Showing posts with label War Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label War Movies. Show all posts

Friday, August 4, 2017

"Dunkirk" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Dunkirk" as well as DVDs "Patriots Day" and the new Netflix original film "To The Bone."  The Book of the Week is "The Cake and the Rain," a memoir by songwriter Jimmy Webb.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Stairway to Heaven" (orig. title "A Matter of Life and Death."]


During World War II, by the end of May, 1940, the Nazis had driven British and French forces to the beach near the French village of Dunkirk and 400,000 soldiers waited anxiously on the beach to be evacuated.

Since the United States didn't enter WW II until after Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Battle of Dunkirk is not a WW II event that most Americans are familiar with. But Britain and France had been fighting the Germans since 1939, so it is vividly remembered by the British, whose soldiers, after fighting in France, were driven back by the Nazis and were stranded on the beach like sitting ducks as enemy fighters pummeled them with bombs and bullets.  And the event is vividly remembered and stunningly recreated here by director Christopher Nolan (he also wrote the screenplay), who has already stunned us with "Interstellar," The Black Knight Rises," "Inception," "Memento" and other wonderfully smart and beautifully conceived films.

The story of the Battle of Dunkirk is told in three parts:  from the vantage point of Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead), a young British infantryman on the beach with his comrades waiting to be rescued; from the vantage point of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter's friend, civilians taking their own boat from Dover across the English Channel to help evacuate the soldiers; and Farrier (Tom Hardy), one of the ace Spitfire pilots sent to protect the evacuation.

So there is the action on the beach as Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Captain Winnant (James D'Arcy) try to  evacuate the stranded soldiers and get them on board boats and ships while at the same time dodging German bullets and bombs; there is the human story of Dawson picking up a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) who doesn't want to go back to Dunkirk; and there is the action in the air with Farrier and his cohorts dog-fighting with the German Luftwaffe as they try to protect the soldiers on the ground.

It all adds up to a terrifically tense bit of filmmaking and a remarkable story.

There are some filmmakers that no matter what the subject matter can make a riveting film.  Director Christopher Nolan is just such a filmmaker.  I am not a huge fan of war films but from the opening scene when some British soldiers are seen walking down the lane of a quaint and quiet French village, and suddenly leaflets rain down upon them, leaflets from the Germans telling them they are surrounded to the final scene when our pilot, Farrier, commits to a heroic act, I was riveted.

There are also some amazingly emotional scenes.  As the British civilian boats arrive at Dunkirk to help evacuate the soldiers, Captain Winnant asks Commander Bolton what he sees.  He replies "Home."  I lost it.

Near the end of the film when Tommy reads Churchill's famous speech:

"...we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender..."

I lost it!

And at the very end of the film, I completely lost it.

From the editing to the cinematography to the acting, this film was perfect and will stand as one of the great war movies.  And it wasn't too long, either, which is often an ego thing with directors that I often don't appreciate.  It plays for less than two hours and it is white knuckles all of the way.  Nolan likes to play with time and this film is no exception but it's not confusing as that device can often be.

As you probably already know, Tom Hardy is my guy.  He is one of our preeminent actors who can do anything. Here as the ace pilot Farrier, despite the fact that his face is covered by an oxygen mask for almost the entire film, you knew what his character was thinking.  He acted with his eyes.

Rylance also proves why he deserved an Academy Award in 2016 with another stunning performance as Mr. Dawson, the epitome of British stoicism as he calmly drives his boat toward Dunkirk and danger.  Speaking of which, after what the British went through in WW II and being able to come out the other side, and after seeing this, all I can say is "Don't mess with the British!"  They are a tough lot.

Oh, and for you fans of One Direction, Harry Styles acquitted himself well.

Even if you don't usually like war films, this one is a must see.

Rosy the Reviewer know that when I have a really good movie experience, I cry, right?  Did I cry after seeing this?  I bloody well did!  Academy Award nomination FOR SURE!

***Some Movies You Might Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Patriots Day (2016)

Dramatic reenactment of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and the hunt for the perpetrators.

