Film review: DARKEST HOUR, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Darkest Hour, the latest film for Atonement director Joe Wright is the second Winston Churchill biopic and the third Dunkirk-related film in the last 12 months. This film focuses on Churchill’s tumultuous appointment as Prime Minister, his struggle with his war cabinet and his personal demons in deciding Britain’s course as Europe succumbs to Hitler.

Gary oldman, who looks as much like Gough Whitlan as he does Churchill plays the British Bulldog more quirkily than Brian Cox in last year’s Churchill biopic. He portrays Winnie as a remarkably insightful but impulsive and at times irrational old coot. He also doesn’t paper over Churchill’s less redeeming features such as his scotch guzzling and occasional vile temper. It’s a scenery munching performance but it feels right amid the surreal chaos of a world going to hell.

As good as Oldman is he doesn’t completely overshadow the supporting players with Kristen Scott Thomas reassuring as Churchill immensely tolerant wife Clementine, Ben Mendelssohn giving what could have been a stuffy caricature of king George the 6th nuance and emotional depth and Stephen Dilan wonderfully intense as Churchill’s chief adversary the Viscount Halifax.

Much like Oldman’s over-the-top performance Wright’s direction has a quirky almost surreal quality that some may find too jokey and as in one scene where Churchill rides the underground with the commoners, a little cornball. Many, however, will welcome Wright’s ornate flourishes after the tele-movie blandness of Churchill.

Much like Steven Spielberg’s wonderful Lincoln, this film’s triumph is that it takes what could have been dull policy debates and infuses them with riveting dramatic force. Through the dialogue, Wright and scriptwriter Anthony McCarten add character layers that bring the film close to the depth and complexity of a novel.

Darkest Hour has awkward moments but ultimately provides a powerful and fascinating insight into a divisive but vital character in human history.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Biopic.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Joe Wright.

Release date: 11th Jan 2017.

Running time: 125 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


What’s on ‘Built For Speed’, Friday 16th February 2018

This week on ‘Built For Speed’ we take a look at the latest Marvel cinema adaptation, ‘Black Panther’.  We’ll also tell you all about Oscar hopeful ‘Ladybird’, which marks the directorial debut for Greta Gerwig.  CJ and Dr Nick will deliver a full wrap-up of the Father John Misty gig from last Friday at the Forum.  We’ll play some Father John favourites as well as new Aussie tracks, indie and classic rock from across the decades and some song selections from a few of the big films currently screening.  Don’t forget our regular preview of gigs and TV for the week.  Check out ‘Built For Speed’, Friday 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM.

Film review: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Like a more lyrical, more physically and metaphorically sunlit Brokeback Mountain, Call Me By Your Name ,which is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Aciman, is a homoerotic tale bathed in Mediterranean summer heat and high culture.

Young up and comer Timothee Chalamet, who also co-stars in the Greta Gerwig’s excellent directorial debut Ladybird, stars as a highly intelligent, slightly awkward Jewish-American teen Elio Perlman living with his family in the picturesque Northern Italian countryside in 1983. When graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives to intern for Elio’s archaeologist father (Michael Stuhlbarg) Elio initially resents the tall, worldly, over-confident American. At first it seems, Oliver’s rock star-like attraction for the local young ladies irks Elio but it soon becomes apparent that the grad student has elicited in Elio previously unknown feelings of same sex attraction.

This is a truly international film with it’s American cast, Italian director Luca Guadagnino (whose next project is a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria), British writer James Ivory and Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. It essentially plays like a European arthouse film with American actors.

The story is by no means action-driven, so adrenaline junkies should keep well away nor is it plot-driven as the film mostly involves subtle exchanges between the characters lying on banana lounges. Instead, this film is about mood and character. Guadagino and cinematographer Mukdeeprom have conjured an exquisitely beautiful world full of languid images that comes close to the swooning atmosphere of Picnic at Hanging Rock. James Ivory also deserves special credit for his wonderfully articulate and learned dialogue that intertwines the human drama with history archaeology, philosophy and Italian politics.

Like the entire cast, Chalamet and Hammer are terrific, completely immersing themselves in their roles and convincing us of their feelings for each other as well as their intellectual gifts. Importantly, despite the fact that we empathise with their characters, they’re not idealised often displaying selfishness and petulance.

The film suffers a little from massive expectations arising from critical hype but it only just falls short of these and it’s certainly one of summer’s must-see films.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama/ romance.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Luca Guadagnino.

Release date: 26th Dec 2017.

Running time: 132 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


Film review: THE POST, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Steven Spielberg’s The Post is part of that cinematic sub-genre, the investigative journalism film, an auspicious club that contains Spotlight, Zodiac and at its pinnacle, Alan J Pakula’s Watergate classic, All The Presidents Men. The Post almost seems like an attempt at a prequel to that film as it details the explosive story of the Washington Post’s quest in 1971 to report on the major political controversy that preceded Watergate, the Pentagon Peppers. The so-called Pentagon Papers were a damning study commissioned by defence secretary Robert McNamara and leaked by former defence analyst Daniel Ellsberg that revealed the appalling folly of America’s incursion into Vietnam.

