Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dunkirk and A Ghost Story

                                 Navigation of the Near-Intolerable

                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke
                                            Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
While the characters here are fictional the events are all-too-true, based on the massive evacuation of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk, France across the channel to England in 1940 during the early days of WW II; the experience is one of being submerged into the action along with the escapees and their attempted-rescuers, making for a very intense experience.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): How can you avoid spoilers in a film based entirely on a dramatic historical event that occurred May 26-June 4, 1940 as about 400,000 Allied troops were surrounded by German invaders in the French coastal town of Dunkirk, desperately awaiting rescue which—if failed—would likely have led to the fall of Great Britain and a very different outcome of WW II?  We know the evacuation was largely successful due to the heroic participation of many Brits in small boats going directly across the 30-mile English Channel to transport soldiers either directly back home or to larger ships that couldn’t navigate into the shallow waters closer to the French shore, all the while German and RAF aircraft fought air battles, the former attempting to strafe or bomb the escapees—even when they were “safely” on their rescue ships—the latter trying to shoot these killers out of the air.  Where I can stay spoiler-free is in not recounting the specific fates of the principal fictional (generally based on fact) characters leading the action in this stirring, heart-pounding film, encouraging you to go see it for yourself as it’s marvelously well-made, engaging from start to finish, a useful addition to previous war films that glorify the actions of soldiers on the battlefield (even when showing the gory horrors of combat) in that this one’s about how even defeat can stir heroic responses but this time from the many civilians who bravely set out across the Channel in their various fishing or leisure boats to bring back as many of the trapped soldiers as possible, even as they were fired upon by the German Luftwaffe.

 Please note, however, that while the depicted scenes aren’t fully as gruesome as the horrific D-Day Allied assault on French beaches shown in 1998's Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg) or the American push toward Japan in Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both of these harsh perspectives, American and Japanese, directed in 2006 by Clint Eastwood) or the horrors shown in Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016; review in our January 4, 2017 posting [Okinawa being the focus in that one]) what you see of the brutal miseries of war in Dunkirk can literally be felt as gut-churning (you could get testimony about that from my sweet, life-affirming, violence-adverse wife, Nina, who still nursed intestinal pains likely brought on from Nolan’s exercise in tension-building, even a day after our viewing), so I encourage you to consider whether you’re up for seeing this kind of thing before buying a ticket.  It’s not so much blood spurting from a myriad of dying bodies this time as it is the anxiety created from seeing calamities befall these trapped combatants as they try desperately to avoid everything from unseen sniper fire to oil burning on the ocean when a bomber’s shot down into an oil slick in the midst of frantically-swimming-escapees.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
What Happens: On-screen-graphics begin the content of this film, providing a brief account of 400,000 Allied troops trapped in Dunkirk (on the Atlantic coast of northwest France, only about 30 miles across the English Channel from Great Britain’s shores) in late spring 1940,* after which we’re thrown into the action along with a group of soldiers, including Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), moving quickly through the town as German leaflets drop, noting how they’re surrounded, encouraging immediate surrender; soon, these soldiers are dropping too, shot by unseen German snipers, as Tommy’s the only survivor making it past the Allied barricade onto the beach where massive lines of his comrades are nervously awaiting rescue from the invading Germans.  The rest of this film is intercut among 3 episodes that span different amounts of time so as scenes shift from one scenario to the next the actions we’re seeing aren’t necessarily simultaneous, an awareness we may have only after the fact of a screening as we realize the entire evacuation took about 9 days; the 1 small boat we focus on crossing, then re-crossing, the Channel is shown over the period of a day, night, next day; and the aerial dogfights are happening in almost real time over the film’s effectively-concise 1 hr., 46 min.  These episodes are identified with more graphics as “i: The Mole” (about the troops anxiously awaiting departure from an extended pier of this name), “ii: The Sea” (primarily about a civilian father, son, and young crewman—respectively, Mr. Dawson [Mark Rylance], Peter [Tom Glynn-Carney], George [Barry Keoghan]—taking part in the massive rescue operation using their small boat), “iii: The Air” (focused on 3 Royal Air Force pilots, primarily one named Farrier [Tom Hardy], attempting to down about 6 German planes whose mission was to shoot or bomb the Allied soldiers on the beach and the large ships used to evacuate those troops).

* This Encyclopedia Britannica article contains considerably more details on the actual event.

 While I can recount for you what happens across the length of Dunkirk, this film is best encountered as an intense audiovisual experience which joins motion, emotion, the flow of its magnificently-shot-intercut-scenes, and well-constructed-tension (the latter being a superlative victory for Nolan—unlike the real military disaster this forced evacuation represented for European nations that were trying unsuccessfully to stop Hitler’s rapid swallowing-up of their continent—given that everything here [except Nolan's specific fictional characters] is based on accepted 77-year-old-historical-fact). So even though we know almost 340,000 of those men were ferried across the Channel during the rescue-event (despite the cruel reality of restrained support from the Royal Navy or the RAF, given these resources were somewhat held back for defense of Britain against any attempted all-out-German-invasion) the events on screen give us serious reason to doubt any of them will make it out alive, especially when at least 3 of the intended large rescue ships are sunk by those German bombers, throwing the would-be-escapees into deep water with only slim hope of finding some other means of salvation.  As we explore details of each of the established episodes we find Tommy and a group of other Brits (plus 1 very quiet Frenchman, calling himself Gibson [Aneurin Barnard], who's almost thrown into German rifle fire because he’s perceived as joining, without authorization, their escape plan [we’ve previously seen the English officers refusing to allow French soldiers onto the ships, demanding they find their own rescue, but after all the English have finally been evacuated British Commander Bolton {Kenneth Branagh} stays behind to oversee the ongoing rescue of French and Belgian soldiers as the ships return for the rest of the evacuees]) take refuge in a beached-boat, make some progress toward home when the tide rises but eventually have to swim to other rescue vessels when the bullet holes from German target practice on the shore force their battered-craft to sink.

 From the perspective of the civilian rescuers, the Dawsons suffer tragedy when they haul aboard a disturbed, shell-shocked-soldier (Cillian Murphy), clinging to the last of his sunken ship, only to find he’s so adamant about not returning to France even to save other lives that a scuffle he has with this small crew results in the accidental death of George, an innocent boy simply trying to do right by his homeland (even after Mr. Dawson tried to convince him not to join in with their dangerous-family-determined-task), although they're then able to contribute greatly to the rescue mission by bringing aboard every last swimming soldier they can hold on their small boat, including a downed British pilot, Collins (Jack Lowden)—at which point we learn Peter’s older brother was also a pilot but he’d been killed in an earlier battle—along with Tommy and Alex (Harry Styles), the guy so concerned about the Frenchman when they were all “holed”-up in that bullet-ridden-boat (ironically, "Gibson" died trying to escape as it sank).  In the air, only Farrier manages to stay aloft (after his squad leader and Collins are shot down, the former one of the many casualties), eventually taking out all of the Luftwaffe aircraft but in doing so uses up too much of his fuel so he’s forced to land on the Dunkirk beach, captured by German soldiers just after destroying his plane (so it’s not commandeered by the enemy) with death likely awaiting given his success in killing their pilots.  As the rescue events wrap up, Peter brings news of George’s demise to the local newspaper (written up as a hero) as Churchill’s "We shall fight ..." speech of June 4, 1940 to Parliament’s House of Commons is also reported (bookending a preview of him delivering this inspirational oratory in the Darkest Hour [Joe Wright] film starring Gary Oldman, set for domestic [U.S.-Canada] release on November 22, 2017).

*This video presents a brief essence of the speech; if you’d like to hear the whole thing (12:36), well-illustrated with photos from the timeChurchill’s context of the Dunkirk evacuationhere it is.

Contemporary Photo of the 1940 Dunkirk Evacuation
So What? If “War” is ever the answer, then the question must be quite horrendous, such as “What will it take to keep from living under a cruel dictatorship?”  So, in deep respect for my now-departed Dad and father-in-law, along with all the others who stood with the Allies against the Axis plans for world-domination in the late 1930s-mid-‘40s, I can now see this answer as being appropriate under such a horrid situation (although I couldn’t find a way to understand how such a response could connect to a valid question where doomed American draftees were concerned during the Vietnam War in the mid 1960s-mid-‘70s).  Still, nothing in Dunkirk attempts to glorify war as such, just the individual heroism—in this case, of English civilians in their rescue boats—bringing their countrymen back home via a dangerous Channel crossing rather than leaving them to be slaughtered by the encroaching German army (there was also the pragmatic reality of needing to save as many of those soldiers as possible for upcoming battles in order to protect the inevitable invasion of their homeland, but that doesn’t undermine the selfless actions of the deadly trips those small-boaters took in 1940 to bring stranded men back from certain death in Dunkirk, with airborne bombers attempting to finish all of them off opposed by minimal air cover from the RAF).  Nolan can’t tinker with history too much here, although I think there were more air battles than what we see, but such use of dramatic license allows Farrier to epitomize all of the selfless pilots who gave of themselves to provide air cover for ground operations—extended into this over-sea-rescue-mission—as Nolan offers some individual focus to the types of combatants who dutifully gave of themselves to help find victory against a formidable foe, with each character representing others of his type (no "her"'s seen here).

 While I didn’t see Dunkirk in the huge-screen IMAX format I’m sure it’d be spectacular in that about 75% of it was shot in this larger-negative-process (70mm filmstock is run through the camera [and projector] in a horizontal rather than the standard vertical manner so that the image-capture-area is about 3 times larger than it would be in standard 70mm [already twice as big as what was used in the traditional 35mm size for decades of Hollywood movies]) so when we see Dunkirk in our theaters in its standard wide-screen-projection-mode we see the visuals are sharp and powerful, with so much precise detail squeezed down into the projected images.*  Despite the somewhat-slimmed-down-depiction of this huge, extraordinary evacuation procedure, Nolan took great care with believability including doing some of the shooting in Dunkirk, using thousands of actual extras (rather than just computer-generated-ones), and even era-appropriate airplanes, boats, and ships as much as possible, based on the passion this British director’s had for this project for 25 years, ever since he crossed the English Channel to Dunkirk himself, writing an early draft of the screenplay back then after which he waited until his career and cinematic expertise had progressed enough to successfully tackle this massive labor of love.  Certainly, in addition to all of the visual complexity required to make this film look/sound/feel so authentic**, a major factor in its emotional motivation is the intense score by Hans Zimmer which, in this case—with its strong aural presence rather than being used for obvious melodramatic purposes—fills in the absence of dialogue as Nolan didn’t want his characters yammering to provide backstory context or explain the film’s events to the audience because his intention is for viewers to experience the action as the characters would, reacting to immediate stimuli, talking only as necessary while time swirled around them, conveying emotions to us through facial and bodily dexterity as self-preservation was often the only thing that mattered instant-by-instant in this chaos.

*You might wonder, in looking at some of my illustrative photos (especially the one just below), what I’m referring to in regard to such crisp imagery, but I’m limited to those publicity stills available to me many of which are considerably lacking in pixel-packing compared to the cinematic originals.

**I thank my friend Barry Caine for noting 2 other relevant articles about Dunkirk's authenticity, one being testimony from actual-event-veterans about how the film's soundtrack is louder than the real evacuation's chaos due to atmospheric conditions on the beach (see also rj's comments at the very end of this posting about the IMAX version's soundtrack) and the other a forgotten aspect, the terrible fate of roughly 80,000 British and French troops captured after the Dunkirk rescue.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Although critical consensus has been enthusiastic toward Dunkirk in a manner rarely seen so consistently (Rotten Tomatoes reviewers offer 92% positive analyses of this film, the usually-more-reserved-ones surveyed at Metacritic go even higher with a 94% average score; more details in the links to this film much farther below), just as domestic audiences were quite enthusiastic on opening weekend, resulting in a $50.5 million gross (with another $55.4 million coming in from overseas receipts), but I must admit it took the gestalt of the whole cinematic experience for me to end up as moved as I was by the result.  The scope of the event was always there, with wide, sweeping shots showing the tense-yet-hopeful-lines of soldiers stretching from the Dunkirk beach out into the shallow-edge of the Channel waters waiting for any sort of rescue-vessel to save them, but with the focus on the few ships attempting escape being effectively bombed by the equally-few German fighter planes, thereby dumping most of these intended-escapees back into the water, while the even fewer RAF fighters (eventually, only Farrier, with even his sorties limited by almost-depleted-fuel-tanks) trying desperately to provide protection, the structure of the film seemed much more restricted than the pre-lease-hype had prepared me for.

 Added to this was the film's primary focus on only 1 private rescue boat—the Dawson vessel—with the scared, disoriented soldier demanding a return to England rather than helping anyone else (plus his inadvertent fatal damage to George), so easily halfway into this narrative I was having trouble getting a sense of the enormity of the event as it all seemed to be about no more than roughly a dozen characters (even though I knew better). As it all builds toward climax, though, we come to understand how difficult it was for any of these stranded soldiers to effectively escape their dire-situation as large boats continue to be damaged, throwing already-traumatized-troops back into the deep waters, desperately swimming to whatever-other-craft might be in their vicinity, many of them drowning or perishing in the water-borne-fire in a calamity too overpowering to allow a 2nd escape.

 However, I now see my induced-pre-screening-expectations of depicted events more grandiose in the final rescue effort (a filmic-structure somehow finding a way to confirm the long-delayed-Allied-triumph—despite all their horrible losses in the process—on the order of the ultimately-successful-assault on Omaha Beach and surrounding areas in 1962’s The Longest Day [Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, Darryl F. Zanuck] or 1998’s Saving Private Ryan) as being not at all what Nolan intended to accomplish with Dunkirk. Instead,  we find he keeps his focus on some considerably-more-intimate-narrative-structures; thus, despite the reality of more RAF airplanes shooting down more German bombers than what we see here the focus remains on the singular efforts of Farrier to finally clear the skies of the few deadly pilots who wreaked such havoc on the initial attempts of departing Allied ships, just as scenes toward the end of this story show those many thousands of troops making it to the safety of English soil although we mostly witness only the relatively-small-number able to scramble out of the Channel cramming onto the Dawson boat.  The larger picture implied by these focused-events (including the reality-slaps of this not being a recreation of a Hollywood attempt at home-front-enthusiasm from the 1940s as we watch the conflicted situation
of George's death and the anticlimactic capture of Farrier after all of his heroic actions—including landing safely on what looked like a deserted beach after coaxing his wheels into last-second-proper-position) tells us that this war has a long way to go before there’s going to be anything to celebrate except for a bit of exhausted-relief, but that sense of restrained-victory only adds to the overall sense of dignified-sincerity offered to us in Dunkirk.  Some claim this to be among the best ever of war films, others that it’s certainly the best of Nolan’s filmography (for me, though, that’s still Inception [2010]).  Despite my growing—now reflective—admiration for this film, I’m not ready to go to “very best” heights yet (Schindler’s List [Spielberg, 1993] still holds that distinction, although if you argue it’s a wartime rather than an actual war film [meaning that designation needs to offer battlefield focus], then we'll have a larger conceptual discussion), but I do agree that it’s appropriately brutal to watch, admirably-inspirational to contemplate in retrospect, and worthy of all the respect it gets (although I predict its embedding into historical remembrance plus its balance of acting opportunities that prevent any of the leads from a standout-performance will likely leave it wanting come awards time, no matter how much high respect it’s garnering now).

Once again Nolan's got Hardy wearing a mask most of the time,
just like when he was Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
 You probably know by this point in the flow (You’re a regular reader of the Two Guys blog, aren’t you? Somebody is because I just broke the 40,000 mark for unique hits over the last month.) I always  try to wrap up my reviews with a Musical Metaphor intended to speak in a notable final fashion to whatever has just been analyzed (but from the perspective of another artform), so this time I’ll go right past what many tunes might have been used here to address the admirable-heroism demonstrated by those ordinary folks risking their lives to bring all of these stranded soldiers back home again from mortal danger to instead focus on the underlying message I get from this film about the eternally-brutal-absurdity of such conflict by using Edwin Starr’s “War” (from the 1970 War & Peace album) at (Starr’s 1969 music video, with lyrics below the image, although if you want to extend the Metaphor further go here for the Starr recording with added footage, including a montage of film clips about warfare over the centuries leading to images of various soldiers still marching in defensive posture then contrasted to other shots of military members dancing instead) with its denunciation of such ferocious activity as just “nothing but a heartbreaker, Friend only to the undertaker War is the enemy of all mankind.”  

 Now I know a song asking “War, what is it good for?” followed by an answer of “Absolutely nothing” goes counter to my premise in the above section about some—WW II in particular—being necessary (“They say we must fight to keep our freedom But Lord knows there’s gotta be a better way”), but I’ll re-counter with the argument that when hostilities are initiated by territory-hungry, crazed dictators then this is war that should never have happened to begin with (“the enemy of all mankind”) that’s truly “good for […] Absolutely nothing” (a concept I urge you to “say it, say it, say it again”)Dunkirk shows us how war can bring out the best in those burdened by its horrors, but we’d all be better off seeing it as “something […to] despise Because it means the destruction of innocent lives,” even if harsh retaliation is sometimes needed for triumph over crazed warmongers.
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                                             A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
This is a strange bit of business that’s more of a meditation on the nature of the afterlife than a traditional unified plot although there’s a clear chronology of events (until the end when whatever’s happening gets more complicated); we see a young couple in deep passion, then the man’s dead with his ghost continuing to stay in their home even long after the wife is long-gone.
 By now I hope you know the “Near-Intolerable” in my title for this posting refers not to miserable on-screen-presentations in the 2 films under review but instead to the atrocious events befalling the characters you’ve now read about in Dunkirk, with another form of misery about to “haunt” the 2 main entities in A Ghost Story; you’ll also realize after a bit more info from me why this next film—despite my near-top-ratingis assigned to more-restrained Short Takes commentary: it’s because, like my remarks on Moka in the previous Two Guys posting (although it earned only 3½ stars), this film’s so hard to find—playing in only 43 domestic theaters after 3 weeks in release, having earned only about $476 thousand so far (not much of that from the screening Nina and I attended, only 5 others joined us for a Friday afternoon late matinee) as well as being so odd in its conception and execution you’ll likely either be so intrigued by it that even brief comments will stir you to seek it out if one of those few screens is anywhere near you (more likely, put it on your video queue) or you’ll be so quickly put off by even a short description you’ll be glad you didn’t have to endure more here.

 Basically, what happens is a young couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) seem to be having some marital disputes; she’s ready to move out of their countryside house (this was shot near Austin, TX, although the end credits note some north central TX locations as well, all territory easily recognized by me) but for no strong reason he’s not; one night they hear a mysterious banging on an old piano that came with the house; in the next scene he’s suddenly shown as dead from some unexplained car crash at the end of their long driveway even though there seems to be no sign of any visibility problems anywhere in these wide open spaces, then for the rest of the (appropriately-felt) 92 min. running time he’s a ghost staying in the house (he walked back there, guess these ghosts don’t fly) for what seems like it’s going to be an eternity even after she leaves, other people move in and out, the house is torn down so a company’s skyscraper can be built on the site with a huge city finally taking over this formerly-rural-location.  At this point he dives off the building, landing in the 19th century where White settlers arrive to stake out a home on what will someday be his properly (but they're killed by Native Americans—at least we suddenly see them dead with arrows in their backs),
although we’d led to wonder what connection, if any, there may be between these folks and the ghost’s present era because this family’s little girl also hides a note, under a rock, in a manner that reminds us of the one left ages ago by his long-gone-wife in the wall of their empty former house.

 Then the ghost returns to the beginning-of-story-present where we find he’s the one who banged on the piano as his unnamed character’s (called C in the end credits) simultaneously alive with the wife (M), followed by the appearance of another version of himself as a similar ghost, after which he finally retrieves the note his wife long ago left in the wall, resulting in his ghostly sheet falling to the ground implying he’s finally moved on to whatever the next phase of existence may be (apparently he had an option for that after his dead body was taken to the hospital when a panel of light opened up on a wall but then closed when he didn’t walk into it; we also saw the sheet-dropping-disappearance of another ghost earlier in the house-smashing-scene prior to construction when she finally decided that whomever she was waiting for [she couldn’t even remember] was never going to come back).

