Monthly Archives: July 2017

Review: Dunkirk‘s foreboding, somber tone masterfully executed

My full review of Christopher Nolan‘s new movie, Dunkirk, is now live at the Independent Institute. Nolan’s storytelling is masterful and innovative, something we’ve come to expect from an “auteur” filmmaker who brings his own aesthetic and storytelling style to his movies. Dunkirk is not exception.

The film uses several devices to convey the deep, foreboding mood of the evacuation and its implications for the attempts to stop the Nazi invasion of Western Europe. Dialogue is minimal, the plot almost completely driven the actions of individuals non-verbally. Nolan uses sweeping vistas of the beaches of Dunkirk to convey the enormity of the task to evacuate 400,000 troops and the hopelessness. Lines of soldiers snake into the shallow waters of the beaches and breakers with virtually no sign of help stretching out to the horizon (and Britain).

The story of the evacuation—which was a logistical success that mitigated the enormity of the disaster—is told from the perspectives two soldiers trying to use their cunning and opportunity to get off the beaches as quickly as possible, a flight of three Spitfire fighter pilots that get whittled down to one, and a private boat operator and his son sailing into the heat of the battle to rescue soldiers. The stories ultimately converge, but the way Nolan assembles the stories is innovative and sometimes difficult to follow.

Nevertheless, the film is likely to be among the list of Best Picture and Best Director nominees at next year’s Academy Awards. I scored the film 9.13  (out of 10) on my rubric and gave it 4 1/2 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Book Review: Revolt provides rousing conclusion to the Resistance Series

Revolt, the fourth book in the Resistance Series by Tracy Lawson

Tracy Lawson and the Resistance Series is what Indie publishing is all about: Giving voice to new ideas, stories and passions and a distribution platform to get those creative works into the hands of readers. Her fourth book in the series, Revolt, brings the dystopian story of Careen Catecher and Tommy Bailey to a stirring conclusion that stays true to its Young Adult themes and characters but refuses to wrap-up the aftermath in a tight, pretty bow.

In Counteract, the first book (reviewed here), we met teenage college students Careen Catecher and Tommy Bailey, a former high school football player sidelined by an injury from a mysterious car accident. They are living in a near future (2030s) dystopian world where the national Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has been charged with “protecting” the public from terrorist attacks. Under the threat of a chemical terrorist attack, the OCSD developed and deployed a serum to protect citizens from its effects. Everyone is required to be inoculated  for their own protection. Careen and Tommy, however, discover that the antidote is actually a mind control drug used by the leaders of the OCSD to take control of the country. They are reluctant resisters. Tommy’s parents were supposedly killed in a car accident, leaving him to recover by himself. But Careen’s parents have disappeared, and Tommy joins her in trying to find them. 

Resist, book two in the Resistance Series

In book two, Resist (reviewed here), Careen and Tommy are on the run from the government after Careen is accused of killing the OCSD director, Lowell Stratford. They find themselves inadvertent and at first unwilling members of a nationwide Resistance movement. The nefarious ways of the OCSD become even more stark as the new director, Madalyn, continues to develop and deploy a serum that will extend mind control to the entire population. Careen and Tommy have different views on how to address the sinister plans of the OCSD, driving a wedge in their relationship that could be come permanent.

This theme continues throughout the series as we find the Resistance is less unified than those from the outside think. Resist brings the question of violent versus peaceful resistance to the forefront of the  story, representing a fundamental tension that ultimately leads to the dramatic climax in Revolt. Careen and Tommy both set out to disrupt the OCSD, but they end up the inadvertent victims of an explosion set by a rogue member of the Resistance.

Ignite (the third book reviewed here) takes us deep into the Resistance. Of the three books, Ignite might be the most traditionally “young adult” of this series. The character arcs of Tommy and Careen become more intertwined and complicated. Careen was wounded in an explosion at the end of Resist, and was captured by the OCSD. As the nation’s number one fugitive, Careen’s capture represents a coup for Madalyn…and an opportunity to manipulate public opinion in her favor. Madalyn breaks Careen down through torture and deprivation, ultimately convincing her that the Resistance is the real enemy. Careen becomes a spokesperson for the OCSD as Madalyn rebuilds her identity around the values and mission of the OCSD. Meanwhile, Tommy Bailey hides out in the mountains with other leaders of the Resistance looking for his opportunity to rescue her. Ultimately, Tommy embarks on his own mission to rescue Careen.

Ignite, book three is the Resistance Series

Meanwhile, Madalyn has shifted gears, moving from a chemical-based strategy for controlling the population to one based on 24-hour surveillance through a device called the Cerberean Link. Sold to the public as a way to protect children from starvation and illness, Madalyn envisions a world where everyone is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Working with Atari, a brilliant IT guru, she plans hijack the link for her own power and personal gain. Careen is one of the first people to be installed with the device, putting her own future, freedom and independence in doubt.

Revolt picks up immediately after Careen’s rescue by Tommy, and Lawson uses this as an opportunity to explore the deep, psychological trauma that afflicts those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Tommy’s patience is tested as Careen wrestles with night terrors, paranoia about being tested by Madalyn about her loyalty to the OCSD, and her own struggles to recover her identity and sense of purpose. The Resistance continues to fracture as one faction stays on course for violent revolution and another attempts a nonviolent political solution. The wild card in the story is the flawed but gifted Atari who appears to be a Resistance agent but could be working a double cross. Atari’s sense of self-importance keeps readers on the edge throughout the fourth book, never quite knowing which side he is more loyal to. While Lawson’s ending should leave most readers satisfied, she’s left openings for future books and storylines. 

Author Tracy Lawson

Lawson has created a vibrant, near-future dystopian world that fits well within the Young Adult science fiction genre and issues relevant to our times. Her willingness to grapple with substance directly gives the plots and storylines an embedded complexity that allow her characters to develop steadily and three dimensionally over the series. Her lean writing style keeps the pace fast and momentum forward. For those interested in a fast-paced, modern telling of the dangers of government overreach, the implications for personal freedoms and civil liberties, and how those values manifest themselves in the choices we make on a daily basis, Lawson’s dystopian series provides a great ride and lots of food for thought and discussion. 

For more on Tracy Lawson, visit her author page at amazon.com or her website, www.TracyLawsonBooks.com.

 

 

Take advantage of these special deals July 17-21 courtesy of Tracy Lawson:

Counteract: Book One of the Resistance Series FREE!

Resist: Book Two of the Resistance Series and

Ignite: Book Three of the Resistance Series for 0.99 each!

Get a FREE PDF of Shatter: Tommy’s Prequel to the Resistance Series, which includes a gallery of the amazing artwork created for the series! This prequel will NOT be available on Amazon.

Here’s how it works:

Order Revolt: Book Four of the Resistance Series on Amazon for $2.99:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071S8KFML

Email your receipt to tracy@counteractbook.com, and in return you’ll receive Shatter: Tommy’s Prequel to the Resistance Series.

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Review: The Exception harkens to classic war-time romances

The Exception made a brief appearance in the movie theaters before heading to the DVD and on-line streaming market. This is where the film is likely to find its commercial success. It lacks the fast-paced action, grand themes, and scenic worlds that lend themselves big screen storytelling. In many ways, The Exception seems like a throwback to the period romantic dramas of the 1950s and 1960s.

This World War II story centers on a forbidden love that develops between a German army officer, Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney, Suicide Squad, UnbrokenDivergent) and a female servant working in the household of the exiled German Emperor, Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, BeginnersThe Last Station). The Kaiser and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer, Maleficent, Albert NobbsInsurgent) are living in Belgium awaiting an opportunity for the former monarch will be reinstated in Germany. Brandt has been transferred by German headquarters to lead Wilhelm’s security detail.

In retrospect, Wilhelm’s hope to return to Germany seems hopelessly naive and detached (and toward the last years he appeared increasingly delusional). But the Kaiser’s character is rooted in the real life dynamics of post-World War I German culture, society, and politics. Germany’s disastrous early experiment with democracy, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), kept hopes for re-establishing the German monarchy alive for many in the aristocracy and military. Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated rather than renounce his claim to the throne, and he hoped to be invited back to Germany in a prominent government role.

German loyalty to the former monarch was, in fact, problematic for Adolph Hitler. While Hitler never considered reinstating Wilhelm, the former Kaiser’s stature was sufficiently high his death (in 1941) was used for propaganda purposes reinforce German values of honor and commitment to German aspirations for European hegemony. This historically grounded reality sets up important plot points in the movie.

When Brandt is transferred to the Kaiser’s security detail, he meets Meike de Jong (Lily James, Downton AbbeyBaby Driver), a servant in the Kaiser’s castle. They begin a romance despite rules against fraternization between staff and the soldiers. Complicating matters is the fact Meike is Jewish. Following his heart, Brandt refuses to break off the romance. Intrigue deepens as the SS (a German paramilitary police force) discover a British agent is working in the town. Meike is also an informant for the Dutch resistance, reporting on the activities with the Kaiser’s house.

The Exception is generally well executed and acted. Plummer successfully projects the naive optimism of the banished Kaiser while also adding humanity to his borderline delusional character. McTeer’s portrayal of the Kaiser’s ambitious and devoted wife, Princess Hermine, creates the necessary tension to keep the outcome of the clandestine romance in question throughout most of the movie.

Unfortunately, the plot is predictable, providing little that is fresh or innovative with the exception of a small plot twist at the end. Virtually nothing in this film pushes or even comes close to a creative boundary. The result is an entertaining but largely un-engaging film.

The relationship between Brandt and de Jong as characters is also problematic. The first day at the castle, Brandt and de Jong notice each other, making eye contact several times. This presumably is an attempt to demonstrate mutual attraction. Later that evening, however, de Jong delivers an invitation to dinner with the Kaiser to Brandt in his private quarters. Brandt orders de Jong to strip, and he rapes her (although physical violence is not used or attempted). This scene clearly establishes the master-slave hierarchy. Soldiers by virtue of their status and rank, could take advantage of the subservient role of women.

Yet, just a few nights later, de Jong enters his room again and voluntarily has sex with Brandt after discovering he was wounded on the Eastern Front. If this were a ploy to extract information from Brandt, this turn of events and de Jong’s actions would be plausible. But just days later they are in what appears to be a mutually satisfying romantic relationship. While Brandt’s shift from lustful physical satisfaction to romantic interest is plausible—in the first case it was “just sex”—de Jong’s attitude as the rape victim would be much more difficult. Yet the film does very little to address how the character overcomes the indignity and humiliation of her rape other than a flimsy apology by Brandt after he has developed personal feelings for her.

The Exception is a film that harkens back to the naive innocence of the romance-dramas of the post-World War II era. Despite this inconsistency, the romance mixed with international intrigue creates enough tension and conflict to keep audiences entertained throughout the movie despite the unimaginative plot.

The Exception scored a 7.9 (out of 10) on my rubric, earning a C+.

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