Tag Archives: Kyle Jonathan 2017

Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK

Dunkirk

2017.  Directed by Christopher Nolan.

dunkirk.png

One of the first things that becomes clear, seconds into Christopher Nolan’s audacious thriller Dunkirk is that it is not a conventional war picture.  It may not even technically be a member of the genre.  Regardless, Dunkirk is Nolan’s crowning achievement.  A ferocious, tightly constructed tribute to one of the greatest acts of national heroism in the history of mankind.  Bordering on horror at times while exploring the darker side of survival and the effects of trauma, Nolan commands a cinematic arsenal in a symphony of destruction, balancing a pulse raising score, harrowing cinematography, and unparalleled practical effects.  These combine to form a living prison around the audience, forcing them to inhabit the souls of the combatants, both their acts of unthinkable courage and their primal need to survive at all costs.

400,000 allied soldiers are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.  What follows is a nonlinear recounting of the rescue operation that inspired the world to fight back against inhuman darkness.  The point of view is split between the soldiers on the beach, civilians mounting a rescue effort by sea, and the Royal Air Force pilots protecting the operation.  Nolan’s script is a showcase on minimalist storytelling, to the point that Dunkirk often feels like a silent film homage and this only furthers the oppressive feeling that pervades every frame.  There are no Nazis present on the screen; they are wraiths coming to reap the souls of the stranded.  There is no respite, no sanctuary, and from the first ear bursting gunshots, the film drops any sense of conformity with its predecessors.

kenneth-branagh-dunkirk.jpg

Some have commented on the film’s distinct lack of exposition and character development; however the lack of focus on a singular “hero” is what allows Nolan’s vision to truly shine.  Who these people were is not of interest to the master auteur, it is the sum of masses that is on display.  It would be unfair, however, to ignore the work of Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance.  Both of these talented performers have scenes that are so emotionally gripping, they manage to imprint on the viewer, despite the absolute bravura of everything else that is happening around them.  This was a day where men made the ultimate sacrifice for the many and where boys became men against their father’s wishes.

Hans Zimmer, who will hopefully garner awards gold this season, has created the best score of his prolific career.  Emulating the ticking doomsday panic that afflicts the soldiers, his ominous notes are relentless, taking the narrative into the depths of despair, only to then deliver the proceedings into hope.  The sound design is impeccable.  The viewer is there, on the beach when bombs cascade across the sounds, in the surf when ignited oil snatches away all hope of escape, and in the sky, where split second decisions decide the fate of thousands.  This is a film that requires IMAX viewing, if possible.  It is not only the reason these titanic theaters exist, it is a great example of the power of the big screen.

dunkirk-trailer-image-16.jpg

Hoyt van Hoytema’s pristine cinematography is breathtaking.  While the editing allows it to truly shine, there are a plethora of moments where the camera lingers on desolate beaches and aeronautical specters that enrich the three pronged approach with unflinching realism.  There are so many unique tactics employed, it seems daunting, but they flow together with a dangerous sense of truth.  While other efforts rely on tracking shots and shaky-cam trickery, Hoytema is interested in the soul of Nolan’s vicious poetry, and the result is a cold, omnipotent viewpoint that leaves everything on the table.  There are no favorites, no shining stars, and nothing but the events themselves matters.   This is a startling film, but one that is relentlessly human in its retelling and this is something that will either resonate with the viewer, or repulse.

In theaters now, Dunkirk is one of the few masterpieces of 2017, and the best film of Christopher Nolan’s fabled portfolio.  Every element of what mystifies and entices us to watch films is present.  There is tragedy and redemption, heroism and cowardice, and most importantly darkness and unyielding light.  If you see one film in the theater this year, this is the one.   If you’re looking for a traditional war film, look elsewhere.  Nolan’s masterful, tightly paced epic is an endurance test for the mind and heart.  Dunkirk is a retelling of history in a hands-off, brutally realistic manner that will leave you stunned for its duration, and long after the lights have come up.

