Tag Archives: Colin Firth

The Railway Man

It takes more effort to convincingly tell a story about reconciliation than it does one about revenge, as I found with The Railway Man, a gripping study of post traumatic stress disorder, the horrors of war and the scars they burn into people, often having lasting effects years later. Colin Firth plays real life WWII veteran Eric, who was captured by the Japanese along with his regiment and held as prisoner of war for some years in a hellish POW camp. His fixation and uncanny knowledge of railway systems all over the world unfortunately is misunderstood by the Japanese, resulting in brutal torture and interrogation which goes on for months, and when the war is over and they are released, turns him into a broken, haunted man. He eventually meets, falls in love with and marries Patti (Nicole Kidman), but the time spent in that camp has left wounds that seemingly will never heal, and he finds it hard to cope. His friend and fellow veteran Finley (Stellan Skarsgard) complicates matters when he discovers that one of the Japanese officials responsible for his treatment is still out there somewhere, and can be located. It’s a fascinating situation, for the man (Hiroyuki Sanada, full of haunting complexity) has changed and bears scars of his own in ways that Eric could not imagine before coming face to face with him. Their meeting and correspondence raised many questions about the nature of war and what it brings out in a person versus how time changes ones feelings, perhaps heals some wounds and shifts perspectives greatly. Director Jonathan Teplitzky tackles the story in a straightforward, traditionalist manner, letting the emotional beats speak for themselves, keeping the camera and editing mellow to allow the actors to organically perform. Firth is a brilliant actor who too often get me stuck in syrupy roles, he shines here especially well when he’s faced with the darkness of memory and we see exactly that reflected in his eyes. Sanada has the toughest role but lands it squarely, never cloying or reaching for emotional straws but rather letting the anguish build to a tipping point and than breaking down naturally in what has to be the film’s best, most honestly realistic scene. Kidman radiates compassion and is around for less of the story but still says a lot with her screen time and does excellent work. Kind of an under seen gem, this floated by off the radar back in 2014 but it’s rich, well told drama with three brave, finely tuned central performances.

-Nate Hill

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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a blast of serotonin in cinematic form, a pure ‘happy’ movie that may be even more fun than the first. I’ll level with you though: to enjoy it you’ll need to a) love the music of Abba, and b) not be one of those stiffly stiffersons who puckers their sphincter at the very mention of the word ‘musical.’ Both those boxes are heartily checked off for me, so it’s nothing but a glowing review on this end. Sunny Mediterranean skies, an unbelievable all star cast clearly having some of the most fun of their careers, all the glorious Abba music you want and a heartbreaking poignancy that both blindsides you and wasn’t quite all the way there the first time around, what’s not to love? Sure, it’s gimmicky, ditzy, silly beyond compare, but like Mrs. Mia Wallace would say, don’t be a 🔲. Staged as both sequel and prequel, this one zooms back to the raucous 70’s to show us just how Meryl Streep’s Donna found her way to that idyllic Greek island and stumbled into the hotel business. She’s played by Lily James here who is a true find, a charismatic beauty with a singing voice that could clear a cloudy day right out. The amazing, uncanny thing here is how they’ve managed find young actors who really do emulate their older selves, in the case of the three famous potential fathers she meets, and her two hilarious best friends, played again in the present by scene stealing Christine Baranski and Julie ‘Mrs. Weasley’ Walters. Amanda Seyfried has really come into her own as an actress, I’m always looking forward to whatever she does next because I know she’ll do it with grace and gravity, and her character blooms here as a strong pillar of the story as opposed to the fresh faced bride role she got in the first. Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard return and give the film a shot of humour and warmth, while Andy Garcia charms everyone in a role which ties into a hit Abba song later in a way that’s so funny you don’t know whether to clap or roll your eyes. And yes, Cher is in it, her voice is still a powerhouse but she must have had so much work done that she’s more synthetic that organic these days, she’s gotta be in her early 70’s and looks like she just got done recording like her second album, it’s slightly terrifying. If you’re a true Abba buff you’ll appreciate two wicked cameos from founding members cleverly added. The film is fluff and sunshine for the most part, with emotion being relayed by the not always deep or resonant lyrics of Abba, let’s face it, they were a playful disco band. Curiously, there’s one song that really plumbs depths and reaches the most grounded and emotionally truthful height from both actors and audiences that these films have ever ascended to, and, not surprisingly, it’s the one song we get from Meryl Streep, who sadly has no more than a hyped up cameo, but five minutes of Meryl is enough to turn anything gold, really. This seems like an unreleased Abba song, one from mother to daughter sung to Seyfried, and anchors the film right into lucid pathos that I didn’t think was possible with a jumping bean of a flick like this. Like I said before, it’s love it or hate it. I grew up listening to Abba on vinyl, and these songs are a part of me. Every actor in the cast is someone I love to see, it’s set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, uses the power of music to literally give nutrients to the soul, and is the perfect recipe for summer escapism.

