*NEW* DUNKIRK REVIEW *NEW*

The greatest war film ever made?

Not even close. BUT still a bloody good watch.

Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Did hype hinder on Nolan’s latest endeavour? Isn’t that always the case, I hear you say? Scandalous!

The opening act had me on tenterhooks. It was tense, exhilarating and Hans Zimmer’s score. That score!

I loved how the lesser known faces took centre stage. Fionn Whitehead was superb as the exhausted Tommy. Desperate to get home. Evading gun fire and fighting for a spot at the port.

The crazy planning behind the withdrawal strategy was shocking. Sending only one ship at a time with a goal of securing a realistic number of men; “We need our army back!”

As much as you understood Commander Bolton’s frustration, Kenneth Branagh literally stood on a pier looking across at the cliffs of Dover. Really? He looked dashing doing it BUT was that it?

It was still daunting watching the troops wait in fear as the German forces knew they had the upper hand. The planes creeping in the clouds. The Jaws of the sky line. Waiting to strike. Picking off their prey.

The dread. Bombs flying, torpedoes slithering across the waves. Mental. I couldn’t imagine what I would do in a situation like that.

Nolan captured the claustrophobia of it all perfectly from the confined Spitfires to the overcrowded boats. Speechless.

I say lesser known, in the context of film, Harry Styles . . . Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this.

He was very good in the role. At first, I thought; “Oh God. Why is he in this? Gratuitous cameo, I see”. BUT the popstar actually had to do some acting. And he didn’t do bad at all.

It was the middle act where I felt my attention wading. The tension left to cook on the back burner. That score, that score!

Whether it was the cinema speaker system, it soon went right through me. Pounding against my head. It was almost comical. Seriously, I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying.

It felt like one of the soldiers was following the gang about with a giant drum! Come on, now. There was only so much the soundtrack could do to make sitting in the sand and staring into space tense and brooding.

Of course, Dunkirk couldn’t completely conform to a mainstream narrative. It wouldn’t be a Nolan movie otherwise.

His renowned fragmented time frame left me a little confused. The penny should have dropped from the beginning. Each sequence titled: “The Mole: One Week, The Air: One Hour and The Sea: One Day”.

In a nutshell, we followed the various troops as they endured a week on the beaches, an hour in the air and a day at sea.

At first, the flicking back and forth was a little disjointed and baffling. Especially when we encountered a shell-shocked Cillian Murphy in one scene, then a cool and composed one in the next frame.

It should have dawned on me when one scene was set in the day and the other in the night. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography was outstanding.

Apart from that little niggle, the time frame worked well. Especially during the finale as each location came to their thrilling conclusion.

Tom Hardy’s story line was riveting once it going. And wasn’t it nice of Nolan to make him wear yet another mask. Thankfully I could understand him this time.

All the fuel gauge and co-ordinates talk was a little mind numbing for me. BUT once the pilot encountered the enemy, I was transfixed.

Mark Rylance was brilliant in the minute role of Mr Dawson. A civilian who answered the call of duty to help bring our boys home.

The toll of war encapsulated in the traumatized and “appropriately titled” Shivering Solider (Cillian Murphy).

From all the endless praise and hype, I expected something along the lines of Saving Private Ryan (My favourite war film). I know it’s tough to compare war stories and events BUT Dunkirk did stumble with the pacing.

However, the final act was where this movie really won me over and brought it home. Heart breaking and uplifting in the same moment as the defeated soldiers returned home. Fearing they would be spat on and branded cowards for their failure.

The overwhelming support and unity as everyone pitched in was a sight to behold. Something that seems to be missing in these dark times. A polite reminder with Churchill’s iconic speech.

A little over-hyped BUT still one of the better ones.

3.5/5

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UNBROKEN REVIEW

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This didn’t break my top movies list BUT there is still an engaging account of one’s man incredible story.

So what’s it all about? After a near-fatal plane crash in WW2, Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Angelina Jolie takes the directing seat again and delivers a riveting (if overlong) re-telling of fear, hardship and endurance.

O’Connell has certainly cracked the big leagues and with a performance like this, he will continue to do so. It’s great to see the transition he has made since his role as Cook in Skins. His accent seemed a little muddled in the opening sequence but that soon subsided as the film continued.

The main thing I had to get over with was his badly dyed hair.

The opening air battle sequence certainly got things going. It was fast, frantic and . . . really loud. A good action set piece.

In between the air battles, the film flicks back and forth showing Zamperini’s childhood. A little hoodlum that refused to back down but was heading down the wrong path.

That was until his brother drew Louis’ attention to the track team. Their relationship was captured perfectly. Both sets of actors who played young and (older) Louis and Pete were very good.

To be honest, I wanted more of that. It seemed to flash through Zamperini’s childhood and Olympic campaign a little too quickly. I mean arguably it was just right. It wasn’t too corny and certainly didn’t linger too much.

The Olympic race may have been predictable for those who know about Zamperini. Unfortunately I didn’t know a thing. A mistake now amended. BUT you were still rooting for him. A typical underdog story. A promising talent . . . that is until the war.

The flashbacks subside when Zamperini is left stranded on a lifeboat with two of his comrades; Domhnall Green (About Time) and Finn Wittrock (Noah). Green had an impeccable accent and played the role very well. Another up and coming star to keep an eye on.

The ocean raft scenes were tense. The shark fins swarming around their prey. If not the sharks, it was the hunger, the blistering heat or the very fear that the plane you’re trying to flag down is the enemy. The threat of death ever constant.

The trio were fantastic and the first hour or so, I was engrossed in their struggle. Watching them as they tried to hunt and eat whatever they could to survive. There was one moment that rivalled Jaws in the scare factor.

Unexpected for the cinema spectator next to me (Mum) who nearly elbowed me in the face. Certainly got the pulse racing.

I couldn’t imagine being in a situation like that. BUT for 47 days! Unbelievable.

And if that wasn’t enough, the soldiers are then captured by the enemy and sent to a Japanese POW camp under the horrific treatment of Wantanabe or The Bird. The Bird because he sees all.

Takamara Ishihara was outstanding as Wantanabe. A sterling debut performance. I expect to see more from him. Hopefully not typecast as the bad guy but he played the part so well.

Zamperini’s treatment was tough viewing. The only problem is that the second half of this 137 minute length is literally just watching him being beaten endlessly with kendo sticks and by his own comrades.

I say, own comrades. They were all ordered to punch Zamperini in the face or let their injured face more torture. Harrowing stuff.

I hate to say this but once you’ve seen Louis being beaten about for five minutes, you realise there isn’t much else.

There were a couple of actors that popped up. Jai Courtney (Divergent), Luke Treadaway (Clash of the Titans) and Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) did as well as they could but their characters were so far in the background that it was hard to pull them out of it to make more memorable impressions.

The emphasis was always going to be on Zamperini. I understand that this is his experience but the length didn’t justify the means. The punching scene was mental. If it is true and not exaggerated for the film, how did that man survive?

The radio broadcast sequence was interesting as Zamperini is bribed by his captors. Good food and clean living for his denouncement of America and their involvement in the war.

BUT of course, this man will not be broken. There were moments where I was rooting for him, especially in his “crucifixion”. Forced to lift a railway sleeper above his head. If dropped, he would be shot.

However, I felt that it was all a little too similar to The Railway Man that was released last year. It may be unfair to compare (Did that rhyme? Totally rhymed) but Unbroken did fall slightly short.

Jolie wasn’t afraid to show both sides at their worst. As the prisoners are transferred from one camp to another, they are forced to walk through a town that had been destroyed by the American B-bombers.

There were some revelations in the closing minutes. But it would have been nicer to see them in the film than just read about it. The fact we didn’t know what had happened to Zamperini’s comrades after they were sent to different POW camps until the end credits was a little disappointing.

But it was still a fitting and uplifting footnote to a dreadfully visceral and tough journey.

Certainly worth a gander and O’Connell’s performance cannot be broken.

BUT the pace and the story line could have been a little bit more.

3/5

The Monuments Men Review

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Not a monument that will stand the lengths of time in the huge backlog of war classics we’ve had before. It checked all the boxes but failed to deliver anything new or interesting. Hardly a bomb site, but it lacked the right execution for this operation.

George Clooney takes the helm yet again in an ambitious war effort that just fails to hit the mark. The Monuments Men is based on a real operation that was approved by President Roosevelt himself to help retrieve stolen art and relics from the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. However, as World War Two is coming to a close, Hitler issues an order to destroy all the art, making it a race against the clock. Now, an intriguing premise that suggested a treasure hunt with a dash of Indiana Jones and a hint of Dad’s Army for good measure. Not at all, old sport. What came was a well acted, if meandering drawn out crusade that if not for a couple of twists, would have been dead in the water. It is difficult to criticize when this is based on a true story, but it still can’t be excused as it raised too many questions.

It reeked of the war movies of old. The sort of maritime viewing you get on a Sunday afternoon. A nice melancholic feel but the problem was that it felt dated before it had even begun. It does start off quite easy going and watchable. The cheeky winking and lighthearted pace as Clooney assembles a talented ensemble of retired veterans and soldiers consisting of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and the underrated Bob Balaban (who has always stood out for me after his turn in The Lady in the Lake with his speech on characters. One for the writers, that). And of course, not forgetting the regular Clooney collaborators, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett.

It’s always going to be hard to make a war film after so many classics but looking at this as a sole text, the tone is all over the place. It has the cheeky twinkle that suggests a Dad’s Army and Allo Allo vibe, especially with Damon’s badly spoken French. A reverse twist that had the odd chuckle, with the French begging him to speak English. There is the occasional titter but the material fails to bring a lot of humour and the partnership between Balaban and Murray could have been so much more. We know Murray is funny, so why not let him apply a little bit of his spiel? He seemed restricted. Well, if we’re honest, they all seem restricted. There was potential with Dujardin and Bonneville, especially in an exchange as to why Hitler only bombs places with no art or culture. Bonneville retorts, “Well they bombed London”. Dujardin smiles, “Yes, I know”. A little bit harsh but there could have been a little rivalry or banter exchange between them, but the two get paired up with the wrong actors, to be honest.

That is also the main problem, the gang inevitably have to split up to cover more ground, which is more miss than hit. Damon aimlessly wonders around the beautiful French countryside before he finally meets his contact, Cate Blanchett. Clooney just drives around, barking orders and taking inventory with young recruit Dmitri Leonidas (you may remember him from the fantasy dud of a TV reboot, Sinbad).  Goodman and Dujardin do have the more interesting adventures with snipers and concluding battle scenes as the Germans were being pushed out. Murray and Balaban bring the odd chuckle and are a good pairing but their adventures are a little nothingy. When Damon meets Blanchett, it does pick up and there is some great chemistry between them but it all gets quite corny and hints at a needless and unnecessary romance. 

There are sobering moments that do bring it back home with some unexpected twists that did surprise, without spoiling, and once the group reunite, the film picks up after a drawn out hour. The land mine scene may have been corny, but was funny and suspenseful. There is a harrowing little touch when the group come across more than they bargained for, when they discover barrels of gold wedding rings and teeth. Clooney’s cigarette speech with the head German officer in charge of disposing the art was brilliant. We finally got to see Clooney come back to the fore and act well, after being quite absent. The pace quickens as the gang have to race against the clock to retrieve all the art before the Russians arrive. There is also a nice aside at the end with a fitting tribute. 

However, The Monuments Men felt more like an extension of the Points episode in Band of Brothers and unfortunately that got the point across a lot better and a lot more riveting in a condensed hour. I couldn’t help feel that in a time of death, loss and destruction, who would care about some pieces of art? Understandably, it is true that by removing the history and culture, you are truly removing the people but it seems less important to the lives that were already lost. A watchable, if drawn out, corny and predictable affair that may get lost like the art in the plethora of war classics before it. 2.5/5

Currently ranks #86 out of 142!