Their Finest

April 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: Gaby Chiape (debut)

Recent history has shown that the entertainment industry really loves making films about the entertainment industry. We have seen a propensity for filmmakers and storytellers to make films about the production of film, music, or other art forms, especially throughout moments of history. In “Their Finest,” a movie that is based on a novel rather than a true story, a spin on this idea is presented, with mostly strong results.

During World War II, the British military, in an effort to keep up morale and volunteers in an increasingly difficult war effort, is churning out propaganda films. In an effort to give the films a more “womanly” touch, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) must pair up with writer Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to create a film about the the Dunkirk evacuation. As they struggle to find the balance between providing what the military wants in a propaganda film and making the film good, personal relationships are strained and tested as they must fight to make the movie they want in the midst of war.

By far, the most impressive element of “Their Finest” is its performances. Arterton and Claflin have strong chemistry (even though their trajectory can be spotted from a mile away), with Arterton having delivering on a showcase role. The MVP of the cast, though, is international treasure Bill Nighy. Struggling with admitting that his leading man status is quickly waning, Nighy plays pompous perfectly, while nailing the nuances of a far-too-serious actor who is protecting his craft.

But while the strength of the movie lies upon its actors, there are a few things that aren’t quite up to snuff. One of the biggest problems facing “Their Finest” is the urge to tell, not show. There’s a lot of characters speaking about how great or talented someone is, talking about problems or elements of screenplays or work, but very little of it is happening on screen. Without that context, it is really hard to dig into the story and buy what they are selling. It also misses the mark when the script explains the differences between men and women in the workplace. Slight comments are made about wages, but it only seems to scratch the surface of true issues of inequality.

There are also some pretty predictable story beats, which feel as if most viewers will be able to, at the very least, figure out where the story is headed and how it’s going to get there. That isn’t to say that the narrative isn’t effective when it needs to be, it just all feels a little derivative, though performed in satisfactory ways.

The film misses a few opportunities to really make a statement about the advancement of women in the entertainment industry, though the themes of war-time fear and stress are nicely constructed. Though “Their Finest” isn’t quite the strong female-empowerment movie it wants to be, it is a well-performed, and at times well-written and well-told story.

Tamara Drewe

December 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Stephen Frears (“The Queen”)
Written by: Moira Buffini (debut)

Based on a series of newspaper comic strips, which were later used to create a graphic novel, “Tamara Drewe” proves to have a much more interesting personality when printed on paper than she does in an actual feature film. Despite actress Gemma Arterton (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”) doing her best to draw us in with more than her short shorts, the title character reveals herself to be surprisingly unlikeable.

Tamara’s negative characteristics would not be completely intolerable if you can believe that is exactly what two-time Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears really wanted from this British farce. Unfortunately, it feels like somewhere in the translation from the page to the screen, first-time writer Moira Buffini loses touch with Tamara. Watching her jump from bed to bed, it probably was a little difficult to keep up.

In the film, Tamara, a frisky newspaper columinst, returns to the countryside town of Dorset, England where she grew up and causes a ruckus among the reclusive men of a writing retreat who are all spontaneously inspired by her presence. The men, including farm owner Nicholas (Roger Allam), who is already cheating on his wife Beth (Tasmin Greig), are smitten. Call Tamara a muse if you want, but she’s trouble any way you look at it.

While it might have been easy enough for Arterton to run away with the picture because of her initial charm, the most substance audiences will gather is within the writer’s retreat. Greig hasn’t received enough credit this year for her supporting role as a woman scorn. Bill Camp (“Public Enemies”) is also memorable as Glen McCreavy, a writer obsessed with novelist Thomas Hardy who wrote “Far from a Maddening Crowd,” which is actually the real-life inspiration for the original “Tamara Drewe” comic.
 
Still, once we leave the comfortable confides of the writer’s camp, “Tamara Drewe” spreads itself thin among a collection of characters better suited for blathering British TV. Tamara of “Tamara Drewe” might be easy on the eyes, but once she starts sharing awkwardly-written dialogue between lovers, it’s much easier to just tune out.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

May 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)
Written by: Boaz Yakin (“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”), Doug Miro (“The Uninvited”), Carlo Bernard (“The Uninvited”)

With the exception of 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” Jake Gyllenhaal always seemed like the type of actor who couldn’t be wooed by the bells and whistles of mainstream Hollywood. From standout performances in unique films like “Donnie Darko,” “The Good Girl,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” so much of Gyllenhaal’s on-screen attraction has been the fact that there wasn’t much action-hero attitude in him begging to escape.

So, it’s a bit surprising (not only because he’s playing a Persian, but looks nothing like someone of Persian descent) that Gyllenhaal signed up to star in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a movie adaptation of the popular video game series created by Jordan Mechner in 1989. While the title might sound like a gaudy Middle Eastern soap opera, there’s nothing remotely dramatic about this lazily-scripted story. Like most over-produced Jerry Bruckheimer mainstream hullabaloo (with the exception of the first “Pirates of the Caribbean”), “Persia” is not so much entertaining as it is a dizzying experience.

Adopted from the streets as a boy by the Persian king, Dastan (Gyllenhaal) – although he is not of royal blood – has been raised just the same as the king’s biological sons Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle), who is next in line for the royal throne.

Disobeying his father’s wishes, Tus commands the Persian army to raid the Holy City of Alamut when he receives word from his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) and his spies that the city is supplying weapons to Persia’s enemies. To make amends for their betrayal against the Persian king, Tus claims Tamina (the breathtaking Gemma Arterton), the Princess of Alamut, as his wife. It’s a short engagement, however, before the king arranges her to marry Dastan instead.

But when Dastan is framed for the murder of his father – an incident he has no motive for, but makes matters worse by fleeing – he and Tamina team up out of necessity. Now running for their lives through Persia, the duo must survive long enough to find the king’s real killer and, of course, fall in love. Mixed into the absurd narrative is a magical dagger, which possesses the power to send people back in time.

Don’t attempt to break “Persia” down any more than you have to. That would surely defeat the purpose of a Bruckheimer-produced film. The less brainpower used on the CGI-heavy fantasy, the more likely you are to appreciate its kitsch. In this instance, however, dumbing down “Prince of Persia” into gawky scenes of swordplay, romance and unintentionally funny anachronistic dialogue shouldn’t be enough reason to give Bruckheimer a blessing to fund another pointless journey into another of these sand traps.