‘Eternals’ Weighs an Eternity

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Eternals (CREDIT: Marvel Entertainment/Screenshot)

Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

Director: Chloé Zhao

Running Time: 157 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: November 5, 2021 (Theaters)

Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” plays during Eternals‘ end credits, which is pretty cool, as that’s a fun song to rock out or sing along to. But then it cuts off before the guitar solo! And that made me feel pretty cut off. That’s the micro of how I feel about Eternals in the macro. The premise is intriguing, and multiple characters have an engaging hook, but then it just never lets loose. That’s two-and-a-half hours of waiting for something unforgettable. At least this isn’t the same-old, same-old I’ve gotten so used to from the MCU. Alas, a dozen or so central characters that have been around for millennia can be pretty imposing.

Grade: Not Enough Deviant Energy

‘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

Movie Review: ‘Rocketman’ Breathes Fantastical New Life Into Rock Star Biopics

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: R for Fabulous Rock Star Indulgences

Release Date: May 31, 2019

Have you ever felt so exhilarated by a movie that you thought, “I never knew it was possible to get this high?” Presumably you have, as you care enough about cinema to read reviews by film buffs who are just as passionate as you are.  But you also, like me, might be worried that you will never experience this feeling again. When it comes, it’s often inspired by a really rousing song-and-dance number, and it seems like those are in short supply these days. Too many music biopics are satisfied with just touching on the nuts and bolts of rock stardom. But I don’t think that’s because they don’t want to capture the spirit of their subjects. It requires a tricky sort of alchemy to make a music movie that really sings, but somehow through the magic combination of Elton John’s discography, Taron Egerton’s cheeky and gleeful and tormented performance, and Dexter Fletcher’s go-for-broke direction, Rocketman has found the right formula.

It helps a great deal that it’s an actual musical. Biopics are often categorized by awards groups as musicals, but that’s often a misnomer, because the performance scenes are generally just that: performances. But in Rocketman, they are instead excuses for flights of fancy. As Egerton adroitly digs into the former Reginald Dwight’s oeuvre, he is buoyed along by sudden losses of gravity, stages that turn into whirlwinds, impromptu interpretive dances, and a general sense that anything could happen. This film is also a tale of triumphing over addiction, as it is framed around a group therapy session in which John recounts how he got to this crazy point in his life. You get the sense that while living alongside parents who never quite understood him, a manager who took advantage of him, and at least one loyal friend and partner who stuck beside him for decades, a corresponding world of chaos and ebullience was constantly bouncing around in his head. Rocketman has captured that part of his psyche marvelously, and it is now a decadent treat for the whole world to feast upon.

Rocketman is Recommended If You Like: The Elton John Songbook, All That Jazz

Grade: 4 out of 5 Feathered Outfits