Mini-Reviews: Allied & Manchester by the Sea

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Allied

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Daniel Betts, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney.

Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fight on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressure of war.

 

Robert Zemeckis is back with a World War II drama that sees two great actors come together to give the genre a little twist. So it’s a little hard to fathom how Zemeckis was able make a bit of a water-downed film with great performances, but overall the structure of the film really hurts the film.

Allied follows spy Max Vatan (Pitt) who goes undercover in French Morocco in 1942 where he meets with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) to pull off a mission to kill the German ambassador. The two eventually fall in love with each other and move to London where they get married and have a child. However, Max suddenly gets called in by British intelligence and is told that his wife could be a German spy. Not only that, if it is true, Max has to kill her himself. What follows is Max’s quest for answers to something he doesn’t believe.

Allied works on some levels. Pitt and Cotillard are great together and hold their own when need be. However, the first half of the film is much better than the second half. Also, Cotillard has much more to do and is fleshed out a lot more in the first half than the second. Seeing her work her charm against high ranking German officials so they can get close to the ambassador they need to kill was fun to watch, but afterwards it becomes Max’s story on whether or not his wife is a spy and what is he willing to do to prove it’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with it becoming Max’s story, but when it does turn all its attention to him, Cotillard doesn’t really do anything until the final twenty minutes of the film.

The film also loses some of its intensity after the first half of the film. Some of the big tension moments don’t have the sense of level of urgency or intense moment of fear or not knowing, so it doesn’t really help considering this is a spy drama thriller. There are great moments, I don’t want to take away anything from the film on that front, but overall the film lacked a certain push the film needed to push it over the top.

All in all, Allied is a fine film with good performances, but the sudden change of perspective and it lack of focus and intensity like the first half hinders the film from being great.

Allied

3 out of 5

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Manchester by the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Writers: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick

Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

 

Manchester by the Sea’s synopsis sounds rather simple, add in the fact that it’s getting a limited release at first will add to people’s decision to maybe pass this up. However, the film has been making a ton of waves on the film festival circuit, and is already getting people predicting this is a huge front runner come Oscar season. Finally watching the film, I can see why. Manchester by the Sea is truly one of the best films of the year, and one that is very human when it comes to dealing with loss and grief.

The film follows Lee Chandler (Affleck), a loner janitor/handyman in Boston who is a bit rude and doesn’t seem interested in anything going on around him. That changes a bit when he gets a phone call saying his brother Joe (coincidently played by Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Lee makes the journey back to the small town of Manchester to settle his brother’s affairs, which also includes dealing with Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Hedges), and Joe’s wish of Lee watching over him. What follows is Lee and Patrick’s story of the both of them dealing with the loss of Joe, and how the deal with their situation as well as Lee dealing with linger thoughts of his own traumatic event.

Like I mentioned before, the synopsis sounds rather simple but there is a lot to unpack in the film, and all of it is worthwhile. The film doesn’t rely on usual character yelling at each other before reaching that peak moment of emotions that they forgive each other and are finally happy. The film feels real, and lets every character go through their own emotions like everyone does. Everyone grieves differently, and the film shows that in its way.

The great thing is that we spend enough time with Lee and Patrick, and get to know them. Casey Affleck continues to show that he can handle great material and isn’t just Ben Affleck’s brother. Affleck as Lee is rather intriguing to watch. A good chunk of Lee’s backstory is told through flashbacks that not only make us understand a bit of where Lee is coming from, but is tremendous effective and dramatic. I’d be surprised if Affleck isn’t at least nominated for Best Actor come Oscar season. However, it’s Affleck’s rapport with young actor Lucas Hedges that carries the middle of the film. Hedges has done some projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and even a small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but this really allowed him to break loose and show his range. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Hedges in a lot more things soon. The rest of the cast fairs well too with Michelle Williams making the most of her small screen time with a powerful performance near the end of the film.

