Lectures For Lifelong Learners!

“The Grudge” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
It seems like the term “movie magic” has been bandied about for as long as movies have been around. Using it so casually for so long has of course meant that it’s lost its impact. It tends to hit people’s ears with all of the force of a hum from a white noise machine and is easily shrugged off. I point this out only to emphasize that I mean it seriously and in no casual way when I say that director Sam Mendes created movie magic with his challenging and poetic “1917.”

It’s rare that a movie is so impactful and really, truly makes me say “Wow.” The technical aspects of “1917” are a whole level above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The movie uses the most modern technology available to give the impression that is filmed in one long, two-hour unbroken shot. But this is more than just a gimmick. This is a righteous application of the meeting of art and technology. Mendes truly uses the tools available to him to tell a powerful and engaging story.

Technology aside, my mind does cartwheels thinking about all of the extreme hard work and dedication in pulling this off. Literal miles of set had to be constructed and laid out. Those sets had to be rigged with practical effects that are timed perfectly. The actors have to hit their marks and not flub a single line. The camera, sound, and lighting crews all must be on point to capture Mendes’ vision flawlessly. If any one of these screw up, it’s back to square one and they start all over again. The level of utter perfection required by so many is a Herculean task, and I give Mendes and company much credit for taking on the challenge.

All of this technology and impressive craftsmanship would be meaningless, however, without a good story to tell. In the case of “1917,” we get one that’s as straightforward as it comes. On April 6, 1917, two British army soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), are assigned with crossing through dangerous enemy territory to stop a regiment of 1,600 men from launching an attack and walking into a trap set by the Hun. Time is of the essence since the regiment plans to attack at dawn the next morning, plus one of the lieutenants of the attacking regiment is Blake’s brother, giving him a personal motivation to get there in time.

That’s it. Aristotle himself could not have directed a movie that sticks more closely to his unities of time, place, and action. This is where the technical aspects of the movie become crucial. While an excellent movie could no doubt have been made in a more standard, Hollywood way, creating a movie that looks like one shot gives it a flow that a chopped up, more edited movie would not have. There’s no cheating with time or space when the camera doesn’t cut. We are with the lance corporals on every single step of their journey. It’s a brutal, horrifying journey, but nevertheless is one well worth taking. Buy it.

Also New This Week
The Grudge
“The Grudge” isn’t a movie so much as it’s a collection of all of the worst, stupidest, and most base tropes and clichés ever concocted by hack Hollywood directors. It’s a shame too, since the premise of “The Grudge,” about a vengeful spirit who attacks anyone who steps foot in a house, lends itself to mood, atmosphere, clever lighting, and creative camera work. Instead we get an assembly line of jump scares, screeches, and ghosts that seem to enjoy playing mind games with the movie’s characters. This is a film that insists on holding its audience by the hand and treating them like idiots and is downright insulting on top of being a very bad movie with a scattershot narrative.

But here’s the thing: A quick look on this movie’s IMDB page shows that it cost $10 million to make and took in a worldwide gross of $49.5 million, with $21 million of it from the United States alone. Let’s use the quick and easy estimate of doubling the budget to calculate the advertising cost and say that this movie cost the studio $20 million, all in. This means that it made up all of its money plus a little bit more in the United States alone, and the additional tens of millions that it made overseas were pure profit. This means that to a movie studio exec strictly looking at a balance sheet, “The Grudge” is a hit. To that point, I cannot argue. The numbers don’t lie. For my part, all I can do is point out that a movie’s box office is not a reflection of its artistic merit or worthiness to be seen. Trust me when I say that “The Grudge” has no merits, and you are better off to Skip it.

More New Releases
“Come to Daddy,” about a man in his thirties who travels to a remote cabin to reconnect with his estranged father, starring Elijah Wood; and “Shooting the Mafia,” documentary about Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who spent her career documenting the life and crimes of the Mafia.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.