1917: Movie Review.


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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.

 

 

 

Worth Dying for: The power and politics of flags by Tim Marshall: Book Review


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The title is a statement, not a question.  So is the author suggesting that, yes, flags are worth dying for?

In this terrific book Tim Marshall explores, over about 300 pages, why it is that flags have become such strong semiotic devices across the 21st century globe.

As Amazon says in its splurge; In nine chapters (covering the USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, international flags and flags of terror), Tim Marshall draws on more than twenty-five years of global reporting experience to reveal the histories, the power and the politics of the symbols that unite us – and divide us.

I absolutely loved this.

Marshall has a nice line in sarcasm although he keeps that to a minimum.  Largely the book is a fascinating historical insight into the power of flags, usually three colours or less.

Why green is so important in Islamic countries.  Why blue can represent sky, sea and many other things.  Why red is typically the colour of blood.  Or, of communism.

Why maybe a half of global flags have a religious significance, almost all of those crosses are, yup, crucifixes.

Why regions congregate around themes.  Ever wondered why all the Scandi flags are left biased crosses, just with different colour ways?  Find out here.

It’s not just political flags either, we read about the chequered flag, the Olympic flag, the red cross and more.

A great read and a great opportunity to increase your score on University Challenge.

 

The Two Popes: Movie Review


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Blimey, not only are the male actors on fire this year, but so too is Netflix.

This is another cracker in which Anthony Hopkins and, even more so, Jonathan Pryce show that two hours of religious dialogue between a couple of pensioners need not be a great big crushing bore.  In fact far from it.

The movie tackles the challenges that the ailing  and conservative Pope Benedict (Hopkins) is trying to leave behind as he tries to persuade the Argentinian papal prospect to become the incoming Pope.  But he is extremely reluctant (but very popular).  We know him now as Pope Francis  (Pryce).

The acting is extraordinary and the dramatic action is interwoven with multiple documentary sources so that the movie actually moves along at a fair old crack.

One doesn’t feel that one is being subjected to a Catholic propaganda machine, simply a brilliant study of two human beings in the face of monumental decision making, age and fraternal respect.  Against a troubled political background. (Pope Benedict did not cover himself in glory around the whole child abuse scandal.)

Many scenes are shot in the Vatican, especially in the Sistene Chapel, and it has a feel of a decidedly juicy behind the scenes look at something that is actually meant to be a huge secret.

There’s nothing particular in director Fernando Meirelles’ back catalogue to suggest a film of this nature was lying in wait (Both City of God and The Constant Gardener are good movies, but are nothing even remotely like this drama-documentary).

It’s funny, it’s engaging and most importantly it’s a masterclass in acting.

My God, the best actor category this awards season is going to be a hotbed of disappointment for at least three great actors.

Recommended.

 

The funeral of Jack Merritt.


I don’t know if Nick Cave and his wife Susie had a family connection with murdered graduate Jack Merritt, but I do know Cave demonstrated his boundless humanity by playing my all time favourite song, live, at the end of the young man’s funeral.
A song so achingly and nakedly emotional that I can’t imagine how he even got a performance out of himself in such tragic circumstances.
Indeed it is the song that will be played at the end of my funeral too.
I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did, I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Oh, not to touch a hair on your head
Leave you as you are
If he felt he had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I don’t believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
Both to each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
But I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
Make her journey bright and pure
That she’ll keep returning
Always and evermore
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

Solar by Ian McEwan: Book Review.


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This slipped under my radar, having read every one of his first 13 novels, novellas and short story collections.  I used to consider McEwan my favourite writer but that title has been lost after two out of three damp squibs.  This being one of them.

Solar was followed by the awful Sweet Tooth and it’s kind of a companion piece of sorts.  Although Solar is nominally about climate change, it’s really about a misogynistic old man’s sexual desires and, in that respect, riffs off the follow up which explores sexuality from the female side. Although Sweet Tooth is written in the first person (a terrible mistake as McEwan is a long way detached from a 20 something female’s perspective) this is written in the third person narrative, although I use the word narrative with reservations.  It doesn’t make it any better.

It’s just plain boring from start to finish, is the problem.  Long ponderous descriptive set pieces, deep dive examinations of a character’s character from the despicable anti=hero’s perspective – the deathly dull Nobel Prize winning philanderer Michael Beard.

McEwan creates a character that is so unremittingly unlikeable that it’s difficult to find any purchase in the proceedings.  I simply didn’t care about him one whit.

Writing about unsympathetic or unpleasant characters is by no means a forlorn task.  Jeckyl and Hyde, Frankenstein, Patrick Suskind’s Perfume; all feature monsters that are utterly compelling.

This just features a monster.

The cover blurb states that it is the winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction.  I am incredulous at that as it is simply not funny.  Grotesque perhaps, but funny – no.

