Quickie Reviews #35

 

Dunkirk

I went into Dunkirk with significantly less information that I’d typically have for a highly anticipated movie. Other than the basic facts of the real-life events during WWII, the trailers for Dunkirk were always more style and tone than they were establishing any sort of story for the movie. I originally thought that this was an artistic choice — hiding the main plot to keep things somewhat mysterious. But really, there wasn’t much story shown in the trailers because there isn’t much story in Dunkirk.

I don’t mean for that to come across as a criticism, because I think the movie mostly works. Rather than it having some over-arching plot that spans distances and offers twists, it’s a simple story of soldiers trying to escape the beach and get back home. Dunkirk focuses on a few different soldiers in different positions. There are the low-level, boots on the ground guys that have no power or say in the matter, the Naval leader (Kenneth Branagh), ¬†the pilot (Tom Hardy), the civilian sailor trying to help with the rescue, and a handful of others that come in and out of the story when necessary.

I’m still digesting the film itself, to be honest. It’s one of those that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for several months. It’s a challenging film, and highly artistic. The musical score, for example, is very understated, but present in literally every moment except for one. There’s a constant clicking in the background that always ratchets up the tension. It’s highly effective, but I’m of two minds on it. On the one hand, never being given a moment to relax or breathe while watching really transports you into the circumstances of the characters, who are being thrown from one impossible life or death situation into the next. It’s a constant reminder that shit could go bad at any moment — and it often does. On the other hand, since this is a movie and I’m watching while sitting in a reclining leather chair, eventually I became sort of numb to the tension. Maybe getting a release or two at strategic points during the film would have actually made this strategy more effective. I haven’t made up my mind on that yet, but the score was definitely the aspect of the film that spoke to me most.

From a directorial perspective, Nolan is a genius. I’m not one of those fanboys who’s unable to offer any criticism of his work, but the guy is definitely a visionary filmmaker. There is very little dialogue, especially between our main characters, and there is always still a clear story, clear intention from the actors, and a wealth of subtext and emotion. The music plays a large role in this, but it’s also his framing, editing, and ability to let moments stretch. Nolan is a master of silence, and that’s a rare thing.

This is a small spoiler, but there’s a bit of play with timelines in Dunkirk, and that I think was the least successful aspect of the film. Things certainly come together in the end and it makes sense, but early on there are framing devices for what we’re seeing that are actually establishing when they take place in relation to each other. It makes no sense when you first see them, and by the time you’re able to put the pieces together, you’ve already forgotten those timelines. It’s a small complaint, but it did make the middle of the movie a little hard to follow because you aren’t always sure when something is happening in relation to the subsequent or previous scene. If that was confusing to read, it’s more confusing to watch.

When compared to his entire body of work, Dunkirk reminds me most of films like Insomnia and Interstellar. More understated than you’d expect with complex ideas that may not always be executed perfectly, but highly artistic films with affecting visuals and brilliant, emotional performances. Whether you’re a Nolan die-hard or someone just looking for a different kind of war movie, Dunkirk is worth seeing. And I’m sure it’ll be in the conversation come awards season.

9.4/10

 

Logan

Logan blew me away. I remember seeing the first trailer and thinking that this looked like a more emotional, grounded take on Wolverine, which isn’t something I knew I wanted until I saw it. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has always been the heart of the X-Men films — and certainly the most popular piece — but the movie quality has been so all over the place that I was ready to be given a break indefinitely. Obviously, there was no hope of that happening, since the movies make a ton of money despite their questionable quality. Regardless, Logan seemed like a complete departure from the recent X-Men films, which only made it all the more appealing. Still, I had a hard time believing Fox would be able to execute on the premise, and would definitely find a way of turning the movie¬†into the same action drivel they’ve been putting out for years. Like I said, Logan blew me away. It actually did what it looked like it was going to do. And it did it pretty damn well.

Logan is mostly a self-contained story, taking place in the near future of the X-Men universe when mutants have been all but wiped out. To our knowledge, the only remaining X-Men are Wolverine and Professor Xavier, who’s suffering from brain deterioration — which obviously makes him a huge threat to anyone around him, as his psychic powers can no longer be well controlled by him. Wolverine is trying to save up some cash to get himself, Xavier, and fellow mutant Caliban (in a weird role choice by Stephen Merchant) onto a boat and out to sea, to save Xavier from being tracked down or hurting anyone.

Enter Laura, also known as X-23 by fans of the comics. Turns out, she’s a mutant, having been created from Logan’s DNA and raised to be a weapon. There are other kids like her, who are now being wiped out because the government has no more use for them. Logan is enlisted to get her up to the Canadian border, where it’s said that her people are waiting for her. Then Logan turns into a road-trip movie of sorts, and it’s great. There’s some excellent humor between Logan, Laura, and the professor, and Laura in particular does a great job with few lines. Seriously, that little actress killed it.

There are some somewhat wasteful scenes that don’t add much other than runtime, but I barely noticed because I was so invested in the characters and their journey. There are several fight scenes — because you can’t have Wolverine in the movie without him killing a million dudes — but they really do take a backseat to the character relationships and Wolverine’s story arch. We’ve had so much story with him over the past fifteen years that it was very cool to see this more emotional side. I can confidently say that this was the final story for Wolverine and Professor X (at least when played by Jackman and Stewart), and it was a fitting end. The only thing that bums me out is that it probably kills any chance of Jackman playing Joel in the The Last of Us movie, since the basic plot of that game is almost identical to this. Oh well, I think that dude’s earned a break from being so insanely ripped and angsty.

9.0/10

 

The Lost City of Z

I decided to check out The Lost City of Z mostly because I really like Charlie Hunnam and I want him to succeed, but I was also interested in the concept. The movie follows an explorer in the days of the British Empire when they were first settling South America in the 1920s. Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) is a well-renowned explorer that gets caught up in trying to find this hidden city that few people seem to think exists. The film is based on the true story of Percy Fawcett’s disappearance while exploring the Amazon, but it obviously takes liberties since we can’t be sure how he actually disappeared.

I’ll say that Hunnam does a decent job in the role, though his mannerisms and speech patterns felt a little too modern to me. But to be fair, it’s hard for me to look past his days as Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy. Robert Pattinson makes a surprise appearance as one of Hunnam’s fellow explorers, and while forgettable, he isn’t terrible. Pre-Spider-Man Tom Holland also plays Fawcett’s son later in the film, but it’s a small role. Kind of weird to see him in something like this that was filmed before he blew up into a star, but I digress.

There’s an interesting relationship between Fawcett and his wife, and the director does an admirable job to make her into a strong character in her own right and not just a stay at home mom while her husband is galavanting in the Amazon thousands of miles away. However, her story and constant fighting with Fawcett don’t really impact the main goals of the film, and kind of detract because it just slows things down. And this is already a very slow movie. I didn’t hate it — the visuals were stunning and Fawcett’s interactions with the local tribes were fascinating — but there just wasn’t enough to keep me invested. The search for the lost city was definitely interesting in theory, but Hunnam’s performance — and the writing — don’t really add up to all that interesting a character. He’s just kind of inconsistent in what he wants and how he feels about the other characters.

Without spoiling the ending, it was satisfying considering the set up of the story. Despite the “disappearance” piece, there is a resolution of sorts, and his wife gets a nice moment at the end. I just wish we could have gotten there a little quicker, and with a more engaging lead character.

7.3/10

 

Silicon Valley – Season One

I’ve been wanting to watch Silicon Valley for a long time, but I don’t have the money to afford cable, much less HBO. Thankfully, I convinced my wife to spring for it over the next two months so that we could watch Game of Thrones, and so I’ve been trying to get in as many HBO shows as possible. You guys, Silicon Valley is like the perfect show for me. I’m definitely not as into the “tech” world as the characters on the show, but we share similar interests. The dry, witty humor is right up my alley, and the show has surprising emotional moments — something I always loved on shows like Scrubs and The Office. It’s also serialized, so it tells a story over the course of the season. That makes it oh-so-binge friendly. So binge-friendly that I actually watched the first three seasons over the course of 10 days. So, you can expect reviews for seasons two and three in the near future.

But as for season one, it establishes the show about as well as possible. Silicon Valley is very smart in how it approaches its world. Everyone is fairly familiar with the real-life Silicon Valley — namely that it houses some of the largest tech companies in the world and is the US’s largest hotbed for new technologies and apps. What most people don’t know, however, are the two most detailed pieces of the show: the actual technological and business sides of software development. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone. My wife walked in and out of the room multiple times while I was watching, and despite the fact that she’s interested in graphic design and front-end web development, it just didn’t speak to her. But for me, someone who loves video games and yet barely knows how computers work, Silicon Valley made everything remarkably easy to follow. The show definitely does drop the tech talk, but it’s framed in a way that makes sense in context. And bookending everything with humor certainly doesn’t hurt.

All of the characters are great, with one small exception. I really like Thomas Middleditch in the lead role, but at times he can be a little too weird for my tastes. It never feels fake or false for the character, but he’s just kind of a wuss and gets scared and overwhelmed by everything. That’s obviously perfect for the sake of comedic opportunities, but it makes it hard to root for him at times. The character is obviously a genius, but he doesn’t have what it takes to run this company — and the show isn’t afraid to play around with that. These characters are all different levels of idiots at times, so most of the bad stuff that happens to them is because of something stupid they did. That’s funny, but can also be frustrating to watch.

Honestly, the seasons run a bit together in my head because I watched them in such quick succession and they flow so well from one to the next, but the show is good about making the primary antagonists external to the group. Of course, these friends still fight about a ton of things, but given that it’s a show about underdogs, it’s smarter to have them able to band together in their time of need to defeat a more powerful foe. In season one, the guys are primarily trying to fend off a multi-billion dollar company from stealing their idea, while also getting their new company funded and off the ground. It was just really interesting to learn more about how this process works. And damn it, I love TJ Miller. That dude is amazing.

Also, a special shout-out to the Mass Effect 3 reference in like the second episode. That’s when I knew I was all-in on Silicon Valley. Man the ending to that game sucked ass.

9.5/10

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out my other Quickie Reviews!

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