Review: The Emoji Movie

This movie is synonymous with mental self-harm.

A child has a malfunctioning phone that randomly starts up apps in the middle of his high school classes and sends weird emojis to people he likes, yet he decides not to repair it. The End.

Language has had centuries of evolution. The written word is the oldest and most reliable system of communication the people on this planet have ever known, since cave drawings from over 40,000 years ago, to the complex Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to the fourth century. Language has evolved to become fully expressive and malleable, to tell stories and express emotions, to answer questions and explain the world we live in.
The Egyptians wrote about deities, incredible beings so powerful they pulled the sun around the world, they created other worlds to explain life’s mysteries. Roman and Norse mythologies gave life and purpose to the seas, the storms, the air and dreams. Whether true or not, whether debunked by science or not, they are creative and inspiring, complex and meaningful, fully of characters with trials and tribulations.
The Emoji Movie doesn’t just explain that emojis are the new language, it outright says without a shred of self-awareness: “Who likes words anyway?”
The means in which this film’s script was written. Perhaps this script was written in emojis… that is possible.

These are the thoughts I was having when Alex, the most boring child, was at school and joining his peers in not listening to their teacher and instead using their phones to send each other pictures made by underachieving graphic designers working for Microsoft and Apple.

The sheerness of stupidity in this film is fascinatingly deep and depressingly real; layered like an onion, keeping up with the film’s escalating depravity is a skill in itself. From an opening that promotes ideals such as “a child’s life is centered around their phone” and “mobile apps are profound”. Profound.
But it gets worse. Akin to Wreck-It Ralph, the film focuses everything on “the secret world inside your phone”, where emojis are living entities that appear when you call them. They have their own personality that defines who they are. Except Gene. Who can’t seem to get the emotion of “meh” right and as a result is going to be deleted.
The threat in this movie is that Gene will be deleted because he isn’t acting as an emoji should, you know, the emotion they are designed to portray. So, what’s the issue here? Delete him already. The character’s are so badly elaborated upon that you simply feel nothing for them.

Oh, another poop joke. Script saved.

The film’s definition of a “high-stakes action sequence” is to put the characters in Candy Crush™ (Candy Crush Saga is a free-to-play match-three puzzle video game released by King on April 12, 2012, for Facebook; other versions for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 10 followed. It is a variation on their browser game Candy Crush) and its ideas of story progression and character development are to put the unfunny heroes through different apps on Alex’s phone so they can reach Dropbox™ (Dropbox is a file hosting service operated by American company Dropbox, Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, California, that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software. Dropbox was founded in 2007, by MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, as a startup company, with initial funding from seed accelerator Y Combinator), such as Just Dance™ (Just Dance Now is a video game in the Just Dance series developed by Ubisoft. It was released on September 25, 2014, available in both the App Store and Google Play) and even Spotify™ (Spotify is a music, podcast, and video streaming service that was officially launched on 7 October 2008. It is developed by startup Spotify AB in Stockholm, Sweden) and even Youtube™ (YouTube is an American video-sharing website headquartered in San Bruno, California. The service was created by three former PayPal employees — Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim — in February 2005. Google bought the site in November 2006 for US$1.65 billion; YouTube now operates as one of Google’s subsidiaries.)
The amount of corporate pandering in this is mesmerisingly bad. Want a moment of #feels? Have the characters go into Instagram™ of course (Instagram is a mobile, desktop, and Internet-based photo-sharing application and service that allows users to share pictures and videos either publicly or privately. It was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and launched in October 2010 as a free mobile app exclusively for the iOS operating system).

We’ve not even gotten to the truly evil theme of The Emoji Movie. With all its bland animations and creativity that simply uses existing corporate constructs, the ear-spitting James Corden as Hi-Five utters the words: “Who needs friends when you can have fans! Fans will always stick by you, so long as you are on the top!”
This is said genuinely. The screenplay doesn’t correct or prove Hi-Five wrong in this belief. Gene is the audience surrogate and Hi-Five is the one who knows how the system works. This is the film’s idea of ethics.
Children today have real anxiety issues and early signs of depression due to social media and the need to have “likes” and “fans”. Chemical imbalances are being created by this artificial social environment, yet The Emoji Movie rocks up and claims this is all good!

Sony Pictures, something is desperately wrong with you.

As adults, we can just shrug this sort of nonsense off; we “know better” (as we ignore the film and look into our phones instead, ironically) but children are susceptible to these messages. As adults we should see this for what it is: a pandering, creatively-vapid, corporate-fueled nightmare intent on ruining and destroying the concepts of language, human interaction and art.

The Emoji Movie has made waves as one of the most hated films to have a major release by a major studio, which is a good sign for humanity, but the fact remains that it hasn’t “bombed” at the box office. It made its money back. This sort of thing can and probably will happen again. The future of communication is poop jokes.

This is a condensation of everything horribly wrong with modern society.


Additional Marshmallows: Do kids today really just… hang out in phone stores?

Additional, additional Marshmallows: The creators of this dumpster fire can’t even do this dumpster fire correctly; the Eggplant emoji isn’t popular? Are you, writers who’s sense of humour peaks at poop jokes, kidding me??

Additional, additional, additional Marshmallows: They actually ride on the Twitter™ bird logo (Twitter is an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, “tweets”, restricted to 140 characters. Twitter Inc. is based in San Francisco, California, United States, and has more than 25 offices around the world.)

All corporate information was shamelessly ripped from Wikipedia.

Review: Atomic Blonde

I was prepared for style over substance, but even the style was lacking here.

Set in 1989 Berlin, days before the Berlin Wall would be torn down, signalling the end of the Cold War, Lorraine is a covert operative sent by the British to obtain a piece of sensitive information that has had other agents killed over. But when she gets there, a deeper web of conspiracy awaits her.

I don’t know what I was expecting from a film called Atomic Blonde, but opinions seemed fairly positive so far and there’s nothing wrong with watching Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) but boy is it tonally confused and has serious delusions of intelligence.
Stylistically, Atomic Blonde is rocking a sweet 1980s soundtrack, a decent John Wick style approach to establishing combat scenes and weapons (some of the film’s crew did work on John Wick) and the director definitely has a fascination with Theron’s thighs. All good intentions, in my opinion. But unlike the aforementioned Mr Wick, this film is a spy film, an espionage film involving double-crosses, microfilms and sneaking around. For spies and secret agents, they are really bad at their jobs.
Tonally, Atomic Blonde is sleek, yet spray-can graffitied, and opens with a bloodless close-range execution at gun point. Strange, I thought. An R-rated / 15 movie having no gore at all. Only Atomic Blonde‘s final thirty minutes are completely drenched in blood with many head shots. So why no blood early on?
The strangeness is most apparent in the screenplay however. With a framing device of Lorraine being questioned by her superiors about what happened, there’s plenty of moving back and forth. This really makes the events weightless; we know she survives. The script seems needlessly over-complicated, with characters clamming up when explaining events for no reason other than to keep the story moving. Motivations for many characters didn’t exist and not just because they are all spies and lying to each other.

But don’t worry, Charlize Theron has sex with Sofia Boutella, quite graphically. So there’s that.

While Theron’s Lorraine is gorgeous and kicks serious butt in action scenes, I never felt like I got to know her, in fact if studios ever choose to make James Bond a woman, this film is a perfect example of how not to do it.

The film starts out very sluggishly with the framing device and a weird, weirdly written interaction involving the word “cocksucker”… Utterly baffling humour with no comic timing. The action (both involving Boutella and not) is great and Theron brings a lot of physicality to the role with bruises and serious fight choreography, but it is either a case of too-little-too-late or just rehashed from better movies.

Theron definitely should keep making these sorts of leading roles, just… more character, better screenplay and with higher stakes would be ideal!


Additional Marshmallows: This is the definition of a trailer-movie; a movie that is better as a trailer than a full narrative.

Review: Singin’ in the Rain

It is 2017, reshoots never go this well!

A silent movie production studio and its stars struggle during the advent of “talkies”; the production of movies with sound.

It is 2017, and I know I am very late!

Singin’ in the Rain is perhaps the most famous musical ever produced, alongside The Sound of Music perhaps, but as someone who has lead feet and doesn’t care for singing in movies… it took me a long time to commit to watching a film that is famous for its dancing and singing. But what I dislike most about musicals, doesn’t surface very often here, in fact… Singin’ in the Rain has a lot more going on than the typical praise lets on.

It is very hard to imagine that the film didn’t win either of its Academy Award nominations (Best Actress and Best Music) in 1953, by today’s reckoning this film would have swept the board! Singin’ in the Rain (from the perspective of someone only just watched it for the first time) is a mix of this year’s La La Land and The Artist back in 2011, two films that gathered up gold Oscar statues.
Of course, saying that is doing this film a little bit of disservice; those two films weren’t as ridiculously happy… no, deliriously happy… as this one. I think you’d have to have a heart of stone to not marvel at the film’s unrestrained joviality or at least the tremendous physical performances that come crashing your way. If neither of those, then the film’s surprising amount of self-awareness and even satirical edge towards the period of film-making that it is representing. Positively modern thinking.
We see Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen as Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, two Hollywood stars with a veneer of wax-sculpted charm and togetherness, a fake sheen of celebrity glamour that is only intensified by Don’s recounting of how they both met. An opening that certainly caught me off-guard! This is a satire??
It goes forward with these two growing intensely distant, especially when their jobs are at stake and they are expected to talk and enunciate correctly in their movies. Moreso, Don meets Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) a girl who doesn’t immediately fall for his movie-star charm, in fact she is repulsed by him and everything he stands for.

Of course, the music and the insane dancing performances are what people remember the movie for. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor (playing his career-long pal Cosmo) have ludicrous amounts of energy in their dancing parts! Sure, there are some moments that I found myself rolling my eyes a little (I can’t help it, it is why I struggle with musicals) with O’Connor’s “Make ’em Laugh” number; pretty sure I was watching a mental breakdown. It just comes out of nowhere and goes on and on.
But for majority the film’s musical numbers are very entertaining at the very least, including aforementioned lunacy and a strange… fashion show?
Probably my favourite aspect was Jean Hagen as the squeaky-voiced and terribly vain Lina, or perhaps everyone else’s reactions to her. It was very funny, but also her character drives a lot of the film’s narrative. Without it and the satire it promotes the film would have been nothing but fluff.

But, and there’s always a but. Like a lot of older films, the romance between Gene Kelly’s Don and Debbie Reynolds’ Kathy comes out of nowhere. I liked her initial disdain for him, I liked how it would give him some humility while inspiring him to maybe change his ways to win her over. Kathy literally has no idea who he is, maybe only having seen one of his films because she is above all that.
But then, twenty or thirty minutes later, she admits to having not only seen several of his films, but also having feelings for him! This is a guy who’s onscreen partner had you fired, and who you were about to slam a cake into the face of… only now you are laughing and dancing with him?
It could just be me, it isn’t as cold a cut as I am making it out to be. But Kathy’s character started out clearly not knowing him, even hating him, then it is revealed she was lying the entire time?

One of the most novel things in Singin’ in the Rain though, in 2017, is how the production studio Don, Lina, Cosmo and Kathy work for, need to save a movie with reshoots. Haha, oh… how reshoots are never good news nowadays.

But as a cynic of musicals, well done. I enjoyed this a whole lot. I was pleasantly surprised that the film had a satirical wit and many, many sideways glances and even fourth wall breaks (at least, looking down the barrel of the camera, Gene Kelly!) at the absurdity of it all, almost working with my cynicism!

A whole lot of fun.


Additional Marshmallows: The trailer just reminded me of possibly the worst part of the film: an opening ten seconds of our lead trio in raincoats singing “Singin’ in the Rain“. Quite jarring and quite unnecessary!

Review: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

What a charming, quirky and enjoyable adventure.

In New Zealand, a troublesome child is sent by child services to live in the countryside with foster parents and maybe adjust his immature behaviour. From there a wild story begins with him and his foster uncle throughout the wilderness of New Zealand.

With director Taika Waititi being brought in to direct 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel Studios, I felt it was necessary to catch up on some of his films and I am very happy that I did!
I’d like to keep this review simple. You ever want a movie that doesn’t require huge amounts of attention but has a lot of heart and entertaining performances, a pleasant and rewarding way to spend one hundred minutes of a quiet afternoon. The Hunt For the Wilderpeople is exactly that.
The film is narrowly focused on a stretch of New Zealand forest, and the integration of troublemaker Ricky (Julian Dennison) into rural life in a hope he might learn some humility and self-control. The wit and humour is on point. Ricky is a young boy with delusions of being a gangster, even going so far as to name his dog Tupac, yet he doesn’t have any understanding of what it is that makes someone a gangster. Dennison plays a naive young boy superbly. Beside him is Sam Neill (a favourite since Jurassic Park) initially vanishing into a big bushy grey beard as Hector, Ricky’s foster “uncle”. Neill and Dennison have such a great chemistry, an overly chatty child exploding with urban culture references forced upon a surly old grandpa who is the definition of reluctant yet constantly finds himself defending the kid.

The film does so much with so little. I really felt something for the characters, regardless of how archetypal they were (the plot sounds like Pixar’s UP, honestly) simply through their adventure. The adventure escalates when Ricky’s juvenile hall supervisor Paula (Rachel House, Moana) hears the child has been mistreated in Hector’s care and goes on what could only be called a crusade to “rescue him”. Paula is a cartoonishly evil character; outrageously angry and completely vindictive, accompanied by an unassuming policeman lackey. Her hunt for the two heroes is tremendous fun, especially when the wider country and television networks start to follow the drama.

It is a great little film where the story lies in the journey and not the destination. It is a story of delightful male bonding between two completely unmatched individuals; a kid who’s wilderness survival instincts is to steal toilet paper, and an old man who thinks “majestical” is a word. There are bumps in the road involving bizarre characters in the wilderness to exaggerate the wonderful New Zealand accent and our characters’ own personalities.

If you have a spare afternoon and want to watch something charming on Netflix, do watch The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I don’t think you will regret it, especially if you like quirky but well made comedies.


Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2D)

From visionary French director Luc Besson comes a highly inventive and creative sci-fi adventure that simply doesn’t know how to slow down.

Military special agents Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline are called in to secure a rare alien artefact being sold by a black market trader. But when they do acquire it, they discover the tip of a shadowy conspiracy revolving around the destruction of an idyllic alien world.

I’ll be honest, I really, really, really wanted to love Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Not just because it is sci-fi, or even that it is Luc Besson directing (who made the cult classic The Fifth Element and Leon) but because it is my first experience of one of modern science fiction’s founding stories. What do I mean by that? If I told you that the French Valerian comics was a core inspiration for George Lucas when he conceptualised Star Wars, that it pre-dates the Disney juggernaut we have today, I was pretty stoked to see what it was.
While it is a space opera of any sci-fi nerd’s dreams… it doesn’t really elevate itself any higher than that. Tremendously inventive ideas and visuals, but a transparent plot loaded with archetypes and rather disconnected from humanity.
Dane DeHann (Chronicle) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) headline this story as Valerian and Laureline, two agents with the usual dollop of sexual tension; he’s a hothead who balances skills and ego in equal measure, she is a cool-headed, all-business blonde who ignores his advances. But the film doesn’t really make you feel anything for them; they quip, they bicker, but we don’t really get to know them.
Instead we get many incredible CG-generated worlds and cities, which boggle the mind more with inventiveness than in implementation, truly some spectacular visual artistry at work here. Many great ideas that could have fueled entire films on their own. There isn’t much in-camera effects, or at least undetectable beneath the heavy layers of computerised colours and shapes. But the first major sequence takes place in a market city that exists on another plane of reality; our heroes using visors, gloves and special containers to see and interact with the citizens and their world. Very inventive! It sets the tone for a film that’s rich with creativity.

But boy does it start to feel weightless after a while. This is more like Attack of the Clones than The Force Awakens (to use the source material’s descendants as examples) with performances swaying from deliberately cool and stoic, to just bafflingly flat. One moment sticks out, with Delevingne interacting with an extremely rare alien creature (in fact, the only one in existence!) and she so much as says how excited she is to see what it can do (we the audience have already seen its party trick). Yet when she experiments and voices her amazement, she could not have sounded more flat and disinterested. This disinterested behaviour affects DeHann as well, probably because most of the movie is green screeen.

In fact it is safe to say that the most powerful and emotion-filled performance in this film is given to/performed by Rihanna. That says a lot.

