Easy Allied

Out just in time for Thanksgiving is Mr & Mrs Smith: World War II edition....or more specifically a film called Allied. A lot has been made out of Robert Zemeckis's latest film which pairs Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard...including speculations that the pairing of those two actors was the cause for ending the famous Brangelina relationship (of which Pitt was previously a part of.) But speculations about that aside, the real question is, is the film any good and is it worth your time?

Allied follows the tale of a couple of spies who met and fell in love during their stay at (wouldn't you know it?) Casablanca during World War II. Surviving basically a suicide mission, the two bond and decide once their mission is over that the only natural thing to do would be to get hitched. Fast forward a baby and a couple years later and the couple find themselves in Britain where Brad's character is faced with a stunning possibility: that perhaps his loving wife has been a spy for the Nazis all along. His task given by his superiors is to test her, and if she fails their test he must execute her himself or be charged with high treason. What's a man to do? The answer, of course, is for him to do some investigating to find out what the truth really is.

First and foremost, the movie looks absolutely gorgeous (and that includes the always stunning Marion Cotillard and dapper looking Pitt,) but unfortunately looks aren't everything! While it's cinematography, costume design, and general production values are top notch, the whole thing somehow just rings a little hollow. Really the best way to describe it is sadly bland and forgettable...which is a shame because the advertising portrayed something a lot more promising. As for Pitt and Cotillard, Marion is as reliable as ever, but Pitt seems to sleepwalk through his role. Perhaps your curiosity lies in seeing with your own eyes the chemistry Cotillard and Pitt have, but honestly, their connection seemed shallow and superficial....I didn't really buy it. That said, the results of the film as a whole are certainly watchable. It's entertaining but you just can't help but think it could have been more. All in all, Allied is a missed opportunity. It plays it too safe to either have fun with it and too shallow to be truly memorable. EMILY RATING: 6/10


Popular Spinoffs and Where To Find Them

I had the opportunity to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them twice this week, but because of my work load I decided to skip the Tuesday screening I had planned and just see it for the first time on Thursday with my friends. Unfortunately now I really wish I had seen it twice so I could feel a little more decided on my opinion before writing this review. As such, you'll be getting my first impressions of a film that was somewhat of a whirlwind to behold.

Being a spinoff and sort of a prequel to one of the biggest and most popular franchises of the 21st century, it's hard not to bring a certain set of expectations to what you think Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will be. Those expectations are a lot to overcome during the first half of the film that revolves far more around magical creature mayhem than much of a coherent plot. I couldn't help but feel as the film bumbled along "this is really stretching it" because it just didn't strike me as compelling cinematic material. There was some magic and some wonder as some would expect... but weirdly it was reminding me more of the fairies from Sleeping Beauty than anything I'd seen out of Harry Potter. Also briefly on the cons side, I was a little surprised that the CGI in this film wasn't a little more polished. It's hard to suspend disbelief when things don't look flawless....and for a film of this caliber there should be no excuse.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all about the adventures of Newt Scamander (yes I wish his last name were Salamander too,) and the book he's writing. He's researching all of the magical creatures in the world which leads him to New York. After an encounter in which a friendly nomag (aka non magical person aka muggle,) who witnesses some creatures escape from his Mary Poppins-esque suitcase, he enlists his help to capture them before other nomags get wise to the fact that there is a wizarding community in New York City. Meanwhile, a darker presence lurks beneath the shadows.

While I liked the opening sequence of Beasts, it was hard to tell what the movie's purpose was for a good chunk of screen time. Meandering films are not always my favorite, but once it finally found its way it did become more of the enjoyable ride that I had been anticipating. Unfortunately Eddie Redmayne doesn't really do a lot for this franchise and feels somehow wasted, and really all of the characters kind of seem like a mixed bag when it comes down to it. The scene stealer here is Dan Fogler playing the nomag character  Jacob whom the audience relates with. But Katherine Waterston's Tina seemed a little on the bland side, while Alison Sudol's Marilyn Monroe wannabe character Queenie was a lot more fun. But do they have the potential for the depth Rowlings past series characters achieved? Time will tell.

All in all, not *all* of the magic from Harry Potter made its way into this spinoff, but the magic that did is entirely welcome. As always, it's a fun cinematic ride to enter the world Rowling creates and for the most part, I always enjoy it. Beasts takes a lot of risks that I'm not entirely sure all paid off... and as such it just takes awhile to find its footing and the familiarity of what made the past series great. Hopefully the sequels can improve upon this first effort and feel a little more even. EMILY RATING: 7/10 (7.5 on a good day maybe. I don't know. Still need to rewatch it before I can say with certainty!)


The Edge of Glory

There's a sad truth in today's state of cinema, besides the over rampant release of constant superhero films: high school flicks are becoming extinct. I remember thinking during the release of last year's The Duff how rare it was to even be seeing a movie set in high school nowadays, and even though that film was incredibly flawed and formulaic it felt refreshing anyway to see this genre film make a reappearance. So hearing about the existence of The Edge of Seventeen, another coming of age high school tale, was encouraging, even though I'm not the biggest fan of Hailee Steinfeld. The advertising brands it as an instant classic and draws comparisons to Clueless and Juno, but is it that good really or are people just desperate to like something from this genre? I definitely think absence has made the heart grow fonder for the genre, but Edge is a pretty solid entry in it...that is, if you had a lonely high school experience similar to main character Nadine.

The story of The Edge of Seventeen is pretty simple. Seventeen-year-old Nadine's life comes crashing down when her only friend in the world Krista starts dating Nadine's older brother with whom she shares an intense sibling rivalry (at least on her side anyway.) After she issues an ultimatum to her BFF she finds herself utterly alone in the depths of teenage sorrow. The one parent who did understand her was taken away prematurely, while the other (played earnestly by Keira Sedgwick) is too consumed with her own pain and drama to try to take on anyone else's' problems. This leaves Nadine with no one else to confide in besides her smart-alecky teacher (played to scene-stealing perfection by Woody Harrelson,) as well as an awkward fellow student who harbors a crush on her. The friendship with both of these males provide the majority of the film's laughs, but are far from the only reason to like The Edge of Seventeen (though the humor IS a certainly one of the film's biggest strengths.)

Before I list the charms of The Edge of Seventeen, let me discuss the flaws in it that might keep people from enjoying it. Similar to The Duff, it's easy to tell that the script is written by someone somewhat removed from the high school scene (though in this case, not nearly as far removed as the screenwriters of The Duff who threw in every social media they could think of possible to try to relate to their audience.) Also similar to the aforementioned Juno, the dialogue seems just a little too adult for a high schooler. The scene where she talks about being an old soul and judging her peers for tweeting about tacos just screams a screenwriter who might be thinking "kids these days!" The difference though between this and The Duff, is that the underlying emotions here come off as incredibly genuine and from a sincerely authentic place. Then there's our main character. Nadine isn't entirely likable, but the charm of her is that she'd be the first one to admit that. Her insecurities are relatable and make her seem like a character who is really made out of flesh and blood. She can most definitely be really annoying, but characters this lived in are incredibly refreshing. She wants to change, she wants to grow....she just doesn't know how. Not only is she real, but her experiences seem real. There isn't some gimmicky plot that helps her come of age, it's just life. As such, Edge of Seventeen is a very slice of life type film....and your patience for it might depend how much you enjoy that type of film.

The Edge of Seventeen is an enjoyable film that's made with a lot of care. It would be easy for most people to enjoy it on the most basic level and deceptively see it as simple. But for me, I really connected with this film on a very personal basis. The feelings portrayed in Seventeen are intense and real and took me back to my own sometimes incredibly lonely teenage experience. Though it has its calculated quirks, I just felt very much that this story came from a very real place....a place where I've been before. As a result, I can't help but kind of love this film. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10


Welcome to Earf

Much like the review I wrote earlier in the week for Hacksaw Ridge, when thinking of how to describe this week's new release Arrival, several other movies come to mind. There are definite shades of Interstellar here, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even a teeny bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With so many comparisons you would expect this film to be like an Oblivion, a repackaging of everyone else's ideas with nothing new to say, but you'd be very wrong. Arrival is one of the most original films of the year and will stand on its own for its contribution to the genre.

The less known about the film the better, so I will keep my synopsis short. Arrival is the story of a linguist named Dr. Louise Banks (played wonderfully as always by Amy Adams) and the titular arrival of 12 alien ships across the globe that changes her, along with the rest of the worlds' lives forever. When aliens land on earth, Louise is recruited by the United States Government to find a way to communicate with the new visitors, as well as attempting to translate their alien language. It seems like an incredibly impossible task that the film almost spends the entire time figuring out to solve. This may bore many viewers, but to those who have the patience it is a fascinating experience.

Arrival is a simple and realistic portrayal of how governments all around the globe might react to being confronted with extra-terrestrial life. For an idea so fantastical, Arrival plays it straight and is extremely rooted in reality...even though it has its fantastical 2001: A Space Odyssey type moments and....the Interstellar similarities that I alluded to earlier that I won't even get into at all here because I don't want to spoil anything. Basically what I'm saying is, for an alien movie there is not very much action at all. That's not the point here. The point in this film is studying a new intelligent species and learning all they can from them.

It's really hard to get too much further in the details, but all I can say is Arrival is brilliantly done. Everything in this film is perfection from the subtle direction, Amy Adams fantastic performance, the poignant editing and the beautifully crisp cinematography. This if a film that pops on the screen and it is absolutely one of the best of the year. See it. As far as flaws go, it might not be the most accessible film for everyone. Some people might get bored, but to me it was captivating all throughout and an incredibly rewarding film experience. EMILY RATING: 9.5


Can Hack It

Apologies for my very late review of Hacksaw Ridge which opened last Friday, as well as my absence from writing reviews the past month. As always, I'm gonna claim "better late than never" and  try to make up for my lack by giving you my thoughts on Mel Gibson's attempted comeback Hacksaw Ridge. On the surface Ridge might not seem super original as its easiest to describe it by bringing up other movies. Hacksaw Ridge has the brutality of Saving Private Ryan and Atonement, the steadfast integrity of standing for one's principles as seen in Chariots of Fire, showing the value of saving one life at a time like in Schindler's List, and the reliance of God in a time of war as seen in Unbroken. Heck it even has a romance straight out of Pearl Harbor or a Nicholas Sparks movie. So the question is, does Hacksaw Ridge have what it takes to stand out and be remembered on its own? And is it the redemption Mel Gibson has so desperately been looking for? The answer to both is a lukewarm "possibly."

Hacksaw Ridge follows the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a religious fellow with a marked distaste for guns and the destruction they can cause because of his relationship with his alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) growing up. Desmond is caught up in the events of World War II, but before he leaves for duty he happens to find two sources of love. The first is that he has a knack for helping out during medical situations. The second is from a lovely nurse he can't help but to cheesily woo (Theresa Palmer). But despite her love, he feels a pull to the war and feels that it's his duty to God to save as many men as he can in the role of a medic. A medic who refuses to touch a gun. However, convincing the army of his intentions is a lot harder than he bargained for.

After a really poignant scene to begin the film, Hacksaw Ridge suffers from spending too much time (or perhaps not enough) on a sweet but generic love story. Andrew Garfield and Theresa Palmer are both good in their roles, but don't have the spark in their chemistry to elevate their story. As such, the story doesn't really get good until it breaks free of their story and moves on to the bigger picture of the war. War films are not typically among my favorite genres, but the particular story of this one I found to be pretty inspiring and captivating once it began to truly unfold. As I mentioned before, the violence during the battle scenes is so devastatingly vicious that it truly frightens you as a human being. These scenes are one of the the biggest highlights of the film and are expertly crafted by Gibson to truly portray the horrific nature of war. There isn't glory in these scenes, but utter brutality in the loss of human life. This imagery juxtaposed with the decision that Doss makes is incredible makes the film carry more weight.

Hacksaw Ridge definitely takes its time to be more than average, but it helps to have the solid Andrew Garfield giving a heartfelt performance the whole way through. He might not be perfect at portraying a West Virginia boy, but in the second half of the film it's easy to see him lost in the performance in a wonderful way. The final third of the film is how the movie should be remembered  and was a very good effort for Gibson (even if some people might think he was heavy handed in trying to get his Christian message across.) As a whole, it to me was what Unbroken failed to be. A powerfully true war story in which I cared about the character and his intense journey, and felt his reliance of his God.  EMILY RATING 8/10