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: SPECTRE (2015)

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I wonder if the way I feel about the Bond song somehow impacts how I feel about the film itself. Some of my least favorite Bond songs are The Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day, and Quantum of Solace, and those are also my least favorite Bond films. I already mentioned in this post how much I abhorred Sam Smith’s latest, Writing’s on the Wall which sounds more like fingernails on a chalk board. Unfortunately for me, during the press screening, I had to endure that song not once but twice as they played Sam Smith’s music video before the movie, so I had to suffer through THAT song once again during the opening title [sigh]

Of course it’s ludicrous to judge a Bond movie from the song, so I was prepared for an awesome Bond film. To be fair, the melody of the song itself is actually not bad, with Thomas Newman back scoring this again after Skyfall. Well, the first 15 minutes is certainly promising. It’s tradition that Bond films open with a bang and this one is no different, starting with a foot chase through a throng of huge crowd during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. It’s followed by a spectacular fight scene aboard a helicopter flying above the main square. If we’re to judge a movie by cinematography alone, Spectre is excellent, thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema whose done amazing work in Her and Interstellar recently.

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Plot-wise, Spectre has a lot going for it, at least on paper. The parallel conflicts that Bond and M are facing in the film also promises an extra layer of intrigue, in addition to the personal vendetta that runs through the vein of Daniel Craig‘s Bond films. A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization and somehow he ends up going rogue. Meanwhile, his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with a crisis of his own as the head of Joint Intelligence Service (which merged MI5 and MI6) threatened to shut down the double-O section. It’s an intriguing set up and as a massive Bond fan, I expect once again to be bowled over.

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Alas, after that spectacular opening, the film seems to lose momentum and never quite claim it back. All the high-octane action didn’t have quite the adrenaline rush I expected from a Bond movie. Even the car chase through the streets of Rome feels rather stale, it’s like I’ve seen a far more exciting car chase scene in previous Bond movies and recently in its rival franchise, Mission Impossible 5. Then there’s the unintentional humor that makes it hard to take the film seriously. The two times Bond wooed two of the beautiful Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, the scenes elicit laughter from the audience. It feels so obligatory and cringe-worthy, a far cry from the intriguing AND sexy love affair between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale. Vesper was a complex character with a compelling story arc, but here the two Bond girls aren’t given the same courtesy. It’s sad to see an actress of Bellucci’s stature be utterly wasted here.
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The film also promises a massive super villain, the mother lode of all villains Bond has encountered in his past, “I’m the source of all your pain,” Oberhauser tells him once Bond gets to his lair. So it’s quite a let down that this supposedly fearsome, ultra-powerful mastermind turns out to be not so menacing at all. Remember how sinister Christoph Waltz was in Inglourious Basterds? Well, here he’s nothing more than a clichéd psychopath throwing tantrums at Bond because of… a childhood feud. Huh? No less than FOUR screenwriters credited here, three of whom also worked on Skyfall, and all they could come up with is THIS half-baked story? [spoiler alert] I find it hard to believe that Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chifre, who was effortlessly menacing AND intriguing in Casino Royale, actually worked for this lame, petulant nutjob.

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Sam Mendes and his team of writers seems to have recycled a lot of what’s been done in previous Bond films with nothing new to add to the franchise. In fact, in terms of the treatment of the Bond girls, it’s a step backward. The film seems to aim for a darker story but the execution feels light and even unintentionally comical. I realize that Bond films aren’t expected to be too deep or poignant, but even the fun, escapism factor seems to be missing in this one as Mendes can’t decide what kind of Bond movie he wants this to be. At times it harkens back to the Roger Moore era, which is a jarring contrast to the more pensive and grittier tone established in Craig’s films.

The returning characters from Skyfall are still good in their roles. I do like Ralph Fiennes as M but yet he still can’t hold a candle to how fantastic Judi Dench was in the role. Moneypenny and Q (Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw) have bit more to do in supporting 007, though not so much that would make any real impact in the movie. Andrew Scott, who’s excellent in the Sherlock series, is just serviceable here, but Dave Bautista certainly lives up to other big, burly but taciturn henchmen of Bond’s past. The fight scene on the train is certainly an homage to From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me with my favorite henchman, Jaws.

