Operation Mincemeat – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Johnny Flynn. Directed by John Madden. Written by Michelle Ashford and Ben Macintyre. Length: 128mins

Operation Mincemeat was the bizarre real-life scheme cooked up by British intelligence in 1943 to fool Nazi Germany into thinking the allies planned to invade Greece, rather than their actual target, Sicily. The corpse of a tramp was dressed up as fictitious “Capt William Martin” and carried elaborate plans for this nonexistent invasion; the body was dumped into the sea so that it would wash up in Spain where the British were confident this incorrect intelligence would be passed to the Germans. It sounds as if it was written with a screenplay in mind, but the fact that this is based on real events makes gives this film a different feel. Had the plot been fictitious, I’m not sure people would necessarily be on board, but a glimpse into this bizarre piece of history that played a role in the outcome on the war is truly fascinating. 

Adapted from the non-fiction best seller by Ben Macintyre, the plot takes us steadily from the birth of the idea, through all sorts of ‘phases’ of the operation and right up to the suspense filled moment of finding out whether it was successful or not. As I understand, this isn’t the first film re-telling of the story, however the fact that the corpses real name was only revealed to the public in 1996 allowed the filmmakers to include a more personable approach with regards to he who was known, simply, as ‘The Man Who Never Was’. 

This movie was funnier than I expected it to be, which made a real difference to me as a member of the audience. I was intrigued and excited to learn more about a situation I only knew small amounts about, but to be honest, I was expecting quite a heavy, suspense filled piece. While, of course, there were brilliant moments of that suspense; built with a great score and really authentic performances by the two leading men – the fact that there were moments of humour mixed in throughout just brought the mood up enough to keep things interesting and me engaged. 

As a James Bond fan I particularly enjoyed the involvement of the character Ian Fleming. Of course he was actually involved in the planning of the operation, I don’t mean to belittle his importance in the actual history of the event, but the film gave us plenty of little Bond Easter eggs that I have no idea if they actually happened, but I like the idea that his novels were inspired by that which he had seen. Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen didn’t put a foot wrong, both managed to play likeable but imperfect characters, and lets be honest, any Pride and Prejudice fans will be delighted to see both contemporary ‘Mr Darcy’s’ sharing the screen. 

This is another of the home front wartime ‘Brit-films’ that we’ve seen plenty of in recent years. Focussing their emphasis on domestic morale, strategic questions and political shenanigans, rather than battlefield action. Operation Mincemeat is watchable enough, but certainly not the best ‘war film’ i’ve seen. It’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but not a must watch. 

The Northman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
Directed by Robert Eggers
Length: 137mins

Ever since the arrival of the enigmatically titled ‘The VVitch’ in 2015, Robert Eggers has proved himself to be a brilliant storyteller and director who possesses a great many more skills than interesting film titles alone. Often working within historical periods, both ‘The VVitch’ and ‘The Lighthouse’ transported audiences back in time, to an era of history that most people were probably thanking their lucky stars they’d never lived in by the time the curtains closed. His latest release, ‘The Northman’ is no different, and allows us a detailed insight into the unruly and violent landscape of the Viking period, when men seemingly grew to the size of trees, and a dark magic infected Scandinavian land.

Put simply, ‘The Northman’ is a story of revenge, and yet things are never as simple as they seem. First shown as a child, and then later as a grown warrior searching for the man who killed his father and stole his mother from him, Alexander Skarsgård takes up the role of lead character Amleth, and whilst there is fairly minimal dialogue required for his performance, the ferocity and emotion invested into every piece of body language ensures that you can’t help but follow his every move. Combining this with a silver-tongued Anya Taylor-Joy in the role of Olga, a skilled manipulator born into a settlement helpless enough to be at the constant mercy of roaming viking hordes, makes a partnership between the two a powerful combination.

For this film, it isn’t just the leading performers which make it such an interesting watch. Supporting actors Björk, Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke all provide the story with a great deal of further complexity through their incredible contributions, but in particular it seemed to me that Nicole Kidman really stole the show at times, delivering a deceptively layered performance as Queen Gudrún, the mother of leading man, Amleth.

On first going into the film, I felt quite concerned that the trailer had, in typical trailer style, given away far too much of the plot. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case at all, and in fact, looking back on the short snippets of the film displayed in those few minutes, I can’t help but feel that it was planned that way all along. Robert Eggers definitely appears to be one of the most exciting storytellers in the industry at the moment (having been helped by prolific Icelandic writer Sjón for this latest release), constantly delivering original and intriguing concepts to the big screen.

Within his previous two films, Robert Eggers’ storytelling has been generally contained within very small communities, focusing on the relationships between only a handful of people to drive the narrative forward. ‘The Northman’ sees a very different change to this style, with the $90 million budget allowing for a move away from indie filmmaking limitations and into blockbuster territory. Despite this, the director’s vision and signature style remains seemingly untouched, as the film carries with it all the incredible intensity of performance and intricately researched storytelling details which have come to define Eggers’ career so far. For any fans of his previous film, I can’t imagine ‘The Northman’ disappointing in any way, but it also provides plenty of room for first-time viewers of his work to become caught up in the action as well.

Coda – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and Eugenio Derbez. Directed by Sian Heder Written by Sian Heder Length: 111mins

As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby Rossi (Jones) is the only hearing person in her family. We are steadily introduced to the life that the Rossi’s have created for themselves, the family fishing business as a key part of their day to day routine and Ruby serves as the ears on the boat listening out for the radio calls, and plays translator when communicating with the other fishermen. But when the future of their fishing business is threatened, Ruby is torn between following her passion to get into Berklee College of Music and the heavy weight of abandoning her family at a time they need her most.

There’s nothing spectacular in the plot, nothing that’s particularly unexpected or included to shock the audience. Just a story of normal people, their struggles and how they grow together to resolve their issues. Although a simple plot, the characters are written well. Each character within the focal family has their own opinion on their familial situation and as we get to know them as the audience, the slight differences show through and the cracks start to show. It’s a situation where even if you disagree with a characters opinions or demands, you are given enough information or emotion to at least realise why they might feel the way that they do – I appreciate that sounds pretty basic but it creates an atmosphere where none of the characters (apart from the high school bullies) are the ‘bad guy’.

 I did find it a bit difficult at the beginning of the film in the family scenes, because I was trying to watch the performances at the same time as read the subtitles; an element that I’m certainly not complaining about but just had to adapt as a viewer. Having said this, it didn’t take long to adapt and it’s really quite incredible to see the skill of emotional and comedic acting while the actors are also communicating through sign language. All of the performances were strong, Troy Kotsur was obviously recognised by the Academy as well as other award bodies. Emilia Jones played the lead brilliantly, audiences can really feel the emotional tug of war that she plays throughout, all while dealing with the usual teenage ‘stuff’ that everyone faces throughout education. Daniel Durant and  Eugenio Derbez also gave really memorable performances that broadened the character mix, keeping the film and it’s little twists and turns interesting. 

In all honesty, I’m a little bit torn on it’s Best Picture win. I loved the film but it definitely felt like more of a ‘viewers choice’ than an academy choice. I say this lightly as it’s probably one of my favourite best picture winners, but it lacked some of the elements that you would usually expect from the nominated films. Perhaps it’s a shift in how the academy is voting or maybe the film moved it’s voters so much that they didn’t care about what is usually done. Either way it doesn’t matter, Coda gained the film worlds greatest accolade and I truly hope that more people see it because of their win, because it’s a movie that should be seen. 

I had the privilege of watching Coda with a good friend of mine who is hard of hearing herself and who has hearing loss within her family. I think most would struggle to hold their tears in by the end of the movie, but to watch my friend well up and comment on moments, sharing “thats how ****** felt” or “I can totally relate to that” made me realise that even as someone who tries to be considerate to people, not knowing how well they can hear or see etc…that I haven’t always considered just how difficult and exhausting it must be to struggle with a disability that is invisible and can be so devastatingly isolating. Coda helped me open my mind and be more aware of being deliberately kind rather than ‘passively decent’, to anyone around me who may be struggling.  

Coda is so pure, and it deserves to be seen. If it’s showing at your local cinemas I urge you to watch it on the big screen, but if not, you can find it on Apple TV. 

Nosferatu – Classic Review

Rating: PG
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wagenheim and Greta Schröder
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Length: 94mins

At times, amongst the long list of films to watch and endless possibilities that streaming services can provide, it can seem as if film is one medium that’s been around for an eternity. And yet, from every great drama to intriguing thriller, all of this has come about within only the last one hundred years, taking us all the way back to the topic of today’s review – F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic horror film, ‘Nosferatu’. 

