Welcome to Spling Movies

Welcome to Spling Movies

Custom Search
Banner
Banner
Movie Reviews
Movie Review: Dunkirk


Christopher Nolan's trademark style is brooding, clinical, dark, heavy, elegant and powerful. The acclaimed filmmaker has become a household name, adding a crest of brilliant films to his credit over the last two decades. A visionary director, he's become respected not only for his output but his method, getting the most from his cast and crew by adopting a businesslike mentality. Film is entertainment, but Nolan realises that in order to turn a profit and get the best results, creating a clinical and focused atmosphere on set helps the team do their best work. While his style is recognisable, it seems that every film he creates is an attempt to be the quintessential film within that genre. His outlook is quite traditional, opposing 3D format, the Netflix model and even the use of cell phones on set, yet he seems to give the industry a shakeup with each new film. The much anticipated arrival of Christopher Nolan movies have made these new releases a cinematic event and Dunkirk is no different.

Instead of an invasion, attack or deadly mission, we are dealing with a rescue operation. Rather than zooming into the risky extraction of one soldier, like in Saving Private Ryan, the filmmaker has decided to stage the mass evacuation of British and French Allied troops from Dunkirk. Spielberg's World War II landing sequences were praised for their authenticity as a visceral 15 minute re-enactment brought tears to the eyes of veterans who were there. While this brilliant war scene set in motion an excellent war film, it never managed to rekindle the same intensity. In Dunkirk, Nolan flips this around, so that the driving intensity only offers 15 minutes of respite.

In attempting to make the ultimate war film, Nolan takes three strands of the story from a minute, an hour and a day. Broaching the Dunkirk evacuation from three different perspectives, he manages to encompass the experience from air, sea and land. From the air, we encounter the bravery of a courageous pilot. From the sea, we follow a boat of civilians on an unauthorised rescue mission. From the land, we get an idea of the waiting game as a soldier does his best to board a rescue vessel to safety. Each of these strands weave together into a taut rope as ticking time-bomb tension mounts and the game of survival becomes more critical. Jumping between the subplots, he manages to extract the most intense moments, maintaining breathless pacing and suspense.

Dunkirk Movie

"Dear God, please take me home."

Using thousands of extras, Nolan has ensured that the film has a strong sense of being there. The authentic audiovisuals make for a vicarious and visceral war experience as we barrel in a fighter plane, become submerged underwater and shudder with the sharp clank of bullets piercing metal. It's a full-scale assault on the senses as Nolan crafts a film that employs multi-sensory and psychological devices. Leveraging fear he concocts a survival war drama thriller that is both unsettling and titanic. It's riddled with breathtaking moments of despair, panic and sheer relief using Hans Zimmer's pulsating and relentless score to add depth and drive tension.

While this stirring war drama will be sure to engender British patriotism and renewed interest in World War II, the intense thrill ride of survival plays out against a fairly anonymous enemy. The film has universal themes, which makes sense on an allegorical as well as a historical level. This relative anonymity is carried through into the casting of name stars like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Cillian Murphy. Fionn Whitehead takes on the "lead" role, but this large and relatively unknown cast make it a real team effort, downplaying and equalising the name stars for the sake of authenticity. Ego is an afterthought as the film plays out on a macro level, leaving an effective blueprint for future war and even disaster films in the process.

Dunkirk is sparsely scripted, not giving us much time to explore characters, allowing their actions and expressions to do the talking. The constant barrage of emotional stress and authentic recreation makes the experience very real and breathes life into famous black and white pictures from the historic event, which were used as a strong reference point. While imbued with Nolan's trademark approach and tone, this doesn't leave much room for the lighter side of the human condition. This grave seriousness makes this prestige film foreboding, yet something must be said for the "stiff upper lip" and a propensity for people to use humour to cope with fairly hopeless predicaments.