Mark Wahlberg seems to have made a career out of these dramatizations of real life events, if "Lone Survivor" and "Deepwater Horizon" are any indication (both also collaborations with Director Peter Berg, who directed this).  I would like to see him in a one-to-one drama without any action for a change. But he is particularly believable here as a fictional Bah-ston cop, Tommy Saunders, because, well, Wahlberg is a real-life Bostonian.

The movie starts by setting up the various characters - first responders and runners - some of whom will be heroes and some of whom will be victims.  Then we meet our young terrorists, the Tsarnaev brothers (Themmo Melikidze, Alex Wolff), and all of these people are on a collision course that will lead to death and a manhunt. Though there is not a lot of suspense here, because we all know how it turned out, the intensity lies in the seemingly benign and safe atmosphere of a marathon race as everyone participates and goes about their day while we wait for the bombs to go off. 

Likewise, there is suspense in the aftermath as the cops and the FBI try to find the perpetrators, and we discover things we didn't know about them and their bombs. The damage those pressure cooker bombs could inflict was horrifying.  However, I take issue with how long the film lingered on the whole chaotic period of evacuating the victims.  We get it already.  How many bloody legs and feet do we need to see to get the fact that this was a horrible event?

There was also suspense in wanting to find out more about the Tsarnaev brothers. In fact, I hate to say it, but I cared less about Wahlberg's character and the other "good guys" (the story went back and forth between what was happening with the victims and the police) and more about the Tsarnaev brothers, not because I am sympathetic to their cause, but because they were more interesting characters, especially the younger brother, Dzhokhar (Wolff) who was a seemingly reluctant participant but wanted to do what his older brother, Tamerlin (Melikidze), expected when all he really wanted to do was hang with his college friends and smoke dope. And it was also fascinating to see how the police and FBI were able to ID the brothers so quickly.

The film plays like a dramatized documentary and uses real footage from the day.  Remember "Unsolved Mysteries," where actors would act out the scenario?  This film felt very much like that except with A-list actors.  So as a recreation of events, the film was effective. but when it came to Wahlberg's character, not a real person but a composite, he just seemed extraneous because his role wasn't really established early on, and I was totally distracted by his eyebrows which just scream that he has had plastic surgery. 

The strength of this movie and the most interesting part of the film was the aftermath and how the police zeroed in on the perpetrators in the crowd.

"He was the only one who walked the other way."

Also I learned things about the brothers that I didn't know: what they did after the bombings and what their plans were (to do more bombings in New York City).  There is a scene where they carjack a car from Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a young Chinese man and they take him along with them.  It was his escape from the Tsarnaev brothers that called attention to them and led to the final shootout.  Had that not happened, they might have gotten away with it. 

It's an all-star cast consisting of mostly cameos.  Michelle Monaghan, who I really like, has little to do as Tommy's wife; J.K. Simmons is not his usual hard ass bombastic self, but again, I couldn't help but wonder what he was doing there and Kevin Bacon as one of the FBI guys also shows up with not much to do.

John Goodman plays Commissioner Ed Davis and, oh gee, I feel a rant coming on.  Goodman seems to be one of those actors who started out in a TV sit-com, became a movie star and now takes himself VERY seriously.  Here he is particularly overdoing it as he huffs and puffs around acting officious and Commissioner-like, sticking his chest out and trying to sound like he is from Bah-ston when in fact his Boston accent stinks.  Sorry, John.

Directed by Peter Berg with a screenplay by Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zeturner, I liked this film much better than I thought I would but not because of the all-star cast.  It was those two brothers who fascinated me as I tried to understand what drove them to do what they did.  And just what did Tamerlin's wife know?  That's something we may never find out.

The film ended on a flagrantly sentimental, and actually jarring note, which I could have done without, when Mark/Tommy gets to make a speech about how terrorists will never take away our way of life and the love we have for our families followed by a long montage showing the real life first responders, the victims and how they are doing, followed by the Boston Strong message. The ending was very much a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, I get that, but it took away from a lasting impression of the drama itself.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a mostly well-done docudrama with a strong message: good will always defeat bad.  I hope that's true.

To the Bone (2017)

Lily Collins plays Ellen, a young woman struggling with anorexia.

The film starts with a disclaimer that some of the pictures may be challenging for some viewers, which as I watched the film I found very strange.  Yes, the young people in the film are very, very skinny, and we see rib cages and backbones sticking out, but I don't remember seeing such a disclaimer in any films that showed violence and destruction - no such disclaimer for "Patriots Day," for example, which lingered so long on bloody limbs and faces (see review above), so I thought that was very odd.

Anyway, based on writer/director Marti Noxon's own experiences with anorexia, this Netflix original movie (now streaming on Netflix) follows Ellen as she unwillingly undergoes treatment for anorexia.  She is not only begrudgingly seeking treatment, she is in fact, defiant about not changing.

She returns home to live with her stepmother, Susan (Carrie Preston) half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), with whom she is close, and her father. It is established early on that Ellen does not approve of her stepmother whose well-meaning attention annoys Ellen, but Ellen eventually learns that her step-mother has her back. Ellen's father is clearly a big force in Ellen's life, but he is never home and in fact never appears in the film. Ellen's mother came out when Ellen was 13 and basically abandoned her and lives a new age type of life on a horse therapy farm with her girlfriend in Phoenix and feels she can't cope with Ellen. It's a self-preservation thing, I guess.

After Ellen is kicked out of the latest treatment facility for being defiant, Susan  hits upon yet another treatment center run by a Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves) who is known to use unusual but effective treatment methods, so off Ellen goes, with her usual negativity, to another rehab place. 

But we see early on that this place is different. It's a big house with only six other people, five girls and a young man. Luke (Alex Sharp), who was once a dancer but an injury has curtailed his career, is obsessed with Raymond Chandler and Jonathan Gold's restaurant reviews. The other girls all have their own issues and eating fetishes.  One is pregnant, one is obsessed with peanut butter, another loves "My Little Pony." This potpourri of troubled youth gathered together reminded me of the Angelina Jolie film, "Girl, Interrupted."

And then we meet Dr. Beckham - Keanu Reeves.  OK, sorry, it's rant time.

Keanu has always been a problem for me as an actor. I have never understood his appeal or how he became an A-lister.  He is so phlegmatic most of the time as an actor that I feel like I need to take his pulse to see if he is really alive, but then when he wants to be really dramatic, he does a 360 and starts yelling.  So that is his range.  Barely alive with the occasional shouting thrown in.  Nothing in between. And that's how he plays every character.

Anyway, rant over.  Moving on.

This film depicts the world of the anorexic: the daily rituals to avoid eating, memorizing the exact calorie count for every food, talking about which foods come back up the easiest (ice cream) and starvation as a high to avoid feeling. 

"It's not about thin enough - it's  the numbing of the thing you don't want to feel." 

But the film also depicts how the disease affects the entire family and the well-meaning but ineffective things people say when confronted with something they don't understand.  Word to the wise. Saying "Be strong" to someone struggling with a disease is not helpful.

An Anne Sexton poem is a particularly moving centerpiece to a turning point in the film:

"Your courage was a small coal you kept swallowing..."

Collins, the daughter of singer/musician Phil Collins, who was part of the rock band Genesis, already has a Golden Globe nomination under her belt ("Rules Don't Apply") and is a lovely actress  - those eyebrows - and she is the centerpiece of this film.  She has stated in interviews that she too has struggled with an eating disorder so it was particularly challenging to have to lose weight for this film.

Despite what might seem like depressing subject matter, this is a wonderful film that brings understanding to a disease that is rarely shown in films.  It's also a film that you won't be able to take your eyes off of, mostly because of Collins' extraordinary performance.  As for Keanu, well he's always Keanu.

Rosy the Reviewer uplifting message:  No matter what we are struggling with, in the end we all have to find our own way.  I teared up and you know what that means.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

191 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Stairway to Heaven Orig. Title: "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946)

You've seen the films and read the stories of people having to plead their case to the devil to stay out of hell?  Well, this time a man must plead his case to God to stay out of heaven.

