Dunkirk (2017): A Story of Heroism, Desperation and the Cost of War

   I have to put my bias up front, but war movies generally aren’t my thing, not unless they are fantasy, sci. fi. or some sort of thriller (think “Inglorious Bastards, “The Hunt for the Red October” etc.). Given this bias, this is a great film that I highly recommend. It isn’t in the Top 3 Nolan films for me (those are still “Dark Knight,” “Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception”) but it is one of the best films this summer, even though it won’t make my Top 5 Films of 2017. The reason for this is at times it drags and the time skips don’t flow all that well, which kept the story from the truly masterful execution it could have been. This is still a film worth checking out though.

“Dunkirk” was directed and written by Christopher Nolan who co-produced it with Emma Thomas.

The story takes place during the British retreat from the Nazi Conquest of France and Belgium from the city of Dunkirk during World War 2, as they are pinned and must hold out as the limited air force fights in the air, the civilian fleet makes it’s journey to help and the soldiers seek their escape. These are the 3 narratives that drive the story.

Slight SPOILERS

The Pros: Music as Story – One of the best things this film does is give us communication through music as Zimmer’s score increases tension and remains quiet as it needs to, as the soldier barely speak and we see them react to the desperate situation they are in being trapped and under siege. It is powerful and truly, the music mixed with the human story on display is the core reason to see this film. It truly is masterful and brilliant.

Heroism in Conflict – One of the major themes is heroism in conflict, from the civilians risking their lives to save the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk, the soldiers who stay to help the French and those who risk their lives to protect the wounded. There are countless examples of this through the film that give the human connection with the greatest ones being Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot fighting to last of his fuel to take out the bombers so that at least some can escape Dunkirk and Mark Rylance’s civilian captain who risks everything to save as many soldiers as possible.

The Cost of War – Whether it is Cillian Murphy’s shell shocked soldiers or the two men at the beginning just trying to escape from using injured soldiers as a reason to get on a ship or hiding in the piers to sneak on…we see the cost of being put in a life and death situation does to people. People’s worst and best instincts come out because people are maimed and dying and it is hard to know what anyone will do when they are given the choice, knowing they could be the maimed or dead soldier who will never return home.

The Cons: Structure Issues – The film jumps between the fight in the air, that is an hour, the soldiers on the beach, which is a day and the civilians coming to help, which is over a week. It sort of comes together at the end but lead to dragging and a lot of repeat scenes that the added perspective didn’t help in any way, given we’d already gotten the human story at that point.

Drags Near End – The film drags near the end and really could have ended at a few points, given the narratives are completed before the final ending we get. If it hadn’t dragged and had the structure issues I would consider it a near perfect film though, given how well everything else is executed.

This is a film that I highly recommend. If you want to see a great war story that explores the cost of war and both the courage and fear that can overwhelm people and force them to make drastic choices, this is the film for you. It is another great film from Christopher Nolan and is easily one of the best war films I have watched. If you are fan of Nolan, chances are you will really enjoy this film, and same goes if you are fan of war films, specifically those that take place during World War 2. See it on the big screen if you can and I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): Growing Beyond Caesar

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is easily the best of the Franchise. This is a film series I reviewed back when the blog was beginning that shows just how strong the new series has held up (Given “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is number 1 for me until today and “Dawn” is in the Top 5″ of the series). This is a series that deserves far more credit than it has been given as it has tacked social and political issues while never forgetting the character arc of Caesar which drives the series to it’s conclusion in this film (please no more after this). This is the perfect end as Caesar’s arc is completed and we see how this series ties into the classic series completing the time cycle that has played throughout all these films. I’ll explain more in below, but for now, this a series that might make my Top 5 for this year and is easily the best of the series, both Classic and New.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes” was directed by Matt Reeves, who co wrote it along with Mark Bomback with the producers being Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

The story involves the last remnants of humanity seeking to annihilate the apes under the Colonel as the virus takes away speech and the human and ape populations are on the risk of extinction, as Caesar seeks peace and home away from the struggle.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The World – The reboot world has been nothing but good for me as a re-imagining of the apocalypse. We get to see the forest slowly take over the human settlements as the apes gain more power through the spread of the Simian Flu (the virus that kills off humanity and also has other affects). Hell, there is whole mini-series before “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” that shows the viruses decimation of mankind. It is tragic and beautiful and this film is the final payoff where militaristic mankind losing itself to the virus faces off against the apes set to inherit the world.

