Movie Review: Dunkirk

I mean, really. Who am I question the artistic decisions of Christopher Nolan?

“Dunkirk” is Nolan’s self-penned, produced, and directed rendition of the English evacuation from Dunkirk in the early parts of World War II. I use the word rendition rather than story on purpose, because Nolan has chosen to strip away the human elements of the story, the typical sentimentality which brings patriotic and nostalgic folks to tears, in order to provide a more sterile and emotionally distant film to show what happened.

The show is, of course, impressive. The cinematography is breathtaking and many intense scenes of peril and struggle as the British and French tried to hold off the Germans’ advance before the small private English boats get upwards of 35,000 soldiers to safety in England.

The script follows the happenings of several individuals: a private boat hired on the English side to go to Dunkirk and retrieve some men, a couple of privates on Dunkirk who take their chances by trying anything they can to get on a ship for the homeland. The fighter pilots who battle the Germans in the air as they try to protect their countrymen on the sea and beach below.

But what Nolan doesn’t do is tell us who they are. We don’t know their stories. We don’t know about their loved ones at home. We don’t what they’ve been through. We are simply given a tableau of action that describes their ordeal of Dunkirk. For this reason, some moviegoers will not enjoy this film. It may seem confusing at times and distant, lacking real human connection.

But this is, obviously, how Christopher Nolan wanted it to be, and he achieved his goal in grand ways. Anyone who watches the movie understands what happened at Dunkirk. What we don’t see is the heart and human stories that we experience in other war movies such as “Hacksaw Ridge.”

My son said that he wished he knew it was going to be like this before he went to see it because it would have helped. I agree. “Dunkirk” is a good historical film produced by one of the film masters of our generation. It’s just not the kind of film which will grip your soul. If you know that ahead of time, I think you’ll appreciate the movie even more.

Shakespeare Demystified: MacBeth

I had the opportunity to see “MacBeth” performed in the accessible and always enjoyable stylings of the KL Shakespeare Players’ Series Shakespeare Demystified. This troupe brings Shakespeare to life for the modern audience by engaging the viewers by interspersing backstory and context into the original language of the Bard. It’s a terrific way to make these plays enjoyable and accessible to a modern audience who may not be too fond of the archaic and enigmatic ways of Shakespeare verse. I’ve seen many of their shows over the years including last year’s The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and my favorite The Merry Wives of Windsor. Once again, the troupe did not disappoint. They gave a spirited and engaging performance with minimal props and lighting changes. They did include wonderful live sound effects courtesy a troupe member on the bongo drum adding some wonderful sensory rhythms and effects to the experience.

The show began a little “thick” and slow as we tried to figure out who this MacBeth character was. Was he a hero as they tried to portray him? His heroic nature seemed a little overshadowed in this production, most likely because of time, making him seem less a tragic figure and more a villain, or perhaps a pawn of his evil wife.

But all of this mattered not because of the terrific chemistry between actors and the high energy performances which demanded justice for MacBeth’s treachery. And yes, he received it.

I’m a big fan of seeing Shakespeare live, and the KL Shakespeare Players’ once again provided a gripping and thrilling evening of theatre which I cannot recommend enough. They put a lot of work into this production, so at least you can do is spare a little of your cash for a great night of entertainment.

The run at penangpac finished yesterday, but they head to Kuala Lumpur to be featured at KLPAC so do make your way to support this superb show!

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Review: “La La Land” – Just go enjoy it!

I’ve been itching to see “La La Land” since it came out in Malaysia nine days ago, and it finally happened today.

Verdict? It’s lovely, fun, exuberant, smart, nostalgic, and just plain terrific. Go see it!

It’s a classic love story of two artists, one a jazz pianist and other aspiring actress, who find each other, fall in love, inspire each other to reach for the stars, and end up attaining those dreams, but not in the way the audience might think.

I won’t provide any spoilers, but the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is electric. The music is an infectious, toe-tapping romp through many musical genres, but especially raw, robust jazz and heart-warming show tunes, which high school drama troupes will be singing for decades to come.

