Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DUNKIRK (2017)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branaugh, Cillian Murphy
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
GENRE: Action/Drama

Imagine one long scene--an action/battle scene--that runs for nearly two hours nonstop. That's Dunkirk. So if you're expecting a little romance or character development to give you a break to catch your breath...forget it! Dunkirk hits the ground running and never lets up, and for edge-of-your-seat adrenaline junkies, that's a good thing.

A mini history lesson. The Miracle of Dunkirk--as it would come to be called--refers to the evacuation of allied soldiers hemmed in by the Nazis on the beaches of Dunkirk, France in the spring of 1940. Over a period of eight days, more than three hundred thousand troops were rescued by a fleet of over 800 civilian boats and merchant ships of all shapes and sizes. They raced to the rescue as the German Luftwaffe bore down on the trapped men. The Royal Air Force engaged the German fighter planes and bombers, contributing to the success of the operation.

What characterization that exists in Dunkirk follows three main threads: A British soldier (Fionn Whitehead) who in the beginning helps a comrade bury a body in the sand. We follow their resourceful fight for survival; a teenage deck hand (Barry Keoghan) who clambers aboard a boat piloted by an older man and his son as they head into harm's way, selflessly hoping to make himself useful; and an RAF Spitfire pilot (Tom Hardy) whose dizzying aerial dogfights with the enemy are perhaps the most riveting sequences in the film. We're right in the cockpit with him, and the emoting is accomplished primarily through facial expression.

RANT ALERT: Dunkirk is loud. I said, DUNKIRK IS LOUD!!!  (Results may vary in your area.) The CRASH-BOOM-BAM of Hans Zimmer's overbearing soundtrack never lets up. That together with bombs going KABOOM and artillery fire going RAT-A-TAT-TAT and torpedoes going...

You get my drift.

It's a literal assault on the senses. (Oh my virgin ears! as we used to say in high school). I suggest earplugs--seriously--especially if you see it in IMAX, and you should, to get the full effect. (Why should I be the only one to suffer?)  In my case, the problem could have been mitigated by theater management who didn't have their heads up their you-know-what. They could have made some adjustments to the decibel levels that are already way too high to begin with for just regular films. But I can now see that most moviegoers of a certain age are already half deaf from being in the front row at concerts by Led Zeppelin and The Who. And the teenagers in the theater are unfazed by anything. So nobody walked out. But after the film I overheard one lady say that somebody should complain to the management. I can see it now. She's standing there trying to tell them about this decibel issue, and they are going,  WHAT? WHAT???

Anyway, as far as battle scene recreations go, Dunkirk is top drawer. Bombs away!

Grade:  B


To quote tennis legend John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious, Tim!" (I added the last word.) The sound levels in the theater I saw Dunkirk in were manageable. And that's about the ONLY positive thing I can say about this meandering, tedious film. The first fifteen minutes could have easily been cut and nothing of consequence would have happened. We know that thousands of British troops were trapped on the beaches waiting for a miracle because we are told this in a typed message on screen. Not once, not twice, but three damn times. (At first, when this happened, I thought there'd been some technical difficulties, i.e. that the studio had sent a faulty CD.)

Okay. So it's a war movie with the makings of a brilliant plot thanks to history. Only problem? Too many threads and not enough cohesion.Dunkirk was peppered with famous actors with cameo parts, a sure sign for me that a movie is in deep doo-doo. Kenneth Branaugh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance — who at least has a decent part. But like war itself, the cuts are messy, the message muddled, the battles bloody and untidy. Still, I say, "Where's JohnWayne when you need him?" Without anyone to root for—except history—I got bored. I only cared about Rylance's character Mr. Dawson and his tension-filled trawler. The blame for this, I place squarely on Christopler Nolan, who both directed and wrote the script.    

To quote IMDB's bio of Mister Nolan, it reads: "Best known for his cerebral, often nonlinear storytelling...." I couldn't have said it better myself. And after the movie let out, I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that read: "Go to hell cuz I'm going to Texas!" I figured the guy would certainly have something to say about the movie so I asked him. In typical Texan fashion, he had just three words: "I was bored."

But if you want to see some breathtaking, belly-wrenching spitfires in action, get thee to the nearest screening of Dunkirk. If you're lucky, the deafening noise will make up for all the movie's flaws....

Grade: D

Thursday, July 6, 2017

THE HERO (2017)

Rated:  R

STARS: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon,  Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman
DIRECTOR: Brett Haley
GENRE: Drama

If it weren't for Sam Elliott's voice--the most distinctive in all of showbiz--he wouldn't be who he is today. The same can be said of many of us who have traded upon our dulcet tones to eke out a livelihood. In the opening shot of The Hero, that's exactly what Elliott--as faded western movie star Lee Hayden--is doing. Laying down voice-overs--in his languid cowboy drawl--for "Lone Star Barbecue Sauce...the perfect pardner for yur chicken."

Lee's glory days are behind him. But he's a survivor. In this instance, survivor of a shopworn plot about a man trying to make amends for being AWOL from the lives of his loved ones for far too long. And with a recent cancer diagnosis throwing him for a loop, he will learn what it means to be a literal survivor. 

So it would seem that a May-December romance is the last thing he would need right now. Lee sits around smoking a lot of weed with his buddy-slash- drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman). At Jeremy's place Lee meets the comely Charlotte (Laura Prepon) who is dropping by to score some shit (that's stoner talk, for the uninitiated!)  Charlotte is mid-thirties, just a tad older than Lee's daughter, but lucky for him (he's 71) she digs older guys. And he's a celebrity, so no one is going to look askance at the two of them together, as that's the norm in Hollywood anyway.

There is great chemistry and emotion--often conveyed only by the eyes--between Elliott and Prepon, whom you may recognize from That '70s Show and Orange Is The New Black (and though she started out as a blonde, she is more intriguing here with the darker hair).

The most electric scene in The Hero comes when Charlotte--who does stand-up in the mold of Sarah Silverman--goes onstage with a raunchy tell-all bit about herself and her new beau, with Lee in the audience, stunned and appalled.  He hails from an era when folks--especially women--had a bit more class. And there, my friends, is the gap you have to bridge in any modern day romance of this sort. 

Katharine Ross, who was BIG at one time, is in the film, and she has billing in the opening credits, but if you blink you'll miss her. She plays Lee's ex-wife, but has what I would call even less than a cameo--appearing in two very brief scenes, and you won't recognize her as the sweet-faced obsession of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Or from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. (It's probably the glasses.) Ross is Sam Elliott's real life spouse, and that accounts for why she is even in this movie. But she is wasted here. Though she may have figured she was just helping him out a little, and no longer feels drawn to the spotlight. 

Krysten Ritter, as Lee's estranged daughter who is so mistrustful of him now that she's like a puppy you have to coax out of hiding, may have you scratching your head as to where you've seen her before. She's been in a surprising number of films, and various sitcoms such as Gilmore Girls (I wasn't going to admit that I used to watch that sometimes). She's a good fit for this role, though her looks are too perfect, especially when you look at "Lee"...then you really have to scratch your head! 

Aside from needing to trim his trademark moustache (don't you hate it when the hairs are starting to curl down over the guy's lips?), Sam Elliott's noteworthy--and possibly Oscar worthy--portrayal carries the day in The Hero.

 He's a man who has to become the hero of his own life...and that's something to which we can all aspire.

Grade:  B + 

POSTSCRIPT: As I was leaving the theater, a couple walking in front of me were holding hands. She was forty-ish, and he had clearly put seventy in his rear-view mirror. He could have been her father, but that wasn't my sense of it. I started thinking that The Hero might trigger a rash of younger women looking for that daddy figure in their lives to come out of the closet. 

If it does...bring it on!


(Dream on, Timmy. Dream on!) Although I'd been told that the audiences in Tucson were flocking to see this flick, the theater I went to in La Jolla was nearly empty. So be it. Some men are sexy no matter how wrinkled they get. Sam Elliott is one of those men. (Along with Clint Eastwood and Christopher Plummer.) But The Hero isn't just about senior sex appeal, or estranged father/daughter relationships, or May-December romances. It's about a subject many of us will unfortunately have to face: The Big "C.'' And whether, after reaching a certain age, seeking treatment is the best option. (The old 'quality of life' conundrum.)

On a personal level, I've seen what chemo can do to a loved one and, believe me, it ain't pretty. I won't give away the choice Sam Elliott's character makes but I will say that most cancer patients don't run into the likes of Laura Prepon after learning they have a 7% chance of recovery.... 

Aside from the shock value of the comedy club scene that Tim has already described, my favorite was when Lee was put on hold, trying to make an appointment to see his oncologist -- while Grieg's "Anitras' Dance" from Peer Gynt played endlessly over the phone. How many times have you had to wait endlessly, trying to make a doctor's appointment? (If I had my way, I'd have Chopin's "Funeral March" playing in the background!)

Despite the sometimes confusing and disruptive flashbacks, The Hero is definitely worth seeing—and talking about afterwards.

Grade: B+