The Poisonous of Nationalistic Ideology – The villain of this film is portrayed through the Colonel in Woody Harrelson who is ready to kill humanity when they lose speech, which the Simian Flu has been causing since dawn. This leads to his enslavement of the apes and his turning on his own people who won’t kill their own as he sees this separation as speech as something worth ending, even if it is his son. This is powerful as he has lost himself to his belief and was willing to kill family for it, even as he became it and kills himself and all his abuse of the apes is for nothing…he is a powerless man in a world that has left him behind and he is tragic, but not sympathetic, a good villain.

Caesar and his Team – Caesar and his team are great. You have Maurice as the heart who teaches sign language to the human Nova (who Caesar kills in self-defense), you have Rocket you has been around as the Scotty/Chekov always standing by his captain and Luca, a hardened warrior who finds heart and dies to protect Caesar, and Nova herself who comes to love her adopted family and helps save the apes from the Human Nationalists.

The Ghost of Hate – Caesar has dreams of Kuba as his desire to kill the Colonel (and revenge against humanity for the death of his son too) consumes him. It is powerful and Serkis shows so much emotion in his lines and visions of Kuba telling him to die or to get revenge. This ghost haunts him until he finds an identity beyond himself and Nationalism. In the end, Caesar grows beyond his tribe.

A World Beyond Caesar – A major arc of this series is showing that the apes have an arc beyond Caesar, as does humanity. Humanity is killed because of their fight against themselves, not against the apes. The apes find peace and Caesar dies at the Oasis. Caesar’s arc is complete where no longer has hate and helped his people find more, as Nova is part of their tribe. This is powerful as it shows even in that Caesar is dead and humanity killed itself, it paradoxically lives on in the best of the survivors via Nova. Even when hope is dead, it can still live on.

Okay/Con: A Too Long Ending – This movie has a bit of “Return of the King” going on, as there are a few points it could have ended…Caesar spares the Colonel, the apes escape the prison, the apes survive the avalanche, and finally, the apes find the Oasis. Either of these could have been when Caesar dies from his injuries but they wait for the Oasis. I didn’t hate it, but it did show how long this movie went.

This is a film that might make my Top 5 at the end of the year and is the best of the “Planet of the Apes” Franchise.” It beats Rises as we are given reasons to sympathize with the villains and unlike “Dawn” the stakes and cost are that much higher. This is a wonderful end to an amazing Franchise and I hope they don’t do anything else with it, as there are enough Easter eggs here to tigh into the original “Planet of the Apes” that if you want to catch, I’d advise you see as they only add to the amazing story that takes place here.

Also, here is my past retrospect of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/planet-of-the-apes-franchise-retrospect-worst-to-best-of-the-franchise/

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The best of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise.”

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – A Solid Return to the Basics of “Spider-Man”

      Sony sharing custody of Spider-Man was the best thing that could have happened to the character. After they tied to go “Dark Knight” with Spidey and failed miserably as they ended up focusing more on franchise management rather than story…it is good that they let the studio who knows story shape their character’s future. This is film that isn’t great, but it is good and it is one I’d highly recommend. The villain and support characters are wonderful and there is a lot of good setup for future films. Before I get into spoilers, if you like the MCU or are a fan of Spider-Man, chances are you will enjoy this film as I did.

The film was directed by Jon Watts, who co-wrote it with 5 other people (hello Sony and Marvel Studios) and produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal.

