“Overlord” full movie review

Surprisingly deep! The best kind of bait and switch is when you go in with moderately low expectations and get blown away by how incredibly well an experimental film dances the line between two genres and provides us with rich writing and excellent direction. At the end of the day, it is still a glorified B-movie, but it’s a B-movie that has so many A-list qualities about it. Often when the term experimental is attributed to a film or movie, it is usually because of a particular stylistic choice by the director; however, I chose that description for this movie because it blends the war (WWII) genre with horror and action to create a movie experience that is incredibly thrilling and creepy. Not for the weak stomached, this movie contains quite a lot of war and horror violence, but the gore and violence are never the focus but used to enhance the visceral experience of the movie. The focus of the movie is on the mission of the American soldiers to take out a signaling tower for the Nazi forces, and we never forget that. For all the complexities of the film, the plot is superbly simple and the main characters moderately complex. If there is one singular fault of the movie, it is that the character of opposition (Wafner) is not as interesting as our central character of Boyce. Supporting the lead cast are fantastic side characters who are mostly there for some comedic relief. While the horrors of Nazi medical experimentation led by the sadistic Josef Mengele are still stomach-churning to this day, the end of this movie contains a brilliant payoff that takes what the Nazis may have been doing right before D-Day, and turns it against them. The Nazi’s are defeated by a member of a group that would have been on their extermination list. If you’re thinking that this is going to be another Dead Snow, you would be wrong. Takes what Dead Snow did well and combines it with the best of WWII movies to deliver an exhilarating movie!

Hours before the real life D-Day, a small group of American soldiers survive a airborne battle above France, and must work together, through their differences, to destroy a signaling tower in village near Normandy in order to allow the Allied forces to storm that infamous beach to deliver France from the clutches of Nazi occupation. The US soldiers soon realize that there is more going on than an oppressive Nazi occupation in the village. As the soldiers inch their way toward the former church, now a Nazi camp, they discover that the evil Nazi medical experimentation goes way beyond unethical and even immoral to downright sadistic. In an effort to solidify the Third Reich’s rein over the world, they have developed a serum to make super soldiers that has some horrific side effects. The allied forces must face not only the Nazi forces but the undead as well.

Why does this movie work as well as it does? Easy. The screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith and direction by Julius Avery. Ray is known for Captain Philips and The Hunger Games, Smith for The Revenant. Avery is still relatively new to directing feature films, but demonstrates a strong ability to work with a blended genre that provides audiences with an exciting big screen time. With Avery still earning his chops for feature films, the fantastic screenwriting and story serve as a solid foundation upon which the other elements are built. At first glance, this movie seems like one that would essentially one that is just schlocky fun, or perhaps one that tries to take itself seriously but fails miserably in a way that makes it painful to watch, and ultimately forgettable. But to great surprise, the movie not only delivers a thrilling WWII horror movie but one that is produced with dimension, depth, and visual precision. Although not writing or directing, J.J. Abrams penchant for incredible visuals and heart-pumping action is seen throughout the movie.

Before discussing the performances and visuals of the film, I want to focus more on why this film is much deeper than it first appears. On the surface, it is a WWII action horror movie but beneath the surface, the screenwriters confront the audience with concepts and questions that are creatively woven into the high concept plot. Chief among these is found in our central character of Boyce. He’s a young black male fighting alongside these hard-hearted soldiers. While his counterparts are mostly jaded, he maintains a morally sound world view amidst the harsh realities of war. The fact that the film depicts a young black male as the hero during a time in our country that was about to experience great civil rights unrest, is a testament to the creative and effective approach to this story. He plays the role that is often given to a white actor, but I immensely enjoyed the charisma and talent he brought to this role that shows a progressive film. Regarding the rest of the American soldiers, each soldier represents a different kind of character, providing audiences one with whom they may be able to identify.

In addition to the fantastic casting choice in Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the screenwriters also confront the audience with the question of what truly separates us from our enemies when the only means to defeat them is stooping to their level. Including a message such as this one allows us to use the situation as an allegory in our present culture that is growing increasingly divided, and hate seems to abound. Where do you draw the line in the course of war or a philosophical battle? Ostensibly giving the middle finger to the damsel in distress, this film delivers an independent badass heroine in Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). Such a strong female character in this movie, Chloe refuses to stay in her home and allow the American soldiers to fight for her. And she is so strong that even the most masculine of the soldiers accepts her tenacity and unbreakable spirit. Fortunately, the movie does not turn her into a love interest for the American soldiers. Many of the solders find her attractive, but she is never objectified by the Americans; however, she is objectified by the despicable Nazis. But fortunately for her, the infatuation the Wafner has with her, eventually brings about his demise.

