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‘Menashe’ is More Admirable Than Watchable


“Menashe” is a pseudo-documentary-style drama film following a recently widowed Jewish father in the heart of Borough Park, Brooklyn. It stars Menashe Lustig, Ruben Niborski, Yoel Weisshaus and Meyer Schwartz and directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein.


A film like this is interesting for a few reasons. First, it is spoken entirely in Yiddish, a language that is not often entered into most Americans lives or in cinema. Also, it was shot guerrilla-style on the streets of New York, leading to half the interactions in the film to be genuine while half are scripted. While these interesting aspects are a glimpse into a world not commonly explored, the end result isn’t as interesting as one may hope.


For a film like this, it is more about the journey than the destination. It is a pretty simple and well-worn story about a father trying to retain custody of his adolescent son and none of the speedbumps he this along the way are things we wouldn’t expect. The son has trouble in school, the dad is struggling at his dead-end job, it’s all run-of-the-mill stuff. However in the main and titular role, Menashe Lustig does bring a sense of warmth to the film and the character, which was based in-part on his own life.


But as much as I didn’t mind watching Menashe and was hoping things would eventually work out for him, there’s this feeling of “why does this all matter?” that the film can’t escape. Some scenes seem pointless or go on for too long (and others too short), and the blend of documentary and fictional drama never truly blend together to form a cohesive narrative.


Maybe I’m just not artsy enough to appreciate a film like this as much as I should, but I just wasn’t that engaged by a lot of it. It is commendable that the filmmakers took two years to capture a world not known by many people (sometimes this feels like it takes place in an entirely different country or century than 21st century New York City) but effort can only get you so many brownie points.


“Menashe” has fleeting moments of genuine human interactions and some realistic father-son dynamics, but since we’ve seen this story a hundred times before, yet this time we cannot fully relate to the character given their lifestyle, the whole film is caught in limbo.


Critics Rating: 5/10


The Thrilling is ‘Wind River’ as Chilling as its Snowy Setting


It’s hard to be a writer and be name people instantly recognize, but alongside Aaron Sorkin I think Taylor Sheridan is well on his way to doing just that.


“Wind River” follows an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who is called in to investigate a possible murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming after a body is found by a US Fish and Wildlife Service tracker (Jeremy Renner). Taylor Sheridan directs from his own script.


I enjoyed both of Taylor Sheridan’s first two scripts, “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” I though they both established a tone and used their atmosphere incredibly well and only get better the more you think about them. “Wind River” (technically not Sheridan’s directorial debut since he helmed a micro-budget horror film called “Vile” in 2011) is more of the same from the “Sons of Anarchy” actor-turned-writer, as it puts us in the vast, freezing tundra with as much information as our characters, and leaves you shaking from the cold and thrills alike.


Sheridan doesn’t write dialogue as entertaining as Aaron Sorkin or make any character likeable no matter how selfish or narcissistic they are, but he does have a way to make every line push along his slow-burning plot. Here he gives us a handful of characters we sympathize with for various reasons, and like the dirt of Mexico or the dust of Texas, Sheridan makes the snowy mountains of Wyoming a character within itself.


Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen take a break from being Avengers and both turn in subtly solid work as two members of the law. Olsen’s FBI agent is a by-the-book Las Vegas-stationed woman who is somewhat out of her element (she arrives to the stormy Reservation with a single coat and no winter hat), while Renner plays a dad with a few secrets and skills he’d like to keep buried. They play well off each other and even if there aren’t characters as entertaining as Benicio del Toro or as gravitas as Jeff Bridges, the cast as a whole still do the script justice.


I hate to keep comparing this to Sheridan’s other works but it is almost like the man is becoming a brand. Like the other two films he wrote this is shot gorgeously by Ben Richardson and features some great musical moments from composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, furthering the absorbing feel.


What really holds the film back from being *great* is the way it handles its third act. Like “The Hateful Eight” this features a mystery and presents a small handful of suspects, but never really gives the audience any clues to try and figure things out on their own; the facts are simply handed to us and it is a bit disappointing because it really feels sudden.


That being said, while I wasn’t a huge fan of how the film handled its reveals and revelations, there is a two minute segment in here that is one of my favorite scenes of 2017, and it is clear Sheridan learned a lot from being on the sets of his previous two films.


