Friday, July 21, 2017
Christopher Nolan is well-known for his nonlinear storytelling, as demonstrated in his time and mind bending "Interstellar" (USA/UK/Canada/Iceland 2014). In this film, he continues that style but tends to be much more conventional. He masterfully crafts an immersive war story by simultaneously yet seamlessly focusing on the combats on land, at sea, as well as in the air. The film breathlessly displays the battle ground up-close as if you were soaked in the hellish blood-bath witnessing the horror.
During May-June of 1940, almost 400,000 British, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops were cornered by the German army to the Dunkirk beach, only 26 miles across the English Channel from the UK. The water was too shallow for the British war-ships to reach the shore in order to rescue the soldiers back to the UK. Meanwhile, the troops were exposed to the constant German bombing from the air while waiting for their evacuation. This film reenacts the survival struggles from the perspective of these soldiers facing death every second.
On land, the story is centered on a frightened British lad Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who desperately wants to find a way to get on a ship, along with tens of thousands of troops queuing up on the beach waiting to evacuate, commanded by naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Col. Winnant (James D'Arcy) from the army. In the air, two Royal Air Force pilots Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) courageously disrupt German bombers that have been quite successful in sinking British ships. And at sea, a British civilian Captain Dawson (Mark Rylance) sails out to the sea toward Dunkirk with his teen-aged son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter's friend George (Barry Keoghan). Together with thousands of other heroic civilians, they roll out their fishing boats or yachts and risk their lives to bring the soldiers back to the UK.
The British only hoped to bring back 30,000 soldiers back alive. Instead, the majority of the troops were miraculously evacuated and the miracle had a lasting impact on the outcome of World War II.
Unlike other war movies, this fast-paced World War II thriller contains no inspiring speeches, complex politics, tear-jerking sentiment, or even a single image of the enemy. There is no time for any of those. The director Christopher Nolan terrifically assembles every top-notch creative force together and delivers an exhilarating experience about what it's like to be caught in the middle of a war. He superbly composes vivid visuals to tell his story, accompanied by a soundtrack which is so effective that it is often indistinguishable from the horrifying sounds of war. When bombs stop exploding, the ticking watch sound reminds you that danger can still appear any second. You never get a break from the tension throughout the film. Christopher Nolan completely takes control of your attention with his cinematic tricks.
Very few lines are spoken by the characters. Even when they do have time to speak, the heavy accent and the surrounding noise make them hard to understand. But that's exactly what it would be like in such a chaotic setting, and you won't have time to figure out what has been said. Every second is a battle between life and death.
You will be glad that you're just having a realistic war experience in a movie theater lasting only less than two hours, rather than in reality.
In the film's opening scene, a vulnerable teenager Katherine (Florence Pugh) gets married to a middle-aged Alexander (Paul Hilton). This isn't a typical union that involves love and attraction. It's far from it. Katherine is bought by Alexander's cruel father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) with a small piece of land. She is told to stay indoors in those dark rooms inside a lifeless huge estate. She gets no affection from Alexander, or anyone else around. Even Katherine's black maid Anna (Naomi Ackie) acts resentfully to her and shows no gentleness when serving her. She feels suffocated and all alone.
When Alexander and Boris all leave the house to attend to business, she finds her break. She steps out the house and tastes the freedom and fresh air for the first time. When she meets an energetic and handsome farmhand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), her emotional and physical desire is also unleashed for the first time. She grows stronger both internally and externally. She gains confidence and control, she finds her love and passion. She lights up the hope to happily live with Sebastian in the future.
That hope quickly runs into obstacles when Boris returns to the estate and finds out about the affair. However, Katherine is no longer the intimidated girl when she first arrived at the mansion. She takes control against anything that stands in her path of pursuing happiness and refuses to settle for the fate that she has been designated.
The film's plot bears the gravity of a grand opera and its shocking development resembles Korean drama. Yet, the first time director William Oldroyd confidently controls his storytelling and effortlessly crafts it into an accessible episode of PBS's Masterpiece Theater. The cinematography and the art design is absolutely arresting and even the lighting becomes a noticeably essential element echoing Katherine's mood.
But the most mesmerizing aspect of the film is Florence Pugh's excellent performance to convey Katherine's complex emotions. Often without a word, her facial expression speaks volume about her commiserable character and the process in her mind. Katherine might appear to be weak and helpless at first, but her evolvement is both shocking and liberating.