At the centre of the film are Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham who, if The Post reports the story, faces losing the company and possibly doing jail time for breaching national security and legendary editor Ben Bradlee (who was later instrumental in publishing the Watergate revelations) who might also do time here.

This is a vital story about events that shaped recent history and a cautionary tale about America’s dubious impact on the geopolitical landscape. It’s also a compelling and moving homage to journalistic integrity and the importance of the fourth estate in holding governments accountable. The story also has powerful resonances today with the decline of print journalism and in a US political landscape where the president seemingly dismisses as fake news articles he doesn’t like. It’s also a powerful reminder of the status of women then and now as Katherine is constantly forced to battle a patriarchal establishment that, despite her role as publisher, often regards her as invisible.

Spielberg has long had a reputation for spectacle but he’s tried to counteract that with recent dialogue-heavy political dramas like Lincoln that have showcased insightful performances by premier actors. He does so again here with an issues-based film that provides a wonderful platform for a top drawer cast. Through Katherine Graham, Meryl Streep powerfully embodies the uncertainty but emerging courage of a privileged but threatened woman. As Bradlee, Tom Hanks nails the necessary mix of flinty, maverick charm and journalistic dedication. There’s also fine support from top class actors such as Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odendirk, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and Jesse Plemons.

While The Post tells a riveting story with remarkable precision and excellent performances, it’s not without its faults. Spielberg appears never to have met a piece of sledgehammer symbolism he didn’t like and images such as The Washington Post building shaking as if in earth tremor while the printing presses pump out the Pentagon Papers story are a little too obvious. Similarly, some of the dialogue is clunky with characters occasionally speaking more like narrators than people in conversation. Thankfully, these stumbles only slightly diminish the terrific telling of an essential story.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Steven Spielberg.

Release date: 11th Jan 2018.

Running time: 116 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



Film review: I, TONYA by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Ostensibly a biopic of notorious former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, I, Tonya is a sharp if at times overly quirky satire on the perverse culture of American celebrity as well as a disturbing expose of what, according the film, was a life of tragic abuse.

In an already lauded performance Margot Robbie plays Harding as an emotionally damaged self-confessed red neck whose life , the film alleges, was ruined by vile people and appalling choices. In a kind of Mommy Dearest meets Whiplash scenario Tonya, according to the film, was brutalised from childhood by her mother La Vona (Allison Janney). Forced to commit her life to figure skating, Tonya won national championships and Olympics selection but never her mother’s approval. The film suggests that in an attempt to escape La Vona’s draconian rule by marrying porno-moustache wearing oddball Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya only landed herself in a more abusive relationship that at times threatened to turn deadly. While the film covers itself with a caveat about the questionable accuracy of its storyline, it’s still horrendous to think Tonya suffered even a fraction of the violent abuse she endures here.  In what is depicted as a perverse attempt to maintain Tonya’s affection, Giloolley and his buddy Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) allegedly hatched a plan that lead to the infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident, one that came to define Harding’s public persona to this day.

Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) wears his cinematic references on his sleeve here. Tonya’s story has been transformed Scorsese-like into a fever dream of maniacal ambition, kinetic action and biting humour with Henry Hill-esque narration and a killer soundtrack of pulverising 70’s rock. There’s also a touch of Boogie Nights in the film’s depiction of twisted celebrity and of The Virgin Suicides in its gauzy retro feel and ironic humour.

Still, it’s not just a grab bag of references and influences as Gillespie gives the film a clear identity punching through its familiar stylings with remarkable energy and wit.   Also, while far from a traditional sports film, I, Tonya believably captures the world of figure skating and with the aid of CGI makes Robbie appear to be a genuine skating champion.

The plaudits for Robbie’s performance are well-deserved as she infuses the character of Harding with a mix of laughable trashiness, confronting anger and touching vulnerability. Sebastian Stan is also excellent making the hapless yet (allegedly) violent Gillooly both a figure of menace and comedy. Two support performances, though, almost steal the movie. Allison Janney – who looks weirdly like Red Symons here – is unforgettable as a succubus-like LaVona bringing an astonishing cold-heartedness and perverse humour to the role. Even topping her performance, though, is Paul Walter Hauser’s portrayal of Shawn as an astonishingly delusional numbskull who claims, despite all evidence, to be Tonya’s bodyguard and even a secret agent. His strange, self-satisfied, Walter Mitty-esque ramblings about his imaginary life are jaw-droppingly weird and hilarious.

Although at times a little derivative and occasionally smug in its self-aware humour I, Tonya still manages to succeed in just about every department and reveals once again that truth or at least something close to it is stranger than fiction.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Craig Gillespie.

Release date: 25th Jan 2018.

Running time: 120 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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