Nolan, Dun Got It Right

Dunkirk

 

War, huh, yeah, what is it good for?  Entertaining movies, that is what it is good for.  Hollywood has numerous examples of wars from the various historical times in our human legacy. Many of these installments focus on a hero who saved the war, or a band of brothers that bravely faced the odds to hold the line.  In most cases though, you can bet there will be violence, explosions, and often graphic portrayals of the hell contained in our squabbles.  I finish my weekend reviews with Dunkirk, which is the latest installment in the Christopher Nolan library.  Can the Dark Knight director work his magic in war?  Or does it fizzle out like a dud bomb.  Robbie K here to give his opinions.  Let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

 

Layered Story:  Many war movies are the linear tales of the hero who will win the battle.  Dunkirk diverts from this main path and instead presents its plot from three viewpoints that overlap at various times.  A cryptic opening doesn’t do much to explain this, but eventually the plots coincide and your mind is blown by the presentation.  This element, though confusing at times, adds that unique flare to the movie that keeps your interest piqued as you connect the journeys of those involved.  In addition, the multiple viewpoints give you a more complete picture of the war, further bringing the history to life in a manner Hollywood special effects is famous for.

 

Realism:  We know the doctoring editing and story writers can make to score big bucks in the box office.  These moments often lead to overdramatic, eye-rolling moments that war dramas can be.  Dunkirk again shines in the unique department in terms of crafting the story to be realistic in many details.  You’ll be pulled into the war in this film, grounded in the nightmares that plague the battlefields and the internal struggle that all involved face.  I felt plagued with the emotional guilt in the choices made in this film, while also concerned with the consequences that could follow those choices. The film’s focus on the people and not the battle works on so many levels, and makes you interested in the characters more so than the special effects.  Nice choice again Noland!

 

The Cinematography:  Dunkirk doesn’t have a lot of lines, award winning dialogue, or even one-liners that we as humans like.  Instead it is the cinematography and editing that bring Dunkirk to life and make it shine in the theater’s dark halls.   While the special effects are certainly impressive (though not that showy), it’s really the camera work that brings the mood out in the form of hope seeking faces that are suffering through the onslaught dealt to them.  Throw in the powerful musical score and mix in the little line delivery and you get that recipe for emotional bombardment that brings respect, empathy, and pride of the sacrifices made by troops long ago.

 

Short run time:  Such a dynamic, sounds like it would take forever…fortunately Nolan’s direction kept the movie under 2 hours and brought quality out in that short time.  This is an example of good directing and editing, and proof that you can have a quality film in a short time limit.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Missing that Hollywood Story:  Realism is good, but I certainly missed having a flared-up story to grip onto.  Dunkirk is a quality movie, but it isn’t as much fun as I have had with other war movies.  It lacks some of the big, bang excitement made famous in other war movies, and the realistic psychological approach can drag at times.  The result is not the action-packed survival I had hoped for, but I can always rewatch Hacksaw Ridge for that. And while I enjoyed the layered story approach, I again think it was confusing at times to piece things together without a central story, plot, or goal (outside of survival/rescue) to hook onto.

 

The placement of certain scenes: My buddy and I agreed that there were points to this movie that were difficult to follow.  Much of this came from the odd placement of clips in the movie and the rapid transitions between these various stories with little guidance.  Things do get better when the lines start to come together, but there are still scenes that still stay confusing at points until the end of the movie.  In addition, the pacing of the stories was uneven at times, with a couple of stories rapidly concluding (so you think), only to reappear after a prolonged gap.  Not the biggest weakness, but things could have been a little better oriented for me.

 

Depressing:  We know war sucks, and this movie’s portrayal of the loss of hope amplifies those feelings. There are so many elements of depression in this movie that you may feel a little down following the opening.  I felt a little tired during this movie, especially during the drawn-out moments that were more depressing and less stressing.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Dunkirk is certainly one of the more artistic and clever portrayals of war, dropping Hollywood flare for realism.  Nolan’s impressive directing opens up new worlds of war theater and keeps things fresh with the impressive displays of heroism.  Yet all the good the cinematography and directing is… I missed the Hollywood flare that cinemas bring.  Without that story/entertainment value to it… Dunkirk has some confusing presentations and dragged out moments that can weigh heavy on you.  Still, this movie has plenty to qualify a visit to the theater, and one of the better movies of the summer.  Not the epic wartime thriller, but certainly one of the more realistic, war dramas I have ever seen. 

