More than anything, what I felt walking out of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, was a strong sense of disappointment; almost assuredly the most I’ve felt for any film this year. And I’m as surprised as anyone that I felt this way about it. From the awe-inspiring trailers to the near-perfect critical acclaim, I thought I was guaranteed to love this. I was sure that Dunkirk would be what made me fall in love with Nolan’s work again, following Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, both of which I think are OK at best (and, to be honest, I don’t think Interstellar is much good at all). But instead, and rather unfortunately, Dunkirk continues the sad trend of middling work from one of the greatest directors alive. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever love a work of Nolan’s again, like I do his superb early films Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight.
Dunkirk is set in a time of war, getting its namesake from a major battle that occurred early during World War II. It was heavily marketed as a straight war movie, but it’s really unlike any past examples — and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Actually, Dunkirk’s genre may be more akin to horror than that of which we typically think of as a war movie. We have characters who are at all times in danger, with no hope of defeating an unrelenting villain surrounding them. Their only hope being to possibly escape and survive the tragic event.
The summer’s most fun and excitingly fresh film has officially arrived with Edgar Wright’s wholly exceptional Baby Driver. Led by a catchy and calculated soundtrack, the film presents exhilarating car-chase scenes with an ensemble of precisely handled characters behind-the-wheel, gaining traction from its impressively meticulous opener through to its explosive climax. Baby Driver is perhaps Wright’s greatest achievement yet — and with a track record as stellar as his, that’s saying a lot.
Following his remarkable comedic genre mashups with films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in Baby Driver, Wright strips back the pulpy silliness his work is famous for. Instead, here he exhibits a sense of realism and seriousness he’s not yet shown off, but still finds enough space in the script to place well-timed and often hilarious jokes as well, striking a near-perfect balance of dramatic moments and comedic ones.
One of my absolute favorite indie films of the past five years is Ana Lily Amirpour’s stylish vampire-noir, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It tells a subdued, atmospheric tale of romance and horror while approaching genre conventions with a feminist take, all the while treating its viewers with striking visuals and an unforgettable soundtrack. It’s a film I love, and a debut that presented Amirpour as a visionary in the indie filmmaking scene; the film garnering an almost exclusively positive reaction from the larger film community including critics and fans alike.
Although Girl is her debut film, Amirpour’s expert work on the film gives the impression that she’s a veteran filmmaker; the film is just that impressively well-realized and notable. Which is why it’s surprising that her new film, The Bad Batch, comes off as amateurish by comparison. Amirpour serves as both the film’s writer and director (as she did on her first feature), and while her incredible aural and visual sensibilities translate over from Girl, it’s her writing that stumbles, lacking meaningful character development or a storyline worth investing in.
Over the past several weeks, I embarked on a cinematic journey through the Fast and Furious franchise, watching them in order, each for the very first time. It’s not a perfect series by any means, but I fell deeply in love, especially as the series progressed and switched from being prominently about street racing to being big-budget action capers, becoming all the more ridiculous and over-the-top in all the best ways. Despite what you might expect from an eighth entry in a franchise, with The Fate of the Furious, Vin Diesel and his family of street-racers-turned-government-agents still manage to up the ante and deliver one of the absolute best movies in the series.
F8 picks up with an opening scene that calls back to the good ol’ days of Fast & Furious(circa 2001-2006), complete with trash talking, street racing and a tropical pop hit setting the scene. Dom (Vin Diesel) has settled down in Havana with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but it isn’t long before he’s dragged back into the increasingly explosive life he’s lived for the past 16 years. What sets this entry apart from its seven predecessors, is that this time Dom’s playing for the wrong team, and betraying the family he loves. Gasp!
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) is one of the premiere screenwriters working in Hollywood today, but his near-spotless track record doesn’t save the latest film credited with his writing, The Belko Experiment, from disappointing mediocrity. It’s too bad, as the premise alone should have made for an exciting moviegoing experience, but the self-seriousness, uninspired filmmaking, and extremely underwhelming ending results in a messy, unrewarding watch.
The poster for the The Belko Experiment cites it as a sort of “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” but the comparison to Office Space starts and ends with the fact that it’s set inside an office building, and it’s only like Battle Royale in that it’s central idea revolves around a group of people who are forced to murder each other. Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment isn’t nearly as hilarious as Office Space, nor as exciting as Battle Royale.
If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey poignant commentary on their respective subjects. Visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. The Purge series of films delve into classism, Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideals, They Live looks at the power of the media, and plenty of other examples handle countless other social issues.
The latest film to do this is Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-writer/director Jordan Peele. Get Out is Peele’s first foray into the horror genre, as well as his first time being in the director’s chair, but this is never apparent as you watch it. The film is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade, but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
Get Out’s central character is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man who’s in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s house for a weekend getaway. Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family. “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” Rose responds, Peele obviously making fun of the people who say things like, “I have a black friend,” as if that can automatically save them if they have racist opinions or support racist ideas. The punchline of the joke lands a little later on when Rose’s father recites this line to Chris verbatim.
Veteran action star Keanu Reeves returns to embody his titular role in John Wick: Chapter Two, which proves to be a fantastic follow-up to the 2014 sleeper-hit that single-handedly revived Reeves’ stagnant career.
John Wick 2 expands upon all of the aspects that made its predecessor so invigorating, and is a near-perfect example for what a film sequel should be. John Wick was brimming with style, featured some of the best gun-fighting I’d ever seen on film, and was set in an immensely intriguing world. It was light on story, but that didn’t matter, because even though we didn’t know it yet, that first film gave us everything we wanted from an action flick: John Wick being an absolute badass. John Wick 2 presents its audience with all of this and then some.
The longer runtime of John Wick 2 allows for an even higher body count, as well as a more fleshed-out story this time around. John Wick is ready to settle back into retirement after his previous encounter forced him to return to a dangerous world of assassination. However, getting out of this line of work is never as easy as Wick would like it to be.