Film Review: Dunkirk

“There’s No Hiding From This Son, We Have A Job To Do…”

The release of a new Christopher Nolan movie is always the time for utmost rejoice, a filmmaker who fundamentally adores the classic ways and means of cinema, and more impressively, a director who, like a modern incarnation of Steven Spielberg, is a guaranteed win for both box office and critical success, something of which each and every one of his films have achieved since his early work all the way back in 2000 with Memento. After the brilliance of Interstellar, a film which although may have been slightly divisive with critics, undoubtedly remains up there with the best work Nolan has offered up so far in terms of spectacle, the London-born filmmaker returns this week with Dunkirk, a live-action blockbuster focusing on the infamous titular evacuation which took place during the early stages of the Second World War and a movie which holds extra levels of kudos for being filmed in the heart of my very own hometown in sunny, sunny Dorset. Whilst you can expect nothing less than a movie with many different levels of wonder from a director such as Nolan, Dunkirk still manages to exceed the already vertigo-esque levels of anticipation which preceded it, and to put the experience of watching Dunkirk into words is a staggering undertaking in itself but what Nolan has ultimately accomplished can only be regarded as a masterpiece of spectacle, sound and sumptuous levels of tension, resulting in the best film to be released so far this year.

Avoiding completely the notion of a stereotypical, singular, character-driven wartime epic in the vein of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Nolan’s determined decision to focus on the triage of land, sea and air narrative threads means that although we are in the company of many different characters throughout each of them, their really isn’t time to discover backstory for any of the respective characters before the real power of the movie starts to come to fruition. From the first opening shot, screeching bullets and the tick-tock of Hans Zimmer’s unbelievably stunning soundtrack grip you in a contortion of spellbinding unrelenting tension, with the face of Fionn Whitehead’s youth-inflicted Tommy at the heart and centre of peril for most, if not all, of the time you share his particular journey of death and destruction, all caused by the unseen entity of the enemy soldier. Whilst Zimmer is renowned for being the brains behind classic musical soundtracks of the past, Dunkirk is undeniably up there with his best work to date, using Nolan’s own personal fob-watch at the heart of the metronome-esque piece of music which fuels the rising anxiety which encompasses the main thrust of the narrative, and by utilising his work hand in hand with the simply stupendous sound design, Dunkirk is the type of movie which is crying out to only be watched on the biggest screen possible in order to truly experience the craft at the heart of it.

With the film’s cinematography being left in the hands of Hoyte van Hoytema, whose previous works includes Her, Spectre and Nolan’s own science fiction epic, Interstellar, it comes as no surprise that Dunkirk is absolutely beautiful to behold, and although the particular screening in which I was in was the normalised digital approach to projection, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to witness Dunkirk in IMAX 35mm or 70mm, take it, with scenes of tantalising air to air battles and sweeping camera shots of soldier infested beaches showcasing an artist at the top of his respective game. Whilst pretenders such as the likes of Michael Bay believe the best use of IMAX cameras is to showcase how endless amounts of pointless explosions look within the format, thank god for the likes of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who is grounded completely in the epic grittiness of practicality and more importantly, a director who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of film. Dunkirk isn’t simply just a movie, it is a masterstroke of spectacle and a work of artistic tendency, and a film which not only results in the best blockbuster of the year and perhaps, even the past decade, but is the finest of examples of why cinema is so darn integral and important to those who truly love to witness a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Nolan is just that, and in spades.

Overall Score: 10/10

Catch-Up Film Review: Raw

“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”

Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.

Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.

In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: David Lynch: The Art Life

“David, I Don’t Think You Should Ever Have Children…”

Eraserhead. Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks. Mulholland Drive. Inland Empire. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the one and only David Lynch is hands down my personal favourite filmmaker of all time, a man who knows no boundaries when it comes to the creation of cinema and a director who continues to baffle, amaze and wonder even to this day, with the return of Twin Peaks currently gracing our screens and being as surreal and beautifully constructed as ever. With that in mind, the chance to see David Lynch: The Art Life can only be classed as a “no-brainer”, a documentary constructed by the triage of Neergaard-Holm, Barnes and Nguyen, and a film which documents impressively the early stages of Lynch’s life, beginning with his upbringing in the Western state of Montana through to his breakthrough love of artistic freedom and concluding just before the release of the surrealist 1977 classic Eraserhead. 

Narrated completely by Lynch himself, The Art Life combines an awfully extravagant array of elements in order to gather an effective understanding of what it was like to be a young, doe-eyed, expressive Lynch, highlighting the extraordinary and wholly eclectic catalogue of Lynch’s penchant for surrealist art and and adding context to its’ foundations by channelling stories which seem to have crafted the entire back catalogue of Lynch’s propulsion onto cinema. Whether it be a tale of a clucking, mentally ill woman on his street or the first sight of natural, naked beauty, Lynch’s fundamental and wholly natural ability as a storyteller is really what makes the alluring appeal of his presence so impressive and when up against the challenge of holding the camera on just himself for ninety minutes, Lynch inevitably manages to pull it off. Whilst the film does lull in places, with the normality of Lynch’s life never really holding its own when contrasted with the nightmarish images that haunt particular scenes of the documentary, The Art Life is an interesting portrayal of one man’s quest onto cinema and whilst Lynch himself is never going to be for everyone, the documentary is clearly made for those who truly adore him. Myself included.

Overall Score: 7/10

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season Seven Episode One – “Dragonstone”

“Shall We Begin…?”

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, the single greatest contemporary television show of our time finally returns to the small screen after an agonisingly stagnated wait after HBO decided it was best for the fans to hold out for over a year until we could return into the ways of all things Westeros and finally witness the beginning of the end, with the start of Season Seven counting down a tally of just 13 episodes until the resolution of who will ultimately get to sit on that awfully uncomfortable Iron Throne and rule the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Whilst previous season openers have tended to sway more on the recap of particular characters and story-lines instead of meaningfully furthering the overall plot, the seven episode structure of GoT’s latest season arguably offers less time for such meanderings but with the many wars ahead set to come, it comes at no surprise that “Dragonstone” does indeed conform to the usual series premiere standard, offering the chance to revisit the many lives of our leading characters whilst laying out the red carpet for the many stories which lie ahead for the next seven weeks.

With an opening sequence which is as joyous in its’ sense of redemption as it is ultimately violent in its’ devolution of an entire familial tree, Season Seven’s opening episode reminds us why the show is so damn watchable, with each of the many plot threads having the chance to push slowly forward, including the return of Daenerys to her homeland and Cersei’s acknowledgement that King’s Landing is the epicentre of danger from all sides of the Kingdom, with each having their own reasons for overthrowing the dastardly Lannister reign. Whilst Cersei has arguably now taken over the mantle for leading villain of the show, her superb characterisation over the history of the entire show results in a clash of conflicts regarding who will eventually end up on the Iron Throne, and with Jamie himself questioning why the battle continues after the dynasty of their rule has faltered with the death of their children, it is almost inevitable that the fall of the Lannister’s will be a conflicted mix of melancholia and long-awaited fate for a family who have caused so much bloodshed over the show’s entire run.

Whilst there are particular elements which don’t entirely work, including the cringe-inducing and grating inclusion of a particular famous songwriter and too many contemporary in-jokes which clash with the overall tone of the series, the premiere’s most effective scenes are still the secluded and dramatic conversations between characters who are destined to be at the centre of the overall narrative moving forward, with the conflict between John and Sansa at Winterfell being of particular interest considering the latter’s penchant for independence and authority even when the symbol of her half-brother (Or Not) is the leading figure of rule within the North. One of the more interesting developments too was the acknowledgement from Sansa of her subverted respect for Cersei, with those earlier season scenes of Cersei attempting to reason her villainous ways now catching up with the narrative, creating a sub-plot which will no doubt continue to be at the heart of the underlying conflict from the ruling command at the North. Suitably entertaining and fist-pumping in places, “Dragonstone” is a more than fulfilling opener for a series which is guaranteed to have an array of twist and turns in the coming weeks.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: The Beguiled

“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”

Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.

After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Cars 3

“You’ll Never Be The Racer You Once Were. You Can’t Turn Back The Clock, Kid, But You Can Wind It Up, Again…”

With the likes of Inside Out and Zootropolis being superb recent examples of when Disney get it bang on in regards to releases from their animation platform, with the latter managing to proclaim itself as one of the few top marked films on this particular film review site, a healthy title if ever there was one, the release of Cars 3 is ultimately a bit of a downer, a sequel to one of Disney’s more middling franchises but too a film which undoubtedly will surpass many releases at the box office due to the nature of the prolonged six weeks summer holidays in which sweet-addicted children swarm your local cinema screening and make you cringe at their unwanted immaturity and annoying little booster seats. Bit harsh I know, but what we have with Cars 3 is ironically a solid entry into the ever-expanding Disney canon, a film which takes no time at all in laying the groundwork for the narrative ahead, with its’ sweet, harmless tone offering more than enough spectacle for the young at heart. whilst an effective array of jokes prove that there is more enough chewy material to satisfy the adults, even when the plot does fall into the realm of cliche and over-sentimentality at times.

Suffering from the inevitability of old age and facing the threat of newer, faster racing vehicles including the likes of the Armie Hammer voiced, Jackson Storm, Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen begins to question his suitability on the race track, and with the legendary racer potentially facing the unwanted exposure of falling into past history, McQueen teams up with Cristela Alonzo’s wannabe-racer Cruz Ramirez and Chris Cooper’s legendary racing trainer, Smokey, in order to get back on track and finally overcome the presence of the egotistic Storm. With flashy colours and an explosion of jet-waxed colours from beginning to end, Cars 3 ticks all the boxes in what you would expect from a Disney animation sequel aimed primarily at kids, and whilst the narrative is somewhat obvious and cringey at times from an adult point of view, the smart-witted dialogue and joyous concluding act proves that the film’s existence does hold more than just being that film that you take your kids to see. Whilst the money will keep on rolling and the spin-off merchandise will keep on selling, the concluding edge of the narrative does suggest we have seen the last of the Cars franchise for good, but with Disney not exactly shying away from a quick buck at times, you can’t take anything at face value these days.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”

Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.

Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: It Comes at Night

“You Can’t Trust Anyone But Family…”

Learning his cinematic craft on the set of not one, nor two but three Terrence Malick productions including the staggeringly beautiful The Tree of Life, American filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows on from his critically acclaimed debut, Krisha, this week with It Comes at Night, a psychological horror movie which features The Gift’s Joel Edgerton in the leading role and a movie which seems to have somewhat drifted under the propaganda radar, resulting in the first time in a while in which I head into a movie having no idea or preconceptions about what I am about to witness on-screen. Whether this is an element which ultimately damages or aids a particular release, there is a sense of thrilling ambiguity being unaware of a film’s direction, particularly in regards to a horror movie, and what we have with It Comes at Night is a staggeringly bleak, yet wholly effective white-knuckle thriller, one which uses its’ minimalist surroundings to outstanding use and a movie which perfectly showcases the acting talents of one Joel Edgerton, an actor who seems to have found his perfect hunting ground in order to grind out the best he has to offer upon the big screen.

Set in the aftermath of an unknown, ambiguous, worldwide pandemic, It Comes at Night focuses primarily on Edgerton’s Paul, the husband and father figure of a survivalist family destined to keep safe in the midst of the darkened wilderness who are suddenly forced to surrender their safety for the greater good when they come across another trio of survivors who too are desperate for survival. With a narrative edge as bleak and nihilistic as films such as The Road and even at times, The Mist, It Comes at Night is a effective mix of psychological and body horror, one which echoes a wide range of previous films from 28 Days Later to last year’s The Girl With All the Gifts, particularly in regards to its’ underlying notion of disease and contagion, and with cinematography which makes the likes of Seven look like a Disney movie, the jet black colour pallet adds to the ghostly air of uncertainty which embraces the viewer and leaves the audience with a sense of never really knowing where the tension is directly heading. Whilst the violence and dastardly dark plot turns result in the movie not exactly being for all audiences, for someone who loved the likes of The Witch and The Neon Demon recently, It Comes at Night is independent horror at it’s most effective.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

“Can’t You Just Be A Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man..?”

