Inaccurate

Historical films can be tricky for viewers – a fact I realized after watching the 1989 miniseries Cross of Fire, starring John Heard and Mel Harris, about the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer by D.C. Stephens, a prominent K.K.K. leader, in 1925. After viewing the film, my history teacher destroyed me by saying that the valiant lawyer in the film, Klell Henry (David Morse), did not actually exist. And thus, my frequently conflicted opinion on historical/biopic films was born.

I make sure, after viewing a historical drama or biopic, that I research the topic afterward to see what the film got wrong. Not because I want to nitpick the movie and rip it to shreds, but because I want to know the truth. At the very least, even inaccurate films can open the door to further interest and research in certain topics. But when adapting delicate subjects, films bear a lot of responsibility with what they portray… and many have fumbled that opportunity.

There is nothing worse for me, regarding historical dramas, than going on to research the true events of a film and finding out that important details have been manipulated, botched, ignored, or misrepresented, because it feels like being cheated out of what could have been an amazing story. Though, many films so deserve credit for introducing audiences to topics or events that they might not have cared about otherwise.

Of course, it is impossible to adapt any historical event into film with perfect accuracy. The very idea is ridiculous. But when you’re playing with real events, real people – especially people who have passed on, and cannot offer a voice themselves – and real world issues, there is a difference between taking creative liberties, and presenting what is essentially a revisionist history. I mean, don’t even get me started on Pocahontas. I thought that shit was true until like, eighth grade. The soundtrack is a banger, though.

Though I’ve always been a fan of Queen, I’d never purport myself as a massive, die-hard fan, so I went into Bohemian Rhapsody with a partial knowledge of both Freddie Mercury and the band’s history… but even with my limited scope, I was scratching my head at a few of the events shown in the film. For example, the first meeting between Mercury and his long-time partner Jim Hutton, and the band’s implosion due to Mercury’s intention to launch a solo career – among numerous other changes, as noted in the many scathing reviews I’ve since seen scattered about the internet.

Without spoiling anything major about the film, Bohemian Rhapsody – though buoyed by the (obviously) brilliant soundtrack and an electrifying, perhaps career-defining performance from lead actor Rami Malek – shoehorns truth and history and fudges timelines into a formulaic, painfully stereotypical portrayal of a band’s bumpy rise to triumph, and the turbulent life of its legendary front man while barely scratching at the surface of Queen’s revolutionary influence on the music industry, and Mercury’s enduring legacy as one of the most iconic voices of all time. It seeks to cover the rough edges with a glossy sheen, to be a Mercury biopic, a Queen documentary, and fictional drama all in one. As a result, the film never delves as deep as it should, especially into Mercury beyond the stage, into his personal life and personal struggles.

It’s a shame, really, that “based on true events” has been skewed by egregious insertions of “drama” that never happened in real life, often invented to make the film fit a standard “storyboard” format. You don’t need “dramatic effect” when the true story is already so compelling. You don’t need manufactured tension, fake squabbles, fictionalized personalities, and a standard “rising action, falling action, climax, resolution” plotline when you are relaying a story that is interesting enough to carry itself. Sure, the watered-down, sanitized portrayal with a near family-friendly PG-13 rating will probably garner more ticket sales, and get a few casuals more invested in the band’s music. But it makes the film, though perfectly serviceable entertainment-wise, disingenuous. It’s not the film that Mercury – or Queen – deserve. Though, again, Malek’s performance is extraordinary, and it was worth seeing the film for that alone. And it is entertaining, so I’m not trying to deter anyone from seeing it.

I’m not going to go into detail about the inaccuracies, because a ton of reviewers and articles have covered it much better than I could, so here’s ScreenRant’s comprehensive list. But beware of spoilers!

pocahontas_2.jpg
ALL LIES 

This is far from the first instance of this in cinematic history. As referenced before, Pocahontas (and the sequel, which I prefer to pretend never happened) is a big offender, because it creates a love story where there wasn’t one, and sugarcoats historical events in a disillusioning manner. Braveheart, too. And The Patriot. Now, that doesn’t mean they are bad movies, because they aren’t. I actually really love The Patriot and have seen it several times. But they are bad historical movies. And, ironically, all of them feature Mel Gibson…but that’s another story.

This phenomenon of inaccuracy in films makes it all the more baffling when films like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan receive widespread acclaim for their historical accuracy regarding the events of World War II… because the characters in both films didn’t exist. I suppose that gives them more freedom, when they aren’t profiling the histories and lives of actual people, but it also makes their success more compelling, and perhaps allows them to focus more on the finer details. Grave of the Fireflies is also a highly-praised film for dealing with the effects of WWII on the Japanese – if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, though you’ll need tissues. And then, on the flip side, you get Pearl Harbor and Red Tails, which inject needless drama into real stories that were interesting enough without it.

