CVIndependent

Fri07102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film about the 1940 evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk is one of the great visual cinematic spectacles of the 21st century—and for that, he should be applauded.

Unfortunately, some of his scripting and editing decisions take away from the effectiveness of his movie. In a strange way, this is one of his least-successful films. We are talking about the guy who made Interstellar, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia and Memento. All of those are great films—and better films than Dunkirk.

Still, Dunkirk is a good movie, and an occasionally astounding one if you manage to see it on an IMAX screen, either at the Regal Rancho Mirage or elsewhere. Nolan shot on film, with all scenes intended for IMAX; add in some incredible soundtrack work by Hans Zimmer, and the movie begs to be seen in theaters—even if the experience is a bit empty in some ways.

Nolan, who also wrote the sparsely worded screenplay, makes the film in three parts. One part is the events on the beach, which take place over a week. The second part is the evacuation at sea, which unfolds in a day. The third is the battle in the air, which covers an hour’s worth of events. The film jumps from one timeline to the next, often abruptly, with the stories ultimately interconnecting. Any Nolan fan knows that he loves to make his movies in complicated ways involving time (Memento being a prime example), and the director himself has called Dunkirk his most experimental yet. Nolan is out to prove that you can cut away from a harrowing ship-sinking sequence to an also-harrowing battle sequence in the air—and maintain the tension all along. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pull off the stunt every time. There are moments when he cuts away to another timeline that I found frustrating and unnecessary. It feels like a director being a little too cute.

I know, I know: Nolan is trying to show how hectic, crazy and unilaterally nuts the whole situation was, with each battle and predicament being equally terrible. That sort of thing goes without saying: Soldiers and civilians were put through all kinds of hell, with one terrible occurrence after another. But Nolan’s experimentation comes at the expense of good, clean, straightforward filmmaking. So far, his movie-puzzle games work better with fiction than they do with real life events.

Mark Rylance plays the captain of a private boat on his way to rescue men from Dunkirk, while Cillian Murphy is a shell-shocked ship-sinking survivor; they provide the main performances in the “sea” portion of the movie, and they offer up the film’s best acting. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles play soldiers on the beach—and let it be said that One Direction’s Styles is a natural onscreen. Tom Hardy, his face once again covered by a mask in a Nolan film, plays one of the fighter pilots, while Kenneth Branagh is on hand as Commander Bolton, overseeing the evacuation on land.

Zimmer’s soundtrack, which utilizes a ticking stopwatch, manages to ratchet up the tension and deliver some glorious notes. In many ways, it’s the glue that holds the whole enterprise together.

Nolan decided to use real ships, planes and sets rather than relying on CGI. In many ways, this gives Dunkirk the epic visual scope that is missing in many high definition, CGI-heavy efforts. This looks and feels like a real movie.

By all means, go see Dunkirk while it is in theaters. It’s certainly a good workout for the eyes and ears, and enough of the moments resonate to make the movie worthwhile. Just be prepared to feel slightly let down if you are thinking this is going to be Nolan’s best, or one of the year’s best films.

Dunkirk is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Upon revisiting Interstellar on Blu-ray, I would like to make the following observation: Matt Damon kicks mortal ass in this movie.

Yes, I know, most of the hubbub involving this film focuses on the Matthew McConaughey performance, and whether or not the science ideas hold up. For me, the most startling aspect of this flick is when Damon shows up deep in the picture and fucks things up, old-school.

I didn’t necessarily buy what director Christopher Nolan and his cronies were trying to postulate about wormholes and space travel. However, I did thoroughly enjoy Interstellar thanks to the work of the special-effects crew, the performances and, yes, Matt Damon playing a total douchebag.

I had completely forgotten Damon was in Interstellar when I watched it the first time, so when he showed up as a scientist who was waking up from what he thought would be his final nap, I was blindsided. This time out, I was prepared and able to focus on his work from the very beginning. Damon is a rock star.

Did you know Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct his movie? If he had, it would’ve probably had a John Williams score and a whole other vibe. Instead, Nolan made a good movie that makes you think—a good movie that makes you think Matt Damon kicks ass!

Special Features: There’s a nearly hour long documentary about the science of the film narrated by McConaughey. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The latest from writer-director Christopher Nolan is a triumphant piece of movie-making, a science-fiction film that travels outside the lines.

In the future, Earth is getting swallowed up by dust; all the crops are dying; and the Yankees really suck. (Wait…that’s true now!) Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer and former test pilot, is raising his two children after the death of his wife. He and his young daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), discover a strange site that just happens to be the remnants of NASA, where an old scientist (Michael Caine) is in the middle of a plan to save the human race.

Cooper eventually winds up on a mission to enter a wormhole and explore distant planets, looking for their ability to sustain life. However, there’s a major drawback: Time gets all warped during space travel, and the slightest delay will cost him many years back on Earth.

The movie gets a little crazy and farfetched, and possesses more than its share of plot holes. I don’t care. It’s a terrific viewing experience that made me think, even if it is a little crazy.

Nolan wrote the film with his brother Jonathan, and they came up with some ideas that seem quite impossible, perhaps illogical. Yet within the context of this sprawling, great movie, it all works just fine. The film offers many great surprises, performances and brain-teasing concepts. It’s also weird and insane, and I love it for that. The result: Interstellar is an all-time-great science-fiction film.

Interstellar is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Seven years ago, director Bryan Singer tried to re-launch Superman by casting a Christopher Reeve clone (Brandon Routh) and a long-dead Marlon Brando, while retaining that majestic John Williams theme. I liked Superman Returns, but it performed beneath expectations, and producers put Superman on ice.

With Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is reviving Superman by giving the son of Jor-El the Christopher Nolan treatment. Nolan doesn’t direct, but he does produce; David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman films, has penned the script.

The result? A dull Superman who whines about his parents a lot. Man of Steel has some impressive fireworks, but it severely lacks soul. It’s like a Superman/Transformersmovie.

I’ll say this: Henry Cavill is easily the best-looking Superman. I mean, this guy is GORGEOUS. Man of Steel will probably do good box office simply because people will want to spend many summer hours just gazing at this positively dreamy guy. Problem is, he’s duller than an ax after 10,000 whacks at a big, hard boulder.

Much of the blame for Cavill’s flat effort should go to director Zack Snyder. Snyder’s films aren’t generally noted for their emotional realism. His thirst for style usually outweighs the need for his performers to deliver anything of depth, unless you count Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” in 300.

While I liked the way Snyder delivered his comic adaptation of Watchmen, I started to fret about him helming a Superman movie after the dreadful Sucker Punch. I was afraid Superman would get lost in a sea of washed-out visuals, extreme speeds, and stripper-hookers. Thankfully, he left out the strippers-hookers, but all of his other directorial trademarks made the cut.

For instance, whenever Superman flies, he flies like a supersonic jet. The camera is often far away, and he’s just a little speck zipping around. When we see him up close, he’s bouncing around so much that we can’t really enjoy the visual of a man flying. It’s like a really bad Top Gun movie.

This is another origin story, and with Nolan in the mix, it’s an often somber one. The thing with Superman is that he’s supposed to be selfless. His primary concern is saving people’s clumsy asses, not wondering who his parents really are. Sure, he cares to a certain extent, but not to the extent that it derails his primary mission of protecting humanity.

This story that starts on Krypton, where Jor-El, Superman’s philosopher dad (played well by Russell Crowe), is witnessing the destruction of his planet. Before things go kaboom, he has a final confrontation with the deranged General Zod (Michael Shannon) and launches a ship containing his infant son.

Fans of Superman know that he winds up on a farm with earthly caretakers (played winningly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). The film goes in a new direction with the Clark Kent alter ego—and I am not crazy about that direction.

The supporting cast is generally strong, with Crowe and Costner giving their best work in years. Shannon, in a fierce and frightening performance, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.

While Man of Steel isn’t great, or even good, it does have a highly memorable villain in Zod, the Krypton general determined to see his people live on. In fact, the film suffers whenever Zod isn’t onscreen. Shannon manages to pierce the dulling veil that is Snyder’s directing.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams isn’t really a factor. The script calls for her to be humorless and dull in her own right. (It’s no wonder she and Superman fall for each other.) As her boss, editor Perry White, Laurence Fishburne proves to be a terrible choice. He’s in full, droning Morpheus mode.

I must also call out the filmmakers for their musical choices. I understand the impulse to separate from the original Superman franchise, but John Williams wrote a great theme, and it deserves to be heard whenever an actor puts on the blue tights. (Let it be noted that these blue tights don’t have the red underwear on the outside … SACRILEGE!) The new score by Hans Zimmer is far from memorable.

This film is attempt by Warner Bros. to have a superhero beyond Batman to compete with all of Marvel’s Avengers. However, Marvel has the upper hand, because most of Marvel's recent films contain charm, humor and worthy drama to go with their whiz-bang. Man of Steel, meanwhile, just has a guy who looks really good in tights, and a villain who far outmatches him in acting prowess. The result is a movie that falls miserably flat.

There’s a moment at the end of Man of Steel that left me curious. Perhaps Cavill will come out of his shell in later installments, and will actually make an emotional impression in the sequels.

As for those sequels, I’d like to see one without Snyder at the helm. He has clearly lost his touch.

Man of Steel opens Friday, June 14, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews