Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

“The Terror”: Imperialist Insanity at its Most Artistic

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2018 at 00:27

“The Terror” is an AMC show (10 episodes) about a 1845 British expedition in search of a Northwest passage from England to China and India through the Arctic. It is a fictionalized account of a historical trip into the Arctic of the British vessels the Erebus and Terror. Following incomplete charts from previous missions into the Arctic, they travel into the frozen north. Sounds dull, right? Wrong. The Terror lives up to its title and then some. 

The Terror new

The Terror features an obsessed captain, John Franklin, that Captain Ahab might tell to chill out. He is so insecure that he risks the lives of two ships full of seamen just to prove he’s worthy of a favorable position in the naval hierarchy. The British Empire of the 19th Century didn’t worry about sending men off to die if it meant glory for the crown, and the ventures of the ships Erebus and Terror is no different. 

The cast is excellent and the dialogue is some of the best I have heard on TV since “The Wire.” Like ‘The Wire’, ‘The Terror’ uses colloquial language specific to the time and culture, 1840s British naval vessels in the Arctic. The language is effective in setting tone and creating character. 

The actors who play the three captains are varied and compelling in their own way. Each captain is unique and that leads to his demise or survival on the journey. However, they aren’t the only characters that make the show work. Cornelius Hickey,  Lady Silence, and Harry Goodsir are some of the most compelling characters among many that inhabit the show. 

The three directors for the ten episodes of season one (I have no idea if there will be a season two, and there is no need for one) make spectacular use of the Arctic back drop, the ships (inside and out) and the campsites to create a stunning backdrop for the terror that ensues. 

There is plenty of foreshadowing in The Terror, but how it plays out is fascinating. The darkness, the cold, the stark landscapes, makes the crew mad and ill with unknown ailments. Like all good horror shows, we are never certain what will happen to the characters, even though we assume it’s not going to be good. 

The Terror is a tale of desperation and hope, of death and glory, of obsession and survival. It shows how far a nation will go, England, and how many lives they will risk for money and fame. The brutality of the British in ‘The Terror’ should be a lesson to all of the people in the U.S. who support conquest and torture and venturing where we aren’t wanted into hostile and unknown territory. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
It’s compelling and if you like horror and history, doubly so. 

Tex Shelters


“You Were Never Really Here”: a review.

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2018 at 20:09

you were never really here

“You Were Never Really Here” is an entertaining film by by Lynne Ramsay about a vigilante named Joe, no last name. From the cinematography to the editing, the script to the acting, it is well done. Except the sound editing. That was a disappointment in an otherwise well put together film. 

The music in some scenes was too loud. Why do many sound editors insist on pinning the needle on the music when the drama increases? Was sound man Paul Davis reacting to the shock of the scene and accidentally pushing the volume up to eleven? A deaf audience would have complained about the volume in at least two scenes. Gratefully, the over-loud music was less evident after the first third of the film. 

The film makes great use of flashbacks. Many films hold flashbacks too long so they aren’t flashbacks as much as they are daydreams. Some films use bizarre music that doesn’t match the film or uses smokey filters. Director Ramsey eschews all the gimmicks in the film’s flashbacks and cuts them in so as to develop Joe’s character without being a distraction. 

The film has one star: Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. He is entertaining portraying a troubled veteran hired to rescue lost children. I assume Joe does other jobs as well or there is a bigger demand for rescuing children than one might assume. Actress Ekaterina Samsonov plays Nina adeptly and is especially compelling at the end of the film. 

The film is reminiscent of “Taxi Driver” and “Taken.” There are two major surprises in the film that increase the tension and drama for the viewer. The film ends well with just the right amount of finality without giving us pat answers. 

Rating: Pay Full Price.
Hammer out a few minutes for this Lynne Ramsay gem. 

Tex Shelters 

‘The Master’ Fails to Enlighten 

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2018 at 22:41

The Master Fails to Enlighten 

‘The Master’, a 2012 film by director Paul Thomas Anderson, is an unintentionally messy jumble of ideas with no coherent direction. Like with his overrated Boogie Nights, the director assumes the audience is going to care about the film because Mr. Anderson is clever.

The master sneer

The film tries to carry two strong male leads. However, it fails to make either The Master or his protegé, Freddie Quell played by Joaquin Phoenix, compelling. Both characters are angry buffoons, The Master being the more clever of the two. A little more history of The Master and his cult might have helped us care. 

The character of The Master is a combination of Ernest Hemingway and L. Ron Hubbard. Sounds interesting, right? Nope. We start off with an enigmatic macho man at the beginning of the film, but his bragging has no base in reality and fails to live up its billing. He is cruel, and while charismatic leaders can be cruel, there is little reason to follow The Master. However, I don’t blame the cast as much as Anderson’s script. He assumes that his ideas are inherently interesting, and therefore, it is unnecessary for him to do the work of writing in a back story or compelling motives for his characters.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quill, WWII vet, Schizophrenic, PTSD victim and guinea pig for The Master’s therapeutic technique. Mr. Phoenix (with an assist from Anderson’s script) is obviously reaching for the Oscar by playing a mentally challenged character, but he misses. Perhaps the academy will give him the nod as they did the main characters in Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Sling Blade and A Beautiful Mind. But his performance is not worthy of a top award and neither is this cinematic drudgery.

The Master’s technique is a kind of regression therapy into this and past lives, but it’s not very dramatic. Even the first therapy encounter between The Master and Freddie leaves us dissatisfied. Certainly, it touches on some tragedy in Freddie’s past, but it’s all surface and leaves us wanting, like drinking salt water in the desert. 

The film keeps us at a distance and we don’t care enough about what happens to the characters nor what they do. I am not suggesting we need to like the characters in a movie to enjoy them, but we do need to be moved by them emotionally as we were with the despicable oil man in Anderson’s last movie, “There Shall be Blood.” 

Like one of the songs featured in the movie, The Master is a “slow boat to China”, except the company you are keeping only makes the journey seem longer and more tedious. If you were stuck on a boat with only this movie, you would be compelled to jump overboard.   

The movie tries to do too much and accomplishes little. I kept hoping after the beginning of the third act that each scene would be the end of the movie. Hoping a movie will end while watching it in a theater is never a good sign.

Rating: Rental

Those interested in psychological drama and the acting of Hoffman or Phoenix, or Amy Adams for that matter, will find something enjoyable in this film. For everyone else, rent Anderson’s better film, There Will Be Blood.  

Tex Shelters

“Boyhood” Hits all the Marks and Still Misses

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2018 at 14:37

Boyhood” Hits all the Marks and Still Misses

Boyhood is still being touting as a grand achievement nearly four years after its release. It did achieve something most films don’t: it was touted as a great film by many who seem to think taking twelve years to make a film is AMAZING! One wonders in a time of Black Lives Matter and identity politics if a film that shows one Latino and zero Blacks in Texas of all places would still be cheered as great cinema. 

So I am reposting my review of ‘Boyhood’ if for no other reason but to entertain the woke people who know how bad this film is. 

It's the Moments Boyhood“It’s constant, the moments.”

“Boyhood” is a critical darling, and that’s putting it mildly. It has a nice, non-controversial family, and it presents every “coming of age” childhood milestone at least once. Thus, it has no focus. The technique, filming the movie over 12 years with the same actors, is an interesting experiment in film. However, its technique gets in the way of quality story telling and substance. Trying something innovative does not mean the film should get a pass and automatically get raves. 

In the film there’s one bullying event, one break up, one drunken night with the guys, one of everything, like a sample platter at Golden Corral. There was even one non-white character in the film. Moreover, there is no follow-up on any of the events. What is so masterful about that? The film has a series of disconnected events in a boy’s life that had no focus. “Growing up” is not a plot, no matter how many people are fooled into believing it is. 

The dialogue was contrived. It’s as if every line from teenage Mason was taken from a Smith’s song. As I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now…” At least the film didn’t have an out-of-place tragedy like a “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Yes, I wanted to stop him, for I had heard it all before. Morrissey does pathos better, and with him we don’t have to suffer through two hours of pretentiousness.  