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As for the titular hero, I still like Craig as Bond, but more often than not he looks bored in this movie. It’s as if he’s weary of the same old types of shenanigans and hollow sexual escapades in various exotic locations. Yes I know Bond’s supposed to have this devil-may-care attitude but I think there’s a sense of fatigue that the actor can’t quite conceal. Perhaps it’s telling when Craig said in an interview recently how he’d rather slash his wrist than play James Bond again. It’s tacky to bite the hand that feeds you, but I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

It’s a pity because this could’ve been a truly great swan song for Craig if he were to retire as Bond (though I think he’d be back for at least one more). I like the fact that four of his films are connected in some way, though the constant throwback to his previous films also invites the inevitable comparison. If I were to rank Craig’s Bond films now, Spectre is just slightly more watchable than Quantum of Solace, but falls far short of the greatness of Casino Royale and Skyfall.

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Spectre might’ve topped the box office, but it’s nowhere near the top of the best Bond films for me. So I guess that awful theme song is sort of a warning about the movie. Bond’s most personal mission barely evoke any emotional response as the protagonist himself didn’t even seem to care. There’s just no compelling human drama here in this largely soulless affair. Overall the payoff just doesn’t live up to all that build-up and frankly, the film is just forgettable. I saw it four days ago yet I barely remember anything about it. It’s such a bummer really, this movie even made this loyal Bond fan think that perhaps I’ve outgrown this franchise a bit.

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Well, what did you think of Spectre? Did you like it more or less than I did?

007 Chatter: BOND 24 is now called SPECTRE

Boy it’s been a while since I posted anything about Bond and this morning a press release came to my email that I simply had to do a post! “Welcome back commander!” 

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[you can see the motion poster over on 007 Facebook]

LONDON, UK, December 4, 2014 – 007 Soundstage, Pinewood Studios, London. James Bond Producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli today released the title of the 24th James Bond adventure, SPECTRE. The film, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his fourth film as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. SPECTRE begins principal photography on Monday, December 8, and is set for global release on November 6, 2015.

The launch of SPECTRE was streamed live on 007.com and Facebook.com/JamesBond007, and here’s the video if you missed it:

Along with Daniel Craig, Mendes presented the returning cast, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear as well as introducing Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci and Andrew Scott. Mendes also revealed Bond’s sleek new Aston Martin, the DB10, created exclusively for the movie.

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Official synopsis:

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. 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.

Bond’s going back to the classic Aston Martin too, which is by far one of my favorite of all Bond’s fantastic rides. Man, the DB10 is going to be specifically built for the film and it’s absolutely drool-worthy!! Heck, I’d rather take his car home than Bond himself, ahah.

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The 007 production will be based at Pinewood Studios, and on location in London, Mexico City, Rome and Tangier and Erfoud, in Morocco. Bond will return to the snow once again, this time in Sölden, along with other Austrian locations, Obertilliach, and Lake Altaussee.

Commenting on the announcement, Wilson and Broccoli said, “We’re excited to announce Daniel’s fourth installment in the series and thrilled that Sam has taken on the challenge of following on the success of SKYFALL with SPECTRE.”.

Per EMPIRE, the evil organization has not had a presence in the Bond universe thanks to a long-running copyright battle between MGM and the estate of Kevin McClory, the producer of Thunderball and the unofficial Connery Bond, Never Say Never Again. That, however, was resolved in 2013, paving the way for SPECTRE to return to the Bond movies. People have been speculating that Christoph Waltz will be playing Spectre’s leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but according to the UK mag, his character’s name is Oberhauser [??]

