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. 

Little Women Review

On my journey home from the office before seeing this film, I decided to watch a trailer to give myself an idea of what I was in for. I must be honest, the trailer did nothing for me. An hour later, I was in the cinema ready to experience the film for myself and tried to cast the shadow of a trailer that made it seem like a generic love story out of my head. 

I remember seeing the Suicide Squad trailer and being extremely excited. The action was cut to the beat of the music, and Jared Leto looked mental as The Joker. Of course, when I saw the film, I discovered it was a mess. Well Little Women is similar to Suicide Squad in one way:

This film should not be judged by its trailer.

Little Women is based on a novel of the same name by author Louisa May Alcott in the 1800s, and it has been adapted for the silver screen, the small screen and the stage countless times over the last 100+ years. When a story has that kind of staying power, you know there must be something to it. I knew nothing more of the story going in than it was based on a popular book but coming out I can see why this story has resonated with people for so long.

Telling the story of 4 sisters who all have their own dreams and the film jumps between their formative teen years and their young adult lives. Set in the 1860s, a period I normally struggle to get immersed in, we follow Jo March, played by Saoirse (Sersha) Ronan, as she tries to make her own way in the world. I won’t say much more as a lot of people will already know the story from the book. If you don’t know it, you get to experience it all like I did. With no idea what was coming next.

Top of the things to praise in this movie is the cast. Leading the line is the aforementioned Saoirse Ronan, and she is phenomenal. I have only seen her in one film before this, Lady Bird in 2017, and she impressed there and has improved to the point where she is now one of the best young actresses working. She has been nominated for two academy awards already, and more are bound to be on their way, with a win not far off I am sure.

Backing her up, and rivalling her for the title of best young actress around, is Florence Pugh, fresh off her great performance in Fighting with my Family earlier in 2019, she plays a completely different character here and still owns all the scenes she is in. Meryl Streep and Laura Dern are both exceptional as well, and the other sisters Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen both do decent jobs, the former starting to show she might not always be instantly recognised as Hermione. I know that’s more of a problem in my own head with just associating her with that character, but this is the first time I have seen her and really bought her as any other character.

Timothee Chalamet, pronounced Timotay Chalomay, is the main male presence, and he continues to be an ageless quantity. He can look any age between 10 & 30. I haven’t seen him in too much, just Lady Bird that I can recall, but he shows in Little Women why he is being expected to become a huge star. He is charming at times, and then borders on creepy and unnerving when the moment requires it.

It’s not too often I praise a score in a movie. I don’t tend to talk about them too much unless there is a real stand out moment where the score shines, but in this film I found the use of the score, and at times the use of silence, to be extremely powerful and it really helped with setting the tone of each scene.

There is a key scene in this film that is one of those “That is why I watch movies” moments for me. It’s a scene which nearly got me to tearing up, in which there are no words. The combination in the scene of the score, the cinematography, and the actor’s performances are all you need to feel all of what is happening and that is when Little Women is at its best.

The scene nearly got me to tear up, but didn’t, and a reason for that is because it comes so soon after another which meant I was still kind of processing it. It really comes down to the decision to split this story in 2 timelines, and that device, whilst it used well throughout, felt a bit out of place in that scene. To be honest it’s not a huge problem, but I noticed it in the cinema, and I can’t help but feel it could have had even more impact.

The other element of this film I wasn’t too keen on was the Love story element. I won’t elaborate to avoid spoilers, but there are events towards the end of the film that didn’t quite play out in a way that fit with the characters. Writer Director Greta Gerwig does try to get around this in a quite clever way, but the ambiguity at the end left a little bit of a blemish on this otherwise great picture.

I said in my review of JoJo Rabbit that “Films are at their best when they make you feel emotions”. Little Women achieves that, gives us a great world to live in for a little bit and throws in some characters you will be invested in. With all that going for it, Little Women is one of the better films you can see in cinema’s right now.

Good: An excellent cast put in great work, beautiful cinematography and an expertly used score. Emotional ride will hit people.

Bad: Love story element was a little unearned and ambiguous at the end.

9/10 – Little Women, Big Score. 

 

 

 

JoJo Rabbit Review

Some films are funny. Some films make you laugh. Some films make you want to cry. Some films have powerful messages. Some films take all of that and combine it into one incredible experience. JoJo Rabbit was that film for me. 

I should preface this with the fact I am a fan of Taika Waititi’s style and comedy, and its satirical nature gets me laughing. With a film like What we do in the Shadows, Taika showed his raw talent for satire. JoJo Rabbit feels like an evolution of that film maker, and with age and experience comes the knowledge of when to use humour.

