Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)

© Universal Pictures, Film4 Productions, Perfect World Pictures and Working Title Films

Last Night in Soho  – Film Review

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Dame Diana Rigg

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: An aspiring fashion student moves to London with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. However, she soon finds herself somehow being connected to a different era of London’s Soho…

Review: It’s a dream that plenty of us have at some point in our lives. Leave the comforts of the homes that we were raised in, and experience the bright lights, the busy streets, and the atmosphere and vibes that life in the big city can offer. Yet, for all the tourist attractions and the appealing allure of the big city life, every city (especially one as vast as London) can be overwhelming for people at first. Additionally, each city has a dark side, and both the celebration and the sinister dark side of London form the basis of the new film from one of the most unique voices in British film-making: Edgar Wright.

Eloise (McKenzie) is a fashion student who is a big fan of the 1960s and the music of that era. She moves from her cosy South West roots to the big bright lights of London to attend the London College of Fashion. She has big ambitions to realise her dreams and become a household name amongst the world’s fashion designers. Shortly after arriving, Eloise discovers that when she is asleep, she can travel back to a point during the Swinging Sixties in London where she mysteriously finds herself intertwined with the life of Sandy (Taylor-Joy), who aspires to become a singer. Initially, everything appears to be fine and dandy in the brightly lit neon streets of 1960s London. However, not everything is what it seems, and there’s a darker side to this city that Eloise is about to discover.

Having established herself with her stunning but subdued performance in Jojo Rabbit, this is another demonstration of Thomasin McKenzie’s extraordinary talents. When you make the move from the pleasant countryside to the big city, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a student who’s experiencing the madness that is Fresher’s Week. McKenzie’s performance perfectly encapsulates that feeling in an extremely relatable manner as she initially struggles to adapt to this new life. As time goes on, she develops more confidence, as she sees part of herself in Sandy, which inspires her to be more outgoing in her social life and with her fashion designs. As the woman at the centre of Eloise’s fascination, Taylor-Joy’s performance as Sandy is suitably captivating. Additionally, this film marks the final on-screen performance of the late, great Diana Rigg’s illustrious career, and it’s a wonderful final performance.

In a note from the cast and crew of the film that was posted on Twitter, the urge to keep the mystery surrounding this film intact was heavily emphasised. Or, as they put it “What happens in Last Night in Soho, stays in Soho.” Hence, the mystery that has been crafted by Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns shall not be disclosed here. The film starts very strongly as we see Eloise blissfully experience her favourite time period through this vivid dream, but that blissful dream soon turns into a living nightmare when certain truths begin to emerge. As the mystery that’s at the centre of this film begins to unravel, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. This is down some extremely slick editing. Through this shift, the film descends into horror film territory, a genre that Wright is no stranger to, given that he expertly combined horror and comedy in Shaun of the Dead.

While there’s enough to make audiences jump out of their seat in terror, the scares can get a little wearisome and repetitive. Furthermore, the messages of the film feel a little muddled in parts, especially by the end of the third act. This is extremely frustrating because of the ambitious nature of the story. However, life in the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and too much for the senses. Wright’s love letter to this city, which clearly means so much to him, has much to be admired about it. There are a plethora of ideas thrown at the wall, but not all of them stick the landing. Hence, it does sometimes feel a bit unsure of what kind of film it wants to be and might have just bit off more than it can chew.

You cannot fault the ambition, but even with a committed performance from McKenzie, a slightly muddled screenplay prevents Last Night in Soho from becoming another classic in Wright’s filmography.

 

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.