There are several movies directed by Michael Powell in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and there is a reason.  They are beautiful, lush films in Technicolor with dramatic scores, extreme closeups and lots of fantasy. They are the kinds of films I grew up with watching with my Dad so I have a particular soft spot in my heart for these kinds of films.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger wrote, directed and produced films under the name "The Archers," and they made 24 films together from 1939 to 1972.  They shared writing duties, but Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger mostly produced. Their most famous film is probably "The Red Shoes," but they were very influential during the 1940's and 1950's with such films as "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," "Black Narcissus" and others. Originally titled "A Matter of Life and Death," this film was renamed "Stairway to Heaven" for the American market.

The film opens with...

"This is the story of two worlds the one we know and another which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life and imagination have been violently shaped by war -- any resemblance to any other world known or unknown is purely coincidental."

Here David Niven stars as Peter Carter, a WW II Royal Air Force aviator whose plane has been hit by enemy fire, and he is going down.  His crew has bailed out or are dead, and he has no parachute.  He makes contact with June (Kim Hunter), an American radio operator at the military base, and the two share a moment before he plans to jump from his plane. He spouts poetry and makes witty wise-cracks in the face of death which was a common part of showing bravery in these old WW II movies. Then he jumps. 

Miraculously, though (and I mean that literally), he wakes up in the sea -- and he's alive!  Turns out there was a hiccup in heaven, and the angel, who was supposed to go get him and escort him to heaven, couldn't see him because of the fog. Well, that's his story anyway, and Peter escaped his time of death.  Now heaven has to scramble to figure out what to do about it, because, as we all know, in filmdom, God has a file on all of us, and when it's our time, it's our time.

According to this film, Heaven is also a clean black and white place where there's a Coke machine, lots of wise-cracking airmen and soldiers who are all issued their wings - literally, their angel wings. 

In the meantime, wouldn't you know, Peter picks himself up and heads for the road and meets, guess?  Why it's June, who is riding her bike home from work.  Because of "that moment" they shared on the radio, they are instantly in love with each other. Like I said, I love these old movies. 

Now heaven really has a problem.  Because of those unaccounted for hours when Peter was supposed to be dead, the two have fallen in love and that can't be discounted.  Peter now has made a commitment to June. 

So God sends Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) to fetch Peter.  He is a French fop of an angel who is the one who missed Peter and screwed this all up in the first place.

Remember I said Heaven is depicted in black and white?  Well, the "real world" is in color, kind of like how they worked "The Wizard of Oz."  So when Conductor 71 arrives on earth to find Peter, he remarks, "We were starved up there for Technicolor." Then to really make the point, there is a whole montage of beautiful colored flowers blooming all over the place as the camera discovers Peter and June making out. Again, I love these old movies.

The Frenchman finds Peter and tells him a mistake has been made.  He was supposed to escort him to heaven when he died from jumping from his plane, but he missed him because of the fog but now he must go with him to heaven.  However, Peter says, "No way!" He makes his case as to why he should stay alive, so a deal is struck.  Peter must go on trial in heaven to plead his case as to why he should stay alive.  He can choose any dead person to defend him.  Unfortunately, the prosecutor is Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey), an orator from the American Revolution and, naturally, he hates Brits.

While all of this is going on, everyone on earth thinks Peter has gone nuts because he keeps seeing visions - mostly that French guy.  June takes Peter to see Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) and brain surgery is prescribed.  But before the surgery can be performed, Dr. Reeves is killed. Now Reeves is in heaven, and Peter chooses him to defend him.

At the trial, Reeves argues that, through no fault of his own, Peter was given additional time on Earth and that, during that time, he has fallen in love and now has an earthly commitment that should take precedence over the afterlife's claim on him.

And let's just say, love triumphs.  Doesn't it always in the old movies?

"Nothing is stronger than the law in the universe, but on Earth, nothing is stronger than love."

Then we hear that Peter's brain surgery was a success.

Mmm - so did all of that really happen? What was real and what was all in Peter's mind?

Relatively early in Niven's career as a leading man, he was already the charming wise-cracker we came to know and love.  This was an early role for American actress Hunter, too, and she went on to be a staple on TV dramas such as "Playhouse 90" and "General Electric Theatre."

A very smart film, it's a comment on war, wartime love affairs and a satire on English and American relations, and to get the jokes and the allusions, it helps to know something about history and literature.  The set design is stunning and the whole film is visually beautiful and stimulating.

It's interesting to note that these old films are often of their time when it comes to  outdated speech and mores, but this was a British film, and I find the British and European films from the 30's, 40's and 50's to be much edgier and contemporary than what Hollywood was putting out, probably because of the Motion Picture Production Code which was implemented in the U.S. in 1934 and which was basically censorship in the guise of "moral guidelines" for films. 

Why it's a Must See: "...intended as a propaganda film to ameliorate strained relations between Britain and America...The movie outstrips its original purpose...ending up a lasting tale of romance and human goodness that is both visually exciting and verbally amusing."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a wonderfully fun film experience.  They don't make 'em like that anymore! 

***Book of the Week***

The Cake and the Rain: A Memoir by Jimmy Webb (2017)

If you ever wanted to know what the hell the song "MacArthur Park" was about and why the cake was left out in the rain, then here's your chance!

Webb was a prolific songwriter starting in the 1960's.  If you loved a ballad back then, he probably wrote it. His memoir includes 17 single-spaced pages of songs he wrote and it's only a partial list! He was also the only artist to win Grammys for music, lyrics and orchestration and was hugely successful and rich by the time he was 26.  In addition to "MacArthur Park," he was responsible for "Wichita Lineman," "Up, Up and Away," "Galveston" and countless other hits. 

However, his success was a double-edged sword.  He became known for his middle of the road pop hits at a time when the Rolling Stones and other rock groups were the anthems of the young.  It's a little hard to be cool with the young in-crowd when Frank Sinatra was singing your songs in Vegas and the young people were listening to the Grateful Dead at big concert venues. He also had a personal identity problem. He was a pot-smoking, cocaine-snorting, young hippie writing songs for the straight folks.

Born Jimmy (not James or Jim), Webb's father was a self-proclaimed preacher who moved his family around the country.  Webb grew up poor so when his songwriting career took off and the money started pouring in, he took off, too, into the world of sex, drugs and fast cars and it almost killed him. 

This memoir covers Webb's life from 1955 to the early 1970's, and since he has had a 50 year music career, I would guess there will be another book.  But this one covers his rise to fame, his inability to deal very well with lots of money at a young age, his drug use, and his penchant for married women which could explain why many of his songs are so sad. But he must have had something, because he always seemed to get the beautiful ladies his heart desired, including an early love who became "Miss America." He also shares anecdotes about rubbing elbows with some of the great singers and musicians of the day (The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Janis Joplin) and includes some great behind-the-scenes stories about recording "Galveston," "Up, Up, Up and Away," and others.

Webb also shares his singing career. What is it about actors who want to be directors, comedians who want to be dramatic actors and songwriters who want to sing, songwriters whose voices are not that great?  Burt Bacharach comes to mind...and Jimmy Webb.  He shares his attempts at a singing career and is a bit self deprecating about it, though I will say, Webb's ego always seems to shine through.

Speaking of his ego, most of the bad stuff he did or bad decisions he made, he blames on the devil who actually plays a real role in the book. Though I found his story interesting and Webb is a good writer, I have to say that the conversations he has with the devil in the book, basically blaming his "bad side" on the devil - "The devil made me do it" as Flip Wilson used to say - was really annoying.  About page 50 I was wishing that old Beelzebub would go away but he never did.

This is the story of the rise and fall of one of our great American songwriters and since the book ends with a drug overdose, I am assuming there will be another installment that will show him rising from the ashes of addiction.

But for this one, just remember the Devil made him do it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you enjoy reading about the musicians and the antics that characterized the 60's and 70's, you will enjoy Webb's experiences.  But don't call him Jim or James.  It's Jimmy!

Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday for

"Rosy's Test Kitchen #4:

Cooking Successes and Cooking Conundrums -

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