Dunkirk


Viewed – 26 July 2017  Cinema

In 1940 WWII, allied troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk are slowly and methodically evacuated using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. … whilst at the same time fearing an imminent attack.

dunkirk

Now I can’t say I am all that familiar with the historical aspects of this based-on-true-events depiction, so came into this blind with only the prospect of it being directed by Christopher Nolan getting me all that excited.  I’d say at this stage he is one of the best directors around and for me has crafted some incredible cinematic experiences.  So trying his hand at a war movie … well, someone take my money!  So we get the expected awe-inspiring photography and Nolan’s usual reliance on actual practical effects where clearly no expense seems to have been spared … and when we have areal dog fights or capsized ships it’s a sight to behold I can tell you.  Sad then that the surrounding events didn’t engage me as expected, not help by strangely bland characterisation  that even names like Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy fail to elevate.

Told through the eyes of several characters; a young lad who jumps aboard a boat setting sale to bring aid to the stranded soldiers at Dunkirk beach, a wet-behind-the-ears soldier at the beach who finds himself in a group of scared soldiers trying to find safety, and Tom Hardy’s spitfire pilot … this delivered a few powerful moments of dread and excitement but is ultimately let down by a trying to be clever, non-linear structure that’s at first not apparent – resulting in confusion.  Add to this a relentless over-dose of orchestral music that is tie-one’s-stomach-in-a-not intense even during relatively mundane moments and I began to think Nolan was trying to hide the fact he didn’t really have much to say.  It’s an event in WWII history that was significant, but the depiction we get here made it feel like just another day in the war (apparently thousands lost their lives, not that you see much of that).

WWII caused a horrific time in world history and several movies have brought that home and showcased courage under impossible odds much better (Saving Private Ryan).  So… maybe go see this for a bit of a history lesson and some admittedly stunning visuals.  Stay at home if you’re expecting much else.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

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Insterstellar


Viewed – 08 August 2015  Blu-ray

Something is wrong with our planet, the fuel or food supplies are drying up and everyone is acting like the place is doomed.  Farmer and former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives a quiet existence on a farm with his son and daughter, until following stories of a ghost in his daughter’s bedroom, Cooper discovers a communication signal hidden in the dust and various books falling from the shelves.  The strange anomaly leads them to follow co-ordinates one night that leads them to a secret underground NASA base.  Headed by Michael Caine, that’s where Cooper is then given the opportunity to return to space on a mission that just may be the answer to mankind’s future.

Insterstellar 1

Give it to director Christopher Nolan for tackling big ideas.  No stranger to presenting bold concepts to the viewer, as we saw in the dreamscape epic Inception, and this sci-fi drama is no different.  We get black holes, deep space, other dimensions and strange new worlds.  Yes McConoughey is boldly going where no man has gone before, and I was fully along for the ride.  He is supported well by Anne Hathaway as a scientist and fellow astronaut, and the ideas at play here were particularly fascinating, borrowing to a large extent from Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey but throwing in enoughInsterstellar 2 personality and visionary-wonder to stand on it’s own.  This is a stunning looking movie, Nolan using his various locations and his love of I-Max to wonderful effect, and various scenes just swept me up in their sheer majesty (the tidal wave…the ice planet etc.).  This is helped no end of course by Hans Zimmer’s at times intense and sweeping score.  Trust me watch this on a decent sized screen in surround sound and you’ll be blown away.

I can’t say I understood it all, and it get’s rather mind-boggling towards the end – in a good way.  Yet with a strong, emotional performance from McConoughey and good turns from Caine and also Jessica Chastain who turns up half way through, I really got a kick out of this.  It’s long at over two and a half hours, but it’s profound questions on humanity, love and life needed time to breathe, and so I can’t say I was bored one bit.  One of my ‘movies of the year’ without doubt.

Verdict:  5 /5

Man of Steel


Viewed – 18 June 2013  Cinema

Following the huge disappointment of Brian Singer’s Superman Returns, fans and critics alike have been right to think the series was dead in the water, again.  Thankfully, I have been quite optimistic on just how this latest interpretation of one of the most famed superhero characters ever might turn out – mainly because Zack Snyder was directing.  Overseen by producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S Goyer (the team behind the Dark Knight movies) – and with the man who brought Watchmen to the big screen – really, could this fail?

Man-of-Steel

Inspired by the story of Superman: The Movie (1979) and the comics before it we start on the gradually dying planet of Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) launches his only child into space after General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts to rage war.  Yet once baby boy Kal-El (superman) is gone, Zod is trialed for treason and sentenced to the phantom zone along with his cronies.  Cut to about 30 years later on earth, and Kal-El is now Clark Kent, raised by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, but yearns to find out his true origins whilst struggling to hide from the world who he really is.

