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Sun03292020

Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

A couple of British World War I soldiers stationed in France face a harrowing time in 1917, a war action/drama from director Sam Mendes that is one of last year’s greatest technological achievements in cinema—and one of last year’s best movies.

Mendes—along with his special-effects team, his editing crew and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (finally an Oscar winner for Blade Runner 2049)—designed the film to look like one continuous shot. They do a seamless job, to the point where you’ll stop looking for the places where edits might be happening and just take the whole thing in. The story never suffers in favor of the filmmaking stunt.

Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are napping at the beginning of the movie. Blake is ordered to wake up and report to command; he takes Schofield along with him. The two pals figure they have some sort of assignment coming their way involving food or mail delivery.

That’s not the case. In a plot that reminds of Saving Private Ryan, Schofield and Blake get their unusual assignment: They are told to go beyond a recently abandoned German front line and reach the next British battalion. It’s up to them to save the lives of 1,600 soldiers, one of them Blake’s older brother.

The movie is set in motion … and it never really stops. Schofield and Blake venture into a body-riddled, fly-infested battlefield with little time to spare. Deakins’ camera follows as if you are a third party along for the mission. The result is a completely immersive experience. Lesser talents may have made a film with a first-person-shooter video-game feel, but Mendes gives us something that feels hauntingly authentic and very real. He paces his film masterfully.

Familiar faces show up along the way, including Colin Firth as the no-nonsense general who must use two soldiers to deliver his life-saving message, because the land lines were cut by the exiting Germans. Other officers along the way are played by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong, displaying varying degrees of regimental disgust and, understandably, only mild compassion. The actors all do a fine job of showing the frustrations that must’ve been grinding on these men.

As Mendes’ film clearly displays: World War I was awful and horrifyingly nasty. Captains stand in trenches weeping furiously as their officers try to advance. Sleeping soldiers are propped up in trenches, in such a way that you’ll wonder how anybody could’ve survived these conditions. Crashed pilots lash out at their rescuers. Rotting corpses float in every body of water the soldiers come across, be it a large pond or raging river. Large rats cause all types of mayhem.

Chapman and, especially, MacKay deserve credit for crafting two well-rounded, deep characters within this spectacle. Mendes and his performers achieve a nice balance of dramatic heft and technical wizardry. The story the film is telling is straightforward and uncomplicated, but it feels big and important, helped along by a magnificent score from Thomas Newman. Mendes, who co-wrote the film, dedicated the movie to his grandfather, Alfred, a World War I veteran. It was the stories Alfred told his grandson that birthed the idea for this movie.

The film 1917 is a mammoth achievement, and a fine tribute to the men who fought in the Great War.

The film 1917 opens Friday, Jan. 10, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Based on the real actions by gay activists to support striking miners in 1984 Great Britain, Pride is an enjoyable showcase for some fine actors, as well as a fun springboard for good British humor.

Sporting a particularly awesome Morrissey haircut, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) is fronting a gay activist group in England that is having a hard time getting noticed and respected. Mark notices that the miners’ union is taking a real beating with the public and with the government, and suggests to his group that collecting money for the miners would be a solid publicity ploy with charitable rewards. Young Joe (George MacKay) goes for a walk on his 20th birthday and encounters Mark and his group marching in a gay pride parade. He joins in, eventually hearing of Mark’s plan to support the miners. He decides to eschew his collegiate responsibilities and join the fight.

An eventual meeting with the miners brings some great actors into the show. Paddy Considine is terrific as Dai, one of miners’ leaders, a grateful man who stands up for the gay support—while many in the town shun their existence. A speech given by Dai at a gay establishment is genuinely warm and rousing, and sets the tone for the film. Bill Nighy is equally wonderful as Cliff, a meek loner on the miners’ side who seems a bit skittish at first, but becomes one of the staunchest supporters of the gay folks. Imelda Staunton delivers as Hefina, a woman who has had enough of the useless prejudicial tactics coming from some of her friends.

Sure, Pride is a little predictable at times, but the cast is undeniably brilliant. It has the same feel of some of the great British comedy-dramas of recent years like The Full Monty and Billy Elliot. Because this is based on a true story, Pride has a little more heft than those cinematic bonbons.

Pride is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews