Dunkirk Review

There are few directors that inspire such fanaticism and devotion as Christopher Nolan. Fortunately usually his name is worthy of such adulation. In my opinion, he hasn’t come out with a bad movie yet. His latest film, Dunkirk, is an unusual movie but in the end an amazing experience at the movies.

Watching Dunkirk reminded me of the Civil War reenactments that are popular where I grew up. People gather together to recreate a battle and while they have character names the battle is the important thing not the narrative. Likewise Dunkirk is a reenactment of a battle without a narrative to accompany it. I can see how this would annoy some viewers but it is executed so well that it worked.

Nolan splits up Dunkirk into 3 parts- mole, sea, and air. Each of these segments follow different people and are at slightly different timetables. This means you see the same boat sink 3 times, same plane get shot down 3 times etc. However, each time you are seeing it from different perspectives.

There is Harry Styles as a soldier on the ground looking out for a mole in their midst.  Then Tom Hardy is in the air trying to take down German planes. And finally Mark Rylance commanding a pleasure boat to be one of the many civilians who aided the trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.

Of all the narratives I think Mark Rylance and his sons works the best and is the only point that made me cry. You don’t learn anyone’s names or their backstories but it still moved me the most.

Truth is Dunkirk is an experience more than it is a movie. It works because it is so well made and immersive. You feel like you are on the ground with those troops or on the boat with Mark Rylance. The sound design is so great it can be shocking that it is not real. It makes you want to reach out and help the boys as if they were right beside you. It’s that real.

All the performances are top notch and in pretty much every way it is masterfully made on a technical level. It was an amazing experience to feel war on such a visceral and intimate level.

However, often these experience movies are not the most rewatchable of films. I don’t think every movie needs to be rewatchable but it is something to think about. I don’t think it would have the same impact on the small screen. It wouldn’t be as immersive or real and I might start itching for more character development.

I recommend you go and see Dunkirk in the theaters, in IMAX if possible (the 70mm option wasn’t available for me unfortunately). It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. It’s not a narrative. It’s a reenactment and in that regard it is quite special.

Overall Grade- A-

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Valerian Review

Today I had the chance to see Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is an epic scifi fantasy film and I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other reviews with all kinds of criticisms and for whatever reason most of those critiques just didn’t bother me. I was thoroughly entertained while watching this film.

As you can probably tell from the trailer, the greatest strength of Valerian is the amazing visuals. Besson has created not only one beautiful world like they do in a movie like Avatar but he has created dozens of worlds and they are all beautiful. I was dazzled by the visuals in this movie. The pacing is also really strong as it clips along from one scene to another it doesn’t give you much time to focus on the problems.I particularly loved a sequence where there is a hologram market that is mixed in with a beach. The team is trying to hunt down an artifact and it switches between the hologram and regular world in very creative ways.

I wouldn’t say the story is the greatest thing ever but I found it unpredictable and fresh. Some have complained about the script but I thought it was fine. Some have complained about the acting but I thought it was fine. Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan have good chemistry and I thought they worked playing these investigators.

Rihanna has a brief but moving role as a exotic dancer/immigrant character. The visuals in her dance number were great and then she has to play off some emotion and I thought that worked.

I think what saves Valerian besides the visuals is it never takes itself too seriously. I am one of few who defended Jupiter Ascending but it definitely took itself too seriously at times. This film knows it is a light hearted lark through space and it owns that. I watched it with a big smile on my face from beginning to end.

It’s not a perfect film but none of the flaws stopped me from enjoying the film and having a great time. It’s not confusing like Warcraft or plodding like Independence Day Resurgence. It’s just a fun, scifi movie where we get to investigate a mystery in crazy places.

People love complaining about a lack of originality in Hollywood. Well, here is the chance to support something that is new, fresh and extremely creative. You might not enjoy it like I did but I think you will be glad you took a chance on something new. I am sure glad I did! I can picture this film becoming a bit of a cult classic but don’t wait for that. See it now!

Overall Grade- B+

As far as content there is a stripper scene and some mild violence but it is pretty tame.

