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

Spectre (2015)

Image rights belong to Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures
Image rights belong to Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Spectre – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Monica Belluci, Andrew Scott

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: With a clue left behind by the recently deceased M, Bond uncovers a link to a sinister organisation known as Spectre. While the new M battles to keep MI6 afloat from sources at home, Bond must go it alone and uncover the dark truth behind Spectre and its leader, Franz Oberhauser.

Review: How do you top a film that smashed box office records for the franchise, won two Oscars and was hailed by many as one of the best Bond films ever made? Well quite simply, you rehire the same director who brought us Skyfall and ensure that the steely blue eyed Daniel Craig is back on board as the man with the license to kill, globe-trot like never before and up the stakes considerably. Skyfall certainly raised the bar after the less than stellar effort from 2008 (which shall not be named) but with this newest addition into the long running franchise, it proves once again that the accuracy of this franchise is right on point once more, and with this new film we may have our best film of the franchise, certainly the best film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond. If this is his final run as Bond, then he can certainly say he went out on a massive high note.

Carrying on from the events of Skyfallfrom the wreckage of Bond’s childhood home comes a dark clue and it is one that leads Bond to the dangerous organisation known as SPECTRE, making its triumphant return to the franchise after a lengthy absence. Events that were set in motion from the previous films have come full circle for Bond, and now Bond has to face off against this menacing organisation and its all powerful leader, Franz Oberhauser, who has some close personal connections to Bond and in typical Bond fashion, there is a plan that needs to be foiled, by forces both at home and abroad.

The exact same team that wrote Skyfall, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, again joined by John Logan must have thought how on earth could they beat what they achieved in 2012? Well whatever were the results of their  super secret script meetings, they pulled it off and in some style with one of the best Bond scripts in recent times.  With an incredible opening scene set in Mexico, that surely ranks amongst the series best, to an intense finale in North Africa. The film boasts ar remarkable set of locations. Sam Mendes knew what worked with his previous Bond picture, and upped the style and then some. The dialogue is sharp, witty when it needs to be, but most importantly of all, keeps the audience engaged, which in no small part helps due to the magnificent cinematography, this time by Hoyte van Hoyetma. Like Skyfall, visually the film is breathtaking with some more excellent directing by Mendes.

With the great story comes great characters, Craig remains electric as Bond, and the rest of his ensemble cast all bring their best performances to their respective roles. Having taken over the role as M, Ralph Fiennes shows he is more than capable of filling the role that Judi Dench played so magnificently for so many years. He had enormous shoes to fill, but he filled them and then some! With Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris both impressing in their roles once again as Q and Moneypenny respectively.

But it’s not out with the old and in with the new entirely as the new incoming cast certainly shine arguably the brightest. The identity of Waltz’s character has been the subject of much scrutiny (saying nothing…)  the two time Oscar winner certainly demonstrates his great ability in an extraordinary performance. Equally magnetic and brilliant is Lea Seydoux, one of our two Bond ladies, who shows she’s more than capable of being a badass whilst when wearing an evening dress, while Dave Bautista brings his strength and silent presence in the form of ruthless henchman Mr Hinx. Yet for all the greatness with the new characters, there are some frustrations with Monica Belluci’s Bond lady being almost criminally underutilised, while other characters feel somewhat underdeveloped and their plot lines left a tad unexplained as to their true motivations.

Yet take nothing away from Mendes and his team. The gauntlet they had set themselves after Bond’s 23rd outing was a big one, but they absolutely rose to the challenge and in terrific style.  The series has arguably never been stronger and firing on all cylinders, and it will take a brave soul to step up to the plate to take on Bond 25, cos the bar has been raised once again, almost higher than never before. Although next time, a better theme song would be most welcome!

With some stellar acting Craig, Waltz and Seydoux, whilst remaining visually beautiful with some extraordinary set pieces and some tremendous directing, the franchise is all guns blazing, and is not going to miss!

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