The Green Knight: A Tale on Chivalry

The feel-good Christmas movie of the year!

What’s It About?

The Green Knight is a medieval fantasy centered on Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, but unlike his uncle, Gawain has “no story to tell” and has achieved nothing remarkable in his life when compared to Arthur and his knights. However, opportunity comes a-knockin’ on Christmas Day when the Green Knight visits Arthur’s court to challenge one of his knights to a game: should the victor wound the Green Knight, the victor must seek the Green Knight out after one whole year to receive the same wound inflicted on him. Gawain, in a moment of reckless impulse, accepts the challenge and decapitates the Knight. Gawain ultimately takes an “L” because the Green Knight rises up, takes his head, and rides away. Now, Gawain must choose to meet his destiny or run away from it.

Oh, That Sounds Interesting! Is There A Lot of Action?!

Not quite. The most excitement you’ll get is during the first act, but after that, it cruises for the rest of its runtime. The first act is definitely going to be the strongest part for most audiences because it’s a traditional Hero’s Journey setup that effectively sets up the hero’s wants and needs as well as the inciting incident between Gawain and the Green Knight. The real challenge for most audiences will be the rest of the film because it’s deliberately paced, introspective, and full of symbolism. What keeps it from being frustratingly obscure is director David Lowery’s ability to effectively show and not tell. While some things are open to the viewer’s interpretation, the running themes of The Green Knight are pretty straightforward because Lowery lays out enough breadcrumbs to help guide you along.

Who’s In It?

You’ve got Dev Patel who’s perfectly cast as Gawain. One of the themes of the film is appearance over substance and while the character of Gawain has the appearance of a warrior, he’s nothing more than a selfish boy trying to prove himself a man. Dev Patel is able to balance that dichotomy because while he has the look and posture of a knight, Patel still has a youthful appearance underneath the facial hair he sports. The only other Dev Patel movie I’ve ever seen was Lion so I’m not sure how The Green Knight compares to his other performances, but the performance he gives is very moving and it’s a believable journey he takes us on. Most of the other supporting characters are just props for the film’s overall message, but Alicia Vikander is equally great in this film.

Perhaps there’s a bit of a bias because I have a giant crush on her, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen her give a solid performance. She plays two different characters: Essel, a commoner who is also Gawain’s lover, and she plays the Lady, wife to the Lord and Gawain’s seductress. Much like Ava in Ex Machina, Vikander expertly straddles the line between sweet and innocent and sexy and seductive. It was a genuine surprise to see her in The Green Knight and she also gets to deliver a mesmerizing monologue.

So, Did You Like It?

I didn’t like it…I LOVED it! It’s most definitely not for everyone, so if you were expecting a fantasy epic akin to The Lord of the Rings, then you might want to skip this one, but I’d advise against that because much like Gawain’s journey, the film is a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The Green Knight’s deliberate pacing and art house sensibilities can be intimidating at first, but David Lowery’s skills as a director did just enough to keep me invested without totally sacrificing his vision for broader audience appeal, but I had to meet the director halfway and put in the work. The Green Knight isn’t a tale of sweeping battles or grandiose spectacle, but a tale chivalry and how greatness is forged through the decisions we make. The character of Gawain is an unnerving one because of how relatable I found him to be. That being said, amidst the existential dread I felt, the film also left me with a sense of hope that honor is forged through my own volition.

NOLAN AWARDS

IT’S A WONDERFUL NIGHT FOR NOLAN!!!! NOLAN MOVIES!!!!

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For the sake of being different, I’m not going to give the win to Ledger’s Joker. Instead, I want to highlight Anne Hathaway’s performance as Catwoman because it’s legitimately one of the most exciting performances in any superhero film. This is an inspired casting choice in the same way Heath Ledger’s Joker was. At face value, it’s a bizarre casting choice, but Anne Hathaway embodies Catwoman’s intelligence, manipulativeness, and sexiness and makes for a delightful femme fatale. It’s an entirely different interpretation when compared to Tim Burton’s Catwoman, but Anne Hathaway really knew how to hook into the character while staying true to Catwoman’s comic book origins.

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This one was a little tough because I love Christian Bale, but the performance that Guy Pearce gives as Leonard Shelby is still the best lead performance in Nolan’s filmography. Guy Pearce knows how to draw sympathy for the character, but because of the character’s memory loss, we only know as much information as Leonard does so you’re always questioning whether what he’s telling us is true or not. Much like most of Nolan’s protagonists, Leonard’s smart, organized, and at times vulnerable, but what makes him stand out amongst Nolan’s other protagonists, is that there’s something much more sinister and violent beneath his frail exterior.

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The Dark Knight showed me the importance of cinematography to establish mood and setting and it continues to be the template by which I judge every other film’s cinematography. Nolan’s ambitions with The Dark Knight weren’t only reflected within the script, but the collaboration between him and cinematographer Wally Pfister helped to prove that even superhero films could be used for artistic expression. The cinematography isn’t just used to show off the spectacle, but it’s also used to establish the emotions of the characters. From Joker’s mania to Batman’s reserved rage, the cinematography balances each character’s point of view seamlessly.

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Inception was Nolan’s passion project, but Dunkirk has Nolan rely on the basic elements of filmmaking to craft a war film that effectively keeps you on edge from beginning to end. The cinematography, score, and script are all in sync and work to establish the tension, urgency, and terror of the events at Dunkirk. This movie is a rollercoaster ride and a cinematic experience I hadn’t seen since Mad Max: Fury Road. It never takes a moment to slow down to let the audience catch up with characters or unnatural exposition; instead, the actions onscreen present all the information required and despite not having a clear protagonist, Dunkirk still has you rooting for everyone to make it out alive.

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The Prestige might not be Nolan’s biggest film, but it might be his most accomplished film. It’s a sprawling tale of competition, obsession, and sacrifice that never loses itself with spectacle over character. I know I gave the “Best Actor” award to Guy Pearce, but the runners up were between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman; these two are Nolan characters done to absolute perfection. Both are professional magicians driven by this obsession to Best the other and it comes at the cost of the lives of those around them. While Nolan’s proceeding films would come across as emotionally distant, The Prestige favors its characters over spectacle. Even after you’ve seen the ending, you’ll constantly be finding little clues left behind on further rewatches. The Prestige is Nolan’s best film not because of how big it can go, but because of how personal it goes with its characters and the layers that Nolan and his cast in crew left behind for the audience to discover.

NOLAN RANKINGS: PART 2

Here we go, now we get to the fun stuff!

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I know guys, The Dark Knight is objectively better than Batman Begins, but as a pure Batman movie, Begins is the best! I appreciate how Nolan balances the grounded realism with the fantastical elements of the character while never favoring one over the other. The set design for the Narrows is so dirty and gothic and it still remains my favorite interpretation of Gotham City. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is full of layers like an onion and it’s the deepest we’ve ever gotten to know the character. No matter how many would argue for Affleck as the best Batman, he doesn’t hold a candle to Bale’s performance! As a Nolan film, it’s great, but as a Batman film, it’s the perfect live-action interpretation of the character we’ve ever gotten.

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Following may have been Nolan’s first film, but Memento officially put Nolan on the map as the director of our generation. The editing of Memento is so disorienting and accurately puts you in the head of Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby, who suffers from anterograde amnesia. Because of the character’s amnesia, Guy Pearce’s performance as the unreliable narrator always leaves you guessing, but despite that, he’s able to draw out sympathy for a character who’s ultimately a tragic figure. What might seem like a gimmick at first glance is actually a moving character piece about guilt and the lies we tell ourselves to escape them.

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Dunkirk is a pure rollercoaster ride and only deserves to be seen in a theater! From its start to its end, it’s always gripping you by the throat and never let’s you have a moment to breathe. For all of you saying there aren’t any characters to care about, please watch Dunkirk again and observe how each character reacts to the events transpiring around them. There isn’t much in terms of dialogue, but each character has something about them that makes them stand out. Dunkirk is the perfect showcase for Nolan’s range and his proficiency as a filmmaker.

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Obsession, lies, and dead women are the driving themes in Nolan’s films and while some would argue that Inception was the culmination of all those themes, I think The Prestige did it better. I don’t know why Nolan and Bale don’t work together more often because their collaborations together are always solid. If you’re due for a rewatch, pay close attention to Bale’s performance because he has so many subtle moments that you’d never notice on first viewing. Hugh Jackman was born for this role because it plays up on all his best features as a charismatic performer. No matter how many times I rewatch The Prestige, I’m always finding something new to admire about it.

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I’ve only seen Interstellar twice and even on this recent rewatch, it still gave me the same emotional response that I got the first time I saw it. Best score, best cinematography, best Nolan movie! For such a massive film, this is the most personal Nolan’s ever felt for me and it’s incredible how he brings home the themes of love amidst a sprawling space epic. I can’t get enough of Interstellar and from the moment it starts to the moment it ends, Interstellar will take you on an emotional journey that will leave you feeling emotionally fulfilled.

NOLAN RANKINGS: PART 1

Well, brahs, we’ve made it to the end of a journey filled with dead wives, well-dressed protagonists, and a lot of bats. An exciting journey it was, but now it’s time to say goodbye to Nolan as we rank his films from worst to best, so let’s not stand on ceremony. Let’s rank some Nolan!

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A serviceable but forgettable Nolan movie. I’m hesitant in calling this his “directorial debut” because while Following has a few Nolan touches, it still largely feels as if he’s still trying to find his voice. It’s a neat blueprint into the director Nolan would eventually become, but the flat characters and misplaced use of nonlinear storytelling keeps it from being anything more than a serviceable neo noir. Speaking of blueprints, the Cobb we see in Following is definitely an early blueprint for the Cobb we eventually get in Inception. It’s a cute student project, but you could skip this one and not miss out on much.

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It really hurt me to rank this so low, but if we’re judging this within the context of all of Nolan’s films, this is probably the laziest work he’s done. There’s nothing wrong with the cast, the action, or the cinematography, so why so low? It’s mostly because of how much plot is crammed in with little time to focus on Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, or Alfred, who are sidelined for a large portion of the film. Plot holes aren’t an issue for me, but even for a simple meathead like myself, they’re glaringly obvious. I still think the ending is one of my favorite endings ever, but the steps taken to get there were a little jagged. Shoutout to Bane for motivating me to start lifting weights!

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The best thing about Tenet is how much of a better action filmmaker Nolan’s become. I loved all the set pieces, especially the fight sequence between the Protagonist and the reverse version of himself. On a technical level, Tenet is a masterpiece, but it severely lacks in any personal stakes or drama that lets you fully immerse yourself into the action. I admire the ambition, but ambition can only take you so far if you don’t have the other essential pieces to make a film emotionally gripping. If you ever wondered what Nolan’s Bond film would look like, this is the closest you’ll ever get to seeing that.

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I love the Inceptions, Mementos, and Interstellars, but it’s nice to know that Nolan can also deliver a simple and straightforward story! I love Insomnia; in fact, I’d probably rewatch it more often than I would Inception or even The Dark Knight and it’s because it doesn’t need a high concept to be exciting. The best part of Insomnia isn’t the mystery, but how the focus is mainly on Al Pacino’s character and how he has to come to terms with his guilty conscience. If you’re ever in the mood for a Nolan movie that doesn’t require you to think too hard, then Insomnia is your best bet.

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The movie Nolan’s been waiting his entire career to make, and for the most part, it lived up to the hype! There are a ton of inventive set pieces and the score is iconic at this point. The biggest problem for me however, is that I felt distant from the characters more so than I felt during previous viewings. Inception seems to be the beginning of Nolan taking preference of concepts over character. Even so, DiCaprio and Corillard’s performance provide the bare minimum of narrative tension that helped keep me invested. I also want to thank Inception for introducing me to Tom Hardy, my forever man crush!

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The Dark Knight is my favorite collaboration between Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. I’ve never seen a superhero film shot so beautifully and with so much purpose. Every shot is used to set the mood of each sequence and even without dialogue, the cinematography manages to effectively capture the thrill, terror, and tension in every sequence. Of course, Ledger’s performance is one for the ages and it was lightning in a bottle that won’t be captured for a very long time. Nolan’s ambitions extended even to the comic book genre and the result was a transcendent genre film that continues to resonate within pop culture even to today.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration: Action Flick Friday

Goddamn, this is one bleak action movie!

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

For a straight-to-video action movie, this one actually looks pretty good. I was scrolling through Google and I learned that the cinematographer was Peter Hyams who directed Running Scared, which is one of the best buddy cop films ever made! The best thing about the cinematography is how unflinching it is in capturing the action. Granted, some of the cuts and edits are a bit much for me, but for the most part, the action is shot in gorgeous wide shots that confidently flaunts the choreography and the actors performing them. When it’s not showing buff dudes beating each other up, it’s showing buff dudes emoting and we get a lot of JCVD looking remorseful and tortured. In fact, it’s not just JCVD who looks morose, but the entire film looks bleak and hopeless with its use of damp lighting and muted colors.

You’d think that an action film starring JCVD and Dolph Lundgren would be light and cheesy but Regeneration is anything but! Instead of the bright and lively colors found in most action films of the 80’s and 90’s, the cinematography opts for something that’s much bleaker and colorless and it falls in line with films like Taken which also had a damp color palette. The cinematography also doesn’t shy away from the brutal carnage that it’s characters leave behind. All of the UniSols are nothing more than collateral damage and the cinematography effectively captures that by unceremoniously showing us their deaths. As someone who isn’t particularly fond of droll colors in cinematography, it legitimately works in setting the tone for Regeneration because it’s not about the hero coming out victorious, it’s about the cost of a person’s humanity in the pursuit of violence.

PERFORMANCES:

Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren aren’t particularly great actors, but that’s totally fine because their actions speak louder than their words The best thing director John Hyams does with both actors is letting their faces do the acting rather than giving them dialogue. You can see the weariness in JCVD’s face and it manages to say more than any line of dialogue ever could. The first hour has JCVD’s Luc Deveraux learning to acclimate to normal life and you can see the caged animal inside aching to come out. Once the third act starts, Deveraux’s finally let out of his cage, but instead of feeling like a moment of triumph, it actually feels much more tragic. Violence is the only thing Deveraux knows and no matter how much he tries to suppress it, it’s in his programming to kill and he knows deep down that he’d rather be shooting goons than living a quiet, peaceful life.

Jean-Claude’s quiet and subtle performance is put to the challenge when once Dolph Lundgren shows up as the physically intimidating and mentally unstable Andrew Scott. I’ve loved Dolph Lundgren since Rocky IV so perhaps there’s a bit of a bias here, but I think he’s the best performance in Regeneration. Don’t get me wrong guys, I love JCVD’s performance, but the way Dolph Lundgren makes this mentally unhinged character somewhat sympathetic is pretty impressive. Unlike the other UniSols, including Luc Deveraux to some extent, Andrew Scott seems to have some sort of sentience outside of his basic programming and he questions his existence as just another mindless soldier built solely for combat. Where Luc Devereaux resigns to his violent nature, Andrew Scott looks to break free from his mental shackles and looks for something beyond his programming, even if he does it through violent means. You know exactly how his story ends, but in a way, you can’t help but feel something for the character and in my opinion, he’s the heart and soul of Regeneration.

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

This movie is eye candy for action freaks like myself! It’s well shot, it’s hyper violent, and the stunts are performed by actual MMA fighters! I’ve never heard about this Andrei Arlovski fella, but as the big bad of the film, his lack of dialogue and commanding screen presence made him an intimidating adversary. Even as an older fellow, JCVD still proves that he can throw down with the younger guys and his fights with Dolph and Andrei are thrilling sequences with bloody resolutions. The action sequences feel a bit like Brawl in Cell Block 99 where the violence looks genuinely unpleasant but you can’t keep yourself from fully turning away. It’s common for an action film to glorify the violence but Regeneration subtly confronts the viewer by taking the violence and having us look at it in a different perspective.

At the start of the film, the U.S. army sends in a batch of UniSols to retrieve the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s kidnapped children from Andrei Arlovski. As we’re shown at the start of the film, The UniSols are essentially Terminators and are tough to kill, but Arlovski mauls them all down with relative ease. The fights between Arlovski and the UniSols are brutal and raw and we’re shown all the carnage with little in the way of sympathy. Before Dolph comes into the movie, most of the deaths bear little in terms of consequence or emotional resonance, but once we begin to question whether these UniSols have some sort of conscience or sentience, the audience is challenged in whether we should be glorifying the violence or be horrified by it.

KICK-ASS OR ASS KICKED?

This one is without a doubt a “Kick-Ass” action film! I know most of the action flicks I’ve reviewed recently have been slow-burns with only a handful of action sequences, but Regeneration has an endless supply of action sequences all throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are giving moody performances as aged and tortured soldiers simply looking for inner peace and despite their constant search for it, Regeneration gives us a dour resolution to both of their stories. Some would view this straight-to-video action flick as a dismissible piece of film trash, but beneath all the head bashing and throat cutting, it’s a sobering look into violence, the damage it does, and if there even is a purpose for a man bred solely for war.

Tenet:

My head hurts.

REPPED:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nolan handle action any better than he does in Tenet. When it’s not trying to be overtly complicated, Tenet works as an absolutely thrilling action film with some of the best set pieces in Nolan’s career. Once again, Nolan’s collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema yields tremendous rewards as Hoytema is able to shoot the action in a way that is both cinematic and epic while also being easy for the audience to follow. Remember when Nolan spoke out on his admiration for the Fast and Furious franchise? You best believe he took some notes from those movies because the convoy heist and car chase sequences would fit right in with the best set pieces of the Fast franchise. Those two sequences must have been an absolute chore to shoot, but the final product is exciting, tense, and they always keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s not just the set pieces that have gotten an upgrade, but it’s also the close quarters combat that showed the biggest improvement.

It’s really no surprise that John David Washington was a former athlete because he sells the action. The hand-to-hand combat is great not only because of how well it’s shot, but also because of how able and willing Washington is in performing the action. You could argue about his charisma and screen presence, but when it’s time for him to performa stunt, he’s putting his all into the physical performance. The sequence when Washington’s Protagonist is fighting with his reverse self is about as mental as the hallway fight in Inception, but instead of rotating hallways, it’s a fight where both characters are fighting in different realities. Nolan’s come a long way since the shaky cam in Batman Begins and despite the lack of emotional depth, the action manages to stand on its own as an entertaining part of a largely mediocre whole.

NEGGED:

This is probably the first Nolan movie where I was left feeling cold on the characters. I think John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are very charismatic performers, but their characters don’t have much in the way of backstory, which would have really helped make Tenet feel less emotionally detached. The closest we get to an actual character is Elizabeth Debicki, but she’s not nearly as much of a presence as the film tries to make her out to be. If you’ve been waiting for a Bond film directed by Nolan, then Tenet is the film for you as it has globetrotting espionage, guys in stylish suits, and a comical villain who’s evil just for the sake of being evil. Kenneth Branagh’s Sator is an absolute bastard in this movie and that’s fine, but at least give Branagh some more material to work with to make the character memorable and compelling.

The real stakes of the film don’t really come until the end of act two and by then, Sator is still a one dimensional villain whose motives for world destruction carry little to no weight. The best sequences are between Branagh and Debicki who plays his estranged wife who’s trying to get custody of their son. This could have made for good personal stakes, but their relationship never gets much time to flesh out so the end result is just Sator beating up his wife for the whole film until she decides she’s had enough. For some reason, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in this movie too, but he’s not even a character and also shows up too late to make a real impact. We’re told not to “think about it, just feel it” but it’s hard not to think about Tenet’s concepts when the characters feel hollow.

FINAL VERDICT:

It’s about as ambitious as Inception was, but unlike Inception, Tenet seems to be more interested in its concepts rather than its characters. There are plenty of surface level thrills with great stunts that are being performed by great actors, but it’s ultimately a hollow venture as Tenet prefers to keep the audience at a distance rather than to invite them in. I would have liked more sequences between Washington, Pattinson, and Debicki, but the scenes they do have together are good stuff. Nolan’s displayed tremendous improvement over the span of 11 films and while his filmmaking style continues to evolve, I fear his ambitions might be taking over his ability to tell an emotional, character-driven story.

Jack Reacher: Action Flick Friday

Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise are the Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro of action films.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is efficient in the best way possible. There’s nothing deep or innovative going on with the camera work, but it’s efficient enough to keep the story moving along without losing the audience’s attention. The cinematography truly excels when it’s following the action sequences and while there are only a handful of set pieces in Jack Reacher, all of them manage to stand out because of how well they’re shot. I also loved how the cinematography did the most to build up to Jack Reacher’s reveal during the first act. We get a sequence with David Oyelowo’s Detective Emerson talking about Jack Reacher’s credentials and army background, and as that’s going on, we cut back to the camera capturing Jack Reacher through overhead shots, behind the shoulder shots, and reaction shots from random people. It’s a very effective sequence in establishing the larger than life personality of the character. There are also a lot of sequences involving characters putting clues together and none are more effective than the sequence at the start of the film.

The opening sequence following the sniper assassination is the best use of “show, don’t tell” as we follow Detective Emerson looking for evidence and putting together all the pieces to track down the killer’s identity. It’s a brief sequence, but it effectively manages to help the audience put the pieces together with Emerson without having to rely on dialogue to explain what’s happening. The camera follows through the whole detective process in sequence as Emerson first discovers the bullet shell, followed by the fingerprint analysis and DNA scan, and finally, the arrest of the suspect. It’s a sequence with largely no dialogue and it only relies on score and editing to get its point across. Cinematography doesn’t always need to be elaborate and fancy and Caleb Deschanel’s workmanlike proficiency shows that you can make the most out of very little.

PERFORMANCES:

Every once in awhile, you get a Tom Cruise performance that diverges just a hair from his typical leading man persona and Jack Reacher is a nice change of pace for him! The character of Jack Reacher is more of an anti-hero than a straight up good guy and while Tom Cruise manages to give a slightly darker performance, he still manages to inject some charm and charisma to keep it on brand with his movie star persona. Released at a time when Cruise’s career was slowly going downhill, Jack Reacher was the comeback that Cruise needed as it not only served as his first collaboration with director Christopher McQuarrie, but it was also as the beginning of Cruise’s next phase in his career: the action hero. Much like his later films, Cruise has great chemistry with his female costars and the scenes between him and Rosamund Pike are sizzlin’ hot! Their chemistry borders on the line of flirtatious but neither one ever acts upon it and it’s refreshing to see a dude and dudette relationship that’s built on respect as opposed to full on sexual tension.

While Tom Cruise gets to thrive in this film, most of the other actors save for Rosamund Pike don’t have the same luxury. Not gonna lie, I was stoked to see Werner Herzog and his distinct voice tear up the screen as the bad guy but he’s barely even in the movie! He’s the mastermind behind the curtain but instead of doing something downright nasty with the character, it’s just a thankless role that needed a performer of gravitas to make it believable. Now it’s time we talk about everyone’s favorite actor, Jai Courtney who’s actually pretty decent here but not enough to make him a memorable villain. The issue with the characters also comes in relation to the plot because it’s unnecessarily confusing and when you introduce all these characters, you end up with too many characters with very little to do. I just finished watching this a few hours ago and I couldn’t even tell you why David Oyelowo suddenly turned heel. Despite all the high profile talent in Jack Reacher, it’s ultimately Tom Cruise who keeps it afloat and none of the actors can quite match his level of charisma.

