30000101

Dream Log

A QUIET PLACE
2018 | Dir. John Krasinski | 95 Minutes
4 out of 5
A thrilling horror flick that fully utilizes its solid premise for maximum tension. There's a simple but affective well-acted family drama between the mix of good jump scares and cheap ones - thankfully, most of them are pretty darn good. Spoken dialogue is sparse, a creative risk for this major studio release that really pays off. The creature work is decidedly less risky, a CGI blend of stranger things you've probably seen before if you're into genre stuff.

READY PLAYER ONE
2018 | Dir. Steven Spielberg | 140 Minutes
3 out of 5
70% animated, 30% live action, corny fun, very goofy, a little hollow, and slightly meandering. The movie doesn't feel completely genuine/fully-realized until its last thirty minutes. There are a few turns that take the narrative into Black Mirror Lite territory, particularly in its commentary on corporations monetizing the internet, but Spielberg is quick to pull back. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the pop culture references consist of in-your-face Warner-owned IPs. Zak Penn and original author Ernest Cline did a fine job of condensing the novel into a reasonable screenplay that mostly improves on the book. I could have done without TJ Miller's lame character written exclusively for the movie.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
2018 | Dir. Steven S. DeKnight | 111 Minutes
2 out of 5

The cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac and a bag of Doritos. The colorful anime-inspired mecha-on-monster battles are flashy and, at times, fun, but the characters and the story are woefully underdeveloped for the fights to carry any dramatic weight. John Boyega does his best with the thin material, as does up-and-comer Cailee Spaeny, but Scott Eastwood is still devoid of charisma. Guillermo del Toro's passion for this stuff, highlighting every frame of its predecessor, is noticeably absent from this too-little way-too-late sequel from Steven S. DeKnight.

ISLE OF DOGS
2018 | Dir. Wes Anderson | 101 Minutes
5 out of 5
A lovely work of stop-motion art that tells a sweet story with some real emotional stakes. It's funny, slightly dark, but touching, striking particularly true for pet owners. The all-star voice cast turns in charming performances, never distracting. Highly recommended for fans of animation and fans of Wes Anderson's stylistic sensibilities. Dog-lovers take special notice!

ANNIHILATION
2018 | Dir. Alex Garland | 115 Minutes
4 out of 5
Visually stunning and captivating hard-R sci-fi horror led by a strong female cast. There's some breathtaking imagery in this picture as well as a number of well-executed gory visceral scares. Thematically, the film is decidedly nihilistic, presenting a universe that cares not for the intrinsically human search for knowledge and meaning.

20180427

Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
2018 | Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo | 149 Minutes

"Perfectly balanced, as all things should be."


Intergalactic warlord Thanos is determined to collect all six Infinity Stones. A defeated Thor teams up with unlikely allies to forge a new weapon to slay Thanos. Stranded in space with company he does not care for, Tony Stark formulates a desperate plan against the unstoppable enemy. To prevent Thanos' invading forces from taking the Mind Stone, Steve Rogers and Earth's mightiest heroes seek aid from King T'Challa and the warriors of Wakanda.

Immediately following the events of Thor: Ragnarok, and picking up the storythreads from all previous MCU movies, Avengers: Infinity War jumps right into the action, offering virtually nothing in the way of exposition. Its biggest flaw as a film is that it simply doesn't work as a stand alone story, but this is hardly a problem for viewers who are already deeply invested in Marvel Studio's shared-universe saga, as this latest chapter of the series was definitely crafted just for such viewers. Taking an astonishing and surprisingly compelling narrative choice, the filmmakers place the heart of the movie in Thanos and his belief that his motivations are purely altruistic, convinced that he is saving the universe in his quest to wipe out half of its population. After only briefly appearing as a vague threat to the heroes for years since the first Avengers movie, this picture is undeniably Thanos' story. While it isn't necessarily the most thought-provoking plot, there's a certain tragic quality to it even taking into consideration the cruel and violent actions taken by him and his underlings. The heaviest theme of this installment as a whole is sacrifice, a theme that is highlighted many times over.

The feature is an action-packed visual smorgasbord. Its lead character, the giant menacing CGI-rendered Thanos built around Josh Brolin's brilliant voice over and motion capture work, struggles to suppress his emotions in order to do what he believes needs to be done. Thanos shows off the unique powers of each Infinity Stone in some truly flashy ways. Though thin in characterization, Thanos' four children voiced are visually distinct and extremely exciting to watch in action as they take on the Avengers and their allies. The creepy Ebony Maw played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Proxima Midnight played by Carrie Coon are particularly notable. Traversing more worlds than any single Marvel Studios picture before, the feature truly feels like a universe-spanning story. The plentiful fight sequences throughout the movie are expertly choreographed, escalating the stakes to near-unbearable levels. The massive multi-front climactic battle, intercutting between several far-off locations, is particularly breathtaking.

