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

 

 

War or Survival of the Apes: Still Apemazing

Apes

Planet of the Apes, a series that has had ups and downs over the decades it’s been in existence.  The recent remakes have breathed life into the series and delivered some fantastic films that scream science fiction as they explain the events leading to the “classic” story. After a grand slam, middle movie that started the war, the third installment promised to bring that battle to full swing (according to the trailers).  Robbie K here with another review to fill the details and help guide your viewing choices.  War…what is it good for?  Let’s see if we can answer that question.

 

LIKES:

 

The Graphics:  The new series forewent the costumes, makeup, and looks of the classic series and instead focused on CGI graphics to bring the apes to life.  Once more, this series gets the animation perfect in all the high definition detail that modern technology bringsAndy Serkis (or Smeagle from LOTR for most of you) flexes his motion capture muscles in a stunning performance as Caesar the lead ape.  The movements are fluid, the facial gestures on point, and despite being painted as a chimpanzee, manages to brilliantly bring out a human like protagonist you can’t help but love.  When the more exciting moments are brought in, the border between reality (pyrotechnics) and virtual display is blurred even further in a balanced execution that keeps things in check.  Overall, the visual presentation is stunning.

 

The Story:  When you are doing prequels, it can be difficult to answer questions, but still craft an original story that is good (see the countless Star Wars prequel discussions).  War for the Planet of the Apes manages to achieve this balance of answering questions, while still bringing a story of its own.  This film manages to further develop Caesar’s life, while integrating key relationships that establish a firm foundation needed for these movies.  Much of the film is packed with this deep dive into the character psyche, while trying to infuse tension and suspense at the fates of the other apes. A good story indeed.

 

The Emotion:  And what makes the story so good, it’s the emotion captured in much of the scenes and sequences in the film.  Caesar himself is a complicated mess of feelings, motivations, and morale decisions, which is all brought out in the motion capture animation of Serkis’ work.  Watching his reactions, as well as the visualization of the war are brilliantly displayed with fantastic cinematography and supporting audio that maximizes the punches/kicks of the moment.  Animal activists will get double the slaps, but such emotion kept me engaged in the movie and suspenseful as what would happen next.  This may be the best component of the movie for me.

 

DISLIKES:

 

The Length:  Another example of editing, War for the Planet of the Apes could have cut some time off the movie.  This could have been achieved by shortening some of the suffering scenes, or dropping another sequence itself, though this might have weakened the story at points.  For this reviewer, there were components that felt a little long winded and unnecessary, which kind of bored me give the title of the movie (more on this later).

 

The Torture:  If seeing characters tortured is your idea of entertainment, then get stoked because this is your movie.  War for the Planet of the Apes has many dark moments that show the horrors that war can truly be.  The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is a stereotypical, military antagonist and this movie is not afraid to show off his cruelty in that overinflated manner Hollywood makes famous.  Many scenes may be disturbing to those with sensitive constitutions or again animal activist passion.  I found myself quite irritated, annoyed, and ticked off at times at seeing these scenes over and over again.  While I admit a few of these scenes were needed, there is too much of a “good” thing that can lead to it being overdone.

 

The Lack of Action:  For a movie called War for the Planet of the Apes, I was expecting more combat to be packed in.  The trailers promised scenes of battle between man and ape, with military tactics going up against technologically advanced soldiers.  Sadly, this was not the case as this film had only two battle sequences to throw some excitement into the mix. These scenes were cool, but a little anti-climactic and didn’t show the bravado I really wanted to see to deliver that exciting bang I craved.  Sure, War is not just about the exciting battles made famous in cinema and video games, and this film shows another side to War.  If that is going to be the case, don’t edit the trailers to promise that.

 

The VERDICT:

 

            War for the Planet of the Apes might have been better named survival of the Planet of the Apes.  While not the most exciting of the movies and a little darker in regards to portrayal of the Apes’ journey, it definitely has the emotional punch of the other installments.  It’s a beautiful tale that brings the prequels to full closure, while still opening up another movie or two to continue bridging the gap between classic and new.  I do agree that it is one of the better movies of the summer, still it needs a little tweaking in the editing and action department to bring it to full life.  Worth a trip to the theater?  The answer is yes!

 

My scores:

Action/Adventure/Drama:  8.0

Movie Overall: 8.0

Gibson Doesn’t Hack on Hacksaw Ridge: Explosively Awesome Movie

hacksaw ridge.jpg

            American entertainment, most of us know it’s all about the extremes these days (extreme crudeness, extreme drama, extreme stupidity). Well tonight an extreme director, Mel Gibson, takes a shot at making a movie that might defy the simplistic trend of most cinema is today.  Tonight a buddy and I hit the theaters to check out Hacksaw Ridge, a war drama that pegs the life of a rare officer position (the combat medic). Will this interesting spin fit well in the library of battle based films, or has Gibson gone off the deep end.  Let’s get going

 

LIKES:

  • Action Packed
  • Balances faith with honor
  • Inspirational
  • Fantastic effects
  • Good characters

 

Yeah, I have a lot of likes and it starts with the action this movie has to offer.  Hacksaw Ridge can be described as the pacific campaign of Saving Private Ryan, with plenty of explosions, bullets, and flamethrowers to light up the silver screen.  You’ll be cringing as all hell breaks loose in high definition sound and incredible special (not cheesy) effects that will drag you into the depths of battle. You might find yourself at the edge of your seat watching your hero tear through the scarred land, jumping through the carnage to take down a bunker.  Like realistic portrayals of war, this is the film for you.

But Hacksaw ridge isn’t just about soldiers getting dismembered or barbecued. No it’s a tale meant to inspire people to believe in their values, defy the odds, and yes help people without killing them. Gibson and his team have designed emotionally packed scenes where the cinematography alongside the stunning orchestral work bestows the honor of our soldiers. The dialogue also preaches the message Doss’ story is designed to tell, much of which involves faith being tested against tradition.  Sometimes it got a bit cheesy with the blatant, overdramatic deliveries, but it fit so well into the film it really didn’t faze me.  Regardless, both patriots and religious zealots will love the balance of faith with duty, and have a character you latch onto.

As for the cast, well Hacksaw Ridge has a little something for everyone to latch onto. Doss is the picture of a perfect, good spirited southerner, complete with hick like accent (thank you Hollywood stereotype).  His morals, loyalty, determination, and overall nice guy attitude are qualities that many will find endearing.  Too much of a good two shoes?  Well then go for the gung ho Yankee who wields a gun like Rambo named Smitty.  His character is all about the action, the adrenaline, and the war hero pride you love to see in these epics.  Still too serious, then throw in Vince Vaughn as a sergeant who has action, comedy, and a bit of compassion to round out the cast.  The company has strong heroes to lead the charge, amidst the extras whose names you might forget.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Slow to take off/A bit rushed
  • Characters lost in the carnage

 

Hard to find fault in this movie, as Gibson and company did so well making this epic war drama.  However, there were a few things my buddy and I found a little limiting. The main thing was how long it took the movie to take off.  Sure we have to have an origin story and build up how are character had his coming to Jesus moment (a rogue brick to his brother’s head).  Despite how good they did with this, it doesn’t help that it took a while for Hacksaw Ridge to take off.  The first thirty minutes in particular are rushed relationships with his parents and girl, which although establishes Doss’ life, drags at times as you wait for the training to begin.  In addition, some of these arks get dropped into the background, left to simmer until the ending when the campaign is over.

This was especially true for some of the soldiers, who after a five-minute introduction are dropped into a sea of extras almost never to be seen again. Doss and a few other troop members will get much of the screen time, while others will stand out only by looks before violently flopping on the desolate wasteland of the ridge.  You would think a little more involvement after taking the time to name them, but no not the case. In addition, some of the romantic and family dynamics are dropped like a bad grenade, only to be tied up at the end of the show. Outside of these small flaws, the only other thing we agreed on was some random additions of Japanese customs, which while accurate was kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best modern war movies I’ve seen…period.  The nice spin on the protagonist being a pacifist drops a whole new light on the war theater and provided a character who was deeper than the barrel of a rifle.  Doss’ story is certainly inspiring, and it’s nice to see a movie where both faith and honor can work in tandem without being dragged out and dull (Unbreakable).  Yes it does take time to get stoked, but once the spark ignites, it shines in suspenseful, well-shot delight.  Of note, this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. Weak constitutions may get sick, or have nightmares depending on how mutilated, bloody bodies affect you (PLEASE DON’T TAKE SMALL KIDS TO SEE THIS FILM). I strongly encourage a theater visit to this movie, perhaps a couple of times if you’ve got the cash.

 

My scores are:

 

Biography/Drama/Romance:  9.0

 

Movie Overall: 8.5-9.0

War Meets Wolf Of Wall Street: Hill and Teller Take On Politics

War Dogs

            Robbie K here, starting the weekend off with what else…a movie review. Tonight we jump into the political drama movie that is about our beloved country and those who try to cheat the system to make excessive amounts of cash. So lets bump past the formalities and dive right into my thoughts on War Dogs starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller!

 

LIKES:

  • Good chemistry between actors
  • Interesting story
  • Comedy is witty

 

When I saw the trailers for this movie, I shuddered to think of the mess this movie could potentially be. After all, both of the actors (while talented) had not been in any roles that I absolutely loved. Therefore I was nervous to see these cast together and the potential stupidity/annoyance that could have been. To my surprise, these two were great together, having a dynamic relationship that sold the characters to me. Hill’s brash, aggressive nature led the charge of the movie, but was able to be toned down by Teller’s calm, intelligent, and more mature role. Each one was able to balance the other’s extremes and certainly felt like two coworkers/friends cheating the system. Once more I say that alone these guys were good, but together they were excellent.

While the relationship is certainly the driving force of the movie, the story helps keep the pace and suspense going. The story is exactly as sold in the trailers of two young men giving up their mundane jobs to begin selling weapons across the country. Unlike other gun running movies, this film abandons the frontlines for the bank, and feels much like another rendition of the Wolf of Wall Street. Todd Phillips and his team integrated the lives of our characters well into the story while still adding an edge of threat to keep you wondering what would interfere. The many moving pieces keep one engaged in the movie, and while there were components I felt under developed, had enough detail in each to bring things together.

Finally the comedy, I was expecting the comedy to be nothing more than a bunch of one-liners and facial expressions to make the next wave of memes. Truth is…there are plenty of these moments, but surprisingly there is some rather witty dialogue that had me laughing. In particular the banter between the two held plenty of clever insults and jabs at American stereotypes. Hill’s character in particular had more lines I found funny, mainly by his delivery, but Teller’s responses to those lines also assisted with that factor. All-in-all, the comedy has all of the insult and stupidity you expect, but is delivered so well.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Wanted more Ana De Armas moments
  • The F word and comedic antics getting old
  • Underdeveloped parts and the ending

 

My first dislike is the limitation of Ana De Armas’ character. I won’t lie, she is a beautiful woman and was very nice to have on screen (hey I am human after all). But I also really liked her character and how she drove the morals of the story despite all the corruption in this film. That goodness could have really refreshed the movie at some of the slower parts and they could have injected some more suspense in the film by having her in the film. Perhaps she isn’t the most key character in this war/crime drama, but hey it couldn’t have hurt…I think.

To sound like a broken record, the F word does not equal great dialogue or great writing. Yet Hollywood still can’t get that idea through their skulls. War Dogs has moments where it is just one bomb dropped after another, which may not bother you much. Still this reviewer would love the strategic use of the word to maximize its comedy potential, instead of replaying the ploy much like a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. The same can be said for the comedic ploys in this film, some of which are again beaten to death without much remorse. Jonah Hill’s laugh (which sounded like a mixture between the joker and a donkey) in particular grew stale to me and was more annoying by the tenth time it escaped its lips. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of these stale antics plaguing the riding.

My final limitation was the underdeveloped components of the film. I’ve already stated the Ana De Armas parts, but there were other components I felt were in need of some fine tuning. The Bradley Cooper character I expected to have a bigger role for the price tag he carries and the way they snuck under the government’s nose was a bit farfetched as well. In addition, the fact that this is all based on a Rolling Stone article left me wondering how much was true and how much of this was Hollywood magic and fantasy. And as for the ending, it is a little lackluster and I would have thought more ploy, drama, and actual footage would have been in the film. Not to mention the final scene was ambiguous and unnecessary.

 

The VERDICT

War Dogs was much better than I expected and really portrays the actions some may take to make a quick buck. While certainly not the most original or entertaining movie, the engaging characters will keep you entertained and the dialogue will have you laughing. However, these qualities are not enough to recommend a trip to the theater for most of the audience members. Only those with great capitalistic pride and who don’t mind American political jabs should venture into this movie, otherwise wait for the Redbox rent.

 

My scores:

Comedy/Drama/War: 8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0