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

Fandango Movieclips. (2018 Sep 12) Jack Reacher (2012) – 5 Against 1 Scene (3/10) | Movieclips

There are legitimately only a handful of action set pieces in Jack Reacher, but they’re some of the neatest action sequences you can watch! If you’re a fan of Christopher McQuarrie’s previous two Mission Impossible films, then you owe it to yourself to watch Jack Reacher for the action sequences alone. It’s a lot smaller scale and toned down compared to the action that McQuarrie would direct in the future, but you can see McQuarrie developing his style and slowly inching his way in becoming one of the most competent action directors working today. Much like the cinematography, McQuarrie’s direction is functional rather than innovative and while most would view that as a bad thing, there are very few directors who can shoot action as well as McQuarrie can. It also doesn’t hurt that you have Tom Cruise willing to perform the stunts himself which makes it feel that much more authentic.

I think almost everyone will say the car chase is the best sequence in the film, but as a fan of hand-to-hand combat, the brawl outside the bar was an absolute banger. Cruise is no slouch when it comes to action and he proves that he can throw down with the younger guys, in fact, his character pleads for the younger guys to walk away because they’re no challenge for him. Cruise moves with such speed and grace that you’ll have a hard time believing that a man in his early fifties could move like that. His athleticism is in full display and he does it without breaking a sweat. Much like the other action set pieces in the film, there’s little to no score played during the sequences which helps make the action feel more immersive and intimate. I personally would have preferred more wide shots with fewer edits, but even so, the action is discernible and it’s executed impeccably.

KICK-ASS or ASS-KICKED?

The action is strong and the performances are functional, but the story itself is rather convoluted and uninteresting and it feels like a chore to get through just to get to the action. I expected an action film, but what I got was more along the lines of a crime-thriller that was too confusing for its own good. It’s not bad to get it’s ass kicked, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to be a kick-ass action movie, so I suppose we’ll give it a stalemate. Cruise’s charisma and McQuarrie’s directing keep this from being an outright dud and both do the most in delivering exciting action set pieces both from behind and in front of the camera. Based on Cruise and McQuarrie’s future collaborations, this is the weakest of the bunch, but it was also the start of a budding relation ship between the two. Jack Reacher delivers nothing new to the genre, but it does the most to deliver as much fun as it possibly can.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: On Second Thought Thursday

The shining example of what not to do in a team-up movie.

AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the film I remember watching regularly while growing up. I couldn’t fathom people hating on this movie when I was younger. I thought the characters were great and in my young and innocent eyes, the special effects weren’t too bad. The action was fun, the world was interesting, and despite being deathly scared of vampires, Mina Harker was an absolute smokeshow. Admittedly, I never could get into the character of Skinner because you couldn’t see him for most of the movie so I couldn’t process what kind of character he was or what bearing he had on the rest of the film.

I couldn’t tell ya anything going on during the action sequences, but they were fun enough as visual and audio noise to keep me entertained. One of my favorite sequences was the fight between Mr. Hyde and the big purple bad guy because of how bizarre the effects look. It’s a flat-out ugly design especially compared to the costume design for Mr. Hyde, but it was cool to watch big monsters beat each other up. This was also my introduction to Sean Connery and as the leader of the group, he was actually a pretty neat character and he exuded all the traits of the old tough guy. Adventure movies were my cup of tea as a kid, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fit right in with the likes of Van Helsing, which was another personal favorite of mine.

BUT NOW, I’M LIKE:

Alright, alright, it’s pretty bad. I think the biggest problem for me was how rushed it felt. The cuts and edits lack any sort of flow especially during the action sequences where it constantly cuts back and forth between various characters and it ends up feeling chaotic and overwhelming. In a time when we had X-Men and X2, it’s astounding that a team-up film like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could be executed so poorly. A good chunk of the film takes place in Captain Nemo’s ship, The Nautilus, which would have been the perfect time to fully flesh out the characters and their dynamics, but because there’s no time or interest for any of that stuff, I never got any deeper insight into who these characters were. There was so much potential for the father/son dynamic to develop between Quartermain and Tom Sawyer, but it ends up being half baked in favor of moving the story along as quickly as possible.

That being said, this movie is still pretty fun. Some of the CGI is questionable, but there’s plenty of wicked practical sets and props, especially the German war tank in the beginning of the film. I’m not sure how they executed the transformation for Jekyll and Hyde, but that was a neat bit of body horror that translated really well onscreen. While we’re talking about Dr. Jekyll, both he and Dorian Gray are easily the most enjoyable characters in the film. I love the sequences with Jekyll talking to his alter ego Mr. Hyde through the mirrors and portholes of The Nautilus which is a perfect way to visualize Jekyll’s dual personalities and Jason Flemyng manages to balance both sides of the character’s psyche. As for Dorian Gray, his sassiness was much a much-needed remedy to counteract the serious tone of the movie. It’s a whole mess, but there’s some good stuff to take from it.

IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE:

I’ve seen the Rotten Tomatoes and it’s safe to say no one’s going to label this as a “so bad, it’s good” movie, but it’s still my guilty pleasure movie. It fails on plot, character, and essentially everything that makes for a good movie, but it still managed to work its ugly charm on me even after all these years. The first half showed some promise and the sequence where we first meet Quartermain shooting down bad guys in Kenya Colony was a fun set piece similar to old school adventure films like Indiana Jones and The Mummy. When there’s not a distracting amount of CGI, League’s practical effects and stunts are the pillars that keep this film from falling apart. As a final feature film, this certainly was a lousy way for Sean Connery to retire, but in a way, his portrayal as Quartermain also serves as a meaningful swan song in the way Logan was for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. For most, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is about as bad as watching your favorite sports team constantly lose, but just like the biggest superfan, I’ll always be there rooting for ’em.

Dunkirk

I’ve never related to a character more than when he had the urgent need to poop in the midst of heightened stress.

REPPED:

Nolan replaces the high concepts and expository dialogue for a more stripped down and visceral experience. Dunkirk has a lot in common with a sirloin steak; they’re lean, mean, and satiating. With a runtime of 104 minutes, it gets in and out and it always moves with purpose. Right from the start, Nolan establishes the stakes by showering the screen with propaganda leaflets showing how outnumbered the Allied troops are. It’s now become a race through time as the Allies try to survive the onslaught while awaiting to be rescued. The enemy is never seen, but their presence is constantly felt as the threat of danger looms offscreen.

The opening sequence is an absolute banger of an intro because of how Nolan is able to show the desperation of the situation without having to rely on dialogue. The very first shot has soldiers walking through the quiet town of Dunkirk before a barrage of gunfire dispatches most of the Allied troops. We then meet Tommy who manages to escape the gunfire unscathed and he’s desperate to sneak his way onto the ships leaving Dunkirk. As he’s trying to make his way out of the beach, he meets a fellow soldier called Gibson and both carry a wounded soldier on a hospital carrier to one of the hospital ships in the hopes of catching a free ride. Because of the constant urgency in Dunkirk, we don’t learn about these characters through backstories and exposition, but we learn about the kind of people they are as we see them react to the events that unfold around them. We understand Tommy and Gibson’s desperation to escape and the resources they use in their attempts to get out, but even amidst their desperation for survival, they never lose their own humanity.

NEGGED:

I’m going to use this moment to address the criticisms that Dunkirk doesn’t have any character to emotionally connect with because I think that’s some fake news! Dunkirk isn’t about a single character, but rather, it’s about the collective experience and the interconnecting stories related to the events at Dunkirk. The fact that this was an actual slight against the movie indicates that most critics missed the entire point of the film. Everything happens so fast in Dunkirk that there’s not enough time to slow down when time is of the essence so instead of establishing one clear protagonist with one unique motivation, Nolan gives us an ensemble of characters who all have one clear motivation: survival.

When left with the simple need for survival, men will either succumb to their baser instincts, or they will overcome their animal nature and Nolan’s interest with Dunkirk is to see how each character reacts under the pressure. In one sequence, Tommy and Gibson make it aboard a destroyer, but while Tommy chooses to go below decks, Gibson chooses to stay outside in case he needs to make an escape. Of course, the destroyer gets hit by a torpedo but in an act of selflessness, Gibson manages to open up the hatch to allow all the trapped soldiers to escape. If this isn’t an effective way to flesh out a character, then what is? Even with few dialogue spread out between a bevy of different characters, you end up rooting for everyone because Nolan chooses to focus on how the characters react.

FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/5

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride that manages to establish character and stakes without having to rely on dialogue. When I think of the “theater experience” I think of Dunkirk and its various Imax shots during the dogfight sequences. The scale is epic, the score is gripping, and the pacing is sprightly and it never slows down for one moment. This is vastly different from Nolan’s prior works but it also carries the same filmmaking style he’s had since Memento. For some, the lack of a definable character might be a detriment, but even without a clear protagonist, Nolan’s technical prowess is what makes Dunkirk a powerful and visceral experience.

Brawl in Cell Block 99: Action Flick Friday

The best late-night movie you’ve never seen.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Benji Bakshi’s cinematography is so grimy and I love it! From the medieval aesthetic of Redleaf Prison to the brutal fight sequences, there’s absolutely nothing sexy or stylish about Brawl in Cell Block 99; it’s blunt and it’s nasty all the way through. I admire the cinematography’s conviction in keeping the film grounded while also embracing the pulpiness of its character and setting. Bakshi leaves nothing to the imagination in regards to the action and he shows it all with a mix of mid and wide shots that serve to really make you feel the pain. The cinematography also does the most to highlight Vaughn’s size but instead of using it to establish Vaughn’s power over the prison guards, it’s actually the prison guards who are in the position of power.

