Dog’s Movie House: “Dunkirk” Dynamic, “Valerian” Pretty But Inert!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
As an unabashed fan of both Luc Besson and Christopher Nolan, I have to admit I was excited when both filmmakers are releasing new movies on the same day. Besson has “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets’ adapted from a famous French comic book, while Nolan is releasing the war drama “Dunkirk” detailing the harrowing evacuation of three hundred thousand British soldiers from the beaches of German-occupied France. Unfortunately only one of these films is up to each of the director’s lofty standards. “Valerian” is a beautiful film to look at, but a somewhat standard story keeps it from being anything but serviceable. “Dunkirk” on the other hand is a terrific, immersive piece of entertainment that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.
“Valerian” tells the tale of Alpha, the City Of A Thousand Planets, which, in a clever credits sequence, we discover is actually the International Space Station grown impossibly huge over the centuries to represent thousands of different species. For the most part, everyone lives in relative harmony, but there is a dangerous energy surge at the heart of the station that threatens the existence of everyone aboard. It’s up to government agents Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to discover who’s behind the dastardly plot and stop Alpha from being destroyed.
That’s it. That’s the whole story upon which a plethora of incredible visuals are attached. This is a film for anyone who likes eye candy. Besson has created a truly wonderful world with Alpha, so much so that I’d be interested in a television series showcasing stories from the varied inhabitants of Alpha. The rest of the world building is equally impressive, with the highlight being the interdimensional Big Market where one of the early big action sequences takes place.
It’s in the story (also written by Besson) where the film falls a little flat. It’s a familiar “man’s inhumanity to man/alien” storyline we’ve seen many times and aside from the flashy cinematic paint job the narrative fails to provide anything new to the table. It doesn’t help that the two leads have spotty chemistry at best. Delevingne is actually very good as Laureline and she serves as the appealing heroine of the story, fully redeeming her less-than-stellar turn in last year’s “Suicide Squad.” It’s Dane Dehaan who disappoints here, or rather, his turn as Valerian. I like Dehaan as an actor, but he is totally miscast as the cocky action hero here. The problem is that he still looks like Leo DiCaprio’s emaciated younger brother and his attempts at cocky bravado come off as childish playacting. Dehaan is a very talented actor: this is just the wrong role for him.
The supporting roles are fine, with Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, and Ethan Hawke giving their all in limited roles. The real surprise is Rihanna as Bubble, a helpful shapeshifter who has a surprisingly satisfying arc in a fairly short amount of time onscreen. Overall “Valerian” serves as a near-miss for Luc Besson, who fails to ignite the film with the same giddy energy of his other films. Perhaps it has to do with adapting a comic book property, but hopefully Besson’s next project will engage the imagination as well as the eyeballs. 3 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!
Thankfully Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is not only a feast for the eyes, but an immersive cinematic experience that rates up there with finest war films of all time. “Dunkirk” tells the tale of the evacuation of Dunkirk, France in 1940 of over 300,000 British troops from the German-occupied French beach head. The story is told on three different timelines that converge into the moment of evacuation. You have the week-long wait by the troops on the beach, the 24-hour journey on the day of the evacuation by a massive group of British civilian ships led by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), and the 60 minute time window for three British Spitfires covering the ships on the day of the evacuation. The three timelines dovetail together in a poetic ballet of violence and visual storytelling.
Director Nolan shoots films on real film and uses little to no CGI in his battle scenes, giving the film a gritty, visceral film that takes you right to the heart of battle. You can feel the explosions and the gunshots and practically have to wipe the salt water off your body with every wave crashing onto the beach. This movie is lean and mean at just an hour and forty-seven minutes, every single one of them a white knuckle moment. The camerawork is smooth and sometimes breathtakingly panoramic. All of these techniques are used to immerse you in this seemingly hopeless battle to the point where you feel like you’re on the beach.
The performances are uniformly good, with Rylance getting most of the screen time and most of the scant dialogue throughout the movie. In fact a great deal of “Dunkirk” could be construed as a silent film from a dialogue standpoint. Tom Hardy does some good work as the lead Spitfire pilot, and Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy are appropriately stoic as the commanding officers struggling to find a solution to an unsolvable problem. We spend a great deal of time with Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) on the beach as he seemingly wanders from bad situation to bad situation in an attempt to get away from the ever advancing German Army.
The only problem is that we never get to really know anything about these characters. The structure of the film doesn’t allow us for the usual amount of “getting-to-know-you” time found in most movies. I’ve noodled this around and around in my head and have finally decided that the lack of character development doesn’t hurt a film like this. “Dunkirk” is all about narrative momentum and immersion and this film is a masterpiece of both. See this on the biggest screen you can, preferably in the IMAX format as this is how the film is meant to be seen. For those of you in the Sacramento area, check out Doug Link’s Esquire IMAX downtown for one of only 35 theaters in the whole world showing the movie on film. Get your tickets here. Doug’s a great guy and the Esquire IMAX is the best cinematic experience bar none, and in “Dunkirk” you have a certified movie masterpiece! 5 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!