JoJo Rabbit, if you didn’t know, is a film about a ten year old member of the Hitler Youth, who is all in on the Nazi message, and has an imaginary best friend, who just happens to be Adolf Hitler himself, but through a ten year olds eyes. I won’t say more, as I really do think this film should be seen. I don’t want to risk numbing you to all the twists and emotions that play out through the film.

I must mention the cast, as I haven’t seen any of the children in anything before, but they’re all fantastic. The title character JoJo is played by Roman Griffin Davis and considering the whole film revolves around him, it’s a shockingly good performance. Opposite him are Tomasin McKenzie as Elsa (not that one) and Archie Yates as Yorki. Considering the subject matter, they are working with, the fact these three all deliver such great performances is a testament to their talent and the work of director Taika.

Praise must be given to Scarlett Johansson as well, she plays JoJo’s mother and I will not go into detail on the role, but she is excellent at being the heart of the film and coming across as a genuinely good person.

Director/Actor Taika is wonderfully weird and over the top as imaginary Hitler, and that makes the ridiculous things he is saying and doing acceptable. He is a ten-year old’s image of the horrific creature we know from history, and the film’s refusal to acknowledge him as anything but an over embellished bullshit peddling maniac is perfect. Yes, what the Nazi’s did was horrendous, nobody in this film argues against that. JoJo Rabbit treats the ideals that these awful people tried to instil in an entire country with the contempt it deserves. They’re portrayed as ridiculous, because that’s how outlandish and stupid the things they genuinely believed were.

The subject matter gets heavy at times, and those moments are given the room they need. The film has a lot of ups and downs, but crucially with a film on this topic, it ends it in such a positive way that you leave the cinema with a smile on your face. I had high expectations going in, and to come out with them surpassed is unbelievable to me.

The only reason I can see people not enjoying this film is because of the way it handles such awful people in the way I described above, if you’re someone who can be offended by some of the subject matter, I would advise steering clear. For me, the message and the handling of the subject is perfect as I stated, but I know that won’t be the case for all, but that’s kind of the only thing stopping me from recommending this movie to everybody.

Films are at their best when they make you feel emotions, be that at the emotional crescendo of this film, or when Iron Man snaps his fingers in Endgame, or when Woody grabs his friends hands as they head towards a garbage incinerator in  Toy Story 3. They are all moments that make you feel something, and JoJo Rabbit does it consistently throughout making this one of my very favourite films.

Good: Great Performances, Excellent Script. A Funny, Tear-Inducing rollercoaster that leaves you smiling.

Bad: Satirical handling of sensitive subject matter might not work for everyone.

10/10 – This is my favourite film of 2019

 

 

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review (NON-SPOILER)

“This will begin to make things right”

That was the first line of this new sequel trilogy, and The Force Awakens gave a lot of people a lot of hope for a new trilogy. Following that we had Rogue One, showing that it doesn’t have to be a saga film. Then came The Last Jedi, and Solo, and they both divided and then jaded the fan base respectively. The Rise of Skywalker had a lot on its shoulders, could JJ Abrams possibly land this trilogy and end the entire 9 film saga on a high? 

The Last Jedi, for all its divisiveness, posed several interesting and exciting questions about how the universe of Star Wars would look. As I sat down at midnight, it hit me. This was it, the final Star Wars saga film. The end to a story I have spent most of my life watching repeatedly.

Well TROS immediately hits you with a surprise. Right in the opening crawl, you’re given a lot of information. I expected some of these key points to be shown to me, not written at the start, but as you watch the film you realise there just wasn’t time for that. At least not with everything they decided to do with this film. You’re told exactly what the different groups of people are doing at this time, and the film launches off from there. It’s a fast start, and this is where reviewing this film starts to get difficult without spoilers.

The plot boils down to a series of fetch quests, the ones in video games you do that are fun and exciting because you’re playing the game and enjoying the game play. The plot doesn’t really have room to be much more complex than that, and bar from a robot related speed bump, it largely just propels the characters on both sides towards each other with great speed. The reason it doesn’t have much room to breathe is because The Rise of Skywalker is not a sequel to The Last Jedi, but an apology.

This film does so much to retcon the previous movies events, and it is not subtle about it. Clearly Disney and JJ Abrams did not like the backlash TLJ received, and they set out with this film to right those perceived wrongs. Perceived wrongs that I personally do not think were wrongs, but bold choices and challenges we haven’t seen storytelling wise in these films before. I will go deeper on this next week in a spoiler review after I have seen the film again but suffice to say if you’re a big fan of The Last Jedi then this film might be borderline offensive to you.

Whilst being an apology for TLJ, this film also attempts to cram in a quick version of the Episode 8 JJ would have made if he was in charge, crammed into the opening half hour of the film. So far, that is two challenges for this movie to overcome aside from its own plot. Those two challenges only add to the immense weight on this films shoulders to carry a 9 film, beloved franchise to a satisfying end. TROS certainly does put an end cap on the saga films, and I thought it was quite a satisfying end to the franchise, the problems I have are the issues this film causes the rest of the 8 films to date. Barring the Force Awakens, this film has kind of made 1 through 6 redundant, and it’s cut out 8 entirely. More on that in spoilers next week.

If the Force Awakens leaned on nostalgia to get fans back on board, The Rise of Skywalker takes that nostalgia and beats the ever-loving fuck out of you with it. That sounds like a problem, but honestly, I am all about it. I love this franchise, and so I loved all the references and the winks and nudges, the name drops, the cameos, all of it put a smile on my face as a Star Wars fan. As a film, it comes off cheesy in large parts, but that is undoubtedly the idea. Fan service has a stigma attached to it, but this film simply had to do it. This franchise has so many memorable moments, touching base on a bunch of them is just an easy win that would be stupid for JJ Abrams to miss out on.

In terms of new characters, we get a few that I thought added a lot to the film. A personal favourite being Zori Bliss, a Daft Punk looking woman who has a shady history with Poe. Their chemistry was great on screen, which leads me to Poe himself. I don’t know if any character in history has ever had so much sexual chemistry with everything in a movie before. Oscar Isaac just has this way of making everything he interacts with seem like he might have sex with it. Objects and People alike.

John Boyega continues to be a little bit underused in this film, but what he does have I thought was entertaining. As for Daisy Ridley, this is her best performance so far. She has developed a lot as an actress and it shows here, and she does so opposite the excellent Adam Driver. Their dynamic drives this film, and it’s by far my favourite part of this sequel trilogy.

As with both the previous films, TROS is an excellent executed film from a production standpoint. Everything looks fantastic, the special effects, the set design, it’s all done to the level of polish we have come to expect from these films. It has made The Mandalorian look a little shoddy, but that’s a budget thing and more a problem for the Mandalorian show than this film.

The other huge positive in this film, and arguably the one consistently brilliant thing throughout the entire saga, is the score. John Williams is a huge part of why Star Wars is so special, and this film uses his music brilliantly and the little changes he has made to certain themes all add to the drama and weight of everything happening. He is an unrivalled legend in his field and this film is another example of why.

As you can probably tell, this film has hit a weird place for me. I can tell it’s a well-produced movie, but I cannot shake the feeling that this film, and this entire trilogy, has been badly handled. The lack of a consistent vision and plan for this trilogy has undermined its potential and its special moments.

The Rise of Skywalker will go down as one of the lower ranked Star Wars movies, mostly for spoiler reasons. I will go into more detail next week but for now, I am left underwhelmed by a film that tried to take on an impossible amount.

Good: The duels, the acting, the music, the cinematography.

Bad: The editing, the frantic pace, the messy plot, and the dismantling of what came before.

5/10 – This one hurt.

 

Knives Out Review

Knives out is one of those rare occasions when I went in having no real expectation for the film. I knew it was a murder mystery directed by The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson, and that Daniel Craig was in it. I love the idea of the genre, but I find it’s very rarely done well. 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express did it quite well, but that film missed the mark a little with me. 

First off, bravo to whoever managed to get such a talent packed cast. Christopher Plumber, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette are all key members of the cast and to get a group so talented together to play characters in a whodunit is a master stroke. Top of the bill is Daniel Craig, and he clearly loved playing this quirky role. The accent is a little bit jarring at first, but once I had adjusted my ears to his voice, I thought he smashed this role out of the park. I think for him these quirkier fun roles are what he wants to be doing, hence his reluctance to continue as Bond where he must be the straight man and can’t let that side of him out.

He doesn’t quite take the top spot performance wise for me though, that is reserved for the rising star of Ana de Armas. I checked on IMDB to see where I recognised her from, and she was in Blade Runner 2049 where I remembered enjoying what she did there. She is playing Norma Jean in the movie “Blonde” based on the real life of Marilyn Monroe next year, and if Knives Out is anything to go by, that film will be a fantastic watch. Her character is central to the events of this film, and in a film full of questionable people, she appears to be the one ray of shining light.

