Their Finest (not to be confused with Their Finest Hours, even though this is based on a book called Their Finest Hour and a Half) is a disarmingly sweet and poignant true story that resonates with empowerment and the power of creativity. Set at the start of WWII, the British film industry is trying to make ends meet as well as provide morale boosts to the public. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, her best performance yet) goes in for a copywriting job and walks out a hired screenwriter, pegged to write the “women’s parts.” Thanks to the depleted workforce, Catrin has an opportunity she never would have otherwise and she blossoms under the crucible of creative collaboration. This was one aspect of the movie that I was very taken with, as a writer and screenwriter myself, the natural progression of creativity, solving a problem, finding a solution, and the elation that follows. The complications keep coming, first from the British film office who need the movie to be inspirational, then from the divergences from the true story of a pair of French girls who stole their uncle’s boat to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, then from working with American producers who insist on an American hero who can’t act, and then from natural calamities of scheduling, casting, and oh yeah, the bombing and blitzes that could obliterate everyone. The movie is alive with conflict and feeling and the sweet story of a woman finding her sense of empowerment in the arts. The movie-within-the-movie is filmed to period appropriate techniques, and Bill Nighy is effortlessly amusing as an aging actor still fighting for some scrap of respect in an industry ready to forget him. The insights into the different stages of film production were fun and illuminating. I appreciated that the war isn’t just something in the background but a constant. It upsets the order, takes lives, and is a striking reminder why these people are doing what they’re doing. The film also rhapsodizes the power of the arts, and in particular cinema, in a way that feels reverent without being overly sentimental or self-congratulatory. A great collection of characters is assembled as a ramshackle sort of family with a mission, and the movie drives right into one payoff after another, lifting your spirits and warming your heart. There is a sudden plot turn that will likely disappoint many in the audience eager for a simple happy ending, but I almost view it as industry satire on the difference between American and European cinema tastes. Their Finest is a small gem with sympathetic characters trying their finest and achieving something great. It’s a rich story that deserves its moment in the spotlight and I’d advise seeking it out if possible.
Nate’s Grade: B+
Being an ardent fan of crappy cinema, I wanted to like this documentary a lot more than I did. Best Worst Movie is a documentary exploring the cult following of Troll 2, a bizarre 1990 horror sequel (that had nothing to do with the original) universally regarded as one of the worst films of all time. It’s all about killer vegetarian goblins that turn people into plants, among other things. Michael Stephenson, a child actor who starred in Troll 2 and got a hard life lesson, directs the documentary. He tracks down other cast members and reminisces about the strange shoot in Utah and their strange Italian director. I expected more colorful anecdotes and analysis, but Best Worst Movie is too navel-gazing. It focuses on the cult movement that has embraced the film and how the actors have found some merit of appreciative fans. Clearly Stephenson is trying to fashion validation for himself and his cast mates. The main figure of focus is George Hardy, a gregarious Alabama dentist who got his first, and only, acting job with Troll 2. He clearly hungers for the spotlight but at the same time dismisses the cult fans as being too “weird.” The best moments of Best Worst Movie are when we peel away the ironic veneer and catch the glimpses of personal joy people find from Troll 2. Whether it’s the audiences in bafflement, or the actors finding a modicum of relief and appreciation, an indescribably bad movie can link people into a loving community. For my money, The Room is the better trashy midnight movie experience.
Nate’s Grade: B