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Review – Dunkirk (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Christopher Nolan – Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight I-III, Interstellar

Cast:

  • Fionn Whitehead – The Children Act, Caravan
  • Aneurin Bernard – The Facility, The White Queen, War & Peace, Interlude In Prague, Dead In A Week
  • Barry Keoghan – Love/Hate, ‘71, Trespass Against Us, Black 47
  • Mark Rylance – Richard II, The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall, Bridge of Spies, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
  • Tom Hardy – Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, WarriorThis Means WarThe Dark Knight Rises, The Drop, The Revenant, Venom
  • Tom Glynn-Carney – The Last Post
  • Jack Lowden – ‘71, War & Peace, A United Kingdom, Denial, Mary Queen of Scots
  • Brian Vernel – Offender, The Last Kingdom, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
  • Kenneth Branagh – Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie, My Week With Marilyn, Murder On The Orient Express
  • Cillian Murphy – Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Dark Knight I-III, Inception, Transcendence, The Delinquent Season
  • Harry Styles – One Direction: This Is Us

Music Composer:

When one looks at the generation that survived World War II (WWII), one can only admire the heroism and sacrifice they demonstrated. It was an extraordinary generation, of the like we may never see again. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, underlines their astonishing character.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), on the beach at Dunkirk, praying that a German bomb does not land on him.

Dunkirk is about the miracle evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers over nine days between May and June 1940 as the Nazis blitzkriegged their way through Holland, Belgium and into France. The film focusses, predominantly, on three people: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier, on the beaches of Dunkirk doing his utmost to get on a boat to sail back to Britain; Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), a resident of Dorset, who answers the Home Guard’s call for anyone with a fishing boat or a yacht to brave their way to Dunkirk to help bring soldiers home; and Farrier (Tom Hardy), a fighter pilot who shoots down German planes over the Channel. It is through these characters that we gain an understanding of what it was like to be at Dunkirk at the time.

Christopher Nolan recreates the situation in and around Dunkirk brilliantly. 300,000 Allied men are stuck on the beaches of north-east France with no way of getting home. It is through Tom Hardy’s and Mark Rylance’s characters that we appreciate the heroism that ordinary folk showed. Statistically, one in three RAF planes were shot down by the Germans during WWII, yet Hardy’s character shows no fear and does his duty as if it were expected of him. Similarly, Rylance’s character knows full well that he (and his son) could be bombed or torpedoed by the Germans, yet he still gets on his little yacht and sails to France to save as many soldiers as he can. It is inspiring to watch. (Compare them to people today, where a keyboard warrior would most likely tweet #saveourboys and believe he/she has done their bit for the war effort, and we realise how far we have fallen in a mere two or three generations.)

Farrier (Tom Hardy), seemingly representing the token force of the Royal Air Force (RAF) all on his own, doing his utmost to save the lives of Allied soldiers by shooting down German planes.

Just as Nolan captures the heroism of the age expertly, so too does he capture the tension of the situation at Dunkirk equally well. One’s muscles tauten as viewers grasp the magnitude of the difficulty the British government faced in trying to rescue 300,000 men in a very finite time (especially with German bombers flying overhead and the fear of a battle for the British Isles still to come). Compound it with yet another superb and gripping score from Hans Zimmer, and the film is unbearable to watch for the entirety of its 107-minute run time. From the rapidly increasing beat of a pulse; to the head-splitting screech of a German bomber; to the nerve-jangling play of the strings; to the ever loudening, conflicting musical verses, layering each other, the music induces the viewer with the intolerable anxiety, panic and terror that the Allied soldiers must have felt back then.

This is quite a feat for Nolan to achieve and it makes up for Dunkirk’s shortcomings: notably, the lack of context, the lack of character development, and the virtual lack of horror. First, by the end of the film, it is not apparent how or why 300,000-400,000 Allied soldiers ended up at Dunkirk in May 1940. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) would have been the perfect person to elucidate upon this, but he doesn’t.

Second, with the exception of Rylance’s remarkable character, the characters are not given a backstory and are under-developed. Consequently, viewers feel little for the characters (many of whom audiences won’t be able to name or tell apart). This is in stark contrast to other war films, such as Saving Private Ryan (SPR) and Platoon, in which character development is central to the plots.

Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), sailing to Dunkirk on his yacht, despite all the risks involved.

Third, because Nolan (or the studio) chose to go for a mass market appeal, Dunkirk lacks the grittiness (again) of SPR and Platoon. As a result, one does not see the horrific wounds soldiers suffered in Dunkirk and this takes an element of authenticity away from the movie. By comparison, the opening sequence of SPR is authentic because it reveals the horrors of war. If Spielberg had failed to show the blood, the wounds and the screams as the Allies stormed the Normandy beaches, SPR would not have achieved the iconic status it has since achieved.

Over-all, Dunkirk is another excellent Christopher Nolan film. Yes, it lacks explanation about why the situation at Dunkirk arose; it lacks character depth; and it lacks visceral qualities by not showing audiences raw wounds. Nevertheless, Dunkirk gives viewers a genuine experience of what it was like to be at Dunkirk in May 1940 and illustrates the heroism that the (extra)ordinary people of Britain demonstrated to help evacuate the Allied soldiers. When one examines the courage of the people back then, as highlighted by Mark Rylance’s character in particular, one cannot help but be awed and overwhelmed by how great they were.

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Review – The Lion King 3D (U) [2011; originally released in 1994]

Star Rating: 5/5

Many argue (and not without justification) that the re-release of old Disney films in 3D is simply a scam to make more money. Well, whether true or not, the magnificent 1994 The Lion King is fully worth paying to see again. (Warning, this review contains spoilers.)

Rafiki holding Simba at the latter’s birth presentation to the kingdom. Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair) and Mufasa, Simba’s mother and father, respectively, watch on proudly.

The movie starts with the presentation of the birth of Simba, the future King of Pride Rock. From early on, cheeky young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) learns from his father, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones – Star Wars IV-VI, Criminal Intent, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), about the circle of life and how to become a responsible king. Simultaneously, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons – The Man In The Iron Mask, The Borgias, The Words), Mufasa’s younger brother and Simba’s uncle, secretly plots to kill both Mufasa and Simba. Using his three main hyena henchmen, Shenzi (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg – Sister Act I & II, For Coloured Girls, The Muppets), Banzai (voiced by Cheech Marin – From Dusk Til Dawn, Cars I & II, Machete) and Ed (voiced Jim Cummings – Aladdin I-III, Hercules, Zambezio), Scar intends to usurp the throne.

He half succeeds. Scar kills Mufasa, but Simba escapes, fleeing into exile. There, Simba meets a Meerkat, called Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane – The Producers, Stuart Little I & II, The English Teacher), and a Warthog, called Pumba (voiced by Ernie Sabella – The Lion King II & III, Listen To Your Heart). Simba grows up with them and enjoys life, forgetting that he is meant to be ruling the now-ravaged plains of Pride Rock. It is only when Nala (when young, voiced by Niketa Calame; when adult, voiced by Moira Kelly – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Dangerous Beauty, One Tree Hill), Simba’s childhood friend, and Rafiki (Robert Guillaume – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), a wise baboon and an old family friend, find him that Simba realises that he must return to the Pride Lands and fight his uncle for the kingdom.

The Lion King’s storyline is easy to follow and gripping. Ostensibly for children, adults can like the movie just as much. (If not even more!) Whilst children may enjoy the sing-along-songs and the funny Timon and Pumba; adults can appreciate the intelligent, wry humour (not to mention how appalling some of Timon’s jokes are), as well as the satire in the film, such as Scar’s Hitler-like moment when he’s standing on a podium addressing his army of goose-step marching hyenas.

The silver-tongued, smiling Scar convincing his young, naive nephew, Simba, to stay and wait in gorge for his father, who has a ‘marvellous surprise’ for him. It’s apparently so good it’s ‘to die for.’ For once, Scar might even be telling the truth.

Adults and children may get pleasure from different aspects of the film; yet, everyone can equally be enamoured with the movie’s beautiful music, composed by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, The Dark Knight Rises). Much of the film adopts Zulu-style music, which is not only apt for the setting (after-all, The Lion King is based in South Africa), it enriches every scene wonderfully.

The music, though, would not have the same impact if the characters and the dialogue were not so well defined, written and articulated. All the characters have great depth, from the cunning, forked-tongued, yet cowardly Scar (that he is such an offhandedly sinister villain, rather than a pantomime one gives him an added chilling dimension); to the mischievous-cum-deferent-cum-bold Simba; to the stupid, moaning hyenas; to the funny but sensitive Pumba, to mention four of many.

The fine brilliance of the music and the dialogue is epitomised in the scene following Mufasa’s death. Seldom in Disney films (where death is surprisingly common) have audiences, in general, been reduced to tears. The empathy one has for Simba at that point is heart-breaking. That this is followed by Scar wickedly manipulating the situation to his advantage (as intelligent, psychopathic leaders always do) makes the dosage so much more potent. Since this scene, perhaps only the ending to the excellent Toy Story 3 has come close to making viewers feel the same way again, and for very different reasons.

The music and the dialogue in The Lion King has rightly been praised. Likewise, although it’s easily missed, should the expressions of the characters. Since the majority of the characters are not human-like, since they don’t have arms and legs, the producers/artists had to rely on the characters’ body-language and body-movements to make up for it. Indeed, the way each character moves is indicative of his/her personality and circumstance at any given point. For instance, mischievous little Simba walks (struts) very differently to when he is guilt-riddled in exile. The producers/artists should justifiably take credit for this, as it gives the characters greater subtlety and complexity.

Simba, all grown up now, happily singing, with Timon and Pumba, the joyful ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It means ‘no worries,’ which is exactly how Simba has been living in exile.

Similarly, the hard work that the producers/artists put into the graphics should also be recognised. 2011 viewers may find the graphics antiquated or unsatisfactory. If this is the case, it is most unfair. One has to remember that this film was initially released in the pre-Pixar era, at the time of Beauty & The Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992), meaning one cannot compare the results of today’s technology with those of the early 1990s. And irrespective of the relative backwardness of the graphics, The Lion King has been converted magnificently into 3D. Unlike recent animations like Rio or The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the 3D here makes a difference to the extent of making The Lion King spell-binding; especially, during the fight between Simba and Scar at the end.

All-in-all, The Lion King is a Disney classic for many reasons. Bringing it back to the cinemas in 3D may be a ploy to make more money, but one should see it anyway and treasure this encapsulating masterpiece once again.

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Review – Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

When it comes to a fourth movie in a franchise, a sceptic might wonder if it is merely an easy excuse to rake in money, ahead of taking a risk and dreaming up something innovative. Other fourth instalments, such as Die Hard 4 and Fast 4 (not to mention Fast 5), have lacked creativity in favour of the familiar themes and characters that audiences have come to love. The same can be said for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite director Rob Marshall’s (Memories of a Geisha, Nine, Chicago) attempts to spice up the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides illustrates that it might have been better just to have ended the series after the third instalment, At World’s End.

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the reformed pirate, dressed admirably as a respectable Royal Navy Officer.

On Stranger Tides is based on the book by Tim Powers and centres once again on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, The Tourist), as the droll pirate with warped logic and a twisted moral complexion. This time around, he is out to find the Fountain of Youth. The Spanish and the English are also in a race to find this place, and only Sparrow knows the way. (Although, whether Sparrow has actually been to the Fountain of Youth is, of course, a little dubious, due to his canny nature.)

But to enter the fountain requires certain things that will not be simple to acquire. Plus, the feared and ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane – Kung Fu Panda, Coraline, The Golden Compass), is also hell-bent on reaching the fountain in order to preserve his life for many more years.

The plot is filled with twists and deceptions that have become a predictable feature of the series. The storyline is at times ridiculous; yet, one accepts it knowing that he/she has not gone to watch a serious or realistic film.

One of the new characters in the series, the feared pirate, Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

However, the most disappointing aspect of On Stranger Tides is the script. It hampers the film and, primarily, sells the two main stars short. Whilst Johnny Depp gives another fine performance as Captain Sparrow, he lacks his trademark wittiness and oddities. Even his outrageous stunts no longer appear so outrageous anymore. Maybe we are too used to ‘witty Jack’ and expect too much from him. In fairness, it is almost impossible to light up the scene all the time with a brilliant comeback line. Nevertheless, the script for this movie is a far cry from that of Part I, The Curse of the Black Pearl, which had some fantastic lines.

Just as Depp has been let down, so too has Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, The Tailor of Panama, The King’s Speech). Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, who has now seemingly given up the life of a pirate for that of a respectable English naval officer. Barbossa’s character is a pale shadow of the one who entertained us so magnificently in the first three films. This is a real shame, as his rivalry with Sparrow in the past has made for terrific entertainment.

Captain Sparrow taking the beautiful Angelica to the Fountain of Youth via a river in the jungle.

Despite being conspicuously absent from this film, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are certainly not missed. Their performances in the series deteriorated with each movie. Alas, their replacements, Blackbeard and Angelica (Penélope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Sahara, Nine), are hardly much better. McShane does not perform badly, even though Blackbeard’s character does not have the depth to be the ‘next Davie Jones’ (played by Bill Nighy in parts II, Dead Man’s Chest, & III in the series); whilst the sexy Cruz offers so much and delivers agonisingly little.

The special effects at least give the film a semi-redemptive feature. With the exception of one or two instances, they are pretty decent throughout the movie. Again though, they look hardly any different from scenes in the other films in the franchise, so viewers are unlikely to give producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Black Hawk Down, National Treasure) much credit. The 3D is virtually non-existent too.

Over-all, On Stranger Tides continues the worsening trend of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and of over-extended franchises in general. The fourth instalment appears tired and out of ideas, to the extent that not even Captain Sparrow can make us enjoy, or think much of the film. But hey, fans of the series will flock to cinemas worldwide in great numbers to see their favourite characters again, enabling those involved in the movie to make a fortune once more. And fans will probably do the same again when the fifth part comes out in a few years time.

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