Allied Review

Yeah, I don’t have a Fantastic Beasts review yet. A mixture of being swamped with university work and large dose of apathy to watching the latest offering from JK Rowling means that it will be possibly a few weeks after it has come out when I finally get round to it. So instead, this week I have a film that I actually did have a passing interest in, from the director Forrest Gump and Back To The Future.

Allied stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and Jared Harris and is directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film follows Canadian spy Max Vatan (Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marieanne Beausejour (Cotillard) in Nazi-occupied Morocco. After falling in love and successfully completing their mission, they marry and move to London, but their life is shattered when rumours about Marieanne’s allegiance to the Allied Forces is questioned.

I was looking forward to Allied. There haven’t been many films set in the North African Theater of World War Two (the only ones I can think of are the fabulous Casablanca and Ice Cold In Alex), making Allied stand apart. While the opening half hour is set in Africa, the second part is relegated to London and French countryside. It’s such a let-down to move to an overused setting of WW2, and the film never really recovers. It’s also annoying that incredibly shoddy back projection has been used. It’s so easy to see that Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are sitting in front of a green-screen rather than an actual sand dune, and makes the film worse for it.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fine in their roles. They have an old-school glamour about them, easily fitting into the time period and setting, but they aren’t helped by the script. It’s extraordinarily hammy, while also managing to be boring at the same time. There are moments of tension, but the script can’t keep the mystery of Marieanne’s allegiance going. One mystery, however good it maybe, cannot sustain a film’s runtime. You need other story arcs to be invested in, but Allied doesn’t deliver the latter part.

Due to both characters being fighters in the war, I was expecting some action scenes. We only get a measly two, and even those weren’t that long or thrilling. The assassination sequence and ensuing escape are barely built up, leading to a lacklustre climax. It would have been cool to see these two highly trained killers cause havoc inside the Nazi compounds, with some nice tracking shots of them moving through the buildings to their escape vehicle. But no, instead we have an incredibly short action sequence, a shame for how good it could have been. We have another action segment in the French countryside, but isn’t even worthy of merit to even talk about.

It’s not all bad. The film has its individual moments of brilliance, reminding us how good a director Robert Zemeckis is. The good parts are mainly in the Casablanca section; the first few hectic moments of the assassination and Marieanne and Max making love in their car while a sandstorm rages around them. The film has scenes with visual flourish, but can’t sustain them throughout an entire film.

It’s shouldn’t be hard to film a tense war-time thriller. Hollywood has been doing it since the 1950s. Heck, we just had one a few months ago in Anthropoid. And due to the lack of chemistry between the two stars, I’m not even interested in the ‘romance’ side of the ‘romantic-thriller’ that Allied has been billed at.  Unless you truly love the actors, or have an affinity for war-time aesthetics, this one should be a miss.

Score: 5/10 Early good looks and scenes give way to a dragging second half.

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The Light Between Oceans Review

I saw the trailer for The Light Between Oceans several months ago, and I wasn’t too interested. Romance films have never been my thing, but after hearing that Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were starring, and Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) was behind the film, my interest piqued up. Let’s see if these three can bring me into the genre.

The Light Between Oceans stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson and is directed by Derek Cianfrance. The story follows lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and wife Isabel (Vikander), who are constantly trying for a baby with little success. One day a baby washes up on shore and they raise it as their own. A few years later the real mother comes looking for her baby.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention due to the leads being two of my favourite actors, and neither of them disappoint. Fassbender is a man haunted by his role in World War One, which is conveyed through incredibly expressive eyes, empty and vacated, wanting to get away from the world. Vikander is the complete opposite, young and starry-eyed, with hopeful ideas of romance and having children. Their blossoming romance and chemistry is enrapturing and believable, making the first hour a joy to watch. But that joy is shattered when the film goes through not only one, but two miscarriage scenes, and both Vikander and Fassbender give heartbreaking performances during the same opening act. That dissonance should be something no film would be able to come back from, a tonal whiplash that would kill off any audience enjoyment, but the arrival of the baby in the dinghy both gives Isabel and the film a new lease on life, with the romance film now becoming something much more mature and harrowing to go through.

The cinematography is a highlight of the film. Adam Arkapaw, (another favourite creator of mine), the cinematographer of Macbeth and the first season of True Detective, creates some excellent compositions. Due to the film being about a lighthouse keeper, the surrounding landscapes are sand dunes and open ocean, easy work for a DP as accomplished as Arkapaw. It’s a film that revels in the wilderness of the island and seas, with Fassbender or Vikander standing small in the frame, just to show the expanse of nature in comparison to them and their lives. The music adds to the sense of loneliness. Created by Alexsandre Desplat, the score is simple but memorable, with either a lone piano or a few strings moving in and out of key scenes. It elevates several moments and really brings out the emotion by the end of the film.

There were a few moments I was a bit at odds with. The start of the film is chopped together rather quickly, with Tom’s initial three months on the island and courtship of Isabel being no more than fifteen minutes. It would have been nice to extend this out, instead of just the two leads falling in love with each other at the outset of the film. Another reason was the story. While the film has long extended sections of excellent drama, sometimes it would drop into Nicholas Sparks levels of melodrama and clichés. It was rather annoying that the film would build up and have emotional resonance, but then would fall because of a scene that we’ve seen a million times before. I know that it’s based off an original book (written by M.L. Stedman), but it could have been handled better.

All throughout 2016, I’ve been complaining that this has been a terrible year for films, full of unnecessary sequels and movies not quite living up to hype. But I think with The Light Between Oceans, I think I find myself coming round to the idea that 2016 has gotten better as we’ve gone through.

Score: 8/10 Striking, haunting and wonderfully performed.

Love And Friendship Review

Jane Austen is a landmark of literature, with her books selling millions and being adapted over thirty times throughout their time. I sadly missed the newest (unofficial) adaptation earlier this year, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but here comes another Austen adaptation, Love And Friendship.

 Love And Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel and Stephen Fry and is written and directed by Whit Stillman. Based on the short story Lady Susan by Jane Austen, the film follows Lady Susan (Beckinsale) as she tries to find a husband for herself and her daughter Frederica.

It’s rare that a film makes me smile from the very start. The opening of the film is just a credits roll, but just the way it was presented, with classical music playing in the background, it reminded me of the old English films from the 1940-50s, where they would present all of the cast before the film started. Love And Friendship is obviously tapping into that old style of filmmaking with its presentation.

However, the film has some wonderful post-modern additions, which supply a lot of the laughs in this romantic-comedy. Since the story is all about families and how they relate to each other, we get a family portrait of the characters, with their name and their role in the story, such as, Reginald De Courcy: A Young and Handsome Man. It’s almost a bit like Deadpool’s opening, where it cuts down the characters down to their stock types. The post modern influences keep coming, such as an extended sequence of reading a letter, punctuation and all, appearing on screen as text. Most of the jokes are these farcical moments, which have led the film to achieve a U certificate, since there is nothing rude, but it’s still bitingly funny.

Most of that comes down to the actors, who know how ridiculous the set up is and are relishing being able to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan shows off her ability as a comic performer, helming most of the jokes with perfect comedic timing.

The film feels almost like a play in many respects. There are only a few sets, the film containing the story to one manor house and then a few London streets. The original story was written in the form of letters, so it’s a big jump to move from that to a fully fleshed out story. It does take a while for the story to get going and understand what everyone’s role is, but it feels just like a classic Jane Austen work, with the themes, character and of course, ending with not one, but two weddings.

I did have a problem with the character drop at the beginning though. We are introduced to around four different families at the beginning, each with around four to five people in them and all intricately entwined with each other through marriages and siblings. I was confused for a good twenty minutes afterwards trying to figure out who is connected to who. It’s also a bit annoying that some characters, such as Stephen Fry’s Mr. Johnson are mentioned in the character drop but have about ninety seconds of screen time despite being mentioned as a main character.

