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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

From the time it was announced through Lady Gaga’s late addition as a headliner fill-in for the pregnant Beyoncé, this year’s Coachella lineup has been one of the most questioned and talked-about ever.

Beyond the headliners, however, there are always gems among the names in the smaller font on the poster. Here are some acts I’ll make sure to see—and I recommend that you check them out, too.


Friday, April 14 and 21

Tacocat

The name is funny, and so is some of the music, but this Seattle band, around since 2007, has a seriously interesting punk-rock sound. Three of the band’s four members are women, and during an interview with VICE, bassist Bree McKenna claimed that she was the illegitimate child of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine. She was kidding … we think. Don’t dawdle on Friday; get to Coachella early to catch this band’s feminist messages, humor and sarcasm.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

I always love the variety of music showcased at Coachella throughout the weekend—and seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be a real treat. This legendary New Orleans jazz band has been going since 1963, and an impressive list of musicians has come through the band. The group also recently appeared on the Foo Fighters’ album Sonic Highways. The band played Coachella in 2014—and it felt like you couldn’t escape them. Beyond the band’s scheduled set, the group showed up in the Heineken tent to perform with Angelo Moore of Fishbone, and also appeared with Arcade Fire later in the evening. For a minute, I thought I might even see them busking in the parking lot.

Father John Misty

I’m so happy that Father John Misty is not scheduled at the same time as Radiohead’s headliner set. I included Father John Misty in my Coachella suggestions in both 2013 and in 2015—and both sets were amazing, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be blowing minds again in 2017. The former Fleet Foxes drummer has come a long way as a solo artist. His indie-folk sound has a lot going on in it, and his songs are deep—and often hilarious. Definitely make sure you catch Father John Misty; you won’t be disappointed.


Saturday, April 15 and 22

Yip Yops, Kayves

A different local band or two is announced as a Coachella performer, playing early on a stage, a few days before both Weekend 1 and Weekend 2. CIVX (now Killjoi), Machin’, EeVaan Tre, Alchemy, Brightener and The Flusters have played in this slot. Who will play this year? We received the answer for Weekend 1 today: Kayves on Friday, and Yip Yops on Saturday. As for Weekend 2, worthy contenders include The BrosQuitos, Hive Minds and the reigning Independent Best of Coachella Valley Best Local Band, Venus and the Traps. Locals: Go and support the bands are selected!

Warpaint

Psychedelic pop/rock band Warpaint (upper right) turns in live performances that soak attendees in dark psychedelic vibes—no frills necessary. The group’s most recent album, last year’s Heads Up, took the band in more of a pop direction, but let me assure you: The album is fantastic, and was one of my favorites of 2016. The tracks “New Song” and “So Good” get stuck in your head—and you only want to hear more.

Thundercat

Flying Lotus protege Thundercat is a musician on the rise. After releasing his latest album, Drunk, in February, he’s gotten bigger thanks to the buzz that has surrounded it. Thundercat’s electronic funk mixed with soul somehow sounds both futuristic and traditional. His bass grooves on Drunk are so damn smooth, and his collaborations with people such as Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald are weird and fantastic at the same time. It’s hard to believe this guy was once playing bass for Suicidal Tendencies.

The Head and the Heart

I saw The Head and the Heart’s set at Coachella in 2014, where I learned the band’s folk sound could work well at Stagecoach, too. The Head and the Heart remind me a lot of The Lone Bellow, because the songs are deep, yet The Head and the Heart also can play in styles similar to Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, and even Vampire Weekend. The band writes more complex parts for the mandolin and fiddle than most Americana bands.


Sunday, April 16 and 23

Toots and the Maytals

Goldenvoice has put some great reggae legends on the Coachella stage—and Toots and the Maytals, one of the great reggae/ska bands of the early ’60s, is the latest band that is part of that welcome trend. Toots Hibbert (below) is a reggae legend who has the voice of a soul singer; he’s written some of reggae’s greatest songs, and has performed with acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Major Lazer, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and many others.

Hans Zimmer

This one makes me laugh every time I look at the Coachella lineup. One of my friends who worked in the film industry at Warner Bros. asked me, “Hans Zimmer ... how does that work, exactly?” The legend who has created the scores for films such as The Dark Knight, The Lion King, Inception and many other blockbusters is definitely an odd addition to the lineup … but I have a feeling he’s going to silence anyone who made fun of his inclusion, even though I have no idea what his performance will entail. Who knows … maybe Goldenvoice can get Philip Glass to perform in the future?

Future Islands

In 2014, I went Pappy and Harriet’s before Coachella started to watch The Pixies. As I was leaving Pappy’s, one of the owners, Linda Krantz, asked if I was staying for the very late performance of Future Islands; I declined. While at Coachella the next day, I took a short nap on the grass in the media area right behind the Gobi tent … and was woken up by a catchy bass line. I got up and walked into the Gobi to watch Future Islands, which had just started the set. I was blown away, and I can’t wait to see Future Islands at Coachella again.

New Order

New Order is made up of the surviving members of Joy Division (now minus bassist Peter Hook) and was one of the biggest bands of the ’80s and ’90s. Take note: Bernard Sumner is known to be a serial complainer during performances. When I caught the band’s set at Coachella in 2013, Sumner bitched throughout—to the sound engineer about a botched intro (before the band even played a note), and about headliner Phoenix, which was playing on the Main Stage at the same time. That aside, the band turned in a great performance. Expect some great visuals and music to dance to—things any Coachella attendee will appreciate. 

Updated on April 11 after release of set times.

Published in Previews

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