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!

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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: Arrival

I like to believe that in the last few years, we as a culture have seen groundbreaking leaps forward in the genre of science fiction. Avatar in 2009, Inception in 2010, Gravity in 2013, Interstellar in 2014, The Martian in 2015 and this year, the tradition continues as Arrival arrives in theaters as the new generation of a powerful science fiction feature that is meant to shake viewers to the soul!

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Image by Paramount Pictures

Based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, Arrival stars Amy Adams as renowned linguistics expert Louise Banks who is thrust to the forefront of a military reconnaissance operation activated in effect of an unexpected and unprecedented moment: 12 unknown vessels have touched down in various parts of the world and the governments of the major powers are dumbfounded as to their purpose or their origin.

Banks, alongside physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, work to serve as intermediaries and translators to the visitors, who Ian has dubbed “heptapods”, in order to discover their intentions and why they arrived on Earth before someone, human or extraterrestrial, misinterprets the others’ actions as hostile and start something potentially cataclysmic.

If Interstellar was meant to be Christopher Nolan’s love letter to Stanley Kubrick and the iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, than Arrival is undoubtedly Denis Villeneuve’s love letter to the same film, but I felt that while Interstellar went a little overboard in it’s passion to its influence, Arrival implements to play on your suspense and emotions quietly and with a greater degree of finesse but the impact of seeing this extraordinary work play out before your eyes, hits you like a cannon and doesn’t apologize for it. I was awestruck!

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, beautifully adapted Chiang’s story into an intense and thought-provoking read about the gifts and perils of diplomacy, the need for international cooperation during times of crisis, what fear can do to humanity and above all, the power of words because what someone says and how someone says it could mean the difference between a friend and an enemy and I think that a message such as choosing the right words in the face of crisis is a message that everyone needs to remember right now, especially when the world is on pins and needles because of the events of this week.

In Amy Adams’ second cinematic stint of interacting with aliens this year, she propels the plot of Arrival as the most pivotal character in the story; the character who does her utmost to keep the military levelheaded while working to find common ground with the visitors who don’t know how to communicate with their new hosts; watching her grapple with her fear, her anxiety, her strength and patience, it is a profound performance in my eyes.

Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker supporting her are undoubtedly solid in their roles as Donnelly and Colonel Weber, who have their own reasons to know why these 12 landings happened and what the human race needs to do about it. The supporting cast of Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma andMark O’Brien, all contribute to the plot advancing to its ultimate conclusion.

I will say that Bradford Young, Joe Walker and Jóhann Jóhannsson, they deserve to take an epic bow for  their contributions to shape this picture and giving it such a “larger than life” dimension. The cinematography, the editing and the score must rank among the best of the year because it is artistic, precise and practically heart-stopping to absorb! Patrice Vermette’s production design, the art direction of Isabelle Guay, Jean-Pierre Paquet and Robert Parle, Renée April’s costumes, the visual effects, the sound quality and effects, Arrival is without doubt, one of the elite technical experiences I have seen this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed Prisoners, I thought the world of Sicario but Denis Villeneuve took his directors game to new heights with Arrival, which I will wholeheartedly expect to see garner a lot of love this awards season; this is justifiably one of 2016’s most excellent films!

Review: Now You See Me 2

Christopher Nolan’s magic-based thriller The Prestige, taught me that the second act of a magician’s performance is called The Turn, where the artist sets up the trick to lead to something profound and extraordinary. I suppose one could call Now You See Me 2 a turn of sorts, but I prefer to call it a superfluous turn of events.

The Four Horsemen established themselves as the greatest magicians in the world with a feat so ingenious, they made renowned magic buster Thaddeus Bradley a patsy, they robbed their benefactor Arthur Tressler, they made the FBI look like incompetent stooges and they gave their audiences what they deserved. One year later, the horsemen emerge from hiding, only to be lured into a trap set by a man named Walter Mabry, who seeks to utilize the horsemen’s talents as thieves/magicians to steal a piece of technology capable of rendering the privacy of millions upon billions of individuals inert.

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Image by Summit Entertainment

J. Daniel Atlas, Merrick McKinney, Jack Wilder, Lula May and their mentor Dylan Rhodes are drawn into a game where if they lose, they lose everything.

I will be frank: as a fan of the original Now You See Me, I was puzzled as to why a sequel was greenlit because with the way the film ended, there was no need for one but I suppose the producers saw enough material left over from the first to build a presumed trilogy for new director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Ed Solomon. In truth, Now You See Me 2 has plenty of slight of hand and thrills, but it was missing a very key element that made the first film so much fun: magic.

The first film focused emphasized the horsemen as magicians more than Robin Hood figures and allowed them to exercise their craft as showmen; the audience saw their tricks play out before they were broken down in detail by Bradley and reveled in the magic of the misdirect and the shifting perception. The perception certainly shifts in Now You See Me 2 but not in the way you expect.

