Movie Review: 1917

It’s a race against time in Sam Mendes’ latest masterpiece 1917. (Source:

There have been plenty of great movies set during World War I. The 1925 classic The Big Parade became one of the finest masterpieces of the silent era. However, it wasn’t until two years later, when Wings became the first film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Over the years, famous filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory) and Steven Spielberg (War Horse) also brought their A-game to capture the horrors and outcomes of the Great War. The 2004 film Joyeux Noel captured an unbelievable story about the British and German troops making an agreement to stop fighting for one day to celebrate Christmas.

None of them compare the brutality and wonder of 1917, the latest collaboration of director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (their first since Skyfall). Using clever filmmaking and editing techniques, the movie makes it look and feel like one seamless, continuous shot through the trenches of France. Fresh from winning a Golden Globe for Best Picture and directing, dethroning Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in the box office last weekend, and receiving 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, this movie is worth all the hype.

The movie opens on April 6, 1917, the same day the U.S. would enter the war. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) enlists two young British soldiers–Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay)–to deliver an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), of the Devonshire Regiment. Here’s the catch: He and his army are across enemy lines planning an attack on the Germans, who have taken refuge at the Hindenburg Line. The two race against time to avoid getting killed and possibly save 1,600 lives.

This isn’t the first movie to use the one-shot effect. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 thriller Rope and the 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman are both wonderful movies that have achieved the effect. Expect some edits, but Deakins is the perfect cinematographer to shoot a movie like this. It makes the audience feel like we are with these two soldiers through the duration of the mission. The camera follows in front of them, behind them, or beside them. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be for the crew to determine which direction the actors have to go. With brilliant editing, there are a lot of shots that will send chills down your spine.

At the film’s core, it’s a story about survival and compassion during the toughest of times. Mendes, who dedicated the film to his late father (who actually fought in World War I), does an outstanding job keeping the stakes and suspense higher than a bald eagle soaring through the sky with his direction and writing. The marvelous cast including British favorites Cumberbatch, Firth, Mark Strong, Richard Madden are given smaller roles than the two unknown actors who have long careers ahead of them. As the two young soldiers, Chapman and MacKay beautifully capture the courage and sympathy on this dangerous mission. The astounding sets and Thomas Newman’s excellent score are also enough to make 1917 a WWI epic for the ages. Sorry, Joker, but this is certainly the film to beat in this year’s Oscars.


Movie Review: Doctor Strange


Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) walks out in style in Doctor Strange, Marvel’s latest entry in its ongoing film franchise. (Source: IMDb)

No other actor looked so cool putting on a cape than Benedict Cumberbatch.

Captain America: Civil War started this past summer with a bang. Not only was it a wonderful conclusion to the greatest film trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also leaves the door open for one of the longest running film franchises; going on since 2008 with Iron Man. The audience introduces more characters leading up to—what might be—the biggest battle in film history (The Avengers: Infinity War). Doctor Strange, the latest MCU film, is a little more than your basic origin story.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of New York City’s most brilliant neurosurgeons. One night, he gets into a car accident, causing him to lose his job due to serious damage to his hands. Strange goes on a journey to find a cure in Nepal. At Kamar-Taj, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) shows him the astral plane and alternate dimensions. He reluctantly trains of becoming a sorcerer. When he learns that the enclave is at war with a team of evil sorcerers, led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), Strange and his mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) try to defeat the evil mastermind once and for all.

Scott Derrickson creates an origin story mildly different than the previous entries. Strange is a—literally and figuratively—broken protagonist who is willing to change. His spirituality is put to the test when he learns about controlling time. There is plenty of humor thrown in the mix. Notably, when he pokes fun at Master Wong (Benedict Wong) and his [one-word] name and using his wits to outsmart Kaecilius and his minions once they finally meet. There is an Inception-vibe through the stunning action sequences and visual effects, which is provided by Michael Giacchino’s magnificent score (powerful chorus, too).

Despite being somewhat formulaic and Mikkelson’s Kaecilius not quite topping Loki and Zemo as the best villain (a little bit more depth would have certainly done the trick), Doctor Strange provides enough wit and wonder to outweigh its flaws.


Movie Review: Black Mass

James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) terrorizes Boston as the most infamous criminal in the U.S. in "Black Mass"

James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) terrorizes Boston as the most infamous criminal in the U.S. in “Black Mass”

Johnny Depp’s career has been quite iffy the past several years. Starring in two of the worst performances of his career (The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai), everyone was worried whether he would redeem himself. Until now.

Leading an extraordinary cast including Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson, Black Mass features one of Depp’s absolute best performances of his career as James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal of South Boston who works as an informant for the FBI in the 1970s. With barely any hair, a sinister smile, and one vicious attitude, it leads to many unsettling scenes involving his work as a gangster. There are times, however, in which I lost interest and couldn’t care less about what is going on. Not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch’s godawful Boston accent. With that aside, Black Mass is a brutal and semi-engaging character study on one violent criminal.


Movie Review: The Imitation Game

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is about to break the Enigma code in "The Imitation Game"

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is about to break the Enigma code in “The Imitation Game”

Before seeing The Imitation Game, I barely had any idea who Alan Turing was. I knew I wanted to see this again the moment the credits started rolling. I found myself involved with his life. From being least popular in his English boarding school to becoming the leader of a team of code-breakers to making his own code-breaking machine named “Christopher” (his first lover in school) that is used to help his team break the Enigma code as a possibility to end World War II to becoming convicted of indecency (homosexuality). His machine became an inspiration to the computer that I’m writing this review on right now. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is a wonderful tribute to Turing, capturing his mannerisms and subtlety. I loved every bit of this funny, heartbreaking, and moving historical piece.


The Hobbit: Another Long Journey Worth Taking

Peter Jackson walks through the door to film "The Hobbit" trilogy

Peter Jackson walks through the door to film “The Hobbit” trilogy

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit” are the first words in J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle-Earth adventure – The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. Published in 1937, it became a milestone in literature. It had adventure, fantasy, humor, and emotion. Sixteen years later, Tolkien published three volumes of The Lord of the Rings (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King). After his death, his son Christopher published The Silmarillion, which consists of the history of Middle-Earth. Several film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been made, however, the Tolkien family didn’t appreciate them (yes, they didn’t like Peter Jackson’s version).


The Gates of Erebor

After The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) was originally going to be attached to direct the adaptation of The Hobbit, and separate it into two films. Many delays have occurred during pre-production. Del Toro decided to only become the producer and leave the directing to collaborator Peter Jackson. Wanting to expand the Middle-Earth universe, Jackson decided to make the project into a trilogy. While filming since 2011, Jackson made fifteen video blogs featuring the behind-the-scenes of the trilogy starting with the beginning of shooting. Filmed during a period of 266 days, Jackson and his team strike back giving us another great journey. Even though it’s not as phenomenal as The Lord of the Rings, it was great returning to Middle-Earth and seeing the characters that I know and loved (or loved to hate) as well as some new faces.

We start the trilogy with An Unexpected Journey (2012). On the day of his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) begins to write his book about his first adventure sixty years ago. Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) visits a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and says “I’m looking for someone to share in adventure.” Bilbo refuses. Gandalf puts a sign – consisting of a letter from the Germanic alphabet – on his door. One night while having his dinner, he gets unexpected visitors at his door. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves: Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Balin (Ken Stott), Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy), and Ori (Adam Brown). They come in to his hobbit hole to have food, drinks, and sing songs.

Once they have settled down, the company talks about the journey to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, or Erebor as it’s called in the trilogy. Earlier in the film during a flashback set many years ago, Erebor has been lost after the dragon Smaug attacked the city of Dale and ended up taking the dwarves’ gold. They come to Bilbo’s house to assign him as the burglar of the

"I'm going on an adventure!"

“I’m going on an adventure!”

quest. Reluctant at first, Bilbo, then, signs the contract and ends up going on the adventure with Gandalf and the gang of dwarves. Along their way, they begins encounter wargs, orcs, trolls, goblins, and an odd wizard named Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) who warns them of a Necromancer in Dol Guldur. In the goblin tunnels, Bilbo takes possession of a magical ring – makinh him disappear whenever he puts in on – from Gollum (Andy Serkis) after playing a game of riddles.

He continues to have it in The Desolation of Smaug (2013), the gang meets with one of the more interesting characters, Beorn (Mikael Persbrant), a “skin-changer” who can transform into a giant bear. He gets advises them about the journey, and tells them his story about being enslaved by the Orcs inside the mountain and expresses his disrespect for Dwarves and his bigger hatred for Orcs. The gang goes through the forests of Mirkwood while Gandalf goes to Dul Guldur to encounter the Necromancer. They fight giant spiders, and come across the Wood-elves led by the children of Thranduil (Lee Pace), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The gang gets imprisoned until Bilbo, with the help of the One Ring, helps them escape by floating down a river in barrels, which leads to an exciting action sequence. Then, they enter Lake-town with Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) to pick up their weapons. As Durin’s Day (the last day of Autumn) comes to a close, most of the gang enter the Lonely Mountain (because Kili gets wounded after getting shot in the leg with an arrow at the river). Bilbo is assigned to retrieve the Arkenstone (King Thror’s gem) from Smaug (a scene-stealing performance by Benedict Cumberbatch). He accidentally wakes him up and escapes to Lake-town in The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – the shortest in the franchise, clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes, leaving it up in flames in a breathtaking action scene (what

"I am fire. I am death."

“I am fire. I am death.”

a way to start a finale!), forcing the survivors to flee to Dale for shelter. Meanwhile, Thorin begins to suffer from “dragon sickness”, in which he becomes so obsessed with the gold. As the enemies are coming closer and closer, Thranduil asks if Thorin wants peace or war. “I will have war,” says Thorin as he and his dwarves get prepared to fight to the death in one of the most spectacular battle sequences since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Seeing these movies in theaters are movie-going experiences unlike any other. It was a treat to go back to become enthralled by the Peter Jackson’s passion of New Zealand. He brings back the sense of adventure and fantasy that made J.R.R. Tolkien’s book one of the best of all-time. He starts off the trilogy with a whimsical and humorous adventure, and then transitioning into a dark and powerful finale. At first, I had no idea how Jackson would adapt one book into a trilogy. Despite some of the gratuitous changes, like adding characters that weren’t in the book, like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), and Legolas. However, Jackson puts enough story lines to make the trilogy stay true to original source material.

In a world where every great filmmaker is relying on CGI, Peter Jackson knows how to use this technology. Of course, there happens to be more CGI than practical effects frequently throughout the trilogy. However, it felt like they are realistic like in The Lord of the Rings. Not to mention the incredible action sequences juxtaposing the parts featuring others in perilous situations. Kudos to Cumberbatch and Serkis, motion-capture has never looked as amazing like ever before.

The theme of courage comes into play in the trilogy. When Bilbo goes on this journey in An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf says, “True courage is not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.” Bilbo enters the goblin tunnels to encounter

The Lonely Mountain

The Lonely Mountain

Gollum. They play a game of riddles, takes possession of the One Ring, and is shown the way out. He becomes invisible by putting on the ring, and he is inches away from slaying Gollum with his sword. Bilbo knows better by sparing his life than killing him.

As they go on their journey, the characters have evolved greatly. Thorin becomes the main focus in the trilogy rather than Bilbo. He has lost everything: his homeland and his wealth.

An interesting love connection occurs between Kili and Tauriel. When he is imprisoned in The Desolation of Smaug, they have a conversation about his rune stone as a promise to come back home safely. They become more affectionate toward each other in a beautiful scene when she comes to Lake-town to heel Kili’s wound. “You could not be her,” says Kili, not believing she came all this way for him. “She is far away…far away from me. She walks in starlight in another world. It was just a dream.” In an emotionally powerful scene in The Battle of the Five Armies, Tauriel weeps for Kili after getting killed. “Why does it hurt so much?” asks Tauriel to Thranduil, in tears. “Because it was real,” says Thranduil.

Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, wrote a song called “The Last Goodbye” played during the end credits of The Battle of the Five Armies. Reminiscent to Annie Lennox’s “Into the West”, this sweeping tune not only sums up the trilogy, it also sums up the entire franchise. It’s impossible not to get teary-eyed with the theme of the journey coming to an end. When I saw it Friday night, I was the last person to leave the movie theater thinking it’s a great way to end what is easily the best in the trilogy.

Peter Jackson won’t return to make another trilogy set in Middle-Earth. I hope someone who is familiar with the franchise to make a noteworthy version of The Silmarillion.