Tag Archives: christopher nolan

Dunkirk – Review

26 Jul

The Dunkirk Evacuation, which took place in late May and early June of 1940, is an event which the late Winston Churchill deemed a “military disaster.” Even with that infamous description attached to it, it has become known as The Miracle at Dunkirk because of the amount of British Allied forces that were saved despite the odds due to bravery from the British Navy, Air Force, and civilians who were all too willing to help. It’s an incredible story and it’s a story that has now been scooped up by film making master Christopher Nolan, who not only succeeds in telling stories, but also sculpting them to feel new, unique, and memorable. Listen, The Dark Knight is a fantastic movie, Inception killed it in the imagination department, and Memento completely reinvented how to tell a simple narrative. That being said, Dunkirk may be Nolan’s masterpiece.

The story of Dunkirk is split up into three separate narratives that become interweaved as the movie goes along. The first story that is introduced is that of a British private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead). Tommy narrowly escapes Nazi forces and finds himself on the beach with thousands of other British and French soldiers waiting for evacuation. Throughout the next couple of days, Tommy must survive bombings by German planes, submarine attacks on their ships, while also navigating through an environment where everyone is fighting desperately to survive. The next story is that of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and family friend George (Barry Keoghan) who use their small civilian boat to sail to Dunkirk and rescue whoever they can. Along the way they find a soldier (Cillian Murphy) who’s ship was sunk by the Germans and who is also suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress. Finally, we come to the eyes in the sky. Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and his partner take on numerous German bombers in order to protect the civilian ships and the troops on the beach. This becomes a much harder task when his fuel gauge gets destroyed and he has to rely on memory to know how much fuel he has left.

Dunkirk is almost more than a movie. It’s an experience of sight and sound that is above the norm when compared to most of my trips to the theater. It’s almost as if the movie just wrapped around me and didn’t let up until the very last frame. The first shot of the film pulled me in immediately. It feels so sudden and unnatural, but at the same time beautiful. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film. The camera swoops around the skies with the planes and runs along the beaches with the soldiers all while the devastating sound effects complete the audio/visual immersion. I don’t think I’ll be getting the sound of the German planes out of my head anytime soon. Even though that horrifying whine steals the show, the other planes, gunshots, explosions, and ricochets boomed out of the sound system and made me jump a few times. Finally I have to give major credit to Hans Zimmer for his subtle yet intense score that moves with the plot perfectly.

Something that really surprised me about Dunkirk is the way the story is told. Nolan is known to tell intricate stories, and his earlier works like Following and Memento especially play around with narrative structure. While Dunkirk isn’t quite as broken up as Memento, it still has a unique flow to it. The soldiers on the beach have a story that lasts a week, the civilians in the boat span a day, and the pilots span an hour. This really enhances the story because we’ll see something happen through the eyes of one character and then later on in the movie we’ll see it again from a different perspective. This gives the viewer a fuller view of the event as it happened. It’s also just a lot of fun putting the pieces together as the movie goes along. It was a little bit confusing at first, but I got into it pretty quickly. Could the movie have been told in a linear way? Yeah, I’m sure it could have been but I’m also glad it wasn’t.

A complaint I’ve been hearing is that there isn’t enough character development. This kind of confuses me because I never really looked at this movie as being about the characters, but more so about the events that happened on those brutal days and nights in Dunkirk. The characters in this movie serve as archetypes for real soldiers. From the PTSD ridden soldiers to the heroic English civilians, these characters represent many. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some great performances, however. Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy are the real powerhouse performances in this movie, but there wasn’t a shaky actor in the bunch. I really don’t mind not seeing their backstories or what became of them or what their motivations for their actions were, and honestly there just wasn’t time in the narrative to slow down.

Dunkirk is a masterpiece of epic proportions and is quite frankly the best work I’ve seen from Christopher Nolan. This has been a pretty strong summer with the movies I’ve been seeing, but nothing can top this one. If another movie comes along this year that hits me as hard as Dunkirk did, I’d really be surprised. This is a movie that can’t be missed. It tells an incredible story of survival, but it also reworks the tropes of the war genre in ways that I haven’t seen done before. This film is outstanding and I can’t wait to see it again.

Final Grade: A+

Interstellar – Review

19 Nov

It’s happened. It’s finally happened… All those years of watching movies of different genres, spirits, moods, and messages, and it’s finally happened. My brain should now be legally defined as mush. Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Interstellar is the new way to look at science fiction. There has been a series lack of space exploration movies that doesn’t have the Star Trek label. Really only Europa Report and Prometheus come to mind, but now we have Interstellar to add to the top of the list of science fiction.

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In the near future, Earth’s resources have been slowly disappearing leaving a barely surviving agrarian society. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot turned farmer who is recruited by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) to travel through a wormhole found by Saturn. This wormhole leads to another galaxy where other scientists have begin studying different planets orbiting a black hole. Cooper is joined by three other scientists, including Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). The mission starts to experience some major problems, while the situation on Earth gets even more complicated when Brand reveals his plan isn’t as promising as he originally described it to be leaving Cooper’s daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) to keep society from mass panic.

