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Josh Reviews A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom tells the true story of the marriage between Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams.  The two meet at university in London in 1947, and sparks quickly fly between them.  But Seretse is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, and the political ramifications of his marrying a white woman are enormous.  Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Kham, who was acting ruler of Bechuanaland until Seretse returned home, insists that Seretse annul the marriage. Meanwhile, Ruth’s father refuses to have anything more to do with her, because she had married a black man.  And the British Government, who at the time controlled Bechuanaland as a protectorate, bow to pressure from Apartheid South Africa — who objected to the interracial marriage — and exile Seretse, preventing him from returning home to be with his now-pregnant wife.

A United Kingdom.cropped

This is a fascinating true story. I feel about A United Kingdom similarly to how I felt about Hidden Figures, in that this extraordinary true story deserves a better movie.

The main reason to see A United Kingdom, other than to learn about this amazing true story, is to bask in the wonderful performances of David Oyelowo as Seretse and Rosamund Pike as Ruth.  Both actors do terrific work, and they have a lovely chemistry together.

Mr. Oyelowo is working in a similar key as he was in Selma, in which he was extraordinary as Martin Luther King Jr.  He is just as good here, playing the charismatic Seretse.  The characters are different, of course, but the similarities are striking, particularly when Mr. Oyelowo, as Seretse, launched into several moments of stirring oration in the second half of the film.  I love seeing Mr. Oyelowo deliver a speech.

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Pike’s ever since Die Another Day, a terrible Bond movie in which she was nonetheless terrific.  I’ve enjoyed seeing Ms. Pike’s recent run of high-profile roles, and she effortlessly carries her half of this movie.  She’s skillfully able to draw the audience into her character.  The film tells a fairly simple story, at its heart — Ruth is the “every-girl” swept up in a larger adventure when she falls in love with a king.  Ms. Pike is able to find the emotional truth in her scenes, and to breathe life into her story.

The problem with A United Kingdom is that the movie is fairly flat.  There’s not much excitement or dramatic tension in the film.  When you compare the film to Selma, it falls far short.  A United Kingdom has none of the riveting drama that film had in spades.  I enjoyed the early goings-on in which Ruth and Seretse meet and fall in love.  But then the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Gone Girl

The idea of a movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl probably wouldn’t have been something that, on its own, would pique my interest, but the involvement of director David Fincher immediately put the project on my radar.  I have been a fan of Mr. Fincher’s ever since Alien 3 (a film that I feel is a terrible Alien sequel but that, if considered on its own as a stand-alone sci-fi/horror film, is a gorgeous and haunting piece of work).  The magnificent and terrifying Zodiac (a vastly underrated film) cemented Mr. Fincher in my mind as one of the finest directors working today, and I have been following his films eagerly ever since.

In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home on the day of his five-year wedding anniversary to discover an empty house and signs of a struggle.  His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing.  The police begin an investigation, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens).  Suspicion falls upon Nick, and as the story becomes a media sensation (because Amy was the subject of a series of well-known children’s books written by her parents called Amazing Amy) public opinion turns dramatically against him.  Nick, continuing to profess his innocence, eventually hires a high-profile defense attorney, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who specializes in high-profile media cases.  The circus continues to escalate.

The hook of the film, of course, is the twisty mystery of what happened to Amy Elliott-Dunne.  While that is compelling, as the film progresses, we see that there is far more to the story of this film than a simple who-dunnit.  As we watch, the film slowly pulls back the layers of the onion of the story of Nick and Amy.  Scene by scene, moment by moment, layer upon layer are slowly revealed of both Nick and Amy’s relationship as well as the events of the fateful day of Amy’s disappearance.  About half-way through the film, we learn the answer to the mystery.  It is the film’s best trick that the story gets only more interesting once the central mystery is solved.  (That is an impressive narrative feat.  I have high praise for Gillian Flynn, who wrote the screenplay adapting her own novel.)

The cast of Gone Girl is spectacular.  I’ve always been a fan of Ben Affleck, and I think he’s a far better actor than he often demonstrates, hindered by his often poor choice of films in which to appear.  In the past few years, he’s been getting much well-deserved acclaim as a director.  (His first film, Gone Baby Gone, is one of my favorite films of the past decade.)  So it’s fun to see Mr. Affleck really shine here as an … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The World’s End

I feel like ever since the release of 2007’s Hot Fuzz, there have been rumors of a third cinematic collaboration between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, a third and final installment in their jokingly-named “Cornetto Trilogy.”  (Both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz featured gags about that British ice cream treat, leading Mr. Wright to humorously coin that title for their collaborations.)  I was a little luke-warm on Hot Fuzz (click here for my review), but I love Shaun of the dead, and I think that Spaced (the British TV show the three men first collaborated on) is one of the greatest things ever.  (I watched the series when it was released on DVD in the States several years ago, and I loved it immediately — click here for my review of the series.)

And so I was excited by the news of a new movie directed by Edgar Wright and starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.  And I am pleased to report that The World’s End does not disappoint!

