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La La Land (2016)

August 24, 2017

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Bottom Line: It seems that La La Land is a pretty polarizing film. It cruised through this year’s Academy Awards so dominantly, with six wins, that it was accidentally awarded Best Picture before the production team corrected the error – with the whole cast and crew already on stage giving an acceptance speech – and gave Best Picture to Moonlight in the most bizarre Oscar moment I’ve ever seen. And then there’s a number of people that absolutely hated it. The number of one star ratings on IMDB are alarming and this was my own family’s thoughts:

Wife (30 minutes into movie): I’m going to take a nap.
Mom: I think I’m going to go home.
Aunt: I’m ready to go.
Me: What just happened?

I can’t say that La La Land had me in its grip at that moment, but I’m not one to give up on a movie because other people aren’t enjoying it. I think a lot of the common criticisms of this film are pretty fair, but I also found plenty to like. I seem to be in the very small minority of people that agree that it is tremendously overrated, but still actually enjoyed it.

But let’s be real: La La Land isn’t even the best musical of 2016. Disney’s Moana had better songwriting, better vocal performances, and – gasp! – a more engaging story. La La Land was great in a lot of the technical departments like costume design, editing, cinematography, set design, etc., but when focusing on the music and songs, Moana wasn’t just better, it was substantially better. The songs in La La Land aren’t nearly as catchy or memorable. I was expecting to be blown away by “City of Stars,” La La Land‘s Oscar-winning song and… well, it’s criminal that Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t win for Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go.” I honestly can’t think of a great musical where at least one song wasn’t stuck in my head for days and La La Land simply doesn’t have a single song like that. They are all rather forgettable.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are pretty great in this movie… when they aren’t singing. When they are singing they are merely okay. I can’t say whether or not Stone is deserving of her Best Actress win because I still haven’t seen any of the other nominees, but I thought she was pretty adorable in this role.

While I was pretty disappointed with the musical aspects of this movie, I thought the script did a good job of tackling themes of love and sacrifice and how pursuing your passion can be all encompassing, even to the detriment of your relationships. It’s sad and charming and it did resonate with me emotionally.

I can’t give La La Land a glowing recommendation. It’s obvious that it is not for everyone. The rest of my audience couldn’t make it through the first thirty minutes and I think they are pretty good representation of the casual film watcher. As a film buff myself, and a fan of musicals, I was disappointed considering all the praise and awards heaped upon this movie – it’s just not that good. I much prefer director Damien Chazelle’s last film Whiplash.

Replay Value: Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch this again.
Sequel Potential: None?
Oscar Potential: 6 Oscar wins: Directing, Cinematography, Original Song, Score, Production Design, and Best Actress for Emma Stone; plus another 8 nominations!

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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The Defiant Ones (2017) & Friends From College: Season 1 (2017)

August 11, 2017

The Defiant Ones (2017), HBO – This is four part documentary series on HBO that tells the stories of famed record executive Jimmy Iovine and gangster rap pioneer Dr. Dre. It’s a must watch for hip-hop fans and really anyone that truly appreciates music would probably enjoy it. It covers a lot of the stuff we already saw in the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, but fills in some of the holes and tells a much more authentic story. And really, this is an era of music that I grew up on and love to death, so I don’t mind revisiting its roots multiple times. Jimmy Iovine’s story adds variety to the hip-hop stuff as he has also worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Manson, and No Doubt to name a few. But what both of these moguls did was push the boundaries of what was thought to be acceptable – or even possible – in the music industry and have reached levels of success that are astronomical and extend far beyond merely making music. The Defiant Ones is very engaging for the viewer and quite a breeze for a four part series. Highly recommended.

Replay Value: I would watch this again like… tomorrow.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: Not sure where this would fall in the Oscar categories, but it should have some Emmy potential, which I’m far less familiar with.

Grade: 4.5/5 (Close to a Must Watch)

Friends From College: Season One (2017), Netflix – A Netflix original series starring Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Colbie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother), and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) about a group of old friends that reconnect as adults and… act like total assholes 100% of the time. There are multiple affairs, abundant drug and alcohol abuse, and basically every major character makes horrible decisions – and honestly, I’m not even sure this is a comedy. There are definitely moments that are meant to be funny and most of the actors have a comedic background, but the tone of the show comes across as serious and dramatic a lot of the time and I have to say it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t help that none of the characters are likable, with maybe the exception of Billy Eichner’s Felix. I’m not one to start a show and not finish it, so I made it all the way through the whole season, but if you look at this cast and think the show should be funny and enjoyable, you will probably wind up as disappointed as I was. I guess I’d watch a second season, especially if it’s only another eight episodes, but it would be more akin to looking at a car accident as you drive past it than something I’m actually looking forward to. The first season wasn’t good and there’s a lot of wasted talent in this series.

Replay Value: None.
Sequel Potential: The show hasn’t been renewed yet and if the rest of the world felt like I did, it might not get a second season.

Grade: 2/5 (Not Recommended)

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The Big Sick (2017) & Hell or High Water (2016)

August 9, 2017

The Big Sick (2017) – The poster says it all. This is one of the best romantic comedies in many years – maybe the absolute best of the past decade. It’s definitely the most touching film of 2017 that I’ve seen so far and I have no problem giving it my #1 ranking for the year as of early August. Star Kumail Nanjiani (of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and his wife Emily Gordon wrote The Big Sick about how they met and had to overcome both pressure from Kumail’s parents to follow the Pakistani custom of arranged marriage and Emily’s sudden illness that led to a lengthy coma. The Big Sick is filled with laughs and plenty of heartfelt moments. Kumail has a great sense of humor that he frequently delivers in a dry and hilarious manner and Holly Hunter really knocks it out of the park as Emily’s mom – I fully expect a Best Supporting Actress nominations. It’s probably too late to catch this in theaters, but I can’t recommend it enough as it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen in 2017.

Replay Value: A solid add to any movie collection.
Sequel Potential: I would say none.
Oscar Potential: Drawing live at Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay and I really like Holly Hunter’s chances of getting nominated.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

Hell or High Water (2016) – All the vibes of a modern day western, as a couple of Texan brothers set out to rob local banks in order to save their family ranch. Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges all give noteworthy performances with Bridges getting an Oscar nomination for his work. When I list my favorite actors, I never think of Jeff Bridges, but this move made me look over his resume and the guy is a beast and seems to be getting better with age. This movie reminded me a lot of Thelma & Louise, which is a borderline classic in my books, so if you liked that movie, Hell or High Water should be up your alley. This is definitely one of the stronger 2016 movies.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Four Oscar noms: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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The DAMN. Tour featuring Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and D.R.A.M.

August 4, 2017

Seeing Kendrick Lamar live was an obvious bucket list item for someone that is already hailing him as the greatest hip-hop artist ever, so I had my alarm set for ten minutes before tickets went on sale. I have to say I was worried about my chances since I got shut out on Adele tickets last year even though I was similarly prepared. Somehow the Adele show sold out entirely within seconds of tickets going on sale to the public – something I still can’t wrap my head around to this day. So when I had success with Kendrick tickets on my first try I just snatched up the first seats I saw and hoped for the best (more on that later).

For those of you that have read this post about my recent anxiety issues, it will come as no surprise that I decided to pass on driving myself to and from the Tacoma Dome, so I took an Uber to downtown Tacoma and met up with a friend for dinner before the show.

We managed to get to our seats about 10-15 minutes before show time and amazingly – and unprecedented for a rap show – the lights dimmed at 7:29, one minute before the show was scheduled to start and D.R.A.M. came out to perform with roughly half the stadium still empty. I liked D.R.A.M.’s album and consider myself a fan so far, but my buddy had no clue who he was and I really didn’t care to see him perform live so we mostly just talked through his entire set. The crowd didn’t seem to care too much either as they really only responded enthusiastically when he closed out his set with his most popular track “Broccoli.”

I was excited to see Travis Scott. I consider him to be the absolute best of the mumble rap/autotune guys and his Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is a clinic on constructing hit songs. Needless to say, I was looking forward to seeing him bring that album to life in a live setting.

At this point, I feel it’s worth mentioning where our seats were located. We were located off to the side of the stage in the upper deck about 15 rows away from the top of the dome. In other words, our seats were total garbage. As an adult that can afford nice things for myself, one of my rules is that I don’t go to live events and sit in crappy seats. What’s the point? If I’m going to go to a game or a show, I’m going to cough up the extra money and sit close enough that I feel involved in the action and can actually see the people I came to watch. In this case, I sort of panicked and bought the first seats that were available. Those damn Adele tickets. I would have happily paid $200ish to sit on the floor and be able to see what was happening on stage.

