Dunkirk and Mini-Reviews

July has been busy. It seems I haven’t been home much to blog, or visit blogs, so bear with me. We’ve had visitors to tour around since it’s prime summertime, and a group of us here are gearing up to participate in the Canadian Tennis Nationals next month in Vancouver. It’s a tournament by age group, so you compete against your own peers no matter which decade you’re in. The local tennis men and ladies, like me, have been practicing and playing in small club tournaments to get ready. It’s been quite a bit of tennis, both singles and doubles, but hopefully it’ll pay off once we get there, or at least we’ll have a ball trying.

Last night my husband and I went to see the movie “Dunkirk” on its opening weekend and what I can say is “Whoa” — there’s some tremendous filmmaking and action in this war film based on the epic rescue in May and June 1940 to evacuate Allied soldiers — who were cut off and surrounded by German forces — from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in northern France.

Apparently writer and director Christopher Nolan used 6,000 extras on the shoot and as many as 62 ships on the water at once to re-create the miraculous evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops by a hastily assembled fleet of more than 800 boats. The film unfolds with little dialogue and jumps around in three perspectives of what’s happening on land, air, and sea, which Nolan makes it feel like are all ongoing at once, even though the duration of these events varied: the film’s action on land took a week, the action at sea a day and the air battles over an hour.

But oh my, you are in for an experience that seems to capture WWII down to the shaking in the boots, the dirt in the teeth and the blood and sacrifice required to save Western Europe. This isn’t CGI crap, Nolan uses the real stuff: naval destroyers, spitfires, the works. By the end, I was slickened by the oil in the water and affected by the men’s stories. One of the best parts is the small recreational boats that come to help the evacuation — in which actor Mark Rylance plays a father with two sons who steers his boat to pick up soldiers lost at sea. It’s a touching and heroic effort that amazingly helped save many of the troops.

This is Nolan’s first historical film — he’s known for his Batman movies, though I liked his space flick “Interstellar” a bit more than those, but “Dunkirk” is far more exceptional. It brings to life the scope of the momentous rescue mission, so see it if you can.

As for novels this week, I’ll leave you with two reviews of what I finished lately.

Before the Wind by Jim Lynch, 2016, 304 pages, Knopf

For all those who like sailing or boating and being on the water — and maybe even if you don’t — then this novel is for you. It’s about a crazy sailing family, the Johannssens, whose grandfather and father design and build sailboats out of Seattle and who’ve instilled in the three Johannssen kids the skills and drive to compete in sailboat racing after many years of endless practice. Their mother, too, is a math teacher and whiz who regales them with the science behind things on the boat and stories of Einstein’s sailing days.

But years later the Johannssens, once a tight family, have gone their separate ways. The middle kid, Josh, now 31 and repairing boats at a marina south of Seattle, narrates the story of his life and his family’s ups and downs. And all is not well. His siblings have flown the coop — his sister Ruby to Africa, and his brother Bernard is a fugitive somewhere at sea. His father’s and grandfather’s business is involved in a boat lawsuit and his mother seems to be going a bit batty. Josh too is languishing, his dating life is pretty pathetic though it provides quite comical fodder, and his job at the boatyard is filled with sailing dreamers and losers.

It’s a family teetering under strains, but one that unexpectedly reunites when an important sailboat race brings them back together. What happens during the race — and the revelation that follows — will affect them all.

I enjoyed the characters of the story, especially the narrator’s sister Ruby, who’s the sailing star of the book. She’s almost ethereal in her command of the wind and the boat, and perhaps no love for a sister has been done so well for a long while. Josh’s narration too is filled with heart and a wry sense of humor, especially of the oddball characters at his boatyard of which there are plenty.

It’s a story that has a lot of charm to it and really delves into the details of sailing and boats and their maintenance, which some might find to be too much for them, but I have a sailing father and spouse so I could relate to quite a bit of it. The novel felt almost like a love letter to all the ins and outs of sailing in general — and the dreamers who love it — which was sort of nice and I liked its location set in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. The only trouble I had with the novel is that some parts seemed a bit slow to me midway into it as well as the parts about Einstein’s interest in sailing, which is talked about throughout the story. The focus too jumps around a bit, and it meanders on for quite awhile so I couldn’t wait for the sailboat race action near the end. I needed action by then, and luckily it came through.