It is, no doubt, challenging to achieve a credible level of accuracy in historical dramas, period dramas, or biopics. Not all stories fit a cinematic formula, so adapting them does require some creative liberties in order to appeal to audiences and critics alike. But it is not impossible to do so while also being respectful of those who lived through actual events being portrayed, knew of or are related to real people whose stories are being shown onscreen, and without eschewing truth in favor of drama. Audiences don’t need to be shielded from unpleasant truths, they don’t need to be shown a cookie-cutter plot, “based on a true story” should not be an afterthought, and entertainment does not need to smother historical accuracy.

Anyone else have a “Klell” moment, like I did? If so, which historical film or biopic is your biggest offender for ignoring the truth or creating a revisionist history?

 

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2018 Oscars Reaction!

Pre-Show (I missed like, ten minutes because I was heating up my lo mein, apologies)

CHADWICK!!! He is styling tonight! What a nice suit.
Kelly-Marie!! She is so sweet.
Jordan Peele is a snazzy dresser, too.
Daniel Kaluuya’s jacket is SHARP.
Margot Robbie could make a burlap sack look good, but the top of her dress looks like a parade float.
Judd and Sorvino make a formidable team.
Thank you, technical difficulties, for depriving me of a montage. I LOVE MONTAGES, HOW EVER DARE YOU.
I wish I’d had time to see I, Tonya, simply because I love Allison Janney. It only played for like, 5 days in my town.
God, Jennifer Garner is gorgeous. Her dress is stunning!
GUILLERMO!!!!!
TIMMY!!!!!! He looks incredibly nervous, bless him. Also, white works for him. I want him to win so badly!
Saorise!!! Setting the facts straight, lol. I adore her.
HOLY CRAP I love Sandra Bullock’s dress.
Everyone is so sparkly!!!!
SINCE WHEN IS AMERICAN IDOL COMING BACK? Do I live under a rock?
Greta is great. Would love for her to win tonight.
I love Gary Oldman. Won’t be mad if he wins… but still rooting for Timmy.
There is something so suave about a nice suede/velvet suit jacket. I do my best to sell them at work but no one wants to buy them!
Mood; Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman casually catching up during an interview. But dear God, that bow on Kidman’s dress is awful.
Um… we never got the Allison Janney interview, Michael!!!!!

Monologue
Old-timey. I dig it.
Does Meryl Streep have a seat with her name engraved on it?
Thrilled that Kimmel is hosting again. Let the Matt Damon jokes commence!!!
ARMIE!
A JET-SKI????? And Helen Mirren? Oh, she’s not included. Damn.

Best Supporting Actor
It’s gotta be Sam Rockwell, right?
Wish I’d seen The Florida Project though…
YAYYYY! Well-deserved. I called it back when I saw the film in December.

Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer? Could there BE a better looking presenting pair?

Please… please let someone have their speech go too long. Please. I want a “GET OUT!!!”

Hair and Make-up
Will Darkest Hour take it home? That Churchill transformation was something else.
Marvelous! Oldman’s been thanking them in every speech, too. Nice to see their work rewarded.

Costume Design
Phantom Thread‘s got this in the bag, I think. But there might be a sneaky upset in here from The Shape of Water or Beauty and the Beast.
The dresses in PT were gorgeous. Made me want to binge Project Runway.
Oooh, have we got a Jet-ski contender?

Best Documentary
My resolution for next year is to watch the nominated documentaries. That’s my goal every year, but this year I really mean it.
It’s so nice to see the winners so happy!!!

I meant to watch Mudbound Friday night and straight-up forgot, but it’s my next Netflix watch for sure.
Mary J. Blige killing it, as usual.

I get choked up during the film montage EVERY YEAR. EVERY. YEAR. There is nothing quite like a great montage.

Best Sound Mixing/Editing
Gotta be Dunkirk for both. The sound was phenomenal, especially in IMAX.
YAY!!! Glad Dunkirk got some hardware! Even at the expense of Star Wars
Side-note… is that Kobe Bryant behind my man Chris Nolan?

Best Production Design
Lupita is STUNNING. And Kumail Nanjiani is hilarious.
Pretty sure The Shape of Water will take this one, but would love an upset by any of the others. All really visually-striking films.
That man’s sleeves are too short… or is that, like, a menswear trend I am unaware of?

Coco! I thought “Remember Me” would be usurped by “This is Me”, but it’s got a good shot, I’ll bet. That performance was BEAUTIFUL.

Best Foreign Language Film
I really want to see A Fantastic Woman, which I saw a trailer for before Call Me By Your Name a couple months ago. With that win, it might make it’s way here after all! I want to see The Square too, I’ve heard good things about both,

Best Supporting Actress
In a race that likely comes down in a battle of the moms, I’m betting on Janney, but I’m secretly rooting for a Laurie Metcalf victory.
I mean… you can’t be mad about Allison Janney. She is a freaking TREASURE. And also not winning a jet-ski, but hey, if you’ve got the stage, go for it.

