War is depicted on a grand scale in ‘Dunkirk’

Rating 4/5

In viewing Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk, (who wrote and directed the film) I am sort of reminded of past films such as Saving Private Ryan, or more recently Lone Survivor. They say war is hell. War can be ugly. War can be  brutal no matter what time period. The action in the film is set in a time where there seems to be no hope and is shot in such a way where the audience is on the front lines the entire time because Nolan drops you there in the beginning and doesn’t let up.

A few days have passed since viewing the film and thinking about it over that period and even now as I am writing, the film has merit and it stands on its own as a cinematic achievement. I first, however, didn’t know what to think about the film. It actually caught me off guard because it time jumps, moves from one sequence to another and then back to a previous sequence and so on. It is non-linear and I just wasn’t expecting that.

The film brings emotion and true character to the story. Although somewhat slow moving in a few places in the second act, it stil stays true to the characters and brings their thoughts and emotions to the screen.

It displays the incredible events of the evacution of British and Allied soldiers, in late May and early June of 1940, who where entrapped in the harbor and beaches of Dunkirk, France by the Germans, who were making a final sweep of the Allied forces. Hoyte van Hoytema, director of cinematography, has  made the backdrops of beaches, sea, air, and land central characters within the frame of the story to provide intriguing locations and interactions among the characters who pass through sequence to sequence. And Hans Zimmer’s score is nearly breathtaking. It adds so much to the characters and story, and it underscores the tension, mood, and action of every scene. I don’t believe there was a moment where there wasn’t musical underscoring. I think that brought me in the film and helped sustain my interest.

This film was an ensemble film with no one character taking the spotlight. Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden portrayed some of the more prominent characters but they were part of the large ensemble who interacted magnificently among the bits and scenes that made up the crafty sequences in the film. And of course, Kenneth Branagh portrayed Commander Bolton, who was leading the evacuation from the port at the beach. You saw the emotion in his eyes and actions as he gave the orders to load the injured on the ships, all the while taking special care to realize the brevity of the situation as enemy planes flew overhead dropping bombs.

It’s not an action packed, exciting adventure film, but it is another depiction of the brutality of war and a true test of the human spirit. It is amazing what humans can do in the eyes of tragedy and harrowing events. With the music and evolving character stories, the film held my attention and allowed me to be immersed in the story. Films that go on and on with a lot of expository information that never seems to really go anywhere, loses me. Dunkirk, despite its somewhat slow character moments at times, was not one of those films.

 

Fight for survival in ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’

Rating 5/5

The film title says much for this film. However, there wasn’t as much “war” in the film as I (and maybe the audience) was led to believe. But of course, the film did not sway from active fight scenes that culminated into an explosive climax, which I think etched one of the most nostalgic, iconic images in film history.

The script, written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, weaves a story of vengeance and redemption set in a world of discourse between apes and humans. Reeves seemingly directs this story flawlessly with emotion about how far an ape (or human) would go to protect his family. The cinematography by Michael Seresin reveals a cold, harsh world that one might feel in a time of war. The locations are carefully selected to propel the story and provide a vivid backdrop for the characters to inhabit. The musical score by Michael Giacchino adds to the live action and internal conflict of the characters, and it enhances even the most tender of moments in the film.

The 1968 original Planet of the Apes (written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) was based off the novel by Pierre Boulle and depicted a world inhabited by intelligent apes and humans were oppressed and enslaved. That film spawned four sequels. And while they were interesting and exciting to watch at the time, I don’t believe they ever really explained how the apes became the dominant species. This new film series that began with 2001’s Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Tim Burton seems to have developed the backstory behind the rise of the apes.

I will more than likely go back and review those films to refresh my memory. So those reviews will come in future posts.

But moving on.

In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released. And the great ape leader was introduced – Caesar (Andy Serkis). It showed how the apes became intelligent and learned how to speak. Three years later, war began to brew in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Now, another three years and Caesar (Serkis) is leading his ape family to a life of peace in the woods. But a formidable enemy known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has decided to take aim on the apes to rid their kind once and for all. After a battle in the woods, Caesar sends a small group of soldiers back to the Colonel with a message of peace if he does not attempt to pursue the apes any longer. The Colonel does not adhere to the message and attacks Caesar’s group, killing his wife and son. He then vows revenge on the Colonel and sends the rest of his group to find a new home. Caesar separates from the others to take his vengeance upon the Colonel. But some of his tribe cannot let him go alone so they follow him and eventually accompany Caesar on his journey.