This is probably one of the best science fiction movies of the past decade, and may very well be the best science fiction movie of the past decade. I always figured Inception to be Nolan’s masterpiece, but Interstellar changes things. There are scenes in this movie that are absolutely mind blowing. It’s like Nolan took Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and Doctor Who and just mushed it all together into one giant mosh pit of sci fi. It’s both quiet and majestic, while being equally intense and explosive. It’s hard to take your eyes off of it, even for a second.

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I’m a stickler for run times as I’ve made it quite clear so I was concerned when I saw Interstellar has close to a 3 hour run time. I don’t mind if a movie is long, but if it is, I don’t want that time to be wasted on scenes that really have no place in the finished movie. This isn’t a problem for this movie, and it’s equally impressive that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were able to write a movie that’s this long and make it interesting the entire way through. The film starts off slow with a lot of physics talk and theories, but it all pays off when you see the physics in action when the astronauts blast off. The characters are also all really strong so spending a long amount of time with them is as dramatic and exciting as it can possibly be.

Finally, what would a review of this movie be without talking about the incredible effects and sound? Like Gravity, Nolan chose to make space totally silent in Interstellar, which is a great choice especially when something catastrophic is happening. There’s also a lot of great music by Hans Zimmer in the movie that can either make space beautiful or the situation of the astronauts deadly. One scene in particular when Cooper is trying to spin a ship to match the rotation of another part of the ship to dock had all three working in unison. The effects were dizzying and the silence of space mixed with Zimmer’s music made for the best part of the entire movie.

Prepare to be blown backwards and thrown all over the place by Interstellar, a movie that is sure to be recognized at this year’s Academy awards. It was a nice reminder, along with Birdman, that all of the excellent movies are going to be coming out. This one took science fiction and took it to a whole new level, along with philosophy. The same was done with the aforementioned 2001 and Solaris, and now Nolan’s true masterpiece continues the tradition. This was a mind boggling science fiction film of truly epic proportions.

 

Insomnia – Review

30 Jan

I’ve reviewed some of Christopher Nolan’s work before, and as I’m sure I’ve said, he is one of the current most powerful forces in Hollywood. After dazzling critics and less mainstream audiences with Following and Memento, he was granted his first studio film. Insomnia, based off of a Norwegian film by the same name, is an interesting twist on the noir genre that also plays heavily with flawed human psychology and morality. The result is a crazy story with beautiful cinematography that is very well made and interesting, yet not Nolan’s best work by far.

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Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are to LAPD detectives assigned a job in Nightmute, Alaska to help solve a mystery concerning the murder of a seventeen year old girl. Upon arrival they meet Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) a young police officer who has studied Dormer’s work in the past and informs them that at this time of year, the sun doesn’t set in Nightmute. Eckhart soon tells Dormer that he will be cooperating in an internal affairs investigation that may end up ruining Dormer’s career and after an accidental tragedy strikes, it appears the hammer may be falling on Dormer sooner and swifter. As he begins losing sleep for days at a time, he is contacted by Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a writer and the person responsible for the girl’s death, but he is also the person that may get Dormer out of trouble.

In my opinion, the real star of this movie is the cinematographer, Wally Pfister, who’s went on to work with Nolan on every one of his movies since Insomnia. Being a neo-noir film, you would think that there would be a lot of shadows and darkness, but the interesting twist of taking place in an area where the sun doesn’t set gives Pfister a lot of room to play around with light and shadow in a way unconventional to the genre. The Alaskan setting is also filmed beautifully with mountains, lakes, and forests contrasted with small towns give the film a unique look. The best looking part of the movie is a chase through fog which gives the viewers the same sense of uncertainty as the characters.

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I need to give credit to Al Pacino and Robin Williams here too. They both knock it out of the park with their roles. Now, this may sound kind of naïve, but I was expecting that with Al Pacino. I always look at Robin Williams as more of a funny man, although I’m aware of his professional training in acting and his work in dramas before, but never a murder mystery. I was really into his performance here and he actually did a great job at making me feel uncomfortable.

Insomnia is a movie with a multi-layered story. There is a whole lot happening in the movie that you really need to wrap your head around all of it, and that isn’t always easy. That being said, I really like the story in this and it is perfect for Christopher Nolan’s direction, who’s always had a talent with dealing with strange situations. Still, compared to Nolan’s other pieces like The Dark Knight Trilogy and The PrestigeInsomnia doesn’t quite hold up to them. It just doesn’t have the power that his other films have, nor does it have a very satisfying conclusion.

Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia is a cool movie with a lot of cool ideas and a plot that takes it just a step further with all of its devices and twists. Something just doesn’t let it sit in the upper echelons of modern film with Nolan’s other movies. This is a more than adequate neo-noir psychological thriller, but it just didn’t really go as far as I wanted it to. Maybe that has to do with the conclusion which just sort of happens, leaving the movie to just drop off. Still, if you’re interested in Nolan’s work then Insomnia is a movie you should check out, even if it’s just to see it once.

