The vessel and skipper that inspired the Moonstone and Mark Rylance character in “Dunkirk”?

rylance.jpgAs part of “Take Dad to ‘Dunkirk’ This Weekend,” I took my father and caught the film a second time — I rarely do that, but period pieces/WWII movies and films about boats are kind of my thing(s).

BB-Day29-0076.dngOne thing I fixated on, second time around, was how Nolan didn’t alter the design of the boats to suit filming purposes. Thus, a shroud (cable) holding up a mast on “Moonstone” gets in Oscar winner Mark Rylance’s face for a few shots.

Another was the inspiration for this fictional part of the story. Moonstone’s inspiration appears to be Sundowner, owned by Charles Lightoller, a former “Titanic” officer, sailed by that owner, his son and a friend of his son. Their story is altered for the movie in a very touching way.

sundownerRan across that on Wikipedia.

I was also struck by the groaning, rattling nature of the Spitfire Tom Hardy’s pilot flies. Lovely sound detail, which anyone who has ever owned a vintage British roadster will recognize as British engineering. Nimble, quick, graceful — not built for comfort or quiet. Ahem.

 

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Box Office: “Dunkirk” and “Girls Trip” set to run off with the weekend

dunk8Christopher Nolan is taking a chance — with Warner Brothers’ money — that audiences in the US and abroad will forsake slick summer sci-fi and Spandex (comic book) pictures and show up for a little history.

That risk has been obvious ever since the movie was announced as a summer release. “Dunkirk”, with its limited-appeal all-male/all British cast, WWII subject and British history plot, always felt like a between-seasons prestige picture. Nolan could bring all his skills and technological access to a gripping real-world story, maybe nab an Oscar or three for his troubles.

But in a desultory summer of sequels and one-weekend-only film phenomena, “Dunkirk” has a chance to upset the summer applecart, win a weekend, knock the wind out of over-praised piffle like “Spider-Man” and “Caesar Scowls One More Time” (“War for the Planet of the Apes”). Reviews and Nolan fans (nominally a sci-fi and comic book film crowd) should lift it.

It earned $5.5 million in late Thursday previews, which is more than “War for the Planet of the Apes” managed. Big, very big. Not huge.

“Valerian,” a gorgeous but generally empty-headed Euro-blockbuster from Luc Besson, will suck some of the oxygen away from the fading “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Apes.” Not much, but enough. It could hit $20, based on Thursday night’s $1.7 million.

Box Office Mojo says “Dunkirk” is on track to clear the $50 million dollar mark on its opening. That’s spectacular for a film that doesn’t feature a proven effects-driven comic-book hero in its title.

Box Office Guru is predicting a more-in-line with diminished expectations $38 million.  It still will win the weekend, as “Spider-Man” fell off a cliff last weekend and “Apes” look to plummet to Earth even quicker.

Both box office sites are figuring “Valerian” will not clear $20 million — $16-17. The comic book it is based on is French, and the movie — middling reviews in the US, better ones abroad — is something only a Jerry Lewis on medication could truly embrace.

That will drag “Apes” down to the low $20s, and could even send “Spider-Man XXXV” to $20 or lower. Neither of those looks to have the legs of “Wonder Woman,” legs in a box office sense.

If “Dunkirk” out-performs expectations, studio green-lighters could be given pause over their mania for “Let’s just do what’s branded and has worked before — another SPIDER-Man/BATman/SUPERman/AQUAman/Wonder WOMAN movie — and play it safe.”

“Girls Trip” looks to break a dreadful summer streak of dog comedies — bad movies that underperform with audiences. It’s an African American Lady “Hangover,” to use high concept coinage. Reviews have been terrific. It’s a slack, somewhat scruffy but UPROARIOUS farce that takes four 40something college pals back to their hedonistic past on a trip to New Orleans, which has rarely looked livelier or lovelier on film.

