2017 Summer Movie Review: Dunkirk

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Three British soldiers waiting to be rescued in Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. (Source: IMDb)

Who doesn’t love Christopher Nolan? He’s one of the most ambitious yet brilliant filmmakers working today, who has a very unique style relying on the practicality. He is widely known for rebooting the Batman franchise after the dismal Batman and Robin. He often transports the audience to another world in movies such as the mind-bending Inception and the disappointing and overrated Interstellar. His latest film, Dunkirk, is a different approach for Nolan. A film taking place in a historical setting; let alone, World War II. Is there anything he can’t do?

Dunkirk features three storylines set on land, at sea, and in the air, told in non-linear fashion (make sure you pay attention to what’s going on). During the evacuation on the beaches of France, Nazi Germany has surrounded 400,000 men from Britain, Belgium, Canada, and France. Among those who are waiting to be rescued are Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (One Direction’s Harry Styles), both of whom are in the British Army. While on the pier, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Col. Winnant (James D’Arcy, Agent Carter) are making sure the soldiers are settling on the ships safely.

Meanwhile, out at sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) is driving in his yacht with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney). They rescue a wounded soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose U-boat got hit by a torpedo, while three Spitfire planes—one of them piloted by Farrier (Tom Hardy, who is in a mask again)—fly overhead to keep the Germans out.

It has been said a thousand times, but it’s a fact that every war is hell. Even every war movie depicts them as hell. This is no surprise for Dunkirk. Unlike the graphic nature of Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, this movie is more of a survival story than anything (hence the PG-13 rating). Nolan takes this incredible story to full advantage with minimal dialogue and tension that never lets up until the end. Hans Zimmer’s outstanding score, like the rest of the movie, resembles a ticking time bomb.

What I appreciated about Dunkirk is the authenticity and realism of its depiction. As stated above, Nolan is known for using more practical effects than CGI, which is rare for a summer blockbuster. Not only is the movie filmed at the actual location of the evacuation, it also features real WWII-era carriers, planes and guns. The action sequences—set in all three locations—are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It makes the audience feel like they are actually there witnessing these events.

Being their acting debuts, Whitehead and Styles both bring forth such nuanced bravery into their performances as the two British soldiers risking their lives. Featuring such a tremendous cast, the audience sympathizes with the characters while it shifts between these three storylines. It’s an experience that I’ll definitely revisit time and again.

There has never been a movie that hit me harder all year than Dunkirk. This is a suspenseful, emotional roller-coaster ride. Even Peter Travers went as far as calling it “the greatest war film ever”, which is saying a lot. Dunkirk is definitely up there with some of the greats. I would be surprised if it receives little recognition at this year’s Oscars. It’s easily a front-runner for Best Picture. The question is: Will Christopher Nolan receive his first nomination as director? We’ll just have to wait and see.

4/4

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2016 Summer Movie Review: The BFG

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The worlds of Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG (Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance) collide in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel The BFG

Steven Spielberg reunites with the producer and writer of E.T.—Frank Marshall and Melissa Mathison (who passed away last year from neuroendocrine cancer)—to adapt Roald Dahl’s beloved 1982 novel The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), which was dedicated to Mathison. Fresh from creating two historical masterpieces (Lincoln and last year’s Bridge of Spies), he creates the most ambitious straight-up family film of his career. He takes the audience to a world unlike anything they have ever seen. Even though it’s not Spielberg’s best, it’s still quite a spectacle.

Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is a 10-year-old girl living in an orphanage in London. One night, wrapped up in her quilt, is snatched away by a big creature. He takes her to his hideout in Giant Country where she first sees the creature chopping up a “Snozzcumber”, which is the only food he can eat. Terrified at first, she soon realizes he is gentle and kindhearted—hence the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). She encounters other giants including Bloodblotter (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). Unlike them, the BFG refuses to eat humans, given for his slender appearance. As soon as their friendship grows stronger, they come to realize they are going take London.

If I was 10-years-old, I would have been blown away by its visuals and message of friendships coming in all shapes and sizes and being brave. As a 20-year-old, I am astonished of what Spielberg and his team brought to the screen with its compelling narrative, dazzling visuals, and imaginative sets.

Fresh from winning an Oscar last year, Mark Rylance’s BFG is nothing short of perfection. Performed through motion capture by Weta Digital, he brings a massive heart into this character it almost moved me to tears. His smile is just pure delight. He catches and implants dreams (there is one magical scene where Sophie experiences Dream Country with John Williams providing another astounding score). With his Dumbo-sizes ears, he hears “the most secret whisperings of the world.” His friendship with Ruby Barnhill’s Sophie (who is a ton of fun to watch) is something to behold.

Even though the villains aren’t as three-dimensional as they should have been, The BFG provides enough for the entire family. Not to mention this movie having a wonderful sense of humor; featuring the most effective and the cleverest fart scene since Blazing Saddles. Roald Dahl would certainly be pleased.

3.5/4

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

Jim Donavon (Tom Hanks) is on a mission to defend a Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies"

Jim Donavon (Tom Hanks) is on a mission to defend a Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”

In the 1950s, the Cold War is in full swing. It wasn’t a war of battling with armed forces. It was of fear. Fear of a nuclear war between American and the Soviet Union. Schools around America did bomb drills after watching an educational video called Duck & Cover. In case of an atomic bomb, the school children must get under their desks for safety when a bright flash appears. This happens in one of the early scenes in Steven Spielberg’s latest, Bridge of Spies, which is not just about the fear of nuclear war. It’s about the espionage during these cold times.

The movie opens up with a remarkable 10-minute sequence (with very little dialogue) involving KGB agent Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) finding a secret message at a Brooklyn park bench while painting a picture of the bridge. After he settles in his apartment, the FBI arrests him for being a Soviet spy.

Meanwhile, James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer living with his loving wife Mary (Amy Ryan) and three children, is assigned to defend Abel in court by his boss Thomas Watters (Alan Alda). As Lt. Francis Gray Powers (Austin Stowell) and graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) get detained, Donavon must travel to East Berlin (breathtaking cinematography by Janusz Kaminski) to exchange them for Abel.

Spielberg and Tom Hanks are two of the best people working in Hollywood today. They collaborated with each other with Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific. They return to deliver yet another home run. Collaborating with screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen, Spielberg makes an exceptionally old-fashioned Cold War thriller that ranks among some of his best work.

With Donavon, performed brilliantly by Hanks, going on his mission to negotiate Abel builds tension through Thomas Newman’s astounding score and the brilliant dialogue (be prepared for a lot of it) as opposed to the overblown action scenes as everyone is used to seeing in movies nowadays. We all heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”. That explains why Donavon is such a likable hero; bringing “justice for all” through his charm, sarcastic sense of humor, and straight-up enthusiasm with his bond with Abel. The two-and-a-half hours go by like a breeze. One of the year’s best.

4/4