Friday, July 21



Dir: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, and Harry Styles

In the chaos and confusion during an evacuation of more than 300,000 British and Allied Forces from the shores of France in director Christopher Nolan's World War II film "Dunkirk", one soldier tells another "Survival is not fair". Indeed, with the shores of England so close, safety for the Allied Forces was still far from being achieved. 

For those keen on history, you'll understand why the Battle of France, specifically the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo, are such unique historical pieces. Forced into the option of surrendering or dying; the Allied Forces, having been surrounded by German Troops, where defeated. However, neither surrender or complete destruction happened, as an evacuation from the beach saved many lives. 

Film has a funny way of changing how one perceives historical events, the lens of cinema can paint new pictures and compose narratives in ways that alter the true significance of what happened in the past. Christopher Nolan, understanding of this concept, dramatizes "Dunkirk"; looking at the state of the war through the fictionalized eyes of people on land, in the air, and on the water but keeping the time, dates, and events of the war intact. In doing this Mr. Nolan has crafted an immersive experience, a war film that has all the technical aptitude the director has built his career upon but also the emotional quality associated with the aspect of a soldier's survival. 

We are provided perspective through three different characters; a father (Mark Rylance) and son (Tom Glynn-Carney) traveling across the water directly into threatening territory, a soldier on land (Fionn Whitehead) who narrowly escapes the enemy and tries by numerous means to board a ship to get off the beach, and a pilot  (Tom Hardy) engaging in dog fights in an attempt to offer the soldiers some safe passage. Mr. Nolan ingeniously interweaves these stories together, seamlessly and without recognition of specific time during the battle. One might think this non-linear aspect of storytelling would be confusing or frustrating to keep up with, the director has already done this once with the film "Memento", but it effectively sustains an unsuspecting quality which helps keep the tension building throughout the film and reinforcing the overwhelming nature of war in which violence and death can strike at any time.

There is very little dialogue in the film aside from a few key moments that help in establishing the events and decisions during the historical aspects of the battle, what fills these silent moments are actions that bring the viewer further into the atmosphere of the film. The photography is gorgeous and bleak, a wash of grey and blue with an impressive scope accommodated through wide angles but also through unique camera perspectives like a cockpit view from a Spitfire combat plane or a tracking shot that follows two soldiers carrying a wounded soldier along the shoreline. 

To assist the picture is a unique composition from frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer. With a mix of strong bass notes that never seems to stop rattling the walls of the theater, to building crescendos of atmospheric sounds that serve to heighten the stimulation overload, and even in one scene the matching of a ticking stop watch with the music, it's unwieldy at times but also completely effective in making you more anxious about everything happen on the screen. It echoes the ominous nature of survival, especially when the enemy is on the verge of capturing or killing one another. 

The performances are also a great attribution, Fionn Whitehead embodies the toil of survival, Cillian Murphy effective displays the traumatic nature of war, and Tom Hardy tells an entire emotional arc with his eyes. Add Kenneth Branagh as a Commander who refuses to say "surrender" and Mark Rylance as a determined citizen dangerously doing his part to help his country, and the result is impressively composed.

"Dunkirk", at mere 106 minutes and without the overwhelming effect of violence that a R rating would establish, could be Christopher Nolan's best directed film. It's a phenomenal survival film that has an exceptional technical quality and rousing unexpected heart. Mr. Nolan proves again why he is one of best directors to do the job.

Monte's Rating

5.00 out of 5.00

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Dir: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane DeHann, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, and Herbie Hancock

Filmmaker Luc Besson, who has composed a long career of interesting and successful choices like "The Fifth Element" and "Leon: The Professional", returns with a passion project adapted from a science fiction comic book first published in 1967 called "Valerian and Laureline". The French comic series, which has been linked as an uncredited source to George Lucas' space opera, follows two characters who travel the universe through space and time on different adventures. It's easy to see, from the opening moments of Mr. Besson's dazzling and daft "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets", that this story has shaped and molded everything the director has done throughout his career. 

Valerian (Dane DeHann) is a soldier, strong willed, brave, and obedient of the orders from his superiors. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is independent, intelligent, and opinionated about every order that is given her. Valerian and Laureline are partners, space special agents (the comics called them Spaciotemporal Agents) is probably the best term to describe them. 

Mr. Besson fills his films with a very specific style, characters talk and walk in a certain way and scenes are composed with very deliberate movements. It's easy to see from the first moments of the film, during an origin scene that shows the cultivation of culture and knowledge in an ever growing megalopolis known as Alpha, that the director plans on filling the visual palette with lavish designs and boisterous characterizations. Surprisingly this has always been a quality that the director has been good at capturing, and even when it becomes overindulgent the images are never boring or dull.

Unfortunately what hurts this film is the narrative, the story wanders from one atmosphere to another without much more purpose than to serve as a visual treat, Valerian and Laureline are introduced to new creatures and characters that work to serve small narrative device adventures, and the primary focus of the story is never given the attention it should. 

Dane DeHann and Cara Delevingne have a few moments of chemistry but unfortunately it is mostly lacking. However, whenever Ms. Delevingne is offered the spotlight she completely owns the scene. Mr. DeHann seems lost in the lead role, Valerian seems to have a bit of swagger and attitude but it's never provided through the actors performance. Supporting cast like Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke are given caricatures to animate and pop singer Rihanna performs an unnecessary burlesque dance and is almost immediately turned into a CGI alien, while her character is amusing it also don't serve much of a purpose.

"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" functions as a beautiful space adventure with lots of interesting visual ideas and atmospheres to occupy time, maybe not the entire 2 hour plus running time but enough. Unfortunately the characters and overall story are hard to invest in, which is unfortunately because something as visually captivating and creative as this film deserves more attention to the people and actions that is take place in it.

Monte's Rating

2.75 out of 5.00

Friday, July 14

Wish Upon Review

Wish Upon
Dir: John R. Leonetti
Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Josephine Langford, Daniela Barbosa, and Mitchell Slaggert

Be careful what you wish for because it might come true. The concept of wish fulfillment in movies provides an interesting theme to play with. You can go the comedic route and have a young boys wish to be a grown-up granted by a carnival game like in the movie "Big", the fairytale route that makes a wooden marionette into a real boy in Disney's "Pinocchio", or the horror route where an ancient evil returns to make wishes come true like in the film "Wishmaster". The outcome in all these films is what they have most in common, mainly that the things you wish for come at a price. Whether the loss of childhood, the moral aspects of understanding what is right and wrong, or the trickery associated with having wishes come true. 

The horror genre has utilized this concept almost as much as fairytales have, taking elements from the Arabic mythology of the "Djinn" or the W. W. Jacobs short story "The Monkey's Paw" as inspiration to turn wish making into something horrifying. "Wish Upon" is the newest genre film to tackle the subject, however instead of a monkey's paw playing the magical object it's a cursed music box. 

Clare (Joey King) is a teenager in high school, surviving all the drama of adolescence. Clare has always endured a troubled life, her mother (Elizabeth Rohm) committed suicide in front of her as a child and her life was never the same. Her father (Ryan Phillippe), a former musician, spends his days digging through dumpsters, often right in front of Clare's school. Things change dramatically when Clare's father finds a music box, one that grants the wishes of the owner. Suddenly Clare is wealthy and popular, but her wishes come at a deadly expense. 

"Wish Upon" operates in a very standard way, quickly establishing characters and moving them into the focus of the story. In some ways it functions similarly to its counterparts, those "teenagers-in-peril" films from the 90's that all tried to copy what "Scream" successfully achieved. It's unfortunate that it never fully commits to that blueprint or alternatively tries to craft something completely unique and different. Instead the film just lingers somewhere in the middle, throwing some of the style from "Final Destination", a familiar moment from "The Butterfly Effect", and a few callbacks to "Wishmaster" just to keep things familiar.

The cast is a mix of newcomers, lead by Joey King who has had some great turns in other films like "The Conjuring" and "Wish I Was Here". Unfortunately the young cast is hampered with terrible dialogue, like how clueless adults think teenagers today talk, and character motivations that offer unwarranted comedy and lead the characters in telegraphed directions. Ryan Phillippe, who played the role of the "teenager-in-peril" in the 90's, makes an appearance here and isn't provided much opportunity to build his character with any substance, even though there are numerous times where something meaningful could have been developed.

Director John R. Leonetti was the director of photography for "Insidious" and "The Conjuring", you can feel some of the influence from those films during the composition of the the scares here, specifically in the establishment of tension that plays well in one scene involving a garbage disposal. Unfortunately aside from a couple of scenes like this, the film never establishes an identity of its own. We've seen films with a PG-13 rating create some exceptional scares, Mr. Leonetti has worked on many of the recent examples, but "Wish Upon" struggles in this capacity throughout. Not all wishes come true. 

Monte's Rating
1.50 out of 5.00