FlixChatter Review: Knives Out (2019)

With a provocative title like Knives Out, the film had better be a sharp murder mystery. Fortunately, writer/director Rian Johnson and his stellar ensemble cast delivered! The film embraces the tropes of the whodunnit genre – the wealthy dysfunctional family, the historic mansion, and an eccentric detective investigating the case… but it cleverly turned it on its head. It’s not as eerie, chilling or overly dark, in fact, Johnson kept the mood rather light and even seemingly frivolous. But don’t let that fool you, it’s suspenseful when it needs to be and oh, it’s just so delightfully entertaining!

The film starts out with the death of the family patriarch, crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), following his own birthday celebration. Soon the family gathers to mourn him, while in reality all they care about is how big of the inheritance they’d get. Given the suspicious nature of Harlan’s death, the detectives promptly arrive to question the members, including the debonair detective Benoit Blanc, whose involvement in the case is a mystery in itself.

Daniel Craig seems to have a blast playing Detective Blanc, with a rather quirky Southern Accent. The accent perhaps intentional to contrast him from the WASP-y, Massachusetts-bred Harlan  family, much like Agatha Christie’s Poirot’s mustache sets her protagonist apart from the people he’s investigating. Craig definitely stands out even amongst this stellar cast, but the real star of the film is Ana de Armas who plays Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s loyal nurse who can’t lie without vomiting. That bit lends to some hilarious scenes in the film. This is only the second time I saw her since Blade Runner 2049, but she’s proven herself a versatile actress. Here she looks plain as can be, dressed in the dowdiest clothes, but portrays a seemingly-helpless-but-smarter-than-you-think character so well that you’re never quite know just who she really is.

I won’t go into more plot details, as this is the kind of film that’s best to go into it blindly. Any fan of murder mystery would get a kick out Johnson’s clever plot that keeps you guessing. Every single member of the family could have been the culprit, and that’s what made this kind of movies fun. I kept thinking things would go one way and it went another direction, keeping things suspenseful yet light and mirthful. Most of the action takes place inside or around the mansion, but there’s enough going for it to keep you engaged. It goes to show that a good script the best special effect of all, no amount of special effect or stunning visuals can make up for a good story.

I also love the fact that the writer/director makes good use of his eclectic ensemble cast, even Plummer in the flashback scenes. Each actor have their moment to shine, though of course some are memorable than others. Chris Evans clearly relish on playing a spoiled brat, practically the black sheep of the family… quite a departure from his goody-two-shoes Captain America role. The cozy-but-oh-so-sexy aesthetic no doubt spikes up sales of Fisherman sweaters everywhere.  I always adore the chameleonic Toni Collette and she’s fun to watch as a lifestyle guru, perhaps channeling Gwyneth Paltrow a bit with her Goop empire. It’s also amusing to see Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson as a couple. I think Jamie Lee should get more leading roles even now in her 60s, this sassy woman’s still got it!

Rian Johnson got so much flak for The Last Jedi which I actually enjoyed. I’m glad he’s back directing an original story as he’s clearly a gifted storyteller. In addition to the shrewd plot, he manages to inject a not-so-subtle jab about today’s political climate in regards to immigrants. I think the Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod is well-deserved, oh and the cast should’ve been nominated for Best Ensemble at SAG Awards too! The last shot of the film is absolutely brilliant… the expressions of the cast and an ingenious use of a particular prop is one of the best cinematic final scenes ever. I can’t help but smile every time I think about it!

I’m glad I was able to catch it before it left local cineplex as I missed the press screening back in November. Apparently a sequel is in the works for this, centered on Benoit Blanc with Craig reprising his role (so Craig is trading James Bond for Blanc, Benoit Blanc. Ha!) Normally I’d roll my eyes whenever sequels are announced, but I’m open to this idea, let’s hope the follow-up sequel’s script is as clever as this one.


Have you seen KNIVES OUT? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: JUST MERCY (2020)

I saw Just Mercy at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, but finally just got around to reviewing it. It ends up being perfect timing given today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day as it’s known in the States), celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. This year it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.