Tonally, the picture demonstrates the full range of Marvel Studios' entire eclectic catalogue, occasionally shifting gears rather rapidly. From the first scene and onwards, Thor's journey in this movie is utterly heartbreaking and yet he spends much of his screen time humorously interacting with Rocket and Groot. Tony Stark's frustration in dealing with tag-along Peter Parker, the no-nonsense Doctor Strange, and the all-nonsense Peter Quill undercuts the astronomically high odds against them as they prepare to face the most powerful being in the universe. The tension remains high but the quips and one-liners seldom let up. This may possibly be jarring to some viewers, but it's perfectly consistent with the shared universe's bathos-laden storytelling.

Above all, the filmmakers impressively balance and shuffle the sizable cast of characters. Each hero not only gets their own opportunities to shine but they interact with each other in amusing and surprising ways, too. In no universe would Tony Stark and Stephen Strange ever get along. Peter Quill's intesne jealously over his crew fawning over pirate-angel Thor is priceless. When Shuri meets Bruce Banner, she immediately demonstrates that she is brighter than him and all his PhDs. Bucky teaming up with Rocket is a surefire recipe for laughs. Natasha, Okoye, and Wanda form a magnificently formidable trio. While most of the heroes aren't afforded complete character arcs - the story for this one remains focused on Thanos after all - these moments are pure magic just as they were in the first Avengers film.

Epic. There is no other word that adequately describes it. Culminating ten years of multiple shared-universe storylines, Avengers: Infinity War is Marvel Studios' biggest, most ambitious movie yet. It should prove to be an extremely rewarding experience for all longtime fans of the massive multi-picture ongoing cinematic narrative -- and absolutely confounding to everyone else.


POST-CREDITS STINGER
In a moment of desperation, a hero is paged.


STAN LEE CAMEO
Stan the Man is a school bus driver.


FRAGMENTS
- A blue Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development appears in Taneleer Tivan's collection

- Ludwig Göransson’s Black Panther theme plays when we first see Wakanda in this film


THE WIRE CONNECTIONS
- Idris Elba (Stringer Bell)

20180225

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
2017 | Dir. Martin McDonagh | 115 Minutes

"She got killed, still no arrest. How come, I wonder. Because there ain't no God, and the whole world's empty, and it doesn't matter what we do to each other? I hope not."



Furious mother Mildred Hayes buys ad space in a remote location in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri, to chastise the local sheriff for his inability to solve the case of her teenage daughter's brutal rape and murder. Public opinion quickly turns against Mildred due to the open secret of the sheriff's failing health. As the situation escalates, Mildred acts on her worst impulses, and the most unlikely person in town discovers a potential lead on the case.

Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a powerful drama about one mother's absolute refusal to let go as she lives in the unbearable aftermath of an unspeakable crime. While there are comedic moments in the film, the majority of any humor to be had is morbid, and the violence perpetrated in the narrative is sudden and shocking. While Mildred's anger is undoubtedly righteous, the story is one of displaced and misplaced rage, of the products of domestic abuse, and of people uniting under a dubious cause for dubious reasons. The film plays out like a true crime story in which events unfold in an unpredictable manner and easy solutions are nowhere to be found.

The picture's fantastic cast is led by the ever-brilliant Frances McDormand as Mildred, absolutely personifying a thirst for vengeance that severely compromises all logical judgement. Playing a racist, violent, and incompetent white trash deputy who may not be beyond redemption (the unequivocal heart of controversy for the film), Sam Rockwell gives the performance of his career. The cast also features excellent performances from a selection of some of the best character actors available including Woody Harrelson as the dying Sheriff Willoughby, Lucas Hedges as Mildred's wary son, Caleb Landry Jones as the dopey owner of the billboards, Peter Dinklage as a local with an unrequited crush on Mildred, John Hawkes as Mildred's abusive ex-husband, and Clarke Peters as the new sheriff and sole voice of reason.

Grim, funny, often upsetting, but always captivating, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a story of misguided anger and the search for justice and meaning, a search that may never end. The film is challenging, thematically rich, hopeless to a certain degree but hopeful in other ways, and hands down one of the best films of 2017.


