Dunkirk – Review

5 Stars

Based on the events of the 1940 evacuation, Dunkirk tells the story of various British soldiers who attempted to escape France, and of the civilians coming to their aid. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the film has been hugely anticipated, and, for the most part, extremely well reviewed. As a big fan of both Nolan and war films, I was both excited and nervous to see whether Dunkirk would live up to the hype. Now, reflecting on the film, I can safely say it was the greatest cinematic experience I have ever had.

The word ‘experience’ is key, Dunkirk shouldn’t be viewed as a standard film that focuses on plot and character to create an engaging story. Instead these elements are left behind to create a realistic and utterly immersive and riveting film that is almost like a ride. The characters, played by a mixture of top British stars (such as Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance) and relative newcomers (including Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and Jack Lowden) are simply people put into this situation. There is no real characterisation, but, in this case, there doesn’t need to be. The lack of dialogue from Nolan’s shortest script lets the action be the true main character. The soldiers have little time to converse as they are thrust from one dramatic moment to another and there is little character motivation beyond survival, but this just ramps up the pace and gives that film that race against time feel. If, like me, you get swept up in it all, then this all works perfectly and it really pulls you in. However, those who failed to be fully immersed (likely through no fault of their own) will instead be looking for more a traditional film narrative and will find it lacking, hence some of the poorer reviews the film has received.

It has been said by so many people, but it needs repeating: to get the most out of Dunkrik, you must see it on the best and biggest screen available. Shot mostly on large format cameras, this film was made to be seen in IMAX. The vastness of the sea and vulnerable landscape of the beach look stunning as they take up the whole screen. Sound is also extremely important. Although Hans Zimmer has created another powerful and memorable score, it was the sound effects that really stole the show. The startling crack of gunshots and terrifying screeching of bombers making a dive are almost painfully loud and unlike anything else I’ve heard in a cinema, making you feel like you are there on the beach. I honestly think I’ll never forget the sound of the very first gunshot I heard in the opening scene.

Nolan loves playing with time and he does it again here, delivering three separate takes (land, sea, and air) of the evacuation over three separate timelines. It works well to tie the peaks of tension, faced by each seperate character, together, and it isn’t a challenge to follow. Like his previous films, Dunkirk requires your complete attention, but if you see it on the big screen it’ll be unlikely you even think about anything else for its runtime.

Although comparisons to classic war films, particularly Saving Private Ryan, are being made, Dunkirk reminded me most of BBC documentary series Our War. The series utilise real footage of combat, shot by the soldiers themselves, and it bears a striking resemblance to the depiction of battle in the film. It isn’t all guts flying everywhere and the enemy is nowhere to be seen, just heard due to the deadly gunfire. Dunkirk certainly feels like the most accurate depiction of warfare, and it helps that there is no glorification whatsoever, it is simply shown as a horrific experience.

Despite my Mum being served an almost frozen jacket potato for lunch (Picturehouse Bradford – your cinema may be state of the art, but your microwaves are clearly not), nothing could stop us from being grabbed and pulled in by Nolan’s utterly mesmerising survival thriller. If viewed as a film that is meant to deliver dramatic narrative told through engaging characters, Dunkirk does fall short. However, this is not how it should be viewed. Dunkirk is a pure cinematic experience that is meant to chuck you head first into the freezing waves and shows you first-hand what so many young men had to endure. When viewed as this immersive experience, there is simply nothing better.

Prisoners – Review

3 Stars

The last few years for Denis Villeneuve have been exceptional. Off the back of the tremendously tense Sicario, he directed the critically acclaimed sci-fi mystery Arrival, and his next film is none other than Blade Runner 2049. Back in 2013 he directed his first English language film: Prisoners.

This (rather depressingly) dark and intense thriller tells the story of the abduction of two young girls in Pennsylvania and troubling steps one father (Hugh Jackman) decides he must take to find them. Both disturbing and powerful, this film explores thought-provoking themes and the murky grey area between good and evil.

However, despite its bold and intriguing premise, the film suffers from an overly-long runtime (one hundred and fifty-three minutes) and over complicated plotlines. Prisoners is trying to be two different films; a dark moody morality tale (like elements of Sicario) and, later, a brain teasing mystery (a bit like Arrival). A straight focus on either would have been preferred to the final mash-up of both, with the former being the best option.

The first two-thirds follow Jackman’s character as he makes questionable decisions as he tries to locate his daughter without the police’s help. It really makes you think about what you would do in the same situation. It includes some of the best, and most tense, moments of the film. Then the final third slips into the more standard mystery thriller. Had the film scrapped that element entirely, it could have been a much more focused and original piece. It could have shaved of around thirty minutes, as well as entire sub-plots and characters that felt unnecessary and baggy.

Despite these issues, I was kept engaged by the film, mostly thanks to Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal (playing the detective in charge of the case), who both offer some of their very best work. At its tensest, Prisoners is a real nail-biter, and some moments are particularly uncomfortable (in a good way). Most of the violence is kept off screen, which keeps it from being glorified, and therefore makes it more impactful.

Prisoners marks the first time Villeneuve worked with director of photography Roger Deakins (they would reunite for Sicario and Blade Runner 2049). The resulting cinematography is unsurprisingly excellent. The weather plays a big part in the most stunning shots, with a speeding car shot in heavy snow being particularly breath-taking.

Despite its flaws, Prisoners remained exciting and entertaining. It would be improved by streamlining, and it feels like Villeneuve has done this with his later work. Within its lengthy runtime is a top-notch morality thriller, which, at times, managed to reveal the talent that has made Villeneuve one of the most exciting directors working today.

Baby Driver – Review

5 Stars

A recent Forbes article compared Edgar Wright’s new heist comedy Baby Driver to the game series Grand Theft Auto. Arguably the best moments of Grand Theft Auto are when you are driving and the perfect song comes on the in-game radio and it brilliantly elevates the current moment, be it a frantic chase or slow sunset drive. This creates the ultimate buzz of thrilling escapism. This feeling is at Baby Driver’s heart and the film is non-stop perfect match of cars and music that is smart, slick, and sumptuous.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver working for Doc (Kevin Spacey) who constantly plays music to drown out his tinnitus. He meets, and soon falls for, fellow music lover Debora (Lily James), but their romance is threatened by the nature of Baby’s work. The film balances the love story and the heist thriller well, creating both heart-warming and exhilarating moments. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza González all enjoy themselves as Baby’s criminal pals and with a smattering of sinister Jon Bernthal and a sprinkling of Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers, you have one of the best casts of 2017.

Humour has always been a key aspect of Wright’s work, and although Baby Driver is not a straight comedy, its jokes (both written and visual) always land. All the usual Edgarisms are also present; quick cuts, clever scene transitions, and a humorous use of sound (one highlight is a shootout where every shot is timed with the music). Although it appears quite different from his earlier work like Shaun of the Dead, this is very much an Edgar Wright movie.

If you know anything about Baby Driver then you’ll know music is the most important aspect of it. It is so integral to the film that at times it feels like you are watching a musical, with Baby singing along to his favourite tracks and the action sequences playing out like extreme dance numbers. As mentioned earlier, the film expertly catches the car-music buzz, but it also nails the little things, such as walking down a street, absorbed by what’s playing in your headphones.

Edgar Wright has revitalised the car film with Baby Driver and has cemented himself as one of the most inventive and consistently entertaining directors working today. Baby Driver is joyful, thrilling and leaves you wanting to recapture that song and speed buzz. Perhaps, for the safety of everyone on the road, you shouldn’t Baby Driver and drive.

 

You can check out the article mentioned here

Buried – Review

4 Stars

Buried is a film where, basically, nothing happens very intensely for 90 minutes. Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up to find that he has been buried alive in a small wooden coffin after being taken hostage in Iraq. He soon finds a mobile phone given to him as a means of communication with his kidnapper, which he then uses to try and manufacture his rescue.

Ingeniously executed by director Rodrigo Cortés and a terrific performance from Reynolds, Buried manages to be entertaining and nail bitingly tense throughout, despite being entirely set within said coffin. All the technical aspects of the film are genius. The set itself is smart and original, using several different coffins with various sizes and separate missing walls to allow a surprisingly expansive use of shots and angles, all of which create a real and terrifying sense of claustrophobia. The lighting, from the blue glow of the mobile to the flickering flame of a lighter, sells the realism and ups the terror. As the music swells, the editing gets quicker and the tension mounts and mounts. This is a truly suspenseful film.

Buried also includes some narrative heft and interesting themes. As Conroy uses the phone to contact various individuals from those he works for to the FBI, he is exposed to corporate callousness and the complexity of international politics. These narrative moments aren’t hugely deep (unlike Conroy’s coffin) but really do add to the story.

With simplistic, yet hugely impressive technical feats, a real sense of terror, and a sprinkling of black comedy, Buried is a tight, tense film that delivers on its premise and feels genuinely original.

Sully – Review

3 Stars

Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Captain Chelsea ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (the ever-reliable Tom Hanks), the pilot who miraculously landed a plane on the Hudson River in New York, saving the lives of all one hundred and fifty-five people on board.

Sully bares an unsurprising resemblance to Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, a film that told the fictional story of a pilot’s miraculous landing of a plane and the tough investigation that followed. While Sully carries (some of) the emotional weight of being a true story of a real-life hero, its well-known, successful conclusion means it lacks any real narrative tension throughout the film. The crash scenes themselves, the clear highlights of the film, are both intense and powerful. However, these scenes are not enough to carry a film (the actual event only lasted just over 200 seconds), and therefore the rest of the film follows the investigation into Captain Sullenberger’s actions. Before I watched it myself, I had already heard that Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki had added false sense of drama to the investigation by portraying the investigators as harsh, unfair, and out to blame Sully (I have attached a couple of articles on this subject below).  This suggests that Eastwood felt the true events were not dramatic enough to make an engaging film. The main problem with what Eastwood adds, aside from being untrue, is that it’s not very dramatic anyway. It feels unnecessary, and takes away from the true heroics of the story. The film could’ve spent more time delving into Sully as a person, as well as his co-pilot, played by Aaron Eckhart, or even the passengers. These people have experienced something truly remarkable yet the film wastes its short run time on hearings and simulations.

Other than this huge misstep, Sully is a solidly made film. Tom Hanks does what he does best. Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney are both terrific, if underused. As mentioned earlier, there are multiple scenes of the water landing which are particularly moving, and made the film worth a watch. Sully certainly isn’t a bad film, and certain moments are great, but these few moments are not enough to excuse the false, and frankly quite dull, take on the investigation.

http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/09/08/sully-movie-gets-it-wrong-hudson-river-crashs-real-life-investigators-say/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/12/sully-clint-eastwood-hudson-river-plane-crash-ntsb

La La Land – Review

5 Stars

Ever since it premiered at the Venice Film last summer, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has been riding a wave of hype and excitement that may well culminate in a Best Picture Oscar win in this year’s Academy Awards. The film shares many of the themes – dreams, ambition and most importantly, jazz – as Chazelle’s previous film, the masterful Whiplash. However, unlike his terrifyingly intense drama, La La Land is charming, funny and bursting with joy.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star together as a wannabe actress and wannabe jazz club owner, who, after a few odd and surprising meetings, fall for each other. The chemistry between the two is perfect and really carries the romantic aspect of the film, making it both believable and charming. Ryan Gosling has proven himself as a more than capable comic actor in recent years (The Big Short and The Nice Guys are two of my favourites) and he delivers many of La La Land’s best laughs. Emma Stone has been widely praised by critics, and for good reason, delivering an award worthy performance that is not only sweet and funny, but also reflects how most of us feel about our dreams and aspirations; full of both hope and fear.

