DUNKIRK

Dunkirk (2017) on IMDb
Director: Christopher Nolan. Stars Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Harry Stiles, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Luke Thompson, Michel Biel.  106 mins. Cert 12A.

Dunkirk opens with hundreds of soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk awaiting transport across the Channel to England. Under an almost cloudless, blue sky ordered lines of servicemen, distant from each other, wind back from the sea towards land awaiting further enemy attacks from above and, unseen, from the surrounding foliage on shore. This retreat is well choreographed, ordered and with little panic given the hopeless, impossible situation the troops are in with little hope of survival. All is beautiful, sanitised and serene, far removed from the chaos depicted in Joe Wright’s earlier film Atonement (2007), where injured, dead and dying soldiers flood into the town surrounding the beach. Here the retreating troops are bloodied, weary and determined to escape, the beaches awash with the rank and file rubbing shoulders within the unordered pandemonium.

Nolan’s film which follows three distinct narratives: the beach, the British spitfire pilot sent to provide cover and the small fishing boat crossing to the rescue, is too beautiful, too perfect. The only sense of panic and confusion is when enemy fighters dive from the sky, peppering the beach with gunfire, dispersing the men across the beach. There is no camaraderie, no sense that ‘we are all in this together’, no real emotion in the film. If Nolan’s aim was to ensure there be no concern for or of the characters then casting Mark Rylance as the skipper of the fishing boat worked well. Rylance’ trademark dead-beat, monotone delivery fails to ignite any sense of empathy. His character, Mr Dawson, is both cold and unfeeling, showing little emotion even when his son’s friend is accidentally killed. The lack of camaraderie extends to the troops on the beach. Here men who have been fighting and dying alongside each other for months or years appear to have no regard for their fellow comrades. If Nolan’s aim is to make the point that the only way to survive is to totally disengage and have no rapport with fellow soldiers who could be killed at any moment he succeeds. But he not only disengages the characters from each other but also, in not enabling any sense of affinity, disengages the viewer.

Having found both Interstellar (2014) and Inception (2010) confusing I wondered how Nolan would tackle the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk. Towards the end I felt the narrative was disjointed. Day suddenly became night and one moment we seemed to be heading for France and the next returning to England – or maybe by this point I had given up on a film I felt vacuous and detached.

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VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Luc Besson; stars Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Chris Wu, Rutger Hauer. 134 minutes. Cert 12a

Director Luc Besson consistently has an eye for detail and over the past three decades has filled cinema screens with visually impressive images. Lucy (2014), The Fifth Element (1997) and The Big Blue (1988) are three such films. Besson’s new movie, Valerian, in which the director (along with an impressive visual effects team) creates multiple worlds within worlds, is visually stunning and eye catching. The screen explodes with colour as stange beings, animals and humanoid characters wander across desolate vistas. Set in the 28th century special operatives Valerian and Laureline are sent to identify a destructive force that threatens the metropolis of Alpha and the entire universe.

Besson’s source material are the science fiction comic series Valérian et Laureline created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, first published in Pilote magazine in 1967. At the time Christin and Mézières depicted a future society not too dissimilar to our own where the established order is of a patriarchal society in which inequality is a predominant state and the established institution of marriage is still sought after. This is not too surprising given male domination of media, society and sexual mores of the sexually-liberated sixties. After all this was the decade in which french director Roger Vadim sexualised feminist Jane Fonda as voluptuous outer space agent Barbarella, traversing the Universe to stop evil scientist Durand, Durand.

Like Barbarella, Valerian and Laureline travel to distant worlds in the galaxy landing on colonised planets whose landscape consists of little more than vast expanses of desert on which life and pleasure is experienced through virtual reality. This appears to be the defined concept of future worlds as such barren vistas are evident in other time travelling sci-fi: Star Trek, Dr Who and Star Wars to name but a few. It seems too much for the imagination to create futuristic worlds complete with visionary architecture to house the various species that survive within these environments. As it is Valerian travels across deserts littered with crippled vehicles not too dissimilar to those currently found in most junk yards – a scrap yard future I would not enjoy living in!

While I accept that, to placate purists who don’t want the original material bastardised, Besson remained true to the source material I question why some element of evolution and technical progress that we now understand possible could not be referenced in the movie. What really irritated me was that as the writer and director had the imagination to depict humanity existing and being entertained within  a virtual reality world, the strictures that govern this world several centuries hence are much the same as now. It is a world of the future in which women are still seen as second class citizens to be dominated and controlled by their male counterparts.

Throughout there is not one single female authority figure. Laureline is subservient to the higher ranking Valerian and the females characters that are prominent, as Rihanna’s character Bubbles, are there simply to please the male gaze and entertain. Surely the director and scriptwriters had the scope to detract from the source material and create worlds more egalitarian and reflect a progressive society of the future. If Cara Delevingne and Rihanna had any suspicion of their characters subservience to their male counterparts they ensured their performances in these roles dominated the movie. Delevingne was a revelation as the competent Laureline, shaking off the shackles of her modelling career to prove she has both the talent and drive of a star in the making. Similarly Rihanna, no stranger to cameo roles, virtually steals the show as the tortured, self-sacrificing Bubbles. This was a virtuoso performance and one that had you wishing Rihanna had more screen time. As Valerian, Dehaan appears somewhat wooden and out of his depth. It could be that the actor, chilling in the psychological drama Kill Your Darlings, found the humour and brevity of the role difficult to manage.

One other element lacking was in the director’s choice of music. Why I ask, did Besson fall back on using current popular and familiar tracks. The only inspired choice was Bowie’s Space Oddity used over the opening sequence where mankind progressively meets and greets future beings. Besson fills the soundtrack with rap, jazz and hip-hop, with composer Alexandre Desplat providing incidental music. Surely five centuries from now music, if it exists in its current form, will be totally different to what we listen to today. Did the director not think of approaching artists such as U2, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran to imagine the music of the future and compose esoteric and experimental tracks for the movie rather than rely on current day music.

