Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Jojo Rabbit – Film Review

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Director: Taika Waititi

Synopsis: When a young lad in the Hilter Youth finds out that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the attic of their house, he starts to question the ideology that’s been drummed into him from a young age…

Review: Whenever a comedy is pitched to a studio, it’s hard to imagine a premise would the centre of that pitch involve the presence of one of the most evil men of the 20th century and set slap bang in the middle of Nazi Germany. For it to also be pitched as a comedy/satire, it’s a concept that seems so absurd, there would have been a good chance that you’d get laughed out of the room. In the wrong hands, such an idea could have been a catastrophe of enormous proportions in its execution. Yet in the hands of Taika Waititi, the whimsical New Zealand comedian/director, it’s an absolute masterstroke.

When young Johannes (Davis) or Jojo for short, joins the Hitler Youth, his love for his country, and his naïve belief in its ideals knows no bounds. With his imaginary friend, an ethnically inaccurate (and considerably more moronic) version of Hitler by his side, he strives to complete his time at the Hitler Youth with flying colours. However, when he uncovers the startling secret that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (McKenzie) in the attic of his house, it brings Jojo back down to Earth with a jolt, and he must grapple with everything that has been taught to him throughout his childhood.

For his very first acting role, Roman Griffin Davis is nothing short of a revelation. He handles both the comedic elements of the story and the more dramatic moments like a seasoned actor with several roles already under his belt. Alongside him, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish girl hiding in the attic, gives a wounded, but impactful performance, in a role that represents the heart and soul of the film. For the rest of the supporting cast, everyone does their job tremendously well, and there’s not a single performance out of place. From Sam Rockwell’s Nazi Commanding Officer, to Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s compassionate mother. The true scene-stealer in all of this, is writer/director Waititi’s portrayal of the moronic version of Hitler. Any moment he pops into the frame, or opens his mouth, it will be next to impossible not to just burst into fits of laughter.

Adapted from the book Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy aspects with the much more dramatic/heavy moments. In Waititi’s signature idiosyncratic style, there’s tonnes of hilarious jokes peppered throughout the film. However, merging comedy with drama is always walking the very finest of fine lines, especially for a film set in this particular time period.  However, through Waititi’s skilled comedic timing and direction, the comedy never overshadows the moments of the film that require the audience to pause and reflect.

In a time when divisions in many societies across the world seem to be more fierce and toxic than ever, this is a very timely film. Poking fun at the absurdity of the Nazis and their ideologies is not exactly anything new and as such, the risk of the gags running out of steam very early on was very high. While the satirical nature of the comedy may not land with everyone, there’s a powerful message at the core of the film. Namely, it serves as a reminder of the power that love can conquer hate. Furthermore, despite any differences we share, there’s ultimately more that connects us, than separates us. Which, in this divisive era, is a message that society can definitely grab on to.

Blending satire with some heavy drama could have gone horribly wrong. Though, thanks to Waititi’s sharp screenplay and superb performances across the board, the end product is side-splitting and simultaneously incredibly poignant.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Darkest Hour (2017)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Focus Features

Darkest Hour – Film Review

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendolsohn, Stephen Dillane

Director: Joe Wright

Synopsis: In the early days of World War II, with the rest of Europe falling under the iron grip of the Nazis, Winston Churchill ascends to the role of Prime Minister, with the country seemingly on the brink of almost certain defeat…

Review: In periods of war, strong leadership from those who hold positions of power can be the difference between victory and defeat. Never is this more applicable than for the United Kingdom in the early years of the Second World War, which like the film’s title success was truly some of the darkest days for the country. The Nazis closed in having swiftly conquered the majority of Western Europe, and there seemed to be no one capable of stopping Hitler from his mission of total domination across the continent. This is of course, until one man came to the fore, and that man is of course Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Being one of, if not the most prominent Prime Ministers in UK history, there has been a great many actor to play Churchill, and Gary Oldman becomes the latest man to assume the role, and it is one that he fully commits to, giving an absolutely incredible performance that has rightfully installed him as a hot favourite to finally scoop a Best Actor Oscar this year. His performance captures Churchill and his mannerisms so well that at times you forget that it is indeed Oldman under all that makeup.

Having seen his predecessor Neville Chamberlain being forced into resignation, Churchill assumes office and immediately realise the enormity of the task facing him as the British forces find themselves stranded on the French coast with the Germans closing in fast. While Churchill favours a more guns blazing approach, there are those who would prefer to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and as one character calls him, his “lackey” Mussolini. As the days go by and the situation worsens, pressure and indeed opposition towards him grows stronger, but Churchill will not yield.