But we were in binoculars territory and the production didn’t help things by adding a smoky graphic to the monitors and making Travis Scott impossible to see on the big screens as well. And the sound was bad too. I don’t know if it was because of where we were sitting or if the sound was actually bad for everyone, but the music sounded more like angry noise and I pretty much couldn’t understand anything Travis Scott was saying throughout his entire set. The lackluster sound, terrible seats, and useless big screens made Travis’ set far less enjoyable than it should have been. Still, the man has a number of hits and his energy was good, so my enjoyment was hindered by the production and not his music or his abilities. I was kind of surprised when Travis closed with “Goosebumps,” his song with Kendrick, because it almost certainly meant they weren’t going to perform it together. The headliner is just never going to pop out for the first time to do a verse on one of his opener’s songs. Still, “Goosebumps” easily got the best reception from the crowd and the Tacoma Dome was jamming during this song.

Finally, it was Kendrick Lamar time and unsurprisingly Kung Fu Kenny’s set had a martial arts theme throughout. Thankfully, the production decided to skip any visual effects on the screen during Kendrick’s set so you could actually see him on the screen and it’s pretty cool to see an artist genuinely smiling because the audience is fully invested in his music. And it was pretty amazing watching the whole audience moving with the songs and singing along. In fact, when Kendrick did “HUMBLE.” he rapped most of the first verse and then let the crowd finish it off and do the rest of the song acapella. It was quite the sight. Something someone like D.R.A.M. wouldn’t be able to pull off. I can’t even imagine how satisfying it would be to have 20,000 people rapping your lyrics in unison while you just sit there admiring how much all your hard work has paid off. Kendrick did most of the songs off DAMN. and a number of classics off Good Kid M.A.D.D. City. “Did ya’ll remember?” Yes, yes we did. Kendrick’s set seemed to have better (but still not great) sound mixing than the two previous acts, but it was still hard to make out a lot of his vocals. For instance, when he did “Bitch Dant Kill My Vibe” I couldn’t hear the verses at all, which was pretty disappointing because that’s one of my favorite Kendrick tracks. In addition to the DAMN. and Good Kid tracks, he also did a few off untitled/unmastered and To Pimp A Butterfly, most notably “King Kunta,” which absolutely brought the building down. My only complaint about his track selections is that he decided to perform “PRIDE.” and “LUST.” but didn’t do “FEEL.” which is a mortal sin. Nobody pray for him.

Kendrick was a great performer, but our seats and the sound really hindered how much I could really enjoy things. I wasn’t blown away like I have been by past shows and, honestly, I was wondering if I wasn’t getting too old for the whole mass audience hip-hop show. I’m not really one to get too involved physically with the music; I just want to watch, enjoy the show, and mind my own business. And I’m still unsure if the sound issue was a me problem or a whole stadium problem. If it was just me then, well, maybe it’s time to start staying home for these things.

Regardless, it was a fun experience and I was happy to see King Kendrick live even if my seats were crummy and the sound mixing was disappointing.

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August Movie/Music Preview

August 1, 2017

Anticipation Meter
6 – Epic
5 – Very High
4 – Strong
3 – Moderate
2 – Low
1 – Nonexistent

MOVIES

The Dark Tower (4th) – I never read the Stephen King novels and I wasn’t all that excited about this movie, but the casting of Idris Elba as The Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as The Man In Black is intriguing and the trailer looks interesting enough. My dad was always trying to get me to read the novels when I was growing up and I feel like I heard the later books got weird/bad and I never wanted to invest myself in an epic series that wasn’t strong throughout. This seems like a good way to start. I never knew The Dark Tower series had anything to do with our world, so that’s another surprising element that makes me want to see this movie. Anticipation Meter – 3

Detroit (4th) – Kathryn Bigelow has been one of the strongest filmmakers of recent memory, with both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty receiving overwhelming critical acclaim. Her next film, Detroit, boasts a strong cast that features John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Will Poulter, plus a trailer that hooked me in the first time I saw it. This film looks like a gritty, gut-wrenchingly good time at the movies.
Anticipation Meter – 4

Kidnap (4th) – You don’t really think about it, but Catwoman ruined Halle Berry’s career. Before that, she had a three year run where she got cast as Storm in the X-Men franchise, played a Bond girl, and won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball. Since then, her best role has arguably been as herself in a theatrical introduction to a Kevin Hart comedy special. This movie doesn’t look to be breaking the cold streak. Anticipation Meter – 1