All in all, Manchester by the Sea is one of those films you should experience for yourself. It’s a very real emotional film that is lead by Casey Affleck in one of the best films of the year. All the buzz surrounding the film is completely worth it, and while at times the film may feel aimless, it’s done in a way that actually works.

Manchester by the Sea

4.5 out of 5

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‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Review

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Dir: Guy Ritchie

Writer(s): Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram

Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Misha Kuznetsov, Jared Harris and Hugh Grant

Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

2015 really does seem to be the year of the spy genre. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation came out a couple weeks ago and the next James Bond film, Spectre is coming out in November. Both films are totally different so it’s nice to see something a little more loose and fun with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. coming out his past weekend. Not to say the film doesn’t have its moments of seriousness, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a nice alterative to some of the other films out there.

 

Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film is based on the old 60s shows of the same name, is set in the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, and follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) having to team up with and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) to work with an East German mechanic Gaby Teller (Vikander), whose father – a known scientist and ability to make a nuclear bomb – has been kidnapped by Victoria Vinciguerra (Debicki) to build a bomb. The plan is for Illya to pose as Gaby’s fiancés in hopes that Gaby’s Uncle Rudi (Groth) can arrange an introduction, as Solo tries to charm Victoria so they can get the Intel they need to rescue Gaby’s father and stop the bomb from being sold and used.

 

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The film works as a pseudo-prequel to the TV show, as it shows how the group came to be. Solo is one of the CIA’s best agents, like Kuryakin is the best the KGB has to offer and are focused to work together in order to, for all intent-and-purposes, save the world. The two aren’t on the best terms since the film opens with an impressive chase scene – that also involves Gaby – and right before they team up, they beat the crap out of each other. They also have their own ways of going about a mission and it also doesn’t help that their respected agencies have their own agenda. However, despite being on different sides of the war, the two form a weird and competitive friendship and mutual respect for each other.

 

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In fact, one of the best aspects of the film is the relationship and chemistry between Cavill and Hammer. The banter they exchange with and about each other is funny and brings another layer to them. Cavill – who actually replaced Tom Cruise after he left the project – brings a great dose of charisma and is heavily suave when need be. Cavill is easily enjoying himself here and loves chewing up some of the scene. Hammer, goes against the usual stereotypes of Russians as bad guys, and makes Illya more of earnest character that balances his anger than the other way around. Hammer also seems to be having fun playing the character and putting on the Russian accent.

 

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Alicia Vikander, thankfully, isn’t a female character that is put off to the side and actually gets to be involved in the mission, for the most part. Vikander is becoming one of my early favorite actresses after seeing her in Ex Machina, and she doesn’t disappoint here. She stands out in her bigger scenes, especially one that involves her and Hammer in a hotel room. By the end, she does get a bit lost in the background.

 

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The rest of the supporting cast really doesn’t work out that well, unfortunately. Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria and Luca Calvani are supposedly to the villains of the movie, but they don’t essentially earn that title. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by good spy film villains with the James Bond and Mission: Impossible films, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is its own thing in being a bit looser, but still no excuse for not having a good villain. Sylvester Groth’s Uncle Rudi does okay, but by the time we know more about his character and is finally growing, the film is done with the character. Jared Harris plays Solo’s CIA contact and boss, but it really is nothing more than an extended cameo for Harris, and the same goes for Misha Kuznetsov who plays Illya’s KGB boss. Finally, Hugh Grant’s Waverly character pops in around the middle of the film and disappears until the final act, and I have to say, I wish he was in it just a tad bit more. The character feels more like he was a character they were building up for potential sequels, but I wish they gave him a little more to do in the actual film beforehand.

 

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Guy Ritchie is sometimes known for choosing style over substance in his films, and while that rings true here in some areas, the other areas he find a nice balance in some of the scenes. But, the film almost lends itself in some areas to choose style of substance, especially in the beginning action sequence – which is a hell of a lot of fun – and in some instances during the final action sequence. Speaking of the final action sequence, it almost saves the film, in the sense that the final act makes up for some of the slow pace during the second act. The final action sequence is also elevated a bit more because of the score. The score adds another great layer to the scene that makes it even more fun to watch.

 

All in all, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is a ton of fun. Cavill and Hammer bring a lot of the fun and humor to the film that sets it apart from the other spy genres that are coming out this year.

 

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

4 out of 5

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‘Poltergeist’ Review

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Dir: Gil Kenan

Writer(s): David Lindsay-Abaire, Steven Spielberg (story)

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jane Adams, Nicholas Braun, Susan Heyward, and Jared Harris

Synopsis: A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Before I got into what I think of the movie, let me start by saying this, and this something I have always said to pretty much anyone that listens: I don’t mind remakes/reboots. The original movie will always be there. The day that remakes/reboots comes out and Hollywood decides to burn all original copes of the original movies so we can never see them is the day we can start bitching and moaning that remakes shouldn’t happen. My only thing about remakes/reboots is that they at least try to do their own thing with it, but at least keep some of the spirit or charm of the original if it’s possible. Did we need a remake/reboot of Poltergeist? Probably not, but it is here, so deal with it. Also, I will not compare this to the original movie, I don’t really do that in my reviews and never will. I’m judging this movie for what it is, and not what it was and turned into.

 

Poltergeist follows a family five in the Bowen family; the recently out of work father, Eric (Rockwell), the stay-at-home struggling mom Amy (DeWitt), the teenager Kendra (Sharbino), the youngest Madison (Clements) and the scared of many things and middle child Griffin (Catlett). They move into their new house, which they can barely afford but as soon as they move in, both Griffin and Madison start to encounter strange happenings around the house.

 

Eventually, Eric and Amy find out that the land the house is built on was built on top of a cemetery, but by then it is obviously too late. The spirits target Madison, because she is still innocent enough to not know they are really evil and lure her into her closet and to the other side. On the other side, Kendra and Griffin get attacked as well before their parents come home and find out that Madison is missing. They find out that Madison isn’t really missing of course and instead has crossed somewhere they can’t reach her.

 

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Amy and Eric don’t to the police since Eric says “who will believe us?” and Amy goes to Dr. Brooke Powell (Adams), a professor and expert on Paranormal Research. Powell helps the family with her two assistants Sophie (Heyward) and Boyd (Braun), but when they find out that they are a bit out of their league they get Carrigan Burke, a famous TV host of a show called Haunted House Cleaners. Burke tells the family that they need to work together in order to bring Madison home back safe.

 

Poltergeist has no problem going into the strange occurrences very early on. So much so that one of things I have a bit of problem with is the pacing. Writer David Lindsay-Abaire has things move pretty quickly, but not too quickly that we don’t get a feel for the characters. It’s rather odd. We do get a good sense of the characters that we end up liking the family for the most part, but things move a bit quickly that we are almost forced to care about them too. We want to see Madison returned and the family is especially broken up about and leads to a pretty dramatic scene lead by Sam Rockwell’s Eric when he first meets Jared Harris’ Carrigan Burke. However, the big thing is the family is quick to think that it is a supernatural occurrence. Eric does play the skeptical one of the family, but the love for his daughter and wanting her back takes over. I’m not saying that’s a good reason to overlook the family’s acceptance that her daughter was taken away by evil spirits, but they could have played it out a little more.

 

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The surprising thing about Poltergeist is its sense of humor. Seriously, the movie and characters have a great sense of humor and Rockwell leads the charge with witty one-liners and the attitude of being the “cool dad.” But there is some more injected humor later on in the movie, that isn’t so much out of place, but actually fits with Harris’ Burke.

 

The cast does well with what they’re given. Rockwell, Harris, and the youngest cast members Kyle Catlett and Kenndi Clements get the most work out of the movie. Sharbino’s Kendra has her moment but otherwise sits out the heavy action. Jane Adams’ Dr. Powell and Nicholas Braun’s Boyd also share a couple great moments, with Braun getting probably the best scare/tension scene in the movie, but Susan Heyward is really the one that gets the short end of the stick as Sophie as she really does almost nothing in the movie. Jared Harris could easily be a favorite, if it wasn’t for Rockwell’s good performance. Harris is having fun with his role and it shows, and thankfully, goes against type of this kind of character.

 

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The scares are okay. The majority of them are jump scares and only a few are actually effective. For the most part, Poltergeist works better as a creepy/haunted house movie as an opposed to a flat-out horror movie. My only real mention to the original movie is there are some callbacks to the original that fans will recognize.

 

All in all, Poltergeist has some fun moments and has a surprisingly great sense of humor. What makes it work is the cast and the few effective scares. It isn’t perfect, but it isn’t that bad either.

 

Poltergeist

3 out of 5

‘Pompeii’ Review

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Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris and Kiefer Sutherland

Synopsis:. A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him

 

*Reviewer Note:  This is a spoiler free review as always.*

 

Pompeii isn’t necessarily based on a true story but it is based on the historical event of Mount Vesuvius erupting and basically destroying the city of Pompeii and its citizens.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson (The Resident Evil Franchise) takes this historical event and makes it a backdrop to his love story and gladiator movie.

The movie follows Milo (Harington aka Jon Snow), who as a boy watched his family and village get murdered by Romans lead by Roman senator Corvus (Sutherland).  Being the only survivor, he gets taken and is raised into slavery in Britannia where he fights as a gladiator under the name “The Celt.”  Milo is then shipped off to Pompeii where he will fight in the arena against the prized gladiator Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) for the seaside town’s wealthy citizens.

Along the way, Milo meets Cassia (Browning), the daughter of a wealthy, politically-minded Pompeii merchant (Harris) who wants his city to be a great one.  Cassia returns to her home of Pompeii after being in Rome for over a year.  Unbeknownst to her, her father has invited some people from Rome to help him improve his city. Leading the Roman visitors is Corvus, who has had some encounters with Cassia in Rome.  During all this, Mount Vesuvius is slowly ready to blow

The movie isn’t really that bad.  It takes elements from some other movies like Gladiator and Titanic, but it does try to be its own thing. The love plot is what drives the story of Milo and Cassia but even with their brief encounters, their story goes into full swing when the mountain erupts.  It’s the gladiator storyline that takes the majority of the movie and actually leads into the destruction of Pompeii.

Harington does a fine job with his first lead-starring role. Harington plays Milo as a man who lets his actions do the talking for him. He has the ability make Milo a killing machine to a man that will give a woman, Cassia, a loving look.  Speaking of Cassia, Emily Browning gives Cassia some likeable traits but still ends up becoming the damsel-in-distress. Her parent actors Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss don’t really serve the movie much expect for moving the political aspect of the movie, which is literally about ten minutes.  Jessica Lucas pops up as Cassis’s friend/handmaiden as well but, again, doesn’t do much.

Next to Harington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Atticus shares the most screen time where he serves as a rival turned friend and gladiator looking for his freedom. Dare I say, he might be the fan favorite by the end.  Kiefer Sutherland’s villain chews up his scenes and is just bad for almost no reason, but it’s Sutherland so I was okay with it.

But, the big thing the movie pushes for is the destruction of Pompeii, and for those wondering if the movie is going to push the destruction until the very end you’ll be happy to know the volcano erupts around the midway point of the movie.  Some of the volcanic destruction set-pieces are impressive, but some just fall flat.

All in all, Pompeii isn’t that original but will probably still manage to at least keep you entertained until the very end. Beside the volcanic eruption that we wait for, the gladiator aspect of the film is probably the highlight of the movie.

 

Pompeii

3 out of 5