Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Review: The Personal History Of David Copperfield



The Personal History Of David Copperfield
Cert: PG / 119 mins / Dir. Armando Iannucci / Trailer

A disclaimer. I haven't read Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Also, I haven't watched any television, film or stage adaptations of David Copperfield. There's no agenda behind that, it's just the way these things fall. I've heard of it obviously, but the only Dickens I'm reasonably familiar with is A Christmas Carol, and even then it's only because some new adaptation is filmed almost every year. And it's not like I employ the same level of reverse-snobbery for his work as I do with Shakespeare's material.

So when I went to see Armando Iannucci's The Personal History Of David Copperfield this evening, I did so because I like its cast, I like Armando Iannucci and I trust them all to make an entertaining retooling of a thing I'm not familiar with in the slightest. This review is of the thing I just watched, not the thing I was expecting or the thing I was necessarily wanting it to be. And with all that in mind, this will either be the exactly the viewpoint you're after or the last opinion you want to read. Either way, you're very welcome...

JOLLY


And what a delight it turns out to be. By definition of the material alone it's a far more jolly ride than Iannucci's previous cinematic outing, as he works Dickens' classic into a sprawling comedy of manners with tight scripting and sharp performances to match. Opening with a theatrical framing device, the whole thing has an air of knowing artifice, yet never waivers in its conviction. The film is energetic without tipping over into the chaotic, stagey without being forced. sumptuous without feeling stuffy.

Although Iannucci runs a wide social gamut of Victorian England, the grime of that era (in this story's settings) is barely present. Yet there's a detailed richness to the production design letting the audience know this is an aesthetic choice rather than a time or cost-saving measure. David Copperfield looks, and feels, gorgeous.

CHIPS

The cast are as superb as you'd hope. Dev Patel shines as always in the eponymous role, as does Jairaj Varsani as the younger Copperfield. At the film's height (and especially with Tilda Swinton involved), there's an almost Coen-esque farce going on, and it even begins to approach the claustrophobia and nightmare-logic of Aronofsky's mother! as reality becomes blurred and we're once again reminded of the narrated performance structure.

David Copperfield is a whistle-stop tour of a big-old book, and the two-hour runtime feels optimistically cramped in some places, while there are entire sections of the hero's life that would clearly benefit from a full, serialised adaptation for a more emotional connection. I'm reliably informed that some key story-elements have been altered here, although as this is the director's re-imagining of the saga, that's absolutely permissible*1. That Iannucci keeps masterful control of the whole thing is a credit to his dedication and enthusiasm for the source-text.

YSCIENCETHEATER3000


This is a timely companion-piece with Greta Gerwig's Little Women, both stylised adaptations of stories from the mid 1800s which are just as engaging for audiences today. Gerwig's film has more to say of course, but both channel the stunning vision of their writer/directors.

David Copperfield is snappy, stylised and consistently funny. But it's also a bit of a confection, almost a curiosity, and despite its period-setting this version won't be for everybody. Which is probably a large part of why I enjoyed it so much.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If it's your bag, certainly.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
This should certainly be near the top of everyone's CVs for the foreseeable future.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Quite possibly.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Captain Phasma and Captain Madakor are in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 More 'strict' adaptations of David Copperfield already exist and will no doubt be made in the future. Think of this as the Dickensian equivalent of Cumberbatch's 'accompaniment' Sherlock Holmes, rather than Jeremy Brett's more canonical interpretation (even though this version of Copperfield is still set in its original time period). [ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Review: Star Wars - The Rise Of Skywalker (eighth-pass)



Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
(eighthth-pass)
Cert: 12A / 142 mins / Dir. J.J. Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Okay, rather than harp on about the rights and wrongs of The Emperor again (there's still fuel in that tank, I assure you), it's probably time to write the review I should have several weeks ago and lay some appreciation on the Sequel Trilogy's central character, Rey Skywalker*1. Yes, there's a lot going on throughout all three movies (arguably too much in this last entry), but the one line which cuts directly through everything is the path of Rey. From an intrinsically lonely kid on a dustball planet in the back-end of nowhere to the galaxy's brightest light in a time of darkness, Rey has always been a Skywalker in the truest sense.

The temptation is to think that Rey boring, with her wardrobe as linear as her outlook and character-progression. A Mary Sue. She absolutely isn't. Okay, some of the spin-off material centering around her is dull as a watercolour weekend on Hoth, but the performance of Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise Of Skywalker is nothing short of outstanding, and the character undergoes the same trials and pitfalls as Anakin and Luke before her.

SHANTY


Rey's emotional growth is a delicate process throughout, discernible at each key stage but still nuanced to the point where we can see the frightened-yet-defiant kid from the desert shanty town. Because of Rey's isolated upbringing (even within the 'community' of junk traders on Jakku), much of the struggle throughout her arc is internalised, Ridley's facial expressions and body language conveying far more than the script. With Rey's background as an abandoned child and also having Palpatine's innate Force-ability, she should be all rights be an absolute psychopath whenever she's pushed out of her comfort-zone, lashing out with reactive bursts of Dark Side energy (hi Akanin).

But like Luke before her, this trilogy is about the hero(ine)'s inner strength, adapting to new surroundings and a tendency to see the best in a situation rather than follow a predetermined path based on primal instinct and DNA. There really is no such thing as 'bad blood' in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, you have to choose to be evil.

FUNKY


Three times in three movies, Rey is presented with the worst news for her at that time (leave your home and your chance of being reunited with your parents; your hero Jedi Master doesn't particularly like you and also your parents are total wasters; okay you do have parents but they're dead because wait until your Grandad gets home...), and each time she manages to rise above it, largely through her own force of will.

Rey engages with Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base*2 untrained and unready, knowing that Finn is in danger and this is a battle which can't be put off until another day (at least before the planet starts falling apart). It's the same 'standing up to a bully' ethos she used when rescuing BB-8 on Jakku. And when she arrives on Crait to be reunited with the Resistance, Rey doesn't know what awaits or that Luke Skywalker has had a change of heart, she just knows she has to be with her friends whatever happens. And in the finale where Rey goes to confront the Emperor alone? Well, that was by no means a certain victory. Our girl is just going all-in, knowing that the situation needs to be dealt with one way or another. While she's certainly gung-ho, Rey's intuitive growth in The Force comes from the learning-cycle perpetuated between her and Ben. She'll run fearlessly into each fight knowing she's stronger than before.

MR. DEEDS GOES TO


The sequel trilogy may occasionally feel like a Lego model which has been added to by different children, but these are bumps in the road adding to the unpredictability of Rey's journey (from the character's point of view, at least). In terms of our protagonist, the three movies are indeed a cumulative, flowing narrative. Rey moves forward, never back, growing in experience, power and wisdom as she does. But it's still good to feel the sand under your feet once in a while.

Darkness rises and light to meet it.
The greatest teacher, failure is.
Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.

The path of Rey Skywalker is The Hero's Journey for a new generation. And we haven't even got back to broom-boy, yet...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Obvs.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Obvs.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That one's up for debate, but probably not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
As the weeks go on that's looking possible, yes.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I can tell.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

...but if you wanted to go around the houses with it, The Rise Of Skywalker stars Ian McDiarmid, who appeared in 1999's Sleepy Hollow alongside Christopher Lee, who was in 2010's Burke And Hare with Andy Serkis, the actor who played Ulysses Klaue in Avengers: Age Of Ultron which also starred Paul Bettany, who rocked up in The Young Victoria in the company of Julian Glover, who was in 'The Lovers' episode (part 2 at least) of Trial & Retribution with Guy Henry, who made an appearance in the 2009 TV drama Margaret with... Ian McDiarmid.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Yeah I'm calling her that. Not only did I think it was literally the case from the beginning, but it's also the identity she choses with the closing words of the trilogy. Define people by who they show themselves to be, man... [ BACK ]

*2 Can we just call it Ilum? It's Ilum. I mean after the Empire's ransacking of the Temple on Jedha for Kyber Crystals to power the Death Star's superlaser in Rogue One, we'd suspected that a weapon with as much power as Starkiller Base would probably need to be built around a planet made from them. And so it proves, the TROS Visual Dictionary confirms that the rubble formerly known as Starkiller Base is also the planet formerly known as Ilum. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Review: Richard Jewell



Richard Jewell
Cert: 15 / 131 mins / Dir. Clint Eastwood / Trailer

"The world will know his name and the truth" proclaims the poster for Richard Jewell, with director Clint Eastwood bravely carving this cinematic monument a mere twenty four years after our eponymous hero's trial by media for his alleged role in the 1996 Atlanta bombing, fifteen years after his official exoneration, after a 1997 magazine article, a 2014 documentary and a 2019 book. Clint, you're the real unsung hero of this whole damned saga. Bravo.