The Big Easy is back, and Latifah/Jada/Regina and break-out star Tiffany Haddish are about to “get turnt,” which I have no business using in a sentence, but there you. HUGE dirty laughs in this one. Upbeat reviews will help. Our prognosticators figure it should flirt with $25-30 million, but could catch fire and clear that.

So the marching orders — take dad or granddad or the history-averse teens to “Dunkirk.” Get a sitter and order drinks and catch “Girls Trip.”

And we’ll see how the chips land.

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Movie Review: Plummer lends his twinkle to Kaiser Bill in “The Exception”

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The long career of Christopher Plummer only truly turned “glorious” decades after his most famous turn — as the dapper, testy and sexy Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” a movie he has long playfully dismissed as “S & M.”

He’s twinkled in his old age, turning on the charm as Tolstoy (“The Last Station”), Doctor Parnassus and  John Barrymore and won an Oscar as an old man who comes out as gay in his dotage in “Beginners.”

But it takes every bit of sparkle, every inch of his still ramrod-straight posture, every syllable delivered in his plush, plummy voice to render one of history’s great villains “cute” in “The Exception.”

Plummer plays Kaiser Wilhelm II, the headstrong poseur whose bantam rooster belligerence had a large hand in causing World War I, in this film set in the last year of the now-abdicated Kaiser’s life.

It’s a World War II thriller so out of date the only words to describe it are also obsolete — Potboiler and Cornball.

But the casting has a few delights, and the action beats — easily guessed so VERY far in advance of their revelation — go down easily, if with a requisite eye-roll.

A German officer (Jai Courtney of “Terminator Genesis” and “Divergent”) has survived wounds in the invasion of Poland and has a new mission. Capt. Brandt is put in charge of the one-time emperor’s bodyguard, in Holland. That’s where the Kaiser fled after abdicating and Capt. Brandt’s first realization that Hitler’s invasion of France and the Low Countries has begun is this new assignment.

“If anything happens to him, Captain, you will be shot. And I will do it!”

There is one paramount rule he’s given when he shows up at the estate where Wilhelm Hohenzollern now lives. “The female staff are not to be interfered with.”

So that’s the first thing he does. Screenwriter Simon Burke (working from an Alan Judd novel) and director David Leveaux deserve a few drinks tossed in their faces over the film’s initial “love” scene. It’s a laughably arch parody of brutally efficient German lovemaking.

“Take your clothes off!” Brandt says to the fetching Dutch beauty (Lily James), a maid, who breathes DEEP, bosum-filling breaths. And complies.

The old man of the house, poring over military maps with his aide as if he was still in charge, is charmed by the new Dutch maid, too.

“Tell me, my child, would YOU have invaded Holland?”

Yes, Your Highness.

“And what is your MILITARY objective?”

“It’s, uh, VERY nice!”

But Mieke the maid has a secret, and Hitler’s government has a scheme. And this Dutch House of Hohenzollern, ruled by an empress (Janet McTeer) desperate to return to Royal Court life, is willing to ignore the already-known crimes of the thugs in charge, if it will get them back to Berlin.

Plummer is delicious as the aged popinjay, a man most offended by the poor etiquette and table manners of Hitler’s gang. He must swallow all of his imperious bile when Hitler’s “pig farmer” SS chief shows up for an official visit.

The great English character actor Eddie Marsan takes on the dull, doughy, heartless corruption of Heinrich Himmler and becomes, in just a trio of scenes, a screen exemplar of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.”

except2.jpgJames is fetching and pouty, but can’t suggest the inner turmoil that puts Mieke into this house and into compromising positions, with big plot points given away in the trailer, film’s posters and easily guessed by any viewer five minutes after we’ve met her.

Courtney, similarly gives us nothing of the lovesick mental/moral struggle that Brandt is presented with, an allegedly civilized and ethical man wearing the uniform of monsters.

Speaking of “compromising positions,” that’s the one “exception” to how dated “The Exception” plays — its sex scenes. But even though hey’re understated, they leave less to the imagination than this prim, miscalculated production intended.

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MPAA Rating:R for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence

Cast: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan

Credits: Directed by David Leveaux , script by Simon Burke, based on the novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” by Alan Judd. An A24 release.

Running time 1:47

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Movie Review: Teen outsiders find support in each other in “Some Freaks”

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“Find your tribe” is a running theme through decades of cinema about the American high school experience. Figure out who your people are, who shares your interests and values, and make a home there.

But as the coarse yet sweet “Some Freaks” points out, that’s also another way of enforcing “stay in your lane.” Because God forbid you and your fellow outsiders make an effort to embrace the mainstream, “fit in” with the crowd.

The “freaks” are spread far and wide in Ian MacAllister McDonald’s debut feature. But the biggest one might be the one guy in school forced to wear an eye patch.

Matt (Thomas Mann of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is not just taunted at Rhode Island’s Benjamin Franklin High. He’s hounded. Even MacAllister’s camera chases him down the halls, lingers over his shoulder as the Mean Boys, often egged on by Mean Girls, call him “Cyclops,” grab the eye patch and swear “I won’t take a picture (and post it on the Internet)!”

Outcast at school, overhearing schemes to humiliate him through fake prom dates, living with his shrill single-mom sister (Marin Ireland), Matt’s misery seems suicidal. He can’t even walk home from school in peace.

In one of the film’s cleverest moments, we hear the jeers, “Hey EYEball,” shouted through a car window. But that’s just Matt’s lone friend, Elmo (Ely Henry, sort of a young Paul Giamatti).

“You’ve got this whole ‘monocular’ thing going — totally Nick Fury!”

Elmo may prop Matt up a little, but he really delights in delivering long, lusty soliloquies about the jock he fantasizes about. God forbid he actually act on it, or even own up to his effeminate sexuality. Let another age-appropriate gay guy make “Gay-dar” driven overtures, and he lashes out.

And then there’s the “new girl,” the friendly-flirtatious lab partner Matt is assigned to in science class. Jill, played by newcomer Lily Mae Harrington as a guarded, beguiling blue-haired vulgarian, has too many piercings and is entirely too quick to make “low flying blimp” jokes about herself. She’s chubby and she knows it.

“I won’t lie to you if you won’t lie to me. How’s that sound?”

“Some Freaks” is at its most charming showing this tentative friendship/courtship as it forms. Matt may be an outcast, but he’s not immune to the cruel judgments of high school, egged on by the more articulate Ely. Even when it regards his new friend.

“She’s not too fat. She’s four feet too short!”

Another “freak” might be the golden child “Abercrombie & Fitch pretty boy” jock, Patrick (Lachlan Buchannan). He’s sensitive enough to not dive into the hazing his popular friends hurl at the “freaks.” He’s just not man enough to stop it.

Patrick is the pretty boy in a lot of John Hughes films, popular and handsome and determined to stand out as “not LIKE them” in his sensitivity. The funny twist is here is that’s exactly how Patrick sees himself. He wants credit for being “nice.”

“Freaks” follows these guys through a last year in school and into college (across the country) where re-invention is the name of the game. In tender yet brittle and beautifully played scenes, McDonald’s script asks who will survive that transition, and what relationships will break under it?

McDonald’s cast seems too old for these roles. But he has an unfailing eye for high school dress and values and a lethally accurate ear for this generation of Teen Speak. I like the way he emphasizes Matt’s persecution by chasing him, via Steadicam, through the halls, down the street and into his sister’s house.

Mann gives such a natural performance that you forget “Me and Earl” — forget that this is a performance at all. Henry lets us see a little of the fear of accepting who he is in the funny, could-be-popular gay teen who isn’t entirely “out.”

But Harrington takes us into Jill’s head, a kid smart smart enough to see through fakes, to question motives, able to defend herself with withering put-downs, determined to hide behind a pose or change her situation and herself by changing schools and escaping her past.

Even though there’s nothing we haven’t seen before in this movie, she and “Some Freaks” remind us not just of the cruelties of the teen years, the insecurities and secret shame, but of how young we are when we figure out that it’s all just perception. If you can just move away, you can move on, even if who you REALLY are catches up to you as it always eventually does.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with frank sexual situations, nudity, profanity, teen drinking and smoking

Cast: Thomas Mann, Lily Mae HarringtonMarin Ireland, Ely Henry, Lachlan Buchanan

Credits: Written and directed by Ian MacAllister McDonald . A Good Deed release.

Running time: 1:37

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Weekend movies — Universal praise for “Dunkirk,” giggles for “Girls Trip,” shrugs for “Valerian’

dunk7One of the stark ways this summer has schooled movie fans and movie reviewers is in the relative valuation of aggregated movie reviews, a hard lesson for sci-fi and comic book fangirls and boys to absorb.

Read the studio-culled blurbs and visit only Rottentomatoes.com, and you’re re-assured that this sequel, that re-boot or the “Alien” prequel is “The New Citizen Kane/North by Northwest/Godfather/Star Wars.”

And they get furious at this film which they’re eagerly awaiting is enjoying what they figure is its just desserts — unanimous acclaim.

Because they think they see just that —  on Rottentomatoes.

A whole range of reactions to “Wonder Woman,” which is an audience-holding smash, are reduced to “thumb’s up” (fresh tomato) or “thumb’s down.”

But this isn’t the greatest summer at the movies since the invention of summers. A quick visit to other aggregators — Metacritic, MRQE — proves it. “Wonder Woman” earns a still-healthy, but not-all-that “76” at Metacritic.

Metacritic, which takes reviews’ level of enthusiasm into account, is considerably more sobering. No, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is not a epic Oscar bait, “the movie of the summer,” any more than “Wonder Woman” or “Spider-Man” or “Alien: Covenant” are.

“Wonder Woman” can make that “movie of the summer” claim — it has legs. But reviewing’s pandering classes (TV show reviewers, fanboy site cheerleaders, USA Today, Rolling Stone) have re-used the phrase and emptied their quiver over such middling fare all summer long.

So look at Metacritic re: “Dunkirk,” opening this weekend, and “War for the Planet of the Apes” or “Valerian” (also opening this week). Whatever RT is saying, there are a lot of 2.5/3 stars out of four endorsements for some of these films. Good, or just pleasantly watchable. Not “great.” Not even close.

A shrug of the shoulders, an “OK time-killer” level of praise is the order of the day. “Valerian” in the 50s, “Apes” in the low 80s, “Spider-Man” in the 70s. Look at “Girls Trip,” which is raunchy, vulgar, rude and has the biggest laughs of any movie this year. It’s also misshapen, indulgent and shocking for shock’s sake — 88 on RT, a more “Yeah, it’s hilarious BUT” 71 on Metacritic.

Then look at the stand-out big budget picture of the season, “Dunkirk.” If you’re looking for a film with a shelf life beyond opening weekend box office, inclusive of but outside of measurable Redbox rentals or Netflix streams, this is it. Oscar potential in the fall? Yes. Still being watched in five, 10 years? Yup.

“Apes” could collect effects honors, but will anybody remember/re-watch it (other than in monkey movie binges on FX) in five years? Two?

If you go back to the spring and insist on Oscar worthy comic-book adaptations, I could see “Logan” getting Hugh Jackman into Oscar’s Final Five. But none of these movies have shown much in the line of staying power. That’s why we see the constant re-boots.

The rest? Much more disposable. Think of the times, if you’re over 30, you have to explain the merits of Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” to somebody who is sure they’ve witnessed the Second Coming, starring Tom Holland and directed by whatever discount-price effects manager/director the studio hired whom few have ever heard of.

Most of the titles mentioned here either are hits or are sure to be. The “Apes” franchise is ending on an up note, though second weekends are always the most telling. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” fell off dramatically in its second weekend. The Newest and Greatest suffer the most when another Newest and Greatest of similar merits opens the next weekend.

valerian1So “Valerian” and even “Dunkirk” will suck audience away from the earlier July blockbusters. “Dunkirk” won’t make enough money to flip the filmthink dynamic. Directors USED to be valuable brand names the way pre-sold comic book characters have become, the way movie “franchises” have long been.

A blockbuster weekend for a thrilling, well-written and sensitively-acted re-creation of history, not involving aliens, vampires or wisecracking boys and girls in spandex posing in between digital fistfights? One can only hope.

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Movie Review: “Girls Trip” knows what it means to “Get Turnt” in New Orleans

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Raunchy, rude and weapons-grade wicked, “Girls Trip” is the funniest big studio comedy since “Trainwreck.”

It’s “Bridesmaids” with brass, “The Hangover” with flava and does for New Orleans what that film did for Vegas — showcases it as headquarters for hedonism. Sin City on the bayou is back, thanks to this R-rated comic Chamber of Commerce commercial.

And while it lets stars Jada Pinkett-Smith, Queen Latifah and Regina Hall land laughs, it demands the most of motor-mouthed/potty-mouthed Tiffany Haddish. And girlfriend pays the bills.

As the dim bulb with the hair-trigger temper and impulse control issues among her Flossy Posse of old college friends, Haddish’s Dina makes the picture. For the film’s uproarious first 40 minutes or so, every dirty word out of her mouth is dirty-comedy gold. And when the film loses track of her for an hour, it’s all the poorer for it.

Four friends gather around their pal, “New Oprah” self-help star Ryan (Regina Hall) at Essence Festival, a gathering of empowered black women in the Crescent City.

Sasha (Queen Latifah), once a promising journalist, now does celebrity gossip and is going broke in the process. Lisa (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is a nurse, mother-of-two who never got over her divorce and is years past her last sexual encounter.

We’ve seen Dina come off as too dumb to pick up on the news that she’s been fired for beating up a colleague who stole her yogurt out of the fridge at work.

And narrator Ryan, who preaches “You can have it ALL” to her fans and is on the verge of a merchandise deal with her ex-jock “partner” husband (Mike Colter). But it’s all just a mirage.

Nothing like a bacchanal in the Big Easy — a chance to “get turnt” (blitzed beyond reason) to bring everybody’s issues to a head, and everybody’s issues with everybody else to blows — or near blows.

“I’m-o PUT HANDS on her,” after getting “white girl wasted” amid street band revelry, bar crawls, #blackgirlmagic seminars and performances by Diddy, New Edition, Common and Mariah Carey.

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You’ve seen Haddish’s hilarious discussion of drug smuggling orifices in the TV ads, her mime-abuse, and maybe the zip line “accident” scene. Throw in a little hobo full frontal, a dance club dance-off and a fisheye lens slo-mo absinthe drug trip, and you’ve got a comedy with more “Oh no they DIDN’T” moments than any film this year.

The characters are archetypes, but the players put their mark on “the stick-in-the-mud mom,” “the over-achiever,” “Ms. Peaked-too-Soon” and the stoner. This Malcolm D. Lee film wouldn’t be an “authentic” African-American comedy without dollops of self-help sentiment, female empowerment and the power of prayer. Because even Jesus lets a lot of stuff slide in New Orleans.

And like every R-rated comedy in the Age of Apatow, it takes too long getting to a too-obvious conclusion. Vulgar takes extra time, you know.

But finding something funny, coarse and fresh to show us after “Bridesmaids” is tough, so relish “Girls Trip” for what it is, and Haddish (“Keanu”) for the gift of her Chris Tucker/breakout moment. An entire performance packed with “Don’t try this at home” is a wonder to behold.

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MPAA Rating:R for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material

Cast: Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate

Credits:Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, script by  Kenya BarrisKaren McCullah, Tracy Oliver, Erica Rivinoja. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:02

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Movie Preview: James Franco pays tribute to the worst movie since “Plan 9” in “The Disaster Artist”

“The Room” has a lot in common with “Ed Wood.” There’s a riotously incompetent director/star in charge, and a lot of not-totally-delusional folks on the set with him.

“The Disaster Artist” is about the making of “The Room.” Not the Oscar-winning “Room,” but a no-budget abortion from the early 2000s made by Tommy Wisseau.

 

Look for “The Disaster Artist,” with Franco, Seth Rogen, Dave Franco and Allison Brie, in December. For those who don’t know Tommy W’s cult fiasco, here’s a sampler of bad moments from “The Room.” Long-haired greaseballs with foreign accents are the BEST.

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Movie Review: “Lady Macbeth” is a monster movie we can all endorse

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One of film, literature and mythology’s greatest archetypes gets a spotless new wardrobe in “Lady Macbeth,” a British film about a Russian novel based on the femme fatale of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play.

Calculating, self-serving, willful and cunning, this throwback anti-heroine is a great one to make the case that there’s a little Lady Macbeth in every woman.

Florence Pugh of “The Falling” brings a poker-faced cruelty to Katherine, the title character.  But perhaps she wasn’t born that way. We meet her, pert and pretty, veiled and bathed in white, on her wedding day.

But the 19th century Scots family she’s married into is in the business of making monsters, we quickly see. Her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton of “Wuthering Heights”) is rich, spoiled, cruel and controlling.

“You ought to keep to the house…”

“I like the fresh air.”

“Keep to the HOUSE.”

And as much as enjoys ordering her to remove her night gown — “Take it off!” is his pillow talk — he shows no interest in doing anything other than ordering her about. No consummation, in other words.

Then we meet his father (Christopher Fairbanks, The Broker in “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Boris is an entitled brutal gnome who treats everyone badly and cannot hide his contempt for his new daughter-in-law. He’s a mine owner, and when he sends his son to tidy up the latest disaster, he hisses for Katherine to “resume your duties with more rigor, madam,” when he returns.

A house without books, conversation or music and a life of corsets, cruelty and silence is only interrupted when Katherine barges in on the servants having a nude frolic. And the swarthy rake Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her eye and cockily realizes he’s caught it.

Blame it on Victorian era literary tropes or Russian sexism — the Nikolai Leskov novel, which also inspired an opera,  was published in 1865 — but their “courtship” falls well within the bounds of sexual assault.

As was common in cross-class melodramas of that age, the assault dissolves into lusty love-making. The moral of such immoral tales? All she really needed was a good…servicing.

Katherine is all smiles, filling the big, empty mansion with kisses and gasps of sexual desire. Then the old man comes home, and her manipulations take on a murderous air.

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Casting this “Lady” so young isn’t a great handicap, even though every actress isn’t as accomplished at playing a man-eater at 20 as say the Great Natalie Dormer was. There’s little Showtime-level heat to the sex scenes, and one does wonder what these two from different classes (and races) would talk about after the mating.

The father and son possess Dickensian cruelty, but the script, performances and William Oldroyd’s direction make plain that this isn’t about just desserts, it’s about obstacles that Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth might have solved, but with a lot more spilled blood.

As leads, Pugh and Jarvis are more competent than compelling. Oldroyd springs murders on us by surprise, save for one instance, which will haunt you long after the credits have rolled.

But the climax is deflating and lets down a fabulously grey woods, heather and moors production design and the wicked promise contained in the story’s premise — that there’s a little Lady Macbeth in every woman, at least as far as men are concerned.

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MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violence, strong sexuality/nudity, and language

Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank

Credits:Directed by William Oldroyd, script by Alice Birch, based on the Nikolai Leskov novel “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.” A Roadside Attractions release.

Running time: 1:29

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Movie Review: Nolan immerses us all in the harrowing history of “Dunkirk”

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A master filmmaker with all the state-of-the-art resources due a man who produces sci-fi and comic book blockbusters turns his attention to history with breathless, stunning results in “Dunkirk.”

Christopher Nolan transforms the legend of Britain’s “miracle” retreat from the Fall of France into a harrowing, immersive blast of Greatest British Generation fear and dread, a thrilling, pulse-pounding experience that is the best film of the summer and an early Best Picture favorite.

 

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It’s ancient history to generations now, people who grew up with stars like Tom Hardy (as an RAF pilot) and pop singer-turned-actor Harry Styles (as a soldier trapped on the beach). But Nolan’s masterpiece brings real history — in brisk, visceral and fictionally-augmented strokes — to life.

A fortuitous bit of timing puts this movie into theaters as Western values and civilization are under assault, from without and within, like no time in recent memory.

Seventy-seven springs ago the Nazi Blitzkrieg rolled through Dutch, Belgian, British and French forces and broke the back of Western Europe. The British Expeditionary Force, the only land army that could resist an invasion of the United Kingdom, was trapped, along with other Allied forces, in a tiny pocket along the French/Belgian coast. With little air cover to keep German bombers at bay and U-Boats from sinking their ships, no port big enough to handle a mass evacuation, all was lost.

Staring out across the English Channel, the Royal Navy commander in charge of the departure (Kenneth Branagh) mutters, “You can practically SEE it.”

“It” is “home.”

But there is only one “mole” (a breakwater-pier for loading deep-draft ships). The Germans are bombing and strafing it. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are exposed on a vast open beach. Waiting. What to do?

In pure “Keep calm and carry on” desperation, the Navy summons “the Small Boat Corps,” a fleet of “little ships,” requisitioned pleasure boats, fishing trawlers, motor-sailors and the like, that could come all the way up the shallow waters off the beach and fetch that army.

Nolan tells this emotional, nerve-racking story in its three theaters of action. “The Mole” recounts the desperate efforts, sometimes devolving into “every man for himself,” to stay alive on the beach and get a boat for home.

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We see that largely through the eyes of three foot-soldiers (Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles), with the story starting one week before this anti-D-Day reaches its climax.

“The Sea” follows the owner (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his son’s pal George (Barry Keoghan) as they dodge Royal Navy supervision and sail their 35 foot yacht Moonstone “into war” on the day of the evacuation.

And “The Air” details the limited Royal Air Force contingent spared for what was thought to be an exercise in mortal futility. Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden and a radio voice from 1968’s “The Battle of Britain” (and Nolan’s Dark Knight movies) are RAF pilots in the last, most desperate hour.

It’s a movie told largely without names, and with long stretches of no dialogue and near-silence — shell-shocked soldiers too nervous to speak, wind and the sea bashing the beach and breakwater into a dense, foamy meringue —  interrupted by the deafening scream of Stuka dive bombers (which had sirens designed to terrify those on the ground), ear-splitting explosions.

Nolan parks the camera at sea level, letting the audience feel the unspoken sailor’s prayer that must have dominated the thoughts of skippers taking their little boats into harm’s way — “Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” Moonstone and other tiny craft are dwarfed by departing warships, giving one and all a sense of the enormity of the undertaking and the doom they must surely face.

Cillian Murphy makes the strongest acting impression, a rattled survivor of a sinking plucked from the sea by the Moonstone. His maniacal determination to “not go BACK there” inspires the film’s most poetic line, summing up duty and facing down impossible tasks, delivered by Moonstone’s skipper.

“There’s no running away from this, son.”

The air-to-air combat is some of the most realistic ever re-created. It’s no video game when the other pilot is hellbent on killing you, or avoiding you killing him. Every distraction or lapse in concentration could kill you, every calculation — about fuel, the odds, your “real” mission — means life-or-death.

Ships sink and we’re trapped below with panicked soldiers and sailors. Vast crowds of demoralized men helplessly duck, in perfect sync, at the strafing/bombing runs of the Germans.

Nolan’s camera has us trapped with them — on ships and planes that roll over and drop beneath the waves, in exposed positions where Germans can shoot everything and everyone to pieces, on a little wooden boat that has no business puttering into combat.

The characters are war movie archetypes, and the most archetypal scenes are the interplay between Branagh’s naval officer and an army Col (James D’Arcy), expositional conversations about the stakes for Western Civilization, the hopeless best-case scenario, “home” and the desperation of their situation. Archetypes or not, Branagh, D’Arcy and Rylance are understated and give the film its gravitas.

Younger actors, covered in oil and fear, generate the clock-ticking-down panic. Heroism here is limited. This is about simple survival.

The fact that Nolan packs all this immersive action and national myth into a 106 minute movie should put every assembly-line technician/director conjuring up bloated two and a half hour wallows in digital spider men, apes, robots and raccoons to shame.

Great directors make great movies. And with “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan has made his second masterpiece, thrilling history retold, remembered and relished.

4star4

 

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense war experience and some language

Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles

Credits Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Review: “The Gracefield Incident”

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“The Gracefield Incident” is an attempted Canadian “Blair Witch Project,” and a veritable minefield of spoiler alerts waiting to happen.

It’s “Cabin in the Woods” meets “Signs,” a Bigfoot movie as imagined by M. Night Shyamalan.

And it’s, well, not terrible. The monster and lights in the sky effects are first rate. The shooting — little pools of self-sourced light in the dark gloom of a Quebec forest — and editing (characters yanked out of frame, willy nilly) is fundamentally sharp.

It’s just so silly, so very derivative, so predictable — despite over-explained moments, laughably illogical means of getting overhead GoPro camera shots of the setting.

But that’s what happens when you sentence yourself to first-person/shaky camera narratives. You waste screen time explaining the various angles and point-of-view shots you’re getting, when of course you’re going to have to break your own rules, at some point.

The video game editor Matt (writer-director Mathieu Ratthe) is so obsessed with cameras that he’s videotaping his pregnant wife (Kimberly Laferriere), while driving, with a helmet cam. And crashes and almost kills them in the opening scene.

They lose the baby, and amazingly, she doesn’t ditch him. Even though he’s replacing the eye he lost in the accident with a miniature eyeball cam-corder.

After recovery, they join two other couples for a weekend getaway at a chateau on the woods — hot tubs, drinking, French-Canadian accented banter. Oh, and by the way, the boss who loaned them the cabin is a Bigfoot cultist.

Events then conspire to make this motley, tipsy crew believers.

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Dialogue writing is a dying art in North America’s film schools. Apparently. The inanities blurted through here include “Do you have to film EVERYthing?” to “Make sure you record EVERYthing because NO ONE will ever believe it!” to “OK, night vision’s on, now.”

When somebody says, “I’m gonna go check it out, you guys stay here,” bad things start to happen.

There is another camera among the sextet, and of course there are cell phones. But mysterious things make cell service die and bumps and claws in the dark of night make characters disappear. Attributing all the various shots to those two cameras — and CCTV in the chalet — still doesn’t add up.

The over-familiar is displaced by the “Seriously?” silly entire third act. This comes after a character has reached into a newly-formed meteorite crater to pluck a glowing rock — with his bare hands and empty head.

The acting isn’t terrible, though the script at times makes the players seem that way.

More work should be tossed at the effects team. But if writer-director-editor star Mathieu Ratthe is sentenced to another decade before being allowed to film another feature (“Lovefield,” 2008), don’t expect me to look surprised. Of all the hats he wears in this production, editor is the one that seems to give him a future.

1half-star

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sci-fi action/terror, accident images, language and some suggestive material

Cast:Mathieu RattheKimberly LaferriereAlex C. Nachi, Juliette Gosselin, Victor Andres Turgeon-TrellesLaurence Dauphinais
Credits:Written and directed by Mathieu Ratthe. A Momentum/eOne release.

 

 

Running time: 1:25

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