Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) Review

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Doctor Stranger in the Multiverse of Madness

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo
Benedict Wong as Wong
Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez
Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West
Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
Director: Sam Raimi

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

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Out of the upcoming MCU movies, I was looking forward to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness the most. I liked the first Doctor Strange movie and with the addition of Wanda/Scarlet Witch for the sequel and more of a horror focus, I was interested. Admittedly, I did have some hesitations going into it. With the concept of the multiverse being present, there was a chance it would just be mostly cameos, I had a feeling that the MCU would take the wrong lessons from Spider-Man: No Way Home for the movies going forward with regard to cameos. Also at the last moment, director Scott Derrickson who made the first film left the movie, thankfully his replacement was Sam Raimi, which I found exciting. While there are certainly some issues, I quite liked Multiverse of Madness.

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I will say that first of all, if you haven’t watched the WandaVision show, you might lose a lot of the context. Doctor Strange 2 is very much a continuation from WandaVision and where Wanda’s story left off; so if you can, watch it beforehand. For all the strengths of the movie, unfortunately, I think that the writing is the biggest issue; some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Despite the unique direction and style, you can definitely tell that it’s an MCU flick from the writing alone, and it doesn’t break the formula at all. The issues aren’t restricted to formula, however. Much of the movie feels underdeveloped, with some portions of the script feeling like its rushed and missing stuff. It is fast paced but not necessarily in a good way. Some of that has to do with the runtime, with it being 2 hours, surprisingly short for an MCU movie. If anything, I think it is a bit too short, there’s some plotlines, sections and characters which would’ve benefitted from more focus and attention. As it is, the runtime doesn’t allow time for some plot points to be fully explored. That’s not to say that there’s nothing going on with the characters, but the story just didn’t succeed at connecting emotionally. With that being said, the story is refreshingly straightforward and contained for the most part, and it didn’t allow itself to feel too overstuffed. Like with many of the MCU movies, it also has the same issue with the out of place and annoying humour. Not that all of the jokes are bad, but I wish there was less of it. Like some of the other movies which use the multiverse (including the MCU), MoM doesn’t quite take advantage of that aspect. Multiverse of Madness is a bit of a misleading title, the multiverse definitely play a role but doesn’t utilise it much and set it up to be bigger than it was. Once again though, I am glad that the story is kept self-contained. There is a section that contains some cameos, and it is by far the worst section of the movie, even if I liked it. With that said, I really appreciate that they kept these cameos within this segment instead of stretched throughout the whole movie. Also, I appreciated the way they ended this cameo section, that’s what ultimately made it worth it for me. The third act gets wonderfully crazy, though I will say that the actual ending is a bit abrupt.

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays his role of Doctor Strange in his sixth appearance, and once again is really good. The question of Strange’s happiness is a reoccurring theme and we see how things have taken a toll on him. I do like his storyline, but I feel like he constantly kept being pushed into the background. I especially like how he portrays the different versions of Strange. The MVP and driving force of the movie is Elizabeth Olsen in her best performance yet as Wanda/Scarlet Witch. As one of the MCU’s strongest, interesting and tragic characters, Olsen does great work here, practically a co-lead alongside Cumberbatch. Definitely one of the best performances in the MCU so far. There’s also the debut of a new character America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez. Gomez is quite good in the role and will no doubt play a bigger role in other movies going forward, but ended up being more of a plot device in this film. Benedict Wong is once again great as fan favourite Wong, this time as the Sorcerer Supreme. Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Mordo and is good in his part, but has limited screentime. Rachel McAdams also returns as Christine Palmer and considering her smaller role in the first movie, they surprisingly found a way to get her involved with the plot more in the sequel, and gets to do a lot more here. The writing for the main villain is unfortunately a bit one note and needed more nuance and development, but the performance helped it work. As for the cameos, they definitely felt out of place and their section was the worst but for the most part, I liked the characters and their performances. The exception is one actor, whose casting and performance left much to be desired.

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This is Sam Raimi’s first movie in 9 years, that alone made Doctor Strange in MOM exciting to watch. His direction is one of the highlights of the movie. There are a lot of talented directors who work on MCU movies where their style and vision are muffled and you can barely see it. While I wouldn’t call Multiverse of Madness a full-on Raimi film, his distinct style does shine through. There’s plenty of creativity throughout and it is definitely one of the most director influenced films in the MCU in quite some time. Many of his trademarks are on display. The camera movements are inventive and dynamic, and it allows for some crazy visuals. The editing is also fantastic, with some particularly great transitions. It is also one of the most violent movies in the MCU, if not the most. One of the most surprising parts of the movie were the horror elements, I wasn’t expecting to see moments reminiscent of the Evil Dead movies. There’s particularly a chase scene in the middle section of the movie which is straight out of a horror movie. That being said, I wouldn’t say that this is a Raimi movie first and foremost, it’s still very much within the MCU style. The worst thing I can say about his style here, aside from it not being fully Raimi, is that it is at odds with the writing. The action sequences are for the most part great and are entertaining to watch. The visual effects in the first Doctor Strange were some of the best in the MCU and that’s the case with the sequel too, with some good CGI. The score is composed by Danny Elfman, and while the prospect of him teaming up with Raimi sounded good, the score is nothing special and at about the same level as Michael Giaacchino’s score in the first movie. With that said, Elfman occasionally gets moments to shine through, including the use of electric guitars.

