DUNKIRK (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense War Experience and some Language

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance & Tom Hardy

Christopher Nolan is easily one of the best filmmakers working today and he seems to be constantly moving through different genres. Besides knocking viewers’ socks off with non-linear thrillers (MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE), Nolan also crafted arguably the best superhero trilogy ever (THE DARK KNIGHT) and made an effort to play with heady science fiction (INCEPTION, INTERSTELLAR). Nolan’s latest film is a World War II drama that’s crafted in an experimental way, but throws the viewer on an intense ride. DUNKIRK hardly wastes a moment of its fast-paced running time or its three interwoven narratives (land, sea, and air). In my usual format of anthology reviews, I’ll be covering each of these three narratives on their own merits and then grading the film as a whole…

THE MOLE (One Week): The first narrative takes place over the course of a week and follows young British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he attempts to escape from the beaches of Dunkirk. As the situation grows grimmer with each passing second, Tommy finds himself trying to escape through desperate measures that threaten to strip him and his fellow soldiers of their humanity. This narrative is easily DUNKIRK’s most powerful storyline. The dialogue is kept to a surprising minimum as Nolan lets the sheer intensity of hopeless situations combined with believable visuals, powerful non-spoken acting, and Hans Zimmer’s score speak for itself. This storyline also has something to say about the disconnect that comes from two differing perspectives (e.g. one soldier’s reaction to a blind guy handing out blankets at a pier). A+

THE SEA (One Day): The second narrative follows elderly citizen Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and their young hand George (Barry Keoghan) as they take their recreational sail boat to the beaches of Dunkirk to rescue stranded soldiers. This storyline really showcased how everyday heroism and good deeds can make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. Rylance’s performance is especially powerful as he faces severe emotional stress from escalating situations and difficulties onboard his boat, while Cillian Murphy shows up as a shell-shocked soldier. This narrative also intersects with the Land and Air plotlines in cool ways, ala a more serious WWII version of PULP FICTION. A

THE AIR (One Hour): While I truly admire what Nolan did with his land and sea storylines, DUNKIRK seems somewhat lacking in its third plotline. Taking place over the course of a single hour, we follow three Spitfire pilots (mainly Tom Hardy) as they attempt to thwart enemy planes from bombarding rescue boats and ships. This plotline starts off intense as we get high-altitude combat and (literal) high stakes. Tom Hardy does a phenomenal job in his role, especially because he’s acting purely through his eyes when he wears the flight mask and goggles. However, this storyline seems a bit too simple and nothing too remarkable occurs by its climax. Especially when compared to the DUNKIRK’s other two narratives, this third storyline is a slight step down in quality. B

DUNKIRK weaves its three narratives across each other in a similar fashion to the Wachowski siblings’ CLOUD ATLAS. This makes for a piece of interesting experimental filmmaking combined with a very intense WWII drama. Don’t expect deep character development or set-up as Nolan immediately thrusts you into the action of the three plotlines, but somehow makes it gripping from the first frame of each narrative. Though one of the narratives is considerably weaker and less impactful than its two counterparts, DUNKIRK is a war epic that’s well worth watching and serves as a nice return to stellar quality for Nolan after his good-but-not-great INTERSTELLAR.

Grade: A-

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Fantasy Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: Breck Eisner

Written by: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless

Starring: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Olafur Darri Olafsson & Julie Engelbrecht

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is the latest in a long line of would-be franchise starters that feature immortal monster slayers (e.g. DRACULA UNTOLD, CONSTANTINE, etc.). This film came and went in a flash during this past October and didn’t leave much (if any) of an impact on the general public. You kind of know what to expect when you’re walking into this film. I wanted to see Vin Diesel killing witches six ways to Sunday with some semblance of a plot that was really just an excuse for witch slaying. However, that’s not quite what this film is. Instead, LAST WITCH HUNTER is more of a mystery-procedural that happens to have witchcraft and swordplay. I was pleasantly surprised by this during the first hour. However, I became utterly bored during the second half, when the film slows to a drag thanks to needlessly complicated plot twists and terrible CGI.

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Kaulder has been hunting and slaying witches since the Dark Ages. His origins began upon discovering an evil witch responsible for the Black Plague. Kaulder slayed the Witch Queen and was cursed with eternal life as an end result. Centuries later, Kaulder has become jaded with his infinite existence as a weapon for the Axe and Cross (a secret organization that keeps a truce between witches and mortals). When his latest record-keeper (Michael Caine in search of a quick paycheck) winds up dead, Kaulder begins to investigate possible dark magic responsible for the old man’s demise. Aided by witch/bar owner Chloe, the duo begin to uncover a centuries-old conspiracy that could unleash a second Black Plague upon the world.

