Movie Reviews: Dunkirk

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Like many of my movie reviews, this is really a half movie review, and a half tangent rant on something related to the film. If you truly want to know about the synopsis of the film, there are many other blogs or media reviews to read.

It’s also a little personal.

This was the first Christopher Nolan film since Batman Begins that I did not see in theaters. I saw the the hype. I knew the history. Nolan is one of the best directors in the business today. But I couldn’t bear to watch it.

It has nothing to do with the film, but more to do with the content.

I’m a veteran. By choice, I simply, don’t watch realistic war films often. Before the service, I did. Saving Private Ryan was the best in my opinion. World War II was the war to end of all wars, and the greatest generation, steadfast brits, key allies and resistance groups, fought the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan, all while The Soviet Union fought and bore a huge cost on the brutal eastern front of the war. Who broke the Third Reich? (Hint: land wars in Asia are brutal) Since doing my share in OIF and OEF, I don’t really want to watch war films. I think since I watched The Hurt Locker, which itself was a preposterous action film, my interest waned the moment I saw Jeremy Renner lost and confused in the supermarket aisle.

That was me. Or is me. I don’t know. When the war idealism fades, and you enter your 30s, your taste in cinema evidently changes to. At least it did for me.

I have not seen American Sniper, despite liking and respecting Clint Eastwood films.

I have not seen The Lone Survivor, despite thinking Peter Berg is a good director.

I did watch Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up with Zero Dark Thirty, but that wasn’t really a war film. It was really a spy movie, which are still fun in my book.

Maybe I have Post Traumatic Movie Syndrome.

So, it took a lot for me to watch this movie, and its from a different era. To drill down to the cause, maybe it’s because war isn’t a glorified thing when you are part of it. Young and predominantly determined people fight wars old people lead. I wouldn’t go as far as to say poor people fight in modern day, since really, Armed Forces of the US are middle class after a few years, with education opportunities that can propel them to the higher rungs once you make it past 4 years (most don’t, especially in the Marines, statistically). We come in as idealists and usually leave a change person, for better or worse.

We learn  few universal military maxims. First and foremost, healthcare sucks: incompetent and motrin-pushing when you are in, and incompetent and ailment-denying when you are out. Politicians won’t truly ever care. If you are a vet, try writing a congressman and see if you ever get an answer. The VA is literally filled with healthcare bureaucrats who run it like a DMV. Instead of the entire VA and their $70 billion budget, they could gut it all and cover all retiree’s insurance with a top program, and make it law to deny coverage. Would benefits be abused by some? Maybe. It happens under the VA now (with disability shopping) and with Medicare (which the country covers for older retirees). But really, what is the over abuse when it comes to healthcare? Electing to have more knees surgeries …. fuck. You got to me one tough motherfucker to want a knee operation that you don’t need. They say 39,471 veterans are homeless any given night in america, which is a shame. Many of these people have serious problems. Some, are post traumatic stress syndrome related … something that was frowned upon as a sissy psychology-pushed diagnosis until the Iraq War. Help them before the sands of time turn them into a shell of their former selves.

Nevertheless, wars are fought and always will be fought. In this movie, we watch a retreat unfold. Nothing is truly explained. Nolan expects people to know their history other than the few lines of introduction the film opens with. I read somewhere that Nolan wanted the film to have no script, which I guess was unique, and perhaps ambitious if this was an intended documentary style recreation.

I didn’t love the film. I actually will go as far to say, I think the narrative is disjointed. Nolan seems to be watching too many Kubrick films. If Interstellar was like a Space Odyssey tribute, Dunkirk is an homage to Paths of Glory. Every frame is beautifully shot and could be hung in an art gallery. I just didn’t see a story. Nothing felt compelling to me. There isn’t a single narrative. You don’t really root for anyone. There is no villain. It doesn’t really demonize or talk bad about the enemy. The movie is 90% visuals and a Hans Zimmer score.

Not even his stable of trusted actors can save the story. Between Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy (who is one of the few saving graves of the film) there just isn’t much for them to do, along with the 400 other white male actors (this is a Christopher Nolan film, so go figure)

The film is simply a retreat, and afterward, I felt tired.

