Tag Archives: Kenneth Branagh

Dunkirk (2017) (IMAX)

In anticipation of the release of Christopher Nolan’s new WWII epic Dunkirk, I was chatting with a friend last night about Nolan’s impressive back catalogue: Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar — arguably four of my top 100 movies of all time, or at least in the top 200 (or maybe 300? I’ve never tried to do a list). Nolan is that great of a filmmaker, and that’s why I’m always excited whenever he announces a new project.

Accordingly, I went to watch the very first session of Dunkirk today, and in recommended IMAX too. And I’m glad I did, because the 70mm film is a beautiful, visceral spectacle where the sense of immersion is amplified by the IMAX screen and incredible sound and soundtrack. It’s about as close as you can get to being in the action while sitting comfortably in your cinema chair.

Perhaps in response to the backlash of the complexity and melodrama of Interstellar, Nolan went for a much simpler film this time in Dunkirk, based on the true story of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII as Allied soldiers found themselves under siege from the Germans in the Battle of France. It’s a lesson in “showing” rather than “telling”, as Dunkirk is all about a visual narration of what the soldiers experienced on the land, on the sea, and in the air. It features an ensemble cast with some notable names (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy,  Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, and so forth) but not a whole lot of dialogue. It is sometimes chaotic and there’s a sense of not knowing exactly what is going on at times, which I felt was aimed at reflecting the sentiments of the soldiers living through the ordeal.

Unlike some war films you may have seen recently, such as Hacksaw Ridge or 13 HoursDunkirk is less about exalting heroism and patriotism and more about the realities of survival. It’s about ordinary people trying to get back to their families no matter what and civilians putting their lives on the line to serve their country. As noted above, the narrative is split into three strands — a group of soldiers trying to get home on the land, a civilian mobilised by the military to rescue the stranded soldiers on the sea, and two fighter jet pilots taking on enemy fire in the air. The three strands intersect, though the film does not follow a linear timeline, primarily for narrative and tension creation purposes. Despite this and the lack of one central protagonist, the film does feel cohesive and compelling thanks to the cast of great actors who can get the most out of just a few lines and facial expressions.

Nolan has come out and criticised streaming platform Netflix for its awkward foray into feature film productions. With Dunkirk, you can see why he feels that way because it’s a film that really needs to be seen on the big screen, preferably an IMAX one. It puts you right between the gunfire and the torpedoes and the corpses, with a booming soundtrack that keeps ratcheting up the tension and crisp sound effects that make you jump with every bullet that shoots by your ear.

The sheer scale is amazing, with breathtaking sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the horizon, while the fighter jet sequences made it felt like you were sitting inside one as it turned and dipped and shot at enemy aircraft with machine guns. It felt like a movie without CGI because everything just seemed so seamlessly grounded in reality. And interestingly, there’s very little blood and gore in the movie for the sake of a more viewer-friending rating from the censors, but it somehow gets away with it. I do wonder, however, if the impact would have been even greater if Nolan ignored the classification and just went down the flying limbs route, or whether that would have instead taken away from the aspect of the war he was trying to depict.

At 106 minutes, Dunkirk is short for both a Nolan film and a war film, but I think that was all it needed given the intensity audiences have to sit through. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best cinematic experiences of the year, though it’s also a film that speaks more to the senses than your mind and heart. While there are indeed some subtle moving moments throughout the film, it is not as emotionally resonating as I hoped it would be, probably because of the way the narrative and characters are structured. I admire the film from a technical perspective and for the epic sensory experience it delivers, but years from now I may not look back upon it as fondly as some of Nolan’s other classics.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Unfortunately for my wife, the immersive experience got too much for her (probably a combination of the size of the screen, the blaring sounds and the camera movements) and she had to leave the cinema to throw up. She hadn’t done that since we watched Cloverfield back in 2008.

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck. And now Chris Pine. With the exception of Baldwin (who’s a bit of an outlier anyway), Jack Ryan is the Benjamin Button of spy characters in that he just keeps getting younger and younger. And less dopey-looking.

All jokes aside, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit is yet another rendition of Tom Clancy’s most famous character, and while there are some positives to take out of it I’m still fairly convinced this is again a one-and-done reboot. I enjoyed the concept and some of the action sequences, but it’s one of those films where the more you think about it the more ridiculous and silly it seems. It’s not bad as a standalone espionage flick but not strong enough to lay the foundations of a new series.

This time, we go right back to the beginning, when a young Captain Kirk (Pine) witnesses the horrors of 9/11 while studying in London and decides to become a US marine. It doesn’t go too well for him, but through the disaster he is discovered by a CIA operative, codename Dances With Wolves (just kidding, it’s Mr Kevin Costner). And so begins a new career for our protagonist, whose adventures take him to Russia and a tycoon played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. There’s a conspiracy and there’s a terror plot brewing, one that could destroy the world as we known it, and Jack Ryan must find a way to stop it in time without pissing off his girlfriend, Kiera Knightley.

From that brief synopsis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (horrible title, by the way) seems like your typical spy action flick. And while there are elements about it that intrigued me — the terrorist plot, the fact that Ryan was just starting off as an analyst as opposed to a field agent, and the always-welcome presence of Branagh in front of and behind the camera — in the end it really was just your typical spy action flick. That’s a shame, because I think there was potential for more layers and depth, in particular as they had brought in 9/11 and the whole economic terrorism angle, but instead they went traditional and opted for car chases and explosions.

Branagh, who surprised me when he did an excellent job with Thoralso comes out with a commendable effort here in terms of generating tension and at least a semi-realistic feel to the action sequences. His own performance was charismatic, and Chris Pine was rather believable as a brilliant analyst who starts out way out of his depth but eventually embraces his destiny. Kevin Costner is, well, very Kevin Costner, and Kiera Knightley puts on a decent American accent as the damsel in distress masquerading as a strong, independent woman.

So the execution is not bad, but it’s a shame that the script becomes more and more outrageous as it progresses. We are supposed to see what a brilliant mind Jack Ryan is, but if you really think about it he actually does a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I can’t discuss these without divulging spoilers, but let’s just say Ryan’s so-called “brilliance” relies upon giving up the easy route for the hard one (maybe so the task seems more difficult) and plenty of dumb luck. It’s not just Ryan either, as plenty of others, including the villain(s), are guilty of head-scratching behaviour. And don’t even get me started on the final climax, which goes from implausible to ridiculous to just plain silly.

At the end of the day, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is what it is: sleek albeit familiar B-grade entertainment featuring a popular character and a stellar cast. It’s serviceable as a DVD rental but it would be unfair to expect too much. There clearly is something about Jack Ryan that makes Hollywood keep wanting to make movies about him, but this one doesn’t exactly show us why.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Thor (2011)

Thor was one of those movies that had me intrigued as soon as it was announced.  Of all the superhero premises, this one had ‘disaster’ written all over it more than any other.  A magical hammer, the God of Thunder, guys dressed in shiny armour fighting blue giants that can turn things into ice.  Not exactly the type of material that you’d think would make a good, (at least) semi-serious film set partially on present-day Earth.

But then enter director Kenneth Branagh (you know, the guy that does all the Shakespeare stuff), throw in Aussie Chris Hemsworth (probably best known by non-Aussies as Kirk’s dad in the Star Trek reboot), Academy Award winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, and all of a sudden the film starts having potential.  Could they make this farcical premise work?

Well, yeah, they did.  About as well as I could have imagined.

Thor, like the other successful Marvel adaptations (especially the first Iron Man), is great fun, a rollicking good time.  It’s visually spectacular, with tremendous action, a likable protagonist and occasional laughs that hit the right spot.

Chris Hemsworth really buffed up for this role and does a solid job as the charming titular character, ensuring certain stardom for years to come.  Natalie Portman’s role is largely limited to ‘intelligent love interest’, but she’s always nice to look at and have around.  And when you have the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard and Rene Russo in supporting roles, you know things can’t be too bad.

Considering how badly things could have turned out, Thor was almost a minor miracle.  While it is certainly not perfect, I found myself taking all the ‘other worldly stuff’ seriously enough to be laughing along with the movie as opposed to laughing at it.  It was slightly uneven at times, given the contrast between Thor’s supernatural world of Asgard (reminded me of a futuristic Clash of the Titans-type place) and some ordinary small town in New Mexico, but for the most part it worked.

On the other hand, while Branagh is no doubt very capable in creating drama, I did find some of the fight scenes a little lacking.  Interestingly, it was the scenes that featured only actors and no special effects that worked best — the action scenes that relied heavily on CGI, probably because of the way they were shot (too many cuts), didn’t quite pack the same punch.

That said, I was impressed with how Branagh allowed Thor to be a part of the Marvel universe (in light of the upcoming The Avengers film) while giving the film its own voice and style.  Pulling off a film like this where the supernatural and science co-exist peacefully was no mean feat.  This was a terrific introduction to a character that I’ll be happy to see again when The Avengers is finally released in May 2012.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I saw this film in 2D, but it was bloody hard to find a cinema and a session that did not screen the film in 3D only.  Ridiculous.  Spare a thought for the people who don’t want to waste their money on 3D!

PPS: Look out for Jeremy Renner in an extended cameo.  I was surprised to see him but after some research it looks like he’ll be a key figure in The Avengers film.

PPPS: Make sure you stay until after the credits — there is a scene with Samuel L Jackson at the end which could potentially be relevant for The Avengers or a Thor sequel.