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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The Revenant

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

If you’ve ever read any works of literary or cinematic criticism, you’ve probably noticed that the phrase “style over substance” gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time, the expression is used to describe sci-fi, action, or fantasy films that are more interested in looking nice than having coherent stories, or likable, well-rounded characters. Well, having just seen The Revenant, the latest film from writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, I can assure you, the same principle holds true for artsy movies.

Set in the 1820s, on the Missouri River, The Revenant is a very loose re-telling of an actual event concerning the famous Mountain Man, Hugh Glass. In both the movie and real-life, Glass gets mauled by a bear, left for dead by his men, and then sets out on a path of vengeance. That, however, is where the similarities end, because this movie takes SO MANY liberties with history, it’s not even funny. In real life, Glass constructed a raft, floated downstream until he reached his men’s fort, and then FORGAVE them for leaving him behind. In the movie, by contrast, Glass not only gets left behind, but he’s also forced to watch one of his men, Fitzgerald, murder his son. This causes him to embark on a deranged, blood-soaked voyage, which involves him killing more or less everyone and everything he comes into contact with, and ends with a climactic battle between him and Fitzgerald by a riverside. Now, to my knowledge, the murder, and existence, of Glass’s son, as well as the battle between him and Fitzgerald at the end, are all completely fictional. But, as many of you will no doubt point out, this movie is not a documentary. It is a work of fiction. It is, therefore, not obligated to tell the whole truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. So, historical inaccuracies aside, is it any good?

Well, on the one hand, yes it is. The acting in this film is beyond superb. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom plays Glass, does an absolutely astounding job in this movie. There’s so much dangerous, physically-demanding stuff that he has to do–including getting mauled by a bear, thrown off a cliff, tossed through rapids, and sleeping inside the carcass of a dead horse–that I’m honestly kind of shocked he’s still alive. In addition to this, the cinematography is astounding. Much like his last film, Birdman, González Iñárritu includes a lot of long takes in this movie, where he moves the camera around the whole location so you can see everything, instead of just cutting to different objects or characters. Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Shot on location in British Columbia and Southern Argentina, the film contains some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon. What makes it even better is that none of the images are artificial. The director stated that he wanted to make this movie seem as natural as possible, and so they didn’t use any CGI or artificial lighting. They used sunlight, moonlight, firelight, and the wilderness around them to tell the story, and that level of ambition from a mainstream Hollywood director is extremely impressive. Watching this movie reminded me of the early works of Werner Herzog, like Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, where the director really demanded a lot from his cast and crew, and basically put them through hell to get the best possible product. It’s both good, and frightening, to know that there are still some artists out there willing to sacrifice anything for their craft.

But, all it’s artistic ambition and visual tricks aside, The Revenant still suffers from an excessive amount of violence, overly simplistic characters, and a lack of a clear moral center. Lajos Egri, author of The Art Of Dramatic Writing, wrote that all great stories must contain a premise, a theme or hypothesis that the author has to prove with his or her narrative. Romeo and Juliet’s premise is “Great Love Conquers Death.” Macbeth’s premise is “Violent Ambition Leads To Its Own Destruction.” Without a premise, Egri asserted, stories lose focus, and it becomes harder to get invested in them. Keeping this in mind, it becomes easy to understand why I never felt fully interested in The Revenant. Yeah, it looks pretty, but I don’t learn anything from it. I just watch a guy get screwed over, do everything in his power to get revenge, and that’s it. No themes are ever established, or touched upon throughout the story. You also don’t learn anything about any of the characters besides Glass. They’re just kind of there, and so you don’t really care when they die or get hurt. And it’s not like I can write this movie off as idiotic, “turn your brain off” entertainment, because when you watch the movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers are too smart and too ambitious to make a picture like that. The fact that they used all these complicated shots, the fact that they chose not to use CGI or studio lights, and the fact that they include a lot of really surreal imagery–like a bird rising from a dead woman’s chest, and Renaissance paintings on the walls of caves–make it clear that they wanted to create something meaningful and lasting with this. I just don’t think they did.

So, in the end, should you go see The Revenant? Honestly, I think you should. The camera work, the performances,and the imagery are all amazing. Just don’t expect great writing, and be prepared to see a lot of really disturbing violence. It’s a 7 out of 10.

Bronson: So Who Says Prison Can’t Be An Enjoyable Experience?

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

With it’s bizarre visuals, odd, non-linear narrative structure, and hard to pin-point characters, it is very difficult to say for certain what kind of a film Bronson is. It’s about a real person, but it’s not a documentary. It’s main character is an extremely violent individual, and yet very little blood is seen throughout the movie. It’s set up like a morality tale, and yet absolutely no morals are imparted in it. In fact, the film becomes so absurd in some scenes, like the one where the main character kidnaps his art teacher, paints himself black and then puts an apple in the hostage’s mouth, that one starts to wonder if it’s really worth continuing with this rubbish. I will say this, though. For all it’s confusing features, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is still a highly enjoyable, highly original audio-visual experience. I’d heard various critics describe it as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” and now, having seen it for myself, I can understand why they’d say that.

For those of you who don’t recognize this picture, Bronson is a 2008 fictionalized biographical drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring
Tom Hardy. It tells the story of Michael Peterson (aka Charlie Bronson), a convicted felon who has earned a notorious reputation as Britain’s most violent prisoner. I’d never heard of him beforehand, but now, having learned something of his various escapades, I can understand why he might be thought of that way.

The film is set up in a rather unusual manner. It presents several assorted points from Bronson’s life, intercut with him on stage before an audience in several stages of performance make-up, and speaking directly to camera while seemingly behind bars. Like A Clockwork Orange, the film juxtaposes highly intense, violent imagery with gentle, classical-sounding audio. You’re constantly reminded that what you’re watching is a movie, and never led to believe that any of what’s happening is real. In fact, were it not for the tagline, “based on a true story,” and my own research into Charlie Bronson’s existence, I would have sworn to you that this film was pure fiction. And you know what, I actually feel like that worked to the movie’s advantage. Most biopics try extremely hard to make themselves believable, and in so doing, set themselves up for criticism when they inevitably portray events or people inaccurately. Bronson, by contrast, exults in the fact that it is fiction by being extremely outrageous, which is actually quite fitting, since it is telling the story of an extremely outrageous man. Likewise, the movie’s lack of a moral center makes it more enjoyable. With it’s prison setting, violent main character, and classification as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” one might be led to believe that Bronson is a searing condemnation of society’s attempts to get everyone to conform to a certain behavioral standard by breaking the human spirit. And I will admit, there were several points in the story where I felt as though the movie was going down that path–like the scene where a fellow inmate says, “You’re no more mad than I am, and that scares them,” and the fact that the final shot shows a weak and wounded Bronson standing in a phone-booth sized cell–but the film never falls pray to the “look for the hidden meaning” monster. No one in the film ever tries to “change” Bronson, at least, not in the way that they tried to change Alex in A Clockwork Orange or McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The main character never seems disheartened by his situation. If anything, he seems to rather like it. He declares, numerous times throughout the film, his absolute love for prison, likening it to a hotel room, and even going so far as to strangle a sympathetic asylum inmate in order to ensure his return there. If there is a message to be taken from this film, it is that some people are just crazy, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, is Bronson really worth taking the time to watch? Absolutely! From it’s unique cinematography, to it’s enthralling soundtrack, to its self-aware absurdity and odd narrative voice, Bronson is a highly unique audio-visual experience that’s extremely enjoyable. Even if you don’t like prison movies or actors like Tom Hardy, this film is still a triumph, and on many levels. Some other critics might beg to differ, but I would go so far as to give this film an 8 out of 10. Hands down, one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year.