PREVIEW: A Quiet Place

Recently, The Michigan Daily did an interview with John Krasinski, the director, co-writer and star of A Quiet Place. Krasinski first came into the public eye for his starring role as Jim Halpert on the American version of The Office, and it has been captivating to watch him branch out into more dramatic territory in the years since the show ended. In the interview, he talked about his goals for A Quiet Place, and the conscious decisions he had to make regarding sound and music, since the characters in the movie can’t make a sound without being attacked by violent creatures.

As someone who loves the horror genre, I’m incredibly excited to see the approach that this new film will take, and how it will use the lack of sound as an advantage rather than a detriment. It should also be interesting to see how the real-life chemistry between Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Sicario), his co-star and wife, plays into the movie and translates onto the big screen. A Quiet Place is currently showing at various theaters around Ann Arbor, including Rave Cinemas, Emagine Saline and the Quality 16.

PREVIEW: Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is a horror movie about a game. The premise of a thrilling or suspenseful movie being built around a sleepover game isn’t a new one; we’ve seen it done before, in movies as recent as 2014’s Ouija and 2016’s Nerve (which actually used the same truth-or-dare premise, albeit in a much more techno, futuristic setting). Maybe the deal is that we get a new one every two years, and in 2020, we’ll get a scary movie revolving around “Two Truths and a Lie” or “Never Have I Ever”.

Truth or Dare looks like a standard slasher horror movie, the kind with a bunch of teenage friends getting picked off until it all comes down to one Final Girl. While it doesn’t appear to add any promising innovations or creative new spins to the genre, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just fun to go out with your friends on a weekend night and see a horror movie, even if you’re not sure what to expect from it. The movie looks entertaining, and hopefully it will be able to bring some old tropes into fresh territory in its execution. Truth or Dare is currently showing in several local theaters, including Quality 16 and Rave Cinemas.

REVIEW: Darkest Hour

The Oscars happened this past Sunday, prompting, as always, a great deal of praise, backlash, and warring responses. People have celebrated Jordan Peele’s screenwriting win for Get Out and argued Guillermo del Toro’s victories, with The Shape of Water taking Best Director and Best Picture. One of the most controversial wins seems to have been Best Actor, which was awarded to Gary Oldman of Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour chronicles Winston Churchill during his appointment to, and very early days in, the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During these early days, fellow politicians are relentlessly pressuring him to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler, whose control is rapidly spreading across all of Western Europe. Churchill refuses to consider the idea of a peaceful resolution; in one particularly impactful and memorable scene, he shouts, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

The main plot that rides along with the conflict of the film is that of Dunkirk and Calais, where the last of the British army has been trapped by rapidly advancing German forces. This is interesting given that the movie Dunkirk was also released last year, which focuses entirely on the battles being waged while the high-tension conversations of Darkest Hour were taking place. Darkest Hour doesn’t entirely measure up to that level of excitement, for understandable reasons, but it does include quite a lot of impassioned arguing, quotable speeches, and shouting within small rooms. In other words, it’s true to form: It’s about Churchill.

The best thing about the film is probably Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill. He looks just like him (a feat which earned the film an Oscar win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and he offers what many have agreed to be one of the most convincing portrayals of his career. There are many conflicting sides to Churchill — he could be courteous and caring, but he could also be brusque and abrasive. During one memorable scene from the movie, Churchill is dining with King George VI, who tells him that many people — including the King himself — find him intimidating. Churchill seems surprised, but it’s not hard to see why people would be intimidating — as George points out, one can never be sure how Churchill will react to anything. Whether or not he deserved the Oscar for it (my opinion is no, but only because Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out was also in the running), Oldman is wildly impressive and convincing throughout.

The film has a few weak points, mostly in terms of its inclusion of women. The poster for the movie features two female characters — Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James as Clementine Churchill and Elizabeth Layton, respectfully — which seems promising at first glance. However, this proves to be somewhat misleading. Thomas and James offer very strong performances, but they aren’t given very much screen time to work with, and they seem somewhat incidental to the plot, especially in comparison with the many male characters.

Ultimately, the film is indeed a very strong period drama, and it succeeds in its twin missions of documenting an important moment in history and elucidating some of the mysterious facets of Churchill’s character. Given the immense strength of so many other films released last year, I personally think it lacks some originality in comparison. However, viewed independently, it is a strong piece of film and an enlightening character study of one of the major figures of the twentieth century.

PREVIEW: Darkest Hour

The Oscars are almost upon us, and all the buzz surrounding recent movies is finally going to come to a head. Lady Bird turned heads last fall for its run as the best-reviewed film ever on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has proved both stunningly unexpected and stunningly controversial; and Call Me By Your Name has received praise for its intimate presentation of a 1980s gay romance in Italy.

One of the few Big Picture nominees that I actually haven’t heard that much about, surprisingly, is Darkest HourDarkest Hour stars Gary Oldman — a longtime seasoned actor, who may be recently remembered for his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise — as Winston Churchill during his early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It promises to resemble both a character study of Churchill himself as well as a document of many of the political conversations behind World War II and the spread of Nazi Germany. This will be an interesting angle because one of the other big films this year, Dunkirk, portrays the other side of those conversations: the actual military conflict.

Darkest Hour looks to be a serious and impressive political drama, and I look forward to seeing whether it will live up to its peers. It is currently showing at the Quality 16 in Ann Arbor.

REVIEW: Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood

A strange image came to me on Saturday night, while I was watching Joshua Bell walk out across the stage of Hill Auditorium for the first time. The vast auditorium was packed with people — some college-age, many adults — and a sweeping wave of applause rolled across the many rows and balconies at the sight of him coming out. I had been to Hill Auditorium once before, to see the Avett Brothers my freshman year. For some reason, the thought occurred to me of how different it was, watching Joshua Bell walk onto the stage versus watching the Avett Brothers — or any musical group in the popular sphere with a large following — do the same thing. There were no whoops or hollers or screams of, “I love you, Joshua!” He walked slowly and professionally, violin in hand. The thought struck me out of nowhere and seemed like a funny one.

Yet in the world of classical music, Joshua Bell is the equivalent of a rock star. He’s been one of the most famous violinists in the world for years, and has played at numerous enviable venues around the globe. So while they weren’t leaping out of their seats or holding up signs with his name on them, the audience members did burst collectively into a roaring applause when they saw him.

And he didn’t disappoint. The first item on the program was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major, K. 454,” which starts out very calmly. I was surprised at the soft, understated nature of the performance, but the piece soon picked up in excitement and speed. And no matter what the mood, Bell and Sam Haywood, renowned pianist and Bell’s fellow performer, were able to handle it with deftness and grace. The violin sonata was at turns playful and dreamy, energetic and tender. It was splendidly interesting to watch as Bell and Haywood appeared to trade phrases of the piece off between the two of them; one moment Bell’s playing would be more pronounced, with Haywood’s piano muted softly in the background, and the next, it would be the other way around.

This pattern continued throughout the rest of the concert. The next piece they played was Richard Strauss’s “Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18,” which they approached with the same level of attentiveness, care, and passion. Bell moved around the stage a great deal, seeming to feel the music physically during particularly enlivened moments. Bell and Haywood, who have played together on many occasions during the past, continued to blend their respective sounds together seamlessly, responding to one another in volume and time as if they were having a genuine conversation through their music.

The third piece on the program, and the final listed prior to the concert, was Franz Schubert’s “Fantasie for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934.” This piece showcased the same skill and emotion, and it was an added pleasure when, following an encore, Bell announced two additional pieces from the stage. Much like a rock star, he closed out the night with encores and wild applause. When all was said and done, the auditorium was as alive with excitement as it had been waiting for him to come out for the first time a couple of hours earlier. He might not play rock music particularly, but the man is unquestionably a star.

PREVIEW: Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood

This weekend, Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood will be performing live at Hill Auditorium. Bell is an incredibly famous and successful violinist, and Haywood is a well-known pianist who has toured extensively in the United States and in Europe, performing in many major concert halls along the way. The two have worked together as a duo several times in the past.

I’m personally very excited to see Joshua Bell, because his name has been familiar to me for years. My parents are both musicians, and I’ve heard a lot about him from them; he also grew up in my hometown and attended my high school! (He’s pretty much the only famous person who has, so his name is thrown around a lot there.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in concert myself, though, so I’m very excited to finally get to see him perform live. I’m also looking forward to seeing Sam Haywood, with whose work I’m less familiar but who also has a glowing reputation.

Bell and Haywood will be performing this Saturday at 8:00 PM at the Hill Auditorium. The program will feature works of Mozart, Schubert, and Richard Strauss.