First Hit: Given the previews I watched, I liked the story and sections of this film far more than I thought I would.

In full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Tolkien’s writings. I didn’t like “The Hobbit,” and I did my best to sit through the Peter Jackson films based on his books.

However, given my previous view, I did like the story behind J. R. R. Tolkien’s (Harry Gilby as the young Tolkien and Nicholas Hoult as the elder) emergence as a person and writer of these stories.

I was pulled in by how he did his best to support his mother and brother before she died. How he was able to not be bitter in his becoming an orphan and living in a home with his brother and Edith Bratt (Mimi Keene as the young and Lily Collins as the elder) as guided by Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney).

Father Morgan (Colm Meaney) was given charge of Tolkien and his brother after their mother’s death. Father Morgan placed Tolkien and his brother at the home of Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris) and ensured them placement in a good school. Although they had no money and were placed in a school full of privileged students, through trials as shown in this movie, both boys found friends.

J. R. R. founded a group of four boys that met daily to discuss the ways of the world, share dreams of changing the world, and create dares to push each other to be leaders. These flashbacks made this film come alive with poignancy and adventure.

 When watching J. R. R. slowly develop his relationship with Edith, I was totally captured. The strength emanating from Edith (both actresses did this extraordinary well) was perfect for J. R. R. Together they challenged each other, but it was her pointed darts at his mind, heart, and soul that brought out the best in him.

All of this was very well done. However, what didn’t work for me, and I’m not sure why, is that most of the past scenes of this life - before his becoming a professor, were based on his flashbacks while slogging through the trenches in WWI. The darkness, hopelessness, and drive within himself to find his friend put a damper on this film and story. It appeared to be the point of many of the war visuals is that they contributed to the visualizations Tolkien eventually used in his later stories of battles.

For me, it took away from the story in ways that hurt the overall film.

The highlights were Tolkien’s meeting with his friend’s mother and sharing where the young men use to meet and discuss the world while convincing her to publish his friend’s poems — a lovely moment. All the scenes Tolkien has with Edith were outstanding and influential. The group of young men committing their love of their friendship with each other was a beautiful scene. Tolkien’s interaction with Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) was both funny and quirky. And I enjoyed Father Morgan’s confession that he was wrong about Edith.

Harry Gilby as the young Tolkien and Nicholas Hoult as the older Tolkien were outstanding. How each portrayed the thoughtful, inquisitive, Tolkien was perfect. They made this man come alive. Mimi Keene as the young and Lily Collins as the elder Edith, for me, were the highlight of the film, acting-wise. The power behind her character showed through with elegant integrity. When they were on the screen, I was totally engaged. The moment she shares with Tolkien what her life is like, playing songs for the homeowner, I felt her struggle to live. That scene was perfect. Jacobi was terrific as the quirky professor of languages. Meaney was excellent as Father Morgan. He was both strong and contrite. David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford wrote the script. Although I didn’t like the drudgery in the trenches, the other scenes were wonderfully drawn, and the dialogue between Tolkien and Bratt were sublime. Dome Karukoski directed this film. Again, the only dislike for me was using the WWI segments as a place for him to reflect on his life.

Overall: I was clearly struck by the power of Tolkien and Bratt’s relationship as written and portrayed in this story.

The Aftermath

First Hit: It took a while to develop, but Keira Knightley (as Rachael Morgan) made it work.

Keira Knightley has developed into a wonderful actress, and her look and presence are uniquely suited to period pieces.

The beginning shows Rachael on a train arriving in Hamburg, Germany. It’s a few short months after WWII has ended. She’s coming from England because her husband Captain Lewis Morgan is in charge of rounding up the remaining Hitler supporters, keeping peace in Hamburg, and trying to make things better for the ruined city.

This is a difficult position for him to be in and we see it in his face and demeanor. One thinks that having his wife join him that it will be better. But when he meets Rachael at the train station, there is a distance between them because they barely hug, and she turns her head away when he awkwardly attempts to kiss her. Something has happened between them, and this part of the story takes a long time to unfold.

Because of the distance between them, Lewis can’t share the difficulty he has with his job. He’s not only battling something that’s gone wrong with Rachael, but he is also facing own past actions in the war, and now he’s managing the aftermath of the war and its ugliness.

The Germans are giving up their surviving homes to the British who are managing this reconstruction. Because Lewis is the highest ranking, he gets the best home. They move into a large luxury home belonging to Stephen Lubert and his daughter Freda (Alexander Skarsgard and Flora Thiemann respectively).

Stephen’s wife died in a firestorm bombing by the Allied forces, and because of this, Freda acts out and is very resentful that the British are living in their home. Stephen and Freda are supposed to move to a camp, but Lewis’ kind heart convinces Rachael that he wants to offer the Luberts a place to stay.

The angst of Rachael and Lewis unfolds as the audience slowly learns that they had a son who died years earlier during a bombing run by the Germans over London.

Feeling very separate from her husband, Rachael’s inner passion is sparked to life by Stephen’s advances.

In another part of the story we see Freda and Rachael have a beautiful moment together at the piano but Freda’s resentment at the loss of her mother, home, and feeling distance from her father, she gets involved with Nazi sympathizers who want information to harm Lewis.

In addition to this, the inner conflict of Lewis is continually brought to a head by one of his fellow officers Burnham (Martin Compston) who is hell-bent on continuing to make the Germans suffer. Lewis is more reflective, seeing the pain of both sides, while Burnham wants the Allied victory to be oppressive and pronounced.

As Rachael and Stephen’s relationship grows, the distance between Rachael and Lewis becomes more pronounced, until the deep hurt and resentment come to the foreground. Will the attempt to heal their struggle be too little too late or can they reconcile.

That’s the point of the film. As I indicated it took a meandering path, and the story wasn’t really engaging, but because the camera stays on Knightley (as Rachael) it holds together because she made it work.

Knightley was excellent. She’s full of passion and approaches it angularly. I like how Kiera can project sexuality while also being proper. She’s very skilled. Clarke is keen as the embattled Army Captain who is battling both inner and outer battles. He’s effective at creating that hidden volcano look. Skarsgard was terrific as the lonely man attempting to deal with the ravages of war including the loss of his wife and the distance between him and his daughter. Thiemann was terrific as the young girl, lost. With no mother, distant father, finding some solace with a Nazi sympathizer teaches her what really is essential. Compston was good as the soldier wanting to assert his power over the Germans. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse wrote the screenplay. It languished from time to time, but it did pay off in the end. James Kent adequately directed this film, but it was Knightley that made it really work.

Overall: It wasn’t a great film, and it did have something to say about sharing your pain with your partner.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.

They Shall Not Grow Old (3D)

First Hit: This is one of the most amazing film restorations ever completed and the story it tells is astounding.

Two things that happened that sandwiched the actual film: 1) Prior to the film we learn that there is no war memorial in the US capital for WWI veterans, who effectively assisted in ending this war with their European counterparts. 2) At the end of this special presentation Director Peter Jackson shared a thirty-minute film about how they rejuvenated and revitalized these historic 100-year-old film prints.

From the opening moments you know this is going to be amazing. There is a small square scene of men marching. The pacing of movement which is usually all over the place in old films isn’t present. The pacing feels real. It is in 3D, but then the frame starts getting larger exposing, ever so slightly, more of the vision. You hear the marching and murmuring. Then voice overs of men who served in this war.

The film voice overs are men from WWI and as the film flashes back to England, we see where these men came from. They talk about how important it was to fight this war. They talk about how young many of the men were. In fact, one soldier was only thirteen, when you had to be nineteen to be eligible to join the army. All the while the images on the screen are of these young men learning and being trained on how to fight.

Slowly the film turns in to color and with the amazing technology of today, we are watching colorized 3D versions of original film shot over 100 years ago. It is utterly sublime and awe inspiring work.

We travel to Europe where we are in the trenches readying to make a final assault on the Germans. We see the first tanks used in wars. But as the film explained, this war was about artillery and how it shaped the battles from in the trenches.

