Category Archives: Film

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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“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!

“Son of God” – Appealing to its core audience

Kansas City – As a Catholic, whenever I think of the Life of Jesus the image of sitting in Mass when I was in 1st grade during the 1999-2000 school year springs to mind. Not only was the Church celebrating the new millennium, but also honouring the 2000th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, at least according to the traditional calculation. For me, it still seems a bit odd to make a film about the Life of Christ, after all how does one find an actor to portray, well, the Son of God? In this way I do kind of agree with my Muslim friends and neighbours in using their arguments for not portraying Muhammad in art by saying that perhaps such a holy figure as Jesus should not be portrayed on film as He is God. However, Jesus was also a human being, and a fairly well-spoken one to boot, so in another way it does make good sense to depict his life on the screen.

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Diogo Morgado who plays Jesus. Courtesy of IMDb.com

To be brief, Son of God was not quite my cup of tea. I found myself laughing through much of the first half, between the corny dialogue, at times poor CGI, fairly unconvincing acting, and the fact that Jesus was wearing makeup. However, the film began to lose its serious tone when they introduced the characters by their modern English names. Yes, yes, I know, this film was made to be seen by the masses, much more so than Mel Gibson’s epic of 10 years ago, but at the same time it just sounds weird to hear a little boy running down a street in a small Jewish town shouting “It’s Jesus!” I feel that in this instance, as in any historical film, the best first step towards keeping the seriousness of the piece there is to keep the characters’ names the way they were in their lifetimes. So, rather than Jesus, call Him Yeshua (ישוע), or instead of referring to our narrator, St John the Evangelist, as “John”, why not call him Yovhann (יוחנן). I will say on that matter, that as an Irish speaker, referring to Jesus as Yeshua makes more sense as in Irish His name is Íosa. And while I’m on the topic of names, the whole “You are Peter, the rock, and upon you I will build my Church” loses its meaning when Simon Peter is referred to as Peter rather than Simon before that in the film. Also, I wasn’t aware that St Thomas was ginger until tonight. That must have made him stick out quite terribly during his mission in India.

My biggest complaint with the film is its directing. Firstly, we didn’t need the “hero shot” of Jesus and St Peter in the latter’s fishing boat just after making the big catch. After that is the repetition of captions whenever the scene changed to a different location. I think after the first time seeing the poor CGI overview of Jerusalem the viewer should be able to remember what they’re looking at, we don’t need reminding thereafter. Finally, there were some key elements of the Passion that were missing from this depiction: the Washing of the Feet, St Veronica fully enfolding Jesus’ face in her cloth, Jesus stopping to talk to the Women of Jerusalem, and the mixture of blood and water coming out of the wound pierced by the Holy Lance. Portuguese soaps actor Diogo Morgado gave a mixed performance as Jesus. Like the film itself, I found that his acting improved from when he arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

On the other hand, Son of God does a good job appealing to its target audience: Protestant Americans. I saw a few episodes of the original History Channel miniseries The Bible from which much of the footage in Son of God comes, and have to say that I was turned off of the show quite quickly by the fact that every time a commercial break came, along with it was at least one, though often two, ads for Christian Mingle. Honestly, the show’s creators did a good job at avoiding any major sort of controversy in this film, which is more than I can say about the miniseries, but in the attempted avoidance, so much of the reality of first century Palestine were lost.

For example, I find it hard to understand why there had to be characters of every racial background, except East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Amerindians in the film. If the director was that concerned with avoiding racial issues, why not just make all of the characters, um, I don’t know… Middle Eastern? Then again, it might concern the core audience that Jesus and the Disciples were from a region of the world that today is by majority Muslim. After all, the present must be taken into account when portraying the past. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the oddities involved in the film’s Romans.

In the end, I’d say if you want to go see Son of God, then go see it. It is an interesting film, that has a unique take on the Life of Christ. However, the full heart-wrenching emotion of the Passion simply is not entirely there in this production, nor is the true majesty of just how fully human and fully divine Jesus was. If you want to see that full emotion, my recommendation would be to watch Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

“Rush”: Ron Howard’s F1 Masterpiece

Kansas City – This afternoon, I went to see Ron Howard’s new film Rush with my parents at the AMC Ward Parkway 14 Cinema. I’ve been a lover of Formula 1 for three seasons now, since I was introduced to it by my Dad during the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix from Spa. Like the speed of this 2 hour film, my own F1 team support has changed quite a bit over the past few years, from initially supporting Renault F1 in 2010, to McLaren-Mercedes in 2011 and 2012, and now to Lotus-Renault in 2013. Of course, with the annual team shakeups, we’ll have to see where I end up come March, perhaps supporting the lads at Ferrari, perhaps staying with the Brits at either Lotus or McLaren.

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Anyhow, back to Rush. I really enjoyed this film from its start. To begin with, Howard is a master of painting his films with an extensive lavish palette of colour, from the blues and greens of that rainy 1 August 1976 at the Nürnburgring, home of the German Grand Prix, to an almost period ’70s look to the film from the more personal, more emotional scenes of the film. Being someone who is familiar with F1, I found the film quite rewarding in its ability to show another side to the sport that I’m not used to, from the top teams taking longer than 2.5 seconds for pit stops, to the pistons in the engine rising and lowering, to the roar of the engines starting at the waxing of each race, to the lack of Red Bull at the front of the starting grid, as is almost a given in the Age of Vettel.

The acting, with Chris Hemsworth as 1976 Champion James Hunt of Great Britain, and Daniel Brühl as his chief rival, 1975, 1977, and 1984 Champion Niki Lauda of Austria was also brilliant and quite believable. I personally was drawn more to Lauda than Hunt, as I, like the Vienna native, am a perfectionist in many respects, as my friends and family can relay. Hunt’s playboy lifestyle was in many ways his undoing, but also his way of coping with the stress of driving in a sport, which at the time took the lives of at least 2 drivers per season, a fact which has thankfully wained since the turn of the Millennium with further safety improvements on the cars.

I also loved Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for the film. Of his past film work, I especially enjoy the soundtrack to King Arthur (2004). His style of composition seems strewn with heavy percussion, and sweeping Mahleresque melodies and thick, rebounding harmonies. As a musician in my own right, his music represents a modern style of cinematic composition that I aspire to for my own films.

Now, as with any film dealing with the life of James Hunt, or the history of F1 in the 1960s and ’70s, there’s going to be a lot of sex. I noticed there were a few comments regarding the extent that Hunt’s sex life is described in the film, as the commentator was rather unhappy with these scenes in particular. Here’s what I have to say: it’s a natural fact of life, and for someone my age it’s something to look forward to in the near future. Yes, I’m not a fan of the extent to which Hunt “slept around” with around 5,000 women, but at the same time I find it not healthy to demonise something which is a necessity. It’s like demonising sleep because we should be getting more done in line with that fine Protestant work ethic. There was a great sketch in A Bit of Fry and Laurie about a father complaining to his son’s headmaster for sex ed being taught at the son’s school, the father believing that his son “just sort of appeared one day.”

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Lauda in practice at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürnburgring.

Rush is a fantastic film about one of the greatest sports of all time. Both as a F1 fan, and as a filmmaker, I adored watching this film. It wasn’t your typical sport film, following the underdog who goes through some sort of trouble, and begins to rise in stance to a great athlete. I’m sorry, but haven’t we had enough of these Southern USA set civil rights era sport films yet? This film was not even in the same league as those, it has different aims, different goals. There’s no real cause being supported, no character who is rising up from great intolerance. But after being bombarded by so many of those films, I’m glad for a fun, champagne soaked, break. Rush gives the American audience that opportunity to go to a sport film, and especially if you’re not familiar with F1, a chance to not know the plot before the film starts.

Hopefully some of those who are finding F1 for the first time will tune in in a few hours at 01.00 Eastern for the Japanese Grand Prix live from Suzuka. The Niki Lauda of the 2010s, Sebastian Vettel, is on the verge of winning his 4th Formula 1 championship crown. Whether it be in Japan, India, Abu Dhabi, Texas, or Brazil, history soon could very well be made, just as it was in that fantastic rivalry between the Austrian and the playboy from the UK.