Summerland – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Lucas Bond and Tom Courtenay Directed by Jessica Swale Written by Jessica Swale Length: 99mins

Summerland is set during World War II and tells the story of writer Alice (Gemma Arterton), who’s surprised one day when discovering she is to provide housing for young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond). Though she had no intention to open her door to the boy, Alice eventually opens her heart, discovering that she shares more in common with Frank than she had initially anticipated. 

In Jessica Swale’s debut feature film, she manages to juggle the balance of storytelling between the relational journey of Alice and Frank as well as the romantic narrative that we experience through flashbacks. The flashbacks work really nicely; it’s clear when they’re happening, they aren’t dragged out and their purpose allows the story to progress and character to build rather than just ‘throwing them in’ to make the film more interesting. While elements of the script might be far-fetched, Swale (who wrote the film as well as directed it), was able to create such strong, realistic bonds between her characters which overrides any uncertainty with the action.

As soon as the movie started I wasn’t too concerned with the plot, straight away the ever-dependable Gemma Arterton created such an interesting character in Alice. You see that she’s a bit damaged and bitter but Arterton allows Alice to have a bit of a sense of humour in her own world – demonstrated perfectly when the surprised locals think she’s about to buy a child some chocolate, only to keep the sweet treat for herself and leave with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. Lucas Bond did a great job as Frank as well, while there was a risk of his character becoming a little annoying, he managed to keep a steady mix of the child having fun with new friends and the child thrown into a strange new world with the dark shadow of a war-torn London hanging over him. He presented a real sense of maturity in his performance and it was a pleasure to watch.

Essentially Summerland is a film full of wit and charm, Swale knows how to create a smooth tone whilst slipping between the past and present, alternating between two sides of her focal character, the realist and the romantic. The film boasts real substance beneath the surface but keeps it’s feet on the ground. It’s a wonderful example of a great character based film – the story doesn’t matter, anything could have been written in around these characters and I would argue it would be just as captivating. There’s a wonderful sense of humanity to the story and the characters which is why it provides a sense of escapism whilst the world is in turmoil. Though many audiences might have missed its release, I highly recommend trying to watch this movie if you get chance.

1917 – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George Mackay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Length: 119mins

‘1917’ tells the story of two soldiers who must deliver a message to a battalion set to advance on the German front. The story may at first appear quite simple, but with time against them, land that no other soldier dare cross ahead and desolate areas of war which no longer feature any nature, but rather the cold wiring and metal of human influence, the narrative of ‘1917’ presents its own complexities and terrors.

Perhaps best described as an ‘anti-story,’ the events which occur throughout the narrative of ‘1917’ all work against the outcome which both the audience and the protagonist wish for. Rather than a piece of entertainment, the film presents itself as more of a dutiful respect to those who endured the horrors of war. Every step in the necessary journey which Schofield and Blake must carry out is another step towards our conclusion, and any event which distracts them from this is only a greater enemy to the overarching resolution of this story. Put simply, the audience desires to see them reach their goal before time runs out.

It would be unjust to describe ‘1917’ as simple. Of course, the narrative does remove many of the complexities which are found within a typical drama, but this is necessary for the sake of the realism which is created. Director Sam Mendes allows for a clear distinction between the goal-oriented plot and the wider thematic story. A multitude of relevant topics are touched on throughout the film, as our two leads articulate their approach to honour, family and trauma in ways which any two young men would. They don’t deliver any elegant monologues on what should be owed to those who lay down their lives, because that isn’t what their character would do. Instead, short anecdotes and simple sentences build a basis for what they feel is right in a world of conflict.

There are two key elements of film form which build on such an idea of personal perspective – the cinematography and the sound. Roger Deakin’s deserves all the praise that he has received for his contributions as the cinematographer of the film. Not only is the illusion of the ‘one-shot’ perfectly executed and used in a manner which is relevant to the story, as it allows for the narrative to develop in a way which can build tension or hold a moment of beauty with apparent ease, but also the ideas conveyed through the visuals compliment the message of each scene excellently. Composer Thomas Newman also provides another layer to the film, with an accompaniment which feels not only articulate but necessary. Each scene is developed as a result of his contributions. I also appreciated his decision to abstain from any leitmotifs – a recurring musical idea which accompanies a greater theme or idea – as this would lack relevance to the diegesis. Once these characters leave for the mission, their entire purpose is deliver the message they carry. Every second is a further exploration into the unknown, and the composition reflects this.

‘1917’ is an experience which brings to light many ideas. Not only from a film making perspective, but also in the way we remember and appreciate the sacrifices given by these young soldiers, with so many just wanting to do the best that they could for those around them, and those that they love.

Jojo Rabbit – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell
Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Christine Leunens (Novel) and Taika Waititi (Screenplay)
Length: 108mins

Jojo Rabbit is loosely adapted from Christine Leunens’s novel ‘Caging Skies’. The story unfolds during the Third Reich’s final days, when 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Griffin Davis) dreams of fighting for the Nazi regime. What appeals to Jojo is the thought of spending time with Hitler himself – and for the time being, he makes do with an imaginary-friend version, played by Waititi. The story looks at the home life of Jojo, his relationship with his mother (Johansson) and the discovery of the young Jewish girl that his mother is hiding from the Nazi’s.

This is a very specific style of movie, straight away some people will love it and others wont. I expected to enjoy this film but not be blown away and that’s where I landed. The trailer expresses humour that feels somewhat tongue in cheek but is bizarrely appealing; to see how a brilliantly funny and creative director might push some boundaries of what is acceptable to mock while still dealing with one of the biggest atrocities in the worlds history.

Visually the film is great; it’s easy to follow, artistic and vibrant perhaps in a way which most war time films are not. This emphasises the childhood innocence of our lead character and helps to carry some of the humour through the story. My main issue is that, although I personally enjoyed a lot of the jokes, the majority are at the beginning of the story. I found myself watching and waiting for the next punchline or absurdly amusing situation rather than allowing myself to connect with the characters. As the story takes a more serious tone I found myself desiring that connection which, therefore, impacted my reaction to the rest of film.

Any negative press, for the most part, has been about how the film fails to cut to the dark heart of the matter around how Jews (amongst others) were treated and the light-hearted approach which simply dabbles with the atrocities of the third reich. I understand these feelings but can also see very clear creative choices in doing this – whether everyone warms to it or not. I was uncertain when I first heard about the movie’s age rating, I thought that a 12A would naturally limit what they could express on camera, which obviously it does, but actually think that allowing a slightly younger audience into the experience might actually be of benefit, to encourage education around the importance of loving each other and caring for people who you might not understand or are different to you.

My rating is down to my personal enjoyment of this film. It really is one to watch and make up your own mind. I would advise watching the trailer and attempting to grasp whether this particular style of film and humour is one that you would enjoy. If you find that you don’t enjoy the film stylistically, then there are definitely still specific moments or performances that you might find entertaining and fulfilling.

Midway – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Luke Evans
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Wes Tooke
Length: 138 mins

Director Roland Emmerich brings us a lengthy but passionate presentation of the story of the battle of Midway in the 2019 movie simply named ‘Midway’. Throughout the film we explore the events leading up to the battle of Midway in WWII and get to know some of the heroes along the way. With a strong cast we not only follow the historical timeline but get to know some of the characters, based on real people, who made such an impact.

I think where this film excels is in it’s determination to allow its audience into the lives of several characters and pinpoint the enormity and truth of victories and losses in battle. If you struggle to pay attention during war films then you might find this one difficult as it is long and there are a lot of characters. It’s easy to miss names or who is talking about who but, if you can keep with it you get to witness a presentation of history that I found to be powerful and thought provoking.

I’ve already mentioned the length of this film – at 2 hours 18 minutes it isn’t the longest film of 2019 but I did find myself aware of the time passing. I love that this film bounces between several people doing their jobs for a united goal but, naturally, that means creating a bit of a story around each individual so the audience can relate to the characters which adds to the length of the film before you even get to the main ark of the story. I didn’t think everything included was necessary, for example the character of Roy Pierce could have been cut and it wouldn’t have affected the film as a whole. As well as this I felt some of the Pearl Harbour scenes could have been cut down – I appreciate that setting the scene and building the emotion is important, but most of the audiences will have a basic knowledge of what happened and I’m sure that they could have found a shorter method to serve this purpose.

One thing that admire about this movie is how it shows both sides of the story. I was quite moved during a couple of scenes that I felt were very effective but subtle, seeing how the Japanese officers spoke to each other and to the young pilots and just how similar the conversations and motivational speeches were to those of our ‘heroes’. I found it helped humanise the ‘enemy’ and for me, assisted in presenting the war and a glimpse of it’s horrors without instilling hate towards a race.

I’ve rated this film 7/10 based mostly upon my general enjoyment of the storytelling. The visual effects didn’t blow my mind, the story was based upon truth and the script was good but the performances were great – but the standout was undoubtably Ed Skrein who brilliantly played the heroic (but not perfect) Dick Best. I would recommend this film for the historical truth and to honour the brave individuals who made an impact in the real events.