War of the Planet of the Apes plays like a war film reminiscent of Platoon or Apocalypse Now. In fact, there is a moment in the beginning of the film where soldiers are searching for Caesar’s location and several soldiers are seen with graffiti on their helmets where one reads – “Ape-pocalypse Now.”

With that being said, the film is very much Caesar-centric. Most of the action of the narrative is focused on him where the audience is very much taken on his journey. We see the turmoil, anger, vengeance, and every human emotion Caesar encounters upon his quest for vengeance against the Colonel. Thus, the film is very much an emotional journey for the audience. From beginning to end, I was drawn into the story with every passing moment and character entanglement. At the final moment when the apes reach their new home, there is a moment where we see Caesar’s face and all the ghosts from the past fade away and we see now he knows they are home and there is hope for them in the future. That moment acts as a catharsis for the audience and for Caesar.

There is action and excitement, sentiment, heart, surprises, and humor to ease some of the tension and excitement. It seems to be a complete form of entertainment and has the makings of a summer blockbuster. And after seeing this film, I do want to go back and review the others in this film series as well as the original film series. War of the Planet of the Apes delivers big fun and an emotional journey for the summer.

 

 

 

The female heroin goes to battle in DC’s ‘Wonder Woman’

Rating 2.5/5

With the release Wonder Woman from DC, one might “wonder” what the purpose is. DC seems to be attempting to build a universe but I don’t think they’re at the level Marvel is with their superhero flicks. I liked this film a little more than Dawn of Justice, but that’s not saying much.

Director Patty Jenkins takes the screenplay from Allan Heinberg and turns it into 141 minutes of underdeveloped characters, a seemingly tired story, and a derivative plot. Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs developed the story.

This is the origin of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who was seen in last year’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I suppose the film did its job by introducing the character and telling her story, but it just didn’t catch my interest that much. That is to say it didn’t hold my sustaining interest through the film that much.

The film seemed to reflect Captain America where a hero is seen out of time. This character is one where I don’t know much about either. The film begins when Diana is a young girl with an urgent need to train and fight like the other women of the island, but her mother won’t let her. But of course, she ultimately begins to train and Diana learns how to handle herself in battle.

Flash forward a few years when Diana is older. The story advances.

Through an unexplained time warp thing, a pilot crashes in the ocean off the shores of Themyscira. Diana saves him. Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) tells the women of this great war in which Diana believes to be influenced by the god Ares. Determined to stop the God of War she returns with Captain Trevor to put an end to Ares’ reign.

Diana tries to fit in. Steve tries to help her. He finds some help to track down some bad guys. Diana and Steve begin to fall in love. He sacrifices himself to help save the world. Diana realizes her true potential and….

I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine most of you have. And if you have, then you know what happens.

I suppose the fault I find with this film (and all the DC films I’ve seen) is that it just doesn’t sustain my interest. I mean they do have somewhat interesting stories, but the polished delivery is not there for me. I don’t know what it is about these DC films thus far, but that’s how I’ve viewed all of them. They seem to drag in a lot of places and it really messed with the timing and pacing for me to really enjoy.

For the most part, the acting was average. I don’t believe there was anything special. Gadot portrayed the character with a sense of determination and strong will with just enough of a sense of heroism that came across in the film at times, but most of the time her performance seemed quiet and reserved. Pine was decent enough with his character but it was nothing spectacular. Connie Nielsen plays Queen Hippolyta, Diana’s mother, with the love and protection only a mother can give. Diana’s aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) trains Diana into the strong, determined woman Diana becomes. Rounding out the good guys (and providing much humor and light heartedness in the film) were Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, and Said Taghmaoui.

The villains seemed to be added on in this story. There were some twists to know the identity of the actual evil arch nemesis, the god Ares. General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and a mad scientist Doctor Maru nicknamed Doctor Poison played by Elena Anaya, didn’t really seem to play much of a role in the film as one might be led to believe. Honestly, I thought if these characters weren’t in the film as much as they were or maybe only mentioned, the film could have cut some time off and still told the story it wanted to tell.

I believe the film set up the story and main plot well enough for the characters and the audience to see, but it was the execution of the second and third acts with its slow-moving plot points and character and story development that was somewhat incongruent. That takes me out of a film every time. Every. Time.

Some might have enjoyed this film. Some might have really loved this film. But again, I couldn’t really get on board with this DC film like the ones before. I wanted to like it more. In fact going in, I thought, “maybe this is the DC film I will enjoy.” But not so much. I want to like these DC films. I want to enjoy them. But I just can’t. Maybe Justice League will be better. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

 

 

Spidey swings into action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Rating 3.5/5

Ever since the release of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War last year and the introduction of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, fans and movie goers alike couldn’t wait for the new Spider-Man in his first solo outing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was fun to see the character within this universe and this film appeared to be more fun, vibrant, and comical than Sam Raimi’s take starting in 2002 and Marc Webb’s reboot in 2012.

And another thing about reboots/remakes, I have heard people say that this is the third reboot of Spider-Man. That’s fine to say, but the truth is it isn’t. The character didn’t come to the big screen until Raimi directed the Tobey Maguire picture in 2002. And of course that spawned two sequels. It wasn’t until 2012 when Webb directed The Amazing Spider-Man (what would then be a reboot). It wasn’t a remake because it was a different story than 2002’s Spider-Man. This installment is of course not a remake, and I don’t consider it a reboot. Although, in a way it is because it is rebooting the character within the MCU, but at the same time it holds it own as a stand-alone Spider-Man film.

Okay. Enough of that.

While Raimi seemed to kill his franchise with Spider-Man 3 and Webb doing the same with the 2014 follow-up The Amazing Spider-Man 2, this film appeared to punch some life into the character. This first solo outing did not disappoint. Director Jon Watts brings much more fun and a new take on the character than we’ve seen in the other five films. I’m not sure why it took six writers to put together this film, but what’s done is done. Watts co-wrote the script with Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Either way, the filmmakers brought the character back to the beginning. Peter Parker received his powers when he was only a teenager. This film really brought out the angst of a teenager wanting to do more with his powers, and his impatience and eagerness to help along with his sarcastic quips.

And as I have said before, I am not anywhere near a comic book aficionado, but what I do know is this take on the character seems to be more in line with who the character is. It may be correct to assume this was generally a crowd-pleasing success. There are those that would still probably knit-pick on some details here and there, but I believe most would still appreciate the web-slinger in the vast MCU.

The new Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker) is Tom Holland. He brings a fresh charisma and charm to the youthful, unlikely hero. He is also younger than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were in their respective outings as the web-head. Additionally, Holland plays a younger Peter Parker than the previous films. His cameo in Captain America: Civil War last year was definitely surprising and seemed to steal the show at that climactic battle.

I will admit this film has a bit of an ambiguous beginning. Or maybe I just missed something. The film takes place within a few months after the events of Civil War, but supposedly begins eight years prior in what was left after Loki released his carnage in New York from 2012’s The Avengers. That timeline doesn’t seem to quite add up but I assume Marvel knows what they’re doing.

I probably won’t go on about plot details here, but just say the story slowly unfolds in the beginning. And I say that because it just moved a little slow for me in a couple of places, but I see that it was for the establishment of plot points and character introduction and development. And overall, the film moved at a decent pace for its length at roughly 133 minutes. I won’t say the performances here were really moving and captivating, but they weren’t bad either. Holland’s performance really stood out though. He looked younger, playing a younger version of Peter Parker than we’ve seen in the other films. Marisa Tomei returns as at Peter’s aunt May where she was first seen in last year’s Civil War. I think she fulfilled the role nicely with the amount of screen time she had. Although, I still somewhat question the casting choice. I mean, again, she was adequate in the role but the look of her character wasn’t what I was expecting. (But that’s okay. I won’t judge). Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) was a nice addition. I do know that Peter had romantic interests other than Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. What added to the humor and various comedic moments was the interaction he had with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). Even the appearances of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau added to the humor and gave their usual energy and humor to Tony Stark and Happy Hogan. I think the film focused on the inner struggles of Peter coming to terms with his powers and his eagerness in wanting to do more.

I suppose that is why there wasn’t much of a villain in the story as I would have liked. And while Michael Keaton’s acting was not to blame here, and not to say he didn’t have a bad performance as Adrian Toomes, but I was kind of hoping for a little more out of his character. That might be the case as the post-credit scene hints. It is nice to see Keaton making some films again. And to go from playing a superhero in Batman to an actor playing a superhero in Birdman to playing a villain in another superhero movie, is something that I don’t think has been done before. Kudos to Keaton!

This was a fun film and a great addition to the MCU. The cinematography was great and the use of colors and locations added to the film. That is something I’ve noticed comparing Marvel and DC. Marvel uses bright colors and is more fun and vibrant and seems to show off more energy. The DC universe just appears to be more dark and gloomy. But at any rate, I was pleasantly surprised with this solo outing from the web-crawler. Of course, it’s Marvel. I don’t think there has been a Marvel film released that I haven’t enjoyed.

