Film Review: 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is undoubtedly an technically excellent film but the focus on format ends up detracting from the depth of the storytelling

“You’ll be wanking again in no time!
‘Wrong hand’.”

There’s no doubting the technical audacity of Sam Mendes’ 1917. With its ostensibly one-shot, real-time structure (with necessary caveats that it is neither), it is a bravura piece of film-making that elevates this movie from just your average Oscar-baity war flick (cf Dunkirk).

It is clearly a labour of love for Mendes, who directed, co-wrote (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced 1917, and whose grandfather’s own war experiences inspired the film. And its driving force, following 2 British soldiers tasked with delivering a vital message beyond enemy lines. Continue reading “Film Review: 1917 (2019)”

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

DVD Review: Before I Go To Sleep

“You have problems remembering things”

I do like a psycho-thriller and Rowan Joffé’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s novel Before I Go To Sleep from 2014 offers up a good example of the genre (with a great poster campaign too), if a little formulaic by the end. Nicole Kidman’s Christine wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is. The man next to her (an excellently confounding Colin Firth) says he is her husband Ben and explains that she had an accident ten years ago which left her brain-damaged and unable to remember things beyond the day she recalls them. 

Consultant neurologist Dr Nasch (the inscrutable Mark Strong) is helping her though, providing her with a video camera to record her thoughts and mark any progress, with him calling her every morning to remind her to watch the video, and piece by piece, she begins to uncover the truth not just about what happened to her in the past but also what is happening in the future. Joffé does well at showing the claustrophobia of Christine’s existence, unable to really discern between help and hindrance in those who say they are protecting her, and a real sense of menace is present throughout. Continue reading “DVD Review: Before I Go To Sleep”

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

“Your alliance would be a disgrace”

This six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic TV programmes ever, its cultural breakthrough into the mainstream taking everyone by surprise and spearheading something of a revival in period dramas. For me though, my abiding memory remains watching a documentary some years later and hearing adaptor Andrew Davies saying that the stage direction he wrote for Colin Firth, for when Darcy meets Elizabeth after she has rushed over to see her ailing sister, was “Darcy is surprised to get an erection”.

Smut aside, it is a strikingly well done piece of work though, Luxuriating over 6 hour-long instalments, it allows for the slow-burn of the central relationship which makes this version of the story really work, Firth and Jennifer Ehle so incredibly well-matched that their every interaction is scintillatingly drawn as mutual antipathy turns to mutual admiration amidst the various family dramas of the Bennetts, Wickhams, Collins et al. His brooding looks and engagingly smooth voice and her keenly intelligent eyes with her delightful pragmatism are utterly engaging. Continue reading “DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

 
To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

DVD Review: Easy Virtue

“Dancing with you is like trying to move a piano”

Last up this weekend was the 2008 film of Easy Virtue and though the saying goes last but not least, it’s not really the case here. Adapted by Stephan Elliott and Sheridan Jobbins, their version of the story is practically a rewriting so different is it from the original, but the efforts have largely been in vain as it makes for a lumpen and turgid watch with a distinct waste of the not inconsiderable talent on show. A part of this comes from my own preferences – Jessica Biel is an actress to whom I have never warmed and I love Kristin Scott Thomas far too much to see her reduced to such one-note caricatures – but a larger part comes from the fatally misguided direction which tries far too hard to make this what it is not.

The story flirts between the romantic comedy of an out-of-place American widow newly married into the English aristocracy and battling against the stuffiness of his family, and the more socially astute depiction of the trials faced by the upper classes in the interwar period. But it achieves neither particularly well. There’s nowhere near enough of Coward’s customary bon mots and razor-sharp wit to make it recognisable as anywhere close to his best work and the insistence on maintaining the faux stylings of its chirpy jazz-lite score means that nothing deep is allowed to achieve any resonance. That score may have (disposable) versions of Coward and Cole Porter classics but it also contains horrendous jazzy reinterpretations of songs like ‘Car Wash’, ‘Sex Bomb’, and ‘When The Going Gets Tough’…need I say any more. Continue reading “DVD Review: Easy Virtue”

Short Film Review #9

It’s been a little while since I’ve watched any short films but I had a few link sent to me last week so I thought I’d cast my ever-beady eye over them to see what treasures might be unearthed. As ever, click on the ‘film’ tag to see more short films.

First up was Babysitting, written by Lucan Toh and Sam Hoare and also directed by the latter, but most attractive for its cast including Romola Garai, Dan Stevens and Imogen Stubbs. And from its opening shots of a bedraggled Garai and a super-glam Stubbs, it is rather a bundle of subversive fun. There’s a bit of a twist to the title that I won’t reveal here but it is one that sends Garai’s Maggie on a bit of a journey, where she bumps into arrogant ex Spencer, Stevens in fine West London toff mode and her priorities are pulled skewiff as old feelings rise to the surface. The pair are well-matched and amusingly styled and if the film as a whole comes across as a little slight, it is highly entertaining.    Continue reading “Short Film Review #9”