A technical Triumph
Dunkirk (2017): 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.
Wow. Christopher Nolan does it again. Undoubtedly his strongest technical film to date, Dunkirk is perfect. This is exactly why I love movies. I am going for 100 films reviews in 2017, and that means I will sit through some pretty bad ones (see: Transformers) in the process, but if anything that makes experiences like Dunkirk that much better. A film like Dunkirk will revitalize me and prepare me for the inevitably mediocre (and worse) films that are still to come this year. But there is no doubt this will be one of the best films of the year, and thanks to its mastery of all technical categories, will undoubtedly receive some love come the Oscars. So let's dive into it, shall we?
There's one thing that I didn't like about this film, and that's its non-linear story. The editing early on was a tad jarring as I didn't know I was in for a non-linear story, but once I realized what wass going on I actually enjoyed this film's simplistic story. Nolan has run into problems in the past when he tries to make his stories more "important" than they really are, but that doesn't happen here. This story is quick and easy, with the events themselves providing all the drama this film needed. But the calling card of this film is not it's story, or even the acting. Rather, it's with the viewing experience itself.
First off, before I talk about the technical masterpiece that is Dunkirk, do yourself a favor and see this film in IMAX. Now. It is undoubtedly the best film I have seen in an IMAX movie theater, and that's thanks to the care Christopher Nolan put into creating the film. Most of this film is shot on native IMAX 70 mm cameras, so we had no black bars on the giant IMAX screen. Additionally, there's the INCREDIBLE sound design. From the first moments of the film, I was blown away by the sounds of the movie. The planes roaring overhead, the bombs exploding, the gunshots.....simply incredible. Additionally, the dogfights are, simply put, the best WWII dogfights I have ever seen in a film, and that's thanks to those sequences being (somehow) shot entirely in IMAX 70 mm. The film made me feel like I was really up in the air in the middle of these fights. These dogfights alone are worth the price of admission.
Finally, the other major accomplishment of this film is the score. While it doesn't provide any "catchy" lines, so to say, it did provide exactly what this film needed to continue to build tension. By the climax of the film I was as close to the edge of my seat as I could be, even on the second viewing! I give Hans Zimmer's masterful score major credit for this tension. The one thing I haven't really mentioned is the acting, but that's because it's largely secondary in this film. It's definitely well-acted, and Fionn Whitehead is great as the closest thing this film has to a lead, but other than that I didn't really see any standouts in this film. But still, the overall cast is excellent. Ultimately, this film is a perfect technical experience, and it also delivers in every other category to make it the best film of the year so far.
We are on some kind of roll right now! Hopefully Atomic Blonde can keep it going, but in the meantime, see this one with confidence. And see it in IMAX, please! You will not regret it!
The Critique: A technical masterpiece, Dunkirk features incredible sound design, beautiful visuals, and an innovative score.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see. See it with confidence!
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
Not quite my thing
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
So, let me start out my review by saying I'm not the biggest fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise. I've seen most of the films (pretty much everything minus the sequels to the '68 film) and I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but since the 2011 reboot I've been kind of bored by the franchise. Both Dawn and now War feel like setup films, with neither really progressing through the fall of earth, or worse showing it off-screen. I'm sure the defenders of the franchise will say that's not the point, but it doesn't change the fact that that's what I want to see! When you call your film WAR for the PLANET of the Apes, I expect to see a freaking war! When the marketing campaign is "Winner take all" I expect it to be WINNER TAKE ALL. Not just another random base outside of San Francisco. But on the flip-side, I was absolutely blown away by the motion capture of the film. The visuals are gorgeous, and the acting from Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson was absolutely incredible.So, at the end of the day.....while I can see why many would absolutely love this film, it just wasn't quite my thing. Anyway, let's dive into it, shall we? Because that would be depressing if that was my full review.
First off, the good. (And in this case, incredible) This film's visuals are some of the best I have ever seen in a film. The calling card is certainly the motion capture. Most of this film is nothing but apes, which means the film had nothing but motion capture performances in it. This is undoubtedly where the film excels, and it's all held together by a truly incredible performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar. We're still decades from someone being nominated for an Oscar for a motion capture performance, but he just might crack my top ten performance this year. It's hard to put into words just how good this performance really is, but everything helped factor into it, from the convincing performance of Serkis behind the motion capture to the incredible CGI being able to showcase so much detail in Caesar's face to convey all the emotions they needed to convey. Oh how far we've come. Not to be outdone by Serkis, though, is the villain of this film, played by Woody Harrelson. He puts in a terrific performance, though one of my faults with this film is how little screen-time he actually receives. But the complaint of "I wish he was in this film more because he's so good" is definitely a good complaint to have.
However, my negative complaints are quite negative for me, unfortunately. As I mentioned, I have a problem with the overall story of this film. Personally, I try to see a film for all its characteristics, not just the story. There's no doubt this film is a technical masterpiece, and it's well-acted, but my GOD did I all but despise this story. The marketing for the film was very deceptive as it heavily implied this overarching war between humans and apes that we didn't actually see. Caesar's story arc was pretty good, as the crew definitely realized that the best part of this franchise is Caesar/Andy Serkis, but I just wanted.... more. Additionally, this is a LONG film at 140 minutes, and is mostly devoid of any humor. I don't mind a film with this serious a tone (it's way better than the forced comic relief in the Transformers or even the Fast and the Furious franchise) but it doesn't change the fact that this is a long film that feels overly long. Sure, Bad Ape has some funny moments, but those moments are few and very far between. I really wish the tone had been just a bit more lighthearted than it actually was.
Ultimately, while this is a marvelous technical masterpiece, and will hopefully FINALLY win this franchise it's first Best Visual Effects Oscar, it still wasn't quite my cup of tea. The marketing just turned me off so much after I watched the final product, and the film is just too long. See it for the visuals, but see it when you're ready to fully devote yourself to a 140 minute film that's more of a serious drama than a summer blockbuster.
The Critique: Although it features gorgeous visuals and terrific performances from Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson, War for the Planet of the Apes is held back from greatness because of a slow pace and overlong story that is too serious in tone.
The Recommendation: If you want to see films at the forefront of what Hollywood can do from a technological perspective, see it with confidence. If you're just a casual fan of this franchise, there might not be much else going on here to keep you drawn in.
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
See Sony? Working together has its benefits
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture, emerges.
Finally. After years of waiting and 2 sub-par films that were shameless cash-grabs from Sony, Spider-Man is back with the film he deserves. My personal favorite superhero, Spider-Man has long had a special place in my heart. Spider-Man 2 is actually one of my more coveted films of the early 2000's. One of the reasons I loved that film was because it featured a fallen hero as its villain. I am a major sucker for this ploy in superhero movies (of course The Dark Knight did this best with the fall of Harvey Dent) and I am delighted to see it again here. A superhero film is only as good as its villain, and FINALLY we get a good one here.
When was the last time we had a good villain in a Marvel film? I'd argue you'd have to look allllllll the way back to Loki in the original Avengers film for a truly good villain. But finally, we have another. Thank you, Michael Keaton. Were it not for a terrific performance from Tom Holland as Peter Parker himself I'd say Keaton stole the show. But as it stands, there's Tom Holland. Move over, Tobey Maguire. There's a new Spidey in town. Holland's rendition of Parker is easily the best rendition I have seen of the character, and he quickly cements himself in the MCU here. Kudos to Marvel's crew for the fantastic casting. Outside of Holland and Keaton, we have a great performance from Jacob Batalon as Parker's best friend, Ned. Here's another great casting decision from the Marvel crew. Before Spider-Man, Batalon had a single film credit to his name and it was for a small budget horror movie. But I absolutely loved him, as well as Zendaya as Michelle. Seriously, the casting crew for Marvel deserves a huge raise for their job with the young actors in this film.
The other star of this show is its story. Homecoming is a great coming-of-age film that would easily stand up to any of the 6142131123 other coming-of-age films we get every year. Holland and Robert Downey Jr. are great together, and RDJ goes through as much of a good story arc as he takes on the role of a father figure as Holland does learning the classic Spider-Man life lesson. (Tell 'em, Uncle Ben) There are several good story arcs in this film, including with the Vulture. Even Zendaya's Michelle has a good arc here. I really have to give a lot of credit to Jonathan Goldstein and company for doing a great job here. There's six writing credits on IMDB for this film. (And that doesn't even mention the writers-for-hire) Usually when there's that many writing credits it's the result of a subpar script, but not here. Well done, guys.
