REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance

It took me a while to figure out what bothered me about Dunkirk. All those five-star reviews were right: Breathtaking scenes, daring structure and emotional payoff. It was all there, at a scale seldom seen before.

Then it hit me: There isn’t a single original narrative in the film. Portraits of down-to-earth heroism have been done before and Dunkirk doesn’t break any new ground. Furthermore, writer/director Christopher Nolan’s favorite trick, messing with chronology for maximum effect, is more distractive than anything and I have serious doubts there was need for it.

That said, Dunkirk hits such highs, any shortcoming dwarves by comparison.

The film unfolds in three setup entwined together, but not necessarily concurrent. The first is the beach of Dunkirk, France, where 400,000 Allied soldiers wait for evacuation, surrounded by Nazi forces and intermittently attacked from above. We witness the havoc through the eyes of Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead), a young private initially without other calling than coming out of this alive. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance”

REVIEW: From the Land of the Moon (or Sexy Kidney Stones)

As roles of ingénue begin to dry up in Hollywood, Marion Cotillard seems to be favouring French-speaking parts. She is practically a Cannes mainstay thanks to her collaborations with the Dardenne brothers, Jacques Audiard and Xavier Dolan.

One of Cotillard’s lesser known Cannes entries arrives to SK this week: From the Land of the Moon (the French title, Mal de Pierres, is so much better). Set in France in the 50’s, the film tells the story of Gabrielle, a liberated/unsociable (your pick) woman stuck in an arranged marriage. Even though her husband José (Alex Brenemühl) is remarkably tolerant to all her unpleasantness, Gabrielle sulks and mops non-stop.

A sexy case of kidney stones sends Gabrielle to a health spa, where she meets the handsomely crumbling Lt. Sauvage (Louis Garrel, The Dreamers). Gabrielle falls in love with him (or the romantic ideal he represents), a passion that leads to further estrangement from her husband. Continue reading “REVIEW: From the Land of the Moon (or Sexy Kidney Stones)”

REVIEW: Okja Makes a Case for Vegetarianism

Okja and Mija.

One of the most notable filmmakers currently at work in South Korea, Bong Joon-Ho has a knack to mix dissimilar genres to startling results. In The Host, Bong changed monster cinema by combining it with realistic family drama. In his first film in English, Snowpiercer, the writer/director did a remarkable job by coating a social-issues movie with stylish action set-pieces.

Okja, Bong’s first movie to open in competition at Cannes, fits nicely in his filmography and it’s likely to transcend the art-circuit that has championed the filmmaker for nearly a decade: The movie will bypass theatres to open directly on Netflix.

Okja is both a coming-of-age adventure and a fierce indictment of capitalism and mass-produced food. It’s the kind of film for which the ubiquitous “viewer’s discretion advised” was invented. Continue reading “REVIEW: Okja Makes a Case for Vegetarianism”

REVIEW: Cars 3 Goes Back to Basics

Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramírez burning rubber.

Less hyped but more profitable than other Pixar productions, Cars is the most kid-friendly saga out of the Disney subsidiary. Each film is awfully similar at playing with toy cars, a joy a franchise like Transformers completely misses.

Cars 3 is a nice rebound from the overstuffed and Mater-heavy Cars 2 (Mater is best in spaced out, small doses). A good portion of the film takes place away from the big city, precisely one of the charms of the first film. As a good Pixar film, it carries a positive, timely message (being different is not an obstacle to achieve your goals), although is less high-concept than, say, Inside Out.

We reencounter Lightning McQueen (voiced with increasing ease by Owen Wilson) as his career is taking a tumble. Newer, faster cars are joining the track and McQueen is having trouble keeping up, let alone winning. The next-gen champ, the slick, patronizing Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), is too passive-aggressive to be a proper villain. McQueen is basically his own worst enemy.

Following a fierce accident, Lightning reevaluates his career and comes to the conclusion he needs to change strategy. Backed by a new owner, McQueen ends up in hands of Cruz Ramírez (Cristela Alonso), a trainer whose unusual methods don’t sit well with Lightning.

Cars 3 unfolds smoothly. It provides a hearty dose of comedy and nostalgia, while at surface level. Cruz Ramírez is probably the best character the series has introduced outside Lightning and Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson. Tentatively, Cars 3 ventures outside race circuits and folksy little towns and into a makeshift monster-trucks arena. It’s the kind of risks the franchise could take more often.

Cars 3 offers a rare twist ending for a Pixar movie, one I failed to see coming. I guess old cars can learn new tricks. Three planets.

Cars 3 opens this Friday the 16th, everywhere.

REVIEW: The Wedding Plan Is No Ordinary Rom-Com

Even though Israel has a thriving film industry, is rare the film that makes it outside the country’s borders. Consider the last two Israeli flicks to make the arthouse rounds: Big Bad Wolves (psychopaths) and Sand Storm (arranged marriages). Not only they didn’t get any tracking. Both were bleak as flint.

The Wedding Plan breaks the mold in more ways than one. At first sight, it looks like a traditional rom-com, but carries more pathos than Katherine Heigl’s entire filmography. Michal (fantastic newcomer Noa Koler) is blindsided by her fiancé when he reveals his lack of affection for her. Out of stubbornness and religious overconfidence, Michal decides to continue with the preparations. God shall provide the groom. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wedding Plan Is No Ordinary Rom-Com”

REVIEW: Wonder Woman Shows DC the Way

A few disclaimers before we start:

* Much like Ghostbusters last year, Wonder Woman has triggered a disturbing number of reactions against it because it features a female lead. This is not worth discussing and won’t be part of the review. How insecure can someone be that the idea of a woman superhero feels threatening? Or that the notion of an all-women screening is somehow an assault on men’s rights? This is toxic masculinity at its purest.

* I have nothing against DC Comics (or Marvel for that matter). My approach to review comic book-based movies is to focus exclusively on the film itself. I don’t have a “team”, at least until Haneke or Von Trier make a superhero movie.

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Wonder Woman, the fourth film in the DC Comics cinematic universe (DCCU) is, without a doubt, the best one so far. It solves the most glaring flaws of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad while anchored in the same universe.

It’s not difficult to explain the enthusiasm for Wonder Woman: DC fans are hungry for a film to be proud of and females have gotten the short shift in the subgenre for decades. But the idea this adaptation solves all the franchise’s shortcomings is wishful thinking. The plotting remains shaky and those pervasive conclusion problems persist. Thankfully director Patty Jenkins (Monster) is savvy enough to identify and solve the biggest issue plaguing the DCCU: Character development. Continue reading “REVIEW: Wonder Woman Shows DC the Way”

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least it’s Shorter

Jack Sparrow was once a character. Now is a series of twitches.

The weakest of all Disney franchises -at least creatively-, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga is better known for being a bloated mess than delivering any narrative satisfaction. Once Pirates’ saving grace, Johnny Depp’s perennially sauced Captain Jack Sparrow has become a handful of annoying tics. The actor’s image problems of late are not doing the character any favours.

Yet, of all the franchise’s wobbly wheels, none is more problematic than Terry Rossio. A writer in every Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Rossio’s penchant for byzantine plots and arbitrary character development has made the films a challenge to watch (Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa has been good, bad or dead for no other reason than to patch a leaky script). Continue reading “REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least it’s Shorter”

Thomas Vinterberg and Tryne Dyrholm Break Down The Commune

Tryne Dyrholm in The Commune.

It’s no secret I’m fond of Danish cinema. It’s the one film industry close to batting 1.000 these days. This week, the remarkable The Commune arrives to the art house circuit, including Saskatoon’s own Broadway Theatre.

Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (one of the founding fathers of the Dogma movement), The Commune revolves around a group of people attempting to fulfill the classic 70’s pipe dream of superseding social conventions and truly live in a community (the needs of the individual are subservient to the group’s). Soon they discover the sense of self and property won’t be denied. (see The Commune review)

While a well-esteemed name among film connoisseurs, Vinterberg reached a new echelon with The Hunt, a superb drama about a pre-school teacher falsely accused of molesting a little girl. The film gave Mads Mikkelsen his first Palm D’Or as Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

I had the chance to talk to Vinterberg and The Commune’s female lead (and Susanne Bier go-to actress) Tryne Dyrholm at the last Toronto Film Festival. Continue reading “Thomas Vinterberg and Tryne Dyrholm Break Down The Commune”

REVIEW: The Commune Has No Room for Self

The Danish keep on killing it at finding new angles for family dramas. While only recently Hollywood incorporated same-sex couples’ households into their films, the Danes are so far ahead, they are wondering if the notion of family is in conflict with individual growth.

Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), The Commune is set in the 70’s but tackles very contemporary issues. Anna (Trine Dyrholm, Love Is All You Need) and Erik (Ulrich Thomsen, The Celebration) fancy themselves a modern couple, so when they inherit a manor, they decide to put their beliefs into practice and start a commune.

The initially reluctant Erik is the first one to take advantage of the situation when he brings a student of his into the house. Anna tries to be open-minded about it, but soon enough learns there are limits to her tolerance. By the time personal decisions are to be dealt with by committee, Anna realizes she is not cut for ‘extreme’ community living.

While the love triangle is front and center, The Commune also examines what does it mean to be part of a hive-mind (and why nine times of ten it doesn’t work). As compelling as the idea of sacrificing personal freedom for the good of the group sounds, it’s not sustainable in the long run.

The moral of the story? Never a good idea to deal with emotional issues rationally. 3 ½ planets.

The Commune is now playing at the Broadway Theatre.

REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon

Bon Cop Bad Cop 2

Full disclosure: I recall very little about the first Bon Cop Bad Cop, in theatres ages ago. The only thing I remember for certain is that I didn’t care for it and it’s not worth revisiting.

Didn’t need to. Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 is self-explanatory. It’s also an expensive pile of clutter. I couldn’t stop thinking how many solid indies could have been financed with this unwieldy mess’ budget.

The principle that sustains the Bon Cop Bad Cop franchise is not a terrible one: The cultural differences between Anglo and French-Canadians are less vast than initially thought but allow for solid procedural comedy. The sequel uses the same principle, but transfers it to the relationship between the RCMP and local police, and Canadians and Americans. It’s more broad than you could possibly imagine. Continue reading “REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon”