Movies: Dunkirk and the Lost City of Z



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.


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.


The Oscars: The Good, the Bad and the Bizarre

The Oscars 2016 

Awards season is finally over and we can take a breather for a few months before the next crop of great movies start to hit the theaters. In the meantime, a few quick thoughts:

The Good:

  • I loved that Spotlight won for Best Picture. It was my favorite and for once, the “Preferential Balloting” (Google it – crazy complicated!) system worked! Revenant was not the best picture and did not deserve to win.
  • Mark Rylance’s win for Best Supporting Actor. I admit I did not see “Creed” although I understand Stallone’s performance was very good and he was the sentimental favorite. Mark Rylance is a brilliant actor and it is so nice to see such a humble and lovely man get an award like this after a career of toiling in obscurity.
  • Chris Rock’s monologue and general handling of the “Oscars So White” controversy. Many of his jokes were perfectly delivered and on target. I loved the sketches with the African American actors inserted into the white movies and the interviews with the Compton moviegoers who had not seen any of this years nominated films was an important revelation.  The monologue hit the right tone for the occasion although as the show went on there were some less than perfect moments (see below).
  • Leo finally gets his Oscar
  • Lady Gaga’s moving song with the sexual assault survivors coming in at the end
  • Loved the surprise win in Visual Effects for Ex Machina.

The Bad:

  • The length. This show was way too long. Movement of any acting awards to the middle of the show made for an excruciating first hour as did the long parade of technical awards all won by Mad Max.
  • Chris Rock’s monologue was brilliant and we get it but there was an overkill element to the message as the show went on though. We didn’t really need Kevin Hart hammering it in for example.
  • I must be the one person on earth who did not care for Mad Max although I did appreciate some of the special effects. That being said, its sweep of the technical awards  (except visual effects) was unfortunate. This was a place that Star Wars could have been honored and I believe it should have been. There were enough awards here to be shared and it would have been nice if there were more representation.

The Bizarre:

  • The bit with Stacey Dash fell flat. It was clear that I was not the only one who had no idea who this person is or why she was talking about Black History month. The audience had no idea what the joke was either.
  • Also the bit with the Asian kids fell flat as did Rock’s decision to make a joke about lynching.
  • Who the heck decided it was a good idea to only do three songs of the 5 nominated? I really liked the 50 Shades of Grey Song but the whole bondage/Cirque Du Soleil stuff going on was a tad strange

The Future:

A friend of mine sent this article to me about the High Tech Industry and Data Analytics being able to predict the Oscar awards without ever seeing the movies. They didn’t get the top award right this year but I suspect it has to do more with being able to control the variables for “Preferential Voting” in the top category, which with some more research could easily change. Big Data is the future and everyone doing Oscar ballots should take note!



Movies: Don’t race to “Race” and the race for the Oscars



If you love history  (in particular WWII and Olympic history) and/or you have read Unbroken and Boys in the Boat and appreciate some of the great performances of the 1936 Olympics, you will probably find Race interesting. Race covers the life of Jesse Owens from 1932-1936 and his decision to run in the Berlin Olympics. It’s a long movie to cover only 4 years.

Owens is adequately played by Stephen James (John Lewis in Selma) but don’t look for him to break the “Oscar so White” trend for 2016. I’m afraid we will have to wait for Birth of a Nation in the fall to do that. Jason Sudeikis plays his coach at Ohio State. While the role calls for a dramatic and serious demeanor, Sudeikis has a constant grin/smirk on his face making it seem like he is a comedian trying to play a dramatic role. It just didn’t work for me. Jeremy Irons (not surprisingly) was the strongest performance playing the evil and corrupt Avery Brundage.

The most bizarre casting/storyline was around Leni Reifenstahl, the Olympic photographer who came across as very “hot” and a bit of a rebel. This doesn’t align with what I have read about her. A good example of this is the men’s heavyweight 8 rowing event (one of the most prestigious of the Olympics), in which the American team was on the far outside lane and she just filmed the German and Italian rowers during the race. When the Americans won, she had to have them come back the next day and row so she could film it. This also happened in the movie with Jesse Owens winning the broad jump. I have to believe that the fact that she made him come back was more because she spent most of her time filming the German contender rather than because she had a special “bond” with Jesse Owens. Just not sure where all that came from but it was distracting.

It is a tough time of year to find a good movie and Race is ok. You could do a lot worse but I think you have to like history to enjoy it. B-/C+ 

Oscars – Who Will Win and Who Should Win: 

Best Picture:

Who will win: Revenant – it has momentum and has been winning in the lead-up award shows. Unfortunately it is NOT the best movie of the year (wasn’t even in my top 10).

Who Should Win: Spotlight – it is so great and in a subtle way. The film does everything right. I’d be ok with any of the others to win over Revenant including the Big Short which might play spoiler.

Best Actress:

Who will win: Brie Larson – she has won every award leading up to the Oscars

Who should win: I’m fine with Brie Larson although I love Saorise Ronan in Brooklyn and Charlotte Rampling – actually I loved all of these performances but Ronan just lit up the screen in Brooklyn.  

Best Actor:

Who will win – Leonardo DiCaprio – like Larson, he has won everything up to this point.

Who should win – I’m fine with Leonardo as his Oscar is long overdue. He deserves one for multiple films. This year is a relatively weak field so just give it to him now. I think the best performance, however, was Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs. He should win the Oscar for having to do 2 hours of Sorkin dialogue exceptionally well. Think he is in a universe of one in that regard.  That’s a big big ask!

Best Supporting Actress:

Who will Win: Alicia Vikander

Who Should Win: Alicia Vikander should have won this category for Ex Machina . It’s hard to argue that her brilliant performance in the Danish Girl was not a “Leading” role but this is her year and she carried that movie. Loved all the rest of the performances as well.

Best Supporting Actor:

Who will Win: Sylvester Stallone – sentiment is going to prevail and the academy will award him for Rocky 30 years later.

Who should win: Mark Rylance. Rylance was the lynchpin in Bridge of Spies and his understated performance was riveting. Mark Ruffalo was also wonderful in Spotlight and well deserving of the prize.

Best Documentary

What should and will win: Amy. I admit, I didn’t see all the documentaries this year but I saw enough to know that Amy is by far and away the best. It has won most of the awards in this category leading up to the Oscars and is well deserving. See it.

Best Director

Who will win: Alejandro Inarritu will make it two in a row for basically a difficult shoot.

Who should win: Tom McCarthy for Spotlight. It was a beautifully constructed understated film. Hopefully he’ll take best original screenplay but that should be about it for Spotlight.