As section chief in an artillery unit overseeing a 105” howitzer in Vietnam, I was entranced with the large guns used in WWI. Not much changed in all those years. The gunner, assistant gunner, primary loader, and how the breach blocks were opened and closed manually. I was transported back to my own experience.

The ending credits are accompanied by a song sung by British soldiers at that time. Mademoiselle from Armentieres is a song which bawdy lyrics were made up on the spot and as a marching song it is fantastic. Using British voices from a group of men in the English consulate their rendition brings joy and a smile as this film ends.

Jackson had many challenges. First to select the story he wanted to tell. There is a ton of footage, but he thought sticking to the British foot soldier would bring home his own heritage. Then finding ways to bring the films pacing to normal speed was challenging. Cameras back then were hand cranked so the film was created at lots of various speeds. Then the question to colorize it was asked. To Jackson credit, he simply asked, if the camera men of 100 years ago had a choice; black and white or color, which would they choose. I agree with Jackson’s choice to colorize it. In this film he worked hard to wonderfully and accurately use the right color. Even using his personal stock of WWI clothing and materials to judge the coloration process. In the film, he occasionally has one of the people in the film talking. Although, back then film did not have a soundtrack, Jackson hired lip readers who figured out what some of the soldiers were saying, then by hiring people from that region of England, had them say the lines. The amount of effort Jackson put into this film is phenomenal and shows up on the screen – perfect.

Overall: When a film moves me from sitting in a seat in a movie theater and takes me to another place, it has done its job. This film does this in spades.

A Private War

First Hit: First Hit: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

War isn’t just about the leaders of countries with idealistic differences and the soldiers of those leaders; it is about the victims of this conflict. Colvin was a committed pioneer in going into conflicts and documenting, in newspaper articles, the stories of the families, wives, mothers and children of wars around the world.

The film begins with her covering the conflict in Homs, Syria, and then segues to some of the previous wars she covered in her career. Sri Lanka is where she lost sight in her left eye. This causes her to begin to wear a black patch that became part of her persona. Then the film takes us on tour with Colvin as she goes to various war zones in the world to see how she covered these wars and how she uncovered her powerful stories.

What we learn is that she was fearless in action although she felt fear. She was incredibly rebellious against authority whether it be the publication she wrote for, or with the leaders she interviewed. Watch her poignant questions to Libya’s Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, commonly known as Colonel Gaddafi. An outstanding scene.

Early on in her investigations she had difficulty finding a photographer that would work well with her. Then she happened on Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) who became a wonderful companion and friend to Colvin.

As for Colvin’s personal life, we see early on her defensive, reactive nature towards her former husband and people really close to her. She allowed few to get close and preferred to be harsh and flippant to the people who cared about her. She drank heavily (“started drinking at age 15”), and suffered from PTSD. For a short time, she took up residence in a hospital to help her deal and process the horrible events she lived through.

What we don’t get a deep dive on is Marie’s background. I kept wondering why she was so rebellious and reckless with her own life. Not only did she put herself in positions where she could be killed, she smoked incessantly and drank excessively.

However, through all this self-destruction she was able to relate to mothers (although she didn’t have children herself), and families with deep compassion which came out in her writing.

Pike was fantastic. When, in the credits, we hear the real Colvin’s voice, we notice that Pike got her voice perfectly. Dornan was excellent as Colvin’s photographer. It’s nice to see him in a non-villain role. Tom Hollander (playing Sean Ryan) as Colvin’s foreign correspondent boss was excellent. It must have been difficult to manage someone who had such a strong will while looking out for his reporter's health and welfare. Stanley Tucci as Tony Shaw, Colvin’s late in life lover was strong as the guy who accepted Colvin as she was. Corey Johnson (as Norm Coburn) a photographer that was always first one in and last one out of a conflict was fantastic. Nikki Amuka-Bird as Colvin's closest friend Rita Williams was wonderful. She was frankly supportive of Colvin. Marie Brenner wrote a strong script allowing Matthew Heineman to deliver this complex story in an engaging and powerful way.

Overall: I wanted more background about Colvin, yet I was blown away by the depth of the story of her in war zones.