If McEwan hadn’t followed up sweet tooth with The Children Act I’d say his career was over, but The Children Act is a formidable piece of writing and storytelling that sits along his best.

This and Sweet Tooth, by contrast, feel self-indulgent, knocked off with particularly thin premises for their existence.  Thank God it’s over.

Avoid.

The Irishman, movie review: Yet another Scorsese masterpiece.


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Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence and now The Irishman.  Most Directors would give a limb to have made just one of these magisterial films.  That list numbers 12.  And then there’s a bunch more of note sitting just below these.

The cinema industry is up in arms at Netflix pinching surely one of Scorsese’s last great outings from under their noses.

£200m was pumped into this movie that’s been sitting around, unmade for a decade.

It tempted Joe Pesci out of his retirement and put Pacino, Pesci and De Niro under Scorsese’s gaze for the first time.

And what a gaze.

In a 210 minute film that gives about 5 to women this is a man’s, man’s, man’s outing to outman all of its lofty predecessors, but there were many women in the audience of the big screen showing I attended and they loved it.

Anna Pacquin, De Niro’s daughter, is the only female character of note in the movie (the wives are fairly incidental).  Her single scripted word screams volumes from the screen and makes her appearance meritorious despite its paucity.

Pacino and Pesci are wonderful, but it’s a De Niro movie.  Scorsese’s real muse this bookend’s both of their careers starting with Taxi Driver and surely ending here.  It’s a massive performance full of grit, humour and pathos.  It’s simply breathtaking.  Especially when you consider the mid – late career crud that De Niro has been serving us.

Note this, Phoenix has competition for the Oscar that we all thought was surely a shoo-in only a month or two ago.

The humour is unexpected and one scene, in particular, where an absurd conversation about a fish takes place in a car, reminds us of the Chicken Royale scene in Pulp Fiction.  Clearly Scorsese has been noting the competition and, here, matches or possibly even exceeds them.

This demands to be seen on the big screen.  The monumental running time sits better with a cinema screening where you can tackle it, in its full immensity, without trips to the teapot (or wine cellar – it’s a two bottler).  What it allows Scorsese is the time to tell a complex tale languidly.  It gives him room to explore male relationships, bonding and latterly reflection on a life that has had much shame.

That Scorsese takes maybe 30 minutes to conclude a movie that in other hands would last five is telling.  But it’s exactly this that lies at the heart of an epic that sadly many will just say is boring.

It’s anything but.

Much has been made of the ‘de-aging’ technology, mostly critically, but it really helps to tell a four-decade story using the same actors throughout.  OK, it made De Niro a little rosy-cheeked at times, but it gets away with it.  And the ageing of Pesci, in particular, is amazing.  His final scenes of a man in very old age are moving and gripping.

I was blown away.

 

Sorry We Missed You: Movie review of Ken Loach’s latest drama.


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Sorry we missed you, says the card from the DPD driver.  Your parcel is in your wellingtons in the back garden.

Well, that’s a familiar message to us middle class online shoppers.

How we curse when our delivery man (looking a bit stressed) arrives late.

What we don’t know, until now, is perhaps why he’s late and the repercussions.

Loach and his usual writer, Paul Laverty, have crafted another slice of life drama out of real delivery man stories, real care worker stories.  But the problem with this latest opus is that they have basically lumped all of the worst case scenarios onto one family.

The outcome is, therefore, an almost unbelievable tidal wave of misery.  Of course this story is possible but it’s too contrived.  It’s like following the proverbial gambling addict backing red but black coming up time after time after time on his worst ever losing streak.

Add to this Loach’s penchant for using under-exposed (or non-professional) actors and he runs the risk of it not coming off.  And in this case there are too many misfires from his earnest, but variably talented, cast.

In the lead, Kris Hitchen does a good job of holding the whole thing together, although it’s the relationship with his charming daughter (who largely steals the show) Lisa Jane that is the emotional heart of the movie.  Sadly his world-weary care-working wife, Abbie, played by Debbie Hollywood fails to match up.  She has no previous pedigree and I don’t expect she will progress on the back of this, despite a valiant attempt to pull off a difficult role.

I don’t intend to spoil this with plot detail but I can tell you this is RELENTLESSLY bleak.  To the point of being unbelievable:  few in the gig economy can have ALL of this bad luck but I totally understand that many have some.

If only the misery had been doled out to more characters, and if only the acting had been of a universally higher standard this could have been a Loach great.

But it’s not.

I, Daniel Blake had few of the faults of this latest outing and all of its strengths.

Saying that, Ken Loach is one of our great polemicists and his voice is vital in our hideous Tory-driven self-centred economy.

Boris will never watch this, and if he does he’ll scoff at it.  But, then, we scoff at his privilege.

I’m sorry I can’t rate this amongst Loach’s best, but it deserves to be seen, albeit with a slightly forgiving viewer attitude.

A great director performing at sub-par is nevertheless a great director and I still rate this a 7/10.