FRAGMENTS
- Caleb Landry Jones appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Get Out

- Lucas Hedges appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- Kathryn Newton appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- I was particularly thrilled with Clarke Peters' reassuring presence as a straight-shooting lawman, not too far removed from his iconic role as Lester Freamon on The Wire


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 and Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King)

- Kerry Condon (FRIDAY in Avengers: Age of UltronCaptain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War)

- Peter Dinklage (Eitri in Avengers: Infinity War)


THE WIRE CONNECTIONS
- Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon)

20180224

The Shape of Water

THE SHAPE OF WATER
2017 | Dir. Guillermo del Toro | 123 Minutes

"When he looks at me, the way he looks at me, he does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I am, as I am. He's happy to see me every time, every day."


In Cold War era Baltimore, Maryland, a mute woman named Elisa works as a janitor at a secret government facility. Elisa falls in love with an aquatic humanoid creature held captive in the lab, but as their romance blossoms she catches the attention of the sadistic colonel who captured the creature. With the creature's life on the line, Elisa helps the creature escape with the help of her friends.

The Shape of Water is a creature feature with a romantic heart beating at its core. Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro's fondness for monsters and old Hollywood colors every frame of the film. The audience is quickly introduced to Alisa who lives alone in a creaky apartment above an old movie theater through her day-to-day routine down to the most honest and intimate detail. As Alisa's relationship with the creature develops, rather than shy away from depicting the physical act of love, del Toro fully embraces the moment as one of romantic beauty and triumph. The supporting characters populating the relatively simple narrative are also nuanced and human to a fault, from Alisa's awkward neighbor who has a shy crush on the server at the local cafe to the villainous colonel who suffers from intense feelings of inadequacy.

As the mute heroine Elisa, Sally Hawkins is simply lovely and undeniably magnetic, carrying the film with genuine strength and grace. Doug Jones, the Boris Karloff of our time (and director Guillermo del Toro's regular ace in the hole), delivers yet another brilliant and affecting performance as the meticulously-realized fishman - here's hoping the Academy honors him with a statue some day if they're ever less stuffy about recognizing genre films. Character actor Michael Shannon at his most volatile raises the dramatic stakes considerably as the colonel, and leads a fantastic supporting cast featuring Octavia Spencer as Elisa's unhappily wed friend from work, Richard Jenkins as her kindly gay neighbor, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a conscientious soviet spy.

An artful and truly unique blend of pure romance and monster movie, The Shape of Water is a heartfelt tribute to those who feel unloved, and the fulfillment one may find in unexpected places. The film ranks among Guillermo del Toro's finest works, and it's without a doubt one of the best motion pictures of the year.


FRAGMENTS
- Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro reportedly asked for assistance from female members of his family and female friends to design the shape of the creature's butt to ensure that it was pleasing to the eye

- Doug Jones previously appeared in Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army based on Mike Mignola's comic book series as Abe Sapien, a similar amphibious humanoid creature

- Michael Stuhlbarg appears in three Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Michael Stuhlbarg (Nicodemus West in Doctor Strange)

20180223

The Post

THE POST
2017 | Dir. Steven Spielberg | 116 Minutes

"We can't hold them accountable if we don't have a newspaper."


In the mid 1960s, an embittered military analyst leaks classified reports documenting the extensive secret history of the ongoing Vietnam War that was hidden from the American public to various news outlets. It is a race against the clock for the reporters of the financially fragile Washington Post to obtain the documents to beat other publications to press time, but when the Nixon Administration bars the New York Times from publishing the classified information, Katharine Graham, the reluctant owner of the Washington Post, must choose between protecting the integrity of her politician friends and the stability of her business, or serving the American people by exposing the truth.

Steven Spielberg's latest film is a relatively standard, competently-constructed drama elevated by its magnificent cast. The picture's captivating narrative surrounding the Washington Post's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers unfolds in a deliberate fashion that is at times frustrating and at times exhilarating. The focus of the feature shifts between the drama surrounding Graham (and the men who both support and subvert her leadership) and the revelation of the shocking truths behind the Vietnam War. The very best sequence of the film involves the leadership of the Washington Post on multiple telephones sharing one phone line, arguing over whether or not their Pentagon Papers story should be published with press time just hours away.

While Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are at the top of their respective games, they do not deliver their very best work. Streep is perfectly regal and relatable as Katharine Graham, but while Graham faces a significant personal dilemma, the role ultimately does not require much range. The same can be said of Hanks' part as Ben Bradlee, with Hanks once again doing a fine job taking on his bread and butter role of the standard everyman, this time in the form of the impassioned newspaper editor-in-chief with little to no respect for authority. The supporting cast is packed with a variety of talent featuring Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, and Michael Stuhlbarg all in key roles.

The true story of the Washington Post's decision to report on the Pentagon Papers, and subsequently provoke the wrath of the Nixon administration, already a story worth telling and retelling, is all the more relevant now considering the current presidential administration's disdain for the press. However, Spielberg's narrative unfolds in an almost painfully procedural way. The Post is without a doubt an important film, but its greatest flaw is that it is just a good movie but not a great one.


FRAGMENTS
- Bradley Whitford appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Get Out

- Tracy Letts appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Lady Bird

- Michael Stuhlbarg appears in three Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film, Call Me By Your Name, and The Shape of Water

- Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, and Michael Stuhlbarg were all featured in the acclaimed Fargo television series

- It's incredibly gratifying to Bob Odenkrik and his comedy partner David Cross, the creators/stars of Mr. Show, featured so prominently together on screen in a Steven Spielberg film


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Michael Stuhlbarg (Nicodemus West in Doctor Strange)

- Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight in Avengers: Infinity War)

20180222

Phantom Thread

PHANTOM THREAD
2017 | Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson | 130 Minutes

"You're not going to die. You might wish you're going to die, but you're not going to."


Renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock is a confirmed bachelor, completely dedicated to his work, and reluctant to maintain any meaningful emotional relationships. One day, a waitress named Alma captures Woodcock's attention and quickly becomes his live-in muse and lover. The pair struggle to love and understand one another as their contrasting personalities alternate between melding and clashing. After their relationship is damaged through several difficult episodes, fearing that she would lose Woodcock, Alma makes a drastic decision.

A tale mad love in the world of 1950s London high fashion, director Paul Thomas Anderson latest film is an aesthetically-rich finely-crafted picture. While every detail in the production design of the feature is lovely, not least of which the real artistic work behind the lavish tailored gowns, Anderson juxtaposes the beauty with a quiet sense of dread. The tension between Woodcock and Alma, accentuated by Jonny Greenwood's brilliant musical score, is palpable and a feeling of discomfort permeates the entire picture.

Announced as Daniel Day-Lewis' final film performance, Phantom Thread is an appropriately fitting send-off for the accomplished method actor. Woodcock is equal parts charming, insufferable, attentive, and cruel, and Daniel Day-Lewis completely disappears into the persona once again demonstrating his ever-impressive talent. Vicky Krieps perfectly complements Daniel Day Lewis' eccentric particularity as the unapologetically headstrong Alma, revealed to be harboring a vengeful mean streak of her own. The feature is driven by the pair's excellent chemistry and by their endlessly entertaining verbal sparring matches courtesy of Anderson's razor-sharp screenplay. Lesley Manville deserves special notice as Woodcock's no-nonsense sister Cyril, effortlessly embodying the protective but wary sibling who knows and has lived with her brother's moods and eccentricities all her life.

Phantom Thread is as visually pleasing as Woodcock's dresses and as emotionally complex as a love laced with poison. Excellent performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps elevate the picture to astounding heights. While the romantic narrative leads to a dark and sinister place that may be surprising and disturbing, it is absolutely captivating.


FRAGMENTS
- Reynolds Woodcock is loosely based on British fashion designer Charles James

- To prepare for the role of Reynold Woodcock, Daniel Day-Lewis designed and crafted a Balenciaga dress from scratch

- Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson states that there is no official credit for the cinematography for the film, and that it was a "collaborative effort"

20180221

Lady Bird

LADY BIRD
2017 | Dir. Greta Gerwig | 93 Minutes

"The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it's a palindrome."


Catholic high school senior Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and her mother Marion are at odds about Lady Bird's desire to attend college away from her hometown. Leading up to graduation, Lady Bird openly defies authority, falls for boys who are not good for her, and briefly abandons her best friend to socialize with the popular kids. Meanwhile, Lady Bird's middle class family struggles through tough financial challenges.

Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is a funny true-to-life coming-of-age story with a screenplay by Gerwig that accurately portrays the life of a high school senior without sugarcoating or over-dramatizing the very real emotions experienced by youth on the cusp of adulthood. From Lady Bird's sometimes clever, sometimes clumsy mannerisms to the questionable social decisions she makes throughout the picture, there is a captivating inevitability in the way Gerwig's narrative unfolds. The early 2000's setting is authentically captured from the haircuts to the music to the truly dumb and naive things teenagers said and believed at the time. The denouement fizzles out slightly, but I guess that's realistic, too.

Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as the titular rebellious teenager, perfectly capturing the spirit and the awkwardness without turning the role into a caricature. Laurie Metcalf matches Ronan's energy as Lady Bird's mother, playing to perfection the headstrong woman who hides her own vulnerability behind a barrier of strict, no-room-for-argument parenting. Conversely, Tracy Letts is lovable as Lady Bird's seemingly perpetually laidback father who is revealed to be struggling with depression unbeknownst to his daughter. Playing the boys Lady Bird fall for, Lucas Hedges excels in a relatively small but rich role as a closeted gay Catholic, while Timothée Chalamet is hilariously believable as the detached teen in a band who believes in wild conspiracy theories and can’t be bothered. Scene-stealer Beanie Feldstein is absolutely adorable as Lady Bird's best friend Julie, quietly playing out a heartbreaking subplot in which Julie has an inadvisable crush on her math teacher.

With nuanced natural dialogue, carried by brilliant performances from its cast, Greta Gerwig crafted an instant-classic in Lady Bird. The attention to detail paid to establish the characters and the setting is remarkable. Most importantly, the themes and ideas at the very heart of the film ring true.


FRAGMENTS
- Tracy Letts appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and The Post

- Lucas Hedges appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- Timothée Chalamet appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Call Me By Your Name

- Kathryn Newton appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- To this day, I adamantly loathe the Dave Matthews Band song "Crash Into Me" but the director Greta Gerwig utilizes the song in a surprisingly funny and emotionally touching way

20180220

Get Out

GET OUT
2017 | Dir. Jordan Peele | 103 Minutes

"All I know is sometimes, when there's too many white people, I get nervous, you know?"


Chris, an African American photographer, spends the weekend at the childhood home of his Caucasian girlfriend Rose to meet her allegedly socially progressive family and their overly-enthusiastic friends. The weekend takes a sinister turn when Chris discovers the unspeakable secret that links Rose's family with several missing local African American people. When Chris goes missing, his friend Rod, a TSA Agent, investigates.

With a clever screenplay and an inspired vision, comedian Jordan Peele's directorial film debut is equal parts uncomfortable and entertaining. The narrative is rich with layers of social commentary on the very real and immediately issues surrounding race and ethnicity in modern America. The most chilling concept presented in the picture is that its monsters do not simply aim to subjugate Chris. The rich old predominately white villains (there is one Japanese man in the crowd) fetishize Chris on a purely superficial level, attempt to suppress and hollow out his personhood, and subsequently fully implant themselves into his shell.

As the emotionally reserved Chris, Daniel Kaluuya is a captivating protagonist, delivering a quiet vulnerability that constantly builds as a formative childhood trauma is drawn to the surface against his will and as he discovers the horror behind his predicament. Allison Williams plays Rose to perfection as the duplicitous bait in her family's scheme. As Rose's surgeon father, Bradley Whitford exemplifies the unnerving shallow friendliness of any racist who has ever denied their prejudice. On the other end of the spectrum, Caleb Landry Jones embodies pure white trash as Rose's brother with a proclivity for random violent outbursts. The most terrifying character of the film may be Rose's psychiatrist mother portrayed by Catherine Keener with cold precision. A close second for scariest character would Georgina, the creepy maid with a disturbing secret, played by Betty Gabriel with delightful creepiness. It is impossible not to root for Lil Rel Howery's Rod, the ineffable and hilarious voice of reason, and possibly the only TSA agent to ever perform a heroic act in film.

Get Out is smart, gripping, socially-conscious horror with a good measure of humor in the mix. The twisted, deceptive, very white antagonists are truly terrifying. Jordan Peele immediately establishes himself as a filmmaker to follow closely.


FRAGMENTS
- According to Writer/Director Jordan Peele, the Sunken Place represents the marginalization of minorities in America as "No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us."

- In the original intended ending of film, Chris incarcerated by law enforcement for killing Rose and her family, but Writer/Director Jordan Peele decided to revise the ending in light of several unjust police shootings of black people that occurred as production for the film was underway

- This film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in the category of Musical or Comedy while it is undeniably NOT a musical or comedy

- Bradley Whitford appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and The Post

- Caleb Landry Jones appears in two Best Picture Oscar Nominees that were released in 2017: this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


MCU CONNECTIONS
- Bradley Whitford (Agent John Flynn in Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter)

- Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi in Black Panther)

20180219

Dunkirk

DUNKIRK
2017 | Dir. Christopher Nolan | 106 Minutes

"All we did is survive."


Trapped on the beach at Dunkirk in 1940, a British Soldier named Tommy is among hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers in the process of being picked off by German dive-bombers. Across the channel, Mr. Dawson, his son Peter, and neighborhood boy George set sail to Dunkirk in Dawson's boat alongside hundreds of civilian vessels to assist in the Royal Navy's desperate rescue mission. In the sky, a Royal Air Force fighter pilot flies towards Dunkirk to provide air support as his wing men are gunned down.

Dunkirk is an extraordinary and suspenseful war picture utilizing the very best of Christopher Nolan's talents as a filmmaker - most notably Nolan's unique manipulation of time. Told through three interwoven narratives that respectively take place over one week, one day, and one hour, tension is established through steadily rising action, breathtaking photography, and masterful film editing. Though the lead characters are not given much expository dialogue or backstory, they are fully-defined by the actions they take in the direst of circumstances. The film is a tale of pure survival, sidestepping any form of a political message, completely distilled and concentrated, undeniably thrilling the most visceral way.

Fionn Whitehead carries much of the film as the soldier Tommy, completely natural as a young man forming unspoken bonds with other soldiers as he desperately fights to survive under extraordinary circumstances. Kenneth Branagh and James D'Arcy make brief but notable appearances as military officers on the mole. Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy provide dramatic conflict on the sea as small boat captain Mr. Dawson and a shell-shocked soldier found floating on debris. Young actor Barry Keoghan plays the well-meaning but hapless George in a memorable but thankless part. As the Royal Air Force fighter pilot, Tom Hardy is simply cool - there is no other descriptor for his performance - he is so cool.

Engaging, inspirational, meticulously-structured, at times disorienting, Dunkirk is a solid cinematic achievement that must be experienced in a movie theater. The film more than compensates for the absence of a conventional narrative with universal depictions of heroism through action.


FRAGMENTS
- Writer/Director Christopher Nolan considered improvising the entire film instead of writing a script but his partner Producer Emma Thomas convinced him to write an actual screenplay

- Dunkirk depicts the struggle of Operation Dynamo on the ground, on the sea, and in the air, while Darkest Hour, also nominated for Best Picture released in 2017, depicts the political administrative challenge behind the operation


MCU CONNECTIONS
- James D'Arcy (Jarvis on Agent Carter)

20180218

Darkest Hour

DARKEST HOUR
2017 | Dir. Joe Wright | 125 Minutes

"You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!"


In 1940, the Labour Party forces British Conservative Party Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain out of office. Meant to serve as a placeholder for the Conservative Party, the irritable First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill is elected Prime Minister. Despite immense pressure from Parliament and King George VI, Churchill perseveres and refuses to surrender to the escalating might of Germany.

Designed to be a prestige picture in every way, Darkest Hour is frustratingly conventional, lacking in any unique qualities in terms of content and presentation. Nearly the entire film features a murky visual aesthetic meant to accentuate the WWII-era England setting that is more jarring than nostalgic. The narrative depicting Parliament and George VI's objections against Churchill and Churchill's subsequent triumph despite their misgivings is as generic as it sounds as depicted on screen in this feature. The very worst sequence is one invented out of whole cloth in which Churchill converses with common British folk while taking a ride on the London Underground, asking their opinions on the war and the potential negotiations with Germany.

Character actor Gary Oldman's go-for-broke performance as Winston Churchill, fully transformed into the iconic British PM under heavy prosthetics, is worthy of praise, but leaves no room for nuance and is far, far from his best work. Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James also deliver brilliant performances as Clementine Churchill and Churchill's secretary Elizabeth Layton respectively but their work is ultimately wasted on this picture.

The biggest draw of Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman's astounding portrayal of Churchill. Oldman is excellent but his performance is never subtle and, at points, even distracting. The feature itself is a washed-out paint-by-numbers affair, failing to tell a story meant to be inspiring.


FRAGMENTS
- Legendary character actor John Hurt was initially cast as Neville Chamberlain but was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer and passed away in January 2017; incidentally, the real life Chamberlain died from terminal bowel cancer

- Darkest Hour depicts the political administrative challenge of Operation Dynamo, while Dunkirk, also nominated for Best Picture released in 2017, depicts the struggle on the ground, on the sea, and in the air