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This movie kicked off with promise. I liked the general look, fast pace, tongue-in-cheek humor, and action during the first half. The prologue sets things up nicely and delivers one of the best fight scenes in the film. The mystery-procedural plot that began unfolding also had my interest to a point. The dynamic between Vin Diesel (doing his typical bad-ass thing as Kaulder) and Rose Leslie (fitting the supernatural sidekick role well as Chloe) is entertaining to watch, while Elijah Wood (the protégé record-keeper) damn near disappears from the screen after the first 30 minutes (only popping up to service the conclusion). WITCH HUNTER does a fairly good job of setting up its mythology without delving too deeply into heavy exposition…until around the hour mark.

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Halfway through the running time, this movie decided to do the polar opposite of everything that was working in its favor. The results, as you can probably imagine, are not too entertaining. Action set pieces are fast forgotten for heavy-handed twists that play out with lots of awkward explanations. LAST WITCH HUNTER actually has two separate moments were villains stop the entire movie to monologue about their evil (and clichéd) plans in case the viewer was too stupid to understand where all of this was heading. However, that might be the case as some last-minute revelations really come out of nowhere in a bad way. This movie would have been just fine as a straightforward supernatural actioner and I simply don’t understand the need to overcomplicate the story with useless plot twists. The effects also suffer during this latter half and the finale is overlong and disappointing. Most of the effects in the final showdown resemble Syfy Channel quality. This is especially true of one cartoony monster that didn’t fit in with the rest of the magic and witches.

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Most of the problems with THE LAST WITCH HUNTER arrive during the second half of the film. Up until that point, I was having fun watching Vin Diesel solve a dark magic mystery and hunt witches. While Diesel definitely slays some witches after the story takes a nosedive, it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch thanks to convoluted plot twist after convoluted plot twist. This movie could have been big dumb fun, but instead it’s just plain dumb. Don’t expect a franchise to emerge out of this lackluster flick. I’d actually recommend CONSTANTINE or END OF DAYS over this missed opportunity.

Grade: C-

GET CARTER (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language, some Sexuality and Drug Content

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Directed by: Stephen Kay

Written by: David McKenna

(based on the novel JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, John C. McGinley, Michael Caine & Rhona Mitra

Though it eventually went on to win critical acclaim, 1971’s GET CARTER wasn’t originally well-received upon release. Due to marketing blunders and a studio that seemingly didn’t care, the Michael Caine revenge-thriller wound up sinking into obscurity in the USA. Two decades passed and the film gained a cult following behind it, eventually re-entering the cinematic scene during the 90’s. Where there’s popularity (no matter how niche it is), there will be a studio exec waiting to cash in on that craze. I present to you the 2000 remake of GET CARTER. This was a cooler, more hip and edgier take on the material…at least, that’s what one studio exec would have you believe. Though it’s watchable and does try to tell its story in a slightly different manner, this remake of GET CARTER ultimately feels like a bit of watered-down bore.

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Jack Carter is mob enforcer in Las Vegas (as opposed to London). When his brother winds up dead in an apparent drunk driving accident, Jack returns to his home in Seattle (as opposed to Newcastle). Something surrounding his brother’s death doesn’t seem right, so Jack goes sniffing around the darker corners of the city for answers. While on his quest for the truth, Jack bonds with his young niece and discovers a conspiracy involving a porn kingpin and a computer genius…that could be linked to his brother’s suspicious untimely demise.

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Credit where credit is due, 2000’s GET CARTER does try to tell its story in a different way. Those new spins on the material don’t quite work out, because the movie still finds itself clinging to the original to move the plot forward. However, this inferior remake is still watchable…even if it’s poorly made. Sylvester Stallone is certainly not the actor that Michael Caine is, so he plays his usual tough guy role here. Stallone aside, every other character has been slightly shaken up. The innkeeper is now Jack’s sister-in-law. Jack’s sister has now become Jack’s niece. The shady businessman has transformed into a computer geek (played in not so intimidating fashion by Alan Cumming). Then there’s Mickey Rourke as the porn kingpin who’s pretty much the same scumbag as the original character, but with a website and CD’s. While the original GET CARTER had bad guys and worse guys, this new version has been painted with a good vs. evil brush. Jack Carter wasn’t someone who you could completely root for in the original, but he’s pretty much a generic action hero in this reboot. As you might imagine, this lessens the moral ambiguity that made the original so haunting and special.

