Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk

Spoiler-free.

That Dunkirk is a great piece of filmmaking is no surprise. That it is immaculately crafted in Nolan's palpable style, that it's a beautiful and loud, that it's an intense and visceral experience; all things expected. I honestly expected that it would be every bit as well-made a film as it truly is, and from a technical aspect, as flawless as they come. I expected to feel and appreciate it's worth, but, as with so many other films of its type, to not be able to form a personal attachment to it; its story or its characters. That I would be impressed and pleased, but untouched; approving and satisfied, but aloof. As the movie continues to sink in, my surprise continues to grow, because this wartime epic is sinking straight into my heart.

"You can practically see it from here." "What?" "Home."


Unconventional in style, Dunkirk gets a non-linear timeline from writer/director that evokes a similar reaction to what we got with his sci-fi movies like Inception. The "what's going on?"'s and the quiet gasps of realization as pieces fall into place are unexpected in a true-event war film, but the three overlapping timelines made pacing a breeze, and the film feel like a concise and stand-alone story, instead of a small piece of the giant big-picture that is WWII. Executing the story with precision and minimal exposition, Nolan counts on the intelligence of his audience, and that feeling of confidence, all too lacking in all too many movies, is most welcome.

The oddest thing about this film is its characters. While labeling 's character of Tommy (so named in the credits but never mentioned in the film) as the lead is the most accurate thing to do, really the movie declines to adhere to traditional film-character guidelines such as lead or secondaries, heroes or villains, revealing names, or even conducting well-rounded character arcs. Characters come and go and we are served a brief glimpse into their lives within this crisis. Tommy gets lead status from me not simply because he's most present throughout the film, but more because his essence reflects the movie's tone, so even in the corners of the story the character doesn't literally observe, the film consistently feels as though it's shown through his eyes. If any character is important to the film, even as it doesn't rely on character, it's him.

His face is striking, and gorgeous in the cinematography, but, that's not what makes him the best pick to be the film's poster-child.

The timeline he belongs to is the longest and most filled with familiar faces. and are often by his side, and and are in command on the beach. In the second timeline civilian captains a yacht to the rescue. He is wonderful, and the two boys assisting him ( and ) are excellent. 's harrowing character is just called "shivering soldier." The third timeline is in the sky with heroic and his wing-man . Performances are all-around excellent; subtle and exceptionally real. And characterization is such as each soldier who wanders through the frame bestows that feeling you get when you pass a stranger on the street, and are suddenly acutely aware that they have a life of their own that you'll never understand. Though we often don't get to see it, we know there's more to them.

Visually the film is spectacular and intimate, giving an epic, raw experience that has that "like you're really there" feeling like nothing else I've seen. Shots from the air, showing off the distant ocean as planes chase each other down, took my breath away. And my ears are still stinging from the explosions of gunfire. I hated watching people drown, and I felt like cheering out loud in the moments of elation, relief and success. And importantly, I never felt prodded to feel those things. Nolan had no underlying agenda here; he just told his story and made it something worth witnessing, leaving us to understand, judge and love characters, and come to conclusions on our own. Hand-holding has no place in this film's style, and point-making within such complexity is arrogant and cheapening.

The emotions in this movie are as un-fabricated and honest as fiction can be.

Sweeping and intimate, deafening and still, distant and involving, Nolan has again broken convention to tell a story, and the result is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind piece of art. Tense, suspenseful, terrifying; everything it's expected to be. Poignant, complex, and sincere; everything it needed to be. A beautiful assault on the senses. Dunkirk defies the odds, breaks the rules, and becomes something extraordinarily special and magnificently rare; but is, at the end of the day, simple to define: an outstanding war film.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Mild Spoilers.

Though we may be sick of all the rebooting this character has been subjected to, Sony has buckled down and teamed up with Marvel to prove that everyone's favorite web-slinger is far from being used up. It's easy to say Marvel is saving Sony here, giving Spidey a ready-made world to inhabit, but it's just as true that Sony is helping Marvel, lending them a ready-made lovable character that fits into their world like a webbed glove.

Spider-Man is pretty much the best thing ever, isn't he? It certainly seems like it right now!

is our Friendly Neighborhood You Know What, and after our sneak preview via Civil War, it's no surprise that he's this movie's most valuable commodity. He has that genuine but kinda awkward quality that Maguire had, and the nervous energy of Garfield without overdoing it to the point of (too much) pain, plus adding a new element of actually being believable as a teenager. Holland settles into the role with ease and confidence, delivers the cheesy lines when it's called for, and lets loose on the drama in impressive fashion. I hoped but hardly expected this to be a role for him to show off acting chops; turns out it was, and the opportunities were neither wasted nor overdone. In short, Holland's Peter is a well-meaning sweetheart and impossible not to love.