Best Animated Short/Feature
STAR WARS!!!!!! I will never not love hearing that music.
Ohhhhhh that’s why Kobe is there. IT ALL MAKES SENSE. He’s so well-spoken! A+ speech.
As for feature… Coco, I’m guessing? It better not be Boss Baby. Bleurgh.
YAY! For the first time ever, I only saw one of the animated noms. Gotta work on that for next year, get back to my roots.

Daniela Vega’s dress is so lovely!
Sufjan! Call Me By Your Name! Finally! I am here for this. Also here for that suit.
I mean… it’s not going to beat Coco or The Greatest Showman but a girl can dream.

If it’s even possible, I care less about American Idol now than I did the first round.

Best Visual Effects
SPIDER-MAN!!!
I’m betting on Blade Runner, but maybe a sneaky Star Wars win?
I know I need to watch Blade Runner 2049. I have to watch the original Blade Runner first though, because I haven’t actually seen it. *cringes in shame*

I am 1000% here for men who wear jackets that are not the same color as their pants. That is my aesthetic, as long as they complement one another.

Best Film Editing
Can Dunkirk pull out a third?
YASSSS!!!!!!

I have guessed every one right so far. This has never happened! All that remains to be seen is how and when I’ll fuck it up.

If that troupe of people walked into a movie theater I was sitting in I would LOSE MY MIND. Wonder Woman AND Luke Skywalker?!?

I’m sorry… a HOT DOG CANNON? Why on earth would you want a HOT DOG CANNON? Hot dogs are disgusting. Unless they are encased in a soft pretzel, only then are they acceptable.

Best Documentary Short / Live-Action Short
I KNOW NOTHING!!!! I am uncultured swine.

Marshall was a great film! Highly recommend, especially if you love Chadwick Boseman… as you should.

Does Common ever not totally crush it onstage? He is an amazing performer.

Best Original Screenplay / Adapted Screenplay
Adapted has GOT to be Call Me By Your Name, or I will riot. Unless it’s Logan. Then I will riot slightly less.
Can everyone please take a moment to appreciate James Ivory’s amazing shirt? I love a well-dressed man, and a well-deserved win.
Original is tougher… would love The Big Sick, but I’m thinking Get Out or Three Billboards.
AW YEAH!!!! Jordan Peele! That’s the first one I officially picked incorrectly, but I’m SOOO happy to be wrong!

I knew there’d be a Matt Damon joke in here somewhere. I’m actually surprised it took this long to get one.

Also, I think Bullock’s dress is my favorite of the night.

Best Cinematography
I am secretly pulling for Darkest Hour or Dunkirk, but it will probably be Blade Runner.
And I was right, again! If I go through this and only have one wrong I will be extremely upset. But then I’ll be over it by tomorrow, so whatever.

Didn’t see The Greatest Showman and don’t really care to, but this song is a JAM.

Best Original Score
I LOVE THEM ALL. Don’t make me pick.
…It’ll probably be The Shape of Water.
Oh, look at that! The music really did suit the movie perfectly, though. Delightfully weird!

Best Original Song
Coco!!!! I loved “Remember Me.” Though even now, however many years later, I still HATE Let it Go.

Best Director
Will there be an upset, or will Guillermo cap off awards season with a win?
Look at his face, he’s so happy! Hats off to Guillermo – he directed a beautiful monster of a film and he so, so deserves this.
I maintain that Luca Guadagnino should have been nominated though… just saying…

Best Actor
It’s going to be Oldman. I so badly want Chalamet to win, but the Oldman train seems like it’s prime to keep on rolling, and I’m not gonna bet against Churchill…
DDL looks like he will straight-up murder whoever wins, if it isn’t him. I know he won’t, he’s just giving those vibes…
YAY, Gary! I do love him, and it’s so great to see him finally win one. He was brilliant in this film, and easily the best part of it.

Best Actress
Money’s on Frances McDormand. Haven’t even seen her tonight…
Wouldn’t mind a Sally Hawkins win, though. She is adorable. Or Saorise Ronan. Let’s just give them all an Oscar, okay?
HOW TALL IS JENNIFER LAWRENCE? Or HOW SHORT IS JODIE FOSTER?
No surprise!
Frances McDormand is a goddamn prize. Also, Joel Cohen looks so unimpressed, lol.
Sally looks genuinely happy for Frances, it’s heartwarming!

Best Picture
The odds are stacked against my personal fave (Call Me By Your Name) but IT SHOULD WIN, DAMMIT. However, it’s shaping up to be a The Shape of Water or Three Billboards victory, both of which rightfully deserve it as well.
Honestly, though, this category is full of worthy films. It could be a surprise, especially if the vote splits. Might get a cheeky Get Out or sneaky Dunkirk victory.
OH MY GOD THEY BROUGHT THEM BACK.
Please no replay of last year’s debacle…
Well, that’s the second one I picked wrong – I officially picked Three Billboards. But I can’t be disappointed that such a lovely film won!
I hope Mark Bridges enjoys his jet ski.

Best Picture Countdown #5: Dunkirk

“There’s no hiding from this, son. We have a job to do.” – Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, Dunkirk (2017).

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min

Dunkirk is a war film that utilizes three different perspectives (land, air, and sea) and a trio of timelines to depict the events of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII. Over the course of the film, the three viewpoints gradually sync up and the characters collide with one another as a brave fleet of civilian boats seeks to rescue the stranded soldiers.

This film is probably higher on my list than on most, but it’s not just because I’m a Chris Nolan fangirl with a penchant for war films. I mean, as much as I admire him, I don’t think he’s going to take home the Best Director award, though I was pleased to see him get his first nod. I’m actually stunned he’s never been nominated before, but that’s a convo for another time…

Dunkirk_Film_posterOne of the film’s greatest strengths is in what it lacks: dialogue. The tension builds in conjunction with the cinematography, sound effects, and pulse-pounding music, not the words and conversations of the characters. The whine of the planes and the rat-a-tat of dogfights, the crashing of bombs on a beach, the yells of frazzled soldiers and the unnerving creak of a ship about to sink, all combine with the vivid imagery of bleak sands, the dour grey of a morning sky, the bobbing of civilian ships forging a path across the waves, and a shivering soldier stranded on floating debris. Seeing this film in IMAX was a cinematic experience unlike any I’ve seen before, and I was so engrossed the entire time I forgot to eat my candy – something I can safely say has never happened before. This film came out in wide release months ago, long before most of the other nominated films, and I can still clearly visualize several scenes because of how much of an impact they had and how brilliantly they stood out onscreen.

While the entire cast is great, Dunkirk is truly an ensemble effort; I found myself invested in each character’s journey, as a significant portion of time is spent on each of the three perspectives, giving each story the chance to unfold without feeling rushed or drawn out. The timelines weave in and out from one another, but do not come together until the very end, which forces the viewer to put some pieces together and heightens the suspense in crucial moments. And the presence of Harry Styles isn’t a major distraction.

As immersed as I was by the performances and atmosphere of this film – and the apparent historical accuracy in comparison to Darkest Hour – I doubt it will take home the ultimate award on March 4th. I’m not putting money on Nolan either, though Dunkirk might be the best example of his directing chops to date. It’s a dark horse for Best Cinematography, but I actually have another favorite in mind for that race, and though it’s my personal favorite for Original Score (as in, Zimmer’s score seriously enhanced the film, arguably more so than the others) I don’t see it taking that one home either. But, as with the BAFTAs, I think it has an excellent shot at the other technical awards, both sound mixing and sound editing, and has a good chance at film editing as well.

The events of WWII have been depicted countless times across various media and in countless films over the years, but Dunkirk still manages to present something refreshing and new. Nolan may get flak for being “pretentious” and “cerebral” with his films (the end of Interstellar comes to mind…) but in this outing, his experimentation with new narrative styles, his striving for authenticity, the intense focus on visual elements, and the reliance on generating an intense atmosphere with limited dialogue and mostly nameless characters is a cinematic triumph worth seeing on the big screen, and well-deserving of a Best Picture nomination.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Nolan)
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Film Editing 
Best Picture 

My full review of Dunkirk from July 2017 is available HERE

Oscar Countdown Posts are Coming!

Starting this coming Friday (February 23rd) and ending next Saturday (March 3rd) I will be posting my personal countdown and ranking of the 2017 films nominated for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards! Posts will be largely opinion-based, so no offense is meant, and I just want to have a bit of fun throwing my two cents into the Oscar race.

Hence why there is no regular post today, as I will be doing 9 daily posts, 1 for each film, starting this Friday, and the Monday (March 5th) post will likely be an Oscars award show recap, like I did last year.

This is the very first year I’ve been able to see all the Best Picture noms, from two perspectives of WWII and the evacuation at Dunkirk, to an amphibian twist on the tale as old as time, to a dark comedy about vengeance and redemption, to a chic exploration of human relationships, to a life-altering Italian summer, to a horror-filled weekend at an unsettling house, to a coming-of-age tale of a teenage girl seeking her place, and a political thriller that feels more timely than ever, I’ve got lots of thoughts to share, so stay tuned!

