Antony Sher

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War Book Review


With an ingenious concept, this fairly simple film becomes one of the most gripping thrillers of the year even though it rarely leaves a wood-panelled conference room. Since the 1960s, British officials have met to role-play various scenarios about how a global nuclear war might play out, with their findings going into the eponymous War Book. Watching this group go through a fictional scenario is riveting, because it offers striking insight into our precarious political system.

The film takes place during three 30-minute meetings over three days in 2014, as eight relatively low-level officials and one hapless Member of Parliament (Nicholas Burns) gather in a London boardroom. Philippa (Sophie Okonedo) chairs the meeting in the role of the home secretary, as her assistant (Phoebe Fox) reads a chilling brief about a nuclear bomb that Pakistan detonates in Mumbai. Playing the Prime Minister, Gary (Ben Chaplin) takes over, holding emergency votes on diplomacy, humanitarian aid and whether the UK should be quarantined to keep radiation sickness out. And as the situation deteriorates, differences of opinion begin to emerge around the table, most notably about the repercussions of joining with Britain's allies to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

For a movie that consists almost entirely of people sitting in a room talking, this is remarkably visual, never looking like a claustrophobic stage play. Director Tom Harper sends the camera prowling around the room, occasionally glimpsing normal life continuing outside the window. And in between the meetings, the people also have their regular jobs to deal with. Meanwhile, their dialogue is packed with biting humour, power plays, rivalries and some startlingly vivid emotions. While some interaction hinges on short, sharp verbal gymnastics, other segments require much closer attention as the conversations wander through lengthy discussions and anecdotes. The only scene that feels out of place is a pre-meeting encounter between Chaplin and Phoebe Fox that touches on the connection between power and sex.

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War Book Trailer

Nine people from different walks of life who all work for the government are enlisted to take part in a 'scenario' based on decision-making in the event of a nuclear assault. They are given the notice that a nuclear warhead has been detonated in Mumbai, with deaths entering hundreds of thousands, and asked to make a decision on what to do next. It doesn't take long for Gary the 'Prime Minister' to plan a course of action and have his cabinet members vote for it, and when some of the group question whether or not they should be rushing decisions that could affect the lives of millions, it becomes clear that this task is one that some people are happy to take on with a pinch of salt. However, two people in the group understand that this isn't really a fake scenerio at all; it's very, very real and they have to put their social differences aside in order to come to the best course of action.

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The Wolfman Review

This B-movie made on an epic budget is so over-the-top that the earlier you start giggling the better. Even though it's played dead straight, it's an old-style monster romp that couldn't be any more camp if it tried.

American-raised actor Lawrence (Del Toro) returns to his family manor on an English moor, where his wild-haired father Sir John (Hopkins) lives with his Sikh servant (Malik). Lawrence discovers that his brother has just been killed in the woods by a vicious creature, which later wounds him as well, turning him into a werewolf. And on the first full moon, he finds himself on the hunt as well as chased by a Scotland Yard detective (Weaving). But maybe a gypsy woman (Chaplin) and his brother's ex-fiancee (Blunt) hold the key to his salvation.

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Erik The Viking Review

First things first: Terry Jones' Erik the Viking is not a Monty Python film. In fact, only two Pythons appear in it at all.

The film is based on Jones' own children's stories, about vikings living in the dark, war-torn age of Ragnarok. Fed up with all the killing and looting, Erik (a not-so-famous Tim Robbins) leads his villagemates on a quest across the sea to find Valhalla, which involves a magical horn, the edge of the world, an island with no violence (which is a problem for vikings), and of course the usual pillager vandal types on their tale.

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Mrs. Brown Review

Judi Dench earned an Oscar nod for her spot-on portrayal of the troubled Queen Victoria (two years before winning an Oscar for repeat royal performances as Queen Elizabeth in two 1999 films). In the 1860s, Victoria was inconsolable after the death of her beloved husband, so she sends for hubby's favorite horsemaster, Mr. Brown (Connolly). Brown succeeds in bringing her out of her coccoon of misery, but not without drawing the attention of a nosy press and nearly toppling the monarchy in the process. The socio-political side of Mrs. Brown is not so well-realized as the emotional side of the relationship between Brown and Victoria, a gut-wrenching analysis of station and the politics of the heart.
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