Following – Review

31 Oct

Christopher Nolan is now officially one of those names in the film industry that everyone knows, and with good reason as well. With films like MementoInception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has established himself very well. But even film makers as great as he need to start somewhere. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Darren Aronofsky had Pi, and Nolan has Following. I compare Following to the other two films because it is also filmed in black and white with a super low budget, two things these famous first films also share.

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A Young Man (Jeremy Theobald), who goes by Bill, is an aspiring writer who attempts to get inspiration for characters by picking people at random and following them for a little bit just to see where they go. He has a very specific set of rules that he uses to make sure he doesn’t get caught or become too obsessed. Of course these rules are all broken when he meets Cobb (Alex Haw), a thief whose motives lie mainly in learning what people are about and changing their lives. As Bill becomes more involved in Cobb’s “work”, he slowly becomes an obsessive thief who gets involved in ways that he never should. What Bill doesn’t know is that everything that is happening around him all serves a bigger purpose that he knows nothing about.

I heard one reviewer say that Following was Memento on training wheels and I think that is a very good way of putting it. Make no mistake, this is an outstanding effort by Nolan and his crew, especially as a first feature film. The budget for this film was $6,000 and was shot over the course of a year since the people on Nolan’s cast and crew had day jobs and could only film on the weekend. Considering this is a 70 minute movie shot on 16 mm, it’s a pretty ambitious project.

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Much like how Memento is essentially told backwards, Following is broken into three fragments and mixed up. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be presented like this, and it can be argued that it’s a bit over the top, but I personally enjoy the way it’s presented. Piecing together this film is very interesting and the way the characters are so different in every fragment builds suspense in a very interesting way. Nolan turned what could have been a film with a very straightforward narrative into something of a puzzle film.

The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me about this movie is the attempt to make the story a lot bigger than it really should be. The film really works best when it’s more of a psychological character study surrounding the two thieves and their views on society. Then, as the film goes one, we learn that there is a much bigger conspiracy going on that is nowhere near as interesting as the smaller piece of the story we are shown in the beginning. I thought this movie was just going to be a psychological journey of one man who gets sucked into an obsession that he can’t control. Unfortunately, what is actually going on is pretty unbelievable and turns the story into something totally different.

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For a first effort at a feature film, Following is a great start to Nolan’s illustrious career. There are major flaws in the story, but they certainly don’t ruin the film. The cinematography an 16 mm film make the movie look really cool in that low budget kind of way. Of course, this isn’t really something Nolan was going for. It really was very low budget, which makes it an even better movie to appreciate. You can tell from watching Following that Christopher Nolan was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

The Dark Knight Rises – Review

26 Jul

First off, I apologize for this being late. I should’ve wrote this a couple of days ago, but better late than never I guess. I think it’s fair to say that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are not only above average comic book films, but also two of the best films ever made, especially The Dark Knight. Therefore, The Dark Knight Rises had big shoes to fill, being not only the successor of The Dark Knight, but also the closing of a trilogy.

 

Eight years after the Joker brought Gotham City to its knees, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) spends his days locked in Wayne Manor, ignoring the people he once protected. When Bane (Tom Hardy), a behemoth of a man, both in intellect and stature, invades Gotham with ideas of terrorism and revolution, Wayne must don the cape once again. His help comes from his oldest friend and butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), Commissioner  Gordon (Gary Oldman), detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and jewel thief Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).

Even with all the hype and promising trailers and clips that I saw, I was worried that this film wouldn’t be able to stand tall next to the masterpiece that was The Dark Knight. I feel confident in saying that this doesn’t surpass that film, but is on the same level. The Dark Knight Rises is a long, intense, and dramatic film filled with complex characters, tough decisions, and surprises that will have the audience wowed.

 

As with its predecessor, the villain is the scene stealer for me. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is spot on. His fluctuating and confident voice is both a perfect match and contrast to his physical appearance. The only problem is that I sometimes had a hard time hearing and understanding what he was saying. Christian Bale gives his best performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman yet. He is more tortured than he ever was before. Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also fantastic. I do wish that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were in this movie more, just because I love their characters.

The intensity of the situation is earth shattering. Imagine if the city that you live in or is closest to you is taken over by a maniacal genius and there is nothing your police, army, or government can do about it. America has seen its fair share of revolution and rioting, and this movie also goes to show that if the economy or politics get shaky enough, any person with strong ideals can be put into power. Just look at Adolf Hitler.

 

I don’t really want to talk about the ending because I don’t want any spoilers in this review. All I can really say about it is that it is one of the most effective and emotional ending that I have seen. There’s victory, loss, celebration, and sadness. Christopher Nolan has proved before that he is a master story teller and film maker, but the last 10 minutes of this movie alone only drive that point home more.

This is it everyone. It’s tough to say it, but The Dark Knight Trilogy is over. The Dark Knight Rises is what I like to call a perfect movie. For an almost three hour long movie, I feel like it went by really fast because I was so lost in Gotham. If you haven’t seen this film yet, go out and see it immediately. It isn’t just a great super hero movie, it is a great story that is expertly constructed and concluded.