Category Archives: Reviews

Nolan’s “Dunkirk” – An Abstract Tribute

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Credit: Christopher Nolan [found at Cinemavine.com])

What I found especially gripping about Christopher Nolan’s latest film, a retelling of the Miracle at Dunkirk, was that each of the individual people in the story were not the main character. That role was filled by the seemingly indomitable human spirit, and will to survive and struggle ever onwards. Dunkirk might well be one of the most defining moments of the Twentieth Century for Britain, and quite possibly as well a crucial turning point for the whole world.

The film follows three main groups: the soldiers on the beaches, the sailors both civil and naval crossing the Channel, and the RAF in the air trying to keep the fighters and bombers of the Luftwaffe from wrecking further havoc to the men stuck at Dunkirk and the ships trying to ferry them to the safety of home, a mere 26 miles away. Though the plot is not in itself chronological, it nevertheless helps tie together each disparate group, connecting their experiences in a spiritual fashion as each come ever closer to the film’s climax.

For British and Commonwealth viewers this film will certainly reinforce that Dunkirk Spirit, that steely determination that even in the darkest of hours Britain and her sister countries will never surrender. I became quite emotional when, after witnessing the sense of doom the soldiers on the shore felt for a good hour, the hodgepodged fleet of little ships arrived in the waters off of Dunkirk. This moment, though one of the darkest hours in British history is also equally one of the most inspiring to have transpired in that island nation’s long story.

For American viewers this film should give us pause. In our present hour of immense internal divisions, of political unrest and civil discontent we should consider what it would mean for us as one people to come together for a cause we all knew to be necessary for the continued survival of our country and the liberty it’s Constitution assures. In this hour of great uncertainty we should be looking not to what divides us but what can unite us.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a welcome change from his usual set of loud brass, excessive strings, and choirs primarily singing “Ah” for far too many measures. While loud, this score adds to the energy of the film, and in a musical sense is largely understated. The music helps bring the viewer into the picture, onto the beach, aboard the small boats and naval ships, and in the cockpits of the Spitfires high above in the air. I really appreciated the echoes of Elgar’s Nimrod that played over the final scene as Britain and her forces came to rest aground again and prepare for the inevitable Battle of Britain to come.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and just a few minutes prior to sitting down to write this review I told my writing partner Noel that I have to go back and see this again soon. Dunkirk is a film that triggers both the conscious and sub-conscious, that calls upon one’s entire emotional and physical self. It is one of a number of films that are to me the new “talkies”; they address not only our visual and aural senses, but our emotional senses as well. I have a feeling there will be many more films like Dunkirk to come.

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TopGear and Revolution

In 1783, the Thirteen American Colonies were officially recognised as free and independent states by their former mother country, the United Kingdom. Initially, each of the thirteen states were autonomous to the extent that they were effectively separate countries, united only in a weak document called the Articles of Confederation. The power vacuum left with the departure of the British colonial authorities led to a worryingly unstable situation across all Thirteen American States. Stability in government was only restored with the Constitution of 1787, the binding document which created the Federal Government of the United States, effectively creating the system of government that has kept the United States relatively stable, despite one civil war, ever since.

A similar revolution has occurred in the BBC’s hit motoring show TopGear, with the departure of the old order, led by the trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, who have gone to Amazon Prime Video. In their wake, the BBC has chosen a wide array of new hosts, led by Chris Evans, to take over one of their greatest hits. Having seen the first episode, Evans, American presenter Matt LeBlanc, and their fellow presenters, who frankly are more like corespondents than full time hosts, have truly put TopGear through a revolution.

The same old skeleton exists within, but the show itself is well removed from its predecessor. This new TopGear is like the Thirteen American States in the period of the Articles of Confederation; it is in a period of transition and still trying to figure out how to exist without its former presenters. Evans, LeBlanc, and the others have the same light hearted attitude to their work on TopGear that Clarkson, Hammond, and May had before, but at the moment it just does not seem to be as funny. With the former trio, I knew to expect that odd, somewhat nonsensical, at times pointless humour. As a result, I reviled in it, often with a big smile on my face for the entire hour long programme. With Evans, LeBlanc, et cetera, I laughed on occasion. Simply put, I am not familiar with these new hosts, and do not know what to expect.

Perhaps in a few weeks, once more of the current season of TopGear is broadcast, I will  be able to appreciate the new presenters, and new format better. At the moment, I am looking forward  to the first episode of The Grand Tour, Clarkson, Hammond, and May’s new programme, which will be released on Amazon Prime Video this coming Autumn. As to the next episode of TopGear: yeah sure, I’ll watch it. This new TopGear has undergone a revolution, but it still has a long way to go until it leaves the shadow of its predecessor and enter into its own spotlight.

“United Passions” a Decent Work of Fiction

The film United Passions was an interesting one to see. Unfortunately for the filmmakers and FIFA, the main financial backers of this film, the release of United Passions in the United States has coincided with the arrests of a number of high ranking officials at FIFA on corruption charges. In light of those arrests, it’s hard to look at a film such as United Passions in a positive light, considering its fairly uplifting portrayal of recently resigned FIFA President Sepp Blatter. But for many of us in Europe and North America, it can be hard to view Mr. Blatter, and his predecessors in a positive light. In this sense, United Passions has lost a significant amount of credibility despite barely being screened anywhere in Europe or North America. In fact, only ten cinemas are showing the film here in the United States.

