“The Darkest Hour”

Churchillian drama is abundant in cinema, but Director Joe Wright has added a tenderness not often seen in the gruff Churchill. Gary Oldman is sure to be an Oscar winner with his portrayal of Winston as Clementine’s Project. We begin with a curmudgeon in bed lighting a cigar. The spark flares as Churchill does.

The premise of the film, superbly written by Anthony McCarten, is one of ideals. Should Churchill negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany or take a huge risk with the liberty of a nation?

“The Darkest Hour” begins on May 9th, 1940. We see images of helmeted men, tanks, and Hitler. Three million German troops are on Belgium’s border. The Nazi Peril has Parliament doubting that Neville Chamberlain can lead the British in wartime.

The initial bed scene with Winston’s black pen, clock, morning whiskey, and strong, secretarial demands for double-spacing his missives,  is brilliant.  His curmudgeon side has him calling his first typist a “ninconpoop” for striking the keys too loudly. Verbally abused to tears, she continues to throw the carriage. As the verbal lambasting continues, she runs from the bedside to be soothed by Kristin Scott Thomas, Churchill’s wife Clementine.

The film depiction of  Winston’s wife, Clem, had me borrowing her biography from a friend and neighbor. I was as enthralled by Kristin Scott Thomas’ portrayal, as I am with the biography written by Clementine and Winston’s  daughter Mary Soames. The book published in 1979, “ Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage” is as enlightening as the film.

Thomas was given lots to work with, and she makes quite a remarkable portrait of the force behind Churchill. She admonishes Winston with three adjectives: “…rough, rude, overbearing~not as kind as you used to be.” She calmly proceeds with a compliment: “ I want others to love and respect you as I do.” It works. The second typist, the lovely Lily James of “Cinderella” fame, fares better.

A second image of Churchill, garbed in black, has him rising in a golden elevator to heights unknown. Oldman is a marvel at showing a multi-dimensional and complex man, yet Clementine’s rejoiner to the underling typist rings true, too: “He is a man like any other”.

McCarten’s script plays up the class distinctions only to dissolve them. Churchill is depicted as never having ridden a bus, and his speech for a new administration to include all classes is balanced by his dictation given from a steamy bathroom and his monogrammed pajamas in the ready.  His  mastery of phrase will remind some that Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

The politics of  winning the  Prime Minister post, the war cabinet map room , the seven million refugees on the move, all give the story a hefty  scope. The cinematography with its close-ups of stamps, slow motion umbrellas opening,  and  a dead soldier’s red eye reflection adds to the viewers’ understanding of truth.

After seeing this film, one will no longer just remember Churchill’s gruffness, his “Will you stop interrupting me interrupting you” . One  will remember the romantic fantasy of fighting to the end, and his: “You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in his mouth.” One will remember Dunkirk and the lonely Churchill. One will remember a king considering leaving with his family for Canadian soil. And one will remember Clementine’s wisdom  and love: “You are wise because you have doubts.”

The last minutes of this film are stirring: “We the people” stuff. Dont miss it.

“Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver” will not give you pause. Rather this Edgar Wright action film will give you musical beats to drum through every car maneuver known to man, all seen before. Centered on the back story of our driver, who lost both parents in a car crash at the age of six, we wonder why fast cars fascinate. In a flashback, we see Baby strapped in the backseat watching his parents argue before mom rams into the back of a tractor trailer.

Besides serial car chases and robbery heists, we have a love at first sight complication as our young driver falls for last year’s Cinderella, Lily James, now decked out in waitress garb including her embroidered name, Debora. The music continues and there is some cute repartee about nomenclature in song. Babe suffers from residual tinnitus since his early accident, and the perpetual ear bud lyrics give him relief and give our movie the beat it needs.

Ansel Elgort plays our everyboy, who owes a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). He stole Doc’s Mercedes! But Spacey is the criminal mastermind who never enters a bank and never uses the same crew of wastrels twice, but Babe is his getaway driver, par excellence. A grizzled Jon Hamm and an equally thuggish Jaimie Foxx seem to enjoy their farcical characters while looking occasionally embarrassed.

Our setting is Atlanta, Georgia. Our title taken from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Our car initially a supped up, lipstick-red Subaru. British director and writer Edgar Wright has Baby recording his team’s conversations and then making music from the detritus. My favorite being “He Is Slow”. The driving for these series of brazen heists proves the reverse.

The dialogue is as bad as one would expect, “You get feelings in this job- you die.” intones Bats. (Jaimie Foxx). Bats shoots a store clerk for a few boxes of gum.” Tequila” plays like a music video amid gun shots. Elgort dances, runs, glides, and jumps through the Peachtree Mall after playing parking garage gladiator with Jon Hamm. Babe ends up on a bridge with Debora saying, “You don’t belong in this world” as he tosses his keys. Baby ends up in prison, but will be paroled in five years. Debora sends him tons of postcards, and we see them heading West on Route 66 with the radio blaring. Like I said above, nothing gave me pause in this movie except the 98% approval rate from “Rotten Tomatoes”.


On occasion who doesn’t need a little romance and the re-instilling of the importance of the magical attributes of kindness,imagination and courage?! How fitting then that at “Cinderella” ‘s  heart this is the “KIC” one gets right to the vein: kindness,imagination and courage. Kenneth Branaugh directs this classic fairy tale with perfect underdog spirit and a new bit of backstory. Mother love is championed and skullduggery still loses out.

First,see this Disney movie for the cast and the costuming. Then see it for the transformations and re-transformations of pumpkin,carriage and entourage. And finally, see “Cinderella” for glorious horseback and waltz scenes. Lily James is enrapturing.

Cate Blanchette,always pose-worthy in her hautiness,shows just a glimmer of agape’ grace and self-reflection. Helena Bonham Carter begins in Tim-Burton-fashion with serious aplomb,her macabre originality now legendary. Add the male cast,all besotted and love-stirred,and enjoy how pheromones fly.

Satiny mustard citrons and emerald greens for Cate, pinks and oranges for two step-sisters and the most dazzling corn-flower blue for Lily all add to a visual delight. The designs will take your breathe away,just like it did Cinderella’s when the Prince placed his hand on her waist. I loved all the embellishment except for the glitter,but then, as my friend reminded me,I was not deemed the target audience. I just got a “KIC” out of the screenplay written be Chris Weitz and the costumes of Sandy Powell. Oh,and the maxim: “schemers beware” provides social uplift for those who don’t believe in love at first sight.