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.
David Dastmalchian is one of those rare performers in the film business who can stake claim to something not many of his acting counterparts can: Not only has he been a part of both the Marvel and DC movie u
niverses, he’s effectively been preparing all his life to help bring their stories to life as a lifelong comic book fan.
“As an actor, you try to absorb and feel the tone of the material as best you can, and I’ve always found that always comes from the director and the material itself,” Dastmalchian told me in a call this week from Los Angeles. “So I think knowledge of comic book mythology and the history of it has been helpful to me as an actor. Also, the directors of these films that I’ve worked on have had very strong visions, and have been very good about communicating and setting up the tone.”
Dastmalchian’s first big-screen gig, of course, came in a small but haunting role as Joker thug Thomas Schiff in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 DC blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.” On Friday, though, he’s on the side of the good guys helping Paul Rudd save the world in Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man,” the latest installment in the expansive Marvel Universe that’s led to the assemblage of the Avengers.
Dastmalchian stars in “Ant-Man” as Kurt, a Russian computer hacker sporting an Elvis Presley-inspired pompadour who, along with Luis (Michael Pena) and Dave (T.I. Harris), joins forces with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Scott is an ex-con who has to resort to what he thinks will be a big score when his past as a burglar limits his options outside prison walls.
As it turns out, the score was actually set up by the mark, legendary scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), as a test to see if Scott would steal a specially designed suit that decreases his size down to that of ant, yet greatly increases his strength and makes him as resilient as a bullet. Dubbed “Ant-Man,” Scott and The Crew need to devise a heist — along with Hank and his estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) — to break into the corporation he’s no longer in control of to steal a similar suit dubbed “Yellow Jacket.” Ant-Man must break into an ultra-secure facility and steal the suit, designed by Hank’s protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), before the technology falls into the hands of the wrong people and puts the world in peril.
The irony for Dastmalchian in “Ant-Man” is that unlike his role in “The Dark Knight,” Kurt is not dark and twisted. It’s probably a good thing, since Dastmalchian has long been split on which comic book company has traditionally provided the best heroes and villains; and in the case of “Ant-Man,” he happens to be on the right side.
“My favorite villains were always the DC ones — I’ve said that to everybody, including Stan Lee,” Dastmalchian said. “But interestingly, my favorite superheroes were always on the Marvel side. The DC villains embody darkness — including the film that I got to be a part of — perfectly. On the other side, here in the Marvel world, Peyton has brought to life is a vibrancy and brightness in a very high-stakes adventure, which happens just the right amount of humor and irreverence. I feel like I’ve gotten the best of both worlds. In the Marvel movie I worked on, I got to be somebody playing for the hero, and in the DC one, I got to be on the side of the villain. It’s a dream.”
Dastmalchian’s involvement in “Ant-Man” has been interesting, since there was a period of time when he didn’t know if he’d be in the film despite being cast in January of 2014. The actor, who’s made indelible impressions in recent years with frightening roles on both film and television, said he was originally cast in “Ant-Man” by writer-director Edgar Wright, yet didn’t know where he stood when the filmmaker left the project and was replaced by Reed.
“My concern was that they were going to let go of me,” Dastmalchian said. “Of course, Paul was on-board, as well as Michael Douglas, and Evangline Lilly, because they’re movie stars. But when you’re an actor like me, there’s very few assurances when a situation like that comes up. When I tested during auditions, I want to say in the original script the crew had eight or nine guys, and they cast all of us.”
The uncertainty came on the heels of what Dastmalchian called a “crazy, awesome time” time for he and his wife, Eve. The couple’s son, Arlo, was born, and the actor/screenwriter’s deeply personal addiction drama, “Animals,” won a Special Jury Award at SXSW. Suddenly, Ant-Man’s Crew began undergoing some changes and Dastmalchian became a bit nervous.
“Originally, I was just going to sit around a month before ‘Ant-Man’ got started, but then I started to see that actors were leaving or being let go from the film — and they were all the guys from ‘The Crew,'” Dastmalchian recalled. “The script was being changed and I knew the crew dynamic was changing, as well as the number of people in it. But ultimately, I was very, very lucky that they kept me and Pena, and then T.I. came on board later, so we ended up with three of us.”
Once Reed started on the project, not only was Dastmalchian thrilled to discover that his new director had the same tastes as when it came to the Marvel Universe, but the sorts of filmmaking sensibilities to properly execute it.
“Peyton was made to make this movie. He’s as big if not bigger a comic book geek than I am, he loves the obscure characters like ‘Ant-Man.’ It’s a character he’s read and been devoted to for a very long time,” said Dastmalchian. “Plus, he has this real flair for bringing a good story to life, while utilizing action and comedic elements. So, as difficult as the starts and stops of the film process was, it ultimately all happened the way it was meant to be.”
One particular thing that Dastmalchian said he loved about working in the Marvel Universe was the involvement of talent on many different levels.
“Marvel is proof positive that the formula that massive kinds of collaboration can lead to effective filmmaking and really great story-telling because this is an all-hands-on-deck kind of process that the company has,” Dastmalchian observed. “The producers who have developed this sprawling cinematic universe have input on the film because they’re connecting the threads to the comic books that Stan Lee oversaw. He oversaw all of the different comic characters, even the ones he wasn’t writing or producing month to month.”
Once Dastmalchian settled into the role and was on-set, he got to experience things only a comic book-lover could dream of: hanging out with Lee, the Marvel icon and “Ant-Man’s” co-creator.
“Me, Rudd and one of our producers, Brad Winderbaum, would hang out in Stan’s trailer and just talk,” Dastmalchian marveled. “It was about 1987 when ‘Avengers’ No. 240 became the first comic book I ever bought. It was a from a spinning rack at a Seven Eleven in Kansas City, Kansas, and ultimately I’ve kept every comic book I’ve ever collected, including that one. It’s all tattered now, but I brought it to work and Stan signed it, ‘To my good friend Arlo,’ who is my son. I almost cried.”
Another legend Dastmalchian got to encounter, of course, was Douglas, who shares some screen time with The Crew. And while Dastmalchian is a professional who’s shared the screen with some pretty impressive talent, there was something about being on-set with Douglas that made his stomach gurgle.
“We only have a couple scenes together, which are very funny, but I am the least comfortable doing comedy,” Dastmalchian said. “I’m more comfortable with doing dramatic stuff, especially with the likes of Michael Douglas or Paul Rudd, for goodness sakes. It was very nerve-wracking, but Michael and I immediately hit it off. He’s a wonderful guy and the nerves went away pretty quickly. We talked a lot about Karl Malden (Douglas’ co-star on the classic TV drama ‘Streets of San Francisco’), who was a huge mentor to him, and to me, one of my all-time favorite actors. He’s right up there with the kind of actors I aspire to become. He had a reputation for propelling scenes and his scene partners. It was amazing to talk about Karl’s legacy and Michael’s amazing history.”
The bonus for Dastmalchian in “Ant-Man,” though, is that amid all the laughter, cool special effects and engaging action, tucked within is a poignant storyline about family. In two completely different circumstances, Hank and Scott are trying to reconnect with their daughters: Hope, fully-grown and angry at Hank over her childhood; and young Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), holding out hope for Scott in the hope that he can go the straight and narrow so he can be a good dad to her.
“The thing I love about ‘Ant-Man’ is there’s a theme that runs throughout the whole movie, that even families that have been frayed, or have been through the ringer or have really been tested — ultimately love can win out,” Dastmalchian said. “That’s something that’s really special about ‘Ant-Man’ that I don’t think I’ve seen in other big superhero movies really be as intimate.”
While the fun of his experience of “Ant-Man” will soon end, you get the feeling that the warmth he got from the family angle of the film will always remain with him. After all, he’s living it every single day of his life.
“I don’t know how to properly put it. When you go home at night after being in a film like ‘Ant-Man,’ you can say, ‘It was incredibly satisfying,’ but then you’re just another guy walking down the sidewalk,” Dastmalchian said. “But then you see your wife holding your kid at the end of the block and get to go and be with the people you love. If you have someone that you can love and share the experience with, it’s all that matters, man. It really is.”
Dastmalchian will have many more film experiences to share — and very soon. He just finished filming the James Gunn-penned horror-thriller “The Belko Experiment,” and is prepping “All Creatures Here Below,” another film drama he wrote and will star in. Also coming out soon is the drama “Chronic,” in which Dastmalchian stars opposite Tim Roth.
Dastmalchian’s SXSW award-winning “Animals,” meanwhile, is streaming now and coming out on DVD Aug. 25.
There are five main emotions in mind, quite literally, that drive “
Inside Out” – fear, sadness, anger and disgust – but it’s joy you’ll be jumping for at the conclusion of the movie, featuring one of the most original, mind-bending storylines to come out of Hollywood since Christopher Nolan’s brilliant dream adventure “Inception.”
Unlike “Inception,” “Inside Out,” of course is meant for audiences big and small since it’s the brainchild of Pixar, and it’s easily one of the best offering from the computer animation giant since “Up.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the director and co-writer of that Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Pete Docter, whose career with his third feature effort (his debut came with 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”) continues to soar.
“Inside Out” takes place in the mind of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), a rambunctious 11-year-old girl on the cusp of adolescence. Her actions are driven at a console by five emotions in the headquarters of her brain: Joy (Amy Pohler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and those emotions are about to get very mixed.
Still adjusting to her move with Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle McLachlan) from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley’s mood turns from happy to very sad and distant when Sadness begins to touch her core memories, which are each contained in tiny spheres. If an effort to keep Sadness at bay, Joy and her polar opposite are accidentally tossed headlong into the long-term memory of Riley’s brain, leaving only Anger, Fear and Disgust to help the girl navigate through her new surroundings. Attempting to find their way back to headquarters, Joy and Sadness find themselves struggling to keep Riley’s happy memories intact, not yet realizing that every emotion – not just Joy – is needed to guide the growing girl through life.
While “Inside Out” is a great companion piece to “Inception,” the audience for it is much broader. True, it’s very thought-provoking, and the narrative may be hard to grasp for the youngest tots in the audience, but what they will see develop in front of them, as Riley revisits her young life through various core and long-term memories of her life, will entertain them nonetheless. It goes without saying, of course, that the computer animation is brilliant, and the film’s vibrant colors and action is only illuminated by the film’s top-notch 3D presentation.
Beyond the youngest of audience members, kids 9 and above will better identify with the emotional weight that carries “Inside Out,” and naturally, adults, who experienced these emotions for many more years, will be the ones most moved by the movie. Life is full of many emotions, and you’ll get to relive them all again here, with joy and sadness – adding up to laughter and poignancy – at the forefront of this wonderful moviegoing experience. It may even change the way you look at things.
“Inside Out” is preceded by the Pixar short, “Lava,” which follows the song of a lonely volcano looking for companionship over millions of years. Driven by a touching Hawaiian tune penned by writer-director James Ford Murphy, look for “Lava” – as well as “Inside Out” – to be mentioned early and often as sure bets to be nominated (if not eventually the big winners) during awards season.
“Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” (PG-13) 3 1/2 (out of four)
While the title sounds pretty ominous, there’s no question Alfonso Gomez-Rejon pulls off a masterful balance of humor, heartbreak and hope with “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” an irreverent comedy drama that tackles a difficult subject matter with surprising results. It’s easy to see how the film captured both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, bringing an independent filmmaking spirit to a film a major studio would be leery to make.
Thomas Mann stars as Greg, an awkward Pittsburgh high school senior who’s managed to stay invisible his whole life. His only activity is making off-kilter spoofs of famous movies with his “co-worker” Early (RJ Cyler), a neighborhood kid that he won’t call a friend in fear of getting too close to him. Greg inadvertently begins to come out of his shell, though, when his Mom (Connie Britton) demands that he consoles Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow senior who’s been diagnosed with cancer. First showing up out of obligation, Greg and Rachel become fast friends, and along with Earl, they experience life’s uncertainties as “The Dying Girl,” as Rachel is called, faces a tough treatment regimen in a bid to save her life.
Naturally, people are going to want to compare “Me and Earl to the Dying Girl” to last year’s teen cancer drama “The Fault in Our Stars,” but thanks to the film’s offbeat humor and tone, it couldn’t be any further from it. Yes, there’s a very serious underlying theme to the film, but the approach to the film is anything but ordinary.
Mann, Cyler and Cooke are all terrific in the title roles, which are bolstered by strong supporting turns by Britton, Nick Offerman (as Greg’s Dad), Molly Shannon (as Rachel’s Mom) and Jon Bernthal (as Greg and Earl’s favorite teacher). It may not be the easiest film to watch, but “Me and Early and The Dying Girl” is full of zest and a wonderful celebration of life.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
This week I had the wonderful opportunity to see filmmaker Christopher Nolan in Dialogue with Variety’s Scott Foundas at the Walker Art Center’s film retrospective “Christopher Nolan: Moving Through Time” in Minneapolis.
In conjunction with the event, where all nine of Nolan’s films are playing through May 24, I had the opportunity to write for the Walker a retrospective piece on the director based on the interviews I’ve done with him over the years. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s only appropriate that Christopher Nolan’s May 5 visit to the Walker Art Center came on the heels of the dizzying release of the latest teaser trailer for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” Fresh off his own trek to the outer reaches of space with the spectacular sci-fi adventure drama “Interstellar,” Nolan 38 years ago was, like countless moviegoers worldwide, forever impacted by the George Lucas’ 1977 space opera. But unlike most starry-eyed fans, Nolan was inspired to expand the “Star Wars” universe in his own cinematic way, and in doing so, he was inadvertently laying the foundation for a legendary, Lucas-like career of his own as a writer, producer and director.
“I started making Super 8 films when I was 7 years old,” Nolan told me in 2006, in the first of four conversations we would have about his films over the next eight years. “My first few films were little action-figure extravaganzas, and soon, as ‘Star Wars’ came out and changed everything, my movies were ‘Star Wars’ ripoffs for years, with spaceships and action figures. They were little, mini-epics. It was great fun.”