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Dunkirk – A Review

debs36zvoaad9xrDunkirk is the most stressful movie I’ve seen all year. It starts with a ticking soundtrack, with a loud, drawn out retreat from gunfire and then doesn’t stop, even for a second.

The movie takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, in World War II before America became involved. Over the course of the film, we follow four stories; fighter pilots coming to provide air support, civilian ships coming to help with the retreat, soldiers trying to make their own escape and officers trying to get as many people off the beach as they can.

Director Christopher Nolan uses a time shift throughout the movie, switching between stories, which then gives us multiple points of views of the same events. It’s a technique that allows for the most stress-inducing ways to to watch the movie, giving Nolan the ability to go back and forth between near-death experiences by the minute.

screen-shot-2017-05-05-at-12-40-00-pm1All the performances are strong, with most actors going for a minimalist style. It helps with the desperation, that all of these soldiers are so worn out from waiting for the next bomb to drop that emoting is a thing of the past. Tom Hardy, one of the pilots we follow, is behind a mask the whole time, forcing the actor to express everything with only his eyes. I don’t think I realized how much Hardy could convey that way, even with his take on Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy’s story is also the one I found the most heart wrenching. His choices and story lead to some of the most inspiring and frustrating moments of the movie. Mark Rylance gets to show a little bit more emotion, playing a man just trying to do his part in a hopeless situation. It’s Cillain Murphy who gets to be the most emotional, though. Murphy’s a soldier who almost gets away from Dunkirk but, due to Rylance picking him off a sinking ship, has to contend with heading back in that very direction.

I should point out that I have no idea what Harry Styles looks like so I can’t say if he was good or not. Since no one gave a bad performance, I can assume he did fine. He doesn’t stand out for those of us who don’t have his poster on our walls.

596fbd94198d7-imageNolan has a a clear and widescreen eye and he films a war movie that looks unlike anything that’s come before. Where other films have made us feel as if we’re following troops on the ground, Dunkirk also shows how tiny someone can appear during these great events. At the same time, Nolan does create moments where we feel on the ground but it’s different than something like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t feel like we’re following the characters through these events, but that we’re experiencing them as well. That’s one of Nolan’s great strengths, creating immersive movies that feel like events rather than just a viewing. I was stressed because I felt like I was sinking with the ships, like I was avoiding being shot down.

Helping create that experience is Hans Zimmer’s score. While he does use more traditional music every now and then, Zimmer employs a constant ticking throughout the movie, along with an ostinato of strings that somehow seems to only ever speed up. Alone, the soundtrack would make you anxious. With Nolan’s film, it’s almost too much. And, while other Nolan films may suffer from weird sound mixing choices, they only add to the Dunkirk experience. Bullets sound unstoppable, water sounds crushing, planes sound like harbingers of mercy or doom.

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Dunkirk is a perfect movie-going experience, though not a fun one. It’s a movie that should be seen in theaters so that you can be fully immersed in it’s story, in it’s cinematography, in it’s sound. I don’t know how the movie will hold up during a second viewing, as I’ve only ever seen Inception and Interstellar once each. But Dunkirk should be seen, if only ever once, because it will be an experience you won’t forget, It’s one of the best movies of the summer and will probably end up being one of the best movies of the year. If this is the future of Nolan’s career, I can’t wait for his next film.

War for the Planet of the Apes – A Review

apesposterRise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movie going experiences of the last ten years. I wanted to see it, but in no way did I think it was going to be good. Even when the reviews dropped, I had no real idea what to expect. I was taken aback by the movie. The “NO!” moment of Rise made my jaw drop, it was so shocking and thrilling. It was, and still is, a fantastic film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a stressful one, because everything you want to happen goes wrong. The conflict between the fading humans and “dawning” apes of the movie felt like it was tipping over for two hours and was intense with little relief. It’s an impressive sequel, and darker as well.

And with that we come to War for the Planet of the Apes. The first thing to mention is that this third film is bleaker than the last two. This isn’t a triumphant, crowd pleasing series topper. It’s dark, depressing and the light at the end of the tunnel feels dimmer than one might hope to see.

The movie opens with a battle between human military and an ape fort. The military is out to end the ape problem once and for all, hoping to kill the simian leader (and hero of the series) Caesar. When Caesar offers peace once more and things go wrong again, it’s time for treaties to end. Caesar gets selfish and, of course, things don’t work out and the rest of the movie is about Caesar trying to amend his mistakes.

