1917


Viewed – 21 January 2020 Cinema

During World War I, two young soldiers are given an unenviable task. In a race against time, they must travel into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save thousands of lives.

I won’t say I have the best knowledge of WW1, but still found this fascinating but not utterly gripping. The focus on these two characters makes for an effectively claustrophobic experience, aided by an unshifting, one-shot gimmick that certainly adds to the focus but also makes the whole show a bit less cinematic. Director Sam Mendes however delivers an occasionally powerful story that feels very real at times, exploring the mundanity of war as much as the violence and conflict. I felt the movie lacked big set pieces and failed to dig in deep with the characters, with little of the depth of say, the similarly perspective-driven The Revenant. With that said, one particular night sequence is quite visually striking.

Actor George Mackay is the stand out and is suitably supported by realistic casting, with names like Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch making an appearance. Yet it’s the authenticity here that shines, stepping away from any Hollywood excess. Worth a watch, but not quite as good as it’s hype suggests.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Midsommar


Viewed – 11 January 2020. Online rental

Following a family tragedy, a female student agrees to go on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends to attend a religious festival at a secluded commune. However once there she begins to witness the community’s unusual ceremonies and suspect not all is what it seems.

The second movie from Hereditary director Ari Aster certainly has influences from The Wicker Man, with its focus on Pagan rituals, and also bares resemblances to religious cults like The Manson Family and Heaven’s Gate. Yet Aster also sprinkles it with his own ideas and haunting imagery and with an exploration of human drama at the centre of the horror, like Hereditary this again disturbs. Lead actress Florence Pugh is mesmerising as someone already dealing with grief, faced with uncertainty in her relationship and then unfamiliar surroundings that initially seem exactly what she needs – and then something else entirely. The movie also explores passive-aggressive behaviour amongst the various characters which only adds to the tension.

It is a bit long at over 2 and a half hours, and gets predictable towards the end with a little too much foreshadowing … but direction is effective with great use of sound, unconventional editing and (cleverly) daylight to build unease. A movie that further cements Ari Aster as one of the most interesting horror directors working today.

Verdict: 4 /5

Rocketman


Viewed – 06 January 2020 Blu-ray

I’ve always appreciated the music of Elton John and consider several of his songs all-time classics. Following on from Bohemian Rhapsody this similarly tells the life story of one of the UK’s most iconic stars, this time with less of a tragic ending.

Told in a surreal musical style that takes those famous songs and matches them with key events in Elton’s life… this has Taron Egerton on amazing form, delivering all the nuance, emotion and flamboyance of the man himself whilst also singing all the songs as well. The musical approach is done very well even if at times I wished certain favourites were just delivered normally instead of other cast members stealing certain parts as way of delivering the story. Jamie Bell is very good as Elton’s writing partner Bernie, although Bryce Dallas Howard proves a bit forgettable as Elton’s disapproving mother.

The focus here is mostly Elton’s struggle to be accepted by his parents or find love. It’s occasionally a little overly stylish, and despite showcasing many famous songs, the omission of Candle In The Wind is puzzling. Yet this still delivers an occasionally moving, often eye-opening story with some seriously feel good moments, aided by a killer soundtrack. Recommended.

Verdict: 4 /5

Moonrise Kingdom


Viewed – 04 January 2020. Blu-ray

I’d say I’m becoming a fan of director Wes Anderson. His movies are so much pleasure to simply ‘look at’ with his captivating and whimsical camera work, shot competition and near-cartoonish approach to story telling. It’s a style that feels theatrical and obsessively planned out but retains a relaxed charm and personality that continues to draw me in.

This effort from 2012 follows the story of a young boy who runs away from a scout camp on a remote offshore island to embark on a back-to-nature adventure with the girl he loves. This causes the community including the girl’s parents Bill Murray & Francis McDormand as well as the local Police captain Bruce Willis to launch a search. This is a gentle, comical drama that has two strong turns from young actors Jated Gilman & Kara Hayward, perfectly supported by several recognisable faces including Edward Norton and Tilda Swindon. Although not the most compelling of plots, with a central love story that’s far from ‘deep’, Anderson’s direction is so charming that despite some slow moments I was still entertained.

It doesn’t have the infectious energy of say the more recent Grand Budapest Hotel, but with a fun setting and likeable performances this was another in the director’s back catalogue I’m very happy to have seen.

The Blu-ray release from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection has a pleasing image quality that is vibrant if a little soft probably due to the movie’s exaggerated sepia colour pallet. There’s also a perfectly acceptable 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that showcases the regular, off-kilter music cues and good use of surrounds and sub woofer (especially in the climactic rainstorm). However it’s in the extras this release excels, with a fun archive commentary from 2015 with the director along with select members of crew and cast. Add to this plenty of behind the scenes footage including a brief set tour with Bill Murray as well as footage filmed by Edward Norton. The movie is also presented in attractive packaging using the movie’s scout-camp imagery for a booklet, postcard and map of the island. It’s not in my opinion one of Wes Anderson’s best movies but perfectly fits in with a style that fans will be familiar with and is well worth a watch.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

Crawl


Viewed – 30 December 2019. Online rental

As a hurricane hits a small town, Haley, a professional swimmer seeks out her estranged father after she’s unable to contact him, However during her attempt at a rescue a ravenous group of alligators find their way into the gradually flooding town.

Director Alexandre Aja continues to be a reliable prospect and has delivered some solid genre movies namely brutal French slasher Switchblade Romance and the gore-tastic Piranha 3D. This latest effort lacks some depth between the principle leads with a hinted at troubled past only vaguely mentioned, and a bit more detail would have added to the emotion of the father & daughter bonding. With that said, lead actress Kaya Scodelario does bring a raw believability to her character throughout. Yet this remains all about the situation, and thankfully, Alexandre Aja cranks up the thrills and tension. The alligators are convincing, genuinely scary and brutally vicious resulting in several heart-in-mouth moments that kept me glued. Also the backdrop of the hurricane and its gradually building ferocity makes for plenty of edge of the seat moments.

Even if this can’t escape its creature flick / b-movie roots … with a decent budget and a skilled director, this still managed to work me up and wear me out.

Verdict: 3.5 /5