In this enthralling episode, we swing our wisdom mallets at Shin Godzilla, David Lynch: The Art Life, Dunkirk, The Big Sick and Scribe and beat their most intimate truths out of them. Feel not for them, they’ve got it coming.
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After a disastrous military campaign to kick off proceedings in WW2, the British and French armies find themselves being driven into the sea. Well over three hundred thousand souls found themselves on the beaches of Dunkirk waiting for an evacuation that was hoped would save thirty five thousand of them, but managed to retrieve more than ten times that.
The story of the evacuation, a race against time ultimately facilitated by the civilian vessels requisitioned to aid the Royal Navy in ferrying the servicemen back home still plays a part in the British identity, a sort-of-victory snatched from impending catastrophic defeat that allowed Britain to hold out, just, until the New World bailed us out. The following Battle of Britain cements the plucky island alone against the world ethos that our more ferverent nationalists like to think still holds true today, leading to some of our higher profile political missteps of recent times.
However, unusually this month we’re not here to talk about the big issues of the collapse of Empire, but simply the qualities of Chris Nolan’s latest film, the utilitarianly titled Dunkirk, if the two are separable. He has us join proceedings with the vast bulk of the unsightly “running away” already done, and the “orderly queueing” phase underway – a British specialty. If only wars could be won by tea and scone consumption.
There’s a few focal points we bounce around between, some of which tie up after rounds of quite needless light non-linearity. We’ve got Mark Rylance heading over the channel in one of the small civilian ships with his son and a local lad, picking up a shellshocked Cillian Murphy from a sunken vessel on the way. The bulk of the exposition is handled by Kenneth Branagh’s Navy Commander Bolton and James D’Arcy’s Colonel Winnant, on the mole at the head of a line of soldiers waiting patiently for evacuation.
We spend quite some time following Harry Styles’ Alex, looking for a way on to a ship and getting into various unpleasant scrapes along the way. Styles, I believe, was a member of a pop-rock combo that today’s youth are fond of. The remaining main plank of the film is Spitfire pilot Tom Hardy’s attempts to protect the ships from the Luftwaffe. While, as mentioned, some of this ties together, it’s not so much an overarching narrative as it is small segments of the overall gestalt of Operation Dynamo.
Nolan brings his usual sensibilities to the subject, but that may not be an unalloyed positive. Apparently 50 boats were found for the production, but it seemed like less than a dozen to me on viewing it. The total Allied ship count was closer to 700. There’s really not the sense of scale that there needed to be on the maritime front, and this is one instance where Nolan’s overriding preference for practical effects hurts the film. Would it really have been such a terrible thing to CG in a few dots on the horizon? Between this and his hardline shooting-on-film stance, Nolan opens himself up to accusations of Ludditeism, and if there’s any film-maker I’d like to see fully embrace all of the possibilities opened up by technology in addition to the realism conferred by physical effects, it’s Nolan? I’d rather hoped we’d moved on from that debate, at least in theoretical terms if not as evidenced by the results at the multiplex coalface.
Instead, Chris Nolan has redefined war movies, and he has redefined them to mean “close-ups of Tom Hardy’s near entirely flight-mask occluded face”. Actually, that’s not fair. It very frequently shows him pulling a lever, too.
It’s a curiously sterile film – while many soldiers are left to a sad demise by bomb or by water, there’s no grizzly details shown ala Saving Private Ryan, or more recently the meatgrinder of Hacksaw Ridge. This is not, at heart, a film that is hammering home the “war is hell” narrative in the literal visceral sense. Instead it’s doing… actually I’m not sure what it’s doing instead.
It appears to be an examination of human character and reactions under stress, and it shows that humans, when presented with challenges, will respond to them in different ways. Which is an observation up there with humans will attempt to breathe in and out, when possible.
It’s refreshing, in a sense, to see a film that’s dealing with this subject matter without going straight for the heartstrings, but all that seems to have done is stifle any vibrancy. Almost unbelievably, given what a list of events covered would look like, I found most of Dunkirk tending towards the dull side.
It’s a very well produced and acted dullness, to be sure, but dull nonetheless. Even the young Styles lad holds his own amongst some heavy hitters, but the result, and I accept I’m in the minority here, is not attention grabbing in the slightest.
In this film’s wake, there’s been a resurrection of the talk that Nolan is the new Kubrick, and I feel there’s some truth to this. In particular, that this is his 2001: A Space Odyssey, inasmuch as they’re both immaculately produced films that I don’t really understand the point of, am baffled by the regard they’re held in, and ultimately left cold by.
Oh, and if you think, as the bulk of online outlets seem to be suggesting, that we missed Michael Caine’s cameo, you are wrong. If there is one thing this podcast is uniquely attuned to it is opportunities to use our one hundred percent – one hundred percent, mind you – impersonation of the increasingly nutty right wing firebrand slash beloved actor. He’s like the British Clint Eastwood. I expect him to be lecturing a chair at the next Tory conference.