Following a nuts-and-bolts lead up, we follow Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) through the events of that fateful evening and into its aftermath. The lowly security guard who discovers a suspect package at a concert is initially lauded for his vigilance, then turned upon by the media (represented here largely by Olivia Wilde) as they learn that the FBI (represented here largely by John Hamm) considers Jewell to be a leading suspect in the case, albeit with not enough evidence to actually charge him. Richard's efforts to clear his name with the assistance of lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) are confounded by his fitting the profile of a 'hero' bomber, and also his unerring ability to say the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time. Can the truth rise above all this?

EMERGENCY


Well yes it can, since much like Just Mercy, we know from the moment the emergency occurs that Jewell did not manufacture or plant the bomb. We're shown that explicitly. So the film loses the chance to be a double-crossing conspiracy thriller and turns into a lecture instead. Irrespective of an audience's knowledge of the case, there's a far better movie to be made from playing those scenes with ambiguity. Instead the press, media and FBI become the pantomime villains in a surprisingly linear take which paints nobody in a particularly good light, and much like 2016's Sully, we're even treated to dream-sequence re-enactments of the bombing with different outcomes. Nice of Clint to keep the action throughout the film, I suppose. Because since there was no sweeping courtroom triumph to the Jewell case and the FBI eventually just dropped the charges, the story peters out anyway. So it's probably for the best that this follows it petering-in to begin with.

Paul Walter Hauser makes for a decent lead, assuming his aim is to keep a respectable distance between the character and the audience's empathy. He plays 'borderline unlikeable' fairly well (with a conflict that's missing from the rest of the movie) yet still stays within the boundaries of writer Billy Ray's screenplay. The supporting cast are largely fine in roles that feel like quickly typed caricatures rather than real people. Coming out on top is Sam Rockwell, firmly in the runner-up position for screen time but he appears to be the only person on the set trying to be in a better film.

CHANGING


To his credit, Eastwood makes a solid go of being undecided whether to make a film supporting a patriotic American undergoing trial by media for a crime he didn't commit, or whether to support the FBI for investigating a gun-obsessed, authority-obsessed, incel-prototype with potentially undiagnosed learning difficulties who a) looks guilty as hell and b) keeps saying dumb things that suggest he's guilty as hell. It's just a shame that this dichotomy doesn't make for an interesting story. There are no twists, no turns and certainly no surprises. Eastwood's directorial work is procedural - never moreso than here - as he describes events rather than painting a picture. Richard Jewell may have right on its side but the film made is without passion or flair.

Although contrary to the rulebook for This Sort Of Thing, it closes with three 'what happened next' caption-cards*1, but without accompanying photographs of the real-world players. Then again, Clint has already clumsily stitched in archive news footage of the actual Richard Jewell so there's probably no need. That's not the case all the way through, just at a point where it feels like the production was running out of time so didn't re-shoot that particular interview.

As is so often and so sadly the case with true story/injustice cinema, the story - and its participants - would be better served by someone making a documentary. Oh wait, they did.

But at least we know Richard Jewell's name and we know the truth, now.
Okay, we know some of the truth.
Okay, we know his name.

Bravo.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's like Sully but less mawkish, if only because Clint Eastwood prefers righteous indignance.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Not particularly.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, tops.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
This is entirely possible.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Sam Rockwell is in this, and also in Jojo Rabbit alongside Taiki 'IG-11' Waititi.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…
(It's actually more like a 4/7, but I'm deducting a point for Eastwood's inclusion of the Macarena, complete with dancing. I mean I know this is a film about a terrorist atrocity, but that's fucking gratuitous.)


*1 One of which tells us that Sam Rockwell's lawyer Watson Bryant went on to marry his girlfriend and assistant Nadya Light. As if that had been some kind of tense undercurrent of the film, rather than one single shot of them kissing which has precisely zero effect on any of it because the screenwriter has taken the receptionist's character more for granted than the lawyer ever did...
[ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Review: Star Wars - The Rise Of Skywalker (seventh-pass)



Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
(seventh-pass / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 142 mins / Dir. J.J. Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

So here we are in somewhat familiar territory. Okay, here "I" am. The initial buzz of a new Star Wars movie has subsided, although the joy of being able to go and watch it at pretty much any time in the cinema ten minutes walk away from my house will never diminish. I'm currently at the stage where The Rise Of Skywalker has firmly 'bedded in' but I'm taking full advantage of the latter.

And despite the mixed critical reception the film has received, I find myself enjoying each and every visit. As previously noted, this movie feels very much like A Sequel Trilogy Film™ rather than a culmination of The Skywalker Saga™, but that's what I love about it since (like many fans) I know that various facets of Star Wars can feel wildly different while still being undeniably Star Wars. For obvious reasons I don't need to point out the tonal divergence between the Original and Prequel trilogies, but The Clone Wars feels different again, as does Rebels, as does Resistance, and even The Mandalorian only plays on one aspect of the OT's hallowed ground. Each fulfils a specific role while being an inexorable part of a larger entity. Star Wars is a broad church*1.

There is, however, one edge that keeps nicking me each time I go past. I know it's there and is part of the final design, yet it catches me all the same. It's a thing I've brought up already, and this post is further to my earlier murmurings. Anyway, here are three quotes which have been playing on my mind since late December 2019...

~

"Don't tell anyone, but when Star Wars first came out, I didn't know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you've planned the whole thing out in advance."

George Lucas, in a letter to Lost writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, 2010.

~

"What really matters is that in the Star Wars series, as in many works of literature, 'I am your father' moments and their accompanying shivers are defining. [...] With the best such moments people could not in advance easily imagine the moment - and cannot in its aftermath imagine that things could possibly have turned out otherwise."

Cass R. Sunstein, The World According To Star Wars, 2016.

~

"This just seemed a really lame attempt to top the Vader-thing..."

Mark Hamill (albeit playfully) on Return Of The Jedi's reveal that Luke and Leia are siblings.



GAP


So. You know what this is about, yeah? Structural plausibility. Despite this and other posts on the subject*2, I'm fine with the in-universe explanation that "somehow Palpatine returned". That gap will be filled in sooner rather than later through comics and novels, by creators who will squeeze and retcon and sand down the corners, and I look forward to devouring those in due course. But even when the eventual backstory arrives, it won't make up for the feeling that there is no structural justification for the return of Frank Palpatine*3 in this movie.

There is no through-line with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi which makes the return of Palpatine seem inevitable. Hell, there's not even a suggestion that he's off in the Unknown Regions, biding his time until he can pop out and surprise General Organa. Something big is coming, that much is clear from Snoke's demise halfway through the second chapter rather than at the end of the third, but Rian Johnson had pointed away from JJ Abrams' wholesale recycling of the Original Trilogy.

SUNSHINE


This Sequel Trilogy has been about characters living in the shadow of Darth Vader, not Sidious. Vader is, after all, the defining image of Episodes IV-VI and the point at which Episodes I-III climaxed (as also evidenced by the marketing material for Revenge Of The Sith). The films are about the rise-and-fall-and-rise of Anakin Skywalker and his offspring, hence the numbered series being referred to (in the marketing push for Episode IX) as The Skywalker Saga™.

And although The Chosen One himself has been notably absent from the Sequel Trilogy, his presence continues to be felt. While Anakin was redeemed at the end of Return Of The Jedi*4, the legacy of his actions while aligned with the Sith has continued to plague his children. Luke's own bumpy ascent to Jedi Knighthood carried on into his failure and self-imposed exile following the rise of Kylo Ren, with him eager not to fall into the same depths of failure as his father by striving for perfection long past the point of it being attainable. Leia, meanwhile, was effectively hounded out of the New Republic once her lineage became public, the perceived scandal too potent even for a leader of her demonstrable skill.

And let's not forget Ben Solo of course, the last of the Skywalker bloodline and heir to that troubled crown. Still clinging to the malformed relic of his grandfather's armour, Solo has been manipulated as Kylo Ren in grasping for the unreachable. Because as we now know, even if Anakin has been floating around the aether since the Battle Of Endor, he hasn't been checking his voicemail. Messages Kylo has heard through the melted helmet of his idol have come from Palpatine; Anakin Skywalker is out of office. So while there have indeed been "some Skywalkers" in this section of The Skywalker Saga™, the story has been (loosely, admittedly) around them dealing with the fallout of being related to one of the Galaxy's most notorious war criminals.

Episodes I-VIII have indeed been The Skywalker Saga. But with Palpatine's return? You could say that since The Phantom Menace opens with a ruthlessly ambitious senator, Return Of The Jedi closes with a deposed dictator and The Rise Of Skywalker shows that an emperor isn't just for Christmas, the nine films have arguably have been The Palpatine Saga™.