Adapted from Bram Stoker’s iconic ‘Dracula’ novel, the story tells of the truly terrifying Count Orlok and his stalking of a small town estate agent who, along with his wife, is unfortunate enough to become the target of the Transylvanians’ hauntings. Perhaps best known from the iconic still of Count Orlok sneaking up the stairs of the innocent couple’s home, framed amongst the gloom of the night as a deeply unsettling silhouette, highlighting the shadow which has been cast over the town by his arrival, Murnau’s film is an early masterclass in what can be achieved through visual symbolism. The curled and decrepit hands of our antagonist frequently send a chill down the audience’s spine, providing so much horror in only a small detail, as if such a hand might reach over your own shoulder as you watch the film yourself.

Of course, a silent, black and white film from 1922 is probably not top of too many people to-watch lists, understandably so. However, the film isn’t too lengthy and delivers an impactful, suspenseful eighty minutes of classic horror. Through having to tell its story entirely visually – as well as with the help of the occasional title card – the storytellers work creatively throughout the runtime to convey complex emotions and unsettle the viewer on a great many occasions.

Depictions of Dracula, the popular cult figure who’s often recognised by their pale complexion and fang-like front teeth, are so familiar to us in this day and age that to go back and see such iconic details first being brought to the big screen is something truly impressive. The makeup department and set design work brilliantly on the film to establish each location as another innocent place for their haunting ‘Nosferatu’ to cast his shadow over.

It’s not often that a film turns 100, and with specialist showings being projected throughout the country, perhaps now is the time to take a chance on a film that you may not have previously considered sitting down and enjoying. There’s so much interesting filmmaking at play here, culminating in a great number of iconic sequences, as well as the excitement of seeing Nosferatu, perhaps the first true horror villain, creeping across the screen.

Ambulance – Review

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Garret Dillahunt, KeirO’Donnell and Jackson White.
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Chris Fedak
Length: 136mins

Michael Bay’s Ambulance is tale of two estranged brothers, Danny (Gyllenhaal) and Will (Abdul-Mateen), and a bank heist gone wrong. Based on a 2005 Danish picture of the same name Michael Bay drags the story out to a much longer telling of the story. While the plot is relatively basic, Bay manages to pad out the movie with a whole lot of extra ‘stuff’, some of it nonsensical and some of it to add the Michael Bay wow-factor. 

Watching this film was unusual for me, mostly because having watched the trailer a couple of times I thought it looked awful. The trailer really put me off. It’s a pity, because at the core of the film, partially concealed by Bay’s posturing is a relatively slickly executed action film – Danny and Will hijack an ambulance: inside is a critically injured cop and a ballsy paramedic (González); outside are guns, explosives and a lot of very angry law enforcement officers. While in general I thought it was better than the trailer suggested it would be, it was frustratingly ridiculous at some points. I’m not just talking about the slow motion stunts or classic ‘Bay’ whoosh of a camera down the side of a building to heighten drama, but some of the core plot points, that used up so much time, just made no sense. One example that I can give without spoilers is a big emphasis on confusing the police by joining with other ambulances, thus stretching the polices attention and giving an opportunity to escape. However, the plan was to spray paint the focal ambulance, which makes no sense at all, and they spend so long discussing and achieving this and they somehow manage to slip a neon green ambulance past a police blockade…I’m all for a bit of creative licence, but it surely should be at least a tiny bit plausible! 

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal are fine; there’s nothing in their performances that will blow the audience away but that’s more down to a relatively basic script and character stereotypes.  The tension building is effective throughout, the score having a strong impact, however the whole film is a build. They don’t really let it drop, which either exhausts it’s viewers, or loses their attention. The film essentially plays out as one extra-long car chase, with Bay’s trademark direction present in all its glory. Throughout, Bay’s camera rarely stays still, sweeping and swooping through the LA streets as the ambulance does its best to evade the constantly growing police presence. This kinetic camerawork, coupled with Bay’s choppy editing style can at times leave it’s audience feeling nauseous. 

Despite it’s glaring flaws, audiences seem to quite enjoy it. Ambulance wasn’t for me – but I appreciate that many others might enjoy the escapism and high speed car chases to allow them to step into a couple of hrs without thinking about todays troubles. If you can forgive some nonsensical choices and enjoy a high speed action film, then there’s a good choice you’ll enjoy it.