DreamWorks 10: Shrek 2

If you have been following this Dreamworks series you probably recall I have the unpopular opinion of disliking the original Shrek movie. It’s basically a parody film and once I’ve heard the jokes they aren’t as funny to me on the rewatch. Aside from laughs the movie doesn’t have much going for it artistically or character-wise. So, what would I think about the sequel, Shrek 2? I still have some issues but it is a significant step up from the original (as Dreamworks tends to do. Their sequels are oddly often better than originals). Shrek 2 actually tells a creative story and doesn’t just make fun of the fairytale genre but subverts it in some clever ways.

To get things started, I probably have a different take on the introduction of the film than most. We get a musical montage that pokes fun at Spider-man, Little Mermaid, From Here to Eternity, Matrix, Lord of the Rings and more.  These type of parody jokes where they mimic a scene from another film just aren’t funny to me.  So, needless to say this movie gets off to a bad start.

However, it pretty quickly starts the story of Fiona taking Shrek to meet her parents who are sovereigns over the land of Far Far Away. I like that the kingdom is basically Hollywood and that Fairy Godmother is like a magical Oprah. These gags are funny because they actually have something to do with the narrative and aren’t just mimicking something we know and love for a joke.

Jennifer Saunders does terrific voice work as the Fairy Godmother and she is an entertaining villain- especially because we know the Fairy Godmother as a sweet rescuer in most stories. I particularly like the scene when she first appears to Fioana and sings a manic version of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.

The marriage dynamic between Fiona and Shrek is pretty well done. I like the idea of how much should you change to accommodate the person you love? It’s an interesting question and they explore it pretty well. I still wish Cameron Diaz was a better voice actor for Fiona but at least her dialogue is better than in the first film. The other fantastic addition to the cast is Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. Talk about perfect casting! He is funny. He is sweet. He is a swashbuckling knave. Also because he famously played Zorro it is easy to bring that persona to the role when you hear his voice. It is an example of celebrity voice acting paying off and adding more to the character.

Shrek is pretty unlikable in this movie, spending most of the time sulking and growling, about everything that happens. His saving grace is when he gets turned into a human and has to do some introspection on who he is and what he wants out of life.

The plot-line with Fiona’s parents and her father secretly being the Frog Prince feels a little on the nose to me. The voice acting by Julie Andrews and John Cleese is good but all the dialogue about accepting their daughter when she is ‘one of them’ can be more than a bit heavy handed. However, let’s face it the Shrek movies aren’t exactly known for their nuance and subtlety.

I also think Donkey feels a bit extraneous to me. He really isn’t needed for the story and so they end up working him in awkward ways. It makes the character more annoying than affecting when all he is there for is occasional commentary. It also doesn’t help that Puss in Boots is so much better than Donkey as a sidekick.

The pop music soundtrack also feels dated and doesn’t fit well with the story.

Overall Shrek 2 mostly works. It introduces 2 great new characters in Fairy Godmother and Puss in Boots. It actually tells a story and tries to give the characters dimension and heart. The animation is definitely a step up from the original and most of the voice acting is solid. I still don’t like the parody jokes, an unlikable Shrek and the Frog Prince story-line but the good outweigh the bad and I enjoyed watching it.

Overall Grade- B-

 

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

I just had an exhilarating experience at the movies! I saw all 3 Planet of the Apes movies including the latest film War for the Planet of the Apes. This was a special marathon screening, which allowed me to see it a day earlier than the wide release preview screenings tomorrow. It all worked out perfectly for me because I leave for D23 in the morning and wouldn’t have been able to see it for a couple of weeks otherwise.

Anyway, what did I think of the experience?  Honestly I feel a little overwhelmed and wouldn’t write this review but I know I won’t have any other time to do so because of D23.

Let’s talk about the series. I love this series. It is one of my favorite trilogies. I love the special effects, characters, writing and everything else. On the rewatch they all held up quite well. I still have to debate which is my favorite but they are honestly quite different.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a well executed scifi/monster movie with real heart. They were still working on the special effects and the middle lags a bit but the relationships and ending are amazing.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an emotional film while still managing to be entertaining. I love Gary Oldman in it and the moment when he is able to see his children’s photos again I’ll never forget. I love Caesar and Koba’s different perspectives on war and diplomacy. It is full of emotional moments and characters and I love it.

So here we get to the latest entry War for the Planet of the Apes. Wow! It’s tough for me to describe the experience I had. It was honestly different than what I was anticipating. I think Dawn is more of a Rambo-esque war movie so I suppose that is what I was expecting but this is different. It’s a brutal tense prisoner of war movie for most of the film.

I don’t want to give much of the plot away but basically Caesar and his people come into contact with a radical military group led by The Colonel played by Woody Harrelson. At first they play cat and mouse with each other and then it becomes a prison experience and it can be very tough to watch. I haven’t seen a movie this brutal on its characters since Silence, which I hated but this has much more humanity and redemption than that film. It also explores themes of forgiveness, mercy and compassion in powerful ways.

All of the characters get moments to shine even Koba gets a bit of redemption in a way. I particularly loved Maurice (he’s always been a favorite of mine). He adopts a mute little girl along the way and she is a symbol of hope throughout the film.

Director Matt Reeves and his team should be very proud of what they have accomplished with this film. It is the least rewatchable of the apes movies but that’s not a bad thing. It was visceral, brutal and thought provoking. The visuals are flawless. Andy Serkis is amazing playing Caesar and you completely forget these aren’t actual apes but men in motion capture suits.  Congrats to all involved for an amazing trilogy and for ending on such a bold film and hats off to Fox for allowing them to make it. Incredible.

I wouldn’t be surprised if War for the Planet of the Apes is the most divisive of the three films.  I loved it but it is violent and somewhat unrelentingly bleak. They have a comic relief of an ape called Bad Ape but it is few and far between. If you love these characters it can be hard to watch them suffer so much. Also the way it uses music builds anxiety to the max for the viewer. Not everyone will like this.

There is also some fairly heavy handed social commentary with the Colonel building a wall and some other plot points that might annoy people. I thought it was handled well but I can see it annoying others.

All that said, I loved this film. It was an amazing ending for the trilogy and I left feeling like I had seen something truly special. It is challenging but in a good way and the ending was pitch perfect. If you love this trilogy you’ve got to see it!

Overall Grade- A


The Big Sick Review

It’s late but I wanted to quickly let you guys know about a delightful movie I just saw called The Big Sick. I’d heard good things about it but it honestly exceeded my expectations and is without a doubt one of my favorites of the year and one of the best comedies (not just romcoms) I’ve seen in a long time. It’s one of the few movies of recent memory that I have no negatives on.

Part of what makes The Big Sick work so well is it is based on a true story of lead actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife Emily Gordon. This gives a warmth and heart to the movie that makes it feel very special. Zoe Kazan steps in to play Emily and the chemistry is effortless and easy to believe.

The script is a real star. There is a bit of profanity but it feels natural to the characters and how they would talk. Kumail is trying to be a stand up comic and at the same time deal with his strict Pakistani parents who are constantly trying to match him with a bride. The dialogue between all involved feels natural and hilarious while never being crass or vulgar.

I loved all the supporting performances but I honestly think Ray Ramano and Holly Hunter are nomination worthy as Emily’s parents. I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole movie just about their characters. There are so many ways they could have been cliches but they felt like actual unique human beings.

I also loved how it handled Kumail’s family and didn’t patronize them or turn them into caricatures as would have been easy to do. Coming from a strict religious family I related quite strongly to them and the situation Kumail was going through. It was handled just right! His stand up friends were also great. It was simply awesome!

There obviously is an illness involved but I will let you find that all out on your own. This movie made me laugh. It made me cry and it was a very late showing I was engrossed the entire time. I LOVED it!!

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Overall Grade – A+

GO SEE IT!!

Blind Spot 19: The Boxer

One thing we sometimes forget in the world of movie blogging is that most movies land right in the middle. They are neither masterpieces or garbage. They are just good, solid enjoyable films. Such is the case with this month’s blind spot pick- The Boxer.  It didn’t wow me but it was a decent watch.

The reason why I included The Boxer in my blind spot picks for 2017 is it is directed by Jim Sheridan and I absolutely loved his movie In America which I saw for the first time last year. I also love his film My Left Foot, which like The Boxer stars Daniel Day Lewis. It was kind of perfect timing because just this month Lewis announced his retirement from acting following his next film. He will definitely go down as one of the all time greats and he shows it here in The Boxer.

Going into The Boxer I was under the wrong impression that this was a traditional sports/boxing movie narrative and it’s not. It’s more of a mob movie with a small boxing element.