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Image by Eva Rinaldi, via Wikimedia Commons

In this film, it felt as though the spotlight was on the horsemen’s ability as thieves more than magicians and the tricks and heists they pulled were dissected either before they did it or while they were doing it. Has Jon M. Chu ever heard of the old fable “A magician never reveals his/her secrets?” Apparently not because since the fun from the previous installment was sucked out of this excursion, Now You See Me 2 was reduced to a cheap run-of-the-mill heist thriller with a few light laughs, acceptable action, no surprise, just as amateur as a magic show performed by a 6 year-old who can’t keep his rabbit in the hat before he can pull it out. Disappointing to say the least.

Ed Solomon’s screenplay took the best of what Louis Leterrier, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt built on but in the end, failed to measure up. I was satisfied with how they introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character and phased out Isla Fisher’s but Solomon and Pete Chiarelli altered the formula so much, the authenticity from the first film was lost; there was no surprise, not so much of a twist or turn, the writing had a hand in a film that simply lacked any magic left from the first movie.

While I found Now You See Me 2 poorly executed many levels, it was fun watching the cast perform in this movie. Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe, all entertaining and the supporting roles of Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, Tsai Chin were relatively minor so it is difficult to gauge whether they made any impact at all.

I’m uncertain I can say whether any technical aspect about Now You See Me 2 left a positive impression on me. I found the cinematography of Peter Deming, the editing of Stan Salfas, the costume design of Anna B. Shepard, the production design of Sharon Seymour, very pedestrian. In some scenes, such as when Daniel Atlas controls the rain, there was a lot of visual flare that came off as very cool but, scenes such as those were far and few between.

Three years ago, I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me but the film had razzle-dazzle and I certainly enjoyed watching it. I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me 2, but I was hoping that I would have the same fun I did three years ago. I didn’t because I saw for myself that the magic was lost.

Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Joins Justice League

Image by No Entiendo el Final

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is at the doorstep of every theater, ready for release in the next few weeks. The film is primed to jumpstart the DC Comics Expanded Universe, culminating in the assembly of the world’s finest heroes: Justice League. Today, a major coup was announced in the form of Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons joining the film as one of Batman’s trusted allies, Commissioner Gordon.

The DC Comics character Commissioner James Gordon has been played by a slew of actors over the years, including Lyle Talbot in the 1949 series Batman and Robin, Neil Hamilton in the TV series Batman in the 1960s, Pat Hingle in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman movie franchise, and most recently, by Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight films

J.K. Simmons won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in one of my many personal favorites Whiplash in 2015. Like Oscar winner Ben Affleck, Simmons is an actor who made his mark under the Marvel film franchise banner. Like many, I believe his most memorable film role was his role as The Daily Bugle newspaper tycoon/President of the anti-Spider-Man fan club J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. All the same, I find this an exciting grab for Zack Snyder for Simmons is a terrific actor and I think he can bring the ideal demeanor for the grizzled leading officer for Gotham City’s finest. Justice League arrives in theaters on November 17, 2017 (Part One) & June 14, 2019 (Part Two). Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice arrives in theaters on March 25, 2015.

Review: The Walk

I’d like to begin this review by quoting one of my favorite Christopher Nolan movies. I borrow this from the Oscar nominated feature The Prestige, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

Image by Sony Pictures

I quote The Prestige because The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ cinematic love-letter to wire-walker extraordinaire Phillipe Petit, is established and orchestrated exactly like a grand magic trick with a twist of the appeal of a vintage heist movie thrown in.

The Walk takes audiences on a step-by-step journey with Petit, played enthusiastically and with aplomb by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as he searches for his dream, the ideal venue to hang his wire. Ironically it is after a magic trick gone awry that his journey to see his vision to life unfolds before him as he is compelled to take his wire from the streets of the City of Lights to the Big Apple. He lays his eyes upon a magazine rendering of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the plans form.

As his endeavor unfolds he gathers assistants, or as he prefers to call them accomplices, to make his dream a reality for his walk is not only dangerous, it is borderline illegal and he can’t do an undertaking of this scale alone. With the assistance of Papa Rudy, Annie, Jean-Louis, Jeff, Jean-Pierre, Barry, Albert and David, Phillipe Petit took the walk of a lifetime as he performed a high-wire act between the Twin Towers in 1974.

I had my reservations regarding The Walk going in, I didn’t want to see it in IMAX 3D, but my reservations were shattered and I admit seeing this film in IMAX 3D was worth it. The Walk is a marvelously entertaining and magical film to behold.

Image by David Shankbone (flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

Bravo Robert Zemeckis! He and fellow screenwriter Christopher Browne breathed life, Petit’s favorite word, from the pages of Petit’s book “To Reach the Clouds” and into this movie, which was visually and in terms of narrative and technical, downright splendid.

Particularly, I found the use of breaking the fourth wall a delightful mechanism to peer into the mind of Petit as his coup was unfolding step-by-step and that insight allowed audiences to empathize and sympathize with his character.

Personally, I believe that the audience can tell that Joseph Gordon-Levitt LOVED playing Phillipe Petit. I believe that he picked up on Zemeckis’ zeal for making this film and channeled that energy to deliver and impeccable performance. In addition, the supporting cast including Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel all give fine performances, but suffice to say that none of the actors was not the star of the show.