While Dunkirk is more of a director's film, it overcomes its shades of disconnectedness with quick pacing, relentless suspense and first-class production values, in essence making the evacuation mission the lead character. With an imminent sense of danger and channel-flipping between intense situations, Dunkirk demands your attention and earns it through masterful direction, experiential entertainment, thought-provoking moments and its selfless sentiment. It may not have the characterisation to make it the greatest war movie ever made, but it lands among them with aplomb.

The bottom line: Intense


 
Movie Review: Van Der Merwe


Van der Merwe is a common Afrikaans surname that has become synonymous with a stereotypical Afrikaans character, usually a farmer named Koos, who has become the butt of a lineage of South African jokes dating back over 50 years. Decidedly "doff" and larger-than-life, van der Merwe jokes essentially took a similar stance to dumb blonde jokes, targeting a stereotype to berate and poke fun. Typically juvenile, ranging from one-liners to tall stories and dished out in English with a thick Afrikaans accent, "Van" jokes were generally heard in school playgrounds, sports clubs and local pubs. While somewhat subversive with Van constantly being the fall guy, they're usually served up quite playfully with Van unwittingly coming out on top every now and then.

Much like Ireland's series of Paddy jokes, the humourous character has become part of the diverse fabric of South African culture, now embraced by the Afrikaans community. While fictional and tied to a bygone era, there's still a feeling of nostalgia wrapped around stories about Van's thick-cut disposition and inability to get ahead. The iconic "Van" character, probably inspired by classic British-Afrikaner rivalries, has managed to stay alive through oral tradition and even had a '100 Stories' joke book published in 1976. Now more than 40 years later... he has his own self-titled film starring another "Van" in Rob van Vuuren.

While no one asked for a Van Der Merwe film, the screenplay has been in the pipeline since 2005 with Bill Flynn originally tagged to play the role. Leon Schuster's box office numbers for Mr. Bones, Mr. Bones 2 and Mama Jack show there's a market for silly family comedies led by larger-than-life characters. While Schuster's films have traditionally dominated the local box office, he's made a return to candid camera sketch-based stories in recent years. Having played an unofficial apprentice to Schuster in Schuks! Your Country Needs You after famously pranking the original prankster, van Vuuren was perfectly positioned to tackle the van der Merwe caricature.

Van Der Merwe Movie

"KAAAAAAAAS!"

Rob van Vuuren is a wonderfully talented and prolific South African actor and comedian, who has made a name for himself on TV, stage and film. His boundless energy, madcap antics, physicality and honesty have made him popular, yet one gets the impression that he's been somewhat restrained in terms of casting, relegating him to a specific brand of comedy. While he's injected more heart into his latest lead comedy role as the titular Van Der Merwe, it seems he's still on the hunt for the perfect role. While van Vuuren's never-say-die attitude makes this South African family comedy fun and mostly entertaining, it remains fairly artless, cheesy and half-baked.

Much like the caricature, Van has been endowed with a beer boep pregnancy and a bokkie... on his large forehead. The boep and manscaping are over-the-top, underlining an equally comical performance from van Vuuren, who is just as cartoonish as characters like Mr. Bean and Ace Ventura. Instead of tackling the legend of van der Merwe head-on, writer-director Bruce Lawley has decided to stretch the try line by turning the film into a feel good family portrait. The large ensemble keep things fresh as new characters are continually introduced and Van tries to come to terms with the return of his prodigal daughter, Marike, and her new fiancé, George. Much of the comedy is derived from Anglo-Boer tensions and Van's ill attempts to deal with his role as a father, son, brother, husband and boer.

It's as though van der Merwe has been transplanted in Leading Lady and dipped into the character pool of Konfetti. Both South African "romcoms", Leading Lady featured a similar quirky plot involving the out-workings of a cross-cultural romance on a farm, while Konfetti's impressive line-up had a similar array of characters and comedy situations. While operating on a simpler tack, Van Der Merwe has managed to assemble a solid ensemble of supporting South African actors including: Ian Roberts, Reine Swart, Louw Venter and Erica Wessels with cameos from Greg Kriek, Neels van Jaarsveld and Barry Hilton. Matthew Baldwin, a dead ringer for Daniel Radcliffe, chimes in as George.