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Did I mention the movie is bleak? It’s winter, so the movie is full of dead landscapes and gray skies. The world feels like it’s fading away. The people left alive aren’t the best humanity has to offer. Even the apes feel directionless, trapped between annihilation or all out war.

The movie also spends a lot of time in a military base that really brings the dark. Cages, work forces, fanatics with omega tattoos. Director Matt Reeves seems to be channeling his best Spielberg with this set, with more than one allusion to Schindler’s List. And that won’t be the last movie referenced either. The film is built off of the blueprints of The Ten Commandments, Apocalypse Now and True Grit. 

While Rise was a boiler and Dawn was an all out blockbuster, War is character piece. It’s a contemplative film, more focused on Caesar’s journey than an actual war. This might put some off, as there’s very little in the way of action set pieces, save for the opening and climax. Nothing on par with the apes escaping in Rise or the raid on the human settlement in Dawn. The moments of action we see are more harrowing than thrilling. While I liked the film, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that the series ends on smaller notes. But it resonates at the end, in ways that Dawn didn’t.

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Woody Harrelson is a scary guy in the movie. He’s crazy, sure, but he’s focused. He’s in charge. His life is violence and he’s made tough choices, even if he wasn’t forced into them. He’s a bit like Patton, a bit of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He hates the newly intelligent apes, but needs them. Like Caesar, his mistakes might threaten his own people.

Of course, it’s Caesar who owns the screen. Ever since the first in this new reboot series, Caesar has carried these movies. Surrounded by character actors, Andy Serkis continues to be the most compelling actor on screen and makes Caesar a hero to root for. The work begun with Gollum has been refined to perfection. Caesar is now one of the great movie characters of all time.

ltxlrsiw1tvsuzmnv47lLike this year’s Logan, which left me depressed in all sorts of ways, War attaches itself to you and ruins your day. I don’t know how rewatchable a film like that is, as blockbusters don’t do that too often. The Hunger Games and it’s sequels had a stronghold for a while on depressing, big budget dystopias. The “fun” of Rise is gone in this third chapter and replaced with something that’s a bit more meaningful, but less enjoyable. It’s a movie that’s good for you, it tricks you into eating your vegetables with large scale storytelling and CGI apes. But you wouldn’t want to see this every weekend at the movies, it would be horrible for your good mood. A fun time? Not really. Recommended? Absolutely.

The Mummy – A Review

the_mummy_poster_2What do we want with a Mummy movie? Do we want an action-adventure like 1999 Brendan Fraser movie? Do we want a horror film? Period piece or modern day? European, American or Egyptian location?

I ask these questions because I feel like The Mummy isn’t very itself. While the previous trilogy of films had a clear vision, that doesn’t mean it has to be the blueprint for a new movie. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to have a blueprint of it’s own.

The film starts off well, once it gets past the cold open with Russell Crowe. We have Tom Cruise in trouble, stuck in a lost cause of a shootout. He discovers a tomb, is joined by a boring blonde, they grab a mummy and then the mummy’s curse starts messing with people.

Breaking the film down in thirds, the first is by far the strongest. It seems to have a vision, a hectic pace with both action and horror and it’s here Tom Cruise seems to be the most game. My appreciation of Cruise as an actor has grown over the years, in going back to his earlier work and enjoying some of his new output. These days, it seems like the he and the audience have the most fun when he’s getting beat up. Whether he’s being thrown around, punched, dragged, stabbed or chased, Cruise has a way of making his pain amusing and thrilling at the same time. I can’t think of another actor who’s as fun to watch get knocked around.

There’s some genuine horror that’s stylish and small scale. Even though the plane scene has been shown nonstop in all the trailers, it’s still a cool sequence and it’s actually creepier in the film itself. Cruise’s interaction with the movie’s mummy, played by a fantastic Sofia Boutella, is fun and flirty. He’s definitely over his head with this monster. There’s some early scenes at a church and later in a forest that fit a smaller scale horror movie that has some action to keep the excitement going. Unfortunately, the movie is soon derailed by it’s second act.

