EMPIRE OF LIGHT film review

Underwhelming. Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light tries to be too many things, and winds up being none of them sufficiently enough. Furthermore, it’s a story out of time that would have played better had it come out 30-40 years ago. Moreover, it’s poorly paced, and Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-reaching performance is simply not enough to save this film that so desperately desires your affection. Is it a story about the challenges of a mixed race couple in the 1980s? Is it a story about the love and healing nature of cinema? Is it a story commenting on and challenging ageism in romance? Or, is it a story about trauma and mental illness? It’s all of those subjects–and–none of those. None of them effectively enough, anyway.

A romance develops in a beautiful old cinema on the south coast of England in the 1980s.

In an age in which mixed-race couples are increasingly common, movies about the healing power of cinema have been done–and much better (ie Cinema Paradiso), and films about mental illness are common, the story that needed to be the central focus was the one on ageism in dating. And yet, that subplot takes the furthest backseat to the others. Empire of Light never lands on any one outside/action story paired with an inside/emotional story. Neither does Coleman’s character effectively go though a growth arc–she is largely the same at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning–save the healing power of cinema (which isn’t her chief struggle).

This film stands as another example of a director with an idea(s) that should have worked with a screenwriter, because any screenwriter with his/her weight in salt would’ve cautioned Mendes against the plethora of subplots and inner-needs. A closer look at this film suggests that Mendes desired to create this generation’s Cinema Paradiso, but the movie simply doesn’t deliver on that theme or subplot. Like with all the other themes and motifs, the narrative feels desperately forced. I’ll leave you with this: where the film does excel.

Empire of Light ‘shines’ best through the brilliant eye of director of photography Roger Deakins. It’s because of his incredible talent that the film looks as gorgeous as it does. Furthermore, the setting and production design shine brilliantly. I wish that the outside/action story included the renovation of the older auditoriums and ballroom. Would’ve made for a fantastic manifestation of one of the inside/emotional stories.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE KING’S MAN movie review

Highly entertaining! This film can be read as a commentary on the necessities and atrocities of war and the emotional cost of freedom. After the disappointing sequel to the outstanding Kingsman: the Secret Service, I was unsure what to expect from this prequel-sequel. So often, prequels simply do not capture the magic of the original. While the original is still the best in this franchise, this prequel taking us back to the origins of the secret agency operating at the most extreme discretion, will keep you engaged as it parallels world history leading up to World War I. The movie is well-paced and structured, and will keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen for the duration of the movie that surprisingly exceeds two hours; you will not feel like you’ve sat there for over two hours. Teaching World Cinema, I spend a lot of time each semester discussing the historical events that helped to shape the content therein and direction of cinema, so I was particularly interested in how closely this film would follow the Russian Revolution and the preamble to the Third Reich in Germany. Even though this film is not intended to recreate all the actual events that plunged the Western world into World War I, there are quite a number of nods and references to major turning points in the revolutions and wars. Most notably in this film, is the subplot of Rasputin and the Romanov family. Ralph Fiennes’ role as the Duke of Oxford (founder of Kingsman) finds a nice balance between serious and campy. Tonally, the original still strikes the best balance, but this one is certainly aiming for that balance between serious espionage movie and camp; perhaps the landing is a little bumpy, but never does it detract away from the experience. If you enjoy spy movies that are exciting and take place within real world history, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this film!

One man must race against time to stop history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds as they get together to plot a war that could wipe out millions of people and destroy humanity.

Decades prior to the events of the original, Kingsman was formed, but only after the Western world was plunged into World War I, inclusive of the Russian Revolution and preamble to the Third Reich. While we know from history that there wasn’t an organization of villains who’s goal was to overthrow democracy and monarchy in exchange for socialism and totalitarianism, the film does a good job of applying some fiction to the real historical events. In terms of history, the months leading up to the Russian Revolution provide the bulk of the historic context. Yes, that means the infamous Rasputin plays a major role in the film. And the film plays it close to history, because unlike the Rasputin we get in Anastasia, this one isn’t a sorcerer; however, it does hint at him possessing some dark magic (but that mythos is grounded in reality). The real life Rasputin was a dark priest, alchemist, healer, and advisor to Tsar Nicholas Romanov II, the last emperor of Russia. One prominent historical theory suggests that the British Secret Service was involved in Rasputin’s assassination, and this film leans into that theory in order to motivate the founding of Kingsman. For a while, I thought that the legend of Anastasia (which lasted about 90 years) was going to factor into this movie, which would give rise to a plot point in its sequel. But sadly, I don’t think we will be searching for Anastasia in the next movie (if there is one, which there probably will be).

What I appreciate most about this film is the commentary on the atrocities and necessities of war and the emotional cost of victory. This isn’t really a spoiler because it happens in the first few minutes of the film, but we open on the death of the Duke of Oxford’s (Fiennes) wife, and it’s this death that radically alters his opinions on getting involved in war and fighting for your country. Moreover, his radical ideological shift was exhibited through his rearing of his son, whom he (over)protected and kept from entering into military service. Understandably, the Duke did not want to lose his son on the war front, in the same way he lost his wife and son’s mother. Without spoiling the plot, the Duke goes through a redemption arc and through various conflict, his pacifist ideology is challenged, and he must decide what he’s going to do about it, as the world is crumbling around him. Sometimes, war is necessary to fight for what is right. But even the most justified wars come as a cost. That cost may be emotional, psychological, or relational; yet, the cost is worth it because it may have saved tens of thousands or even millions of lives in the long run. The King’s Man challenges our views on war, by placing us in the family units and in the trenches along No Man’s Land (and no, Wonder Woman does not show up). Some things in life are truly worth fighting for, and fights are not always going to be debates on a stage. Furthermore, if you’re a parent, perhaps you will be challenged to be the kind of man or women your child would be.

You’ll want to add The King’s Man to your list of movies to watch in cinemas over Christmas! You get a little of everything: some classic espionage, a World War I film, and commentary that is applicable to our own lives.

Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“Dunkirk” film review

Journalism meets cinematic visual storytelling. Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk provides audiences with a different kind of war movie experience. Different in that the narrative is nonlinear and highly experimental. From a technical perspective, the film is flawless. The cinematography, sound design, and score all work together to create an immersive experience in which that fourth wall is nearly removed. One of my friends that I saw the film with last night described it as being a fly on the wall within each timeline. With little dialog, the focus is on the various groups of the army, air force, and civilians. The stylistic film reminds me of photo/video journalism. Dunkirk demonstrates that an emotionally satisfying experience can be delivered without conventional storytelling. In many ways Norma Desmond would be proud of Nolan’s film because “[he] didn’t need dialog, [he] had faces.” Dunkirk invites audiences in for a rare glimpse into the reality of war, and the reality of not only the armed forces but the civilian assistance that truly made the difference and just why this particular war story is so remarkable. Be sure to brush up on your knowledge of the events of Dunkirk before watching the film. You’re definitely going to need to have a base of knowledge of the theatre before becoming the proverbial fly on the wall.

Instead of a plot synopsis, here is what Wikipedia has as a summary of the history of Dunkirk Evacuation. This is definitely going to be helpful prior to watching the film.

During the Second World War (1939–1945), in the May 1940 Battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France aiding the French, was cut off from the rest of the French Army by the German advance. Encircled by the Germans they retreated to the area around the port of Dunkirk. For years, it was assumed that Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to stop the attack, favouring bombardment by the Luftwaffe. However, according to the Official War Diary of Army Group A, its commander, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt, ordered the halt. Hitler merely validated the order several hours after the fact. This lull in the action gave the British a few days to evacuate by sea and fortify defences. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, ordered any ship or boat available, large or small, to collect the stranded soldiers. 338,226 men (including 123,000 French soldiers) were evacuated – the miracle of Dunkirk, as Churchill called it. It took over 900 vessels to evacuate the Allied forces and although over two-thirds of those rescued embarked via the harbour, almost 100,000 were taken off the beaches. More than 40,000 vehicles as well as massive amounts of other military equipment and supplies were left behind, their value being less than that of trained fighting men. The British evacuation of Dunkirk through the English Channel was codenamed Operation Dynamo. Forty thousand Allied soldiers (some who carried on fighting after the official evacuation) were captured or forced to make their own way home through a variety of routes including via neutral Spain.

If you are approaching Dunkirk from a desire to see a Saving Private Ryan, then you may want to rethink going to see this film. With little convention in the storytelling, this film puts you on the beach, in the air, or on the sea alongside the civilians, pilots, soldiers, and officers. The focus is not on the characters, special effects, or the bloody atrocities of war, but focussed on highlighting a significant event in WWII history that has largely gone unknown except for those in France and the UK. You are very much like a journalist who is capturing the imagery with your camera. It’s a snapshot of war, not necessarily the story of war. War history buffs, this IS a film for you!