Hear Tim’s review of “Dunkirk” on KQ92 with Tom Barnard.
Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan continues to amaze with “Dunkirk,” a World War II epic that is spectacular from filmmaking standpoint yet strains itself with the way the narrative unfolds.
A story most certainly unknown to most American audiences, “Dunkirk” isn’t so much a war film than it is a harrowing tale of survival. Set in May 1940, the film recounts the miracle evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, where German forces have the soldiers trapped. With Allied ground forces unable to penetrate the enemy’s stronghold, fighter planes attempt to ward off the enemy while every naval and civilian vessel available attempt to cross the English channel to reach the soldiers before they meet a most certain cruel demise.
“Dunkirk” is told from three points of view — by land, by sea and by air, in three different time frames in a non-linear manner. And while it’s fascinating in the way the film eventually comes together, “Dunkirk” will no doubt confuse audiences if they’re not paying rapt attention.
While the film features stellar performances by Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, there’s no real star in “Dunkirk” – in fact the attention is more focused on the plight of the ground soldiers, including newcomers Fionn Whitehead and One Direction singer Harry Styles (a great move by Nolan that will surely get younger audiences interested who would have ignored the film otherwise).
An ensemble film with far less dialogue than Nolan’s previous efforts, “Dunkirk” feels more like a docudrama than a narrative feature; so despite the extraordinary story that inspired it, the film ultimately doesn’t have nearly as much emotion as last year’s true-life World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge.” Faults aside, you still have to applaud a filmmaker with as much clout as Nolan to inform audiences of important stories like “Dunkirk” that have been buried in history, especially smack-dab in the middle of the summer movie-going season that’s generally packed with mindless drivel.
Founded in New Jersey in 1996, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has not only long been associated with excellent product, but lauded for its ingenuity to produce action figures for films that didn’t get a toy line when they were released in theaters.
Currently, NECA is preparing for its annual pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic-Con next week to reveal upcoming products and sell exclusives figures from such licenses as “Coraline,” “Aliens” and “Predator.” In the middle of the madness, NECA’s director of product development, Randy Falk, answered a few questi
ons by email about the company’s vintage offerings and SDCC exclusives.
Tim Lammers: Thanks for your time, Randy. I have to admit, I was so thrilled to hear NECA was going to produce “The Lost Wave” of “Prometheus” figures. What factored into that decision? Was it because of the pending release of “Alien: Covenant” or the continuing success of the your “Alien” line?
Randy Falk: Thank you! For the “Prometheus” Lost Wave, it was little of both, actually. There was continued interest from a small but vocal fan base that five years on still wanted to see these figures happen, and with the release of “Covenant” on the horizon it felt like the right time to do it. This is really a gift for the loyal fans.
TL: Could this signal the beginning of more “lost waves” being produced? Is there another example of something NECA had in the prototype phase that didn’t make it to store shelves, which you would like to see completed now?
RF: I don’t know if I would go that far… the tooling is the biggest expense in manufacturing figures of this kind, and usually if something does not get produced it’s for a good reason, so it’s tough to justify those costs.
TL: What are the chances of the first waves of “Prometheus” figures being reproduced to compliment the “Lost Wave” of figures?
RF: Slim to none, unfortunately. The audience has not grown much since release and as far as the toys are concerned, the sales were never near the level of our “Alien” line.
TL: I think what separates NECA from so many other toy/collectible companies is their commitment to develop figures on vintage licenses whereas other companies concentrate solely on current releases. What drives that mindset to produce vintage licenses?
RF: Honestly, I would be thrilled to work in what I call the golden era/decade of ’77 – ’87 as much as I could. That 10-year period encompasses all the best in film, music, and video games and the nostalgia factor makes these brands successful 30 to 40 years on, not only with the people who grew up with them but the younger audience that has discovered that greatness on video or Netflix or cable. I love the classics and for the most part there isn’t much in modern entertainment that comes close. There is a reason Jason or Freddy or “Alien” or “Predator” still resonate today, or why a 4-year-old loves Gizmo as much as a 40-year-old who saw “Gremlins” in the theater in 1984.
TL: I’m thrilled that you’ve reissued the “Rocky” figure line (and I especially love the “Rocky IV” Apollo Creed). Given that these figures were popular enough to reissue, is there any desire to expand the line to include Mickey, etc?
RF: Thanks, and these are a lot of fun to create. It is unlikely we would do a Mickey or Adrian because of all the new tooling costs involved, added to their limited appeal compared to Rocky, Apollo, Clubber, etc. We do have a fantastic set of maquettes coming, though, based on the puppets used in an old iced tea commercial. These are great versions of Rocky and Mickey.
TL: Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for exclusives being produced by any company for SDCC is the “Coraline” Display and figure. Is that tied into the 10th anniversary of LAIKA, and, is it possible NECA will be reissuing any of its previous “Coraline” figures?
RF: I can’t elaborate too much on this at the moment, but yes, we are definitely celebrating Laika’s 10th anniversary. We love all of their films and are thrilled to be working with them again. “Kubo and the Two Strings” was one of my favorite movies last year, in fact! We have a lot of things in the planning stage now, but for the moment I can only say there will be new figures and more.
TL: It’s great to see that NECA is offering the Jungle Briefing Dutch as an exclusive at SDCC. Any chance we’ll get Carl Weathers’ Dillon at some point?
RF: We would absolutely love to produce a Dillon figure and have made many attempts to reach an agreement with Carl for the use of his likeness as Dillon. Fox, which holds the license for “Predator,” does not have any of the likeness rights to the actors within the film. We were able to make a separate agreement with Arnold to include Dutch in the line, but that happened around the 7th series in the “Predator” line, so as you can see it can take a while. This year we celebrate “Predator’s” 30th anniversary, so we have some Dutch figures and classic Jungle Hunter Predator figures back out in the market. We would still love to include Dillon and hope that one day it can happen, but that is still to be negotiated with Carl Weathers.
Without question, Steve Zahn has been one of the most reliable actors to work in Hollywood in the past two-plus decades. Zahn’s list of credits is long and impressive — ranging from his breakthrough role in director Ben Stiller’s romantic dramedy “Reality Bites” and a starring turn in Tom Hanks’ directorial debut “That Thing You Do!” — to a turn opposite Eddie Murphy in the smash comedy “Daddy Day Care” and more recently, a memorable recurring guest turn on TV’s “Modern Family.”
Yet for all the comedy Zahn has done, he’s had a fine share o
f serious film roles, too, including the adventure drama “Rescue Dawn” alongside Christian Bale and “Dallas Buyers Club” opposite his “Sahara” co-star Matthew McConaughey.
All told, the Minnesota native’s ability to stretch himself across the character spectrum has come to serve him well, and was no doubt a factor in his casting him in the pivotal role as Bad Ape in writer-director Matt Reeves’ new sci-fi thriller “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which opens in theaters nationwide Friday.
In a phone conversation from New York Wednesday, Zahn said he still can’t quite get over how the wizardry of computer artists added layers onto his motion capture performance to create a living, breathing simian; yet without losing the essence of the emotions he provided just beneath the surface.
“It’s a crazy experience when you first see yourself as an ape,” Zahn recalled of the first time saw footage of Bad Ape. “I was actually moved by it. It was a moving experience. It’s hard to explain.”
Bad Ape is a highly-evolved, former zoo chimpanzee who managed to survive an intensifying conflict between humans and apes as the simians continue to evolve as a species while the human population struggles to survive. And despite his desire to keep to himself, Bad Ape proves to be a valuable ally to Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he and a small band of apes seek the location of a bloodthirsty military colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is hell-bent on eradicating his enemies before Earth becomes a planet of apes.
“My view of Bad Ape when I read for Matt was that I didn’t think of him as this comedic character — I told him that I thought of him as a tragic character, ” Zahn said in a phone conversation from New York Wednesday. “He was living in the mountains and had lost his friends, and was dealing with his seclusion by collecting stuff and becoming a hoarder. When Caesar and the others show up, he’s so excited to have companionship — and he bonds with Caesar over the incredible losses they’ve had in their lives.”
Reeves does, naturally, take advantage of Zahn’s comedic gifts at times, but even then, they’re more in moments of situational comedy than set-ups for a laugh.
“I knew that Bad Ape would be funny in opposition to Caesar,” Zahn said. “His pace is different. He’s quick, he can’t stop talking, he can’t stop thinking, and he’s always rocking back and forth. I knew that would have levity in this really dark story, and Matt agreed. But when I auditioned for the role, it was for a very moving scene, and Matt was moved by it and he will tell you that’s why he hired me. He also, knew though, that I had the ability to find the humor in things.”
Ape for Oscar
Already being lauded by critics as one of the best movies of the new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy as well as one of the best movies of the year, Zahn is hoping that above all, Serkis’ third performance as Caesar is the charm with voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Serkis, Zahn said, should not be judged on his motion-capture acting abilities, though, but his acting abilities.
“Andy’s performance in this movie is profound. It is one for the ages,” Zahn, 49, said. “I remember somebody asked me, ‘Was it like taking a master class from him in motion capture acting? ‘ and I said, ‘No. Working with Andy is like taking a master class in acting — period.’ That’s what we’re doing. We’re not doing any other thing.”
Zahn added, however, that motion-capture does certainly have its advantages.
“It’s one of the greatest tools you can have as an actor, because you can literally play anything you want,” Zahn observed. “Andy went from playing Gollum to playing King Kong. What an incredible thing to do. I was new to it with this film and I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was the most challenging acting job I’ve ever had. I’m extremely proud of it.”
Zahn does believe, though, that for awards voters to honor the craft, they need to be exposed to a lot more motion-capture to get a greater understanding of it. And even though Serkis has been perfecting the craft since his days on “The Lord of the Rings” movies, some people simply don’t quite get how motion-capture performances are achieved.
“It really irks me — and Andy just laughed when I emailed him about it — when I read a line that said, ‘And Steve Zahn lends his voice to Bad Ape.’ And that was written by someone in the business. I thought, ‘Lends my voice? ‘ Oh, my God. I was pissed! I emailed him and he was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been dealing with this for 17 years.’ I really felt for him when he said that. He’s an incredible actor.”
VIDEO: Watch Tim’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” on KARE 11 (NBC).
“War for the Planet of the Apes” (PG-13)
Director Matt Reeves and Caesar motion capture artist Andy Serkis team together once again for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the third and perhaps best film in the new “Apes” trilogy that began with the 2011 prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
“War for the Planet of the Apes” picks up a few years after the events of the second film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” where at the conclusion, the rogue ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) tricks his fellow simians into a conflict with the surviving humans of a worldwide plague. While the humans and evolving ape society managed to live apart with nothing more than a tense atmosphere between them, Koba’s deadly meddling was enough to ensure that apes and humans would never live in harmony.
With the ape population growing and the human population decimated, a bloodthirsty military heavy known only as The Colonel (the always great Woody Harrelson) looks to eradicate the earth of all apes, beginning with their leader Caesar. Inflicting a huge loss on Caesar after he infiltrates the apes’ stronghold, The Colonel successfully draws his target out into the open; leading to the deadly confrontation that Caesar has so long fought to avoid.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” no doubt has its share of battle scenes as the title promises, but at the heart of the film there’s so much more, including parallels to the darkest part of America’s past. With a proper balance of action and a meaningful story, Reeves has easily constructed one of the best films of the year, complete with stellar performances by Serkis, Harrelson, Karin Konoval (reprising her role as the wise orangutan Maurice) and Steve Zahn — who plays a former zoo chimpanzee named Bad Ape (the words used to admonish him) who learned his traits from humans.
With any luck, the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will stop ignoring sci-fi films and motion capture performances (particularly Serkis’) and award “War for the Planet of the Apes” with all the attention it so richly deserves come Oscar time.