Just Mercy is an extraordinary BOAT (based on a true story) film. Not only because of the powerful and thought-provoking subject matter, but the story is based on a memoir of attorney Bryan Stevenson who’s depicted in the film, with Stevenson himself served as an advisor. That aspects lends authenticity to the story, plus there’s two powerhouse actors bringing it to life: Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, a wrongfully imprisoned black man who’s on death row.

The story starts with Stevenson after graduating from Harvard Law School. Naturally the bright young lawyer could’ve taken a number of lucrative jobs in a big city of his choice. But instead he drives to Alabama to work on people who are wrongly-condemned and not afforded proper representation. His only ally is Eva Asnley (Brie Larson), a young mother working to match lawyers with death row inmates. She was about to give up when she got a call from Stevenson looking to start a legal center for inmates on death row.

As far as legal/courtroom dramas goes, Just Mercy perhaps isn’t the most accurate. I talked to an attorney friend of mine after the screening and he noticed a bunch of glaring inaccuracies in the courtroom scenes. Be that as it may, for most people who aren’t in the legal field, I don’t think we’d ever notice those. What the movie has going for it is the emotional impact. The flashback scene that shows an encounter between Walter and the town sheriff who obviously deems Walter guilty before he does or say anything. “You don’t know what you’re into down here in Alabama, when you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.” – it’s just one of Walter’s gut-wrenching quote that stays with me. By the time we see him in the film, Walter’s already served several years on Alabama’s Death Row, having been accused of murdering an 18-year-old white dry-cleaning clerk.

It’s the kind of film that gets you riled up for the blatant racism and injustice that sadly still hasn’t been completely eradicated to this day. The film mentioned the fact that Walter had an affair with a white woman automatically made him a suspect, despite having a strong alibi that he was nowhere near the location of the crime, and dozens of witnesses were with him at the time of the murder. The scene where Bryan first met Walter’s family, greeted warmly by his wife who’s astounded that he’d bother to visit them packs an emotional punch.

Both Jordan and Foxx did an astounding job in their respective roles. It’s clear that the subject matter is personal to them, and it shows. Foxx has shared in several talk shows that his own father was wrongly jailed for seven years for having $25 of illegal substances. What’s most heartbreaking to see is how Walter sort of resigned himself to a death sentence. Even when Bryan assured him he could get an appeal, Walter thought a death sentence a foregone conclusion. It’s no surprise given just how much the rigged system is stacked against them, and that what really happens have no bearing on the jury’s conviction.

The third act consists of conventional courtroom drama stuff. It gets a bit schmaltzy and even plodding at times, but director Destin Daniel Cretton manages to keep the emotional quotient high. Jordan and Foxx really shine on and off the courtroom scenes, but I have to give props to supporting actors Herbert Richardson as Walter’s fellow death-row inmate and Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal whose false testimony incriminated Walter. Rafe Spall, an underrated English character actor,  is also pretty effective as the District Attorney for Monroe County, a key figure in Walter’s appeal process. If I have to nitpick however, aside from one brief conversation with his mother about wanting to fight injustice, we don’t really get to see just who Bryan Stevenson is and what is he about as a person. I suppose the film’s focus in the fight to free Walter McMillian, but I think his character (and Larson’s) could use some more depth.

Overall, the talented cast elevates Just Mercy slightly above a run-of-the-mill social justice drama. Stylistically, this film is pretty subdued, no dazzling cinematography or cutting-edge camera work to speak of. Even the music isn’t particularly memorable. But in the end, it’s Walter McMillian’s narrative that takes center stage, as it should be because it’s an inspiring, timely story and one that needs to be told. The film made me want to learn more about the McMillian’s case and others similar to his, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative that Stevenson and Eva Asnley founded in 1989. For that reason alone, the filmmakers and cast did an admirable job.


