Here’s The Trailer for 1917!


Sometimes, you hear about a film and you just know that it’s either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be disaster.

Take 1917, for instance.  The film is World War I epic and right now, a lot of people are predicting that it’s destined for Oscar glory.  I’m one of those people and I’ve said that despite not having seen the film.  What we do know about the film sounds intriguing.  Apparently, much like Hitchcock’s Rope and Birdman, the film is being put together to appear as if it’s just one, long continuous shot, without any breaks, with the idea being that 1917 is going to an immersive film about the horrors of war.  While the film’s two leads are played by unknowns, supporting roles have been taken by Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s my concern.  The film is being directed by Sam Mendes, who is one of the most pretentious filmmakers of all time.  Mendes did brilliant work with Skyfall but have you tried to sit through American Beauty or Away We Go recently?

Anyway, I hope that 1917 lives up to the promise of its premise and that we get the Mendes of Skyfall as opposed to the Mendes of SPECTRE.  The trailer looks good and here it is:

Film Review: The Catcher Was A Spy (dir by Ben Lewin)


I was so impressed with Paul Rudd’s performance in Avengers: Endgame that, last night, I decided to watch another Paul Rudd film, 2018’s The Catcher Was A Spy.

Based on a true story, The Catcher Was A Spy tells the tale of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd).  When we first meet Moe, it’s towards the end of World War II and Moe has been sent behind enemy lines to investigate just how close the Nazis are to building an atomic bomb.  Intelligence suggests that physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) is leading the Nazi effort and, if the intelligence turns out to be true, Moe has been ordered to assassinate Heisenberg.  As Moe considers whether or not he’s actually capable of killing a man, we get flashbacks to how Moe eventually ended up working as a spy.

What we learn is that, in the 1930s, Moe Berg was a major league baseball player.  He was a catcher and, though he was never a great player, he was famous for being far more educated than the average professional athlete.  At a time when open anti-Semitism was socially acceptable among America’s upper classes, Moe Berg managed to get an Ivy League education.  Not only does he keep up with current events but he can also speak several languages.  The other players aren’t quite sure what to make of Moe, nor does Moe ever seem to make much of an effort to open up to anyone, including his girlfriend, Estella (Sienna Miller, playing yet another girlfriend in yet another biopic).

Because he can speak Japanese, Moe is selected to be a part of a delegation of players who will be sent to Japan.  While the rest of the players hang out around the hotel, Moe hangs out with an intellectual named Kawabata (Hiroyuki Sanada), discusses inevitably of war, and — for reasons that the film deliberately leaves unclear — decides to shoot a film of Tokyo Harbor.

Five years later, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, it’s that film that leads to Moe getting a meeting with the head of the Office of Strategic Services, Bill Donovan (Jeff Daniels).  No longer a baseball player and apparently bored with coaching, Moe wants to become a spy.  Donovan notes that Moe has never married and asks him flat out if he’s gay.  Moe smiles slightly and says, “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

And indeed, he is!  Unfortunately, Moe is so good at keeping secrets that we never quite get into his head.  It’s hard not to compare this film to the superficially similar The Imitation Game.  But whereas that film made you feel as if you were seeing the world through Alan Turing’s eyes, The Catcher Was A Spy always seems to be standing outside of Moe Berg.  In the film’s final title cards, it refers to Moe as being an “enigma” and that’s pretty much the way he is throughout the entire film.  We like him because he’s played by Paul Rudd but we never really feel like we know him.  The closest the film comes to suggesting what’s going on inside the head of its main character is when Moe — who has described himself as non-religious — attends a Kol Nidrel service at a Zurich synagogue and, for a few minutes, Moe lets his guard down.  But, for the majority of the film, Moe remains unknowable.

With the exception of one battle scene, it’s also a rather low-key spy film, one that’s more in the style of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than SPECTRE.  Again, that may be true to the actual story but, considering that it’s a film about a possibly gay Jew working to take down a homophobic, anti-Semitic war machine, it’s still hard not to regret the film’s lack of big “stand up and cheer” moments.  Clocking in at a rather brisk 97 minutes, it’s hard not to feel that there’s some big pieces missing from the film’s story.

Here’s the good news: Paul Rudd proves himself to be a thoroughly charismatic leading man in this film, showing that he can hold the audience’s attention even without special effects or a punch line.  Rudd does an excellent job playing a character who, to be honest, has very little in common with what we may think of as being a typical Paul Rudd role.  Rudd is always watchable, even while Moe Berg remains an enigma.  Hopefully, Rudd will get more opportunities in the future to show us what he’s truly capable of doing as an actor.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Imitation Game (dir by Morten Tyldum)


The 2014 film, The Imitation Game, takes place in three very different time periods.

The majority of the film takes place during World War II.  While the Germans are ruthlessly rolling across and conquering huge swaths of Europe, the British are desperately trying to, at the very least, slow them down.  A key to that is decrypting the secret codes that the German forces use to communicate with each other.  Since the Germans change the code every day, the British not only have to break the code but also predict what the next day’s code will be.

Working out of a 19th century mansion called Bletchley Park, a small group of mathematicians, chess players, and spies work to design a machine that will be able to decode the German messages.  Heading up this group is a man named Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Alan is a remote and, at times, rather abrasive figure, a man who appears to be more comfortable dealing with equations than with other human beings.  The people working under him occasionally chafe at Alan’s lack of social skills.  Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) suspects that Alan’s a Russian spy and would just as soon close down the entire operation.  At first, the only person who seems to have any faith in Alan’s abilities appears to be Winston Churchill himself.

It’s only when Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) joins Alan’s team that they start to make progress.  Joan brings Alan out of his shell and teaches him how to deal with other human beings.  When Joan’s parents object to her being away from home, Alan even offers to marry her.  Of course, Alan also explains that it would just be a marriage of convenience, one that will last until they get Christopher up and working.

Christopher is the name that Alan has given to his encryption machine.  Why Christopher?  Throughout the film, we get flashbacks to Alan’s time in boarding school and his close friendship to another student, a boy named Christopher.

And finally, serving as a framing device to both the World War II intrigue and Alan’s relationship with Christopher, is a scene that’s set in 1951.  Alan’s home has been broken into and, as the police investigate the matter, they come to realize that Alan is hiding something about both his past and his present.  Their initial assumption is that Alan must be a communist spy.  The truth, however, is that Alan is gay.  And, in 1951 Britain, that is a criminal offense….

The Imitation Game is based on a true story.  During World War II, Alan Turing actually was a codebreaker and he did play a pivotal role in creating the machine that broke the German code.  After World War II, Turing was arrested and charged with “gross indecency.”  Given a choice between imprisonment or probation and chemical castration.  Turing selected the latter and committed suicide in 1954.  Alan Turing’s work as a cryptographer is estimated to have saved 14 million lives during World War II but he died a lonely and obscure figure, a victim of legally sanctioned prejudice.

Admittedly, The Imitation Game does take some liberties with history.  For one thing, most of the people who worked with Turing described him as being eccentric but not anti-social.  Though the film pretty much portrays the decoding machine as solely being Turing’s creation, it was actually a group effort.  Perhaps the biggest liberty that the film takes is that the machine was never called Christopher.  Instead, it was called Victory.

That said, The Imitation Game is still a strong and effective film.  Anchored by a brilliant lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is a film that manages to be both inspiring and infuriating at the same time.  It’s impossible not to get caught up in the team’s joy as they realize that they actually can beat the Germans at their own encryption game and, after spending 90 minutes listening to everyone doubt Alan’s abilities, you’re more than ready to see him and his unorthodox methods vindicated.  And yet, because of the film’s framing device, you already know that Alan is not going to get the credit that he deserves for his hard work.  Instead, he’s going to be destroyed by the laws of the very country that he worked so hard to save.  Success and tragedy walk hand-in-hand throughout The Imitation Game and the end result is a very powerful and very sad movie.

I have to admit that it was a bit jarring when the opening credits appeared onscreen and the first words that I read were “The Weinstein Company Presents.”  It’s only been a year and a half since Harvey Weinstein was finally exposed and forced out of power but it’s still easy to forget just how much the Wienstein Company used to dominate every Oscar season.  In many ways, with its historical setting and its cast of up-and-coming Brits, The Imitation Game feels like a typical Weinstein Company Oscar contender.  In this case, The Imitation Game was nominated for a total of 8 Oscars, including Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress for Keira Knightley, Best Director for Morten Tyldum, Best Adapted Screenplay for Graham Moore, and Best Picture.  In the end, only Moore won his category.  In a decision that continues to confound me, the Academy named Birdman the best film of the year.

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (dir by Matthew Vaughn)


Before I say too much about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I do want to acknowledge a few good things about the movie.

First off, it doesn’t take long for the film to reveal that Harry (Colin Firth) didn’t actually die when Samuel L. Jackson shot him in the head in the first movie.  Undoubtedly, that diminishes the power of that scene but, at the same time, it also means that Colin Firth gets to come back.

Secondly, Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy.  The script really doesn’t give him too many opportunities to show what he’s capable of as an actor, largely because the character of Eggsy was fully developed by the end of the first movie.  Now that Eggsy is a fully trained and competent Kingsman, there’s not really much for him to do other than trade a few quips and take a few lives.  That said, Egerton is a likable actor and he’s fun to watch.

Third, Julianne Moore has a few fun scenes as the film’s main villain, Poppy Adams.  Poppy is the head of an international drug cartel.  She’s also obsessed with the 1950s and always amazingly cheerful.