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min
Spoiler level: Minor

The moment I saw a screenshot of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill some months ago, I knew I was going to see this movie. I had to travel an hour away to do it (drawbacks of small-town living) but Oldman’s Golden Globe win last Sunday solidified that his turn in Darkest Hour was a performance I didn’t want to miss on the big screen. Also, The Shape of Water isn’t playing within 50 miles of me, so…

dhFollowing Winston Churchill (Oldman) as he takes the mantle of Prime Minister in May 1940 with World War II brewing ominously on the mainland, Darkest Hour offers insight (both in public and behind closed doors) into Churchill’s first tenuous/strenuous days in office as he faces opposition and doubt from his fellow party members, the crown, and himself.

First things first; the cast is superb. Kristin Scott Thomas is great as Clementine Churchill, as she conveys the inner and outer struggle of a wife and her efforts to support her husband as he endures such intense scrutiny. Ben Mendelsohn (who I didn’t even recognize, a total fail on my part) does an excellent job expressing the turmoil of King George VI, who grapples with his opinion of Churchill and what is best for the nation as a whole as it faces the possibility of invasion. Lily James turns in a nuanced performance as Churchill’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and Stannis Baratheon Stephen Dillane’s determined and frustrated Halifax stands toe to toe with Oldman’s Churchill as he argues for appeasement over war. But obviously, the film is carried by Oldman, who delivers Churchill’s famous speeches with passion and fire, but also shows vulnerability as he is assailed by doubt and criticism from all sides, not to mention the looming war with the Axis Powers on the horizon. He plays off of the other key characters with aplomb, as the chemistry Oldman shares with Scott Thomas, while only shown in a few scenes, is an inspiring look into the strengths and strains of an enduring marriage, while Oldman’s scenes with Mendelsohn evolve over the course of the film as their interactions go from tension-riddled and uncertain to tempered hostility to grudging respect and beyond. Hearing the “We shall fight them on the beaches,” speech coming from Oldman is electrifying, as his words build in intensity and fervor and serve as a contrast to those poignant flickers of uncertainty and wavering confidence he suffers while debating whether or not to enter peace negotiations with the monster threatening to invade and conquer.

One of the film’s main strengths is that it isn’t a wide-spanning look at Churchill’s life and career, sprawling over the course of several years; it’s a snapshot centered on Churchill’s earliest days in office, which encompasses only a few weeks and culminates in the evacuation at Dunkirk. This lends the film a greater sense of focus and a deeper look into Churchill’s mindset and emotional state, and permits a greater exploration into the opinions of those around him, particularly Halifax and Chamberlain. It doesn’t seek to show Churchill’s entire legacy in two hours, and the result is a more intimate film with a greater focus on the gravity of his decisions and their possible consequences, rather than a blustering epic about his greatness with no time to breathe in-between scenes. The pacing is a bit dodgy at times, but the film also strives to show the criticism that Churchill faced during his tenure and references some of his more controversial actions, including the Gallipoli Campaign, which provides a somewhat more “balanced” portrayal of the historical icon, rather than a 2-hour lovefest.

Darkest Hour also shines on a technical level, as the cinematography, lighting, sound (including Dario Marianelli’s score) and direction are stellar, and all components function together to make a visually (and audibly) beautiful film. Certain shots and sequences are framed and shot in such a evocative, visceral way, it gives even more weight to whatever is happening onscreen at the time. Lots of great “hallway” shots and tracking shots, and one particular shot of Churchill in an elevator shows the perfect image of a man who feels utterly “alone” not only physically, but in his convictions. Plus, I’d be shocked if Tsuji and team don’t win the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling (Sorry, Beauty & The Beast), as Gary Oldman’s galvanizing performance is enhanced by the amazing physical transformation he undergoes to become one of the most well-known and revered figures in British history.

One of Darkest Hour‘s taglines is also one of Churchill’s most famous phrases, “Never surrender.” And though those famous words have been heard countless times, and WWII has been depicted repeatedly on screens of all sizes, Darkest Hour is a semi-unconventional “war” film that brings something fresh and new to the table in offering a closer look into Winston Churchill’s life and legacy, his personal and professional relationships, and his unwillingness to give in, even when facing such grave odds and innumerable doubts.

P.S. I might suggest this film and Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk as a double feature, though viewing both films back-to-back could be pretty draining… though you could start off with Tom Hooper’s 2010 Oscar-winner The King’s Speech, for a bit of levity.

 

Favorite Books and Films 2017 Edition!

Favorite books! (In no particular order!)

1.) Age of Heroes Trilogy – Kelley Armstrong
I got so engrossed in this series that I plowed through the last book in one sitting, even though I had to be up early for work the next day. I loved how different the two heroines (sisters Ashyn and Moria) are from one another and the contrast in their story-lines and perspectives is presented in a way that keeps the reader invested in both of their journeys. I loved all the characters, the romance, and the unique world-building, and I can’t wait to get into some of Armstrong’s other books.