Have you seen JUST MERCY? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – UNDERWATER (2020)

In 2017, prior to its acquisition by The Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox was in production of a Sci-Fi/Horror genre film Underwater, with actress Kristen Stewart taking the leading role. Now a part of much larger studio and release schedule, the film, directed by William Eubank, would not get a release date until the start of 2020. Having a release date in the second weekend of January, it usually means that the film can face stiff completion from other films released during the 2019 holidays and still attracting moviegoers weeks later, such as Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level. There is also the competition for viewers from Oscar contenders, such as 1917 and Parasite. But with a Sci-Fi/Horror genre, Underwater could have potentially gained viewers who were just seeking some fun thrills and chills.

Unfortunately, Underwater has neither thrills nor chills that amount to much of anything. The premise is quite simple; Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) works deep underwater at a drill seven miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. As what seems like a massive earthquake hits, a section of the Kepler 822 Station where Price is stationed starts to suffer a catastrophic breach from the pressure. One moment Price is brushing her teeth and the next moment, there is water coming from all directions. Price is able to locate a fellow mechanical engineer Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie) and the two of them prevent a larger breach from happening, escape the area and rescue another crewman Paul Abel (T.J. Miller). The three try to locate escape pods but find them all deployed already, and they must search go to another section of the station where there are more escape pods located.

The trio runs into Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), who takes them to a control base where they find biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.). The group decides to put on pressurized suits and walk one mile across the ocean floor to the Roebuck Station 641. This is where things start going all wrong and slowly but surely, we start losing the minor characters that Norah Price found along the way. First, Rodrigo’s helmet is faulty and cracks from the pressure, killing him instantly. Next they find a menacing hatchling creature, which does quick work of Paul by dragging him underwater before being ripping his suit out and killing him.

The remaining four survivors continue their journey by walking across the ocean floor (I mean what could possibly go wrong???), but another human-looking creature appears, and drags Smith into a cave. Captain Lucien manages to pull Smith out, but tries foolishly goes for Smith’s bolt gun, giving the creature the chance to drag Lucien quickly up through the water and away from the other three. Price manages to locate Captain Lucien, but when the mysterious creature begins ascending, Captain Lucien sacrifices himself so that Price may escape the increasing change in pressure, killing him in the process.

Price is a now alone, without knowing what happened to Smith and Haversham. She manages to reach the abandoned Shepard Station, replaces her used up pressurized suit and leaves the Shepard Station, continuing toward another even deeper station called the Roebuck. Price conveniently runs into Smith and Haversham as she approaches the Roebuck, but also notices a nest of the humanoid creatures hanging from the ceiling and they try to sneak by to no avail. A tiny pressure suit noise causes one of them to wake up and attack Price. She gets partially swallowed but is able to kill the creature and break free, and Haversham rescues Price as they continue their way into the Roebuck.

They realize that the previous earthquake was no earthquake (duh!!!) and enormous creature reveals itself and causes an explosion, which starts to damage the Roebuck. The gigantic alpha creature, which had destroyed their rig earlier, emerges from around the Roebuck surrounded by even more of the humanoid creatures. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): The three survivors are able to reach the escape pod bay, but Price discovers that only two work, with a third being damaged and unusable. Price gives up her spot so that Smith and Haversham could take the last two working escape pods, and she stays behind. Knowing she is already going to die, Price raises the energy levels of the core engines so that they explode, killing the creatures and allowing the escape pods to reach the surface.

The Price character has many resemblances to Sigourney Weaver‘s Alien character Ripley. She seems to always have the upper hand on those humanoid creatures, and isn’t even afraid to take on the gigantic alpha creature, much like Ripley went toe to toe with the alien creature in Ridley Scott‘s 1979 sci-fi/horror thriller. The difference here is that Ripley used quite a bit of strength and her own smarts to out-power and outwit the alien creature. On the other hand, Norah Price is just a throwaway character and Kristen Stewart plays her role with more trauma and distraught, which makes you think that she is getting incredibly lucky with her decision making more than having any extraordinary abilities.

