Dunkirk Review

There are few directors that inspire such fanaticism and devotion as Christopher Nolan. Fortunately usually his name is worthy of such adulation. In my opinion, he hasn’t come out with a bad movie yet. His latest film, Dunkirk, is an unusual movie but in the end an amazing experience at the movies.

Watching Dunkirk reminded me of the Civil War reenactments that are popular where I grew up. People gather together to recreate a battle and while they have character names the battle is the important thing not the narrative. Likewise Dunkirk is a reenactment of a battle without a narrative to accompany it. I can see how this would annoy some viewers but it is executed so well that it worked.

Nolan splits up Dunkirk into 3 parts- mole, sea, and air. Each of these segments follow different people and are at slightly different timetables. This means you see the same boat sink 3 times, same plane get shot down 3 times etc. However, each time you are seeing it from different perspectives.

There is Harry Styles as a soldier on the ground looking out for a mole in their midst.  Then Tom Hardy is in the air trying to take down German planes. And finally Mark Rylance commanding a pleasure boat to be one of the many civilians who aided the trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.

Of all the narratives I think Mark Rylance and his sons works the best and is the only point that made me cry. You don’t learn anyone’s names or their backstories but it still moved me the most.

Truth is Dunkirk is an experience more than it is a movie. It works because it is so well made and immersive. You feel like you are on the ground with those troops or on the boat with Mark Rylance. The sound design is so great it can be shocking that it is not real. It makes you want to reach out and help the boys as if they were right beside you. It’s that real.

All the performances are top notch and in pretty much every way it is masterfully made on a technical level. It was an amazing experience to feel war on such a visceral and intimate level.

However, often these experience movies are not the most rewatchable of films. I don’t think every movie needs to be rewatchable but it is something to think about. I don’t think it would have the same impact on the small screen. It wouldn’t be as immersive or real and I might start itching for more character development.

I recommend you go and see Dunkirk in the theaters, in IMAX if possible (the 70mm option wasn’t available for me unfortunately). It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. It’s not a narrative. It’s a reenactment and in that regard it is quite special.

Overall Grade- A-

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Transformers: the Last Knight Review

So I got to see the latest Transformers film today, Transformers: the Last Knight. You can watch my youtube review above but let me give a quick synopsis of my thoughts. Basically if you are a fan of this franchise then I see no reason why you won’t enjoy Transformers: the Last Knight. It was a chance to change things up a bit with the recent writers room and some of the more zany elements but unfortunately that potential was not met. It’s not the worst of the franchise but it wasn’t a strong film.

Transformers: the Last Knight is directed by Michael Bay and it bears all the hallmarks of a Bay film. The action and explosions are there. The macho dialogue and fist bumping is there. The dippy women and horrible comedy is there. So if you like that kind of thing, then you will like it. The trailer makes you think the King Arthur/WW2 stuff will be a big aspect and that intrigued me but it is very minor- especially the WW2 stuff. Most of it is seen through long stretches of exposition, which isn’t as fun as it could have been.

The action can be fun in a Bay film and there is some here that is enjoyable. The problem is there are so many characters and plotlines it is exhausting. Like there is Optimus turning evil, a Transformers queen riding Unicron that wants to take over the world, the 9th Legion guarding a secret from time of Merlin led by Anthony Hopkins, King Arthur stuff, sexy anthropologist woman, Mark Wahlberg hiding from authorities, a little girl and her robot sidekick, Josh Duhamel hunting down Wahlberg, Tony Hale and scientists following Unicron, Megatron and evil Transformers that are introduced like the Suicide Squad. I could go on…

All of these characters have plotlines and they just keep adding up until it becomes really confusing and exhausting. There’s a long scene in a submarine and I had no idea what that was all about and a staff from Merlin and Mark Wahlberg is the chosen one and Stonehenge is a portal to something. I was lost!

One of the disappointing aspects is visually it seemed a little lazy, which usually that’s at least something Bay gets right. I felt a little nauseated because the aspect ratio on the screen kept changing A LOT and the way it was edited left my stomach upset. There was a car chase in particular that turned my stomach a bit. The transformers look good and there wasn’t any that were annoying like in 2 or 4 but you don’t really spend enough time with any of them (or any other character) to be pleased or annoyed.

The humor also doesn’t really work. I particularly didn’t like a group of ladies who exist solely to make fun of the lead girl’s dating life. I’m not sure why that is funny? Like literally they sit around her apartment just to comment on how lame her love life is. What?  There is also a robot butler that wasn’t very funny.  They even try to go all meta with him and the music in one scene but it was more annoying than funny. They make a lot of UK jokes but it didn’t make me laugh much.

All that said, if you like this franchise then you will like this movie. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t then you probably won’t. I feel like it could have done something crazy and fun with transformers fighting Nazis and King Arthur but sadly it was not to be. Oh well.

Overall Grade- D+

Dreamworks 6: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

If you have been reading this blog for some time you know I am not often a fan of Dreamworks comedies. The parody style of humor just isn’t my thing. However, every once in a while they produce a Mr Peabody and Sherman that I do like, so I always go in with an open mind (why waste my time if I decide ahead of the movie I’m not going to like it?). Fortunately, their newest film Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie is such a welcome surprise. It is not only very funny but extremely creative in the animation to boot.

One of the things that makes Captain Underpants special is it was made for a micro-budget of only $38 million! Dreamworks outsourced the film to a separate studio called Mikros Images in Canada as kind of an experiment in more manageable movie-making.  This smaller budget forced the team to be creative with the animation and storytelling and it shows. They even joke about it once during an action scene where the narrator says ‘this would have been very expensive but here’s what would have happened!” LOL.

I was so impressed by the way the movie uses different types of animation to tell the story. It is of course based on the popular books by Dav Pilkey but this isn’t just made for the fans of the books. The main animation has a flat yet 3D effect similar to what we saw from Blue Sky in The Peanuts Movie (an underrated film if you ask me!), but the film doesn’t stop there. It incorporates 2D animation, both sketch and traditional styles, and even has a live action sock puppet sequence! These choices weren’t merely gimmicks but kept the movie feeling fresh and surprising.

The other strength of Captain Underpants is how funny it is. Nicholas Stoller who wrote The Muppets and Storks has upped his game making a hilarious script. It does have a lot of toilet humor and normally I hate that but for whatever reason in this film I laughed. I’ve even seen it twice and both times I’ve laughed (sometimes more than the kids around me. True story!).  I think part of it is the movie goes for broke not holding back. They even have a character named Professor Poopypants and it consistently made me laugh.

I think it also helps that the two lead boys Harold and George are so likable and charming. They have big smiles and all the pranks and silliness they do is to make the kids at their terrible school happy. I loved the creativity of the boys and that they were designing their own comic books and stories. This is a good example for kids who spend too much time consuming entertainment and not creating their own art.

I loved that the two boys were effortlessly diverse- meaning you had a black and white kid and it did not matter at all. It was never mentioned or made a plot point.  They were just friends as they should be. It was also very funny that the greatest trauma in their lives is getting put in separate classes. I remember as a kid anxiously waiting to find out if my friends would be in the same class as me. Harold says “long distance relationships never work out” LOL.

It’s interesting because out of all the characters Captain Underpants is probably the most forgettable part. He is part strict principal and part superhero, which is fun, but he mainly serves as a touch-point for the boys to react off of. I liked the boys so much I was kind of glad they were the main focus.

I really only have 2 small complaints about Captain Underpants. The first is I wish they had used children as the voice actors. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch are fine (Ed Helms as Captain Underpants) but it would have been more immersive if they sounded like children.

In the next movie it would be nice to get to know some of the other kids (you do meet  tattle-tale Melvin voiced by Jordan Peele). Again to use The Peanuts Movie as an example, we get to meet more than just Charlie Brown and Snoopy but the whole gang instead.  Hopefully there will be a Second Epic Movie because I really enjoyed this introduction!

Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie is made for children. It doesn’t have the winking adults-only humor that I hate in animation. It’s humor for kids but it still made me chuckle. The animation is surprising and inventive and the friendship of the boys gives the whole project heart. Check it out and support this new style of filmmaking from Dreamworks!

Oh and the Weird Al theme song is great!

Overall Grade- A-

Wonder Woman Review

It’s always hard to write about movies I love. There’s a feeling that my opinion won’t be taken seriously or will be regarded as hyperbole. And for a movie I really love it can feel like throwing pearls before swine. Obviously that isn’t the case as you, my readers, are amazing and know me well enough that I do not rubber stamp movies or give any franchise a pass. When I say I love a movie it is because it is deserved.

All that said- I LOVE Wonder Woman. And it’s not just because it’s the best DCEU film. And it’s not because it is the first decent female led superhero movie (although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little meaningful to me). It’s because it spoke to me on an emotional level and entertained me in every way I can think of.

You could make the case that Wonder Woman follows a traditional origin story formula and I would agree with you but much like Moana it executes that formula so well. In both films, I deeply care about the characters and their journey.However, as much as I love Moana, Wonder Woman is even better. I just loved it so much.

The story is pretty simple and comes right from the comic books. Wonder Woman is Diana who is raised on the island of Themyscira among the all-female Amazons. She is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and was created out of clay by her mother and Zeus. One day a soldier named Steve Trevor lands on their beach and Diana decides to become involved in World War 1 and try to save the people. Updating the conflict from World War 2 to World War 1 was very smart as the senselessness of World War 1 is far more obvious. Plus, you have the horrors of nerve gas and trench warfare in World War 1 to put as a backdrop.

I won’t tell you any more so you can experience it yourself but the key to this film working is Diana and Steve. Gal Gadot is effervescent, innocent and wonderful as Wonder Woman and Chris Pine is perfect as Steve. The two have incredible chemistry, and I really cared about them and their stories. This is not a film that empowers women at the expense of men. They are both needed and valued and their love is what is powerful. All love is powerful.

The journey Wonder Woman goes on puts it above most other superhero movies I’ve seen. She learns about not only the cost of war but the ease at which humans excuse that cost as nothing. I cried a lot both times when watching the film because I found her realization of human evil to be incredibly moving.

A lot of people criticize some superhero movies for having a lack of stakes. Not the case here. No spoilers but there is a price to pay for fighting evil and here it couldn’t be more devastating. And the resolution is far from tidy but more of a momentary breath and pause before we know mankind will succumb again to the worst in their nature.

You see the true villain in Wonder Woman is war itself and the corruptible nature of mankind that so often embraces it. Some have said Wonder Woman feels like a Marvel movie instead of a DC movie. Never mind the many DC movies that were far sillier than this (cough Green Lantern cough) but I think they are missing the point. Previous DCEU films like Batman v Superman are built on a traditional masculine energy and style of filmmaking. With Wonder Woman we get something entirely different. There is more of a traditional feminine energy to it. It is about emotions and relationships and that is why it is so moving. Even when it gets bombastic it does so because of despair and love.

That’s not to say Wonder Woman isn’t fun. It does have comedic moments to lighten the mood and those work as well. There’s also great action that will satisfy the action gurus of your group but again what was special to me is the emotional journey of a woman facing the horrors of war.

I really only have 2 tiny nitpicks with Wonder Woman. The accents on Themyscira are a little cheesy. I understand why they did it to match Gadot’s Israeli accent but it doesn’t quite work. They also use a slow motion effect in the action scenes a little bit too much. There is a villain reveal that could have been handled better but since the true villain was war itself I did not care. Aside from that, I thought Wonder Woman was spectacular.

I won’t give a ranking just yet but it is definitely one of my favorite superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Congrats to Patty Jenkins and everyone involved for finally giving me a blockbuster I actually cared about!  Thank you!

And thank you for giving little girls the superhero they should have had a long time ago

Overall Grade- A

For parents there is some war violence that might be concerning and some nudity/sensuality.