Besson’s own The Fifth Element and this film’s child Star Wars had a better understanding of character development and pacing. Valerian does not stop; it rattles along, throwing new CGI creatures and characters into scenes that are seemingly relevant in the moment, yet ultimately superfluous distractions that add nothing for the characters. Probably references to the bigger universe that the comics inhabit and how crazy it all is, but Besson is practiced in showing crazy in small effective doses (The Fifth Element) without making it irrelevant.
More to the film’s detriment; Besson hopes to make a trilogy out of Valerian and I (without even knowing the source material) could see why. But this is not the first step in making a believable or compelling trilogy.

If it had just slowed down and given us time to process it all, it would have been better for it. Characters would have been deeper, emotions would have run higher in moments of peril, we would want to see them again. As it is, Valerian is an amitious sci-fi marvel, but will probably sink like John Carter did years ago.

As a big fan of science fiction, I would recommend it to anyone similarly enamored with the genre, or anyone looking for a unique experience. It is has some beautiful design and concepts at work, really inventive ideas crushed into one movie it is almost excessive. Just… don’t expect much in the way of compelling character development or a sensible pace.


Review: Dunkirk (2017)

You think you know war films? Think again. Nolan’s Dunkirk is probably one of the most ambitiously edited, unique and tense war films ever made.

One of the most disastrous moments in World War Two sees Allied forces from Britain, Belgium and France trapped against the French coast and the constricting frontline of Nazi invasion forces. With over 400,000 men helpless and stranded on the beaches, it is a desperate race to save them with what little resources are left.

There are many things said about director Christopher Nolan: One, he is a technical mastermind behind the camera, two, he knows how to edit his films, three, he cannot direct emotional performances and four, he brought Hollywood the concept of “Nolanifying”; that is the act of over-explaining and expositing the heck out of his scripts.
2017’s Dunkirk is the best film he has made since… Memento?

Straight off the bat, our opening scene is a chase scene through the streets of France. A single soldier survives the gun battle and we are immediately upon the beaches, the title “The Mole: 1 Week” appears on screen, initially perplexing. The film’s narrative is divided over three perspectives, from a handful of young soldiers on the beaches, from an old sailor and his sons sailing across the channel to lend aid, and from a Spitfire pilot in the skies above. But more than this, “The Mole: 1 Week” is a time frame, the time spent on the beaches, while the sailor (Mark Rylance) has “1 Day”, while the pilot (Tom Hardy) perspective has only “1 Hour”.
Through intense editing and a through-line of incredibly limited dialogue, all three perspectives slowly begin to merge. Example: When Tom Hardy’s one hour as Farrier stumbles upon a blue boat under attack in the open ocean, the scene ends, following that we then see the young soldiers finding the boat and prepare to launch it. Editing foreshadowing, a non-linear narrative, similar to Nolan’s debut Memento.

This is the structure of the film. It dances from one perspective to another, showing events not chronologically, but in such a way that ramps up the tension and keeps the audience on tenterhooks. Hopefully you didn’t miss the first ten minutes! The captions will be your first clue!

Boy, is the film a nightmare of wartime reality. With such a bold editing choice, a three act structure almost doesn’t exist. The film almost feels like one long third act; an incredible pressure cooker moment where helpless people are on the verge of death. One moment it is a cacophony of wailing Stuka Bomber sirens, the next it is a soldier suffering shellshock, followed by men trying (and often failing) to escape sinking ships. The film is not for the faint of heart; there are little moments of respite here, and when there is it is only accompanied by the awesome score by Hans Zimmer (easily the best work he has done since The Dark Knight) drilling tension and the omnipresent doom onto our characters. The Nazi forces are never shown beyond their vicious aircraft; they are “the enemy”, represented as a war machine intent on relentlessly wiping everyone out.
There are no half measures with production either. Each perspective is lovingly recreated for authenticity, indeed, with such a bare-minimal script most exposition and character development is through sets, costumes and physical acting. I wouldn’t say it was “emotional”, there’s no time to “get to know the characters”, this isn’t a Spielberg movie, but it is certainly harrowing and real. It is about the survival of the moment.

The undulating and cross-weaving perspectives make the one-hundred minute film (short by Nolan’s standards and better for it!) a brutal representation of a moment in history.
It is a bleak and hard experience, but Nolan has crafted a film with singular purpose with subtly and incredible mastery of in-camera practical effects and editing.


Additional Marshmallows: Harry Styles, who? I am lucky I have no idea who he is or anything about his boy band One Direction. Honestly, I didn’t even notice. The script is so bare bones and visceral that no one stood out as phony or out of place. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh wisely get the heaviest roles in terms of dialogue.

Additional, additional marshmallows: I am not one for IMAX, but seeing this in that format would be absolutely incredible.

Review: Cars 3

While the ending is punchy, the forgettable setup for this racer story is slow and predictable.

Lightning McQueen finds himself outclassed by new and faster racers and threatened with retirement, he vows to be the one who decides when he’s done racing.

The Cars franchise is probably the most brittle of the Pixar series and most certainly the most disliked by fans older than the age of ten. The first film was a simple but effective stay-true-to-yourself story, but Cars 2 took the comparatively humble film and turned the dial up to obnoxious and unfunny, easily being Pixar’s worst production.
So when Cars 3 rolled around and displayed a gritty, dour and mature trailer that spits in the faces of those who outed Cars 2 for the childish merchandise machine that it was, I wondered if it was too little too late. Certainly, McQueen’s inner battle for relevance could be a metaphor for this film.

Cars 3 is pretty basic for a film buff, and not basic in the charming way the first film was. This is Rocky Balboa but with cars, without any particular commitment to the bit that Balboa dedicated itself to.
Does any one, any one watching this film believe anything Lightning McQueen is being sold over the first tedious thirty minutes? Anyone over ten?
So this children’s film starts out with McQueen going through the transition between racing sponsorships. Exciting eh, kids? His competitors are beating him with new hi-tech training programmes (Rocky 4, cough) and he is brought in to train in the same way.
Oh sure. I believe this. The character who’s learned everything from grass roots and countryside racing is going to willingly move on to the slick, expensive technological corporation. The film not only wants us to believe this, it dedicates so much time to it. Can we just hurry up and get McQueen training on a farm, pulling tractors and whatnot.

Asides from the enforced parallels to Rocky movies (there’s even a friend of McQueen’s early on who is “defeated” by the villain called Cal Weathers, gettit??) Cars 3‘s comedy is flat. While it is a improvement on Cars 2‘s standard, it just isn’t that funny. Sure, the first film wasn’t spectacular with laughs, but when this film attempts to be “thoughtful” and “contemplative” like the 2006 film it just feels like filler; how many times can McQueen look in awe at something off screen?
The film relies a lot on McQueen’s parallels with his late mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the late great Paul Newman) and Hudson’s own mentors, which feels a little uncomfortable what with Newman’s passing and more than a little retread from the first movie.

Can you tell that the audience of children I saw this with were restless? Boy. While kudos to Pixar for making mature movies (Inside Out, Up) Cars is not the franchise for this sort of contemplation.

Once you go Cars 2, you can’t go back.

It can be commended for its maturity. McQueen is a more believable character here and this is the sequel Cars probably deserved, but… it is Cars. Cars. There’s a degree of discombobulation with such earnest words coming from… cars. But the new characters are decent, McQueen’s trainer/journey buddy Cruz is miles better than Mater, with Cristela Alonzo giving a lot of energy to the role.

Fighting for relevance ten years on, I don’t feel anything for the Cars films that hasn’t been done better in more honed and perfected sport movies. Children might enjoy it but be warned the middle of this film is slow going and bound to make those very young very restless.


Additional Marshmallows: And poor Sally and the other Radiator Springs characters, they just don’t get a look in anymore!

Review: Dunkirk (1958)

What with Christopher Nolan’s envisioning of the World War Two events coming soon, I wanted to check out the first big screen interpretation.

During the terrifying events of World War Two, Nazi Germany was advancing across Europe and the Allied forced attempting to stop them were slowly crushed against the coast line. Dunkirk marks the point of the final evacuation by sea of hundreds of thousands of soldiers trapped and vulnerable to Nazi bombers and attack.

I can see why Christopher Nolan would want to make his own interpretation of the events at Dunkirk. This is tense!