Maybe its genius because it doesn’t glamorize war. There is no real victory. There is no real point.

Movie Rating: 5/10 low tides

Movie Reviews: Primer

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Primer directed by Shane Carruth

This is one of the smartest science fiction movies I have ever seen, and it was made for almost nothing. In creative terms, this is  storytelling that relies on the genius of the plot and writing, not the acting or directing. I first saw this movie on the shelf of my local blockbuster video (remember those?). I used to rent movies on a Friday night if I had nothing to do, which was often after a long week.

I rented the movie because of the blurb you see above. Any comparison to Kubrick is some serious balls in my book. For a $3 rental (no wonder why it went out of business) I figured I would gamble and take a flyer on it.

So I watched it and wasn’t really impressed around halfway in. It seemed like a pretty normal time travel plot surrounding two main characters. It could have been a stage play. Many of the scenes were in a garage or storage locker.

Unimpressed, I went to the fridge and grabbed a beer and kept watching. In my head, I thought I knew what was going to happen, but couldn’t be further from the truth. I was tricked when I didn’t expect to be. The last half of the film, Carruth pulls a flash forward and doesn’t explain or narrate how far the story has moved. We were expected to piece it together, and I failed.

The move ended and I was left speechless.

I am a movie buff, and I didn’t understand what the fuck just happened.

So I watched the last 20 minutes over again.

I still didn’t get it.

I watched it again and again, and I think I picked up on the plot points, but then went I finally went to look online at a forum or blog for someone smarter than me to explain it, I was shocked to see that I had not grasped the real story.

So hats off to Shane Carruth. He tricked me. Good on him. Was it better than 2001? Fuck no. Was it the kind of low budget movie I can write and make? Probably, if I could find an actor or two who want to work on a shoe string budget, give me a call.

I rate it 7/10 time machines for the acting/directing and 10/10 time machines for not dumbing down the narrative. It is what has garnered the movie a cult following in the 12 years since release. Could this have been done with a $100M budget? Hell no. Focus groups would have told studio execs to add a funny buddy (perhaps someone young to pull in that demographic) who asks questions all throughout the movie, so that Carruth could explain the plot to each step of the way. Then, they would have added an antagonist (Perhaps someone from TV who wants to jump to film) that we could have seen, who likely would have been competing with them, maybe after stealing the design. Then a woman would have been added for mass appeal with a romantic subplot (she is both smart and hot, but sassy enough to play hard to get 2/3 of the film, when she gets kidnapped). Then, someone would have needed to blow up in the end. Evil characters always blow up or fall from a high place. Maybe the antagonist would have had his time machine sabotaged, and he time travels back to 10,000 BC and gets dropped in the middle of the ocean.

I digress, as usual.

GUEST REVIEWER: MM LEONARD

Hello Matt.
I just remembered I wrote this 30 years ago and boy, you have not seen anything yet. It just gets worse and worse. By the year 2044, all movies must pass a checklist to get greenlit. So don’t complain. There are still pretty good films that come out. Yes, I know, the budget is usually nominal, with budgets either being $200M tentpole films based on a pre-existing franchise as a sequel/prequel/reboot/relaunch/gender-relaunch/racial-relaunch/old-story-modernized/based-on-a-book or $2M movies forced through the indie system. Believe me, you live in the good times. Eventually all movies will be $450 budget blockbusters that are considered “safe.” Just last weekend, I watched Vader vs Alien vs Godzilla vs Wolverine. People were bitching about an Eskimo woman playing Vader, the Alien having a cape and tophat and speaking German, Godzilla being a “baby-Godz” and standing only 10 feet tall (pissing off hardcore fans demanding it to be as tall as a building, but I say whatever), and Wolverine being played by the esteemed Scarlett Johansson (Some say she is getting to the roots of Wolverine, being a really really old character). Yes, I rolled my eyes at the creative liberties they took, but who says Vader can’t be Wolverine’s AND Godzilla’s father?

 

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