Overlord delivers it’s visual tension brilliantly. And this is in party to the high degree of visual storytelling in this movie. The action sequences and special effects are extremely well produced. Avery’s movie rises above what we generally expect out of high concept action/horror movies to provide audiences with gritty, gnarly special effects and makeup effects. There is a realness to the atrocities of war felt in this movie that can be greatly appreciated. That realness is achieved by a large percentage of practical effects supplemented with digital effects. As I have pointed out before, relying upon mostly CGI robs the audience and the actors of authenticity. CGI cannot completely replicate the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera. That sound mix, tho! If anything assaults your senses as much, if not more than the gruesome visuals, it is the ridiculous good sound design and mix. Definitely watch this film in IMAX or Dolby Digital (or the equivalent) if it is available in your area.

If you are seeking a horroresque gritty action movie, then this is one that you do not want to miss. It’s got everything you want from a movie that dances the line between horror and action. I cannot think of another horror action movie that does this as well with the exception of James Cameron’s Aliens (though, that one leans more towards action than horror).

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Darkest Hour” film review

Outstanding! A gripping film that serves as a testament to rising above all odds to lead and protect. An inspirational biographical drama during one of the western world’s darkest hours. Gary Oldman’s performance as the famous United Kingdom Prime Minister is absolutely remarkable. For history enthusiasts, you will swear that you are watching THE Winston Churchill battle his own homefront of politicians and protecting against the Nazi advancement prior to the United States stepping in following Pearl Harbor. The impact of this film is greatly enhanced by the release of Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier in 2017 as this film depicts what was going on in Churchill’s office prior to the valiant rescue operation. The climax of the film includes Churchill’s “We Shall Fight” speech that rallied Parlament behind him–at least during WWII. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten chooses to interject as much amusement and humor as possible in order to balance out the otherwise cranky Churchill and the dire, deadly position that the people and government of the United Kingdom were at the time. Although it is not uncommon for historical dramas to take creative liberties in telling a visual, cinematic story, Darkest Hour sticks closely to historic accounts but does add in material that aids in constructing a cinematic film.

A thrilling biographical drama that takes place during the crucial days of the Nazi’s march to the sea to conquer western Europe. With France nearly fallen, the United Kingdom is faced with the most deadly enemy it has ever faced in all centuries leading to this very moment. The United Kingdom is searching for a new Prime Minister in the wake of an abrupt end to Churchill’s predecessor. With both the liberal and conservative sides of parliament at each other’s throats, it would take a special leader to unite the government in order to defeat the Nazis. Generally unpopular, but being the only public servant that had the least opposition from both sides, Churchill was a reluctant choice by the King and his colleagues in Parliament. Darkest Hour depicts Churchill’s rise to power and the giants he faced on his first days in office. While he is known to be an unapologetic monolith, a force to be reckoned with, this film also shows his more humble side. All within the span of a few weeks, Churchill is tasked with leading Parliment, unifying the government and people, and protecting the free world.

If you haven’t seen Dunkirk, you should watch it prior to Darkest Hour or at the very least follow up with it because it helps to paint a portrait of what was facing Churchill on his first day in office. Oldman’s performance is nothing shy of exceptional. Although all the performances are excellent, including Lily James’ supporting role, Oldman’s contribution to the film aids in creating the masterpiece that is Darkest Hour. The altruistic behaviors and vulnerable sides of Churchill are brilliantly woven into the narrative, an important move because in films past, he was always shown to be the brilliant orator and rallier that history remembers him as. Oldman’s commitment to character, in terms of speech, posture, and more is incredible; his personal commitment aside, the overall look and feel of Churchill is supported by amazing makeup work and costuming. The energy that each and every character brings to the screen is unquestionably precise and highly effective. While this is a story that takes place during wartime, the character-driven nature of the film is more closely aligned with a heavy courtroom drama than a typical war film. No mistaking it, it is still a war movie, just not in the traditional sense.

While the actors can bring unique, exceptional energy and screen presence to a film, it is often built upon the foundation of excellent writing. Despite the film exceeding the two-hour mark, no scene ever comes across as filler, unnecessary, or simply extra information. Screenwriter McCarten’s adaptation of the life and times of Winston Churchill is precise, efficient, and powerful. He chooses a no holds barred approach that is unapologetic as Churchill himself. As closely as McCarten aligned his screenplay against what we know from history, he chose to invent one particularly inspirational scene in which the Prime Minister leaves his chauffeur and takes the London Underground (what we call a subway)–a mode of transportation that he remarks never using earlier in the film. It is this scene that paves the way for the bombastic, poignant “We Will Fight” speech that will nearly have you standing up in your seat during his ovation on screen. Such a brilliant move by McCarten to invent a scene that truly feels like it very much could have taken place. It’s a scene that also shows Churchill’s heart for the people he was trying his damndest to protect against the evil across the English Channel.

Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a must-see film! His direction of this biographical drama is an outstanding work of cinematic excellence. Few directors could have captured the power of these events and the determination of Churchill as Wright has done. The approach of Wright and McCarten may prove to be precisely what is needed for Oscar nominations. Highly recommend for anyone who is fascinated by history or more specifically the events that took place at the time of and leading up to Dunkirk. Darkest Hour also displays a remarkable adhesion to history while adding in elements that provide a much more comprehensive experience that work to inspire audiences.

“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!

“Allied” movie review

alliedQuite the duplicitous plot! Robert Zemeckis’ Allied released by Paramount Pictures is a thrilling tale of espionage and love. We have certainly seen a few different “spy” movies over the last couple of years; some more about espionage and others more about the drama that ensues afterwards. Fortunately, Allied feels like a genuine spy movie that actually contains espionage. The production design and costumes are a beautiful throwback to the fabulous 40s. You’ll find yourself reaching for a glass of champagne and swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s timeless big band jazz hit Sing, Sing, Sing. There is one city synonymous with WWII, espionage, and romance and you will appropriately return to that iconic city of Casablanca in Allied. This is definitely not a reimagined Casablanca but there are indirect references to that movie sprinkled throughout this new story. Films like this one require top notch talent, and both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard deliver outstanding performances to accompany this staple in film genres. Not limited to the love story between Pitt’s and Cotillard’s respective characters, the movie also includes some deadly shootout scenes and dangerously close encounters with the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Commander and intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) is stationed in the famous city of Casablanca in French Morocco where he teams up with French resistance movement leader Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard). Impressed by her ability to so effectively blend in and create her authentic cover, Vatan soon finds himself falling in love with his partner. Following the assassination of a Nazi ambassador, Beausejour and Vatan flee to London to start their life together. Everything is going beautifully for the happy couple in their second year of marriage with a child when Vatan’s superiors confront him with the suspicion that Marianne is in fact a Nazi spy. Refusing to believe it to be true, Max must now conduct his own investigation into his wife’s history to protect the ones he loves so dearly.

I absolutely adored the look and feel of the film as it echoes the era of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although this movie plays off a tad listless as a result of failing to elicit a strong emotional response from the audience, it is not without it outstanding elements. It benefits from solid acting and beautiful cinematography as well as some fantastic symbolism. Robert Zemeckis’ talent for visual storytelling is clearly visible in this period film. The weakness in the ability to successfully leave a lasting emotional impact on the audience is in the writing and executive producership of Steven Knight (Eastern Promises). For films that are not as much about the spectacle as they are the drama between characters and the challenges faced therein, it is vitally important that the personal/interpersonal relationships transcend the screen and directly impact the audience. All the makings were there for a deeply moving cinematic story, but it just doesn’t quite make that transition from the mostly superficial and distant.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…(interesting fun fact: this misquoted line from Snow White is actually “magic mirror on the wall”). But, I digress. The strategic use of mirrors is an  incredible use of visual storytelling and symbolism. For those who have studied film or literary rhetoric, the mirror is a classic means of conveying duplicity (two sides, faces, etc of a character). Even without knowing that this was a spy movie, I would have been able to infer that from how the mirrors are shot and placed within the composition of the 24 frames a second. When using powerful symbolism as part of the visual story, it conveys so much more meaning in a scene than words could actually describe. Mirrors have long sense been a powerful metaphor even before moving pictures. But motion pictures allow for a greater use of the importance it plays in a cinematic story. Not limited to duplicity, mirrors can also be used as a metaphor for self-reflection. Whether talking duplicity or reflection, the mirror aids in conveying so much to the audience in this movie.

Ordinarily, I am not a fan of classic films getting remakes; however, there are always exceptions when the core or essence of the film is held in tact but the production design, direction, and cinematography are brought up to speed with contemporary cinema. If you’re a fan of WWII era films or the timelsss spy movie, then you will definitely enjoy Allied. After witnessing the significance of Casablanca in this movie, I am actually looking forward to a remake if there ever is one. Provided. That the overall look and feel of the movie is in line with classical motion picture storytelling. I could definitely see Robert Zemeckis directing a remake of Casablanca. Occasionally there are directors who can strike the balance between a classic tale told through contemporary technology, and Zemeckis definitely struck that balance in Allied.

Don’t allow the weak writing to dissuade you from watching it; there is actually a lot to enjoy in this film. After the slow burn during the first act, acts II and III are full of intrigue and suspense.