Dunkirk Trailer Thoughts

I may be one of the biggest critics of Christopher Nolan right now. I found “Interstellar” to be a complete waste of time that did nothing to break new ground in the sci-fi genre that “2001: A Space Odyssey” didn’t already do before and ten times better. “The Dark Knight Rises” was too muddled and convenient at times to be a suitable ending to the Batman trilogy. “The Prestige” also gets caught up in its own desires to be something fancier than it is by simple tricks of non-linear storytelling. And while I did like “Inception” I think it’s far from perfect and certainly has issues that could have been addressed by a director that isn’t living in such a fantasyland built by his own hype.

Nolan has the potential to make some great films and there’s no denying his ambition and continuous attempts at originality, but for every good film he makes like “The Dark Knight” or “Insomnia” there are equally bad films that try so hard to be special that they end up getting lost in achieving that goal before it can even focus on just being good. Nolan is at his best when he ignores the hype. “Insomnia” came when he was still relatively unknown except for fans of “Memento” and “The Dark Knight” followed “Batman Begins,” which was a good first film in the trilogy but nothing close to the level of “The Dark Knight” that catapulted him to stardom.

Yes, “The Dark Knight” is one of the premier mainstream films of this century no doubt, but most of that is due in large part to Heath Ledger’s stellar performance. The writing is still impeccable in this film and it would still be great without Ledger, but it certainly wouldn’t be the classic that it’s regarded today.

Enter: “Dunkirk.” I can never fault Nolan for his ability to be versatile in his directing endeavors. He can blend between genres with relative ease and I’m excited to see what he does with a war film. Are we going to see the pompous and obnoxious Nolan, or the humble and driven Nolan that’s created some great modern works? It’s tough to tell from the trailer.

The trailer from “Dunkirk” is certainly engaging, presents some of the morality themes of war that Nolan wants to address, but it still keeps much to be desired, as a good trailer should. The set pieces look lovely at first look with a good mix of prominent actors and potential newcomers. The film is set up to allow for naval, aerial and land battle sequences to give some variety to the war sequences (this makes me think it’ll be a long film and this use of different military divisions will allow for changes of pace throughout).

Overall the trailer is fine but I have one major concern going in. Christopher Nolan loves filming complex ideas and concepts like in “Inception” and “Interstellar.” Both these films suffer because they care more about explaining the complex storyline rather than focusing on the characters that should be humanizing the film. As Nolan’s budgets and ambitions grow bigger, his characters become more of a formality.

“Saving Private Ryan” is my favorite World War II film and while the battle sequences are fantastic, what makes it a classic is the connection to the soldiers that Spielberg instills in between each sequence of war. We care about Private Ryan and all the soldiers in the company and that’s what makes it stand out above the rest. I don’t see Christopher Nolan being able to do that in this film. The lovely set pieces and varying battlegrounds have so much attention in the trailer that I’m concerned they’ll take away from the humanizing elements of the film, which above all else are most important in the war genre. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll make a classic, but I’m not convinced at this point.

 

“Dunkirk” comes out to theater on July 21st, 2017.

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What Makes “Archer” So Good?

Every now and then I get asked if I watch television shows in between all the various movies that I view. While I don’t love television and will often get bored with many shows after a season or two, there are a handful of shows that I really enjoy. I love watching “Breaking Bad” any chance I get and think “Game of Thrones” has the same entertainment and production value as most quality fantasy films. I will choose to watch a movie over a television show when given the option and most shows I watch are anthologies like “Black Mirror,” but there are always exceptions. While the two shows I named above are my two favorites, I will always hold a special place in my heart for “Archer.”

Everything about “Archer” is so perfect to me. The running gags, brilliant premise, amazing voice cast and outrageous situations combine everything you could ever want for a James Bond comedy spin-off. The show never takes itself too seriously, much like the titular character, and it’s the better off for it. It is definitely an acquired sense of humor that most people would equate with being geared at 16-28 year old males, but I think there are moments that most people could relate to and find amusing.

The show started off being about the adventures of Archer and the other employees at the spy agency ISIS. Naturally, no mission ever went how it was intended, leading to a variety of amusing situations. But after season 4 the creators realized that their material was in danger of running dry. So for season 5 they decided to change things up and have them be drug dealers for a season. When they realized that they were selling cocaine for the CIA, they ended up being CIA contractors for a season until that came crashing down in a blaze of glory. When we last saw Archer, he and his colleagues were working as private detectives in a Chinatown style situation.

