount of ambiguity clouding each of the plot-strands. At times the leap of faith required to accept that Hook would naturally fall into each camp at significant points is a bit much but Burke, building on the success of his stage show Black Watch, seems to have good enough ball-control to create a workable plot.
Of course, this could be helped by his decision not to bog down the film with any pesky socio-political context. For all the significance of the Troubles in ’71’s setting, the film doesn’t pretend to be any kind of historical document. Ignoring the documentary style of works like Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, ’71 is more like an action-horror film set in a specific context. The hows and whys are never discussed and Burke doesn’t attempt to make any judgements about the conflict as a whole. Instead, he tries, and for the most part succeeds, in painting a realistic yet vague portrait of the various attitudes in Ireland at the time.
This isn’t a film about the Irish Troubles but something that concerns itself with the reaction of an innocent outsider. Hook finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t have a hope of understanding. Demange doesn’t set out to teach us about such an important time in recent history but to put this young man in one of the shittest environments of recent years and see if he can survive.
What he managed to create led to one of the most tense cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Having just come off a hectic Saturday shift I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind for this survival thriller. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so fucking stressed out by a film. Of course, this is the definitive mark that it’s doing its job properly. The story unfolds at break-neck speed and Demange has worked hard to ensure that every detail of this film helps to ramp up the tension. With production design turning modern day Liverpool into an almost alien version of 1970s Belfast, there is a real sense that Hook has wandered into the kind of post-apocalyptic nightmarish future that litters the FPS offerings in the games market these days.
There is never a moment for you to relax as Hook moves ever closer to the IRA stronghold that provides the setting for a dramatic final set piece. It is cinematographer Tat Radcliffe’s decision to switch between 16mm for the sequences that take place during the day and digital once the sun goes down that really help reflect Hook’s increasing vulnerability.
Of course, none of this tension would mean a damn thing if it weren’t for a noteworthy performance from leading man Jack O’Connell. Proving once again that he’s someone to watch out for, O’Connell brings charisma and strength to the young soldier that is perfectly offset by an underlying vulnerability that constantly reminds us that, underneath the uniform, he’s just a lost young man looking for a way home.
It’s just a crying shame that O’Connell isn’t given more to work with. Gary is, despite being on-screen for the nearly the entire 100 minute runtime, one of the most vague characters imaginable. With only a brief glimpse into his early life, you never get a sense of what Gary is about which means, after all the drama, you never get any kind of emotional or dramatic resolution. However, despite all of this frustrating ambiguity, ’71is a mesmerising film that goes to show it’s leading man, director and screenwriter all have great futures ahead of them.