It stars Daniel Day Lewis as IRA member Danny Flynn who is released from prison as the film opens. He decides to open a boxing gym but gets back involved with the IRA hoodlums despite his attempts to stay on the straight and narrow. He also reconnects with an old girlfriend named Maggie (Emily Watson) who has her own ties to the IRA. The two have great chemistry and most of the movie is about their relationship.  There really is only one major boxing sequence and even that is more important for the mob it inspires than for the actual boxing.

I suppose what keeps The Boxer from being great is the story is pretty pedestrian and nothing happens that is very memorable. It’s the kind of movie you watch and then have trouble remembering a few days later. Maybe part of the problem is also this type of story has been told so often that it feels pretty played out?

That said, it is well acted and directed, so worth a watch. It’s just the script that could have been a little more memorable.

Overall Grade- B- (a mild smile worthy for the performances and direction)

Are We Pre-Judging Emoji Movie Too Much?

It’s no secret I am not the biggest fan of Sony Animation and their upcoming release The Emoji Movie looks like a dubious enterprise. It has on its surface all the trappings of a cheap attempt to monetize a trend while it’s still hot instead of doing something creative. It also feels very derivative of other movies like Wreck-it Ralph, Inside Out, Lego Movie and more.

However, today they released the opening sequence and it is very pun heavy but honestly it doesn’t look that bad.

Could The Emoji Movie be good? Is that possible? Maybe? It’s hard for me to get over a literal piece of  poo as a character in a movie. That’s the biggest stumbling block for me. Plus, their initial Meh trailer was one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen.

On the other hand, the last trailer wasn’t that bad and the idea of a world inside a phone could be clever? This is the year where I liked a movie with a character named Professor Poopypants and another movie about talking cars aging, so it could happen? They have a good voice cast and there was a bidding war over this script so somebody saw potential there. (Yes, there really was a bidding war over The Emoji Movie).

You also have this lovely image to give you nightmares:

What do you think about The Emoji Movie? Is there any hope for it or does it look like garbage? Are you planning on seeing it?  I guess at least this is the one movie where Sony product placement makes sense. I expect to see many a Sony phone throughout.

Spider-Man Homecoming Review

Yesterday I had the chance to see the latest big budget superhero movie- Spider-Man Homecoming. This film is important as it is the 3rd reboot for the character in recent years and the first time Sony and Marvel are working together for a film. Spider-Man is now part of the MCU as many fans dreamed and over-all he makes a promising addition to that world. While Spider-Man Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a solid, entertaining superhero movie aimed at teenagers. Let’s talk about the positives. First of all, the casting is uniformly strong. We all got a taste of Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War but here we get introduced to him as Peter Parker and he’s great. Unlike previous versions, Peter feels like a kid here. He’s learning in every aspect of life- from asking the pretty girl out to figuring out where his role in the world is. He feels real and human, which is no easy task for a character climbing walls and fighting bad guys.

The script is really well done and if I was a teenager I would love this movie to pieces. I particularly liked the dynamic between Peter and his friend Ned played by Jacob Batalon. They felt like actual friends and had terrific chemistry together. I liked how they were constantly amazed at the tech gadgets designed by Tony Stark and Vulture. It felt genuine to see them get a gun or the Spidey-suit and say ‘cool’ with excitement like a real teen boy would probably do. Both of the female characters were misses to me, but I guess they did the job they were asked to do well enough. It’s not the fault of the actresses their parts were under-written. Oh well.

I also loved Tony Stark in Spider-Man Homecoming. I know some were worried this would be the next Iron Man movie but that is not the case. He is used just enough, and I was happy to see a return to the old Tony I know and love from Iron Man 1, 2, and the Avengers. The last 3 films (Iron Man 3, Avengers Age of Ultron and Civil War) he’s been so brooding and angry. While I don’t know if his behavior makes sense given what happened in Civil War, I don’t care. I was happy to have Tony Stark back in my life!

Unfortunately there were some negatives for me in Spider-Man Homecoming. First, I had some issue with the action sequences. There are 2 big set pieces that are fun but they didn’t feel like Spider-Man action. They felt very static to me and more like an Iron Man set piece than Spider-Man. There is very little of him swinging through the city like I want to see. I get what they were going for but if I was a teen and could swing through the city I would probably take full advantage of that! There are a lot of scenes of Peter crashing into pools and backyards and that was fine but I missed the awe of real Spider-Man scenes. Also, some action uses too much shaky cam and was a little hard to tell what was happening.

