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Darkest Hour ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Darkest Hour ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

British actor Gary Oldman has played Beethoven and Dracula on the screen and now he plays Winston Churchill in the new movie, Darkest Hour. Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain in May of 1940, almost by default, when the country and its politicians were unhappy with the way the elderly Neville Chamberlain was managing the war with Germany.

As the new British Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill had an almost impossible job on his hands. He had a brusque, bullying manner, and a lot of people, even people in his own political party, didn’t like him. As King George V says to him, “You scare people. You scare me.” Personality problems were the least of his worries, though. Germany had assembled the largest fighting force in the history of the world, they were superior in tanks, air power and weaponry, and they were winning the war against the Allies. They were conquering all of Western Europe and were invading France, only forty miles across the English Channel from Britain’s shores. German invasion seemed inevitable. It seemed the war was already lost. American forces were not able to help at this point because, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells Churchill, “my hands are tied” by the Neutrality Act. The U.S. wouldn’t enter the war until the stakes became higher.

Britain could fight it out and almost certainly be crushed. Germany would very likely annihilate the entire country and its culture and then step in and make it its own. The other alternative was a “negotiated peace” with Germany, which “Hitler’s puppet,” that delightful fellow, Benito Mussolini of Italy, would help to facilitate in Venice between Britain and Germany. This amounted to a surrender, which a lot of powerful politicians (including former Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain) advocated. They were unable to understand why Churchill would not even entertain the idea of “peace talks” with Germany.

The best scene in Darkest Hour (or, anyway, my favorite scene) is when Churchill, who has almost decided that capitulation to Germany is the only way to keep Britain from being crushed, goes off on his own and rides the “Underground” (London’s subway). While on the train, he meets and engages in conversation with some of the “common people,” bricklayers and housewives. He asks them what they think about negotiating an end to the war with Germany, mostly on German terms. Would these common people like for their country to become a puppet state of Nazi Germany? Would they like to see a swastika flying from Buckingham Palace? Their answer is clear: We will never surrender!  Churchill then gives his famous speech to Parliament, in which he states irreconcilably: We will go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to rescue and the liberation of the old.

If you, like me, are fascinated by the high drama of World War II, where truth is truly stranger than fiction, you will love Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman dominates the screen every second as Winston Churchill. If those dumbbells in Hollywood don’t award him an Oscar, they might as well fold their tents and go home.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

With the multiplex given over almost entirely to comic book super heroes, sequels, and animated films for the kindergarten set, it’s hard sometimes to find a movie for grown-ups. Such a movie is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a wry look at the after-effects of a murder in a small town.

Middle-aged mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) will do almost anything to find the person who murdered her daughter, Angela, seven months ago. Mildred is tough and fearless; if you have a confrontation with her, she might hit you in the stomach and humiliate you in front of your friends. When the local police in all that time don’t have a suspect, Mildred decides to take some drastic action. For $5,000 a month she rents three unused billboards on the old highway that hardly anybody uses anymore to advertise her message: “My daughter died while being raped. Why no suspects?”

People sympathize with Mildred over the loss of her daughter, but most believe the billboards are a bad idea. Mildred’s belief is that the police will work harder to find the murderer if their laxity is made public via billboard advertising. The foul-mouthed police chief of the town, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), has plenty of problems of his own. He’s dying of cancer and doesn’t have long to live. A glimpse inside the police station shows us that this police force is anything but efficient. Maybe it is time for somebody to hold them accountable for something. Their bumbling is personified by dim-witted officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who lives with his strange mother and makes Barney Fife look like a genius.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who, despite being English, seems to have a feel for small-town Americana and the American way of speaking. Despite the movie’s somber theme (trying to find a murderer), there’s lots of clever dialogue and some funny lines. Some of the plot twists are implausible, such as the no-consequences torching of the police station, but the whole thing is so unexpected and original that we don’t care. Originality is a rare quality these days in American movies. There’s even a town midget and a middle-aged divorced father with a ditzy nineteen-year-old girlfriend who turns every statement she says into a question. What more could you want from a movie?

