Dunkirk (2017)

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Rating: A-

Official site: http://www.dunkirkmovie.com/

Another visual feast of a movie from Nolan. But compared to his other films, this film deceptively feels simpler.

A master class in cinematography, color, pacing and tone-Dunkirk may not pack the same emotional punch as other war films like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List but the film’s subtlety more than makes up for its rather opaque characters. Besides, this may exactly be the point. War films as we know it, tends to center on the emotional burden and horrific travails of an individual. And although Dunkirk throws focus on the individual sacrifices and decisions of some of its characters-the sheer immensity and impersonality of the war experience is what is reflected by the film. The wide sweeping shots of the beach where thousands of soldiers wait to be evacuated, the immensity of the rather short travel across the English channel, and the breadth and width of the skies all serve to heighten this perception.

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The three part narrative separated and at the same time unified by its disparate timelines is a deft technique to remind us yet again of the scope of what Nolan is trying to portray in the film. An hour in sky dodging and chasing enemy planes is a lifetime and a week of waiting and devising an escape from the Dunkirk beach is an epic story. And yet many more stories that remain untold in the time between.

At first blush and despite the film’s display of technical mastery, the characterization of the film’s protagonists may not what many expect. The characters do not have back stories nor is sufficient time given for traditional characterization. Which given Nolan’s extremely tight traid of timelines makes sense. However, despite this limitation, the film manages to include a number of understated moments that portrays not how a “Hollywood” war film is supposed to be but rather an approximation of the actual experience of surviving a war. Of alliances made in the spur of the moment, the choices one makes and the repercussions it has for the individual and for others, and the minute acts of heroism and the transcendence of cowardice and selfishness.

 

Lady Macbeth (2017)

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William Oldroy’s debut film, Lady Macbeth, is adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk District is delicious macabre tale of a passion and revenge. Florence Pugh as the eponymous, charismatic and unrepentant killer delivers an intense and star-making performance. Running only under an hour an a half, the film packs a lot of meat-not only in the performances but the complications that it presents that is sure to give many of its audiences a lot to talk about. Bringing in themes of sexuality, violence, race and class.

Set in 19th century rural England, Pugh is a young woman sold into marriage for a piece of land to a sadistic and oppressive son of a wealthy mine owner. Both the father, Boris (Chistopher Fairbank) and the husband, (Paul Hilton) admonishes Katherine to keep to the house despite her expressed desire to be outdoors. The cold manor house and the daily ritual of getting into her corset and the prolonged absence of the men highlights Katherine’s oppression and solitude. A condition that the mutinous and headstrong heroine refuses to suffer. She eventually crosses paths with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), an equally passionate young estate worker, whom she begins an affair with. From here on, the couple deals with the complications of their situation with ruthless abandon until its dark conclusion.

A movie worth watching not only for its macabre elements but also for its rather sly take on different issues such as race as embodied in the characters of Sebastian, the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Acke) and even the young ward, Teddy (Anthon Palmer). Or, its treatment of female sexuality subjected to the tyranny of patriarchal order and its consequences. In short, a must-see movie and an incredible debut for both Oldroy and Pugh.

Rating: A-

 

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

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Luc Besson‘s take on Tardi’s comics on the adventures of the plucky and charismatic Adele is a welcome return to the adventure movies of old. Think of it as the French version of Indian Jones or the female and far more engaging version of Tin Tin (the recent Hollywood reincarnation). With the intrepid adventurer and novelist, Adele played by Louise Bourgoin and surrounded by a supporting cast who gamely bring their sometimes absurd characters to life, this fanciful yarn has everything from a pterodactyl to a gaggle of mummies. Add to the mix a witty script with a good dash of heart and you come up with one of the truly fun films in recent years.

Loosely based on several of Tardis’ works but largely from “Adele and the Beast” (1976) and “Mummies on Parade” (1978), we find Adele on a quest to bring back to life Ramesses II‘s doctor/physician Patmosis in order to revive her sister Agathe, who has been in a coma for five years following a freak accident involving tennis and a hatpin. To complicate matters,  Professor Espérandieu  (Jacky Nercessian) whose telepathic skills are integral to Adele’s plans has been sent to death row after being implicated in the case of  136 million year-old pterodactyl egg hatching. Hilarity ensues.

Although many of the audiences today may find many of the effects dated, the film has enough charm and laughs to allow for such shortcomings to be overlooked. In fact, this particular viewer wouldn’t mind finding out what comes next for Adele.

Rating: A

Ghost in a Shell (2017)

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Ghost in a Shell directed by Rupert Sanders and based on the cult-favorite Japanese Manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow  is yet another valiant but flawed effort from Hollywood in converting foreign works to mass directed blockbusters. The original source material which boasted stunning visuals and a heady existential and philosophical questions appear to have been diluted in its live-action recreation. Perhaps, in its effort to ensure mass appeal, the writers felt the need to make the movie fit into the now-too-familiar trope of the dystopian fad,  resulting in many of the complex questions of the original to be glossed over.

Although the movie is not one to write home about, it is still a beautifully made film with memorable set pieces that in themselves make it worth the watch. That being said, I feel that this movie, given its desire to have a wider audience and its sacrificing of the source materials more difficult aspects, felt tepid when it came to its action sequences. Even the famous fight between the invisible major and the hacked assassin failed to translate in this film. The fight scenes not only failed to give the film a shot of adrenaline that would have pleased a good chunk of its target audience but they were also largely forgettable.

All in all, the ghost of the movie felt too weak to shine through the glossy veneer of its shell.

Rating: B-

The Leftovers (TV series)

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Rating: A

How do you write about a show like The Leftovers? The first five episodes of the show were probably the most depressing I have ever watched for some time. Dealing with the lives of the people who lost families and friends in an event called the Sudden Departure where two percent of the global population disappeared- this is definitely no light TV serving. And yet, you stick to it — intrigued, puzzled and more importantly relating to the characters and their often futile attempts at normality and sanity. But as Emily Nussbaum’s review similarly observes, a sudden shift in tone and pace takes place in episode 6 (The Guest) with a focus on one of the most compelling characters of the series, Nora Durst (played by Carrie Coon) and an episode of stolen identity and magical hugs. It reminds me of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story—- of surreal events brought around or happening in the most mundane circumstances.

A hard-sell of a show but a satisfying think piece for those who are brave enough to take the plunge.

 

Black Sails (Season 1)

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Rating: B

Just finished the first season of Starz’ Black Sails and in true Starz fashion, there was a lot of violence and sex in the series. But just like Starz’ other shows such as Spartacus and Pillars of the Earth, there is more to these series than gratuitous nudity and unnecessary gore. True, these elements are great ratings bait but beyond that, Starz managed to carve a niche for itself- showcasing bold shows that aren’t completely zombie fodder.

Black Sails is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson‘s novel Treasure Island and tells the story of a band of pirates under the command of Captain James Flint and their quarry, Spanish treasure galleon Urca de LimaThe first few episodes, introducing the characters and painting a picture of the Golden Age of Piracy boasts great cinematography and believable effects but doesn’t quite sell the characters quite well. Propelled by an engaging plot and dangling a number of loose ends, the show gets better as it draws to the end of its eight-episode season, ensuring that audience would definitely want to stick around for season 2.

Overall, it’s a good but not great show. I’ve already read a number of reviews and many are in agreement that character development is lacking in the first season. However, reviews grow more positive in the succeeding seasons. And despite the not so stellar turnout of the first season, it has managed to pique my curiosity and I intend to find out what happens in the next season.