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.

 

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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.

 

 

Fourth Man Out (2015)

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Andrew Nackman’s Fourth Man Out, a funny and endearing take on a young man’s coming out experience. Adam (Evan Todd), a closeted garage mechanic decides on his 24th birthday that it’s time to break the news to his friends: Chris (Parker Young), Ortu (Jon Gabrus), and Nick (Chord Overstreet).

This isn’t your angst-ridden and gloomy gay movie where the homosexual experience is depicted as one ordeal after another but a rather idealized, humorous, and heartfelt portrayal of the coming out theme. Sure, there are bumps along the road- but they are mostly shown as hurdles that only make the reward at the end all the more sweeter.

Rating: B+

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Jackie (2016)

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Another brilliant performance from Natalie Portman who portrays the iconic Jackie Kennedy in this film, following her life after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. This thoughtful and revealing film is clearly an acting piece for Portman who might have seen it as a challenge for her acting chops aside from chance of playing such an iconic character.

Although despite Portman’s excellent acting I felt that the film fell short of capturing the full potential of many of the scenes of Jackie’s life that they chose to include in the film. In particular, the film’s non-linear storytelling strategy which has been employed to great effect in a number of other films instead took away from the gravity of certain moments in the narrative. Take for instance the rather forgettable birthday scene of her son which happens just a few days after the death of her husband.

On the other hand, the active mythmaking and the securing of her husband’s legacy that Jackie fights for during a large part of the film are also its most powerful and effective scenes. Here, we see a glimpse of the powerful woman behind the rather sterilized and much-marketed fashion icon image of Jackie Kenney.

Recommendation: Watch it for Natalie Portman’s performance and as an incentive to learn more about Jackie.

 

Preacher (Season 1)

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Preacher  developed by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen for AMC starring Dominic Cooper is a welcome addition to my list of top shows to watch. A dark comedy featuring a small-town preacher with a dubious past who suddenly becomes a host to a mysterious entity that allows him to literally compel people to think and act in a certain way through speech. Initially half-heartedly taking on his father’s church and duties, Jesse Custer upon discovering his new abilities, realizes that he now has the power to effect actual change to the lives of his flock. Naturally, everything comes with a price and we see him making more problems that actually solving them. In one of the best moments of the show, he accidentally sends a teenager, Eugene Root / “Arseface”, to hell. Throw into the mix, his Irish, vampire best friend, Cassidy who quite literally dropped down from the sky and his extremely capable ex-girlfriend,  Tulip O’Hare and you have a rip-roaring fun show that doesn’t shy from asking questions often skirted by other shows who are often too quick to borrow religious elements but would rather gloss over the tricky parts.

Aside from the great acting particularly from Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper, the show’s season finale is one for the books. Don’t take my word for it and watch it.

Legion (2017)

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I just finished the first season of Legion, created for FX by Noah Hawley, based on the Marvel Comics character David Haller / Legion and I must say that I now hooked. I had my doubts with the first couple episodes its paltry eight-episode season but I now only have respect for Noah Hawley’s work on this rather difficult Marvel character. The show is praised for its departure from the now all too familiar superhero trope. My initial reservations about the show are due to its rather off-beat humor and quirky sets which I must say takes a couple of episodes to get used to. However, with its questions about the nature of reality and its portrayal of mental illness, the treatment of the show makes perfect sense.

It remains to be seen if the show will succeed in drawing in more viewers for its next season as I am certain that despite the initial hype of the show, may of those who watched the first episodes have not completed the show until its amazing season finale (and enticing mid-credits scene). If you are one of those people, I recommend watching the whole season you won’t be disappointed. If only to see the excellent work that Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza deliver on the show.

Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

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A glorious, gothic feast that ended far too soon. John Logan’s Penny Dreadful, immediately caught my attention when it first came out in 2014. Drawing inspiration from the 19th century cheap fiction called penny dreadfuls which were about sensational and lurid stories. Of course, it also bears a close resemblance to the 1999 comic series, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill which incorporated many fictional characters such as Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, the Invisible Man and other in the same world. Penny Dreadful accomplishes the same act by placing  characters from 19th-century British and Irish fiction, including Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray; Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Renfield, and Count Dracula from Bram Stoker‘s Dracula; Victor Frankenstein and his monster from Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein; and Dr. Henry Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the same narrative universe. However, Penny Dreadful, propelled by masterful writing and an amazing cast, succeeds in presenting a forbidding world where the supernatural infects the “real” world and throws its characters into tackling not only the danger brought by such creatures but also battling with their own inner demons.

It is a wonder that this show was even brought to life, for which I am extremely appreciative, but it was clear from the initial season that the show was not an easy sell and is likely to appeal only to a small percentage of the tv-watching public. Although the second season was, I presume, was more to the liking of many with its bucketful of blood and gore that should satisfy the macabre-inclined, its existential bent and a rather despondent tone was not going to make the show a ratings monster. The third and final season although providing a satisfactory conclusion to Vanessa Ives’s story (a role that appears tailor-made for Eva Green) left many of the other characters’ fates hanging. It is apparent that the low viewership and the cost of its lavish productions that the show could no longer continue. And yet despite the abrupt ending and lose ends, it is still one of the few shows that deserves to be remembered for years to come and is a testament to the writers and directors who insist that TV shows need not be mindless and superficial time wasters.