 

My scores:

 

Action/Drama/History:  9.0

Movie Overall:  8.0

 

 

Let Patriotic Pride Ring

patriots-day

 

Mark Wahlberg and disaster movies seem to go hand and hand these days and this weekend brings the latest installment in his library.  Today I got to see Patriots Day, a movie that dramatizes the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013.  Like all disaster movies, it holds the promise for inspiring the audience or stirring up emotion.  But has Hollywood hit its saturation point?  Hi Robbie K here, with a new abbreviated review of Patriots Day.  Let’s get started

 

LIKES:

  • Very Detailed
  • Good visual/audio techniques
  • Emotionally strong movie

 

Summary:  When it comes to historical movies we like details and Patriots Day does not fall short in portraying this tragic event.  From the bombings to the manhunt, you get to see the thrilling, and sometimes chilling, journey to bring the case to a close. The movie shows the events from the perspectives of many involved including victims, cops, and the terrorists themselves.  An even more impressive twist is the smooth integration of real life security clips that helps keep the facts in check, while also showing the inspiration of the movie.  When you take these clips, and mix them with the movie magic of scene and music editing, you get incredibly powerful scenes that are certain to inspire you.  I agree with the trailers that Patriots Day is one of the most emotional stirring pieces to grace the silver screen this year.  So many sequences promote the concepts of uniting in the face of danger, perseverance of spirit, and American pride.  It had many in my viewing sniffling and certainly got some goosebumps going in this reviewer.  Therefore, Patriots Day editing is certainly the selling point of this movie.

 

DISLIKES  

  • Movie magic overdramatizes
  • Some editing issues
  • May poke some snakes

 

Summary: As seen many times in Hollywood, the magic of the cinema sometimes steps into overdramatic role.  Patriots Day, despite how emotionally stirring it is, does cross into preachy side at times. While it certainly is inspiring, much of the ending moments (primarily the dialogue) is geared towards American pride that may be seen as boastful.  In addition, some people may not appreciate the portrayal of the various characters, perhaps thinking they were too extreme in their renditions.  Yes, some of the audience said this during the movie.  But outside of overdramatic moments and extreme portrayals, the only other component for me was some of the editing lapses in the movie.  There are certain scenes that attempt to show some of the background info on the characters (e.g. dating, guys getting high on weed, etc) which were certainly entertaining or aggravating.  However, these moments were either not timed right, or more often not needed for me to get the emotional kick of the movie.  And to be honest, most of these clips do extend the cast’s screen time.

 

The Verdict:

Patriots Day is a movie that will bring some sort of emotion to most audience members.  The detail is fantastic and makes you feel a part of the team in this epic manhunt, establishing that rage to capture the bad guys.  The special effects and audio score will only deepen your immersion into the story.  However, be ready for some political discussions and potential airing of grievances when you see the very extreme portrayals in this movie. Overall though, this movie is a solid opening to the year and a welcome break up from the mundane.

 

My scores:

 

Drama/History/Thriller:  8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0

Ben-Hur, Done That

Ben-Hur

 

In 1959 the world was introduced to Ben-Hur, a movie that today remains on many top movie lists. So of course Hollywood, would be ready for a remake in this golden age of well…remakes. My final review of the weekend is on the latest rendition of the classic tale that promises the entire plot with more of the action. So let’s get started shall we?

 

LIKES:

  • Sticks to the story
  • Acting
  • The chariot scene finale

 

With remakes sometimes comes a major plot overhaul, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. In Timur Bekmambetov’s production the story is pretty consistent with its 55-year-old predecessor. The backbone is essentially the same, but they have made a few tweaks such a making Messala, Judah’s brother and using assassination as the means of starting war instead of a tile falling from the ceiling. Some of these additions I think make the drama more gripping, and others were a little more long-winded and overdramatic. At least most of these additions added to the plot and allowed us to get closer and more involved with Ben-Hur’s tale. I liked most of the plot points myself, despite rolling my eyes at times, and welcomed the additions.

I also welcomed the acting, with Jack Huston being an extraordinary Ben-Hur of the modern age. He captures the noble side of the character well and did a decent job for most of the hopeless romantic scenes as well. I can’t lie that his deep brooding voice, sounded a lot like a comical Batman impression and his shaken faith moments were a bit overdone, but overall he did a nice job. Toby Kebell also does the role of Messala well too, though he is a bit more overbearing and brash compared to Huston and bleeds over to the overacted realm a few times. But these two sync with each other well, and both have a great chemistry with the rest of the cast making for a believable crew that you fall into place with.