There are also characters that could use more development. Donald Glover’s role turns out to basically be a cameo. The Shocker support team for Vulture were pretty bland and Zendaya was underused as Peter’s sullen friend (and a reveal from her was meh). Also, Tony Revolori as Flash was very annoying and didn’t work for me at all.

Michael Keaton has gotten a ton of positive reviews for his role as the Vulture, and he is solid as always but I can’t help but feel it is a bit over-praised. To me he seemed like the classic standard Marvel villain. They love having the ‘man in a suit’ who gives into greed and becomes the antithesis of our hero. This is the case here except a blue-collar variety. Vulture is another business man who is wronged by Tony and the Avengers and seeks revenge. This is nothing new or that compelling. Also, there is a ‘reveal’ (this is Marvel we are talking about) that I called after the last trailer. I literally wrote down ‘Vulture will be …..’ and sure enough he was. Evidently others find this a shocking moment but I did not.

Don’t get me wrong. Vulture is by no means a bad villain and Keaton gives a good performance. The MCU has had far worse but people putting him up with Loki are nuts. He is more like Yellow Jacket in Ant-Man if you ask me.

There are also some Sony trademarks that were noticeable like the rampant product placement. For example, even though Peter is only 15 they just had to find a way to have an Audi car chase scene. Oh well…

One of my friends on twitter described Spider-Man Homecoming as a ‘great slumber party movie’ and I think that is true. I can picture high school students enjoying this and relating to it quite strongly, and that’s great! All demographics should have their superhero movies and now teens have one for them. It didn’t have near the emotional resonance of Wonder Woman but I certainly liked it much better than Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. It could have been a little bit better but I was entertained and that’s what I want out of a superhero movie. Nice job working together Sony and Marvel and I look forward to more team-ups in future Spidey films!

Everyone will want to know where I fit this in my Spider-Man movie rankings. I’d say it’s 2nd or 3rd place but I need more time for it to sink in. Where would it rank for you?

As far as content it’s pretty safe. There are penis jokes and violence but nothing out of line of a standard MCU movie. Little kids might get a little bored with the high school plot but it won’t be offensive or scary for them.

Overall Grade- B

Dreamworks 9: Madagascar

From 2003-2005 I did not see any feature films because I was on a mission for my church. There have been some films like The Incredibles (2004) that I have naturally caught up on but there are still many holes during those years. For example, the first Madagascar film I had never seen prior to this week. The only entry in the franchise I’d seen is the Penguins of Madagascar, which I enjoyed back in 2014. Unfortunately this first entry, Madagascar, isn’t as strong of a film and it left me a bit baffled at how 3 films were made.

I think what surprised me the most about this film is how horrible the animation was. Everything looked very strange and I thought it must have been released in 3D the way the heads of the characters kept flying towards the screen. I mean look at the image above. The neck on the giraffe would have to be 7 ft tall which is pushing it even for a giraffe. It looks so weird and there were many images like that.

Look at this zebra. His eyes are different sizes. His face looks strange and his mouth sticks out and is the size of his entire upper body. It looks so weird.

All of the characters are like that and the animation is also really jerky. Take a look at this clip of a birthday scene. Notice the way the characters heads jerk in front of the camera. It’s not the smooth and professional looking animation you expect from a major studio.

I also thought the story and characters were pretty pedestrian and bland. Basically Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) is tired of the life of the zoo and he wants to break free (how many times have we seen that story?) while Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) is fine being pampered. They eventually end up out of the zoo and have to find a way home. It’s pretty simple stuff we’ve seen a million times.

The best part of Madagascar is the voice acting which all works. It’s one of the examples where Dreamworks celebrity casting pay offs. Chris Rock is good as Marty, Ben Stiller as Alex and David Schwimmer as Melman. Most of the other characters aren’t given a ton to do but they fit well.

Also 2 groups of characters save the movie- the lemurs and penguins. The penguins are secret agent penguins that live at the zoo and are very funny. The lemurs live on the island and are ruled by King Julian voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen. They have a funny dance number and provide some unpredictability to the clunky script.

Other than that, I was pretty underwhelmed by Madagascar. The animation was bad. The story was pedestrian and boring. The characters were very predictable and bland. It certainly is shocking something so mediocre inspired 3 sequels. I’m told 2 and 3 get a lot better. Let’s hope so…

Overall Grade- C- for the lemurs and penguins