Dunkirk – Movie Review

An unusual movie, quite brilliant, and one for which you should probably come prepared, Dunkirk drops the viewer into the middle of action already far underway.  If you don’t know you World War II history, you’re going to spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out what’s going on.  Or perhaps you’ll give up and go with it, but you’ll be cheating yourself on the importance of what is taking place on the screen.  I’ll provide a small clue and tell you it’s a movie about survival and how far an individual and a group will go to achieve it.

The storyline doesn’t follow one particular character through his experiences and struggles during the war and evacuation.  Rather it presents the events taking place from multiple POVs, both military and civilian, thus providing a wonderful angle from which to view the scenes.  With this technique, the viewer is also treated to a variety of reactions about what is occurring.  Again, if you’re not familiar with World War II history, you may be surprised to find this isn’t an action movie with battle scenes like you were possibly expecting.

Dunkirk is an intense fusion of visuals and sounds.  At first I thought the cinematography looked too new, but the clarity of the shots appealed to me long before the movie was over.  When combined with an amazing soundtrack crafted by Hans Zimmer, the experience draws one in mind and body.  I found myself tensing up in my seat to the musical equivalent of the sound of gunfire, the groaning metal of a sinking destroyer, and a dive-bombing plane.

The movie doesn’t downplay the heroism of the men serving in France, but shares the valor with the civilians who rushed to their rescue for the evacuation effort.  And instead of presenting Germany as the soul antagonist, Dunkirk relays the various forces of antagonism that worked against the soldiers and civilians alike.

With a great cast of actors including Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is not for the casual movie goer.  However, if you’re a World War II history buff or a history buff in general, you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you walked every grueling step with the soldiers, and you’ll be glad you did.

Crash Test Dummies

English novelist Rose Tremain said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”  I believe anyone who has ever raised children believed this early on.  We felt as if we had one chance to get it right with this little, impressionable human who thrilled and terrified us all at once.  I have one son, and I’ve heard parenting gets easier with the second born.  I, however, am dealing with the teen years and can’t help thinking to myself, “Why would anyone do this twice?”  I suppose it’s because most parents of two or more children have the successive offspring prior to the first reaching the teen years.

Several thoughts floating through my head on this journey through the teen years include:

  1. I understand why some species eat their young.
  2. I’ll pay for his therapy when he’s an adult.

And, my personal favorite based on a joke:

  1. Clearly Isaac was twelve years old or younger or twenty years old because if he’d been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

So, yeah, I’ve been a little bumped and bruised during the parenting years, but at least the kiddo is none the worse for wear.  Oh, he’ll tell you that his father and I have been put on earth with the express purpose of ruining his life (making him do chores, not allowing endless sessions of Minecraft), but little does he know this is true…oops, was that out loud?

Compared to what his father and I endure, however, his woes are nothing because what life dishes out to us doesn’t always come from Josh, but it is in regards to Josh.  Parents get battered about like crash test dummies where their kids are concerned.  For example, Josh recently obtained his temporary driver’s license and five days later, someone hit him.  Yes, that’s right; someone caused an accident for our baby boy.

I didn’t care that the car received damage; it was minimal.  I knew the second after it occurred that Josh and I were fine.  Also in his favor was the fact that he absolutely wasn’t at fault.  And yet, I cannot shake this emotional tremor every time Josh drives.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with his skill; he’s proving to be a remarkable driver.

How do you convey to children what goes on inside your heart as they grow up and navigate life in general?  Oh, that’s right; it comes when they have children of their own.  I envision Joshua sitting in a car someday, probably exasperated because his son/daughter didn’t do the last chore requested of him/her, or he/she did it with an abundance of attitude.  Then someone pulls out in front of him/her, and in a heartbeat Joshua throws his arm across his beloved child to shield them from whatever is coming.  This actually happens quite a lot and not just in cars and not always physically.  We have tender emotions and minds to guide and protect along the way as well.

I love this annoying, sometimes smelly, often mouthy human to whom I gave birth.  Yes, most days I want to pinch his head off like a dandelion, but just cross me one time where my kid is concerned and watch this crash test dummy transform into a mama bear.

It’s What Liv Ordered

In May of 1951, diner owner, Bea Turner, was asked to make a birthday cake for Toby Bruce Robishaw who was turning one.  Toby’s mother, Liv, was an extravagant woman who loved to make a show of everything she did.  Her son’s first birthday party was no exception.

The people Liv invited to Toby’s party were simple folk living in the hills of West Virginia.  They had simple tastes and probably expected a simple dessert such as Crazy Cake.  However, Liv used the occasion of her son’s birthday to show off yet again.  The cake she came up with is lovely, but it was completely lost on the birthday guests.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene taking place in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  By tweaking portions of other recipes, I created a cake suitable for the splashy tastes of Liv Barrette Robishaw.

Now don’t get me wrong; the cake is delicious.  It’s not what one would serve at a child’s party.  Here’s a passage from my novel describing exactly what Liv requested of Bea:

Three, double-layer cakes were divided by pillars with plastic circus animals placed in the space between.  Red and blue icing crisscrossed the edges of the cake in every direction.  A handful of colorful flags exploded out of the top layer.  Every inch of the cake not already taken up with decoration had a piece of candy pressed into the icing like a gingerbread house.

Liv’s outlandish request is what prompted Bea to say, “It’s what Liv ordered.”  Bea’s statement was offered as an explanation and apology to the townsfolk who understood completely.

The quantities listed below will make one layer of the cake I described above.

Hazelnut Cake

12 oz. hazelnuts

2 t baking powder

6 egg yolks

5/8 c white sugar

6 egg whites

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350° oven for 10–15 minutes or until lightly golden in color.  Cool completely.  Remove the skins from the toasted nuts by placing in a tea towel and briskly rubbing them together or place them in a colander and swirl them around to remove the skins.  Grind the hazelnuts until very fine.  Add baking powder and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

In a large mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to combine the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow in color.  Beat in the ground hazelnuts.  This mixture will be extremely heavy and sticky.

Wash your beaters to remove any traces of fats.  In a separate bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Carefully whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter.  Fold in another 1/3 of the egg whites taking care not to delate them.  Fold in the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites until no streaks of batter remain.

Gently pour into the prepared 9-inch springform pan.  Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly tapped.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Cinnamon Crème Filling

1 c heavy cream, chilled

1 c powdered sugar

1 ½ t ground cinnamon

1 t vanilla

Chill a metal bowl and the beaters of a hand-held mixer in the freezer for ten minutes.  Pour the heavy cream into the chilled metal bowl and beat on high speed with a hand mixer until the cream is frothy.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Place the bowl of cinnamon crème filling in the refrigerator until needed or use immediately.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting

3 c powdered sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 T heavy cream

2 t vanilla

Beat the butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and one cup of powdered sugar with a hand mixer until they are completely combined.  Add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar one cup at a time.  Blend well after each addition.  The lighter weight of this buttercream frosting is perfect for the delicate hazelnut cake.

You can use this frosting immediately or chill for later use.

Assembling the Cake

Once the cake has cooled completely, cut it in half horizontally.  Place the bottom half (cut side up) on a cake stand  and spread the Cinnamon Crème Filling generously over the top with a spatula or knife to within ¼ inch of the cake edge.  Place the top layer of cake (cut side down) over the filling, taking care to position it correctly.

Using a knife or spatula, ice the top of the cake with the Whipped Buttercream Frosting.  Do not drag the frosting too hard across the cake.  Level the top with icing and proceed to ice the sides until they are completely covered.  Wipe any icing smears from the edge of the cake stand with a clean, damp cloth.  Chill for at least an hour before serving.


SIDE NOTE:  If you’ve never folded egg whites into batter, I strongly suggest you watch the video I’ve provided.  It’s a delicate process, but don’t be daunted by it.  Regardless of how you whip your egg whites, it’s the folding process the chef demonstrates that is of the utmost importance.

The Art of Folding

The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding

The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding is one of those novels that brilliantly breaks the rules of writing.  You know, all those pesky rules about writing such as use only one POV, don’t head hop, don’t bookend your novel with a prologue or epilogue, and don’t use flashbacks.  The fact that the novel was published as recently as 2007 restores my faith in the industry.  With that being said, The Solitude of Thomas Cave is one of the best examples of literary fiction I’ve ever read.  It’s right up there with Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier.

The novel opens with the narrative of Thomas Goodlard, a sailing companion of Thomas Cave on the whaling ship, the Heartsease.  Young Goodlard relays the details of how Thomas Cave came to spend an entire year by himself on an Arctic island.  A rash bet between shipmates is sure to be the end of Cave, yet there is something more to his desire to stay alone in the frozen hell.

At this point, the novel slips into the POV of third person omniscient, describing Cave’s experiences.  Harding writes with clarity sharper than the frigid Arctic air, and she sucks the reader in with chilling description regarding the conditions in which Cave must survive.

Part of Cave’s solitude involves reflection on his relationship with the beautiful daughter of a shoemaker.  It’s a ghost story, really, and one that haunts Cave’s self-imposed exile to the point that he cannot separate dreams from reality.  He does, however, manage to keep his personal history out of the log he keeps for the Captain of the Heartsease, and we are treated to passages from said diary.  By having her protagonist hide some of the truth of his isolation, Harding supplies her readers with interesting details of Cave’s life that his fellow characters never know, and the reader is drawn deeper into his nightmare.

The history surrounding whaling practices is harsh, often brutal, to read.  It’s not a profession with which I am in agreement; Harding doesn’t back down from the gory truth.  It also isn’t long before one realizes Cave is eating whatever is necessary to survive.  As rough as conditions on a whaling ship might be, by the end of the novel they seem like the lap of luxury compared to Cave’s meager existence.

Harding surprises by not ending the book with what I assumed would be the natural conclusion.  At first I feared she would ramble on, simply trying to fulfill a word count.  But it is in this final section that she reveals a subtle yet powerful message.  She also reverts back to Thomas Goodlard’s POV and finishes the book with the truth that solitude isn’t just something we experience:  it is something we can carry inside because of our experiences.

A Little More Persuasion

So, having recently read Jane Austen’s Persuasion, naturally I had to watch the movies to see which one did the best job of capturing all that the novel is.  I’ll give the readers following my blog a few moments to finish laughing.  But seriously, if I had to choose one as my favorite, it would be the 1995 adaptation starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root.

With that being said, I must also admit that reading the book first will be extremely helpful because there is a large cast of characters and detailed storylines to keep track of.  Without the benefit of a reading, the movie might seem patchy, as if much is left unexplained.

I believe the reason no movie will ever completely depict Persuasion, or any book for that matter, but in particular Persuasion, is because much of the prose describes what the characters are thinking and feeling.  We have an in-depth view of Anne’s heart that can only be conveyed on screen by her expressions.  The same is true of Captain Wentworth.  However, when the characters do speak, there are no wasted words.

The thrill of romantic tension Jane Austen infused in her novel comes out well in the 1995 Persuasion.  Again I found myself wanting the movie to hurry up and relieve Anne’s and Wentworth’s agony, but just as quickly wishing to prolong the scenes so I could relish them over and over.  At the conclusion of the novel, I felt as if I was leaving dear friends behind, and the movie engendered the same emotions as well as put faces on said friends.

And then there is the kiss in the 1995 Persuasion when Anne and Wentworth finally overcome their insecurities and presumptions regarding each other.  Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root do it the best as we’re given the view from just over Wentworth’s shoulder as he’s leaning down to make contact with Anne’s lips, and she closes her eyes right before they touch.  Let the squealing and sighing commence because it is, in my humble opinion, the best onscreen kiss ever.

As for Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, they do a wonderful job portraying Wentworth and Anne.  He is classically handsome with high cheekbones and a regal bearing.  Never is Hinds’s Wentworth the pretty, spoiled rich boy next door.  Amanda Root’s Anne embodies Jane Austen’s own sentiment of being “almost too good for me.”  She is perfect as the plain but pretty woman past her bloom who later revives the blush upon her cheeks the closer she comes to her one true love.

The 2007 adaption of Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones is not bad, but it’s not great.  I would never dissuade you from watching to make up your own mind.  My biggest complaints are that some characters’ lines end up in the mouths of other characters and too many scenes are consolidated which lessens the impact of what takes place.  There is also a titch too much creative licensing going on and four times the director employs the technique of having Anne (Sally Hawkins) look directly at the camera as if making eye contact with the viewer thus conveying the depth of her feelings at the moment.  Once would have been sufficient to make us feel Anne’s pain.

Wentworth in this version is handsome but not dashing, and Anne’s hair looks as if it needs a good washing.  As for the kiss at the end, Anne has been running to catch up to Wentworth, and she pants too long and too hard.  Then the scene drags on forever, I have to assume because of the director’s instructions or perhaps to give Sally Hawkins time to catch her breath, and the moment is spoiled.  It is actually more embarrassing than romantic.

One saving grace is Anthony Head as Sir Walter, Anne’s father.  It’s almost frightening how well Head portrays the depth of shallowness and vanity to which Sir Walter has sunk, caring little or nothing for those around him who he deems worthless including his own dear daughter, Anne.  Kudos to Head for making me hate this character because I have to admit, sometimes I love a character I can hate.

There are a couple TV mini-series based on Persuasion from the ‘60s and 70’s and a modern adaptation all of which I’m sure I’ll miss.  Until a glowing review for one of them comes from a friend or follower, I’ll stay with the novel and the 1995 movie.

No Persuasion Necessary

No one will ever have to persuade me to read Jane Austen as I will always do it willingly.  The fact that my classic literature book group chose Persuasion as our July novel pretty much sent me over the moon.  Now here’s the big reveal for this blog post:  I’ve never read Persuasion.  My only experience with this particular novel is the 1995 Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root movie by the same name.

Still, having viewed the movie and possessing a basic understanding of the premise of the story, I found the romantic tension Jane Austen managed to write into her slim volume to be unexpectedly amazing and toe-curlingly satisfying.  Without smut or foul language, Persuasion is every bit as intense as the feelings one endures when watching the love of his or her life walk into a room and believing he or she completely out of his or her reach.  Because, after all, this is exactly what our heroine, Anne Elliot, believes of the dashing Captain Wentworth.

Another point I found quite remarkable is that for a small novel it had quite a cast of characters all with diverse and interesting lives intricately woven into the tale.  Jane Austen does this exceedingly well, and I never lost track of a single character.  I’m not sure if Charlotte Bronte’s comment of “very incomplete and rather insensible” is toward all of Austen’s works or Persuasion in particular, but I have to disagree with her.

Of course there are always the villains at whom we boo and hiss and wish upon them more of a comeuppance than they receive, but the character of Anne Elliot with all her selflessness and caring far outshines any of the unpleasant people in the book.  And, if we’re willing to admit, we should all be a little more like Anne and not wish these people ill.

While I’m usually the first to give up on a character for being a simpering doormat, Anne Elliot never comes across this way.  Her heart, although broken, is made roomier to care for the people in her life whether or not they love her in return.  She isn’t an unbelievable do-gooder, but rather an example of the quality of character to strive for.

The romantic in me believes Anne and Captain Wentworth live happily ever after despite any threat of war that would take him away from her or the notion that they had to wait for him to be rich enough to be worthy of a baronet’s daughter.  Regardless of the mindset of the society in which they were born, raised, and lived, I believe the fundamental strength of who they are at heart is the true source of their happiness and love for each other.

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