Dunkirk (2017)

★★★★★

Seeing Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in IMAX was one of the best theater-going experiences I’ve ever had; and it may be the best film I have seen all year.

The sound design makes it seem like you are in the middle of the action. Every bullet, every bomb, sent goosebumps through my whole body. Hans Zimmer’s terrific score starts playing as soon as the film begins. It doesn’t stop either, just like the action. We hear the sound of a stopwatch in the background sometimes, it sounds almost like the sound of a heartbeat. The heartbeats of the soldiers needing to evacuate Dunkirk to flee for their lives. The sounds of nervous pilots trying to save those lives.

There is little dialogue because it makes sense that there wouldn’t be much in a situation like Dunkirk. You just take in everything that is happening. The choice for the story to have multiple perspectives of the event was also a terrific choice. We get to see all parties involved (not the Nazis though) and a little part of their story. I will not go into each character as I think it is something that you will want to experience blindly the first time. But all of the characters have interesting perspectives and roles in the evacuation.

When I write these reviews for movies I really enjoy, I sometimes find it hard to put into words why you should see it. Other than “please watch this movie” because sometimes, I am afraid that explaining why I like it so much may ruin the allure of the film. I can (and did) tell you easily why not to see the other big release of this week, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Dunkirk is one of these movies. Something that leaves you awe-struck and speechless. A picture that, when someone complains about how “movies aren’t as good as they used to be” you use as ammunition to fuel your argument that cinema can still be exciting, new, and most of all, groundbreaking.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

★★½

Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has good intentions. A fun sci-fi adventure based off of the French comic strip, Valerian and Laureline (one of George Lucas’ inspirations for Star Wars). But sadly, it becomes nothing but a mediocre movie with some cool looking effects and terrible acting from its two leads.

Valerian actually opens quite promising. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” plays as the International Space Station has more and more different people become a part of it, including aliens. Then we are introduced to our two main characters, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). And both sound mostly like they are reading their lines for the first time. It also looked as if Delevingne had dubbed over many of her lines in post-production. Other than the wooden performances, the actual dialogue is hammy and forced. These characters interact with each in nearly deadpan fashion and their “romantic” dialogue is nearly the same level of Terrance Malik’s in Song to Song (2017). By then end of this movie I didn’t care about these characters because I felt like I didn’t have a good enough chance to know them.

As far as the other characters in the movie, it is surprising how many people have minor roles in this film. Ethan Hawke is a shady strip club owner that offers a bizarre performance which definitely is not up to par with his acting in The Before Trilogy, not that it was expected it was. John Goodman shows up for a couple minutes voicing an alien, Rutger Hauer is shown on a hologram, and Herbie Hancock is Valerian and Laureline’s boss.

The only redeeming factor from Valerian, is the amazing visual landscapes. The City of a Thousand Planets as mentioned in the title is really awesome to look at. The Mül planet is an incredible tropical and peaceful landscape. You can also see what things in the comic Star Wars was inspired by such as Valerian and Laureline’s ship resembling the Millennium Falcon as well as Valerian being a similar character archetype as Han Solo.

Valerian is a disappointment. It is too bad that something with this kind of potential was ruined with a lame story and a terrible lead cast.

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

★★★

While watching  Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion to this prequel trilogy, I felt like it was missing something. Yes, the film is well made. It has some terrific action and possibly the best motion-capture ever done in a movie. But it lacked the other ingredients that made the other two installments more enjoyable.

It may have been because, the film’s villain, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) in War, is a little to “cartoonishly evil” for my tastes. A fascist character who is not afraid to kill anyone and everything who even disagrees with his opinions on dealing with the Simian Flu that has consumed the world population. The problem with Harrelson’s character is that, it would be much more powerful for him to continue to act ruthless rather than tell Caesar why is is like this. It ruins the allure of his character, as someone who wouldn’t need to justify what he is doing because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone. But with that gripe aside, the only other major issue character-wise was the inclusion of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is used as comic relief mostly which is odd, as both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) were played pretty much all seriously. I found his inclusion to not work too well because of this.

Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is still the best part of this franchise. With each installment we have seen the character grow mentally and in War he talks in pretty much all grammatically correct English. Serkis once again, creates a character that feels and looks authentic.

A discussion about the environments the apes travel through can also not be avoided. The snowy environments of British Columbia blanket many scenes in their beauty. A nice change from the environment of San Francisco of the previous installments.

This trilogy can not only be seen as showing the advancement of apes over man throught the years but also the advancement of excellent visual effects in blockbuster movies. The attention to detail is incredible. I noticed that the eyes of the apes especially, had differing amounts of color in them and at one time one of Caesar’s eyes were even bloodshot. It’s just some really amazing stuff to see.

“The beginning and the end” is spray-painted on the side of an oil tank in this movie. Telling us that the trilogy may be finished, but Planet of the Apes (1968) is just on the horizon.

Baywatch (2017)

★½

Some words to describe Baywatch would be: lazy, uninspired, crude, unfunny, and harmless. This film is not the atrocity that many are making it out to be, but it still does not go beyond something to view while flipping channels on a boring afternoon.

Dwayne Johnson is likable as Mitch Buchannon because, Johnson just has that natural charisma that makes him such a popular star today. The other actors like Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddadrio do passable jobs in the acting department, with the exception of the stereotypical nerd character, Ronnie (Jon Bass). Bass’ performance is annoying and the shtick is unfunny. Who comes off as a poor-man’s Josh Gad (which is a phrase I thought I would have never said).

