Movie review: Dunkirk

Movie reviews

Hello!

A movie, that needs no introduction, has reached theaters, so let’s talk about it. This is the review of Dunkirk.

IMDb summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Before we start discussing the film, I’d like to remind you that there already is a picture about Dunkirk, released in 2017 – Their Finest. It’s a completely different but as interesting take on the ‘event that shaped the Western world’. Also, my previous review of a Nolan film is the one for Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan

Both written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk is the highly acclaimed director’s 10th feature film. It has already been labeled as his best film as well as a ‘masterpiece’ of modern cinema. With all of these accolades in mind, my expectations have also been really high. And while I certainly wasn’t let down, I haven’t been blown away either.

Writing

Dunkirk’s writing is unique (as should be expected from Nolan – the master storyteller) in that the film doesn’t tell a story of the evacuation but rather recreates the evacuation. The staples of the narrative, like the extensive dialogue or the character development, are mostly absent from the movie and the glimpses of the personal stories are scarcely dispersed throughout the intense action scenes. I believe that the lack of the character development actually serves the movie right because that makes the viewer see the characters as nobodies – a faceless mass of interchangeable soldiers – which is what they actually were. I did miss Nolan’s great dialogue, though, even if this film’s setting didn’t really call for it.

Even though, the picture doesn’t have much in terms of narrative, the plot that is in the film is told in a non-linear way (again, as it should be expected from Nolan). However, there isn’t too much of jumping around (Dunkirk is no Memento). The three main plot threads – the land, the air, and the sea – provide different and interesting perspectives on the evacuation but I wish that these viewpoints were wider within themselves. For example, I wanted to see the faiths of more than a few soldiers, or more than two planes, or more than just one civilian boat.

Another interesting choice that is made in the script is the decision to never call out the nationality of the enemy. Never once in the picture, do we hear the words ‘Germans’ or ‘Nazis’. It’s always ‘the enemy’. Is that the political correctness of today bleeding into a WW2 film or is the eternal shame and guilt of the German nation is slowly coming to an end?

Directing

Christopher Nolan has always been amazing at visuals and he proves that again with Dunkirk. The whole film feels, more or less, like the expanded version of the Saving Private Ryan opening beach sequence, with the levels of dread, fear, and destruction, never dipping below the maximum. The intensity is palpable, while the emotions – heart-wrenching. From a purely aesthetic view, the shots are masterfully composed, both in the air, on land, or in the water. To my mind, Dunkirk might not be his best film, but it is certainly a great-looking one.

Music

An element of Dunkirk that sometimes rivals the visuals as its best part, is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (a longtime creative partner of Nolan’s). The master composer (I feel like I used the word ‘master’ too much already) surpasses the sky high expectations and delivers an emotional, eerie, thrilling, and haunting score. The sounds of the bombs are so crisp and clear that one can definitely hear if their cinema’s sound system is lacking in quality (I’m not pointing any fingers).

Acting

Dunkirk has an extensive ensemble cast, full of newcomers as well as seasoned A-listers. All of them deliver excellent if brief performances. On land, we follow Fionn Whitehead (in his first film role), Aneurin Barnard (a Welshman playing a Frenchman disguised as an Englishman) and an ex-1D member and a successful solo artist Harry Styles. Nolan has claimed to not have known about Styles’ fame before casting him in the film. I find that doubtful because Nolan has a teenage daughter who might (must) have known who he was. Also, even if she (or he) wasn’t a fan, the 1D craze a few years back far exceed the limits of the fandom and was absolutely everywhere, so Nolan should have definitely at least have heard about him. Anyways, for whatever reason Styles was cast in the picture, he did act as a somewhat box office draw, as evident by a mother-daughter duo, who sat next to me in the cinema and could not shut up when his face showed up on screen. On a side note, I didn’t see anyone complaining about his involvement in the film or that his ‘famous face’ took the viewer out of the movie, but, somehow, Ed Sheeran signing three lines on Game of Thrones is a disaster that breaks the fictional world’s continuum?

