‘1917’s’ Gimmick is a Technical Feat, But It Gets in the Way of Some Potential Storytelling Resonance

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden

Director: Sam Mendes

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Explosives and Gunfire Flying Through the Air

Release Date: December 25, 2019 (Limited)/Expands January 10, 2020

The World War I men-on-a-mission-to-stop-a-mission film 1917 is one of those flicks, like Birdman or Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, that is shot and edited in such a way as to make it appear like one long continuous take. It also has a race-against-the-clock premise, as British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are sent to deliver a message to another British battalion to call off an attack and thus prevent them from walking into a German trap. Chapman and MacKay display the right sort of nervous energy for a seemingly impossible, deadly task, but honestly, I wish there had been more bells and whistles on their journey. Specifically, it would have been a big help if there had been a clock in the corner of the screen letting us know how much time they had left to successfully deliver the message. That might seem out of place for a film that gets much of its power from disorientation and uncertainty, but when the premise is clear and simple, it helps to have the stakes be clear and simple as well.

Overally, 1917 is impressive and accomplished, but in a manner that often gets in the way of itself. The “almost” nature of the one-shot gimmick is not hard to suss out, as there are plenty of moments when someone turns towards a wall, or the picture becomes total darkness, and it’s clear that a cut would be very easy to do at this moment. Still, a series of several long continuous takes is tough to pull off, and the urgency that technique conveys fits with the subject matter. But … why not cut? Why not let us see the doomed battalion before they realize how doomed they are? The power of this story is in the dramatic irony of fate’s fickleness, and we get only a small portion of that by sticking on one path. Ultimately then, 1917 is a long fancy showcase to show off some filmmaking skillz instead of a fully realized narrative vision.

1917 is Recommended If You Like: The Revenant, Dunkirk, Video game cut scenes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Orders

This Is a Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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CREDIT: Jay Maidment/Disney

Mary Poppins is fun and all, but before she showed up again, little Annabel, John, and Georgie could have already turned to their Aunt Jane to take care of all the practical matters that their dad is struggling with. Mary Poppins Returns has magic, or at least attempted magic, in its presentation. Whether or not that magic will hit you squarely in your heart and imagination depends a great deal on your mood, I think. Emily Blunt is acceptably grand in fulfilling her Poppins-y duties, but she’s not as singularly ineffable as Julie Andrews. That’s a tough comparison, sure, but even when considered in isolation, Returns is not much more than a perfectly pleasant passing diversion. And anyway, I’m more interested in Jane’s labor organizing. Not every villain is as sniveling as Colin Firth’s bank manager, which is one reason why unions are so important.

I give Mary Poppins Returns 5 Animated Detours out of 8 Misplaced Documents.

This Is a Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios

I give Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again 2.5 out of 5 Waterloos: http://newscult.com/movie-review-mamma-mia-go-can-mostly-resist/

This Is a Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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CREDIT: Giles Keyte/Twentieth Century Fox

The Golden Circle is just as exciting as the first Kingsman, and it features a hell of a villainous turn from Julianne Moore. Its attitude is a bit arch, and it often pretends that it isn’t, but that isn’t a huge deal when the action is assembled impressively and the humor does let loose often enough. But ultimately while these flicks are fun, I find it hard to embrace them fully. There is just something weirdly insidious about their politics (or something like politics). It may not even be intentional, but intentional or not, it does unnerve me. I could have forgiven all that if Channing had danced more. Why didn’t Channing dance more?

I give Kingsman: The Golden Circle 2 Cannibal Burgers out of 3 Butterfly Effects.