Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Horrors Heroes and Youngandinnocentocide of WWII

I don't recommend movies. With the exception of The Spanish Prisoner (1997, David Mamet). For the last 20 years that's the one movie I recommend. Why? Maybe because first of all I don't expect most people to have heard of it. Secondly, it's a David Mamet sleeper plot about tech jargon that features the casting of Steve Martin in a dark, straight role. And third, the rest is better left without description.

For a while, when it first came out on home video, I recommended Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan) often, but its novelty has worn off long ago. I've wanted to but have yet come to appreciate any of Christopher Nolan's work. His movies are tedious and boring.



90s filmmakers are my contemporaries. For me the modern era of cinema is 1990--. That's my main focus. The 90s are my main passion. The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick), Che (2008, Steven Soderbergh), The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Bigelow) spoiled me. As of this writing, since 1990 no other movie has come close to qualifying as a great war movie. But I'm still looking. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino) is amazing, but really it's such silly fun I kind of have to set it aside. Saving Private Ryan (1998, Steven Spielberg), Black Hawk Down (2001, Ridley Scott), Flags of Our Fathers (2006, Clint Eastwood), and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Eastwood) are cool. Miracle at St. Anna (2008, Spike Lee) sucks.



Dunkirk (2017, Nolan) in 70mm is a documentary realism World War II drama streamlined to 100 minutes of Hans Zimmer-scored first person any-minute-this-could-be-the-end patriotic nailbiter. Probably the best thing going for Dunkirk is its breathtaking technical craft using David Lean formalism by way of subjective POVs that place us right in the middle of imminent danger with the sense of scale and space uncomfortably close. I mean like that scene on the beach when the British troops hit the ground for cover and we see the plumes erupting spewing wet sand telling us that as this gets closer and closer it ends in death; yet, wait it comes closer than it normally would. And there is the death. Everywhere.

But my favorite thing about Dunkirk is its proficiency at telling a story through silence. And when I say silence I obviously mean every sound but dialogue. This is so uncommon nowadays. Also another thing nifty and great about Dunkirk is the illustrated key that tells us in the film's opening that 1. THE MOLE 1 Week, 2. THE SEA 1 Day, and 3. THE AIR 1 Hour sequences elapse at different lengths of time. So cool.

And well I am a total sucker for how cool the Tom Hardy dogfight Spitfire sequences are, or really even just anytime he and the other two Spitfire pilots are doing any kind of maneuvers--I used to love drawing fighter planes and playing with jet toys so much when I was a kid. And the shots from the cockpit benefit from a constricted POV that has the same limited field of vision as the pilots do.

Returning to the evocative depictions of horrific death: the climax of the attack on the Heinkel, the submerged destroyer, and the fuel engulfed waters burning and trapping the young soldiers in between burning or drowning, the surrounding perils in Dunkirk continuously shape together cohesively towards the final minutes. And at the end Hardy, Kenneth Branagh as a British Naval Commander, and Mark Rylance as a civilian with his own boat, combine to give this genre piece some pretty worthwhile performances. Yet at the end I also near my fill of British gentlemen at war high culture. It's so obnoxious. Evident most when the son of the Rylance character saves the British troop greeting him with: "Good Afternoon," in that stupid ha ha isn't it ironic that I'm being civilized at such a moment? kind of way.

So Dunkirk might be a great war movie. It certainly is one of the best pure cinema exercises in genre filmmaking. Cold? Sure. But that is another of its characteristics that fit it well.

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