And as promised, the chariot scene was quite the display of technical ingenuity the modern day Hollywood. The sequence is well put together, with the cinematography capturing all the glorious chaos and action in glorious detail. Its stable, multi angled, and all designed to maximize emotion without making you sick (take a look at this Michael Bay). Now throw in a killer symphony score and sound editing and you get the next component that brings the 15 minutes of adrenaline pumping shots to full force. Finally, throw in some beautifully choreographed moments and planned accidents and you get the complete picture that immerses you into the moment. It certainly was a fitting ending to the tale.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Some of the Drama overdone
  • Writing is surprisingly lacking at parts
  • The savage nature of the film

As mentioned earlier, the writers of the script added some good story elements to the mix, but there were parts that were a little overdone. Many of these parts often had to do with the mother and sister roles, very shallow moments that did not add much to the plot for me. The obsession from that point on led to a lot of circular arguments that were not impressive to me and kept the plot from moving along. A few other character introductions and building rivalries were almost not needed, for the characters weren’t on screen long enough to really add much to the story other than fodder for the violent moments.

This brings me to the next dislike: the lacking writing. For a movie all about finding faith and challenging the reign of the prestigious Roman Empire, you would have thought there would be more boisterous and moving speeches. There are a few of these pride-stimulating moments, but much of Ben-Hur’s dialogue has been reduced to casual conversations where testosterone leads to a semi heated complaining match. Morgan Freeman probably has the best conversations of the bunch when he interacts with the group, filled with the wisdom and enlightenment this time in history was famous for. In addition Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) also had a few wise moments though not as well thought out. While you certainly aren’t there for the writing, it was something that I had hoped would match the intensity of the 50s film.

Finally comes the savage nature of the film. Yes, I know times were horrendous back then and the might of the army was merciless and not shy of brutality. Still I didn’t expect so much focus on it. Ben-Hur’s modern day graphics truly amplify the reality of suffering as both Roman and Jewish citizens are burned, maimed, and crushed under the wrath of entertainment. Some of the violence was indeed necessary, but the cruelty towards the horses in this film was a little too focused for my liking. Yes it does bring you into the heat of the moment and I did feel the suspense building. But seeing those horses (even CGI ones) suffer was not entertaining to me. The violence is certainly fitting, but those with weak constitutions might want to stick to the 50s lower technical qualities.

 

The VERDICT

Ben-Hur is one of the better remakes I have seen in a while, and has many of the elements we fell in love with all those years ago. The actors play their roles nicely and the modern day graphics certainly bring the world to life and immerse you into the entire story. But it is a remake that is a bit more savage and is does not hold anything really special to constitute a trip to theater, with the exception of the few action scenes. Yet those looking for a good historical, action, drama will get their fill, but I recommend waiting on this one to grace RedBox.

 

My scores:

Adventure/Drama/History: 7

Movie Overall: 7

Well Designed World that Drags

Jersey boys

            The Four Seasons, a musical sensation that lasted throughout the years as one of the greatest bands of the 20th century.  With uptown beats, a blend of instruments, and a high pitched Frankie Valli; this group led the charts for many years.  So what is the entertaining world’s current trend in recognizing their achievements?  Simple, they make plays and movies about the group, in particular about the origins and underlying story of the singing sensations.  That’s right, my movie review is on Jersey Boys, the latest work of director Clint Eastwood.

 

Like most movies about singing legends, the underlying tone is dark, often the glamorous lifestyle of fame a mere cover for some tormenting background.  If you didn’t get this from the movie trailer, or the title, I’m here to tell you that Jersey Boys is a tale of dark and dreary times.  Right from the start we are thrown smack dab in the middle of a depressing neighborhood, filled with citizens whose dreams seem dead, with the exception of a few, as Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) introduces us to his life.  In a curse filled, angry tone, one already gets a feeling the movie will have a more somber tone than any of the films I’ve seen in the past few weeks.  Over the course of two hours, the tale grows darker, every ounce of happiness offset by seedy greed and selfish desires of one or two characters.  While realistic, it became slow at points and bored me to wanting to take a nap.  Now maybe it was the double feature after a day of work, but the truth is this movie dragged at points for me, especially in the beginning where I was waiting for them to actually sing something.  Luckily the film picks up pace when the first song leaves Frankie’s golden throat, but after the brief span of nostalgic tunes, it hits a low point again.  Yes, it sets up a tale that has lots of character development, but shorten the movie by a half an hour and you will still make your point.