This is a movie that is visually impressive but is more style over substance. Director Besson delivers two hours of escapism which is unimaginative in its depiction of society in which mankind is the dominant force reliant on the same firepower and weaponry to assert his superiority. Surely the possibility exists that somewhere is the vast universe there is another species more intelligent than our own.

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) on IMDb
Director: Jon Watts; stars Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly. 133 mins. Cert 12A 

Back in 2002 it was young Tobey Maguire who received the spider bite that turned this pubescent teen into a crime fighting warrior. Maguire’s Peter Parker, hiding behind the mask, was torn between his attraction to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) to focus fully on his crime fighting abilities. After three outings in the imaginatively-titled sequels, Spiderman 2 and Spiderman 3 Maguire passed the spidey-suit to Andrew Garfield. Garfield’s Peter Parker was much darker, more angst-driven in his determination to discover the truth about his parents. Garfield had the youthful looks but, at 30 was a little too old to portray the immaturity of youth and the bravado of adolescence.

Rising star Tom Holland resurrects the boyish charm of juvenile superhero Spider-man in director Jon Watts Spider-man: Homecoming, the latest addition to the Marvel franchise. Holland, who made such an impact as Lucas in The Impossible (2002), established himself as a talent to watch. As I noted at the time, he was a revelation … his vulnerability and gritty determination expressed perfectly on a face that constantly filled the screen. At 16 years old this young actor had enough screen presence that enabled his character to shift attention from established stars Ewan Macgregor and Naomi Watts. It is this same on-screen presence that enables him to single-handedly carry this movie. Even though surrounded by some of Hollywood’s greatest acting talent, Keaton, Downey Jr., Tomei and Paltrow, they are but cameo performances to Holland’s all-encompassing hero.

Holland plays it well as he imbues Parker with boyish bravado and the arrogance of youth. Watching his performance transported me back to my mid-teens when, like most teenagers, I believed I knew everything and was invulnerable – two traits that Peter Parker has in abundance. One scene I loved was when he circumvents the training sequence of his custom-made suit and suddenly realises he is totally out of his depth. I’m sure this is a guy thing as who hasn’t ever purchased a new piece of technology and jumped straight in without reading the instructions.

The appeal of Jon Watts movie is that everything is depicted from Peter’s immature perspective. Keaton, Downey Jr,. et al are all excellent in their parts but on the whole the film belongs to Tom Holland who single-handedly revitalises a franchise that in previous incarnations, had become dark and depressing. A perfect comic-book movie.

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Edgar Wright; stars Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx. Cert 15. 112 mins.

Within the first five minutes this movie has more exhilarating energy, action, suspense and thrills than any superhero movie you will see this year. Writer/Director Edgar Wright assembles a stellar cast with young, charismatic Ansel Elgort leading the pack as ‘Baby’.

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Wonder Woman – Rise of the Warrior

Wonder Woman (2017) on IMDb

Directed by Patty Jenkins; stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielson, Elena Anaya. Cert. 12a. 141 mins.

Diana, princess of the Amazons, is trained to be an unconquerable warrior. When the calm and solitude of Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise, is invaded Diana meets an American pilot who tells her of the war raging in the outside world. Believing this to be the fulfilment of a prophesy which foretells the rise of Ares, the god of war, to wreak havoc and destruction, Diana leaves the sanctuary of her home to defeat Ares.

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) on IMDb
Director: Guy Ritchie; stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, David Beckham, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis. Cert. 12A, 126 mins.

Guy Richie’s take on the Arthurian legend is as far removed from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as you can get. If anticipating a medieval romp through the lush green fields of England, with serf-like Arthur plucking Excalibur from the stone, forget it. Richie’s Arthur is a hard-boiled pimp, living literally off the back of the whores he protects as well as creaming off the profits from illicit business deals. In doing so young Arthur, unaware of his true heritage, has built a small fortune and gathered around him a group of loyal retainers.

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Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant (2017) on IMDb
Director: Ridley Scott. Stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz. 122 mins. Cert 15.

Colony ship, Covenant, carrying a small crew and a cargo of 2000 embryos is destined for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy. Seven years from their destination they receive muffled communication from a planet nearby that the crew believe to be human. They investigate and discover an uncharted paradise that hides a threat beyond their imagination.

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Their Finest

Their Finest (2016) on IMDb
Director: Lone Scherfig; stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsden, Jake Lacy, Richard E Grant. Cert 12A. 117 mins.

London, 1940. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is called to the Ministry of Information and employed to work on wartime propaganda films. Struggling to survive and support her painter husband, Ellis (Jack Huston), Catrin accepts and is soon engaged an a major morale boosting movie, based on newspaper reports of two young women who steal their father’s boat and join the flotilla to Dunkirk, rescuing retreating soldiers.

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The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending (2017) on IMDb
Director: Ritesh Batra; stars Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Freyor Mavor, Joe Alwyn. Cert 15. 108 mins

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), separated from his wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), becomes infatuated with long-lost love Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) who refuses to deliver a diary that has been bequeathed to Tony. Tony’s infatuation with Veronica starts after the reading of the will and is in sharp contrast to his ambivalence towards his wife

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Viceroy’s House

Viceroy's House (2017) on IMDb
Director: Gurinder Chadha. Stars Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gamdon, Om Puri, Lily Travers, Simon Williams.

The resplendent Viceroy’s House was the impressive residence of the Viceroy’s of India and is now known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Residence) and is the official home of the President of India. Overwhelmed at the 340-room house, Lady Edwina

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