Honest trailers nails it!

Mason was too confident about his misery. His dialogue we pre-packaged, as if he was reciting a script, not living in the moment. The film features a series of moments, a few interesting ones, but mostly tiresome first world problems from an uninteresting boy and family. As a film buddy of mine stated, “the film could have been called ‘The Discreet Charm of the Petite Bourgeoisie.’ ” However, it wasn’t charming, nor funny, nor revelatory or original like the Buñuel classic. 

With the exception of Ethan Hawke, who, to be fair, had the best dialogue in the film, the acting was mediocre. Perhaps filming the movie over 12 years made it hard for the actors to stay sharp and focused on their characters, so the acting was uneven throughout. There was nothing of note in the music, other than the cliche’ of highlighting the passage of time with a hit song from the era in the scene. It was cute at first, then it became tiresome. 

Rating: Rent it

If your sister, mother, brother or friend wants to see it, you can watch it together and not upset anyone with confusing events like actual poverty and unexpected occurrences like Black people appearing on the screen. Moreover, you can talk during the film because there is no need to really pay close attention while it is playing. You won’t miss anything. Otherwise, see the infinitely better “The Way Way Back” if you want to see a cute coming of age movie. 

This movie had already risen into the pantheon of overrated movies, even before it won some undeserved Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes and other awards. It is style over substance. If I had to describe this film in one word, other than overrated, it would be “trite.”

Tex Shelters

P.S.: Even the official trailer is pretentious. 

“The Party” celebrates life. Just kidding. 

In Entertainment, Movies on March 18, 2018 at 16:39

Patricia Clarkson shines in “The Party.” Or is it Bruno Ganz? Maybe it’s Kristen Scott Thomas or Timothy Spall?  “The Party” is a dark comedy about a series of events, disclosures really,  that could ruin any get together. One thing that makes the film so funny is that the people are so full of themselves and lack self awareness that we like to see them suffer. Well, mostly. And the all star cast makes the absurdity work. 

One scene I could watch again and again is when Bruno Ganz, playing mystical philosopher Gottfried to the hilt, discusses life, love, and loss with Tom, played by Cillian Murphy. Ganz looses himself in the role and Murphy plays Tom the angry wealth manager with aplomb. Tom has lost it, and by the time we learn why, it’s too late to go back.  It’s another in a complicated mix of betrayals and misunderstandings.  

“The Party” is a movie that ended too soon for me. Unlike the guest that won’t leave, “The Party” leaves us in the third act without a forwarding address. We want more, but we don’t. Is it good? Well, it’s brilliant. Is it entertaining? Well, that depends on what the experts say. Isn’t how we feel about life based on our outlook? Well, Gottfried would say that. 

The movie unfolds like a stage play. It’s not grandiose, there are no inventive angles or shots or fabulous edits. It’s in black and white, and that makes the stark dialogue work. It won’t change film forever nor will it kick off a genre, like I hope “Get Out!” will. 

It’s funny, but I wouldn’t recommend if for everyone. You have to be ready to pay attention, and you must have your wits about you. If you want generic entertainment, don’t watch. How ready are you to go to “The Party.”

Rating: Pay full price. 

It great to see Ganz have fun on the screen again after years of suffering from Downfall where he played Hitler. Yep, real upbeat film that. And Clarkson has great comedic timing.

Tex Shelters

Una Mujer Fantástica: Una Pelicula Maravillosa!  

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2018 at 16:41

A Fantastic Woman is a Chilean film about the challenges of being transexual in a heterosexual male dominated world. Marina, played by Daniela Vega, confronts the tragic end of her partner Orlando. What ensues are a series of indignities that are a hallmark of life as a transexual. 

Few people in the film use her real name, Marina. They either call her names like Magdelina, a similar female name, or like the police and medical professionals, insist on using her birth name, Daniel. Most of the people she interacts with can’t accept that she is female and the name confusion is emblematic of their resistance. Her relationship with Orlando is invalidated, for they are unwilling to accept that their dad or husband could have loved a transexual woman like Marina. 

One of the amazing accomplishments of the film is showing how attractive Marina is to the audience while keeping the repulsion others feel about her from being cartoonish. Moreover, not all of Orlando’s relatives are bigots. Gabo, Orlando’s brother, accepts Marina as she is and is understanding. Of all the characters in the film, Marina has the most dignity. Even though we might not like them all, siding with Marina as the audience does, the characters are true to their nature and the dialogue and acting make it work. 

The look of Una Mujer Fantástica reminds me of some Italian Neorealism. For example, when Marina is wandering through the streets of Santiago it is reminiscent of scenes from La Strada, Fellini’s classic. The use of rain and wind is an element that helped Kurosawa, one of Japan’s master filmmakers, become an international phenom. The weather is used to great effect in Una Mujer Fantástica as a stand in for society pushing against Marina. She triumphs, for now. 

Rating: Pay Full Price

Una Mujer Fantástica works as a drama and as social commentary. Though it is slow at times and the romance in the beginning of the film is awkward, the film triumphs like Marina does.  

2018 Oscar Predictions and Wishes

In Entertainment, Movies on February 28, 2018 at 16:55

Here are my Oscar predictions and desire for this years awards. Few films amazed me this year, but there are still some winners. I focus on the top categories and don’t go to the level of set design and make up. I will, however, address some sound and visual categories. If you want the full list, go to Variety 

Visual Effects:
“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

These all look great. I don’t have a favorite, except I really liked the look of “War for the Planet of the Apes” and would be happy if this underrated film won. However, nostalgia will win out and “Star Wars…” will take it. 

Original Song:
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,”  with Mary J. Blige is a great performance, though the lyrics, per usual, are a bit too trite for me. 

“Mystery of Love”, “Remember Me”, “This is Me” are all by the book. They demonstrate that the artist can write a good song, but that they have no originality.

Winner: The song from Coco, “Remember Me” will win. It’s cute and safe and not too Latino. In fact, the Anglo sounding voice is annoying.

Desire: “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” is written by Diane Warren, Common and performed powerfully by Andra Day. You don’t need Common sticking his face in the song. These duos with male rappers sticking their hands on a great female vocal need to stop. It is so yesterday and it was never that great to begin with. Still, “Stand up for Something” is my pick. 

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

I hope it’s not Nolan. This wasn’t even his best directing job. Gerwig might win. I think she’s the favorite. Peele? He earned it in the script, not with directing. And while “Shape of Water” is not the most original plot, the direction is outstanding. del Toro gets my vote.

Supporting Actress:
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

I didn’t see Mudbound. It left town before I learned about it. I hear Blige is great. Metcalf in “Lady Bird” was also good, Spencer in “Shape of Water” was okay, but Janney in “I, Tonya” was off the charts. Manville in “Phantom Thread” plays a character that while challenged, is too well adjusted. She won’t win. I think Janney will win and I hope she wins. 

Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Dafoe, Dafoe, Dafoe. He was great and I think he will win for “The Florida Project.” Harrelson was not as good as Rockwell in “Three Billboards…” Jenkins was good, but I don’t see him winning. Plummer? He’s got the name and history, so he might pull out a surprise. Best supporting actor goes to Willem Da…what, wait…Christopher Plummer for replacing a sexual (allegedly) criminal.  I don’t care who wins, just that Dafoe earned it.

Lead Actor:
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

One of these things is not like the others…

I don’t see how Oldman will lose this one. Gary Oldman does the most challenging performance in a role the academy will love. He did earn it as well.


Lead Actress:
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

These are all good performances. I think it is the year of the mother, so Frances McDormand will win.

If the academy voters actually see “I, Tonya”, Robbie will get some votes. I hope Robbie wins where Harding didn’t. However, I won’t whack the other contestants in the knee for her. 

Best Picture:
“Call Me by Your Name”                                        Nope
“Darkest Hour”                                                        Nope
“Dunkirk”                                                                 Hell no
“Get Out”                                                                   Okay
“Lady Bird”                                                               Hmmm
“Phantom Thread”                                                  Only for modistes.
“The Post”                                                                  Better than I excepted, but nope.
“The Shape of Water”                                             Good, but no.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”    Hell no!

