“Their Finest”

Pacifist war movies are quite the thing this year, and I am glad.  ” Land of Mines” ( reviewed here April 6, 2017  ) and “Frantz” ( reviewed below) are two examples.  ” The Ottoman Lieutenant” ( Reviewed March 14th, 2017) and “The Zookeeper’s Wife” ( reviewed April 12th, 2017) are two more. Dutch, German, French, and now British films mark the way for wartime reflection after the fact. “Their Finest” is not a very memorable title, but the re-visiting of wartime film making is: inspire a nation with a story.

What could be better than 700 boats rescuing 338,000 men ?! Dunkirk with an artistic hook.

Making a film to counter the brutal and dispiriting reality of war must be up-lifting and authentic so goes our storyline. A Welsh lassie named Catrin Cole (Gemma  Arterton) is just the girl to get it done. She is hired by the British Ministry of Information to aid Tom Buckley ( Sam Clafin) . Catrin is to include a convincing female viewpoint and uplift a nation. “Putting fire in their bellies” morphs into putting love in our stars’ hearts, but a sparing romance is only one part of our story thread.

Independent women, acting, writing- the humanities all support the cause of making a war movie during war. These are bullet makers of the metaphorical kind, who will inspire a nation. Catrin has problems of her own as she supports her artist/lover ( Ernest) and handles his second-bread-winner status and the tension this causes. Her mantra of ” I earn” still roils some men today. One of my favorite lines comes from their interchange after Ernest is found in bed with another woman. As Catrin speedily removes herself from their garret, Ernst jumps from the bed and follows her. He asks for understanding and then says, ” maybe I shouldn’t have painted you walking away”. Catrin coolly answers, ” maybe, you shouldn’t have painted me so small.”

Amid air-raid practice films, watching the brainstorming of three screen writers is half the fun. Tom, played so well by Clafin, is a cartoon scriptwriter, brutal and rather dispiriting. Catrin is hired to write ” slop”, the name given for female dialogue! One movie storyboard reads: boat, beach, twins. The next idea is changed to hero, dog, and safely home. Dunkirk and the civilian boats that come to the trapped soldiers’ rescue will be the setting and the action. Tie the film-making during wartime to romance, and we have a film that is tragi-comic.

Criticisms from the bureaucracy over the script are humorous. To portray engine failure may cast doubt on the expertise if the British. Catrin is grand at incorporating small, authentic details like a Frenchman attempting to kiss one of the woman boat rescuers. Feminism is underscored with the crisp lesbian secretary telling Catrin that ” a lot of men are scared we won’t go back into our boxes.”

What could be funnier than an aging, narcissistic actor parlaying a leading role?!  Bill Nighy ,as Ambrose Hilliard, commands the screen the same way he demands to drop his ” corpse role”, a star dead before act three. His ” mirror practice” is hysterical as is his mentoring the toothy American actor. Yet, it is our aging thespian who seems to understand the power of the dramatic arts. He instructs the deflated and grieving Catrin with, ” We have these opportunities because men are lost”.

Jeremy Irons plays the minister, who wants an American in the film, even though there are no Americans at Dunkirk. One of the reasons for this inclusion is because over ninety million Americans view a film once a week compared to thirty million Brits. Americans are the brunt of many jokes. ” No barbells for the American” being one. ” Can the American’s teeth be real?! “Just pretend you are Errol Flynn. He can do anything.”

One of the most striking effects of “Their Finest” is the British ethos of ” staying calm and carrying on”. The film’s cinematography, the frames tinted in browns and blues, reinforce a shared sacrifice and the reality of bombs exploding everything into ash. When Tom turns up the music so he can drown the bombs out, we see this spirit, too.

Danish director Lone Sherfig has our emotions roller coasting  throughout the film. She shows women taking charge on and off camera. The London Blitz and Dunkirk are revisited in a unique way both highlighting the arts and the ladies. Beautifully acted and enjoyable fare.


“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.