"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Dunkirk : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT. See it in the theatre and see it in 70MM if you can.

Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is the story of the emergency evacuation in 1940 of British forces from the French coastline as the German war machine quickly closed in around them during the second world war. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. 

Dunkirk is a tense, taut, pulse-pounding and original piece of exquisite filmmaking. Christopher Nolan, who has made such notable movies as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento and Inception, outdoes himself with his stellar direction on Dunkirk. The film is minimalist in dialogue and character development, but maximalist in suspense, which is a remarkable achievement for a film that is re-telling such a well-known story from history. With Dunkirk, Nolan has masterfully made a classic movie with technical precision that boasts a very satisfying structural and dramatic symmetry. 

Nolan makes the interesting, and ultimately wise, choice to break the film into three separate story lines all with different perspectives of the massive British military escape from the clutches of the Germans. The three perspectives are, a regular British foot soldier in great peril and living a recurring nightmare (literally) of being stuck on the beach, an RAF pilot giving air cover, and a civilian father and son who take their small boat across the English channel to try and help rescue their countrymen. The shifting perspectives can be at times a little confusing as there are jumps in time that accompany them, but whatever narrative disruption this technique may bring it more than makes up for it with dramatic punch. 

The foot soldier's storyline is enhanced by Nolan's decision to cast three very similar looking actors to play the main characters trying to get out of Dunkirk and back to England. Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard all are gaunt, dark haired privates who will try anything to get out of the hell that is Dunkirk's beach. Whitehead, Styles and Barnard do excellent work with very little dialogue. They are focused on their objective, survival, and not on verbal communication. Whitehead in particular does terrific work that is both subtle and compelling. He has an expressive, everyman's face coupled with a subdued charisma that make for a dynamic performance. Styles is a famous boy band star in his own right, but to his credit he does surprisingly solid and steady work in Dunkirk.

Tom Hardy is superb as the RAF fighter pilot dueling with the Luftwaffa over the English Channel. Hardy has an air mask on his face for the overwhelming majority of his screen time, but while his face is covered, his charisma is not. Confining a volcanic talent like Hardy into the cockpit of a Spitfire has the potential to be a disaster, but Hardy is able to focus his energy and intent into his eyes and he lights up the screen. 

The civilian boaters are Mark Rylance, Tom-Glynn Carney and Barry Keoghan. Rylance is one of the great actors working today, and his work in Dunkirk is stellar. Rylance has a soft and gentle power about him that emanates through his entire performance. There is a quiet, steady strength in Rylance's character that is meant to symbolize the British everyman who, when his nation needs him, steps up and delivers. Rylance, who won a Best Supporting Oscar for his work in Bridge of Spies two years ago, may well garner another nomination with his work in Dunkirk

Kenneth Branagh has a pivotal supporting role as Commander Bolton, the pier-master who overseas the evacuation. Branagh, who, not coincidentally, came to prominence as the ultimate symbol of English resilience and strength, Shakespeare's Henry V, conjures up a similar energy as Bolton. Branagh is a fine actor, and his presence in the film is a crucial lynchpin that ties all of the different narratives together. 

Dunkirk will no doubt be nominated for multiple Academy Awards in many categories, but sound mixing and sound editing are a sure thing. The sound is absolutely fantastic and is pivotal in enhancing the film's pressure packed drama. The music has the same effect, as Hans Zimmer once again produces a pulsating and chilling score that elevates the film to the sublime. 

The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is transcendent as well. The film's crisp and lush visuals are absolutely beautiful to behold. Hoytema is able to imbue a distinct and effective style to the cinematography of the film without ever compromising in any of the three narratives. Hoytema's camera work in the water, on the beach and in the sky are all noteworthy for their disciplined impeccability. 

I saw Dunkirk at a high end theatre in 70MM and it was breathtaking. Sadly, even at my fancy cinema, there were issues with the projector and the film had to be stopped for a few minutes, and then when the film came back on they left the lights on in front of the screen for ten minutes, which is not exactly the optimal way to enjoy the film. But that said, the film was so good I was still able to enjoy it regardless of these distraction. If you do have the opportunity to see it in 70MM, you most definitely should. 

