Movies: Dunkirk and the Lost City of Z

 

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is impressive.  It is a visual masterpiece.  Yet, I have mixed feelings about the film which isn’t surprising given it is a Christopher Nolan movie.  On one hand, its full-out action, brilliant cinematography and moving score make for one of the best movies of the year.  On the other, the lack of character development and overlapping timelines add unnecessary confusion.  Dunkirk is the story of the rescue of over 300,000 mostly British soldiers from a small beach in France where they were cornered by the Germans.  This significant portion of the British army could not be rescued by destroyers due to the location.  The British also did not want to send the bulk of their Air Force to assist with the rescue because they didn’t want to lose their planes with the war just beginning.

The film follows three stories – by land, air and sea.  The first one (by land) is a young soldier who finds himself on the beach with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers trying to get off; the second (by air) is a British RAF pilot trying to hold off the German air force almost single-handedly and the third (by sea) is a pleasure boat captain (Mark Rylance) sailing to Dunkirk to rescue the troops.  Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, the Dark Knight etc.) does not tell these stories on a single timeline.  It took me a few minutes to figure it out – the biggest clue was that there was daylight during the sea plot and night for the land plot although you are led to believe they are happening at the same time.  In reality, the “land” soldier’s story lasted over a week, the air story probably less than 60 minutes and sea story a day or so.  This is not differentiated in the 1 hr. 45-minute film which leads you to believe the story occurs simultaneously.  It isn’t until the end that everything comes together.  I didn’t appreciate it in Inception and I didn’t love it in this film.

Another thing that bothered me was that there was no character development.  All the young soldiers look alike and so it was somewhat difficult to follow their stories.  Harry Styles was the only one I recognized so he became my “constant” for the land story.  By the way, he did a nice job.  I never recognized Tom Hardy because he was covered up with a face mask the entire time he was flying the plane that thwarted much of the German air attack.  He was great, though, as his eyes told it all.

It was nice to see a WWII movie with no blood and gore and never a Nazi in sight.  That isn’t to say we weren’t immersed in the desperate struggles of drowning in a fiery oil slick or a submerged boat under fire or the tens of thousands of soldiers who were sitting ducks on a beach while air fire reigned down upon them.  These horrors were visually epic.  While we were gazing down at planes zig zagging into the ocean depths and docks and hospital ships being blown up, there was a constant clock-ticking score from Hans Zimmer which in my opinion enhanced the film immeasurably.   I found the score to be amazing and never over played.  It was, for me, an effective background tool that didn’t interfere with the action nor deliver over the top crescendos when it could easily have (e.g. when the rescue fleet appeared).  However, there is a lot of love/hate out there amongst the critics for the score.  They either love it or hate it with a passion – no middle ground on this one.

Dunkirk is an important story as it is quite possible that had the rescue not occurred and if the Germans with total command of the area decided to keep moving through the barricades to destroy the British troop,  WWII would have been over then and there.  This film should be seen.  For those individuals who do not know the story, read up on it a bit on Wiki first because the movie plunges you into the action immediately with no explanation or context.  In addition, there is a lack of dialogue so the viewer is immersed in this historical action film with no narrative.  If you want an additional perspective on the battle, be sure to watch this year’s “Their Finest” which should be streaming by now.  It is a film about the British War Office’s propaganda machine at work trying to make the besieged population focus on the upbeat story of the Dunkirk rescue. In the meantime, I suspect I am going to need to see this movie again, preferably in IMAX (everyone who can see it in IMAX 70mm should), to try and follow all the threads.  This is nothing new for me when it comes to Christopher Nolan films.

Streaming:

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z was one of the best reviewed films of 2016 and because I never got a chance to catch it in the theaters, I took advantage of it now being available to watch on demand.  I’m sorry I did.  It was one of the most boring movies ever.  My husband was also watching although his moaning, groaning and swearing about the movie seemed to take precedence over viewing.  I don’t even know where to start but one place is that I broke my rule of not watching a movie where the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is more than 20% less than the critics score.  In this case, there was a 25% difference which is huge and means that it probably wouldn’t be a film most people enjoy.  Alarm bells should have gone off!

Basically, the movie was so boring it was torture to watch. Charlie Hunnam places Perry Fawcett, a British major who is sent to the Amazon to chart the area.  While there, he discovers some pottery and decides there is a sophisticated lost civilization in the area.  His suffering wife played by Sienna Miller must spend years on her own with their children back in England while Fawcett keeps going back to find this civilization.  He isn’t a great person and essentially the viewer is asked to bond with someone who is probably crazy and treats his family badly.  It should have also been telling that Robert Pattinson (an actor I really like and respect) as  Fawcett’s aide-de-camp, was unrecognizable to me for at least the first 45 minutes and that is a face I know very well! Another annoying thing was that for some inexplicable reason, the Director had them all mumbling their lines.  The viewer could have been forgiven for turning on the closed captioning to understand what was being said but why should they have to?  What was the Director thinking when he thought that was a good idea?

The critics find much to love in this film including the cinematography, acting, character depth and messaging around the exploration and conquering of indigenous people.  For the average viewer, wait until it is free to check it out.  It’s not worth the $5.99 rental fee.

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TV: The Young Pope, Legion, Planet Earth II, Bates Motel

I have been remiss in my TV updates but there have been a few interesting finales and premiers over the last couple of weeks with even more coming over March and April as spring TV ramps up.

Season Finales:

The Young Pope (HBO)

I watched the entire mini-series of the young pope and I’m not sure I could explain it to anyone.  Jude Law was fantastic; the costumes magnificent and I loved it every time Dianne Keaton opened her mouth (and even when she was speechless).  Law, plays Lenny Belardo who becomes Pope Pius XIII under questionable circumstances, begins his reign as a smug, condescending outsider who spies on his enemies and generates a high level of arrogance (remind you of anyone?).  Along the line, he questions his belief in God and has multiple strange visions.  Almost every day is spent trying to come to terms with the parents who abandoned him as a child and wondering about their whereabouts.

We wind our way through the season there are probably more bad moments than good but even the bad ones are so weirdly strange and beautifully shot that I was reeled in.  We don’t know what Lenny’s actual beliefs are as they change constantly while becoming one of the world’s greatest tyrants.  The biggest issue I had with the show is that there was a real lack of character development that prevented us from understanding anyone’s motivations.  If there is a second season, I’ll give it a try as Law is mesmerizing. 

Series Premier

Legion (FX)

Legion recently premiered as the latest in a series of Marvel comics coming to life on the small screen.  Apparently, this character (David Haller) is a very minor character in the Marvel world and he is clearly disturbed, teetering between schizophrenia and some type of specialized mental power.  The premier was 1 ½ hours and most of it was like a 1960s-acid trip.  The weirdest thing I have ever seen.

The second episode was not quite so trippy but a lot is happening.   Dan Stevens (Downton Abby) plays David Haller, a diagnosed schizophrenic since he was a child.  The government thinks that he is perhaps the most powerful mutant ever so interrogates him until he is rescued by a couple of women that were in the psych hospital (“Clockworks” don’t you love it) with him.  They bring David to Dr. Bird (Jean Smart) who tries to make him healthy and happy again so that he can be used in the war against the government.  In the interim, there are lots of flashbacks, evil stuff, powers moving from one person to the next and general craziness but if you like the Marvel Universe, this kind of pulls you in.  I’ll try to stick with it until I’m so confused I must give up which is what usually happens with my forays into the Marvel universe.

Planet Earth II (BBC America)

What is not to love about this magnificent look at Nature with the inspiring new score by Hans Zimmer and perfect narration by the marvelous David Attenborough.  I have seen Mountains and Islands and can’t wait for more.  Spectacularly done with the most amazing technical advances that put the series in a difference orbit than even the original Planet Earth, you can only wonder if this is the last we will see of many of the species shown.  With only a handful (7) of episodes there is absolutely no excuse not to see this and anyone who doesn’t believe that man is destroying this world should watch the show.  It is extraordinary.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I love this series and particularly the acting.  It stars Vera Fermiga and Freddie Highmore and is a prequel to Pschyo.  Last year’s finale found Norman murdering his mother and finally, we have him in full “psycho” mode.  I wasn’t sure how Vera Fermiga would be able to continue in this final season that recently started but Carleton Cuse and the Bates team have brought her back to life in a creative way.  It is harder to integrate Norman’s brother (Dylan) and Olivia Cooke into the story as they moved away and have no relationship with Norman but the writers are trying.  While one part of me wants them back in the action, the other part knows that this would be a very bad thing for their survival and after all they have been through, I don’t want them killed by Mr. Psycho.  Also back is Norma’s sexual predator brother who comes back to town.  Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is in jail and again, trying to keep him connected to Norman is difficult but I love every scene he is in.

I’m enjoying every minute of the last season of Bates Motel and wish Fermiga and Hightower would get the Emmy recognition they deserve for this little gem of a show.

When We Rise (ABC miniseries)

When We Rise is the history of the Gay Rights movement and teams together again the powerful combination of Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black who respectively directed and wrote Milk.  It follows several real-life people (particularly Cleve Jones who also was an important figure in the movement and has a major role in the movie Milk) who converged on San Francisco in the 1970s and continued the Gay Rights movement up through DOMA.  The series is playing all this week and while the last few hours might not be that interesting to people, I find that the first couple of episodes covering the 1970s and 80s are particularly good.