 

Putting story aside, the recreated world of the 60’s was well executed, as various trends and commodities returned from the shelves of time.  Various couples in the audience lit up with delight at being dragged back in time, commenting on how much fun establishments like that used to be. Regardless, the setting is well done, both costumes and makeup blending in with the artificial towns that changes, as the seasons grow older.  While I am no expert in how the seasons looked, I felt the cast did a nice job of recreating them, styling hair and casting actors who looked and played the part.  While the characters can be real sleaze balls, I think the fantastic four did a great job filling the epic shoes, and blending Jersey edge with Italian loyalty.  Frankie (John Lloyd Young) in particular was my favorite character, a wide variety of emotion and qualities that made me most interested in his story.  Of course seeing as the tale was more focused on him, I can’t tell how much was glamorized to make him look good, but still I rather enjoyed his character.  As for the other actors, well I applaud their talent as well, each playing an integral role in “moving” the story along and providing a different angle on things.

 

Let’s talk about the part I enjoyed the most about Jersey Boys.  No I’m not talking that it ending, I’m talking about the music.  The one shred of light in this story is getting to hear the gang sing some of their big time hits.  Is it live singing or well-rehearsed dub overs?  I don’t know, but regardless I was moving my knees and bobbing to the rhythm as the Four Seasons played their melodies.  The elaborate stage shows with their bright lights brightened the mood and temporarily eliminated the cloud of dismay I was feeling.  Getting not one, but four songs as well, made me feel as if I wasn’t being gipped, and the fact they played the entire son, or at least most of it, was another plus that Eastwood did right.  Of course, the only thing that I wished could have been different, was that these songs were not so clustered together, to help relieve some of the latter dramatic tension and depression, but Eastwood cant’ change history any more than we can.

 

Jersey Boys has the magic of bringing a world to life, however depressing that world may be.  With a great cast, beautiful setting, and music that continues to span the test of time, Eastwood deserves applause for what he has done.  Yet, it is slow, and not really a movie I can say deserves flocking to the theater to see, when it can be appreciated from the comforts of home, and cheaper as well.  It may win an Oscar though, so if given the chance to see it take it, but hold your money for some of the other films coming in the next couple of weeks.

 

I give Jersey Boys:

 

Drama/Biography/Musical:  7.5

Overall:  7.0 

Chastain leads this Manhunt to Good Things, but lacks on others

Zero Dark Thirty

Robbie K back again with another review this weekend on the latest blockbuster film.  This time I’m covering Kathryn Bigelow’s latest project entitled Zero Dark Thirty (ZDT), the movie about the manhunt considered to be the greatest of all time.  While Bigelow’s last historical drama won the best movie category four years ago, I still wasn’t too thrilled to see this movie, since that year was more politics than anything else.  Jessica Chastain was the motivation to give the film a try though, as I have always been a fan of her work.  So what was my verdict on ZDT?  Read on to find out.

Immediately I chuckled as the message saying the movie was based on firsthand accounts appeared on the screen.  From those words I wondered just how much of this movie was going to be accurate and how much was going to be movie magic and dramatization.  Yet since I’m fairly ignorant to the news I can only speculate on such matters and how reliable these firsthand account memories were.  Putting that aside though let me continue on with the movie review.  After the message disappears, the horror of 9/11 is revisited as actual calls fill the speakers of the victims of the terrible event in an attempt to get the crowd fired up from the get go.  The first scene continues to expand on that emotion, showing the American CIA torturing a captured terrorist, taking no means to censor the inhumane treatment of a fellow human being.  While it’s not as bloody as some of the horror/slasher genres, the realism behind these scenes is enough to make any sane person cringe, or some other affect.  Don’t let this sway your mind into thinking this movie is just one big torture fest, it’s just one thing to warn you about.