“Wind River” is a very good movie with an engrossing setting and sharp writing, and while it is uneasy to watch at some points it is a fine directorial effort by a man who is hopefully only getting started in Hollywood and a film I pray gets the attention it deserves, both at the box office and come awards season.


Critics Rating: 8/10

The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company

‘Annabelle: Creation’ Just Isn’t that Scary


2017 has been such a strong year for women at the movies, but between this and “Atomic Blonde” we have suffered a late summer recent set-back.


“Annabelle: Creation” is the prequel to the prequel to “The Conjuring” and depicts the origins of the possessed Annabelle doll. The film stars Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto and is directed by David F. Sandberg.


I nothing the original “Conjuring,” it’s a fine-made movie that just wasn’t that scary to me but I appreciate director James Wan’s efforts, but I *hated* the first “Annabelle” film. It was one of the worst films of 2014 and had some of the most deplorable acting I had seen in a long while. This film is certainly a step up from its predecessor, however much like the initial “Conjuring” installment, it just is too boring and too not scary for me to recommend.


I’m not typically the right person to ask for opinions on horror films because the fact is I don’t get scared in them all too much. Typically modern horror films tend to be predictable and use the same old troupes and “Annabelle: Creation” is no different. From its over-reliance on heightening soundtrack and jump scares to its laughably dumb characters, nothing in this film feels fresh or risky.


From the opening scene of the film you just know that while some people may be possessed by a demon, no one is going to possess logic. Characters split up, hide in dark places and give vague statements just because fully explaining the situation would resolve it and we wouldn’t have ourselves a movie, and on more than one occasion I rolled my eyes at their decisions.


Despite their characters being unintelligent, every actor in the film turns in a solid performance, with 11-year-old Lulu Wilson, who starred in last year’s “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (the girl just can’t escape horror prequels) doing solid work in a role that requires many scenes alone, reacting to things that probably weren’t actually on set with her.


One of my biggest annoyances with “Creation” (on top of it failing to frighten) is the musical score, which was an issue with director Sandberg’s debut film, “Lights Out.” Every time Sandberg seems to be building tension and tightening the string composer Benjamin Wallfisch makes the score explode, and it either is distracting or insulting because it was the music that scared you, not what was on screen. Sandberg doesn’t trust his audience to pick up on subtle imagery or background cues and apparently never learned from “Jaws” that the scariest thing is what isn’t shown.


The demon design is actually cool, and initially the film’s climax is interesting and entertaining as we finally get some answers about the Annabelle doll and how it got possessed. But the first hour of the film is so uneventful it is almost incredible; I looked at my phone at what I thought was 15 minutes in but was shocked to see we were 40 minutes into the film and nothing of substance had yet to happen.


Like I say in every horror film review I write, you have to take my opinion with a grain of salt because I don’t find them scary, but what is scary is subjective person by person. This is a competently made film, it is shot nice and has some well-lit set pieces, but it’s boring in large chunks and at the end of the day it didn’t scare me, and if we condemn comedies for not being funny then it’s hard to give a passing grade to a scary movie that isn’t scary.


Critics Rating: 4/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘Detroit’ is the Best Film of 2017 (so far)


Every year or two the Academy Awards tends to give a Best Picture nod to a film released in August (“The Help” and “Hell or High Water” to name two); let’s hope that trend continues.


“Detroit” is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 12th Street Riot in 1967, where a half dozen black men were essentially held hostage by Detroit police after shots were supposedly fired at them. John Boyega stars as a security guard, Will Poulter as the officer in charge of the investigation and Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell and Anthony Mackie portray guests at the motel. Kathryn Bigelow directs a script from her longtime creative partner Mark Boal.


When I first saw Bigelow and Boal were again teaming up following their success with “The Hurt Locker” (one of the greatest films of all-time) and “Zero Dark Thirty” to make a film about the Detroit riots, I was intrigued. I was a little confused (and slightly concerned?) why this Oscar-winning duo would chose to drop such a film in August, and not in the fall during awards season, but the trailers were intense as anything so I was sold. And upon seeing the film I am still perplexed by the late summer release date, because this is a movie that deserves the Academy’s attention across the board come next February.


One of the things Kathryn Bigelow does incredibly well is creating a sense of tension and immersion in her films; she drops you into a setting and doesn’t let you leave. She places you in the bumpy Humvees of Iraq in “Hurt Locker” and the CIA black sites in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Here, she and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (reteaming after “Hurt Locker”) make us a guest of the Algiers Motel in the middle of the Detroit Riots. The use of shaky cam at all the right moments makes us feel disoriented and exhausted as those characters in the scene, and the close-ups let us breath heavily and cry alongside them.


Boal’s script isn’t as darkly entertaining as his previous works; there is little joy or room for jokes here. While his other films allow for brief moments of banter or amusing quips from characters who have the luxury to do so much, here his characters are either yelling at suspects or have their hands and face pressed up against a wall. There are points of this that play out like a straight horror film as Boal and Bigelow build an incredible sense of unease, and when it all comes to a head and boils over you exhale because you can finally get something resembling resolution, even if it isn’t the kind that you were hoping for.


There is some controversy on both sides of the political aisle about this film, with some people claiming a white writer/director had no right telling this story while others say that the film is just “white genocide liberal propaganda.” Putting aside both idiotic claims, the film does a masterful job of trying to paint things as objectively as possible, and I think given both the historic situation and today’s modern climate, Bigelow and Boal deserve massive props. We see the obvious abuse of power by the police but also are shown that the rioters didn’t always get upset for the right reasons, and may have done their cause more harm than good in some cases.


“Detroit’s” biggest problem is it could have been a little more concise. Once we are in the motel things get a little repetitive, with Poulter (who is incredible and almost unrecognizable from his clueless nerd in “We’re the Millers”) and his fellow officers yelling at, punching and then dragging off the suspects one by one. It drives the point home of the senseless violence by the police, but from a film standpoint it drags a bit. Also the ending could’ve been trimmed a bit, and it meanders a little (if this film was 2:10 it would be perfect).


With any luck, “Detroit” gets some buzz and rides a wave to Oscar nominations for Best Picture, as well as for the work of Bigelow, Boal and Poulter, because it really is that good. It is a film that is sadly relevant today and is not an easy viewing, but I feel it is a necessary one. What happened in the Algiers Motel 50 years ago is awful, and it would have taken true master filmmakers to be able to do the victims justice; and Bigelow and Boal rise to the occasion.


Critics Rating: 8/10


‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ is a Lukewarm Documentary


At this point you’re either on the global warming bandwagon or you’re not, so I’m not really sure who this film was made for…


“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” is the follow-up to the 2006 Oscar-winning documentary that depicts former Vice President Al Gore’s quest to combat climate change. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk direct.


Reviewing a film like this is difficult for a few reasons. First off, the subject of the documentary is political, so I have to try to not let my own feelings on the subject, whichever way they may sway, affect my review of the product itself or offend any reader. Also I just find reviewing documentaries in general a bit more challenging than a narrative film because they’re so contrarily constructed and have different goals beyond entertainment. “An Inconvenient Sequel” is at times interesting and at other times angering and will preach to its intended choir, but it never really feels like much of anything besides a highlight of Gore’s exhaustive efforts over the past decade.


From a cinematography standpoint, the film looks great. Al Gore’s talking heads are shot cleanly and there are some gorgeous views of what our world has to offer, such as artic glaciers. A lot of the film is composed of Gore walking through hallways or of stock news reports, so there wasn’t too much “new” footage needed to be compiled, but what they did get is well done.


The film is also paced well, which can sometimes be a problem documentaries run into. Clocking in at 99 minutes, I never felt the urge to check my watch and by the time the credits began to roll I felt that it had been a brisk hour and a half, not excruciatingly more, not a rushed less.


The point of a documentary is often to inform, and that is where the film begins to reveal its flaws. Nothing in here is really new information, anyone who owns a TV or scrolls through a Twitter feed knows Miami has been flooding more often than normal and that Trump has promised to pull back on green initiatives. While some of the footage may be images we’re not used to personally seeing, you don’t need to pay $12 a ticket to check it out; just do some hopping around YouTube.


And here’s where I’m sure I will upset some people but I noticed it and it’s the film being misleading so I feel obligated to mention it. At several points throughout, Gore takes us to the small Tennessee ranch that he grew up on. The place looks modest and quaint, certainly the home that a pro-green American would hang their hat. However Gore’s second house is a massive mansion that in one month uses more energy (about $2,400) than the average American home uses in a year. Gore caught flack for this back when the first film came out but since they clearly were trying to paint him as innocent here again it is a bit asinine.


