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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Alois Nebel Review

Preface

I was once doing some research for my film studies course and came across a film trailer for a Czech film called Alois Nebel. I noted it down for further research later and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I was looking through my old work and came across the name once again and so decided to try and find a copy to watch. And now, the review.

Review

Alois Nebel stars Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludvikova and Karel Roden and is directed by Tomas Lunak. Based on the comic book trilogy of the same name, the film follows train dispatcher Alois Nebel during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, where hallucinations of the dark past he witnessed seems to seep into his present.

First of all, Alois Nebel is gorgeous. Instead of traditional animation being used, rotoscoping was employed to create the visuals. For anyone who doesn’t know, rotoscoping is when and animator draws over a live-action performance. It is beautifully created here; it makes the animation look realistic, to the point where some scenes come scarily close to the uncanny valley. There were several times during the film where I forgot I was watching an animation due to the craftsmanship at work.

The animation allows for some beautifully crafted shots throughout Alois Nebel. Sweeping shots of Prague Central Train Station and the fireworks above it on New Years Eve, or wide shots of manor estates during the winter are executed brilliantly, and with meticulous attention to detail. Even Nebel’s small station on the Czech-Polish border is designed to precision, giving the small location so much character.

The animation, along with the stark black and white contrast of the film emphasizes the desolate atmosphere of the Czechoslovakian countryside that we see throughout the film. The opening chase scene in a dense forest, or later in the film where we see the the howling wind accompanied by the falling rain or snow, Alois Nebel is one of the few films that creates a sense of being truly alone, with nothing but nature surrounding you on all sides.

The story is split between Nebel’s present, the 1980s and then ending of the Soviet Union and fleeting scenes of his childhood at the latter end of 1945. You might want to look up on your Eastern European history before you watch, because I became a bit lost at what was happening during the frequent flashbacks. Understanding what is happening in these flashbacks is the key to understanding the beginning, the ending and the strange character known as The Mute, who slips in and out of the story like a ghost.

The film does have its fair share of unsettling scenes. Several brutal scenes of electroshock therapy are explicitly shown during the film, as well as a bloody axe murder during the closing scenes. These scenes however are gone as quickly as they turn up, meaning we only get brief flashes of brutality before we are transported off to the next scene.

In summary, Alois Nebel is a beautifully crafted film. While the story may confuse a few, if you work it out you will find a deeply dark yet human story about a lonely man finding purpose and love in a desolate and chaotic time. If you’re bored of animation being family-friendly films with talking animals as it’s main characters and are looking for something with a bit more drama, Alois Nebel is a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nearly flawlessly created, a great effort for a first time director

Woman In Gold Review

I can already tell this film is going to be at the Oscars for 2015. Let’s look at the facts. Is it a biopic? Yes. Does it have big name stars in the lead roles? Yes. Is it from a nearly unknown director? Yes. Those are the three things that make you virtually get given an Oscar, so let’s look at the rest of the film.

Woman In Gold is directed by Simon Curtis and stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer Randol Schoenberg and Daniel Bruhl as an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin. The film follows Maria and Randol, as they investigate and then legally battle for a painting of Maria’s aunt, the titular Woman in Gold, stolen by Nazi’s which is currently being held in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.

When I first heard about Woman In Gold, I was a bit sceptical. Of course Helen Mirren is known for her “talkie” films, yet Ryan Reynolds is not known for his serious drama work. I was thinking it was going to be, to borrow another reviewer’s phrase, “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” all over again. Yet Reynolds pulls off the lawyer role, in one of his strongest roles yet. Helen Mirren as well does a role she could do in her sleep, although her Austrian accent drops in and out of the film. Daniel Bruhl is his usual lovable self, although doesn’t really add anything to the overall plot in the film, he just drops in to add a few titbits of information and expertise. And it’s always nice to see Jonathan Pryce in films, even though if his role consists of barely five lines and ten seconds of action.

The story is a dual narrative, with Tatiana Maslany playing a younger Maria during the initial stages of the Austrian invasion and then cutting to present day now and again. It makes the film one of two halves though, one part historical drama and the other a sort-of courtroom drama (since we hardly spend time in the courtroom yet have many discussions between lawyers), but around two thirds into the film the historical part ends and we are firmly rooted in the courtroom, until the final few scenes transport us back to Maria’s final moments in Austria. It has a similar resemblance to Russian Ark, and I know that is the most obscure reference that could be ever made but it does draw similar styles to Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece. (If you haven’t seen Russian Ark then please find a way to watch it, it’s a marvel of filmmaking.) The final scene is a beautiful montage sequence of Helen Mirren’s Maria walking through all of the historical Maria scenes we have previously watched, with a small addendum to one of them, which is easily the most emotional scene in the film even making me nearly shed a tear.

The film, like all other films, has some problems. At 109 minutes the film feels a bit overly long, with some pointless scenes that were added for historical accuracy. Another problem I had with the film is with its use of foul language. The BBFC at the beginning of the film labelled it a 12A for “infrequent strong language”, yet there is only one word in the entire film that could constitute that. My problem with it was that it wasn’t needed, it didn’t add anything to the scene or the film and if it wasn’t included then the film could have moved down to a PG, which I think would have been good since I believe this is a film an entire family should watch at some point. Some characters are glossed over as well, such as Maria’s husband Fritz (played by Max Irons) or Randol’s stay at home wife Pam (played by Katie Holmes). Apart from a few lines from Helen Mirren, we hardly find out about what happened to Fritz at the end of the historical part of the film and we only see Katie Holmes in conjunction with her on screen husband.

In summary, Woman In Gold takes both the historical drama and a small bit of the courtroom drama and adds them together to create a thought provoking and moving real life tale about identity and lineage.

Score: 7/10 Just like the eponymous painting, Woman in Gold is a worthy piece of cinematic art.