REVIEW: Allied

26 11 2016

When asked how she has kept up a ruse among Nazis in Morocco, Marion Cotillard’s Resistance agent Marianne Beauséjour offers one trick of the trade: keep the emotions real. Precision is important – and she has plenty – but the feeling matters most.

In “Allied,” director Robert Zemeckis might not be trying anything nearly as daring as the espionage mission undertaken by Marianne and her Canadian companion, Brad Pitt’s Max Vatan, yet he heeds that core dictum all the same. His Old Hollywood throwback is a classically styled delight that succeeds largely on the dynamism of the two stars. Their transition from partners in crime to partners in life is gradual, then sudden, and it works because Zemeckis creates an environment where a series of sparks can believably ignite a blaze.

The golden-age romance turns on a dime in the film’s second half when British intelligence officers inform Max of their belief that Marianne is, in fact, passing classified information back to the Nazis. At this point, “Allied” shifts registers into an old-fashioned thriller; Zemeckis masterfully deploys his craftsmanship here. Small sonic details become searing motifs that comment on the tension ratcheting up between the couple. Brisk cuts sweep us from one scene into the next, echoing the whiplash Max must feel. In both themes and content, the film feels like it shares a close kinship with Hitchcock’s early American work in the 1940s.
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REVIEW: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

11 08 2015

Director Guy Ritchie got to where he is today – directing major studio action films – by never shying away from style.  At times, this tendency manifested itself in an almost enfant terrible fashion by flashing pizzaz when not necessarily required.  This was the Achilles’ heel of the “Sherlock Holmes” series, which suffered under the weight of his excessive flourishes.

Ritchie’s latest film, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” finds the writer/director on his best behavior.  Along with a gaggle of other writers, he adapts 1960s television series for the screen in a manner completely fitting for a Cold War-era property.  It has subtle modernizing twists but always feels like a throwback to a bygone age of unimaginable suaveness.

Leading the charge, perhaps more than Ritchie himself, is leading man Henry Cavill as CIA operative Napoleon Solo. From the second he first struts across the frame, Cavill radiates an old-school electricity. He owns the screen, and he knows it. Cavill’s Solo feels cut from the cloth of debonair screen legends, and coupled with his completely self-assured booming vocal inflections, he excitingly recalls a Cary Grant or a Humphrey Bogart.

The film sees him paired with an equally formidable force, Armie Hammer as the sculpted stoic KGB agent Illya Kuryakin.  Trained to remain unmovable and unflappable, Kuryakin makes a worthy counterpoint to Solo.  The two are archrivals by nature of their countries’ ongoing diplomatic stalemate yet must become buddy cops by necessity to prevent the last holdouts of the Nazi regime from activating a nuclear weapon.

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REVIEW: The Quiet Ones

6 08 2014

The Quiet OnesI don’t quite know what I was expecting when I followed a group of friends to see “The Quiet Ones.”  When I looked it up on IMDb, all I really saw was Jared Harris from “Mad Men” and assumed it must be a prestige drama.  But as we walked in, I heard someone mention it was a horror film … and at that point, it was too late to turn back.

The films in that genre I like are few and far between, and most of those I can actually get behind are ironic or self-aware.  If I want to be scared, normally I go to more artfully crafted films like “Requiem for a Dream.”  A more atmospheric horror can get underneath my skin and chill me to the bone, leaving me terrified long after the movie ends.

“The Quiet Ones” is quite the opposite, resorting time and again to the oldest trick in the genre’s book: the jump scene.  You know the drill, where everything grows eerily quiet or tranquil, some strings begin to play, and then WHAM!  Out of nowhere, something jumps out and scares you.  It’s effective for an immediate jolt, though the scare dissipates the moment the surprise is revealed.

Was I scared?  Sure.  I’m not ashamed to admit that “The Quiet Ones” got the better of me on multiple occasions, and I quickly fell into a routine of plugging my ears and averting my eyes from the screen.  So in some small sense, the film is effective.

But “The Quiet Ones” fails to do anything else interesting and will likely be of little use to anyone other than adrenaline junkies who thrive off the jump scenes.   The plot of the film is really only filler to string together these jolts of terror.  And even though the story follows Harris’ Oxford psychology professor and a group of students (including one played by Finnick from “Catching Fire,” Sam Claflin) as they perform an experiment on a disturbed woman, the proceedings are void of any mental stimulation.

It’s just the same old schtick, destined for $5 DVD bins at the CVS checkout registers and BuzzFeed lists about other movie projects of “Hunger Games” cast members.  But if you’re only in it for the cheap scares, chances are the blandness of “The Quiet Ones” was never something that concerned you anyways.  C+2stars