Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dunkirk (2017)



Christopher Nolan's latest offering is an accurate representation of an event that occurred in 1940 during WWII. British, Belgian and French troops were cut off within Dunkirk, surrounded by advancing German troops. The allies were literally fish in a barrel to the German forces. They were stranded, being attacked from both land and air with the sea to their backs, nowhere to run.

Situated in Northern France, Dunkirk was the location of the massive evac operation which saw large numbers of British civilians man their own vessels in order to assist with the rescue. Up to 400 various manned craft were voluntarily used and braved the English Channel along with various military vessels. Despite the fact that German forces had halted their crushing advance on Dunkirk (giving the Allies some time to organise the evac), the Luftwaffe were still hitting the port and its beaches and enemy troops were still on the ground.

Nolan's film tells the story of Dunkirk from separate angles, land sea and air. The first angle is from a young British private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who has survived a recent German ambush and has made his way to the beaches. We follow Tommy as he tries to get on-board a couple ships only for them to be sunk by German attacks. Tommy eventually ends up back on the beaches with some Scottish soldiers and a French soldier. The second angle is from RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and two other Spitfire pilots who are part of the British airborne resistance against the German bombers. And the third angle is from a Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter and his sons best friend George. All of whom have volunteered to help in the rescue with the aid of Mr. Dawson's yacht.



First off Nolan's film is not like most traditional films. There is very little dialog throughout the entire runtime; instead Nolan relies on pure visuals and the musical score to convey the films atmosphere. That is where the film may be problematic for many people, this isn't a war movie filled with blood, guts, gun battles and explosions. Obviously if you know about the actual historical event then you would know to expect this. The most dialog comes from the story surrounding Mr. Dawson and his son Peter, second to that would probably be Tommy's story, then lastly and most obviously is Farrier's story which is almost entirely conveyed through Tom Hardy's facial expressions.

Now whilst I did fully appreciate Nolan's vision here, I have to admit to finding it somewhat odd watching a movie like this with little dialog. Looking at Farrier's story (the air section), it was indeed very impressive to watch these old Spitfires dogfight with German Messerschmitt's. Naturally it wasn't shot in the typical Hollywood action sequence type way. What you get are highly realistic air sequences which show the planes trying to manoeuvre into position to be able to attack each other. When the attacks come they are short bursts with very little fanfare. When a plane gets hit nothing much happens at first. The pilots communications are brief and not filled with silly quips. Basically overall it kinda feels like you're watching some kind of airshow display or training video, the fact everything is shot in natural light kinda adds to that.

The story surrounding Tommy is probably the most Hollywood-esque part of the movie, but it still may not please some. Once again this is a highly realistic vision, there are no 'Saving Private Ryan' sequences on this beach. The plot is straight forward, Tommy and another soldier try to board ships by using an injured soldier as their ticket essentially. That seems almost wrong but in the grand scheme of things who wouldn't do that? The fact that they try to get away twice and both times the ships are sunk did seem almost too unlucky to me. The fact that later on they reach another ship and yet again it gets sunk, kinda felt a bit overly dramatic perhaps. Did that many ships get sunk in the real event?



Tommy's tale certainly has the most cinematic visuals of the film, the numerous shots of the troops lined up on the beach are incredibly haunting, yet beautiful. Its easily the most intriguing of the three main plots but at the same time its also a bit too 'Spielbergian' methinks. When Tommy meets up with the Scottish soldiers things get a tad by the numbers and a little dull. I also felt the death of the French soldier (who was thought to be a Brit) was again a little touch of Hollywood which maybe wasn't required. It was too predictable, the minute he is exposed as French you kinda knew his number was up. I should add that whilst all this is going on we get little snippets of Kenneth Branagh as a Commander overseeing the operation from the beach. Again like Hardy he tends to emote through facial expressions more than dialog.

For me the weakest of the stories was following Mr. Dawson and his son. Call me shallow but this was simply because it wasn't really that interesting. I found myself yearning for the plot to get back to the beaches, or in the air with Farrier. Don't get me wrong, Mark Rylance puts in a great performance as the calm and steadfast Dawson, and its important to see the civilian angle of this story. The thing is it just wasn't really that intriguing watching this trio sale slowly towards Dunkirk.



The subplot of them rescuing a stranded officer (Cillian Murphy) from a shipwreck was also something of an odd addition. Murphy's officer is shell-shocked, he argues about going to Dunkirk and tries to stop Dawson. This leads to George (Peter's best friend) falling and badly injuring his head...which leads to his eventual death! I really didn't see the point in all this because it goes nowhere. Dawson and Peter lie to the shell-shocked officer about it and that's kinda that. Neither Dawson or Peter came across as upset when the incident occurred or when George dies. You're left wondering what happens with that. Does the officer get done for murder upon return to England? Would he be let off because of the fact he was shell-shocked?

Would I say this is one of the greatest war films ever made? In terms of realism yes. In terms of score, cinematography and craftsmanship yes. In terms of engagement (for me the viewer) I'd say its up there, but maybe not the best. I totally and utterly shower praise on Nolan and co for their vision and what they have achieved here, the authenticity being the number one factor of course (score not far behind). But I cannot deny the film is a little slow at times. I hate myself for saying this but I did find myself yearning for just a touch of romanticised heroism or emotion just to get those waterworks going.

The final sequence showing Farrier taking out one last German bomber before he is forced to land in enemy territory from lack of fuel, was so fecking awesome. Seeing the Spitfire land in one shot on the Dunkirk beach was fantastic, as was seeing a stoic Farrier stare into the camera as he is captured and led away. But dagnabbit Chris, I just needed a hint, a mere drop of glossy sentimentality. The film was so realistic that it didn't really feel like a film at times (again I hate myself for saying this). But bottom line, this film is a tour de force that ignores manufactured heroics and stereotypical Hollywood-isms.

9/10

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Justice League (2017)

























So this was it, the main event, the big one to rival Marvels 'The Avengers'. Only five movies in and DC (along with Warner Bros.) felt it would be a shrewd decision to whack out their superhero team-up flick, hmmm.

This was always gonna be a hard sell with the performance of previous DC movies. Superman hadn't really set the world alight and the Suicide Squad was a nice idea that was badly executed. Wonder Woman of course did well (boosted by a political agenda) but that now seems like a flute more than anything. We hadn't had any stand alone movies for Flash, Cyborg or Aquaman up to this point, something that just felt totally wrong. So not only was this a sequel of sorts to the previous Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman offerings, it was also a slight origins kick off for Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman (despite previous cameos).

Alas the plot is anything but fresh (its a superhero flick). A long long long long time ago on Earth, the evil supervillain Steppenwolf (stupid name) tried to take over the planet using three gizmos called Mother Boxes. He was beaten back by a whole team of other superhero types and said Boxes were hidden on Earth (if you wanna protect Earth, why not hide them elsewhere? Like in the far flung reaches of the universe). Much later in the present day the Boxes are triggered by the death of Superman? Or the presence of Superman? Are these things sentient beings? I have no friggin' clue but they activate and this gets Steppenwolf's attention. So he comes back to find the Boxes and try to take over the Earth to please his master Darkseid. Why he didn't just do this before I dunno, don't delve too deeply into this plot.



Enter our team of heroes, the Justice League. First up its good old Batman (Ben Affleck), the leader who's super power is being very rich (his own words). Alas this comment really hits home because his presence is really kinda stupid. Why would you need a regular human dressed in bat armour in a fight with super powered aliens and metahumans? He provides them with some cool vehicles...which they don't need, umm...he also lets them kip at his place? Unfortunately Affleck also seemed to not care about this movie seeing as he clearly didn't wanna be there, and he looked tubby. When he takes off his batsuit the shirt he has on underneath also has a muscle structure built into it. Methinks they had to cover his actual physique.

Then we have Supes (Henry Cavill) who is basically the same as before. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who essentially struts around making smartass comments all the time. Apparently the success of Gadot's only movie has gone to her head because my God does she act smug for the whole time. The Flash (Erza Miller) is the obligatory comic relief which is enjoyable for what its worth but is at odds with the movies tone. Also where did he get that Nasa material to build his suit? Next up is Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who is another character that doesn't really fit here. Like what does this guy do? He's basically an agile Terminator, but it seems like he could be easily destroyed at any point. And lastly there is Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the final pointless character here unless you're fighting underwater. But wait, Aquaman seems to have powers on land in this movie too because plot necessities.

One problem I had with this movie were the effects and general look of everything. Firstly its that same old drab, metallic, dark, shadowy atmosphere that DC (via Zack Snyder) has been pushing this whole time. The movie looks awful, the colour palette is terrible, and it all looks the same. Naturally there is abundance of CGI which is to be expected but again its poor and obvious looking, whilst having that strange DC/WB videogame-esque look to it. Did I mention the greenscreen? Oh my God it was horrendous and so very very obvious. The battle between Steppenwolf's army and the Earth defenders at the start was horribly dated looking. Almost all underwater sequences looked bad plus you couldn't really make much out. Steppenwolf himself looked like a character out of a Mortal Kombat movie. And Cyborg was quite jokey looking at times, he looked like he was made out of tinfoil with a bad face job.



I think the epitome of dross in this movie came when Aquaman surfed on a parademon whilst falling from a great height. He then crashes into a high-rise building, smashes all the way through it from top to bottom, and comes out surfing at the bottom with a grin on his face. This was literally cringeworthy cartoon garbage that also looked shit.

The other main problem here was the entire movie simply being cheap. As in using dated tropes and cliches whilst being just plain stupid. Thing is this was somewhat expected with the characters you're dealing with. Aquaman, he's useless, he merely pops up to do stuff that involves water because he's the water guy. Oh everyone's about to be drowned by a huge tidal wave!! Enter Aquaman...hurray! Oh we need someone to hack into this computer control panel thingy and do some hi-tech computer type stuff? Enter Cyborg because he's the robot guy. Oh we need someone to get somewhere really quickly or rescue some people in the nick of time? Enter Flash because he's the fast guy. Batman turns up to every battle in some yuge mechanical battle vehicle (because otherwise he's useless)...and it gets wrecked instantly. Batman loses a lot of gear in this flick. Wonder Woman strolls out of every battle without her lipstick even being smudged, ugh!



The acting was pretty dreadful across the board (except for Gal Gadot of course, because you can't say anything negative about her now). As said Affleck was clearly uninterested, Fisher swaggered as much as he could but was still awful, Momoa had big muscles and lots of hair, whilst the character of Steppenwolf was basically a live action pantomime. Of course there were numerous other characters throughout offering other actors a crack but its all cameo stuff really. A too many cooks situation basically, heck whilst the big finale battle was going down humanity was represented by one small family, probably because they literally couldn't fit anymore people in.

All in all I really struggled to find anything positive in this movie. The small sequence where the team brings Supes back from the dead was quite enjoyable. It was fun watching Superman knock the team around; I especially liked the eerie moment Supes spies Flash whilst he's zooming in his superhuman speed zone. Although, I'm not really sure why Supes would fight the team after his resurrection. OK he's understandably disorientated but why does he see the others as threats? The opening Batman sequence was also nice and harked back to earlier Batman movies in tone and visuals. Twas also lovely to hear a very short burst of Danny Elfman's Batman 89 score in one scene. It was literally a few seconds but even that was enough to really swell the scene in terms of awesomeness and nostalgia.

That's virtually it! That's pretty much the only bits in the movie that I genuinely liked. The rest of this effort felt very much like (ironically) a Joel Schumacher movie. Yes it is indeed that bad. The entire movie generally looks poor, the effects are very suspect at times (Cyborg), the greenscreen is some of the worst I've seen for some time, and the plot is generic as fuck. Add to that the even more generic villain Steppenwolf with his hordes of flying goggle wearing goblins, and a finale that was possibly the biggest anticlimax in years (considering the content we're dealing with here). And even now I still can't help but think Superman could of done this all on his own. Why is Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman even here?? Flash was probably the only other genuinely useful person. This really felt like bad a movie from the mid 90's. The bottom line, its ugly, dull and unbelievably uninspired.

4/10

Friday, 2 February 2018

Innocent Blood (1992)




















So in some regions (dunno where) this movie is referred to as 'A French Vampire in America'. Are we seeing the connection yet? Yes this is a horror comedy directed by John Landis, but no this is not a sequel or prequel to his classic 'An American Werewolf in London'. But lets be honest here, that 'French Vampire' title is way better than 'Innocent Blood'. That doesn't really tell you anything, very bland. Personally I like 'A Vampire in Pittsburgh'.

Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a vampire in the (then) present day of the early 90's. We know little of her background, how she became a vampire, where she comes from etc...All we know is she only feeds on criminals. She is currently in Pittsburgh where there just so happens to be a very strong mafia presence, she's in luck. Marie begins to feed on a random Italian American gangster which causes a stir. The aftermath of which results in undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) being put into the witness protection program. Eventually Marie feeds on mafioso boss Salvatore 'Sal the Shark' Macelli (Robert Loggia), but she is unable to kill him completely. This leads to bigger problems with Sal becoming a vampire himself and then starting to turn all his men. Marie must find and kill Sal but needs the assistance of Joe, apparently.

So the plot is thin on the ground, its pretty weak. Basically Marie fudges up whilst feeding and causes a shitstorm. Remarkable really considering she's supposedly a very old and experienced vampire, you'd think she would be able to do this kind of thing blindfolded. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, even the undead. From there on out its simply about Sal trying to cope with being a vampire, and then realising he can turn all his men. In the meantime Marie must find Sal and stop this. But with all her supernatural powers you'd think that would be relatively easy. It begs the question, why do we need LaPaglia's character? OK he's a love interest, I get it, but she essentially doesn't really need the guy. What can he offer her?

Interestingly this movie isn't set in New York, even though it clearly really really really wants to be. I mean lets be real here, this movie is so rammed full of cliched Italian American mafia themes its unreal. Almost every cliche in the stereotype book is used here from the black limo's, the sharp suits, slick back hair, mullets, the chewing of toothpicks, the silly mafia names nicknames, the black leather coats, and the freezing cold looking city streets filled with plumes of smoke from the drain grates. Heck they even go as far as using Frank Sinatra tunes in initial scenes. Not only that, I think Landis cast almost every actor around at the time with either an Italian American last name, heritage or simply looks like a mobster (you know what I mean). Indeed many of these actors have gone on to become household names in mafia/gangster roles.

Worth noting, cameos for Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Angela Bassett, Chazz Palminteri, and Tom Savini. Although it also worth noting that Savini did not do the special effects here, that honour goes to Steve Johnson ('Ghostbusters' and 'The Abyss').

Lets talk about those special effects, how do they compare to Landis' classic lycanthrope movie. Well there is much less emphasis on the vampires and their fangs in this, but a lot of emphasis on the blood. There is a lot of claret on show in this movie, mainly gushing from victims necks as they get torn open. Indeed the effects on neck wounds are really quite grisly and wonderful. Nice big chunks missing with ripped flesh dangling. Often the victims clothes are drenched in wet blood, sodden and dirty. Loggia spends most of the movie virtually head to toe in wet and dried blood. In fact I'd go as far as to say Landis goes a tad overboard with the blood because it becomes less shocking the more you see.

As for the vampires, we never see any fangs believe it or not. The entire emphasis is on the eyes of these supernatural killers. Johnson used special highly reflective contact lenses that change colour. It really is a startling look that really grabs your attention. Some of the vampires have red eyes, yellow eyes, sky blue eyes; whilst Marie seems to have eyes that change colour, not sure why though. The only issue I had with this is the fact they are obviously contacts (clearly very thick) and on most of the actors the pupil was slightly off-centre in one eye. It kinda made all the vampires look a bit simple looking, or like they had strabismus.

Other early effects were a point-of-view flyby effect where the camera simply moves around a space to simulate the vampire flying. Quite a bit of wire work to simulate the strength of the vampires, lifting people up high etc...The vampires roar or scream sounded very familiar to me, I'm sure its the same sound effect used for the werewolf howl in 'American Werewolf in London'. Again its used very effectively, a quick cut to the vampires face with a loud blast of the howl, really makes you jump.

The best effects sequence in the movie has to be the death of recently bitten Manny Bergman (Don Rickles). Whilst in hospital this character is accidentally exposed to sunlight...and you all know what happens next. Well this is the money shot here folks. A slow painful looking death as Bergman's body cracks and breaks up in front of the doctors. The medical staff try to help him but his body crumbles and deteriorates in their hands. One shot of a nurse accidentally pulling off his crispy smouldering arm, only to then drop it and watch it break apart into a mess of black glowing ash, is incredible (for the time).

To be utterly honest not a great deal of interest happens for the most part in this movie (effects aside). Once Joe realises what Marie is he goes after her (ignoring his boss of course). Marie has all manner of powers but somehow Joe is still able to find and catch her. But did she want to be caught huh? This eventually leads to the inevitable sex scene betwixt man and vampire. By this time you will have realised that Anne Parillaud is not shy about showing off her entire self (very European, very French). Although the sex scene shows us how Marie must control herself (something Joe is always concerned about), its of little importance really. A little spice for the movie, gratuitous nudity.

Landis goes for broke with this one, he loves to throw out old beloved conventions. Like I said no fangs here, but lots glowing eyes (although no explanation as to why different vampires have different colour eyes). Vampires do have reflections in this movie, but still garlic makes them sick. A bullet to the head is enough to kill a vampire, as is snapping its neck. No mention of stakes through the heart or crosses though. They can still climb up walls, fly and have incredible strength. Lastly and most interestingly no one actually uses the word vampire in the movie (I think).

Loggia is clearly enjoying himself here as he chews up the scenery big time. He may not have the physique of a vampire but he certainly has the bark and snarl that's for sure. Loggia makes Frank Langella in 'Masters of the Universe' look positively bland in comparison. In the scene where Sal had to rape and abuse Marie, he really fecking went for it! As for the other main leads, Parillaud is definitely very cute and adorable as Marie. Like I said she's not shy about getting it all out for the camera and she's very fit looking to boot. Bit of an issue trying to understand her accent at times but she does convey the shy quiet vampire nicely. You do truly believe she is a centuries old Gallic beauty; a siren that has been seducing immoral men over the ages. On the other hand LaPaglia is...fine. You could literally stick any guy with that Italian American look in that role, the character is kinda pointless.

Ultimately I do think Landis went too far with the blood factor in this one and loses a real sense of dread and spookiness. His werewolf movie had blood but nowhere near as much as this, plus 'Werewolf in London' was eerie as fuck; it was genuinely scary. This movie loses any real sense of scare factor with all these stereotypical mafia bozos running around shooting at everything. Yes there are some good shocks and thrills but the comedy spoils it, its too hammy, too dumb basically. The movie is a horror comedy and Landis does hit his targets well, it is a fun flick for horror fans to enjoy. I just feel this is too much of a homage to other things, too many cameos maybe, too many winks and nods, not gritty and dark enough. Its a hard one to call because the cast is great and the old school effects are superb .

I do heartily recommend this as I'm pretty sure many will not have even heard of it (it is a forgotten gem). Bottom line, it doesn't quite satisfy your vampire needs/requirements, it ticks some boxes but misses others. But overall its still a top John Landis horror comedy and easily better than what you get these days. Shame about the end credits song, totally out of place methinks.

8/10