In Christopher Nolan's already stellar career, the stunning Dunkirk is his finest film. I highly recommend that you see Dunkirk in the theaters, and see it in 70MM if at all possible. Dunkirk is a staggering technical and cinematic achievement by Nolan and his crew and is not to be missed. It is also an inspiration for Brits and the rest of us to get through the dark age that is descending upon our world, so that we may live to see and fight another day. Go spend your hard earned money on Dunkirk, you will not be disappointed. 

©2017

Spider-Man : Homecoming - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE. SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the coming of age story of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man. The film stars Tom Holland as Spider-Man, with supporting nods from Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first installment of the second re-boot of the third Spider-Man series of films. If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone. The original cinematic Spiderman was Tobey Maguire who starred in three films produced by Sony from 2002, 2004 and 2007. Sony then re-booted the series in 2012, with Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman and Emma Stone his love interest. Garfield lasted for two films, the second coming out in 2014, then he ran afoul of Sony's studio head and was summarily exiled from Spideydom. Now, just three years later, Spidey is back, this time with Disney/Marvel producing after the two mega-studios made a deal to bring Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold, adding one more branch to their gargantuan money tree. Tom Holland dons the signature blue and red tights this time for his first star turn in the Spider-Man franchise. Holland has played the character once before in a supporting role in Captain America : Civil War

I enjoyed the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, they were solid, well-made movies with a distinct aesthetic and style and that I enjoyed. The third Maguire Spider-Man was an abomination that was so atrocious it stopped the franchise in its tracks. I admit I have never seen the Andrew Garfield Spidey films because at the time they seemed to be a gratuitous money-grab being that they were re-booting the franchise just five years after the last series ended. This time around they are re-booting after only three years, but it is a true re-boot where Spider-Man is absorbed into the Avenger's universe, so that somehow seems a bit less artistically bankrupt as the Garfield versions.

I am a fan of the Spider-Man character, so I had high expectations going to the theatre, but sadly I must report that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very mixed bag of a movie. It isn't awful, but it certainly isn't great either. There are good elements and bad elements. In keeping with my optimistic nature…*please stop laughing*...I will get to the good points first. 

First off, Tom Holland does excellent work as Spider-Man. In this re-boot, Spider-Man is fourteen and fifteen years old, in other words he is a really annoying teenager. Holland does an exceedingly good job of capturing teenage angst and ennui, as well as the frustrations, social fragility and mental chaos that encompass adolescence. His voice even has a subtle crack to it that lets you know this is a boy thrust into a man's world. Holland seems to have a very bright future, and I hope he can use the monstrous success of this Spider-Man movie to spread his artistic wings and do more than carry water for the Disney money machine.

Holland is not the only bright spot in terms of acting. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture, and he gives a terrific performance. There is an underlying menacing quality to Keaton in this film that he wears very well. It is great to see Keaton back in the game and crushing diverse, quality roles after his years of exile from the big stage. In some ways, Keaton's Vulture character is like his fictional alter ego in the movie Birdman, which can make for an ironically enjoyable perspective on his work in Spider-Man. 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic Iron Man role in the movie. Downey is the quintessential Iron Man. He is the perfect mix of charisma, charm and emotional fragility to bring a superhero to life on screen and he is uniquely qualified to never be overshadowed by all the pyrotechnics surrounding his performance. 

The film also does something very smart which a lot of television shows have started to do as well, namely, that they use music from earlier eras in order to conjure a sense of nostalgia in older audience members. Make no mistake about it, Spider-Man is a movie for teenagers, but the music in it is the music of the 70's and 80's, in other words the music from the teenage years of late baby boomers and generation X. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things have used this musical technique to great effect in the last year. This is a brilliant device to bring older audiences into the story without alienating younger viewers. 

Another wise move by the filmmakers is that they do not try and do too much right out of the gate. Too many superhero films are unbalanced between superhero and villain, and superhero and task. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-man and Vulture are a pretty evenly matched, and Spider-man is not entrusted with having to save the world, just his little corner of it.

And now for the bad news…as I stated earlier, Tom Holland is fantastic at portraying a teenage boy, in fact he does too good a job. Spending two and half hours with a teenager is not something anyone in their right mind would want to actually do…hell, not even a teenager would want to spend that much time with a teenager. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we are stuck with an annoying, whiny teenage idiot who makes the same moronic decisions most every teenager would make. Teenagers will relate to him, but adults will want to slap him silly for being so continuously stupid.