-Nate Hill

Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far

I love Colin Firth very much as an actor, I think there’s a wealth of intensity and charisma behind that befuddled, cute British persona, and I love how in recent years he’s branched off and started trying out all sorts of roles and genres he hasn’t done yet, he’s really underrated in terms of versatility. I also love delving back into the last few decades with actors and perhaps finding hidden gems I never thought of or didn’t notice before. (Every time someone calls me out on being lost in my phone or texting some girl it’s usually because I’m just intently perusing an actor’s IMDb for titles I’ve missed). Hugh Hudson’s My Life So Far is one such gem, a lovely, charming piece based on the memoir of Dennis Forman, a man who grew up in a great manor in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by friends, family and nestled in that calm period between World War One and two, where life seemed idyllic. Young Fraser (Robert Norman) lives an eclectic life out there that’s the perfect setting for a poignant memoir. His loving father (Firth) strives to be a strong disciplinarian but has a tender heart and a playful disposition, his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, gorgeous as ever) is the same. The conflict arises with the arrival of a beautiful distant relative (Kelly MacDonald) who gets everyone a little hot and bothered and awakens the first hints of sexual desire in Fraser. The grandparents hover in and out of their lives too, played by Rosemary Harris and a gruff, hilarious and compassionate Malcolm McDowell. Life gets topsy turvy in all sorts of ways, especially when an aviator from royal descent (Tchecky Karyo) crash lands his plane directly on their property and immediately tries to woo MacDonald. It’s one of those slice of life comedy dramas that doesn’t strive to say something lofty about the big picture of humanity or plumb for subtext beneath, but simply exists to enjoy as the recalling of one person’s life, or rather a piece of it. A lovely one.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale is a gong show, and not in a good way. I’m not talking about the De Palma film of the same name, which is a gong show in a good way. This thing is a sad, no budget little tv flick from back in the day starring Colin Firth, who has seen better days than he has here. It’s a strange psycho sexual ‘mystery’ in which none of the plot points really make sense and each scenario gets a little more ridiculous than the last. Firth plays a fairly meek dude who’s recently married a mysterious girl (Lisa Zane) that he doesn’t know much about, and she turns out to be someone different entirely, leading him on a dull goose chase across the country to find out just who he tied the knot with. Zane is Billy Zane’s sister by the way, and speaking of him he’s on this too as Firth’s eccentric friend, which is a hoot because you get to hear him refer to his sister as a ‘diesel dyke.’ The central mystery involves several identities she takes up and more than a few multiple personalities brought by by unconventional therapy from a shady psychiatrist (the great Scott Wilson in a hammy extended cameo), but ultimately its hard to care about a story this loosely threaded, far fetched and just plain silly. Watch for some gem cameos though from the likes of Danny Trejo as a worldly tattoo artist, Catherine Coulson (the beloved Log Lady on Twin Peaks) as a nun who delivers some exposition and then peaces out and character actor Pat Skipper as a rowdy henchman who steals scenes like nobody’s business. Overall it’s a fairly useless piece of fluff though, painfully average and inconsequential.

-Nate Hill

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY -A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another.”

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is a film I have watched countless times, and a film I look forward to constantly revisiting. It’s easily one of my favorite films of recent years. It’s a simmering, taut film that is masterfully constructed with painstaking detail.

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Tomas Alfredson creates a lived in world of spy v spy. Timelines are blurred, present day and the past intermingle throughout the duration of the film, and all we can do is absorb it. The cast is remarkable; each actor is laid upon Alfredson’s pallet, and he takes his time softly brushing each one across the screen.

Gary Oldman is in top form, giving his most low key performance as George Smiley, the master spy. Oldman spends a majority of the film silently lurking, watching, listening; stealthily seeking the traitor in their midst. Colin Firth cashes in on his career’s worth of affability, slyly charming his way throughout the film.

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Alfredson, along with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoyteman and production designer Maria Djurkovic build a smoky and dreary world of moral ambiguity in which the characters hide in the shadows, and enter into a game that has already been resolved before it begins.

The film’s ending is as heartbreaking as it is rewarding, resolving just enough to satisfy the audience, but desperately leaving us wanting more. While certain events of the film are closed, there is so much more to be told. The beauty of the craftsmanship of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is that it shows us very little, yet tells us everything.

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