I mentioned needing a blueprint earlier and the one this movie decided to borrow was Marvel’s. Except, when Marvel made Iron Man back in 2008, they made a movie first and world-built second. If you re-watch Iron Man now, after all the Marvel films that have come after, it’s surprising to see how standalone that film really is. If there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie would still be self-contained, even with S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up to help the plot move along.

dr-jekyll-mummyThe end credits scene in Iron Man, with Nick Fury mentioning the Avengers Initiative, worked because it was short and not part of the movie proper. We get the tease and then can only speculate what’s going to happen in the future. Now imagine if, in the middle of Iron Man Nick Fury showed up and spent a whole act explaining S.H.I.E.L.D. and super heroes and how the world worked and… well, I guess we’d have Iron Man 2.

The Mummy has that middle chapter as Russell Crowe spits out exposition while trying to chew as much scenery as possible. As Dr. Jekyll, he’s fine, I suppose. He’s not as compelling as he was when playing Jor-El, but he gets the job done. As Mr. Hyde? Yeesh. Supported by neither compelling effects or accent changes, he’s a dead stop and the movie never recovers. Prodigium, this universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is dull, ineffective and wastes the time given to it. I have to believe there was a better movie here at one point, one with a more suspenseful and exciting middle chapter, but it’s not the one we’re being shown.

Maybe a different color pallet would have helped liven things up. As it stands, the movie is gray. Every location, even those that take place in the desert, are filmed in a gray hue. And I don’t mean to hue-shame, if that’s what’s in the director’s heart. But. when most movies, even Captain America: Civil War, have that unoffensive, neutral color scheme of parking lots, a little bit of red and yellow stand out. The Mummy goes for gray in all things; sets, skies, even Sofia Boutella is made-up in gray costumes and makeup. It makes for a dull picture, to be sure.

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The third act of the film tries to right the ship, but it’s already taken on too much water. If the movie had kept the tone set by the earlier reel, the smaller scale climax wouldn’t feel like such a letdown. After all that Prodigium exposition, we need more than the one-on-one conversation between hero and villain. There’s a brief moment when the movie seems like it’s going bigger, but it just equates to flying glass and a bus stunt (flying debris hasn’t been exciting since the car chase in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). If the movie had stayed the course, all of that would have been a cool raising of the stakes. And then, when it went back to the the more personal ending, it would have fit with what came before. Instead, we have a movie that crawls to the finish.

The Mummy is disappointing. Disappointing in terms of what the franchise has been before, in what it could have been and, since we already know Universal wants a spanning franchise of monster films, disappointing in what’s to come. I would love a bunch of new Universal monster movies but this does not leave me with hope. Maybe, if the next film downplays or completely ignores Prodigium, we can have a more standalone movie. Maybe Bride of Frankenstein will have it’s own tone and style. Maybe general audiences won’t connect this movie with The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Maybe Universal will change that stupid Dark Universe logo.

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Wonder Woman – A Review

wwposter5It’s insane to me that Warner Bros. and DC Comics took seventy-five years to make a Wonder Woman movie. In that time, they’ve made movies for Steel, Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Supergirl, Constantine, the Suicide Squad and yes, I chose the bad ones to point out. I mean, they had a Lobo film in the works before they had a final script for their premier heroine.

But, the movie is here, so we can (but probably not for long) move on from that fact. Let’s focus on the film instead.

I had hesitancy about the movie leading up to seeing it. After all, Man of Steel made me rage until I had destroyed all the love in my life. (old blog, please come back to this one). Batman V. Superman was so dumb I just felt bad for it. And though Wonder Woman was a highlight in that movie, anything remotely NOT dumb would have been a relief during that two and a half hours.

But I was pleasantly surprised. For first two thirds of the movie, Wonder Woman is the film I wanted for years. The first third, which takes place in Themyscira, is great and the island itself feels exactly right. The Amazons have a Spartan vibe, without the machismo, and feel like a real society, even if our time with them isn’t that long. The action scenes that take place there have a 300 vibe, but those scenes are done with confidence and not in way that wears our patience.

Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, is likable and charming, but he’s got an edge to him and also comes across as more progressive than his World War I society. The chemistry between him and Gal Gadot is on point and there’s some great interplay between the two early on.

The action is great. I think, like Captain America, we sometimes forget how strong Wonder Woman really is. But, unlike the First Avenger, Wonder Woman’s powers are big league. She can topple buildings, toss trucks and wreck through soldiers as she goes for jog. When her full powers are on display, such as the terrific charge through the front lines that ends the first half of the movie, she really is a full blown super hero.

ww-11802rv21But Wonder Woman is more than just a set of powers and lassos and bracelets. Gal Gadot is, and I don’t want to understate this, fantastic. For years, I thought Wonder Woman would be one of the hardest characters to cast, but I can’t imagine anyone doing the job better than her. There are times when I could of sworn the character walked right out the comics. She’s inspiring, she’s dangerous, she’s funny, smart, naive, she’s stubborn but for the right reasons. When she speaks, you believe her. When she charges into battle, you want to follow her. Gadot embodies the character in such a defining way that it feels iconic before the movie is even over.

wonder-womanAnd now, with all that praise, here comes my critique and my struggle to not spoil anything. And that’s hard, because my problem with the film, is in the third act and might qualify as a twist. For a long time, the movie seems like it’s going one way and it works. Characters are learning lessons, humanity is getting called out for being the worst species to ever walk the earth and it feels right. But, they need a big action scene to end with and after we’ve seen what a tank Wonder Woman is, the stakes have to be raised. The final confrontation is so fantastical and out there, it almost feels like it’s betraying the rest of the excellent movie that came before it. Actually, the excellent animated movie with Keri Russel might have hurt the live action’s take on the confrontation. It’s not a deal breaker, it doesn’t make the movie a bad film, but I feel like a stronger third act could have put this movie up there with Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins.

But, please, don’t take my issues with the finale to indicate I don’t like the movie. It was great, should be seen and I look forward to watching it again. To meet expectations seventy-five years in the making is a daunting task, but Patty Jenkins was up to the challenge and delivered. This was the first live action DC movie I loved since the Dark Knight way back in 2008.

 

Movie Reviews Update

So, since I’m super late on reviewing certain movies, I’m going to do a bunch of compressed pieces.

Elysium:I won’t say I’m disappointed by the movie but it wasn’t as mindblowing as the director’s first film, District 9. In all fairness, that movie would be hard to top and Elysium doesn’t make it. It’s much more straight forward and easy to read film, with a more blatant message than 9’s racism and social-political attacks. There’s some cool moments, but most of the emotion comes from loud, swelling music and lens flared shots. It’s still a fun, science fiction action movie, but it’s not the greatest out there. I’d rather another Prometheus movie.

Cloud With a Chance of Meatballs 2:
Now, this movie was disappointing. Considering how smart, funny and original the first film was, this sequel is by-the-numbers and only funny once or twice. While the first movie could be enjoyed by everyone, this one is for kids only, even featuring a pop song in the “lets all work together” montage. The villain was not fun and stopped the movie whenever he was there. I was bored and glad it was over.

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Ender’s Game:
This was weird. A lot of times, it followed the book spot on but that was slightly boring since I knew how they played out. The changes weren’t great when made, either. The movie was well made and well acted, but it never quite reached the levels of the book. For one, it had a great design for the Battle Room, and those scenes were great, but they only did two games. I would think that they’d have focused more on that, since that was such a big sell, but they didn’t focus on it enough. They also did a lot with the video game Ender plays alone, which I think could have been less of a focus. With what they took away or added, I would have thought they’d pay some attention to Ender’s sister and brother, but no go. They’re both written thinly and only appear to be the devil and angel for one particular scene each.While I wanted this to be a compressed review, I do have to complain about the ending. They gloss over a lot while info dumping like crazy during the last ten minutes. They rob Ender of his real moments, rob the alien force of their intelligence and steal the real hit of the book. Without showing Ender’s true apathy, you steal the most important attribute from the character.So, while the movie was slick, well scored and fun to watch, the ending makes it rough to forgive and I think I’d rather read the book again.

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Thor: The Dark World:
Movies I like are easier to review because I have less to say about them in a review. Thor 2 was a movie I had fun at. I think it took a while to get there, mainly until Loki hits the scene, but the whole film was a fun  look at the characters and world. The God Out of Water moments still have plenty of hilarity to dig into, and the romance between Thor and Jane is fun to watch play out. The last battle at the end was great and I love all the bits with the hammer trying to get to Thor. I love superhero films that know how to be fun. I think this franchise has plenty of legs to run on and I really want to see the third happen.