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Dunkirk/Baby Driver (Double Feature)

Okay, so now that I’m back from my double feature, I’ve got a few thoughts for those interested:
1. ‘Dunkirk’ (Christopher Nolan)
We all took US history in high school and/or college, and we all know the story of World War II. What if I told you the most important moment of the 20th Century had nothing to do with atomic bombs or computers, and told you that it was about a daring last-ditch effort by Great Britain to save their army (and the French and Belgian ones to an extent) before America even had a chance to get in the fight? Well good news ladies and gentlemen, because now you can watch it in glorious high definition in a comfortable chair.
Christopher Nolan’s work and skill as a filmmaker needs no introduction, so I won’t bore you. I really enjoyed ‘Dunkirk,’ but not necessarily as a narrative piece. What Britain called “Operation Dynamo” was an attempt to evacuate over 400,000 soldiers from the northern shore of France and across the English Channel with as few casualties as possible, mobilizing hundreds of civilian and merchant boats to rescue over 330,000 troops between May 26th and June 4th 1940. For whatever reason, Hitler gave the order a few days prior to not pursue the retreating troops and pin them in at Dunkirk.
Had this mishmash of civilian ships not come to their rescue, certainly the face of the world would look much different than it does today.
Historical background aside, I enjoyed ‘Dunkirk’ not so much for a film narrative and more erring on the side of a really elaborate historical re-enactment. I’ve heard some criticism leveled about the lack of character development or having a weak plot, but the fact of the matter is that for me, that wasn’t the point.
The fear of soldiers, sailors, and pilots that as each large destroyer or medical frigate departed, there was a strong chance it would get torpedoed by a U-Boat or bombed by a Messerschmitt. Hans Zimmer created a masterful soundtrack and manages to create a lot of tension in a story where as the audience we already know the outcome (spoiler, the Allies won WWII). I found myself on edge throughout the film, constantly wondering when a boat would be sunk, or an airplane shot down.
Using multiple perspectives to tell the different stories is really important to how this piece is set up. We get the perspective of a civilian boat owner, a pair of pilots, and the troops on the beach going through living hell wondering how and when and if they would die. Occasionally, we see the same events in the movie repeated from different perspectives when our characters cross paths. We’ll see men swimming from a sinking ship, and then switch to the fighter pilot trying desperately to protect said ship, and occasionally this jump is jarring and awkward.
I did feel that the film had issue with making the audience connect to anyone but the civilian characters. We were obviously meant to be rooting for the British and against the Germans, but beyond that, the only real emotional beat of the film happens aboard the small civilian boat.
This film like a few other works really bridges the gap between my History and Film degrees. But remember, it’s still a Hollywood movie.
2. ‘Baby Driver’ (Edgar Wright)
I’m going to say it. ‘Baby Driver’ is one of the best (if not the best) movies for sound I’ve ever heard. I mean this both in the literal sense of ambient sound and use of music. You’ve probably heard of diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound, I’m in awe of how both are fused flawlessly in this film.
I will also say that I absolutely, vehemently hated ‘Drive’ (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn). This movie is the what-if of Edgar Wright taking ‘Drive’ and giving it a full overhaul from engine to detailing and making it not totally suck. (Me hating ‘Drive’ is a rant for another day.)
‘Baby Driver’ does well walking the line between humor and gravitas demonstrably well. Kevin Spacey brings his usual intensity and charm as the financier and master planner of a series of robberies. Like many great heist flicks, this one is about the “one last job” of our intrepid hero, Baby (Ansel Elgort). When things go south (like we know they have to), they do it ways that while expected, are still satisfying to watch. Baby is a quiet young man who loves music, and nearly always has his headphones in blaring some surprising tunes while whipping myriad of vehicles around town at speeds faster than Brian May’s fretwork on his signature Red Special. He’s in debt to Doc (Spacey) for a past misdeed, and in order to make amends, acts as the getaway driver for the heists (sound familiar?).
I will say, while I really enjoyed it, the plot of the film is nothing special, it’s just that nothing feels frivolous or bloated about it. As I mentioned above, we eventually learn something about Baby that us what’s with all the music, and why sound is so important to the movie.
A Best Picture-nominee it isn’t, but if ‘Baby Driver’ doesn’t win an Academy Award for Sound Design, I’ll eat my hat.

The Messenger

I’ll always remember July 20th.

It was my day off from work. I slept in late, talked with my mom on the phone for a minute, and browsed Facebook for a few moments before I planned to fire up another session of Fallout 4.

And then I saw it.

One of my friends shared a post announcing Chester Bennington was dead, an apparent suicide.

I didn’t believe it. I scoured social media, searching for the revelation that it was some internet troll’s tasteless joke. I never found it. Eventually, his bandmate Mike Shinoda confirmed the news about an hour later via Twitter.

Three days later, I still don’t really believe he’s gone. I remember back in 2000, one of the first CD’s my aunt ever bought me was ‘Hybrid Theory,’ and I absolutely adored it. I was eight. As I went through middle and high school, Linkin Park evolved as I did. Growing up listening to their music and hearing them evolve their songs in much the same way as I grew and became more mature over time helped me through a lot of rough times, and still does.

When they first came onto the scene of rock music, their signature sound was a mass of angst and rage, bundled into a hit album. My teenage self identified with that a lot, as did many of my peers. I never really felt that I fit in with any one social group, and for years “Somewhere I Belong” was my secret favorite song.

As LP’s sound grew up, so did I. You could tell that their music was becoming about more than just being an angry outcast, especially starting with ‘Minutes to Midnight.’ They sang about moving past things they used to think were holding them back. They sang about politics. They sang about lost love.

As their repertoire evolved and grew, I was experiencing many of these things for the first time. One of my all-time favorite rap tracks is still “Hands Held High.”

Over time, more people complained with each new album that the band had sold out. I began to be less public with the fact that they were (and remain to be) one of my favorite bands. I’ll admit, oftentimes it took me more than the first listen to love some albums, but something I always really appreciated about Linkin Park was that each album of theirs is a little different, and you can see how they’ve grown as a band and as individuals over the nearly 20 years they’ve been putting out music.

I always wondered how it felt to music lovers when icons like Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, Tupac, or Jim Croce died. They were all musicians who died long before their time, and I’m a big fan of their work. Before July 20th, I was grateful I’d never had to experience the premature death of a musician I adored. Until I did.

I felt the need to write something longer than a short social media blurb in a more formal manner because of how much this celebrity death more than any other (besides maybe Robin Williams) has affected me. Music, movies, and a solid group of friends and family have never failed to pull me through my rougher times, and so like Robin, it really distresses me that someone I admire had also wrestled with the idea that for whatever reason, they weren’t good enough.

My favorite Linkin Park song is one I listen to whenever I have a difficult day, and don’t feel like reaching out to someone to brighten my own mood. It’s the last track off their album ‘A Thousand Suns,’ titled “The Messenger.” I always took listening to it to be like Chester and the band speaking out to me, and telling me what I needed to hear in that tough time, because as the Messenger Chester Bennington reminded me:

“Remember you’re loved, and you always will be.”

Thanks for the years of music and memories. I won’t forget you.


Final Thoughts: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010-2014)


DISCLAIMER:  This is meant to more of a “here’s my thoughts” rather than a formal review.  Frankly, the series was quite convoluted at times, and I’m sure it’ll take a few more viewings for me to work everything out.  There’s a lot of changing sides and traitors and all sorts of crazy stuff, especially in the last episode.

The latest installment in the popular Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, “Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn” debuted its seventh and final episode on May 17th, and after having rewatched the entire series over the past few days, I’m ready to give a handful of thoughts on the series.

Unicorn continues with the Universal Century (UC) timeline, a la the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Char’s Counter-Attack, et al.  In this era, the Newtype, an evolved version of humanity, is the sought-after standard of humanity, and in pilots of the huge war machines, “mobile suits.”  They’ve got better instincts and reflexes, they’re smarter, and they can project their consciousness throughout battles in ways that aren’t always entirely understandable to the viewer.

The first take-away from Unicorn is simply the fact that the mobile suit designs and animation have never looked better than they do in the slick style of Unicorn, reminiscent of the Gundam 00 series from 2007-9.  The franchise has come a long way from the fuzzy art style of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series in 1979.

Second, the Gundam franchise needs to decide if it’s ever going to do romance properly, or else drop the “romantic” subplots all together.  The melodramatic middle school-level gloves-on approach to romance in wartime is a recognized trope that can add a lot to a series when done well, but constantly dancing around the concept of a Gundam protagonist having some sort of romantic entanglement seems to be the most common and infuriating trope of the entire franchise, regardless of the series in question (with the refreshing exception of The 08th MS Team).

Finally, Unicorn, and Gundam in general, have never been good at giving information to the audience without long-winded monologues.  This is something I think Japanese writers can learn from American writers.  When your episode is an hour long and 45 minutes of it are spent in lengthy discussions about politics and the implications of one action over another because of XYZ personal philosophy, your plot slips through the cracks.

Overall, I really enjoyed the series, though I wasn’t totally satisfied of the conclusion.  I kept this post as spoiler-free as possible, but would I recommend it?

You’re goddamn right I would.

If you’ve got a spare 7.5 hours in time over a week or two, give Unicorn Gundam a shot.  The first six episodes come in at an average of 55 minutes, with a seventh 90-minute finale to top it off.  Very do-able.