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.
href="https://twitter.com/TimLammersFilms" target="_blank">By Tim Lammers
“The Revenant” (R) 3 stars (out of four)
Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the gutsiest performances of his career in “The Revenant,” a compelling survival-turned-revenge tale based on the harrowing, true-life travails of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass nearly 200 years ago.
On a fur-trading expedition in the 1820s led by Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Glass in a fateful moment finds himself alone in the wilderness, when he’s confronted by a vicious grizzly bear. And while he is brutally attacked (in one of the most ghastly scenes on the big screen in recent memory), it’s only the beginning of Glass’ troubles. Shredded and left in shock by the attack, Glass isn’t expected to survive as infection sets in.
His near lifeless body too burdensome for his hunting party to carry through the unforgiving wooded landscape, Glass is left in the care of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the young and impressionable Jim Bridger (Will Pouter), and John Fitzgerald (a frightening Tom Hardy). A crazed mercenary who is determined to leave the severely wounded hunter for dead, Fitzgerald resorts to extreme measures to destroy Glass and the last remaining member of his family, and attempts to bury the hunter alive. Glass, however, somehow miraculously survives, and once he regains his strength, sets out on a path of revenge. Running parallel to Glass’ story is the trek of a Native American tribe searching for a lost member, and eventually their paths intertwine.
Fresh off a trio of Oscar wins for “Birdman,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s constructs a riveting tale with “The Revenant,” using his trademark long tracking shots (unlike “Birdman,” there’s more than one here) to give the film a fresh, point-of-view feel. However, with the Oscar success of “Birdman” comes clout, and Inarritu clearly used his trio of statuettes as leverage in getting the film’s extensive final cut. Clocking in at 2 hours and 36 minutes, “The Revenant” is too long for its own good, even though it moves along much quicker than the plodding 2 hours and 49 minutes of “The Hateful Eight.”
While the film is engaging, the whole idea of Glass surviving such of a horrific attack is suspect, even though his tale is true. There are several moments in the film that seem far-fetched, almost making you wonder just how much the filmmakers embellished the tale for the sake of entertainment. That’s not to take away from the film’s stellar performances by DiCaprio (who speaks less than a dozen lines in English and a few more in a Native American dialect) and the barely-recognizable Hardy, who each go to great lengths to give their characters some stark realism. DiCaprio, a vegetarian, even went so far in one survival scene to eat the raw liver out of a buffalo carcass. Now that’s commitment.
For lack of better words, Domhnall Gleeson has taken command of the big screen in the past year. It’s rare that an actor gets to star in one acclaimed film, much less four of them, and in a one-year frame, to boot.
Beginning with sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina” in April and followed by the coming-of-age drama “Brooklyn” in November, Gleeson took charge in December as the villainous General Hux in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” before serving alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in the limited release of “The Revenant” on Christmas Day.
Opening in theaters nationwide Friday, “The Revenant,” directed by “Birdman” Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, tells the harrowing true-life tale of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a hunter on a fur-trading expedition in the 1820s who is left for dead by his hunting party after being brutalized by a bear. Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, a fellow hunter who betrays Glass and leads others to believe that he’s dead, and Gleeson plays the pivotal role of Capt. Andrew Henry, the Rocky Mountain Trading Company founder and expedition leader who becomes caught up in Fitzgerald’s deceptive tales.
Gleeson, 33, said that Inarritu’s shoot in the elements easily provided him with his most challenging role to date; even more difficult than what he experienced working on director Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” in 2014.
“I had to lose a lot of weight for ‘Unbroken’ and that was really hard. You just think to yourself, ‘Well, it won’t be this hard again.’ Then you cut to a year later and you’re saying, ‘What the hell?’ I wasn’t expecting it,” Gleeson said, laughing. “The shoot was intense, but I was always expecting it to be intense.
“The notion was, if we really challenged ourselves, if we were able to put any of that into the camera — a certain amount of pain, a certain of amount of really battling the elements — that maybe we’d be giving the audience something they hadn’t seen before. I think we really got there,” Gleeson said. “The film is special, and I know when I was watching it recently, I could feel it. It will never feel what it was really like being out there in the elements again, but watching it really evoked those feelings. I felt like I was back out there.”
Gleeson, a Dublin native and the son of acclaimed actor Brendan Gleeson, admitted that there were times when he asked himself, ‘What the hell am I doing here,’ but never during the workday.
“It was normally in the evening when the day was over and your body was sore,” Gleeson said. “During the day you just want to get the work done to the best it could be. The one thing we didn’t forget was that fact that this film could be brilliant. There are very limited opportunities in a lifetime to be in a film like this, so you don’t forget that aim.”
Staged in such remote locales as Montana, British Columbia and Calgary, “The Revenant” was marked by an unusually long shoot of nine months, because Inarritu and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, took great pains to film the scenes in natural light. On top of that, the elements weren’t exactly cooperative.
Gleeson said he admired Inarritu’s commitment to “The Revenant” and what he required of his actors, no matter how difficult things would become.
“Alejandro said very early on that compromise wasn’t an option when it came to this film — that we were all in, or not in at all,” Gleeson said. “That’s the sort of attitude that all the greats have. It’s one or the other. If they’re all in, they’ll do whatever it takes. That can be very tough, but if you’re going to make something extraordinary — and not many people make anything extraordinary — if you’re going to do it, then that’s the place to start from.”
Apart from the intensity of shooting in such harsh elements, Gleeson, like his co-stars, had the weight of history on their shoulders playing real-life people — fur trappers in a time where life wasn’t exactly so warm and fuzzy.
“We have time to think about now that they didn’t have,” Gleeson said. “If you were out doing what those men were doing at that time, minute to minute, the first thing on your mind was survival. That was foremost. That’s the way it still is for a lot of people today, but for me, I have time to think about work, people and whatever else I want to do, like watch a Netflix show. If I want coffee now, I can pay a couple bucks for a coffee.”
As for his character specifically, since “The Revenant” isn’t specifically about Capt. Andrew Henry, per se, his personal story was utilized in a different sort of manner, Gleeson said.
“Playing a real-life character weighs a lot on your mind, but the important thing is to be the right thing for the film — 1823 is a long time ago, and Captain Henry was known as being a very good and capable leader of men, and a good man himself,” Gleeson said. “He was hugely respected by the men he led, and in our story, we don’t quite start with him in that scenario. Things are a little out of his control, probably more so than they ever were in real life.
“However, I do feel we get him to the place where he existed by the end of the film,” Gleeson added. “I think my character’s arc is to grow into the man you would read about if you looked up the history of the times he lived in.”
There surely will be some disagreements, but here are 10 of the films that made movie-going worthwhile in 2015.
10. “The Walk” – Robert Zemeckis’ direction is at its jaw-dropping best with this stunning recreation of French performer Phillipe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) “artistic coup” – a death-defying wire walk between the void of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The point-of-view shots on the wire were among the most, if not the most, intense scenes on the big screen this year.
9. “The Martian” – Director Ridley Scott returns to space once again – sans any alien life forms — with one of the most entertaining films of the year in this tale about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who was presumed dead after a vicious storm hits his team’s Mars expedition. True, it’s mostly a one-man show for Damon, but in between, the talented ensemble including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean help create an engaging rescue mission filled with as many laughs as there are thrills. It’s a real blast (off).
8. “Legend” – Tom Hardy flawlessly demonstrates why he’s one of the best actors today with a dual performance as twins Ron and Reggie Kray, a pair of brutal gangsters who ruled the East end of London in the 1960s. Nearly identical in appearance, Hardy immediately establishes the distinct personalities of the Krays, making you quickly forget that what you’re watching are essentially impressive camera tricks. Proceeded by his kick-ass turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and followed by his frightening turn in “The Revenant,” 2015 was the year of Tom Hardy.
7. “The Big Short” – Four groups of Wall Street outsiders stick it to the big banks during the housing meltdown of 2008, which feels great until you realize that even after the financial Armageddon, nothing really changes. Director Adam McKay makes an impressive transition from comedy to satire and drama with a film so slickly executed that it hearkens the greatness of Martin Scorsese. Christian Bale is the best of the film’s winning ensemble cast.
6. “Inside Out” – Pixar’s “Up” Oscar-winner Pete Docter is back with this ingenious tale of how five emotions become mixed when an 11-year-old girl struggles with her family’s relocation from Minnesota to San Francisco. Like “Toy Story 3,” “Inside Out” is as much an emotional roller coaster for adults as it is a visual wonder filled with laughs for kids.
5. “Steve Jobs” – Michael Fassbender gives a career performance as the complex, socially-inept co-founder of Apple Computers, ingeniously played out during three pivotal moments of his career. Director Danny Boyle realizes his vision more like a stage play through Aaron Sorkin’s whip smart dialogue, where Jobs’ embattled colleagues (expertly played by Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and to a lesser degree, Seth Rogen) wrack their brains trying to figure the prickly computer pioneer out.
4.”Cinderella” – Far and away the most beautiful piece of cinema in 2015, this Kenneth Branagh-directed gem is one of the few films this year to deliver on all levels. Sometimes emotional, sometimes funny, and always full of heart, “Cinderella” has everything from stunning performances, awe-inspiring sets, gorgeous costumes, an emotional score and the recalibration of a classic character to reflect the modern age without damaging the classic tale’s integrity. Most of all, the film’s important message, “Have courage and be kind,” is one that will resonate for ages.
3. “Spotlight” – The film’s subject matter is depressing as all hell, but this film about The Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Boston Archdiocese’s priest sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s is so compelling that you can’t help but be gripped by it from beginning to end. The film not only recalls the greatness of “All the President’s Men,” but also serves as a reminder of today’s sad state of investigative journalism (if not journalism as a whole), which has been shot to hell by the Wild West Internet landscape where every media outlet has to have the story first, even if the facts aren’t completely right.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road” – Writer-director George Miller finally gets the opportunity to make the “Mad Max” film he’s always wanted to make with this hyperkinetic road opus that can’t be described as anything but “batshit crazy.” Tom Hardy wipes the memory slate clean of Mel Gibson with his brooding performance as the title character, and Charlize Theron gives a furious performance of the aptly-titled character Furiosa.
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Sure, it’s not perfect, but how often can a film match the tone of the original 37 years after its release, and the monstrous expectations that go with it? The Force is back in a big way thanks to the ever-burgeoning creativity of writer-director J.J. Abrams, and this seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga serves as a big reminder why we love movies in the first place. “Episode VII” can’t come soon enough.
10 honorable mentions: “Ex Machina,” “Black Mass,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Revenant,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Ant-Man,” “Creed,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “The Peanuts Movie.”
Worst film of 2015:“Sisters” – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler force an uncharacteristic brand of raunchy comedy down our throats that’s dreadfully unfunny and downright embarrassing. How this film got the greenlight to begin with, is one of the great mysteries of 2015. The “Saturday Night Live” alums must know where some bodies are buried.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers