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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Nolan’


I eagerly anticipated the movie Dunkirk. That was a pivotal battle in WWII, and it was directed by one of my favorite directors, Christopher Nolan (I’ll forgive him for Interstellar). So I went to see it on Saturday.

There was a confusing element I didn’t sort out until after the movie. It was comprised of 3 inter-related story lines but they didn’t happen simultaneously. They took place over 3 different periods of time but ended at the same time. Does that make sense?

He introduced the story lines based on location and then there was a period of time for each. The movie flipped back and forth between the story lines so the events were not portrayed consecutively.

The Mole (1 week) |———————————————————————————–|

The Sea (1 day)                                                                                                |————————-|

The Air (1 hour)                                                                                                                                |—|

As a result the story dealing with the Mole, the name of the “pier” they used on the beach, and the men trying to flee the German armies was compressed and told alongside the expanded story of one of the boats (fishing, commercial & recreational) sent to rescue the soldiers, and a trio of Spitfires that provided support in the Channel during the time just before the boats arrived.

So, this interesting way of telling the story was confusing until I figured what was actually going on. “Hey, why is it night time at the Mole but in the middle of the day in the Channel?” As a result, some events are retold from a different perspective (the Spitfires, then the boat and perhaps then the men escaping the Mole). Interesting film making.

I was surprised when the setting was described as “The enemy” cornered the “French and English armies” at Dunkirk. Not the German or Axis armies. The enemy, which is quite generic and possible designed to not ruffle any feathers. I don’t recall even seeing a German soldier. The closest was the shots of German planes. You saw the effects of soldiers, gun fire, but they were an invisible enemy. Or nearly so since the focus really wasn’t on them. It was really on the main characters of the story lines.

The Mole: You are initially introduced to the main character as his squad is ambushed. All are shot except him, and he gets within the perimeter established by the French forces. He then meets another soldier who is finished burying a soldier after taking his boots, to add some ambiguity to the story. These two men repeatedly try to get off the beach, only to fail with increasing measures of danger. At times they cut to the British Army and Navy commanders who discuss the bigger picture: Churchhill needs an army but can’t risk all the planes and ships due to the seemingly superior German air force and submarines. We see a number of ships get sunk by them.

The Sea: A father and his son, aided by a young deck hand, pilot a boat dispatched to rescue soldiers. They don’t wait for the men from the navy to commandeer the vessel but go so they can pilot their own vessel (some of the boats used in the film were part of the actual rescue- this is why you watch the credits). They were not the only civilians to do this. Along the way they encounter sunk ships and rescue men. The focus is on the bravery of ordinary civilians heading into a war zone for love of brother and country.

The Air: In the first encounter with the enemy the leader is shot down, and the focus in on a particular pilot, Farrier played by Tom Hardy. We only hear the voice of the other pilot until he is shot down. We see the courage of these pilots who repeatedly risk their lives in dog fights, or in running out of fuel, in order to save boats filled with soldiers.

So there is a contrast between the desperate fear of the guys who want to get off the beach (for good reason) and the bravery of those coming to rescue or support them. The same circumstances produced very different responses. This contrast is repeated at the end. The rescued soldiers feel like failures and in some cases cowards. But the crowds welcome them like heroes knowing they still have an island to defend and those men must do it. Their future is bound up in the ability and confidence of these shattered men. They soldiers even misinterpret some of their actions based on their erroneous perception of things. But then there is the media who laud the rescue effort but focus on the immanent threat of invasion such that it all seems like a failure.

This is an often intense film, aided by Hans Zimmer’s score. It is not flowing and majestic but often minimalist. It is not gruesome (like Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge), but tweens and teens may not be able to handle the intensity. There are men trapped in boats that are sinking. Men with no where to go as a German, or “enemy”, plane bears down on them dropping bombs and shooting bullets. While not as intense, or perhaps disturbing is a better word, as Black Hawk Down, the realities of war are in your face. [A friend asked me whether his kids might be able to see it.]

So are the vagaries of war. Who lives or dies. Which boat sinks or floats. The existential absurdity experienced by some of the men as every attempt fails despite being increasingly dangerous, despite getting seeming closer to safety. Each time the enemy foils the plan at the cost of many other men’s lives. You feel their frustration and want to say “No, not again!”

A great movie has you thinking about it after you’ve left the movie theater. Not thinking about the special effects or a few lines. Thinking about the plot, the story telling, the themes. This movie accomplishes that. I left pondering the courage of ordinary people in the face of the unpredictable horror of war. But it also left me wondering why there was a warning about distracted driving at the end of the credits. This is a movie worth seeing, and on the big screen.

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Since I’ve been on vacation, I’m a little late to the party, so to speak, when it comes to Man of Steel. If I could use one phrase to sum up the movie, it would be “over the top.”

It bears the marks of both Zach Synder (300) and Christopher Nolan. There is plenty of action, loud action. The rather simple plot line seems to be convoluted, or confusing, at times. The story line takes you places you aren’t sure you need to go. And the story line doesn’t necessarily go in a straight line. That might be what happens when you try to put two movies into one.

I am getting ahead of myself.

This reboot is large parts of Superman (origins) and Superman 2 (the conflict and enemy). After Kal-El leaves Krypton, the rest of the origin story is played out in flashbacks largely woven into some original material. As his father Jal-El, Russell Crowe (who played Robin Hood) has infinitely more to do than Marlon Brando ever did. Much of it was quite physical, unlike Brando’s role. He got to revive some skills he needed to play Maximus. The story begins with a planet that has run out of energy and is ready to implode because they have tapped into the core to get power. You can’t help but wonder if this is some political statement. But the Jal-El, the scientist, and General Zod both accuse the government officials of endlessly debating things while everything fell apart (another political statement). But they have different opinions about what should be done. Essentially the point is no one listens to the scientists.

It is quite interesting because they used an unusual form of population control: no natural births. They were able to create children genetically suited for the roles they will perform in society. Jal-El and his wife rebel against the government policy, seeking the hope of Krypton. With the destruction of Krypton immanent, they send their newly born son, Kal-El, to a new planet where he will be “like a god.” There are a number of allusions to Christ throughout the movie in addition to his name (similar to voice of God), including a scene in a church as he wrestles with his place in the world, Jesus in the garden is seen in the stained glass over his shoulder. But Superman saves the world through his strength, Jesus through His sacrifice.

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The hype on this movie was big.  And, quite frankly, The Dark Knight delivers.  Christopher Nolan, as writer, producer and director, has taken this series to a place no one ever dream Batman could go.  It exceeded my high expectations.

Think of the first go round.  In my opinion, the 1st and 3rd movies were the best ones.  Batman Returns was ruined by all the sexual talk of the Penguin.  It was just plain dark and dreary.  Val Kilmer was smart not to retun for the 4th installment which saw a retun of the campy feel of the TV show. 

Nolan restarted the series with the decidedly dark Batman Begins.  In The Dark Knight the story continues faster, louder and more dangerous.  In terms of continuity, most of the original cast returns.  There is a cameo by Scarecrow at the beginning, and Bruce Wayne still longs for childhood friend Rachel Dawes.  Batman and Lt. Gordon are close to shutting down the mob with the help of new DA Harvey Dent.  Bruce sees the day that he can retire the mask and Gotham can have a respectable hero in Dent.

This is when all Hades breaks lose in the person of the Joker.  He has been hired, he actually extorted them, to end the threat by putting an end to Batman.

The Joker is utterly diabolical; something of an anti-christ figure who unleashes chaos and destruction on Gotham.  Unlike the other villians, he has no origins we know about.  He appears mysteriously.  We never know who he really is, or why he is the way he is.  He even tells different stories about why he has the nasty smile-shaped scar on his face.  He does not have the usual motives- money or power.  He wants to destroy people, to test them and reveal that they can become evil if pushed to the edge.  He is the devil while Batman plays the role of Job in this theodicy without a God.

The Joker wants to corrupt Batman, and then Dent, not through seduction but through heartbreak.  He figures that if he pushes the right button they will reject their code of ethic.  He is downright scary.  Heath Ledger turns in a fantastic performance, somehow channeling both Caesar Romero and Jack Nicholson yet giving him a completely unique personality.  His bent personality is matched by his bent body.  His head often hangs.  His perspective is just as bent.

Batman is not a true vigilante.  He tries to bring criminals to justice, rather than mete out justic himself.  And he displays an unusual respect for the dignity of human life.  He does not shoot criminals, or apprehend them using guns.  The guns he uses are typically used against inanimate objects.  He uses strength, technology and craftiness to defeat his opponents.  Sorry, this all dawned on me this morning.

 This version has many more explosions and gun shots, in addition to the hand-to-hand (the real meaning of mano a mano) combat.  The Joker is a violent psychopath who murders plenty of people.  He has no respect for human life.  He sees it all as a game between himself and Batman (the unstoppable force meets the immovable object).  Nolan creates an exciting, thoughtful story filled with one memorable character in the Joker, and a very hideous character in Two Face- the ‘converted’ Harvey Dent who was driven mad by Joker’s insideous plan.  He gives in to the notion of chaos and chance ruling the universe.

But Batman stands in contrast as the man who doesn’t forsake his ideals in the midst of terror.  Though tempted, he refuses to destroy even Joker.  But in the process, he becomes a scapegoat.  He bears the sins of Two Face to preserve Harvey Dent’s reputation lest the Joker win and the people lose hope.  Batman becomes something of a messianic figure to the Joker’s devil.

All this in one action-packed adventure story.  Chris Nolan has outdone himself- making more than a great super-hero movie, but a great movie, period.  This tale of good and evil is worth watching repeatedly.  Just not for kids.

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