 

 

More secrets uncovered in ‘Jason Bourne’

Rating 3/5

Just when you thought it was over, or at least I did before Jason Bourne was released last year, Bourne is back and Matt Damon returns to play the title role. I mentioned this in my review of The Bourne Ultimatum that this character could seemingly go on forever, much like Bond. Although, I can’t really see anyone else playing Bourne. An attempt was made to continue the action with The Bourne Legacy storyline with Jeremy Renner in a Bourne-like character. That film had its merits but fell just under par from the Bourne trilogy. Jason Bourne had some action and kept the storyline open for another possible appearance by the Robert Ludlum character. But the question remains, should there be another appearance? Paul Greengrass returns to direct Jason Bourne and also co-wrote the script with Christopher Rouse for this installment.

While this film had all the necessary elements that made the original Bourne trilogy so explosively popular (the high-speed car chases, heart pounding fight scenes, imaginative situations) it failed to deliver the intriguing dialogue and character development previously seen in the other films. On most every mark, the film was as good as its predecessors, except for the aforementioned faux pas.

Previously mentioned, there seems to be many directions and storylines future installments could go. But it appears these stories have taken a detour from the source material. What made the original trilogy so special and popular, I believe, are the storylines, the characters, action, the use of camera shots and angles, the dialogue, and of course Damon’s performance. The elements pulled you in and had you fixated on Bourne’s outcome. You wanted to see what happened to him. I know I did.

But after three films with this character (this being the fourth), where do we go from here? The ending did seem to open it up for further adventures. But honestly, I am satisfied on where it is. I was satisfied after The Bourne Ultimatum. I don’t know if there is much more to say about this character and this series that hasn’t been said already. Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. But this film attempted to dive deeper in the Bourne saga and bring up other facets, secrets, and other agents into the mix in an attempt to expand Bourne’s story. Bringing Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassel to the cast were nice additions and as with the other films, the characters were unique and interesting.

The film is set up, more or less, to stand on its own. It does well in this endeavor. Bourne is classified as the protagonist of the series, but not necessarily a hero. While there are “bad men” pitted against Bourne, there are not villains in the true story sense. They play as obstacles that our protagonist must maneuver around in order to stay alive and search for his own truth.

Some have said this is a great chapter in this series. That it builds upon what the previous films established. I see it differently. I do agree that is was a fine piece to be included in the franchise, but it fell slightly to its predecessors. I think what missed for me mostly with this film was that I achieved a satisfaction and a complete story with the original trilogy, so this film (while entertaining and interesting) did not do much more for me with Bourne’s story and character.

 

 

 

Don’t answer the door in ‘Knock Knock’

Rating 1/5

This goes for the audience. This is one of those movies where if you like that sort of thing, it will be the sort of thing you like. When I see movies, I usually watch them because they may sound or look interesting, regardless of who is starring in the film. This sounded kind of interesting so I viewed it. There’s about 100 minutes I’ll never get back. It doesn’t seem often that I give a one star rating, but here it is. This film had nothing that made me really care about the characters. I mean I did find myself cheering on the hero Keanu Reeves but it was just to get to the end to stop the agonizing torture I was feeling watching the movie.

Eli Roth directed Knock Knock, which was billed as an erotic thriller. However, it never seemed to be scary, erotic, or have the necessary suspense to carry the film. Knock Knock is apparently a loose remake of 1977’s Death Game where a story is told of Evan, an architect and happily married father of two, who finds himself alone after his wife (Ignacia Allamand) and kids (Dan and Megan Bailey) are off on a weekend trip while he stays behind to get some work done. Things unravel when he answers a knock on the door and invites two young women (Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas) from the rain who are apparently lost.

It appears that the two girls have developed a “game” for unsuspecting married men. We learn a little more about these two young women as the film goes on but it is unclear if they are always telling the truth or if it is more a part of their game. I was still trying to figure that out by the end of the film. I am not sure. I might have even missed something while viewing it because of the dulling pain I was enduring for the length of the film.

The performances were nothing great here, except for Reeves. He has come a little ways since his Bill and Ted days. For a period, though, he seemed to have this monotone voice in his performances, which made him sound like he was playing the same type of character over and over. Reeves played Evan with conviction and at the same time it was a quiet performance, which did fall flat at times but it was still better than anything else in the film. It had heart and it was believable on the simplest of levels.

