Tag Archives: Britain

“’71” Review (✫✫✫)

A boy trapped in a soldier’s life. 

We’re always looking for someone to blame in war. Most of the time, the blame is directed at the soldier. Rarely do we blame the military, or the government, or those we are fighting, and even more rarely do we blame the people living stateside, in the warmth and comfort of their blanket and home and far away from the battlefield. No, if we are angered at travesties such as the Vietnam or the Afghan war, we don’t point at the general who gave the order to shoot. We point at the soldier who was following orders.

In ’71, the soldier is treated not as a cold-hearted, emotionless machine, but as a young man, a flesh-and-blood being full of heart and consciousness, but who is equally confused, hurt, alone, and afraid of the people he’s trying to protect. The controversy around another war film called American Sniper released a few months ago argued if we glorify war and the military too much. Those same people need to watch ’71 and realize there is nothing to glorify about it.

Taking place during the height of civil unrest in the Troubles, ’71 follows a young British army recruit named Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), who gets deployed into Belfast during his first few weeks of training. Him and his squad is warned of the great dangers in entering the territory. Protestant and Catholic Irishmen are living side-by-side at each other’s throats, each with starkly different ideas of what is better for them. The protestants believe that the United Kingdom is their home and it is their best interests to remain with them. The catholics believe Ireland can be it’s own land and wants to secede from Europe. Hook and his fellow soldiers are just looking to keep the peace.

On the day of deployment, Hook watches as both sides come to a boil. The KGB is entering houses, threatening and beating people with their billy clubs, while an angry crowd of catholics gather outside in retaliation against the military. One of the rioting crowd members throws a rock and knocks a soldier out cold. A kid no older than ten grabs the soldier’s rifle and runs. Hook and another soldier chase after him when the crowd assaults them and beats viciously. Hook watches as the soldier is shot in the face. Hook only narrowly escapes with his life intact.

Trapped in Belfast with no way to find his comrades, Hook must fight through the night to survive against the city that’s hunting him.

Functioning more as a survivalist-thriller than as a pure-blooded war movie, ’71 strikes the viewer with sharp imagery and intelligence alike, filling them with a deepening sense of dread as we watch this young man crumble into desperation as he tries to escape from the people who are seeking to kill him. One of the things I love so much about this movie is how expertly it orchestrates itself and its emotions. French director Yann Demange, who before this directed British television shows such as “Dead Set” and “Top Boy”, debuts here as a talented filmmaker, crafting an exciting thriller that efficiently balances action with context.

I am reminded of another film similar in direction and subject, and that is Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo. In both films, the main character evades their pursuer through the chaos of a collapsing political climate. The camera captures the essence of both perspectives, with the pursuer desperately chasing their target while the pursued is equally as desperate trying to get away. And through both highly exciting and pulse-pounding features, both directors have deeper things to say about those societies and what impact they’re leaving on the people around them.

To me, ’71 is the British version of Argo, with one big difference: coherency. In Argo, everything is crystal-clear and straightforward. We know who the characters are, why they are there, what they are doing, who is after them, and how and why they plan to get away. In ’71, all of that is focused in towards one character only, and that is Gary Hook. We know everything we can know about a novice soldier, we just don’t know the same of everyone else around him.

For instance, the leaders of both factions, the catholics and the British Military Reaction force, are both skinny gingers with mustaches as thick as their hair. How can you tell who is who under the dim view of the street light? A young boy helps Hook towards a bar after his initial attack, but he’s on the same side as the people who are hunting him. Why is he helping Hook when he so clearly has so much disregard for British soldiers? In another scene, a Protestant seeks to help Hook when minutes earlier he had the cold, direct eyes of a killer with purpose. What inspired him to switch sides so easily? And then, near the end of the movie, there is a twist that didn’t make much sense to me at all.

Still though, the movie is there, and Demange handles the senses of unease and desperation well with the film, especially when trusting Jack O’Connell to portray all of these emotions at once. O’Connell is really having a strong career packing in for himself. In the past year, for instance, he created a very compelling presence in the prison-drama Starred Up and in the Angelina Jolie-directed biopic Unbroken. He makes a very strong case for choosing acting as a career in all of these films, and in ’71 he clearly shows that he can pull off the role of a young, desperate, and inexperienced soldier who just wants to go home. Demange was wise to cast him in this role and trust him with the emotional complexity of the character: O’Connell was the best part of the film.

I’ll admit, I didn’t understand everything I probably needed to understand in the movie, perhaps the biggest one being more aware of what the Troubles were in the 1970’s. Take that out of it. Take all of the political facets out of the movie, and what do you have? You have a raw, emotionally-charged war thriller that challenges the viewer to see it not from their perspective, but from the soldier’s perspective. Everyone hurts during the times of war. ’71 makes me wonder who war hurts the most.

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“THE WORLD’S END” Review (✫✫✫)

These poor dims have had too much to drink.

We’ve all known that kid somewhere in our high school years. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. That kid. That kid as in, the troublemaker. The smart talker. The womanizer. The drinker. The guy who turns heads and raises eyebrows, the guy whose only concerned with having a good time and not much else. They act on impulse, spontaneity, paying no second thoughts to doubt or common sense. They don’t think about their future or what they’re going to do after high school. They don’t live in the future. They live in the moment.

That same trouble-making, lady-loving, drink-guzzling, bad-mouthed rebel is known in this movie as Gary King (Simon Pegg), a poor old sap in rehab who misses the old days and just wants them back again. In order to do this, he reaches out to his old british friends from high school to go and complete “The Golden Mile”, a long pub crawl of twelve different pubs in his old town of Newhaven, where the crawl ends at the most popular pub of all, appropriately called “The Worlds End.”

His friends are now all estranged successful businessmen, but they all lack the energy and perhaps foolhardy excitement that Gary loves to constantly express. Perhaps the best of his friends, however, is one Andy Knighly (Nick Frost), a once-cheerful young fellow, now an old, depressed office worker trying to win back the affections of his wife and children. The last thing he needs is to go on this trip with Gary, but if there’s one thing Andy knows, its that you don’t say no to the King.

They go to their hometown where they started the Golden Mile, and they notice a lot of things have changed since they were last there. Why? Well, that’s because alien robots have taken the town over.

……WHAT?!?!?!? No, dear reader, I am not drunk. Alien robots took over Newhaven, and Gary King discovers this by knocking one’s head off after he slid on his own urine in the bathroom. When he recoups with his friends later on at the bar, they decide that they need to keep going on their route so as not to raise suspicion, and later quietly slip out of town. Sounds pretty simple, right? Not when you have four drunk guys traveling along a total fool. Good luck with that, fellas.

Co-written and directed by Edgar Wright, The World’s End is the birth child of an unofficial trilogy of Pegg, Wright, and Frost’s previous work together, including Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. For those who’ve seen those previous movies and are expecting a pompous, outlandish experience just like those pictures, you’re not far off. The World’s End is, by every definition, a ridiculous, ludicrous, and far-out experience, a preposterous and purposefully silly picture to the point where it surpasses being stupid and starts being funny. It’s like those older television skits by Monty Python: they undeniably immature and stupid by nature, but there’s an inherent wit and silliness to them that can’t help but make them so much fun.

Case in point: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s chemistry. In the past, their character’s relationship involved a budding romance in a cheesy “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” type of ordeal. Here, the relationship is more strained, almost like Frost is a babysitter and its his turn to supervise little baby Simon so he doesn’t eat sand from the playground. Their characters are hilarious because they’re polar opposites: because Pegg plays the ambitious, over-the-top party boy while Frost is the more conserved, more easily frustrated business man.  Remember the chemistry between John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, where the frustrated business guy (Martin) keeps having to monitor the guy (Candy) who is oblivious, foolish and hopeless? Same case here, although the roles are more or less switched between the two actors.

And then the robots. Oh my God, are they hilarious. In Shaun Of The Dead we had zombies, and in Hot Fuzz we had crooked cops. Now, we have supernatural alien robots, although they hilariously keep insisting that they are not robots because they have sentiment and free will. Anyhow, the funniest thing is how the group reacts to them, tearing off their body parts, whacking themselves with their arms, legs, and anything else they can pull off of their bodies. It’s like someone combined the Lego minifigures with Whack-A-Mole and then decided to throw blue kool-aid somewhere into the mix. Just trust me, it gets messy.

I’m overanalyzing this. The question I should be answering is this: did it make me laugh? The answer: Yes it did, consistently and abundantly, and what’s even more important is that it had something more to offer than simply entertainment. It had a deeper message to tell its audience, and instead of celebrating foolishness and drunkenness, it decided to touch upon a deeper subject involving friendship and true happiness.

I won’t spoil the segment for you, because for me it was the best scene out of the whole movie. I will say this though: most movies, including Project X, 21 And Over, and the dreaded Hangover series take alcoholism and play it out like its fun, like a big party with no consequences or repercussions to the people involved with them. This movie had the opportunity to play it out in that same fashion, but it chose a different direction. It decided to take alcoholism and show it in a more realistic light, maybe even a tragic one. This sequence genuinely touched me, as well as the conversation two characters shared about their life and what exactly they mean to each other. It did more than entertained me: it genuinely surprised me.

As far as comedy and drama goes, I can name a number of films this year that have both made me laugh harder and feel more, among them including the explicit Don Jon, the tamer Monsters University and the other horror-comedy Warm Bodies. Should I take off points, however, if the movie doesn’t match up to the standard of other pictures? The point is that this is a good movie. It had more to offer than just pointless swearing and debauchery: the movie is funny, touching, and original, and there’s a lot of moral truth to it, aside from all of the alien robots mucking everything up.

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