That said, it's not perfect. It's never good when the weakest part of an action movie is your action sequences, but unfortunately that is the case here. While overall the set-pieces are fine, I really did not care for the big battle sequence on the plane towards the end of the film. In this sequence the film flirts with "Spider-Man vs. Electro" levels of terrible as it was bitterly obvious that everything on screen in front of us was fake. Unfortunately this really detracts from the film as it is meant to be the climax of the movie. Also, please stop objectifying Marisa Tomei. She's a terrific actress and did a great job in her extremely limited role as Aunt May, but it seemed like the film spent more time remarking on how hot she is versus actually letting her be Parker's mother figure. She does get a great moment at the very end though, so at least there's that. Also, do yourself a favor and stay until the VERY end of the credits because there is a gem of a post-credit scene waiting for you.
Ultimately, this is the Spider-Man film we needed and were it not for a lackluster final action set piece, we'd be looking at a film as good as last week's Baby Driver. As is, however, we do have ourselves possibly the best Marvel film to date, and certainly the second-best film of 2017. You're up, War for the Planet of the Apes. Let's keep it rolling.
The Critique: One of Marvel's best installments to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming features a great story and terrific performances from Tom Holland and Michael Keaton, and is the second great summer blockbuster for Hollywood in as many weeks.
The Recommendation: Make it a double feature everyone! We're all gonna see this film because Marvel's name is on it so be sure to watch the excellent Baby Driver too!
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
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Finally! A good summer blockbuster!
Baby Driver (2017): After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
What a fun film. Baby Driver is the latest from the fantastic director Edgar Wright, a man with some of the funniest comedies of the modern era under his belt, including Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Each of these films has a very recognizable fingerprint that makes it an Edgar Wright film. Despite the fact that this film is not a comedy, (it's actually the first foray into a drama for the director) it’s still another classic Edgar Wright film. Somehow, the man can do no wrong. He produces what is easily the best film of 2017 so far, and certainly the best summer blockbuster of recent memories. This film could not come at a better time. We've had a terrible summer blockbuster season so far, so it is really refreshing to see a film be original and actually try and push the envelope. Were it not for some faults in the third act from a storytelling perspective, this film would score a perfect 10 in my book. But this film, like other Edgar Wright films, is a wonderful reminder of what happens when a filmmaker actually uses the entire spectrum of cinema to tell a story.
I’ve long appreciated his visual style, as he’s basically the only director of modern American comedies outside of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of 21 Jump Street fame) to actually employ visual humor and not have his films essentially be lightly edited improv. Here his visual storytelling style comes out in the music. The music of Baby Driver is the calling card here, as Edgar Wright does a marvelous job not just employing effective musical choices for any given moment of his film, but also syncing up his film to the music thanks to some fantastic editing. Everything from car doors closing to gunshots are done to the beat of whatever song is playing at that moment, and it was really fascinating (and fun) to watch. I honestly would not be surprised at all to see this film be nominated for Best Editing come Oscar time next year. Outside of the fantastic editing were some great visuals. Edgar Wright has clearly watched a lot of heist films, and he’s picked up on how to shoot them effectively. The car chases in this film are some of the best sequences I’ve seen in recent memory, and even give The Fast and the Furious a run for its money. Additionally, the acting in this movie is awesome. Ansel Eigort puts in a great performance as the lead, playing a wide range of emotions from start to finish as the quite and reserved Baby. Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey (and there’s nothing wrong with that) and Jamie Foxx was over-the-top. However, for me the two that steal the show are Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez. They play husband and wife in this film and are menacing and unpredictable. I absolutely loved them. Lily James was fine, but her character was also the reason this film does not receive a perfect score.
So, let’s talk about the story briefly, shall we? While overall we have a strong story here, there are definitely problems as well. Most notably, the character played by Lily James. The scenes between Ansel Eigort and Lily James were fine, but they also slowed down the film tremendously. I think Edgar Wright realized this and left several scenes between the two of them on the cutting room floor, however the unintended side effect of doing this was the actions of James at the end of the film weren't earned at all. One second she's a waitress, the next she's risking her life for a person she just met a few days ago? I really have no idea what they could've done to improve this as Wright was definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place, but it doesn't change the fact that this is the weakest part of the film. Fortunately, though, this is just about the only misstep here, and doesn't detract from the overall viewing experience that much. I'd say this is the first true "must-watch" film of 2017, and it is easily the best film of the year so far. See it with confidence.
The Critique: Baby Driver is a marvelously executed summer blockbuster with exhilarating action sequences and few faults.
The Recommendation: A must-see for everyone. Don't miss it!
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
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