Annabelle: Creation (11th) – I haven’t seen the original Annabelle, which was spun off from The Conjuring, but this sequel is currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Horror movies typically get a bad wrap from the critics, so when a sequel to a spin off is getting rave reviews, it’s hard not to take notice. I probably won’t see this in theaters since I haven’t seen the first one yet, but I’m definitely interested in checking it out. Anticipation Meter – 3

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (11th) – Nope. Anticipation Meter – 1

The Glass Castle (11th) – I’ve seen the trailer for this drama starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts a couple of times now and it looks like it could be Oscar fodder… or really boring – I’m not sure. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton is responsible for Short Term 12 which is one of the most lauded films of the past decade that I still haven’t seen, so I suspect it could be pretty good. Brie Larson is definitely an actress I’m checking for right now. Anticipation Meter – 3

Ingrid Goes West (11th) – Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen star in this offbeat satire of social media. I just watched the trailer and it looks kind of crazy and Plaza has proven she can do crazy pretty well (see: “Parks and Recreation”). This probably won’t get a wide release, but I’m curious to see it. Anticipation Meter – 3

Good Time (11th) – This will probably be another limited release, but it’s getting incredibly strong reviews and the trailer looks good to me. The story centers around a young man racing around New York City trying to get his brother out of Riker’s Island. Robert Pattinson is getting rave reviews for his performance and I’ve never really liked his work, so I think it would be cool to see some great acting from him. Anticipation Meter – 3

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (18th) – The premise of the world’s top protection agent being assigned to protect the life of one of the world’s most notorious hitmen is kind of interesting and so is the combination of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, but the trailer looked pretty weak to me. My interest will depend entirely on word of mouth for this one. Anticipation Meter – 2

Logan Lucky (18th) – Another heist movie from director Steven Soderbergh except this time his group of robbers are headed by a couple of slow-witted brothers played by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver and the plan is to rob what looks like a NASCAR race? Daniel Craig seems to be playing very against type in this movie and I’m not sure it’s going to go well. There’s some pedigree here but Soderbergh’s peak was about 15 years ago. Anticipation Meter – 2

Patti Cake$ (18th) – I saw the trailer for this for the first time today and it kind of shocked me. It’s basically 8 Mile except instead of the one of the best rappers of all time in the starring role, we have an unknown big white girl? I’m willing to keep an open mind and the film has gotten some good praise, but I’m also a hip-hop snob, so for this movie to have any chance of hitting home with me this girl better be exceptional. I’m wary, but an underdog movie centered around rap music is something that definitely interests me. Anticipation Meter – 3

Birth of the Dragon (25th) – A Bruce Lee biopic set in 1960s San Francisco and centered around an epic fight between Lee and kung fu master Wong Jack Man. Trailer looks good. Anticipation Meter – 3

Polaroid (25th) – A horror movie along the lines of The Ring in which anyone whose photo is taken by the camera in the movie… dies. Doesn’t seem very groundbreaking and the trailer looks okay at best. Anticipation Meter – 2

Tulip Fever (25th) – A period piece set in Amsterdam about a young woman that marries a wealthy merchant to escape poverty but falls for an artist hired to paint her portrait. Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, and Judi Dench headline a very good cast. Vikander and Waltz have done some really good work in the past decade and that’s enough reason for me to see this movie. Anticipation Meter – 3

MUSIC

There are literally zero albums listed for August that I’m interested in. I’ve been on a Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott kick the last week or so because I’m seeing their show at the Tacoma Dome tonight. I have a pretty busy August coming up, but maybe I’ll finally get around to doing my next profile write up and catch up on some 2017 album ratings.

Notable Netflix Additions

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (1st)
Jackie Brown (1st)
The Matrix (1st)
The Matrix Reloaded (1st)
The Matrix Revolutions (1st)
The Founder (2nd)
Marvel’s The Defenders: Season One (8th)
Death Note (25th)

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Anxiety: A New Mental Game Challenge

July 27, 2017

As a professional poker player, one of the biggest areas to gain an edge these days is in the mental game. This means that when you lose a big pot or get sucked out on by a hand that shouldn’t have even dreamed of seeing the river, you don’t let it bother you. You just shake it off and move on to the next hand like nothing ever happened. More importantly, it means that when you’re getting absolutely demolished – for hours, or an entire session, or even weeks and months at a time – you just keep plugging along playing your A-game. Easier said than done. Most people simply can’t do it. That’s why it’s a real edge for me and it makes me think of myself as having incredible mental game strength.

But a new mental game challenge has arisen and it has nothing to do with poker: I have become dangerously and irrationally scared of traffic. Yes, you read that right: TRAFFIC.

Here’s how it happened.

I’m a Type 1 Diabetic so I wear a device that tells me what my blood sugar level is every five minutes and whether it’s stable or trending upwards or downwards. When we moved from University Place to Lakewood, I was gathering some things from the apartment in UP to take to our new house and as I was leaving I noticed that my blood sugar was kind of low, so I stopped at Taco Time and got a crispy burrito and figured that would be sufficient enough to raise my blood sugar to absurd levels.

I was wrong.

And I wasn’t prepared at all. I remember I had something like peanuts or one of those Clif peanut butter bars in the car, but nothing to drink and it felt like I was going to choke on whatever it was I was trying to eat since I couldn’t wash it down. And I needed to eat fast. My blood sugar was plummeting. I’m talking danger zone and going down. This was all scary enough on its own, but I had just reached the terminus of Highway 16 and I was stuck on the I5 South ramp. My blood sugar was in a dangerous place, I had nothing to fix it, and I was stuck in traffic – there was nothing I could do. My survival instincts were telling me to get out of the car and start running, but there was nowhere to run to. Okay, so traffic was moving a little. Maybe I’m not here to write this if it was really gridlocked. But considering the severity of my situation it felt like we might as well have been at a standstill. Aside from having crazy thoughts like evacuating the car, I was also starting to see darkness or what I have come to recognize as “tunnel vision.”

I made it to a gas station. Barely. I mean I really was on the verge of losing consciousness on top of having a full blown panic attack. And that’s where the irrational thoughts of fleeing my car and the tunnel vision came from. A panic attack. It gives me a little anxiety just talking about it. Ugh.

I had a soda at the gas station and got my blood sugar back to a happy level and I tried to drive home, but I couldn’t do it. I was too rattled. I had to have my wife come get and I left the car behind.

Obviously you live and you learn, so since this incident I have tried to be well prepared for these things. However, last week I was running some simple errands and I didn’t bring anything with me to combat a low blood sugar incident and, of course, that’s what happened, albeit way less extreme than my previous story. But it was enough to remind me that traffic plus low blood sugar plus lack of supplies is a very scary place for me.

And then I went to a Mariners game last Friday. I left my house with my blood sugar pretty high, but trending down and with a decent amount of insulin coursing through my body, so I made the wise move to stop at a gas station before I got on the freeway and picked up a Gatorade and a package of those orange cup cakes that Hostess makes. I ate the cup cakes and stashed the Gatorade and got on I5 heading north towards Seattle. As I was passing the Tacoma Mall, traffic started to build up and things began moving very slowly.

I looked at my device and saw my blood sugar was trending straight down and the panic started to creep in. It made no sense. I ate the damn cup cakes and I had a Gatorade in the car. Not only was my blood sugar going to stabilize, it was going to skyrocket if I wanted it to. Nevertheless, as long as I saw that down arrow on my monitor I had an almost overwhelming urge to take every exit I saw. A police officer drove past me in the right lane and part of me wanted to pull over to the side of the highway and flag him down. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING. I wasn’t even thinking about the situation I was in – which was completely nonthreatening – I was thinking about what would happen if I didn’t eat those cup cakes or have anything in the car to save me. And the more I thought about this hypothetical situation, the more I panicked and I started to get that dreaded tunnel vision.

I was meeting a friend on the Light Rail and I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I almost text him to tell him I was going to be really late or maybe not even go. Every time I passed an exit, I had to talk myself out of taking it. This was all in my head at this point. I knew my blood sugar was going to be fine, so there was absolutely no rational reason for me to be worried about anything. And yet, I was.

I made it to the game though. I managed to keep myself sane enough to keep moving forward, resisting the urge to exit the highway and eventually my blood sugar stabilized and the traffic cleared. And then I just moved on with my life like nothing happened. Not everyone seems to be able to do that. At least there’s no lingering affects for me.

Or are there?

Yesterday, with my blood sugar fine and plenty of escape valves in case of emergency, I was about to get on I5 to head five miles north and I saw brake lights and cars starting to jam up… and I almost didn’t get on. And then I almost did the same thing again today. It happened to be congestion because of a busy merging spot and then cleared up right away, but if this would have been full on traffic for five miles, I’m not sure I would have gutted it out. I had to call my wife the other day to distract me when I went to Costco because there was a little congestion before my exit. I’m getting hints of anxiety at red lights that take just a little bit too long to turn green! This is no joke.

