Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: "Dunkirk" (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

A chronicling of the evacuation at Dunkirk that followed the defeat of the allied forces.

"Dunkirk" is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who is known for directing "The Dark Knight" trilogy as well as "The Prestige" and "Memento." His latest film is a war drama about the evacuation at Dunkirk during the Second World War. There is a large cast, who play soldiers trying to escape and the civilian sailors coming to rescue them. Some of the more recognizable cast members are Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, and Harry Styles, yes, the Harry Styles of One Direction fame. The story is told across three timelines from three different perspectives of the battle from the land, the sea, and the air. It looks at the perspective of the soldiers on the beach over the period of a week, the perspective of the civilian sailors over a day, and the perspective of the air force pilot over an hour.

This movie is visual storytelling at its finest. It serves to immerse the audience in the hell-fire and tension of battle more than anything else. From the moment "Dunkirk" begins until the second it ends, the audience is put in the thick of World War II on a sandy beach with guns blazing, planes soaring, bombs flying, soldiers running and ducking, and scores of nameless troopers lined up awaiting safe passage home. There isn't a whole heck of a lot of dialogue. There aren't many identifiable characters, at least not in the traditional sense. The people in this movie are not overly developed beyond their posts, such as fleeing soldier, shivering soldier, heroic fighter pilot, or commanding officer. The most developed character in the film is Mark Rylance's Mr. Dawson, his son Peter, played by Tom Glynn-Carney, and Peter's friend George, played by Barry Keoghan, as well as Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead, though their principle archetype is to represent patriotic English citizens doing different duties in the name of their country. These characters all have the same look, hairstyle, hair colors, and body type, and this is clearly done on purpose. This is probably Nolan's most minimalist film yet.

We have to imagine the majority of the script for "Dunkirk" simply included screen direction and sound effects like "vroooooom," "ratatatatata," several "boom!s" and lots of "ahhhhhhh!s." These sound effects are coupled with the occasional line of impactful dialogue like, "you can practically see it from here," "I'm not going back," and "we have to do what's right." We mean it when we say there's a lot of action in this flick. In fact, Nolan hardly gives the crowd a second to catch their breath. After all, this is a war picture, so we expect no less. The sounds of battle, the crunching of sand, the looming bombs, the flying planes, the precision-point score, all of the auditory elements are extraordinary, and they are relentless, never letting up for one second throughout its run time. Despite all of this, this is one of the least bloody modern war films we have seen, not that we necessarily need blood and carnage to understand the brutality of war. Some viewers may find this project lacking because of the absence of gore. We can also understand some moviegoers not getting emotionally invested due to the lack of character development as this is where we landed ourselves. However, this is clearly a "big picture" spectacle movie, but Nolan has been accused in the past of being emotionally cold as a filmmaker, and while we disagree, the lack of character development here doesn't really help his case.

"Dunkirk" is visually stunning and gorgeously shot. What Christopher Nolan is able to do with a camera is nothing short of fantastic. He puts the audience right in the thick of the battle of Dunkirk and makes us feel every twist and turn from the planes in the sky, every splash and sway from the boats in the ocean, and every sound and explosion from bombs being dropped on the British soldiers. The editing is fantastic as the three timelines are cut together to make sure the tension and excitement remain high throughout its run time. Nolan's use of practical effects over digital ones serves to enhance the look, feel, and authenticity of this movie. The cinematography is stunning, and Hans Zimmer does it again with a haunting, ticking score that elevates the final product. Our one big critique of the movie is Nolan's choice to keep the bulk of the characters nameless and (relatively) faceless. Some people will love this choice, but it was a bit of a rub for us. We wanted to be able to root for these individuals and wish for their ultimate survival but we didn't feel a connection to them since they aren't really developed. Despite this minor critique, "Dunkirk" is yet another solid offering from Nolan and gives a unique perspective on how to approach a war film when they are a dime a dozen in Hollywood.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~92%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Review: "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017)

Director: Luc Besson
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes

Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant Laureline are sent on a mission to retrieve an almost extinct creature that may play a key role in saving the giant intergalactic space station known as Alpha.

"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" is a sci-fi action adventure movie written and directed by Luc Besson, who is known for directing the films "The Fifth Element," "Leon: The Professional," and more recently, "Lucy." It is based on the French graphic novel series "Valerian and Laureline" that ran between 1967 and 2010. The film stars Dane DeHaan as the titular Valerian, and joining him is Cara Delevigne as his partner Laureline. They are two special operatives in charge of keeping the peace. Their latest mission is to retrieve a piece of government property, a creature known as a 'converter,' which is the last of its species. It is believed this creature can play a key role in saving the massive space port called Alpha, which is home to 30 million life forms from across the galaxy.

