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? 

Everybody’s Chattin + Music Break: SPECTRE’s Instrumental Theme

EverybodysChattin

Happy Wednesday everybody! Can you believe it it’s almost mid December? It’s been quite a balmy Winter in Minnesota (thanks El Niño!), with lows in mid 30s which is warmer than the highs in a typical Winter. Hey, I ain’t complaining!

Well, I’m still working daily on my script. As they say, it’s 10% writing and 90% rewrites and so that’s pretty much what I’m working on now. But I’m never too busy to do some community blogging post, so this is my last LINKS post for 2015 😉

Let’s get to those awesome blog posts…

Michael is on the lookout for books and movies parallel post and so take a minute to vote on his poll!

Josh took it upon himself to list 100 top performances of all time, surely you all have an opinion on the topic.

I always enjoy music-related posts, and one can count on Chris for those. He just posted a new Christmas song by Phoenix featuring Bill Murray!

Speaking of Christmas, Vinnie lists what he’ll be watching over the holidays

As some of us might be traveling over the holidays, surely you can relate to Jay‘s post about watching movies on an airplane

Margaret just did an awesome list of top 10 trailers of 2015.

Paula gave us a handy guide to follow the 2015/16 awards season

I have only seen the pilot of Jessica Jones but Eddie talks about how season 1 is off to a strong start.

Now here are some great reviews:

Keith reviewed Beasts of No Nation, Steven reviewed Room, Brittani reviewed Trumbo and last but not least, Zoë reviewed Spectre.


Music Break

Ok so I think most of you know I abhor Sam Smith’s voice and his SPECTRE‘s theme song The Writings on the Wall. But you know what, I listened to the instrumental version of the song lately and I actually LOVE the melody. It’s a rather melancholy tune but it has the mysterious and seductive vibe that one would expect from a Bond flick. The opening sequence is pretty cool, though not exactly my favorite amongst the 24 Bond movies over the years, I think the Casino Royale with the cards one is still one of my faves.


I still find the movie itself disappointing, but I remember liking this theme song as I was watching it. I really think the melody is so much better without Smith’s whiny voice. Thomas Newman is an awesome composer, I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work. I also enjoyed the end title track below:


Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s music break, folks!

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?

Weekend Roundup + Mini Review of Bridge of Spies (2015)

What a weekend it’s been! It’s just three days until Twin Cities Film Fest kicks off Wednesday night 10/21 so naturally my week and the entire weekend is filled with preparation for the festivities.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen me tweeting up a storm about TCFF, so yeah clearly I’m excited 😛

The TCFF programmers have traveled to Austin, Los Angeles, & New York in search of great movies this year… the result is an awesome lineup of more than 100 premieres, including a bunch that have huge awards buzz. I’ve highlighted some of those must-see films here, but I’ve also made a list of MN-connected films that I can’t wait to see – from comedies, dramas, thrillers, docs, there’s definitely something for everyone, cinephiles or otherwise.


This weekend happened to be a perfect Fall day here in MN, with seasonably cool temps and ample of bright sunshine both Saturday and Sunday. So I did get a chance to get out and be outdoors before I’m cooped up inside a theater watching a whole bunch of movies. I LOVE Autumn in Minnesota… the fall colors is just absolutely gorgeous!!


BridgeOfSpies

The last Steven Spielberg film I saw was War Horse, which was back in 2011. I haven’t got around to seeing Lincoln but for some reason, I haven’t been um, compelled to see it. Spielberg is back to yet another based-on-a-true-story historical drama, about an American insurance lawyer who’s recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help arrange a prisoner swap when a rescue a pilot is detained in the Soviet Union.

Bridge of Spies is the kind of slow-burn espionage thriller in the vein of a John le Carré’s adaptation, so if you’re expecting an action-packed movie a la James Bond or Jason Bourne then you’re likely disappointed. But the lack of action doesn’t mean there’s lack of suspense and the Cold War intrigue is ever present. I don’t think a film needs to be violent to build tension, and Bridge of Spies is proof of that. The film lives up to the title as well as the pivotal scene on the Glienicke Bridge is certainly memorable.

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Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as James B. Donovan, channeling Jimmy Stewart as a virtuous and effortlessly likable everyman who’s more shrewd and skillful than meets the eye. There’s an unsubtle message about defending an American value that everyone deserves a fair shake, but yet it doesn’t feel preachy thanks to Hanks’ portrayal. Hanks is in nearly every frame of the film, but English actor Mark Rylance is equally brilliant as the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. In fact, he’s quite the scene stealer right from the opening scene. Abel’s relentlessly-unperturbed demeanor is part of what makes his character so intriguing. I love that the film also takes the time to show us the unlikely friendship of these two characters.

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Out of a decent ensemble of supporting cast, Amy Ryan stood out as Hanks’ wife, a role that would’ve been utterly forgettable in less capable hands. The script is co-written by the Coens, who infused it with a dose of wity humor to break the tension that make all those dialog scenes sprightly. Visually speaking, the set design looks realistic, especially all the Berlin scenes just right after WWII. The cinematography by Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Janusz Kaminski is stunning to look at, especially the rainy scenes that echoed a memorable scene in The Road to Perdition that also starred Hanks. The music by Thomas Newman perfectly complements the tone of the film, I’ve come to expect that Spielberg movies usually have memorable scores.

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There are slower moments, but overall this film was pretty engrossing. This is definitely another Spielberg/Hanks fruitful collaboration and clearly the two have formed a great rapport over the years. I didn’t know anything about the protagonist, but Mr. Donovan’s story is definitely worth telling. Unlike some of le Carré’s spy stories though, this film is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. There’s an earnest quality about Spielberg directing, the lack of cynicism in the way he tells the story that some people might call conventional. But I admire that sincerity that Spielberg and Hanks are known for, and there’s a great deal of measured and astute work from the both of them.

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Have you seen Bridge of Spies? Well, what did you think?