1917 Review

1917 is the latest movie to explore the horror of war. This time, as the title may have given away, we are in the trenches of the first world war, following two soldiers who must carry a message to another division to prevent them from heading into a trap laid by the Germans. That is essentially the entire plot, and once the film starts, its one long, winding journey all captured in one seemingly seamless shot. 

That effect is the most obvious place to start. Director Sam Mendes teams back up with cinematographer Roger Deakins to produce this one continuous shot effect that immerses you in the film. You discover the landscape and the horrors right alongside our two characters and the film does much of its storytelling visually.  The film shows the cost of war to the people on the front lines, and the majority of the time, the cost is their lives. The continuous camera rolls past scarred battlefields littered with bodies, through abandoned homes that have been turned into ruins.

Being a war film there is violence throughout, but not actually as much as you would think. It’s used sparingly, and that gives the moments it is present much more impact. It’s here where the sound design steps to the forefront and really shines. Every gunshot pierces the air and pings off surfaces. Every explosion is followed by the patter of debris showering down. You genuinely feel at any time anyone on screen could be hit, because we don’t see them as invincible. They aren’t Rambo, they aren’t super soldiers running and gunning their way to their target. Engaging in conflict is terrifying for the people on screen, and as we learn more about Blake and Schofield, we discover they’re as prepared for this task as you or I would be in this situation.

The film starts with Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, being woken up and told to pick a man and meet an officer in a bunker. They don’t have any idea what they’re being tasked with, they learn it with us in the audience, and they have the same amount of time to process it as we do. Schofield, played by George MacKay, and Blake set off and that is pretty much all the setup we are given. It is a very basic plot, but it gives the film licence to explore anything they want on this journey, and the destination is just a target in the distance.

What they explore, as I mentioned above, is the horror of war, and to that end it does a very good job. The films plot and the gimmick of the camera following along is very much a device for Sam Mendes to show how bad things were for these people. The characters aren’t particularly deep, they aren’t there for you to invest in and buy into a bond between men, they’re there to drag the camera through the landscape. As much as this works well for what Mendes was trying to achieve, it feels odd coming out of a film that I really enjoyed watching, but not really feeling anything for the main characters.

At its conclusion, I felt myself feeling satisfied, but not really any overwhelming emotion. It’s very much about the journey, and not the destination. 1917 is a nearly perfectly executed film, a clinic in film making at its best. It is a must see for any film junkies out there who love the craft of the industry. The impact of the scenes throughout can’t be questioned, it just didn’t have that knockout punch I wanted toward the end, but I don’t think that’s what this film was going for.

1917 is a movie that will win a lot of awards, and rightfully so. I don’t think it will be anyone’s favourite movie of the year though. That accolade will go to films like Little Women and JoJo Rabbit this year.

Speaking of JoJo Rabbit, watching this film in the wake of that film being a reminder of how ridiculous the beliefs that start wars can be, 1917 serves a sobering reminder of the cost that those idiotic beliefs incur on humanity.

Good: The best made film in years, it’s an amazing experience for your eyes and ears. Achieves exactly what it set out to do.

Bad: I just wanted that final moment to have a little more impact than it did for me.

9/10 – They will show 1917 in film making classes everywhere. 

Zombieland Double Tap Review

The first Zombieland was great fun and came out of nowhere. I remember seeing it and being completely surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was quirky, funny, and had the 4 main characters had great chemistry. It was also 2009, and by 2014 I had just naturally assumed there wasn’t going to be a sequel. However, 10 years later, we have the next part of the story and once again I am going in with absolutely no idea of what to expect. 

The core cast are all back, with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who has noticeably grown up over the last 10 years while the other 3 look remarkably like how they did in the first one. It’s like they haven’t aged a day, but then Woody Harrelson has looked like he does now for as long as I have known of him, so I guess it makes sense. He’s one of those ageless people like Keanu Reeves.

Anyway, those four returns and seem to have not missed a beat. Their chemistry is once again the engine that keeps this film going. The banter back and forth between them all really does feel like a group that has been together for a long time so I would guess these four are friends outside of the camera as well. The newcomers to the cast add some new dimensions, and top of that list is Zoey Deutch who plays a ditzy, oblivious girl who has somehow survived this long. At first, I thought the character would become annoying very fast, but she does develop a little and is not just the idiot she first seems.

Rosario Dawson is the other newcomer and as always, she is great. She is immediately on the same wavelength as the rest of the group and her chemistry with Woody Harrelson adds a new dynamic to his character. I’ve talked about the cast so much because really, they’re the best thing about Zombieland Double Tap. Beyond them and some funny “Zombie Kill of the Year” bits, there isn’t much else here beyond some zombie killing.

The plot is fine, the action scenes are fine, and the special effects are great. That could kind of sum up this film unfortunately. There is no clever plot here, it’s basic and it serves its purpose of giving the characters a reason to go somewhere. Beyond that there is no intrigue or “what’s going to happen”. There is rarely a moment when you worry about any characters and when you do, it’s never for too long. The new Zombie types are fun, and the cleverly named T-800 (Zombieland’s main box office competition is the new Terminator) is an interesting idea, but they quickly become just another part of the horde.

The action scenes do have some fun moments, but there are only so many times a zombie being shot in the head is that entertaining. The film sets up a more interesting fight at the end, but then the finale happens a bit too quickly and there is no time for any cool action scenes. The last fight is practical, rather than entertaining, and even if there are some fun visuals a couple of times, my highlight of the films action was a cutaway skit to a guy murdering zombie in Italy.

What is odd about Zombieland Double Tap is that it doesn’t bring much new to the table, but still feels fun, fresh and enjoyable. It’s a movie we have had before, but the 10-year gap makes the reunion feel like more fun than if we had a sequel a couple of years later. It’s rare that comedy sequels made 10 years later work (see Zoolander 2) but somehow the formula of the first film still holds up in 2019. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, I can’t say I need another Zombieland anytime soon, so perhaps revisiting in another 10 years wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

It’s one of those films where your expectations need to be in the right place when you go in. Don’t expect a stunning sequel that surpasses the first, it doesn’t even try to be that. It’s an update on what’s happened to the characters you enjoyed first time. Like a postcard from someone you lost contact with, you will probably smile, laugh a little, and then forget about it all over again.

Good: Great chemistry between the cast with some laughs. Some laugh out loud moments that got me good.

Bad: Unambitious, very little original content, and unadventurous action scenes.

7/10 – Zombieland is Fine, and I think that’s what they were aiming for.