Sunday Movie Roundup (7/23/2017)

Dunkirk (2017)

Director:  Christopher Nolan

If there is one movie this summer that deserves to be seen on the big screen, this is it.  Forget character development, extended dialogue, and other conventional film formalities.  This isn’t that kind of movie.  This is one of those “immersion experience” films, where the director basically tosses you into the fray and tells you to live the experience for yourself.  The subject here is the massive evacuation of British military forces from France in the wake of the Allies’ shattering 1940 Western Front defeat at the hands of Germany.  Viewers already know (or should already know) this, so director Nolan spends no screen time in dramatic buildup.

What we have here are a few separate, vaguely connected story threads that all play out against the imposing backdrop that was the Dunkirk disaster.  Average soldiers, sailors, and civilians are shown trying to cope with the disaster as best they can, and salvage something useful from the wreckage.  Nolan’s touch is, as always, so deft, so skilled, that he manages to grab us by the throat from the opening scene and hold our attention for the next two hours.  His mature handling of the subject matter stands in stark contrast to the saccharine sentimentality of a director like Steven Spielberg, whose juvenile weepiness came very close to ruining Saving Private Ryan.

An inspiring spectacle, one that hammers home the lesson that redemption can be salvaged even during the darkest hours.


John Wick (2014)

Director:  Chad Stahelski

Keanu Reeves has some quality that’s hard to describe.  His acting is not particularly great.  His charisma is not particularly great.  But he always seems to hold our attention when he’s on the screen.  I was hoping that this persona might save John Wick, but I was wrong.  The plot:  a “retired” super-assassin is jacked with by a few punks who steal his car and kill his dog.  Wick vows revenge, and the hunt is on.  This Lee Marvin-esque, Payback-esque reduction of a plot is all that is needed to start the shootouts and car chases.  Is it interesting?  Yes, but only up to a point.  It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves can still handle the fight scenes so many years after The Matrix, and maybe that’s reason alone to see this.

All style, but very little substance.  Watch if you must.


Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart (2014) (La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur)

Director:   Cédric Anger

Set in the late 1970s, a small French community is terrorized by a serial killer in their midst.  The big twist here is that the killer is actually one of the police officers assigned to investigate the case.  Apparently, this movie was based on actual events in France during the 1970s.  I suppose this weirdness alone makes it worth watching, but the movie has a lot more to offer:  it delves into the mind and motivations of the killer, hovering over him like an eye in the sky.  We feel his nihilism, his self-pity, and his warped sense of “honor.”  I have to admit that it was not easy for me to sit through this one, only because I detested the character so much.  Maybe that was the director’s intention.  Regardless, this should be added to the list of those who like psychological crime dramas.


Mercenary (2016)

Director:  Sacha Wolff

This is a great little movie that I had heard nothing about.  The plot:  a young Polynesian man (Wallis Island, to be specific) named Soane gets a chance to go to France to play professional rugby.  He desperately wants to escape an abusive home environment and make his own way in the world.  And when I say abusive, I mean abusive.  His father is a petty tyrant who delights in inflicting pointless cruelties on Soane and his brother.  There are other bad apples lurking around, and Soane wants to get the hell away from them, too.

But life in France turns out to be more difficult that he had ever imagined.  Caught between the ghosts of his pasts and the very real struggle for his future, Soane has all he can do just to survive.  This is one of those great human dramas that has been told a thousand times before, but one that never gets old.  All of us have to experience coming-of-age struggles, and how we deal with them will define us forever.  See this movie.