This picture is very much a throwback to the classic old musicals from Hollywood’s heyday. There are so many lovely visuals and magical moments that you’ll swear that Fred Astaire is going to pop out and tap dance on top of a car roof or something.

This movie is a Broadway mega-hit ready to happen. I have no doubt that it will. Once it debuts in New York then London, give it a few years, and it will be standard high school fare. That’s not a criticism, by the way. It’s an acknowledgment of the scripts universal themes, nostalgic feel, and lively music, which will make it a winner for years to come.

Inha Kim Movie Reviews: Swiss Army Man

Inha Kim is back for this exceptional review of “Swiss Army Man.” Yes, it makes me want to see it. Enjoy!

The Most Rewarding Fart of 2016

Ever watched a film so strange, so bizarre, so… unique, that you had to see it again the moment it ended? No? Well you just might do that with this movie. Never have I ever seen such a film with such a flair for its own weirdness. It is nuts. It is crazy. It is absolutely insane. And it is my favorite film of 2016 thus far. What’s so great about it you ask? Perhaps a synopsis will help.

The film was directed by two first-time directors called “the Daniels,” and it stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe (Four different Dans in this one movie. Must’ve been one confusing set to work in). It follows the story of Hank (Dano), a man stranded on a deserted island who’s on the brink of suicide. Just as he’s about to hang himself, he sees a corpse wash up on the shore. The corpse being played by Daniel Radcliffe. After investigating the corpse for a while, he learns that this thing can fart and become a jetski, light fires with its fingers, shoot out whatever you stuff down its throat like a bullet, cut wires with its teeth, chop wood with its hands, and last but not least, talk. The corpse, affectionately named “Manny” by our main character, is innocent and uninformed like a child. He starts to ask questions about life to Hank, and throughout their different conversations they become friends as they try to return home together.

I normally don’t recommend viewing the trailer before a movie, but in this case, I think that you need to see its trailer for you to truly appreciate this film. Not even my synopsis above can do it justice. You can’t read this movie. You need to see it. You need to feel it. It is more than just a film. It is an experience. This is a blazingly original film full of surprises, humor, and depth.

The Good

The Actors – Paul Dano, in my opinion, is perhaps one of the most underrated actors of our time. And it is a sad thing to say when looking at the luminous performance he gives in this movie. The emotions he feels. The turmoil. The sadness. The emptiness. The regret. He pours them out onto the screen viscerally, yet ever so gently. He gives it his all with every frame yet he never oversells it. Not only is he proficient in the emotional scenes, but in the funny scenes too. Paul Dano displays some incredible comedic timing in this film (this movie is largely a comedy by the way), alongside his costar Daniel Radcliffe, who may just have given his best performance in his entire career. I’ve heard some people ask “isn’t it easy playing a dead guy?” to those people I say, have you tried it? Radcliffe gives an entirely convincing performance as a corpse in this film, with subtle details like constantly staring into the middle distance while slightly cross-eyed, opening one eye a little wider than the other, having his jaw slack slightly to one side, and never moving any other muscle while being stiff due to rigor mortis. But at the same time, he never forgets to be a loveable character. He is endlessly amiable and often times hilarious in this film, as a corpse that is just so curious about life. So I ask again, have you ever tried to act like a corpse that is also funny and likeable?

The Soundtrack – Normally, music doesn’t play a huge role for me in films. But when the music is good, I will definitely take notice. This film’s soundtrack is composed entirely of the works by an indie acapella band, and not only do their songs fit the mood of their corresponding scenes, they actually narrate the events happening on screen. How brilliant is that? The music plays an integral part in this movie to bring to life the wacky, zany, childlike joy that is present throughout the entire runtime. It brilliantly rides the line between being just noticeable and being completely distracting. It was perfect for this film.

The Story – This film has one of the most original stories I’ve ever seen in film. One could argue that the plot itself isn’t all that (and to be fair, the plot of this film in and of itself isn’t really special), but I think that a good story doesn’t always require an ingenious plot. In this day and age, a truly original plot for a movie is near impossible to come by. It is how the storyteller uses the characters and their personalities, and how he mixes them into plot that makes the story unique. Swiss Army Man may have a relatively simple story about two lost people trying to make their way back, but it is the absurdly unique premise of the two leads, and their hilariously childlike yet intricately mature conversations, and the almost too human relationship that develops between the two that makes this movie stand out.

The Concept – A movie about a talking, farting corpse. To the general public, this idea seems bizarre. Too bizarre. Almost invasively bizarre. When this film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year, the audience for this film was more or less divided in two. One half was amazed and spellbound by the film’s wonder, while the other half booed and walked out. Needless to say, I was part of the half that loved it. If you think the concept is stupid, hear me out. In most other films, fart jokes are seen as the lowest common denominator of comedy. It is the most uninventive, uninspiring, easy joke one could make. But the farts in this film (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) transcend the bounds of low-brow humor. The film uses farts, among other “socially unacceptable” bodily functions, as metaphors for things we hide from people we love, such as secrets and things we’ve done that we’re ashamed of, even though everyone is “guilty” of them. The film uses its own bizarre nature to convey the message that it is okay to be different and unique. Because we all are.

I’d normally do a Bad and Ugly section right now, but I didn’t have any problems with this film that would justify having those sections in this review. I suppose the film is a little slow with its opening, and the imagery and message of this film may cross into the bounds of pretentiousness for some, but what I experienced in this film cannot be recreated by lesser directors. No film has toyed with my expectations and emotions since last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. In the endless line of corporate cash-grabs that is Hollywood, this film is the first artistic gem in years. I give this film a 9/10.

Inha Kim Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

I’m happy to have the astute movie insights of Inha Kim, as he gives us his in-depth take on the re-make of The Magnificent Seven. Here’s everything you want to know about the movie. 

A Callback to the Good Old Days

The 1960 film The Magnificent Seven is one of the most fondly remembered westerns ever made, with its stylish, fast-paced gun-play, star studded cast, and its old fashioned charm. So naturally the 2016 remake has garnered a considerable amount of hype before its release; A) due to its source material, and B) due to the resurgence of the western genre of recent years. So does this remake live up to the original?

The Good

The Cast – The talent and chemistry shared between the cast, especially between Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, are a sight to behold. Denzel confidently plays the leader of the pack Sam Chisolm with charisma, grit, and style, strongly reminiscent of Yul Brynner’s original performance, while Chris Pratt brings his signature humorous charm and his recently discovered “macho” persona to Josh Faraday, or the Steve McQueen archetype character (in case you didn’t realize, this movie doesn’t tell the story of the original characters, but newer characters based on the old ones). His performance fittingly pays homage to the original Steve McQueen role, and dare I say, even outshines it. As a matter of fact, each of the seven gunslingers stand out from each other more so than the original. One problem that most people have with the original film is that the seven gunmen are too similar to one another. They’re six gritty, tough men and one whiny young blood. In the remake, the writer wisely chose to give different roles, personalities, and insecurities to each character, helping to easily distinguish between the seven. The one cast member that doesn’t quite live up to expectations is Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the main villain of this film. While he does  give a suitably slimy, villainous portrayal, he still stands inferior to the devilishly charming Calvera played by the late Eli Wallach. But don’t be mistaken. His performance may not be as good as Eli’s, but Sarsgaard still manages to dish out some chilling scenes, and the evil nature of his character oozes from his various tics and gestures. All in all, the cast in this movie does a tremendous job in bringing to life this classic tale.

The Shootouts – One of the things that make the original such a classic is the shootout sequences. For a film of its age, they still hold up incredibly well to modern standards. They are fast paced, energetic, exhilarating, and fun. The shootouts in the remake are few and far between. In fact, there are only two main shootouts in the entire 2 hours 13 minutes run time. But when they happen, boy, do they happen. With clever camera work, energetic editing, and spectacular sound design, the new film takes the classic sequences and revamps them for modern tastes. Each shot is brutal, visceral, and powerful. The impact of every bullet is felt through the piercing sounds and rapid camera movement (by that I mean that the camera was following the action, imitating the effect of a bullet. I am not talking about shaky-cam). Mix that with long, tension filled stare downs, the “shoot-from-the-hip-but-somehow-always-hit-the-mark” goofiness, and snippets of the original soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself a sleek, stylish fight scene that also harkens back to the good ol’ days.

