Category Archives: Film

Film: Dunkirk – (3.5/4)

Film: Dunkirk – (3.5/4)

Christopher Nolan has long become a household name. A popular director who, every other year, releases a big-budgetted, ambitious, and original blockbuster.

Reminiscent of Spielberg’s carrer from “Jaws” on through “Saving Private Ryan,” Nolan has a knack for ambitious filmmaking and often succeeds critically. He excels to new heights with “Dunkirk.”

I’m always intrigued to see an artist work outside their comfort zone. Sometimes, we see something amazing. Dialogue had become Nolan’s comfort zone, often reliant on screenplays written or co-written by his brother Jonathan Nolan.

“Dunkirk” is the third film with a solo Christopher Nolan writing credit along with “Following” and “Inception.”

Through the years I’ve enjoyed his films as much as the next guy. I have, however, held reserved criticisms of the dialogue and on-the-nose exposition in his films.

The dialogue in “Dunkirk” is minimal. We know early on we are witnessing 3 separate stories and as we ease into the film we start to see how these stories are connected. It’s exposition through action and pace as opposed to dialogue.

In discussing the Oscar battle last year I would often tell people there are 2 types of films. The kind that, when the credits roll, you are overjoyed and ecstatic about (“La La Land”), and the kind that take a few days or even weeks to fully register (“Moonlight”).

Nolan’s films are bombastic. They are loud films with loud action while Zimmer bangs a loud drum right by your face. “Dunkirk” is a loud film, but it also fits snuggly into that second category.

The more time that has gone by, the more “Dunkirk” has registered with me. While the action remains loud, the characerizations are subtle; the overlying message also subtle. All while making it easy to draw home a satisfying conclusion.

I also can’t review a Nolan film without excessively complimenting the sheer brilliance in filmmaking. The last thing a financing studio wants to hear about are scenes shot on open water or with excess amounts of water. There are also liability risks to consider to both actors and equipment.

Having gone to film school, I often felt stressed (more than usual) witnessing these scenes. Are you really going to stick a beloved One Direction band member underwater in a potentially dangerous situation? Well, he did it and nailed it.

“Dunkirk” is the kind of bombastic film that earns a directing Oscar while losing the Picture Oscar to a smaller film. Could Nolan’s first Oscar reflect Spielberg’s first when”Saving Private Ryan” lost to “Shakespeare in Love”?

We’ll see.

Film: War for the Planet of the Apes – (2.5/4)

Film: War for the Planet of the Apes – (2.5/4)

I’m a huge fan of this trilogy. This new apes trilogy is a prime example of how to re-imagine a nostalgic franchise.

With modernized poignancy, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” to me, was a huge success. The amount of emotional depth brought to a franchise film like that was unprecedented. So naturally I was more than hyped to witness the conclusion.

I didn’t leave “War for the Planet of the Apes” disappointed. Lightning doesn’t always strike in the same place twice, and I understood coming in that it would be a difficult task for Reeves and his crew.

I’ll begin by complimenting Reeves on his effort. Like Edgar Wright, Matt Reeves has proven time and again that he is one of Hollywood’s craftsmen. There is strong, motivated direction throughout this film. From shot selection, to an ensemble of great performances (another mind-boggling performance by Serkis), Reeves has proven to be filmmaking-savvy.

The one blip in his direction – the editing. I chalk this up to him even though I do not know the kind of director-editor relationship they had in the edit room. With great acting, cinematography I yeared for a slower pace. The editing here was conventional at best.

An attempt at an example without spoiling: When Harrelson’s character reaches his conclusion, we see a reaction shot of Caesar starring at him in a room. I wish we held on this a bit longer, to give the weight of what had just happened more time to resonate.

The action feels so scattered and quick that it fails to juxtapose with the themes of war and loss. You could argue this was the case with “Dawn,” particularly in the third act, but I feel the ratio allowed for more digestion of the thematic material.

I don’t feel, at all, that this film is a failure. And, I reiterate, I am not disappointed. This is a welcome conclusion to a great trilogy. However, it is par for the course where they only met the minimum requirements.

Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming – (2/4)

Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming – (2/4)

 

First off, yes, you need to see “Captain America: Civil War” to get full enjoyment out of this film. I completely disagree with Disney’s approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but I can rant all day on that while they expect any and everyone to buy tickets to each Marvel film they make when half of America earns less than 30k a year…

Anyway…

This is one of the better installments they have. It’s still shot flat so it can fit in with the rest of the MCU and every single action scene is conventional and, at times, boring.

You can easily predict the outcome of the film from the get-go, however there are a few unpredictable plot points that may surprise you. One of which was truly surprising, though I found it entirely too convenient.

There is one moment of great filmmaking that takes place at the beginning of the third act of the film and takes place in a car with 3 characters. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about. This is a great scene and great filmmaking to boot. The escalation of tension here is spot on.

Now, a part from the filmmaking what about the story? It’s alright and works most of the time.

Being a “Spider-Man” fan there are fundamental differences to the character arcs of this Peter Parker and the Peter Parker we’ve come to know and love from the source material and previous films.

