Dunkirk

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Inception”)

As one of the most highly regarded filmmakers of the modern era, director Christopher Nolan’s ambition is both his biggest strength and his greatest weakness. With his ambition, Nolan conceptualized “Inception,” which explored the world of dreams and consciousness, creating an entire universe filled with painstakingly detailed ideas and a dazzling visual landscape to match. His ambition has also occasionally stifled him, such as with “Interstellar,” a generally good movie that gets far too bogged down with a convoluted third act to make any lasting impact. With his latest film, “Dunkirk,” Nolan has taken historical subject matter and while staying ambitious in certain ways, created his most restrained film yet. The results, like most of Nolan’s work, are spectacular.

Telling the story of the largest retreat in military history from allied forces in World War II, the film unfolds with a trio of timelines, one taking place by land over a week span, one by sea over a day span, and one by air over an hour span. It is the most noticeable narrative quality, evoking Nolan’s non-linear storytelling from “Memento,” though not nearly as radical. The results of this narrative structure pay off immensely. Through this device, Nolan is not only able to shift in and out between different perspectives, but he is able to create an immense amount of tension. Nail-biting moments may begin over one timeline and the audience not see a resolution until the timelines intersect. It’s the type of higher level thinking that Nolan has made his signature and really allows him to put a new perspective on a war movie.

While none may stand out, every one of the timelines are solid in their own right and serve their purpose. The land segments, bolstered by unknown actor Fionn Whitehead as Tommy are really able to show the desperation of the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk. Even as he tries to sneak his way just to survive, the soldiers seem to be foiled at every turn as sitting ducks to the enemy. With the sea segments, Nolan is able to use fantastic actor Mark Rylance to display the courage of a regular citizen insisting on taking his own boat rather than having it be commandeered to rescue troops. Finally, with the air segments, Nolan utilizes the films most notable actor, Tom Hardy, to display the heroism from fighter pilots who were some of the only protection the soldiers had.

From a visual standpoint, Nolan has created another masterpiece. The air segments feature impressive aerial shots, especially from cameras mounted on planes that feature the vast oceans below. Even on regular screens (the film did not screen for critics on the much lauded 70mm IMAX), the scope of “Dunkirk” is massive. But beyond just visual marvels and beautiful constructed shots, the audio of “Dunkirk” is wildly immersive. Gunshots in the opening segment and the unexpected ones throughout the film are jolting, creating visceral intensity and tension. There is also an unsettlingly taut score from Hans Zimmer, doing his best work in years. Make no mistake, “Dunkirk” is loud, but with the chaos going on around, it feels like a necessity.

Perhaps as a result of the timeline jumps, leaving characters in one place and picking up with others, the only thing that “Dunkirk” truly feels like its missing is stronger emotional ties to its characters. Still, it can’t help but feel like a nitpick when the movie, despite having traditional heroes to really latch onto, still generates plenty of emotion. With “Dunkirk,” Nolan has created nothing less than a cinematic marvel. It’s visually breathtaking, ambitious and stirring. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan.

Cinderella

March 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”)

The original 1950 Disney animated film might always be a classic to purists, but director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action version of “Cinderella” is superior on almost every front. Besides the fact the cartoon’s charming musical aspect is missing, there is so much to like about this new movie, I don’t feel the least bit guilty of actually looking forward to what Disney comes up with when they give the live-action treatment to other classic tales like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” in the future. Hopefully, they can also try to right the wrongs of “Snow White and the Huntsman” someday, too.

In “Cinderella” 2.0, screenwriter Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”) and director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor,” “Hamlet”) tighten up the storytelling and fill in a lot of the plot holes of the original film effortlessly and keep the traditional narrative intact for the most part. It’s a beautifully shot picture and something that fits perfectly in Branagh’s canon, especially with his background in the Shakespearean Theater. “Cinderella” exudes elegance with Branagh leading the way. As Cinderella’s stepmother, two-time Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) is wickedly good and never oversteps her character’s evil ways. This role could’ve easily become a bit over-exaggerated like Charlize Theron’s take on the Evil Queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” but Blanchett is able to reel in the performance enough so that it doesn’t feel like she was mugging for the camera at any time. The same can’t really be said for actress Helena Bonham Carter who seems like the too obvious choice to play Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Carter does a satisfactory job for her quick cameo, but it would’ve been nice to see someone that doesn’t always get a phone call when casting directors are looking for someone to fill a quirkier role. Basically, Carter has turned into the female version of Johnny Depp.

