Films and TV of the month: August

Dunkirk (2017) (Christopher Nolan)
Suspenseful, realistic and patriotic WW2 drama/thriller. Taking the audience into the heat of battle, you feel you are there with them. Many are not fighting and just trying to survive.
Hans Zimmer's pulsating score is perfect during the action, and his music also soars in the emotional scenes. Is it a classic? Definitely well-made, but I have doubts if I'll remember the lines of dialogue and characters.
There's a case to be made that turning people's struggles into thrill ride entertainment and earning money from this event is inappropriate. The counter argument is enough time has passed since WW2 and Nolan is honoring these individuals. I belong to the latter camp.

2036: Nexus Dawn (6 min short) (Luke Scott) 
Prequel short set after the 2019 events of Blade Runner and before upcoming Blade Runner 2049.
Memorable for the violence. The dialogue felt a bit overwritten and scripted. Takes place in a room at night, and especially the chandelier and lighting is quite beautiful. I liked it better on rewatch.

The Lives of Others (2006) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Rewatch. I'm going to Berlin this autumn, so watching a few films filmed in the city. As others have said, why he rebels is unclear. Perhaps we have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Elizabeth (1998) (Shekhar Kapur)
British biographical/historical drama set in the 1500s. Gives you a history lesson of sorts. (Spoilers) Queen Elizabeth I of England was a compassionate Queen, with a mind of her own, promoting progress, working to stop the needless burning of heretics. Religion caused suffering in those times too. The film is also about duty and love, and especially in the last act, is too eager to make us feel a specific way about her, which took my rating down from an 8 to a 7.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) (Shekhar Kapur)
Overblown in places, though better than the 35% Rotten Tomatoes score. Blanchett delivers another strong performance as the slightly older Queen Elizabeth 1. Earns its Oscar for Costume Design and the sets are impressive too. Sir Francis Drake wasn't given much screen time and from what I'm told he was more important than the film depicted.

Heat (1995) (Michael Mann)
A very quotable crime/drama which initially is a bit cold and brutal, but the longer it goes, the more I cared.
Includes one of the most thrilling bank robberies ever put to film, featuring the intense Brian Eno instrumental Force Marker.
The meeting in the restaurant between Pacino and De Niro is another highlight, yet on rewatch feels a tad unrealistic. Why would Neil admit he still takes scores? A sad film in how most characters are neglecting other people.

Sunshine (2007) (Danny Boyle)
Believable (for the most part) science fiction space-adventure, but the Pinbacker character is silly. Could have done without the shaky cam. Scientists making elementary mistakes to further the story is a lazy plot device. Nice film score and at times quite beautiful images. I don't think TV does the movie justice, I might have rated Sunshine higher, if I'd seen it on the big screen.

LA 92 (2017) (Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin)
25 years after the verdict in the Rodney King trial sparked several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles, the events are retold as objectively as possible without bias.
I was only 11 in 1992 so was like watching for the first time. An important film. Regrettably I think a similar situation could happen again, as police brutality continues.

Apollo 11: The Untold Story (2008) (Tom Whitter)
Like Apollo 13, even though I knew the outcome, the storytelling was suspenseful. Apparently Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were not told about the dangers of take-off, and the descent to the moon could easily have gone wrong, as the fuel tank on the landing stage of the LEM was almost empty.

Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression (2009)  
Unauthorized by (and therefore completely independent from) Depeche Mode themselves or their record company.
An album-by-album documentary featuring talking heads. Focus is on 1980-1993. Never wanting to repeat the same sound in the early years was very ambitious. Stripped was inspired by the noise of an engine. Deciding to "live an album" and not do anything else helped elevate 1986's Black Celebration. Sadly not enough interviews with Depeche Mode. Mostly we hear from producers, engineers, biographer Jonathan Miller, and other synthpop artists (OMD, Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby) . Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and The Normal are mentioned as early, lesser known synth bands.
I didn't know the making of 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion was hampered by substance abuse and personal problems and could explain the distress in the vocals and lyrics.

The Alcohol Years (2000) (Carol Morley)
Carol Morley is the sister of music journalist Paul Morley. Hmm, this 50 min film was sleazier than expected. Had no idea Carol Morley was so slutty and unpleasant during her youth. She claims not to remember chunks of it, which apparently took place in an alcoholic haze. The documentary acts as a therapeutic and somewhat self-indulgent journey in her attempt to make sense of who she used to be. Brave of her to look at the worst sides of herself andt put it on film for all to see. Based on this account of friends discussing her troubled early life in Manchester, it's quite the turnaround she became a director and made the brillant Dreams of a Life (2011). I like her more as an artist than as a person.

BaadAsssss Cinema (2002) (Isaac Julien)
A one hour look at blaxploitation films of the 1970s, with various opinions on the matter. As you would expect, there are congratulatory remarks and observations on the empowerment of Sweetback, Shaft, Superfly, Coffy, The Mack and other films.
But the documentary also touches on the fashion, stereotypes, and backlash to blaxploitation. As a wiser, older Pam Grier admitted:
"We have to be very thoughtful about what we do and say on film. the stereotypes we have are often what we perpetuated ourselves. I broke them, but I also created some. Because everyone thought a black woman is a whoop-your-butt sister all the time. I said, no, that's not true. So we create a lot of that mess ourselves"

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) (Stanley Nelson)
Fascinating and educational documentary about the rise and fall of The Black Panthers.
Starts off with an allegory. Three blind men touch an elephant, one touches the skin and says it’s like a wall, another touches the tusk and says the elephant must be like a spear, a third touches the trunk and says it feels like a snake. “That is what happened in the black panther party, we know which party we are in, but not the entire thing”
Being black in America in the 1960s meant you didn’t walk out on the street with the same sense of safety and privilege as the white person. They didn’t call you nigger in California, but they treated you the same way as in the south (Mississippi).
Police threatened the blacks on the street. Black panthers started as a group for self-defence, not intended as a nationwide organisation. The panther (animal) doesn’t strike anyone, but when the aggressor continuously attacks, then it will strike out.
Black panthers with weapons would stand at a distance of police and make sure there was no brutality. Firing up in the air if police used guns. Panthers wanted the entire community to follow their example.
The police considered black panthers dangerous nuts with guns and authorities wanted to pass a new law prohibiting loaded guns in public places. Several blacks were arrested in Sacramento, the capital city of the U.S. state of California, and many blacks saw this on TV, radio, and newspapers, and the event caused the black panther party to grow. Killings and arrests of Panthers increased its support among African Americans
A couple of their goals include better education for blacks, and the immediate end to police brutality.
New members came off the street. The downside was the party had no idea who these people were.
Black panther leader and minister of self-defense Huey Newton is accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey, and inspired the “free Huey” movement. The somewhat erratic Eldridge Cleaver is considered the only available spokesperson for the party.
The black panthers say they are not anti-white, but hate oppression.
Later, the party wanted to be less associated with self-defence and police patrols, and aid programs were started, free breakfasts for black children, as scientifically proven a good breakfast helps learning. Free clinics also. This help the party build their membership.
The black panthers started a newspaper which caricatured the police as “pigs” with clothes.
Eldridge uses violence against the police, the 17 year old he was with dies when surrendering
Eldridge goes to Algeria and the US can’t arrest him there.
FBI chief J Edgar Hoover names black panthers as number one threat to national security.
Hoover supervised an extensive counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower. The program was also accused of assassinating Black Panther members.
Becomes dangerous to be a member, which in turn means less are inclined to join.
Black panthers encounter an internal conflict between freed Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, Newton throws Eldridge out of the party, and black panthers divide into two.
Co-founder of the panthers Bobby Seale runs for major in Oakland, giving away free chickens in an attempt to lure black voters, and amazingly Seal was able to register 20.000-50.000 to vote, turning the survival programs into a get-up-and-vote program. But he lost the election.
Huey Newton surrounds himself with former inmates and is unpredictable and sometimes violent, some days a great leader, other days self-serving. Bobby Seale and others leave black panthers.
Many of the party’s members were women, looking for better rights for females in society.
Opinions differ on the reputation of The Black Panthers. Good intentions and a positive impact in the breakfast programs, but with controversial methods and questionable leadership.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


  1. Gosh Chris, some list here and I've only seen Dunkirk but I did enjoy it. Not much of a story line and we all knew the outcome but it is heartwarming to know what human beings are capable of when the chips are down. I did shed a tear when the little ships appeared over the horizon.

    1. @Alyson: I didn’t know the outcome (oops my knowledge of Dunkirk is lacking :) Agree the film is moving. The scene you mention is a highlight for sure.
      The older I get, the more I become interested in history. Maybe that's normal!

  2. I still need to see Dunkirk.

    The Lives of Others is fantastic. I think the exact reasoning for his rebellion is purposely vague. As I put it in my own review, we're not sure "whether we're watching him unravel or merely get in touch with his own humanity." There reasons to believe both.

    Heat is even better. What a phenomenal film with phenomenal performances. As for DeNiro's admission, I always took as a "catch me if you can" challenge. Besides, he doesn't admit to anything specific which is what Pacino would need to put him away.

    Not a fan of Sunshine. The first two acts were fine, but then it completely fell apart when it went monster-flick.

    Almost all of those docs are on my radar. I need to get busy watching them.

    1. @Wendell: Interesting take on the character in The Lives of Others. As you say, it's open to interpretation. For me, he began to see that censorship was inhibiting free expression.

      The comment kind of spurred on Pacino's character in Heat, so I think it was dumb for De Niro's character to even say anything without a lawyer present. But it's a movie, which is about confrontation. If he said nothing, the movie would be less entertaining.

      Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is the best thing I watched all month. A piece of history I was unfamiliar, and put this summer's blaxploitation marathon into context.

  3. Alright so I'm not exactly commenting on this post (although Dunkirk was a fantastic and moving film) I have been viewing old posts and thought I might reccoment one of my older(?) favorites The Good Son (2004) while it was mildly disturbing and started slow I still loved it and have watched it many times since :)

    1. @Brianna: Agree about Dunkirk. I haven't seen The Good Son (2004), you have me intrigued, and I'll give it a try when I can.
      Thanks for taking the time to read older posts, you're welcome to comment any time.

  4. Lots of great films here, especially Elizabeth and Dunkirk. Elizabeth - Golden Age is much worse than the first part but Blanchett still manages to be so good there. The romantic/jealousy subplot with Abbie Cornish and Clive Owen was so cringe worthy

    1. @Sati: Thanks, yes, Blanchett manages to be good in almost everything. Elizabeth: The Golden Age was too over-the-top, especially the music, but I did think it was generally watchable.
      Hope your arm is improving after the recent mishap.

  5. Only seen Sunshine & Heat, both of which I enjoyed, though I always felt Heat was overrated. The list of reasons I have not to watch Dunkirk is longer than the film itself, starting with Nolan and ending with Tom Hardy. Still, glad you enjoyed it. History deserves a respectful portrayal of those events. If it was that, then all the better. (I still don't want to watch it.)

    1. @Rol: If you dislike Nolan's suspense cinema style, then I doubt you'd enjoy Dunkirk. I think Dunkirk is done respectfully. If you are picky about history on screen, then it could be offensive to see a film company profit from events in which soldiers lost their lives. In that regard, it's iffy. Then again, you could say the same about Titanic or other films, which turn casualties into entertainment once a certain amount of years have passed.


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