From the off this is an energetic and confident movie full of spectacle and solid performances, especially from scene-stealing Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire).  Casting here is what impresses most with a surprising but perfect Crowe nailing the part of Jor-El and also an enjoyably feisty (and gorgeous) Amy Adams as Superman’s love-interest Lois Lane.  Snyder’s direction whilst at times lacking in subtlety like a mad professor drunk on his own power (or wealth of effects tools) still delivers probably the best Superman movie we could hope for in this age of anything-is-possible CGI.  The action is loud, brash, mad-as-hell but most importantly FUN, and with an interesting structure (Clark’s childhood / teenage years is shown only in brief flashbacks) and lots of welcome ideas (Clark overwhelmed by his powers, more back story of Krypton) … this fan-boy couldn’t have had a bigger grin on his face.  Of course the big question remains just how good was Henry Cavill as Kal-El / Clark Kent?  Well, if memories of the late (great) Christopher Reeve didn’t even come to mind, then instantly he’s doing something right – he had the charisma, the vulnerability and the looks, so yeah job done – and ladies, prepare to swoon big time!

There you have it … Superman returns – for real this time!

Verdict:  5 /5

Batman Begins


Viewed – 06 July 2012  Blu-ray

In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises coming out at the end of the month, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Christopher Nolan’s first of his trilogy, and therefore re-discover the origins of Bruce Wayne and Batman.   Christian Bale plays the billionaire playboy and heir to the Wayne empire founded by his parents, and following their murder, goes on a journey of self discovery that leads him to a Tibetan monastery, where he is trained by Liam Neeson to become a force of vengeance and retribution.

Nolan’s movie is immediately grand and beautifully shot with some gorgeous cinematography especially in the opening moments.  Here he has returned the Batman franchise to its origins, shedding even the comic-book stylings of the Tim Burton era to create a more realistic and gritty experience.  I recall on first seeing this that I felt much of what I had loved about Burton’s movies was gone – the enchantment, the music of Danny Elfman, the gothic architecture and the bizarre characters.  Yet on reflection, perhaps I was a little trapped in the past, and now feel I can appreciate what Nolan has brought to the Batman mythos, therefore getting to the heart of what Batman really should be about.  This is akin to the graphic novels more than the DC comics back in the day, and even though there is humour and some memorable one-liners, the tone is completely different than what has gone before.

That’s not to say we don’t get what we expect from a Batman movie – there are gadgets, a creepy villain in the shape of Cillian Murphy’s freaky Scarecrow and one killer of a Batmobile.  Supporting cast, especially Neeson in a scene-stealing performance, but also Gary Oldman playing against type as the future Commissionaire Gordan, and a brilliantly layered Michael Cain as butler Alfred … are all perfect.  But this remains not just Christopher Nolan’s movie but also that of Christian Bale, who delivers the perfect Wayne / Batman and looks the part, plays the part and is the part  – troubled, heroic, arrogant and above all else – cool.

For story, casting, action and just plane brilliant film-making – this could be the best Batman movie yet made.

Verdict:  5 /5

Paprika


Viewed – 25 January 2012  Blu-ray

I had previously only been aware of Japanese animation guru Satoshi Kon after seeing the brilliant Perfect Blue some years ago, and on hearing of his  passing in 2010 from pancreatic cancer, I always promised myself I would seek out anything else he had made.  Paprika, adapted from the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, follows the story of an experimental device that enables therapists to enter the dreams of their patients in order to help them.  When the device is stolen, chaos erupts as reality and the world of the dream collide.

This is a startlingly visual experience, awash with colour and imagination.  Kon’s movie assaults the senses and really blew my mind.  It plays with your perception of what is real and what isn’t, much like he did in Perfect Blue, but this time its much more avant garde and limitless, showing a director at the top of his game.  Sad it was to be his last feature.  Yet Satoshi Kon has left the world on a glorious high note, delivering one of the most beautiful and imaginative animated movies I have ever seen.  The detail and wonder on display here, along with utterly freaky music and sound, is often quite breath-taking (the reoccurring image of the parade, the gloriously weird theme tune etc).

Ok, it’s quite hard to follow with the kaleidoscopic style and imagery at times overwhelming, but conventional story structure is not the big selling point here, more the look and ideas, with many visual references including classic Japanese TV show ‘Monkey’, and Disney’s Pinocchio.  Christopher Nolan has cited it as his inspiration for the similar Inception, and also in my opinion it has much in common with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

A unique, brain-melting event of a movie that I urge you to seek out immediately.

Verdict:  4 /5