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.

REVIEW: The Post

I’ll be honest: Going into The Post, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy it.

I love the 1960s and the 1970s for the sheer number and importance of things that happened then, so naturally I’m interested in the Pentagon Papers. I love writing and journalism, too, so naturally I’m interested in The Washington Post, too. But in the back of my mind, when I walked into the movie theatre, there was a small, nagging part of me that was eager to file this away quickly as another melodramatic period drama that would be fine, sure, and entertaining to watch, but not particularly revelatory or groundbreaking.

Of course, I was completely wrong.

One of the things that kept me hesitant toward the beginning of the film ended up being one of my favorite things about it: its protagonist. The Post tells the stories of numerous people involved in the release of the Pentagon Papers, but mostly of Katharine Graham, played by the always-illustrious Meryl Streep. Katharine is the unlikely owner and publisher of The Washington Post—having inherited the paper after her husband’s suicide—and she is heavily doubted, not only by others but by herself. For much of the first half of the movie or so, she socializes with people and tries to remain polite and unthreatening. The ultimate thrill of the movie comes from watching Katharine slowly come out of her shell and start asserting herself within her own company—and that’s saying something, for a movie so ripe with lawbreaking, espionage, and national drama.

Katharine’s relatability as a character is furthermore doubled by the film’s approach to gender inequality. The film is full of masterful shots that work to display the bizarreness of Katherine’s situation; in one scene, for instance, she walks through a crowd of women waiting outside while a meeting is in progress, and when she enters the meeting, everyone else there is a man. One of the most triumphant moments comes when she walks down the steps of the courthouse after successfully breaking the Pentagon Papers story, surrounded on all sides by a crowd of quiet, adoring women. These moments are not overstated or in-your-face at all; in fact, the conflict presented by the fact that Katharine is a woman, while obvious, is left largely unspoken, with only a couple of exceptions. This is very refreshing to see, because it both feels truer to real life and speaks to the film’s ability to present a conflict without needing to have all of the characters loudly call it out.

What ultimately makes this film great is its even-handed attention to both style and substance. The intelligent shots and scene-setting are bolstered by a quality screenplay, seamless directing from (of course) Steven Spielberg, and a magnificent soundtrack from (again, of course) John Williams. But The Post is also deeply interested in its characters and in what makes them complicated. Katharine is deeply uncertain, and she and her editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), both face a complex dilemma in that they are personal friends with many of the people whose reputations would be ruined by the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Yet, even as these characters are forced to grow and to make difficult decisions, they still feel natural throughout; rather than doing cheap 360s, they mature within themselves in ways that are completely three-dimensional and thoroughly rendered.

The film leaves off on a particularly satisfying note: a winking hint at the Watergate scandal that followed soon after the publication of the Pentagon Papers. As a historical drama, The Post is so successful at revealing character, saying new things, and staying engaging, that when I left the theater, I couldn’t help wanting to see more. I wanted a new movie all about Watergate, a Post sequel. But I have a feeling you would have to track down all the same people in order to get it done right—after all, when you bring the likes of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and John Williams into a room together, you can’t help but get something wonderful out of it.


Journalism is an exciting, varied, and often under-appreciated field; recent attacks on “fake news” constitute a common example of the criticism under which journalists often fall. But journalism is really one of the most crucial and demanding fields out there, and the questions of ethics and courage are ones that journalists often have to face. The challenges undertaken by journalists came into the spotlight (sorry—I had to) in 2015 with Spotlight, and this year the subject is back with The Post.

The Post chronicles The Washington Post (of course) in their attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers. In addition to journalism, of course, I’m very interested in the Pentagon Papers, their political implications, and the ways in which they affected public perception of the U.S. Government. I’m excited to see how The Post handles these questions in a way that is both respectful of history and relevant in 2017.

The Post is currently playing at the Michigan Theatre.

REVIEW: Call Me by Your Name.

“The usurper,” Elio calls Oliver from his upstairs window – the openings lines of the film.

We watch this infamous Oliver, an American graduate student, arrive at their summer home to aid Elio’s father in archaeological research. He’s keenly named usurper, as he takes Elio’s room and supplants life as they would know for the next six weeks. And in the languid landscapes of Northern Italy, the days bleeding into each other, six weeks seems like a paradise stretching on forever; as long as summer lives, so does their time together.

But in the end, Call Me by Your Name is about a moment of tangency. It’s about a complex relationship, detached from real life, simplified by the bubble of time it occupies. Luca Guadagnino carves immense detail from this solstice haze, a fervent intensity as the seventeen year old Elio explores a first love and Oliver reciprocates with passionate abandon. Moments of pleasure are impeded by their imminent departure, and in a scene where Oliver teases Elio with the threat of biting into an erogenous peach, the latter begins to cry as their relationship becomes deeper, and the transience of it more corporal.

Summer is the spine of them. Their growth, melded to green scenery, sunbathers, swims in the river – trees ripe with apricots, the sun hitting water – these are beautiful things, but they are not melodramatic things, not otherworldly nor terrific. Call Me by Your Name is not a perfect, cinematic love story, glossy with theatrics. But like the music sheets stuffed into Elio’s backpack, papers tucked away in books, the little notes slipped underneath doors – there’s something messy but sincere to Elio and Oliver.

Love is hard. Loss is pervasive; loneliness is a million miles deep. The summer days turn into snow, to scarves and candlelight, to a phone call, and maybe to the end of something good. But life goes on.