Given the gravity of the situation, it would be easy for the script to be completely dreary. However, the screenplay by Anthony McCarten allows for plenty of humour, of which Churchill is of course front and centre. Aside from Oldman’s towering performance, the rest of the supporting cast all deliver assured performances. Chief among these are Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and Lily James as his secretary Elizabeth Layton, while neither are given extensive amounts of screentime, they both make their mark on Churchill and are figures of support as he battles his opponents who are calling for him to negotiate for peace, led by the stern Viscount Halifax, who is expertly portrayed by Stephen Dillane.

With meticulous production design by Sarah Greenwood, director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel capture 1940s London in intriguing visual style. The scenes in Parliament especially stand out in the way Wright shoots them, using lighting that gives the scenes an almost melancholic feel to them, which to be fair wouldn’t entirely be out of place in war time. Yet it is here where Oldman shines brightest, giving the rousing “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech that has taken its deserved place as one of the best speeches in history.

In what is almost a companion piece to the gripping retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation from Christopher Nolan, while that film focuses on the evacuation itself, Darkest Hour focuses on the man who at a time when his country needed him most, rose to the challenge and helped to make it all possible. In the darkest hour that perhaps the UK has ever faced, one man showed us the light.

A gripping story of a country on the brink at its centre, with a magnificent performance from Oldman at its core, this is Wright’s and Oldman’s finest hour.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dunkirk (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Dunkirk – Film Review

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles

Directors: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: With the enemy surrounding them and closing in, the Allied forces are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, and their hopes of survival appear completely remote, barring an astonishing miracle…

Review: As a director, Christopher Nolan’s films have explored a variety of genres and topics, from deep space exploration, to dreams within dreams, within dreams, to a man who dresses up as a bat to clean up his city from crime. So for his next project, Nolan clearly fancied straying into new waters by making a war movie, one that specifically focuses on one small week in the heart of the Second World War, focusing on what has become known as the Miracle of Dunkirk. It was naturally intriguing to see what a director who has become so revered could do with this topic. With any project he directs, Nolan manages to leave a lasting impression on the audience, and with his latest, it’s another masterclass from Nolan.

It is May 1940, and with a total of around 400,000 men stranded on this beach, with boats to rescue them in scarce supply, their situation looks bleaker and bleaker with every hour that passes. Nolan chooses to tell this story from three different perspectives: Air, sea and land. And through what is what a remarkably short running time for a Nolan film (106 minutes) we watch as these three differing story-lines witness what is a defining moment in British history. Through sparse dialogue, Nolan takes his audience on an intense gripping journey as we watch these characters either battling for survival, doing whatever they can to save as many lives as possible, or flying a plane trying to down enemy planes.

CGI has become very prominent in modern day movie making, but Nolan here uses practical effects as much as he can, and it really adds so much authenticity to the story he is trying to tell. The planes, the boats and the like are all ones that were used in World War II, and filming in practical locations, including Dunkirk itself only adds so much more to the authenticity. The cinematography from Hoyte van Hoyetma, re-teaming with Nolan after Interstellar is flawless once again. The film’s editing is also terrific, it heightens the tension. And of course the score provided by Hans Zimmer is of the superb standard that one would expect from one of the world’s greatest film composers.

The extensive research that Nolan made on the operation ensures historical accuracy up to a point, but as the characters are not based on any real life people. Yet the characters that Nolan does use to tell this story are not as well utilised as they could have been. With such talented actors such as Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy among others, the development on these characters is kept to a minimum, which is undeniably frustrating, but for the sake of the story, it does make sense. Though having said that, Fionn Whitehead has the most development, and for all the intrigue and raised eyebrows that followed when he was cast, Harry Styles demonstrated that he could definitely have a future in acting, with a very impressive debut performance.

Above all though, Nolan really demonstrates what is meant by the term “Dunkirk Spirit,” fierce determination in the face of very long odds. The story is perhaps not as thorough on the specifics of the evacuation but it certainly provides you with enough detail that will make you eager to go home and do some research. The lack of character development is frustrating, and the acting is not on par with say an Imitation Game. However, for nail biting intense war scenes, Nolan certainly gives such other WW2 films like Hacksaw Ridge and Saving Private Ryan a damn good run for their money, with an important history lesson thrown in for good measure.

Telling a story that needs to be told, and telling it with real authenticity that is gripping throughout, whilst conveying important themes, and a great attention to historical detail.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hacksaw Ridge (2017)

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Image is property of Lionsgate, Pandemonium Films, Permut Productions, Vendian Entertainment and Kylin Pictures

Hacksaw Ridge – Film Review

Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffiths

Director: Mel Gibson

Synopsis: Telling the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a Devout Christian who signs up for the US Army and serves as a medic in the heart of World War II, all while refusing to carry a gun.

