Their Finest

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Their Finest

With Their Finest, Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Sherfig have created a superb dream of a long ago time. Against the backdrop of England under attack in 1940, they show us the British living their daily lives calmly, interrupted repeatedly by air raid sirens that send them to underground shelter. At the center of it all is actor Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole who carries the story with absolute calm and sharp intelligence.

In this dark time of the German air raids, a group of writers gathers each day to make movies to aid the war effort. What can they do, they wonder aloud, to help lure America into the war at just the time when the battle of Dunkirk has told Britain they are not strong enough to win the war against the Nazis.

They will make a movie about Dunkirk. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the aging matinee idol whose ego grows more fragile in the face of anyone else’s success, is temperamental but determined. He and Buckley (Sam Claflin) hire Catrin (Gemma Arterton) to do secretarial jobs that will free them to write. Repeatedly, Catrin delivers several pages at a time that convince them she must be the main writer with Buckley.

Catrin upends the whole challenge by wanting to write about the roles women are playing in the war rather than focusing on heroes – “A lot of men are scared we won’t go back into our boxes when this is over” she says with great foresight. After the near catastrophe of Dunkirk, the challenge is how to lure America into the war. With 90 million Americans watching movies, she says, “we need a story to inspire a nation.”

Making their movie is the core of the plot but something much deeper than that sinks into those of us who are watching. We are silenced in admiration at their skill in creating time and place. Even the relationship developing between Carin and Buckley is minor next to the portrait they paint of London under daily bombings.

The moment the sirens start, Londoners leave homes and jobs quietly for their nearby shelters where they sit in silent acceptance until the all clear sends them back to work and home. We see the awful damage after each bombing and feel the impending loss of their country. We think again about Churchill’s prolonged visit to F.D.R. that was so key to America’s entry into the war. What would have happened without that visit?

This is a fine movie made compelling by texture. We feel the dark gray atmosphere, the silence created by fear, a capital destroyed by bombs, a leader determined to get help and a handful of sharp portraits of determination to survive. It stays with us because it is so quietly and carefully imagined by fine writers and actors and a director who knew exactly how to salute the quiet bravery of a city under attack more than seventy years ago.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Their Finest
Word Count : 498
Running time : 1:50
Rating : R
Date : August 13, 2017

 

Atomic Blonde

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Atomic Blonde

Two odd but interesting things have happened in an otherwise grim summer for movies. Wonder Woman, the summer’s biggest hit, gave women the comic book version of the hero they have wanted for so long. And now Atomic Blonde has given them their own action hero. Together, they are an announcement that women have arrived.

Charlize Theron doesn’t kid around. Her action figure, Lorraine Broughton, uses every part of her body to kill enemies and when that’s not quite enough she uses whatever happens to be at hand. In grand collusion with director David Leitch, she levels the field.

Theron has trained herself to such a state of fitness and strength that the movie becomes a flaming announcement that women in movies can now say, “Don’t mess with me!” They no longer have to express rage just by being mean. The only problem here is that the action is so overwhelming it’s hard to track the plot. But does that matter? No.

It is 1989. Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 agent with a new assignment: head for Berlin and recover a list of secrets hidden in a wrist watch that has been stolen. The plot, along with its various alliances, is secondary to the wallop of the sight of Lorraine dispatching every man who tries to kill her.

Three characters stand out. James McAvoy as her primary problem, Eddie Marson as a bundle of brilliance who she must protect because he has memorized the list, and Sofia Boutella, another spy, who joins Lorraine in a red hot sexual encounter that plays out in prolonged detail. Through Lorraine, Charlize Theron is eyeing the decades of female roles screened by men and with a big smile is saying “Take this, you guys.”

The bulk of the film unfolds in absolutely brutal physical violence. What is it then that lifts it to high style? It’s Lorraine who we first see bruised and battered before learning why. All during the why of it, we have the abiding pleasure of watching her stride in perfect stern grace through the city in a different outfit for every scene.

Though brutalized by fists and weapons, short minutes later she is striding across Berlin in clothes of superb simplicity – no adornments. Almost always in stark black and white, then suddenly a bright red coat – all covering perfect posture atop bright red heels that become, when required , weapons. She is looking ahead as if she weren’t in full time danger. And then in moments she will be plummeting down a staircase, hit from behind by an enemy.

In two terrific symbolic performances this year, Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot gave us a fighter for moral rectitude and Charlize Theron shows us a battler against all odds. In grand exaggeration, they have handed women the recognition they want as they fight to transcend the supporting role that has been their lot for centuries. Comic book symbols? You bet. Earned, deserved, and delivered in style.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Atomic Blonde
Word Count : 502
Running time : 1:55
Rating : R
Date : 6 August 2017