Category: Reviews

Dunkirk (2017) Movie Review

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My experience watching Dunkirk can be described as follows:

  • I’ve arrived at the beach tired, hungry, and thirsty. My eyes scan the shoreline filled with thousands of British, Belgium, and French soldiers lined up for evacuation.  The beach is strewn with abandoned supplies of ammunition, field and anti-aircraft guns, and vehicles.
  • German aircraft fly over my head and drop bombs one after one in the sand. I duck for cover, bury my head. When it’s over, I’m alive but covered with debris and surrounded by dead bodies.
  • I’ve flown in the cockpit of a Spitfire, getting dizzy while it zoomed around in the sky.
  • I’ve engaged in aircraft dogfights with the Germans, flying over the Straits of Dover.
  • I’ve crashed my plane into the ocean and felt the desperation of attempting to survive.
  • I’ve climbed into naval ships that I thought would take me home only to find out they were my doom as I sank into the cold, dark waters.
  • I’ve been torpedoed.
  • I’ve nearly drowned multiple times.
  • I’ve been shot at by German bullets.
  • I’ve been sea sick from crossing the choppy waters in a small vessel.
  • I’ve swum in the burning oceans of oil.
  • I’ve been filled with fear, horror, desperation, deceitfulness, and witnessed heroism while attempting to escape.
  • And by the grace of God, I’ve survived with 300,000 others because I was rescued by a civilian in a private vessel.

Though historically Churchill called the retreat a “colossal military disaster,” Dunkirk the movie is an absolute success. It uniquely places the audience in the midst of the action, experiencing everything I’ve listed above. Though I did not see it on iMax (but I’m definitely going to do it anyway), I did watch it on the oversized curved screen at Regal known as RPX, on a lounge chair, with the floor vibrating underneath my seat and the explosions on the left and right vibrating my eardrums.  By the end of the movie, I was tearfully thankful for surviving but experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder via the big screen.

The movie flips back from scene to scene focusing on three subplots that play out during different timelines.  Initially, the focus is on a British soldier named Tommy who ends up at the beach as a sole survivor of a small band of British soldiers. He meets another soldier, and the two of them stick together throughout the movie, attempting to make their way home through evacuation.

The second theme focuses on Mr. Dawson, a civilian sailor, who joins the other fishing boats, pleasure crafts, and ferries who cross the channel and help rescue the stranded British army. Their story is about the journey, that includes his son and a young lad who joins them to help.

The third plot is flying above while you are crammed into the cockpit next to Tom Hardy (frankly no complaint there), while three planes attempt to shoot down the Germans dropping bombs on the ships and shoreline below and dogfighting with the pesky other Germans attempting to thwart the British defense.

While all of this plays out, you are surrounded by fantastic music by Hams Zimmer that makes you bite your nails in some scenes, wound your soul in others, and elicit tears at the end.   The characters in the movie are fictional, but the underlying story of Dunkirk is historically correct.  If you want to read more about it, visit that wonderful place called Wikipedia.

Don’t expect a lot of dialogue or extended character development.  Nolan has no intention of giving his audience those perks but rather an intense emotional up-front experience of war during an iconic moment in history.

In the end, Churchill’s speech is read from the newspaper by a survivor.

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Dunkirk is well directed, well produced, and well acted.  It is Oscar worthy and a must-see of Christopher Nolan’s extraordinary storytelling talent.

The Passing Bells (2014 BBC Series)

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Why do I watch these series that make me go through a box of tissues?  Can someone answer me, please?  It’s that phrase that continually resounds in my brain, “Lest We Forget.”

Since I’ve recently written a book set in England during World War I, between finding all of my distant cousins who perished, plus doing research non-stop, I’ve been pulled into this terrible conflict. The more I watch, the more I cry.  Someone on the Period Drama Group on Facebook suggested The Passing Bells. It’s streaming on BritBox, if you care to watch it.  It’s also on sale on Amazon but in overseas format only. Beware, the ending will rip your heart out.

It’s a story that spans four years of the World War I, seen through the eyes of two young lads – one from England and one from Germany.  From the moment that war is declared and they enlist, the story flips back and forth following their training and fighting in a war that after four years becomes tiresome and pointless.

In addition to their lives, the story touches upon their families — the fears of their mothers when they enlist, the proud fathers who wish their sons the best, the young ladies the young lads love, and the effects of war upon their home communities. It also places the audience in the trenches and at the battle of Somme, which was the most horrific battle where in reality 420,00 English soldiers, 434,000 German, and 200,000 French died.  At the end of the series, the following is shown – What passing-bells for these who die as cattle. (Anthem for Doomed Youth byWilford Owen)

There is great hope as you watch this five-part series that the two young lads (Thomas played by Patrick Gibson as the English soldier and Michael played by Jack Lowden as the German soldier) will survive. As you watch the politicians sign their names to the Treaty of Versailles something terrible happens at the end.  It is not an easy story to watch, but it reminds us that we should never forget.

My only critical comment about this series is that British actors with distinctive British accents also play the Germans in this movie. It detracts from the realism and would have been much better had they learned the accent for the role.  At times it feels as if it’s the British lads fighting British lads.  Otherwise, it’s realistically filmed and well acted.

Our World War (BBC Series 2014)

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5 Stars for Bravery

Yeah, yeah, I know most of you don’t like documentaries.  This one is a little bit different because it’s a well-acted re-enactment of three significant events for the British Army during World War I.  The episodes are based on written accounts by the soldiers who lived and survived to tell their stories and the men with which they served.

What can say about it? It’s emotional. It’s heartwrenching.  It’s shocking.  Well done, except for the oddity of the rock music in some of the scenes. The series actually puts you — the viewer — into the battles as if you were with the men and hearing the bullets whiz by your head.  The tension prior to and in engagement with the enemy is palpable. Perhaps that is why this program will undoubtedly leave an impression on you.  And if you lost distant cousins in the war like I did — six of them the ages of 18 to 42 — you will appreciate their sacrifice and you will draw closer to their memory as the young lads who served their country.

The first episode focuses on the first day that the British army encounters the German army in August 1914. Unprepared for the onslaught of Germans and their brutal advance, it’s difficult to watch the slaughter.  The second episode is about the Manchester Pals, as they called them, who served at Somme.  A few of my cousins were from Manchester.  The third episode is about the invention of the tank, and how the British turned the tide of the war toward victory by these new machines.

As a caution before you watch, you might find the lads extremely difficult to understand with the myriad of different British accidents, along with Irish and Scottish.  Hang in there and don’t surrender.  Keep calm and carry on through the end.

If you possess a soul, you might end up a bit tearful watching this series.  As the trailer says, “Modern warfare is brutal. 100 years ago it was unimaginable.”

Check it out – now streaming on Netflix. Read about the series at BBC. (Especially the pages of Interactive Episodes.)

Off the Grid

I’m usually more active tossing around popcorn kernels on my blog, but I’m the middle of editing my newest book, Lady Grace.  It’s sucking the life out of me, giving me dreams, and making me cry.  Here’s hoping nobody throws it against the wall when they read it.

In any event, when I’m focused on writing, my television addiction slows to a crawl and reviews may not be forthcoming.  At the present time, I’m watching Lochness on Acorn TV, but each episode is released weekly.  Sadly, I’ll have to wait to find out who is pulling out hearts and brains after they kill people.  It’s a monster at Lochness but not the sea creature type.

In the meantime, there are plenty of old reviews to read.  Happy binge watching, my friends.


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