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not without its issues, mainly with the script. With that said there’s a lot of other good aspects with the the solid performances (with Elizabeth Olsen being the MVP), and most of all the outstanding direction from Sam Raimi, giving the movie a distinct flavour and creativity not seen in most of the MCU. Additionally, the horror elements are a welcome addition. While I know that not everyone will love it, based off my first viewing, I liked it more than most movies in the MCU.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) Review

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Spider-Man No Way Home

Time: 148 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange
Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds
Jon Favreau as Harold “Happy” Hogan
Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro
Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin
Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus
Benedict Wong as Wong
Tony Revolori as Eugene “Flash” Thompson
Marisa Tomei as May Parker
Director: Jon Watts

With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, our friendly neighborhood web-slinger is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life as Peter Parker from the high stakes of being a superhero. When Peter asks for help from Doctor Strange, the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

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I will admit that I wasn’t sure about how Spider-Man: No Way Home would turn out. I enjoyed the previous two MCU Spider-Man movies but my liking for them has decreased over time as I’ve thought about them. Also the fact that this time they would be bringing back new old Spider-Man villains from the previous versions of Spider-Man, it just left me feeling unsure going into it. With all that being said, the movie pleasantly surprised me.

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No Way Home starts with where the last movie ended with everyone learning that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. He was also framed for killing Mysterio but that aspect is forgotten very early, however the public identity is present throughout. One addition which did feel weird going in was bringing in the real multiverse (not the fake multiverse presented by Mysterio in the last movie). However the multiverse actually works for Peter’s story, it doesn’t go too overboard with the multiverse elements and stays true to the core storyline of Peter’s identity. The film never loses focus on what it is. No Way Home is definitely heavily reliant on nostalgia, unsurprising since they bring back 5 villains from the previous Spider-Man movies (with the same actors playing them). However it actually works to enhance the movie and it’s to the betterment of the characters. Something that the MCU Spider-Man movies have been lacking were serious consequences and heavy decisions (outside of the identity reveal at the end of the last movie). No Way Home however really puts Holland’s Spider-Man through the ringer and by the end, the story really does capture the essence of Spider-Man. It gives the character of Peter Parker some tragedy and I was honestly surprised at how dark it could get at points, it’s not constantly light hearted all the way through. But now we get into the issues. Despite what I just said, it’s still very much an MCU movie especially with the use of comedy, in that they have way too much of it (with only half the jokes actually working). Although I will give credit that they do dial it back in some scenes, and I will always praise those instances in MCU movies considering that ever since The Avengers (2012) they’ve really struggled to hold off from breaking dramatic or emotional tension with a quip or joke. There was a lot happening in the movie and as such it’ll require a rewatch for me to fully process it all. However I will say that there is some messiness, particularly in the first half of the movie. That’s where the movie stumbled along for a bit, it’s only when it reaches the middle where it got into its stride.

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I liked Tom Holland as Spider-Man in his previous appearances, but he hasn’t always had the best material to work with. However this is by far his best performance as the character. It certainly helped that this movie really allowed him to be Spider-Man, and he sells the most emotional moments really well. I’m now looking forward to seeing what happens next with him. Compared to the previous two love interest characters in the previous live action versions of Spider-Man, Zendaya’s MJ really doesn’t have much going on as a character. Nonetheless she is good and enjoyable in the part, and she has great chemistry with Tom Holland. Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Strange in a notable supporting role. I would say this is Cumberbatch’s worst outing as the character, mainly because of his writing and he felt rather out of character throughout much of the film. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May, in the previous appearances it’s a rather thankless role and doesn’t do much outside of being Peter’s aunt (especially compared to previous versions of the character). However she is given much more to do here and actually has an impact on Peter and his decisions, which I was happy to see.

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The MCU Spider-Man trilogy have consistently great villains, and No Way Home is no exception. Despite these villains being from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films and are actually fairly fleshed out, and most of them go through their own arcs. Sandman and The Lizard are fully CGI creations but those roles are still reprised by Thomas Haden Church and Rhys Ifans. They almost feel added on given that the remainder 3 villains get more focus but I still liked seeing them here. The villain most distinctly different from their last on screen appearance was Jamie Foxx’s Electro. He’s no longer blue like he was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and his personality has changed to basically Jamie Foxx with lightning, and I can’t tell whether its better or worse. Still he’s fun to watch. It was really nice seeing Alfred Molina return as Doc Ock as well. The standout from the whole movie though is Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, and he might’ve even topped his performance from Spider-Man 1. He doesn’t really wear the mask for much of the film and honestly it was for the better given that Dafoe is terrifying and threatening here without it. He is such a strong on screen presence and he is one of my favourite parts of the film, easily one of the MCU’s best villains. There are also some other noteworthy appearances which I won’t mention by name but needless to say, I was very satisfied with them.

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One of my least favourite parts of these recent Spider-Man movies was the direction from Jon Watts. His work isn’t necessarily inherently bad, it’s competent but that’s just it. I know that a lot of MCU movies look very similar, but even by those standards, Watt’s direction really lacks any unique style. In some way No Way Home is the same, but for what it’s worth it does show some sign for improvement. Some of the shots and editing are quite bland, but it has its moments, especially when in the scenes set during night time. There’s also some very effective action sequences, the standout without spoiling takes place in an apartment. There are some Doctor Strange dream visuals in a couple scenes, however it’s not as well done as it was in his original movie or in Infinity War. The blue and green screen can actually be terrible at times, with some dodgy CGI. However I liked the action and movie enough to look past those moments. Michael Giacchino can compose some really good scores however for the most part his work on the Spider-Man movies isn’t all that great for the most part, and No Way Home is the same here.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home was one of the most surprising movies of the year. It gives Tom Holland’s Spider-Man a personal story with stakes and weighty consequences which I greatly appreciated, along with it being very entertaining. With some effective action, great and memorable villains (with Willem Dafoe being the standout) and a surprisingly effective use of nostalgia, I really liked it. I’m really interested to see what happens next with this version of Spider-Man.

The Power of the Dog (2021) Review

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The Power of the Dog

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Animal cruelty & content that may disturb
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank
Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon
Jesse Plemons as George Burbank
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon
Thomasin McKenzie as Lola
Genevieve Lemon as Mrs. Lewis
Keith Carradine as Governor Edward
Frances Conroy as Old Lady
Director: Jane Campion

A domineering rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) responds with mocking cruelty when his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), until the unexpected comes to pass.

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I was lucky enough to catch The Power of the Dog in cinemas. I hadn’t seen any movies from director Jane Campion beforehand, but I knew of some of her work like with The Piano and Top of the Lake, and this would be her return to making movies. It also has a great cast with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons so that was enough to get me interested. I watched a teaser of the film, otherwise I went in fairly blind. It had a lot of anticipation leading up to its release, and having seen it I can say that its well-earned.

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The first thing you need to know going into The Power of the Dog is that it is a slow burn, and I can see that really turning people off. In fact, when it does premiere on Netflix, I can easily see people turning it off after the first 20 minutes. The film does take a while to really reveal what the story really is about. I think it earns its over 2 hours runtime and pacing however, everything flows naturally and there’s a lot of attention to detail. Campion is less interested in plot than layered character dynamics, it is definitely more of a character study than a western. It is deeply complex in its characters and themes, with toxic masculinity and repressed desire being very much the leading themes, especially with the lead character. It has an effectively dreadful, unnerving and haunting atmosphere throughout, and only builds up tension even more as the film progresses. It comes together by the end in a very rewarding way with its ending.

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The acting from this talented cast is fantastic as expected. First of all, this is basically Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie, and very likely his best performance yet. In the complex lead role of Phil Burbank, despite initially coming across as one note, Cumberbatch pulls off the subtle nuances of this character. This is the darkest that Cumberbatch has acted in a role, but its more than that, the journey his character goes on is unexpected. While at first it feels like he overshadows the other actors, the rest of the cast are great too. Kirsten Dunst gives a very subtle and internalised performance, playing a woman who is pushed to high levels of distress. One of her best performances. Jesse Plemons as usual is reliably good, though he does sort of disappear into the background after the first act. Kodi Smit-McPhee is great here, probably the best performance I’ve seen from him. He gets a lot of screentime in the second half, and you really see his progression over the course of the movie. His quiet and reserved character of Peter takes an interest in Cumberbatch’s Phil, and the scenes between the two are captivating. There are other brief appearances from other actors like Thomasin McKenzie too, who are also good in their scenes.

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Jane Campion directs this film excellently. There is some beautiful cinematography from Ari Wegner, taking advantage of the gorgeous location and landscapes they are filming at. At the same time, it does well at capturing the intimacy and tension of certain scenes, especially with the close ups. Jonny Greenwood’s score is amazing and practically its own character, it really adds to the tension and unsettling feeling, helping to draw you into the film.

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The Power of the Dog is a steadily paced, visually gorgeous, complex and gripping character drama. It’s excellently directed and has great performances from its ensemble cast, especially from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. After watching this, I really want to check out more of Jane Campion’s work. The Power of the Dog is one of the best movies of the year thus far.

The Courier (2021) Review

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The Courier

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne
Merab Ninidze as Colonel Oleg Penkovsky
Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan
Jessie Buckley as Sheila Wynne
Angus Wright as Dickie Franks
Director: Dominic Cooke

The true story of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer (Merab Ninidze) hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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I heard some good things about The Courier. It was a cold war spy thriller that had a good cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the movie, and it looked goo from the trailer, so I was interested in checking it out. The Courier was a conventional but solid true story spy thriller that is well worth a watch.

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The Courier is the true story of a salesman turned spy during the Cold War in the early 1960s, and while I know that some people might not be interested in the movie by that description alone, I think the movie is quite accessible on the whole. It keeps things simple, by not getting bogged down by all the details and spy jargon, it makes the movie more streamlined and enjoyable to watch. Along with that, the pacing works quite well. It’s not fast paced by any means; it is on the slower side but done in a thoughtful way that slowly builds up the tension. However, it is also faster than expected considering movies of this specific genre, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, at a runtime of an hour and 50 minutes long. I found the story to be quite interesting, and the script itself was well written. It was clever, witty, it has the right amount of humour and seriousness throughout to make it entertaining to watch, and the dramatic beats worked for me. It does seem to repeating itself to a degree for most of the movie, until it changes into being something different in the third act, which I thought was strong. The friendship between the lead character (played by Cumberbatch) and the Russian spy, two people on the opposite side of the political divide, was particularly compelling to watch. Definitely one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The Courier is a cold war thriller, and as that doesn’t really do anything special to break the mould. It is conventional and similar to other movies about wartime unsung heroes that are intended snag Oscar nominations. However, I was still invested the entire time, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

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The acting is a shining point in the movie. First of all, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as the salesman who becomes a spy. This is his best performance since the Imitation Game, and for the most part, he is quite understated. His performance doesn’t just fall back into his bag of snarky tricks as in Sherlock Holmes or many of his other roles. His performance is nuanced and believable, and he particularly shines in the final act. Another great and heartfelt performance is from Merab Ninidze as the Russian spy, working at the same level as Cumberbatch. Some of the acting elevated a lot of their material, both Jessie Buckley and Rachel Brosnahan are in rather thankless roles but do a lot to make up for it. Buckley particularly plays the stock role of “wife who worries about husband” in this sort of movie, however gives a lot in her scenes.