Former alcoholic Duval (François Cluzet) has been out of work for some time, after a booze induced breakdown at his former workplace. Seemingly out of the blue, he’s contacted by the mysterious Clément (Denis Podalydès) and offered a job in his ill-defined organisation. Needing the job, Duval doesn’t ask too many questions and takes it.
He’s directed to a shabby apartment outfitted with a typewriter and a selection of taped, wiretapped conversations that he’s tasked with transcribing, which he does for many uneventful days before meeting another of Clément’s employees, who soon takes an interest in one of transcripts and enlists Duval’s unknowing help in setting up business for himself.
This swiftly goes awry, a bungled robbery leaving Duval in the middle of the crosshairs of Clément’s organisation and the security services investigating Clément, trying to turn Duval into an informant with an accessory to murder charge as leverage. Who can Duval trust, and can he avoid having his love interest dragged into all of this?
No-one, and no, respectively, which I trust doesn’t spoil things as if you’ve seen any of these noir-ish thrillers, you’ll know which way the wind blows.
I quite enjoyed Scribe. It’s suitably mysterious for the most part, although I’d perhaps argue it’s a bit light on detail even at the end. There’s a coherent reason for what was going on given as part of an exposition drop at the end, but it’s pretty much irrelevant to our lead character, who’d need a couple of promotions to be even a pawn in the plans.
There’s a ream of unexplored questions about Clément’s organisation and how they’re in the position they’re in, which may well be best left unexplored, as I doubt there could be a remotely believable answer. Still, it does leave the impression that the most interesting points in the film have been left on the table.
However, the performance from François Cluzet is good enough to carry things through, and it’s propelled forward at a good enough clip by director Thomas Kruithof (his first feature, as best as I can gather) that the questions don’t occur until after the credits have rolled.
As I say, I enjoyed this, but not enough to recommend taking extraordinary steps to track it down except to any fans of the genre, for whom this will provide a pretty reasonable amount of entertainment.
Kumail Nanjiani plays more or less himself in this more or less true story from earlier in his career. He’s a jobbing stand-up comedian on the Chicago scene, looking for a big break when he meets and falls in love with Zoe Kazan’s grad-student Emily. However, between coming under pressure from his parents to follow the traditional arranged marriage route and the demands of his career, he fails to properly commit to the relationship and they break up.
Not long after this, he receives a phone call telling him that Emily has fallen seriously ill very suddenly, and he was the only contact they could get hold of, and that he needs to sign off on inducing Emily into a coma so the doctors can start poking and prodding and working out what on Earth’s gone wrong.
Not long after she goes under, her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) show up and dismiss Kumail, having heard the details of the messy breakup. Kumail doesn’t let himself go so easily, however, regretting breaking up and promising to do as much as he can for Emily. Which, let’s face it, isn’t a lot, but he can at least keep Terry and Beth company in this trying time, while also trying to keep his hopes of being invited to perform at the Montreal festival alive.
There was a first draft of this review in my head where I’d talk about how diversity is important in bringing us different stories to the screen, but on reflection that’s not entirely true in this instance. The bare bones plot, as related above, isn’t anything new at all, it’s essentially While You Were Sleeping and there’s probably earlier examples than ’95 if you went looking for them.
What is different in this film, and where the vast bulk of the comedy is mined, is from Nanjiani’s clash of cultures and perspectives as a second-generation immigrant, having to deal with American and Pakistani cultural differences and occasionally finding his positions halfway between or entirely against one or the other of them.
Which sounds altogether tedious when put in those terms, but The Big Sick) is solidly funny throughout, and has at least a couple of really funny bits (which I’m told are in the trailers, but it was ever thus, I suppose). There’s solid dramatic turns from Nanjiani, Hunter and (of all people) Romano, cast as the straight man to Nanjiani and doing a pretty good job of it.
The Rom part of this is handled well enough, but the Com part is, if not knocked out of the park, at least battered close to the home plate bleacher. I don’t really know baseball well enough to attempt to modify the phrase, really. Sorry. I’m just trying to say that I enjoyed it quite a lot and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s bases are loaded and belong to us make your time? Sorry. Look, I’m not familiar with the sport. The film’s good, but.
We of course have a healthy respect for the works of David Lynch, as evidenced by the length of our January 2016 episode, but I’d never claim to know all that much about Lynch himself. So of course I’d jump at the chance to find out a bit more about him, in his own words, with perhaps a slight hope, however unlikely, that this would help decipher some of Lynch’s more obscure leanings.
The Art Life is fittingly a slightly odd documentary inasmuch as it’s told entirely in Lynch’s voice, with the presumable interlocutors and directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm staying entirely off camera and off mic, giving this the feel of Lynch having sat next to you with an armful of his creepy paintings and started telling you his life story.
This covers his small-town upbringing, realisation of his interest in art, and the subsequent moves around the country to schools and such pursuing this goal of living the Art Life, ending up with him in the American Film Institute creating Eraserhead, where we leave him.
What there’s precious little of, whether Lynch didn’t deign to say or wasn’t challenged to bring up, is any sort of drama or struggle whatsoever. While it’s great that Lynch had, at least as he tells it, a happy upbringing with supportive family and friends, and opportunities to follow his dreams, the seeming ease at which he’s had doesn’t make for a hugely interesting life story.
Not that I’m suggesting that tragedies be invented to spice things up or wished upon Lynch, but given the art that we’ve seen from him, both his films and the painting/sculptures seen in this documentary, there’s surely got to be more layers to Lynch’s worldview that this film either has no interest in, or more likely, that Lynch doesn’t want to talk about. I think, however, I might have gotten more understanding of his character by hearing him refusing to answer that line of questioning than in hearing how he played in the mud as a kid.
Lynch is an engaging enough speaker, and, hey, I’ll take what I can get in term of his story. I have rather less patience for the film-maker’s decision to futz with their footage with a seemingly arbitrary selection of After-Effects filters to graft on some visual “flair”, which when juxtaposed with Lynch’s unique, weird artwork looks a bit amateurish.
Look, if you’re a follower of David Lynch’s work, while I don’t think I’ve gained a damn thing by watching this documentary, it’s worth watching simply because he’s so guarded about the meaning of his work that anything’s a bonus in terms of background material.
If, however, you’ve not spent the last decade and a half trying to unravel the meaning of the occurrences surrounding the man behind ‘Winkies’, there’s not a great deal for you in David Lynch: The Art Life.
This, of course, being the follow-up to the highly successful Thigh Godzilla.
Following on from on the surprising commercial and critical success of Gareth Edward’s boring Godzilla reboot from a few years back, Toho, Japanese originators of the films from back in the rubber suit era, presumably decided the time is ripe for their own reboot of the franchise, dormant in its home nation since 2004’s now-incorrectly named Godzilla: Final Wars.
This very much goes back to the roots of the story, with the baffled leaders of Japan scrambling for a plan on how to deal with this huge dino-beast that’s come up from the depths of the sea and started wandering around Tokyo, flattening buildings willy nilly. Young firebrand Rando Yaguchi is tasked with assembling a team to work out a measured response after Godzilla’s first incursion, while the rest of the government and military concentrate on the more traditional “evacuate and bombard” plans, because as it’s a reboot, they do not have the rich history of this not working in the slightest to draw from.
After a brief reprieve, Godzilla returns and it’s revealed that it’s giving off a radioactive signature, and can mutate at will thanks to its nuclear waste dump-based origins. Conventional weaponry, of course, does not work in the slightest, bouncing off our skyscraping reptilian friend, thus, it’s up to Yaguchi’s team to stop Godzilla before the U.N. goes ahead with it’s backup plan, Operation Nuke Tokyo.
In time past I’ve idly wondered what the prefix “Shin” meant in Japanese, so it’s nice to find out it means “Bureaucratic Red Tape Meetings Hampering Response To”. Godzilla may be the poster star, but the great bulk of the film is based around a team of scientists theorising about the nature of the beast, and teams of generally reasonable, surprisingly enough, politicians trying to facilitate a response within the bounds of a law framework not entirely set up to deal with Kaiju.
These last points give us a window to say that this film is therefore a response to the Fukushima meltdown in the same way as the original was a response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, in as much as a giant stompy laser monster can be described as a response to anything. Let’s not pretend this is a work of great social commentary, eh?
No, it’s a monster movie, and so how good is the monster? Eh. Well, it gets better, I should say. Godzilla’s first form. a googly-eyed, floppy mess is downright laughable, but once it “evolves” into the classic Godzilla form it’s a big more acceptable. It’s still beholden to the past, though, giving us a CG creation that looks and moves a great deal like a bloke in suit, which on paper seems like the worst of both worlds.
And in practice,I suppose it is, but it’s still somehow charming? I’m not altogether sure I can defend it on any rational level, but I guess there’s enough goodwill left over from the classic early Toho Godzilla films to nostalgia over the cracks in this reboot? That’s despite it often coming across like a Megashark film that takes itself very seriously.
However, I’m not exactly sure who the audience is for this. Fans of the earlier Toho series, before it succumbed to excess, will no-doubt welcome this, and there’s more schlock fun to be had here than in Gareth Edwards’ film, but if you’re new to the main Japanese wing of the franchise, it may well be a bit too… trite, maybe? to land with an audience.
Question Mark out of Five.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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