Dunkirk

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In the spring of 1940, well before the US joined the allied forces in WWII, things looked pretty grim for Europe. Germany had taken Poland, and had advanced into France, while England became a sitting duck. German forces pushed English and France armies to the brink, bringing them to the shores of Dunkirk, a beach along the coast of France. Christopher Nolan’s noble “Dunkirk” attempts to retell the evacuation attempt and rescue on that beach; for the most part, he achieves something unique: a war movie without a central narrative. It’s somewhat disjointed–which is on purpose–but that does bog down the dramatic elements of the film.

It’s split into three parts: The Mole (beach), which takes place over a week; The Air, which takes place over one hour; and, The Sea, which takes place over a day. Each parts, to me, represent three elements of the body: the head (The Mole), the heart (The Sea), and the muscle (The Air). Most of the sequences in the air are tightly shot, with dogfighting between Spitfires being the primary focus. There are some outside shots illustrating the scope of the fight; but mostly, we’re drawn right into one-on-one battles.

On the Mole, we’re introduced to two main characters: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and “Gibson” (Aneurin Barnard). Tommy is the sole survivor of his unit after being attacked by the Germans (who are never shown onscreen), in the town. He escapes and makes it onto the beach, encountering Gibson burying someone. Instead of having a conversation about it, they’re immediately whisked away to wounded as Germans keep bombarding the beach. They carry a stretcher to a boat with wounded, but are only just about to make it, after being turned away by officials. As stowaways, they are safe–until the ship is leveled and everyone is poured out into the water, and forced back to the beach.

The Sea features probably the strongest story in the film. A father, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), take their private yacht to Dunkirk to aid the evacuation. This was part of a huge project urged by Winston Churchill (also never shown onscreen), that civilians take part in aiding the stranded soldiers back to England. But Dawson, instead of having the Navy support him, takes his boat for himself to head his own rescue. George (Barry Keoghan), their teenage assistant, comes along. On their way, they pick up a wounded soldier who survived a U-Boat attack (Cillian Murphy). The soldier is shell shocked and extremely tense, insistent that he doesn’t want to go back to Dunkirk. Dawson continues on, to the dismay of the soldier, who winds up accidentally pushing George down and hurting him badly. The yacht eventually picks up a pack of soldiers either from downed planes or destroyed ships, and attempts to bring them back.

The Air has the most action, and as said above, tightly executed so it comes off very realistically and intense. Farrier (Tom Hardy) is the main focus as far as the characters, and seems to be the most accomplished fighter pilot. His mission is to stave off German fighters from attacking the ships trying to leave Dunkirk. His heroics are certainly some of the strongest of the film–and provides some of the much needed drama that’s lacking elsewhere.

That would be The Mole. While there certainly is plenty of ground to cover dramatically, we don’t get a real sense of intimacy from the characters. They’re just faces and mouths shouting at each other. Tommy is quiet, Gibson speechless; but another character, Alex (Harry Styles), barks and distrusts both of them as they all try to escape the beach in ill-fated attempts. Alex accuses Gibson of being a German spy since he won’t talk, and thinks Tommy is a traitor. But none of that really goes anywhere, and seems to be a waste of screen time. The other central figure on the beach is Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), who mostly paces around hoping for a miracle to happen. Branagh has the easiest part to play here, as the stoic commander just whispering “home” and watching as the ships come in.

The Mole represents “the head”, because it comes off as the more intellectual story. Trying to show these soldiers as literal rodents scampering and desperately surviving can be a useful metaphor; though, it’s not a full on allegory. But it has the most use of dialogue, even though there is a lot of silence among characters as well. But it falls flat as a narrative, since it really lacks a main character arc. The sea is the heart because the story of Dawson and his son, and mate George, is the most moving. And, seeing all of these ships from civilians come onto the beaches of Dunkirk to rescue their countrymen, is very powerful. I think the entire film could’ve revolved around this and been a stronger film. The air, of course, is where most of the best action comes from. The muscle, literally keeping this film in motion. Hardy is always reliable as an actor; and he pulls off Farrier extremely well.

The weaknesses of the film don’t outweigh the potency of its story and purpose; but, it could have been a much stronger picture. I think Nolan sometimes lingers on the pretentious, thinking he can do better than sentimentality–which is fine, except you need to fill that with something meaningful. “Dunkirk” suffers a bit from having too little emotional empathy at times. Besides that, some of the questionable music cues weigh down the film’s authority as well. In the air, I felt there was no soundtrack necessary. Just the whizzing and pops of the bullets, mixed with the whaling of the fighters, was enough. That part of the film is so raw anyway, that music was a distraction.

“Dunkirk” does succeed in telling a good story about faith and hope; it’s not the strongest WWII movie by any means, but it does serve its purpose telling a unique story. I think Nolan could have simplified the story–or, told it in either a trilogy of films or a miniseries of some kind. That would have given it more time to breathe, rather than constantly leave us breathless.

It’s still going to make you feel overwhelmed when you see those ships come to shore, however, and watch these brave soldiers come “home”.

My rating: :-)

Captain America: The First Avenger

July 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

I remember back in the summer of 1990, I was going to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the second time in the theatre, when I spotted a really cool looking poster for an upcoming movie. All it was was a shield, red white and blue. I recognized it immediately. It was Captain America.

In my youth, there was nary a superhero film (besides the “Superman” sequels)†until 1989’s “Batman”, so I was really excited. I thought, well if there’s going to be a movie for Captain America, then maybe they’ll make a Spider-Man movie, too!

Well, that poster was the last I heard of “Captain America”, the movie. It was only about a decade later when I read that the movie was such a bomb, it wasn’t even really released at all. Back in those days, Hollywood wasn’t about to spend money to churn out superhero movies the way they do now, like a fast food combo meal.

And so, my childhood was left with no “Captain America” movie. And now, into my thirties, I realize by seeing this 2011 film, that I wish I could go back to my childhood and take this film with me. If I were 11 years old again, I probably would have enjoyed the film thoroughly.

Instead, I was absolutely thoroughly bored with this film. Every simple-minded gag and plot device is utilized here. It’s just your average Rah-Rah Go America style action flick, and the lack of depth to the characters and plot would’ve been ignored had I been a kid, simply amazed and swept off my feet by the dazzling special effects. Instead, nothing worked for me.

The film is, like every other comic book movie, an origin story. And like most Marvel comic book heroes, this one is an underdeveloped kid who suddenly gets massive powers. He goes from being the Little Engine That Could to the Coors Light Train, blasting through enemies (who look like a cross between S&M†enthusiasts and the Cobra Command)†at a breakneck pace. He has a love interest, played dutifully by the amazingly beautiful Hayley Atwell, and he has a boss, played amusingly by Tommy Lee Jones. The only real waste of a good character actor is Hugo Weaving, who plays the main villain known as the Red Skull. He’s so paper thin and uninteresting, it’s really a shame. Captain America himself is played actually pretty well by Chris Evans, who has already had a comic book character attached to his name in his career. That’s another thing that’s strange to me: time was, a comic book hero that became a movie also became the identity of the actor. Christopher Reeve was Superman. That was it. But now, you’ve got actors who are appearing in several comic book movies as separate heroes. I wonder if kids know the difference, or care.

What does it matter anyway? We’re so inundated with comic book movies, they all start to look the same. I enjoyed “Thor” for what it was, and it was at least a bit different. But this movie is just your average, garden variety, run of the mill superhero movie; but it lacks heart and eagerness to please. It’s almost as if just because it’s Red, White, and Blue, we should cheer. It’s the Flag Waving Comic Book Hero Movie.

Well, I’m sure that will appeal to certain audiences. Count me out.

My rating: :(

Inglourious Basterds

August 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It doesn’t take much knowledge on world history to know what really happened in WWII, regarding Adolf Hitler. It’s pretty obvious Quentin Tarantino is trying to give a history lesson with his new film, “Inglourious Basterds”–but he is taking on quite a task: revisionist history for the purpose of Hitler getting his, the way he should have gone out. If you’ve seen “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), you get a real glimpse of what actually happened to Hitler in his final days (apparently he wasn’t too happy with things the Cubs did in their off season, either). But I won’t compare those two movies, because they’re different films and different forms of fiction. “Inglourious Basterds” is, at its heart, an action/adventure film with a wink and a smile.

If you’ve seen one Tarantino film, you’ve seen them all, in terms of his film style. This film is broken into 5 chapters, and each serves almost as its own separate short film, but it all comes together in the end. This film isn’t broken up in time the way “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservior Dogs” is but the narrative style follows the same pattern. And like all Tarantino films, the characters talk a lot. For me, it’s refreshing to see such energetic and delicious dialog being bounced back and forth, even if the scene is fifteen minutes long–you never feel it in a Tarantino film.

The plot itself follows more than the title suggests: while it does go through the story of the Inglourious Basterds (headed by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt who you can see has a lot of fun with this role), it also follows a survivor of a Jew Hunter Nazi colonel (played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who will certainly be looking at an Oscar nod next season). She escapes a farmhouse that housed her family once they are “snuffed out” by Colonel Landa, but stays in France and runs a cinema that has to play German films. But it’s one German film in particular that the film eventually revolves around. A pesky German private who attempts to woo this girl, named Shosanna (who has changed her name to Emmanuelle† since escaping the farmhouse), had a film made about him when he was a sniper in a bird’s nest and killed hundreds of enemies. His filmmaker? Joseph Goebbels. It also just so happens that this film will be viewed by Adolf Hitler himself.

A plan is hatched by the Basterds to sabotage this film festival, but Shosanna has plans of her own for revenge, and the entire film of “Inglourious Basterds” eventually reveals itself to be, in a sense, a film about revenge and needless violence that serves no purpose but selfish ones. Tarantino takes a very serious situation such as the German Occupation and only lightly touches on the Holocaust, smartly; and, he turns this into somewhat of a charming adventure story. The characters are very well drawn out, and charismatic. Even the scenes of long dialog has context of tension, and build up of suspense. While they may be meandering through meaningless chattering, it eventually culminates in some kind of a shootout or explosive pay off.

The film does offer a few twists in its plot that are interesting, but there were some pay offs I was waiting for that didn’t happen. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy the film any less, and overall this is Tarantino’s best work since “Pulp Fiction”. The climactic ending is more than worth the price of admission, and the events leading up to it are fun and engaging. There are a few weak performances (sorry, Eli Roth) but for the most part the acting is superb. Pitt offers some laughs, and Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent (who plays Shosanna) literally steal scenes.

But the film isn’t all fun and games, and some of the seriousness of what was going on at this time is given its due. The film’s themes of revenge being pointless, to me, are even more effective than in Spielberg’s sprawling but sputtering “Munich”. It clocks in at over two and a half hours, but if you’re a Tarantino fan, or a film fan in general, you will not feel the running time length.

It’s a shame that some of the better movies this summer have come at the end of it, but that’s why we have August I guess. I don’t see the point of August otherwise.

My rating: :D