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Dominic Cooke’s direction is pretty solid. It is very well shot and has a nice sharp look to it, with some excellent lighting. The costumes and production designs work for the time period as expected, and there’s a great and suspenseful score from Abel Korzeniowski. If there are any flaws in terms of the technical level, it’s the editing, especially in the first half. Occasionally it feels like its cutting short some of the scenes.

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As far as “based on a real story” Oscar Bait movies set in the Cold War era goes, The Courier is on the more exciting end. Clearly a lot of the movie was handled with care, the story is familiar and conventional but compelling and interesting nonetheless, it’s well shot, and the performances are great, particularly from Cumberbatch, Ninidze and Buckley. I think it’s worth checking out.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) Review

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The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies

Time:
144 Minutes (Theatrical)
164 Minutes (Extended)
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian Holm as Old Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey
Richard Armitage as Thorin II Oakenshield
Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug/Sauron
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Ken Stott as Balin
Aidan Turner as Kíli
Dean O’Gorman as Fíli
Manu Bennett as Azog the Defiler
James Nesbitt as Bofur
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Christopher Lee as Saruman the White
Billy Connolly as Dáin II Ironfoot
Stephen Fry as Master of Lake-town
Ryan Gage as Alfrid Lickspittle
Director: Peter Jackson

Having reclaimed Erebor and vast treasure from the dragon Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) sacrifices friendship and honor in seeking the Arkenstone, despite Smaug’s fiery wrath and desperate attempts by the Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to make him see reason. Meanwhile, Sauron sends legions of Orcs in a sneak attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, the races of Men, Elves and Dwarves must decide whether to unite and prevail — or all die.

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While I like The Hobbit movies, The Battle of the Five Armies has a lot of issues and is arguably the weakest of the trilogy. Despite many of the problems I have however, I’d say that it works well as a conclusion to the overarching Middle Earth story.

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Director Peter Jackson said that there was enough content to justify three movies, and having seen The Battle of the Five Armies I have to disagree. There are two main events, the battle at Laketown with Smaug and the whole final battle which fills the remaining running time. The narrative focuses on these two major events left in the story and how it bridges them. Smaug is dealt with in the first 15 minutes and while it was well handled, it’s pretty clear that it should’ve been put at the end of The Desolation of Smaug. So the movie is pretty much just about the titular battle and as you can tell, the whole movie is mostly this is one big battle. Leading up to that point, they are really building up this battle. However it doesn’t feel grand and important and epic like it was trying to be. It’s not a problem with the first two movies because those were smaller scale for the most part, but The Battle of the Five Armies is trying so hard to be something big, but it doesn’t work. You don’t care about the large scale stuff but the movie is definitely leaning more towards that than its characters. There is a bit of an emotional disconnect from the story and characters, it certainly doesn’t help that you can figure out most of what happens, it doesn’t actually feel like there are many stakes. When the camera shows a big battle with none of the main players being a part of it, you wonder what the point of it is. If Jackson really wanted to stretch the movies into three, along with the movie being largely about the battle, there’s other opportunities to add some other character building moments or something similar. Unfortunately, some of the characters that have been built up and introduced over the previous two films are squandered in mere cameo roles. It feels like a lot more of the runtime should’ve been spent with characters and their interactions, especially Thorin. Thorin’s madness and greed is a notable plotline, more scenes developing that would’ve been better, and it would suit the darker approach well. There was potential there, there’s some great scenes involving Thorin and Bilbo. Unfortunately, Thorin’s storyline of a man driven to greed is played oddly camp and over the top, and it loses any of its edge and effectiveness, you don’t even really take it seriously. When it does get to the third act, it focuses up a little more onto characters we actually know (as opposed to random CGI creations), and the conclusion was satisfying enough.

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By the time it gets to The Battle of the Five Armies, it’s even more clear that we aren’t really watching an adaptation of The Hobbit, it may bother some but as someone who never read the books I was fine with that. It does try to add as much Tolkien lore as possible. It does feel like fan fiction but with fiction from a fan comes passion, and you can feel the passion throughout. Hence why I’m not with the people calling the movie a cash grab. With that said, it can get a little silly at points, such as Gandalf’s first scene. The movie often tries to throw references to the LOTR trilogy which serves no purpose and felt cheesy and placed into the screenplay to get a reaction from the audience. They don’t really add anything and almost felt lazy at points. As someone who loves The Lord of the Rings trilogy and really likes the first two Hobbit movies, I do wonder what happened with some of the decisions made here. So much of this movie is over the top ridiculous. The Hobbit movies had that and even the Lord of the Rings trilogy had that, but some moments are so silly and goofy that it almost became fascinating, like Peter Jackson is actively trolling the audience or something. At a point I just sort of accepted it but it is beyond jarring. I wasn’t expecting so much stilted and awkward dialogue from characters, I’m not really sure what happened there. The comedy is kind of ridiculous too, I generally like the comedy in the other movies but it’s so over the top here. There’s even a comic relief character that the film keeps cutting to for some reason (and no he’s not funny). While I consider the extended cuts of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy to be the defining versions of these movies, The Hobbit movies are fine enough without them, especially the case with this one. I watched the extended cut, and like with the other Hobbit extended cuts, some new scenes are great, other scenes feel like filler.

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The cast from the past Hobbit movies return, and they are generally pretty good here. Of the characters, Bilbo and Thorin get the most focus, much of the other characters are neglected. Their dynamic is great, but I wish they got a lot more to do. Martin Freeman is good as always as Bilbo, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot, especially compared to the past movies. Richard Armitage is great as Thorin, especially as it’s going towards the greed storyline involving him. As said before though, I wish the storyline was handled better because it had a lot of potential. Other actors like Ian McKellan, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom and Lee Pace are good in their parts, though don’t get much chances to shine. A distraction character is some side character named Alfrid, who pretty much serves as some random comic relief. He was the deputy of the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) in the last movie, and he was okay in his role. If they really wanted one of the two characters to be the comic relief in this movie, I wish it was Stephen Fry instead. Apparently the reason he is in this so much is because they liked the actor Ryan Gage, and I’m not sure about that reason, because he’s quite annoying in this movie. He’s fine for the first two scenes but they keep giving him scenes. He’s not funny, he doesn’t evolve or change over the course of the movie, and he doesn’t really add anything to the movie. He even dresses up in a corset to pretend to be a woman at a point, and by that point, you just really wonder what Peter Jackson and the rest of the writers were even doing at this point. He gets even more screentime in the extended cut, so if you wanted more reason not to watch that version, there’s that. One surprising addition to the last Hobbit movie was Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, who was quite good. One part relating to her that I didn’t like however was the romantic subplot with her and Kili, it wasn’t really convincing and was a bit of a distraction, but at least it was a small part. In this movie however they leaned even further into that melodramatic subplot, and the romance and the dialogue relating to it can get very soap opera-like, and not in any enjoyable way.

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I’ve generally thought Peter Jackson’s direction of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies have been great, and while I liked some of his work in The Battle of the Five Armies, it has issues. Something about the look of the movie is off, particularly here even when compared to the past movies. It’s got this overly glossy look to it. The Hobbit movies’ effects get worse with every instalment, which means it looks the worst here. Not that it’s all bad, some aspects like Smuag still look fantastic. Where you mainly notice the visual effects issues are in the action scenes, and that’s probably why some of the visuals of the film look quite off. The overuse of CGI and green screen really distracts and makes it a bit of a mess, with far too many sweeping shots of CGI landscapes, townships and castle-rubble. Those types of scenes stood out as looking a bit fake in the other two movies, but at least it wasn’t constant. This movie is mostly a big battle movie however, so they stand out a lot more. It already feels jarring with the past two movies not really being battle movies at all. The action scenes for the most part are good, there are some great set pieces like the opening sequence with Smaug. Each set piece tries so hard to top the next, with large environments being destroyed. A lot of it is really over the top and silly, even by Jackson’s Lord of the Rings standards. Stuff like Legolas jumping up on falling debris is straight out of a video game, in fact any action scene with Legolas takes the edge of the battle scene with his plot armour, though they are undeniably entertaining. A lot of the action doesn’t really have any impact and just feels like computer people attacking each other, mainly because it is. In fact, you could keep some action scenes in and remove others and it wouldn’t change much of the plot at all. The music from Howard Shore is unmemorable but fitting.

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I still like The Battle of the Five Armies but it’s by far the worst instalment in the Middle Earth series. It doesn’t do enough to justify the Hobbit movies as needing three films to deliver the story, and has multiple issues on writing and directing levels. If you didn’t like the previous two movies, you definitely won’t like this one. With that said, I do like it. It has some good moments, the action is gloriously over the top and entertaining, and I enjoyed watching it. I just wish it was much better than it was.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Review

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Time:
161 Minutes (Theatrical)
186 Minutes (Extended)
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield II
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Stephen Fry as Master of Lake-town
Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Ken Stott as Balin
Director: Peter Jackson

Having survived the first part of their unsettling journey, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his companions (Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage) continue east. More dangers await them, including the skin-changer Beorn and the giant spiders of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood Elves, Bilbo and the dwarves journey to Lake-town and, finally, to the Lonely Mountain, where they face the greatest danger of all: the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

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As a big fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be good but a little disappointing when I first watched it. However, after repeat viewings, I’ve been liking it more over time. Still, I’ve always found the sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, to be an improvement over the first Hobbit movie in some ways.

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First of all, what is immediately noticed is that this movie is a lot faster paced than An Unexpected Journey, mainly because it didn’t need to set up anything with the story or characters, it just heads right into it. At the same time, it does build on the already established characters over time. The tone is a bit all over the place especially with the humour, but it is still a lot better than the first movie’s tone. The movie does feel overstuffed at times but as I said earlier, it moves at a respectable pace, and it still feels less crowded than the last movie. There are worldbuilding scenes with Gandalf after he separates from the Dwarves early on for certain reasons, and I did like that plotline as it was linking into the past Lord of the Rings movies. However the main focus lies with Bilbo and the dwarves as it continues to follow their adventure, and I liked watching that. If you’ve watched the first movie, you can probably tell at this point that they are doing their own thing instead of just being a straight adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Peter Jackson is having these three movies as a prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings trilogy by using The Hobbit as a vessel. He’s taken liberties in deciding what to show, and for the most part I’m on board with them. These Hobbit movies are long but generally I prefer that they are longer than shorter. With regard to the extended cuts in all three movies in the Hobbit Trilogy, there are some great new scenes that add a lot to the world and characters, and there are also some unnecessary additions that weren’t needed. The Desolation of Smaug is darker than An Unexpected Journey, but doesn’t have the narrative weight of the LOTR trilogy, which is why I think these movies really suffer as their core. There are times where it tries to be as strong as LOTR but it just can’t reach those levels. The third act is pretty strong, though I’m not sure about the ending. At first I thought it was good, looking at Battle of the Five Armies though, it’s quite a wonder why they decided to end the movie where they did. There’s a whole major plot point that takes 15 minutes to end, and instead on concluding it here, they put it at the beginning of the next film. While it works as a cliff-hanger, it is a bit of a double edged sword.

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The cast all around are really good. As expected, Martin Freeman is once again great as Bilbo Baggins and he continues to do some great things here, even if he’s in the backseat sometime. Ian McKellen is once again great as Gandalf. The dwarves and their respective actors are good even if they are still lacking and aren’t quite fully fleshed out characters, they have more characterisation compared to in the previous movie. Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, his appearance seems unneeded especially as he wasn’t in The Hobbit book, but I liked seeing him here. A new character introduced into the Lord of the Rings world in Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. While the addition could’ve backfired, she was actually a welcome addition. I wasn’t such a fan of the romantic triangle subplot with her and Kili (Aidain Turner), it wasn’t convincing and doesn’t quite work but you can look past it. Other actors including Luke Evans and Lee Pace do well in their parts, and even Stephen Fry makes a brief but memorable appearance. Benedict Cumberbatch performs the voice and motion capture work as Smaug and everything about Smaug was great. His introduction scene with him and Bilbo and their conversation together was one of the best scenes of the movie.

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Peter Jackson once again has a great handle on this movie. There are some really good action scenes with some great creativity. One of the highlights was one involving a river and barrels in the first half of the movie. The action is unapologetically over the top for sure, even more so than the LOTR action, but is nonetheless enjoyable. Compared with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit movies have a much greater emphasis on CG than practical effects. For the most part it doesn’t bother me like it does other people, it’s just a little jarring at times. There are stunning visuals and I like the settings, whether they are made with practical sets, actual landscapes, or if they are CG created. Some special effects are great, Smaug in the last act for example looks fantastic. Some of the other effects can look a little iffy sometimes however. Not bad perse but it’s just sort of the issues that you would see in most modern blockbusters.

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The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t quite reach the level of the Lord of the Rings movies and has its problems, but is definitely the best of The Hobbit movies, and is pretty good on its own. It was directed very well, there’s some good visuals and action, and the cast are great in their roles. If you liked An Unexpected Journey it’s worth a watch, and I’d say it’s worth a watch even if you didn’t because you might like it a lot more.

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

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12 Years a Slave

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence & sexual violence
Cast:
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey
Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
Director: Steve McQueen

In 1841, African American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, is kidnapped and forced into slavert, under the name ‘Platt’ for 12 years. He faces the hardships of being a slave under the hands of a few different slave owners. Through faith, will power, and courage, Northup must survive and endure those 12 years a slave.

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I had seen 12 Years a Slave many years ago for the first time, and it was quite impactful experience. Having rewatched some other Best Picture winning movies recently, I decided I should give this one a watch again, even though I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant viewing. 12 Years a Slave still holds up 7 years kater and is just as devastating as when I first watched it, a fantastic and harrowing movie that deserves all the acclaim it’s been receiving.

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Considering the subject matter, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movie might take a manipulative approach, especially considering most of the other movies about slavery, and all the awards that this movie won. However, that aspect was handled right, and I’ll get into some of those aspects a little later. This is first and foremost Solomon Northup’s real life story, and follows him throughout his years of being a slave. The story is handled as honest as possible, and never sensationalises any of it. Now from the title, you know that lead character doesn’t remain a slave for more than 12 years, but the experience isn’t any less harrowing. There are some incredibly impactful and emotional moments that are earned and never feel forced, but genuine.

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This cast is large and talented, and all of them perform excellently in their parts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible in the lead role of Solomon Northup, conveying so much emotion and pain without having to say much, or even anything. This film is continuously following him from beginning to end, this is his movie, and he carries it all powerfully. The rest of the cast are supporting players in Solomon’s story, but they all play their parts well. There are two standouts among that supporting cast, the first is Michael Fassbender, giving one of his best performances as a slave owner. Fassbender really performs excellently, with his character representing pretty much the worst of humanity, he has such a captivating screen presence. The other standout is Lupita Nyong’o, who gives an incredibly emotional performance in her part. The rest of the cast are great and make the most of their scenes, with the likes of Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt. Michael Kenenth Williams, and Paul Giamatti.

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Good writing and acting aside, what 12 Years a Slave would live or die on is the direction. This film needed to be handled by the right person, or it could easily fail. Director Steve McQueen was very much the right person for this movie, and knew how to handle this very sensitive subject. The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt was stunning. Not only that, but McQueen’s use of the camera is effective, forcing the audience watch everything that happens on screen, and not allowing them a chance to look away. When it came to the violence and the aspects of slavery, it was handled in probably best way possible. It’s undeniably brutal and doesn’t shy away from that, and you feel every blow. At the same time, it doesn’t sensationalise or fetishize it, if anything it is uncomfortably casual, and was fitting for the movie. A perfect example of this is a standout moment that takes place a third of the way through, without revealing the context or what the scene is, it’s a few minutes long, full of unbroken shots, and it’s incredibly painful and quiet. Hans Zimmer’s score is great as to be expected, and fitted perfectly with the film.

