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Summer Double Feature

Dunkirk

As I sat in a movie theater in 2000, watching the end credits for MEMENTO begin to roll, it was obvious to me that I had just watched the work of a shining new star. At that time, Christopher Nolan was relatively unknown, with only one full-length feature (FOLLOWING) on his resume. 17 years and a few masterpieces later, Nolan has solidified himself as one of the great directors of this, or any other generation. His latest effort, DUNKIRK, is a war film for the ages.

Based on the inspiring true tale of hope, survival, and patriotism, DUNKIRK slams the pedal to the floor in its opening moments, and takes the viewer on a unrelentingly intense and unforgettable ride.

In 1940, 400,000 British and French soldiers were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, desperately hoping to board a ship that would take them home. The German forces were besieging them without warning, and there was nowhere to  run or hide. Due to the choppy ocean waters, the ever-present threat of the Nazis, and the British army’s desire to strategically plan ahead, the young men could do little more than watch the open seas and pray for salvation.

DUNKIRK unfolds as three different chapters. Interweaving action and story lines take place on the land, sea, and air. On land we follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he makes his way from the war torn streets to the sandy beach. He and a fellow soldier, after surviving an air raid, grab a wounded soldier and transport him to an awaiting vessel. Though they long to stay on board, they are forced to leave and must find other ways to adapt and survive. On the sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a British civilian who sees it as his duty to help the stranded men, sets sail with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan). Most, including a stranded soldier (Cillian Murphy) that they find along the way, look to avoid the conflict, but the three men can’t sit back and leave their fellow countrymen to die. Finally, in the air, British fighter pilots, led by Farrier (Tom Hardy) strive to shoot down the German bombers that are looking to destroy every vessel on its way to Dunkirk.

While there are central characters in each of these separate plotlines, and the performances by the entire cast are superb, the survival story itself is driving force behind DUNKIRK. As a result, it is Nolan’s incredible filmmaking that emerges as the star of the show. Last year, Mel Gibson’s HACKSAW RIDGE provided a stomach-churning and unflinchingly graphic glimpse at the horrors of war. His film put viewers on the battlefront, giving a literal look at the devastating effects of bullets and bombs. Nolan’s film, which boasts a PG-13 rating, doesn’t exude the same gratuity, yet feels just a real and immersive. This is the result of many different factors, including Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding score (which feels like a character in its own right) and the constant sounds of war that engulf the viewer. This experience is heightened dramatically in the IMAX format. If you were to choose one film to see this summer in a premium format, DUNKIRK is the clear cut choice. As the planes soar, the waves crash, and the bullets fly, you’ll feel it in your bones; both in a figurative and very literal sense. The colossal size of the screen also heightens the authentic realism that Nolan has captured. His film doesn’t simply unfold in front of you, it places you directly amidst the carnage. You’ll feel as if you are sitting in the cockpit with Hardy, and flailing in the water with the fearful soldiers. You’ll sense the waves crashing against you, and ultimately, the extraordinary will to survive that is exuded by virtually every character on screen.

Christopher Nolan has solidified himself as one of the great directors of this, or any other generation. His latest effort, DUNKIRK, is a war film for the ages.

DUNKIRK

RATED: PG-13

RUN TIME: 1h 46min

GENRE: Action, Drama, History

STARRING: Fionn Whitehead,Damien Bonnard, Tom Hardy, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Aneurin Barnard

DIRECTORS: Anthony & Joe Russo

WRITERS: Christopher Nolan

GRADE: A

War for the Planet of the Apes

Despite the lofty expectations I placed upon it, I’m ecstatic to say that WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES delivered a fitting finale of one of the most unexpectedly tremendous trilogies in decades. Following RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the series, which served as a reboot of the original franchise that began in 1968, was thoughtful, intense, and spectacularly thrilling.

WAR begins with a group of soldiers searching for the camp of Apes that is being led by the mysterious Caesar (Andy Serkis). Under the command of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) they look to destroy the simian squad and their enigmatic leader once and for all. This will allow the threat of an Ape invasion to be squashed, and humanity can reestablish itself as the dominate species on the planet.

The Apes show mercy to some of the captured soldiers, but their kindness is not reciprocated. The Colonel assails the camp himself, and though he believed he was killing Caesar, it was his wife and son that were slaughtered. Vowing revenge for his murdered family, Caesar goes in search of the maniacal military man and his band of dutiful soldiers.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, like the two chapters that preceded it, is a towering achievement that transcends the typical summer blockbuster fare. Interjecting humanity into digitally created creatures is impressive in its own right, but the ability to make you forget that you are watching a special-effects driven production is the very definition of movie magic. Director Matt Reeves, along with the technical wizardry of Weta Workshop and the inspired performance of Serkis, has done something absolutely remarkable. They have created characters that not only resonate deeply with the audience, but allows the viewer to accept the Apes existence as fact, as opposed to the larger-than-life dinosaurs in the JURASSIC franchise or the superpowers of our favorite Avengers. In productions by Marvel, DC, or the aforementioned JURRASIC cinematic world, you witness the effects unfold and you revel in their grandiose absurdity. With APES, however, the technical wizardry rarely enters your conscious mind. You simply and completely accept the world for what it is, and identify with the simian stars.

Despite a running time that clocks in a just under two-and-a-half hours, there isn’t a moment in WAR that feels drawn out or worn thin. Caesar’s plight, along with those of his traveling companions (including young newcomer Amiah Miller, who gives an inspired, silent performance) is endlessly engaging, and the depths of depravity to which their adversaries will sink is infuriating and unfathomable. The drama intermingles with bombastic action sequences, which are intense and entertaining, just as they were in RISE and DAWN.

The future of the series remains an unknown, as the current iteration was always planned to be a trilogy. There are, however, a number of different stories left to tell, and I certainly hope they can find a way to continue churning out installments in the franchise that are as spectacular as these three unforgettable chapters.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, is a towering achievement that transcends the typical summer blockbuster fare. Interjecting humanity into digitally created creatures that makes you forget that you are watching a special-effects driven production is the very definition of movie magic.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

RATED: PG-13

RUN TIME: 2h 20min

GENRE: Action, Adventure, Drama

STARRING: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

DIRECTORS: Matt Reeves

WRITERS: Mark Bomback,
Matt Reeves (Based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver)

GRADE: A-

A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to attend this month’s films.

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.