Back to the cast I was discussing in the first place, the ‘land’ portion of the plot also had Kenneth Branagh (director of Cinderella and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as two officers of exposition and trailer one liners. The ‘on the sea’ perspective had Mark Rylance (whose career really took off only in 2015 with Bridge of Spies, then The BFG, and soon Ready Player One), accompanied by a screen newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney and a bit more experienced Barry Keoghan. A longtime creative partner of Nolan’s  Cillian (Free Fire) also appeared in the film, in the probably the most fleshed out role. The ‘air’ part of the plot was acted out by Jack Lowden and another of Nolan’s usuals – Tom Hardy (Mad Max, Legend, The Revenant) with his face half-obscured as always.

In short, while I might not think that Dunkirk is a masterpiece, I unquestionably agree that it is a great film. The visuals are stellar, the acting is effective, and the writing – full of bold choices that I might not like but can and do appreciate.

Rate: 4,3/5

Trailer: Dunkirk trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge trailer

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Movie review: The BFG

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to another summer movie review. I’m running out of ways to greet you and introduce the posts, so without further ado, let’s talk about The BFGThe Big Friendly Giant.

IMDb summary: A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Genre

I would say that The BFG belongs to the live action fairytale genre, which is so popular nowadays and especially this summer (we already had The Huntsman, Alice 2, The Jungle Book and Tarzan comes out next week). However, The BFG differs from all of them in that it is a somewhat original film – it is not a sequel or a remake of an animated picture, but the first-time big screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book with the same name. Dahl is a famous author who has created such stories as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda among others.

Spielberg’s filmography and similar films

Back in the 80s, Spielberg made a career for himself, crafting beautiful family films about children who befriend unique creatures. Of course, I’m talking about E.T. (interestingly, E.T. and The BFG share a screenwriter – Melissa Mathison, who, sadly, had recently passed away). However, in the past 5 years, Spielberg have focused on serious historical dramas, like War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, so The BFG is kinda his comeback to the family fantasy genre. Another well-known director, who has also recently tried to transition from the awards contenders to family films, is Martin Scorcese, who made the child-appropriate Hugo in 2011. The BFG also reminded me a bit of Peter Pan films (the good ones) and it also had a slight Harry Potter-like feeling.

Writing: the narrative

The BFG’s story was okay. It portrayed a lead peaceful ‘monster’ in Spielberg’s fashion. It had nice things to say about friendship and growing up and also had a strong anti-bullying and standing up for yourself type of a message. The two faults I had with the story were: 1. the pace – the set up was really long and there wasn’t really any buildup: the film dragged on and the final resolution was also kinda disappointing – I did not see the need to involve The Queen – those sequences came out of nowhere and just seemed so bloody British; 2. the jokes – The BFG relied on slapstick humour and fart jokes – I really wish they would have come up with cleverer comic relief, like Zootopia did. In general, I felt that The BFG was not a family but solely a kids movie and not a very good one. It lacked sophistication for adults and didn’t have enough ‘adventure’ for the younger viewers. However, I do believe that this film could do great on TV in like 5 years time – I can definitely see people watching it at home during Christmas or something.

Directing: the visuals + the music

The CGI and the motion capture work on The BFG were both stellar. My favorite visuals were the dreamland and that tree – that whole physical manifestation of dreams was a cool idea and was realized nicely. The eye to sun transition was also a great and memorable shot. The BFG’s score by the great John Williams was breathtaking, heartfelt and suspenseful. He is the greatest score composer and his work will forever live on.

Acting

  • Mark Rylance as The BFG was really good. This was Rylance’s second collaboration with Spielberg – last year Spielberg directed Rylance into an Oscar-winning performance. His manners were really appropriate for the role – gentle yet steel giant like. His look was also on-point: Rylance looks like a really loving grandpa, so The BFG’s role was perfect for him. Next year, Rylance will be in Nolan’s Dunkirk and a year after that he will collaborate with Spielberg once again on Ready Player One
  • Ruby Barnhill as Sophie was a really good child lead. I think that this young lady has a bright future and a long career ahead of her. 
  • Penelope Wilton as The Queen. While I did not understand the need to include The Queen into this story, I was happy that Wilton was the one to portray  her. I’m happy to see her getting more work since Downton Abbey has ended. 
  • Jemaine Clement as The Fleshlumpeater – the main antagonist. Clement was okay: his look was pretty scary and ugly and his performance brought this flesh-eater to life in a believable way.

In short, I expected more from Spielberg. I hoped that he would create another family-friendly classic, which would satisfy both the adults and the children, however, I do think that anyone above the age of 11 will find The BFG kinda boring.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: The BFG trailer

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