At this point my fear is completely irrational. What I’m really scared of is having low blood sugar and not being able to do anything about it. When my blood sugar is fine and I have something like Gatorade in the car, just in case, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. And yet, my fear of traffic has reached legitimate phobia territory. This is actually a real thing. It’s called vehophobia. Right now, I’m a vehophobic.

But it’s not real. This is all mental (although I’ve experienced some pretty physical sensations). I have no good reason to be scared of being in traffic. So that’s the challenge. How do I overcome this thing and leave it completely in the past? I know I have nothing to be scared of, so why am I scared? I guess these are the questions I have to ask myself when I’m in the moment. I really have no interest in dealing with this for any extended length of time. Right now I can’t even fathom the idea of driving myself to Fortune in Renton to play 20/40 because it gives me anxiety to think of how I might react if the 512 or 167 is jammed up and that’s simply something I cannot accept. So let’s see how strong my mental game really is. Strong enough to talk myself out of a serious phobia?

This is somewhat embarrassing, but I’m not really one to be super private about things – it’s the writer’s nature. It’s no secret I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’m happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to listen. I’ve written horrible rap lyrics and recorded them in songs that people have actually listened to. And now I’m dealing with anxiety. It is what it is. And if anyone that reads this has any advice or has experienced something similar, feel free to comment.

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Dunkirk (2017)

July 26, 2017

Starring: Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: This is not “the best film of Christopher Nolan’s career” or “one of the best war films ever” like many critics have made it out to be – it’s not even as good as last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, which hit me right in the feels. I’m shocked at how well received Dunkirk has been because it is absolutely hollow. Dunkirk made me feel nothing. Nolan is still a master at making beautiful films – Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises were both very easy on the eyes – but this is now the third straight film of his where I’ve left the theater thinking “eh” because of his writing.

Set during World War II in the city of Dunkirk, France, Allied forces are trapped on the beach and surrounded by German troops. The story has three different timelines: one takes place over a week following a group of soldiers on the beach, a second takes place over a single day following a man and two kids from the British Empire on a boat headed towards Dunkirk to help out, and a third takes place over the course of an hour, in the air, following a couple of pilots in dogfighters. The problem with these intertwining stories is we are completely immersed into the action, from the very first scene, and there is virtually no character development so you never really care about what happens to anyone or what is at stake. Maybe just knowing this is a true story and a number of real people were in a similar situation is enough to make some people feel something, but watching a movie, following certain characters, I want to feel something about them – and I never did.

Mark Rylance does a very fine job as the ordinary British man that sails into battle and his story is definitely the most interesting. In contrast, Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots and that entire story arc is completely devoid of any investment from the audience. How can you possibly care about someone when you can’t understand a single line of dialogue they say the entire film? That’s another issue I had with Dunkirk. Even though everyone is speaking English, subtitles felt like a requirement, particularly during the flight scenes – the sounds of the jets are so loud you can’t hear anything that is being said. While that might be authentic, the audience isn’t equipped with a headset like the pilots are. I suppose Harry Styles does a fine job as one of the soldiers on the ground, but again, I wasn’t invested in his story and even though the script follows a select group of soldiers it isn’t particularly easy to tell them apart, especially since I wasn’t familiar with the actors.

So yeah, Dunkirk is visually great, as all Nolan’s films have been, but the script falls short. Even though the movie is riveting and Hans Zimmer’s score adds lots of tension, the script doesn’t invest you in the story and there is simply no emotional payoff. Maybe I will change my mind when I watch it again but I can’t say I’m exactly excited about a second viewing. I appear to be in the minority in not loving this film, so take this review with a grain of salt and go see it for yourself, but I can promise this much: there is no way my wife, a casual film watcher, would have enjoyed Dunkirk.

Replay Value: I didn’t love Interstellar or The Dark Knight Rises the first time I watched them but I did see them again. I think a second viewing of Dunkirk would be more laborious, however.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: I would be appalled if Dunkirk was the film that finally got Nolan an Oscar statue, but the praise being heaped on it makes it a pretty strong contender for things like Best Picture and Best Director. I would have no problem with Dunkirk being nominated for Best Cinematography or and visual categories though.

Grade: 5/10 (watchable)