The bottom line is I’d rather watch Ridley Scott’s Alien for a billionth time rather than watch even a few more minutes of Underwater. I think it was a mistake for 20th Century Fox/ The Walt Disney Studios to finance it and release it in theaters. Perhaps they should have left it for streaming on their platform Disney+ or found another streaming partner, such as Netflix. While it would be alright to see this film sitting at home, I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their time/money by seeing it on the big screen. Especially if you’re hoping to make any sense of the ending, its best you just go along with the ride and hope to make it out alright on the other side.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen UNDERWATER? Well, what did you think? 

Thursday Movie Picks #288: Films Released In 2019

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I can’t believe it’s been five years since I participated in this weekly Thursday Movie Picks blogathon that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 2019 Releases

Well, since I am still working on my Top 10 Best of 2019 that I’m planning to post next week (as I always like to wait at least a week or two after new year before publishing), then consider this post a preview of what you’ll see either on my main list or honorable mentions. I’ll choose three that I haven’t personally reviewed it myself.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Marriage Story

A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

I saw this film back in October 2019 at Twin Cities Film Fest, and I still remember how much I was taken by it. Somehow I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of it, not sure why because I have SO much praise for it. Perhaps it’ll be too long of a review, ahah. If someone were to ask me my favorite film of 2019, I often say this one right away because it’s on my mind so much. I just LOVE Noah Baumbach‘s script, which I feel depicts a dissolution of a marriage in an unflinching-ly real and emotional way, with the actors performing in such a naturalistic way it’s as if I was watching the characters themselves, not a performance. I kind of have a thing for Adam Driver these days, and he’s absolutely phenomenal here (plus he sang, too!)

I actually have only seen one film he directed, While We’re Young, and while I like parts of it, I didn’t really love it. But I know I’ll be rooting for Baumbach to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars!

A Hidden Life

Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter faces the threat of execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis during World War II.

I actually just had a discussion about this film with my fellow blogger Keith who also loved this movie (check out his review of this film here). It’s definitely a return to form for Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of a conscientious objector during World War II. It’s a slow, reflective film but not-at-all boring… it’s a typical Malick film with gorgeous cinematography and long silences, but unlike his previous film Knight Of Cups (a film about a screenwriter without a script??!), this time it has such a strong emotional center. I truly felt for Franz and his wife and their struggle is so painstakingly-palpable. Truly an unforgettable film that stays with you long after the end credits roll.

Peanut Butter Falcon

After running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome befriends an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally.

One of my awesome blog contributors Holly P. has reviewed this a while back,  but I had finally seen it this past weekend. Oh it’s such a delightful film and Zack Gottsagen will steal your heart. I think it’s wonderful that the film employed an actor with Down syndrome to portray a character with that condition and he did a marvelous job. I love the relationship between him and his co-stars Dakota Johnson and Shia LaBeouf, there are SO many scenes that pack such emotional wallop. It’s such a funny, uplifting film, definitely one of the best 2019 offerings. In fact, I think it should’ve gotten more awards love than some movies that got nominated recently.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

13 Thoughts about 2020 Oscars Nominations

1. As I was catching up on reading about the Oscars nominations this afternoon, this Forbes article pretty much says it all… Oscars in danger of losing its relevance.

The Academy needs to wake up and understand the innate diversity of Generation Z before it’s too late. Nearly 50 percent of post-millennials are nonwhite, more than any other demographic in the United States and we all want to see ourselves represented.

I couldn’t say it better myself…

2. So basically #OscarsSoWhite is baaaack! Just because a single person of color is nominated–Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)–doesn’t negate that hashtag. Now, I’m happy for miss Erivo, as she was great in Widows as well, which was grossly overlooked by the Academy in 2018.

But really, no Lupita Nyong’O (Us), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Eddie Murphy in (Dolemite Is My Name), Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy)??

3. Oscars-So-Male … Female directors are snubbed once again [sigh]
It’s not like we haven’t seen this before… but in a year where there are a TON of terrific films directed by women, it’s especially crushing!  Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), just to name a few…

4. Oscars-So-Serious. The academy hate didn’t get comedy… Jojo Rabbit is the only [dark] comedy amongst the 9 nominees. I mean just because the main character is a clown, I wouldn’t categorize JOKER as a comedy really.

