All posts by Josh Hains

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” A review of Blade Runner The Final Cut – by Josh Hains 

I remember the first time I saw Blade Runner: The Final Cut as if it happened earlier this week, and not four or five years ago. I believe it was 2014 when I watched it, but I could be wrong. I’d recorded the movie on my DVR off the Movie Channel, it was early one morning sometime after 9 am, and I thought I’d see what all the fuss regarding this cut was about. Prior to this, I had seen the Director’s Cut and The Theatrical cut in full once each, and bits and pieces of both of those cut multiple times on TV over the years. I didn’t think much of Blade Runner prior to this occasion. I could appreciate the craftsmanship of the movie, and liked it, but it didn’t have the profound impact on me that I had heard others talk about. I felt underwhelmed, let down, disappointed. I wanted to love the movie the way others did, but just couldn’t. Then I saw The Final Cut. 

It’s easy to say that from frame one I was hooked, and it’s even easier to use all kinds of elaborate and colourful words to express how beautiful those opening moments are. But I’m being honest when I tell you that The Final Cut made my jaw drop right from the first frame, and from there on I was hooked like a fish. That Vangelis score had been humming in my ears for nearly three minutes by the time the plumes of fire billowed across the L.A. cityscape, flying cars screamed toward the building of the Tyrell corporation, before the flames danced in the eye of the Blade Runner called Holden, and my jaw fell in awe at the sublime sight of it all. 

35 years later I expect you may know the plot of Blade Runner by now. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner for the LAPD, is tasked by Bryant and Gaff (M. Emmet Walsh and Edward James Olmos, respectively) with tracking down and retiring (killing) four Nexus 6 replicants (human-like androids that are deemed illegal on Earth), including Roy Batty (Rutgers Hauer), who seeks his maker for longer life, as Nexus 6 replicants only have a four year life span. The very nature of this particular job causes Deckard to call into question his own morality and identity, the meaning of life itself, and his own existence. 

Sci-fi neo-noir detective stories are few and far between, but the best of them (including Blade Runner and it equally terrific sequel Blade Runner 2049, both written by the brilliant Hampton Fancher) will stick around for a long time coming, and it’s not because of their plots, which always start out seeming overly complex, but wind up being rather simple once you’ve pieced them together properly. I know that what has caused Blade Runner to stay with me like dirt under my fingernails doesn’t have anything to do with plot, story, or even for the most part, acting. No, what’s stayed with me for so long has always been the feeling I get while watching the movie. Between the gorgeous cinematography and haunting synthesizer induced score, I simply find myself in awe of the sublime nature of the sights and sounds of this Blade Runner world. 

When a replicant is fleeing Deckard midway into the movie, crashing through large panes of glass while blasts from Deckard’s police issue sidearm crash into her body while the melancholic Vangelis score chimes in your ear, I feel the same sense of awe that fills my body and mind that the opening sequence also gives me. Or later, when Roy Batty is delivering a brief monologue about things he’s seen, beautiful amazing things we couldn’t possibly fathom described so simply yet so elegantly, as if pulled from a work of poetry, I once again find myself swept up in awe. 

A good movie can show and tell you various things that will surely entertain you in many ways, but a great film has the power to make you feel something profound. Sometimes we remember a movie for a great iconic quote, or a stylish well choreographed action sequence, or a barrage of snappy conversational dialogue, or even a heap of gut busting jokes. But what tends to stick with us more are are the feelings we get while we watch them. Jaws puts us on edge, anticipating what’s to come with whitened knuckles until we jump out of our seats frightened by the shark erupting from the bowels of the sea. No Country For Old Men makes us care deeply for Llewellyn Moss and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and when they could be in peril (especially the former), we fear for them, our bodies tense just like when we watch Jaws, and then we ease when they survive the latest potential threat. 

Blade Runner makes me fearful for the safety of Deckard, makes me hope that Deckard can retire the replicants and survive the day, then settle down and try live some semblance of a normal life with the replicant he grows to love (and is supposed to retire) named Rachael (Sean Young). It makes me want to follow Deckard around around this futuristic Los Angeles and take in every sight and sound the master Ridley Scott doesn’t show us. When Roy Batty says; “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.”; I believe him, and I wish I could have been there to bear witness to those visual wonders of their beautiful nightmare world. 

