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true story

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenDIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

REVIEW:

Hidden Figures could be summed up as The Help in space; while it differs from the 2011 drama in telling the true story of three unsung minds behind the 1960s NASA space program, the two films are close cousins in telling a civil rights story through a PG, “feel good” tone that sometimes makes it feel watered down and lightweight (in fact, the two films share an actress, Octavia Spencer, in a main role).  Hidden Figures is enjoyable and occasionally moving and uplifting, but also sometimes feels like an “inspirational” Lifetime original movie bumped up with a bigger budget and a pedigreed cast. Continue reading

Loving (2016)

lovingDIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Christopher Mann, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp

REVIEW:

Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ low-key, stately chronicle of actual events spanning 1957-1967 that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against interracial relationships, serves a similar purpose to films covering the same time period and similar subject matter such as 2011’s The Help in serving as a history lesson to those too young to remember a time when racism was still officially written into law.  Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

hacksawDIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey

REVIEW:

The true story of Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving seventy-five men without firing a shot during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in WWII, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (called the troubled actor-director’s “comeback project” in some circles) is a curious but overall effective blend of sappy cliches and graphic war violence, a film which initially threatens to come across like a generic “uplifting” story but—mostly when our pacifist protagonist finally goes to war around the halfway point—ultimately takes a turn to something far less sanitized but ultimately powerful and inspirational.   Continue reading

The Lost City of Z (2016)

DIRECTOR: James Gray

CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland

REVIEW:

James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, an adaptation of David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name, chronicles in docudrama fashion true events surrounding British explorer Percy Fawcett, who was sent to Bolivia and made several attempts at finding an ancient lost city in the Amazon and disappeared on an expedition in 1925 along with his son under mysterious circumstances.  The film, which may have been as or more engaging as a straight documentary, is a sporadically compelling but muddled and uneven biopic that remains hindered by the need to condense a twenty-year span of events into a two and a half hour film. Continue reading

Denial (2016)

denialDIRECTOR: Mick Jackson

CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott

REVIEW:

Denial is a courtroom drama that relies less on ostentatious Oscar clip wannabe closing speeches and theatrics than meticulous cross-examination, and a true story that doesn’t embellish the material to up the ante.  The result is a stately, dignified film that will bore those without an interest in the subject matter but plenty of appeal for fans of courtroom dramas or for those with an interest in the true story. Continue reading

Snowden (2016)

snowdenDIRECTOR: Oliver Stone

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, Nicolas Cage

REVIEW:

Given his attraction to controversial, politically-charged fare, it’s no surprise that Oliver Stone would end up being the one to make a film about Edward Snowden, the NSA/CIA analyst-turned-whistleblower who became an internationally wanted fugitive (currently living under temporary residence in Moscow) after leaking thousands of classified files exposing unconstitutional government wiretapping and mass surveillance programs.  Whether Snowden deserves the label “hero” or “traitor” (or to some extent maybe even both) varies widely depending on who you ask, but the content of his leaks, whatever one may feel about his methods or the man himself, should give anyone a moment’s pause.  Perhaps Snowden‘s biggest drawback as a film is that it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table that can’t already be gleaned from a documentary on the same subject, Citizenfour (ironically the same complaint that can be made of another Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle, last year’s The Walk), but it’s still a compelling biopic/docudrama that doesn’t require one to be particularly familiar with the real Edward Snowden to find the film interesting viewing. Continue reading

Anthropoid (2016)

anthroDIRECTOR: Sean Ellis

CAST: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Toby Jones

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

Anthropoid is a spare, gritty historical thriller chronicling in unvarnished fashion the true story of the operation (code-named “Anthropoid”) to assassinate high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.  To that end, it’s not necessarily the definitive film adaptation of the event (1975’s Operation Daybreak provides a more comprehensive overview), but it’s a tense and unromanticized docudrama illuminating one of the less famous stories from WWII.   Continue reading

The Danish Girl (2015)

danishDIRECTOR: Tom Hooper

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch

REVIEW:

The Danish Girl arrives in theaters at a time when it’s virtually guaranteed to be rewarded with Academy Awards attention.  Transgender issues are prominent in the news, and it’s easy to be cynical about feeling there’s something a little opportunistic in the timing and subject matter of director Tom Hooper and star Eddie Redmayne clearly aiming for what would be each man’s second Oscar, but more visible representation for the transgendered community in high-profile Oscar contender motion pictures isn’t a bad thing.  Based on the same-named 2000 novel by David Ebershoff, itself a somewhat fictionalized account of the true story of transgender pioneer Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, The Danish Girl, like Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, is a somber, stately, and sedate period film, and while its subdued tone sometimes mutes its emotional impact, it’s still a poignant and handsomely-filmed semi-biographical drama. Continue reading

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

in-the-heart-of-the-sea-teaser-trailer-1280DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson

REVIEW:

In the Heart of the Sea got a lot of promotional mileage out of its loose connections to Herman Melville’s literary classic “Moby Dick” (it’s based on the true incident of the 1820 sinking of the Essex that in turn inspired Melville’s magnum opus), but at least as brought to the screen here, the true story is less compelling than its fictional counterpart.  The studio pushing its release date back from the original March to December, presumably to put it in awards contention, seems ill-judged and pointless.  The movie might have fared better in March, and risks getting lost in the shuffle in November-December’s crowded and highly-anticipated field of movies.  There are things to appreciate for fans of seafaring adventure, but the movie isn’t Oscar material, and there’s a generic, by-the-numbers feel that holds it back from ever becoming as powerful or compelling as it could have been. Continue reading

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