Warner Brothers Pictures / Syncopy
Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity
World War II Epic Recreates Flotilla’s Heroic Rescue Of Stranded Allies
When Hitler ordered an all-out assault on the Western Front in the spring of 1940, the vaunted Maginot Line proved to be no match for the pulverizing German blitzkrieg. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France all fell in a matter of weeks, and the rapid collapse proved particularly problematic for the Allied forces.
By May 26, about 400,000 British, French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops had been driven to the sea at Dunkirk, a port located along the northern coast of France. The retreating soldiers soon found themselves stranded on the beach, since there weren’t enough military naval vessels to mount a rapid, full-scale evacuation.
The logistical nightmare left most of the beleaguered, battle weary men in dire need of a miracle, as they’d basically become sitting ducks for Nazi artillery and Luftwaffe bombs. At 7 pm that evening, the desperate British prime minister decided to issue an urgent appeal to private boat owners to join the rescue effort.
By dawn, over 800 vessels had been pressed into service. The improbable flotilla included everything from speedboats and yachts to tugboats and fishing trawlers to ferries and ocean liners.
For the next nine days, they negotiated their way back and forth across the U-Boat infested waters of the English Channel. And although about a third of the ships would be sunk by the enemy, the altruistic patriots managed to save 338,226 troops.
Leave it to Winston Churchill to put a positive spin on such a devastating military defeat which claimed the lives of 68,000 British soldiers and left the country in fear of an imminent invasion. On June 4, he took to the floor of the House of Commons to deliver a rousing speech assuring the alarmed citizenry that there was no doubt that Great Britain would ultimately prevail.
“Whatever the cost may be,” he said in a stirring summation, “we shall fight on the beaches… We shall fight on the landing grounds… We shall fight in the fields and in the streets… We shall fight in the hills…” concluding, “We shall never surrender!”
All of the above has been chronicled in unique fashion in Dunkirk, a visually-captivating, World War II epic directed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan, the best British director besides Alfred Hitchcock never to win an Oscar, has made a string of memorable movies that includes Memento, Inception, Interstellar and the Batman trilogy, to name a few.
Here, he’s found a novel way to recreate the historic evacuation. Instead of having the docudrama revolve around a single protagonist or a single unit, he has deftly interwoven a half-dozen or so discrete storylines highlighting the different perspectives of a number of unsung heroes. Whether on land, by sea or in the air, many among this patriotic band of brothers survive, but some do make the ultimate sacrifice in the valiant stand against the unspeakable evil spreading across Europe.
Shot in 70mm, Dunkirk is an instant classic worth the extra investment to catch on an IMAX screen. An inspirational tribute to Britain’s Greatest Generation that just might be Chris Nolan’s best picture yet!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 106 minutes
In English, French and German with subtitles
Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
STX Entertainment / EuropaCorp
Rated PG-13 for action, violence, suggestive material and brief profanity
Besson Adapts Comic Book Series Novel Into Hallucinogenic Sci-fi Spectacular
In 1997, Luc Besson released The Fifth Element, a visually-captivating sci-fi adventure which netted four Cesars, including Best Film and Best Director. A couple of decades later, Luc is back with Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, an even more innovative, outer space odyssey, if that’s possible. The groundbreaking extravaganza is based on “Valerian and Laureline,” a comic book series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres.
The futuristic tale is set in the 28th Century, and stars Dane DeHaan in the title role as a time/space traveling military officer for Alpha, a city with a thousand planets. Straitlaced Major Valerian patrols that universe with Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a Sergeant well-versed in virtual reality operations.
He also happens to have a crush on his relatively-rebellious sidekick, although she routinely rebuffs his romantic overtures. And they report directly to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) who, in turn, answers to General Okto Bar (Sam Spruell) as well as Alpha’s Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock).
The film unfolds on Mul, a utopian paradise inhabited by a peaceful species of bald, bejeweled, barely-clothed creatures. It isn’t long before their carefree frolicking is irreversibly disrupted by an unprovoked attack on the planet by an unknown army of hostile aliens.
The picture abruptly shifts from this devastating apocalypse to a serene scenario worlds away where we find Valerian and Laureline relaxing on a sandbar and soaking up rays. He awakens from a bad dream, a subtle suggestion that everything that we’ve just witnessed might’ve merely been a figment of his imagination.
It would be criminal for me to spoil your cinematic experience by divulging any further developments. Suffice to say that the protagonists proceed to embark on a breathtaking, intergalactic roller coaster ride worth way more than the price of admission.
Along the way, they cross paths with an array of colorful characters ranging from a space age pimp (Ethan Hawke) to a solicitous stripper with a heart of gold (Rihanna). But people mostly serve as distracting interruptions in this eye-popping, special f/x-driven spectacular to remember.
All I can say after watching it is, “Wow!”
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 137 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening July 28, 2017
Atomic Blonde (R for sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Cold War thriller, set shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, about an MI6 agent (Charlize Theron) dispatched to Germany to solve the murder of a fellow spy. Cast includes James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones.
Brigsby Bear (PG-13 for drug use, teen partying, mature themes and brief sexuality) Offbeat comedy about a recently-freed kidnap victim (Kyle Mooney), abducted in infancy, who decides to make a movie of his favorite TV show while adjusting to a real world he’s never known. With Beck Bennett, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Andy Samberg and Greg Kinnear.
The Emoji Movie (PG for rude humor) Animated adventure about an over-enunciating, text message emoji (T.J. Miller) who embarks on a quest for a filter that will limit him to one facial expression, just like his parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge). Voice cast includes James Corden, Anna Faris and Maya Rudolph.
Imperfections (Unrated) Crime comedy about a struggling actress (Virginia Kull) still living with her mother (Marilu Henner) who plots a diamond heist in order to pay for her move from Chicago to Hollywood. With Ed Begley, Jr., Zach McGowan and Ashton Holmes.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Unrated) Al Gore picks up where he left off in this cautionary documentary warning of the havoc being wreaked around the planet as a consequence of climate change. Featuring juxtaposed commentary by Presidents Obama and Trump.
Menashe (PG for mature themes) Menashe Lustig playes the title character in this bittersweet drama, set in the heart of NYC’s Hasidic community, about a grieving widower’s struggle to raise his son (Ruben Niborski) alone in the wake of his wife’s untimely death. With Yoel Weisshaus and Meyer Schwartz. (In Yiddish with subtitles)
The Midwife (Unrated) Bittersweet drama about the unlikely friendship which blossoms between a high-strung midwife (Catherine Frot) and her late father’s, free-spirited mistress (Catherine Deneuve). Featuring Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire and Mylene Demongeot. (In French with subtitles)
Mubarakan (Unrated) Romantic comedy revolving around identical twins (Arjun Kapoor), with polar opposite personalities, simple-minded and street-smart, who swap identities after the savvy one is pressured into an arranged marriage he wants no part of. With Anil Kapoor, Athiya Shetty and Neha Sharma. (In Hindi with subtitles)
Person to Person (Unrated) Ensemble drama, shot on 16mm film, chronicling a very eventful day in the lives of a reporter, a record collector, a clock shop owner and other native New Yorkers. Co-starring Michael Cera, Philip Baker Hall, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Abbi Jacobson.
Rumble (Unrated) Rock and Roll retrospective about Native-American musical icons. Featuring Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, Link Wray, Slash, Steven Tyler, Quincy Jones and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Strange Weather (R for one sex scene) Holly Hunter stars in this poignant character study as a grief-stricken mother roaming around the back roads of the Deep South in search of an explanation for her late son’s suicide. With Carrie Coon, Choppy Guillotte and Cotton Yancey.