 If what I’ve already told you about A Ghost Story hasn’t given you pause about why you’d possibly might want to see it, then you should also consider these other factors: the whole thing’s shot in the old 4x3 ratio (used for movies prior to roughly the 1960s as well as TV shows before the wider letterbox format became the standard a couple of decades ago) with the enhancement of rounded corners (to further the nostalgic/lost sense of time the director sought to achieve [you can find more explanations from Lowery if you watch this 11:37 interview]); there’s even less dialogue than in Dunkirk (except for an extended nihilist monologue by a guy [Will Oldham], called Prognosticator in the credits, during a future occupation of the ghost’s house about how we all try to leave an impact of ourselves in some way after we’re gone but it’s all useless because eventually the universe will die [reminds me of little Alvy Singer’s {Jonathan Munk as a kid, Woody Allen as an adult} premise in Annie Hall {Allen, 1977} that there’s no point in doing his homework because the universe is slowly expanding to the point of dismemberment]) so you’d better appreciate Daniel Hart’s musical score if you want something to listen to; the takes in most scenes continue at length 
with little movement in the shots (another of the director's many designs to convey the spirit's sense of timelessness, although this tactic also reminds me of Showtime TV's current series Twin Peaks: The Return [David Lynch] with its similar use of static shots that just linger beyond any normal conception of obviously-intentional-dramatic-use-of-pause); at one point C’s ghost notices there’s the presence of another ghost (Lowery refers to her as “Grandma Ghost,” plays her himself) in the house next door so they communicate briefly seemingly by telepathy (which we read in subtitles); and—if you haven’t figured it out from the photos—Affleck’s appearance as a ghost is achieved simply by him wearing a large sheet (but not as simple as it seems; again, consult Lowery interview) with pitch-black-eyeholes, as if they had to spend the film’s entire budget on the pie (M slowly, sadly eats it all in one long scene before she hurries to the bathroom to throw it up) so they couldn’t afford any costumes or special effects.  Whether you accept this as a strategy to make the departed version of C more tangible—more easily translated as a culturally-established-stereotype of a ghost—or just see it as a silly, distracting conceptual choice likely determines whether you’d have any interest in this film or not.

 If you know much about film history you might sense that this simple (but mysterious in its many ways) story has some resemblances to Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) in terms of those long takes and static shots, plus a very odd, unexplained, disconnected sense of time, characters referred to only as alphabet letters in the credits, occasional uses of powerful music in the  foreground (although this aged classic has notably more dialogue, but—in the context of its deconstruction of what we normally expect about how the editing of one shot should be intended to provide continuity into the next, along with our usual expectations about clarity of plot timelines, even when flashbacks are part of the narrative—those words doesn’t convey much), and a general sense of disruption of what we’ve come to expect from the processes and encounters of cinema, even as the 2 films couldn’t be any more different in terms of location, character-class-consciousness, level of challenge-complexity to the viewer.  That comparison, along with the overall singular sensation of how intentionally-unexplained although subtly-mesmerizing A Ghost Story becomes through the process of watching, might entice you to consider this a fascinating look at what might be the nature of post-death existence, especially when the disembodied spirit (another challenge, accepting that premise when the ghost is so physically, photographically present, manifested at times by his frustration with this state of existence) finds the capacity to toss books or plates around in fits of anger but can’t make any contact with his widow (or most anyone else, except a little boy who lives there for awhile until the plate-smashing episode) nor get her note out of the wall until he’s back in what began as the present for the second time (now I’ll insist you watch the Lowery interview to find out the content of the note), after which he finally accepts the director’s intention of this story to just learn to “let go.”

