Dunkirk (2017)

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Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cllian Murphy, Tom Hardy

How many times can Chris outdo himself?

Life can deal you such cruel hands. I am the biggest Christopher Nolan fan so I’ve been excitedly awaiting Dunkirk ever since it was announced three years ago. I’ve been avoiding every trailer and every clip in fear of needless spoilers and have been savouring every review since its release. Now, almost one month after its release I have finally been able to see it! If it was any old film then I would’ve seen it on the day of its release, however this is a Christopher Nolan movie which means that it has to be seen on the biggest screen possible to get the full effect.

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So I took a trip up to London to catch Dunkirk on the BFI Imax, the biggest screen in England and I can safely say that it was worth the wait. Dunkirk is quite possibly the greatest cinema experience I have ever had, or at least the best since Interstellar which created similar immersive intensity in IMAX. But even without the gargantuan screen and crystal clear sound, Christopher Nolan has created not just the greatest war film ever but one of the greatest films of any genre. It is truly a one of a kind film, breaking all kinds of war movie conventions and doing things that have never been attempted in any film before it. Extraordinarily, Nolan has outdone himself once again.

Dunkirk is the equivalent of a cinematic pressure-cooker. From the moment the film begins, it’s put on high heat and it barely lets up for its entire 100 minute running time. The opening scene is sensational. We watch as a tragically young soldier picks up a leaflet depicting how British troops are surrounded by Germans. There’s an instant atmosphere of dread and panic which only intensifies when the first bullet explodes out of nowhere. We’re used to guns firing all the time in films. This is the first time the sound of a bullet has sent shivers up my spine. The noise is so loud and so sharp that I found myself jolting in my seat and for the first time in a war film, feeling the same sense of fear the soldiers on screen are feeling.

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The weight of the situation really hits hard. The idea that these people could die at any moment feels Earth-shatteringly real. This is largely down to Christopher Nolan’s directing which tries to squeeze as much realness and tension as possible out of everything. Long takes are used as well as very few CGI effects. The images feel so real that you almost forget that you’re watching something that was staged. There’s a moment near the beginning when a German plane flies over the troops and the roar of the engine matched with the fear in the soldier’s faces and the over-powering dreadful score make it one of the most terrifying scenes I have ever seen on film. When the bombs hit, it’s utterly devastating.

Unlike most war films, there isn’t a conventional or linear plot. There is no main character or much dialogue at all, instead the film is more interested in capturing the entire event of the Dunkirk evacuation. The main focus is on a story which presents a week of soldiers trying to survive on Dunkirk but there is also a more talky story which sees Mark Rylance taking his little boat out to Dunkirk to pick up some stranded troops as well as an almost dialogue-free story where Tom Hardy (face-covered again) has a go at shooting down enemy planes. It could have been messy but in the hands of Nolan these stories are expertly weaved and executed to perfection.

Unsurprisingly many audiences haven’t quite taken to the film. Average moviegoers expecting an ordinary film with characters you can root for are going to be disappointed. Dunkirk is pure cinema and is something that cannot be described or put into words, it’s something you simply have to experience and feel. It’s the reason why I love films and why I go to the cinema, to be taken on a journey. This is why I’m a fan of directors like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick whose works consistently provide an immersive escapism into another world. Dunkirk is exactly this. It’s a film which sweeps you along with it and completely immerses you in the world of the film.

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Whatever you look for in a film though, you can’t deny the technical mastery of Dunkirk. I mean no hyperbole when I say that Dunkirk features some of the most spectacular images I have ever seen in a film. Planes sweeping over oceans, thousands upon thousands of soldiers lining up on a dark beach, ships sinking and engulfing people in water. These are some of the most breath-taking and indelible visuals I have ever come across. However, there are also quieter moments which haunt my mind. An older soldier throwing himself into the ocean and a heart-breaking final montage which ends each story on a spine-tingling powerful note are just as spectacular as the monumental set-pieces.

Hans Zimmer also deserves a mention for providing yet again another remarkable score. Music always plays a big part in Nolan films, but in Dunkirk the music almost becomes another character. It’s often dark and brooding but also serves to ratchet up the tension with a constant ticking which adds to the nail-biting intensity. At times of relief though, it’s uplifting and gave me perhaps the biggest chills I’ve ever had whilst watching a movie.

Dunkirk is more than just a film; it’s a work of art. I can’t think of a more intense movie experience than this. By the time the film ended I felt shaken and adjusting to reality outside of the cinema was difficult. This is the first war film to actually drop you in the middle of the war. It’s definitely worth going to see on IMAX for the full experience, but it’s just as unmissable on your teeny weenie TV at home. Hopefully the Academy will now finally recognise Nolan for the incredible talent that he is after Interstellar was cruelly snubbed. Dunkirk is truly extraordinary.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller

Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nicholas Hoult

It’s nice to see that George Miller has mellowed in his old age

Slow, uneventful, boring, and subtle. These are some of the words you’d never hear from any sane person describing Mad Max 4. Before I dig deeper I should probably let you know that I’m a twenty year-old man who only recently watched the original Mad Max trilogy, so I don’t have any nostalgia attached to them. The first Mad Max film is genuinely considered mediocre by most people apart from proud Aussies, and my opinion was pretty much the same. It didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression. I was under the impression that it was some sort of hardcore revenge movie, but the revenge part only happened in the final underwhelming twenty minutes. The rest of the film was spent titting about in a underdeveloped post-apocalyptic Australia.

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The Road Warrior, however, is generally considered as one of the greatest action movies of all time. I was expecting a full-on action fest (much like Fury Road) but unfortunately what I got was a ponderous seventy minutes involving Max titting about with a colony of people protecting fuel before ending with a spectacular car chase. I was quite disappointed and can name several older action films that are far better than The Road Warrior (Terminator 2 and Hard Boiled to name two). Beyond Thunderdome is generally considered as the worst of the lot but to my pleasant surprise I actually enjoyed this the most out of the trilogy! It might have something to do with me being a massive Tina Turner fan, but I thought there was more action and better characters than the other two films.

After being largely underwhelmed by the Mad Max trilogy, I had my expectations for Fury Road lowered. Pretty much every review I’ve read has been astonishingly glowing with many hailing it as one of the best action films of all time, but didn’t they say that about The Road Warrior? Fury Road is directed by the same George Miller, a man now in his seventies who hasn’t directed an action film since Beyond Thunderdome and whose recent credits include Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, Mad Max 4 is bound to be pretty weak, right? Wrong.

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Believe the hype. Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible feat. I have no idea how George Miller managed to pull out something so utterly spectacular out of his bag. Fury Road is the best action film I’ve seen since The Raid and has some of the best stunt work since The Dark Knight Rises. In my opinion it leaves the original Mad Max trilogy lying face down in the dust. Fury Road is the great big throbbing war machine whilst the original trilogy is more like some old rusty bicycle. The first ten minutes of Fury Road is far better than anything from Mad Max 1-3 and the entire two hour film definitely contains far more action than the first three films put together.

It opens with an epic monologue from our new Max, Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson never did anything for me as Max. In fact, the character of Max never did much for me. I much prefer Tom Hardy as Max. His accent may be as muddled as Stu’s tan in Mrs. Doubtfire but I think he has much more of a presence than Mel Gibson ever did. His famous interceptor is destroyed within the first five minutes which is obviously symbolic. Just like James Bond getting shot in the opening of Skyfall and a TV exploding in the opening of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the interceptor getting totalled represents a new era of Mad Max. George Miller has completely cut the ties from the original films and quite rightly so!

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I mentioned before that the opening ten minutes of Fury Road is better than anything from the original trilogy and it really is! We get thrown into a huge world and feel fully immersed. The imagery is impressive and epic. It feels like something from Lord of the Rings with some powerful masked weirdo sitting on a giant cliff and spilling gallons of water to his loyal pale-painted followers. The villain in Fury Road is basically Aunty Entity on acid and curiously similar to Tom Hardy’s very own Bane. He’s a brilliantly memorable villain who has his very own breast milk farm and an army of seriously sexy wives.