Seeing what becomes of Deckard and Los Angeles in Blade Runner 2049, I think I will wish even more now with future viewings of Blade Runner, that I could have joined Deckard and Batty in seeing these unbelievable sights of that world at that specific time, for those moments have truly become lost in time. Like tears in rain. 

“You’ve never seen a miracle.” A spoiler free review of Blade Runner 2049 – by Josh Hains 

I can understand why there are some people out there who don’t like this movie. In 1982 Blade Runner wasn’t made for the masses. It was an expensive arthouse sci-fi neo-noir detective story that critics loathed and most couldn’t make heads or tails of. Only over time and through multiple cuts did the movie gain the legendary cult status it carries today. Blade Runner 2049 feels cut from the same cloth. It’s not for everyone, there are those who have seen it and don’t like it, and there will be others who join them over time. Like its predecessor, it’s not an easily accessible movie that everyone can sink their teeth into and enjoy. It’s less easily categorized by younger overtly politically correct audiences that brand everything in sight with unnecessary dehumanizing labels, and given the reputation of its predecessor, it doesn’t much matter who loves or hates it. This movie is for Blade Runner fans, made by a man who calls Blade Runner his favourite movie, likely to grow into a legendary cult status just like Blade Runner before it. It’s better this way.

Blade Runner 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD. It’s his job to track down Nexus 8 replicants and retire them, and he’s quite good at it. He uncovers information that could spark a war between replicants and humans, and sets out to find the long missing, rumored dead Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the legendary Blade Runner from the original film. That’s as far as I’ll get into plot details, it’s obviously better to know little about the actual plot of this movie, despite the plot being pretty easy to piece together. Anyone familiar with film noir ought to know by now that the plot of a noir is never the focus. In noir, plot is a McGuffin, something we the audience chase, much like Sam Spade trying to find the Maltese Falcon, and while the pieces usually fit together rather nicely by films end (unless we’re talking about Night Moves, the 1975 Gene Hackman starring noir detective yarn), the plot is never why you watch a noir, such is the case here.

For the last few years it has said a lot to me when I can count the number of problems I have with a movie on just one hand. In the case of Blade Runner 2049, there were two performances that felt culled from a totally different, and weird, movie. But I chose to overlook those while I was watching the movie, because one performance occupied just one scene, while the other only took up three long scenes (it might have been four, but I could be wrong). Nothing else sticks out in my mind.

Roger Deakins has outdone nearly his entire filmography of gorgeous, spellbinding cinematography, save for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which still might be his finest work to date. With the exception of the two performers who will go unnamed, the rest of the cast provided their best performances to date, especially Gosling, Ford, Ana de Armas, and Dave Bautista. And Denis Villeneuve, working from a great script by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and Michael Green (watch American Gods, the Starz series he collaborated on with Bryan Fuller and author Neil Gaiman), and with original director Ridley Scott producing, has crafted a worthy sequel to Blade Runner that captures everything I love about the original yet also feels new, fresh, and exciting.

I don’t know if there’s a such thing as a perfect movie. Maybe there is, and if that’s the case then I’ve seen quite a few. Lawrence Of Arabia, The Godfather Part II, Jaws, and L.A. Confidential, to name a few. And if there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, and if that should be the case then I’ve seen ample imperfect movies that somehow seem perfect amidst whatever flaws others have found in them. I could complain about the first roughly two hours of 2049 feeling like one drawn out (but so damn good) tease leading up to everything I really wanted to see (which takes place in the third act of the film), but I enjoyed all of it so much, so why bother?

When the year started and I had the first teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049 to watch on a loop, I hoped it would live up to my own expectations. I wasn’t hoping for a movie that would blow my mind six ways to Sunday and change my life somehow. I wasn’t hoping for some easily categorizable, digestible, flawless masterpiece. All I wanted and hoped for was a sequel that would feel like the natural progression of the story I love so much in Blade Runner, that would look born from the same universe yet unique to itself, and would make me feel the way I do when I watch Blade Runner: The Final Cut: awestruck, mesmerized, subtly moved. What I watched Sunday night did exactly that for nearly three hours, and won’t soon be lost in time, like tears in rain.