 Even more so than with Dunkirk, I think to appreciate A Ghost Story (if you even care to at this point) you have to see it unfold in its generally-slow, constantly-cryptic fashion rather than try to make much sense of it from my attempt at a verbal account.  I predict that you’ll either find it “hauntingly”-fascinating or a ridiculous waste of your time; I go with the former response, but—as I experienced Dunkirk—it took some of my time to be encouraged into what was happening on screen for me to feel that way (so even if at this time you’re unsure about it, then later choose it for a video viewing, you need to give it a chance to be what it is not what you’d think it might attempt to do—certainly not play up tangible/intangible romance through reconnection as was so popular years ago with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost [Jerry Zucker, 1990]), to be securely-confirmed I was witnessing something of unexpected-intrigue rather than just an interesting idea that hadn’t yet come to fruition; I can’t say that everyone who encounters A Ghost Story will feel that way, but if what I’ve said about it intrigues you enough, I encourage to explore it further.  I’ll leave you with a Musical Metaphor for this film, “I Need You” from The Beatles’ Help! movie (Richard Lester, 1965; the song is also found on their accompanying 
Help! soundtrack album), at the-beatles/clip,i-need-you,rr8v3.html* (you might find this site, as I did, to be a treasure-trove of Beatles recordings that aren't easily available on the Internet anymore [now that their music's become a part of fee-charging-iTunes] except for some of those early performances you can locate at times) where George Harrison’s sad, plaintive words about “Please come on back to me I’m lonely as can be I need you” could easily be the thoughts of both C and M in A Ghost Story after what we've briefly noted at the beginning about “Said you had a thing or two to tell me” worked into the pain of “How was I to know it would upset me?”, with whatever their issues were never being resolved after his sudden death so when she leaves the house with the bad memories (and the secret note) behind all he’s left with is “I could never really live without you,” even though his existence endures through unspecified years, longing to somehow connect with her once again.

*Oddly enough, if you play this clip on Safari you may get an unsynchronized dual-tracking of the song (which I can't begin to explain), although if you click on the controls of the video the extra audio will stop but so will the flow of the imagery; however, you can also copy the URL as it's playing, stop the Safari version, paste the URL onto another Web browser (I tried it successfully on Chrome and Firefox), and it should play properly.  This only happened during posting, not when I found the site using Safari, so I have no idea what in the hell's going on with this weird anomaly.

 I admit, though, the melancholy of the film and this song, when seen in this film clip, begin to approach the silliness of how some might see A Ghost Story with the Fab Four singing out in some field while some sort of war games are going on around them (as if Dunkirk’s crossing over into A Ghost Story in a Mel Brooks genre-parody-manner), so maybe I’ve found a way to appeal both to those who’ll take this oddly-sad-film to heart as well as those who’ll just ridicule it.  I’ll leave you to contemplate such cosmic considerations until next we meet, in this lifetime or another.  In the meantime, if you’d like to take over the singing of “I Need You” yourself, here’s a karaoke version to let you warble away into the night until you may find you need  “help” to get off stage.
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*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are just too many to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 forward this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about Dunkirk: (10:05 comparison of fact vs. fiction regarding what we see in Dunkirk, although it’s mostly fact intended to give a brief historical understanding of the events shown in the film) and (31:11 interview with Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Stiles, producer Emma Thomas, and screenwriter-director Christopher Nolan, where for once in situations like this everyone speaks quite a bit rather than the director saying almost everything)

Here’s more information about A Ghost Story: (28:12 interview with writer-director David Lowery [begins with the same trailer just above])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 7/6/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 40,588 (once again, a new all-time-high!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. Dunkirk is certainly a spectacle, magnificantly filmed and presented. I agree with Ken that this is not a 5 star accomplishment and is somewhat misrepresented in the trailers. Dunkirk is initially confusing as three perspectives are inter-twined with different timelines. The film almost demands a second viewing to properly digest the sequences. This is one case where there are no spoilers, therefore reading Ken's complete review would be beneficial prior to attending. Interestingly, I first watched it on a double priced IMAX and was disappointed with the sound mix. The surround sound and auxillary bass speakers were literally set to stun. With almost nonstop attacks, bombing and explosions, maybe half of the dialog was drowned out. Santikos IMAX theater management in San Antonio claimed they had no control of the audio volume and balance because it was embedded in the system, effectively set by the director! A later viewing at a conventional sized digital projection brought the dialog channels front and center without the irritating ringing in the ears.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for your feedback and report on the IMAX experience of Dunkirk; what I saw must have been in 35mm--not as spectacular as 70mm (which a couple of guys in Australia said was stunning) or IMAX but still very effective from a technical presentational standpoint. Ken