Review: For many of us, the horrors of war are something we are all too familiar with. From learning about terrible wars of the past to the brutal wars of the present, war is rarely anything other than a very dark time for humanity. Yet undoubtedly in such dark times, acts of incredible bravery and selflessness are committed, and for director Mel Gibson, the telling of one remarkable true story is in many ways his redemption, and a superb return to form for a man who it would be fair to say had something of a fall from grace, never being too far away from controversy.

Yet, despite all that controversy, Gibson has come out fighting with his first stint in the director’s chair after directing 2006’s Apocalypto. Set in the heart of Japan in 1945, the USA is battling the Japanese at the Battle of Okinawa and after some troubling times with his training Desmond Doss enters the fray of war, and never fires a single shot or carries a gun. It seems such a ludicrous decision to enter the hell of war without anything to protect yourself but the screenplay, penned by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan helps you understand where Doss is coming from, he’s a man who resolutely sticks to his principles. His superhero days may be behind him, but with this performance and his sterling work in Silence, Garfield is showing himself to be a tremendous actor and his performance is extremely powerful, ensuring a well earned Oscar nomination as well.

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Garfield is the leading light of an extremely well polished cast, that includes Hugo Weaving as Doss’s alcoholic father who witnessed the devastation of World War I and is loathed to lose his sons to the horror of warfare. Teresa Palmer is equally excellent as Doss’s love interest Dorothy. The scenes between the two could have been a real stumbling block and detriment to the plot, but the chemistry between Garfield and Palmer is superb and their romance is far from a hindrance, instead adding real depth to Doss’s character. Vince Vaughn also turns in an excellent performance as Doss’s stern Sergeant who certainly does his best to add the humour while all of the recruits undergo some intense army training. At the same time, all the new recruits look down on Doss for his beliefs, and make his life a hell on Earth, and this is before they are even in reach of the war zone.

For Gibson, a nomination for Best Director might have seemed far-fetched but his work here is extremely deserving of a nomination. He helms the film superbly well, the action is extremely tense to watch and the work that he achieves, along with his sound team, fully capture what it must be like to be in the middle of a war zone. The film’s editing also helps add to the gritty realism. The violence is not glorified in the slightest, it’s just very frighteningly realistic. Be under no doubt, this is not a film for the squeamish, the bullets fly by their thousands and the blood and guts flow. Yet through all of this, the film shows to the audience that it can really pay to stick by your principles, even if everyone is trying to belittle you for holding on to those beliefs.

Though this is for all for all intents and purposes a war film, the themes of anti-war and pacifism are strong, as well as being true to one’s beliefs, and the themes and messages that the film conveys should hit home with the audience and leave a lasting impression on them. War certainly is hell, but the actions of brave men like Desmond Doss should and will hopefully never be forgotten. Furthermore, they can serve as a great lesson for all, of the true valour of bravery and heroism, even in the most desperate and hopeless of situations.

An explosive, and quite brilliant return to the director’s chair for Gibson, with Garfield giving arguably the performance of his career, and just maybe the best war movie of the 2010s thus far.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds
Image is property of The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, and Universal Studios

Inglourious Basterds – Film Review

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz,  Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A group of Jewish American soldiers set out with the intention of killing Nazis in the heart of Nazi occupied France, all the while, a plot to assassinate Nazi High Command is being devised by a cinema owner with a tragic past.

Review: The Second World War, a truly dark and troubling part of European History in the 20th century. The rise of Fascism and Communism and a continent that was seemingly on the brink of tearing itself to pieces. A period that has been the subject of many textbooks. Therefore presenting a perfect opportunity it would seem for writer and director Quentin Tarantino, a chance to make a fun and violent movie during the period that quite literally throws the history textbook out of the window, and shoot it a couple, or maybe ten times.

Set in 1944 with the war raging across the continent, enter the Basterds lead by Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt)  a group of Allied soldiers who are killing Nazi soldiers with with a large amount of glee as they do. Meanwhile a cinema in Paris becomes the centre of a plot by the owner (Melanie Laurent) who is after one thing only, vengeance. The perfect ingredients for a three hour Tarantino flick filled with violence and superbly written dialogue and some truly memorable characters, and it sure is bloody entertaining stuff!

With what is without doubt one of the finest opening scenes in cinema history, we meet Colonel Hans Landa, played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz who’s on his way to meet a farmer, about the whereabouts of some missing Jews.  Although this conversation is initially warm and hospitable, it isn’t long before things go cold, unwelcoming and becoming all the more tense with each passing scene. On this scene alone, Waltz deserved the many accolades that came his way for this performance, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Tarantino has created many memorable characters in his filmography, but Landa is right up there with the best of them. Laurent is also spectacular as the cinema owner, Tarantino knows how to make compelling female characters, and he does so yet again as both Shoshanna (Laurent) and Bridget (Kruger) are intriguing and well developed characters, the former more so than the latter though. Brad Pitt as the gruff Aldo Raine is also on spectacular form as the leader of the Basterds, with Michael Fassbender also lending his tremendous talents as a British Double Agent in what is a very talented cast.

