THE DUKE (2022)

April 26, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It made headlines in 1961. Francisco Goya’s ‘Portrait of the Duke of Ellington’ was stolen from London’s National Gallery. Director Roger Michell, with a screenplay from Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, dramatize the story so that it’s part comedy and part love story, and thanks to screen veteran James Broadbent, full of charm.

Oscar winner Broadbent (IRIS, 2001) stars as Kempton Bunton. We first see him in the midst of his courtroom trial. Pretty quickly, the film flashes back to 6 months prior. Kempton hasn’t had much luck in keeping his job as a cab driver, or a baker, or any other. He’s a bit of a rabble-rouser, quick to share his unsolicited opinions, and on a constant mission to look out for ‘the little guy.’ He is also a would-be writer who cranks out novels (“Susan Christ”) and plays that never get published, all of which adds to the chagrin of Kempton’s wife, Dorothy, played by Oscar winner Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN, 2006). Dorothy works as a maid, and only desires a simple, steady, and predictable life with her husband … who delivers quite the opposite.

Living in a working-class neighborhood with one of their sons, Jackie (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK), Kempton and Dorothy have an interesting relationship … one that includes contrasting methods of grieving over the death of their daughter. She internalizes while he writes about it. Kempton’s latest protest is against the government buying back the Goya painting while so many citizens suffer the indignity of paying a television licensing tax. He insists the government should spend the money on the people, not on frivolities like art. It’s during this phase when we wonder if son Jackie is learning more from dad than we originally suspect.

Director Michell includes some fascinating shots, including the theft of the painting, which leaves Edvund Munch’s “The Scream” in the video wake. We also see the scene in the 1965 James Bond film DR NO which features the Goya painting and a little inside humor. There are also numerous shots with Broadbent superimposed into archival footage of 1960’s London, and actual newsreels from the era. The tone shifts when Kempton turns himself and the painting into the authorities. His courtroom behavior plays like a stand-up comedy routine, while his barrister (played by Matthew Goode) uses Kempton’s everyman-likability to his advantage.

Director Roger Michell passed away in September 2021. He’s best known for NOTTING HILL (1999) and VENUS (2006), and unfortunately, he didn’t get to see his final film released in theaters. Broadbent’s charm is on full display here, and the film easily could have gone deeper into the topics of social inequality and governmental mismanagement. Instead, it’s more sentimental and funny than enlightening … an outlandish heist story that plays just as well as a gentle love story. And that’s a pretty good cause for Mr. Michell the filmmaker.

Opens in NYC and LA on April 22, 2022 and nationwide on April 29, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER

“Bring a Friend Back to the Movies” will provide one complimentary ticket to customers who purchase a ticket directly from the Angelika website, app or in theaters to see “The Duke” during the first week of its release. Select Angelika locations will also offer each ticket holder for “The Duke” a specially priced split of bubbly to share with their friend in celebration of their return to the movies


THE CHILDREN ACT (2018)

September 13, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. There are some actors who are so talented that they elevate most any material to a watchable status. Emma Thompson is one of the few. She is an Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY) and for Best Actress (HOWARD’S END), and her career is comprised of interesting characters … many made so because of her performance. The film is directed by Richard Eyre, who has two terrific films in NOTES ON A SCANDAL (2006) and IRIS (2001), and adapted from his own novel by Ian McEwan (ATONEMENT, ON CHESIL BEACH).

We are introduced to British High Court Judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) as she announces her opinion on a case involving conjoined twins. As an expert in family law cases, Judge Maye is respected for fairness and decisiveness. Just as the reality of her crumbling marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) hits, she is drawn into yet another case where emotions (and media) are running high. Adam (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK) is in dire need of a blood transfusion, which his Jehovah’s Witness religion and parents will not allow.

It’s at this point that we believe we are in for a stressful courtroom drama facing religious intricacies. However, there is very little to the court case – only the highly unusual step of the judge visiting the sick minor in the hospital. The highly anticipated moral dilemma never unfolds, and instead we get an oddball friendship, ever-creepier stalking sequence, and emotional unmasking. It’s a bit of a letdown. Are we to believe that Judge Fiona Maye is conflicted about anything?  She doesn’t appear to be. She made up her mind to focus on work, and only seemed to have forgotten to mention this to her husband, whose wants push him towards infidelity.

Jason Watkins has a terrific turn as Nigel, the judge’s meticulous assistant who is there in good times and bad. The story could be viewed from a woman’s perspective on how the dedication to career comes with a cost, but that same cost would likely be paid by a man in this situation as well. The title of the film is specific to a British law in dealing with aspects of minors, making the court case even less suspenseful than we might think. It’s not a courtroom drama per se, and it doesn’t dive deep enough to be a look at a dysfunctional marriage, and it’s simply too bland to be the study of a workaholic carrying guilt over never having kids – shouldn’t this issue have been resolved by now, given the age of this couple? It’s a crazy “R” rating over one line of dialogue, and it’s really Ms. Thompson’s performance that provides the only reason to see the film.

watch the trailer:


DUNKIRK (2017)

July 19, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Even for us frequent movie-goers, a truly great film is a rare and emotional experience. Leave it to Christopher Nolan, one of the finest film makers working today, to deliver a World War II masterpiece centered on a remarkable and historic evacuation, rather than one of the epic battles that more directly led to an Allied victory. The result is a spectacular, stunning and relentlessly intense assault on our eyes, ears and emotions … it’s a horrific thing of artistic beauty.

Mr. Nolan chooses a triptych approach to tell the May/June 1940 Dunkirk story from three distinctly different perspectives: The Mole, The Sea, and The Air. The Mole (term for protective sea walls) is the “by land” segment, and it shows nearly 400,000 soldiers lined up on the beach – nervously waiting to be either rescued or massacred. The Sea puts us not on the deck of the Navy destroyers, but rather alongside the citizen volunteers who answered the call to ferry men off the beach with own pleasure vessels. The Air plops us inside the Spitfire cockpits of two Royal Air Force pilots battling low fuel as they attempt to protect their fellow soldiers below. This 3-part film harmony expertly captures the disorientation of war by shuffling between the three segments, and varying the timelines and sequence of each.

This all happened pretty early in the war, as Winston Churchill had only become Prime Minister a few weeks prior. It should be noted that Mr. Nolan purposefully avoids the usual war room blustery (we see neither Churchill nor Hitler, and there is little mention of the infamous Halt Order) and allows the action to tell the story. Instead, his focus on the (very) young men being sent to battle makes a clear political statement on the absurdity of war. One of “The Sea” volunteers (an excellent Mark Rylance) delivers the message when he states it’s the old men running the war, so he can’t be expected to just sit back as young sons are sent to fight and die.

Despite the epic look, feel and sound of the film and the massive scale of the event, this film is surprisingly at its best in the small moments of heroism and the dogged determination of individuals to survive. Minimal dialogue allows the horrors of war to take center screen. Danger and death are at every turn – bombings, torpedoes, drowning, gunfire, and most any imaginable peril is ever-present. We witness PTSD (shell-shock) in the form of Cillian Murphy’s shivering rescued soldier, and are reminded that every young man present will be either dead or scarred for life. No one escapes war unscathed.

The opening sequence finds young Fionn Whitehead and his squad being targeted with gunfire as German leaflets fall from the sky. The leaflets are maps outlining the hopelessness as German forces have them surrounded. The film is meticulously researched and historically based, though the few characters we get to know are fictionalized accounts. The practical effects throughout are breath-taking and much of it was filmed on location at the Dunkirk beach. There will likely be some complaints regarding the scarcity of female characters and those of color, but the technical aspects of the film are beyond reproach – although the French might have preferred their military receive a bit more attention. Hans Zimmer’s score is unique and searing as it perfectly captures the intensity of the film. His use of a ticking watch only perpetuates the constant feeling of running out of time. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and Editor Lee Smith prove why they are among the best at their profession.

Given the spectacle of the action (if possible, see it in IMAX or 70mm), it’s remarkable how we still manage to get to know some of the characters. From The Mole segment, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles represent the young soldiers, while Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy play officers. Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden are piloting the Spitfires, while Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Cillian Murphy are aboard the rescue yacht. Nolan regular and good luck charm Michael Caine can be recognized as the voice on Air Force radio. There is a 1958 film with the same title, and it stars John Mills and Richard Attenborough. The connection (other than the Dunkirk title) is Sir Attenborough’s grandson Will appears in this current film.

The horrors and impact of World War II continue to be an abundant garden – ripe for the picking when it comes to movies. Over the past 70 years there have been numerous approaches to telling part of the story that redefined the world: Judgment at Nuremberg (legal aftermath), Casablanca (romance), I Was a Male War Bride (comedy), Tora! Tora! Tora! and From Here to Eternity (Pearl Harbor), Shoah (documentary), Schindler’s List and Son of Saul (holocaust), Downfall (Hitler), The Great Escape (entertainment), Patton (bio), The Pianist (personal), Saving Private Ryan (Normandy), Das Boot (U-boat), The Thin Red Line (Guadalcanal), and Letter From Iwo Jima (two opposing perspectives). Each of these, and many others, have their place in War movie history, and now Christopher Nolan’s film belongs among the best.

watch the trailer: