Review: Dunkirk

The man who gave audiences Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige and Interstellar returns to take audiences back in time to a small, but not insignificant chapter in the history of World War II.

Nazi Germany has enveloped 400,000 French and British soldiers to the beaches of Dunkirk and the possibility of escape is practically perilous in every direction. Pinned to just one location, the enemy takes their time picking off their forces and destroying whatever hope of escape in their wake. Land, sea and air, the Allied Forces are in a bind, and the British government at the order of Prime Minister Churchill has little alternative but to requisition and commandeer civilian water craft to travel across the channel and bring their boys home.

Christopher Nolan’s take on these accounts is segmented into three perspectives on this account of history. The Mole follows a young French and British soldier navigating the beaches trying to find someway back home; The Sea features a father and son and a friend in their sea vessel crossing the channel upon hearing the order to rescue as many men as they can; The Air follows two fighter pilots soaring through the skies above the madness, shooting down German fighter planes bent on sinking anything that floats. These three perspectives all tie together to illustrate the power of the human instinct of survival. These three perspectives are the crux of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

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Image by Warner Bros. and Syncopy

Nolan told this story in three parts; I will describe this movie in three words: elegant, explosive and unyielding.

Going into this movie, I was concerned that Nolan’s take on this war story would be too clean and that might hinder its appeal as a war movie when compared to a classic war dramas such as Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker or last year’s Oscar winning Hacksaw Ridge because those movies truly captured the essences of war; the gore, the graphic imagery, the bloodshed, the need to illustrate that war is hell upon seeing it unfold all around the characters for the audiences to witness themselves. Dunkirk was my boom or bust movie of the year and after seeing it, in IMAX which is the way it was intended to be seen, this movie went BOOM! A loud, resonating BOOM upon the senses that did not let up in the slightest!

My concerns going into this movie? Decimated as I watched it unfold before my eyes! Just because Nolan didn’t go excessive on bloodshed, doesn’t mean he hindered this movie; you don’t need blood or grandiose practical effects to illustrate the horrors of war! Every time a bullet fired, I jumped. Every time I saw a bomb go off or a missile or a torpedo down a ship, I was jolted. Every time a dogfight happened in the sky, I held my breath! Every time the situation became more and more dire in these three arcs, the tension just kept building and building and the suspense was as remorseless like the wind and rain in a hurricane! Nolan just brought his strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller to depict a “back against the wall” situation where individuals had to use whatever resources they could to see tomorrow and the need for bodily harm or horror was not necessary in the slightest to accomplish that.

What’s more impressive about Dunkirk is that the enemy’s presence is felt rather than seen. From the first frame, audiences see the little fliers floating from the sky onto the soldiers saying “We surround you!” you don’t see the enemy, but the presence of danger is felt every second and the tension of this film feeds off that tension for strength.

Nolan intended for Dunkirk to be seen as a story of survival and he wrote and executed this core aspect of the picture with extraordinary distinction! The focus of Dunkirk was never about winning, it was about bringing these soldiers home from extreme danger and knowing that in surviving, they were victorious! I had my doubts whether or not he could pull this off but with this powerful script, impeccable execution, the stunning cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema, the awesome music of Hans Zimmer giving this picture atmosphere where dialogue is scarce, the sound effects, Lee Smith’s editing which came together beautifully as the film went on, Nathan Crowley’s production design, Dunkirk is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking and should become the crown jewel in Christopher Nolan’s body of work so far.

This movie isn’t so much about the actors but what the actors do in the film, in these roles. The collection of Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles all do a solid job with the parts they have been given, but the true star of the show is the suspense and the tension that fills up the screen when all of the technical aspects behind the camera come together.

Dunkirk is elegant is how it is shown and heard on screen but the subject matter is brimming with explosive technical execution, resulting in an unyielding cinematic experience that should not be missed! It is the most phenomenal experience I have had this year at the movies!

Movie of the Week: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan has been one of my favorite filmmakers for years. Whether it is Memento, his prolific Dark Knight trilogy, the ingenious Inception or the spectacular Interstellar, his movies always incite discussion, excitement and fervor among fans, critics and students of cinema. This week, Nolan’s newest project Dunkirk arrives in theaters, attempting to live up to the legacy and adhere to the expectations Nolan has set for himself. In the throws of WWII, 400,000 soldiers are trapped on a beach in Great Britain and the enemy is closing in ready to finish them off. With no way out, there is only one path toward victory: surviving the ordeal before them.

Director and Writer: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Damien Bonnard, Jack Lowden and James D’Arcy

What am I expecting to see?: It is true that I have been looking forward to Dunkirk, because I am a fan of Nolan’s films, but I believe this is the biggest boom or bust movie of the year because of a multitude of reasons. For starters, as far as war pictures go, this looks clean compared to a film such as Hacksaw Ridge, also I’m unfamiliar with the story of this battle or campaign and it’s significance in World War II. Nolan also claims that this is a survival story but the fact that it is set in war time with war iconography is something I cannot wrest away. I’m looking to be educated and surprised by Dunkirk; it has much to prove.

 

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

To be honest, I was going into War for the Planet of the Apes with an idea of what I was in for. Based on what I’ve read, what I’ve seen and heard about the film up to that point, I thought audiences were going into a film where Caesar would be leading his species in an all out assault to preserve their survival against what is left of mankind, yet I was unprepared for what really was in store.

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Image by 20th Century Fox

Essentially, War occurs two years post-Dawn and well distant from the events that transpired in Rise but not totally disconnected. After Caesar suffers an unimaginable loss that rocks him to his core, he takes it on himself to journey across the wintery wilds to find a man called The Colonel and kill him. Caesar is aided by his most trusted simian companions, Maurice, Luca and Rocket and pick up a few stragglers along the way in the peculiar Bad Ape and a mute girl who is later dubbed Nova; this journey to find the Colonel fills Caesar with inner turmoil to hold on to the principles he held so dear to him or embrace the darkness within himself to exact his vengeance, like Koba did. This inner battle within the first super ape is the War that takes center stage in the film.

Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of the film, impressed me in bringing Caesar grand story to a stirring finish in the fashion that he did. Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story with heavy biblical references to allow their protagonist to shine in the brightest way they could and truly cement his legacy as his story comes full circle.

Essentially, the Planet of the Apes franchise in its entirety is a story about hubris; how living creatures create their own undoing and there is a success in how this story, Caesar’s story, was told. In War, Caesar wrestles with his darkness brought on by immense grief, he suffers like Christ suffers, he led his species to freedom as Moses did, every action he takes in this movie, shapes the course of his future and the future of his apes and this story leaves a profound and thought-provoking experience with audiences and it resonates when they leave the theater.

I especially took pleasure in how the film handled Caesar’s relationship with Nova. Before the two meet, Caesar dives right into his inner demons to the point where he is almost apathetic, remorseless and bloodthirsty but Nova reminds him of the humanity inside him and how that humanity has kept him from becoming Koba; in a way that theme of humanity and hubris tied all of the films together.

Andy Serkis’ performance is once again, high caliber! The CGI visual effects are just a costume but he breathes life into his characters and audiences are taken for an emotional ride with his performance as Caesar. From the moment, Caesar makes his presence known in the picture, everyone becomes invested; Serkis commands the screen as this character and doesn’t let up for an instant!

Woody Harrelson is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the vicious and bloodthirsty Colonel. Steve Zahn is a hoot as Bad Ape, Amiah Miller is terrific as Nova, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, Alessandro Juiliani and Toby Kebbell were all outstanding in the roles they played.

Michael Giacchino’s score, Michael Seresin’s cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design, William Hoy and Stan Salfas’ editing were all very satisfying. The visual effects were as elite as you might see all year.

I went into War for the Planet of the Apes expecting something totally different but I was completely washed away by how emotionally resonating, thought-provoking and creatively assembled this movie was. You won’t be flat out excited by it, but you will be immersed in how Caesar cements his legacy and how his tale comes to a close.

The Planet of the Apes franchise finishes on a very strong note.

Movie of the Week: War For the Planet of the Apes

The epic conclusion to the legend that is Caesar is coming to a close this weekend. The first of the super-apes has inherited the sins of the wicked Koba and now what is left of mankind has dispatched a military force to quell the threat the apes possess. Caesar led his species to freedom in Rise, he did all that he could to maintain that peace in Dawn, but now that seems so long ago. For his home, his family, his future, Caesar has finally embraced the fact that now is the time to fight for his future and this is War. This is the war that will determine who is the superior species on Earth. This is the war that will shape the course of the future going forward. The War For the Planet of the Apes has begun!

Director: Matt Reeves

Screenwriters: Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Max Lloyd-Jones, Gabriel Chavarria, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite and Devyn Dalton.

What am I expecting to see?: I have enjoyed this rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise thus far and from what I’ve heard regarding this film in the past few weeks, is that War For the Planet of the Apes is the best one yet and could be the best film to come out this summer! I expect this movie to do what every final installment in a trilogy should do: tie everything together and turn up the intensity another notch. I expect Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson to command the screen and this movie to be technically elite in every aspect. I’ve been looking forward to War for the Planet of the Apes for a long time.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I went into Spider-Man: Homecoming similar to how I approached Guardians of the Galaxy years ago. With this character getting a third cinematic reboot, with another actor portraying him, I felt that this was getting exhausting; Spidey needed a break from movies and I felt that audiences needed a break from Spider-Man movies but when Kevin Feige seized a chance to integrate the character into the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe-the Avengers Initiative-I thought “what the hell?”

And so, Tom Holland made his web-slinging debut in Captain America: Civil War and did a great job I might add, which led him to Homecoming, a film by Jon Watts chronicling Peter Parker’s efforts to prove himself to his mentor/benefactor Tony Stark that he is hero enough to stand with Earth Mightiest. This teenager, takes it upon himself to thwart a string of robberies orchestrated by a disgruntled and disillusioned superhero-mess cleaner named Adrian Toomes, armed with advanced weaponry derived from the Battle of New York from so many years ago.

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Image by Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures

For the weeks leading up to this, I tempered my expectations for this movie because every live-action Spider-Man movie from the woefully executed Spider-Man 3 to the underwhelming failure that was The Amazing Spider-Man franchise highlighted that the wall-crawler has indeed hit a wall when it comes to movies. Coming out of the theater, I acknowledged that I truly underestimated this movie and the players involved in shaping it; Tom Holland, Jon Watts and the screenwriting team including Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers won me over; this movie made Spider-Man great again!

The approach to actually have a teenager portray a teenage superhero paid off; the influence of classic 1980s cinema like Ferris Bueler’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club was felt; the fact that this film knew its place within the grand scheme of the Avengers Initiative was very playful and overall, the writing and execution of Spider-Man: Homecoming was authentic, fresh, relatable and fun!

Tom Holland made a believer of me when he swung into Captain America: Civil War in the red and blue suit and when the spotlight shined on him, he didn’t shrink away; he embraced this role and delivered as Peter Parker. The supporting cast of Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Marissa Tomei, Abraham Attah, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Hannibal Burress, Michael Churness, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine and familiar faces such as Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Chris Evans and Gwyneth Paltrow all got in on the fun in this movie.

Michael Giacchino’s score was thrilling, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography was crisp and savvy, Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental’s editing was very good, Oliver Scholl’s production design was rock-solid, Louise Frogley’s costume design was excellent, the visual effects were amazing and convincing, the story and script was sharp and smart and overall, I loved how this movie was shaped and constructed.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was funny, thrilling, creative, relevant and relatable to audiences and I thought that this movie really did justice by its title character in a way the previous films could not. Spidey set out to prove himself that he could hang with the Avengers and establish himself as a true hero and in this movie, credited to writer/director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland, he accomplished just that. Very well done and very well recommended!