The screenplay manages to land a few clever van der Merwe moments in keeping with the character, but it's mostly a comedy that happens to Van Der Merwe and his family. The chump humour isn't as polished or priceless as Karl Pilkington's quips in An Idiot Abroad, but remains lightly enjoyable with some unfortunate detours into toilet humour as we return to van Vuuren's ridiculous kingpin performance. Just like Rowan Atkinson and Jim Carrey, the comic nature of van Vuuren's performance may divide some audiences but as silly as it gets, he manages to keep one foot on the ground.

While this family comedy has its moments, the low-hanging fruit concept and thin source material make it a lightweight and frivolous affair. Jack Parow's music is a good match for the tongue-in-cheek mix of South African nostalgia at play. His satirical theme song introduces us to the overriding tone of Van Der Merwe, but apart from toying with the premise that "my Dad's a joke" and his spanner-in-the-works antics, it never manages to rise above its cartoon status. The "Van" character would probably work better on stage or in a sitcom. With missing pieces, underplayed supporting characters and inconsistencies in terms of production standards, this often cheesy and lightweight local family comedy is a fun distraction but struggles to leave a strong impression.

The bottom line: Half-baked

 
Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fun-filled and eye-popping sci-fi comedy action adventure that recalls the quirky, comic spirit of Besson's previous sci-fi extravaganza The Fifth Element, the CGI dimension of James Cameron's Avatar and the technologically imaginative and bizarre world of David Cronenberg's existenZ. Based on the influential comic book series of the same name, we follow 28th Century special operatives, Valerian and Laureline, who must race to identify a marauding menace and safeguard the future of the universe.

While spectacular and laden with The Fifth Element potential, blending the world of real and unreal is a challenge and while the CGI and design is superb at times, it's also unwieldy. The film's wacky sense of humour gives the tone some bend, but Besson reaches breaking point on several occasions, turning the adventure from epic sci-fi odyssey to cheesy knockabout misadventure. While Besson touches on some interesting allegorical terrain relating to indigenous people and resources, much like Avatar, Valerian's undermined by its flippant attitude and rickety Who Framed Roger Rabbit? dichotomy.

This tonal imbalance and visual incoherence make Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets a visual extravaganza on a rocky road to oblivion. Dane De Haan and Cara Delevingne are two beautiful next generation stars. While easy on the eye and delivering serviceable performances, they seem miscast and out-of-their-depth. The duo's youthful verve gives the sci-fi adventure a bouncier feel as if they were recruited from Ender's Game, yet the brother-sister dynamic and De Haan's "Keanu Reeves" voice is a bit disconcerting.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

"Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

While adding credibility and backbone to a young pair of co-leads, the supporting cast seemed severely under-utilised. It's been some time since Clive Owen graced the silver screen and makes it seem like a mirage given his dead-eyed take on the Commander. Goodman's "Jabba Jr." digital character needed a wraparound story and much more screen time, while Hawke is comically lightweight as Jolly the Pimp, making it abundantly clear that they all needed meatier roles rather than glorified cameos. Rihanna's burlesque entertainer role as "Bubble" is fascinating and enchanting, but her performance is sub-par and the connection between her and her shape-shifting alter ego is frayed and laughable next to Mystique.

Being a fan of The Fifth Element, there was much expectation surrounding the release of this film in Valerian's 50th year and despite being moderately entertaining, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is ultimately underwhelming. It's like Besson was trying to resurrect his original success story using a similar formula and inspiration. Unfortunately, casting a beautiful lead actress with a difficult-to-pronounce name, embracing a campy oddball mix of real vs. unreal, leveraging a CGI wonderland and immersing us in a futuristic world of crime and evil overlords doesn't always do the trick.

