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

Rocketman (2019)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, Marv Films, Rocket Pictures

Rocketman – Film Review

Cast: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Synopsis: A look at the life of musical icon Elton John from his first moments playing the piano as a youngster, to an international best selling superstar, and all the partying and drunken shenanigans that ensued…

Review: When two films about two icons of British music come out within a year of each other, comparisons between these two films are pretty much inevitable, especially since they share a director (kind of). However, while the first of these films ultimately chose to play things very safe with its source material about the life of its subject, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. For Rocketman, and the life of its subject, Elton Hercules John, this is decidedly not the case.

The film covers quite the broad spectrum, but it mainly initially on Elton’s younger years, back when he was known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. As a rather timid child being held back by his not-so-supporting parents. Until when given some helpful supporting nudges, he gets a spot at a prestigious music school and that leads him down the path of becoming a very eccentric entertainer. From there he meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Bell) and together with Bernie providing the lyrics and Elton providing the vocals, they become an effective and cohesive team committed on the journey to super-stardom.

Dress down Fridays definitely didn’t catch on…

Every so often, there is a casting choice that just feels absolutely perfect, and for Taron Egerton as Elton John, this is one of those instances. In what may be his best performance of his career so far, Egerton goes all out with just about every aspect of the role. The bright and wacky costumes, the mannerisms of the great man himself and, yes he does all of his own singing. With just about every facet of this performance, he captures the drama that he has in his life with his romances and the hard and intense party lifestyle that he leads in his younger years, without sugar-coating any of it, not least the relationships he has, most notably with Richard Madden’s John Reid. The friendship between Elton and Bernie is very heartfelt, and Bell brings a level of sincerity to his performance, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum Sheila couldn’t have been more perfect.

Dexter Fletcher, who came into to complete Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director was fired, shows that he has got a real knack for these musical biopics. While he didn’t get the credit for BoRhap, this is completely his own movie, and with that he brings a great deal of visual flair to the film. There’s no jaw-dropping sequence like the Live Aid scene in BoRhap, but that doesn’t stop the musical numbers in Rocketman are entertaining and very unique in their own right. With the script from Lee Hall, Fletcher chooses to mesh the intense drama with some musical numbers that are interspersed throughout the film. Given that the life of someone in a business like this has its ups and downs, these can feel a little jarring at first, given how the film has moments in it which are really quite melancholic.

The film strives to avoid those familiar tropes of the musical biopic genre, but despite its best efforts, it does revert to some of these. Yet while Bohemian Rhapsody was a very safe, and (sometimes inaccurate) version of the man it was portraying, Rocketman is anything but by-the-numbers. There are some aspects of Elton’s life that are covered, but in such a fleeting manner that could have done with a bit more development. It’s above all else, a reminder that while such a career can be extremely rewarding, there are some dangerous pitfalls that can happen to anyone, no matter how rich, or famous, or popular they may be.

Visually striking and with a marvellous performance from Egerton, Rocketman blasts off but doesn’t quite stick the landing due to a tonally unevenly told story.