2.) The Goose GirlShannon Hale
This book was just so adorable and sweet and I absolutely loved it. The romance is probably my favorite that I read this year because it was presented in such a genuine, earnest way, and Ani is one of my favorite protagonists of all the books I read this year for her bravery, generosity, and relatable disposition. Based on the German fairy-tale of the same name, this is a more lighthearted, yet captivating tale with a protagonist who can speak to birds, and I highly recommend if you’re look for a cute, quick dive into a well-developed fantasy world.

3.) His Dark Materials TrilogyPhilip Pullman
I know, I know… I am way late to this party. But better late than never! I actually saw the film version of The Golden Compass back in 2007 and was unimpressed, which is part of the reason why I put off reading this series for so long. Now, I see what all the fuss is about; the books are phenomenal, and Pullman created a vivid and spectacular fantasy world and characters who feel real. He doesn’t shy away from controversial opinions or views (especially on religion) and the books are all the more stunning for it. Polar Bear king Iorek Byrnison (one of few things I did like in the film) shall forever be one of my favorite literary figures of all time. I think it’s better that I read this series as an adult, because some of the messages and themes hit me harder now than they would have back when these books were first published.

4.) The Great Hunt and The Great Pursuit Wendy Higgins
I was absorbed by both of these books and ended up reading The Great Pursuit all in one day, more or less in one sitting. I’m a sucker for a good fantasy, even those with familiar story-lines, and these books have enough twists and engaging characters (Aerity in particular is stellar) to keep readers enthralled through both volumes. I also really enjoyed the romance in this duology – it’s so easy to get sick of seeing the same romantic subplots over and over again, but familiar scenarios feel fresh in these books. Also, I’m glad this wasn’t stretched out over three books, as it worked very well as a duology and might have been too thin for three volumes.

5.) EntwinedHeather Dixon
This twist on the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (which I was unfamiliar with prior to this book) is a quick, fun read and Azalea was a wonderful heroine to read about – the sort that is “girly” without being too much of a “damsel,” and is capable of saving herself. It’s a fairly straightforward story about dancing and danger, family relationships, love, and sisters, and it manages to adhere to the familiar fairy-tale format while adding twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes.

6.) The Jessica Darling SeriesMegan McCafferty
I cannot believe I missed out on the series when it was being released – this series is a hilarious, poignant, and occasionally daring look at growing up, high school drama, deciding your place in this world, and falling in and out of love, as told through the eyes and observations of the outrageously witty Jessica Darling. I wasn’t really crazy about the last book, but the entire series works together to form an arc that captures the turbulence and the emotional journey of stepping into young adulthood, and Jessica’s voice changes accordingly in each book, which made for a pleasant reading experience.

7.) The Girl Who Chased the MoonSarah Addison Allen
A simple little read about a small town, a girl trying to find her place in this world, a woman trying to do the same, and a family that cannot go out at night, I did not expect to be so engrossed in this book, but the characters are all so realistic and well-written that it was impossible not to be drawn in. Plus, there’s a tiny bit of paranormal in it, which is just the right amount for me.

8.)  Glass Faerie, Shadow Faerie, and Rebel Faerie by Rachel Morgan
I absolutely love the Creepy Hollow books (I read Violet’s saga in a matter of like, 2 days back in 2015) and was so happy that the story continued with Emerson’s POV in Glass Faerie, with new characters and old favorites alike. With a unique perspective on the ideas of faeries and magic, compelling characters and relationships, and an engaging story-line, the latest trilogy brings the Creepy Hollow series to a fitting and satisfying end. I look forward to rereading all 9 from the start!

9.) The Girl from Mars – Brenda Hiatt
Hiatt’s Starstruck series is not a collection I expected to resonate with me, but they did on a level I didn’t expect, so I’m glad the story has continued through the eyes of a new heroine. These stories feel very genuine and are super cute, wholesome, and fun, and Kira, the titular girl from Mars, has a believable and relatable mindset that is easy to follow. I also like the world-building in this series, especially the society on Mars and the ties to Irish culture. It adds a unique twist to familiar scifi tropes, and I hope there’s another novel to follow!

10.) Walk on Earth a StrangerRae Carson
This book took me back to the good ol’ days of playing Oregon Trail in computer class back in elementary school. Set during the gold rush and following the protagonist Leah Westfall across the country as she tries to escape those who seek to use her unique “gift” to sense gold, the story is engrossing and Leah’s voice is both charming and easy to read. She is a wonderful protagonist, the plot and all the characters are intriguing, and though I haven’t picked up the next book in this series, I look forward to continuing it.

Favorite Films! (In order!)

*I am not going to include Moonlight and La La Land on this list, since they came out in 2016 and I saw them so early into 2017. Just know that I loved them both. Also, this list is just my favorites. The list of “BEST” films would be different.

