War and Heroism in Three Parts – Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”

In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan tells three inter-twined stories of differing lengths and at different speeds, showing how the terrors of war and heroic acts associated with it can exist on various time scales. There are instantaneous acts of heroism, the bread and butter of war films, but also more considered, lengthy heroics on day or week-long scales. Nolan ties them all together by interweaving all three timelines into three separate but related stories of the Battle of Dunkirk. This structure is the overwhelming brilliance of Dunkirk, but Nolan also manages to pack each story line with startling action film-making on land, sea, and air. The result is a masterwork of structure, pacing and storytelling, replete with themes of warfare, heroism, and the true meaning of victory.

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“Okja” – a Dark Animal Rights Satire Firing at Anyone in its Sights

Like the past works of writer-director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), Okja isn’t so much an allegory as it is an outright morality tale. The Korean filmmaker seem intent on tackling each and every woe of modern society, from the danger of radioactive waste (and by extension, the short-sighted profit-seeking of big business) in The Host to the accelerating divisions between the wealthy and the poor in Snowpiercer. In Okja, Bong once again wraps his morality tale in a bit of science fiction. The titular Okja is one of several genetically-enhanced pigs, bred for slaughter in an attempt to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Where The Host was an obvious Monster Movie, and Snowpiercer more of a dystopian science fiction film, Okja is mostly a dark piece of satire. It’s just not clear who Bong means to target with his barbs.

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State of the Blog – End of Year 2017

It’s update time here at Plot and Theme, and I plan to run through a whole heap of news and plans going forward. Those of you who read the blog regularly have certainly noticed the reduction of posts over the past few months, as well as a few things that I am behind on delivering. There’s reasons for each of those things, and hopefully by the end of this piece it will be much more clear how I am going to maintain an update Plot and Theme as it approaches its third birthday.

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“The Last Jedi” – Rian Johnson’s Rebellious Spark

There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.

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“Justice League” Develops Banality into a Harrowing and Tiresome Art Form

If a committee of Warner Brothers executives got together to work their way through a 300 million dollar paint-by-numbers, it would look like Justice League.

With the odds stacked against it, no expectations, and the fate of exactly nothing of importance hanging in the balance, Justice League is still an utter disappointment.  The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was recently buoyed by the impressive Wonder Woman film from Patty Jenkins earlier this year, but the franchise is back aground.  Justice League features a hodgepodge of messy scenes, poor storytelling, terrible CGI, lackluster characters, and no real stakes.  These failures are becoming hallmarks of Warner Brothers ill-advised attempts at a grittier version of Marvel, and the embarrassments are becoming too numerous to count.  I guess we’ll do our best.

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Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is a Rote Dumbing-Down of the Classic Whodunit

Based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel of the same name, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express disappoints by relegating the key elements of the mystery genre to mere mundane repetition.  All of the hard-boiled fun of Christie’s source material ends up feeling like a bland paint-by-numbers.   The movie contains a star-studded cast, with practically every character involved in the whodunit represented through an admirable performance.  But for a film that is ostensibly subtle, intriguing, and mysterious, too little respect is paid to the details.  The result is a lukewarm mystery where each blasé piece of detection by the legendary Hercule Poirot only makes the ultimate reveal more tired and disappointing.

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