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.

Books: The Tumbling Turner Sisters” and “The Aftermath”

 

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

I listened to this book on CDs in the car.  When I do audio books while driving, I’m not looking for anything “heavy” and the Tumbling Sisters was certainly light enough as to not distract me from the crazies on the road.  It is the story of several sisters who form an acrobatic troop in the 1920s and start out on the East Coast Vaudeville circuit.  They are forced to do this because of their father injures his hand in a brawl and is no longer able to work.  The family is always one paycheck from eviction in upstate NY so their mother decides to have the girls learn to tumble in order to try and make money.  We have Nell, a widow with a small boy, Gert, an independent soul who wants to be out on her own, Winnie, a nurse’s aid who loves science and wants to go to college and Kit, the youngest (her character is never flushed out in the book).

The plot is predictable as the chapters alternate between Winnie and Gert and their perspectives on life.   Slowly but surely, the Turners climb the rungs of Vaudeville moving from small towns to larger ones with bigger venues and greater purses.  Of course, the older girls find love, one in an interracial relationship, and their mother flirts her way through the many towns they travel through.  Along the way, there are historical references including “Blackface” acts; the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; Boston’s Great Molasses Flood; Woman’s suffrage and the Seven Sister’s colleges.  The novel’s last big scene involves the Seattle Lincoln Hotel Fire.  While these references are interesting, there is not enough depth to them or Vaudeville for my liking.

This is a straight forward novel and the ending won’t be a surprise to readers.  It is a relatively fast paced and reasonably interesting story.  You won’t be any worse off for reading it, will learn a little about life in Vaudeville and if you are looking for this type of fiction, you should enjoy the book.  If you would like some more depth for your novels, look elsewhere.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath provides a glimpse into life in Germany, specifically Hamburg, in the period immediately after WWII.  The author is British as are the main characters (a British colonel and his family) who are assigned to the British zone in the war’s “aftermath”.  The author’s own grandfather was the British governor of the Hamburg district so he knows of what he writes.  Like the character in the book, Brook’s grandfather allowed the German family in whose house he resided to stay.

I found the book predictable in terms of the various romances although the ending was a bit disjointed.  The author seemed to do slightly better with the male character development than the female.  I never thought the female lead, Rachel Morgan, the Colonel’s wife, acted in a way that made sense given what we knew about her.  I also thought that a third major plotline about the orphan boys who roamed Hamburg trying to survive using black market cigarettes was not as well integrated into the story as it could have been.  The author apparently wrote the book with a movie in mind and it shows in the writing.

The Aftermath is a good introduction (or reminder) of life in post-war Germany in an area that not many readers are probably aware of.  The book cried out for a prologue that could have explained more of the background so that when the reader embarks on the 1946 “aftermath”, they have some knowledge of what led to the destruction of the city.  Hamburg was bombed in 1943 in a raid which caused the loss of 40,000 lives and the displacement of over one million people.  It was often referred to as the “Hiroshima” of the West.  I ‘m glad I read the book and I’m looking forward to the seeing the movie which stars Keira Knightly as Rachel Morgan and Alexandar Skarsgard as the German architect and owner of the home the Morgans are staying in.

Some Good TV and a Very Good Movie

I’m trying to tie up a few loose ends before heading out for vacation and a break so here is a brief post covering some good entertainment.

Movies:

The Innocents

This French film takes place in Warsaw in the aftermath of WWII and is based on a true story. A young female French Red Cross doctor attending French POWS (Mathilde) is called to a convent where several nuns are pregnant after having been raped by Russian soldiers. Mathilde continues to go to the convent secretly to provide ongoing prenatal care because she can’t walk away from the nuns who have only her to help. She faces opposition from some of the nuns who are so shamed they don’t even want her to examine them as well as the Mother Superior (who you may remember from Ida). The nun is not only trying to deal with the shame but syphilis and fear for how the nunnery will fare in the communist environment. Her actions, however, are horrific.

Mathilde develops a respect for the life of the nuns and the role of faith in desperate situations despite the fact that her parents are communists and she is not religious. She works closely with one of the nuns who is more secular to help deliver the babies. The story is dark with an encouraging end, which I suspect is happier than the true story. The actress who plays Mathilde is able to carry the film despite being on screen virtually the entire time. The film is complex and nuanced and provides a very different plot then we have seen in WWII movies.

The cinematography is excellent as most of the outdoor scenes are grey with snow and dark trees. The bleakness of these scenes is artfully contrasted with the black and white habits of the nuns. It’s really quite beautiful.  The film is very good and I’ll be interested to see if it makes it to the finals of Oscar’s Best Foreign Film category – it certainly should be in contention.

TV:

Finales:

Thirteen (BBC America)

The BBC series finished up this past week and it was a satisfying end to what was a pretty good show. Ivy, as you may recall from a previous post, was kidnapped at age 13 for 13 years when she escaped. For several episodes, we witness Ivy’s attempt to fit back into her family and society in a world that had changed dramatically during her years of captivity. The police in this series were pretty incompetent and went overboard on their interactions with Ivy. They even accused her of the killing the kidnapper’s brother and threw her into jail. Of course she was innocent but it was only one of many missteps by the authorities. Then, another girl was kidnapped and all of a sudden, the police need to enlist Ivy to help them find the girl.

In the finale, through some more police ineptitude, Ivy gains the release of the young girl but is recaptured by her kidnapper. Fortunately, this didn’t last too long and she escapes in a satisfactory conclusion to the story that includes the death of her abductor. This was a one and done mini-series – no season two but was a very good summer show. Along with Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and HBO’s “The Night Of”, we got some surprise summer TV quality. All are worth watching.

Binging:

Jane the Virgin, Season 1 (Netflix)

I have not been able to binge as much as I had expected to this summer due to all the sports and the last two weeks of political conventions but I am making my way through Season 1 of Jane the Virgin. I never gave the show a chance when it first came out having dropped it after the pilot thinking that it just wasn’t my thing. The critics never gave up on it though so I decided to give it a second look. I have watched about one half of Season 1 and am enjoying it more with each new episode. It has more heart than just about anything you can watch on TV and the acting is great. Each character is complex and engaging me in their stories. I guess technically it is considered a comedy but I find it more dramatic in the way it plays out. I hope to get through the rest of Season 1 before the end of the summer. If you haven’t seen it, try it by watching at least 7 or 8 episodes of the first season.

No posts for the next couple of weeks!