10.) Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a stunner that encapsulates what it’s like for a teenage girl to grow up and go through adolescence/young adulthood in post-9/11 America. The conflict between “Lady Bird” (Saorise Ronan) and her mother (Laura Metcalfe) is mesmerizing, and each member of the ensemble case delivers layered, nuanced performances. Plus, I think everybody who grew up in the 90’s/early 2000’s knew a Kyle, am I right?

9.) Wind River
A film I did not expect to stick with me the way that it has, Wind River is a poignant look into the state of Native American affairs in the U.S. and how Native Americans are treated in terms of the law/justice. Also, this is my favorite Jeremy Renner performance, thus far – he and Olson make a great team, and Gil Birmingham is fantastic in a supporting role, as is the rest of the cast.

8.) Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
“I’M MARY POPPINS, Y’ALL!” Enough said.

7.) Logan
Not gonna lie… I have about a 0% investment in the current X-men films. Actually, after the total abomination that was Last Stand, I have about a 0% investment in the past films, too. But Logan really turned it around for me, with it’s gritty portrayal of the world and the way mutants are treated, coupled with the cynical, dark, gruff, and emotionally broken version of Wolverine. Jackman’s swan song as the titular character is a fitting one, and is easily his best performance as the character overall. I usually hate excessive violence and swearing in films, but in Logan, I didn’t even mind – the film packs enough of an emotional wallop, I didn’t mind all the physical ones.

6.) Dunkirk
Admittedly, I am a Chris Nolan fangirl and thus inclined to like anything he puts out. Dunkirk is not a film I’ll watch over and over (and may never watch again) but the unique narrative structure (three viewpoints out-of-sync with one another until they converge) lack of dialogue and gripping music created a remarkable cinematic experience and atmosphere during which I was so tense I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. The ensemble cast turns out excellent performances all around and the cinematography is stellar. If you are a fan of war films, you should definitely check it out; though the experience in cinemas, with the sound and the massive IMAX screen, will likely be difficult to recapture in a living room on a television.

5.) Thor: Ragnarok
While I love Marvel movies, I was never much for the Thor films… especially The Dark World. But the third installment in the Thor series totally makes up for the lackluster middle film. Ragnarok amps up the humor, packs on the action, features an amazing cast, and segues nicely into the next major installment in the franchise, the upcoming Infinity War. This film is comedic gold, and features so many quotable lines and memorable scenes that I’m giggling at my computer now just remembering Mark Ruffalo dive-bombing onto Bifrost.

4.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I have never hated, loved, hated, then kind of maybe liked, then definitely liked a character more than Sam Rockwell’s character Dixon in this film. This black comedy about a woman who buys three billboards to criticize the police over the unsolved murder of her daughter is carried by an all-star cast and a plot that is original, occasionally hilarious, and full of unexpected moments that literally made my jaw drop more than once.

3.) Beauty and the Beast
Was this film needed? No. Did I love it anyway? YES.
Also, I LOVE DAN STEVENS. The end.

2.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Despite the massive divide in the fandom over this film, I loved The Last Jedi and thought it was an apt continuation of the series. Following directly after The Force Awakens, our new hero Rey continues to search for her place in this world, Finn teams up with a new friend to try and save the Resistance, and Poe learns a valuable lesson about what it means to truly be in command and be a leader. Packed with action, shades of the previous films, and a whole lot of new and unexpected twists, TLJ is an undeniable spectacle, no mater which side of the fandom you fall on. Mark Hamill is outstanding in his return as conflicted Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, and a particular moment between him and another character was powerful enough to reduce me to tears. Adam Driver’s evocative performance as the internally-conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo has already made him the most convincing villain in the franchise, and the tension between Kylo and Rey is a major highlight of the film. You can actually feel the struggle while watching it unfold onscreen. For all the issues folks have with the film, I found it to be one of the strongest across the entire series, an “awakening” of sorts, and though I had some issues with it (Canto Bight, how criminally underused Phasma is, Snoke’s treatment, a couple of other nitpicks) it still made me all the more excited for episode IX and the conclusion of the sequel trilogy.

1.) Wonder Woman
Not only was the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman my favorite cinematic experience of 2017, the “No Man’s Land” sequence is actually my favorite film scene overall of 2017. This film is not just a great superhero film helmed by a woman and starring a woman; it’s a great comic book film overall, easily one of the best super hero origin stories, and I definitely rank it as the best superhero film of the year. Plus, it’s 10000% the best DC film thus far, no contest. Gal Gadot nails the role of Wonder Woman, the music is fantastic, the chemistry between the leads is stellar, and it’s probably the first DC film that has more than a couple of genuinely funny moments, and a lot of emotional impact to boot. It didn’t try too hard to be an amazing film or outdo similar films – and it is a badass film all on its own.