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Blade Runner 2049 ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Blade Runner 2049 ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner is notable for its spectacular futuristic vistas, its haunting music score and brooding tone. You probably know (or maybe you don’t) that the story in Blade Runner is about those delightful synthetic humans called “replicants” that are so close to being real that nobody can tell them apart. Replicants were manufactured as a disposable work force, but, only trouble is, they were so highly evolved that they developed a will of their own, staged an insurrection, and murdered a lot of real humans, after which the manufacture of replicants was banned. (We saw this same premise used, but not as effectively, in the HBO television series Westworld.)

Now, thirty-five years later (can it really be that long?), there is Blade Runner 2049, a sequel, of sorts, to the earlier movie. The main character is called K (played by Ryan Gosling). He doesn’t have a name because he is himself a replicant, but he’s the good kind, not the kind that goes around murdering humans. K is a Blade Runner, meaning it’s his job to hunt down and kill the replicants that are still living and walking in the world, disguising themselves as real people. K is so human-like that he has human emotions. This is going to get him into trouble.

Before the production of replicants was banned all those years earlier, the mad scientists who made them added a new wrinkle: a replicant woman was able to mate with a human man and have a child, which is exactly what happened. Remember the character Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the 1982 Blade Runner movie? At the end of that movie, he fell in love with a replicant named Rachel and absconded with her. It turns out that Rachel was one of those replicants who could have a baby with a human father. Well, we find out in Blade Runner 2049 that, not only did Rachel have a baby by Deckard, she had twins, a boy and a girl, after which Deckard disappeared. Can K be the half-human/half-replicant boy that was born to Rachel and Deckard thirty years earlier? If he is, where is the twin sister? What happened to her?

In Blade Runner 2049, K spends a lot of time literally flying around in these futuristic cityscapes to a pounding (heavy on the kettle drums) music score, looking for pieces to the mystery that consumes him. Holograms are very popular in this world. There are holograms of Elvis Presley, Liberace and Frank Sinatra, and holograms just about every place else, including a fifty-foot-tall, pink, naked lady with blue hair by the side of the road who promises that you will see everything you want to see and hear everything you want to hear. Oh, and one of the most prominent features of this world is that it’s dark all the time and rainy because, well, the atmosphere has been messed up.

There’s lots of information thrown at the audience in Blade Runner 2049, maybe too much, which makes the story murky at times. (For example, what do the beehives mean?) The writing could have been tighter and the length could have been shortened by thirty or forty minutes. Otherwise, it’s a wild sci-fi trip to a dystopian future world that you might have to see more than once to absorb everything in it.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

It ~ A Capsule Movie Review

It ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Early in It, a small boy named Georgie has an encounter with a strange, though interesting, clown in a storm drain during a rainstorm. That’s the last that’s seen of little Georgie. His older brother Bill misses Georgie terribly and refuses to believe he’s dead. Bill and his group of adolescent friends (all troubled in some way) believe there’s something terrible going on in the little town of Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s. There are far too many missing kids and nobody knows what’s happened to them. The self-absorbed adults in the town don’t seem very interested in solving the mystery, so it’s left to Bill and his friends to confront the evil force, whatever it is. Welcome to the world of Stephen King. It is based on his massive, 1200-page novel.

There’s a pattern to the bad things that happen in the town. In 1908, an ironworks exploded, killing over a hundred people. Every twenty-seven years since 1908, tragedies have occurred. It’s now 1989 and that’s twenty-seven years since the latest town tragedy in 1962. By studying maps, the boys figure out that the places where the tragic events occurred all have something in common: they are all connected via the town’s sewer system and a thing called the well house. Just where is this well house, and how do the boys find it?

