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 Conjuring 2’ Review

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Director: James Wan

Writers: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan and David Leslie Johnson

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente, Bob Adrian, Javier Botet and Bonnie Aarons

Synopsis: Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.

 

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

 

James Wan surprised everyone back in 2013 with his surprise summer horror hit film The Conjuring. Based off the case files of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the film put Wan back on the map. When it was announced that a sequel would happen, many thought that maybe Wan wouldn’t make an equally good film that The Conjuring was. Well, it turns out, it is, and arguably better than the first.

The Conjuring 2 is based and inspired (as some things were added for the sake of story) by the Warren’s case, the Enfield Poltergeist in London. The case follows single mother of four, Peggy Hodgson (O’Connor), who is just trying to get by. However, when her children in Margaret (Esposito), Johnny (McAuley), Billy (Haigh) and Janet (Wolfe) starts experiencing strange occurrences throughout the house and Janet starts showing signs of demonic possession, Peggy has no choice but to call for help. Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga), who are called in at first to just oversee and report if this is truly a case of demonic activity or a hoax, which many believe it is. Of course, thing progress very fast and dangerously that the Warren’s have no choice but to help and save the family, especially Janet.

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The Conjuring 2 had some big shoes to fill, but thankfully, the film steps up its game and brings a little more scares and ups the creepiness factor from the previous film. Wan has already established himself as a great horror director, but if it wasn’t clear by now, Wan is a great director, period. The way he sets up the shots and brings the story together is done effectively, and his collaboration with cinematographer Don Burgess makes the film feel more eerie than the first. There are a few particular shots that still give me chills just thinking about them, one of them involves an out of focus character.

Wan is also able to make some horror clichés work for him. Like his previous horror films, the jump scares are scattered throughout, but still manage to work and don’t feel like there are forced like other horror films. Also, the dreadful scenes are enhanced by the villains. There is Bill Wilkins (Adrian), the demon scaring the Hodgson family and seemingly possessing Margaret. The Demon Nun (Aaron), which is creepy in name itself, but more creepier in the film I assure you, and one of the standouts The Crooked Man (Botet), who I won’t ruin, and I sure many will think is mostly CGI, but he isn’t.

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Like The Conjuring, the leads may be Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s Ed and Lorraine Warren, but the sequel spends a lot of time with the Hodgson’s that we feel emotionally connected to them and worry for them when things start to go down. However, we do spend most time with Janet, played impressively by Madison Wolfe. Wolfe really owns every scene she’s in and you can feel the dread along with her. Frances O’Connor’s mother character Peggy starts by not believing her children until she sees it herself and will do anything to project her children no matter the cost. Patrick McAuley and Laruen Esposito don’t really get too much screen time, but you can sense that they want will stand by their sister. Finally, Benjamin Haigh, who plays the youngest child Billy, is given a different trait than the others that shows that the family is dealing with their own problems.

Wilson and Farmiga, once again, are fantastic as the Warrens with Farmiga getting more of the meatier material. Lorraine is still struggling to adjust and control her ability to tap into the supernatural, but also trying to live a normal life with her family, which is always at risk with their line of work. Wilson takes a bit of a backseat this time around, but does have his moments to break through.

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All in all, The Conjuring 2 is as effective, if not more, than its predecessor. The cast, more specifically Madison Wolfe, bring life to the dreadful and scary story of the Enfield Poltergeist. Filled with great scary moments and overall terrific cinematography, The Conjuring 2 is worth the watch for horror fans and people that love being scared alike.

The Conjuring 2

4.5 out of 5

‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ Review

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Dir: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer(s): Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jens Hulten, Simon McBurney, and Alec Baldwin

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

 

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

 

20 years ago the first Mission: Impossible movie was released. Yes, twenty years ago, and it is holding strong all these years later with only five films. The franchise knows what it is and Tom Cruise is without a doubt still the face, and will continue being the face of the franchise as long as he can still run and do those crazy action sequences. The Mission: Impossible films have always been a ton of fun and while taking some missteps *cough* Mission: Impossible 2 *cough* it still manages to find its way to our hearts. So with the fifth film now out, Rogue Nation shows the franchise still has life in it and won’t stop any time soon.

