Movie Review ~ 1917

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Stars: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Sam Mendes

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: As we come to the end of the second decade of the 21st century, many have been looking back at the past ten years in movies and musing on how the medium has evolved.  Could we have predicted ten years ago that a service that used to deliver DVDs by mail would become a heavy-hitter film studio producing movies that are becoming more and more friendly with Oscar?  Would we know that the biggest hits in the end-of-the-year box office tally would be dominated by franchise pictures and the mid-budgeted flicks that kept theaters packed in the ’90s would largely be wiped out?  Even the way we watch movies has changed from having to physically go to the video store to nowadays when we can view thousands of choices at the press of a button.   What hasn’t changed is the process of getting out of your house, battling traffic, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with others to have a shared experience of movie-going.  Sure, the seats are reserved now and more comfortable (and heated!) than your chairs at home but there’s no comparison to being in a cinema seeing a movie on the big screen.

Films about the first World War aren’t as common as those set in WWII (like 2019’s Midway), Vietnam (2015’s documentary Last Days in Vietnam), or in more recent wars that still play a large part in our daily news headlines.  The Peter Jackson-produced documentary They Shall Not Grow Old was a staggering piece of filmmaking using real footage from the first World War but for me it wasn’t able to overcome some narrative challenges that were almost unavoidable considering the approach.  That’s why the imminent arrival of movie like 1917 is so exciting to me.  Here’s a large scale war film that, overdone as the genre may be, strives to be something unique and not just because of its well-publicized “one-shot” cinematography.

By 1917, the “war to end all wars” had been going on for four years and had claimed thousands of casualties.  Shortly after the German armies had retreated from their trenches in France, officials received intel the German drawback from their enemies was a well-set trap and now a British battalion of over 1,500 men was walking straight into an ambush.  Two soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Blinded by the Light) and Schofield (George MacKay, How I Live Now) are called up and tasked with delivering news of this ensnarement to the front lines before men are sent to a slaughter they are unaware of.  Though the stakes are already sky high for the British forces, the importance of success is even greater for Blake because his brother is in the company that will be sent out on the attack first, facing certain death.  The two young men set off on a breathless mission through enemy territory that will bring them up through idyllic countryside that masks hidden dangers and enemy-built trenches designed to slow their progress.

Based partly on the recollections of his grandfather, director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) co-wrote 1917 with Krysty Wilson-Cairns and the two have crafted a corker of a war movie that hits the ground running and doesn’t offer much reprieve over 119 minutes.  That forward motion is largely a direct result of Mendes working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) to shoot the entirety of the picture as if it was one long interrupted take.  Without these obvious moments of cuts, the effect on a viewer is something akin to a relentless rollercoaster with moments of flattened cruising that are small respites to harrowing drops and spins.  It’s clear there are moments when Deakins had to cut to use a different camera but aside from a few obvious splices they are hidden so well you’d have to be focused solely on finding these moments to really see them.

Utilizing state-of-the-art technique, “how’d they do that” camera moves, and lighting nighttime scenes to increase their intensity tenfold, it could have been easy for the movie to become all about this trickery but thankfully everyone involved doesn’t let the technology overshadow the story.  Mendes helps this along with the casting of Chapman and especially MacKay as the young men on a mission who risk their lives to get their message into the right hands.  Chapman’s bravado at the outset hides the fear of arriving too late to save his brother while the more world-weary MacKay has his eyes further opened as he encounters civilians and other troops along the way.  The two aren’t totally familiar faces to audiences and that works to the advantage of the immediacy and “anything can happen” created by their mission.  The inclusion of more known names/faces such as Mark Strong (Shazam!), Andrew Scott (Victor Frankenstein), Richard Madden (Rocketman), Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch) could be seen as a distraction but all play their roles succinctly without much preening for the camera.

This is really a boffo film that knocked my socks off.  I’m not usually so enamored of movies about the war but there’s something in the humanity on display from Mendes and Wilson-Cairns that moved me on a whole other level.  Aside from the jaw-dropping filming from Deakins that is truly incredible (if he doesn’t win the Oscar this year, I’d be stunned) there is rarely a frame that feels out of place or extraneous.  While some war movies can drag on and be a punishing sit, 1917 uses its running time wisely by never letting the characters (or the audience) rest too much.  As I watched the film I became conscious that I was holding my breath for a few reasons.  First off, the tension created was so spot-on and could only be achieved by a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing.  The second is that I didn’t want this spell to be broken and for Mendes and his team to make a misstep.  Thankfully, I believe Mendes achieved the mission he set out for and 1917 is one of the very best movies of the year.

The Silver Bullet ~ 1917



Synopsis
: Two young British soldiers during the First World War, are given an impossible mission: deliver a message, deep in enemy territory, that will stop their own men, and Blake’s own brother, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Release Date:  December 25, 2019

Thoughts: Every year around this time it becomes pretty clear who the Oscar front runners are and the pundits start to put their ballots together with ballpoint pen.  There’s always those last slots they keep open, though, for the movies that don’t screen until very late in the season and that’s where a movie like 1917 will play a big factor.  Last time I checked, no one had seen this World War I film from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) yet and that’s fairly unheard of in mid-November.  That creates a bit of an electric excitement because there’s hope this could be a game changer and knock a few sure things off their paths to Oscar gold.  Paired again with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (who finally won an Academy Award for Blade Runner 2049) and supposedly shot to look like it was filmed in one continuous take, Mendes appears to have something fairly mighty on his hands and history buffs are hoping 1917 can succeed where another anticipated war film like 2017’s Dunkirk couldn’t and snag some top prizes come year end.