Based off the events, but also the novel by Trevor Dudley Smith, the 1958 film follows two perspectives: one, a small unit of soldiers left behind as their battalion retreats, who are forced to navigate through Nazi-occupied France alone and two, civilians in England who are eventually tasked with sailing their own boats to the war front. It is a film of juxtaposition at first, we have war torn France and soldiers barely holding themselves together as the mortifying German Stuka bombers constantly rain destruction around them, meanwhile we see the degrees of anger, fear and even apathy from those completely removed from the war.
The leading stars of this movie include John Mills, Bernard Lee (M from the original James Bond movies) and a youthful Richard Attenborough. Mills plays the untested corporal who finds himself leading his men through claustrophobic and dicey moments of avoiding death or Nazi capture, Lee and Attenborough play two men who see the war very differently yet nobly join the fray. Attenborough is probably the most memorable and most unique character, playing a man who desperately wants to avoid the war (although he does “supply” the troops, it is seen as profiting from the war) going so far as to not register his boat and even cutting six inches from it to not match specifications. By all accounts, this character should be hated, but Attenborough’s performance is both timid and conflicted, making him both sympathetic and eventually noble.
The film doesn’t glamourise the war, or even the people in it, in fact it displays the events as a colossal disaster that is only redeemed by the courage of those facing it.

The war scenes, as expected from older productions, does use some real footage to evoke accuracy and scale, but most impressive is the budget of the in-camera production! With roughly $1,000,000 in budget, the film is still quite a spectacle, even brief miniature work towards the end is decent. Everything set on the beaches towards the end is incredible in size and scale, while smaller events such as ducking and weaving through the French countryside, gun emplacements, military vehicles and patrols, all very well implemented.
Director Leslie Norman (who would go on to direct episodes of 1960s The Saint with Roger Moore) plays around with the dread of overhead attack. There’s always a sense of entrapment and once upon the beaches a great sense of vulnerability. We see early on what Stuka bombers can and are willing to do, that they can attack civilians without mercy, the idea of helpless soldiers without shelter is terrible.

As a film it has aged well, I would say there are only minor issues visible, such as some sound mixing doesn’t quite work in certain scenes. The ending feels slightly rushed, whether for budget reasons or not, we don’t see the evacuation. We see plenty of the carnage and fear before and during and the failed attempts at evacuation, but the film sort of just stops and “everyone was evacuated”. It doesn’t diminish the reality of the previous scenes, but it becomes a little matter-of-fact in the closing moments.

I was a little concerned watching this before Nolan’s film might ruin it for me, but on the contrary I think I am even more intrigued! A surprisingly bleak, real accounting of a terrible but crucial and courageous moment in history.


Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

The latest installment is still incredible to look at, but feels a little directionless and even anti-climatic compared to the incredible Dawn that preceded it.

Set fifteen years after the rise of intelligent ape kind, War follows Caesar and his growing tribe of apes as they try to escape a ruthless human colonel who wants to exterminate all of them.

In terms of anticipation, War for the Planet of the Apes is following an extremely well made series of films and is potentially leading into one of the classics of 1960s science fiction. There’s a lot riding on this. A little bit like watching a gorilla riding a horse.

The movie is a surprisingly somber, muted affair at times. While Caesar and a select few apes can talk, most of them communicate through sign language, making the film’s bold choice of taking the perspective of the apes a challenging one. It is to be expected, as humanity is slowly whittled away, that the apes would take centre stage; Rise was a human centric movie, Dawn was a mix of both, and finally War is showing that humanity is on its last legs.
So there are moments of little-to-no dialogue as we see Caesar and his family, mostly following on from Dawn‘s narrative (if you are unfamiliar with the characters you may find yourself a little lost with all the monkey sign-language). But the tranquility is shattered very early on; Caesar’s tribe is attacked by the Colonel’s forces (the Colonel played by Woody Harrelson) and his mate and eldest son are killed.
War‘s primary focus is Caesar; he is emotionally compromised throughout the entire film as he seeks vengeance and experiences nightmares of Koba (Dawn‘s incredible ape villain) while his comrades try to protect him from himself. Caesar is the reason to watch this film; coupled with the frankly spectacular visual effects, this character is more real than ever. It is like watching real characters, the way they move and the way they emote is utterly seamless, it is incredible visual effects and animation!

While of course the film, and now the trilogy, would focus on Caesar and Andy Serkis’ awesome motion capture performance, the film lacks the pathos and escalation of the previous two films. This mostly stems from its narrative following the apes’ perspective and the surprisingly vague human motivation.
Woody Harrelson is good as a troubled antagonist, especially in one key scene later in the film, but this so called “war” quickly feels more like a skirmish. There’s no real sense of impending global doom for humanity, no sense of whether or not Harrelson’s garrison of monkey killers are one of the last bastions of humanity. Outside of the Colonel’s own biased belief of course. Indeed, the bigger picture is missing, as is a Koba-like character to muddy the morality of both sides. This is compounded when a second faction of humans join the fray, heralding from somewhere “north”, suggesting other humans in greater numbers exist. So the film doesn’t feel as climactic as it should.
Dawn‘s final shot of Jason Clarke sinking into the shadows, irrelevant to the victorious apes, had more gravitas and finality than this entire film.

Emotions run high for Caesar, the film certainly gives him a hard time, but between that, a human girl accompanying them, a comic relief side character, plot conveniences, vague human motivations, and apes more on the run than participating, the film feels narratively fractured.

As a film it felt more like The Great Ape Escape than the war that will end a species. While certainly there is more to come, this third part – despite its incredible visuals and challenging somber tone for a blockbuster – left me wanting.

Perhaps I am the victim of false marketing; the trailer does portray a film with huge, Earth-shaking battles when in reality it is anything but, and maybe anticipation was just too high!


Additional Marshmallows: File under “Works as part of a Trilogy”, with such films as The Bourne Supremacy and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest. Most of the credit goes towards the spectacular animation work.

[No misguiding trailer for you!]

Review: Okja

Like a live-action Studio Ghibli, Okja has tremendous heart, charm and nightmare fuel. Your love of bacon could be threatened.

A young orphaned Korean girl living with her grandfather befriends a colossal new breed of pig that they are raising in the countryside. Little does she know, her grandfather was chosen ten years ago as part of an American corporate scheme to raise the best livestock for a new breed of produce. Naturally, when the time comes that Okja must leave, young Mija goes to rescue the giant friendly beast from its corporate fate.

Yeah, you probably have some idea what this film is about, young girl in the country growing up with a huge friendly animal that’s being bred as cattle for a modern meat-eating society. You would be mostly right.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong, the man being the critically underrated The Host (not the one you are thinking of) and the recent and excellent sci-fi Snowpiercer, Okja has a great sense of humour and awesome directing talent, as well as a very black sense of reality underneath its otherwise comic proceedings. In terms of direction, acting, pacing and technical film-making it is flawless.
The young Seo-Hyn Ahn, playing heroine Mija, is great. While her role does not entail much dialogue she brings some tremendous physical performance, as well as acting beside Okja, something completely computer generated. Shortly after Okja is taken from her, Mija meets a team of radical activists who rescue animals from slaughter and cruelty. The team is tremendous, with Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead) and Paul Dano, bringing a great sense of camaraderie and a mix of drama and comedy.
On the other side is Tilda Swinton (apparently Joon-ho Bong really liked working with her in Snowpiercer!) as the head of the Mirando Corporation, who is crazy but not as insane as Jake Gyllenhaal, the “face” of the Corporation, a stir-crazy has-been.

The film has something of a “live-action Ghibli” vibe, from Okja’s design and the rural Korean countryside that she resides with Mija, to the way the film’s action and set pieces are shot and composed. A frantic dash through a mall, Okja crashing through shops and piles of knick-knacks, Mija barely holding on, and a shot of the activists piling into the back of a moving semi-truck the moment security guys crash through doors after them. The timing and execution of shots is just pleasing to watch.

Of course (and like Ghibli can do sometimes) the film does go to some dark places. While a lot of it is loaded into the final act, and the comedy of the moments dies completely for the stark reality of the dire situation. It is effective and the film as a whole does not labour itself with any perpetual grimness; it reserves it all for the ending.

If you like bacon, you probably won’t be converted to vegan immediately, but you will probably feel bad about it for a day or so.

I was very impressed with Okja, and I highly recommend it for some crazy comedic action, great direction, powerful but grim themes of modern society and colourful acting from familiar faces.
It didn’t get a cinema release after featuring in Festivals such as Cannes, but it is now on Netflix.


Additional Marshmallows: It even features Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Giancarlo Esposito!