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Quickie Review: 1917

I’m not big on epic war dramas. They all tend to share the same brutal message: War is hell. But 1917 is surprisingly engaging, and best seen on the biggest screen possible. It’s an immersive, visceral film that relies on a gimmick of sorts to set it apart from classic war movies like Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, etc. The film is designed to give the impression that it’s all shot in one continuous take. Gimmick or not, it works. 1917 follows the perilous journey of two young British soldiers sent across enemy lines at the height of the First World War to deliver a message that could potentially save 1600 men from walking into a deadly trap set by the Germans. It reeks of a suicide mission from the start. But one of the young men, Lance Corporal Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) has a very personal stake in getting the message across. His brother is among those heading into an ambush.

Review: Shazam!

With Marvel’s highly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame still a few weeks out, DC Comics’ Shazam! swoops in like a tasty appetizer – just enough to satisfy, without spoiling your appetite for the main course. Shazam! is not as LOL funny and lighthearted as the trailer might suggest, but it’s still far lighter and easier to process than most DC Comic movies of recent memory (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), and it’s certainly much shorter and simpler than the forthcoming Avengers finale. Bottom line: Shazam! is a solid coming-of-age superhero flick that’s suitable for family viewing, assuming the kids are at least approaching teendom. The film is PG-13 and does have the occasional blast of violence (though relatively bloodless), sadness (family dysfunction and abandonment issues) and scary moments (don’t get lost at the fairgrounds or walk through strange doors!). But overall, it’s about personal strength (finding the superhero within), making the right choices, and learning what defines a family.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: Office Christmas Party; Miss Sloane; Jackie; Lion

Comedy. Drama. Suspense. History. Politics. Lots to choose from at the box office this weekend. And it’s all pretty good, even awards-worthy. Except for Office Christmas Party. That one’s just for fun!

Office Christmas Party is not destined to become a holiday classic. But it’s still plenty of fun in the moment, thanks to a Santastic bundle of comedic talent. Too many sub-plots clutter up the nativity scene a bit, but here’s the gist: The uptight CEO (Jennifer Aniston) of a tech company cancels all holiday parties and threatens to close the Chicago branch run by her dufus brother Clay (T.J. Miller) unless he can seal a lucrative deal with a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) by year’s end. With the help of his Chief Technical Officer (Jason Bateman) and a talented techie (Olivia Munn), Clay throws caution (and his sister’s orders) to the wind and throws an epic office party designed to impress the client, boost morale, and save everyone’s jobs. Let’s just say the party – which the head of HR (Kate McKinnon) insists on calling a “non-denominational holiday mixer” — goes off the rails big-time, devolving into a drug and alcohol-fueled physical comedy extravaganza.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Sitting in the theater watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was in front of an older couple who talked through the film, at one point declaring, “This is the worst movie!” In front of me were a couple of young men who laughed raucously throughout the film, thoroughly enjoying the silly ride. I’m not sure what the couple behind me were expecting, but I do think the audience for this one is teenage (or slightly older) boys. It’s basically an adolescent James Bond flick, with all the cool gadgetry and a hot chick villainess you’d expect from the genre. There is nothing of the suave nature of Bond though. It’s crude humor and cartoon violence. But if you just go with it, a lot of it is mindless fun.

Robin Hood

No men in tights here. No borrowing from the rich to give to the poor either. This new Robin Hood is Ridley Scott’s prequel to all that. We first meet Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) in France on his way back to England after years crusading with King Richard the Lionheart. Robin and his band of not-so-merry men are tired of war and ready to get home, only getting across the channel seems to be a problem. Fortunately they happen upon some knights who had been ambushed by the evil Godfrey (Mark Strong again as the bad guy) while trying to take the recently deceased King Richard’s crown back to England. One of the knights is still alive. He is Robert of Locksley and asks that Robin return his sword to his father in Nottingham. And so Robin and his crew impersonate the knights, take the boat to England, return the crown, and in doing so Robin is forced to keep the ruse of actually being Robert of Locksley going. When he gets to Nottingham, the old, blind father of the knight asks him to keep pretending to be Robert so that the crown will not confiscate his lands when he dies. Robin agrees and calls him father. (And the old guy actually knew Robin’s father, who turns out to have been a revolutionary who was killed in front of the young boy.)

Kick-Ass

What a quirky little film! From the previews I was expecting more of a comedy, but in fact, Kick-Ass is a teenage angst Tarantino action film gone awry. In it, three main stories converge. In one you have the nerdy comic book reading teenage boy, Dave (Aaron Johnson), who wants to be bigger than life and concocts a superhero persona for himself named Kick-Ass. In another thread a father (Nicolas Cage) trains his 11-year-old daughter (Chloe Moretz) to be his action heroine sidekick in order to exact revenge on the man who ruined their lives. The third storyline is about the big mob boss villain of the piece, Frank (Mark Strong) whose son, the same age as Dave, is desperate for his father’s approval and invents his own comic book identity as Red Mist to try and trap the other superheroes.

The Young Victoria

To look at The Young Victoria for historical accuracy would be the wrong way to approach it. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) admits to taking dramatic license in many places for effect. And it is effective as a coming of age love story set inside that gilded cage known as the British monarchy. The story begins with 17 year-old Victoria a heartbeat away from being crowned Queen, as her mother, the scheming Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), along with her power hungry advisor (Mark Strong) attempt to set up a regency thereby taking power themselves until she is 25. (Mark Strong is also the villain in Sherlock Holmes, set in the same time period. Hmmm.) They control her every move, making someone walk her up and down the stairs, deciding what she can and cannot read, making sure that she is kept away from her uncle the King, everything designed to dominate her. But she is strong enough to resist them, though she falls instead under the control of Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.