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12 Years a Slave remains an outstanding and moving film, powerfully acted, excellently directed, and is all around masterful. It is incredibly hard to watch (and indeed the rewatch was just as painful as the first watch was) but is a monumental film and quite frankly essential viewing.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Review

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Time: 127 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence and offensive language
Cast:
Gary Oldman as George Smiley (“Beggarman”)
Colin Firth as Bill Haydon (“Tailor”)
Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr
Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux
Ciarán Hinds as Roy Bland (“Soldier”)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam
David Dencik as Toby Esterhase (“Poorman”)
Stephen Graham as Jerry Westerby
Simon McBurney as Oliver Lacon
Toby Jones as Percy Alleline (“Tinker”)
John Hurt as Control
Director: Tomas Alfredson

A retired spy, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is summoned by the Government to investigate a furtive case. With a secret Soviet agent assumed to be working within their system, will George be able to unveil his identity?

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I remember watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy many years ago, and it’s always been one of those movies I’ve been meaning to rewatch for some time. I remember finding it to be a good movie, but it was really slow and I didn’t understand completely everything that was going on, it was a really complicated movie. I finally saw it a second time, and I got all the acclaim this time round, it’s a very well made movie, even though I can understand why it might not work for some people.

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For those who don’t know much about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, although it’s classed as a spy movie, this isn’t the James Bond or Jason Bourne kind of spy movie. It’s an investigative and truly espionage spy movie, with complex and shifty characters in a morally grey and bleak world. There aren’t many gunshots, and there isn’t anything even close to resembling action scenes. It’s also a very slowly paced movie, and this will definitely turn off a lot of people, I will admit that there were moments where it got a little too slow for my liking. It’s more than just that it’s a slow paced movie, it’s really complicated too, and maybe even hard to follow at times. You really have to pay close attention to from start to finish, otherwise you’ll probably miss some vital details. It’s not so much that it’s bad at crafting the story for the big screen, in fact I heard that it was well done considering the source material was apparently extremely hard to follow as it was. There are just a lot of moving parts, plotlines and characters that you have to pay attention to. Even having known much of the plot from the last viewing, after my second viewing I still had to look up a couple of things about the plot to clarify a few things I wasn’t certain about. As I was, I was invested in what was going on, even if it dragged in parts and I was lost in moments. The writing is quite strong, and the dialogue quite layered, with intimate character moments and subtext carefully placed throughout. Now having quite a good understanding of what happened, I think I’ll get this movie even more on a further 3rd viewing.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has such a great ensemble cast, and all of them worked well together. Gary Oldman plays the lead character of George Smiley, and he absolutely transforms into the role. Smiley is calm and collected, yet captivating in every scene. He’s quite effectively subtle, conveying so much without having to say much. The rest of the cast are at the top of their game, with Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds and John Hurt all giving great performances. The highlights out of all of them for me were Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy doing so much in their screentime.

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Tomas Alfredson directed this movie quite well, he really set it well in the time period of the Cold War. The cinematography was by Hoyte Van Hotema, who shot the movie very well. It’s a very grey looking movie, yet it somehow still manages to be visually stunning and stylish. Tomas also does well at building up an effective atmosphere. The score by Alberto Iglesias is also great and fits the movie quite a bit.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy won’t be for everyone, especially if you’re expecting a fast paced movie, it might even test the most patient of viewers. From the second viewing however, I found it to be a complex, deeply layered story, directed very well and features outstanding performances from its ensemble cast. I liked it a lot more on a second viewing, and I think that I will like it even more the more I come back to it.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007) Review

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Stuart A Life Backwards

Time: 92 Minutes
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander Masters
Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter
Director: David Attwood

Stuart (Tom Hardy) is a homeless alcoholic who leads a complicated life because of the disturbing memories of his troubled childhood. His writer friend (Benedict Cumberbatch) chronicles his life and tries to recount every aspect of it.

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I only found out about this movie more recently, the main thing I heard was that Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy were in it, with the latter giving a particularly fantastic performance. I also knew it was a tv movie, and I really didn’t expect much from it (didn’t really know what to expect honestly). Stuart: A Life Backwards was actually better than what I expected, an emotionally honest film, with an outstanding lead performance.

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Stuart: A Life Backwards is based off the biography of the same name. While the story takes place in chronological order, we learn about Stuart’s past in reverse order, like the title of the story implies (and how it was told in the book). This makes for a rather interesting watch as we learn about this man’s life, and what put him in the position that he was in present day. Without getting too deep into it here, A Life Backwards doesn’t shy away from everything that happened with Stuart and the things he does and went through, but the best compliment I can give is that it’s remarkably honest. There is a fair amount of humour thrown in (especially with some interactions between the main two leads), but it is emotionally impactful at the same time. The movie is around 90 minutes long, and the pacing is a little uneven. It drags at points and sometimes feels rushed in others, however I was still rather invested.

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This movie is mainly focussed on its two lead actors, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, and both really work in their respective roles. I’ll start with Cumberbatch, who is more the audience surrogate, as he’s playing the author of the biography that the movie is based on. The movie focuses on his interactions with Stuart. We don’t really get to learn about his role of real life person Alexander Masters, and he’s definitely not the main focus of the story, but Cumberbatch still manages to act very well (in a comparatively more subtle way than his co-lead) and also deserves some praise for his own. However, it’s of course Tom Hardy who stands out among everything in this film, giving such an emotionally raw performance and steals every scene he’s in. This might well be his most difficult performance, but it pulled it off excellently. This is some of his best acting, and knowing his long list of great performances, that’s saying a lot. The chemistry between Hardy and Cumberbatch is great and believable, with the friendship between the two driving the movie essentially. It is also nice on another level watching them, especially knowing how known they are as actors now.

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Now Stuart: A Life Backwards is very much a tv movie, it doesn’t have a very big budget, and you feel that throughout. However, it still does some effective things with the direction by David Attwood, not to mention it just feels right for this specific movie. There are some brief moments of animation that may seem out of place, but I think worked well enough for the unconventional style and subject of the story.

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Stuart: A Life Backwards won’t be known by most people, but I really do think it’s worth watching. It’s a pretty good movie by itself, the story is handled with care and told as it should. However, it’s Hardy’s performance which brings it to a whole other level, making it pretty much essential viewing. It might be hard to gain access to a copy of A Life Backwards, but definitely watch it when you get a chance, it’s well worth it.

1917 (2019) Review

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1917

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Depicts graphic & realistic war scenes
Cast:
George MacKay as Lance Corporal Will Schofield
Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Tom Blake
Mark Strong as Captain Smith
Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie
Richard Madden as Lieutenant Joseph Blake
Claire Duburcq as Lauri
Colin Firth as General Erinmore
Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie
Director: Sam Mendes

During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including Blake’s own brother.

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I’ve heard about 1917 for a while now. I knew that it was a World War 1 movie being directed by Sam Mendes, and was being shot by Roger Deakins, with much of the movie made to look like it’s shot in one continuous take. With awards season ramping up and it getting some attention, there was much talk about the movie. While narratively 1917 isn’t great, it’s pretty much outstanding on every other level.

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1917 is a simple story, our protagonists have to get to a particular place with not a lot of time to spare, and a lot of danger along the way. It’s also not contemplative about the nature of war or the like (closer to Black Hawk Down than Apocalypse Now), this is intended as an tense, action war thriller, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you aren’t immersed in what’s going on and don’t feel somewhat tense at least once within the first half hour, you might be a little bored throughout, because most of the movie is the main characters going from place to place, and occasionally getting shot at. There are already plenty of comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, another war movie released a couple years ago. I’m not going to talk about which is better, but to illustrate my next point I’ll compare them briefly. Dunkirk is a pure war movie experience, and although there are many characters throughout, there’s not really any focus about their journey and you don’t learn anything about them, it’s more them trying desperately to survive and succeed at what they had to do, and that worked for the movie. 1917 isn’t a character study or anything but it does have a little more characterisation, mostly with the lead characters. This is mostly shown during the downtime scenes, which is usually when they’re out of danger and are talking about things. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t work quite as well. They seem to grind the pacing to a halt, which I’m fine with, but in order for them to work you actually have to care about what’s going on beyond the basic level of them being human beings and our main characters. While you’re on board and wanting the lead characters to succeed in their task, you aren’t invested enough in them, so during these moments you don’t really feel much and you’re mostly just waiting for the next exciting thing to happen. While I wouldn’t trade these scenes for more scenes of tensions or action and the scenes aren’t bad by any means, this movie might’ve been fantastic if these scenes were handled better. With all that being said, the emotional payoff at the end is surprisingly effective.

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As seen in the trailer, there are many big names in this movie, with the like of Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others involved. They are good in the movie, but they are pretty much one scene cameos playing notable supporting characters along the way. Instead the leads of the movie are George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and both give great emotional and physical performances throughout. While the character work doesn’t exactly great (as I said up above), the acting from both more than made up for it. MacKay in particular is great, and in a less stacked year would be getting awards consideration.

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While I’m not sure that I’d call 1917 Sam Mendes’s best movie, his work here is undeniably fantastic. His task was incredibly ambitious on a technical level, and he managed to pull it off. Let’s talk about the one take shooting. Roger Deakins is great as a cinematographer, but this ranks amongst some of his best work. As mentioned earlier, much of the movie is made to look like it’s filmed in one continuous take. There are moments where you can probably guess where they made a cut between two takes (like when entering a location of darkness or when something is blocking the camera), and there is one very distinct cut to black at one point, but otherwise everything else is made to look like it’s in one shot. Some people have called this a gimmick understandably, but I don’t think it’s a gimmick. It immerses you into what’s going on with the lead characters as they struggle to navigate their environment. There are some truly stunning sequences, both with the camera movements, and the actual visuals themselves. The environment, production design, costumes, and the like are also well handled, and the one take shooting shows them off in how much attention to detail it all is. It’s dark, grimy and unpleasant, like it should be made to look. Outside of the very clear downtime scenes, you don’t feel safe in the rest of the scenes, and there’s a level of tension throughout. Thomas Newman composed the score, and it does very well to ramp up the tension.

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When I say that 1917 is a pure cinematic experience that works best when watching it on a big screen in a cinema, I mean it as a double edged sword. It’ll very likely be one of the best cinema going experiences you’ll have from a 2019 film, however I don’t know how well it’s going to hold up after it leaves cinemas. So I implore you to go watch 1917 on the biggest screen possible. As that, it’s a fantastic thrill ride (despite some complaints I had with the characterisation and narrative), and it’s really worth seeing. Even if it doesn’t fare that well after it leaves cinemas, Sam Mendes’s work here is absolutely masterful, and the acclaim on that front is deserved.