 

 

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min
Spoiler Level: Light

A lot of the early buzz about the latest WWII drama Dunkirk has called it Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. Considering he’s the man who brought us both critically-acclaimed Inception (2010) and widely-lauded The Dark Knight (2008), that’s a statement that isn’t to be taken lightly. Now that I’ve seen it, I have one thing to say about the monumental praise this film’s gotten thus far; it is 100% deserved, and Dunkirk may well be Nolan’s best so far.

Dunkirk_Film_poster.jpgBased on true events, Dunkirk presents three different timelines (land, sea, and air) within a non-linear narrative that chronicles the journeys of various characters – from struggling soldiers to stalwart civilians – during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

Story-wise, I didn’t find the three different timelines too difficult to follow – it was compelling to see land, air, and sea diverge from and intersect with one another. The timelines are a bit disjointed, and it might take a bit to get used to the switching between perspectives (at one point it’s day, then night, then day again, though less than 24 hours have passed) but the narrative is consistently captivating, and as the timelines merge, it’s intriguing to see how certain characters meet and interact with one another.

The entire cast is strong; newcomer Fionn Whitehead delivers a mesmerizing performance as an Army private desperately trying to survive a relentless wave of peril, Tom Hardy, a Royal Airforce Pilot, evokes powerful emotion even while most of his face is concealed, and Mark Rylance is solid as a civilian mariner heading to Dunkirk to try and save some of the stranded soldiers. No one really stood head or shoulders above the rest, but in that same vein, I don’t think there was a weak link among the cast. Performances all around were impressive, especially considering the sparse dialogue, as great acting speaks much louder when there are no words at all. The narrative is carried by everyone, and even though about 90% of the character’s names don’t get spoken onscreen, it’s easy to get invested.

And for those of you wondering, Harry Styles is fine in it – definitely holds his own against the talented veterans. From what I’ve seen browsing around the internet, I imagine a significant chunk of this film’s box office will come from 1D fangirls, because anytime I’ve looked up anything about this film I have to slog through pages upon pages of Harry Styles swooning before getting anything of use, and there were as many middle-aged history professor type men in the theater last night as there were middle-school and high-school 1D fangirls. That’s not a criticism, though; it was actually awesome to see the IMAX theater in my local cinema close to full for a film that isn’t from Marvel. But I find the voracious media attention Styles has received simply for being in a popular boy band prior to this film is unfortunate because Dunkirk is an ensemble effort, and the other actors all deserve just as much, if not more, attention and praise for their performance.

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning – that’s an odd thing to say about a war film, I suppose, but the cinematography (per usual for Nolan) is gorgeous and the film is beautifully shot and edited. Dunkirk is also Nolan’s tightest film to date, as it offers nothing in excess; it’s clean and concise, presenting a well-balanced narrative and a clear picture without delving too deep or dragging too long. Sure, the film doesn’t show too much in the way of blood or gore, but it also didn’t need crimson spills in the sea or severed limbs splayed around craters to convey the horror and cost of conflict, nor does the lack of blood and guts glorify the idea of war in any way. The unseen enemy threat closing in, the stark faces of fear, a foot sticking out from a sandy grave, and the dead bodies floating in with the tide, are all images that stand out long after the credits have rolled.

The music (by Hans Zimmer) and the sound weave together to enhance the intense, knuckle-biting atmosphere. The scream of sirens, the whine of engines, the creak of sinking ships, the wails of dying men, the boom of torpedoes and crash of bombs and the ticking of precious time running out – and at times, silence – all serve to make the events of the film more visceral, more engrossing. The sound of bullets made me jump out of my seat on more than one occasion and honestly, I was so stressed out and tense throughout this film that I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. (I’m eating them now, don’t worry).

If it is possible for you to see this film in IMAX, you MUST do so – it’s worth splurging for the price of the ticket. The sound is incredible (VERY loud, but not deafening) and the sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the dogfights in the air are best seen on a massive screen. My only quibble with the IMAX experience was the dialogue, as it was difficult to discern at times. It didn’t detract too much, since the gist of the narrative is easy to follow, but there were times that I genuinely had no idea what the characters were saying and wish I could have picked it up better. This might be different for the standard version, as it usually is.

I don’t know if this is Nolan’s best, but it is certainly a contender for the spot, and well worth seeing for fans of Nolan and war cinema alike. A sprawling film with a strangely intimate feel, Dunkirk shares bleakness and hope in equal measure, and though countless war films have been made, especially about WWII, there are still so many stories to be told, and Nolan’s put a unique stamp on this one. There’s not much bravado, virtually no soap-boxing, no victory-touting, no medals doled out, and the film doesn’t offer a lot of chit-chat about the horrors and toll of war; it simply shows it, along with the dedication and perseverance of the soldiers who yearn for home, and the civilians striving to get them there. It’s not as gory as Saving Private Ryan or as in-depth as Band of Brothers, but it certainly deserves a place among the memorable high-tier war films.

Overall Rating: 9/10