It’s very hard to go into any of the performances without venturing into spoiler territory, and this is one film that you do not want spoiled before you see it. I remember Murder of the Orient Express frustrating me because it was an impossible mystery to figure out without the exposition of Poirot, the detective. In Knives Out, you are quite brilliantly given every piece of evidence, every thread you need to knit together the answer. This is fantastic as it adds another element to the film, and I found myself actively looking around the scenes for clues.

I managed to piece together a large chunk of the mystery before it was revealed on screen, and whilst that gave me some satisfaction, at first, I felt a little disappointed. Thinking about it on the way home, I realised what I said above about everything being there, and that kind of being part of the fun of watching this film. You’re supposed to guess along and see how close you get. I am always looking for potential twists in any film, I don’t think that’s something everyone does, but it helped me to piece together some bits and bobs.

Director Rian Johnson got a lot of mixed reactions to his last film, which is to be expected with the things he attempted to do within the confines of a Star Wars film. Here he seems like he’s enjoyed the ability to craft his own story entirely and not have to pick up an already partially told story and carry it on. He strikes me as a film maker who perhaps suits doing his own thing better than jumping into a franchise like the Star Wars Saga films, and that’s from me, someone who enjoys The Last Jedi.

Knives Out is probably the best whodunit film I have seen, although I must confess, I haven’t seen a lot of them. It’s got a dark sense of humour which got me giggling a few times, and the mystery elements are all there to have fun with. There are a couple of the plot reveals that fall a little flat but that is possibly because they were telegraphed a little too much but overall, I really did enjoy this film.

Good: All the performances are great; it’s shot beautifully and piecing together the mystery is a great part of it.

Bad: A little too easy in parts to guess certain elements. Daniel Craig’s accent will put off someone I am sure.

9/10 – Whodunit? Rian Johnson did it. 

 

 

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. 

 

Between Two Ferns Review

I don’t know how I had never heard of the Between Two Ferns show on YouTube before. If you don’t know what it is, it’s an interview show hosted by Zach Galifianakis, and he ask’s some of Hollywood’s biggest names some very insulting questions to hilarious effect. I discovered this all by watching the mockumentary about the making of the show “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” which is now on Netflix. 

I can honestly say I do not remember laughing as hard as this watching anything since maybe the Pink Panther movies when I was a child. Something about it just hit me exactly in the right way and I was laughing for most of the brisk hour and 22-minute run time. Zach is so good in this role, his ability to say the most absurd things and keep a completely straight face leads to some amazingly funny moments. He’s so good in the role, because he is playing himself. There is a lot of him in the role, but it’s just all dialled up to 11.

The 3 crew members he works with are a solid supporting cast and have moments to show they can deliver some great laughs too. They are never front and centre long enough for us to feel any real connection and even in the scenes when it seems like we are starting to build to that we get another joke that stops it developing. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean the entire film rests on the audience being fans of Zach and his style.

The premise is that they must make ten episodes of the show on the road, and that leads to where the movie is at its best, the interviews. Zach’s deadpan face and the generally great job by the actors and actresses who play it straight as well really made me laugh. It’s juvenile at times but there is enough gold in these moments to warrant spending the time to watch the film.

The film’s structure is like a lot of similar sketches stitched together. Sewing together the interviews is the challenge the film faces, and it has moments where it struggles. The humour can be hit and miss in these sections. Whilst the highs don’t reach the same level as the interviews, the jokes that missed don’t really grind the film to a halt either. There is always another moment just around the corner. The film doesn’t let you dwell on an unfunny moment because you’re into the next moment, and this scatter gun approach works for the most part.

It’s only when I have stopped to really think about those moment in between the laughs that I’ve realised there are chunks of the movie where we are just waiting for the next laugh, it doesn’t have a narrative thread that is keeping you hooked that other mockumentaries like “American Vandal” have.

That would be a bigger problem were this a series of hour-long episodes like that is, but the shorter run time allows it to just be what it needs to be. A vehicle for Zach Galifianakis to make you laugh for a bit and remember not to take everything so seriously. I personally enjoyed it a lot, and I think a lot of my friends would love it. It’s not perfect but it does have some very good highs that make Between Two Ferns the Movie worth watching.

Good: If you like Zach’s comedic style, this will crack you up. I laughed throughout and the interviews are gold.

Bad: Scatter gun approach may not hit enough for some to think it’s worth the watch, but it really does depend on your sense of humour.

7/10 – Great fun and doesn’t overstay its welcome.