MOVIE REVIEW: 1917

Practically every conversation about Sam Mendes’ new WWI epic “1917” is going to include the word gimmick, as it relates to the film’s unique structure. This is because Mendes and all-time great cinematographer Roger Deakins have taken great care to craft a cinematic experience that feels as if the audience is following characters on a journey in one long single shot. Much like “Rope” and “Birdman”, two films that employed a similar trick to great effect, this single-take is merely an illusion. With the exception of one intentional break that makes perfect plot sense, Mendes relies on Deakins and the unreal editing skills of Lee Smith (who is also responsible for the same work on most of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, including “Dunkirk”, which this film is bound to be compared to) in order to bind together a collection of very long takes with brilliant transitions and provide the audience with an immersive experience unlike anything witnessed before. The result of this choice is that viewers may feel almost like they’re in a virtual reality video game, as a silent traveling companion to the film’s main characters. This heightens the viewer’s awareness to the point of always observing surroundings just as the soldiers do. We check the horizon for the enemy, hold our breath during daring escapes, and feel our bodies tighten with anxiety as the intensity picks up and the clock ticks down. So despite the negative connotation that typically is applied to using the word gimmick, this is not the ill-advised attempt at Smell-O-Vision from the 1960’s or the failed D-box technology launched with “Fast and Furious” in 2009. Like the viral marketing of “The Blair Witch Project” or the twelve-year filming cycle of “Boyhood”, this film’s single-take design elevates it to become one of the most captivating films ever made in its genre.

There isn’t a lot to be said about the film’s plot, inspired by stories Mendes’ grandfather shared with him about his time in World War I, as it’s fairly simple and straight-forward. The movie begins with two soldiers, Blake (Richard Madden) and Schofield (George MacKay) being sent on an urgent mission through enemy territory, to deliver a message to the front lines which will stop 1,600 of their fellow soldiers from walking into a German trap. Among these 1,600 men is Blake’s older brother, giving him a very personal drive to succeed. Suffice to say – the stakes are high. Their journey plays out much like that of Sam and Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings”, though at a much-heightened pace. Along the way, they face obstacles that must be overcome (both from enemies and the environment), strangers they must rely on for help, and difficult moral choices that must be made while traversing the flawless sets of production designer Dennis Gassner. Both Madden and MacKay offer emotionally compelling and difficult physical performances that are not over-dramatic but capture the internalized pain and fear of their situation in a very moving way. Not to be forgotten is also a tremendous supporting cast featuring brief, never distracting, and impactful interactions for the main pairing with acting giants such as Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

At a tight 110 minutes long, Mendes keeps the tension high throughout despite only a couple of big war scenes the likes of which you’d usually expect to see. The epic nature of “1917” is not in the scale of its recreated battles, but in the enormity of the task at hand and the way in which the film looks at World War I (and by proxy all war-fighting, really) from the ground-level view of those who fight, cry, and die in the trenches. That being said, due to the incredible sound editing, when there are bullets flying on screen it feels like they’re buzzing through the air right in your theater – to the point that some viewers will slink in their seats or even jump unexpectedly. Another element that contributes so greatly to this immersion is Thomas Newman’s magnificent score. In lieu of constant dialogue and grand speeches, his work provides the emotional context we need and aids our characters’ body language in ensuring we are astutely aware of their mindset at any given moment. In a career of tremendous work, this could be his best, and like Deakins, he could easily be hearing his name called on Oscars Sunday.

“1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that will leave you utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. The film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 159: Shazam!

A foster kid becomes a wizard and battles the seven deadly sins in DC’s most magical film yet. For this conversation, returning guest Andrew B. Dyce joins the show as we talk family, kids and diverse representation in superhero movies, empathetic villains, and much more!

Shazam! Review – 0:08:18

The Connecting Point – 1:13:16


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MOVIE REVIEW: Shazam!

