Allied


The name is Pitt, Brad Pitt.

The name is Pitt, Brad Pitt.

(2016) War Drama (Paramount) Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney, Matthew Goode, Marion Bailey, Ian Batchelor, Ėric Thëobald, Josh Dylan, Camille Cottin, August Diehl, Anton Blake, Fleur Poad, Vincent Latorre, Daniel Betts, Sally Messham, Charlotte Hope, Celeste Dodwell, Maggie O’Brien, Anton Lesser, Angelique Joan. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

Espionage is a lonely affair. After all, how can you trust anyone who it is a given that they are at the very least manipulating the truth if not outright lying? Relationships do not survive without trust, after all.

Max Vatan (Pitt) is a Canadian airman/spy who parachutes into North Africa during World War II. His assignment is to make it to Casablanca and there attend a party where he will assassinate the German ambassador (Blake). Assisting him will be Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a member of the French resistance who will pose as his wife and get him into the party.

At first, both of them are consummate professionals, maintaining the illusion of a loving marriage while retaining their objectivity but that objectivity begins to crumble. Imminent danger turns feigned affection to the real McCoy. On the eve of the party, they go out to the desert to clear their heads but a sandstorm traps them in their car where they finally smash through their pretensions and give in to what they’ve both been feeling.

After completing their mission, they return to London and marry; shortly thereafter Marianne gives birth to a daughter in the midst of an air raid. They find a quaint cottage in Hampstead while Max is a desk jockey in the British war department. One afternoon on what is supposed to be a weekend off, he is summoned to headquarters and his superior (Harris) and a officious military intelligence officer (McBurney) drop a bombshell of their own; Marianne is in fact a German spy. She’d assumed the identity of the real Marianne Beauséjour after murdering her. They’ve intercepted transmissions of classified material that they have traced to her. Max is given false information to make sure that Marianne can discover. If that information turns up in a new transmission, then all doubt will be removed and Max is ordered to execute her by his own hand in that case. Failure to do so will result in his own execution.

Max, of course, doesn’t believe that the love of his life and the mother of his child could betray him like that. Despite orders to the contrary, he does some sleuthing of his own trying to discover the truth about his wife. Is she, as he believes, falsely accused or has she lied to him all this time and is actually using him?

To Zemeckis’ credit, he doesn’t tip his hand one way or the other. The audience is completely in the dark of Marianne’s innocence or guilt until the very end of the film. Also to his credit we care about both characters enough that we are genuinely rooting for the accusations to be false. It is also a credit to both actors that their relationship is completely believable.

What isn’t believable is the whole trope of that the accused spy, if she is a spy, must die by the hand of her husband. I suppose that the logic there is that it proves the continued loyalty of the Max character and that he isn’t an accomplice to Marianne’s alleged chicanery but it is the kind of thing that doesn’t make sense. It would seem more logical that if Marianne is guilty that anybody but Max execute her. Certainly war can change morality but it doesn’t seem to me that forcing a man to kill his wife would do anything but turn him against the agency making such an order. There are also plenty of ways to get Marianne to receive false information without involving her husband. It would be in fact more efficient to leave him ignorant. Of course that would also remove the tension of the movie’s third act.

Pitt and Cotillard are both legitimate movie stars and with all that implies; Zemeckis is a master at utilizing the abilities of the stars he works with. Pitt and Cotillard have never been as radiant and charismatic as they are here. They both captivate equally and their relationship as lovers makes absolute sense and is believable without question. The movie is essentially a primer for the advantages of star power.

What I liked most about the film was that it is very a movie that puts to lie “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” This is absolutely the way they used to make ‘em like. It is no accident that the first act is set in Casablanca; the iconic Casablanca is not only name-checked but several elements from it are slyly referenced. The costuming is absolutely superb. I don’t often notice the costumes but they are superb here; it wouldn’t surprise me if the film gets an Oscar nomination in that department. Joanna Johnston, the costume designer, certainly deserves one here.

What I didn’t like about the movie is that it runs a little bit too long particularly during the second act. Da Queen, in the interest of full disclosure, actually liked this part of the movie much more than I did; she felt that Max acted the way she thought any good husband would.  In all honesty I can’t dispute that, but again that’s why any intelligence agency would not inform the husband of an accused spy that she’s under investigation, if for no other reason that they would better be able to determine his own complicity if any in that manner.

I have to admit that I liked the movie a few days after seeing it than I did when I left the theater and it’s entirely possible that when I view this a second time (as I certainly will since Da Queen really liked the movie much more than I did) I will find myself liking it even more. That said, it did leave me a bit flat despite everything it had going for it; that could be chalked up to me not feeling well when I saw it. There are definitely some flaws here but for those who love movies the way they used to be you’re bound to find this right up your alley.

REASONS TO GO: Pitt and Cotillard are legitimate movie stars who use their star appeal to full potential here. It’s an old-fashioned Hollywood movie in the best sense of the term.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is way too long and drags a whole lot in the middle third. Some of the plot points lack credibility.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some wartime espionage violence, some sexuality, a brief scene of drug use and a slight amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In one scene, a photo of King George VI can be seen behind Jared Harris. He played the monarch in the Netflix series The Crown.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/23/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. and Mrs. Jones
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Almost Christmas

New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2016


MoanaMOANA

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

A plucky teenage girl (are there any other kind at Disney?) sets out on a dangerous quest across the Pacific to save her people. Aiding her in her quest is the once-mighty demigod Maui who teaches her the way to become a master navigator. Together they’ll face mighty monsters, impossible odds and at times, each other. The one thing that Moana finds on the way to fulfilling her people’s prophecy is the one thing she most wanted to and never expected to – herself.

See the trailer, interviews, and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)

Allied

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. An American spy during the Second World War meets a comely French Resistance fighter on a mission and the two eventually fall in love. Reunited in London after the mission is over, they marry and begin a family. That’s when the bombshell drops (and I don’t mean the Blitz) – his wife is suspected of being a Nazi double agent and he is given the order to take her out permanently.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Bad Santa 2

(Broad Green/Miramax) Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christine Hendricks. Willie Soke, the worst Santa ever, is back and his evil elf sidekick Marcus has a scheme to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is Thurman Merman, the irrepressibly optimistic and naive boy (now a young man) and Willie’s horror show of a mom who turns everything she touches to ca-ca. Not helping matters is Willie/s lust/love for the charity’s director, a curvaceous and prim lass with a libido that just won’t quit.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity)

Dear Zindagi

(Reliance) Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Tahir Raj Bhasin. A budding cinematographer looking to create the perfect life for herself encounters a free-thinking extrovert who teaches her to see life just a little differently – that the joy is in life’s imperfections.

See the trailer and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Nocturnal Animals

(Focus) Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. A woman trying to put her life together after a dysfunctional marriage and a brutal divorce is sent a book by her ex-husband that is violent and graphic – and dedicated to her. Knowing that she did something terrible to her ex, she doesn’t know what lengths he’ll go to for his vengeance.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language)

Rules Don’t Apply

(20th Century Fox) Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening. When Midwestern beauty queen Maria Mabrey comes to Hollywood in 1958 under contract to the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, she is met by his personal driver. Both devoutly religious, they of course fall instantly forever, threatening to break Hughes’ cardinal rule of his employees having no relationships whatsoever. When Hughes  begins to fall for the actress, both Mabrey and the driver are drawn increasingly into his bizarre world.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references)

Now You See Me 2


The rain falls on the just, the unjust and Jesse Eisenberg.

The rain falls on the just, the unjust and Jesse Eisenberg.