Aside from that uninspiring casting choice and an ending that doesn’t really know what it wants to do with itself, “Cinderella” is vibrant and at times transfixing. I’m still not completely sold on the whole Disney princess culture and the idea that a young girl can only find happiness when she is rescued by a prince, but Branagh’s interpretation makes it a little easier to swallow because Cinderella feels more in control of her own story. There are still glass slippers and happy endings, but unless you’re watching “Into the Woods,” would you want it any other way?

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

January 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Premium Rush”) and Adam Cozad (debut)

Though remakes, reboots and franchises have been the latest trend in Hollywood, few have had the longevity and staying power of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series. Dating back nearly 25 years and including actors such as Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Harrison Ford, this series has brought about a consistent stream of films. In an original story not based on a novel, “Star Trek” actor Chris Pine is the latest to take on the role of the Marine-turned-CIA agent in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

As an injured Marine, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is convinced by CIA agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) to become an undercover analyst in the CIA embedded in the financial world. As the Russians threaten to take down the U.S. stock market at the hands of Russian Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Ryan must transform from analyst to operational to try to save the United States from danger.

From the first moments of the 9/11 attacks being shown as the impetus for Ryan’s enlistment of into the military, the audience is clued into “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” being a fresh reboot of a long standing franchise. For a fresh start, Pine is an inspired choice to take on Ryan. Relaying the tremendous amount of charisma and personality in the “Star Trek” films, Pine is a perfect candidate to take on any role, despite the committed relationship nature of Ryan being a little less fun than his womanizing role as Kirk. While Costner and Keira Knightley provide fine, if not ho-hum presences, this is Pine’s film to carry and he does so with an ability that could prove profitable for future films.

Ryan is an interesting action hero. He is seen in the film, very briefly, as a Marine, but quickly loses his strength and ability to even walk from an injury he sustains in Afghanistan. As an analyst forced into operational duty, Ryan’s training comes into prominence as he is forced to do actions outside of his pay grade. The result is a showing of pretty standard hand-to-hand combat and action scenes. Where the film succeeds is in its build up of tension during scenes where Ryan must infiltrate the Russian compound and fight to save his love. There are two major sequences that are successful in building up said tension, yet they never feel like scenes that are worthy enough to create a climax for the film.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” has its moments of intensity and intrigue that is strong enough to capture one’s attention during the course of the film. But with a finished and final product that feels a little incomplete overall, it is likely a film that is easily forgettable in the long run.

Valkyrie

December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“Superman Returns”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Nathan Alexander (debut)

Tom Cruise has been on some major public relations detail over the last year. When the release of United Artists’ first film under his watchful eye “Lions for Lambs” didn’t do as well at the box office last year as the studio would have liked, Cruise probably realized his stock had plummeted into uncharted territory.

What happened next?

Cruise joined the cast of “Tropic Thunder” to lighten things up (and was hilarious), zipped his lips about anything having to do with Scientology, and admitted that some of the philosophical messages carelessly blurted from his mouth were, to say the least, arrogant.

Now, with “Valkyrie,” the second film under his United Artists umbrella, Cruise is attempting to reintroduce himself to an audience on a clean slate. While it still might be a hard sell to his most diehard haters, Cruise has made a fairly entertaining thriller worthy of look especially from history buffs. The film follows one of the many assassination attempts on Nazi leader Adolf Hilter during WWII.

Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German solider who has been recruited by his peers to help assemble a team to overthrow Hilter’s government. While the plan itself may take a while to understand completely – they want to use one of Hilter’s own military procedures against him – screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander write the accounts with such precision, it’s easy to get back on track if you’ve lost your way for a few moments.

The real challenge for director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) is to drive the suspense throughout the film even when the audience (unless they failed World History class) knows the end result. Singer succeeds not because he has his head wrapped around the material entirely, but because he pushes the story forward the way he should: as a suitable action thriller with political undertones and not vice versa. You might know how the story ends, but it’s still intriguing to watch it all unfold.

Forget whether or not Cruise is using the correct accent (isn’t it funny that if he did use a German accent we’d be hearing from the same critics how fake the accent sounds?), the man can still command a screen. He, along with actors Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy, do a fine job making us empathize for the “good-guy” Nazis and have us still keep our distance. Singer also does a great job by never over-vilifying the soldiers in the Third Reich we actually want to see dead. The whole thing plays out like a football game on Sunday afternoon between two teams you don’t like. You really don’t have anything invested in the players, but it’ll be entertaining to watch them compete…at least until halftime.