 

Director Christopher McQuarrie takes over script duties and the director’s chair, but has some big shoes to fill after the success and great entries of Mission: Impossible 3 and Ghost Protocol – which have a special place in my heart. McQuarrie doesn’t waste any time either; he gives us the tone and pacing right in the opening scene and doesn’t let up. His action sequences are done really well and you never lose yourself in the scene.

 

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As for the story, Rogue Nation continues off where Ghost Protocol left off, Ethan (Cruise) is on the hunt for The Syndicate, a shadow organization that has been committing a string of terrorist attacks across the world that is lead by Solomon Lane (Harris). Meanwhile, CIA Director Alan Hunley (Baldwin) wants to dissolve the IMF for good, seeing them and Ethan as having too much free reign during their missions, and even seeing Hunt as an “arsonist and fireman.” This puts Ethan in Hunley’s radar and makes him a wanted man in the eyes of the government. Of course, that doesn’t stop Ethan from hunting down The Syndicate, especially once he makes an unlikely ally in Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), a Syndicate agent whose allegiance to both sides is questionable. So he also brings in Benji (Pegg), Brandt (Renner) and Luther (Rhames) to finally take The Syndicate down.

 

The Mission: Impossible films always feel like soft reboots with small trends and plot points that carry over from the previous films. Rogue Nation is no different. Obviously the team is the same, with the exception of not having a woman team member – Ilsa doesn’t really count. If anything, that would be one of my only nitpicky complaints about the films, in that they don’t bring back any of their female agents. However, Rebecca Ferguson is a damn fine addition to the cast.

 

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Speaking of the cast, Cruise is as comfortable as always playing Ethan Hunt and is even hinted of being a bit of a mythic figure within the organization. Simon Pegg, thankfully, has more to do this time around since joining the series. He isn’t just the comic relief, but actually part of the team. The previously mentioned Rebecca Ferguson is easily one of, if not, the highlight of the cast as Ilsa. Ferguson is relativity new to the scene, with her only other big screen performance being the mostly forgettable Hercules from last year. However, Rogue Nation shows that Ferguson should be someone you should keep your eye on.

 

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The supporting cast is okay, but not great as they usually are. Again, Pegg and Ferguson are the standouts while Jeremy Renner, who was once rumored to take over the franchise, takes a limited role here and doesn’t get into the action as much as he did in Ghost Protocol. Ving Rhames has a tad more to do here, but still takes a back seat for the most part. Alec Baldwin’s CIA Director Hunley is a natural antagonist for Ethan and it feels like he’s going to stick around.

 

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The Syndicate is the real villains of the film. The group is filled with agents from different organizations that are presumed dead and as Ethan finds out and Benji says, they’re “an anti-IMF.” The group is pretty much filled with no-named thugs with the exception of Ilsa and Jens Hulten’s Janik “The Bone Crusher” Vinter, who is a right hand to the group’s leader and lead villain Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris. Harris isn’t the strongest villain in the series, he is menacing for some of it, but he lacked a bit something for me, which is a shame since Harris is a great actor.

 

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But like the previous films, Rogue Nation has great action scenes. Of course, the heavily promoted hanging off an airplane scene is impressive to watch – especially in IMAX – and is even more impressive once we find out that Cruise actually shot the scene himself (with a safety harness of course). For me though the standout is the other heavily promoted scene that involves a car chase with some motorcycles. The other is gadgets, and the film does have some cool gadgets that do fit within the world of the Mission films, although some are very subtle.

 

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All in all, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a ton of fun. The action is great and the standout of the cast isn’t just Tom Cruise, but Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson, who I hope returns for future installments. I don’t know if Rogue Nation is as good as the last two films, but it is definitely up there.

 

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

4 out of 5

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