Monthly Archives: November 2016

‘Allied’: Flawed Yet Fabulous

“I’ve loved you since Casablanca.”

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I thoroughly enjoyed The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ last film, because it was un-apologetically fun and purely viscerally thrilling. Many other critics, however, came out of it longing for the restraint and relative subtlety of others of his films, such as Cast Away and Flight.

My main problem with Allied, Zemeckis’ new WWII thriller, is that here, he seems trapped between subtlety and spectacle. Ultimately, he goes a bit more in the direction of the latter, which somewhat tarnishes an otherwise very mature picture.

That’s not to say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat almost all the way through it. There were times I felt like I was holding onto my armrests for dear life, which is difficult to do to a horror aficionado like myself. So kudos to Zemeckis are definitely in order for crafting a handsome and incredibly tense mystery. I’m just not so sure I’ll remember much of it.

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We begin as international spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into the deserts of Morocco. Once in Casablanca, he meets his ‘wife,’ fellow spy Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), and they quickly return to her lodgings there to give the illusion they’ve been missing each other.

Even in the first half-hour, when the couple isn’t actually a couple yet, Pitt and Cotillard have electric chemistry. This proves a vital saving grace to a film whose tense and tender first act gives way to bouts of hokey, elided exposition before getting back on track.

Once they’re married with a child and somewhat settled in London, Max is called into the War Office for what he assumes will be a promotion. There, he is told that Marianne may be not an agent for the allies, but a German spy.

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He is given 72 hours before his superiors can get concrete assurances from their intelligence officers. If their inclinations are proven correct, he will have to execute his wife.

In that 72-hour span (in movie time), Max decides to take matters into his own hands, attempting to investigate his wife’s past in sequences that are as thrilling and intense as any of the year’s best entertainments.

When all is revealed, however, I couldn’t help feeling a little shortchanged. The movie’s tone certainly doesn’t return to its hokey early middle, but it doesn’t quite satisfy, either. I’m honestly confused as to why Zemeckis has kept most of his recent films to just two hours. Allied could have used more running time, and it certainly earned my undivided attention.

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But apart from all that, Allied seems almost like Zemeckis’ final repudiation of his motion-capture animation days. There was a long, grueling period where he seemed to have written off making films for adults altogether. So it is truly a joy to have his unique perspective return to our screens so frequently with such good stories again.

He also benefits from his fantastic lead actors, especially Marion Cotillard. I think it’s too crowded of a year for this film to really make a significant dent in the awards season, but Cotillard’s performance will and should attract a lot of chatter for the next few months. She’s utterly alluring while being quite distant and cruel at times.

I do recommend Allied more highly than my rating might suggest. If you pay matinee prices for it, you won’t be disappointed at all. It’s exciting and tense in all the right places and in all the right ways.

Allied = C+

‘Allied’ is rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.

-George Napper

‘Moonlight’: An American Masterpiece

“Who is you, Chiron?”

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Chiron is you. Chiron is me. Chiron is all of us. His circumstances may be on the extreme end of isolation, and his experiences may be on the extreme end of unfortunate, but his struggle with identity is universally relatable, gay or not.

Writer-Director Barry Jenkins has crafted a modern American masterpiece on the level of ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘The Tree of Life.’ The difference is that where those movies sing with epic scope and rhythmic storytelling, ‘Moonlight’ is at its best in its intimacy and stillness.

In the first of three delineated acts, ‘little’ Chiron is played by young Alex R. Hibbert. He grows up in inner-city Miami with Paula, his inattentive, drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) and a loose father figure named Juan (Mahershala Ali). 

Juan first meets Chiron after the boy has been teased; chased across the neighborhood for no apparent reason. As Juan continues to interact with Chiron, though, the reason soon becomes clear.  

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Chiron is a quiet, shy, sensitive boy. He doesn’t quite understand himself at this age, but Paula and Juan can see what’s what. The two adults finally have a searing confrontation in which the truth about Chiron comes out.

Their suspicions are proven right when high-school-aged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) faces more intense bullying and social scrutiny. 

His one friend his own age is Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Kevin is a character whose charm and affability sneaks up on the viewer, since everyone else around Chiron generally hates him.

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The third act brings the late-twenties Chiron (played here by Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (André Holland) together in the film’s strongest bit of writing. This thirty or so minutes brings together every theme Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton had previously been alluding to through color, mood, and lighting. Jenkins just couldn’t say it because Chiron didn’t know how to articulate it yet.

Kevin also helps him articulate it. The subtle shock of the last act isn’t that Chiron is gay, but the realization that every decision he’s been able to make for himself in his life has been the product of his environment.

Jenkins wisely doesn’t push this concept by needlessly shoving the hardships of Chiron’s street life in our face. Instead, he uses a delicate, artistic approach in order to make the film as universal as possible. 

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Every frame of this film endears us to all of its characters, including Chiron’s tormentors. By adjusting the lighting such that subtle differences in skin tone are always apparent, Laxton invites us to mentally put together that every character must be having some sort of identity struggle on the fringes of Chiron’s story.

And at the end of the day, don’t we all have an identity crisis at some point?

On top of the excellent technique, the film showcases breathtaking acting from every single member of its featured ensemble. I’m rooting for Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Trevante Rhodes in the Oscar races.

‘Moonlight’ is basically the movie we need at the moment. It is something made with enormous compassion and empathy, and focusing on a subject rarely addressed in art. The gay African-American is still considered somewhat of a taboo subject, and ‘Moonlight’ allows us to see the person behind the taboo.

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It also allows us to see ourselves in someone we might have thought was completely un-relatable. 

Moonlight = A+

‘Moonlight’ is rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.

-George Napper