Image by Christopher William Adach from London, UK (WP – random_-5), via Wikimedia Commons

The stars of The Walk were Dariusz Wolski, cinematographer, Jeremiah O’Driscoll, editor, the sound team, the visual effects team, this was one of this year’s most visually breathtaking achievements. The entire spectacle took my breath away; everything is so subtle that it works sublimely, particularly when Petit is on the wire performing before the bewildered onlookers below.

Having said that I will say that this film had one particular flaw and that is the implementation of music. The Walk is weighed down by Alan Silvestri’s score that it dulls the sensation of suspense, when it needed to be at it’s sharpest.

When Petit is on the wire, walking into the void between the towers, I found the music accompanying the moment to be completely over-the-top and I felt that for the sake of suspense, this is what the entire film was building towards, the music should have been left out completely.

Maybe you can get the same wonder from it’s documentary counterpart Man on Wire, but The Walk cannot be taken for granted. It is truly a must-see movie, and I felt as though I watched a grand magic trick when the lights in the auditorium went up.

Review: Interstellar

We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, for our destiny lies above us.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is perhaps his most powerful cinematic feat to date.

Dissecting this line from Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey from the new film directed by Academy Award nominee Christopher Nolan can be interpreted in so many ways. It can be an ode to the pioneer nature of humanity; the ability to go further than the boundaries we set for ourselves, it can be interpreted as the director attempting to break barriers where before he simply scratches the surface but whatever this line signifies, it serves as the backbone of Interstellar.

Cooper plays a single father of two children, Murph and Tom, living on a farm under siege from endless waves of dust. With climate change and overpopulation, the planet Earth is well into its twilight phase, unable to produce the necessary resources to sustain life for the human race. A series of strange astronomical events lead Cooper to the remnants of NASA, led by a professor named Brand, played by Academy Award winner Michael Caine, who has spent decades trying to find a solution to the calamity facing mankind.

Brand informs Cooper that the only way to save the human race is to make use of a newly discovered wormhole that connects our solar system to a distant galaxy with planets capable of sustaining life and Cooper’s background as a NASA test pilot qualifies him, Brand’s daughter Amelia, played by Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway, and two other scientists named Romily, played by David Gyasi, and Doyle, played by Wes Bentley, to undertake an expedition to survey these planets and determine whether or not they are worthy of becoming the new Earth, but this expedition comes at a price. The time they take to survey this new system, could mean that an unforeseen amount of time could pass on Earth meaning that by the time they potentially complete their mission, decades could have passed on Earth and humanity could be deep in the grave they call a planet.

Written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, overseen by theoretical physicist and executive producer Kip Thorne, accompanied by the audaciously booming score of Hans Zimmer, photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema, and edited by Lee Smith, Interstellar is complex, confusing, extensive and stupendous in terms of story, scope, visuals, pacing and attention to detail.

Christopher Nolan has hailed this film as the most ambitious work he has ever attempted and that ambition simply gushes from the screen onto the audience. He and his brother painstakingly attempt to craft this beautifully sentimental story about a father who must leave his children to undertake a dangerous journey to give them a better future around actual scientific theory regarding wormholes, black holes, temporal-spacial distortions, gravitational fluctuations using dazzling visual and sound effects to craft one of the most relentless and outstanding cinematic events of the year.

Matthew McConaughey is in command of the expedition to a new galaxy in Interstellar

Nolan himself admits that he made this film on the inspiration of the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and that inspiration is not lost on the audience as he takes a lot of cues from that movie as well as two of the most acclaimed technical cinematic achievements of the last few years: Gravity and Life of Pi; Interstellar is the next film that aims to follow in the footsteps of these two celebrated works of cinema in terms of visual effects, cinematography, editing, sound quality to name a few. Interstellar is worthy to be in the pantheon of these great cinematic achievements and one of the best science fiction films released to date, particularly for its use in interpreting what these astronomical events can look like; astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson apparently liked how Interstellar tackles some of these theories and possibly held the film in better standing than Gravity.

The diverse cast of the film including McConaughey, Hathaway, Caine, Gyasi, Doyle, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Timothée Chalamet, Topher Grace, David Oyewolo, are probably the best acting ensemble on screen so far this year. For a movie that highlights the science, and considering Christopher Nolan is a director who prides himself on grounding everything in a realist realm, there area certainly some strong acting performances in this movie, especially from McConaughey, Hathaway, Caine and Chastain.

The issue with Interstellar is that it is perhaps the most overwhelming film of the year in terms of going into detail about everything. The Nolan brothers showcase their dedication, but this movie just simply overwhelms its audience with the sheer size and scope of its gravity over these details; audiences are so subdued by the experience of witnessing an excursion of this unprecedented magnitude, brains are figuratively reduced to a puddle of goo.

Take my word for it: This movie is meant to be seen in IMAX format! If you see Interstellar in IMAX, it will count as one of the greatest cinematic experiences you will ever see. This movie is built on the backbone of scientific theory, it is suspenseful, it is beautiful, it is larger than life and it is one of the best films of the year.