Movie Review ~ Victor Frankenstein

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox

Director: Paul McGuigan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: If you’re looking for someone to blame for Victor Frankenstein, might I suggest Sherlock Holmes?  A character brought to life so vividly in a series of novels and notable screen adaptations, Holmes has been resurrected to popular effect three times in the last decade.  On the small screen he’s a present-day on the spectrum detective in two television series, one for the BBC (effectively launching Benedict Cumberbatch’s career in the process) and one for CBS  (a more commercial offering, but no less successful) and on the big screen he’s a wise-acre troublemaking sleuth in Guy Ritchie’s two Holmes films.  Possibly trying to exist in the same Victorian England Ritchie world, Victor Frankenstein is a slapdash creation, stitched together with little inspiration or motivation.  It’s a true snoozer…and I know from experience because I fell asleep for part of it.

Opening with the line “You know the story” and then, like all reimaginings must, going on to tell a totally different version of a time-worn tale, at first I was thinking that Victor Frankenstein was on to something.  Told from the perspective of the man who would be Igor (Daniel Radcliffe, What If, The Woman in Black), starting out as a nameless and mistreated hunchback circus clown that studies medicine and dreams of a life with a  pretty trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay, Winter’s Tale), the first, oh, two minutes of the movie are visually impressive and intriguing.  Then our titular character enters (James McAvoy, Trance) and our interest (and the scenery) gets shredded to bits.

Rescuing the deformed man and employing him as his assistant, Frankenstein names him Igor (after his absent flat mate) and attends to his hunchback and crooked stance.  Standing upright with a flat back, clean clothes, and a self-applied haircut delivered by straight razor that suggests a future as a coiffeur, Igor quickly gets up to speed with Frankenstein’s work in bringing the dead back to life.  Originally working on a chimp hybrid that goes ape when roused from an eternal slumber, the two men are soon hired by a wealthy family to create something…bigger.

In between gathering the pieces to assemble the ultimate creation, Igor continues to woo the trapeze artist (now living as a ward to a wealthy businessman) and avoid a fire and brimstone detective (Andrew Scott, Spectre) that believes what Igor and Frankenstein are doing is against God’s will.  There’s the requisite backstory to explain the method behind Frankenstein’s madness and some moral quandaries that are quickly vanquished, it all leads to a rain soaked finale aiming to be electrifying but can’t find a strong current.

As much as Radcliffe tries to distance himself from the boy wizard that made him a household name, I’ve yet to be truly impressed by any of his post-Harry Potter work.   Trapped by an outlandish script by Max Landis (Chronicle) and tonally blunt direction by Paul McGuigan, Radcliffe doesn’t have much to do but peer out from behind his shabby wig, gasp in horror at Frankenstein’s insanity, and make goo-goo eyes at his love.  Brown Findlay has the presence of a rogue dust bunny and Scott simmers with a too-serious biblical rage that leans more toward hysterics than histrionics.

Nothing compares to McAvoy’s unhinged, abysmally over-the-top performance, though, and like it or not you have to give the actor credit for not being afraid to fail.  Possibly recognizing the only way to be memorable in an otherwise dull creature feature is to be more outsized than his muscle bound creation, McAvoy is amped up from frame one and ready to go for the campy gold.  Were the rest of the film less serious in nature, McAvoy’s take might have worked better but here is feels like the actor is out of control.

Technically sound with a good eye for period detail, the money in Victor Frankenstein was clearly spent in the right places like Jany Temime’s (Skyfall) pleasing costumes and Eve Stewart’s (Les Misérables) sumptuous production design. It’s just a shame that all of the funds went to waste in a film with no pulse.

The Silver Bullet ~ Victor Frankenstein

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Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Release Date: November 25, 2015

Thoughts:  Did we learn nothing from Van Helsing, the campy 2004 disaster that almost ended Hugh Jackman’s burgeoning career as a stand-alone action star? Apparently not, because the makers of Victor Frankenstein seem to think that all Mary Shelley’s tale needed was a few wisecracks and a healthy dose of Sherlock Holmes-ian production design to create a new take on the oft-told classic. James McAvoy (Trance) and Daniel Radcliffe (What If) are appealing actors but first impressions from this trailer find them resting on their laurels, with Radcliffe doing his best turn-of-the-century Harry Potter. I love a good monster tale, don’t get me wrong, but this looks pretty cornball.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Spectre

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Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Thoughts: First things first…if you haven’t seen 2012’s Skyfall yet I’d suggest not watching this teaser for the next installment in the James Bond franchise. Not that it gives a lot away, but I found more than a few references to the previous film that may spoil a few of the more intriguing wrinkles the 23rd 007 introduced. For Bond’s 24th outing, director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) are hoping to capture that same lightning in a bottle that made Skyfall so very, very entertaining. From the looks of it, they’re headed down a similar path to success…because this is a wonderful tease at what audiences can expect come November. As a huge Bond fan (check out Bond-ed for Life), I’m anxiously awaiting this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pride

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Synopsis: UK gay and lesbian activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: Ever since The Full Monty, working class comedies from the UK have been making their way over to our shores to varying degrees of success. All are pleasing, no doubt but some are lighter than air and ultimately pretty inconsequential. I’m thinking Pride will fall squarely in the middle of the road and am hoping that it hasn’t revealed all of its laughs in the arguably entertaining trailer. With an ace cast like Bill Nighy (About Time) and Imedla Staunton (Maleficent) leading a colorful looking ensemble, if Pride plays its cards right it could join the long list of UK indie sleeper hits.