Set in L.A., La La Land, is both a love letter to the city and a movie that teases the culture of Hollywood. The camera picks up the stunning backgrounds and the bold colours of the meticulously designed sets, making the city another engaging character. But the film also likes to poke fun, with cheeky jokes that place Hollywood, acting and celebrities as their punchlines.

The music numbers are catchy, fun and are all choreographed and filmed beautifully. They follow the feel of the story well but none of them truly jumped out as musical classics. The soundtrack is worth the purchase if you liked the film, and the opening number is sure to be spoofed and copied (as it already has been by the Golden Globes), but after the credits rolled the music didn’t really stay with me like it normally does for a live stage musical. Perhaps this is due to effect that live performance has, and without it there is a little bit of magic missing. However, while the individual songs didn’t quite stay with me, and overall feeling of pure joy did.

Watching La La Land left me with the kind of film-high that comes along far too rarely. Bursting with joy just as the shots are bursting with colour, and the characters bursting with song, La La Land is a triumph that deserves the acclaim it has been receiving. With this and Whiplash under his belt (he’s only actually directed three feature films), Chazelle has truly proven himself a great director and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

 

 

Triple 9 – Review

2 Stars

There were few films released in 2016 that boasted quite the ensemble cast as Triple 9. The cast is riddled with talented names, yet together they are not enough to carry the heist movie out of mediocracy. There is plenty of good points about Triple 9, such as the cast, but every good point is overshadowed by bad one. The result is a mixed bag that provides an enjoyable, but quite flawed, experience.

John Hillcoat’s complex and cluttered crime thriller follows a gang of corrupt cops and ex-military criminals, led by Chiwetel Ejiofor, as they attempt to pull off an ‘impossible’ heist for Kate Winslet’s heavily (and questionably) accented Russian mob boss. A tense and visually intelligent opening caper, featuring some lovely shots of red ink billowing out of a speeding van, makes you feel you may be in for a treat. Street shootouts bring memories of Michael Mann’s Heat, but soon as the dust settles the disappointment kicks in. The viewpoint starts to shift between Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson’s clichéd and troubled detective and Casey Affleck, an incorruptible officer coincidentally paired with one of the criminals (Anthony Mackie).  Any one of these characters could of, and perhaps should have, been the clear and distinct main hero/anti-hero. Instead Hillcoat decides to regularly jump between them, never really giving them enough screen time to fully develop their characters. At the brightest moments, there are flashes of humanity, such as scenes with Mackie and Affleck that reminded me of End of Watch (a prime example of a truly believable relationship between police officers), but these moments are very rare. The result is a cluster of standard and expected character arcs that never really allow you to care about the people in question. At one point, I thought I did almost feel for one of the side characters, but the I realised I knew nothing about him and I just liked a similar, yet much more developed, character the actor had played elsewhere. Just like the three or four main characters, all the actors in supporting roles are spread too thin; Gal Gadot, the new Wonder Woman, is barely in the film for more than 5 minutes and TV superstars Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul are not much better served. All this talented is wasted just to have names on the poster and it’s a real shame.

The action sequences, such as the opening heist and a tense police raid, are well choreographed and do a good job at providing tension and excitement. They are nothing special though, merely solidly made. Some Sicario level tension could have pushed Triple 9 to greater heights, but this level is only grasped at, instead of being embraced.

Overall I had a good time with Triple 9, but I was left feeling that it could have been so much more. Perhaps the scope and complexity of the story in Hillcoat’s mind could have made a thrilling TV show, but instead too much is packed into this movie, resulting in a disappointingly predictable, if at times thrilling, crime caper.