Highly. Highly Recommend.

maxresdefault.jpg

Advertisements

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled

The Beguiled

2017.  Directed by Sofia Coppola.

06

Sofia Coppola’s latest effort is an atmospheric pressure cooker steeped in sexual innuendo and madness. Fusing the Confederate origins of the original film with a Gothic, dreamlike presentation, The Beguiled presents a simplistic narrative of erotic vendetta that is enhanced with magnetic performances and ghostly cinematography that present a female focused incarnation of the iconic source material.

Wounded Union soldier John McBurney finds respite at a Southern academy for young women. In a crumbling manse enshrouded by Spanish moss, a dangerous game of amorous deceit plays out amidst a backdrop of a nation devouring itself. Coppola’s script trims every possible amount of fat from an already slim narrative to keep everything focused on the characters. Colin Farrell delivers another terrific performance as a lecherous victim of circumstance whose uses every possible advantage to ensure not only personal safety, but an unspeakable possibility. Nicole Kidman gives a restrained performance as the school’s headmistress that is the perfect counter, embodying a fierce protective spirit of lethal maternity that is not only a product of a nation gone mad, but a pragmatic force to be reckoned with.

The Beguiled

Kirsten Dunst gives an interesting turn as the school’s fractured teacher. She balances unrepentant desire and rigid etiquette with remarkable ease, bringing an intriguing angle to the social complexities on display. Elle Fanning does adequate work with what she’s given, however the narrative moves so quickly that the devious personalities often don’t have enough to develop and as a result, her performance suffers. This is a minor flaw that is quickly forgotten as the quiet nightmare of McBurney’s ordeal plays out in the mist. Stacey Battat’s period costume design is flawless, encasing each character in outfits that mirror the gender inequalities and high fashion of the time perfectly, which does an outstanding job are supporting each of the characters’ moments in the spotlight.

Philippe Le Sourd’s ethereal cinematography is the film’s strongest element. Beautiful wide shots of the exterior are sprinkled throughout, contrasting intrusive close-ups that dominate the bulk of the movie. Natural lighting is used whenever possible and Coppola’s intimate understanding of the material is always reflected in the muted imagery, perfectly emulating the fable-like story on display. This is made possible by understated editing and a haunting score by Phoenix that keep everything close to the chest.

the-beguiled-movie-image-sofia-coppola-7

In theaters now, The Beguiled is an excellent addition to Sofia Coppola’s woefully small filmography. While the final act undoes the terse foundations of the preceding acts, the cathartic release is well earned, if a tad uneven. If you’re interested a whispered passion play that explores gender politics and spins a harrowing tale of revenge, this will not disappoint.

Highly Recommend.

the-beguiled-movie-image-sofia-coppola-34

Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

2017. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

kong-skull-island-2

Sometimes you know virtually everything there is to know about a film before you view it.  Maybe it’s the title, the director’s previous films, the poster, or more often than not, it’s the trailer.  Despite these unfortunate truths of the information age, there are occasions where a film can still manage to not only surprise, but entertain you as well.  Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is a breath of fresh air to big explosion, big monster movie madness that has been experiencing a decline over the last year.  While there is absolutely nothing that reinvents the prescribed formula for a film like this, what it does, it does very well, signaling not only Vogt-Roberts’ love for the creature feature, but also his talent at using resources in creative ways to present a been there, done that story in a manner that consistently entertains for the duration.

In 1973, Scientists and soldiers set out to explore Skull Island, a place where monsters reputedly roam.  Their intrusion not only angers the legendary ape who rules the island, it awakens an ancient evil as well.  Tom Hiddleston stars as the tough guy navigator who is in no danger of dying.  Brie Larson stars as an activist photographer who is in no danger of dying.  They’re supported by a scene stealing John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson, and a regrettably restrained John Goodman.  There are also legions of soldiers and scientists who are sacrificed on the altar of “story”.   The real star is Kong himself, made possible by unimaginable special effects that are volleyed throughout the film’s run time.  Vogt-Roberts uses a perfect soundtrack and puts his trust into the effects team to present a monster movie that is pure abandon without being a guilty pleasure.  It’s undeniable decent and even though its plot is paint by numbers, the viewer is having so much counting said numbers, they forget to worry about the endless cliché’s and predictability of the story.

kong-skull-island-image-25-600x251

Icon Larry Fong’s patient cinematography builds off of the Apocalypse Now ambrosia and captures the meeting of man and nature with blinding fulminations and intense colors that bloom across the screen in every sequence.  Acrid yellow smog and sunglass reflected fire are two impactful visuals that elevate the imagery far beyond the expected B movie trappings.  The makeup of tribal natives and the phosphorous gas of a battlefield combine into a potent mixture of untouched history with high powered weaponry, and it is this unholy union that pushes the film above mediocrity.  The divide between the two worlds comes crashing down within minutes of the humans’ arrival, but it is the aftermath that is done better than so many of its predecessors.  While there are rumors that this may be the first film in a shared cinematic universe, it is extremely clear that Pandora’s Box has been irrevocably opened and Vogt-Roberts embraces this with open arms.

Available now for digital streaming, Kong: Skull Island is an excellent way to spend a night on the couch, especially if you’re in the mood for playful extremity.  Large monsters, large explosions, and large guns are what await you in King Kong’s sanctum.  The best part is that nothing feels out of place and everything works in concert to achieve the most important goal for a film: to entertain.

Recommend.

kong-skull-island

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

2017.  Directed by Patty Jenkins.

Wonder-Woman-2017-Movie-Wallpaper-10-1600x798

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is two films.  On the surface, it is the most Marvel-esque of DC’s cinematic universe, using all of the tried and true blockbuster clichés to present a feel good origin story in which love triumphs over evil.  However, beyond the expected trappings of the genre, Jenkins’ unique directorial style and Gal Gadot’s larger than life performance take the narrative beyond costumed mayhem into a thrilling exploration of sexual politics and morality that almost escapes the constraints of its three colored origins.

Wonder Woman is thrust into the Great War when a British spy crash lands on her island sanctum.  Believing that Ares, the god of war, is responsible for the carnage, she sets out with a group of unconventional soldiers to bring an end to his reign of terror and restore peace to the world.  Jenkins balances the fantastical elements of Wonder Woman’s origins with the plight of the trenches in a remarkable dance.  There are stunning scenes of otherworldly bravura mixed with gritty war sequences that conjure a feeling of epic adventure that never loses steam.  Gal Gadot’s emotional turn as the titular hero is one for the ages, bringing gravity and vulnerability to a role that could have easily misfired.  Although she is not mortal, her basic, possibly naïve, understanding of the heart of the human experience is what carries the film.

Vamers-FYI-Movies-Full-Length-Wonder-Woman-Trailer-is-Stunning-Screen-Shot-07

Chris Pine does an admirable job as the love interest, codifying the human experience through genuine exchanges with Gadot and outstanding scenes with the supporting cast of misfit soldiers.  One of the film’s best surprises is in its candid approach to the cost of conflict, both in the heart and soul.  Gadot approaches moral dilemmas with the benefit of not only being an outsider, but with a level of innocence that springs from never experiencing inequality.  The ramifications of this play throughout the narrative, both playfully and with serious intent.  While Wonder Woman plays to the Marvel formula with perfection, it transcends the entire MCU catalogue with conviction through its acknowledgement of these truths and its doubling down on the hero’s story.   While there’s nothing immediately new, what Wonder Woman does, it does exceptional well.

Matthew Jensen’s cinematography approaches the combat with an intriguing mix of gentile splendor and brutal omnipotence.  The bird’s eye capture of the No Man’s Land sequence is flawless, delivering an action extravaganza that builds upon the notion of hope in desperation that propels Gadot’s heroine into an iconic status.  While the slow-motion captures become tedious as the film winds on, there’s so much to digest that the painfully long running time isn’t a factor until the clunky, CGI bonanza of the finale.  Die-hard fans will not be able to unsee the glaring similarities with The First Avenger, however, the recipe is one that continues to prove, time and time again that it works and Wonder Woman simply does it better.

3099273-screen+shot+2016-07-23+at+2.27.18+pm

The importance of a female focused superhero film cannot be understated.   This is a unique film because of its treatment of the complex issues of gender, violence, and heroism.  However, as a sum of its parts, Wonder Woman stays regrettably in bounds, offering nothing fresh to the summer blockbuster and while this may disappoint viewers looking for the next best thing, it’s important to remember that films are meant to entertain, and Wonder Woman not only eclipses this humble goal, it also inspires.

Highly recommend.

wonder-woman_wp

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

2017.  Directed by James Gunn.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol.-2-Rocket-and-Yondu-e1476895483196

Guardians of the Galaxy is often described as one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As a result, expectations for James Gunn’s follow up, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were incredibly high and the final result, while not perfect, is one of the best made superhero films thus far.  Featuring a scene stealing performance from Michael Rooker, uncharacteristically beautiful visuals, and an unexpectedly mature story, this is a film that showcases the limitless potential of superhero films as allegories to the struggles of reality as well as reveals the innate ability of comic book films to mirror the depth and artistic breath of their source material.

Peter “Starlord” Quill is found by his wayward father, Ego after a disastrous job that leaves the Guardians fractured and pursued by a ruthless alien civilization.  As Peter explores his relationship with father, terrible truths are revealed that test the bonds of friendship and family as each Guardian confronts the horrors of the past for hope at a better future.  Gunn’s script stumbles to achieve the same level of humor of the first film while presenting an action film almost devoid of action that almost entirely mimics The Empire Strikes Back.  However, as the story begins to unfold, dark sequences of mass executions, torture, and murderous narcissism are interwoven with one of the most sophisticated stories to be featured in a Marvel film.  Building on the first movie’s core of broken outsiders forming a ragtag tribe among the stars, Gunn’s second effort expands on the theme of family by examining fraternal conflicts and surrogate fathers. While the heart wrenching conclusion is telegraphed from one of the first frames, the emotional payoff works due to the chemistry of the cast.

download

Michael Rooker’s performance as Yondu is a tarnished, broken, and perfect super nova.  His vulnerable delivery of dialogue combines with moments of genuine menace and paternal empathy to form the foundation around which everything else orbits.  This is a story about love and its consequences distilled through a cosmic interpretation of Cat’s in the Cradle and none of it works without Rooker’s panache. Dave Bautista continues to impress, despite the clunky script, and his scenes with newcomer Pom Klementieff are comically awkward in one instant and then tear inducing in the next. Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan continue to have weaker arcs, but this is more from the material than their performances.  Bradley Cooper’s Rocket continues to impress, with Cooper’s verbal torment unexpectedly overcoming continually stale jokes about his origins.  Kurt Russell is the perfect choice for his role, but to expound would spoil the pure joy of his introduction.  The Baby Groot-centric credits are outstanding, focusing on the childlike wonder of the character while ignoring a repetitive action scene that suggests a heightened awareness of the formulaic constraints of its colleagues.  Unfortunately, there are continuous efforts to double down on the character’s cute factor that are underwhelming.

Henry Braham’s ambitious cinematography is the savior.  There’s a remarkable shot of Yondu looking out onto a shantytown while red and green neon lights reflect against a dingy window that underscore the character’s inner turmoil and immediately sets the tone.  Another jaw dropping composition features Gamora sitting on an alien planet’s surface, surrounded by a psychedelic miasma of colors while the film’s centerpiece involves a beautifully shot sequence of musical mayhem aboard a pirate ship.  The poetic finale is a color infused sequence of reverence that is both a sublime capstone on a transitional story and a sensational homage to the era in which Guardians is forever submerged.  The soundtrack diverts from the first film’s grab bag of chart toppers to feature intimate songs whose symbolism (while blatant) mixes perfectly with the serious tonal shifts and will have even non-believers humming for days after.

download (1)

Ramsey Avery’s art direction is yet another unexpected surprise.   The Sovereign are an alien race that are introduced during the first act and with just a handful of precious scenes, the sheer scope of their home world is communicated through dazzling Art Deco throne rooms and Black Mirror-esque combat stations.  The planet on which the bulk of the story transpires is a LSD soaked sanctuary, mirroring the arrival of a child’s errant father who brings wondrous new toys as compensation for unreliability.  Dreams, impressions, and preconceptions are all at play both in the physical environments on display and the heady metaphysical conflicts within the characters’ hearts.

In theaters now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not perfect, but it excels in areas that other Marvel films have just begun to explore.  Michael Rooker’s outstanding supporting performance anchors a film that could have easily gotten carried away into a vortex of CGI and Vol. 2 almost does.  It is brought back from the brink of forgettable action sequels by breathtaking visuals and adult oriented themes that combine to create the perfect remedy for the spandex fatigue that has gripped the box office.  If you enjoyed the first film, there is plenty here that will work, albeit with some rough patches of dialogue and crude humor, but underneath the expected mediocrity lies a passionate story about the definitions of family, traumatic abuse and its consequences, and most surprisingly a well-defined villain with a purpose, something that has been severely lacking in the bulk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  Candy cane aesthetics and pure heart are what elevates James Gunn’s second pop-pulp space opera to front of Marvel’s cinematic stable.

Highly Recommend.

download (2)

 

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant

2017.  Directed by Ridley Scott.

alien-covenant-prologue-700x300

Alien: Covenant is a tricky film.  Alien was the film that opened a realm of possibilities, both for the franchise and for the career of its creator, directorial legend, Ridley Scott.  Following from the extremely divisive Prometheus, Scott weaves an intricate story about the cycle of life and death masked in the guise of a prequel.  This is a deeply personal film made by a 79 year old artist.  What it loses with a shallow script and endless horror clichés is almost enough to derail what is quite possibly one of Scott’s most profound works.  While diehard fans will undoubtedly find many things to pick apart, it is entirely probable that Scott decided to plumb the existential limits of humanity via a return to his beginnings, and it is with that idea in mind that I left the theater with the understanding that this film is one for the ages, glaring flaws and all.

A colony ship intercepts a human transmission from a mysterious planet.  Desperate to find a new planet to call home, the crew decides to investigate and happens upon the most terrifying experiment in the history of creation.  Fusing elements of the Island of Dr. Moreau, the spiritualism of Prometheus, and Blade Runner’s creation vs. man bravura, John Logan and Dante Harper’s script stumbles, falls, and then revels in the gutter of rogue philosophy in which it lands.  The first act features the standard character building staple of the franchise, however there is not enough to go around and it’s immediately apparent whom will die and whom will persevere.  Danny McBride is a surprising standout, emulating the blue collar roots that made the initial film so endearing.  The banter between the crew is cringe worthy at best and when death does come, surviving characters are instantly resilient, eschewing Veronica Cartwright’s unforgettable paranoia in favor of soldiering on.  While this may appear as a weakness, it is a slick alignment with Scott’s overall message.  The reaper always wins and life always goes on, leaving the memories of the fallen behind.

alien-covenant-movie-trailer-screencaps-4-1075x442

Michael Fassbender’s dual turn as the loyal android Walter and the devious rebel David has to be seen to be believed.  The first scene of the film does not work without his subtle ferocity, setting the stage for what follows with a poise that likens his electronic birth to a toddler with a high caliber pistol, questioning his existence and his maker’s intent with ominous innocence.  His scenes with both versions of himself are the meat of the story and when taken separately from the paltry characterization of the humans, they are truly something to behold.  Katherine Waterston’s archetypal turn is adequate, but ultimately pales under the weight of the story.   Yes, characters make bad decisions, possibly even worse than forgetting to run horizontally, however, unlike its predecessor, Covenant has so much going on, there’s barely enough time to complain.

Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, from the stunning first frame is a visual bacchanal of gory aftermaths and alien architecture.  David’s insidious lair conjures thoughts of Kurtz’s sanctum in Apocalypse Now while the CGI scenes in space command the gorgeous touch one would expect from Sir Scott.  There are dozens of Easter eggs strewn throughout Chris Seagers’s titanic production design, featuring impossible compositions of alien civilization, blending incomprehensible science with low tech accoutrements to bring the high gloss feel of the new films together with the low-fi grit of the classics.

Alien-Covenant-Teaser-Trailer-029

In the end, Alien: Covenant is a remarkable film for what it is saying underneath the carnage and ill-advised choices of its stable of victims.  The evolutions of the creature are symbolic of the series, beginning with small terrors in claustrophobic environs that soon spin out of control as technology, budget, and popularity demand more and more, ultimately consuming the creative fires of design.  The search for meaning in the creation of life and dissenting against the inevitability of death are everywhere in Covenant’s beautiful set pieces and their presence will either intrigue or repulse.

In theaters now, Ridley Scott’s bridge building film creates more questions than answers for one of the most popular science fiction franchises of all time.  Derailing the audience’s concept of timeline and progression, Alien: Covenant breaks all of the established rules to present a blood soaked Genesis in the stars.  Scott made the film he wanted to make, and while there are elements which will placate general expectations for an addition to the Alien pantheon, it’s my belief, that Scott almost forgot there would be an audience watching.  This is his story and while it may not entirely work, it is something terrifyingly genuine and sincere.

Highly Recommend.

maxresdefault

The Lure

The Lure

2017.  Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska.

Screen-Shot-2017-01-12-at-13.22.26

A sublimely bizarre horror musical, The Lure blends kaleidoscopic visuals with an ’80s pop sheen to present a delirious, female focused coming of age tale.  Flittering between genres, Smoczynska’s euro glitz bonanza unleashes a plethora of themes into its carnival of flesh; however, this is a film that is having far too much fun to be world altering.  Featuring uncomfortable sexual truths beneath blood tinged fish scales; this is currently one of the most unique offerings of 2017.

Carnivorous Mermaids Silver and Golden become enamored with a rock band they encounter on a beach.  They return with the group to a strip club where they become exploited performers, causing the sirens to drift apart, one towards embracing her predatory nature while the other longs for humanity.  Robert Bolesto’s script is purposefully shallow; however, the direction elevates the material into an euphoric trip through the development of female sexuality as an allegory for the mistreatment of immigrants.  Young women as objects of lust for salacious old men is nothing new, but the presentation defies any sense of surrender to the tropes that often trap a film like this in rehashed mediocrity.  The weakness of the lyrics, in which the girls communicate their fledgling desires, would easily rebuke, yet the viewer is helplessly enraptured by the pastel world to which they’ve been submerged.

the-lure-banner-1

Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska deliver a pair of entrancing performances.  While their respective arcs are telegraphed, they do solid work with each side of their aquatic yin and yang.  Their committal to the lyrical abandon is both uncomfortable in a John Waters way (hat tip to a colleague) and intermittently hilarious.  The choice of the ’80s time period initially seems awkward, but once the musical numbers begin, the framework of parasitic indulgence and material obsession becomes perfectly clear.  While there are no doubt some cultural touches foreign audiences may miss, viewers can no doubt commiserate on a decade of cocaine fueled abandon.

Jakub Kijowski’s cinematography is elegant through its instability, perfectly emulating the raw kinetics of puberty through dazzling shots of the night club and its denizens.  Warm blues and reds flood the interior while the outside world is framed in an alien, institutionalized manner to extrapolate on the girl’s curiosity with their new surroundings.  The Lure is a story about extremes, where the blood is bright crimson and the villains are especially sleazy and it mostly works.  Marcin Charlicki’s visual effects bolster over the top antics with intriguing displays of body horror and abrupt violence, entwining the soft terror with Smocynska’s refutation on committal.  The end result is something unique, but undoubtedly divisive.

the-lure-slice-600x200

Available now for digital streaming with a looming Criterion Collection release to come, The Lure is an inverted Alice in Wonderland head spinner.   Its immediately apparent lack of depth is overcome through outlandish visuals and bristling compositions of musical ardor.  If you’re looking for a truly unique film that eschews subtlety in favor of jackhammer presentation, The Lure Will not disappoint.

Highly Recommend.

The-Lure-Header