Dead Poets Society (1989)

Director: Peter Weir Cast: Robin Williams and a load of nondescript teenage boys

A new English teacher arrives at an exclusive boys’ boarding school and introduces a new way of learning that’s a break from their usual stuffy academia. However, his unusual style doesn’t go down well with everyone.

So after a conversation with a friend in which I stated I thought I’d seen most Robin Williams films, and then proceeded to be corrected when my friend listed off all the ones I haven’t seen, I’m trying to work through his full repertoire. To be honest it probably just feels like I’ve seen all his films as I’ve watched Hook about 3 billion times- but I don’t think I’ll be watching Dead Poets Society quite as many times.

Call me uncultured but I just thought this film was so unbearably dull. I came for the Robin Williams, but I felt like he was barely in it. The scarce bits he was in were enjoyable (funny, but he also does serious very well), but they were interspersed with excruciating scenes about tedious teenage boys, none of whose name I can remember or identify because they all look the same and have no outstanding traits of note, apart for possibly the main two. Even those main two I just didn’t care about- it’s not that they were unlikeable, I just didn’t find them interesting or compelling characters.

I won’t spoil the main climax of the movie, but I thought it was out of place and, to be honest, unrealistic. It was just so over-the-top as a reaction to something that was really not that bad, and I just couldn’t help but think “get over it, you overprivileged nob head”. But, you know, maybe I’m just missing something as the film was an Oscar winner after all (Best Screenplay).

I didn’t like this film (can you tell?) but not because it’s badly made or anything, it just didn’t float my boat. I feel like it’s the sort of film my mum would watch while she’s doing the ironing. Just meh.

2.5 stars 


I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson

Based on real-life interviews with the main protagonists, I, Tonya charts the story of US figure skater Tonya Harding from her early days in the sport to the 1994 Winter Olympics and the controversy surrounding an incident with her main rival. The film explores the abusive relationships she has with both her mother and husband, and how she faces different treatment and judgment because if her “white trash” background.

I had wanted to see this movie because from the trailer it looked like a dark comedy, which is a type of movie I love. However, after watching it I wouldn’t define it as such and I’d say the comedy element is almost accidental, as the whole thing is based on real testimonies so nothing is supposed to be funny- that’s just how it was. There’s actually a disclaimer at the start of the film saying that it’s based on real interviews, totally “without irony”, which I think is important to bear in mind throughout the film as you watch the ridiculousness of the tragedy unfold. This is actually how the real-life people say that the events unfolded, which makes it even more surreal.

The whole story is really very sad, and I liked how the film doesn’t really try to portray the characters as good or bad, but they all have elements of both so that the audience can decide for themselves. I imagine most people will fall on the side of Tonya, but I found her husband Jeff and her mother to have some good qualities too, meaning they weren’t all bad.

I thought Margot Robbie was excellent in this, and while I agree that Frances McDormand was the right choice to win the Oscar for Best Actress, I think this was the best film I’ve seen Margot Robbie in. I was very convinced by her character and I thought she portrayed Tonya’s anguish and disappointment really well. Allison Janney did win Best Supporting Actress- she’s not in the films loads but she is good in it, and I think she had one of those “Oscar moments” when she explains to Tonya why she treats her like she does and compares it to the relationship she had with her own mother.

The film is quite sweary and the storyline most certainly is not family appropriate, but it’s a good drama so I think a lot of people wold enjoy it. As far as Oscar films go it’s not too heavy and pretentious, so definitely at the easier-to-view end of things. Plus, the soundtrack is really good

4 stars

Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane

Winston Churchill has just become Prime Minister following a vote of no confidence in the former PM, Neville Chamberlain, following Chamberlain’s unconvincing leadership at the start of the Second World War. However, there’s not much confidence in Churchill either and a series of events at the start of his premiership forces him to make some controversial decisions.

I love British political history, especially the 20th century, and so this sort of film is right up my street- however I appreciate it’s not for everyone. It certainly helps if you’re familiar with the events, and it’s hard to work out who many of the characters are unless you can work out out from what you know already. It’s very much a thinking film, and not packed with action- although given the circumstances it’s all pretty high tension anyway. It’s long but a lot happens so doesn’t feel too slow.

That said, even it’s not the usual sort of film you’d be in to, it’s worth a watch for Gary Oldman’s performance. I’ve always found Gary Oldman’s roles pretty weird, but he was really good in this to the point that you can’t tell it’s him as he has perfectly encompassed Churchill’s speech and mannerisms (although the prosthetics do help). I really liked King George (Ben Mendelsohn) in this too- I thought it was a compelling part of the plot, a sub-plot almost, to see not only Churchill’s standard WW2 activities that we know quite well but also some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of what was really going on at the time.

This film is Oscar-nominated so worth investigating just for that (so you can confidently discuss it at dinner parties), but also I did learn quite a lot despite already having a good background knowledge of the events, so I reckon it would be interesting if you’re in the mood for a more serious, slow-paced film. I didn’t come out thinking “wow”, but I liked it and will probably watch it again at some point.

4 stars

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Director: Barry Levinson Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, Tung Thanh Tran, Robert Wuhl, Chintara Sukapatana

Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is shipped into Vietnam to take over a slot on the Armed Forces Radio. He quickly starts to make his mark, however, while popular with the regular troops, it doesn’t go down well with his superiors.

Although I love Vietnam War classics like Apocalypse Now, generally speaking it’s a genre that is pretty hard-going (understandably). Good Morning, Vietnam however makes for much lighter viewing while still making its point. From the outset, I was laughing out loud: the first scene in which Robin Williams’ character appears on the radio is brilliant, and it’s joke after joke with barely pausing for breath. Robin Williams is ideal for the role, as he perfectly fits the character of weird and totally in his own world without caring what other people think. A lot of it is also pretty politically incorrect, which is certainly refreshing in this day and age. The 60s pop soundtrack is also great, and I like the way it forms part of the story as it’s used as a contrast against the boring approved radio station music.

The film is really funny and I laughed a lot, but it also has its serious parts. The plot surrounding the radio station is that the news is massively filtered and censored so that the troops don’t hear about anything bad going on- particularly with relation to the likelihood of the war dragging on, which in hindsight we know it most definitely did- and Cronauer struggles with not being allowed to tell the truth. There’s a very sad scene where he’s driving about the town and they meet a bunch of soldiers about to head out to where the war is properly taking place, and while Cronauer is entertaining them there’s a look on his face that he knows they’re probably not coming back.

The one downside, and it’s not a major downside, is the plot with Cronauer and his Vietnamese friends. I just found it unconvincing, and the climax of the storyline revolves around this (without wanting to give away any spoilers) but it’s not particularly hard-hitting simply because I was unconvinced by it. Reading that back it doesn’t make much sense, but probably will if you watch it! Overall though I did enjoy the way it portrayed the tragedy and ridiculousness of the war and a lot of parts were very moving.

This is a great film and is light enough but while still having a strong message. It’s probably not suitable for kids (a fair amount of strong language and violence) but as far as war movies go it’s not bad at all, so I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

4 stars