The one thing abundantly clear right out of the gate is that "Valerian" is a gorgeous, creative film visually. It is full of imaginative creatures, interesting costumes, and vibrant, bright colors. The look of this film is very similar to Besson's "The Fifth Element" in this respect. We had high hopes for this new sci-fi franchise, hoping it would have interesting characters who go on some great adventures. Unfortunately, "Valerian" is very much style over substance, and the same can be said for the bulk of Besson's career. It's a flashy car driven by a man who has no sense of direction and not the slightest idea where his destination even is.

The film starts out fine enough, but the longer it goes on, the more it flounders. We also didn't dig the banter between DeHaan and Delevigne. The two didn't really have much chemistry, and it doesn't help that Delevigne can't deliver her lines with much passion. We really can't understand the fascination with her as an actress, but really, DeHaan isn't doing much better here. There are times when the dialogue is clearly meant to be quippy and humorous, and these instances fall flat most of the time, in large part due to their lack of timing. There are a few scenes that are absolutely extraordinary in terms of their sci-fi wonderment, but what goes on in between each of these moments is an incoherent mess that seems to have one goal: fit as many unique and different looking aliens and cool visuals into every single second. It's like Besson looked through all the comics to find the scenes he wanted to adapt the most and created a weak narrative in an attempt to connect them together.

We would like to say we could recommend "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," but it falls just a little bit too short in the story department and is a bit too messy for our liking despite its outstanding and beautiful visual spectacle.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~54%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: "The Beguiled" (2017)

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Director: Sofia Coppola
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

In Civil War-era Virginia, a group of young women at a boarding school find and nurse an injured Union soldier back to health. His presence and charm, however, cause tension and jealousy among the women.

"The Beguiled" is written and directed by Sofia Coppola, who is known for films like "The Virgin Suicides" and "Lost in Translation." It is an adaption of the novel "A Painted Devil" by Thomas P. Cullinan, which was previously adapted into a film also called "The Beguiled" starring Clint Eastwood from the 1970's. This version stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, and Addison Riecke, who make up the students and teachers at a girls boarding school in the Confederate state of Virginia three years into the Civil War. Joining them is Colin Farrell, who plays injured Union soldier Corporal John McBurney, who the women take in in order to nurse him back to health. John is very charming, and the girls and women who live in the boarding school try their best to impress him the second he hobbles through the door. They give him little gifts, they come into his room and talk with him even though they aren't allowed, they wear lavish jewelry and fancy dresses to impress him, etc. John does not rebuff these advances, and in fact, relishes in the attention. He openly and outwardly flirts with a couple of the women, wooing them by asking about their hopes and dreams in an attempt to gain favor with them. This leads to drama, in-fighting, and jealousy inside the house.

When we saw the trailer for "The Beguiled," we got really excited for it. It was cut in a way that gave it a "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" revenge thriller feel. We hadn't seen the original film (we purposefully avoided it in order to come into this version with no preconceived notions) and we hadn't read the book, so we knew nothing of the source materials. We are a little bewildered that this movie is not as the studio sold it to be.

For the most part, it winds up being a bit of a stodgy dramatic period piece/Civil War western where several women fawn over a man who has fallen into their laps. There are some tense moments later on in its run time, but we feel like most of the tension stems from an overreaction to an accident that occurs during an argument rather than genuine malice. Dunst's Edwina Morrow wants to be taken far away from the boarding house, Fanning's Alicia finds herself bored with her monotonous studies and wants to shake things up by flirting with McBurney, and Kidman's Miss Martha Farnsworth won't admit it, but could use a helping hand around the house since she's has been doing everything herself for God knows how long. Are these ladies beguiled by Firth, is he compelling them to fight amongst themselves for his affections, or do they see him as the way out of their individual situations? Luckily, the picture is excellently acted. Every single person in this picture is cast perfectly, from the innocent Amy, played by Laurence, to the coquettish Alicia, played by Fanning. Kidman, Dunst, and Farrell dominate the screen with their commanding portrayals. The costumes are extremely well made and look appropriate for their time, and the entire film is beautiful, hauntingly shot by Sofia Coppola.

Though anchored by four tremendous performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, and Elle Fanning, "The Beguiled" winds up being a movie that's better looking than anything else, which may have been the opposite of what it intended to do. The story leaves a lot to be desired despite the occasional fantastic line of biting dialogue. It's only sporadically intriguing, and most of the engaging parts happen as the film winds down. BigJ found himself fighting off yawns for much of the first two acts, and while I was invested in the movie the whole way through, I will admit, there's a little too much "waiting for the other shoe to drop" for my liking. There's probably something to be said about how preconceived notions affect our judgment, and in turn, our actions, but it sadly isn't explored in the most entertaining fashion.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~77%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: "iBoy" (2017)

Director: Adam Randall
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

After Tom walks in on a gang of attackers assaulting his crush, he runs away. The attackers give chase. As Tom attempts to phone the police, he is shot, and the bullet embeds a piece of his smartphone into his brain, which has unexpected side effects. Now, Tom is out for revenge.

"iBoy" is the second feature film directed by Adam Randall. It is based on a novel of the same name by Kevin Brooks. The film stars Bill Milner as Tom, who eventually becomes the titular iBoy after having a piece of his smartphone embedded into his head by a bullet. Joining him is Maisie Williams as Lucy, the girl Tom has had a crush on for as long as he can remember. It is at Lucy's apartment where Tom walks in on a gang who have just attacked and raped her. Scared and unsure what to do, Tom runs and is eventually met with a bullet. Upon waking from his attack, he starts to discover he has unexpected powers, and now has a means for revenge. He becomes iBoy, you know, because he is a boy and has a piece of an iPhone stuck in his head, so now he's iBoy.....get it?!

This British sci-fi quasi-superhero flick has a pretty absurd concept, but really, what superhero film doesn't? The idea of someone getting a smartphone chip lodged in their brain by a bullet which gives them superpowers is a kind of a weak premise. Then again, redundantly so, so are many superhero origin stories. If you can accept this premise, you may somewhat enjoy this film. It's a British urban superhero story that attempts to have some grit and drama added on top of an already dramatic premise. It deals with gangs, rape, and murder, which are clearly much more mature themes and plot points than we had imagined from a movie called "iBoy." In some ways, this might hurt the movie as a whole. This is obviously a project geared towards teenagers with a title such as this, but the themes may be far too weighty for a lot of young adults.

Though this is a superhero flick heavy on the drama, it isn't completely absent of fun as Tom's abilities, no matter how ridiculous they are imbibed to him, are pretty cool. He can interact with other electronics with only the power of his iMind...ugh, these silly names make it really hard to write a serious review. There are a couple moments of tension and brief spurts of action, but the pacing is a bit slow, which can make this rather short movie feel much longer than it is. The acting is only passable, unfortunately. Maisie Williams gives the most notable performance as a young woman attempting to deal with the aftermath of being brutally raped, and honestly, she's too good for a low-level picture like this.

In the end, though not a complete waste of time, "iBoy" winds up being much darker than we expected, and it's ultimately a forgettable, rather pedestrian affair with some cheesy fight choreography and a predictable premise. It's got some interesting elements and visuals that are hurt by its dopey premise and lack of capable acting.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 60%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Movie Review: "The Fifth Element" (1997)

Director: Luc Besson
Year: 1997
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Four element stones, along with the fifth element, must brought to Earth to fight off an impending evil that's only purpose is to destroy life.

"The Fifth Element" is written and directed by Luc Besson, who is known for directing movies like "Leon: The Professional" and "La Femme Nikita." It stars Milla Jovovich as the titular "Fifth Element" Leeloo, the prime element in the Mondoshawan-developed weapon that has the power to defeat the life-destroying evil. It also stars Bruce Willis as cab driver and former special forces major Korben Dallas, who helps Leeloo in her quest to stop the ultimate evil. Joining them are Ian Holm as Father Vito Cornelius, the keeper of the key and the Earth contact of the Mondoshawan, Gary Oldman as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, a wicked industrialist aiding the ultimate evil in its destruction of Earth, and Chris Tucker as entertainment personality Ruby Rhod, who is the comic relief side character who gets trapped in the chaos.

Speaking of chaos, that's actually a good word to describe "The Fifth Element" as a whole. There is a whole lot of it in this flick, and every scene seems to get progressively more chaotic than the last. A the minutes tick by, the film gets more and more complex as well as there are a lot of moving parts and characters adding to this sci-fi action adventure. Somehow through it all, director Luc Besson manages squeeze a coherent narrative out of it. Sure, it is a bit contrived at times. Much of what happens is convenient to the plot or is simply luck encountered by the characters, but in the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius, "are you not entertained?" This film is colorful and vibrant with a lot of wonderful makeup work, interesting sets pieces and brilliant costumes, and tremendous, otherworldly, fantastic special effects. It is quite the visual smorgasbord, and the movie is almost worth watching for these effects alone. It really is like being transported to the future. The acting isn't all that great, though we do love Bruce Willis doing his snarky, dry witted, tough guy routine. We also enjoy Gary Oldman's over-the-top maniacal antagonist and Chris Rock's outrageous, gif-able personality as Ruby Rhod, but the acting isn't exactly "good." Speaking of Willis and Oldman, this movie does have a unique bit of trivia. Gary Oldman is one of the primary antagonists and Bruce Willis is the the hero character of the story, and yet they never share a single scene together. Their plans keep interfering with one another as they work for opposite goals, but the two never actually cross paths.

We really enjoy "The Fifth Element" because of the lively, energetic colors and costumes, the action packed thrills, the humorous comedy, and the wonder of this in-depth world. It's quite and enjoyable viewing experience for sci-fi lovers.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shaker & Spoon Subscription Box Review!

We have another special post for you today! We were sent a subscription box from Shaker & Spoon to review on the site! For those who don't know, Shaker & Spoon is a subscription box service unlike any other. This one is all about alcoholic beverages, and if you know us, you know we often like to partake in some delicious cocktails while watching movies at home and in the cinema! We're going to review each drink and pair them with movies we think you'll love while sipping in style!
Let's break down this service a little bit more, shall we? Each box comes with everything you need to make three completely different drinks, and each box revolves around one specific liquor. All of the ingredients you need to make these drinks are provided in the box except for the booze. Why you might ask? Well, several states have restrictions about shipping alcohol, so this way, the box can be shipped anywhere in the U.S. and doesn't need a signature when delivered to your house. Each box costs $50/month, and the price goes down a little bit if you subscribe to a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month plan. We think this is such a fantastic, interesting way to try alcoholic beverages you never thought to try on your own! Without further adieu, let's jump into this box!
Here's a picture of all the ingredients! This box was February's "Time to Afterparty" box, which the company still had available for us to review. Now, we are *huge* champagne/sparkling wine fans, so this jumped out at us immediately. We decided to go with this one because we almost always have a bottle of bubbly around the house, you know, just in case of a spontaneous brunch. We took our time to make these three drinks, and then over the next few weeks, we made them again to test how the syrups held up! And speaking of syrups, the other awesome part about Shaker & Spoon is they make all of their syrups in-house! Take a look at some of the ones they sell here.
The first drink we decided to make was The Original Sin. Here's the drink recipe:
Holy. Cow. This drink was phenomenal! This was my absolute favorite drink from the box. We were a little bit concerned when we pulled out the syrup and saw "apple-balsamic shrub" because we wondered what the hell that was! Balsamic vinegar in a syrup for a drink!? WEIRD. It's not weird at all, IT'S GENIUS. This drink tastes like a little bit of fall in the thick of summer. It's invigorating and crisp from the shrub with a little kick from the bitters, all rounded out nicely with the bubbly. Mmmmm. It was so sad when this syrup ran out! It's delish!

This drink may get you hot and bothered, so here are some movies you might want to watch while drinking The Original Sin:
  • "Original Sin" (2001), starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas (an obvious choice, sure, but it doesn't get much more sinful than this!)
  • "9 1/2 Weeks" (1986), starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger (that scene in the kitchen...*shivers*)
  • "Body Heat" (1981), starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner (because nothing says spicy like Hurt and Turner!)
The second drink we got to make was the Time After Thyme cocktail. It had the following instructions:
I really enjoyed this one, and this was BigJ's favorite of the bunch. Again, we got nervous about the cucumber-thyme syrup and the celery bitters because it's got things you wouldn't normally put together in a cocktail. By God, those flavors meld together extremely well to create a fragrant, refreshing, bright, zesty, complex drink. So good. Just don't get curious and try the celery bitters without anything else because "you just want to see what bitters tastes like" on its own. Bad decision!

Here are some movies you might enjoy while sipping on your Time After Thyme beverage:
  • "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (2014), starring Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal (because sometimes you have to put a new twist on an old classic)
  • "Julie & Julia" (2009), starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (because when you think of spices, who do you think of? Julia Child!)
  • "About Time" (2013), starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams (because while time is fleeting, you can enjoy this drink all movie long)
Last up is the Chinese New Year cocktail. Here's the drink recipe:
We love Chinese five-spice. We've used it in our cooking for a couple of years, ever since we saw our favorite local chef Sam the Cooking Guy use it in a chicken recipe and subsequently found out that Trader Joe's carried it for super cheap. This one seemed the most straightforward of the trio, so we assumed it'd be our favorite. Upon the first sip, BigJ and I both really liked it. After a while, however, the flavors got extremely overwhelming. The syrup overpowered everything else in the recipe. We tried this one two other times over the course of the month to see if our minds had changed, and they hadn't. It's not bad by any means, it's just a very specific flavor that you need to brace yourself for when enjoying.

Here are some of our favorite movies that are spicy, colorful, and intricate, just like the Chinese New Year drink:
  • "Hero" (2002), starring Jet Li, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung (because it's one of the most gorgeous movies we've ever seen, and it highlights the beauties of China by bringing together the country into one cohesive nation)
  • "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (2001), starring Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, and Jérémie Renier (because it's French with a little bit of an Asian influence)
  • "Brazil" (1985), starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, and Kim Greist (because it's intricate and complex, but may be a bit of an acquired taste)
Thanks very much to Shaker & Spoon for letting us try this incredible subscription box! We loved this one and really enjoyed being taken out of our comfort zone to discover some great new flavors! Are you planning on trying this subscription box?

Please be sure to check out Shaker & Spoon all over the internet! | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

*We were sent this subscription box for an honest review. We were not further compensated for this post and all opinions are our own.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review: "War for the Planet of the Apes" (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

A crazed human, known only as "The Colonel," leads his soldiers in an attempt to wipe out all remaining apes. Caesar and his fellow apes want peace, but The Colonel has no intention of letting that happen.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the third film in the new "Planet of the Apes" prequel series. It is directed by Matt Reeves, who directed the second film in the series, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."  It stars Andy Serkis, who returns in the leading role of Caesar, the leader of the apes. New to the series is Woody Harrelson, who plays the film's antagonist simply known as 'The Colonel.' This man commands a troop of rogue soldiers who are hell-bent on destroying all of the remaining apes. Humans fear they are on the verge of extinction, and they blame the apes for their situation instead of understanding it was the actions of humans themselves that led to their own downfall.

Despite the title of this film, it is not a big war picture. This is a far more dramatic, humanistic story rather than a war-time action epic. It is extremely well written, a deeply involving and engaging story with endearing characters. Andy Serkis is nothing short of brilliant in the role of Caesar, and he always has been. He brings a tremendous, heart-wrenching presence to this role, and the picture is better because of his incredibly detailed performance. It is sad Serkis doesn't get the recognition he deserves for his work, just because he primarily does motion capture performances. Award shows need to start recognizing this more modern style of performance because behind all of the little white dots and a digital overlay is a man giving one of the best performances of the year. Another notable mo-cap performance comes from Karen Konoval, who has played the orangutan named Maurice throughout the whole series. Maurice has always been the heart and soul of the ape clan, and her performance truly brings this character to life in a sensational way. Also in the film is Steve Zahn, who is superb as the newly introduced character named Bad Ape. Bad Ape offers up some lighthearted comedy in an otherwise emotionally weighty, solemn film.

The visual effects are unbelievably fantastic. They are staggering to look at, an absolutely pristine sight. Everything from the apes themselves to snowy hillsides, from a forest rainstorm to mossy trees. If we didn't know better, we could be led to believe that Reeves actually taught apes to talk and ride horses, that's how good the effects are. We have made it known throughout the years that we prefer practical effects in movies. If and when they can be done, we feel they should be used. Here, we've never once cared about the use of digital effects because they are some of the best we have ever seen, and this is no exaggeration.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" emotionally connects the audience to these characters, partially due to the realism of the visual effects combined with the aforementioned motion capture performances. We found ourselves moved by this wonderfully written story and the thematic undertones it carries. This picture is one of both brutality and hope, of combat and peace, of hatred and understanding, and we loved every harrowing second of it. If this is the end of the series, this was a stellar way to close it out. Matt Reeves and everyone involved with this project should be proud of themselves, and we hope this film gets recognized come awards season!

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~95%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!