Usually, it’s about responsibility. A young man is given great power and struggles with the weight of the responsibility and how it impacts his everyday life.

Let’s flip that concept on its head.

In “Homecoming” Parker wants nothing more than to live a life of constant heroism. He begs Tony Stark for more opportunities as well.

There is a solid character arc here – maturity. Parker must learn humility and that he can’t always be the¬†guy to save the day. It’s classic coming-of-age.

Uncle Ben isn’t a character here. Presumably his story has already happened, but it still strains the idea that Peter’s sense of responsibility comes from him feeling responsible for his uncle’s death. None of this is explored here in fear of over-doing this plot, but it’s still a missed opportunity.

The character arc works, Holland is irresistibly comical, there are a few great moments, but all this is also weighed down by the MCU that Disney feels they must tie everything into.

Film: Kong: Skull Island – (1.5/4)

Film: Kong: Skull Island – (1.5/4)

There are many things to admire about “Kong: Skull Island.” It’s always really nice to see a film that aims to be a good “homage” and succeeds. Though it’s even nicer when it can give an original spin as well. “Kong: Skull Island” is anything but original.

Monster films have been great escapes for people for more than half a century. The best ones resonate with us in the moments when they were innovative in their filmmaking.

“Kong: Skull Island” wears proudly it’s inspiration on its sleeve. It’s a fun time-killer and a visual feast. But when all is said and done it will just be a forgettable above-average springtime blockbuster profiting off nostalgia.

The new “Apes” trilogy re-invented itself whilst paying homage to its source material. “Kong” struggles to make itself unique, just watch those classic monster films instead.

Film: Chasing Coral – (2/4)

Film: Chasing Coral – (2/4)

This is a tough one. “Chasing Coral” is a wholly flawed documentary, but it is also an incredibly important film that should be a required viewing.

This film draws attention to the volume in which we are losing our ocean’s coral and the ramifications of this loss. What’s causing it? ayou guessed it – global warming.

The film tells its story through a group of scientists conducting an experiment to catch on film this natural phenomenon. It’s an ode to the scientifc method, and further proof that climate change is an undisputed scientific fact.

Movies like this are at their best when they show as opposed to tell. “Chasing Coral” has exhausting moments of telling yet brilliant moments of showing. I wish they were more showy.

Documentaries that urge their audience to take action have to be strongly persuasive in their evidence to have an impact. Again, better obtained by showing. A narrative film gets its messages across by presenting a circumstance, usually relatable, that the audience can have an emotional connection with.

“Chasing Coral” is beautiful and well shot, but all the structural gray areas make the argument less persuasive as they may as well have been preaching to the choir.

So my confliction is that “Chasing Coral” brought my attention to a phenomenon that I would’ve never knew about. It’s important, must-see filmmaking just for that alone.

Film: Baby Driver (2.5/4)

Film: Baby Driver – (2.5/4)

I’m a huge Edgar Wright fan. I revisited “Scott Pilgrim” about a year ago at one of my favorite bars and, more recently, saw a 35mm print of “Hot Fuzz” at my local independent theatre.

He excels at visual humor in all his prior films, but with “Baby Driver,” a more serious film, we don’t get to see him play to his comedic strengths.

As an editor, I’m enamored by his filmography and the pace of his movies. “Baby Driver” is no exception. There isn’t an out-of-place shot or edit in the entire film. It maintains a moderate pace throughout. Even during expositon where other action flicks usually meander.

As an action film, and a racing film, it is borderline master class in its execution and filmmaking. The action scenes reminiscent of Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

My unfortunate issues with the film fall on the screenplay and the character motivations. A few moments edge on becoming plot holes because of this. Without spoilers, Lily James’ Debora had odd motivations for sticking around as long as she did and Kevin Spacey’s “intellectual” character makes some odd, misguided decisions before the third act. His resolution also feels a bit random, given what we knew about him.

One day Edgar Wright will hold up his first “Best Director” Oscar and it will be well-deserved. I believe “Baby Driver” to be his weakest film and that says a lot because I still enjoyed it immensely.

Film: Okja (2.5/4)

Film: Okja – (2.5/4)

Similar to my emotions toward Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” I felt there were a lot of things to admire about “Okja,” but it had a few misfires to keep it from being truly great.

One thing it nails is its ambitious plot. The story is wholly original without ever feeling preachy which, given the subject matter, could have easily happened. It’s also a colorful film filled with interesting characters.

My issue lies in the ever-shifting mood of the film. It plays both quirky and straight-faced intermittently and it sometimes feels uncomfortably jarring. 

The characters grow with the ebb and flow of this mood, which doesn’t work at all with Gyllenhaal’s character. Not sure if what went wrong here was Gyllenhaal’s performance or Joon-ho’s direction, but it didn’t work.

There’s a moment at the midpoint of the film that meshes one of its most serious, defining, moments with the quirkiness of Gyllenhaal’s performance and it is cringe-inducing. I reiternate – It didn’t work at all for me.

The conclusion is the best part of the film. Being a satisfying “happy” ending while the hard truths we’ve recently discovered still loom in the back of our minds unresolved.