The script might also be something that might throw off audiences. In the style of Austen, it’s all flowery dialogue, the type that uses forty words where ten would do fine. That’s part of the aesthetic, but some audiences members won’t get the jokes hidden beneath the heaps of “thou’s”, “thee’s” and “thy’s.”

In summary, Love And Friendship is an old school period piece that despite being over 200 years old is still incredibly funny. If you are a fan of Jane Austen you will love it, and if you’re everyone else, it’s a good recommendation.

Score: 7/10 Great performances and a witty script.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour Review

Preface

Now that university has ended for this year, I thought it was time to jump back to doing more retro reviews. It gives me chance to look back at a film that I might have seen a long time ago with some fresh eyes. And that’s what today’s choice is. I watched this film when it first came out in 2013 and I can’t really remember what my views on it were like. But let’s settle what they are now, one of the most controversial films of the 2010s, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

Review

Blue Is The Warmest Colour stars Lea Seydoux, Adéle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche and is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh, the film follows teenager Adéle (Exarchopoulos) as she becomes enraptured with blue-haired tomboy Emma (Seydoux).

The script is one of the best things about the film. Written by director Kechiche, it manage to be both awkward and stilted but incredibly enthralling to listen to. The film is all about realism, it creates believable conversations and situations (sometimes to the point of being bland) rather than a glamorised Hollywood life. We see the duo move from home life to work/school and the trials of grappling with your sexuality at a time where trying to fit in is a vital part of life. The subtext is in the pauses and shy looks, adding to a much deeper storyline and character development.

This may be due to the two lead actors selling the hell out of it. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have great chemistry first as friends then as lovers, both deservedly being nominated and winning several Best Actress and Supporting awards. But it’s Exarchopoulos who comes out on top between the two. As Adéle she moves through awkward teenage years to her young adult life and eventually into her job as a teacher, and fields a variety of different emotions. For a first time actress it’s an incredibly tall order, but Exarchopoulos manages to pull it off.

Another thing to note is the vast run time. Clocking in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a slog to get through, but somehow it’s incredibly watchable. Sure, some scenes feel redundant in the grand scheme of things when looking back, but the engaging script and Seydoux and Exarchopoulos being innately watchable means that you won’t want to turn it off half way through.

Okay, now for a talk about THAT scene.

Around half way through the film, Adéle and Emma are sat down in a park, eating a picnic. It’s a nice scene, full of the previously mentioned excellent dialogue and is symbolic for containing the character’s first kiss. Then BAM!, we are dropped into a seven minute long sex scene filled with everything and anything you could have imagined and blurring the boundaries between art and pornography. At the time, nothing this mainstream had done something so jaw-dropping and I bet a lot of tickets we sold on the idea of “OMG lesbians!” Looking back at it now, away from the controversy, it’s rather badly made. The lighting is off, there are many obtuse shots and after a while it just descends into sleaze. It’s a well known fact that both actresses rounded on the director after the scene, with Seydoux saying making it was “horrible”. Perhaps the very idea of putting sex on screen (especially when it pushes the boundaries of “real” and “fake”) is inherently voyeuristic.

For me, I found it rather cheap. The sudden jump from picnic to sex was jarring, and would have liked a bit more a build-up. Something along the lines of Sid and Gwen from The Pacific. We get the sex, but the build-up reveals a lot more about their characters and emotions on a subconscious level. Here we just jump from calm afternoon to rampant romping. And another thing, the scene is full of full body pans and decadent shots of the two actresses. There’s nothing wrong with titillation now and again, but this feels more like exhibitionism for its own sake rather than adding anything to the narrative. Add to it the director being male, it brings up the ideas of shooting the film with a hetero-majority audience in mind, using homosexuality for gratification rather than to explore meaningful relationships. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think it could have been constructed better.

In the end, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is one of the top films to have come out in 2013 and will be remembered as being a defining moment in cinema history. It’s one of the best love stories in film that just happens to be between two women, something that really shouldn’t be a big deal anymore.

Score: 8/10 A sweet, touching and relatable romance for the ages.

The Danish Girl Review

Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?

The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.

The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.

The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.

In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.

My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.

In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.

Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.