Despite some slowness for me, I found “Before the Wind” a poignant novel with pleasant charm and interesting characters. For those who like dysfunctional family tales or sailing novels, it’s definitely worth a swirl. I’d be curious to pick up another of Jim Lynch’s books sometime. Have you read him?

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane, 2017, 419 pages, Eco

Where to begin with this one? I listened to it as an audiobook and it felt almost like two books to me. The first half of the novel, which I seemed quite into — is about a young girl (Rachel Childs) whose mother is a rather cold, self-help author who won’t tell her who her father is, and thus the girl goes off on a search for him once her mother unexpectedly dies. (This part sort of reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s novel “Purity” with the flawed mother and the young female daughter on an epic search for her father.)

Though eventually that ends and Rachel makes her own way succeeding as a journalist in broadcast news, until one on-air meltdown while reporting in Haiti derails her. She loses her job, and becomes prone to panic attacks, too scared to leave her house. Still when she marries the ideal guy, she thinks her life is turning around, only to have suspicions creep in later that he may not be who he says he is. Is she being crazy? Or will she have the wherewithal to figure out what’s going on?

It’s sort of an enticing premise, having an unstable protagonist try to crack her life’s case, but unfortunately I found too much of the second half of the book to be like an airport thriller that’s too far-fetched or hard to believe. Dennis Lehane, obviously, is a great storyteller with such novels as “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island,” but this story leaves a lot of threads along the way and didn’t seem to me up to snuff as those other books.

Truth be told, I didn’t find Rachel Childs that likable or outstanding and I thought this just another summer thriller kind of book that felt a bit like nonsense in the end. Still, crazy fast-paced thrillers are sometimes what summer reading or listening is all about so I can’t dismiss it fully. It is what it is.

How about you — have you read “Since We Fell” or “Before the Wind” or seen “Dunkirk” and if so, what did you think?

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24 Responses to Dunkirk and Mini-Reviews

  1. Viv says:

    Looks like some great reads – especially Before the Wind! Good luck at Nationals Susan! Viv

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    I read and loved The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch. That was quite a few years ago and I always meant to read more. Thanks for your review on that. I have never read any Lehane books but I have liked the movies made from them.
    As far as Dunkirk goes, I have read so much about it in WWII novels that I am not sure I can take any more. But this movie looks Oscar bound to me so I will probably see it eventually. I really hate war!
    Sounds like you are having the best summer!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, yeah I think I’d like to read The Highest Tide sometime. Summer is going well, we have to take full advantage here while it is green and warm. There’s sort of a neat storyline in Dunkirk about the small boats that come to help — actor Mark Rylance plays a father of two sons on a boat — which works well. I think it makes the whole thing feel more alive than just blow them up kind of filmmaking, which other parts are. I think you should eventually see it especially since you’ve read so much on it.

  3. I think Dunkirk might be too intense for me to experience in the theater. Before the Wind sounds good to me.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kathy, yeah Before the Wind is a good tale of a quirky family that comes together. I think maybe you might be able to do Dunkirk; it’s a bit intense but somewhat stirring as well.

  4. I have enjoyed the movies based on Lehane’s books, but I don’t think I’ve actually read any of the books. Perhaps this one is not the best place to start?

    However, I do like the sound of that tense mother/daughter relationship. (And I recently downloaded Purity).

    Thanks for sharing and enjoy your week. Thanks for visiting my blog(s).

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Laurel, yeah I really wanted to like Since We Fell — while I really liked the first half of it, the second half seems to get pretty crazy and I couldn’t believe it much. I think it’s best to stick with Purity, which I hope you like. It’s a long one. Enjoy your week!

  5. Carmen says:

    Good luck with your tennis tournaments, Susan. Have fun!

    I’ve been hearing great things about Dunkirk, but I’ll wait until it comes out on rental. I read a headline that it may be one of the greatest war movies ever made. It seems that you agree it’s great. About time too that a great movie came along this year because so far the quality of the movie offerings this year has been dismal.

    Like most have expressed here in the comments, I haven’t read any of Lehane’s novels but I’ve seen their adaptations. The latest adaptation of one of his works is Ben Affleck’s Live by Night. I was torn regarding that one, perhaps it would have been better, even great, with another leading man.

    I like the premise of Before the Wind. Years ago I read a novel titled Force 12 about an ultramodern yacht that goes wacky on the owner. I still remember the description of that storm at sea.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Carmen for your comments, all good. It’s hard to say Dunkirk is the greatest war flick ever made, but it is quite excellent. I agree it’s one of the few really good films so far in 2017 though I’m hoping fall movies such as The Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman as Churchill might make up for it. We will see. I agree too that many of Lehane’s stories make better movies perhaps than novels (I’ve seen many/ & read only 2). I probably will get around to seeing Live by Night sometime. He seems quite prolific. I wanted to like this one but the 2nd half made me like it less.

  6. Brian Joseph says:

    I really want to see Dunkirk. It was such an important historical event. The film sounds fantastic. Your commentary really makes me want to see it more.

  7. Ti says:

    I can’t believe I am saying this but I cannot wait to see Dunkirk. My friend, an avid film lover and producer begged me and others to only see it on a proper screen and in a proper viewing format. He said to see it on an average movie screen would not do it justice but in all of Los Angeles there are only three theaters that display the quality he requested we see. I may have to settle for an IMAX.

    Can’t wait to hear all about your tennis match. I remember you participating last year and if I recall, you did pretty darn well.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Ti! I hope the tennis goes well; it starts around Aug. 20, so we will see, practicing lots these days. I agree that it’s best to see Dunkirk on the Big Screen. We didn’t see it on IMAX but I can only imagine. It might feel like the bombs were bursting in the seats, yikes. Hope you are well.

  8. My husband went on his own to see Dunkirk since I don’t usually enjoy war movies, and after hearing how much he loved it and your review, I almost wish I’d gone. I haven’t read either book but I appreciated your reviews. Good luck at tennis nationals!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Oh Thanks Sarah. I’ll need much luck at nationals. Glad your husband liked Dunkirk. The film jumps around quite a bit between air, land & sea so it’s a bit different than getting to know characters’ stories in depth. Still it’s a grand film undertaking, with lots of action. I especially liked the part with actor Mark Ryland who helps with his two sons in a recreational boat. I feel I understand that event in history a bit better now.

  9. Hello Susan!
    The film Dunkirk is currently in theaters in Europe. I will see it because your excellent review convinced me (of course Nolan is a very good film director).
    I have never read any of Dennis Lehane novels, but I think they are worth reading. That said, I have seen the 3 films you mentioned.
    In this current relaxing summer, I’m sticking with a lot of comfort reading (mostly re-reading) – old Agatha Christie paperbacks that are on my bookshelves… And other great books just waiting to be read.
    Have a happy summertime 🙂

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks RT, I like your approach to comfort reading & having a relaxing summer 🙂 I’ll be curious to hear what you think of Dunkirk if you see it. Apparently Nolan was pretty obsessed with the topic for the past 25 years and finally made it. It’s action-packed but interesting & grand too.

  10. JaneGS says:

    I’ve not yet seen Dunkirk, but I feel I must–maybe this weekend. My brother also saw it and gave it a rave review. Interesting that the film uses real stuff instead of CGI. I didn’t know that.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Jane: I hope you will like the movie. It’s pretty epic. You don’t get too in depth on the characters’ stories but it is visually pretty astounding. I will drop by to see what you think. Enjoy your week.

  11. I hope you will have a great time at the tennis court, Susan. 🙂

    I loved ‘Dunkirk’. I loved how beautifully it defined the word ‘home’. I quite deeply loved Hans Zimmer’s background score too.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks much Deepika! Tennis is my racket these days, ha! Wow I’m glad you were already able to see Dunkirk. It’s worldwide I guess. You’re right the score was quite epic sounding. Big soundtrack! I will drop by your site soon to see what you are up to. Enjoy your week!

  12. I really want to see Dunkirk but I think I’ll pass on Since We Fell.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kate: yeah Dunkirk is a visual reckoning. And I think the 2nd half of Since We Fell has sort of turned me off thrillers for awhile. Uh-oh. Enjoy your week.

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