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On the technical side of things, GET CARTER feels like it’s trying way too hard to be hip and cool. For crying out loud, this new Jack Carter wears cufflinks with his initials on them. The film is over stylized to the breaking point. There are lots of useless lens flares, fast editing, quick cutting and slow motion. The movie speaks for itself in a scene where Jack makes a horrifying discovery. The original let the scene quietly play out and all the emotions break across Michael Caine’s face. This remake doesn’t give us much a glimpse of Stallone’s face in that moment that isn’t in double vision or with the camera spinning upside down. Those technical touches are supposed to portray the emotion, instead of the actor. If you’re wanted an MTV action-packed thrill-ride the first time around, then this 2000 reboot also tries to throw in lots of pointless action scenes that exist for the sake of having a chase or fight sequence. To top it all off, the stunning, depressing conclusion that so perfectly closed out the original has been replaced with a forced, uplifting Hollywoodized hodge-podge of an ending.

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I had kept my hopes at a reasonable level for this remake and was still let down. I should have taken the techno-reboot of the original’s theme as a warning. Though this new version of GET CARTER may have tried to do things differently, but none of it fully works. I did somewhat enjoy one sub-plot, but it’s only purpose was to add in pointless action scenes that never amount to anything by the ending. Michael Caine shows up in a side role as if to give his approval for this remake and that’s sort of neat, but again, it all amounts to nothing. All this dumbed down remake accomplishes is showing how vastly superior the 1971 original really was. I think I’ll let Michael Caine’s final line in this remake sum everything up. He’s walking away from Sylvester Stallone and says “I’m not turning around.” You should take his advice and just walk past this remake of GET CARTER on the DVD shelf at your local store.

Grade: D+

GET CARTER (1971)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Mike Hodges

Written by: Mike Hodges

(based on the novel JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)

Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland, Bryan Mosley, George Sewell & Tony Beckley

Before he was Alfred Pennyworth and a variety of other elderly characters, Michael Caine was Jack Carter! Considered by many to be the greatest British film of all-time, 1971’s GET CARTER is a gritty mystery that takes our title anti-hero through London’s scummy underbelly. Deliberately paced and wholly compelling, this likely to also be one of the darkest crime films in the history of cinema. Though one can partially blamed this on gloomy English weather, most of the darkness comes from the depressing plotline and amorality at play. There are no good guys in GET CARTER, only bad people and worse people.

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Jack Carter, a London-based gangster, is returning home to Newcastle under dire circumstances. Jack’s brother, Frank, recently drowned in an apparent drunk-driving accident. However, Jack remains suspicious as to how this occurred because Frank was a straight-shooter in the family with a bright future ahead of him. Jack begins digging around the more notorious citizens of Newcastle and finds that someone indeed may be responsible for his brother’s untimely death. However, the web of secrets only gets more complex and twisted as Jack draws closer to the ugly truth.

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“Caine is Carter!” was the tagline of the original promotional material for this film. Looking at that, anyone might assume that Carter is a possible action hero of sorts or a seemingly bad guy with a heart of gold. While some slight argument can be made for the latter, I consider Jack Carter to be neither of these things. Instead, he’s about as absolute an anti-hero that has ever been brought to the screen. There’s a definite charisma to him during moments, but he also wears a cover of constant intimidation as well. His decisions are questionable, especially once he receives the answers that he was so desperately hunting for. He’s not a likable protagonist, but we are still forced to side with him…especially when you consider the competition in this film. Though I couldn’t place any distinct faces or names aside from Caine, the rest of the cast brings an assortment of weasely two-faced characters to life. With the exception of an innkeeper, I don’t think there was a character with a clear moral compass in this film. That makes every plot development and revelation even more intense with each passing second.

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Those expecting a fast action-packed thriller in GET CARTER will find themselves out of luck. Instead, this is a brooding mystery that carefully places a thick layer of suspense on every scene. The slow-burning tension peaks in the final third where a handful of violent moments pay off. Some of these are done quietly and others are given in spurts of uncontrollable anger/vengeance. You can actually count the number of confrontations this movie has on one hand, but if anything, that only strengthens force of their impact. The quiet, dread-filled way in which the whole movie manages to maintain an uncomfortable air around it is especially impressive. It’s all topped off by a haunting theme that’s presented in the opening, various moments throughout, and a conclusion that left me speechless.