The plot in Baywatch is purposefully foolish, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is riddled with clichés. If something is self-aware of itself it has to be more than self-aware to pass as actual good entertainment. Comedian Hannibal Buress shows up for a bit, for no reason and then just disappears adding little to nothing to the story, which is odd. For a comedy there is also very little of anything that is funny long stretches go on throughout Baywatch where the bland plot takes center stage and the comedy is suppressed. Which is not how a comedy should be.

As far as cinematography goes, the shots are all very boring and predictable. There seemed to be no direction for the camerawork and instead, it is mainly just medium shots. Even the special effects felt cheap as a green screen was used in many of the action sequences, which is disappointing for a big studio film.

Paramount thought they had a 21 Jump Street (2012) on their hands by adapting popular 90s TV show Baywatch into a R-rated comedy. But the film version of Baywatch lacks the creative team and effort put into it that made 21 Jump Street such a popular and acclaimed comedy. And insteadBaywatch becomes a forgettable experience.

Wonder Woman (2017)

★★★½

No setups for other films, no e-mailing of the Justice League to Bruce Wayne, just Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins showed us all how to make the first actually good film in the DC extended universe. Other than flashy visuals, Wonder Woman is a championing of what happens when you can make a story that stands alone. This didn’t advance the plot of the other DC movies because it did not have to. This is Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) story.

 The film opens on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, where Jenkins creates a lush and colorful island that is just stunning to look at. The beautiful world of the Amazon Warriors is juxtaposed with the more grey and gloomy look of 1918 London as well as the front of World War I; showing what industrialization can do to land that looked just like Themyscira.

Wonder Woman‘s characters are instantly likable. Hearing this group of fighters talk and interact with each other was what really made the film work so well (other than the action sequences). Gal Gadot did a perfect job of playing a naive and good-natured person who is thrown into the crazy and hectic real world. Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor is as a boastful, comical, and brave spy. Steve Trevor and Diana Prince’s chemistry worked as they provided foils for each other with Diana being an ideologue and Steve being a man more in touch with his actual world. Other supporting characters, such as Charlie (Ewan Bremner), Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) all are good inclusions in the picture.

The final act and the main villain is really the only weakness of the film. Which is a shame, because it felt like the film was avoiding tropes and cliches for almost the entire running time until the final battle. The final battle became also quite CGI-heavy and it looked like it was taken straight out of Injustice 2. Then Ares, the main villain felt underdeveloped and just thrown-in for the sake of it being a superhero movie. Now that isn’t to say that the final act is all bad, just like the other fighting sequences, the action is still great, but it was just a disappointment to see Wonder Woman fall apart at the end of the movie. If the final act could be compared to anything, it would be James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013).

Finally, we have a film worthy of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s kick-ass theme song written for the character. Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

★★★★★

The now nearly forty year-old Alien franchise has made its genre-defining Xenomorphs less threatening over time. The terror that Alien (1979) made people feel is no longer prevalent in the new installments of the franchise. Enter Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus as well as a prequel to Alien. Covenant manages to create a whole new type of monster and makes him threatening and dangerous just as the Xenomorph used to be. His name is David (Michael Fassbender).

Without giving much away, the evolution of former Prometheus crew member and synth to villain is subtle at first as he questions his masters. By Alien: Covenant, David has fully turned on his creators showing no remorse for human life. Fassbender sells this man-made creation through his sheer acting ability to do so. While also portraying David, Fassbender also plays Walter, the synth who assists the Covenant ship crew. Watching both of these characters interact with each other on screen together is a surreal experience that is proven believable through the great effects used to produce it. The two share an admiration for the arts such as poetry, painting, and sculpture. As well as have lengthy dialogue about favorites of theirs in each medium.

A stand-out performance is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant, Tennessee. McBride is mostly known for playing the character Kenny Powers in the HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down and many probably thought that McBride would not be able to pull of a dramatic performance.

Alien: Covenant has stunning cinematography. The Covenant space ship glides through the air with its odd “space sail boat” mechanics and Scott knows when the right time is to dwell on certain set pieces. Dariusz Wolski was the director of photography for this film as well as Prometheus and does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of that film. When the Covenant crew lands on the unknown planet to investigate a radio signal playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (it is unknown if Free Fire stole the idea from this film or vice-versa) is where the cinematography really shines. The overcast of the unknown planet followed by the darker shades of green and blue give off a very gloomy feel to the film as well as somewhat resemble the colors of a Xenomorph. Some well choreographed battle-sequences also manage to create some good suspense.

There are only one issue that I had with this film. The terrible CGI of the Chestbursters. In 1979 the effects looked better and the state that it was shown in was unacceptable for 2017. Some may say that the scientists in this movie do not act logically. This is simply untrue, these characters are on a new planet examining new life. Even scientists sometimes let curiosity get the best of them. It does not even compare to the scientists in Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017). Who fail to contain a life form on the International Space Station, which they are trained to operate.

Alien: Covenant manages to unexpectedly take the plot in a completely different direction than expected. Instead of having a film more reminiscent of Alien, where a Xenomorph goes around a space ship, killing crew members. Covenant creates a new identity for itself, not being predictable or by-the-numbers.