“I hate to admit this but I don’t understand this situation at all.” An appreciation of David Lynch’s impenetrable entertainment, Twin Peaks and all- by Josh Hains 

These days, when I watch anything David Lynch has filmed, be it Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Inland Empire, or even his flawed yet hypnotic and deliciously crazy adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, I check my brain in at the door. I let my mind become invaded by the alluring sights and sounds that populate his stunning body of work, letting them burn themselves into the deepest parts of my soul. I don’t over think what I’m watching, and I don’t allow myself to obsess over such cerebral, intentionally puzzling works. Above all else, the images tend to stay with me like dirt under my fingernails, or a ghost lurking in an old house.

The point of Lynch’s life’s work is breaking convention, trying truly new things with the form, narratively or visually, that most people in the movie or television businesses will never think of in their lifetime. Ever. Taking cinematic standards we’ve become comfortable with and breaking them like a sledgehammer against concrete, dismantling what’s considered safe, easy, and profitable, his works always risky, provocative, difficult, and confounding. I find just about everything he’s made confounding to varying degrees, and just like any great puzzle, the necessary pieces to solving any given mystery in any of his works are always right there in plain sight, staring me right in the face, taunting me. I’m reminded of a quote from Christopher Nolan’s brilliant puzzler The Prestige: “Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” Except that I don’t want to be fooled, at least not entirely.

I have a tendency to want to know what pieces go where and watch them all slowly fit together, though an equal part of me doesn’t want to completely kill the mystery, doesn’t mind the ambiguity and relishes in being challenged on such deeply psychological levels. The first time I saw his Mulholland Drive, I disliked it because I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I’d just witnessed. Nothing I’d seen made any amount of sense, or could easily be summed up in a quick sentence. It was impenetrable, and I hated it. A couple years ago I learned that the impenetrable, confusing, ambiguous nature of everything that is Lynch, is the point. Whether or not I can solve the puzzle of Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, or Twin Peaks, isn’t the point of those and most of David Lynch’s filmography. That’s never been the point. You’ll only drive yourself mad trying to solve something you aren’t meant to solve, or find yourself underwhelmed and ungrateful if you do somehow manage to decipher the code that solves the mystery and don’t like the results. The point is the journey, and just like any grand adventure, everything he’s made has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not the destination that matters, but how we get there, and though the journeys Lynch takes us on between those points on the map is different from what we’re used to, in the end it’s actually a really good thing.

All great art should be more than just disturbing to the comfortable and comfortable to the disturbed. It should be challenging. It should make us think deeper than we’ve ever thought before and inite us to continue to think deeper. It should make us look at the art and ask why, make us take a deeper look inside ourselves and ponder why we didn’t think if it ourselves, and what we can do to be more creative and open minded. It should open a wide assortment of doors to all kinds of endless creative potentials and ideas, and challenge us to tackle subjects we’ve been too afraid and comfortable to explore. Twin Peaks: The Return, is this year’s prime example of taking the standards we’ve become so accustomed to, and breaking them for 18 episodes straight. 

I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around most of what happened this season on Twin Peaks, and though repeated viewings of Twin Peaks when the Blu-Ray arrives some months from now will surely unlock a few secrets and tie up some loose ends I didn’t immediately comprehend, I doubt I will ever be able to fully understand everything that happened over the course of The Return. I also don’t fully understand what the hell happens in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, or Inland Empire, but that’s quite alright with me. I’m not supposed to understand the plots, I’m supposed to be swept up in everything else that’s going on. The acting, the symbolism, the trippy nightmarish images, the sudden graphic violence, the sensuous love stories, thunderous pulsating scores, the sublime aura of it all. Like I said before, it’s not the destintion that matters, but how you got there, and how I got there was a magnificent achievement. 

My biggest takeaways from Twin Peaks: The Return, as of right now because I’m still processing what I watched, are that David Lynch is perhaps the foremost essential artist of our times, and a truly brilliant one at that, willing to break rules and conventions for the sake of experimentation and trying to provide more sophisticated entertainment to us all. My other takeaway is that though the battle between good and evil in fiction or our reality never truly ends, as long as the world is occupied by Dale Cooper’s, the light stands a chance of winning.

“Are you watching closely?” A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.

“I didn’t leave you.” The Hains Report Presents: A review of The Sixth Sense – by Josh Hains

You need not worry, I won’t spoil the ending.

I never knew what happens at the end of The Sixth Sense until either late 2005 or sometime in early 2006. I found out the ending of The Sixth Sense when I was reading an adaptation of the film that I’d found in my high school’s library when I was in my first year. I was 14, and more than a little foolish. I read the first 3 chapters of the book (perhaps a fourth, perhaps even more but I can’t recall), and was then hit with the idea that I had guessed the ending based on what I’d read. I flipped to the end of the book and read the ending, found my guess validated, then placed it back on the shelf and never looked back. Just last year I watched the film for the first time. Oddly enough, despite knowing the ending years prior, I somehow felt a sense of shock wash over me as I watched the scene unfold in front of my eyes. Watching it for a second time over this past weekend, the ending still held the same impact. Proof you can know the ending of a movie and still be surprised by it on more than one occasion.

I observed that The Sixth Sense isn’t much of a thriller it was pitched to audiences as being (not straight horror either), but rather a ghost story where good people fall prey to those who torment them from beyond the grave. The latest victim of ghosts is the young boy Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims one night to “see dead people”. Many believe that children are more susceptible to seeing ghostly apparitions than adults, and Cole is no exception, scribbling or screaming the ravings of ghosts he has terrifying eencounters with. I don’t know who’s more afraid, he of the ghosts, or his mother Lynn (Toni Collette) for his safety and mental well being.

Cole’s psychologist becomes Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who we first meet at the start of the film when a former patient shoots Malcolm, then himself. Malcolm seems defeated these days, tired and worn out from work and life in general. His wife Anna (Olivia Williams) doesn’t seem to notice he’s even around, barely utters a word or gives a look in his general direction. Maybe she’s having an affair. Perhaps the trauma from that night was too much to bear for her. Maybe Malcolm was never the same after.

Malcolm seems to approach Cole and his predicament with a “Sure, whatever you say kid” demeanor. It seems fair to me that Malcolm has this attitude, he probably doesn’t believe in ghosts and is just going along with whatever Cole says because he knows he needs guidance, without ever appearing condescending toward him. I doubt I’d believe the root of the issue is ghosts either, just a troubled soul in need of nurturing. Malcolm shares the same perspective, and is more than willing to help where he can. In turn, Cole helps Malcolm a little too, telling him to talk to his wife while she sleeps, because “That’s when she’ll hear you.” I don’t know who my heart bleeds for most.

Haley Joel Osment showed us 18 years ago that he was a force to be reckoned with even as a child. He wasn’t playing the typical child role where you just look cute, act silly for the camera and get your lines out with some amount of authenticity. No, here in the Sixth Sense, he actually has to act, and convincingly plays a good kid plagued by appearances of gruesomely murdered ghosts. When he’s afraid, we believe he is. When he’s sad, our hearts break. Neither he nor Willis overshadow each other, and the two have a chemistry that feels authentic and adds layers to the nature of their relationship.

Bruce Willis is a rare down to earth actor, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t over play his hand here, he never gets wild or over the top. Again he’s down to earth, as well as honest and subtle. In my two viewings of the film, I have almost entirely forgotten at various points that the man on screen is in fact Bruce Willis, mostly because he’s not playing the typical Bruce Willis role. Gone is any sense of his star persona or real life personality. He is just Malcolm Crowe, and I believe it. Much of the best acting of Willis’ career can be found split between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (his second collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan after this film), and oddly enough the best acting I’ve seen from him comes in big reveals toward the end of each film. In the case of Unbreakable, it’s when David Dunn silently reveals to his son that he’s the lone saviour of two kids whose parents were murdered by a local psychopath.

Here in The Sixth Sense, it’s the sequence in which Malcolm comes to truth with some harsh realities, none of which I will spoil here. I’m sure you’re aware of what happens by now, and if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know the famous ending, I implore you to give it a look, you just might love it. Willis doesn’t dip into manic theatrics or parody when the truth is uncovered (though he easily could have), he remains truthful to the performance he had been giving beforehand and to the character of Malcolm, which helps to ground the movie in a believable reality.

As for that ending itself, it’s one of the few Hollywood twist endings that works, and works well enough 18 years later to be considered one of the true great twist endings in film history. Admittedly, when I read it in that book all those years ago, I was surprised by the boldness of such an ending. It’s not very often a movie ends on such a bold note, in a way that pulls the rug out from underneath you, yet invites you to come back for another visit and see things from a newfound perspective. Maybe you’ll see dead people too.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s latest is an unforgettable masterpiece – A review by Josh Hains

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, 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.” – Winston Churchill

Most, of the war films I’ve seen post Saving Private Ryan have been about American soldiers and the battles they’ve fought during World War II, Vietnam, and more recent wars, save for the war sequences of Atonement. It was refreshing to see a World War II film yesterday afternoon that was shown from the perspective of British soldiers, and with the German enemy only shown for just barely a few seconds. It’s a perspective we used to encounter often decades ago that for one reason or another fell to the wayside. Hopefully this masterfully crafted piece of cinema will encourage other directors to widen their landscapes and tell more stories from the British perspective, or perhaps even the French or another allied nation.

By now you have no doubt seen many talking up a storm about this year’s undeniable “masterpiece”, and that it should be a major Oscar contender for Christopher Nolan when the season hits its stride in a few months. I dislike using the word masterpiece to encapsulate all of my positive thoughts about any given movie, and I feel it is quite often improperly attributed toward movies that aren’t actually considered masterpieces some years after they’re released. Film culture has this odd habit of using a wide assortment of colourful, hyperbolic wordage to emphasize how good a movie is during its first couple of weeks in theatres, yet the majority of movies dubbed a masterpiece during Oscar bait season seem to fade into obscurity. But the film being heralded as a masterpiece over the last week, I believe wholeheartedly, will be regarded as such decades from now and for a worthy variety of reasons, but most of all because of the way the imagery lingers within your mind like dirt under your fingernails.

There’s an image I can’t shake no matter how hard I try, of a man looking upon a fire that’s been, for lack of a better word, burned into my mind since the moment my eyes bore witness to it. If I close my eyes, or think of it in my minds eye, I can see it as clearly as if it were happening right in front of me in this very moment. To be honest, I can see nearly the entire movie that clearly, I remember much of it so well having seen it just under a day ago, but it’s images of smaller moments that seem to have been etched into my mind with a hot knife better than others. One would think the more traditionally spectacular moments, of boats exploding and planes being shot down, would stick out in one’s mind the way they always seem to with other war movies, but surprisingly, and refreshingly, that just isn’t the case here. No, I remember the man watching the fire grow as the sun sets, a trio of young men watching a fellow soldier wade suicidally into treacherous waters, a pilot running on fumes while gliding past thousands of men on the beach as they cheer.

Dunkirk is a war film comprised of small moments such as those that, when put together in the form of a complete picture, creates the sensation of a much larger war epic without ever having to actually become one. Yes, it’s a war movie that shows us Christopher Nolan’s perspective on Dunkirk, but it’s not about the war itself, but rather these small moments within the war and the collective struggle of soldiers and common folk affected by the event, and the personal toll the war takes on every soul who had the misfortune of experiencing it.

Much has been made about a lack of a single protagonist for audiences to latch onto and invest themselves in, as if the lack of such a character is a major deprivation for audiences that’ll leave you feeling cold and emotionally detached from the movie. That’s just not true. Dunkirk is about the collective experience of the soldiers and civilians who were a part of this event, and by not choosing a single person to use as our guide through this hellish experience, Nolan allows the audience to feel like they’re right there amongst the soldiers and sailors as planes swoop overhead and bombs periodically detonate with horrific results. No one character is glorified or given the special treatment by Nolan, and thanks to his wise decision to interweave three different perspectives non-linearly together, each and every act of courage or bravery that he focuses on regardless of the immense stakes surrounding them, are treated with equal importance.

I am thankful I am not one of those people who had difficulty following the non-linear presentation of the film. While watching Dunkirk I felt that the non-linear style only amplified the suspense I was feeling, making me clench my fists tighter and my knuckles turn whiter. I enjoyed the sensation of being tossed around from one situation to the next, trying to guess what direction I’d be travelling in until the three interweaving perspectives collide toward films end, and  the pieces come together perfectly like a puzzle.

The opening scene of soldiers including young Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running down a street trying desperately to escape enemy gunfire before finding the mole of Dunkirk harbour where Commander Bolton observes the chaotic situation while soldiers like Tommy repeatedly try to escape the clutches of the beach over the course of a week, sets the tone of the movie immediately: frantic, intense, terrifying, sudden. We spend a day upon the Sea where Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter ( Tom Glynn-Carney) and their young deckhand George (Barry Keoghan) pluck soldiers like the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy, and yes, that’s what he’s called in the credits) and the RAF pilot Collins (Jack Lowden) from the depths of the icy waters. Then there’s an hour in the Air where Farrier (Tom Hardy) chases down German Messerschmitt planes in his Spitfire, halting most of their attempts to bomb boats.

I’m also thankful I heard every line of dialogue crystal clear, well enough to accurately identify Michael Caine as a radio communicator for the Royale Air Force. Admittedly, I heard the explosions and gunfire so loudly I jumped a few times when the overwhelming sound caught me off guard. Many continue to emphasize the need to see this film in 70mm IMAX, but I believe that regardless of what format you choose, it’s the experience of seeing Dunkirk theatrically that is necessary, and perhaps not so much the format, though it helps if the screen you’re looking at is bigger than most. As great as our surround sound has gotten for use in our homes, nothing will ever compare to seeing this film on the biggest screen you can find. When the sound of a Messerschmitt comes roaring from behind you, then almost sounds like it’s passed overhead before screaming way out in front of you, it genuinely feels like the closest thing to actually being there that any of us will ever encounter, and it’s absolutely terrifying. When soldiers are forced into the water, typically in fleeing from a sinking vessel, you can almost feel, smell, and taste the frigid waters. And when bombs are dropped and gunfire erupts, both at near deafening decibels, you can’t help but tense up as if one of the bombs or bullets might collide with you. It’s an immersive experience you really need to experience for yourself to believe and understand the full extent of.

The actual images of the film are less terrifying than the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire, in part because Nolan leaves the film devoid of blood beyond a few cuts and scrapes, a decision that had even myself second guessing how he might make this work. Once you understand that Dunkirk is a psychological war film that asks you to ponder what you’re watching rather than simply bombard you with heaps of exposition and gory carnage aplenty, you realize there really is no need for an R rating for this picture. Dunkirk is just an hour and 46 minutes long, lean and devoid of unnecessary fats comprised of character beats, long and frequent exposition dumps, and bloody war horrors, and all the better for it. This film didn’t need to be longer or shorter than it is.

I don’t have any qualms with Dunkirk at this juncture (the qualms others have encountered I don’t have), and while I love everything I saw in the film and greatly admire the ensemble cast’s performances, from Fionn Whitehead to Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and others and the scenes they all inhabit, it was the perspective titled The Air I felt the deepest investment in. That’s not a knock against the other scenes, I just found The Air more hypnotic than anything else in the film, mostly due to the truly stunning cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (seriously, every frame of this film is gorgeous and should be framed and hung in a museum), and Tom Hardy’s near silent performance (he has maybe 10 lines of dialogue in total). It didn’t occur to me until today that after a certain point in the film, Tom Hardy’s Farrier never speaks again. That Hardy conveys outwardly and through his eyes (because he wears yet another mask in Dunkirk) everything Farrier is thinking in the moment is in itself is quite the accomplishment, and only goes to show just how great an actor Hardy has become. That his scenes are the most riveting and awe inducing sweetens the deal.

The first thing my mind floats to when I think about Dunkirk is still the image of a man watching the fire grow on the beach, as clear as if it happened just a moment ago. The sky turning charcoal, the flames glowing against the sands and his face, his stern expression showing accomplishment and sacrifice in the same breath, the wind snapping against his skin and tossing his hair, his story coming to an end moments before the film does. I know I’ll see Dunkirk many more times, but if I only saw it just once, I’m willing to bet I’d remember that image for the rest of my life.

“Your name’s Baby? B-A-B-Y Baby?” – A Review of Baby Driver by Josh Hains

“You’ve never seen anything like Baby Driver before”, the major critics say, and everywhere you look online the average movie goer agrees to the tune of a $30 million dollar opening weekend haul. They’re right you know, you really haven’t seen *anything* (and I do mean a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g) like Baby Driver before. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Sure, we’ve all seen countless of westerns and crime thrillers where the main protagonist claims they’re done with that brutal life after the fateful “one last job”, only to get sucked back into that world like Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. “Just when I thought I was out…they PULL me back in.” That storyline seems to have been done to near death, hell, even Logan used it earlier this year, and yet here it is once again in a totally refreshed way.

We’ve seen intricate car chases before, like Frank Bullitt roaring down the streets of San Francisco with sly hitmen on his tail, or “Popeye” Doyle weaving through chaotic traffic trying to keep up with a a sniper aboard an elevated train (The French Connection), or Ryan O’Neal’s the Driver outrunning cops in hot pursuit of the thieves in the back seat of his getaway vehicle (The Driver). Don’t worry, I may not mention about a dozen other worthy titles, but they’re here in spirit. We’ve seen plenty of amazing car chases, but have you ever seen one synchronized to a song before? I didn’t think so.

And we’ve seen many an A-list cast deliver snappy dialogue that Quentin Tarantino could bathe in, and the kinds of edgy, tongue planted firmly in cheek performances one might expect from a pulpy neo-noir fantasy conjured up by Tarantino himself. But just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone like Edgar Wright shows us we haven’t. baby_driver_ver15_xxlgBaby Driver follows the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a debt he owes him for trying to steal his car years ago. Baby lives in a crappy apartment with his deaf-mute foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) while Doc makes a pretty penny using different crews to rob banks and post offices, including the unpredictable psycho Bats (Jamie Foxx), sexy couple Darling and Buddy (Eiza González and Jon Hamm), and Griff (Jon Bernthal), and Baby is always his lucky charm getaway driver. Baby has severe tinnitus from a childhood car accident which gave him a hum in the drum that he drowns out with an endless barrage of ear-worm inducing catchy songs, from The Commodores’ Easy, Barry White’s Never, Never Gone Give Ya’ Up, to Queen’s Brighton Rock, and yes, even a song or two with Baby in the title. I happen to have no less than six of the songs stuck in my head including Tequila by The Button Down Brass and Golden Earring’s Radar Love, thanks to a viewing of Baby Driver last night. I’m not complaining. Baby meets Deborah (Lily James), a sweet waitress working a cozy diner he frequents, and of course falls head over heels in love with the girl and vice versa. Baby wants out and fast, but alas, dirty work calls and he goes, but before he knows it things have gone south and fast, thrusting Baby into a desperate race to get outta dodge before things go from bad to way, way worse.

To say anything more about the plot would be downright stupid of me for obvious reasons, but especially because Baby Driver is definitely one of those “the less you know, the better” type movies, though not because of plot twists (though there are quite a few, and you probably won’t see all of them coming from a mile away), but because of the way Wright lets the entire movie unfold completely synchronized to that catchy, finger snapping, foot tapping soundtrack. Yes, the visuals timed with the music and how that affects you as a viewer overall is best left to the imagination, the surprise well worth the admission cost. The film opens quite magnificently with a heist that moves to the eclectic beat of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bell Bottoms (Spencer himself has a brief cameo), with Baby singing and wildly groovin’ along in the car to the stellar tune before he pedals to the metal for the next several minutes to evade a rather large entourage of cops. It’s a fine example of the synchronicity I’m talking about, the masterfully blended fusion of stylish visuals, raw 100% practical stunts, and perfectly picked songs. It sounds good on paper, but it plays as wonderfully as any musical number in La La Land, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. A foot and car chase later in the film nearly had my jaw on the floor as I tried to wrap my mind around how Wright had so perfectly choreographed the entire thing. Of course, simply talking about this stuff doesn’t do it any justice, you truly have to see it to believe it. 

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By now you’ve noticed I haven’t critiqued Baby Driver in any way, and there’s a good reason for that: I can’t think of a single thing worth complaining about. I’ve run over the entire movie in my mind and there’s not one thing I saw in the movie that would register as a flaw of some magnitude. Nothing, not a single thing. A death sequence felt just a tad bit too silly, but is that a big enough complaint to warrant my bitching about it? Hell no, I forgot that ultra minor quibble while writing this review, so that can’t be that important to me. Does that mean Baby Driver is what you might call a perfect movie? Not necessarily, I know some people wish it allowed a deeper look into the psyche of the totem pole-esque Baby, some dislike the brief screen time of a beloved actor, and I’m sure others have nitpicks I don’t even want to think about…but from where I’m standing I don’t see why it couldn’t be classified “perfect”.  

Support original film making and go see Baby Driver the first chance you get, and don’t forget to buckle up, it’s one helluva wild ride from the very first second until the final frame snaps to black. baby-driver-movie-5.png