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.

dunkirk-poster

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!

Advertisements

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!

arrival

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 Martian

Allow me to initially say that up until the yesterday, I grossly underestimated Ridley Scott’s new grand sci-fi, action-adventure drama. I underestimated The Martian, and paid a price I would proudly pay again and again and again because The Martian is the kind of edge-of-your seat thrill ride that would tempt spectators to see again and again and again.

Based on Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, The Martian stars Matt Damon in a role where his character needs to be rescued-gee that doesn’t sound familiar.

Image by 20th Century Fox

Damon is Mark Wattney, a botanist on a scientific research team under the employ of a company you may or may not have heard of: the National Aeronautic Space Administration. Wattney and his crew had a job to do on the fourth rock from the sun, until a vicious storm forced them to abort their mission and in an attempt to return to their shuttle, Wattney was hit by debris and presumed dead by his crew who had to get the hell out of dodge before the storm ended up killing them too. Here’s the kicker: Wattney survived.

Wattney has become the sole inhabitant on Mars and using nothing but grit, scientific ingenuity and all the means and resources at his disposal, he must survive on a planet where everything is practically lifeless and against all odds, contact Houston, a.k.a. the Johnson Space Center, and let his crew, NASA and the entire world know that he’s stranded and needs a ride home ASAP.

The Martian is the film that establishes to draw from and find common ground with three other Oscar winning cinematic ventures about survival, science and adversity. I was mesmerized by Life of Pi and it’s perplexing yet visually stunning tale of survival, Gravity rooted me to the spot with its amazing attention to detail in terms of its technical construction and Interstellar was a mind-blowing sci-fi space opera that dared to push conventions and somehow The Martian managed to pool inspiration from all three features and stand out to be one of the most entertaining and boldest films released this year.

Image by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Lately Ridley Scott has been hit-or-miss with the films he has made, but The Martian is a huge home-run and did a job well done bringing the right mix of drama, realism and spectacle. I was drawn in from the jump, I was at the edge of my seat as the film progressed, I was genuinely emotionally invested in this movie and I got everything I could hope for. I was very impressed.

Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Weir’s novel was brilliant and it’s easy to tell that NASA and the practical science that NASA implements was a major influence written into the film. It’s scientifically grounded but The Martian has heart as well and it’s simpler to digest and savor because it appeals to the brain and heart of audiences; that is a rare skill.

This film probably featured 2015’s best acting ensemble to date. It should go without mention that Matt Damon shined in this movie, this was perhaps as good as I’ve seen him in a film for a long time, but the rest of the cast was solid all around. Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig; what is so great about all of them is that the entire cast really bought into the plot. Meaning as the characters all learned about Wattney’s predicament, the synergy between them could be felt as they all rallied to an important cause, no one was higher or lower than anyone else and I found that to be a significant sell for The Martian.

Technically, I thought this was superior to Mad Max: Fury Road in every way-to all Fury Road groupies who read this, “yeah I said it!”

Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography was sublime, Pietro Scalia’s editing was top-notch and virtually seamless, Arthur Max’s production design was outstanding, the visual effects were incredible, the sound and sound effects were top-of-the-line, the costumes by Janty Yates were great, I thought the music by Harry Gregson-Williams was a little over-the-top but I enjoyed it. I thought the disco music was bold but it paid off.

Image by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t recall where but I saw a Tweet the other day about how Hollywood has invested a lot of money and resources into saving Matt Damon’s character in films, but those investments pay off because somehow filmmakers make an adventure into saving the damsel in distress that is Matt Damon’s character. It worked with Saving Private Ryan, it worked (to a certain extent) in Interstellar, and it works again with The Martian.

I am practically gushing over The Martian, a vintage out-of-this-world thrill ride that must be seen in theaters.

