Friday, April 28, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Their Finest (2016)

THEIR FINEST (2016) is an enjoyable film about the production of a British morale-boosting film made during the London Blitz.

At the start of the 1940s, with England in the thick of World War II, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) suddenly has the opportunity to jump from copywriter to screenwriting. Catrin ends up working with two men (Sam Claflin and Paul Ritter) to provide the "woman's angle" on a film about the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The movie is loosely inspired by twin women who took a boat to Dunkirk, but since they weren't able to make it to shore, Catrin must embellish their story. The scriptwriters also deal with varied demands, such as the Secretary of War (Jeremy Irons) wanting the film to help rally Americans to fight for England. To that end, a real-life American-born RAF fighter pilot hero (Jake Lacy of MISS SLOANE) is worked into the cast, despite the fact that Americans weren't at Dunkirk  -- and despite the fact that he can't act!

On a personal front, Catrin struggles with her relationship with her significant other (Jack Huston), a painter, while feeling a quiet attraction toward one of her writing partners (Claflin).

THEIR FINEST is a solid film which gets a lot right. The cast is excellent, with strong performances from Arterton and Claflin, and Bill Nighy is a scene-stealing gem as an aging actor.

I especially liked that the script avoids cliches for Nighy's character; the scene where he's finessed into serving as acting coach to the pilot who can't act is a gem, as are subsequent scenes of him working with the young man.

It's a terrific role and performance by Nighy. Another scene where he leads the film crew singing in a pub is genuinely moving, as is a scene where he tells Catrin that, as an older man and a woman, the war has given each of them opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had.

The "woman's angle" is not just something Catrin provides for the movie within a movie, but it's a running subtext for the entire film, whether it's Catrin being told she won't receive the same pay as the men or the Secretary (Irons) repeatedly patting her shoulders as he makes his pitch for using the film for diplomatic purposes. The tone regarding this seemed just right; enough to make the viewer think about it, yet not so heavy-handed that it pulls one out of the 1940s setting.

The movie is also largely successful conveying an authentic London of the '40s; we know there must be some green screen work involved, but it didn't feel as overt to me as it did in, say, THE IMITATION GAME (2014). The film actually shows fairly little of the city, which probably made it easier, yet it captures the feel of London.

Where the movie let me down was in the "movie within a movie" scenes. Yes, movies in the '40s filmed in tanks and had fake backdrops, but the finished "movie" doesn't really look like anything actually made in the era, and it's also a shade too hokey to be taken seriously. The scenes work if you look at them as satire, but there's an extended sequence near the end as Catrin watches the film with a genuinely moved audience, and what's on screen is simply incongruous with the audience's reactions. I found this a significant problem in a film which is otherwise quite good; it almost, perhaps unintentionally, insults the audience in the film for being so easily manipulated.

To a lesser extent, I was disappointed in a character death I found entirely predictable, although I must say I didn't see the manner of death coming. The staging was also odd in that everyone walks off and leaves someone alone in the aftermath, who clearly shouldn't have been ignored at that moment. I wished the movie hadn't felt the need to go that direction with the story.

I've read a number of strong reviews of the film, and while I enjoyed it quite well, I think there tends to be what I've started to think of as a LA LA LAND (2016) phenomenon, where anything that's creative and different, with filmmakers thinking "outside the box," gets reviewer bonus points that might not really be warranted.

That said, the "different" setting was part of what made the film enjoyable to me; the Blitz is part of any number of actual '40s films I like, such as CONFIRM OR DENY (1941) or one of my favorite musicals, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), but it's certainly a change of pace for a brand-new film.

It's worth noting that this summer will see the release of Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK (2017). The two films could end up making an interesting double bill one day!

Supporting actor Jack Huston (seen at left) is the fourth generation of the Huston family to work in films; he is the great-grandson of Walter and the grandson of John, his father being Tony Huston. Anjelica is his aunt. The cast also includes Diana Rigg's daughter, Rachael Stirling.

The movie was directed by Lone Scherfig. It was filmed by Sebastian Blenkov. The script by Gaby Chiappe was based on a novel by Lissa Evans. The running time is 117 minutes.

The trailer is here.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R. There is a brief scene of a couple "caught in the act" and a couple of scenes showing bombing victims. All are telegraphed in advance for those who want to avoid looking, but parents may want to steer clear of this for children. The up side is the film's depiction of resilience, hard work, and patriotism under very difficult conditions.

All in all, THEIR FINEST may be somewhat oversold in some quarters, but it's a good film which I do recommend seeing. I liked it and will want to see it again.

Finally, a couple of my periodic comments on the current state of the moviegoing experience, following posts of January and September.

First, one has to really want to see a movie these days, knowing that before seeing it you'll have to sit through a good 20 minutes of trailers, some of which are quite disturbing. I found the trailer for THE BEGUILED (2017) upsetting, and I was also unhappy having to sit through several minutes of Al Gore yelling in AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (2017). And when I recently saw THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017) that meant sitting through several extremely violent action trailers completely different in tone from the movie I was there to see. Sigh.

Also, the trailers were played at full volume and perfectly understandable, but the volume on the movie itself then dropped significantly. Not ideal when we were straining to pick up some of the voices with their clipped British accents! It seemed to us to reflect the lack of a projectionist actually paying attention and adjusting accordingly. I'm going to want to see this again on DVD in part to pick up the dialogue I missed.