The Bad

The Villagers – The original film did an excellent job at making us sympathize with the villagers. They were simple, hard working people that were bullied and thrown around by a force more powerful than they. So naturally, we the viewers immediately felt sorry for them. This sadly isn’t quite the case in the remake. First impressions go a long way. The first impression I got from the villagers in the remake was chaotic, desperate, and angry. Not quite the kind of adjectives you’d feel sorry for. You could argue that this makes the villagers in the remake more complex characters. But that’s not the case either. The original film also had conflict among the villagers. They argued about whether they should get help or not, there was some hostility towards the seven when they arrived, when they won their first battle they were genuinely happy and excited, and there’s also the three little kids who begin to idolize the seven, and then learn the true meaning of courage. None of these nuances and sensitivities exist in the remake. They mention in passing that the village is really poor, but when you’ve got a saloon, a sheriff’s office, a church, a school, and a “whore house,” it is really difficult to see the poor in your village.

The Pacing – The film also doesn’t flow as well as the original did. The original had a distinct beginning, middle, and end structure. But the remake seems to drag out the first act so long that the first hour is spent in development while the other two acts are crammed into the last half. The first act is primarily spent in introducing the seven gunmen as they are recruited to fight. While the lengthy intro does help develop the seven, it leaves less room for the “training the villagers” sequence, which is equally important, if not more so. However, the film does pick up its pacing in the last act, the big showdown between the seven and the villagers, against Bogue’s army.

The Ugly

The problems I list here probably wouldn’t bother most people, and I would also like to preface it by saying that even with all these problems, the film is still enjoyable. None of what I say should detract from the experience, but I still do feel the need to address them since they are just so annoying to me.

The problems I have aren’t necessarily from the movie, but rather it’s audience. It seems that modern audience members only know how to complain about how everything they see is the same, while b***hing about anything that’s different. Everything has to be done in the safest, inoffensive way, or there will be an uproar. I’ve read the reviews of many critics for this film, and those that disliked the movie all basically said the same thing; “It takes no chances.” Yes. It is true that the film makes very few changes to the original plot. But would the reception be much different if it had? No! People were still complaining about the few differences it did have (some being the same people that hated it for being too safe!). It’s people like this that keeps artists from creating their own unique pieces. Why do the opinions of others matter so much anyway? Just watch the movie and form your own opinion.

This type of attitude people have on movies also hinders artists from including themes to their pieces that could potentially be controversial. During the first act, the film hints at the theme of race relations at the time, when Sam Chisolm, a black character, trots on his horse through a white dominated town. The people of the town start staring in confusion at the sight of a black man on a horse. I thought that the movie would use this opportunity to add racial commentary. But that’s just about where it ends. While I have no real evidence of this, I am fairly certain that this is due to the reception Django Unchained got from its audience a few years prior. Django Unchained chronicles the tale of a black slave who fights his way into becoming a bounty hunter. Director Quentin Tarantino unapologetically portrayed in his film the brutality and cruelty of American slavery. While the film was generally well received, it also spawned a huge controversy due to its violent depiction of such a sensitive subject.

Conclusion

The Magnificent Seven (2016) is a fun, action packed ride that lovingly pays homage to a classic genre. It is by no means superior to the original, or even as good. But the film isn’t trying to be. It is just a popcorn-action flick made for you to just kick back and enjoy. And for that, I’d say it is well worth the price of admission. If I had to give it a numerical value, I’d give it a solid 7/10.

Album Review: “All At Once” by Phil Keaggy

THE SHORT:

Celebrated guitarist Phil Keaggy releases his best, solo, vocal album in 23 years. Not since his masterpiece “Crimson & Blue,” has he produced such a joyful and bluesy romp on the fret board. Buy it! Now!