Another issue is that the portions of the story that deal with Peter Parker's high school life and friends are pretty unbearable. All of the teenage characters are painfully one-dimensional and are numbingly predictable and corny as hell. Peter Parker and friends are a drag on the entire film.

The story also suffers from a lack of clarity because the film makes large jumps in time and doesn't fill in the gaps properly in order to flesh out the characters and drama. For instance, the movie open with crews cleaning up in the wake of the destruction created by the Avengers in their New York City brawl with aliens in the first Avengers film. Then the movie jumps eight years ahead and we never get to see the critical moments in the development of Keaton's Vulture character, which to me would have been the most interesting part of the film, and we never got see it. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming also suffers from two things that afflict the Marvel films in general, namely that they are visually flat and stale, and also that they are thematically much too paltry and light-hearted. In terms of the visuals of the film, director Jon Watts, whose resume isn't exactly inspiring, is in way over his head. This movie is aesthetically more akin to a made for television movie than it is a cinematic enterprise. To be fair to Watts, Disney/Marvel run a very tight ship and are not interested in artistic vision, only franchise conformity and box-office returns.

As for the light-hearted nature that permeates all of the Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely no exception. Like all of the Marvel movies, there is a tsunami of zippy one-liners and a flippancy that seeps out of its every pore. I understand that "entertainment' is the goal with these movies, but that doesn't mean they have to be so shallow and frivolous. Christopher Nolan proved with his Dark Knight trilogy that superhero movies can be entertaining and also artistically and archetypally illuminating at the same time. Even Sam Raimi with the original two Spider-Man films was able to pull that off, as was Ang Lee with his much maligned, Jungian inspired, Hulk. Just this year we have seen the superhero game elevated to a much higher level with James Mangold's superior Logan and Patty Jenkin's well-crafted Wonder Woman. Spider-Man fails to live up to the standards set by these quality films, but the truth is the same can be said of all of the Marvel films and Disney doesn't care as long as the money train keeps rolling. 

The final issue I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming was that the rules of the cinematic universe were never clearly defined. What I mean by that is that superhero movies are pretty incredible to begin with, so you have to have a set of rules for the film that the movie sticks to or else the story loses much needed credibility. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, Spider-Man is knocked out by bumping his head on a roof, but when he gets punched by a super-arm or is in a car crash, he comes out entirely unscathed. It is a little thing, but sometimes the little things add up to a big thing. 

There was one thing that was both good and bad about the film. There is a B-story sub-text about class in the film that is pretty fascinating, which is the good thing, the bad thing is it is so minor as to be quickly forgotten. Spider-man is a local, working class hero, or as Iron Man tells him, he has a whole "Springsteen vibe" going on. I think if the film had fleshed out this idea it would have been a very rich topic to explore. Keaton's Vulture is the same as Spider-man, a blue collar local guy, whereas Iron Man and the Avengers are a globalist bunch of elitists trying to impose their values on the locals. Politically, this is a potent narrative that we have seen play out across the globe and even in our last election. A superhero movie can sometimes be the best place to hash out archetypal and mythic conflicts so that viewers can find nuance, or clarity, whichever they most need. Sadly, Spider-Man: Homecoming spent more time with adolescent pursuits and mostly turned a blind eye to the class struggle that was taking place at the heart of the story, and the film is lesser for it. 

The bottom line is this, Spider - Man: Homecoming is just…ok. It is an admittedly fun but basically mindless movie that will no doubt entertain millions and make billions. If you are a superhero fan you will see the film regardless of what I say, but if you are lukewarm on these types of films, I think you can skip it in the theatre and see it when it's on cable of Netflix. 

In conclusion I will share this, that over the years many readers have emailed me to tell me that they think I am a vicious misogynist, racist and xenophobe, and with my tepid review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, they will no doubt add "incorrigible arachnophobe" to the list of evils that afflict me. I will simply say this in my defense…I am not an arachnophobe (some of my best friends are spiders!!), I am just a cinephile who yearns for a bit more from the standard summertime popcorn movies that Hollywood continuously uses to separate fools like me from their hard earned money. My spidey-senses are telling me I'm going to need to lower my standards. 

©2017