Evan’s wife and kids aren’t in the film too much so for most of the film it was just Evan and the two girls who show up on his doorstep. Izzo and Armas play weak, stereotypical girls with not much depth or feeling. As I mentioned, there was nothing erotic (although there is some nudity and sexual situations, but they just seemed dull or forced) about the film and the same goes for these two characters. It became more annoying than anything else, which I think added to the mind-numbing pain I felt watching the film. So again, by the third act I was just cheering for Evan to either kill or kick those little girls’ asses. That might sound a little violent, but that’s what I was feeling because I believe that’s what Evan was thinking about doing. But he is not a violent man. I was waiting for something like that to happen in order to end my torment (as well as Evan’s) because I really began despising those two annoying female characters.

The story might be plausible. The characters might be engaging. And maybe in another type of film with another type of director, this combination might have actually worked. But as it is (and as I’ve said), it doesn’t quite work well here for me. The characters needed more. The story needed more. The scenes needed more. More what you might ask? Well….just more. More of anything that would lead be to be intrigued by the story and characters. More of that something to be captured by the unfolding action of the plot and situations. Just more.

In the special features there is an alternate ending. The ending shown there (while still unsatisfactory) would have still been more satisfying than the ending they cut for the release of the film. I don’t know what it was about the film that turned me away from it. It wasn’t really the content or the themes, which really seemed to point at the plausibility of men’s infidelity and the reversal of how women can be as dominating as men. I believe it was just the way the two young female characters were portrayed and the overall acting in the film. Again, it became more annoying than anything else, and the film never left me with enough to fully care about the characters.

 

 

 

Another Bourne story unfolds in ‘The Bourne Legacy’

Rating 3/5

Continuing the Bourne story with The Bourne Legacy, we find a new character (as previously mentioned in my previous Bourne trilogy reviews) that is in the secret program Bourne was in (because there was never just one). I wasn’t sure how this story was going to play out when I first heard about the film, because you know, Matt Damon wasn’t in it. As it is, The Bourne Legacy was engaging and entertaining but not quite as thrilling as the original Bourne trilogy.

In this story Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, a participant in the secret government program that enhances the participant’s mental and physical agility, who is still “training” at a secret facility. The events of this film coincide with the events of the last Bourne film (The Bourne Ultimatum). This made the film interesting to watch and at the same time a little confusing keeping the main Cross storyline straight with the Jason Bourne sub-storyline as the hunt was on for his capture.

Due to the rogue antics of Jason Bourne, the powers that be wanted to shut down the program and eliminate all remaining participants. They try to take out Cross at his training area but were unsuccessful. Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Albert Finney, and Edward Norton are in the cast as the leads of the secret program that would be considered the villain of the story, much like Joan Allen and Brian Cox were previously.

After the attempt to eradicate Cross at the facility, he runs to find the doctor he had previous contact with during the program, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), because apparently she knows how to manufacture the pills he thinks he needs in order to stay at the top of his game. The program offered pills for the participants in order to keep them programmed and “trained” for what is needed of them. So, he needs pills. Dr. Shearing can make them. They travel across the world in order to get them made. That seems to be the main thrust of the story with Cross.

However, like the Bourne trilogy before, it seemed Cross was a step ahead and appeared nearly unstoppable as he was being pursued. I suppose that element has to exist in order for the film to exist, but if Cross was caught too soon then there wouldn’t be much of a film. So the chase scenes continued. Chase after chase, the hero eludes his pursuers and then we’re left with an ending similar to how each of the previous films ended with our hero seemingly bound to live a happy and free life away from the program.

Norton and company played their characters with precision and determination. They were nearly flawless in their actions within the story framework. Renner had conviction with his character that almost matched Damon’s as Bourne, but just a bit under par. Weisz was convincing as an unwitting participating doctor in the program. She had a bit of frailty to her character but also showed a strong will and ferocity when needed.

I think what missed for me was the slow start to the film. For me, it took a little bit for the action to get going and nearly lost me. Once Cross met up with Dr. Shearing, it did pick up but it still wasn’t quite enough to sustain my total interest as the other films did. As a stand alone film, it seemed quite entertaining, but as part of the Bourne universe it lacked some of the Bourne standards. Additionally, Legacy’s chase scenes (nearly a necessity for action films) were a bit much and had the appearance of going on and on like the Energizer Bunny. They didn’t have the same exciting appeal as the original Jason Bourne trilogy.