Movie-going issues such as I've written about here and in the past make me extremely grateful to have so many great experiences seeing older films at theaters such as the Egyptian and the Billy Wilder.

12 Comments:

Blogger Irene said...

Glad to see your review on this. I have been keeping my eyes open for it and it sure isn't playing in very many theaters. The only place I would consider going fairly close to me is UA6 on PCH. Is that where you went? I know when I see an R rated (seldom do that) or PG-13 then I am in for previews I don't care to see. When I go, I may just plan to wait it out in the lobby! Now finding the time to go is the problem :) If I miss it, I will get the DVD from the library.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Irene! Wonderful to hear from you!

I saw it at the Bella Terra Cinemark in Huntington Beach. It's not that much further away than the UA if you hop on the 405, and probably a nicer theater; it's been years since I've been to the UA6, where I was once a regular patron, so maybe they've rehabbed it since my last visit.

It's not a bad idea to wait in the lobby during the previews, if you've got your seat saved. It's one thing to sit through dumb trailers, but the disturbing ones are just not cool when you've got a captive audience sitting there waiting for their movie!

I think you would likely find THEIR FINEST enjoyable and would be interested to know what you think when you catch up with it!

Best wishes,
Laura

9:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

PS The above said, Bella Terra *did* have that issue with the low sound volume, so that's something to factor in as well. It wasn't so bad that we wanted to take time away from the movie to go report it in hopes someone would adjust it, but it was noticeable and a bit annoying.

Laura

9:49 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Not having seen either this film or LA LA LAND yet, I can't comment on the specifics, but...I do think that anything "outside the box", anything that's new or different does in fact deserve bonus points simply for that.

Even if the movie is lousy, just being something apart from the cookie-cutter, sell-the-tickets, drug-the-masses regular movie meal is worth, at the least, a pat on the back.

And before anyone says otherwise, this assembly-line, same old same old movie production scheme is not a phenomenon of the 21st Century and it's got nothing to do with CGI. Typical, predictable, cliched movies have been around since probably the third or fourth movie ever made, and anything that jumps the fence is to be endorsed, even if that jump is followed by an immediate face in the dirt.

On another point, Bill Nighy is a world treasure. Long may he wave.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I don't know if the UA6 has been rehabbed, but I find it to be OK. My friend and I meet there frequently to see movies and then walk over to Ruby's for a late lunch (or early dinner). I like it when the movies are playing in their largest theater, but I doubt this one is. I have a free movie coming to me on my member card so may as well use it :) Also this theater seems to show the movies that aren't blockbusters but have an appeal for older females or are somewhat on the artsy side. Glad we still have a place to see movies like that!

11:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Rick!

I agree with you to an extent, but I think the problem I have with some reviewers is that instead of saying they really like a film's different elements, as I have, they use that "outside the box" element to tip the scale overboard toward rave reviews, not being willing to also address a film's flaws. So we end up with films which are overpraised. I'd like to see "different" movies encouraged and given that pat on the back, as you say, yet in the context of a more realistic review. JMHO!

Nighy was really wonderful, if you like him I think you'll enjoy the movie!

Irene, I appreciate the feedback on the UA6 as I've wondered a couple of times in recent months whether I should consider it.

I used to love Ruby's, we took our kids there all the time when they were little, and then they changed their fries a number of years ago...but there's Lucille's and In-N-Out across the street! :)

Best wishes,
Laura

11:58 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Rachael Stirling is in The Bletchley Circle, streaming on Netflix. I watched all of it a year ago.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Ashley! I recorded Season 1 of THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE but haven't watched it yet. My husband watched and enjoyed it. Thanks for adding that!

Best wishes,
Laura

9:12 PM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

I just saw this movie based on your review and enjoyed it very much. (I love the $5 senior matinee at our local art house!) How fascinating that Jack Huston is continuing the family acting tradition. He certainly has inherited the talent. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura! -- Jane

7:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jane!

I'm so glad you got to check it out and enjoyed it (and can't beat that price!). Thanks very much for letting me know and for adding your thoughts so others considering seeing it will have additional input!

Best wishes,
Laura

3:41 PM  
Blogger Hamlette said...

I have the soundtrack for this because I love Rachel Portman's music, but haven't had the opportunity to see the film. So I was really happy to read your review! When this comes to DVD, I will try to see it.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Was finally able to see this movie today at UA6. I totally forgot about the warning you gave on the previews and ended up watching 15 minutes of them. The only one that bugged me though was Al Gore :( The others weren't too bad and a couple of them I might want to keep in mind for future viewing. One of them is My Cousin Rachel based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. I enjoyed the movie very much and the sound was fine. But that said I did have a hard time understanding some of the dialogue which I don't think was a sound problem but just the British way of speaking. I do want to see this again on DVD with my headphones on. I find I have to do this with British movies and TV shows. I also had a hard time getting into it at the beginning but began to understand things about 1/3 of the way in. Regarding the one character's death. I did not see it coming. I felt the same way about this as I did a death in The Dressmaker - blindsided and disappointed. But all in all a fine little movie. And I did have to laugh at how they changed the sisters story and then kept changing and changing it until it really didn't resemble what happened at all!

5:09 PM  

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