However, the filmmakers made certain to include a brief preface, stating that United Passions is to be seen as a work of “dramatic fiction.” In short, it is an interpretation of events, but not an official history, certainly not an exact record of what happened. Critics have claimed that FIFA’s backing of the film forced the filmmakers to depict a more positive image of the world football federation, thus enforcing this film’s status as propaganda.

The declaration that this film is dramatic fiction makes sense when one considers the fact that British born-New Zealander Sam Neill was chosen to play former Brazilian FIFA President João Havelange, and Englishman Tim Roth was likewise chosen to play the aforementioned Mr. Blatter, a native of Switzerland. In my own opinion, had the filmmakers wanted this piece to be taken as a work of meticulous history, they would have cast a Brazilian to play Havelange and a Swiss actor to play Blatter.

However, as a work of fiction, I would certainly say that the filmmakers made good decisions in the realm of casting. Gérard Depardieu, who played FIFA’s third president Jules Rimet, Neill, and Roth were at the centre of the film, and did a pretty good job in their roles.

With all that said, some certainly do see this film as FIFA’s attempt to preserve the image and legacy of at least these three of its past presidents. As a viewer, I admired these figures attempts at making soccer a global affair, not just the sport of Europe. Perhaps this film’s biggest image problem comes from allowing its subject to also play the role of main financial backer.

The photography was very good, reflecting the style of camerawork that has become the norm in both French and British cinema. The sound was also well done. In cinematic terms, the biggest flaw with this film is its script, which was sometimes hard to follow, with frequent cases of bulky dialogue.

Overall, I would rate United Passions as being just another period piece. It’s nothing special, and when the time comes that those FIFA officials who already have been, and have yet to be arrested are put on trial, I have little doubt that this film will already be forgotten.

Mein bester Feind, a somewhat uncertain tale

This evening, when looking for something new to watch on Netflix, a four-year old tragic comedy, set during the Second World War, came up, Mein bester Feind, or in English My Best Enemy. To begin, I generally approach any sort of comedy involving the Holocaust with caution. Something as dreadful as the Shoah should not be made light of. That said, Mein bester Feind is a different sort of tale than your average comedy. I found it to be more of a pipedream about what could have been possible, had the right circumstances come into line. And yet, this combination of tragedy and comedy, of dark drama and Wodehouse-esque silliness was charming in a surreal sort of way. The Nazis in this film appeared comical in their greed for a priceless four-century old drawing by Michelangelo. Their greed was almost reminiscent of the Nazis in the wartime Three Stooges shorts. Here Larry, Curly, and Moe taking on Göring, Hitler, and “the rest of the gang” on the high seas of the Atlantic. In conclusion, if you want to watch Mein bester Feind, go ahead and watch it. But watch it with some caution. Then again, at least I got to practise my German a bit!

Katherine Blanner on Ed Sheeran

Katherine Blanner writes the Books to Read column for The Tern.

Katherine Blanner writes the Books to Read column for The Tern.

Red-headed British pop culture sensation Ed Sheeran is captivating the hearts of society through his two albums X and +. Sheeran began his music career with various EPs and self-composed tracks released on the Internet. The song “A Team” led to his popular debut. It is the combination of immense guitar talent, high vocal range, poetic lyrics, and overall adorableness that have skyrocketed Sheeran to the tops of the charts.

Each one of his songs has a unique beat deriving from a lovingly played acoustic guitar. It is his passion for the audible experience that contributes to the overall pleasantry of his musical opus, distinctly setting him apart from other artists. He composes his music as though the melody and rhythm have been inscribed upon his soul, weighing upon his heart until it has been conveyed in a ballad sung by his vocally rich pipes.

In addition to acoustic excellence, his poetic only elevates his harmonious quality. It is known that love in mankind’s greatest struggle, toyed by each human within his or her heart, as it distinctly leads to mortal happiness. Sheeran has, as conveyed through his lyrics, exceptional knowledge of such. He has loved, struggled, and reflected immensely. This can be reasonably inferred from nearly all of his songs, particularly “Tenerife Sea,” which appears on X: “We are surrounded by all of these lies/ And people who talk too much/ You got the kind of look in your eyes/ As if no one knows anything but us/ Should this be the last thing I see/ I want you to know it’s enough for me/ ‘Cause all that you are is all that I’ll ever need/ I’m so in love, so in love…” In this, Sheeran captures the universal human desire to love perfectly despite mortal imperfection. His words are more than mere “feelings” atop fluff, but rather a painful acknowledgement of broken hearts, triumph, and the deliberate willing of the good of another. Perhaps it is not that modern music has to be a reflection of society—indifferent, skewed, and ignorant of matters of the heart—but rather embracing of the blessings and skirmishes of life and love, as Ed Sheeran has conveyed through his music.

His brilliance is perfectly accompanied by his overall preciousness. A full-faced, stocky, tattooed, scruffy ginger is not precisely what has been previously noted as “hot.” However, the combination of his melodic sentimentality and cuddly appearance has made him outwardly charming.

It is the permutation of unparalleled aptitude, romanticism, and charm that has plummeted Ed Sheeran to the popular culture spotlight, redefining the way his audience considers the world.

Books to Read: “The Fault in Our Stars” – Katherine Blanner

Katherine Blanner writes the Books to Read column for The Tern.

Katherine Blanner writes the Books to Read column for The Tern.

Every high school girl has a chick flick that they are obsessed with. It has transitioned from The Notebook to the Twilight saga, to The Vow, and now has become, undoubtedly, The Fault in Our Stars. John Green’s novel was published in 2012, dispersed evenly among the nerdfighter population and those simply seeking “feel good” books. It has recently become a film, enjoyed primarily by those who possess estrogen. All of the reviews of such a book have been positive, however, most discount for the true moral of the entire novel.

Briefly recall Aesop’s fables. Does not every story end with a lesson? These gems of knowledge, a take-away, if you will, plague every book, film, narrative, or even piece of music known to mankind, be it intentional or unintentional. This, again, is the case for The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS). Examine first the novel itself. It is a pleasant little love story of a terminal, cancer ridden girl and a super hot smart boy with one leg. They meet on page four and instantaneously fall in love. Flirting prevails, they obsess over a book, meet a certain author, and then the boy dies. Every girl reading it cries.

I must admit to not being “every girl.” I did not find TFIOS a compelling novel that challenged my philosophical outlook on life, therefore I did not weep from its tragedy. However what I did find was a portion of John Green’s outlook on life. He is searching, just as we all are, to find purpose, happiness, and therefore meaning. In his novel, the love struck teenagers, a bit melodramatic and Romeo and Julietted, are dually searching for meaning. The struggle of cancer is so real, immediate, demanding, and tragic that it does become, in a sense, their religion. This is the meaning of their life, to get over cancer. Searching for more, Hazel and Augustus turn to a book, as many of us have in times of tragedies. However, theirs is not the inspired word of God, but rather a book that relates to them particularly well, “An Imperial Affliction.” This book becomes their bible.

Here is the end of their search for religion, in which they both are unfulfilled. It must be understood that this is reflective of John Green. However, Green rarely reveals his ideals of religion or theism, so it cannot be confirmed. Nevertheless, it can be assumed, from The Fault in Our Stars and his past works, that he is desiring of religion and coming up empty.

“The Story of the Jews”, Simon Schama’s Masterwork

Kansas City – When I first read that PBS would be broadcasting a new Simon Schama documentary, happy memories came to mind of his only pervious work that I have had the pleasure of seeing, The Power of Art. His latest documentary, which Andrew Anthony of The Observer also called “his greatest” was simply sublime storytelling. The series, which runs in 5 parts, covers Jewish history from the earliest instances in the archaeological record of there being a Jewish people in the Near East to the modern struggle of identity for those residing in Israel and Palestine, though where Israel ends and Palestine begins has been a matter of some confusion for a few generations now.

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Courtesy of the BBC.

As a historian-in-training I found Schama’s style of telling the story of his own people to be inspiring for my own goal of eventually telling the story of my own people, the Irish diaspora. Schama’s reasons for studying history as a profession, because “We are our story,” we are the source of the history that we, as historians, study. This is almost word for word my own chief reason for studying history. That is something that Schama seems to connect to with his latest documentary that many other historians fail to see, that history is nothing without being an inheritance from the past to the present. Schama’s way of telling the story of his faith made me, an Irish Catholic American, feel as though not only could I understand some elements of the Jews troubled history, with both of our peoples often being at the receiving end of some bigger power’s brutality, and with his frequent remarks on the Jewish sense of humour developed through centuries of oppression and exile. Yet, despite these, and many other, commonalities, the story that Schama tells is very much a Jewish one. The very fact that the Jews have made it through all they have is testament not only to the existence of God but also to the tenacity of the human will to survive.

Schama is at times whimsical bringing the viewer into his personal life at the synagogue and at the annual Seder, whilst at other points he brings the viewer into the darker, dolorous parts of what it means to be a European Jew in a community that is now a mere shadow of its former self. His visit to Lithuania, his family’s homeland, is one such moment. A particularly poignant point came when Schama proceeded to explain just how the Lithuanian Jews in a particular shtetl were rounded up, tortured, and killed en masse by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Likewise in its poignancy for me was the intense description that Schama used to conclude his telling of the story of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by Queen Isabella, more famous today for sending Columbus to the Americas. He recounts how the Spanish king ordered his Christian subjects, “Not to harass or disturb the Jews in the process of packing up and selling off synagogues, and lands, and possessions. Get them out of here in peace and as quickly as possible, to which you want to say ‘How very considerate.'”

What sets Schama’s documentaries and books apart from many other historians is how dedicated to his work he has become. Especially in the case of The Story of the Jews, where Simon Schama invites us, the viewer, to join him on a journey into his own family history. It’s an invitation that I would highly recommend be accepted.

To watch Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews online in the United States, please click on the following link.