The entire climax of the film is about the Paris Agreement and the struggle to get India to agree to terms, because India simply states they do not have the money to commit to green energy. Gore and his team rack their brains and the clock is ticking, until suddenly they emerge from a room to say that India has agreed to sign. The film never mentions the fact that the US will foot India’s bill and, despite being the 4th largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, they won’t have to pay a dime. The film paints Gore as an 11th hour hero, but to me what we needed to do to get India (and China, for that matter) to sign was too big a deal to just simply ignore.


“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” is watchable and by definition important. No matter what you may think of his views or possible hypocrisy it is hard to knock Al Gore’s dedication to this cause, and it is an important one at that (I need the world to be here until at least 2021 so I can see my “Boss Baby” sequel). It’s just at this point we know Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, so as I sat there watching this film I was overcome with a “what’s the point of all this?” sense. If you believe climate change is real and man-made then you’re going to enjoy this film but you don’t need convincing; if you think that it is overblown and fake news then you’re not even going to watch this. The planet may be getting warmer but I was only lukewarm about this film, and depending on where you fall on the political spectrum will determine how much enjoyment and knowledge you get out of this one.


Critics Rating: 6/10

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

‘The Emoji Movie’ is Beyond Words


As much as I would love to just make this whole review the “pudding” emoji, I have a little more creativity and dedication than the people who made this film (I’m using the word “film” in the loosest sense possible).


“The Emoji Movie” (God help us) is based on the texting ideograms of the same name, and follows a “meh” emoji (voiced by T.J. Miller) who has more than his one assigned emotion, and sets out with a Hi-5 emoji (James Cordon) and a hacker (Anna Faris) to try and reprogram himself. Patrick Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake T. Austin, Sofia Vergara and Christina Aguilera also star as Tony Leondis directs.


When this film was announced everyone collectively groaned. Like, as a human species. The Syrian rebels put down their arms to roll their eyes with al-Assad and Hillary Clinton shared a long sigh with Donald Trump. The idea of making a feature film based on emoji’s is the epitome of both American commercialism and the Hollywood original ideas well running dry. When the teaser trailer dropped, however, I held onto a glimmer of hope; the meh emoji slowly announcing the film and saying he was “absolutely euphoric” in a deadpan tone made me chuckle. Then the cancer of a full trailer was released and we all braced for the impact that was to come on July 28, 2017. And is “The Emoji Movie” as bad as it looked and as unoriginal as we initially feared? I mean, yeah.


So this is like if “Inside Out” (which is already an “Osmosis Jones” ripoff itself) and “Wreck-It Ralph” had a lovechild that turned out to be a bad seed. There is nothing original about this film, from its standard plot to its annoying characters. No actor here sounds like they’re even trying; they’re all just mailing it in for a paycheck. Patrick Stewart probably finished filming “Logan” and was like “I want a new boat” and his agent was like “I have this script that’s a piece of [expletive] where you play a piece of [expletive]” and Sir Patrick smiled because he knew he found his boat. James Cordon is especially unbearable as a talking hand, and I’m typically a fan of his (albeit seemingly sometimes contrived) personality.


One of the worst things a comedy can do is acknowledge it just told a joke and explain the joke to the audience, and this film does that every chance it gets. The trio enters the Dropbox app and are sitting in a box and Gene the meh emoji goes, “so why do they call this Dropbox?” and suddenly they drop into a freefall and he yells “oh so that’s why they call it a drop box!” Just falling would have been punchline enough; we don’t need to be spoonfed information. I get this is a kid’s film but some subtly goes a long way. When the Gingerbread Man spits on Lord Farquaad in “Shrek” and tells him to eat him, he doesn’t follow it up with “get it? Both because I’m a cookie and I’m telling you to screw off!”


In fact this whole film plays out like it was written by an adult who doesn’t know how teens talk and text, or even how phones work. Not only is the eggplant emoji not in the teenage owner’s “most popular” section, it’s in the Loser’s Longue for the never used emojis. Sorry, but every teen boy uses the eggplant double entendre on a daily basis. Also the film insists that “words are lame” and emojis “are the most important communication invention in history.” Ah, yes, because it was emojis that the Titanic used to send for help, and who could forget when Alexander Graham Bell invented them?


I could get into how this entire film is made to take advantage of a known-thing or to push certain apps like Spotify and Dropbox (or the Just Dance app, available now for iOS and Android!) but I won’t, because you knew that the moment you heard about this thing.


