Commentaries

Saturday, December 31, 2016

ALLIED



LACK OF PACE KILLS

Film Review by Fiore 


ALLIED is a dual speed film, beginning with a brisk rabbit pace and concluding in a tortoise crawl.  The contrast is stark,  transforming what could have been a cinematic tour de force to a mundane tale.

In 1942, a Royal Canadian Air Force spy, Max Vatan, played by Brad Pitt, is dropped in the desert just outside of Casablanca for a covert mission to assassinate a German ambassador.  The viewer is never told why this particular ambassador is targeted, nor why the protagonist is Canadian.  Since World War II is considered one of America’s greatest victories, perhaps this was a method of inclusion, showing other countries contributed as well.  Needless, but it would fit in with the current Hollywood concept of not praising the country.  Brad Pitt is commanding on screen.  Regardless of the part, he always brings a certain je ne sais quoi to his performances, even when the characters are mundane.  His hair coloring and attire make him look very much like Robert Redford when he portrayed Jay Gatsby.

Max’s contact, and co-conspirator in the assassination, is Marianne Beausejour, played by Marion Cotillard, who is a notorious member of the French Resistance.  While they meet, and schmooze their way among Casablanca’s elite, they never stop at Rick’s CafĂ©, exchange banter with Louie or sing “As Time Goes By”.  Pity.  Cotillard has a rough-Earth beauty; she is simultaneously commonplace, yet mesmerizing.  She and Pitt play off each other well.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE SAND STORM
2.      THE AIR RAID
3.      GIVE ME A GRENADE

This first half of the story shows well.  It is fast-paced, energetically shot and contained with succinct dialogue.  Once Max and Marianne’s suicide mission is complete, the scene shifts to London, and the tale begins to slog. 

At this point in ALLIED, inconsistencies in the story become rampant.  Since Max is a member of the Canadian Air Force, why does he return to London and not Canada?  Why does Marianne, who is supposedly ruthless, demonstrate extreme charity before leaving Casablanca?  Why is Max’s sister living in London, instead of Canada?  How is it she is a lesbian, and conducts an openly homosexual relationship in London at a time when homosexuals were incarcerated and put to death?  Why is Max’s wardrobe so similar to today’s style of mixing stripes and checks, when the fashion of the day was much more sensible?  Apparently, after making love, men in Casablanca sit on their rooftops.  There are four such scenes in ALLIED, yet in each, Max is the only man on a roof.  What caused all the other women in Casablanca to turn frigid?  Obviously, these questions reveal Screenwriter Stephen Knight, as is his penchant, needs to insert the agenda into his script, even when it is obviously revisionist history and detracts tremendously from the story.

After returning to London, Max and Marianne develop a relationship despite warnings from his superiors, marry and raise a family.  When all seems idyllic, Max is informed his wife may be a double agent, and the second half of the film centers on his discovery of the truth.  While the concept is stellar, the film drags in the second plot unfolding, with long sequences for minor plotpoints and near impossible timeline occurrences.   Where the Casablanca setting offers a compelling espionage tale, the London setting plays as if it were a John LeCarre omnibus.

The production design team of Gary Freeman and Raffaella Giovannetti do a superb job of recreating the look of the 1940’s.  Alan Silvestri scores a moving soundtrack befitting the period.  Robert Zemeckis orchestrates the opus, and frankly I’m rather surprised he allowed the film to slow so much in the second half.  Perhaps part of the problem is utilizing an editing team.  I’m not a fan of more than one editor on a film; I believe it clouds the vision.  Regardless, Zemeckis is not known for braking his workflow.

ALLIED, like so many other films that are high ranking contenders for awards this year, is worth a look, but certainly not worth repeated viewings.  Had the London escapade kept pace with Casablanca, ALLIED could very possibly have been one of the year’s best.




THE GRADE FOR ALLIED = C



Friday, December 30, 2016

ARRIVAL



ALIENS WITH LAME MESSAGE

Film Review by Fiore 


From the earliest to the latest, science-fiction stories have contained a cultural or social sub theme.  They warned to “look toward the skies”, or “we are not alone” or “join us in peace, or we will reduce your planet to a burnt-out cinder.”  The social and cultural messages often blend harmoniously with the plot, and as such, make for compelling movies.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with ARRIVAL.

At first glance, ARRIVAL bears a striking resemblance to Jodie Foster’s CONTACT.  The story, penned by Eric Heisserer, quickly degenerates into a fostering of all the social constructs that resulted in the Democratic humiliation that was the past presidential election.

A dozen alien ships land strategically around the world.  A ploy similar to the one used in the original INDEPENDENCE DAY.  These alien crafts, however, are not stationed for global destruction in a checkmate pattern.  Their location is puzzling, and so a method of communications becomes necessary.

Enter Dr. Louise Banks played by Amy Adams.  A very cunning linguist, Adams is portrayed as the idol of the feminist movement; a single mom raising a child capably, without benefit of the family unit.  She is apparently doing a fine job, until her daughter is diagnosed with cancer, and dies.  This is the typical single mother syndrome promoted by Tinseltown, based on a Helen Reddy mantra; I am woman, I am strong, and I can do it all without a man.  Please. 

Dr. Banks becomes the front man for an elite crew designated to establish contact with the aliens.  Her partner is Dr. Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  The group is overseen by Colonel Weber, played by Forest Whitaker, who is excellent in his portrayal.

The tone of the film is firmly set in the opening reel. Weber comes to ask for Banks’ assistance in alien translation, and she replies with a snarky comment about the military.  She is immediately given all the looney liberal ideologies associated with academia, especially on the college level, and utilizes every opportunity to spew the sewage.

Heisserer’s script proceeds to denigrate the military, conservative news, religion and conservative talk radio, with a parody of Rush Limbaugh.  His screenplay concludes with a jumble of coagulated messages meaningful only to those on medical marijuana.  The sum line is, if we can improve our interpersonal relationships, then we will have better relationships with other countries across the world.  It’s not as serious as the burnt-out cider warning.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      REMOVAL OF THE SPACE SUITS
  2    CRACKING OF THE CODE
3.      SCENES WITH FOREST WHITAKER


Technically, ARRIVAL is slick.  The aliens are a rip-off from Gareth Edwards’ MONSTERS, but on a smaller scale.  They are constantly surrounded by a fog atmosphere, giving them a more menacing appearance.  But, make no mistake, to drive home the “can’t we all just get along” message, these aliens are very Spielberg-like in nature.  Louis Morin handles the SFX.

ARRIVAL also has a rousing score by Johann Johannsson, and a nice collection of cant camera angles by Cinematographer Bradford Young.  The polished visage of ARRIVAL cleverly disguises its liberal lunacy. 

ARRIVAL is worth a view, for the film’s look, Whitaker’s performance and that of Adams, who seems quite comfortable in these loving motherly roles.  The package of the film is a little too neat, with the only real threat coming from ourselves, and not the aliens who are the story’s catalyst.


THE GRADE FOR ARRIVAL = C

Thursday, December 29, 2016

THE WITCH & GREEN ROOM



DARK HORSES

Film Reviews by Fiore 


Several films released during the first few months of the year were nominated for various end of year awards.  In all honesty, they probably should not have been nominated.

THE WITCH is a tale set in New England during the time of the Pilgrims.  At its core, it’s a story about a family moving from the city to the suburbs and succumbing to the wilds of the wilderness.  All of Hollywood’s progressive liberals know the folk in the suburbs are evil; that’s how they lost the presidential election.  More specifically, it shows how suspicions, and fake news stories, can destroy a family.

The devil is in the details, or in this case a black goat.  That’s just one of the stereotypical evil archetypes used in THE WITCH, many of which seem to be culled from Wiccan practices.  For authenticity, Screenwriter Robert Eggers utilizes time appropriate syntax.  It makes for some confusion.  While the story is simplistic, the plot meanders.  Pacing is at an old granny level, thanks to Editor Louise Ford.  Visual Effects Supervisor Geoff D.E. Scott attempts to liven things up, but Director Robert Eggers keeps him restrained.

The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie; Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Granga and Lucas Davison.  Ineson and Dickie are particularly effective as the beguiled parents, desperately attempting to hold together their family against the destructive powers of Satan.
 

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      CALEB’S PRAYER
2.      THE ABDUCTION OF SAM

The film’s conclusion is anti-climactic; screaming for another scene or two.  As supernatural evil tales go, THE WITCH is not bad, and worth a look.  While it isn’t award worthy, it will provide some tense moments on a dark and stormy night when the lightning is flashing and the thunder is crashing.


THE GRADE FOR THE WITCH = C




Not as entertaining is GREEN ROOM.  The film’s title refers to the room set aside for performers before they go on stage.  GREEN ROOM is a very basic, low-key thriller that causes me to wonder how it ever became award eligible.  The best reason available is, it is the last starring role of Anton Yelchin.  I believe the film garnered its accolades in respect and homage to him.

A struggling grunge rock band performs an afternoon gig at a concert hall seemingly filled with conflicted patrons.  The venue, and the band’s green room backstage look like graffitied subway tunnels on steroids.  The prominent sigils are swastikas and Confederate flags.  Misnomers, and confusing, as neither symbol relates to the other.  It seems to be more of an editorial comment by Director Jeremy Saulnier on people he is supposed to hate, if he wants to be a part of the H3L. 

We soon discover the divergent symbols are not a political statement, but a method of disguising a heroine distribution center, run by Patrick Steward, as Darcy.  How, or why Stewart became involved with this project is probably a much better story than the one the film offers.

The band happens to stumble upon the murder of a young drug whore, planning to bolt the illegal enterprise.  Trapped inside the green room, they must fight for their lives as Darcy and his band attempt to eliminate all witnesses.  Really cheesy stuff. 

GREEN ROOM attempts to pull from Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS, demonstrating how peaceful, non-violent people, like Pat (Yelchin) and Amber (Imogen Poots) can rise to necessary violent behavior when the need arises.  

Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Connolly attempts to make the film graphic, but comes nowhere close to Eli Roth, who he seems to be emulating.

Unless it was just a quick payday, I am totally flummoxed as to why these stars would agree to appear in this film.  I was nursing a chilled glass of Limoncello, (‘tis the season, afterall) or I would have stopped watching this one thirty minutes into it.  The folk at A24 may have thought this movie noteworthy, but other than being
Yelchin’s last performance, it’s disposable.




THE GRADE FOR GREEN ROOM = F