Dunkirk (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

The British Army has been driven back. All the way to the French coast. Now, if Britain is to survive the war, they must evacuate 400,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk. And they must do so fast, because, every hour, the enemy draws closer. And every minute, another life is lost.

Dunkirk is a spectacle. It is the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster. It’s loud, intense, it puts you on edge; but , when its over, you don’t really feel like you’ve learned or gained anything. You just feel tired. Part of this has to do with the fact that this film has very little dialogue, and no real characters. Now when I say that, I don’t mean that there are no people in this movie. There are. We actually follow three different protagonists; an RAF pilot trying to shoot down enemy aircraft, a civilian mariner trying to rescue soldiers, and a private trying to get off the beaches. But we never learn who these people are. In fact, I’ve thought back, and I don’t think we ever hear their names. There’s never a moment where the soldiers tell each other about their lives back in England, or where we get any sense of what their interests, or political views, are. They don’t have clearly-defined arcs; where, say, they start off arrogant, and end humble, and the movie itself doesn’t even have a climax, since every moment is huge and dramatic. Dunkirk is basically just 2 hours of people you don’t know anything about reacting to explosions. And that’s it.

Now, in case it sounds like I didn’t like this movie, I did. Sort of. It’s entertaining, to be sure. I was never bored while I was watching it, and there were many points where I jumped. And the acting, as you expect from a Christopher Nolan movie, is quite good. Mark Rylance, whom plays the civilian mariner trying to save soldiers, is a particular bright spot, since he’s given the most dialogue, and you know the most about him. And the dogfights that Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot gets into are definitely gripping.

But when you strip all that away–all the dogfights, and explosions, and Mark Rylance–what you’re left with is a very hollow movie. I understand that the lack of characterization and character development was a deliberate choice, since, in the real world, you don’t take a break during a battle to tell people about your significant other back home, but realism doesn’t always work in drama. If movie dialogue was exactly like actual conversation, it would be duller than paint drying, since there’d be a lot of repetition, very little conflict, and every third word would be “uh,” or “um.” Similarly, having the audience of your movie not know anything about the characters they’re supposed to be following creates a disconnect between observer and observed. I didn’t know who any of the soldiers on the beaches were. Not just because I didn’t know their names, or anything about them, but because they were all pretty generic-looking white dudes with Brown hair. As such, I didn’t care what happened to them. Hell, there were a few points when I got confused, because I thought one of the characters I was watching had died earlier. Are we just supposed to sympathize with them because they’re British? Because, let me tell you, I knew exactly as much about the Germans as I did about them, and they’re supposed to be the bad guys. That’s not good. Some reviews I’ve read have praised this film for not being “sentimental,” and not “manipulating our emotions” with speeches and a touching score. But what’s wrong with that? Saving Private Ryan, one of the greatest war films ever made, has just as intense action as Dunkirk does, but it actually has scenes where we hear the characters talk, and we get to know them. Matt Damon’s speech about the last night he spent with his brothers is one of my favorite monologues in film. And why are we so opposed to sentimentality? What’s wrong with caring about the people we’re watching? It’s human to empathize. It’s natural to care. Why have we gotten to a point in our pop culture where being earnest in our emotions is a bad thing? It’s not. It’s actually quite a good thing. Ah well.

Guys, I can’t say that I liked Dunkirk, but I can’t say that I didn’t like it either. It’s definitely entertaining, and the acting is good. But the lack of dialogue, and discernible characters to latch onto, made it extremely difficult for me to care. Make of this what you will.

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I’ve always been a fan of watching famous director’s early films. Partly because it humanizes them–they didn’t always have huge budgets and A-list actors at their disposal– but also because it shows how much, or how little, they’ve changed over the years. Sometimes, like with Martin Scorsese’s The Big Shave, there’s nothing in these early works that indicates who made them. Other times, as with the subject of today’s review, Christopher Nolan’s Following, it is extremely apparent who helmed these pictures, and that these filmmakers haven’t changed their style or subject matter that much over the years. Continue reading

Beautiful, But Unbelievable: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are The Game.

Despite being blessed with some superb visuals, and an absolutely astounding soundtrack, Christopher Nolan’s space odyssey, Interstellar, is no modern masterpiece. It’s predictable in some places, unrealistic in others, and flat out silly towards the end. In addition to this, it has several sub-plots that are introduced towards the beginning of the film, but never get addressed later on.

Perhaps I should elaborate. Interstellar is set in the near future, in a time when Earth has become so barren and desolate that NASA is sending people out into space to find new planets for human’s to inhabit. You can tell straight away that this film is absurd when you see how they choose the people for these missions. For instance, one member of the group, Matthew McConaughey, is selected when he and his daughter accidentally stumble across NASA’s facility, and then the man in charge of the whole operation, Michael Caine, says, “Hey Matt, you were a pilot back in the day, let’s send you on this crucial to the survival of the entire human race mission, which you didn’t train for and had know prior knowledge of.” As you can imagine, things only go downhill from there. In addition to making NASA out to be desperate, incompetent idiots, the film also shows us such impossibilities as cryogenic hibernation, and ejecting yourself from a spaceship into a black hole, which somehow transports you to a realm between space and time where you can talk to people in the past, but only through Morse code. Yeah! I told you it was silly. But what makes it even worse is that this film is by Christopher Nolan, a man who’s gained a reputation for making super sophisticated, grounded in science movies. That’s what his whole campaign for this film was–that, while fiction, it was a story that was all theoretically possible. Nolan said in various interviews that he consulted different Theoretical Physicists, like Dr Kip Thorpe, to ensure the film’s authenticity, and for about the first two-thirds of the picture, you can almost believe that. ALMOST. There’s a lot of astronomical jargon, and the representations of space and zero gravity environments seem reasonably accurate. But then, for the sake of giving us a happy ending, Nolan just throws all that science out the window, and we’re left wondering why, if he was just going to cop out with a magic, trans-dimensional portal, he even bothered trying to make his film realistic at all.

But, all ridiculousness and scientific impossibilities aside, the film is also a failure from a narrative perspective. The first twenty minutes or so are all back-story, which add nothing to the overall plot and, for the most part, never get mentioned later. At the start of the film, for instance, McConaughey has a flashback that reveals he was once in an accident. Why, you might ask, did Nolan decide to include this little vignette? I haven’t the faintest idea, because it serves absolutely no purpose. The accident itself never comes into play later in the movie, and it doesn’t appear to have ad any real impact on McConaughey’s character. Hell, he never even mentions it to anyone else. Similarly, there’s a, quite lengthy, scene within the first five minutes or so, in which he and his children are shown driving through a field of corn in pursuit of a predator drone. The movie never explains why they were chasing the drone to begin with, and as with the accident flashback, the event never resurfaces later in the plot.

In the end, what all these abandon sub-plots and scientific impossibilities in a supposedly possible scenario add up to is a visually appealing, but structurally muddled and insultingly silly movie-going experience. 6 out of 10, if you ask me. The only reason I’m not giving it a failing “5” is its cinematography and special effects. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, but I don’t suppose my opinion will make much difference, seeing as the movie’s already made four times its, rather large, budget in box office money. Still, I want to warn any of you out there who might be thinking about going to see it, don’t have high expectations for anything but its visuals and soundtrack.