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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

 

Rough Night

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Rough Night

Welcome to the newest contribution to the summer junk movie culture. Rough Night is a ridiculous movie but in one way it is a groundbreaker. After decades of movies that make fun of women, this one upends custom (and censorship) by making men the subject of derision. Although this may not be what you’ve been waiting for, it whacks male movie dominance by simply reversing the insult system.

So what is Rough Night’s gift to our culture? Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and Peter (Paul W. Downs) are about to be married. Peter’s ushers have gathered in the quiet dignity of a wine tasting evening. Jess’s old friends have been summoned by Alice (Jillian Bell) for a night-before-the-wedding bachelorette party, their first gathering since high school. The language, gestures, and set-ups are in female hands now while men who cross their paths during this evening are doomed – in one way or another.

Alcohol, cocaine, drunk in the hot tub, a dead guy confined in a sex swing, making love to a dead man, inspecting an unconscious cop. Although the whole thing is ludicrous, we can acknowledge that the women who made this one had decades to make up for. Women have been targets forever. The one major involuntary laugh here is the sight of one man naked beneath a body hugging outfit tailored to his shape. He looks as dumb and silly as women as objects have seemed for years.

The big question: does the cast rescue the preposterous material? Of course not. They do their best but the simple truth is that it’s just not possible. Scarlett Johannsson wends her way through the farce with a modicum of dignity. Paul W. Downs wins our sympathy as her fiancé and we know they will be happy once this terrible evening is over. A gentle salute goes to Kate McKinnon who manages to be slightly funny with her Australian accent. Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz play a couple considering a renewal of their high school relationship. This cast has succeeded in making themselves look as silly as the men who long ago invented raunch for their bachelor parties.

The only thing that comes close to sophisticated cruelty here is that the women inflict the humiliation with male cool. No giggly girl stuff, just cold, calm uncaring behavior at the expense of others. For all its silliness, it changes the movie culture by turning men into objects.

But that said, isn’t there a genuine question to be asked about whether unfunny sight gags and labored jokes are worth the trip when ticket prices are exorbitant and the movie is basically stale? The lesson here may just be that pre-wedding behavior parties are pretty old stuff whether women or men are the goats. This all sounds preposterous, and it is just that, but it will be remembered as the awful movie that triggered the reversal of male/female comic clichés. It’s a female chorus howling “Gotcha!”

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Rough Night
Word Count : 496
Running time: 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2016

 

This review was posted on July 13, 2017, in Comedy.