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When one thinks of gangster movies, they usually don’t picture a ton of British cinema on the forefront. That’s a mistake, because (among other fantastic works) GET CARTER is one the greatest crime films and mysteries ever made. Indeed, this is possibly the best film that Britain has to offer. Though the pacing may be a bit slow for those who want an action-packed thrill-ride, GET CARTER delivers on being a wicked and complicated mystery for cinephiles. Michael Caine’s Jack Carter is an anti-hero for the ages and you’ll find yourself hesitant to fully root for him, but hooked to the film nonetheless. GET CARTER is perfect! Plain and simple.

Grade: A+

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Violence, Language and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Written by: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn

(based on THE SECRET SERVICE comics by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons)

Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Sophie Cookson, Mark Strong & Mark Hamill

KINGSMAN feels like an R-rated version of SPY KIDS mixed with the most ridiculous James Bond movies. If that description doesn’t sell you on this movie by itself, I honestly don’t know what more you want from this insane action-comedy. This comic book adaptation never takes itself seriously, but manages to birth a cast of strong characters and a clever storyline. In my humble opinion, KINGSMAN is the first perfect movie to come out of 2015!

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Eggsy is a young lad stuck in a rough life. His father died when he was a toddler and his mother is in an abusive relationship with a local thug. The future doesn’t look bright for Eggsy until he meets Harry Hart. Harry belongs to a group of top-secret agents known as the Kingsmen and he has picked Eggsy as a possible replacement for a newly deceased agent. Eggsy is subjected to a rigorous amount of deadly tests that will determine whether he makes the cut or not. This is all while Harry and his fellow Kingsmen investigate an apocalyptic plot headed by a quirky psychopath/genius named Richmond Valentine. As possible destruction draws near, the fate of the world lies in the hands of Eggsy, Harry, and the rest of the Kingsmen!

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The plot sounds relatively simple on paper, but is actually very clever. This film is basically like a loving homage to old 60’s spy movies and all of the ridiculous charm that comes with them. There are multiple references to spy thrillers throughout, some as blatant as a hero and a villain having discussions about old-school Bond films. However, the film never follows that formula in the way you might expect it to. It also helps that there’s (god forbid) character development thrown into both heroes and villains in ways that make you care about their plight.

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All of the characters are memorable in one way or another. Taron Edgerton is a fresh face, but should have a long and impressive career ahead of him. Eggsy could have come off as an overly familiar stereotype or a generic hero, but Edgerton feeds realistic emotion and charisma into the role. Colin Firth isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of when you hear the phrase “action hero,” but manages to pull off his ass-kicking secret agent with style as well as humor. Mark Strong is also excellent, as is Sophie Cookson. On the villain side of things, Samuel L. Jackson is simultaneously hilarious and menacing as Richmond Valentine, adopting a lisp and little quirks that separate his character from the typical Bond baddie. His sidekick called Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) uses razor-sharp prosthetic legs that add even more tension to the her scenes.

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When I originally saw the trailer for KINGSMAN last year, I figured that this film would be a fun PG-13 popcorn action flick. How wrong I was. This film is blood-spattered and packed gratuitous violence, earning its R rating with glee. There are lots of set pieces that stick out, including a jaw-dropping sequence set in a church that is sure to go down as one of the best action scenes in recent memory. There is plenty of mayhem to go around and the film doesn’t play it safe in regards to those with weak stomachs. Go in expecting violence and you’ll receive more bloodshed than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH installments.

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What’s also refreshing is that KINGSMAN doesn’t take itself seriously at all. This being said, the film manages to combine a mix of humor and high stakes that will fully engulf you in the perfectly paced story (that runs for just over two hours). All the laughs work and the adrenaline-pumping action scenes are among the best in the past couple of years. Blending comedy and action can usually result in the film coming out as more comedic than serious (see 22 JUMP STREET), but KINGSMAN manages to walk that tightrope in the same way that KICK-ASS did five years ago!

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That comparison to KICK-ASS is valid as both films are adapted from comics, sport a hard R rating as well as a sense of humor, and are masterfully directed by Matthew Vaughn. This is basically the KICK-ASS of the spy genre. That sentence should tell you whether this film is for you or not. The more I think about this movie, the more I love it. KINGSMAN is truly awesome!

Grade: A+

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