THE LONG:

“All at Once” is the vocal album Keaggy fans have long been waiting for. The last twenty-five years of Phil Keaggy’s extensive discography have featured many fine moments; however, most of the top moments have been instrumental, and most of the top vocal moments have been collaborative efforts. “Dream Again,” released in 2006, was his last solo project of all original songs, and it was, regrettably, forgettable. Honestly, it’s an album I never listen to and had even forgotten existed. Before that, similar things could be said about “Inseparable” in 2000. “Phil Keaggy,” released in 1998 was an overall solid effort with many well-crafted tunes, but it lacked the aggressive guitar licks and fun that one expects from a Keaggy release. You really have to go back to “Crimson and Blue,” that beautiful opus to blues rock that made the listen sit up and take note and wonder how and why this album didn’t conquer the world. I traveled eight hours in the spring of 1994 to see Phil and band on the Crimson and Blue Tour, and it is, was, and will ever be the greatest show I’ve ever seen. By my count, Phil played eleven songs that night with a running time two hours. Yeah, it was mad-jamming, and I could barely breathe when it was done. It was phenomenal. These magical moments on his solo albums over the years have been few and far between. But not anymore.

“All at Once” kicks off with two great blues rockers “Mercy” and “Undertow,” but it’s on the third song that you start to get the feel that something special is cooking on this album. “Call the Doctor” is a catchy, jazzy, blues tune with some great backing vocals. I’ve been telling my son to “Call the Doctor” all week until he’s sick of me. This song would feel right at home as one of the best tracks on Keaggy’s 70’s release “Emerging.”

The title track is a terrific ballad which continues to showcase his wonderful playing. What becomes evident at this point, is that the music of this album is put together in a purposeful way to maximize the collaborative efforts of the amazingly talented musicians that Phil is playing with on this album.

One of the best things about a Keaggy concert, besides the ridiculous guitar playing, is Phil’s fun-loving, playful personality. This comes across clearly in several tunes on the album, including the upbeat Beatlesesque love song “La La La Love You,” the tongue-in-cheek and totally awesome “My Guitar’s in Love” and the all-out blues love-fest “Stay Home Baby.” Toes are guaranteed to be tapping!

“Fearless Love” begins with an inticing piano intro and then the guitar kicks in sounding like something off Keaggy’s electric instrumental album “220.” But this is an upbeat vocal track hightlighting both guitar and piano. The instrumental middle segment is one delicious guitar riff giving way to a piano solo. The piano and guitar trade off with each other, prodding each other with an inprovised feel that you’ll want to listen to over and over.

Keaggy taps veteran Ashley Cleveland to sing the tune “Ezekial,” and her deep, full-voice is a terrific complement to this familiar feeling blues song.

“Breathe” is the only instrumental track on the album. It’s a beautiful piece which starts out with an ethereal acoustic feel, until subtle layers of electric guitar give way to Keaggy’s signature guitar riffs. This is clearly reminiscent of his other masterpiece “The Wind and the Wheat.” I love this song so much. I fell asleep to it the last couple of nights. It makes me want to sit on a mountain top and think about the realities of life. Terrific.

The album ends with a classic, guitar rendition of the hymn “I Must Tell Jesus.”

Lyrics: The album’s lyrics are encouraging and uplifting, focusing on issues of Keaggy’s Christian faith and on human relationships.

The Band: Simply top-notch.

Production: All the songs sound warm and alive. Absolutely terrific sounding.

Bottom line: This is an album that any Keaggy fan will treasure. This is also an album for anyone who appreciates blues/pop rock and top-of-the-line guitar playing.

BUY IT!

WHERE? From what I can tell, “All at Once” is only available in CD and Vinyl from Phil Keaggy’s website. Phil Keaggy Store

For some reason, it isn’t available (or at least not yet) for download on any site.

But don’t let that stop you. Plop down the $15 and enjoy yourself some intelligent and fun music.

Guaranteed to get your mind off the presidential race!

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New 5-Star Review of “Which Half David”

I’m honored to have such a great review of “Which Half David” from Charlene at CollectedWorksBlog.  Here’s a couple excerpts:

“Incredible twists keep the suspense ramped up toward the end and I never would have imagined the choices Tobin makes.”

“I believe that this is, by far, my favorite of his writings. 5 stars for the relatability of the characters, fast pace and suspense.”

Read Charlenes entire review HERE!

And to find out what she’s talking about, this new release is available in Kindle and paperback HERE!

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