I tend to approach a movie directed by Christopher Nolan with a degree of expectation. Over the years he has earned his place as one of the most skilled directors around, with acclaimed works such as Inception, Interstellar and of course The Dark Knight trilogy. This latest has him attempt the spy / espionage sub-genre and you do get the impression he’d make a helluva Bond movie – but this gives the genre Nolan’s own unique spin. So how does it fair?
Before get to that let’s go into the plot. A CUA operative (John David Washington) gets embroiled in a complex plot to over throw a Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) who seems to have stumbled upon a top secret weapon that could mean the end of the world. This weapon has something to do with time inversion, where objects or people can be inverted so they work in reverse of perceived time, therefore manipulating the world as it see’s fit because it’s already happened. The movie has us grapple with this high-brow concept whilst delivering exhilarating, unique action set pieces (the freeway heist) I felt only a director of Christopher Nolan’s calibre could pull off. The plot is confusing at first as our protagonist tries to stop a mad man whilst grappling with the fabric of time itself. Yet it’s a time travel movie done in a way I don’t think we’ve seen before, … that’s head-scratching but also awe-inspiring, with all the necessary ‘aha’ moments when certain details fall into place. This is rather ingenious writing that I’ll admit to not really being clever enough to unravel on first viewing.
Beyond the complex ideas at play, there is also the matter of stunning IMAX photography, which is more plentiful here than in the director’s previous work aided by a reliance on large-scale stunt work, practical effects and grandeur. The movie globe trots from eye catching locale to eye catching locale and it all looks lush. Performances ranging from Washington’s cool as ice Protagonist to Brannagh’s scenery chewing villain are decent, even if plot exposition can get lost in line delivery that’s often mumbled (and occasionally drowned out by the movie’s score) The fact this movie is hard to follow is really it’s only failing. Otherwise it delivers action, scale and imagination that’s on a different level. Perhaps not Nolan’s best, but certainly up there with some of his other movies if given the attention it deserves.
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.
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.
Young student-wizard Harry Potter finds his imminent second term at Hogwarts overshadowed by the news that a horrible scheme is afoot, when an Elf tries to prevent him attending school. However despite the continued reluctance of his mean aunt and uncle, Harry is quickly rescued by best friend Ron Weasley. Yet upon arrival at Hogwarts a series of strange goings on revolving around a mysterious ‘chamber of secrets’ has everyone on edge and fearing an old evil has returned.
This second outing of the fantasy franchise finds Daniel Radcliffe and co settling into their roles with what appears to be a bit more confidence to their performances (with an improved Emma Watson). The who-dunnit plot is at first intriguing but plods along rather slowly, making unnecessary room for various disposable sequences. The plot here seems somewhat padded out, like the movie was struggling for material and tries to over-complicate a simple storyline just to extend the running time. Also compared to the sheer magical ‘wonder’ and energy of The Philosopher’s Stone, the budget here felt rolled back with some god-awful green-screen (Qwiditch) and considerably less flair to the cinematography. Also unlike the last movie this world is now established, so I was hoping for a gripping narrative, which despite best efforts, the movie failed to deliver, even ushering in some blatant deja-vu in the final act.
With that said we get a fun appearance from Kenneth Branagh and performances across the board are all decent (with a stand-out Rupert Grint as Ron). The opening flying car sequence, a brief wizard-off and a chase involving an army of spiders were good fun too. I like these characters and the world they inhabit, but for me this second instalment felt like a concept running out of ideas when it has only just begun. Here’s hoping what follows is an improvement or I may not make it all the way to the end!
Did we really need another telling of this classic fairy tale? I think most people are familiar with the story; a girl named Ella (Cinderella) finds herself living with a wicked step mother and two cruel step sisters after her natural parents die. However a chance encounter with a charming (ahem) prince soon see’s her fortunes changing for the better, with a little help from a fairy godmother.
Disney’s new adaptation of the classic story is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars relative newcomer Lily James as Ella and Cate Blanchett as her stepmother Lady Tremaine. This proved fun and has several stand out moments (the ballroom dance, the race to get home before the carriage turns back into a pumpkin) and is for the most part done very well. Acting is a tad over the top with a disappointingly hammy Blanchett coming across a little too cartoony, and those stepsisters I just wanted to slap. Helena Bonham Carter also appears as the fairy godmother, and like Blanchet is very caricature and silly. Thankfully then Game Of Thrones’ Richard Madden as the Prince is just the right side of charming without coming across as cheesy. Lily James starts out sugar-coated sweet but develops some real depth as her fortunes deteriorate and dreams are shattered … and proved a much more interesting character than say, Elle Fanning’s Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent.
Brannagh fills the movie with gorgeous (albeit CGI-loaded) locations and some excellent set design and costumes, making for a real visual treat. Yet I was hoping for something that warranted this being done again, but with a reliance on cartoon-like performances and slapstick humour we get very little we didn’t see in the 1950 Disney classic, amongst other versions. A missed opportunity.
For a new audience this is still decent, feel-good entertainment, but for anyone familiar with the story, approach this more as a re-visit than a re-imagining. It’s no Snow White and the Huntsman.
I never saw the previous, highly regarded Jack Ryan movies; the Alec Baldwin starring The Hunt For Red October, the Harrison Ford vehicles Clear & Present Danger etc. Something about their overly serious approach to CIA espionage action always had me leaning more towards Mission Impossible or the James Bond franchise for my escapism. Now in the wake of his credible turns in the recent Star Trek reboots, pretty-boy actor Chris Pine steps into the shoes of a more rookie Ryan, in this origin tale to Tom Clancy’s famed character.
I’ll admit the casting of the likeable Pine drew my attention and well, I can be a sucker for a good action thriller. Here we also get Kenneth Branagh, another actor I have admired, albiet in a typical English-thesp cast as the bad guy turn, as a Russian terrorist attempting to over throw the U.S. economy. I was hoping Hollywood had grown out of such casting by now. He is also the director so maybe he only has himself to blame for that. Pine however has Keira Knightley as his girlfriend who gets caught up in proceedings when she follows him to Russia fearing his secretive goings-on are hiding an affair. This is fairly formulaic stuff, and isn’t helped by a chemistry-free pairing of Pine & Knightley, whose relationship is given no weight due to the fact their casual hook-up during a prologue hospitalization is glossed over. Costner also offers little more than his presence and a mentor vibe (which seems to be his thing these days, see: Man of Steel). Thankfully Branagh’s villain is fairly decent and charismatic. The biggest problem though is that we’re presented yet again with a thriller more interested in fancy rapid-fire editing, it’s pounding score and a great deal of espionage mumbo-jumbo than conveying a plot that is easy to follow or characters and situations we can care about. Doesn’t help either that what action there is, is fairly limply handled and over before you can get into any of it.
For Chris Pine fans, its worth seeing, and I expect we’ll see a more polished sequel down the line. Yet I’ll hazard a guess for Ryan enthusiasts … you’re probably better off with the books. Everyone else, this is simply a glossy but otherwise by-the-numbers thriller – and not a particularly surprising one at that.
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