It occurred to me about three quarters of a way through the film that I actually cared about the characters on the screen, which I’ve never felt before during a Mad Max film (apart from Tina of course). The action still comes first, but there’s still some character development to keep you interested in the, admittedly thin plot. Some have complained that Charlize Theron’s Furiosa character takes over from Max but that didn’t bother me at all. I love strong female characters and Furiosa is definitely that! I cared about the clan of oddballs and their goal. I cared enough, anyway, to make me care about who is actually in the action.

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Talking of action. Fury Road’s action sequences are every bit as amazing as you’ve heard. It’s a total intense onslaught of revving action from start to finish. Within the first thirty minutes, we’re plunged into a fiery sandstorm with a furious army of vehicles in hot pursuit. I sat there completely mesmerised by what I was watching. There’s a jarring moment shortly afterwards where Max slowly awakes from a pile of sand and the slowness of the scene is so bloody jarring! At least ninety minutes of Fury Road is just pure full-throttle action. It’s amazingly executed with so little CGI and jaw-dropping stunt work. The final chase sequence is completely exhausting.

Fury Road is eye popping. I felt like Toe Cutter before he collides into a lorry in Mad Max 1 through most of it. Let’s just hope that the sequel will be like The Raid 2. It could easily get better by putting as much focus on character development and plot as well as the action. The Raid 2 did exactly that and produced one of the best films of the twenty first century. As it stands though, Fury Road is a gigantic, towering achievement. You can almost feel the testosterone sweating off the screen. The Fast and Furious franchise can well and truly piss off because this kind of action belongs to the mad.

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Why does everyone hate The Dark Knight Rises?

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This will contain several major spoilers so if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight trilogy yet, then A) What are you doing with your life? B) Don’t read on.

In the words of Ledger’s Joker, let’s wind the clocks back. Let’s wind them back to the time when The Dark Knight Rises hit cinemas for the first time. The anticipation was huge thanks to the incredible success of The Dark Knight. We had months of sensational trailers and it finally came to our big screens! The reviews were overwhelmingly positive from critics and audiences alike. They called it an ambitious, spectacular and very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. No one said that it was better than The Dark Knight, but no one expected it to be. Bane was hailed as a brilliant villain, although not as interesting as The Joker, but who is?

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So why on Earth is everyone slagging it off now? It’s been called the worst film Christopher Nolan has ever done and one of the worst superhero movies ever. People endlessly pick holes with the plot, with the biggest question being “how did Bruce Wayne get to Gotham in time?” and Bane is slagged off as a limp villain thanks to the surprise ending and Tom Hardy’s peculiar voice. However, I whole-heartedly disagree with all these points. When I first saw The Dark Knight Rises on the big screen I felt elated. It was the most intense movie experience I had had since Black Swan and to me it was as close to flawless as a film can get. I still believe that, and I even prefer Rises over The Dark Knight.

To me the trilogy is like a three course meal. Batman Begins is the soupy starter. This is proper high-class soup which satisfies your taste and gets you all warmed up for the main course. The Dark Knight is the main course and is arguably the best part of the meal. It’s big, meaty and blows the starter out of the water. It’s completely satisfying and leaves you wanting to experience it all over again. The Dark Knight Rises is the desert. It’s as good as the starter, but in a completely different way. It’s also the perfect way to end the meal, leaving a sweet taste in your mouth. To me, The Dark Knight trilogy is the best trilogy ever made.

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It might be worth pointing out that I’m generally not a fan of superhero films. I watched X-Men: First Class the other month and just did not understand the appeal of it at all. So perhaps The Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a disappointment to superhero fans. After all, Christopher Nolan’s vision is dark and realistic. It feels more like an adult crime/thriller than a piece of family entertainment. Batman does also take a back seat in Rises, and the story becomes much more about Bruce Wayne. This doesn’t bother me at all, I absolutely love the long build-up of Bruce Wayne slowly bringing his alter-ego out of the closet (not in a gay way) as it makes you feel the weight of the suit. The idea of Batman’s biggest threat coming at a time when he’s at his weakest is incredibly appealing.

Talking of enemies… Bane gets a lot of stick for some reason. Personally, I love what Tom Hardy does with the voice. It’s strange, unconventional and a little bit creepy. In fact, the scenes where Bane has a monologue are the best scenes in the film as there’s a kind of hypnotic quality to them. I think it’s brilliant to have a villain who is a complete contrast to The Joker. Bane is not only physically superior, but he’s a match for Bruce’s intelligence too. He’s a man with a plan, as opposed to The Joker who was just  blowing up stuff for a laugh. Furthermore, Bane manages to do what The Joker never did. Halfway through the film my jaw was on the floor because I was watching a superhero film where the villain wins! There’s a fantastic atmosphere of dread and hopelessness throughout the film because Bane beats Batman and destroys most of Gotham.

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Some say that the twist sucks because it reveals Bane as some lovesick puppy and not the badass mastermind he’s been made out to be. However, this just makes me appreciate the Nolan brother’s writing even more. They haven’t just created a cardboard cutout villain, they’ve created a real character who runs much deeper than he first appears. In regards to the much mocked death scene, yes it is a little underwhelming but let’s not forget what Liam Neeson said in Batman Begins, “Death does not wait for you to be ready! Death is not considerate or fair!” All of the deaths in The Dark Knight trilogy follow this rule, so why should supervillain Bane be treated any differently?

People also tend to bang on about various plot holes, but all of them can be explained if you use your imagination a bit. How did Bruce get back to Gotham? It’s never stated where the pit is, he’s a renowned billionaire so he could’ve easily flew over or summoned his new fancy Bat plane. Who’s to say that he ever returned at all? Perhaps the entire finale is one big wishful thought. I know it’s unusual for a blockbuster to make you think, but this is Christopher Nolan. He has somehow managed to bring the intimacy and intelligence of art-house/indie cinema to multi-million blockbusters so not everything is going to be spelled out to the audience.

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People seem to be so hung up on these plot holes that they forget just how extraordinary the film is. Christopher Nolan’s direction is superb. The majority of action scenes nowadays are filmed from every angle with quick-cuts and a frantic shake to make sure that the audience can’t see what’s going on. The entire last half hour of The Expendables is one big fiery blur because the directing is just appalling! Even Christopher Nolan fell for this with some of the action sequences in Batman Begins. Thankfully he’s learnt from his mistakes and is now the master of shooting action. He only films from one or two angles so that we can really get involved with what’s going on. It’s so much more intense, and it also helps that it’s all done for real with little CGI.

The plane heist is a seriously spectacular opening and it’s filmed with a fantastic sense of scale which leaves you breathless. I can’t help but get chills when Bane says, “Oh yes, the fire rises” and Hans Zimmer’s epic score kicks in as we see Bane completely hijack the plane. Talking of the score, Bane’s chant is one of Hans’ best. When the film’s over it’s still ringing in your head and it’s the perfect musical embodiment of Bane. It’s loud and threatening. Hans Zimmer always does his best scores when working with Christopher Nolan. His latest score in Interstellar is probably the best he’s ever done, which is saying a lot.

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Rises is also the most emotional of the trilogy. The finale is very intense and certainly sets your pulse racing. There’s definitely a sense that Batman won’t save Gotham, thanks to how unpredictable the film is throughout. I also love the much-debated ending which plays on the idea of dreams and again leaves it up to the viewer to answer. Some of the best scenes in the film aren’t just the eye-popping ones such as the stadium blowing up, but the smaller ones too. Michael Caine’s goodbye for example is incredibly powerful and one of the best scenes in the film. Rises really does soar during its exhilarating action scenes though.

So there you have it! The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just a good film, it’s a downright mesmerising one. It’s superb in every department including: directing, writing, acting, editing and music. It has a grand sense of scale, yet it also crucially cares about its ensemble of characters. The film has a lot of heart to spare too and injects a lot of emotion. Can we please lay off it now? It’s as close to flawless as a film can be. A film that’s almost three hours in length is bound to have a few problems, but the problems here are so minor they’re not worth mentioning. Besides there’s so much more good about it than bad, so let’s enjoy it.