One of the most pleasant choices this film made was to limit the role of Tony Stark (). They needed conflict between him and Peter as Peter wants to become a full-time Avenger but Stark doesn't have the time or the confidence in his maturity to comply. I was fittingly very happy to see Happy Hogan () cast as a intermediary for this conflict, babysitting Peter and ignoring his texts and calls for an even lower blow to the kid's morale. Then it's all the more devastating when the big man does show up to deal out punishment when Peter messes up. It's a scary and effective absent-father and son type dynamic.

It was nice actually, because May didn't have to be the antagonistic parent-type. Stark fit the part perfectly.

Aunt May () then takes a parental backseat, though she and Peter have a handful of sweet scenes together that help ground the film. Peter's best friend is Ned () who works foremost and most effectively as a sounding board for Peter, and only secondarily has a few fun things to do for himself. Peter's crush is Liz () and my pants would spontaneously combust if I said I didn't enjoy the mess out of the teen-flick rom-com elements her character created. No glorious cliche was left un-reveled in, and every irritating cliche was left undisturbed. But don't forget Michelle () who was a darkly sarcastic cynic on par with April Ludgate, and as such I loved her immediately with zero inhibitions. She was underused plot-wise, but has a promising future. even gets a fun cameo role for the fans.

is the film's villain, Toomes, and the movie started out boldly giving its entire opening to him. It established him as a man in a sympathetic situation who makes the not heroic choice, falling down the slippery slope of immorality into villainy. It's typical of Marvel, but their best villain formula and done particularly well in the capable hands of Keaton. He finds an excellent balance of sympathy and evil, and digs in deep for plenty of content fantastically disturbing and conflictingly sad. In the Vulture costume there's not much besides the menace, and the physical fights between him and Spider-Man are only great when grounded by their emotional and moral conflict. The scenes of mere conversation between them were much more compelling, and fortunately were heavily featured.

About as good a Marvel villain as one could hope for. He gets the job done memorably.

One of my favorite things this movie did, and the lead-in for my least favorite thing is how Homecoming felt like a behind-the-scenes Avenger type film. It starts it pointedly with Peter's phone-video Civil War experience, and does a great job keeping it up throughout. Toomes begins the film cleaning up after the Chitari. We see Peter in school before we see him as Spider-Man, and before we get to watch him stop petty crimes, he takes a minute to change clothes for his "after school job" in a back alley, and the real-life element this (and other similar moments) lends is brilliant; amusing comedy plus a solid foundation, making the fantastical elements easy to swallow.

Classic Spider-Man cliches have fun poked at them in winking good humor (upside down kiss?), or are used in such a straightforward way that they lose their contrivance. Spidey must fight the climactic battle sans mask, but instead of contriving some complicated reason or way for it to come off, he just takes it off! And most reliving to me, his ditching friends and school to fight crime without explanation doesn't cause undue repercussions. People get mad at him, but his absence never ruins anything but his reliability. When the movie was in this space, I was on cloud nine, watching it dodge every oncoming bullet so nimbly and cheekily. But once or twice it shoots itself in the foot out of nowhere.

The movie is directed by Jon Watts and was written by him and five other writers. Disconnect makes sense.

The first time was in a no-man's-land section of act two, where after disabling Stark's "training wheel" program in Peter's suit he is overwhelmed with too many new features right before a fight. It's played for comedy and tries to squeeze fifteen laughs out of what should have been two. Irritatingly, Peter is deprived of all common sense to let it happen. Later he takes a few minutes to learn about the new features, and from there it's actually cool. The second time is in the ending. Right after a wonderfully small-scale and character-driven battle, we and Peter are introduced to the new Avengers facility and are supposed to be wowed by Tony's wit and gadgets when all we want and need is a resolution for Peter's character arc. We get it, but it feels distracted and too frivolous. It could have been done much more effectively in a grounded and quiet scene between Peter and Tony, but sadly the need to refer to Marvel! and The Avengers! overruled.

Spider-Man does fall victim to the classic Marvel-production-line-blockbuster problem, but even considering the couple of blatant missteps and sporadic minor stumbles it hardly seems fair to say "fall victim" because few movies have handled the cut-and-paste formula so comfortably. Jokes land at an average Marvel ratio, but failed jokes don't irritate; lively performances breathe life into the tired script; and the assembly-line action sequences are yet again responsible for turning in fun, if generic, visual thrills. The plot formula is at home here, successfully creating a story that builds interest and is better at the end than it is at the beginning. And the third act is the most spectacular wish-fulfilling thing I've seen in a superhero flick in a terribly long time.

Sixteen Candles with a superhero lead? If it had stuck closer to that it might have been incredible.

I remember reading that the idea was to make a John Hughes-esque flick, and the moments where that came across on screen were by far the best -- quiet, heartfelt moments, that never seemed to last long enough, and subtle details presented with tact. Distractions occurred, so it's half a Marvel flick and half an every-teen dramedy, and somehow it finds a semblance of balance, and the combo holds together, say, 97% of the way. At times exactly and miraculously what it should be, at times falling to temptation; one thing at least is sure: missteps and mistakes may happen, but Spider-Man has a big heart, and Spider-Man put it in the right place.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - July

Well -- June was a fantastic month! Firstly Wonder Woman (review!) came and raised the bar for DC superhero films which was lovely and refreshing. Then I got Logan (review!) on Bluray and it made me forget that I was tired of superhero movies by being a superhero movie that felt nothing like a superhero movie. It became my pick for best film of the year, but then lost the spot again a couple weeks later. To Baby Driver (review!), from which I am still rocking and reeling! It was not only the highlight of June as I predicted, but also the highlight of the year. If anything manages to top it, 2017 will be a seriously impressive movie-year.

After Baby Driver, it feels like the summer can finally get started, but now, July is looking almost skimpy. There's two films that I'm definitely interested in, but not much else worth mentioning. First things first: I gotta get another view of Baby Driver taken care of, and then we'll see if anything can turn my head for a significant amount of time!

What's your favorite film of the year so far? And what's in your movie plans for July? I hope you're all having a great summer!



Spider-Man: Homecoming
July 7th; PG-13
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man! We already know that Tom Holland is perfect for Spidey and Peter Parker from Civil War, so up to a certain point, there's no need to worry. Characterization is all but guaranteed to be spot-on, and that is a huge confidence boost. If this flick is anything like the Spidey scenes from Civil War it'll be better than Civil War! And still, I worry. Mostly about the plot, because that is the part that currently looks ambiguous and possibly a bit too generic. And from this trailer, I worry that Tony Stark has too big a role. I'd really hate for him to distract, and I'd really like it if this movie (being only half-Marvel) could distance itself just a tad from the "MARVEL!" genre, which is growing ever-more tired with every rehashing film release. Early reviews are significantly positive, but if you don't mind, I'm gonna be nervous about this one. There's a lot riding on those narrow shoulders, and I want the kid to do a good job!




A Ghost Story
July 7th(limited); R
So this is pretty weird. A romantic drama about a husband who dies and haunts his grieving and unaware wife as a sheet-ghost. Complete with black holes over the eyes and everything. Did I say "pretty weird"? I meant "very extremely weird and actually very creepy, why is this film a romance and not a horror?" Really, the trailer to me is scarier than most horror film trailers. I don't get it. It's an art house type thing, and supposedly is about love and loss and similar abstract, existential things. I guess it gets points for being creative, but as to convincing me to watch it, I'm less likely to go for it now than I was when I didn't know it existed! Still it's so odd I had to mention it.




War for the Planet of the Apes
July 14th; PG-13
I could say that with where the plot of this movie is, the last movie wasn't really necessary, but that's kinda silly because the whole series is pretty unnecessary -- plus I get a feeling that Dawn will be my favorite installment in the end... such as it is. On a technical level these movies are actually interesting and pretty impressive, but that's it. On a story-telling, entertaining level it's laughable how unaware these movies are of their own ridiculousness. It's camp-central. Yet the movies only get more and more serious as their head gets further and further in the sand. A spark of life or even a tiny hint of joy would do wonders, but the bloated, self-important seriousness is obvious, and not even in the same universe as my cup of tea. I suppose these movie were meant for a person who is not me, and to whoever that might be, I'll leave you to it!




Dunkirk
July 21st; PG-13
I think this is an excellent story for Christopher Nolan to tell; a true story that his style can add cinematic intensity to. After Interstellar it should be nice for him to be held back a bit by reality. This also looks to be an excellent film to play "Spot that British Actor" with! One of my favorite games. Just from the trailer we have Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Those I expect will be the easy ones. Also I know Harry Styles is in this, but to be honest I don't know what he looks like enough to recognize him, and I'm thinking maybe I should keep it that way. Anyway, the movie has a lot of hype, it's an interesting story I've never seen before, and there doesn't seem to be much question of whether or not it'll be good. I'm not much worried, and won't be surprised to find myself in a theater in a few weeks watching it! Although, as a girl going to a war movie, maybe I should make myself a t-shirt that says "I'm NOT here for Harry."




Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
July 21st; PG-13
Please tell me -- am I the only one who reads this title as if I'm Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy? "A City of A THOUSAND PLANETS." It makes it sound super epic. Look, I've said it before, I'll say it in the future, and I'm saying it now -- I'm a sucker for scifi movies. And this movie is definitely a scifi movie. However I must admit that I have no expectation of it actually being a great movie. I'd love to be proved wrong, but for now, it's good enough for me that it's of the genre it is of, plus Dane DeHaan is pretty cool. I very strongly dislike Cara Delevingne though, to put it nicely. But if the movie turns out how I expect, then being irritated by her will be part of the charm. Prediction: visually spectacular; otherwise spectacularly short. If my expectations are correct I will look forward to seeing this -- not in theaters.




The Emoji Movie
July 21st; PG
Haha, just kidding.

Happy July everyone!