Movie of the Week: Spider-Man: Homecoming

The Marvel Cinematic Universe rolls on this weekend with a new version of New York’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler ready to take the silver screen. Remember when Tony Stark went to Queens to recruit a bright teenager to help him bring in Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier? Since the implementation of the Sokovia Accords which led to the schism between the Avengers, Tony Stark has taken this talented young man under his wing so to speak. This young man’s name is Peter Parker and he is ready to take what he has learned since he stood with Iron Man to try to stop Captain America and take the next step as a hero. With Earth’s Mightiest Heroes split, New York now turns to Spider-Man for protection in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Director: Jon Watts

Written by: Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Robert Downey Jr. Marissa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Michael Keaton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Abraham Attah, Bokeem Woodbine and Chris Evans

What am I expecting to see?: Spider-Man is the one Marvel hero I wish would get a break from the movies since Homecoming is the third time the character has been rebooted for a feature-length film but based on Holland’s debut as Spidey in Civil War and the initial reports on the reviews that I’ve heard up to this point, it looks like this take on Spider-Man is a winner! Phase Three of the MCU has been firing on all cylinders and I don’t expect Spider-Man: Homecoming to slow that momentum at all!

Review: Baby Driver

When people start talking about a movie, particularly a movie that is getting a lot of praise, I feel compelled to look into it myself to see if it is worth all that it is receiving. That is the case this week since Edgar Wright’s new film has rolled into theaters and I managed to attend a screening of this film about a boy in the fast lane, slowed down by a pretty face, steered onto a rough road by shady characters and racing towards a sunset. Here’s a quick look at what Baby Driver has to offer.

That’s right! A heist thrill ride with a sharp cast, savvy writing, bold execution, killer chase sequences, driven by a sweet sense of rhythm and swagger with an eclectic soundtrack as its engine. Edgar Wright is in the driver’s seat of one of the most original and entertaining flicks of 2017!

Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, the best getaway driver in the ATL who rides blaring his own playlist and drives in the services a crime boss named Doc, whom he owes a debt. Baby is set to get out of the life when he meets a sweet waitress named Deborah and they make plans to ride out of the lives they know and never look back but Baby is compelled by Doc to pull off one last job before he makes his getaway.

From the starting line to the finish line, Baby Driver is a slick flick with great characters, a story with plenty of twists and turns, and impeccable attention to detail! This movie held my attention throughout and I couldn’t have been more impressed by it!

This is a standout cast of actors playing very cool characters. Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Lily James, CJ Jones, Lanny Joon and Flea round out one of the best acting ensembles I’ve seen in the movies this year!

The music by Steven Price and the soundtrack steal the show! Almost every frame had a song in the background that just fit the moment to a tee! Whether it was “Easy,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Brighton Rock,” “Tequila,” “Debra,” “Egyptian Reggae,” or “Bellbottoms” when there was action or a scene or sequel that was pivotal to the plot, the right song gave the film a great sense of atmosphere for that moment and I’ve never seen anything like that before in a motion picture.

The camerawork and cinematography by Bill Pope was stellar and the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss was dynamic and precise to the point of picture perfect! Visually, nothing felt lost or out of step in this movie!

I also give credit to Marcus Rowland and his production design, Nigel Churcher and Justin O’Neal Miller and their art direction, Lance Totten and his set decoration and Courtney Hoffman and her costume design. More importantly, I must give credit where credit is due and that must go to the writer and director of this wild, original and masterfully executed thriller. Edgar Wright delivered a masterpiece!

I didn’t go into Baby Driver with much of anything but after bearing witness to everything it had to offer, I came out pleased! This is perhaps, the best film I’ve seen so far this year!