by Ken B.
In July 1952, Philomena Lee gave birth to a son at a convent in Ireland. Her parents had disowned her upon discovering that their unmarried teenage daughter was pregnant, so she lived out the next few years of her life at that convent with other young women of the same situation. When her child, Anthony, was three, he was adopted. Philomena did not have the opportunity to say goodbye, nor did she even know until the car drove off the premises with her child, a standard event in those days.
Fifty years later, and now a retired nurse, she begins to tell her family about this episode of her life, something she had never done before. This story falls on the ears of Martin Sixsmith, a man who had previously worked as a journalist for the BBC and a spin doctor for Tony Blair’s government. Initially uninterested (he wants to write about Russian history), Sixsmith soon agrees to look at what initially appears to be little more than a mere human interest story, and find out the details of what happened to this woman’s son.
This is the basis of Philomena, based on a true story, and Stephen Frear’s newest film. Judi Dench plays Lee in the 21st century, Sophie Kennedy Clark as a teenager in flashbacks. Steve Coogan, also a co-writer and producer, plays Sixsmith, who wrote the source material, a 2009 book called “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”. Featuring astoundingly good acting and a well paced screenplay with a couple handfuls of wit, this is a worthwhile movie.
Most of the film centers around the search for Philomena’s son Anthony, whose name was changed to Michael Hess following his adoption. We find out that the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies included Anthony/Michael as a close employee, and Sixsmith had even met him during his reporter days. This life in D.C. working for high profile people sounds interesting, but the details of it are given little attention. I would have liked it if this 98 minute drama had focused some more time on giving a deeper look at his life. By all accounts, Martin Sixsmith’s book includes more of this kind of information that he came across.
Nevertheless, what we have is solid. Dench is at the center of the picture, and she carries it marvelously, as she so often has done in the past. Her brilliant performance currently has a comfortable resting spot on the predictions of Best Actress Oscar nominations, and such a nod would be certainly deserved. Coogan serves as a formidable co-star, portraying Sixsmith with an intrepid journalistic instinct alongside a fair sheet of sarcasm and dry humor, at times possibly too much so for his own good.
Philomena is a thoughtful and emotional film, well written and acted. It does not spend any time blindly antagonizing or generalizing, and instead focuses on ambition and the strength of the human will throughout obstacles, embodied in two interesting yet flawed characters (Martin is too impersonal, Philomena the opposite). Despite its errors in the way it divided its attention, there is still a very recommendable film to be had.
by Ken B.
Skyfall is a superb movie; entertaining, witty, and spectacular visually. It’s the twenty-third installment in the James Bond series, marking the film franchise’s 50th anniversary when it was released in the UK on October 26, 2012.
It’s widely agreed that the 007 franchise officially rebooted itself for the 21st century with 2006’s Casino Royale, the first featuring current Bond Daniel Craig. Fans of earlier Bond installments felt it alienated them – there was nothing classic about it. However, this edition contains plenty for newcomers to the series, and longtime devoted fans.
Following a wonderfully shot motorcycle chase eventually accumulating atop a train, James Bond (Craig) is assumed dead, but is revealed to be, well, alive just in time for M (JUDI DENCH) to assign him to track down the source of a hacked hard drive from MI6, the contents of which contained the classified names of all employed agents.
It’s then linked all back to Silva (JAVIER BARDEM), a quick and clever Bond villain who has power and the henchmen to match it, ready to destroy MI6 at any moment.
Also in this series is a new Q (BEN WHISHAW), a mysterious field agent, Eve (NAOMIE HARRIS), an elusive Bond girl named Severine (BERENICE LIM MARLOHE), and a supervisor whom Bond dismisses as a bureaucrat, Gareth Malloy (RALPH FIENNES).
If you skip some off pacing at the beginning of the last third of the film, it’s well paced, keeping your attention at various degrees, but mostly strong, for all 142 minutes.
The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stylish, using up every bit of the 2.35 frame. Thomas Newman finds ways to throw the iconic classic 007 Theme into his musical score, Sam Mendes’ direction creates a proper mood, and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is cleverly written. Craig, Dench, and Bardem especially shine in their roles, with everyone else somewhere on the road between good and very good.
However, few of those things would matter as much without the extremely well done visual effects placed throughout this movie. Every well and good on and offscreen work here works together to create a wonderful cinematic experience.
Definitely one of the strongest installments in the series of the 21st Century, Skyfall is a perfect way to introduce the James Bond series. This concretes Daniel Craig as a solid actor within the series, and shows the 007 franchise still has a few tricks up its sleeve in this love letter to fifty years of shaken martinis.