“The Shape of Water” will win. It covers most of the Oscar bases. It has a mute main character, it has an animal, and it would make the acedemy seem edgy. And, a Mexican directed it, so if they vote for him, they will show they aren’t racist. But he’s not black. Phew. 

“Get Out” would get my vote. It was the most difficult film to pull off. I have no hidden gems this year to write in on my ballot. 

So there you have it. Where did I mess it up? Let me know. 

Tex Shelters


Black Panther: Another Super Hero Film, with a Twist

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2018 at 19:40

For all the ruckus about how the story in Black Panther is so unique, it contains a lot of the same elements of other superhero films. What is different are the themes of racism, acceptance of the suffering of others and a presentation of colonialism in a superhero film. Here are just some areas in which it is a typical superhero film.

Black Panther Africa

  • It has hidden nation like Wakanda, a nirvana. Wonder Woman has Themyscira and Thor has Valhalla. Check.
  • Black Panther features a vengeful outcast come back for revenge, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station). Bucky of Captain America comes to mind. Loki from Thor is also an outcast. Jordan does a decent job with some trite villain dialogue.
  • The film has an outsider who makes HIS way in. Wonder Woman has Steve Trevor and Black Panther has Ulysses Klaue, played marvelously by Andy Serkis. Yes, Gollum. In Black Panther, his precious is Vibranium. This metal can do everything, but like Star Trek tech, don’t ask how. And did they have to keep that stupid name, I assume, from the comic book? Vibranium! Get out a Latin or Greek dictionary and try something. Here. What a minute… okay: Omniate. Omnia meaning everything, plus ATE because some chemical names end in ATE.
  • Here, Wakandan technology being held back from the rest of humanity to protect humanity. Well, Wakanda has that in spades. It’s the aforementioned Omniate, er, Vibranium. And wasn’t that arc reactor thing from Iron Man and his suits just like that, technology he was hesitant to share?
  • Speaking of suits, enough with the suits already! Sure, Black Panther’s suit is much cooler than the Iron Man, Ant Man and Spiderman suits, but give me a good old suit-less wonder like the Hulk. Did I say something nice about the Hulk? Bonus points are in order for not giving the Black Panther a cape.

Even the plot arc is of the Black Panther is similar in other films. Like Iron Man, The Hulk and others, the hero is presumed dead. I bet you can’t guess what happens next?

While the elements of the plot in Blank Panther are the same as other superhero films, what makes the film unique is that it addresses themes of racism, imperialism, and colonization. It’s a fantasy about how Africa may have turned out if colonization had not happened, if Africa was on an equal footing with the white dominated north.

Some people have criticized the film’s autocratic monarchy of Wakanda and it’s ruler being a king. That was how the comic book was, but certainly, that is an issue. However, King T’Challa is a benevolent monarch, and most of the other powerful positions in Wakanda are held by women. The countries rituals are outdated, but compare them to our government currently. We all need to improve.

From the music, to the costumes, to the language, the film is African inspired. The language spoken in the film is the South African isiXhosa. This is a powerful change to the image of Africa and Africans in mainstream Hollywood films. In Black Panther, it is the African that is the savior, not the white man. That is the importance of the film, not that the character itself and the plot is unique. They’re not. It is the African centric plot and setting that gives Black Panther its power.

Wakanda City looks great in the film. Some of the CGI in Africa with their special invisible ship (yes, Wonder Woman has one) was easy to spot. The fight scenes were pretty good and the acting was great, especially Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, warrior and love interest to King T’Challa, and Danai Gurira as the General Okoye.

General Okoye jpg

General Okoye

The Black Panther, King T’Challa, was played by Chadwick Boseman. He did well as king despite the stilted dialogue given him. Thankfully, it didn’t get to “Game of Thrones” levels of stilted dialogue. Moreover, no dragons appeared. Daniel Kaluuya looked as out of place much of the time in this film as he did in the white parent’s house in Get Out. They cast him to get viewers. There were probably better choices. I thought he was great in Get Out by the way. Martin Freeman plays the cutest, most cuddly FBI agent I have ever seen. He wasn’t bad, but someone more believable, more fierce, would have been better.

The music was over the top during the fight scenes, but the battles were kept below Lord of the Rings levels. The film was cheesy at times, but it had a stellar cast and avoided many clichés of the superhero genre.

Rating: Matinee. This is the best superhero film I have seen since Logan, which remains #1 in my book. It’s still a superhero film. However, it’s a great advance in themes from the Avengers and DC Universes which are trite in comparison. If I were to rate this film on social relevance alone, I would say: See it Twice.

Tex Shelters

‘I, Tonya’ skates into your heart

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2018 at 21:22

I tonya

In “I, Tonya”, Margo Robbie’s Tanya Harding calls us all out for being her Judas and Brutus. We are all her abusers, not just her mother, LaVona Golden, (Allison Janney) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). After seeing the film, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. 

During the Tonya Harding skating and legal trials, the media, the judges and the public (though Harding had some hardcore supporters) lined up against the uncultured, unvarnished Harding. That’s how the film plays the public reaction to Harding, and that’s how I remember what I saw in the media at the time. 

The film plays as a reverse Rocky. It’s the underdog, but not one we admire. She is the white trash heroine, the one the establishment hates and roots against. And with Robbie’s performance guiding the story, it’s nearly impossible to root against her. 

Harding is played as vulgar, crude, brutal and determined. If she had been a male football player, a boxer, or hockey player, the public would have loved it. She could have been the Dick Butkus, the Mike Tyson or Claude Lemieux of figure skating. But the U.S. Figure Skating Association wanted their athletes to be princesses, Disney creations that played soft classical songs or ballads and not heavy metal music for their routines, not a brutal athletic champion. Girls are to be pretty, polite, cultured and delicate while performing a triple axel. 

Harding was aware she was not that, that her athleticism was her best chance. But according to the film, that is exactly what kept her from having a chance at an Olympic metal. From what I know of the case, that plays true.   

Robbie as Harding embodies the Tonya spirit, and the rest of the cast is excellent. The mixture of triumph combined with sadness on her face when she wins is astonishing. Robbie’s ability to appear gravely hurt, defiant and shocked in rapid succession is amazing. Paul Walter Hauser earns extra credit for adroitly playing the paranoid perpetrator Shawn, Harding’s ‘body guard.’

Kudos to the editors and the writers for seamlessly mixing post “incident” interviews, Tonya’s coming of age story, and various elements in the timeline. The shooting is very natural, combining mock interviews, historical footage, reenactments and live action. It doesn’t slip up. As far as the special effects go, they were fine. I only once felt I could see during one spin on the ice that it wasn’t Robbie. And I had to look hard to see even that. 

The song selection from the eighties to nineties is excellent. They didn’t just choose the biggest hits. They chose songs that worked with the feeling at the time of the film, and not necessarily the plot elements. Not one song failed to make sense, though some were more spot on then others. “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp brought home the loss and inevitable downfall of the skater and was the most touching entry. Not since Goodfellas have I heard such a good selection of well timed songs. 

The Oscar voters will judge ‘I, Tonya’ like Harding was judge: it’s too ugly for their awards. But don’t let that keep you from seeing the film, for like Harding, it’s dynamic, powerful and entertaining to watch. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
When I first heard someone was making this film about Tonya Harding, I thought, “how stupid.” It turns out I was the one who was stupid. 

Tex Shelters

Dunkirk is a mess of plots we don’t care about: but it looks great!

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2018 at 19:59


Dunkirk-A Review.

Dunkirk is a wonderful film to look at, however, it is at once too much and too little. There are too many cuts and too many subplots that it is easy to lose interest in what is happening. The cuts come quickly, which works with the air and action scenes, but holding longer on some shots would have allowed us to feel the gravity of the situation. By cutting quickly away, we don’t have time to feel the full impact of the drama. 