Simon Pegg plays Gary King, who decides to reunite his old friends from the sleepy British town where he grew up.  His goal is to retrace the path of an epic pub-crawl that they began but never finished years ago.  The once-close lads have grown distant over the years, but somehow Gary corrals his former mates into the scheme.  This time they will make it to the final pub: The World’s End.  However, only a few pubs into their journey, they begin to notice something different about the town they once knew.  Is it just that they have grown older, and you truly can’t go home again?  Or are the people in the town somehow not exactly what they seem…?

The World’s End is a very funny film, with wonderful characters and some big laugh moments.  Even more pleasingly, the film feels very much of a piece with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.  All three of these films are in some respect a parody of a specific genre of movie (first the zombie movie then the buddy cop movie, now the end-of-the-world sci-fi movie), but all three films also succeed at becoming an exciting version of the film they are having fun with.  Shaun of the Dead becomes a pretty awesome zombie film; Hot Fuzz becomes a pretty awesome buddy-cop movie, and finally The World’s End becomes a great end-of-the-world sci-fi movie!

This is one of the most interesting trilogies I can think of, in that it is thematic rather than plot-driven. The three films are each stand-alone stories, with different characters and situations, but there is a similarity in tone … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jack Reacher

I’ve never read any of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Childs, so I didn’t come into the film Jack Reacher sharing the pre-conceived upset that many Reacher fans had at the casting of the very short Tom Cruise as the 6’5″ tank of a man described in the books.  I did go into the film thinking that the title of Jack Reacher was very stupid and not nearly as cool as that of the book from which the film’s story was adapted: One Shot.  (I guess the filmmakers wanted to emulate the huge success that was the John Carter of Mars adaptation John Carter…)  I was mostly interested in seeing Jack Reacher because it was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the script for The Usual Suspects.

Overall, I felt the film was a decently entertaining crime flick, well-made though not particularly memorable.

At the start of the film, we see a sniper ruthlessly murder five pedestrians on a sunny day in Philadelphia.  The police are easily able to apprehend the shooter, a young man named James Barr, who upon capture insists that he will only speak with Jack Reacher.  Reacher (Tom Cruise), once a military police officer in the army, has left the service and dropped off the grid entirely.  Luckily, for reasons that are made clear as the film progresses, Reacher is aware of what has happened and arrives on the scene, saving anyone the impossible task of locating him.  He doesn’t feel he is needed, but the defense attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) convinces him to assist her investigation.  The two soon discover that a fierce crime-lord known only as the Zec (Werner Herzog) is involved, as well as possibly someone in the D.A.’s office.

Tom Cruise is solid in the lead role.  He gives Reacher a more dour attitude than many of his previous action-hero roles (like Ethan Hunt), and that feels like the right choice.  Mr. Cruise is pretty convincing kicking ass in the film, and I wasn’t bothered by his height in the role whatsoever.  His handsome face and innate charm help convey Reacher’s power, and why he is so effective at getting people to do what he wants, even though he lacks almost every social grace.

I’ve been a fan of Rosamund Pike ever since her great work in the otherwise-very-mediocre Bond film Die Another Day.  I think she’s a terrific screen presence, and she is perfectly good as the noble defense attorney Helen, though the character is pretty thin.  Reacher does most of the real investigative work, and unfortunately Helen is relegated to being a damsel in distress by the end of the film.

The film’s piece of genius … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews An Education (2009)

September 27th, 2010
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I saw a lot of movies in 2009, but one of the films that I missed was An Education.  I’ve been meaning to remedy that for a while, ever since the film was released on DVD, and I finally had a chance to watch it earlier this month.  It’s a great film, which I thoroughly enjoyed right up until the final 3-4 minutes.  (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a sixteen year-old girl who lives with her parents outside of London in the 1960’s.  She is studying hard at an all-girls school in the hopes of being accepted to Oxford the following year.  One rainy day, while walking home from school, she meets David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming, wealthy man who is a great deal older than she.  Jenny is impressed by his lifestyle, and his interest in and knowledge of art and music.  David’s charm seduces Jenny’s parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) almost as much as it does Jenny — her mother and father are so excited at the prospect of their daughter marrying such a well-off, intelligent and cultured fellow that they allow themselves to be blinded to the potential downsides of the relationship.

An Education is a fairly small-scale, intimate character study (that’s a compliment, not a criticism), and as such it is carried on the strength of its ensemble cast.  (Though a strong script from the great Nick Hornby helps too!)  That the actors assembled are SO strong is probably why the film was met with such acclaim upon its release last year.  Carey Mulligan knocks it out of the park in her first major leading role.  She brings a fierce intelligence as well as a believable vulnerability to the role of Jenny, a young woman on the verge of a larger education about life than she was expecting.  Peter Sarsgaard is equally compelling as David.  Anyone who’s ever seen a movie before can probably surmise that there’s more to this seemingly charming man than meets the eye, but Mr. Sarsgaard’s compelling performance makes one understand why Jenny (and her parents) can fall for him.

Speaking of Jenny’s parents, Alfred Molina is stupendous as her father.  As with all the actors in the ensemble, he avoids cliche or over-simplification in his performance.  He’s a comic stick-in-the-mud at many points in the film, particularly in the early-going (complaining about listening to Jenny’s practicing her cello, or protesting that he doesn’t want to drive so far to hear a concert), but he also clearly cares for his daughter and is concerned for her well-being.  As his wife, Cara Seymour has the far-less showy role, but she also brings great strength … [continued]