It’s only at the end of the film, when they exchange their names over the phone for the last time, that the revelation of the moment feels unfair. No longer wearing the rose-colored glasses of summer, reality hits like the winter and the viewers can feel the injustice of this unrequited love, the imbalance of Elio’s heartbreak. We remember that Elio is only seventeen when he asks his mother to pick him up from the train station, when he cries in the car, when he makes honest mistakes, a vulnerability that exists delicately.

Timothée Chalamet is a natural here, playing all the complexities of his precocious character: effortlessly talented but lacking awareness, knowledgeable but young, introverted but mischievous. In the last four minutes of the film, guided by Sufjan Stevens’ carefully crafted soundtrack, Timothée Chalamet does the remarkable job of holding an audience all the way through the credits and long after the movie ends.

Despite my only misgiving in that the turnover of their relationship was almost too quick, Call Me by Your Name is a lovely and detailed portrait of a relationship. It’s beautiful to watch even in a pure aesthetic sense, with gorgeous palettes of the Italian countryside, intimately filmed moments, and an incredible soundtrack – the backdrop to something both universally sweet and utterly heartbreaking. As Elio whispers “Elio, Elio, Elio,” waiting for the last time he hears Oliver, the film leaves you to reflect on all the moments, good or bad, in those six weeks – a summer usurped for a lifetime.

Watch Call Me by Your Name at the newly re-opened State Theatre! Tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There are certain things that make me really glad that I’m alive at the point in history that I am. I’m glad to have grown up with Harry Potter, for instance, and to be alive at the same time as Paul McCartney. One of these things is that I’m glad to be able to go and see Star Wars movies in theaters.

Seeing a Star Wars movie in theaters is, I think, a great experience no matter which movie it is. There’s the wave of almost tangible happiness that washes over everybody with the opening notes of the theme song, and the yellow letters beginning to scroll out backwards through space. There’s the clapping and cheering whenever familiar characters like Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) show up onscreen.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode overall and the second installment in the latest trilogy, delivered in pretty much every major way. We got to see interesting developments in terms of the characters that we already know and their relationships with each other, and we also received the pleasure of being introduced to new characters and new relationships.

One of the definite highlights of The Last Jedi was the addition of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who teams up with Finn (John Boyega) to try to sabotage an enemy ship that has the ability to track the rebel forces through light speed. Rose was charming and relatable (even fangirling over Finn’s hero status when we first meet her), and she’s also gritty and layered. She’s not afraid to let images get in the way of the way she sees things, and we actually get to see some of her backstory up close with the death of her sister, Paige (Veronica Ngo). She also acts as our introduction to one of the previously un-glimpsed sides of Star Wars: the back characters. Rose is a technician, normally a behind-the-scenes role in the Star Wars universe. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense in this movie to pair her with Finn, who was a background Stormtrooper before he joined the rebellion in The Force Awakens.

To me, The Last Jedi felt overall like an embrace of the idea that anybody can be a hero. Rose, for one thing, was brought to the forefront. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage, a lingering question for fans, was largely dismissed, which was a fresh turn in a franchise that has long been preoccupied with the power-infused lineage of Darth Vader’s family. Wealthy circles of society were outright criticized for their reliance upon forced labor, exploitation, and war profiteering. The film also ended with a glimpse of a young peasant boy using the Force to grab a broom, then looking up to the stars with a close-up of the Resistance insignia on his ring.

Finally, when Rey claims that the Force is “a power that Jedi have,” Luke Skywalker himself tells her that that is completely wrong. The Force is not exclusive to Jedi and Sith; it’s the balance between all things and all people. By removing the Force’s explicit attachment to the Jedi, and by showcasing heroes from all backgrounds and walks of life, The Last Jedi comes closer than any previous Star Wars movie to espousing what the series is all about: that anybody can be a hero if they decide to choose good over evil. Obviously, the Force doesn’t appear everywhere, but this movie shows us clearly that it can come from anywhere.

There are almost too many good things in The Last Jedi to count: the performances of newcomers Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, and Benicio del Toro; the development of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as a villain and of his terrifically interesting relationship with Rey; the immortal strength of Leia and of Carrie Fisher. There’s the fun cameo from the eternally awesome Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), and the affection between pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB-8, and the chemistry shared between pretty much every single character onscreen.

In short, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is doing pretty much everything right. It is a more than worthy follow-up to The Force Awakens and to the rest of the Star Wars franchise, and hopefully a very good indication of things to come.

PREVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I can still remember when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. I hadn’t seen a Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back had come out when I was in elementary school, which I remembered being a huge deal, but one I was still a little too young to appreciate. I saw The Force Awakens twice in theaters and spent hours talking to my friends about what we thought of Rey, Poe, and Finn, and that crazy climax with Kylo Ren and Han Solo, and what Han, Luke, and Leia had been doing all these years.

Even that feels like forever ago, which is why I (along with, undoubtedly, so many other people) am so excited to see The Last Jedi in theaters. The second installment in a trilogy usually ends up being my favorite, personally — Catching Fire might be a good example — because it’s not as emotional and melodramatic as the closing chapter often is, but you’re still familiar enough with the characters by that point to know who to root for. The Last Jedi is definitely going to show us more of Luke, which is something to look forward to, as well as likely to expand on the relationships we’ve already gotten to see between Rey, Poe, Finn, Leia, and Kylo Ren.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say what this new movie will bring, but there is one thing we know for certain: The Star Wars franchise has a history of success, so it’s reasonable to expect good things.