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1917 – Movie Review: Visual Tricks Overshadow War’s Human Story

1917

1917 definitely has a very specific energy, and that is tension built on top of tension on top of tension. But like a meal whose flavor profile is just based on one flavor, the final effect feels a little flat, even if it’s so technically stunning. Director Sam Mendes has always been an arresting visual director, from his award-winning work on American Beauty two decades ago to the comic-adapted Road to Perdition to (the best Bond film) Skyfall. And here he’s aided by (one of the greatest living cinematographers) Roger Deakins (who also teamed with Mendes on Skyfall) and editor Lee Smith, who help him achieve the illusion of a single, uninterrupted shot for the entire length of this gorgeous and arresting movie. The film’s strength and weakness are that the gimmick works incredibly effectively. But the story and characters take a backseat to the narrative and technical constraints, which somewhat hamstrings a technically amazing film.

Said story and characters are simple enough: in the waning days of World War I in the trenches of the Western Front, two English doughboys are dispatched to warn a battalion to call off an attack scheduled for dawn. To make the matter more personal, one of the infantrymen’s brother serves in that battalion, so they’re not only saving the war effort, but a family member. The camera follows the action in what appears to be one interrupted take (although it’s fairly clear where they used specific transitions to hide their cuts) and the results are intense.

Much like in Hitchcock’s classic film Rope, (and used in a somewhat more gimmicky way in Birdman) the lack of cuts helps elevate the dramatic tension. You never quite notice how much we depend on a simple cut to alleviate that anxiety that simply comes from letting a take run long. Especially in our quick-cut, quick edit world, we are simply not used to a filmmaker using a single shot for an extended period of time and it becomes incredibly unnerving. The way the camera moves, and what it chooses to linger on (including disturbing images of the horrors of war) also double and triple down on the dramatic tension.

The downside is that our characters and actors take a backseat to all of this, as a veritable who’s who of acclaimed British actors show up all too briefly. Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch bookend the film as British generals in their strongest stiff upper lip personas, and along the way we also run across Andrew Scott (Hot Priest sighting!) and Mark Strong. But where the film actually works best is in some of its quieter moments, such as encountering a young French mother trying to protect her infant while under siege/occupation by German forces.

1917 surely deserves the awards nominations and attention it has been receiving. As a technical achievement, it is breathtaking. But, then again, so is Avengers: Endgame. And in a year where we’re once again discussing the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of awards nominees, it’s hard to not take a second look at 1917 for what it is: a technical masterpiece which puts all of the talents of Roger Deakins and Mendes on full display, but which is choosing to tell a very traditional story centered around the heroics of white men. I had similar problems with Dunkirk. (However, it should be noted that Mendes does take time to at least cameo the contributions of non-white British soldiers) But this is very clearly a passion project and one where Mendes is cashing in a lot of favors to make the movie he wants to make. And it’s time to stop for one moment and think about exactly what kind of film comes out of that process and why, and how that compares to the barriers faced by some of 2019’s other top films and filmmakers. And is there a reason why Sam Mendes might get a Best Director nomination but Lulu Wang won’t? Which, again, isn’t a reason why Mendes shouldn’t be nominated. But maybe Todd Phillips shouldn’t?

All of that is to say that you should most certainly see 1917 and revel in its technical prowess, but also interrogate it a little. If not one of 2019’s absolutely best films, it’s one of its most technically audacious and certainly deserving of the awards hype it’s getting. My personal recommendations would be to not only watch this but then also delve back into Deakins’ back catalog, from his work with the Coen Brothers to Dennis Villanueve, to understand how much visual sauce he’s able to bring to most films.

4.25 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns is the Practically Perfect sequel in almost every way, but it’s potentially pandering to fans. What is almost a beat for beat and scene-by-scene song by song remake of the original, it’s a remake in sequel’s clothing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

After all, that is essentially what The Force Awakens was for Star Wars. But there are enough differences and updates to keep it fresh and make it fun and new.

Chief among these is its cast. Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins. Period. And the way she puts an extra bit of pizzazz on so much of her delivery helps set this Poppins apart from Julie Andrews’ performance. Blunt’s is a bit more playful and mischievous, but also at the same time more serious and menacing. Julie Andrews’ Poppins was nurturing, Blunt’s Poppins is just straight badass.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack The Lamplighter falls into Dick Van Dyke’s shoes as the “Bert” of this story, and he’s having an incredible amount of fun here. You can tell this is someone who has dreamed of being in a big Disney musical like this his entire life, and he’s soaking up every moment that he can. Unfortunately, just like with Van Dyke, his American accent bites through the attempt at Cockney, exposing a small gap in the performance. When the songs require Miranda to fall into his rap delivery that Hamilton and In the Heights fans are so familiar with, Miranda’s natural timbre and delivery come out and he’s just Lin-Manuel Miranda — not some cockney lamplighter.

The Banks children are also just perfectly adorable. They couldn’t have been better cast if Disney were to have assembled them in a factory somewhere, which I always, in fact, fear that Disney has done. Little Georgie (Joel Dawson) especially is a particularly great find.

And Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer are no slouches as the grown-up Jane and Michael Banks either. Wishaw delivers some of the more tender moments of the film, singing about the loss and grief of losing his wife, the children’s mother. It is with this that Mary Poppins Returns sets itself apart from the original. While Mary Poppins (1964) was morally complex, layered, and beautiful, it never sought to delve into something as emotional as loss of a primary family member. The way the film deals with this is endearing and beautiful, and hopefully will be a salve to any children who face this incredible trauma in the future.

The visuals are also phenomenal. Mary Poppins’ first adventure with the children is to get them clean. In an outing in their own bathtub they swim with playful dolphins and through pirate treasure in some of the most beautiful animation that we’ve seen mixed with live action in a long time.

This continues to crop up throughout the film as the children jump into a china dish and go to a circus and face off against a scheming fox (Colin Firth.who plays a symbolic double role here also as the acting head of the bank where Michael works).

Of course this is all filled with the most wonderful of music as well. While maybe not as polished and classic as the Sherman Brothers songs, these new songs from Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) are still incredibly serviceable. many of them take on an edge of vaudeville or the jazz music of the time period, which is a fun touch. As mentioned before, the theme of loss is what sets this apart, and the songs “A Conversation” and “The Place Where Lost Things Go”are particularly heartfelt as they relate to the loss of Michael’s wife/the childrens’ mother. 

While the film really wants to be its own, director Rob Marshall feels like he’s merely mimicking the original film. It is scene for scene, beat-for-beat, song for song an homage, if not a straight rip-off, of the original. There’s also a turn at the end in service to the plot to tie up all loose ends that I personally had a thematic problem with, but for those who don’t necessarily share my very specific views or head canon of the original Mary Poppins, you will likely not even blink at it.

Emily Mortimer is also tragically underutilized. While they make mention of her labour organizing and a nacent possible romance with Jack, these plotlines are somewhat dropped and underdeveloped. It felt like there might have been more there at some point that was cut from early scripts or versions of the film.

The film is also full of engaging cameos. Don’t let anyone spoil them for you, and don’t even look at the soundtrack listing or IMDb, because when some of these folks show up on screen it is just an absolute delight.

This film will surely entertain parents and children young and old for years to come. Beautiful and emotionally resonant, if a little too formulaic to the original, but if you’re a fan of the original 1964 Mary Poppins and don’t mind seeing an updated version of that, this film is absolutely for you. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

4 out of 5 stars

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Gets a Poster

Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced the world to Kingsman – an independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion, whose ultimate goal is to keep the world safe. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, our heroes face a new challenge. When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, their journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US called Statesman, dating back to the day they were both founded. In a new adventure that tests their agents’ strength and wits to the limit, these two elite secret organizations band together to defeat a ruthless common enemy, in order to save the world, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy…

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is based on the comic series from Mark Millar, stars Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry with Sir Elton John, Channing Tatum, and Jeff Bridges, and is directed by Matthew Vaughn. The movie comes to theaters 9/29/2017.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Gets a Poster

Kingsman: The Golden Circle‘s lead actor Taron Egerton has posted on Twitter the first poster for the film.

The first poster also hints the return of Colin Firth‘s character who we thought had died in the first film. Spoilers people!!!!

The film has Egerton’s agent teaming up with some American agents.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and more, Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens June 10, 2017.

The First Trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service

Based upon the comic book from Mark Millar and directed by Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

The film stars Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson. It hits theaters October 24, 2014.

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day, what’s everyone getting? Are you heading there today, or waiting until Saturday?

Around the Tubes

The Hollywood Reporter – Colin Firth in Talks to Star in Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Secret Service’ A good fit.

Bleeding Cool – Greg Rucka Reviews The MPAA Rating For Man Of Steel Or they want the rating so parents are more likely to go with their kids… and then buy the toys from the movie.

 

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