While Valerian will pass the time with its beautiful cast, spectrum of colour and wonderful visuals... it's a fairly mindless exercise. You will need to roll with it, fill in the gaps and resist the urge to look at your watch. It's a shame that Besson still hasn't been able to match the magic of his '90s heydays. More consistency, grounded co-leads, substantial returning supporting roles and weightier themes could've made all the difference to this visually compelling yet lightweight and superficial sci-fi comedy adventure.

The bottom line: Unwieldy

 
Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes


Andy Serkis is the ringmaster in the reboot series of The Planet of the Apes. A pioneer of iconic digital characters, having played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he's done it again with Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now War for the Planet of the Apes. His latest action-adventure sees Caesar, the figurehead and lead for the series, rightfully front and centre. The character has not only developed in terms of characterisation, but in terms of screen time, occupying the lead role without "help" from supporting name actors.

In fact, War for the Planet of the Apes is taken almost entirely from the ape perspective without the film-makers trying to balance things out with human actors. James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow helped stabilise the series in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman augmented the ensemble in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while War for the Planet of the Apes almost abandons this format completely. The only noteworthy human actors are Amiah Miller, who echoes Dakota Fanning's star-making role in War of the Worlds and Mr. Dependable, Woody Harrelson.

Perhaps the notion of being overshadowed by a digital actor has made many weary to play opposite Serkis, who has carried the new series with a brooding, guarded and soulful performance. Either way, Matt Reeves, the film-maker who took over directing the series from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has done the near unthinkable by populating his film with digitally rendered motion capture performers. Toby Kebbell took on a bigger part for Dawn as Koba, a second-in-command and understudy role opposite Serkis. Now the ensemble is dominated by "ape" actors with more speaking parts emerging.

War for the Planet of the Apes

"It's too late to call shotgun!

Following a devastating blow to the apes, the herd seek a more long-term sanctuary as Caesar sets out on a quest to take revenge on those responsible. The third installment has been influenced by Biblical epics, more specifically the war film, Apocalypse Now. Set against a cold and icy winter, the migration scenes and story's impetus have correlations with the Exodus. Then, following a similar trajectory to Apocalypse Now, Caesar's epic journey to confront the his aggressor echoes the classic rivalry between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.

Harrelson's not as immense as Kurtz, yet conveys a darker maniacal side than we're used to seeing. He's a worthy adversary for Caesar and makes it easy for the audience to pick sides. The magic of War for the Planet of the Apes is that Reeves is able to bring us to the realisation that while good and bad exist for both species, we've got more empathy for the anthropomorphic ape kind. While the adventure is epic and the action is enthralling, he takes the time to exact some heartfelt drama as moments of innocence and mercy spring up in the snow. While the struggle is serious and the running time is long, Reeves employs some comedy to lighten the intense and brooding atmosphere.

While these bursts of levity are welcome and funny, the tonal shift isn't quite as welcome. One character drives this comic relief gimmick, adding to the entertainment value in an almost plausible manner with a style of comedy that is jarring against the big picture. Then, various story elements just don't add up and could've used more forethought and extrapolation. It's hampered by the treatment of Caesar in the third act, the consistency of communication among the herd and even a few contrivances and cliches in terms of bringing it home.

Apart from some strong performances, the real wonder of War for the Planet of the Apes is the visual effects wizardry. We're completely immersed in the story as one amazing film location is populated with digital hybrids only to segue into another. The balance of landscape and characters is quite breathtaking at times as we marvel at the fine detail of a close up of the orangutan, Maurice, only to return to Andy Serkis and his complete embodiment of Caesar. While this is the third film in the series, there's a marked maturity, greater understanding and improvement over its predecessors and not only in terms of the ape characters.

War for the Planet of the Apes has its flaws, but the majesty of the visual tapestry, the ambitious role reversal, heartrending war drama and nature of the performances makes for an entertaining and spellbinding epic. It's the best film in the trilogy, showcasing just how far Hollywood has come in terms of CGI and mocap, delivering an awe-inspiring spectacle that chalks up a big win for the evolution of live-action digital characters under the rightful command of Andy Serkis.

The bottom line: Captivating


 
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > End >>

Page 2 of 81