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169. 1917 – This Just In (#49)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sam Mendes’ 1917.

It’s April 1917. Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofeld are tasked with a dangerous assignment. They must cross no man’s land and deliver orders to stop a doomed advance against the retreating German forces. As time runs out, Blake and Schofeld venture further and further into the insanity of war.

At time of recording, it was ranked 49th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Use of Long Takes in “1917”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a little while ago, looking at the use of long takes within 1917.

The long take is an interesting cinematic technique. Most obviously, it’s a dazzling display of craft and technical proficiency. It’s a power move that exists largely so a director can flex their muscles. However, it also serves a compelling paradoxical purpose. The longer that a director holds a take, the more that the audience drifts away from reality. Cuts allow the audience to ground themselves, to process what they have seen. Removing cuts forces the audience to hold a single long gaze. In 1917, Sam Mendes uses that gaze to collapse time and space. In doing so, he captures some of the insanity of war.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: 1917

1917 is a stunning technical accomplishment.

Effectively hybridising Dunkirk and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 1917 is a war movie that is shot in such a way as to suggest a single extended take. Of course, the audience understand that it isn’t really a single take any more than Rope was a single take, and 1917 underscores this sense of unreality by compressing time and space on this epic adventure across the front lines of the First World War. The illusory nature of that long-take style is the entire point of the exercise.

Out in the (Scho)field.

1917 does suffer slightly in narrative terms. From a storytelling perspective, 1917 is a big collection of familiar war movie tropes. Indeed, 1917 ultimately serves to illustrate just how bold and compelling Dunkirk was in its approach to this familiar narrative template. All of the clichés and archetypes that were stripped out of Dunkirk have been inserted back into 1917, which repeatedly leans on genre shorthand to make its points about the folly of war and the senselessness of such carnage.

However, the beauty of 1917 lies not in the story that it is telling, but in the way that it tells that story. In its best moments, 1917 is haunting, nightmarish and ethereal. 1917 works best when it steers clear of the genre’s stock dialogue and characterisation, and instead aims for something much more primal and evocative.

Barbed comments.

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My 12 for ’12: Skyfall & Balancing Bonds…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #11

The wonderful thing about a pop culture commodity like James Bond is the flexibility that the character affords those looking to tell stories using the iconic character. Want to tell a story about high-stakes gambling? We can do that. What about averting a war between China and Great Britain? We’ve got it covered. Want to knock off Star Wars? Why not? How about pitching the character against Fu Manchu? We’re way ahead of you. Bond is flexible, and it’s one of the strengths of the character. Don’t like Roger Moore’s interpretation? Here’s Timothy Dalton. Tiring of Pierce Brosnan? Daniel Craig will be along to kick things into action.

While this makes for a fascinating study of the flexibility and adaptability of a cultural touchstone, it does create a bit of a dilemma when trying to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary. Given that Bond is so many things to so many people, can he be everything at once? Skyfall does an impressive job balancing the old and new, while managing to focus on the character at the heart of one of the most enduring cinematic franchises.

skyfall15

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New Skyfall Trailer

Sony have released the latest trailer for the new Bond film Skyfall. I will say that I am very much looking forward to it, and leave at that.

Also, I didn’t think Javier Bardem could appear scarier than he did in No Country for Old Men. I was wrong.

And here’s a slightly different international version of the trailer.

The Sky is Falling: Skyfall & The Return of a Distinctly British Bond…

Country?

England.

– first lines of the trailer

I actually really liked the first trailer for Skyfall, released on-line last week. There were a lot of reasons for that: the fact it looks more stately than Quantum of Solace; the abundance of shots of Bond in a tux; the promise of incredible action paired with genuine character development. However, the most appealing facet of the trailer was the suggestion that this was a Bond who wasn’t ashamed to be British. Bond is a British icon, arguably a relic left over from the last days of the British Empire, but it seems like the past few films have been increasingly uncomfortable with that.

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John Barry, RIP

I had hoped to end James Bond January as a celebration of one of the most iconic film franchises ever produced. It as a fantastically organised event – thanks to the legend that is Paul Thain over at Paragraph Film Reviews. Through the month, we had some surprising good news. Despite the shadow that loomed over MGM, the next Bond film (Bond 23, as it is known) would enter production. It would be released for the film’s fiftieth anniversary, would see Daniel Craig return and would be directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes. That was good news, and it really contributed to the atmosphere of the month.

1933-2011

Unfortunately, as the month came to a close, there was bad news. It’s tragic to end the month with the passing of John Barry. Barry had a tremendous career that others can do far more justice to than I would dare attempt. A legendary composer, his work is instantly recognisable – even if you don’t know you’re listening to it. It’s rare for a composer to exude pure and refined class and sophistication, while still remaining truly accessible. Barry did that. He won an Oscar for his work on Born Free, a soundtrack that I can sing along with even though I have never seen the film. I imagine there are more than a few readers who can say the same thing.

There are those who will sum up his career more eloquently than this truncated blog post, but he was a master. He worked on twelve of the Bond films, however his work was so iconic that the only major departure from his style occurred with GoldenEye (and this was promptly corrected for Tomorrow Never Dies). Perhaps his most iconic Bond theme is for Goldfinger. There’s a video below embedded of Barry conducting an instrumental rendition.

However, my own personal favourite John Barry theme comes from You Only Live Twice:

And I have a soft spot for Diamonds Are Forever, where he famously coaxed Shirley Bassey to give it lots and then some.

Rest in peace.