AVERAGE WHITE


The whole sudden inclusion of Grandad Palps to create a sense of circularity feels like - with the very best will in the world - fan fiction. Abrams gets away with it because of how fantastic Ridley, Driver and McDiarmid handle the material, but other than two very brief exchanges in the Rebel base and a line from Luke on Ahch-To, it's not even mentioned elsewhere in the film. Exegol is fixated on at great length, as is the Sith sat-nav which was left in the Death Star's stationery cupboard, but the Emperor himself really feels like a last-minute addition.

Wanting to immerse myself fully in the world of the new film while it's still on at the cinema, I have of course bought the Visual Dictionary. It's a hive of context and background information, from the unspoken names of droids to geological features of the new planets. The planet Exegol gets a two-page spread in the 200-page book including pictures, as well as numerous references throughout. The Emperor does not. By which I mean that Emperor Palpatine, a pivotal figure in Star Wars Episode IX, does not have a separate entry and does not have any pictures in a large-size, 200-page reference book covering the film. Exegol is referred to as "a Sith planet", and notes in the text of the book make mention of the mysterious leader consolidating his power-base there, but named pointers to Palpatine are scarce and only occur within the text - ie a feature which could be added relatively late in the design-cycle. It's almost as if Palpatine himself was an aspect added later in the production of the film, so author Pablo Hidalgo and DK Publishing made his presence as vague as possible.

GASTRIC


The Star Wars podcast Rebel Force Radio recently mentioned a rumour that the only cast members on-set who knew of Palpatine's return (for the majority of filming) were Ridley, Driver and McDiarmid. Could all this have been in a bid to avoid the leaking of spoilers? Or because it just hadn't been finalised? The Emperor's laugh was in April's teaser trailer and his face was on the main poster from August, but those are both relatively late-in-the-day when it comes to making a movie of this scale for a December release. Was the actual, physical, in-the-flesh Emperor decided upon this late?

And while that sounds unfeasible, keep in mind that the addition of Maul into the Solo film was made well after principal photography had finished. Actress Emilia Clarke didn't know which character was going to be on the other end of that call, having only delivered her half of the dialogue on-set. Obviously Palpatine's role in The Rise Of Skywalker is far greater, but it's certainly not much more interactive with the majority of the cast.

When you watch the movie next, take note of Driver's reaction-heavy lines on Exegol near the beginning. He could be delivering those to any hidden Sith Lord. Even some of the later ones from Rey feel vague taken out of context. This film makes a point of showing how one half of a conversation can be reverse-engineered, in the way it includes Carrie Fisher's Force Awakens scenes. It would have been equally possible to have had the Final Order's mastermind revealed in the form of Exar Kun, Darth Bane, The Son from Force-planet Mortis, or even a twisted reanimation of Darth Vader, brought back to life through Ben Solo's continued meddling in the Force*5. Hell, this is meant to be The Skywalker Saga™ after all.

But they went for Palpatine.
And that's cool.

I'm just not buying that it was the game-plan all along.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Obvs.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Obvs.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That one's up for debate, but probably not.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
We will 'discuss at length', largely because I won't let you talk about anything else (other than a brief sojourn into Watchmen, probably).


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I can tell.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

...but if you wanted to go around the houses with it, The Rise Of Skywalker stars Mark Hamill, who lent his voice to the 2019 animation Go Fish along with Ron Perlman, whose tones also cropped up in The Book Of Life with those of Diego Luna, the actor who provided voice-work for the 'Poltergasm' episode of American Dad as did Bradley Baker, a regular on Phineas And Ferb alongside Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who was in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials with Alan Tudyk, who gave a vocal performance in the 2016 game Master Of Orion: Conquer The Stars, as did... Mark Hamill.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although it's not Broadchurch. Even if Huyang and L3-37 are in that. [ BACK ]

*2 Oh, do not believe I'm done with this, just because I'm writing about it here for pretty much the third time in a month. Today's sermon is going to be the gift which keeps on giving, I assure you. [ BACK ]

*3 When someone tells you who they are, - listen -. [ BACK ]

*4 And if the Emperor wasn't properly killed then, that whole redemption is called into some question, surely? [ BACK ]

*5 Or if that's too dark, how about the appearance of Anakin's Force-spirit to Ben on Kef-Bir, instead of the Han Solo sequence? Han is a nice touch, but is a little out of kilter with the previous eight films. How much more powerful would it be for the true Anakin to finally make contact, reassuring his grandson that the light is the path he's supposed to be on (albeit better late than never)? [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Review: 1917



1917
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Sam Mendes / Trailer

Well even as early as its opening weekend, what more can be said on the film everyone is talking about? After much anticipation (and coincidentally just in time for awards-season), Sam Mendes' gruelling First World War epic 1917 has finally arrived on our screens.

The hype - it is both relieving and delightful to note - is justified.

April 6, 1917. In the British trenches of northern France, Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are tasked with a vital mission, delivering a message to cancel a planned attack that would see 1,600 soldiers walking into a German ambush. The route needed to accomplish this in time will see the pair moving on foot across no man's land, through (hopefully) abandoned enemy territory, and open countryside where the war is being fought more chaotically and without lines in the dirt. Using no more protection than they can carry, the most important tools for Blake and Schofield are their wits and the will to survive...

JOURNEY


I must confess from the off that I enjoyed 1917 from a more technical perspective than as an immersive journey, despite how well the film achieves the latter. Chapman and MacKay blend into their roles instantly*1, whereas appearances from more distinctive actors such as Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch are more likely to elicit an 'oh, look who it is! jolt from the viewer. But the star of the show is really Mendes here, his auteur-like presence looming over the production in the very best of ways. Because of the situation our leads face, there are lengthy stretches of 1917 with no dialogue, where physical and empathetic acting come to the fore, along with the direction required to achieve this.

The film's USP is that it's presented as a single, continuous shot*2, an approach creating an escalating intensity that's hard to achieve under the normal run of things; Mendes makes it look - if not quite effortless - completely natural. And I admit to spending a lot of the movie marvelling at the imagined camera-setups, rather than becoming lost in the story. This didn't quite 'pull me out' of the proceedings, but there was always a faint disconnect where I knew I was watching a film. I imagine normal people (you, dear reader) will not be hampered by this.

FOREIGNER


In the film's opening moments, the sense of reveal achieved through moving the camera backwards to track our heroes is outstanding, as the intricacy and scale of the continuous sets becomes apparent. The nature of the story means that most of these setups are only used once, in real-time as the film progresses. The quality of the Dennis Gassner's production design here is staggering. And although he'd already set his own bar immeasurably high, cinematographer Roger Deakins really has out-done himself. The more visually-minded viewer will lose count of the number of shots which would look amazing as framed prints.

This was always going to be more of a sensory journey than an emotional one, but 1917 fares well on both counts (as long as the emotions you're onboard for are fear, desperation and anaesthetised isolation). The ongoing survival quest paired with a race against the clock is a cinematic halfway-house between The Revenant and Dunkirk; this film shares the best qualities of both.

SPEEDWAGON


What's perhaps most affecting in the long-run is that the film isn't about any pivotal event in the war, it's a collection of the stories told by Sam Mendes' grandfather Alfred; it's that things like this played out every day across France, with men trying their damnedest to stop or at least survive the industrialised slaughter one way or another while the war was directed from afar.

Perhaps most impressively, 1917 achieves all of this without exploiting the visceral horror of warfare (Hacksaw Ridge) or resorting to mawkish sentimentality (War Horse). That's a rare phenomenon with this subject matter, and something to be treasured in itself...



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Dunkirk, The Revenant and if you're a film nerd, Birdman.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.
Although definitely check it out in a cinema if you have the opportunity
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
This is the best I've seen Chapman and while MacKay is fantastic as usual, I think he's yet to bring us his best.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Plenty opportunity.
No excuse
.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Tivik is in this.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 When Blake describes his brother (twice) as "looks like me, but a bit older", I genuinely hoped we'd later see Dean-Charles Chapman in that role too, but with lifts in his shoes and an obviously stuck-on moustache. As it turns out we get Richard 'Cardboard' Madden, instead making the character completely unrealistic in a whole raft of new ways... [ BACK ]

*2 It's not, of course. The film comprises around 12-15 (depending on which articles you read) shots, meticulously stitched together to appear as a single take. And the good news is that you can play 'spot the join' without taking anything away from the final movie, even if Sam Mendes would prefer that you didn't. I mean in short, don't tell the audience that this is the feature then expect them not to think about it during the film, yeah? [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.