After the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Parker is given a new suit by Tony Stark but soon finds himself left behind. As he finds himself pulled into thefts of alien technology around the city he must take on the mysterious Vulture while dealing with Tony Stark wanting him to stay out of it as he tries to juggle being Spider-Man and his complex social life at school and taking on the threat of the Vulture.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of the MCU – The MCU is a world full of consequences. SHIELD was disbanded, the Avengers fell apart, some characters have died for good (though none of the biggies yet sadly) and each of the films plays into one another while still standing strong on their own. Spider-Man is one of my favorite comic book heroes, along with Batman when I was growing up and I’m glad he is in this Universe that is so rich and full of lore that now his amazing lore can once again be apart of as well.

Vulture – Michael Keaton is one of the best MCU villains to date. This is a guy who wants to look after his family after he loses out on a government contract to clean up New York after the events of the “Avengers.” You can understand his chip on his shoulder and he has a twisted sense of honor as even after he learns Spidey’s identity, he keeps it secret. His character manages to be both empathetic and threatening making him so very human…I’m glad that Marvel didn’t kill him off and can’t wait to see him in future Spidey films.

With Great Power – One of the key traits of Spider-Man is that, “With great power comes great responsibility” and this film illustrates it really well. The main arc is Spidey wanting to join the Avengers but he continues to mess up even as he tries to do good. So many of the problems that he has to fix are ones he created and his arc is the constant struggle with this as his social and super hero life collapse around him and he has to own up for his mistakes. It is his character and what defines him and the main arc that drives the story. Tom Holland really is wonderful in this role. This is a return to the basics of the character, which we needed after all the conspiracy Oscorp crap in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films.

Changes and Avoiding Past Pitfalls – There are things in here that I really liked that exist because the writers avoided doing what had been done before. We don’t have an Uncle Ben origin story death, there is not a Goblin to be seen, Peter doesn’t mope and the finale isn’t Spider-Man saving the love interest from the baddy who wants to destroy the city. These changes were masterful and in doing so let them do knew things like his friends Ned and Michelle, Ned who finds out he is Spider-Man and Michelle who ends up being a wonderful re-imagining of M.J. Seriously, Zendaya is the best part of this film outside of Vulture.

The Cons: The Point of Aunt May – Everybody creeps on Aunt May and I hate it. If the character is a guy he will comment on how hot she is and that is all she exists as. It is objectifying and annoying as she is Peter’s guardian and mentor and they could have done so much more with that. She has one scene where she comforts him but she almost wasn’t needed in this film as Tony Stark functions as a surrogate guardian.

The Uncle Ben Shaped Hole – Aunt May has been through a lot but we never know what happened to Uncle Ben or if he is even still alive in this version of the lore. I’m glad we didn’t get his death again but he should have at least been mentioned or dealt with as he is such a huge essential part of what drives Peter Parker and his becoming Spider-Man.

This is a solidly good film and one that I will probably go back and watch as I am a fan of Spider-Man. I hope we see more done with the characters and villains that are setup throughout the film as Spider-Man has one of the best rogues galleries outside of Batman and I can’t wait to see how the reveals done in this film payoff later as Marvel and Sony further develop one of the best characters to come out of Marvel Comics in the amazing world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score:  8.2 / 10 Solidly good.

Okja (2017): Where Miyazaki Meets Horror

  “Okja” is a strange and wonderful film. This is a film that starts like a Miyazaki film and ends like horror movie and inbetween tries to political satire and be an all around adventure story. Did it work? Enough to the point that I did enjoy this film and recommend it. Netflix is getting better at putting out quality original work and this is a shining example of a great film of theirs that shows the streaming platform (and often times going cheap) can work for quality original works.

The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho who co-wrote it along with Jon Ronson.  Bong Joon-Ho also was one of the seven producers on the film. The others were Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-Sik and Ted Sarandos.

The story involves the Mirando Corporation sending lab designed super pigs around the world to be raised by farmers in the best Pig Competition, where the winner will be crowned in 10 years. During that time Okja, one of the pigs is raised by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). When the corporation returns and takes Okja Mija goes on a journey to save her friend and fights herself being manipulated by different political factions who want to use Okja to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Flawed Characters and Ego – Most of the minor characters in this are compelling in the ways their egos and drive them and make them flawed. There is Jay the leader of the Animal Liberation Front who believes in consent but ignores it for the overall aims in the end, there is Lucy Miranda who wants to make her company better than it is but not face the darker side of the slaughter house and there is the Grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have success but in the end misses how important Okja is to her. These characters make the narrative interesting.

Magical Realism – Giant Pigs created in a lab transported around the world for a Best Pig competition that will take place 10 years later, and one of them is raised by a little girl in the mountains…it is right out of a Miyazaki film and was part of what made this film so fun. I’ve always loved the fantasy in magical realism and this film captures that really well.

A Critique of Ideology over People – Both the ALF and Mirando Corp don’t care about people, only ideology. We see this in how Lucy’s sister turns on her, on the lying that K and Jay both do to Mija in order to serve their overall goals and in the end the hero of this film has no ideology and just wants to be with her pig Okja. This is the core theme of the piece and from that do good where you can as you are and don’t let ideology consume you.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms – The film is extremely against factory farming and you get to see all the parts of it as the Super Pigs get slaughtered and how their different parts go to the different areas of the supermarket. Mija sees this first hand at the end and it is really well done…this is when the film turns into a horror film as we see it all through Mija’s and Okja’s eyes.

The Cons: The Satire – The Corporation doesn’t feel like it is full of people and the ALF is so disconnected and all over the place that they are hard to take seriously as a force. This really brings down the satire as our villains become a bit too cartoonish, which hurts the satirical argument in play.

This is a flawed film that also manages to just be great. Certain characters feel like caricatures (the Mirando Corporate characters as a whole (except maybe Lucy) and some of the Animal Liberation Front Members) but this didn’t bring down my overall enjoyment film. This film is solidly great and now that I’ve watched this and “Snowpiercer,” I can’t wait to see what director Bong Joon-Ho does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“Castlevania” Season 1 – Of Origins and Building the Party

   “Castlevania” is a great video game adaptation. This is a series that explores Dracula’s motivation and really lets us explore and get to know the world before it gets into the action. Without going into spoilers, the only issue is how short it is. The first Season is only 4 episodes long and each of those episodes is only 20 minutes. It could have easily had 8 episodes just off of the characters and the world and I’m really that it has been renewed for future episodes. The fact that this is an adaptation of a video game is all the more amazing given the track record of suck projects as they usually always end up sucking.

The series was written by Warren Ellis and directed by Sam Deats.

The story involves Dracula’s origin and what lead him to turn against humanity (turning it into the depressed hellscape of the games). After the origin we pick up with the last of the Belmonts, Trevor Belmont as he wanders the hellscape, just trying to survive and find purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Dracula’s Origin – Dracula’s hate is born out of tragedy. It begins with him as an illusive immortal lord who falls in love with a woman who wants to help the people through the medical sciences. Sadly they turn on her and we learn she married Dracula. Out of anger for the loss of his love he raises the army of hell and puts them on the population, leading to the status quo of the games. This is the first time in any of the games where he has actually been explored as a character and I love the character choices they made for why he became a monster.

People are Hell – A major theme of the story is that people are hell. The Church kills Dracula’s wife for being a “witch” and through the story we see murders who joined the church as enforcers and the general apathy of the general populace and our supposed hero Trevor Belmont. This theme is great at giving justification to Dracula and the question of hope even exists in this world.

Hope in Strange Places – Thankfully there is hope, both in the Speakers, travelers like the Roma who pass on stories of old who end up finding another hero, Alucard who is Dracula’s son who wants to stop his father since he knows the monster he’s become is not what his mother would have wanted. In the end Sypha (the speaker who finds Alucard) and Alucard show Trevor their is hope and give him a reason to fight. Also James Callis voices Alucard and Richard Armitage voices Trevor Belmont. Both these were brilliant casting choices and I really wanted more with both of the characters.