Tarantino is one of the finest writers and directors working in the industry, and there are more than a few scenes that are just flawless in terms of the writing, the actors performances and the execution of the scenes are all just exceptional. The aforementioned beginning sequence jumps to mind, but so too does the quite brilliant restaurant scene, which has potential to be one of the finest Mexican stand off scenes ever put to film. The tension is almost unbearable at some points. Whoever knew that a scene where two characters eat strudel could be so tense? This being a Tarantino flick means that there will be violence, and there is plenty of that indeed, and it’s glorious to watch. The script also manages to fuse a perfect amount of comedy in there as well, watching Pitt try and mask his thick American accent to masquerade as an Italian is just extremely entertaining.

The length is often a gripe with some of Tarantino’s work, and yes at and at just over 2 and a half hours, Basterds is certainly a movie you need to sit down and invest your time in. Yet it’s a worthy investment when the climax is reached and the credits begin to roll. “This might just be my masterpiece,” says one character as the film reaches its conclusion. It almost feels as though that dialogue was from Tarantino himself direct to the audience, and on the evidence of this film, it is kind of hard to disagree with him.

With exceptional writing, tremendous acting, and a bloody exciting story set in the heart of the Second World War. This is vintage Tarantino, and one of his best.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

American Sniper (2014)

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Image rights belong to Village Roadshow Pictures, Mad Chance Productions, 22nd & Indiana Pictures, Malpaso Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures

American Sniper  – Film Review 

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Director: Clint Eastwood

Synopsis: An account of the American solider and sniper, Chris Kyle who went on to become one of the most deadly snipers ever in history.

Review: War,  a topic that is never far from the news and one that dominates many lives on this planet. We all read about events such as World War 1 and World War 2 through our history classes, and the documentaries that we watched in school. It comes to life through pictures and documentaries. Yet with a story focusing on a war that is ongoing featuring events such as 9/11 that are still fresh in the minds of many, that is treading a fine line as controversy is bound to ensue with certain things. Without question this film has had its fair share of controversy. Zero Dark Thirty a similar film focusing on the Iraq War, also attracted criticism and controversy over certain elements. Yet through all of the controversy, it was a storming success, the same can be said for American Sniper. 

The film focuses on real life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle played incredibly by Bradley Cooper who scooped his third consecutive Oscar nomination for the role. When 9/11 happens, we see a man who becomes enraged and seeks to go out there and defend what he believes to be “the best country on Earth.” He is very patriotic and a firm believer in honour and duty. Through extensive tours in Iraq and many many kills later, he firmly establishes himself as a US military hero. Yet through all his tours and military exploits, there are consequences that he must deal with. Namely that war will take its toll on you, chip away at your life and the lives of your family members.

Throughout the film we see how once he comes home from another tour, he is not the same man he was when he went away. With each tour he goes on, he comes back almost a completely new person, becoming increasingly cut off from society. Through Cooper’s excellent performance, we see that the man is hailed as a hero by his comrades, but the film does not bask him in complete glory, what we have is a man who is troubled by his exploits. he is joined by his wife Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) We see through her eyes how the man she married is not the same through each tour that he embarked upon, and every time he returns, the distance between the couple grows wider and wider. The nature of war and the damaging effect it can have on any person who fights are very well realised both in the performances of Cooper and Miller and in the screenplay, adapted from Kyle’s autobiography, penned by Jason Hall.

Through the hands of veteran director Eastwood, the film like its titular character, found its aim, and he was right on target. The man and the legend has gone through a mixed spell recently with Jersey Boys and J. Edgar not receiving the best of receptions critically. However, he has delivered an emotional war story. The action scenes packed throughout the film are directed very well, some of which are particularly intense. A decision that could result in the deaths of 20 US soldiers rests in his hands and it is nerve-racking viewing. The action scenes are accompanied by a fantastic score composed by The film has been blasted by some as nothing more than American propaganda, yet the film does not glorify the events you see on screen.

It really highlights the ugly, brutal side of war that as previously mentioned will take its toll on a person. The film could have explored numerous other themes of the Iraq War, yet it chooses to narrow its focus about this one man, and the effects that go along with going to war, and what having over 160 confirmed kills to your name will do to your life and the lives of your family. With a very sombre conclusion given what happened to Chris Kyle, the audience is reminded that fighting in a war will have its far reaching consequences, and in some cases it will have a melancholic and heart breaking ending.

Anchored by another superb Bradley Cooper performance, and top notch directing by Eastwood, it provides a tense and heart breaking story of one man and the damaging effects of war.

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