Inevitably, I found myself comparing Dunkirk to other WWII films. It holds up well, with two notable exceptions. First, the intensity and close contact action is not as impactful as the opening to “Saving Private Ryan.” However, the tension throughout the entirety of “Dunkirk” surpasses “Ryan,” which move aimlessly at times. I also think of the remarkable “Das Boot”, a film that made many sympathize, me included, with Nazis in a submarine. The tension in that German classic is at a level that “Dunkirk” doesn’t match, and “Das Boot” never relents until the ending. 

Moreover, in “Das Boot”, we get to know the captain well, how he cares about each man in his command and we see his fear. That makes the film more interesting for us. There is one setting in Das Boot, a submarine, and that’s all. The film’s limited scope increases the tension and our attachment to each character.

Moreover, not all the subplots in Dunkirk work well. A subplot involving a volunteer civilian ship-mate, George, is awkward and unnecessary. Certainly, Nolan wants us to empathize with all the British citizens who aided in the rescue. He also wants us to understand the “shell shock” (PTSD) that the soldiers go through. Both the bravery of the volunteers and suffering of the soldiers was clear throughout the film and a tacked on, haphazard conflict on a civilian boat was not well thought out. The scene is an insipid distraction from the core of the film. However, the depictions of shell shock in general were realistic and impactful.

There was also a scene featuring a beached vessel that added nothing to the story but another subplot to distract us from more interesting characters and plot lines. In this way, the film is reminiscent of disaster films from the 70s where each character faces life and death challenges and we briefly see what happens to each one of them. But we don’t need to see what happens to every character and every way the soldiers were stranded. All the plots and actions leave us too scattered to deeply care about any of them. 

The acting was surprisingly flat with two exceptions: Mark Rylance as a private ship captain Mr. Dawson and Tom Glynn-Carney who plays his son Peter. More about their story and bravery and less about the tacked on George would have improved this film. In fact, I would just kill the George character entirely. 

Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton was a waste of a great talent. His dialogue was a clumsy attempt to explain the gravity of the situation, but it added little that the battle footage didn’t already show us. Moreover, Branagh’s stares into space did nothing for the film. But damn, he does look good in that uniform. 

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is overwrought and melodramatic. Much like John Williams in Schindler’s list, Zimmer wants to make sure we FEEL things. More subtlety would have served this film well. And the unnecessary sounds added to some of the battle scenes were annoying and distracting. The sounds of war: the machines, the engines, the bombs, the bullets, are compelling enough. There was no need to embellish them. I would suggest that Mr. Zimmer stick to pure actions films like “Inception” as I have suggested that Williams stick to actions films like “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” Serious dramas need less bravado and more nuance. 

There were some great directorial choices here as well. First, the lack of machoism is refreshing. While there is a lot of posturing and anger in the film, what clearly comes across is that many of the soldiers were rightfully scared or enduring as best they could. There was no John Wayne characters on the beeches, or in this case Benjamin Cumberbatch, proclaiming that the British were going to punch the Nazi’s in the nose. 

What was also lacking was a bigger feeling about war in general. Das Boot was also able to first, show us the futility of war and two, show us how the generals and admirals had no clue and made huge strategic mistakes. Little of that comes across in Dunkirk. It shows a great rescue but ignores that this operation was only required because the Allies underestimated Germany’s power and were outflank by the Nazi advance when they failed to anticipate a German Blitz through the Ardennes. The military strategists were so inept that the whole British army almost went balls up during the retreat. In Das Boot, the commanders of the operation are clearly held accountable.  

Another good directorial choice is not stereotyping the Germans as ‘evil.’ Certainly, the Nazi leadership was a humanity hating force of slaughter, but the film focused of the heroic British, French and other allies. 

The filming and shots were well chosen and placed. An award for cinematography could be granted for degree of difficulty alone. 

Rating: Matinee. 

What could have been one of the best war films in history is mired in a hash of plots and subplots with little to root for. Still, seeing it in 70 mm is a treat worth the viewing. 


Tex Shelters