It is amazing to see how a simple spy show has been able to develop their running jokes, character’s personalities, and plot over the course of seven years, and this year sees them excelling even more. Archer finds himself in a coma at the beginning of this season, so the creators decided that they would take advantage to place the characters in a 1940’s LA Noir Dreamland setting. Again, Adam Reed and the rest of the “Archer” writing team manage to change the scenery to keep things interesting and prove that they can place this group of characters in any situation and have it work out for them.

None of the comedy is lost in this new season after the premiere. All the beloved characters are still in the story. But most importantly, the noir style is executed rather well for a series that was initially meant to be a spy show. The versatility of the past four seasons has proven that “Archer” has a talent that few other shows have: it can keep the same characters while constantly changing the situations each season to keep things interesting. It’s become a sort of anthology in a way and it guarantees that the show will never become stale, as each season from here on out will continue to be interesting and engaging with each change of setting. And there’s no reason to doubt that Adam Reed and his writing team won’t be able to choose any theme and have it work for their characters.

They could go futuristic like “Blade Runner”/“Minority Report,” turn the show into a heist series like “Ocean’s Eleven,” or go back in time even further to the bootlegging era and it would still be a success. No other show on television can succeed as a regular sitcom while also being an episodic anthology in its own right. That’s something that other shows could learn a lot from, but I don’t ever see a series pulling this off as well as “Archer.” “Archer” may not have the quality as some shows like “Breaking Bad” or “The Sopranos,” but I would still consider it one of my favorite shows for its undeniably successful adaptability.

10 Oscar Takeaways

Well, it was an interesting Oscars to say the least. And while most people will be talking about the mix-up with the Best Picture award and the endless jabs at the Trump administration there were actually some pretty intriguing takeaway from the 89th Academy Awards. So here are 10 takeaways that we have learned from this year’s Oscars.

  • Moonlight Deserves the Respect It Got – Yes the mix-up drove social media crazy. Did they do it on purpose? How does a mistake like that happen? How upset must the “La La Land” people be? But at the end of the day, the best movie from last year was rightly recognized in “Moonlight,” which just so happens to be the first film with an all African American cast to win Best Picture. It’s a landmark piece of cinema in many ways, and by winning this award the gates are open for a new wave of cinema to alter the landscape of movies moving forward.
  • Viola Davis is the Queen – When she didn’t win an Oscar for her work in “The Help” it was heartbreaking to say the least. Her and Octavia Spencer shined next to each other in that film, and while Meryl Streep was immaculate in “The Iron Lady” part of me always wanted Viola to win. This time around she finally got her golden statue, gave an amazing speech, and is on her way to being cemented as not only the greatest African American actress ever, but one of the best actresses that Hollywood has ever seen. She is a blessing to us all.
  • Best Foreign Language Film Was a Political Choice – While “The Salesman” is a very good movie, and Iran has been creating many great films recently, “Toni Erdmann” was my favorite nominated film. But once “The Salesman” director announced he would not be attending the Oscars due to the travel ban from Trump’s administration, the race was all but ended because how could the Academy pass up the opportunity for that acceptance speech to be delivered with such a political backdrop. The Oscars love a good political statement with their voting.
  • …But Sometimes They Are Able To Avoid Politics – When the award for Best Actor was given to Casey Affleck, a part of me was surprised. He was easily the best acting performance last year, but after recent allegations of sexual assault from years ago resurfaced during the awards circuit, I thought his chances would have gone down the drain with the Oscars not wanting to support someone with that case hanging over his head. Plus they had a very viable back up in Denzel Washington that would help erase their “Oscar’s So White” label. Instead they chose to ignore all the noise and actually picked the actor that did the best job. They still have the potential to surprise us when we think we know exactly what they’re going to do.
  • They Should Have Used All 10 Spots for Best Picture – The Academy can nominate up to 10 films for Best Picture, but since changing to this format, they never have. For what reason? If you can nominate 10, and you have 10 good enough films like you did this year, they why don’t they just do it. It seems like the logical thing to do.
  • Hacksaw Ridge Was Over Awarded – “La La Land” only walked away with 6 Oscars for their 14 nominations, which will surely leave many fans of the film upset. Some awards that people thought the film was a guarantee in, like sound mixing and film editing, went to “Hacksaw Ridge”. I was surprised to see “Hacksaw Ridge” receive so many nominations, and the fact that it was able to steal two Oscars from “La La Land” was lunacy to me. It was a decent film that deserved to be in conversations, sure, but it had no business winning. If you want to be mad “La La Land” fans, be mad at “Hacksaw Ridge” not “Moonlight.” t, it was still in serious discussion for screenplay nsidered for nominations or be a true favorite for awards. ll get critical
  • There Were Still Best Picture Nomination Snubs – “Lion,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hacksaw Ridge” were all lucky to be nominated for Best Picture. Films like “Eye in the Sky,” “American Honey,” and “Silence” were all better options for the Best Picture shortlist, but just weren’t as popular with audiences. The Academy still has an issue with favoritism to box office success films that also get critical acclaim, even when those films pale in comparison to other possible entries.
  • You Can Be Released In The Spring and Still Be Nominated – With “Boyhood,” “Mad Max,” and “Hell or High Water” all being nominated in subsequent years, the Academy are slowly erasing the stereotype that you need to be released during “Oscar Season” (anytime from end of September to December) to be considered for nominations or be a true favorite for awards. “Boyhood” and “Mad Max” both took home awards, and while “Hell or High Water” didn’t, it was still in serious discussion for screenplay and acting awards. Hopefully this will allow more movies to be shown throughout the entire year so we don’t have a four-month dry spell each summer season.
  • Best Actress Category Is On The Rise – This year was one of the best years we’ve ever had for the Best Actress category because an argument could be made for each nominee, whereas in other years, there’s a struggle to even find five nominees. Hopefully this positive trend continues for year’s to come.
  • You Don’t Need Be Good To Win An Oscar – There was a time last night when “Suicide Squad” (yes, Suicide Squad) had more Oscars than “La La Land.” Granted that quickly changed, but the fact that an atrocity that is “Suicide Squad” gets to prance around and say they won as Oscar pains me to my core. It was by far the worst movie of last year; it may have been one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’ve never been so angry with myself than when I was wasting my life away watching a movie that could have been scripted by a five-year-old with some colored pencils. Who knows, maybe that’s what actually happened. So all of you people who want to win an Oscar but don’t have any talent at producing a quality piece of cinema, there’s still hope yet! And this new Transformers film will probably receive some special effects nomination come next year. Oh, happy day…