 


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 127: Sunshine

Having already gone to the moon this month we are now taking a trip to the sun for our week three conversation in #SciFiSeptember. Sunshine, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, is frighteningly beautiful and contemplative in that way that the best sci-fi always is – giving us themes of spirituality, science, and humanity to consider while being thoroughly entertained in a tight, tense 100 minutes. All that makes for a fantastic conversation. We hope you enjoy this one as much as we did.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:26

(Aaron – Science Fair, A Simple Favor, The Predator, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, Five Fingers for Marseilles)

Sunshine Review – 0:15:19

The Connecting Point – 1:09:38

 

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Rated: R

 


Going In

In 2015, a new project from director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer extraordinaire Mark Millar became a surprise theatrical hit, grossing $128 million domestically. As legend has it, Vaughn and Millar were at a bar one day discussing spy movies and decided that the genre had become overly serious. The two decided to make “a fun one”, which ended up being based on one of Millar’s comics, and Kingsman: The Secret Service was born.

In my opinion, Vaughn and Millar succeeded in their attempt to liven up the secret agent movie. I enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service (K:TSS) immensely and now have high expectations for its sequel. I’m particularly interested in learning how Colin Firth’s character (code name Galahad) returns and whether or not Julianne Moore’s new villain can reach the eccentric excellence that Samuel L. Jackson provided in the first film. The sequel is also pulling in some big names for what seem to be smaller roles. Will Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum enhance the film or be a distraction? The action will be grand, I have no doubt, and I’m crossing my fingers that the humor will work as well as it did before (vice following the raunchier trend of modern-day Hollywood comedies). Regardless of whether Kingsman: The Golden Circle wows me, I do expect to have a good time at the theater. If it turns out to be special, even better, but that would be enough.

 


COMING OUT

I went, I saw, and… I was let down. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (K:TGS) did not, in fact, turn out to be special. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a good time either.

In K:TGS, the Kingsman headquarters has been destroyed and Eggsy must unite with new American allies (The Statesman) in order to once again save the world, this time from a ruthless villain. One of my burning questions for this sequel was whether or not Moore could live up to Jackson and the answer is a resounding “NO.” Despite her fantastic performance as a bubbly psychopath drug lord, the character motivations are selfish and far less interesting than the thought-provoking topic of overpopulation that is explored in K:TSS. There is also an increase in the violent/gory content of the sequel (stemming from her ruthless nature) that I found off-putting and unnecessary. Another of my primary concerns was how the return of Colin Firth’s character of Galahad would be handled. To put it bluntly, it’s a complete joke. I was not the only one to sigh and roll my eyes at the explanation of how he survived the events of the first film, and his reappearance here retroactively lessens the impact of K:TSS.

With regards to those new American spies, it was disappointing how little screen time Channing Tatum was given. He was one of the few bright spots, stole every scene he was in, and yes, he dances. Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are… fine. All of the American agents other than Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey feel like they’re window dressing or present only to set up bigger roles in a sequel. Oh, and can we talk about those code names? It’s quite obvious that the film is meant to be satire and poke fun at Americans, but whereas the Kingsman mythology is modeled after old knights and tales of honor, the American agency is modeled after liquor tycoons and its agents named after different brands of alcohol. This serves as a perfect example of how K:TGC takes a big step back by being overly silly in its stereotypes. Its numerous attempts at cultural commentary were a big miss for me.

Lastly, I have to address one specific scene that really ruined the movie for me. As mentioned above, my hopes were that the film would not be too crude. In one entirely avoidable moment, Vaughn instead pushed far enough that I will now choose not to let my young teenagers see the movie. And the question I kept asking myself is “why?” There are so many inventive technologies in this series, but when it comes to getting information from a gorgeous blonde that creativity manifests itself in teenage boy fantasy instead. Luckily, this overtly and uncomfortable sexual scene only occurred once, and Vaughn deserves some credit for attempting to fix his mistake with a certain Princess at the end of K:TSS. But even that still falls short and the film lacks any semblance of a strong female character.

To end on a high note, the film does feature one of my favorite scenes of the year. Mark Strong’s Merlin was a highlight in K:TSS and here he provides an emotional center to the film that I was easily able to connect with. This scene will forever change my thoughts when I hear John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Strong’s performance in this scene (and this series) is exceptional and has inspired me to seek out more of his work.

Verdict

Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes everything about its predecessor and cranks it up to 11. If you didn’t enjoy that film, you definitely won’t like this one either. My expectations were not met, I didn’t enjoy the film, and I’ve lost the desire to see future installments in this series. When Vaughn keeps the focus in Britain and on the Kingsman, it’s great stuff. Too much of this film is an on the nose joke or critique about modern day America, though, and the results are underwhelming.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.