Fourth, all of the Kingsmen still wear suits and Michael Caine-style glasses.  Colin Firth gets to use his umbrella as a shield.

Finally, Mark Strong is back as Merlin.

So, that’s five good things about Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  Unfortunately, all five of those things are somewhat obscured by the fact that the movie really, really sucks.

Admittedly, I had really high hopes for the movie.  I loved the first Kingsman film, which was a stylish satire that featured one of the greatest action set pieces of all time.  And I was excited to see that not only was Firth returning but Matthew Vaughn would also be directing the sequel.

But no.  This movie just doesn’t work.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle attempts to do everything on a larger scale than the first Kingsman.  That means more violence, more betrayals, and a longer running time.  This time, the movie not only features the Kingsmen but also the Statesmen, which is the American equivalent of the Kingsmen.  (The Statesmen all dress like cowboys and speak in exaggerated Southern drawls, which I got kind of sick of listening to after about three minutes.)  Along with the returning stars of the first film, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum all have small roles.  Pedro Pascal (best known for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones) has a much larger role as a Statesman codenamed Whiskey.

Unfortunately, bigger is not always better.  The Golden Circle never comes close to matching the lunatic heights of the first movie.  There are a lot of action scenes but none of them match the church fight from the first film.  There’s a surprise death but it’s nowhere near as shocking or effective as Firth’s “death” in the first film.  Even the required barroom brawl falls flat.  Nowhere does The Golden Circle match the audacity of the first film.  The first film ended with exploding heads.  This film ends with the promise of more sequels.

But really, I think what really doomed The Golden Circle was that extended running time.  There’s really no good reason for The Golden Circle to last for 2 hours and 21 minutes.  Quite a bit of the film, especially during the first hour, felt padded out and, as a result, it seemed like took forever for the film’s story to actually get started.  Probably 40 minutes to an hour could have been cut from The Golden Circle without anyone missing it.

Ultimately, I think the main problem is that the first Kingsman felt like it was made by people who truly did love the material.  This film feels contractually obligated.  The Golden Circle has a lot of action but it’s just not very fun.

Trailer – Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Oh, yes, it’s on!!! Has it been three years already?

Matthew Vaughn’s (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) MARV Films and 20th Century Fox has released the trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. This time around, it looks like Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is out to solve another global incident with the help of (or is being opposed by) the Statesman. Are they the American version of the Kingsman?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle also stars Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges (both from The Big Lebowski), Mark Strong (a Vaughn favorite), Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Colin Firth.

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #116: The Young Victoria (dir by Jean-Marc Vallee)


Young_victoria_poster

So, earlier, I was having a conversation with my BFF Evelyn and I discovered that we both have a massive girl crush on Emily Blunt.

And really, can you blame us?

First off, Emily Blunt is incredibly talented.  She’s one of those actresses who can play just about anyone and anything.  I have never heard or seen an interview with her where she seemed to be anything less than intelligent and witty.  She speaks her mind and projects an attitude of not really caring what other people think about her.  Add to that, she’s absolutely gorgeous and she has a body and a face to die for.  If I were to ever get a nose job (and that’s always been a temptation for me), I would definitely tell the surgeon to give me Emily Blunt’s nose.

Evelyn and I also love the fact that Emily Blunt always plays characters who kick ass, often times literally.  Whether it was in Looper or Edge of Tomorrow or the upcoming Sicario, one thing remains consistent.  You simply do not mess with Emily Blunt because she’s a fighter.

Finally, Emily Blunt gets to spend every night with Jon Krasinski!

Seriously, how can you not love Emily Blunt?

Emily Blunt first received attention as the result of supporting turns in The Devil Wears Prada and Charlie Wilson’s War.  Her first starring role — or, at the very least, her first starring role to receive wide distribution here in the states — was in the 2009 film, The Young Victoria.

The Young Victoria attempts to do for Britain’s famous Queen Victoria what Elizabeth did for Queen Elizabeth I.  It attempts to humanize an iconic figure and show that, underneath the popular image of Victorian refinement and emotional repression, Victoria was actually a passionate and headstrong woman.  And the film largely succeeds at doing that because Victoria is played by Emily Blunt.

Unfortunately, The Young Victoria is never quite as interesting as Elizabeth.  Whereas both films feature young queens struggling to prove themselves worthy of leading Britain, Elizabeth benefited from being conceived as a renaissance version of The Godfather.  Elizabeth was full of shadowy conspiracies, ominous whispers, and secrets.  When, at the end of the film, Elizabeth had solidified her hold on the British crown, you felt that she had truly accomplished something and that perhaps her victory was worth living the rest of her life as the Virgin Queen.

Whereas in The Young Victoria, the conspiracies basically amount to smug civil servants assuring themselves that Victoria won’t do something and then being shocked when Victoria does exactly what they weren’t expecting her to do.  And, while it’s undeniably fun to watch Victoria refuse to sign away her power and announce that she can decide for herself what her royal role should be, that’s largely because it’s always fun to watch Emily Blunt stand up for herself.

The majority of the film is taken up with Victoria being courted by Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).  Again, there’s no real conflict in Victoria and Albert’s relationship.  We know that Victoria is eventually going to marry Albert.  And, even when the two have an argument towards the end of the film, you know that they are going to reconcile.  What you may not be prepared for is a scene where Albert is gravely wounded while protecting Victoria from an assassin’s bullet.  That’s because it never happened.  A man did attempt to assassinate Victoria but he failed and Albert was not wounded at all.  But then again, why let history get in the way of a good story?

On the poster at the top of the post, The Young Victoria is described as being “gorgeous.”  And really that’s the main reason to see the film.  The film looks really, really good.  The costumes and the sets are wonderfully ornate.  The cinematography is vibrant and lush.  And Emily Blunt’s performance can rightly be called gorgeous.   By the end of The Young Victoria, you really don’t feel like you’ve learned anything new about Queen Victoria.  But you do appreciate Emily Blunt.

Quick Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)


file_118522_1_kingsmanposterlargeKingsman: The Secret Service was a no brainer for me. I’ve been following Matthew Vaughn since Stardust, and a friend pointed me towards Layer Cake, which I love. Most audiences know Vaughn from his work on X-Men: First  Class and Kick-Ass. That’s the main reason I ran towards this movie. I also found out writer Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass, Marvel’s Civil War) was involved and the story was originally a comic, so the flow of the film makes perfect sense. Overall, Kingsman is a triumph for everyone involved, easily a film I could see myself returning to see again, but it’s not without it’s quirks. If the movie were cut into four acts, the first three were great, but the last act comes close to falling into the clichés it tries so hard to avoid.

Short and Sweet:

If you liked Wanted’s and Kick-Ass’ action sequences and copious amounts of violence mixed with bloodletting, Kingsman has your name written all over it. Throats are cut, people are shot, and bones are broken. It doesn’t happen often throughout the film, but when it does, it can get messy. The movie may have you considering wanting to get yourself some good business attire. It isn’t for kids by a long shot, it’s rated R for a reason.

The Slightly Long Version:

Kingsman is the tale of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a young man who ends up being recruited for The Kingsman after a run in with the law. The Kingsman are a secret society of spies that at one time were tailors to great people. When a threat to the world rises in the form of a rich tech wiz named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), the Kingsmen must find a way to stop him.

Eggsy’s recruiter is Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth, who does the best job out of all of the actors involved (in my opinion). Being the one who has to explain what all this is about, Firth manages to play the mentor role well. When it comes to fighting, he shows everyone who’s boss. Who knew Mark Darcy could fight (well, other than Daniel Cleaver, I guess)?

The casting for Kingsman really couldn’t offer any more surprises than it did. You have Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean), Mark Hamill (channeling his inner Joker here), Michael Caine, Mark Strong (a Vaughn favorite), Sofia Boutella (whose dance techniques work well for her blade wielding character) and Sophie Cookson. There’s really no one out of place here, save for maybe Jackson, who’s villain hates violence yet sees when it needs to be done. I do like that the movie kept me guessing about the Valentine’s intentions.As for Egerton, though I’ve never seen Egerton in anything before this, he’s good enough to warrant seeing him in a sequel. I can see him becoming a Vaughn regular in another film – maybe as an X-Men member?

As if the crew spent some time watching John Wick, the action in Kingsman moves pretty fast and fierce at times, and there’ll undoubtedly be a few scenes that will have you abusing the slo-mo feature when it arrives on digital download. The film moves through scenes with few cuts involved. You’ll have someone staring into a monitor at a fight that travels to the fight itself, and then flow into another moment. It’s Vaughn at his best, and at times, it’s all beautiful. I guarantee you that at least one scene in particular will probably have people talking. By far, one of the most unique uses of a Lynyrd Skynyrd track since The Devil’s Rejects. On a side note, it’s wonderful to see every advertised gadget get some use.

So, with all that praise, what’s the problem? Well, the last part of the film felt a little flat for me. If you’ve ever watched Batman Begins and it’s repetitious “stop the train before it hits the Wayne Tower” sequence, Kingsman feels similar. What bothered me was how some of the events were kind of caught in a bubble. Given the stakes involved (especially near the end), you’re never really told or shown the outcome of the actions. It’s really hard to explain without giving anything away, but I could put it like this. If you fired a gun in the middle of a street in broad daylight, someone would react and call the cops, no? So, if you escalate that action, shouldn’t the reaction / after effects be big? Between this and an annoying bit of product placement, I suppose it couldn’t be avoided. Still, it may be something that stands out for some audiences. It’s by no means a deal breaker, though.

I’d happily see it again at the cinema.