January 25th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Wildfires: Lessons from the past not yet learnt

EDITORIAL America 'resets' foreign policy on China and Russia

CANBERRA OBSERVED After the fires, we still need an economy and to power it

GENDER POLITICS In trans Newspeak, parental consent is a 'hurdle'

REFLECTION Conjugal honour: Love of husband and wife joined together in pure intimacy

LIFE ISSUES Pro-lifers punished for exposing baby harvesting

LAW AND SOCIETY Cardinal Pell and the Appeal Court judges

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Botany Bay: Always more than a dumping ground

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Finally getting Brexit done

HUMOUR The MacStuttles probe

MUSIC From retch to wretched

CINEMA Three times the bravura: 1917, The Gentlemen, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon

BOOK REVIEW The contradictions of the dominant ideology

BOOK REVIEW Novel celebrates inventor of literary fairytales



HUMAN RIGHTS A Magnitsky-style law for Australia?

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Three times the bravura: 1917, The Gentlemen, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, January 25, 2020

1917 is Sam Mendes’ – of American Beauty and Skyfall fame – critically acclaimed war epic shot in long takes and cut together in such a way that it appears as one continuous shot.

It is April 1917, and General Erinmore (Colin Firth) tasks Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) to deliver an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, ordering them to stop a planned attack on retreating German forces, who are luring the English into a trap. The Germans have cut communications and the two men have till the following dawn to stop the attack, saving the men, including Blake’s brother (Richard Madden).

The pace is relentless and the drama nerve-racking as Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins follow the soldiers from their selection, through the trenches and no man’s land and traps, unable to rest or eat, as they desperately try to complete their mission. Theirs is a grisly journey, full of corpses and rats and mud, with lulls in the action serving to stress the underlying tension.

The long takes are not so much noticed as felt, inducing a sort of breathless claustrophobia of time as we wonder if the soldiers will make it, and even then, if they will be listened to.

But the long takes also show the technical accomplishment of the film. Such shots require intricate preparation, because if something goes wrong, they are nightmarish to reproduce. Performances must be spot on and are physically demanding for actors who can count on neither the forgiveness that accompanies live theatre, nor the many pauses and re-takes of standard filmmaking, to master their roles and their scenes.

Long takes wear down the audience, simulating life as lived, adding a sort of realism that can be excruciating. But, with the right setup, as in 1917, it creates an exhausted adrenaline-pumping experience, engulfing the audience in the action as it happens.

A different sort of war and a decidedly different sort of character can be seen in Guy Ritchie’s super-sweary and frenetic gangster flick, The Gentlemen. Matthew McConaughey plays an American expat in England marijuana kingpin, who is seeking to retire, but obstacles stand in his way – including Hugh Grant playing against type as a seedy and sleazy, blackmailing private eye.

Ritchie – known for such films as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films and the underrated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – is a kinetic filmmaker, focused on fast-talking characters acting out intricate and multilayered plots, presented via fast cut-scenes to keep the audience spinning in their seats.

Quick cuts and frenetic editing emphasise the artificiality of the cinema. They keep energy and engagement high by continuously providing something new and different. They let the audience see a different point of view, a different take on the action, showcasing its humour or its horror.

For such an approach to work well, the script must also be fast and punchy and the characters interesting and fully formed, even if we only see a sliver of their lives.

There is a complexity to such stories that can make them hard to follow; but if done right, the ending wraps it up nicely and intelligibly. It does, however, make them difficult to describe, as there tend to be large casts and many goings-on. Such is the case of The Gentlemen, which is cleverly executed, if morally greyer than Ritchie’s previous gangster flicks. It’s a fun ride – if it’s your cup of tea.

Speaking of cups of tea and bravura filmmaking, it would be remiss of me to not mention A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, the latest stop-motion Aardman Shaun the Sheep adventure, in which the mischievous and clever Shaun finds an alien lost in the woods and has to help her get home.

Managing to spoof everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The X-Files, this clever piece of cinematic craft is utterly delightful and a wonderful illustration of how moviemaking artistry need not be for adults only, but can be for the whole family.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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