ZDT is a really well done movie that has many components that make it worthy of being considered best picture of the year.  Bigelow and company planned the movie out well, bringing the evolution of the plan to hunt down Bin Laden to life.  What starts out as simple interrogation in the beginning turns into something much more complicated as the CIA agents continue to uncover the depth of the rabbit hole.  The suspense of the CIA trying to uncover clues, discover new leads, and obtain the truth is done in just the right amounts to keep one enthralled in the adventure.  Of course the adventure requires one to listen to dialog filled with military jargon, requiring one to pay attention to understand the turn events.   Should you become lost in a particular part of the movie though, don’t worry as the film is divided into chapters that are titled to sum up the theme of that chapter.  The jargon though is a necessity to fit in with the well-acted scenes of military planning and politics that agreed with my vision of how these military meetings go. 

By now you might be wondering if this movie is all about meetings and governmental big wigs arguing with each other.  While this does happen a lot in the movie, there are some other qualities to this movie that kept my attention.  As I mentioned earlier, the CIA’s journey to find Bin Laden constantly changes as more events unfold.  These events are a combination of character dilemmas, political intervention, and reenactments of some of terrorist attacks that occurred over the last decade.  While it is painful to relive these moments, ZDT has managed to recreate these events with extraordinary detail, expanding on the limited footage the news stations revealed.  Unfortunately the Arabic soldiers I felt were depicted to look like savage monsters out to destroy everything in sight, while the Americans were depicted as the heroes who could do no wrong.  Was I surprised by this depiction?  Not really, but I do worry about the consequences of such a portrayal.  Moving on though, the journey to bring Osama to justice doesn’t just change on strategy, but also the political involvement of the big wigs in Washington D.C.  At first thought to be an irreplaceable ally, the government quickly turns into a hindrance refusing to allocate the funds properly and give orders to back up the CIA’s investigations.  Fans will enjoy the pot shots the film takes at Congress and the president to state the weaknesses we already knew about.  Eventually the movie reaches a peak of suspense and excitement as the mission to bring him in begins, moving out of the meetings and video tapes, and moving into the hotspot battle zone.  Like the rest of the movie this battle isn’t the flashy explosion filled battle, but a strategic insertion with minimum firefights occurring.  Disappointed with that?  Well the realistic approach does allow one to see some pretty cool technology that actually belongs in this age.

Despite all of these great qualities though, ZDT’s biggest strength for me is Jessica Chastain’s character Maya.  The red head’s character is the central core to the entire movie.  Her character drives most of the plot, being the agent hired to look past the hard evidence and understand the mindset of a terrorist.  Instead of just taking an analyst role though, Chastain’s character plays the field on many levels collecting information herself, interacting with her fellow colleagues, and even forcing the government to do something once she gets angry.  As her career upgrades though, so too does her character.  Maya doesn’t just say a one dimensional genius through the movie, but instead develops a range of emotions that change based on who she interacts with.  While at the beginning she starts out shy and afraid of the nightmare of the mission, she gradually acquires more confidence and backbone that becomes her greatest tool.  These qualities though would be nothing without Chastain’s acting.  Once again the red head impresses me with her talent, somehow playing her character as if it was her natural self.  Not once did I see her overact or play the wrong emotion on her character.  She delivered her lines extraordinarily and not once became boring to me.  However, I felt the movie relied on her a little too much though as her character was the center of the movie.  Sure other actors were here to back her up, but many roles were brief in this movie overall.

The last part of my review talks about some of the weaknesses I haven’t already mentioned.  One weakness is the pace of the movie was a little bit slow for me.  Although I was very interested in the manhunt, I didn’t need to be subjected to almost 3 hours of political bickering.  While it did add some challenge and depth, I got tired of the arguments and constant reminders of what the problem was.  Another thing that I rolled my eyes at, was the American glorification this movie had to it.  Yes it did show some weaknesses to our proud homeland, it still made us look like we were the heroes.  Why do I care about this?  I fear it could influence the folks to select this movie for best picture for the wrong reasons.

ZDT is a well done movie with lots of great strengths and realistic portrayals.  Yet how much is Hollywood magic and how much is real I still do not understand.  All I can say is that Chastain’s performance was incredible, the constantly adapting journey was full of suspense, and I like the realism involved with the film.  However, there are still plenty of things that make this movie a little lacking for the best movie of the year for my books.  Oh well we’ll see what happens on the Oscar’s soon.  Is it worth a trip to the theater?  For me it can be enjoyed in either home or theater, but I would say probably best at home.  My scores for the film are:

Action/Drama/History:  8.5

Movie Overall:  8.0