As we all are well aware, with great power comes great responsibility, and although it only seems like yesterday when the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire led Spider-Man films graced the big screen, here we are this week with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixteenth film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Tom Holland in a leading role which swiftly follows on from the likes of Maguire and Andrew Garfield after his cameo appearance within the superbly entertaining Captain America: Civil War. Perhaps not holding as much expectation as other MCU entries, Homecoming’s main reason for existence arguably rests on the shoulders of young Holland, with his own feature film giving him utmost freedom to exact his own take on the character of Peter Parker to a larger extent than was offered back in Civil War, and with the rather unknown figure of director Jon Watts at the helm, Homecoming could be regarded as a much more experimental MCU than one might first expect. With a charming lead performance from Tom Holland, an excellent villainous turn from Michael Keaton and enough jokes to poke fun at so many so-called contemporary comedies, I’m happy to report that Homecoming is a crowd-pleasing success, if suffering from a slight linger of cliche and a strain of superhero fatigue.

Forgetting any means of backstory and heading straight into a mildly trained Peter Parker, Homecoming mixes the 80’s sensibility of movies such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with the latter making a brief appearance halfway through the action, with the flashy, sharp-witted action that has come to encompass many Marvel releases, and with Tom Holland, his youth and puppy-esque, wide-eyed curiosity is arguably the most definitive version of Peter Parker to date. Although sometimes the performance does become slightly grating, with the Aaron Sorkin-esque way in which his lines are spoken come across too fast at times to keep up, the innocence of youth is effectively balanced by the faux leather wearing Vulture, a villain who not only is one of the more memorable of the entire MCU, actually has a deep sense of characterisation and is welded effectively into the narrative enough to feel for for both his actions and the actions of the titular hero. Whilst the overall narrative is somewhat disposable and highly obvious at times, the array of side-splitting jokes and flashy secondary characters keep the film entertaining enough to just deserve its’ two hour plus runtime and with a sequel destined to arrive in the near future, Homecoming is indeed an effective reboot of the Spider-Man franchise.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: All Eyez on Me

“We Got A Big Platform, Man. Use That Platform To Make A Change…”

Being in complete ignorance of most things hip-hop, rap and the late 1980’s, early 1990’s wave of prominent American gangsta music, my expectations heading into All Eyez on Me, a biographical dramatisation of Californian rapper Tupac Shakur, is muddled to say the least. On the one hand, the surprising critical success of Straight Outta Compton, a similarly biographical drama of rap sensation, N.W.A, has somewhat made me quietly optimistic for yet another effectively played cinematic treat, yet on the other, my complete inability to name probably even the most famous of Tupac tracks probably doesn’t exactly make me part of the top-end target audiences for a film which is bound to succeed in the eyes of many. Whilst director Benny Boom succeeds in terms of casting, with lead star Demetrius Shipp Jr. being a dead ringer for the fallen rap star, All Eyez on Me is a flawed, overlong and genuinely quite confusing drama, one which fails to live up to the sharp, dangerous power of a film such as Straight Outta Compton but does succeed on some levels due to some dedicated performances from many of its’ relatively unknown leading stars.

Amidst a ridiculous amount of annoying fade-out edits which not only ruin the fundamental storytelling throughout the drama but makes George Lucas look like the master of the long-held camera shot, All Eyez on Me suffers from being a tale which ultimately seems designed only for fanboys of the music genre it is attempting to portray, using on-screen depictions of real individuals in a manner so scarcely and sparingly that the lack of characterisation results in plot threads which I inevitably struggled to keep up with, something of which I didn’t find in Straight Outta Compton. Add into the matter a jarring level of misogyny in terms of the treatment of most of the women characters on-screen, Boom’s film is somewhat anchored in place by a star-in-the-making performance from lead Shipp Jr., whilst The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira is also rather exceptional as Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s inspirational mother. With the film’s 140 minute runtime, it comes as no surprise that the film does begin to wander in places, but the seedy and daring subject matter at the heart of the true story is interesting enough to warrant being viewed by even the most trivial of rap fans, if using the film only to garner a brief understanding on the complexities of rap’s leading icon.

Overall Score: 6/10