Since the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, it has traveled around the world in the festival circle, including the San Francisco International Film Festival. Finally it's time for Florence Pugh's terrific performance to be seen by a wider audience.
Friday, May 19, 2017
In the film's visually striking opening scene, an obedient synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) carries on a philosophical conversation with his creator Weyland (Guy Pearce) about life and immorality. Those words serve as the theology foundation for the high mind of the film's plot development, as well as the motivation of David's subsequent actions.
Immediately, the film leaps to 2104 and brings us on-board of a magnificent spaceship called the Covenant. It carries thousands of frozen embryos and more than 2000 people in their deep sleep en route to colonize an unknown planet called Origae-6. The only one who is awake on the spaceship is an android Walter (Michael Fassbender), who of course looks exactly like David.
When the spaceship is damaged by a collision with a meteor storm, unlike the situation in "Passengers" (USA 2016) where only one passenger is woken up, Walter wakes up a number of crew members to repair the ship. We can safely predict that the outlook of their fate doesn't look very good when the word "Alien" is in the film's title.
When the crew, led by Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), discovers a potential planet nearby, they decide to check it out despite the objection from Daniels (Katherine Waterston). That planet turns out to look like a tranquil vacation destination on earth with water falls and greeneries, except there isn't any living animal.
When David mysteriously appears and leads the crew into his compound, the crew realizes that they should have listened to Stephen Hawking and avoided coming here. It's already too late.
The director Ridley Scott doesn't have to invent any new tricks in order to scare you to death. The squid-like aggressive aliens are horrifying whenever they appear. The underdeveloped characters are no match to these deadly creatures when it comes to getting the audience's attention. The crew members seem to always make wrong decisions that lead them to become the victims of these killers.
The only exceptions are David and Walter, identical androids convincingly played by Michael Fassbender. Despite their identical appearance, they have distinctive personalities, and eloquently speak the most philosophical lines which make other human characters look like props. Perhaps it's inevitable that we humans can create something that outperform ourselves, even when it comes to movie characters.
Although hardly anything is new for this latest entry in a crowded Sci-fi genre, the film is absorbing and engaging, certainly scary, which is probably why you'd come to see this movie in the first place.
Friday, April 14, 2017
The Fate of the Furious
As the first studio film shot in Cuba, the movie opens with an exhilarating car chase on the scenic streets of Havana, where Dom (Vin Diesel) is taking a honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). But Dom is also under surveillance by a poised and capable hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) who blackmails him into becoming an accomplice against Dom's gang, or the "family" as he calls it.
The ambitious Cipher isn't a small time terrorist. She wants to use Dom's extraordinary talent to acquire nuclear weapons, which she plans to use. A government official Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his assistant (Scott Eastwood) recruit muscle men Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham), who have been holding grudges toward Dom and each other, to join Dom's crew in defeating Cipher's evil plan.
Let the fun begin.
Given the jaw-dropping level of action sequences involving cars, trains, tanks, and airplanes in the previous Fast and Furious franchise films, the bar is exceptionally high for this new installment. You wonder what kind of new spectacles the director F. Gary Gray might be able to deliver. It turns out there are plenty.
F. Gary Gray surely doesn't disappoint. Even when you think you have seen enough flying cars in previous films of this franchise, he came up something that is ingenious, hilarious, and awe-striking such as turning cars into zombies. You will chuckle with both the silliness and cleverness of many scenes in the film. When cars and tanks are not enough for him, he deploys a submarine. Despite how inconceivable it sounds, he makes it look fun and as credible as another car chase on the streets.
No one is expecting the actions in this film to pass a reality test, and probably no one cares about such a test either. In fact, you feel content to be able to escape the depressing reality and prefer to be in the middle of a chaotic war zone where the heroines actually fight the Russians. The film is made to entertain its fans and to gain new followers. You cheer when huge fireballs go off one after another; you gasp when cars run through busy sidewalks; and you giggle when the characters throw one liners at each other between their fast moves within split seconds. (How could you forget that insulting line involving teeth and toothbrush?)
In the end, if you feel reluctant to leave the party when the credits start to roll, you will be glad to know that the 9th and 10th installments are already in the works and they are scheduled to be released in 2019 and 2021 respectively.