So there you have it. Another year of cinema in the books and now we can begin looking forward to a summer of unrelenting blockbuster trash in the coming months. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, especially “Moonlight.” It turns out that 2016 wasn’t the worst year of movies we’ve had, so let’s hope that 2017 can continue to improve with even more great works.

2017 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this upcoming Sunday, and some of the categories will be closely contested while some are apparent landslides.  How many will awards will “La La Land” win and will “Moonlight” get any serious recognition? For this article, I go through some of the major categories and make predictions for who will win and who should win in.  I’ve given explanation for the big five categories, but just gave simple predictions for the lesser categories that the casual audience may not pay as much attention to.

Best Picture:

Nominations: Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; La La Land; Lion; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Moonlight

For the most part, I agree with the nominations for this category. I think “Hidden Figures” and “Lion” were lucky to sneak in here ahead of films such as “Loving” and “American Honey” and “I, Daniel Blake.” At this point, I would be very surprised if the Academy gave the award to a film that wasn’t “La La Land” or “Moonlight,” with “La La Land” being the favorite because it’s the type of film that the Oscars love to award. It pays homage to great musicals of past and is wonderfully directed, but it’s not a better film than “Moonlight” so I think there’s still a chance that “Moonlight” might rightfully snatch the win.

Best Director:

Nominations: Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

While I think “Moonlight” is a superior film to “La La Land,” it is impossible to deny the great job that Damien Chazelle did with “La La Land” and he should be rightfully recognized for his great direction. Again, there is a slight chance that Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight” might slip in with the win but I don’t foresee that happening. I don’t understand Mel Gibson being nominated here for “Hacksaw Ridge.” It’s a good movie but Denzel Washington would have been a better nomination for his work with directing “Fences.”

Best Actor:

Nominations: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

It’s a complete joke that Ryan Gosling is in this list of nominees quite frankly. His performance was the most significant fault in “La La Land” and almost ruined the movie for me. I will be beyond angry if he somehow wins. But this is actually an interesting race. Casey Affleck is the clear winner to me, but Washington picked up the SAG award and 18 of the last 22 SAG winners have gone on to win the Oscar.

Best Actress:

Nominations: Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Ruth Negga, Loving; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Emma Stone, La La Land; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Who Should Win: Natalie Portman, Jackie

I would like to preface this by saying this is one of the best collections of actresses we’ve had in this category for some time so I would like to commend everyone on this list. The academy is going to give as much as they can to “La La Land” this year and I won’t be entirely disappointed if Emma Stone wins. I think she did a much better job than I anticipated of her and think she is a deserving winner. But Natalie Portman should be the winning her second Oscar this year for her amazing work in “Jackie.” The movie would have been very lackluster without her, similar to Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” and I would love to see her pick up her second Oscar win after winning for “Black Swan” in 2010.

Best Supporting Actor:

Nominations: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Ali was amazing in “Moonlight” and had un-matched charisma on screen that helped get the movie flowing in the opening third. While I loved Jeff Bridges’s character in “Hell or High Water” I don’t foresee him winning. The only role that could challenge Ali would be Dev Patel from “Lion,” but I think that the Academy will want to make up for snubbing “Moonlight” of Best Picture by giving Ali a golden statue.

Best Supporting Actress:

Nominations: Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Who Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Viola Davis is an acting tour de force and will win this category with ease. She remains one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood right now and she rightfully deserves to win this category by a landslide.

Best Cinematography:

Nominations: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Arrival

Best Animated Feature:

Nominatons: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia

Who Will Win: Zootopia

Who Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Costume Design:

Nominations: Allied, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Best Documentary (Feature):

Nominations: Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; O.J.: Made in America; 13th

Who Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Who Should Win: 13th

Achievement in Visual Effects:

Nominations: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One

Who Will Win: The Jungle Book

Who Should Win: The Jungle Book

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Nominations: Arrival; Fences; Hidden Figures; Lion; Moonlight

Who Will Win: Fences

Who Should Win: Moonlight

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Nominations: Hell or High Water; La La Land; The Lobster; Manchester by the Sea; 20th Century Women

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Hidden Meaning of Inception’s Ending

*Spoiler’s ahead*

Inception was one of the most popular films to come from 2010, which makes sense given the overwhelmingly popular cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Paige, Tom Hardy and director Christopher Nolan fresh off his Batman trilogy success. The film’s fame is also helped with the unique and infamously complicated plotline involving entering the dreams of those they wish to steal from. Throw in the fact that Leo’s character, Dom, is banned from the United States because of a framed murder and you have a storyline that resonates with a variety of audiences.

But despite all these fame-inducing components, one of the standout moments from the film is the ambiguous film ending thrown in unexpectedly by Nolan. Throughout the film, characters use “totems” or various items that help them identify when they’re in a dream or not. Dom’s totem is a spinning top that never falls whenever he is a dream state. At the end of the film, the last shot lingers on the spinning top and as it seemingly begins to falter, the screen cuts to black and we never get to see whether or not it actually falls. This obviously drove audiences mad as they began to debate whether or not Dom was actually able to return to his children in the end of the film or if it was all actually a dream.

I was recently in a film class where we discussed this film as a whole, and the conversation naturally gravitated to this particular moment due to it’s controversial nature. The classroom was split with each person giving out his or her own opinions on if it was a dream at the end or not.

But for me, whether or not Dom is in a dream state at the end isn’t the point of the spinning top as the final shot. Nolan definitely wanted to put this ending in because he thought that it would cause controversy, something that he loves to include in his films over his career. But enticing this argument is not the primary job of this shot.

Throughout the film, Dom is plagued with the inability to realize when he is in a dream and when he is in the real world since he has been in so many different dream states and broken some unspoken rules about creation in dreams. There are scenes when he is drenched in cold sweats desperately reaching for his totem to remind himself of where he actually is. This paranoia haunts his character for the entirety of the film.

This last shot of the totem spinning is intended to display Dom’s closure within himself rather than let the audience know if what is happening is real. Immediately after spinning the top, he walks away from it and doesn’t bother to make sure it falls before moving on to see his children. This disregard for the outcome of the totem shows that Dom doesn’t care whether or not he is in a dream at that given time. All he cares about is that he is finally happy and at peace with himself and his life, whether it be in a dream or in reality. The paranoia that tormented him throughout the film has been dispelled and he can finally get along with his life and start to defy the demons of his past.

I don’t doubt that Nolan intended to create controversy, but this ensuing discussion amongst audience members only distracts from the real meaning by the ending of film. While it appears to have surface-level ambiguity, it actually delves much deeper than that.