One of the best sequences is Bradley’s first encounter with Don Johnson’s Warden Tuggs at Redleaf Prison. After attacking multiple guards, Bradley’s been transferred to Redleaf Prison which is where he has to find and kill a man named Christopher Bridge in order to protect his wife and unborn baby from being mutilated by an abortionist. Once Bradley arrives at Redleaf, Warden Tuggs does everything to assert his power over Bradley, including dumping all his personal belongings on the ground. The wide shots used in the sequence emphasize Bradley’s size over the warden and his prison guards, but from the shackles to Warden Tuggs’ verbal insults, it’s clear that the power dynamics are reversed and Warden Tuggs is the one in control.

Couldn’t find a clip, so a photo will have to do

Performances:

Vince Vaughn’s reputation as the fast-talking funny man has now been challenged as Brawl has Vaughn giving an against-type performance that just might be one of the best performances of the last decade! Much like the rest of this movie, it’s not a showy or sexy performance, but through Vaughn’s subtle use of facial expressions and his brief bursts of physical rage, it provides more than enough context on who Bradley Thomas is and what his values are. Despite his massive frame, Bradley won’t resort to violence unless he absolutely has to, but should it get to that point, you better get out of his way unless you want your arms snapped in half. Vince Vaughn’s always been a big guy, but Brawl makes use of his height to great effect especially during the fight sequences. It’s not just a dramatic performance that Vaughn has to deliver, but it’s also a physically demanding performance and Vince Vaughn manages to keep up with the choreography.

When we first meet Bradley, he’s not only just been laid off, but he’s also discovered that his wife has been having an affair for about three months. On the surface, Bradley takes the loss of his job rather well, but as he’s driving home, you can see the fumes rising. It’s only once he discovers the hickey on his wife’s neck that he loses it, but instead of hitting her, he orders her in the house, demolishes her car, and walks into the house to discuss her infidelity. We’re already onboard with Vince Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas, but not enough has been said about Jennifer Carpenter’s performance as Lauren Thomas who’s able to make her character’s actions understandable without straight up endorsing them. The sequence also provides us with a deeper insight into both characters as we learn about Bradley and Lauren’s recent miscarriage and their past with drug use. The resolution at the end of the sequence is absolutely perfect because while they’ve effectively resolved their issues, Bradley’s still needs a moment to process Lauren’s infidelity before he can get physical again. This was easily my favorite sequence not only because of the strength of the performances, but also for how the script effectively sets up the characters’ backstories and their themes.

Again, no clip. Sorry!

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

This is one of the most violent action movies I’ve ever seen and it’s not for those with weak stomachs. I may have cheated in labeling this as an action movie since most of the action doesn’t happen until halfway into the film, but they’re shot and performed so well that they deserve to be highlighted among the greats. The first half of Brawl is pure buildup to flesh out the character of Bradley Thomas, but once the violence starts, it doesn’t let up in showing just how violent our gentle giant can get. Bones are snapped in half, teeth are knocked out, and faces are ripped off, but despite Bradley’s propensity for violence, you understand that he doesn’t really want to do this, but he does what he needs to in order to protect his family. Bradley fights with the grace of a martial artist, the power of a boxer, and the blunt force strength of a barroom brawler.

The final set piece is the ultimate payoff for two-and-a-half hours of buildup and we get to see Bradley defend and attack with a mix of different fighting styles. After being beaten down by the Warden and the inmates responsible for his wife’s kidnapping, Bradley outsmarts the prison guards and pummels his way towards Eleazar and his crew and dispatches each of them in glorious fashion. The most violent kill has to be Jonathan Lee’s character who gets his face dragged across concrete. Once Bradley gets his hands on Eleazar, he physically coerces Eleazar to release his pregnant wife. In the end, Bradley knows what his final act of violence will lead to, but he can finally go out knowing that his wife and child are safe. Sometimes, a man’s gotta get his hands dirty.

KICK-ASS OR ASS-KICKED?

No doubt about it, Brawl in Cell Block 99 kicks so much ass! The slow burn feel might turn off some viewers who were hoping for a straightforward action flick, but with an award-worthy performance from Vince Vaughn and a colorful batch of characters, Brawl never feels its runtime. Every minute of this film works to flesh out Bradley’s character and motivation so that once the action does happen, the stakes feel real. For some, the violence might be too gratuitous, but Brawl’s violence isn’t gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. It’s what has to be done for Bradley to keep his family safe and while the action is choreographed really well, the cinematography captures how unpleasant the violence actually is. First time viewers might need to process it over a period of time, but much like Bradley’s rough exterior, there’s a lot more bubbling beneath the surface.