5. Speaking of which… WOW! They like JOKER that much??! That movie led the nominees with a whopping 11 nominations, including Best Actor and Best Director nods for Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips, respectively, and a Best Picture nod. Ok I knew Joaquin is a shoo-in, I’d even be fine with it getting a Best Picture nod (meh!), but Best Adapted Screenplay, too??? What a joke indeed!

6. In any case, on a more positive note… Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach made history as the only couple nominated in Best Adapted and Original Screenplay category! I’m rooting for both of them, how cool would it be if they go home with matching gold statuettes!!

7. Still no love for The Lighthouse… as I commented in my Golden Globes post, that film might have been way too weird for the Academy. It’s kind of a bad year for A24 all around as The Farewell was completely snubbed as well.

8. As if mimicking Jo and Amy’s rivalry in Little Women, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are both nominated! I’m totally ok with that as I think both actress are deserving of nods… and miss Pugh is quickly becoming one of my fave actresses!

9. It’s been an amazing year for Scarlett Johansson! She became just the 12th person to be nominated for two acting Oscars in the same year – one for Best Actor for Marriage Story and Best Supporting Actor for Jojo Rabbit. That said, I don’t know if she’s really THAT great in Jojo Rabbit, I think she might have robbed that from J-Lo in Hustlers.

10. Happy for Parasite for landing SIX noms, wow!! I think the Best Foreign Language is a shoo-in, but it also lands Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Editing AND Best Original Screenplay nominations! I think the Best Foreign Film is in the can, but let’s see if they’d collect any more statuette.

11. Glad to see Knives Out by Rian Johnson nabbed Best Original Screenplay nod, but I’ll still be rooting for Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach!

12. It’s a happy day for Netflix which earned 24 nominations across all of the categories while Amazon got a big fat zero! Clearly they biggest winners are The Irishman and Marriage Story, though the streaming giant barely went home with any Golden Globe awards despite a bunch of noms.

13. YAY for Klaus nominated in Best Animated Feature! I saw it around Christmas, and I thought it was great. The reimagining of Santa Claus is absolutely gorgeous to look at and has a genuinely moving story. The Spanish animated Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by Sergio Pablos (in his directorial debut) is a Netflix original.

Haven’t seen FROZEN II (and honestly not that interested to check it out anytime soon), so I have no thoughts about it not being nominated.


Oscars will air live on Sunday, February 9 at 3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m. ET on ABC.


Well, what are YOUR thoughts about the Oscars noms this year?

FlixChatter Review – 1917 (2020)

When I heard that Sam Mendes, the Oscar winning director of American Beauty and one of my favorite “James Bond” films, Skyfall, was releasing a World War I film, I was beyond intrigued. Centered around the spring of 1917 during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich, Mendes wanted to incorporate a story his grandfather Alfred Mendes told him about a messenger and his heroic task during the war. The film, appropriately titled 1917, is takes place on the front lines in northern France, as the British 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment is planning to mount an attack on the retreating German forces. The Germans have mounted a retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but are planning to ambush the 2nd Battalion, a company battalion of 1,600 men, in hopes of catching the British forces by surprise.

Colin Firth in 1917

The movie opens on two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) napping underneath a tree at the edge of the British trenches in northern France. Suddenly, Lance Corporal Blake is awaked by his commanding officer, telling him to pick a partner and report for further instructions from British General Erinmore (Colin Firth). General Erinmore tasks the two Lance Corporals to deliver a message to halt a British force of the 2nd Battalion before they walk into a trap laid by the German army. The General informs Blake and Schofield that among the 1,600 men of the 2nd Battalion is also Blake’s own brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden), and that they must to do the impossible: cross over No Man’s Land, evade enemy forces, and stay alive long enough to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the front line that his 2nd Battalion is walking into a trap, set by the German Army.