Man, I’m super excited for this!! What a cast, too, woo hoo!!! I LOVE Christophe Waltz, the Austrian thespian really impressed me in Inglourious Basterds and he has been working steadily in Hollywood ever since. He’d be great as the villain, with Bautista as his henchmen I presume. Not sure who Andrew Scott is playing, but he’s playing another baddie named Denbigh. They’re playing it *safe* this time in casting actors who’ve won accolades playing bad guys previously, as Scott won BAFTA for portraying Sherlock‘s nemesis Moriarty in the BBC series.

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I’m loving the female cast, too! I have always been a big fan of Naomie Harris as Money Penny, but now we’ve got gorgeous Italian and French beauties Monica Bellucci & Léa Seydoux. I’m actually surprised they haven’t cast Monica in previous Bond films, but she still looks stunning at 50 so it’s cool to see they don’t just cast young actresses as Bond girls!

SPECTRE is set for a October 23, 2015 release in the UK and a November 6, 2015 release in the US. Can’t friggin’ wait for this!!


So, what do you think of this announcement? Would love to hear your thoughts, folks!

FlixChatter Review: LOCKE

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When I heard the premise of Locke, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a one-man show in a confined environment. I knew it’d take the right actor, a substantially charismatic one, to pull off this role. Obviously the script and direction is just as crucial, and fortunately, those three elements work efficiently for the swift 85-minute running time.

The film is set entirely inside a BMW SUV. Within minutes of Ivan Locke climbing into his car and starts the ignition, we learn that he’s a successful construction manager and a dedicated family man. His wife and kids are waiting for him as an important soccer match is about to go on, one he and his kids have been anticipating for weeks. It also happens to be the eve of an important project, perhaps the biggest in his career, one his boss expects he’d supervise and make sure nothing goes wrong.

Seems that he’s got everything in his life under control… yet a single phone call causes him to drop everything and drive to London. Why? Well, to tell you would rob you of the experience watching this film. With every phone call Locke either make or receives, one by one the reason of his seemingly-rash decision is revealed. Yet there’s nothing impulsive about what Locke does that night, he seems to have a calculated, almost mechanical way of looking at things. It’s as if he sees things in his life, and how he responds to each conflict that arises, the same way he responds to concrete in his daily job.

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It’s quite a fascinating and well-crafted moral drama, one that really puts the audience into the roller-coaster emotional ride that our protagonist goes through. I was completely engrossed in this one man’s endeavor to salvage everything that matters to him, and I mean every single thing, this is a man who doesn’t seem to see the virtue of prioritizing. As I watch this, I kept thinking that something’s got to give, he just simply can’t have it all, try as he might.

Sorry to be so cryptic in this review but I feel that the less you know about the plot the better. So that’s a perfect segue to talk about the performances. Hardy is the only character we see in the film but there are a number of great voice actors such as Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott as the people who interact with Hardy on the phone. I think they all did a splendid job, most of all Hardy himself in a riveting and unforgettable role that just might garner him a slew of kudos come award season.

He’s speaking with a Welsh accent of some kind, channeling Anthony Hopkins at times in his manner of speaking. This is perhaps an actor’s dream to be able to use every bit of his facial expression and communicate emotion simply with their eyes or the smallest gestures, and Hardy definitely has what it takes. There’s a certain warmth about him yet within seconds he can be ruthless and even borderline psychotic. Now, that last part is why I can’t give this film a full score. I won’t say too much about it but let’s just say there are some really weird moments that I feel could’ve been toned down a bit. There’s already a lot going on in such a small time frame that it felt a bit too indulgent.

That said, I applaud Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) for crafting such a unique cinematic experience. The night cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Thor) is striking, he somehow made highway driving look so dramatic and even artistic. Some people might complain that there’s not much action, but that actually what separates this from just another thriller flicks out there. For once it’s nice to see a regular guy at the center of the story, someone relatable that we could imagine ourselves or our friends being in a similar situation. There’s no government conspiracy, terrorist/kidnapping type of crisis he has to deal with. There’s no hero nor villain, just a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life. I love films that give me a lot to chew on after I watch it, especially in terms of morality and what is truly the right thing to do in a given situation. Locke definitely gives me that. Highly recommended.

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Have you seen Locke? I’m curious to hear what you think.