Okay: The Church – The Church is the Catholic Church and we only really deal with the corrupt members. One priest helps in the final fight but we never get his name or any of his story. Large organizations should have more complexity or their drive for power better explored…I hope we get both these things in the next season.

The Cons: Length – The show is only 4 episodes long and because of it the Church feels underdeveloped and we only get hints at the demons having their own agenda outside of Dracula. This is a shame as these were interesting ideas that could have been explored so much more. Regardless, I highly recommend this series. The writing is solid, the characters are fascinating and Netflix has once again made a great show.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great start to a series. Netflix has done it again.

Baby Driver (2017): The Unforgettable Soundtrack of a Life

  Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors at this point. He has created some of my favorite films…from the “Cornetta Trilogy” to “Scott Pilgrim.” Now “Baby Driver” joins those films as one that takes a unique take on a genre (in this case crime thrillers) and adds a whole new presentation of action while giving a powerful message and some of the best written gangsters in cinema. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough and as of this point in time, it is my favorite film of the year.

“Baby Driver” was written and directed by Edgar Wright while being produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park.

The story involves Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is a driver who can only function listening music, who works for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crime syndicate. He does one last job to get out of debt and ends up falling in love with Deborah (Lily James) a waitress at a local diner. Things soon go south when after the job all as not as it appears to be and Baby is in over his head.

The Pros: The Art of Soundtrack Intertwined Action – This is a film that is a masterful work of art and so much of that is in the sound editing and use of songs with action. The film kicks off with a heist where there is silence before the pin drop and build up of a song as the getaway occurs. This is just the first example of how the two are interwoven to show rather than tell action. You have scenes with characters with no dialogue is needed and the song and how it is edited with the action tells you all you need to know. Both “Guardians of the Galaxy” did this to some degree (Baby is even a bit like Star-lord with his family issues) but what differs is that here it is down to the details and we are given continuous shots to use a song to it’s fullest degree or whatever sound best serves to show us the action.

Flawed and Compelling, the Art of Character – The characters in this film are compelling and interesting. They are all bad to varying degrees (the exceptions being Deborah and Baby’s foster father) but even the baddies are complex. Each of the characters carry their scars and wounds and we see why some like Bats are so batty and distrust all, because of what they’d had to do, or are driven by a hedonistic love of life and one another (Darling and Buddy) or characters who are driven by a level of trust but also some longing for family connection (Doc) and in all cases this leads them to do bad and good things. These are characters who I wanted to learn more about and who revealed the different aspects of themselves over the course of a film. Even my favorite crime movies like first two “Godfathers,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and “Wolf of Wall Street” all didn’t quite pull off the ensemble exploration. This film does and it is part of what makes it the prefect film of it’s kind.

Letting Go and Redemption – A major theme of the film is letting go and and in turn finding redemption. We see obsession consume certain characters in the final act leading to their destruction, while others have to die to themselves and their dreams in order to care for another and in doing so find peace. I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to spoil this movie. You really should see it.

Subverting Genre Tropes – Deborah is not a damsel in distress. She is as much an active participant in this crime thriller as Darling, Doc, Bats and Buddy. It is her choices and activeness that keep her from becoming the damsel that love interests so often become in these types of films. The ending also subverts the common tragedy trope that often happens in these types of films. I won’t say how it ends but I’ve never seen a crime thriller end this way.

You should go see this film. If you like great films and want a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat because the action has purpose, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters are compelling and the message is meaningful, than this is the film for you. This is the perfect film in it’s genre and I hope Edgar Wright wins awards for this masterpiece.  To any aspiring directors, take note of Wright’s work, he owns this craft as both a writer and director.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The first perfect film this year.

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 12 – “The Doctor Falls” – When Change Leads to Pain

Moffat and Finale’s are a mixed bag. Moffat is a writer who is afraid to kill off characters and take risks with story. So much of what he’s done with the “Doctor Who” lore is to reset the status quo. I’m not sure how far into the series you are so I won’t go into detail, but a lot of powerful decisions that Davies made in storytelling Moffat cancels out, as well as his inability to let go of characters and an insistence they must keep coming back (he’s been better about this with Capaldi’s stories in regards to this lately though). “The Doctor Falls” thankfully does not have this problem. Before I get into spoilers in the review, this is a story with consequences and since Moffat knows he’s leaving he manages to give some wonderful sendoffs to quite a few amazing characters.

“The Doctor Falls” was directed by Rachel Talaley and written by Steven Moffat.

The story picks up where we left off, with Bill turned into a Cybermen and the Masters torturing the Doctor. The tables are turned though when the Cybermen attack as the Doctor revealed he expanded the definition of humanity to mean Time Lords as well forcing all of them to team up as they make their final stand on a village higher up in the ship.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Base Under Siege – The base under siege is a major “Doctor Who” story trope that is handed really well here, as we have a small group of people who the Masters, Nardole, CyberBill and the Doctor must work with as they work out a plan to save themselves or save the villagers. It’s powerful as most of the villagers are children and the Cybermen have been attacking them for years. It is a losing battle without sacrifice leading characters to make choices that will define them. In the end Nardole leads the survivors further up the ship and is left as their guardian as he, once a con man has now become a good man from the Doctor.

The Masters – Simm’s Master has no empathy and is still the same insane man from the Tennant era while Missy feels guilt and cares for the Doctor. This leads to her killing her past self to regenerate into her current self but not before she is shot by Simm’s Master as the Master’s self-destructive nature leads to the Time Lord’s destruction. It is a tragic and powerful scene and in it the Master is redeemed as Missy’s final act was to do away with her bad past and embrace the goals of the Doctor, and in doing so it ends her life. It is a great ending for the Master as a character and Michelle Gomez, who has owned this role gives so much life and emotion to those final scenes with Simm’s Master and the Doctor.

Bill’s Good-bye – Bill is in the final fight and helps the Doctor get back to the TARDIS with the help of the Pilot who returns. It is at that point she becomes the water entity too and dies…as the Doctor established the Pilot is it’s unknown entity and now Bill is a part of it. It is sad and tragic and beautiful as some part of Bill will carry on traveling even though she is dead in both body (turned into a cyberman) and now self since she joined the entity.

The Doctor and Change – Through this episode we see the Doctor ready to die and in a way wanting to I think. He lost his best friend the Master (both when he thinks she’s leaving with her past self and for real when see their death), he can guess that Bill is dead given she isn’t on the TARDIS and stayed to fight with him and all his past pain, from losing River and losing himself as he changes each time. This leads to his last acts before the TARDIS takes him to his first incarnation…him resisting regeneration. He just wants to die and for the pain to end. He’s tired of loss and if he’s going to go he wants to go as himself. I can see why and it is done so much better than when Tennant’s Doctor implied the same with the long good-bye. Can’t wait to see the Christmas Special explore this more.

The Cons: Genesis of the Cybermen? – So where the Cybermen created here? Simm’s Master calls the Cybermen he made the Genesis of the Cybermen but we never see them leave the ship and the Mondas look and connection is never made fully clear. I liked them as a threat but why all this setup if it doesn’t lead anywhere?

This was an episode I highly recommend. It is a favorite and easily some of the best of Moffat’s writing in this series. I’m going to miss Capaldi so much but I’m glad Nardole, Bill and the Master got some amazing good-byes and I hope Capaldi’s Doctor get’s the same. This was a season where Moffat finally learned that it is okay to let go. Clara doesn’t have to keep on dying and being brought back and becoming an immortal fixture who ceases to be a character…it is okay so good-bye and storywise it lends power to sacrifice and loss. This was a two-parter that did that so well and showed just how great of a writer Moffat can be.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

For the Two Parts: 9.5 / 10