Dean-Charles Chapman + George MacKay

After Blake and Schofield cross into No Man’s Land, with some careful instruction from a Lieutenant Leslie (Andrew Scott), they reach the original German front, finding the trenches abandoned. Their worst feelings come true, as they find that the abandoned trenches turn out to be booby-trapped by the Germans in hopes of killing as many British soldiers as possible. Thanks to some (extremely large) rats who set off one of the booby-traps, the ensuing explosion almost kills Schofield. Thankfully, Blake is there to help Schofield out and they manage to run out of the collapsing bunkers just in time. Having to take shelter in ruined buildings, and sidestepping over unseen obstacles, Blake and Schofield arrive at an abandoned farmhouse and witness a dogfight between British and German planes nearby. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) – As a German pilot is shot down and crash lands near them, Blake and Schofield try to rescue the pilot from the burning wreckage, but the German soldier turns his knife on Blake and mortally wounds him.

As Schofield is now tasked to deliver the message to Colonel Mackenzie alone, he is picked up by a passing British contingent and dropped off near the bombed-out village of Écoust-Saint-Mein. Dodging snipers and climbing over collapsed bridges, Schofield is injured and gets knocked out by a ricocheting bullet. As he wakes up hours later, it is nightfall and Schofield tries to navigate the bombed out and collapsed buildings of Écoust-Saint-Mein, as the German soldiers set fire to large building, creating a giant blaze in the middle of the night and helping Schofield light the way around the town. Unfortunately, he also becomes the target of numerous German snipers, managing to evade them before he finds shelter in an abandoned basement, where he stumbles into the hiding place of a French woman and an infant. He leaves them some canned food and milk he had found at the abandoned farmhouse that he and Blake had found.

Bound by completing his mission, Schofield leaves the woman and infant, but not before learning that the place he is looking for is just down river from the village he was in. He runs past more German soldiers and snipers, and ends up jumping into the river, going over a waterfall and finding more dead bodies of soldiers from both sides. In the morning, he comes across a part of the British 2nd Battalion, as they wait and prepare to go into battle.

From them, he learns that they are actually a part of the second wave, and that while attack has already begun and Blake’s brother is among the first wave to go over the top, he still has time to reach Colonel Mackenzie before it’s too late. He sprints across the trenches and actually climbs onto the battlefield to reach Colonel Mackenzie, who is at first reluctant to call off the attack, but ends up relenting and follows General Erinmore and British Command’s instructions. Schofield is left to find Lieutenant Joseph Blake, SPOILER (highlight to read): and to inform him of his brother’s death. Lieutenant Blake thanks Schofield for his efforts and leaves Schofield to sit by a tree, finally able to rest after successfully completing his mission.

 

For 1917, Mendes collaborates again with award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, award-winning composer Thomas Newman and co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Mendes and Deakins decided to shoot the movie as one long take, without cutting between scenes. Since it’s told from the point of view of Blake and Schofield, Mendes and Deakins rely on lead actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman to take the audience from the trenches, to the battlefields and abandoned farmhouses and other building. Both MacKay and Chapman tackle this challenge with much success, but it is really MacKay that makes the emotional connection needed to make his character relatable yet resilient. Chapman plays on the youth and inexperience of Lance Corporal Blake to make it seem like he needs Lance Corporal Schofield to succeed.

Even though we don’t see much of Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden or Colin Firth, they each fulfill their roles to advance the plot line and bring the notion of familiarity and comfort to the audience, who has been carrying along with the two relatively-unknown lead actors. Not knowing the fates of the two lead British soldiers was a clever tactic used by Mendes, and losing one or both soldiers in battle would not be as big of a setback to the viewers if their message would somehow end up reaching its destination. Had Mendes cast household recognizable actors in those roles, it would have been much harder for the story to develop in the direction that it did. Thomas Newman’s score is also very memorable and fits perfectly into the wartime arc of the movie.

This is one my top-10 movies of the year and I’d be surprised if it didn’t get nominated for multiple Academy Awards. It just won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama this past Sunday, and Sam Mendes won the Golden Globe for Best Director. I’d also like to see nominations for Thomas Newman’s score, Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay and perhaps most of all, Roger Deakins’ cinematography.

This is a deeply memorable film that will be remembered as one of the best World War I movies of all time, and it ranks as perhaps one of the best war movies ever made. It is not to be missed, especially in an IMAX theater and I give it my wholehearted, unabridged endorsement.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen 1917? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Little Women (2019)

As a fan of period dramas with strong female protagonists, naturally I’ve been looking forward to seeing the new Little Women adaptation. I remember loving the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version, but 25 years is a long enough time to see a new adaptation from Louisa May Alcott‘s autobiographical novel about her own life with her three sisters in post-Civil War America.

After the success of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig was undoubtedly poised to helm this adaptation that’s packed with a stellar cast: Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy,  Emma Watson as Meg and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. She re-teamed with Ronan once again, who apparently asked to be cast as the headstrong, modern protagonist Jo March. The film is told from her perspective as she reflects on her life in a non-linear narrative. It took some time for me to figure out which timeline is being told, as one has to really pay attention to details whether a scene takes place in flashback or present. But once the film gets going, it’s easier to follow and I was immersed in the March sisters’ journey.

Lady Bird was beloved by critics and audiences alike, but I must say I enjoyed Little Women more and Gerwig’s direction has the right amount of flair to make the story really come alive. Ronan is a consistently excellent actress, but she clearly reveled in this role. She’s so lively, passionate and fiery as Jo March, and her independent spirit shines through. The March sisterhood is endearing and emotionally moving, each woman’s journey is handled with care and most importantly, each is given a ‘voice’ that most women is deprived of in that era. Jo’s relationship with each of her sister is well-developed, especially the sibling rivalry between her and Amy. 

Pugh has quickly become one of my favorite actresses and the incredibly gifted miss Ronan has truly met her match in this casting. Of course I was as furious as Jo when she found out Amy had done that heinous thing to her (you know what I mean if you’ve read the book or seen the film). Their relationship is the most explosive, for a lack of a better word, without being over-dramatic, with each young performer fiercely holding her own. The speech Amy made about how the inequality of women of that time is a defining moment in the film. Though delivered almost in a matter-of-fact manner by Pugh, it packed an emotional punch. Apparently that whole speech was written in the last minute just before shooting, at the suggestion of Meryl Streep who played Aunt March.

In terms of casting, Laura Dern is wonderful as the kind, caring mother of the March girls. Streep is always great to watch and she even became a comic relief at times, but it’s Chris Cooper who’s absolutely devastating as Mr. Laurence. He imbued SO much heart in the role with barely any word spoken… and relationship with Beth, who reminds him of the granddaughter he lost, is particularly heart-rending.

I remember having a bit of a crush on the 1994’s version of boy next door Laurie (played by Christian Bale, natch!), but I absolutely adore Timothée Chalamet in the role. The Hollywood’s boyfriend of the moment has always been extremely watchable, but the way he looks at Jo with his longing look… oh my! And that proposal scene just breaks my heart.

Now, if I have to nitpick however, is the relationship between Jo and Friedrich Bhaer, the professor. Now, I can forgive casting a French actor (Louis Garrel) playing a German character (or someone with a German name), but I just didn’t feel much connection between the two and the scene feels rushed somehow. I remember swooning over Gabriel Byrne as Bhaer and the ‘my hands are empty’ scene was far more emotional.

Overall though, this is definitely one of the best literary adaptations and it’s a shame Greta Gerwig and the film was overlooked at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Let’s see if the Academy would rectify that. It’s a film with an inspiring message for girls and women alike, and a good one for boys as well to serve as a reminder that the journey for women equality still continues. In terms of production values, there are plenty to admire as well. The production design by Jess Gonchor is excellent, setting it in Louisa May Alcott’s family home where she wrote the novel adds so much authenticity. So is Jacqueline Durran‘s costumes that look era appropriate and fits each character well. The gorgeous cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and lush music score by Alexandre Desplat all makes Little Women a feast for the senses and one I think I’ll want to watch over and over for years to come.


Have you seen Little Women? Well, what did you think?