Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

1917 (2019)

Image is property of Universal, DreamWorks and New Republic Pictures

1917 – Film Review

Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: In the height of the First World War, two young English soldiers face a race against time in order to prevent a British battalion walking into a deadly enemy trap…

Review: When it comes to war films, filmmakers so often choose World War II, and/or the plethora of amazing human stories that took place during this time period as inspiration. However, for Sam Mendes, his inspiration for telling a story set in the heart of the First World War, came from a much more personal connection. After being inspired by the tales told by his grandfather during his time as a soldier, Mendes chooses World War I as the backdrop for his second foray into war film-making. He takes us straight to the front line, to the year seen by many as the turning point in the Great War, for an exhilarating cinematic experience that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Two young English soldiers, Privates Blake (Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay) are given an extremely perilous mission by their commanding officer. Intel has been received that one of their battalions is about to walk into a deadly enemy trap that would annihilate the battalion, and Blake’s brother is among their ranks. Setting off on a seemingly impossible mission, these two young soldiers must venture behind enemy lines and deliver the message calling off the attack, in order to prevent the massacre of his brother’s battalion.

As the two soldiers whose journey is at the centre of this pulsating story, the performances of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are phenomenal. The entire film is focused on their journey, meaning that it is all resting on their shoulders and they rise to that challenge in extraordinary fashion. The screenplay by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, keeps things focused with military like precision on the two soldiers and their mission, while simultaneously fleshing both of them out to be so much more than just the uniforms they are wearing. The plethora of British acting talent that pop up throughout are welcome presences, but ultimately they are nothing more than extended cameos to drive the plot forward.

With the flawless acting in front of the camera, the work done behind the camera is equally sublime. In the build up to the film’s release, there was considerable promotion of the one shot method that Sam Mendes utilises to tell this story. While this could be a seen as a gimmick, its use here is tremendously effective to fully immerse the audience in this setting, which is likely to be in no small part down to Roger Deakins.  After finally grabbing that long overdue Oscar, Deakins continues to be at the peak of his powers as a cinematographer. While Blade Runner 2049 showed him at his visual best, the work that he does in making the continuous tracking shot to be such an effective method of story-telling for this mission proves once again that in terms of cinematographers working today, he is almost second to none.

By all accounts, life in the trenches during WW1 was horrendous. and the work of the production design team to recreate these horrors are jaw-dropping. The sheer amount of meticulous details that are present in these sets is completely astounding, it only helps to add to the increasing suspense of the unfolding mission. Likewise for the sound teams, with every bullet fired and every time a plane flies overhead, you feel every moment of it, capturing the brutality of war with frightening realism. It makes you feel like you’re on that front-line with these men, every step of the way.

After a staggering fourteen Oscar nominations and no win to his name, this has to be the time for Thomas Newman to break his Oscar hoodoo, as his accompanying score is truly breath-taking and befitting of the emotional journey that is being depicted on screen. Mendes and every single member of his crew have pulled off an astonishing, remarkable cinematic triumph. Above all, thank you to Alfred Mendes for telling your stories, that will now live on forever.

From the powerfully emotional performances of its leading men, to the technical mastery behind the camera, 1917 is simply put, one of the finest war films that has ever been put to screen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2020, a brand new decade is upon us, and that means there’s a lot of exciting films to come our way over the next 12 months.  So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2020.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2020 releases such as The Lighthouse, Waves, Just Mercy etc will not be counted here, partly because I have seen some of these at London Film Festival, and a few were included in my best of the year ranking, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Venom 2, So if you saw my review of the first film, you’ll know that I hated it and it was one of the worst things I saw in 2018. However, Andy Serkis attached as director for this sequel has me intrigued. Given Serkis’s expertise with motion capture work, I hope that he can use that expertise to make something more compelling than that awful first film, and less of the horrendous cheesy dialogue would be great as well.

Godzilla VS Kong, The MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly had the easiest of starts to its existence as a cinematic universe. Both 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were both beset by similar problems, namely too little screen-time for their eponymous titans, in favour of mostly very bland humans. Last year’s King of the Monsters certainly packed more action, but was bogged down by a problematic script. We go to these films to see giant monsters throw down, so if they can focus more on that and less on the humans, this titanic clash certainly could be an enthralling spectacle.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s films are almost always eccentric, but that eccentricity doesn’t prevent his films from being wonderfully crafted pieces of art. After making the wonderful Isle of Dogs in 2018, the quirky director makes his return to live action. With another stacked cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody.

The EternalsThe Infinity Saga might have wrapped up 23 films worth of MCU build up, but even after all that, the folks at Marvel are not showing any signs of slowing down. The studio has proved that it can take lesser known properties in their roster of heroes, and make extremely entertaining movies out of them. With an exciting cast, the studio will be hoping they have another Guardians of the Galaxy on their hands.

Soul,The first of two Pixar films scheduled to come out in 2020, is from the mind of Pete Docter, the visionary genius behind two of the studio’s most emotional films in Up and Inside Out, which means the odds of this being another emotional tear-jerker from Pixar are extremely high.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Birds of Prey

Release date: 7th February

By far and away, one of the best aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So after said film seemingly left the DCEU in limbo, Margot Robbie is once again, suiting up once again as Harley Quinn. This time, however, she has ditched Jared Leto’s Joker, in favour of some more female company. Together, Harley and this group of women find themselves up against Ewan McGregor’s villain: Black Mask.

