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This looks like just another war scene, but it’s threaded with horror. That’s this movie in a nutshell.

I was pretty conflicted about Interstellar and I’m kind of conflicted about Christopher Nolan in general. I, to an extent, agree with most of the criticisms that dog his work. But I also think Inception is one of the best movies ever made, with his Batman movies being some of the most overrated. To say I had low expectations for Dunkirk would be disingenuous because I had no expectations for Dunkirk. Good or bad. I was curious because it was a wartime event that hadn’t been covered in a huge movie, at least as a focus piece (Atonement has Dunkirk-related scenes). I was also curious to see what Nolan would do with a war movie, since he’s been doing high concept genre stuff for almost his whole career. On some level, I suspected that Dunkirk was about the safest move Nolan could have made after Interstellar failed to light the world on fire. I was wrong about this being a safe movie, but my lack of expectation was rewarded by one of the most pleasant and arresting surprises I’ve had in a theater for a super long time.

“Pleasant” is not really a word that you’d associate with this movie except maybe in the way I just did, where I’m really talking more about the feeling of surprise. Dunkirk is not so much aggressive as it is relentless and that energy, an almost constant rising action toward a very rewarding climax, is mostly steeped in the emotional resonance of horror even as it is delivered with familiar tropes of the war genre (duty, courage, banding together, grandiose and personal heroism, and so on). So while this is definitely a war movie, it’s also the second best horror movie of 2017. It is intense and it’ll make you squirm in your seat. A lot. All this while being one of the least violent, but loudest, war movies since Saving Private Ryan changed the game. What helps is Nolan’s mostly unsentimental point of view. This movie is not full of the customary jingoism and sentimentality of the American war film (these elements are present sparingly, and are mostly earned), but nor is it political in the sense of having a clear message about “war” except perhaps that it is something you survive rather than win.

There have been criticisms that there’s no story or characters here, but I think it’s interesting that Nolan stripped down his usual reliance on plot, exposition, and high concepts. He has the most trouble with plot and theme across his work, and these things are less important in Dunkirk than is the craft of telling a story through moving pictures.  There’s very little dialogue, so character comes across subtly through facial expressions and the few important choices that are available to each person. Dunkirk has a small, intimate cast, and approaches the historical events with a clever and almost seamless editing conceit of showing events at different points as if they are happening all at the same time… until they are. Dunkirk is a tremendous movie, and one that deserves to be seen at the best theater you have access to.



A nice piece of symbolism in a movie full of exactly that.

Cloud Atlas is a bold movie and it isn’t apologizing. I had to see it twice before I felt like I was ready to write anything about it. I think the first time, I was mostly running a checklist of stuff they changed from the novel. I will talk a bit about how Cloud Atlas works as an adaptation but I didn’t want to write an entire review around that.

In the days after I first saw it, I realized I’d also been running another kind of checklist. Shortly before it was released, Cloud Atlas took some heat for having white actors playing Asian characters. Of course, it was also noted that this goes in other directions. Asian actors play white characters, and Halle Berry seems to play a little bit of everything. When I was watching the movie that first time, I was focused on how this element worked. Was it actually something that people should be offended with? Was the justification for it a good one? And so on. When I wasn’t thinking about that, I was trying to engage with it as an adaptation.

Suffice it to say, it has taken a second viewing for me to fully appreciate the movie. And to derive some hopefully worthwhile things to say about it. In terms of analysis, there’s a lot of stuff going on here on narrative and technical levels. In terms of emotional and intellectual impact, Cloud Atlas is profoundly humanist and will move you if you let it. Read the rest of this entry »


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