1917: Movie Review.


1917-trailer-new.jpg

I have a recurring dream.

It’s a common one.

In it I am a soldier trying to evade the grasp of my enemy in a war zone.  I sneak around fields, towns, villages often being spotted, running for my life.  Sometimes I spot the enemy from afar preparing to attack and a sense of dread overwhelms me.  It last all night.

The dream interpreters, not particularly surprisingly, suggest this reflects some form of conflict one are facing in one’s life.

Today, in the cinema I witnessed that dream come to life, imagined by Sam Mendes in a Hades like no other.

It’s terrifying.

Totally and utterly terrifying.

It’s a true story based on the experience of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, who shared a fragment of what happened with his grandson.

Mendes’ career is largely theatre-based, and many film critics believe theatre makers do not make good film makers.  Yes, they might be strong on dialogue and characterisation but they tend to be weaker on cinematography.

One way to resolve this is to create your movies with Roger Deakins, surely the greatest cinematographer in history – given not only his ridiculously great eye but also the technology he has to further enhance his art.

There can be NO doubt that this is as much Deakins’ movie as it is Mendes’.  He was Oscar nominated 12 times before he finally landed one for Bladerunner 2049 (along the way his greatness has blessed No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Faro and The Assasination of Jesse James…). This will be his second.  There can be no doubt about that.

The combination of stunning grading, extremely long takes and unworkeoutable steadycam technique defies logic, description and understanding.  It is mesmerising.

Remember the first 20 minutes of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, arguably the greatest War movie of all time?  Would you agree with me that the remaining 90 minutes is patchy at best?  Well, 1917 begins more slowly, but no less electrifyingly, as we settle into Deakins’ art.  The difference though is that the remaining 90 minutes of 1917 grab you by the throat and do not let off.

It’s completely overwhelming.

Technical movies of this competence don’t always have great acting performances.  And this won’t win George Mackay an Oscar, probably not even a nomination, but he does not let the side down, neither does his supporting actor Dean-Charles Chapman, but although this is SUCH a human story it’s the sheer scale and bravado of the overall thing that is what makes it such a compelling piece of filmmaking.

Some will lament the fact that this is so, but I believe Mendes has found the balance.

One other thing Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is so gripping, so menacing that jeopardy is maintained for it’s entirety, it’s a significant achievement.

He has created a nightmare vision that out-horrors even the likes of The Exorcist, because this is no fantasy, this is reality, and it feels like it.

Truly a seminal cinema experience.  This will only be half the movie on your TV set so get up and get down to your local big screen, before it’s too late.

Peerless.

The movie of the year (although I’ve yet to see Parasite) in an already epic year.

 

 

 

Little Women: Movie Review.


8904500.jpg

I haven’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, neither have I seen any of the previous film incarnations of her famed novel, so I came to this with no expectations other than that the cast is stellar and the director, Greta Gerwig, is highly noteworthy. (Lady Bird was superb in my opinion – next up is Barbie, written by Noah Baumbach and starring Margot Robbie – that should be interesting.)

What interested me structurally about the movie is that it is essentially both an autobiography and a fiction – the novel itself is represented as little stories but the narrative describes how the book came about.  For some critics this has been problematic as it requires (or allows if you prefer) a considerable amount of time-switching, that is not always captioned for the hard of intelligence.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of hilarity and depths of real pity as the four March sisters, that make up the main protagonists, live a struggling middle class life surrounded in close proximity by deep poverty and significant wealth.  It is this relationship with money, and the pursuit thereof, that is the central philosophical backbone of the movie and allows for many excellent vignettes and clear messaging that money is not the root of all happiness.

On the side of the rich sit three excellent portrayals; Timothy Chalomet (outstanding as the main love interest Laurie), his wonderful and generous of spirit grandfather (played beautifully and touchingly by Chris Cooper) and the ‘evil'(ish) rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep).  Laura Dern continues her annus mirabilis as the girls’ mother (it complements her performance in Marriage Story.)

More than once the beautiful tableaux’ that Gerwig sets up reminded me of Dorothea Langue’s Migrant Mother.  In that it resonates love and tenderness in the face of adversity.

Migrant_Mother_Nipomo_California_3334095096-37e37c052a0745ba9cf9fae3cc5f967b.jpg

This is a tremendous piece of film making in every way.  It’s funny, moving, beautiful to look at, poignant and thought provoking.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as always, but Florence Pugh’s ability to appear both 14 and 26 is even more remarkable.  Emma Watson is solid and poor little Beth is played touchingly by Eliza Scanlen.

Overall it’s a great ensemble production with the real star of the show, Great Gerwig.

Bravo!

 

 

 

Joker: Movie review


joker-joaquin-phoenix-3-1567084475.jpg

“A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society” is IMDB’s excellent byline description of this deep exploration of disintegrating (disintegrated?) mental health.

the-joker-joaquin-phoenix-1554298205.jpg

It’s described as taking place in the ‘Scorseseverse’ by some critics, in that Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck appears to be an homage to many of Scorsese’s monumental 70’s characters.  And what’s more, De Niro has a supporting role that shows he still can deliver the goods when not just taking a part for the money.

So I’ve already used the M word and in this Academy Award winning performance (of that there is no doubt) Joaquim Phoenix’s monumental performance will put the Academy back on track after their laughable decision to recognise Rami Malek for impersonating Freddie Mercury last year.

joker-joaquin-phoenix-1567084475.jpg

I detest impersonation movies on the whole, but this is no impersonation, this is a character crafted out of magic.  It’s not a superhero movie in the slightest and all the better for it. It’s simply a character study of great depth and extreme nuance.

One thing I loved about this intense study of a disintegrating man is the extreme close ups that shows Phoenix in all his imperfections, his upper lip, his wonky teeth, his chewed finger nails, his nicotine stained fingers (possibly make-up).  It’s glorious.

It is unquestionably a masterpiece, not just for Phoenix’s performance, but for every SINGLE aspect of cinema:  music (White Room by Cream blasts out of the screen in the final apocalyptic act to tremendous effect – but it’s outstanding throughout), make-up (stunning), costume (stunning), cinematography (stunning – the dance on the steps and the aerial train track shot particularly blew me away), design (epic) and direction (Todd Phillips follows up his epic production, but not direction, of A Star Is Born remarkably It’s interesting looking at Todd Phillips’ Filmography though – a real mixed bag with much of it centred on comedy – The Hangover in particular.)

Screenshot 2019-10-06 at 19.14.15.png

But you don’t need me to tell you  how good this movie is – you don’t get a 9.1 rating on IMDB without reason.

See it and bathe in its mastery.

Once Upon a Time in Holywood. The Ninth (I think it’s ten when you include Death Proof) Film by Quentin Tarantino: My observations.


Screen-Shot-2019-03-18-at-10.40.42-AM.png

To describe any Tarantino film as less than excellent would be, in my opinion, sacrilege.  So let’s cut to the chase here.  This is excellent.

The question is…how excellent? And how ‘acceptable’.

And that’s where deconstructing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood becomes tricky.

It’s most similar in its narrative structure, I’d say, to Pulp Fiction, probably his flawed masterpiece, in that it doesn’t really have one.  I mean there‘s kind of a story, a long one, but I don’t think that’s what he set out to do here.

He set out to capture the fragility of two fading performers; one a star actor (DiCaprio) and one a star stunt man (Brad Pitt).

That the movie’s triumph lies in the hands of Pitt rather than DiCaprio is interesting.  Probably DiCaprio has more screen time, but Pitt has more presence.  And Pitt is coping better with his fall from grace.

It’s almost a portmanteau (I know my friends say I’m a pretentious twat for using that word) but it is a THING.  Usually a portmanteau is a loosely linked collection of short films under a kind of director’s curation.

Here, though, I think it is a sort of continuous dream sequence, of beautiful but uneventful linking scenes, between big ‘pieces’  – the portmanteaus – it’s like walking through an art gallery enjoying a painter’s studies before BOOM, here’s the big canvas.

Tarantino creates 8 or 9 stunning canvases. One of the most affecting, for me, being the beautiful and funny scene DiCaprio shares with 8 year old Julia Butters as his method acting co star in a last chance Hollywood western.

To say the one scene of violence is a career high would be to both underestimate it and potentially spoil the movie so I won’t disclose where, when or how it happens, like the best of Tarantino it is unexpected and both viscerally shocking and hilarious.

One of my female companions only had eyes for the stunningly handsome Brad Pitt (there’s quite a diet Coke moment about an hour in – and I have ordered the Champion Spark Plugs T Shirt)  and I thought he stole the show (see above), but let’s not gloss over DiCaprio.  He’s great. But the devil has the best tunes.

Margot Robbie is no more than a muse, and wasted.  He does that a lot – does Quentin – a weakness.  Uma Thurman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Pam Grier have bucked the trend, but it’s rare to leave a Tarantino screening with the actresses front of mind.

Is he a masoginist?  No, I don’t think so, but close, but it’s the guys that get the greater spoils in the master’s work.

The other question the film undoubtedly raises though is…is he racist?  Uncomfortable, yes, but I felt pretty creeped out by the Bruce Lee scene where Karate and eastern fighting arts are pretty much laughed off the screen in the Bruce Lee fight scene.  I didn’t find it acceptable actually.

The music has been hailed as a masterpiece, but for me it’s one of his weaker selections.  Trying to cram too much in.

The styling, though, is exquisite, as is the cinematography.

Overall I’d rank it as in the upper half, just, of his repertoire.  But what do you think?

I’d go.

  • Kill Bill Part 1
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Jackie Brown
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Once Upon a time in Hollywood
  • Django Django
  • Death Proof 
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Kill Bill Part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Virtues: Channel 4.


Image result for Stephen graham virtues

This is Stephen Graham, Channel 4, Shane Meadows and just British TV overall at its very best.  The Russians and the Poles can make movies this depressing but the Brits excel at it.

Occassionaly.

And this is one of those occasions.

I thought Stephen Graham was decent in Line of Duty, but that was a mere warm-up outing for this career-defining hour of TV.  He is simply breathtaking.

The second act, in which he gets smashed to drown the sorrows of the loss of his son who has emigrated with his new ‘dad’ to Australia, is indescribably brilliant.

Doing a drunk is tricky.  (Even Gillian Anderson struggled in All About Eve) but this captures it astonishingly, in no small part because of the direction of Shane Meadows and genre-bending camera work.

It was deeply disturbing TV from start to finish with a constant barrage of depression. But that’s what makes Meadows such a unique talent.  What lies ahead one can only guess but you can be sure of one thing.  It ain’t gonna be comedy.

Wonderful, wonderful TV.  Thanks guys.