Look, I think I’ve given “The Emoji Movie” all the words that it deserves. The absolute ONLY positive I can give the film is I was never totally, completely bored. Like I hated its existence and was frustrated, but unlike “The Circle” or “Captain Underpants” I at least was distracted from the real world for 86 brief minutes and didn’t (fully) wish I was instead watching paint dry. I’m going to end this review with my reaction to the film spelled out in emojis, because this thing does not deserve a normal rating:

‘Atomic Blonde’s’ Action is Great, the Script Not-So-Much


It’s been a good year for women at the movies, with “Wonder Woman” saving the DC Extended Universe and “Girls Trip” being the best comedy of 2017. We were due for a misstep eventually…


“Atomic Blonde” stars Charlize Theron as an MI-6 agent who must track down a defecting German with a list of undercover operatives in Berlin during the fall of the Wall in 1989. James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones also star as David Leitch makes his solo directorial debut.


I was looking forward to this, mainly because the trailer was fast-paced and had a good soundtrack and I appreciate Leitch’s work on “John Wick” (although the DGA determined he wouldn’t receive co-director credit for it) and his passion for stunts (he’s a career stuntman). Charlize Theron is on a bit of a hot streak as of late, with roles in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Fate of the Furious” and here is every bit as sexy and badass as one may hope. It’s just a shame that the film as a whole, due in large part to its script, doesn’t match up to the dedication and passion of Leitch and Theron.


I’ll start with the good. The film looks great and has a killer soundtrack. Many of the people involved with “John Wick” were brought in by Leitch, including cinematographer Jonathan Sela, editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir and composer Tyler Bates, as well as some of the same stuntmen. The result is a film with the same sort of neon glow and noir feel that the original “John Wick” has, and it is at times fun to be in the world. Red lights in a bar or snow falling on a body on the streets of East Berlin look pretty and almost ripped off the pages of a comic (this is based off a 2012 graphic novel) and all the production teams should be commended. The film also has some great 80s songs, too, and I found my foot tapping on more than one occasion.


The fight scenes are breathtakingly staged, as to be expected from the minds behind “John Wick” (I’m going to try to stop comparing this meh film to that great one). There is one action sequence in here that last legitimately 10 minutes and appears to be all one long take. I noticed  a few spots that they likely spliced clips together, but it is still a momentous accomplishment by Leitch and his team, as if the hallway scene from “Oldboy” (or Netflix’s “Daredevil” for you non-cinema lovers) had a lovechild with season one of “True Detective;” by the end of the fight we are as out of breath as Theron.


However all the pretty and playful production and well-shot fight scenes are undermined by a script that is overly-convoluted and relatively dull. Kurt Johnson has five career screenplays to his credit, “300,” “Act of Valor” and “300: Rise of an Empire” among them. Each of these films has good action but a poor narrative and dialogue, and “Atomic Blonde” is no different. The film is told in flashbacks by Theron in an interrogation room a week after the film’s events, so the constant cutting back-and-forth takes us out of the movie. In some films the “character giving a narration over flashback while being interrogated” angle works, like “The Imitation Game” or “The Usual Suspects,” because of how those films are set up and the amount of characters we learn about. Here, we don’t know much about anyone and the more we find out about them (or in the case of Theron’s character, what little we ever learn), the less we understand and care. By the end almost nothing makes sense and the film throws way too many “gotcha!” moments at the audience to try and hide the fact that it has no idea what it was doing.


I want to recommend “Atomic Blonde” just for that one 10 minute fight scene alone, but I can’t. Much like “John Wick: Chapter 2” this film is all fun and fine when fists are flying and guns are going off, but that’s probably only 20 minutes of a two hour runtime; the rest is boring spy stuff that has been done better a hundred times over. Part of me hopes that “Atomic Blonde” gets a sequel because Theron gives the role her all and the world seems like a fun one to explore, but they need to hire a screenwriter who can write storylines and dialogue worth caring about in between shootouts.


Critics Rating: 5/10

Atomic Blonde

‘A Ghost Story’ a Hard Film to Figure Out


I think David Lowery following up a $65 million Disney blockbuster with a $100,000 adult drama is the definition of Hollywood’s “one for them, one for me” rule.


“A Ghost Story” follows the soul of a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck) who returns to the home he shared with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). David Lowery writes and directs.


Despite what the title and poster may imply, this is not a horror film. Instead, it is a haunting look at life, love and loss and how while time goes on and people pass away, some things stay in place. The film is ambitious and at times touching, and at other points may come off as pretentious or meandering. It is certainly not a film for everyone and some will be enamored by it while others dismiss it as alienating; I was somewhere in the middle.


Coming off his Oscar win for “Manchester by the Sea,” Casey Affleck could’ve done what many actors do and follow it up with a big-budget blockbuster for a payday (again, the one-for-one rule). Instead, he chose to reunite with writer/director David Lowery and co-star Rooney Mara from Lowery’s 2013 debut film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and make a small, simple indie, again showing that even though he is charasmaticless and a major mumbler, Affleck is a talented actor.


Under a sheet for a majority of the film, Affleck can’t even use his eyes to convey emotion. Instead he has purely body posture and hand movements, yet we almost always know what he is feeling. When he sees his girlfriend having moved on with another man we feel his betrayal; when a new family moves into his house he feels violated; and when time keeps going on even though he must stay in place, we feel his anguish.


The sound design and score here are top-notch, with the effects and music helping to put the audience in the right mindset for the scene, and to relate to Affleck’s faceless character. However almost just as important is the lack of sound, including a four minute segment that (to my recollection) features nothing but ambient noise as Mara sits on the kitchen floor eating a pie. It’s an odd scene and we feel her loneliness and there’s nothing around to comfort either her or us.


And that leads me into what doesn’t necessarily work for this film, at least won’t for some people. There are a lot of long, singular takes that hold on one image, sometimes for minutes at a time. While it may seem artsy to some, it will rub other viewers the wrong way. It may make them uncomfortable or just seem boring or pointless and it would be hard to blame them. The film also takes nearly half of its 87 minute runtime to truly pick up and get going to where Lowery clearly wanted to go and discuss the topics he wished and the first act of the film is certainly subpar compared to the last two.


“A Ghost Story” is one of those movies that is easy to admire but harder to enjoy, and will take a while to fully digest and decide whether it will get better or worse the more you think about it. I walked out feeling ambivalent and although my needle has shifted bit more towards me liking it than not, I still have to factor in that I didn’t care much for the film’s first half. Fans of subtlety and indie films will almost certainly fall head-over-heels with this, mainstream audiences will almost certainly be bored and confused and then there’s people in the middle like me, who are left with a mixed, albeit generally lukewarm, reaction.


Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Dunkirk’ Isn’t a Masterpiece, but It’s Still a Solid War Film

Dunkirk_Film_posterBetween this, “Churchill” last month and “Darkest Hour” in November, World War II Britain is getting a lot of cinematic visits this year…


“Dunkirk” is the new film from writer/director Christopher Nolan, and follows the attempted evacuation of some 400,000 British soldiers off the French beach of the titular city in the early stages of WWII. The film stars Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy, and is Nolan’s first directorial effort since 2014’s “Interstellar.”

I was looking forward to this one with immense anticipation. Ever since the thirty second teaser dropped a year ago, I was hooked and got more anxious with every pulse-pounding trailer that was released in the previous months. I love any period piece and although I’m not on his “he can do no wrong” bandwagon, there has yet to be a Nolan movie I haven’t liked. So I was a bit disappointed when “Dunkirk” wasn’t the edge-of-my-seat, forget-to-breath thrill ride the trailers promised, but it is still an ambitious, untraditional war film that delivers on a lot of its promises.


It’s important to know a few things going into this film. First, the plot is not told in a linear order. It jumps around locations and time, often revisiting events we’ve already seen from different perspectives. Secondly, there is little dialogue or character development; Nolan lets the events speak for themselves. Both of these things are both “Dunkirk’s” biggest strength and weakness.


It takes about half the film for Nolan’s plan to come into focus, but eventually you realize that things aren’t happening in the chronological order that they once appeared. Characters who we thought were one place are suddenly in another and scenes cut back-and-forth from night to day. Sometimes this creates a grand sense of understanding, as we were left pondering the fate of a character because it cut away from them too soon in a previous scene, or we suddenly see how one person got to where they did. It does create some chaos and tension, too, because you are never sure where in the timeline or on the map the scene you are watching is taking place.


However it can also ruin some of the tension and flow the film is at times doing a masterful job of setting up. A character will be looking out at the beach in one shot and it will be daytime in the background, but the reverse shot will be characters in the water at dusk; it takes you out of the film because your brain subconsciously realizes something isn’t right. It is also hard for the film to build to some sense of relief or resolution because you don’t know when an event (or the film, for that matter) is fully resolved. It can be argued this is to make you feel uneasy and I would agree, however that doesn’t excuse the fact that the film never seemed like it was building to any sort of climax before suddenly arriving at one and just…ending.


As far as the characters go, we really don’t learn much about any of them. In fact I could only give you the name of two people in this film, and I honestly am not sure if any of the others are even given names (they are listed in the credits, but I don’t think ever said). This works because the soldiers can represent any and all men who served in World War II and we just root for them because we are fellow humans. However we never feel any attachment to them and partnered with the constantly shifting narratives it can make it hard to keep track of who is where and who is alright.


Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance turn in the best two performances as an RFA pilot and civilian mariner, respectively. They each bring a sense of gravitas and poise to their air and sea aspects of the film, and provide the film’s best moments.


The film is absolutely stunning to look at, there is no denying that. Shot on 65 mm film stock by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, there are some frames in this that took my breath away. From vast ocean wide-shots with the sun glimmering off the water to dusty and foggy beaches that make you feel the cold breeze hitting your face, Nolan and Hoytema put you into the world and never let you leave.


Hans Zimmer’s score is also top-notch, with it blending perfectly with the sound mixing to create a simultaneous sense of heightening tension and fear. The music rises, shrieks escalate and like the soldiers stranded on the beach you fear the German planes are only moments away from another bombing run.


“Dunkirk” isn’t a film for everybody, nor is it a straight action blockbuster like some may expect given its director/genre/release date/trailers, and there will be people put off by its lack of characterization and intentionally messy and at times misleading plot. However for those brave enough to roll the dice there are a lot of genuine moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout the film’s (somewhat shockingly short) 106 minutes, and even if it isn’t as great as “The Hurt Locker” or as culturally significant as “Saving Private Ryan,” this is one day at the beach you should try taking.


Critics Rating: 7/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘The Big Sick’ has Big Laughs, Heart


It’s always nice when Ray Romano pops up in things; I feel this modern generation doesn’t appreciate him enough…


“The Big Sick” is the semi-true story of how actor Kumail Nanjiani met his wife (with whom he co-wrote the script). Zoe Kazan stars as his future bride-to-be Emily V. Gordon, as Holly Hunter and Ray Romano portray Emily’s parents. Michael Showalter directs.


This really is a lot like Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck.” A first-time screenwriter, getting their somewhat-based-on-a-true-story script produced by Judd Apatow and released in the middle of July. Nanjiani’s script, like Schumer’s, has a lot of the “Apatow quirks” about it (even though he only acted as a producer instead of directing) and doesn’t really add anything new to the rom-com formula, but some honest and warm performances from a talented cast elevate it above all that to end up in one of the better date movies in recent memory.


I’ve been a fan of Kumail Nanjiani ever since he starred on “Franklin and Bash,” and think he is very funny even in films that very much aren’t (like “Fist Fight”). He is basically playing himself here, both because he acts like he does in most every other role and because the character is literally based off him, but that’s fine. His dry, awkward responses and sarcastic undertones are perfectly timed and his repartee with Zoe Kazan, who is great in her own right, is winning (Kazan starred alongside Daniel Radcliffe in the rom-com “What If?” a few years back and I recommend you check that one out, random plug).


Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are sweet and genuine as the parents of Emily, with Hunter’s southern accent being comforting and Romano’s awkward timing matching up nicely with Nanjiani’s. Romano is given one scene that could’ve resulted in some over-the-top scene chewing but he handles it with surprising restraint and it results in a tender moment that some people may really be able to relate to.


Like the best rom-coms such as “Friends with Benefits,” “Hitch” and the aforementioned “What If?,” there really isn’t anything *wrong* with the film. There are moments of lag or repeated plot points here or there, and some side stories and characters that are more useless and annoying than they are necessary or funny. The emotional moments may also not pay off as well as the filmmakers may have liked, but that really would’ve just been icing on the cake.


There’s really not much more I can say about “The Big Sick.” It’s the definition of a perfect date night movie, with fun performances and infectious chemistry between the two leads. Despite a running time of two hours the film is pretty breezy and even if it is never side-splittingly funny you’ll never be bored, and in an age of overlong “Transformers” and painfully unamusing Adam Sandler joints, that’s enough for me.


Critics Rating: 7/10