The clown, Pennywise, is by far the most interesting character in It. He is the personification of the evil force in the town. He lives in the town’s labyrinthine sewer system. Depending on your own perception of clowns (I like them), Pennywise is grotesque, scary, fascinating, creepy, compelling, or silly. Maybe all of these things.

Most of the characters in It are like cardboard cutouts. Some of the kid actors who play the parts talk so fast that we don’t understand a lot of what they say and they aren’t very convincing or likeable, with the exception of stuttering Bill and the one girl in the group, Beverly, who has to fight off the advances of her creepy, leering father.  If you are a Stephen King fan, you will probably love this film adaptation of one of his most famous works. If you are not a Stephen King fan, you might find the onscreen horror of the ho-hum, obvious kind involving thirteen-year-olds and things jumping out at you in the dark.

We don’t know until the end of It that we have just seen chapter 1 of the story, meaning there will be more. The young girl who plays Beverly in the movie looks very much like the fortyish actress Amy Adams, so I’m figuring that Amy will be in the next movie playing Beverly as she would now look in the year 2017. And Pennywise? He’ll be back! He may be down but not out. Oh, that clown!

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Dunkirk ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Dunkirk ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In 1940, in the early days of World War II (before America entered the war), German forces had Allied soldiers (British, French, Canadian, Belgium) pushed to the sea and surrounded in a place called Dunkirk in northern France. Some 338,000 Allied soldiers were expecting destroyers to come and pick them up, but no destroyers were available. In what is known as the “Dunkirk Evacuation,” hundreds of small civilian boats (yachts, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats) crossed the channel to France and carried as many soldiers to safety in England as they could. It was a turning point in the war that could very easily have spelled disaster for the British war effort.

The new movie Dunkirk is a stirring recreation of the evacuation at Dunkirk, told from three points of view: from the land (the “mole”), the sea, and the air. We shift back and forth from one to the other. We follow a young British soldier, a young French soldier, a combat pilot (Tom Hardy), the men on the beach waiting to be picked up, and a small yacht piloted by an older British man (Mark Rylance) with two teenage boys. There’s lots of intense action and many harrowing moments, as when the pilot runs out of gas (he glides gracefully to the ground in enemy territory); when a civilian teenage boy on the yacht is hit by a Nazi bullet; and when a young flyer crash lands in the sea and can’t get his hatch open to get out as his plane sinks. All of it has a kind of “you-are-there” feel to it, but the movie has an unconventional structure and there isn’t much in the way of exposition, especially at the beginning, so it’s going to be difficult for people to understand what is going on who don’t know the circumstances beforehand.

World War II provides a seemingly endless supply of material for filmmakers. Dunkirk is a rarity: a serious summer movie not aimed at the youth market that is entertaining and informative. If you’re looking for a summer movie that doesn’t have comic book heroes, intelligent talking apes, space adventure, or raunchy sexual situations, Dunkirk might be the movie for you.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Mummy ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

An Egyptian princess from five thousand years ago thought she was going to be next in line for the throne of Egypt, but her father’s wife gave birth to a son who instead would become the next pharaoh. The Egyptian princess at this point embraced evil and murdered her father, his wife and infant son. When her crimes were discovered, she was entombed alive and, because she was a disgrace to Egypt, her body was laid to rest in a tomb in Mesopotamia, a thousand miles from Egypt, in what is present-day Iraq.

A crusaders’ tomb from the thirteenth century is found underneath London. One of the crusaders entombed there had a stone buried with him that he picked up while crusading in Egypt.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), adventurer and plunderer of antiquities in Iraq, just happens to accidentally find the forgotten tomb of the disgraced Egyptian princess while dodging bullets from insurgents. He is with a hapless male colleague and a curvaceous female archaeologist named Jennifer Halsey, who recognizes the significance of the tomb from an archaeological standpoint. They crate up the mummy case containing the remains of the Egyptian princess and are flying it back to home base, when the plane crashes over England. All on board the plane are killed except Jennifer Halsey and Nick Morton.

