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.

 

Tom Hardy is a web-slinging anti-hero!

A few weeks ago, Sony Pictures announced that the Marvel character and Spider-Man antagonist Venom would be featured in a standalone spinoff set to arrive in theaters sometime next year. The fan-favorite character has already made his big-screen debut in the disappointing blockbuster Spider-Man 3, portrayed by Topher Grace, but this project is seen as an opportunity for Sony to get the character right and potentially usher in a new anti-hero universe based on Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.

News has broken that names have now been confirmed to sign on for the spinoff. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer will direct and Oscar nominee Tom Hardy is set to star in film.

Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner, the latter of whom worked on 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, wrote the script for Venom. Plot details are being kept in the black but Hardy, who is said to be a Venom fan, will play Eddie Brock, the character who first became Venom.

Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are producing along with Amy Pascal.

The internet is calling this casting a coup and I can’t help but agree. Hardy is an excellent actor who is a year removed from his first Oscar nomination in The Revenant and has starred in action and drama movies a plenty including Inception, Warrior, has a superhero movie under his belt already portraying the sinister Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, rode through the wasteland in Mad Max: Fury Road and will star in the upcoming Dunkirk; I can’t help but be impressed by Hardy’s body of work thus far and I look forward to seeing him give life to this tragic and deadly character. Venom is set to snare an audience on October 5, 2018.

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: The BFG

The literary imagination of Roald Dahl has yielded classical adventures such as James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I never had the opportunity to read the books but I watched the films and I enjoyed them all.

As a film lover and blogger, I honestly admit that I have not seen all of Steven Spielberg’s work but I know most of what he has done and his range as a visual storyteller certainly lives up to his lofty and prestigious reputation. Be it a matter of a frightening nature such as Jaws or Jurassic Park, something profound such as Schindler’s List, Lincoln or Bridge of Spies, something playful and adventurous like Hook or Raiders of the Lost Ark, he will find the right aesthetic to highlight the story’s strong suits.

The words and imagination of Roald Dahl, the perspective of Steven Spielberg and the influence of Disney have converged to bring The BFG to the big screen. The film begins with child abduction and ends with the most absurd paramilitary campaign audiences will ever see and yet I for one could not help but to be taken by the most delightfully innocent family feature I have seen in a long time.

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Image by Disney

Little insomniac orphan Sophie glances out her window and sees a wonder beyond imagination and she is whisked away to a magical realm called Giant Country by a 24 feet tall gentle giant, who is dubbed “Runt” by his taller, meaner goliaths who venture into Great Britain, abduct children themselves and eat them. “Runt,” who will be christened “BFG”-abbreviation for Big Friendly Giant-by Sophie, prefers eating vegetables, particularly a rather unpleasant-looking giant cucumber and his pastime is catching dreams-not the type of dreams you’d see in Inception, but rather the essence of dreams-and throughout the film, his good nature, his charming rapport with Sophie and his peculiar grasp of vocabulary is on display and the film simply shines!

Is this Steven Spielberg’s best film to date? No, but this does definitely count as a Spielberg tale that children and adults will love.

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Image By Romain DUBOIS, via Wikimedia Commons

I suppose what makes this film something special, aside from Spielberg’s simplistic approach to the subject, is the rapport between leading performers Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. Rylance is certainly taking advantage of the wondrous opportunity working with Spielberg and his take as the BFG is heartwarming, sincere and funny, while Ruby Barnhill is no slouch herself; for a newcomer, she is captivating, engaging, she doesn’t allow the spotlight to make her feel as small compared to Rylance and as I was watching the two of them interact, whether they are catching dreams, eating breakfast with the Queen, sneaking in-and-out of London during the witching hour, they certainly enjoyed working with each other and I feel as though they brought out the best in each other.

I also credit the writing of this film. The late Melissa Mathison has a history with working with Spielberg and she knew how to get to the meat of Dahl’s story and craft something only Spielberg could breathe life into; watching the story of The BFG unfold, the writing just comes so naturally and it touches on something truly pure.

I also couldn’t help but notice John Williams’ musical contribution to the film and the score was a pure positive for the film as well.

The supporting cast including Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Adam Godley, Michael Adamthwaite, Daniel Bacon, Jonathan Holmes, Chris Gibbs, Paul Moniz de Sa, all have relatively small roles compared to Rylance and Barnhill but the best is brought out in all of them.

The cinematography of Janusz Kaminski is practically simple but beautiful to behold, Michael Kahn’s editing is smooth and seamless, Rick Carter’s production design is splendid, Elizabeth Wilcox’s set design is marvelous, Joanna Johnston’s costumes are on point, the visual effects are up there with some of the best I’ve seen this year, The BFG is one of the most technically grounded films of 2016.

I didn’t expect to like The BFG as much I did but I couldn’t help it. The charm of these characters, the attention to detail, the craftsmanship put into this film were on full display and surely and steadily I was won over and I encourage readers to see The BFG in theaters because, I reiterate, it is delightfully innocent to behold.

The BFG is just another triumph this year released under Disney’s banner. It is a great change of pace for what is out in theaters now and audiences of all ages will go home happy because of it.

 

Review: Ant-Man

Image by Marvel

Marvel can officially close the books on Phase Two of its Avengers Initiative now that “The Insect” has come and gone with his installment. Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as the title character, a thief who is recruited by a prominent scientist to steal dangerous technology that could propel the world down a chaotic spiral, using a suit powered by particles capable of reducing his size but augmenting his strength.

Ant-Man may seem clumsy and tad bit sloppy in terms of it’s narrative storytelling but there is no denying that this is perhaps the slickest superhero movie since Iron Man. This had heart, humor, the action was very sturdy, it was visually splendid and I enjoyed Ant-Man from start to finish.

Director Peyton Reed was asked to step in after Edgar Wright walked away from the project due to creative differences with Marvel, but Reed truly held on to the integrity that Wright was working to achieve and kept the foundation of Wright’s vision intact through the screenplay, co-written by Wright, Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and star Paul Rudd.

What I truly enjoyed about Ant-Man: continuity. This movie knows where it stands in the Avengers Universe, post-Age of Ultron yet left enough Easter Eggs for what is to come in Phase Three, even though I felt this was worthy enough to be the primary installment of Phase Three; I also liked the fact that Michael Douglas’ character Hank Pym is given his proper due with this franchise as his character was the original Ant-Man and one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics, but in this movie he was an integral member of S.H.I.E.L.D. in his early days until he left to keep his tech from falling into the wrong hands.

By Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV from Culver City, USA, via Wikimedia Commons

Rudd’s character Scott Lang, is not only just the hero but he’s a hero you can actually relate to and root for. He just out of prison only to have a rough time trying to get his life together, find a job, reconnect with his daughter, try and avoid a life of crime, I just related to his character somehow because I’m trying to make out here myself and it isn’t easy.

Then you have the characters that I’m not really certain to feel about, in this case the characters of Hope, played by Evangeline Lily, and Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll. Hope is Pym’s daughter who bears resentment towards her father because of the circumstances of her mother’s death and Cross is Pym’s former protege determined to take everything away from his former mentor no matter the cost. Hope has her strong points, but her character seems so vapid and there doesn’t appear to be much to her except her daddy issues and Cross is just a cheap excuse for a bad guy who doesn’t really get interesting until he puts on the Yellowjacket suit.

The rest of the cast including Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Michael Peña, T.I., Martin Donovan, David Dastmalchian, were either characters who were reduced to props with no discernible dimension of their own or characters that I didn’t much care for. Abby Ryder Forston, who played Lang’s daughter, was cute considering the material she was given, but still falls under that category. In fact, I think some of the CGI ants in this movie were more significant and lively than most of the actors in this movie.

Will I say Ant-Man is the best superhero movie released this year? Unfortunately, no. Age of Ultron will not be dethroned yet, but I will say that the savvy that went into the production of this picture was fresh enough to make me see past the blemishes and say that this is one of the most enjoyable films released to date.

When it comes to heist movies, don’t expect anything on a sophisticated scale a la Inception or American Hustle. Ant-Man‘s premise to use an army of ants to steal the Yellowjacket suit before it falls into the wrong hands is a premise that you know that you can’t take seriously but it seems like a stretch in of itself. Maybe because of the film’s genre or the fact that it doesn’t feel as if the stakes aren’t raised high enough; it’s just a touch shallow in the wrong places.

Peyton Reed had to step in after the fallout between Marvel and Edgar Wright, but he gave a solid effort directing this movie; I truly thought the film was paced nicely and he allowed the action to take the spotlight when the action needed to and the same could be said for the humor.

I liked the screenplay, I liked the visual effects, I thought Russell Carpenter’s cinematography and camera effects fit what this movie and what moviegoers were looking for when it comes to a superhero who can change his size, Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr.’s editing wasn’t world class but it was convincing for this movie.

There’s a saying:

It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.

-Sidenote: I do not condone animal cruelty in any way, shape or form

Ant-Man may be the Insect of the Avengers Initiative, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in strength. Not overwhelming strength but respectable. After all, he embarrassed a new Avenger in a fight. That’s respectable.

Marvel mainstay returns while DC is a man down (updated)

Tom Hardy had to forfeit his role as Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad

Even though I’ve been busy covering all of this awards hysteria, I have been keeping my ear to the ground regarding upcoming projects that I’ve had my eye on. I had to hold off on reporting some news regarding an upcoming DC cinematic venture that broke yesterday because I was venting about the Oscar nominations and preparing for the Critics Choice Award. So, now seems as good a time as any to report that Tom Hardy had to bow out of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Scheduling conflicts had to force the Inception and Dark Knight Rises star to bow out of the star-studded film about notable DC Criminals and supervillains who do dirty work for the U.S. government. Hardy was slated to play Rick Flagg, a U.S. Colonel who has a hand in assembling the Squad and tries to get them in line to do their duty, even though the Suicide Squad is loaded with criminal and psychotic egos constantly clashing. Reports are circulating that Jake Gyllenhaal could possibly reunite with Ayer, they worked together on the film End of Watch, and fill the roster spot but nothing has been confirmed as of yet. Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 6, 2016 starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevigne, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis and Jesse Eisenberg.

Scarlett Johansson will be back as Black Widow

DC lost a talented actor in Tom Hardy for Suicide Squad, yet Marvel is reporting that familiar faces will be back for one of its upcoming installments. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow will return to the The Avengers Initiative in Captain America: Civil War. The Russo Brothers, who will return to direct the sequel to Winter Soldier, announced that the S.H.I.E.L.D., well former S.H.I.E.L.D., spy/master assassin will return to play a role in the major Phase Three installment, which will not only pit Avengers Captain America and Iron Man against each other due to this new Superhero Registration Act, but introduce Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, King of the African Nation of Wakanda, a.k.a Black Panther. The directors also announced that Sebastian Stan will return to portray Bucky Barnes, now known as the Winter Soldier. Captain America: Civil War should be considered a mini-Avengers at this point, considering so many heroes are at the center of the action. The film is scheduled for release on May 6, 2016 starring Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Daniel Brühl, who was tapped to play the unknown villain a few months ago, and also Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper will return to reprise their roles as Peggy Carter and Howard Stark.

Update: Joel Kinnaman, has been cast to replace Hardy as Rick Flagg. Kinnaman starred in the recent remake of RoboCop last year.