Movie of the Week: The Martian

Today NASA made a major announcement regarding finding something on our red next door neighbor in the solar system. This weekend, I will be seeing a feature involving NASA, Mars and Academy Award nominated actor Matt Damon in a role where his character is in need of rescuing (again). Ridley Scott’s new feature The Martian, stars Damon as Astronaut Matt Watney, who is mistakenly left for dead after a gnarly storm forces Watney’s crew to abort their manned mission on Mars. Watney is left stranded on the Red Planet and must use every resource and survival technique at his disposal to survive and alert NASA that he is still alive and incite a rescue mission to get him home.

What am I expecting to see?: Last week, I saw a few plot comparisons between Gravity and Everest. This week when I take a glance at The Martian, I see a few similarities to Gravity as well as Interstellar considering the plot and setting of Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi drama, based on Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, adapted to the screen by Drew Goddard. Ridley Scott’s recent films have been hit-or-miss but The Martian has been drawing a lot of acclaim and the cast is quite deep and diverse, including Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña, Kirsten Wiig and Sean Bean. The Martian seems like a movie to go into with low expectations considering Ridley Scott’s recent track record, but I will wait and see if this movie lives up to the hype it’s generating.

Awards Season 2015. Final thoughts?

Associated Press

J.K. Simmons (left), Patricia Arquette (center-left), Julianne Moore (center-right) and Eddie Redmayne (right) are the Oscars Class of 2015

Where to begin? All of the surprises, the snubs, the stars, the scripts, everything should speak for itself, yet it is tough to tell where to start. In all, I felt as if the films of 2014 were dealt a bad hand, because the films of 2014 were the Rolling Stones to the films of 2013, which would be James Brown; 2013 was a year in film that was a tough act to follow. Some movies came close, some not-so-much and now that the awards season for 2014 is over, I’m left with a few observations.

The good: Effort for starters; even though last year in film had a difficult task in trying to stand on the same level as the films of 2013, there was significant effort in last year’s movies. Some of 2014’s most acclaimed pictures got the recognition they deserved. New Academy Award winners such as J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette and Julianne Moore were locks to win their categories and they deserved their success. I’ll even throw in my congratulations to Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, even though I was pulling for Michael Keaton to win Best Actor, Redmayne deserves his win for an astonishing portrayal of Prof. Steven Hawking. I was thrilled to see Whiplash recognized for it’s editing, Selma and Interstellar got at least one Oscar while a bland and overrated film like Foxcatcher went home with nothing; there is at least something to be happy about last night. My highlight of last night had to be when John Legend and Common performed “Glory” and received a standing ovation; I saw that as the industry realizing their need for diversity and recognizing what they failed to initially see in the first place.

The bad: I will not lie, it was bittersweet watching Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) take home Best Director and Best Picture. I feel that Boyhood didn’t get the recognition it deserved from the Academy, it was a true cinematic labor of love to behold and though Birdman was a visionary accomplishment from Alejandro González Iñárritu, and his team of screenwriters, if a movie takes 12 years to make and makes cinematic history in the process it should be justifiably recognized and I was disappointed that it wasn’t. Also, Big Hero 6 was the WTF moment of last night. Whether the LEGO Movie was nominated for Best Animated Feature or not, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the best animated movie of last year in my eyes and yet the Academy honored, what I felt was Disney’s weakest animated venture in years. Also, the effect of the snubs could still be felt. Birdman should have been recognized for it’s editing (I know what people might say about the editing, but if you ask me, the best editing is the editing anyone can hardly recognize) as well as the score.When Alexandre Desplat took home the Oscar for Best Score, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that should have been Antonio Sanchez’s moment to shine.

I did not expect Lady Gaga to pull off that performance, Neil Patrick Harris did a nice job hosting and what happened, happened. Like the films of 2013, the 86th Academy Awards turned out to be a tough act to follow. The films of 2014 and the 87th Academy Awards gave a good effort, but failed to measure up.

And the Oscar for Best Original Score Goes To:

Winner: Alexandre Desplat-The Grand Budapest Hotel

By Depardiou (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Congratulations to Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nominees:

  • Alexandre Desplat-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alexandre Desplat-The Imitation Game
  • Hans Zimmer-Interstellar
  • Gary Yershon-Mr. Turner
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson-The Theory of Everything