Of all the comic book movies slated to come out in 2020, four out of them will be directed by women, and all five of them feature women in significant, leading roles. This can only be a good thing not just for the comic book movie genre, for the film industry as a whole. Let’s hope that under Cathy Yan’s direction, that Harley and her band of vigilantes can start 2020’s superhero offerings with a bang.

 

9. Last Night in Soho

Release date: 18th September

The mere mention of certain directors can be enough to generate anticipation, and Edgar Wright is certainly one of those names. After directing the fast paced, and extremely entertaining Baby Driver, his next project as a director is being teased as a psychological horror film set in 1960s London with a cast that includes includes Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and Dame Diana Rigg.

 

8. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: 20th March

For years, John Krasinski was most likely known from his role in the US version of The Office, but then he transitioned into a film director. As far as first films go, A Quiet Place was a masterfully well made horror film, that placed a real emphasis on sound. Having also written and starred in the first film, for reasons you will realise if you have seen the first film, Krasinski is just behind the camera this time.

The plot once again features real life wife Emily Blunt leading the Abbot family and her children, who have discovered some useful information that could defeat the terrifying sound monsters that have ravaged the planet. If this film can rebuild that tension that the first part was able to capture so masterfully, another horror gem could be on our hands. But, best be quiet about it.

7. Mulan

Release date: 27th March

Despite their three live action releases in 2019 enduring decidedly mixed reactions from audiences and critics, the Box Office returns for said films were more than prosperous for Disney, leaving them to continue on with their mission to remake all their live action classics. Next on their list is the 1996 classic Mulan.

From the trailers, this looks as though it has potential to be considerably more faithful to the Chinese legend, as there will be no Mushu to be found here. With an all Chinese cast, and this being only the second Disney film with a female director (Niki Caro) and a budget above $100 million, following A Wrinkle in Time, Disney will be hoping that this is the film that brings the honour back to their live action remakes.

 

6. Onward

Release date: 6th March

Pixar so often find that magic touch in their films that can make grown adults bawl their eyes out at the beauty and the emotion of the events on screen, and when the studio is focused on crafting original stories (e.g Coco and Inside Out), they usually craft something pretty special.

This tale of two brothers off on a magical quest has all the recipe of being another Pixar classic. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing the brothers and Julia-Louis Drefyus and Octavia Spencer also lending their voices, it has all the makings of potentially another Pixar classic that will get the audience sobbing uncontrollably.

5. No Time to Die

Release date: 2nd April

After what feels like an absolute eternity, and amid constant speculation as to whether Daniel Craig would hand back his license to kill, the actor’s final outing as 007 is finally making its way to cinemas. With a production that seemed to be cursed from the outset, most notably being original director Danny Boyle being forced to drop out and an injury to Craig on set, new director Cary Joji Fukunaga has an almighty mission to deliver the goods.

Mixed in with the usual faces are an intriguing crop of new cast members including Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent, Ana De Armas as a CIA operative, and Rami Malek as a rather sinister looking villain. After two great films, and two so-so films under his belt, Daniel Craig will be aiming to bow out on a high note.

 

4. Wonder Woman 1984

Release date: 5th June

Back in 2017, the DCEU was in limbo somewhat having had its previous two entries the preceding year, take something of a critical mauling, Hence, a lot was riding on the first Wonder Woman film to succeed, which it did in emphatic style. Now with another blast back to the past, 1984 strangely enough, we see Diana Prince battle a new foe in the form of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord as well as possibly Kristen Wiig as the Cheetah.

Goodness knows what Diana has been doing with her time in the years between WW1 and 1984, but with Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair for this sequel, along with Birds of Prey, there’s every chance that this sequel can replicate the success of the first WW film, and should it achieve that it will be a further boost for the DCEU as it bids to continue along the trajectory that’s been set by the first WW and last year’s Shazam!

3. Black Widow

Release date: 1st May

SPOILER ALERT if you’re one of the very few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, but said film sadly marked the heroic demise of Natasha Romanoff as she sacrificed herself to help the Avengers gather the Infinity Stones to save the universe. For a long time now, fans have clamoured to see her get her own film, especially given the success of Captain Marvel. While it is a little strange that this film has come now, given her Endgame fate,  it is great to see it finally happening.

Rumoured to be set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, it teases more of her back story that has been so often the subject of fleeting mentions in previous MCU films, so to see Scarlett Johansson back in this role is undeniably exciting. Add in a top drawer cast that includes Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour, everything is in place to ensure that this off Phase Four of the MCU with a bang.

 

 

2. Tenet

Release date: 17th July

Christopher Nolan, a director who can generate anticipation by a mere mention of his name. There are many who believe that the director hasn’t made a bad film yet, and his latest promises to be the usual mind-bending wizardry that we have come to expect from Nolan. With a stellar cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and of course a customary appearance from Sir Michael Caine, expect more mind-bending awesomeness when this one debuts in cinemas….

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2020 is……………………………………………………

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1. Dune

Release date: 18th December

In a similar vein to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is another director who’s name just captures the attention. Having hit a hot streak with Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the best directors working today, and now a fresh adaptation of the 1965 by Frank Herbert is in his sights.

In the wake of the film by David Lynch, which the director promptly disowned upon release, the potential for something truly special, especially with arguably the most stacked cast of the entire year that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa. Fans of the novel can have hope that this masterful director can do the novel justice, which given that this is reportedly the first of two films, offers much promise.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2020, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!