cillian murphy

[Movie Review] ‘Dunkirk’ is 2017’s Most Pummeling Onslaught of Cinematic Skill

The sights and sounds of war. That’s what Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is all about. Forget character and forget telling individual stories–this movie wants to put the audience on the front lines of land, air and sea to deliver an experience. Make no mistake, Dunkirk is one of the most incredible and unique cinematic experiences you’re likely to experience–and while there are a number of prolific filmmakers, few operate with such technical skill quite like Nolan.

The film tells the story of British forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk simultaneously awaiting rescue and intermittent air attacks at the hands of Nazi forces. Nolan’s focus is that of human resolve and wordless heroism. It is true, there are few characters you can attach yourself too, but that’s not the point. Dunkirk is a film you simply live as an audience member. In the grips of war, the British forces are constantly being bombed from the air as they await military boats to take them home–said boats are themselves under attack, so the soldiers are in a harrowing fight for survival. Dunkirk’s entirety pulls the audience from those breathless sequences to show intercutting sequences of a civilian boat headed to the beach to help save soldiers and the air forces en route to pick off the enemy planes attacking the boats.  (more…)

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Movie Review: Red Lights (2012)

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BURIED is a film I revisit time after time due to how well made it is considering the entire film takes place in nothing more than a box big enough to fit Ryan Reynolds. The single location film is acted superbly by Reynolds, it’s often surprisingly thrilling and in the end it struck an intense emotional chord with me along with just being plain intense. So going into RED LIGHTS I had pretty lofty expectations for Rodrigo Cortes’ film that comes out of the box and into the rest of the world. Even without heightened expectations it would be foolish to rain praise on this film the same way I did and am currently doing for BURIED. RED LIGHTS for all its really great elements still manages to be a mostly disappointing follow up that had the potential around every corner to transition into something great.

Cortes’ film follows two paranormal investigators Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom (Cillian Murphy) as they look into and debunk claims of people having extraordinary abilities or are suffering from supernatural happenings. When a famed psychic, Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), comes out of retirement spawned from the mysterious death of his toughest critic, Tom cannot shake his obsession to investigate him which makes his life spiral out of control.

There are so many promising things about this film that it really is hard to say I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to many people. BURIED made great use of its limitations in a way that RED LIGHTS also at times manages to do, but with a script and a last act reveal that severely damages any of the good will I had for the performances and beautiful cinematography. The dark tone lends to some moments towards the end that are painfully awkward and unintentionally funny- also moments that dampen the presence of so many great performers giving the material all they’ve got.

The premise itself is very interesting and also lays out the immense potential very well. The undertones of the characters involvement with each other and the threat that Silver poses to Tom and Margaret create greats amount of tension. The first two acts of the film as slow as they are feel like something truly extraordinary could be lurking in the last act so the slow and brooding nature of the film was excised by me for most of the runtime. Then in the last act it felt like more of the same and the final twist is so hackneyed and poorly conceived that it only makes me question how good if at all everything leading up to it was. That in and of itself is frustrating enough, but even the finale has moments I really enjoyed outside of the implications the twist presented.

Robert DeNiro is actually pretty great here- surprising given how much I have disliked him in the Focker sequels and his other recent works. Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver are great together even if both of them adhere a little too faithfully to a script that requires them at times to deliver very mediocre and silly dialogue. Elizabeth Olsen also has a presence here to be nothing other than a generic love interest and given nothing interesting to do except be present for one of the most embarrassing scenes in the film. The finale act of the film is where the scene in question lurks involving Olsen and a psychology student analyzing footage from a study of Silver done by the school Tom and Margaret work for. The dialogue given to the two of them is terrible, but where Olsen at least is convincing, the student in the scene is absolutely horrible, making me wish I had shut the film off before that point.

As hateful as I’m sure I sound toward the aspects of the film I didn’t like I don’t want to sound too misleading as I did enjoy the film to a certain extent. I’m not opposed to slow burn films, which this is for the most part; it’s just that the angering element to RED LIGHTS is the twist that makes almost everything else in the film makes no sense no matter how much Cortes tries to frame the reveal. My instincts say to not bother with the film as most probably won’t be able to get the same amount of enjoyment I did considering the amount of vile I have for the really terrible elements. However, from an opinion fit solely to my own likings I found RED LIGHTS to be a well performed and beautiful looking disappointment. The depths of my disappointment are not at disastrous levels to the point that this is a film I would watch again if only to enjoy the performances and the imagery and hold a middle finger to the screen for the majority of the last act. RED LIGHTS is imperfect and ridiculous but I’ll be damned if I still don’t feel the need to defend it.

Rating: C+

Last Call Spoilers: The Dark Knight Rises

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Last Call Spoilers is a post on which I talk about a movie- usually a current release- where I go in-depth to describe every book and cranny of the film and attempting to leave no stone unturned. This edition of Spoiler Corner might be a bit different as I discuss the spoilers of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- different only because I’m not going to start at the beginning and go through every plot beat of the film and instead I’m going to spend a moment summarizing the biggest spoilers in reference to my initial predictions about the film and then talk in a more detailed way about what I liked or God forbid didn’t like about the film.

Before we get too far into the discussion, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families and friends affected by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I’ve read more than I care to about the monster responsible and hope for nothing more than swift justice and feel the guy deserves anything bad thing coming to him. I’ve had a chance to read about all the last acts of heroism on the part of several victims that moved me to no end and the reports coming out are heartbreaking and incredible. It is a sad day where something that is there to bring us all hours of joy and escapism can also be the setting for something so tragic and even sadder when our enthusiasm for the art form can be exploited by the seriously disturbed for seemingly no logical reason. I would hate to see this tragedy dim the light and passion of those involved and if any that has been affected happens to see this, know that as someone who attended a midnight screening you have nothing but my deepest sympathies and I hope that you all find peace as quickly as possible from this senseless tragedy. It could have happened to any number of us that ventured out that night and know that even though those of us in other locations were not there, we all suffer collectively with you (though most can’t possibly fathom the depth of your personal losses).

On with the spoilers…

So if you want to remain unspoiled about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, first off why did you click on a link that features the word spoiler and second how have you gotten this far in a post that clearly states the word spoiler several times to this point. You now have no excuse to still be reading so from this point on, let the spoilers fly.

I wrote a few weeks before release about what to expect from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- or what I was expecting and anticipated seeing just how right I was going to be. At this point I am both excited and only slightly discouraged to say, I told you so. Excited because few moments in my life as a married man can I literally say I was right about something, but discouraged because if I can call some of the plot beats that means a lot of other people probably could too- plus I’m not even well versed in everything involving Batman from the comics- it also means that a few things didn’t come as big of a surprise that me and many others would probably like.

So what was I right about, well here’s the main things- Bane being a member of the League of Shadows, Marion Cotillard’s character actually being Talia Al Ghul and Bane being her tool for destruction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character possibly taking over as Batman or maybe being revealed as Robin and the possibility that Batman would be killed off. All of these things happen in some form or another. Some of them hit harder than others and I have my issues with some of it, but for me, I refuse to let minor nitpicks drag down an otherwise phenomenal experience.

I would like to start the more detailed discussion off with Bane as played by Tom Hardy. The thing about Bane approaching this movie is just how he would stack up to Heath Ledger’s Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT. I will preface everything I’m about to say by first pointing out that I believe that even Nolan knew he could not replace Ledger or have lightning strike twice- so what I feel he did essentially with Bane was take the Joker character and reverse almost everything about him. I feel that Bane as a character anchors the first two thirds of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES just like the Joker, but their differences are also what make their respective movies work. I loved Hardy’s performance, though I don’t think it’s quite the Oscar caliber performance Ledger gave- this comes mostly due to the fact that he spends the whole movie with more than half of his face covered in a mask and that you can’t always tell how much of the performance comes in the moment during the scene and what has been enhanced or added ADR since it is blatantly obvious adjustments were made to make Bane easier to understand.

Bane much like the Joker is psychotic and both have levels of intelligence, but what where Joker lacks the physical aspect as a foe to Batman, Bane more than compensates for. However, what Bane lacks is the sheer unpredictable nature of Joker’s psychosis and Bane is unflinching in his efforts to destroy Gotham based on a meticulous plan that has been over a decade in the making by Talia. The biggest thing that took Bane from being an extremely intimidating force was by making him the lesser of two evils in the overall plan and making Talia the mastermind- rendering him mostly as a goon that simply is pointed in a direction and he executes. It doesn’t necessarily negate his physical presence in the first half of the film especially in that first fight with Batman where he just owns Batman and breaks his back, but sort of feels like he is then second wheel in the last act and then removed completely when Selina Kyle/Catwoman straight up murders him- or so it seems

The last thing I want to say as Bane is that say what you will about the voice, but I personally loved it. The muffled sound combined with the accent and the way that is sticks out so distinctly from everyone else I found incredibly effective. It works to single out his character the same way that the Joker’s strange and deranged manner of speaking did in THE DARK KNIGHT- because without it, he could have easily been written off as generic British sounding buff bad guy, where his backstory and headgear give him the intimidating look and presence. Aside from the voice, Hardy does a lot with just his eyes and body language ranging from just a relaxed “I’m not scared of anything” look, anger and then something of a crazed disgust when he’s giving the speech about corruption in Gotham. I again won’t say it’s Oscar worthy and doesn’t hit the absolute brilliance of Ledger, but it’s close and I find it nearly as memorable.

Some of the only other complaints I have about the film have to do with the editing and how time is conveyed, but doesn’t harm the film overall to me as I was eventually able to catch myself up and find ways to connect the plot without it being layer out for me. I also have some issues with the way Talia is set up and revealed- I called it before the release, but I feel like it was telegraphed pretty easily during the film so the reveal itself wasn’t near as shocking. Showing the scar on her back when “Miranda” and Bruce were in the nude after conducting hanky panky by fireside was a pretty stark hint at showing this character might be more than she appears. It may very well be a calculated move and that the reveal is supposed to be known by the audience so that we are then screaming at the screen for Batman to not turn his back on her before she stabs him- I don’t know for sure, but that’s my take on it and also why it just doesn’t bother me like it does everyone else. I also feel like the telegraph of her possibly being Talia is there to serve the fact that with all the new characters it was hard to get a lot of her character in the film to flesh her out so the rushed romance and scar reveal is the compromise Nolan basically had to make in order to get the finale to where it has to go.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES also hints several times how it isn’t hard for some people to connect Bruce Wayne to Batman as is evident in the John Blake character. So for me the whole film has tension that hinges on his identity falling apart altogether especially since Bane knows Bruce’s identity, Selina Kyle finds it out and of course Batman giving Gordon the hint and Gordan finally putting it together. In many ways Batman/Bruce Wayne seemingly giving his life by flying the bomb over the water is just a pitch perfect way to end the legend of Batman. Of course it is revealed quickly that Bruce survived because he fixed the autopilot feature in the Bat and fulfills Alfred’s wish of seeing him happy with a girl, Selina Kyle. I couldn’t have been more satisfied by that ending.

Now on to the John Blake character, which it is revealed that his first name is actually Robin in the end, was a nice nudge to fans- though I’m so happy he didn’t ever suit up and fight side by side with Batman. Instead, the ambiguous nature of all the set ups leading to seeing Bruce still alive leave hope for the future. There appears to be confusion that Gordon replaced the Bat signal in the end, but the way I read it was that Bruce replaced it with the intention that Blake was going to take his place- which to pat myself on the back once more I also speculated before the release. There is a line that Batman says to Blake saying that he needs to wear a mask in order to protect his family and loved ones- then there’s a moment of realization when Blake watches Batman fly away with the bomb and sees it explode and he then takes off his badge and throws it away. He then retrieves a bag and finds the entrance to Bruce’s Batcave- if none of that adds up to Batman/Bruce basically handing the reins to Blake I don’t know how else to clear it up for you. I don’t think Nolan is setting you up to think Blake will now be Robin, but instead just a set up for Night Wing- his name being Robin I feel is just a way to get the name recognition into the series.

I can agree that the film wants the audience to take some massive leaps of faith in terms of storytelling, time jumps and suspension of disbelief, but they are all leaps I was more than willing to take. The storytelling because in the 8 year gap we miss the development of Miranda into Bruce’s life when she helps to finance the tech that is then turned into a nuclear weapon, Bruce’s ability to fall so in love with Miranda in such a short period of time and trust her with control over his company and the fusion device and the extent in which Bane and company are able to seemingly make and place all these explosive devices all over the city. Suspension of disbelief comes from the creation and placement of the bombs and how some people seem to connect the Bruce Wayne/Batman dots easily and others just can’t or don’t care to, plus why Bruce continues to talk in Batman raspy voice to Blake even though Blake already knows who he is. The time gaps in addition to the initial 8 years since THE DARK KNIGHT are the amount of time from the initial plane heist, emergence of Bane in Gotham to when he finally blows up the stadium, activates the bomb to when Batman heals, returns and flies it out of harm’s way. There is never a time it tells you on screen how much time has passed, but if you pay attention time frames are expressed and it’s up to the audience to put them together.

Now getting into some of my favorite moments in the film- I really loved the first fight between Bane and Batman where absolutely no score is used. That scene is nothing but sound effects of two dudes throwing and landing fists leading up to the moment where Bane gloriously utters the line about wondering what of Batman/Bruce he would break first- his spirit or his body- before promptly breaking shit out of Batman’s back and pounding his face until the cowl breaks off. That whole fight I was in glee and even a little disturbed by the brutality Bane displayed when he was pounding Batman’s face as he was basically unconscious.

The biggest set piece of the film minus the final battle is the explosion on the football field. The lead up is fantastic even though if anyone saw the trailer, most knew it was coming, but what I wasn’t expecting was that all the explosions you see in the trailer happen simultaneously- including the bridges. The CGI there wasn’t as seamless as in Nolan’s previous films, but looked pretty damn good. It was also really cool to take that all in context since we got a snippet of Bane’s dialogue to the crowd in a spy video well before the release so seeing it all come together was pretty spectacular.

The final battle improved on what I didn’t love about THE DARK KNIGHT. I loved how escalated the stakes were for the film and overall how it was shot. I didn’t care for the entirety of the final battle against the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT and the only aspects I enjoyed were the two boats deciding if they were going to blow each other up and the hostages dressed up like bad guys. The Bat sonar and darkness of the fighting kind of ruined that part of the finale and the actual abbreviated fight between Batman and Joker felt weak. Here there is just an all out war with Batman fighting with the cops against the thugs Bane has converted to his side and it was all just awesome to see in spite of some shaky editing.

I want to end on two other sequences that I enjoyed- one on a spectacle level and the other on an emotional level. The emotional scene is when Bruce is working toward healing his back and making the climb in the “Hell on Earth” prison Bane leaves him in when Bruce says he’s not afraid but angry and he’s continually failing at the climb. The moments leading up to his successful trek to the top I found to be absolutely triumphant and emotionally satisfying even if you knew he was going to make it and then his heroic return to Gotham when Gordon lights the flair that then ignores the Bat logo in flames to signal to Bane and his army that he was back perfectly capped those sequences. The spectacle scene I am referring to, though there are many is the scene where the Bat is dodging the missiles shot at it- though I didn’t see my screening at an IMAX I can imagine how awe inspiring that sequence is because I just loved it on a regular screen. Side note though, I do intend to see this again on an IMAX screen before too long.

I think for now that’s a about all I have to say as far as spoilers and discussion go. There’s been a lot of flack given for negative reviews on the film and all I have to say to anyone bummed about negative reviews is that the only opinion that matters is your own. Do not let someone else tell you what you like and definitely to not let someone else’s opinion drive you to the point of sending death threats- nobody wins in those situations. From what I can tell, expectations have been every viewer’s common enemy- the only advice I can give is to keep them in check because if you come out not liking it saying your expected more then what I will say to you is that its you’re expectations that let you down, not the film. It may not be the popular opinion, but always expecting something to be better than it actually is, ends with disappointment more than it doesn’t.

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

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I talk all the time about how I am not a huge comic book reader- which is an understatement because the truth is I’ve only ever read a handful of comics in my life. As far as Batman goes I don’t have the clout to say I am an authority on the character or the universe, but I do consider myself a huge fan and he is my personal favorite hero in the whole scope of comic book supers. That’s why it is with a great deal of shame that I look back at the time that BATMAN BEGINS was released I was not hyper aware of its release- in my defense though it was a time where as they say, “Life gets in the way” and also I wasn’t seeing near as many movies as I do nowadays. That being said, BATMAN BEGINS punched me in the face to reawaken the Dark Knight fan in me, due to how profound and blown away I was by the film.

At the point of release in my lifetime I had never seen a theatrical rendition of the Batman origin, which is a touchy subject for comic fans- not just the Batman origin but superhero origins in general. Most know at least the story of why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but few have ever seen the process Wayne takes in actually turning himself into the vigilante. BATMAN BEGINS explores that very idea in great detail as Wayne exiles himself to foreign prisons testing himself to fights several foes at once until he meets Ra’s Al Ghul who teaches him to use his fears against his enemies and plenty of other extremely helpful stealthy fighting techniques. From there Wayne returns to a crumbling Gotham City where a new for by the name of Dr. Crane aka Scarecrow is planning a city wide takeover with the use of a toxin that turns peoples worst fears into a frightening reality. It is up to the city’s new crime fighter to win over the non corrupt cops for assistance and stop the menace before it’s too late.

Christopher Nolan’s take on the DC Comics hero brought a much darker and “plausible” look and feel compared to Burton’s more gothic take and especially to whatever it is Joel Schumacher was trying to do. I still love Burton’s BATMAN and still at least enjoy BATMAN RETURNS- I also do not necessarily hate BATMAN FOREVER or BATMAN & ROBIN, but let’s be realistic, they are not good films. For me Nolan got a hold of the series and made it something that demands the attention not just of hardcore Batman fans, but just fans of film in general.

Christian Bale was a fantastic choice to throw on the cape and cowl and is arguably the strongest actor in the film. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson are all at least very good to great while the remainder of the cast varies from ok to borderline mediocre. The central cast anchors the film with the exception of Katie Holmes, who I guess you could say at least holds her own and helps serve the story, but the performance itself is instantly forgettable- it’s only her character’s connection to Bruce Wayne that gives relevance to her presence at all. Some of the minor chips in the film’s armor come from a few moments of subpar action in an otherwise stellar origin tale.

There is nothing flashy about Nolan’s approach to the Batman legend here. BATMAN BEGINS is a film that is dark and gritty and the action as well as special effects all mirror that sentiment. There are no huge insanely expensive long CGI sequences as Nolan relies a lot on the reality of the situation and when CGI does come into play they are brief and serve only to pull off anything that practical effects can’t do. The Gotham City in Nolan’s universe is filthy and filled with shadows, which is a perfect approach for a hero that relies on shadows to hide and spook criminals, but also pushes across a city in desperate need of saving or cleaning up. These are the details that hooked me instantly to the series and the direction Nolan and company would take it in the future.

This film looks fantastic for as dark and grimy as it appears, its acted perfectly if not for a few hiccups here and there, the action fits the story as well as the scope and I felt instantly connected to the character that by the end I was given goosebumps during the interaction between Ra’s Al Ghul and Batman during the finale. BATMAN BEGINS is a film I may have been biased for as soon as I stepped in the theater to see it, but there’s no such thing as a sure bet anymore in a world that consists of exaggerated cod pieces and nipple plated batsuits. Nolan successfully purges the previous two Batman films from our collective memories by revamping the story and giving it the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.

Rating: A-