(2016) Action (Summit) Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin, William Henderson, Richard Laing, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Brick Patrick, Zach Gregory, Ben Lamb, Fenfen Huang, Aaron Ly, James Richard Marshall, Alexa Brown. Directed by Jon M. Chu

 

We are fascinated by the concept of magic, of someone performing unexplainable feats of prestidigitation. Magicians are almost like real-life superheroes. All they lack is the spandex and the inclination to fight crime.

At the end of Now You See Me the Four Horsemen – the Vegas magic act that was a kind of Robin Hood, taking money from a rich insurance company and giving it back to the thousands of people it defrauded – are on the lam. J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), the arrogant onstage leader of the Horsemen, is busy trying to investigate The Eye, the mysterious organization that controls them. Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) is trying to stay under the radar, Henley Reeves has left the group and Jack Wilder (Franco) has the world convinced that he’s dead. Their nemesis Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) rots in jail and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is trying to steer his boss Natalie Austin (Lathan) away from the Horsemen since he is their behind-the-scenes handler. Dylan also has his late father Lionel Shrike (Laing) very much on his mind, particularly the stunt that killed him.

The Horsemen need a fourth and into the group comes Lula (Caplan), a street magician like Henley Reeves was although Lula is much more into the Grand Guignol than her predecessor. They’re going to need the whole lot of them because they are up against Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), a tech billionaire whom the world also thinks is dead (the world has a terrible track record when it comes to dead guys) who wants them to steal a super secret microchip that will give him access to every computer on the planet.

The chip is held in a super-safe location in Shanghai, so it’s off to China for the Horsemen, but Mabry has a couple of tricks of his own; for one, Merritt’s identical twin brother is helping him stay one step ahead of the horsemen and Mabry is the bastard son of none other than Arthur Tressler (Caine), the insurance magnate whom the Horsemen exposed and nearly ruined in the first movie. Mabry also has sprung Thaddeus Bradley from jail and he has nothing but revenge on his mind. It will take a whole lot more than a few magic tricks for this group to escape Mabry; it will take a genuine miracle.

The first movie was a frothy affair that was light on the credibility but heavy on the entertainment. If anything, the sequel is even lighter on the credibility but as far as the entertainment value is concerned…not so much, I’m afraid. It seems a lot less lively than the first both in tone and in pacing. This sucker chugs along with tons of exposition then an elaborate magic trick before continuing to…you guessed it, more exposition.

Caplan is actually a delight here. Her character is witty, sassy and very capable as a magician. More importantly, Caplan inserts some badly needed fun into a script that should have been loaded with it. I mean, magicians who are crime fighters? Come on! That should be a slam dunk. Instead it’s more like a three-point shot…..from beyond half court.

Ruffalo is still, as ever, a bona fide Hollywood star but his role, outed in the first film, is less mysterious here and therefore less interesting. We know who he is and what role he plays and moreover, so do the Horsemen (although there’s a bit of a pissing contest between Daniel and Dylan about halfway through the film). The unnecessary introduction of a twin brother gives Harrelson double the screen time and the film an extraneous character who not only wasn’t necessary to the plot but also provides an unwanted distraction. A good 15 minutes of screen time could have been erased from this too-long movie just by removing the twin.

This is quite a disappointment. I was entertained by the first but found myself yawning my way through the second. The stunts pulled by the Horsemen are, as the first, almost all CGI which again wounds the film terribly. I think as I did with the first one that doing the magic with practical effects instead of digital would only have made the movie better. I mean, rain falling upwards? In London? Maybe on a stage somewhere but not out in the middle of the street. Movie magic is one thing, but that would have been better served in a different movie, like one with a kid with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Now, the makers of those movies understood what magic is all about better than the filmmakers of this one do.

REASONS TO GO: Caplan is a welcome addition to the cast. The premise is rock solid.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks the vitality of the first film. Makes an art form of the preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of violence and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Isla Fisher had to drop out of the film due to her pregnancy; Lizzy Caplan took over as an entirely new character.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Italian Job
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Central Intelligence

The Night Before


Kickin' it, old school.

Kickin’ it, old school.

(2015) Holiday Comedy (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Heléne Yorke, Ilana Glazer, Aaron Hill, Tracy Morgan, Darrie Lawrence, Nathan Fielder, James Franco, Miley Cyrus, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Baron Davis, Jason Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Theodora Woolley. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The Holly and the Quill

Christmas traditions, established when we are young, can sometimes last a lifetime but some of those traditions, particularly of the sort that most wouldn’t consider Christmas-y have a tendency to die out as we mature. When we reach a time in our lives in which we’re making a turning point into adulthood, traditions of all sorts change.

That seems to be happening for a trio of friends who have gone out every Christmas Eve ever since the funeral of Ethan’s (Gordon-Levitt) parents in 2001 when they died in a tragic car accident. His good friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) took Ethan out partying that night to get his mind off his grief, and it became a tradition of sorts; going to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, hanging out in their favorite karaoke bar (and doing a killer rendition of ”Christmas in Hollis”) and searching for the legendary Nutcracka Ball, the Holy Grail of Christmas parties in New York.

Being that this is a Seth Rogen movie, there are also copious amounts of drugs, supplied in this case by Isaac’s wife Betsy (Bell), a good Catholic girl who is days away from giving birth and wants to reward her husband for having been “her rock” throughout the pregnancy by allowing him to have a good time with his buddies, no questions asked.

All three of the boys are on the cusp of becoming men as they hit their thirties; Isaac about to be a dad, Chris – now a pro football player – having the best season of his career although it is suspiciously late in said career….well, that leaves Ethan who is still struggling with adulthood. His failure to commit has cost him his longtime girlfriend Diana (Caplan) whom he runs into at the karaoke bar, partying with her friend Sarah (Kaling). While serving canapés dressed as an elf at a hoity toity Manhattan party, he runs across tickets to the Ball – and knowing that this is their last hurrah, the three intend to send their traditions out with a big bang.

There are celebrity cameos galore, including Rogen’s bromance buddy James Franco, playing himself (and Sarah’s date) sending dick pics to Sarah which Isaac gets to see since the two accidentally switched phones; Michael Shannon plays Mr. Green, a mysterious drug dealer who might be a whole lot more than he seems; former Daily Show regular Jason Jones also shows up as a semi-inebriated Santa who appears at a particularly low point in the evening for Ethan.

The movie is surprisingly heartwarming, and while allusion to Christmas tales like A Christmas Carol and Die Hard abound, this is definitely a Rogen movie (his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg is one of the four writers on the project) although to be fair, Isaac is more of a supporting character to Ethan who is the focus here.

The chemistry between the three leads is solid and you can believe their friendship is strong. Levine wisely uses the comedy to serve the story rather than the other way around which most comedies these days seem to do; there are some genuinely funny moments as the night becomes more and more surreal (it’s also nice to hear Tracy Morgan narrating and make a late onscreen appearance). Of course, being a Seth Rogen movie (as we’ve mentioned) the drug humor tends to go a little bit over-the-top and those who think Cheech and Chong are vulgar are likely to find this one so as well.

The good news is that the performances here are solid and the likeability of Gordon-Levitt gives the movie a whole lot of cred since the characters on the surface aren’t terribly likable. Hanging out with the immature can make for a trying cinematic experience but fortunately the fact that all three of the actors here are so genuinely likable and charismatic saves the movie from being a drudge and actually elevates it into maybe not Christmas classic status, but certainly a movie that might generate some holiday traditions of its own.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny. Some nice performances by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Shannon.
REASONS TO STAY: Overdoes the drug humor.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of drug humor, lots of profanity, some graphic nudity and a good deal of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and director Levine all worked together in the film 50/50.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Best Friend’s Girl


My Best Friend's Girl

A case of beauty and the beast.

(Lionsgate) Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs, Alec Baldwin, Lizzy Caplan, Diora Baird, Riki Lindholme, Faye Grant, Mini Anden, Hilary Pringle. Directed by Howard Deutch

From time to time when a romantic relationship is ended by one of the parties involved, it isn’t because of infidelity or abuse; it’s because the person ending the relationship thinks he or she can do better. When we are the ones being dumped, we fervently hope that they find out quickly how good they really had it.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you had someone help that particular education process along. Enter Tank Turner (Cook), customer service drone by day and relationship rescuer by night. He is hired by various guys who have been given their walking papers to date their exes and show them as bad a time as humanly possible so that they will run screaming out the door – and hopefully, back into the arms of the guys they just dumped.

Tank is exceedingly good at what he does – the date from hell thing, anyway or what his roommate calls “emotional terrorism.” He even has a list of ten obnoxious things he does to more effectively drive home the message that there are far worse guys out there than the loser she just left (and they are obviously losers, otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay someone to be worse than they are). Like anyone who knows how to drive a woman away, he also knows what is irresistible to them and so Tank does okay in the seduction department.

Tank’s roommate is his childhood friend Dustin (Biggs) who’s been going out with Alexis (Hudson) for a very long time. He REALLY wants to be with her forever, but for whatever reason she won’t commit to him. When she decides that she wants to end the relationship and explore other options, Dustin decides to utilize Tank’s service.

This wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if Tank didn’t wind up falling in love with Alexis, as she does with him. This really pisses off Dustin as you might imagine, who tosses Tank out on his ass, leaving Tank to commiserate with his father (Baldwin), a college professor who shows that the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree when it comes to his attitudes towards women.

I could go on about what happens next but you get the picture. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is leading and it takes either a high developed sense of curiosity or a particularly well-developed sense of self-loathing to care.

I don’t mind raunchiness, even for its own sake – it works well in movies like The Hangover and Hot Tub Time Machine. There needs to be either a commitment to just keep pushing the envelope, or some sort of semblance of charm to make it work, however; just recycling dick jokes, urination and vomit gags or judicious use of profanity aren’t enough to carry a movie.

Kate Hudson is a charming actress who not only resembles her mother but is actually tackling roles that her mom excelled at some 25 years ago; it seems criminal to me that she hasn’t really gotten the kind of part that would elevate her career, but quite frankly in the stampede to write the next Judd Apatow comedy I think there aren’t a lot of good roles for women being written and those that are get offered to a select group of actresses first.

There are a lot of online critics who regard Dane Cook with the same wary suspicion that one might regard a pit bull dripping foam from his jaws, but I’m not one of them. I like his standup routines and although I’m willing to admit his film career has been wildly uneven thus far, I’ve actually enjoyed his work in Dan in Real Life and Waiting. This won’t go down in history as one of his shining moments, but he does the best he can with a part that’s really unplayable.

This is the kind of movie that makes me gnash my teeth, not because it’s so bad but because it’s just good enough to tantalize me with the thought that it could have been better. It’s got a decent premise, a solid cast and a veteran director; what it doesn’t have is enough to fill in the gaps and keep the audience entertained the way the aforementioned movies did. There’s enough that I liked about My Best Friend’s Girl that I can recommend it to those who think Dane Cook RAWKS and to those who like raunchy sex comedies; to those who don’t like either you might want to think twice before renting this.

WHY RENT THIS: Hudson and Biggs aren’t bad actors and Alec Baldwin can make even a bad role seem better.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Decidedly un-funny and inescapably misogynistic, this movie is funnier in concept than it is in execution.

FAMILY VALUES: The raunch factor is fairly high with plenty of foul language, sexual suggestiveness and some nudity. Definitely not for the after-church crowd!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Cook grabs and squeezes Hudson’s behind, a stunt tush was used.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a whole lot of features ranging from Professor Turner’s system of rating girls to one on the usage of Boston as a location. If you are interested enough in the movie, you may find some of them notable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Unknown White Male