Veteran writer Bryan Reesman has you covered with his monthly round up of new releases and hidden gems available via home video and streaming.
ONE SHOT AT GLORY
It’s hard to make a film that can riff upon the “war is bad” concept any better than classic films like Platoon or Apocalypse Now, but Sam Mendes’ 1917 takes a fresh approach by making it look like the movie was done in one long take (I argue two), which is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish. It’s a fun challenge to try to figure out where the “cuts” are. The WWI narrative inspired the breathtaking approach with its constantly moving camerawork that plants you in the middle of the action with no way out.
Two young British soldiers (George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman) fighting the German army on French ground must go deep behind enemy lines to warn another battalion that what seems like the enemy beating a hasty retreat is actually the set up for a sneak attack that will decimate Allied forces. At first, what looks like a simpler than expected task becomes a perilous journey fraught with traps, unexpectedly violent encounters, and a surreal, bombastic parade of events that will leave psychological and physical scars on the protagonists. Some feel that 1917 was robbed of a Best Picture Oscar this year, but the winner, Parasite, is the more original of the two. It doesn’t matter—Mendes’ film is still a very worthy and highly visceral experience that deserved its Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing awards and will leave an equally indelible impact.
LADIES OF CARNAGE
The Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad was not quite as the same one depicted here, which feels closer to the animated character turned comic book icon. In Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the title of which was expanded when the film did not soar at the box office as expected, Margot Robbie dives into the mischievous and ultraviolent persona of The Joker’s paramour who is trying to find her sense of purpose after “Mr. J” cuts her loose from his life.
Because the underworld of Gotham now knows she is no longer under her psycho ex’s protection, it becomes open season on Harley for all the people she has wronged. The one way she can save her skin is to help a deranged mobster named Black Mask (Ewan McGregor, being the anti-Obi-Wan here) retrieve a diamond with an important microchip inside which has been swiped by a shrewd teenage thief (Ella Jay Basco). But when she finds the slippery brat, Harley’s mothering instincts emerge and she wants to protect the girl from harm. Relentless cop Renee Montoya, Black Canary, and the Huntress get mixed up in this mess too. Birds Of Prey is a decidedly deeper and more feminist rendering of HQ than her previous big screen appearance, and Robbie has a ball chewing the scenery as the hard fighting yet emotionally sensitive supervillain. Director CathyYan delivers a plethora of rapid fire action amid some great set pieces, but working with Christina Hodson’s cheeky yet underwhelming script it feels too much like a live action cartoon. While the way it lampoons action movie tropes is fun much of the time, more character development and less mayhem would have made it play better. It feels like we only get to know Harley and not much about the rest of the characters. Of course, there is a new, adult-oriented Harley Quinn animated series from DC that some critics feel is a way better rendering of the now iconic character.
CRIME AND PUN-ISHMENT
Although it was the inspiration for the highly successful Naked Gun trilogy of films starring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley, Police Squad! was a flop on television and lasted only six episodes back in 1982. The main reason is that, despite some very funny jokes, much of the humor was acutely visual in nature. There was no mindless laugh track nor constant banter standard in ‘80s sitcoms to cue you in to the hilarity. At that time, it was a groundbreaking and risky move. (Nielsen discusses this in one of the DVD extras ported over into this Blu-ray edition.) You really had to sit down and watch the show, not just leave it in the background. And if you did pay attention, you were rewarded with some classic moments: Next to a body outline at a crime scene is the outline of a pharoah. One of Lt. Frank Drebin’s fellow officers is so tall his head is always cut out of the frame, and “something on his face” is a large chunk of banana that falls onto a desk. Every show ends with a fake cast freeze frame under the credits, and one con even tries to escape the TV box when he realizes what’s going on. And there were great one-liners like this gem: “We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.” This show came from the deliriously punny minds behind the Airplane! movies, so if you were a fan this is great to revisit. If you didn’t know this existed, it’s a fantastic find.
A DARK TALE REVISITED
There are many fairy tales that have been brought to the screen innumerable times, so what can one do to spruce things up? In this case you go back to the source, which for Gretel & Hansel makes it more palatable to a modern audience. The titular children (Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey), the sister here being twice the age of her brother, are kicked out of their house by their impoverished mother and end up in the employ of a sinister old woman (Ghost Story‘s Alice Krige) who mysteriously provides them with endless food and a comfortable place to live. But something does not feel right, especially when their new caretaker shows an interest in Gretel’s paranormal abilities.
Director Oz Perkins, working from Rob Hayes’ script, has stated that despite the children’s age change the story remains very faithful to the original Brothers Grimm folktale, which is explored in one of the Blu-ray special features. While this is not an overtly scary movie, it sustains an undercurrent of dread thanks to the solid performances and surreal imagery created by cinematographer Galo Olivares. It takes time to warm up—so if fast-paced ghoulies and jump scares are your thing, look elsewhere—but Gretel & Hansel has a wonderfully nightmarish quality that many horror fans will cozy up to.