Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour

By: Kevin Jordan

Churchill would like his soul back.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

Darkest Hour is best described as the deleted scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  It’s the Deep Impact to Armageddon, but not moronic.  Darkest Hour takes place during the couple of months from when Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the British Army’s evacuation from Dunkirk (basically, spring of 1940).  It focuses on the politics behind the appointment of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as PM and the clashing of ideas between Churchill, Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) with regards to confronting Hitler and the war.  If you have ever wanted a glimpse at what Churchill may have been like, I’m pretty sure Oldman conjured the ghost of Churchill so Churchill could possess Oldman, in order to portray the most accurate version of Churchill possible.  My wife walked into the room mid-movie and her reaction was “that’s Gary Oldman?!”  While Darkest Hour isn’t nearly as compelling as Dunkirk, it will still have you on the edge of your seat wondering if Churchill will make it three months before the King (Ben Mendelsohn) sacks him.  Darkest Hour is also a great example of a movie seemingly designed for its main actor to win an Oscar and Oldman definitely makes his case.  If you love historical, political biopics like Lincoln, you will love Darkest Hour.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask for Oldman to end the séance.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

By: Kevin Jordan

She’s tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.

ppz

That’s right – I just quoted Jane Austen.  Well, actually my wife quoted Jane Austen because she’s seen Pride and Prejudice approximately 174 times and I’ve seen it once.  And, not the crappy Keira Knightley version, but the long, long, long, loooooong BBC version with Colin Firth.  But, I have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so when she said the line, I recognized it.  Are you wondering if I have a point?  Me too.  I think it’s that I am familiar with 19th century English literature and not just an action movie junkie, but that could just be the zombies talking.  Because what’s better than 19th century literature being invaded by zombies?

It’s been a few years since I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I remember laughing out loud during the first page.  Looking back at it, the book opens with a statement about zombies wanting brains, then moves to a scene in which Mrs. Bennet is trying to discuss with her husband the business of marrying off their daughters while he is cleaning muskets and sharpening blades.  It’s this juxtaposition throughout the entire book that makes it such a fantastic read.  My only hope going into the movie was that they kept that dynamic and didn’t take the zombie part too seriously, lest they follow in the awful footsteps of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.

Based on the trailers and the opening scene of the film, it looked like my fear would be realized.  Rather than open the film with Ye Olde English and the Bennets, then interrupting them with a mild zombie attack, the movie opens with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) identifying and slaying a zombie, followed by the opening credits overlaid with a narration of the current situation in England.  Like I said, this film did not start off well.

(Mild SPOILERS to follow, but only the zombie kind.)

It then moved into that opening scene from the book and I started to relax just a little bit.  The Bennets were delivering their familiar lines and scenes and the plot of Pride and Prejudice took over the film.  Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) reopened Netherfield Park and, with Darcy at his side, threw a lavish party to celebrate.  All of the Bennets attended, with Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) hoping to marry off Jane (Bella Heathcoate), Elizabeth (Lily James) noticing Mr. Darcy and being generally disgusted with him, the three younger sisters – Lydia, Mary, and Kitty (Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, and Suki Waterhouse, respectively) – giggling at all the men, and Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) grumbling that he is more worried about his daughters being Shaolin-trained warriors than being well-married.

What?  I told you I’ve seen the original PBS film; I know their names.

The point at which I heaved a big sigh of relief came during said party when Elizabeth stomps outside and encounters a zombie, the former lady of Netherfield Park.  She begins talking to Elizabeth (we’ll come back to this in a moment) and walking towards her when her head suddenly explodes.  Of all the things I was expecting to happen in the next few seconds of that scene, exploding head was not one of them.  As the rest of the theater let out a gasp and burst of laughter, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the film as I had enjoyed the book.

Getting back to talking zombies, this was another aspect of the film that I was not prepared for.  In the book, there are no talking zombies, nor are they a major part of the plot.  They are just there wreaking havoc and forcing the English elite to practice martial arts in their dojos.  For the movie to be a little more compelling in the plot department (I said I’ve seen the original movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t fall asleep at some point), they added some depth to the zombies.  Some can talk and some can set traps and some can organize a zombie apocalypse to sweep through London.  By the end of the film, this becomes the main plot, but not so much that it completely overpowers the love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  If they had done that, this movie would have ended up sucking.

While not perfect, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came about as close as it could to delivering the heart of its source material.  It never takes itself too seriously and all of the actors are in on the joke (especially Lena Headey as the one-eyed Lady Catherine).  Like Ms. Austen wrote in the book – “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”  Or something like that.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, they did these zombies proud.