Opening the five-thousand-year-old tomb of the Egyptian princes has released her, or has at least has released her malevolence. She causes the plane to crash over England so she can reclaim the crusader’s stone that goes into the hilt of her magic sword. She recognizes Nick Morton as her redeemer, her restorer, and the new love of her life because he was the one who found her tomb. All he has to do is abide by her wishes and the two of them will enjoy a life together of everlasting evil.

The Mummy is a silly, summer, action-adventure movie, with the emphasis on action instead of on intelligence or subtlety. Tom Cruise seems to have forfeited all pretentions of being a good actor by making movies like this one. And what about (the now-portly) Russell Crowe? Is he on the side of good or evil? It’s hard to tell. He is wasted here as a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who seems to serve no purpose unless it was to add an extra male star to boost box office receipts.

The original The Mummy was made in 1932 and stars Boris Karloff. It is a creepily atmospheric excursion into horror, a truly memorable classic that spawned a spate of sequels and added to the horror lexicon. The new The Mummy won’t be a classic. It’s not terrible, just another forgettable summer movie. Check your brain at the door, or, better yet, wait for it to come to HBO and save your nine dollars.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Alien: Covenant ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Alien: Covenant ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The year is 2104. A disparate group of characters are traveling on a gigantic spacecraft (called the Covenant) to a new, distant planet to start a colony. (Earth, you see, is dying.) It’s a long journey and a hazardous one because there’s no telling what these travelers might encounter in the vast, uncharted reaches of space. When they are still a long way from where they’re going, they receive a mysterious, seemingly human, transmission fairly close to where they are. They veer off-course for a few weeks to investigate the source of the signal and we, the audience, know it’s a mistake because we’ve seen this plot device before.

Some but not all of the travelers get on a smaller spacecraft and land on the alien planet where the mysterious signal originates, not knowing what they’ll find but hoping it’s something good, like an appealing, habitable place where they can start their colony and not have to go on to their original destination. Among the group is a “simulated human” (they never use the word “robot”) named Walter, the only non-human on the mission.

They find the alien planet earth-like but with no birds or animals. Soon two of their number become mysteriously ill and we witness, once again, the hideous creature come bursting out of their bodies. The thing has been incubating inside them, don’t you know, and when it comes out, it’s fully formed, though miniature-sized, and ready for killing humans. In this instance, it’s rather lizard-like, moves with lightning speed, has an elongated head, multiple limbs, a slobbering mouth, and a tail. If you’ve ever seen any of the Alien movies going back to 1979, you are familiar with this creature and hope you never meet one.

Once on this alien planet, the travelers discover the wreckage of an enormous spacecraft called the Prometheus. If you saw the movie Prometheus in 2012, you may remember what happened at the end of it. Well, this movie picks up the thread from that movie and continues the story in a way, or, as the saying goes, after a fashion. You may remember from Prometheus a “simulated human” named David. Well, it turns out that Walter, the simulated human from the current movie, is identical to David, meaning, I suppose, that they originated from the same source or the same creator. The only difference is that David can “create” and think on his own, while Walter is only compliant with the humans he works with. (You got that?) It seems that David, in the ten years since the Prometheus crashed, has become an amateur zoologist and, more to the point, he doesn’t think much of humans.

Alien: Covenant is pretty standard stuff. Nothing new here. After the initial banal “setup” that takes a half-hour or so and shows us lots of space hardware and contains lots of difficult-to-understand dialogue (and, really, who cares what they’re saying?), we find ourselves in another who-will-die-next situation. And, of course, there’s the usual claptrap about the “origins” or human life. (Will that question ever be answered to our satisfaction?) The most interesting characters by far are the two simulated human “men,” Walter and David (both played by Michael Fassbender), who show us the conflicting sides of good and evil. And, as you might expect, the story is left at the end for yet another installment to come in the ongoing saga.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp