Skip to main content

Dunkirk and Valerian

I'll start with Dunkirk even though it was the second movie I saw this weekend.


Dunkirk made a strong claim for the movie of the year for me. Similar to Fury Road from a couple years back, this is an exercise in sustained action and tension. Its story, although cleverly folded up within three time frames, is remarkably straight forward. The characters in the movie are either trying to get off Dunkirk beach before it is overrun by Germans in 1940 or they are trying to help those attempting to leave. This basic story is told through three threads, land, sea, and air as essentially anonymous characters work to survive. Other than a few blurry shadows and the strafing of dive-bombers, the human enemies are not pictured on screen. It is rather nature itself: water, wind, fire, and steel which closes in on the characters, snuffing out one life after another. A reoccurring image is the screen filling with water, as though the camera gives the audience the POV of impersonal, crushing doom.

I walked into this movie somehow having had this key fact of its structure unspoiled by reviews. And I found the effect fascinating. This is clearly a Nolan film, with big wide vista foregrounded by intimate portraits of fragile, wounded, and desperate people. The way time is handled through the story lines (Land takes place over a week's time, Sea over the course of a day, and the epic Spitfire dogfight of the air occupies a single hour) is engaging and also nerve-wracking. There is kind of dramatic irony at play here, when we already know that a ship characters are boarding is doomed. This puzzle-box quality is put to more interesting service here than in some of Nolan's other works. It's not a gimmick, it's a tool meant to heighten the overall tension of the story again and again and again.

As a side-note, make sure you see this film at least once in 70 mm, preferably at a true IMAX theater such as the one in Reading, Massachusetts (where I saw it). This is a film that really has to be experienced in towering glory, with full surround high definition sound.

The first film I saw this weekend was Luc Besson's Valerian and I really, really wish I could recommend it. In the same year as the vastly superior Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, this looked like a credible offering to something I've seen described as the 'cosmic powers,' genre - a type of space opera less concerned with verisimilitude in favor of colorful, entertaining action. Like Guardians, the goal here seems to be to fill the screen with as much bizarre art-rock cover carnage as possible and set it to some forgotten classic rock hit. Where Guardians had a tight script, appealing characters, and plenty of good-natured jokes; Valerian has a sprawling mess of a story with not just one but two prologues, characters that are merely wooden when they are not actively working to obliterate all audience sympathy, and scant, somewhat mean-spirited humor. I will say the first half hour or so are engaging but by the end it's clear the movie has run out of ideas, energy, and money. I liked this movie less than Lucy, on account of the latter being only stupid, not stupid and boring.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…

Writing Horror

I'm wary offering advice to other writers. 

First of all I've got the whole imposter syndrome thing and whatever advice I give feels like a good way of revealing how little I know about anything. Second, what I've learned mostly relates to solving problems in my own writing. What advice does a dog have to offer to a duck on how to swim? 
However, for Arisia 2018, I'll be participating on a panel of doing just that - giving advice to aspiring horror writers about writing horror.

So, what truths can I impart?

Some advice feels absolutely true, if a bit self-evident.

You must read. If you're trying to write horror then you must read horror. Not just one novel. Not just one author. You should make a sincere effort to read everything by everyone. The more recent the better. The classics are always going to be there, but if you want a sense of where your stories could fit, you need to see what is being published out there.

You must write. I do not think you have to write …