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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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.

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.

Nolan looks to the stars in new “Interstellar” trailer.

Christopher Nolan has quickly established himself as a prominent, powerful and very profound filmmaker with works such as “Memento,” “The Prestige,” “Inception” and of course, his “Dark Knight” Trilogy. Today, a trailer for his new project “Interstellar,” was released online. All that can be gleaned from this trailer is that cryptic notion that Nolan wants to venture into the vast reaches of space with the leading character played by Matthew McConaughey. Let’s watch:

The film stars McConaughey, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Casey Affleck with a screenplay written by Jonathan Nolan. “Interstellar” will be released in November 2014.