Film Review: Allied (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


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Earlier today, after deciding to take a break from watching the Lifetime films that have been steadily accumulating on my DVR, I went down to the Alamo Drafthouse with my BFF Evelyn and we watched the new World War II romantic adventure film, Allied.

Now, you should understand that I’m an Alamo Victory member and one of the benefits of my membership is that I get a free movie for my birthday!  (My birthday was on November 9th.  The offer’s good for up to a month after the big day.  Pretty nice, no?)  I have to admit that there’s a reason why I wanted to see Allied for free.  I knew that, since this big movie with big stars and a big director was being released at the start of Oscar season, I would have to see it eventually.  Add to that, Allied is current somewhat infamous for being the movie that contributed to the divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  Apparently, Brad had an affair with Marion Cotillard while making this movie.  I knew I had to see Allied but I didn’t want to pay for it because, quite frankly, I wasn’t expecting it to be very good.

I mean, the trailer looked awful!  The trailer was a collection of war film clichés and, as happy as I was to see Brad without that raggedyass beard that he tends to have whenever he’s trying to be a serious actor, it was still hard to ignore that he essentially looked like a wax figure.  Then you had Marion Cotillard, looking as if she’d rather be playing Lady MacBeth.  Judging from the trailer, Allied just didn’t look very good.

Having now seen Allied, I can say that the trailer does the film a great disservice.  Not only is Allied far more entertaining than the trailer suggests but the trailer also gives away the film’s big twist!  Seriously, this twist occurs about 75 minutes into a 120 minute film and, if it was sprung on you without warning, it would totally blow you away.  It would leave you reeling and reconsidering everything that you had previously seen.  But since the twist is highlighted in the trailer, you instead spend the first half of the movie impatiently waiting for it.

You probably already know the twist.  But I’m still not going to reveal it because maybe there’s one or two of you out there who have managed to avoid the trailer.  Instead, I’ll tell you that Allied is a World War II romance.  It opens in Casablanca, with Canadian secret agent Max Batan (Brad Pitt) working with Marianne Beausojour (Marion Cotillard).  Marianne is a legendary member of the French Resistance.  It doesn’t take long for Max and Marianne to fall in love and soon, they’re having sex in the middle of the desert, making love in a car while a sandstorm rages all around them.  Max eventually marries Marianne and they have a daughter.  But around them, the war continues and both of them find themselves struggling to determine who they can and cannot trust.

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As directed by Robert Zemeckis, Allied is a big movie, one that is frequently entertaining and yet occasionally and frustratingly uneven.  Allied feels like its less about recreating history and more about paying homage to the World War II and espionage films that Zemeckis watched when he was growing up.  It’s a technical marvel, featuring not only sandstorm sex but crashing airplanes and a painstaking recreation of Europe in the 1940s.   The film is full of seemingly random details, many of which don’t add much to the narrative but they do contribute to Allied‘s oddly dreamlike feel.  This is the type of film where espionage is discreetly discussed at a party while Gershwin plays on the soundtrack and British airmen casually snort cocaine in the background.  When Marianne gives birth to Anna, she does it outside while bombs explode around her.  When the baby is finally delivered, a group of nurses applaud.  It’s all wonderfully over the top but, occasionally, the narrative lags.  Zemeckis sometimes seems to be torn as to whether or not he’s paying homage to or deconstructing the genre.  As a result, some scenes work better than others.  (There’s a lengthy sequence involving a note containing false information.  It’s obvious that Zemeckis is trying to pay homage to Hitchcock’s Notorious but he never quite manages to pull it off.)

Despite what I previously assumed as a result of seeing the trailer, both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are well-cast.  Cotillard is one of the few actresses who feels at home in a throwback film like this one and she does a good job keeping the audience guessing.  (Of course, if we accept that Allied is essentially Zemeckis’s cinematic dream of World War II, Cotillard serves to remind us of Inception and its multiple layers of dream logic.)  Brad Pitt, meanwhile, should consider playing more roles without his beard.  After watching Daniel Craig sulk through four James Bond films, it’s nice to be reminded that, occasionally, an actor can actually have fun while playing a secret agent.

Allied is uneven but entertaining.  Don’t let the trailer fool you.

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Rockin’ in the Film World #8: BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (20th Century Fox 1970)


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Sex and drugs and rock and roll!! That about sums up BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, a lightning-fast paced Russ Meyer extravaganza covering the end of the decadent 60’s with a BANG… literally! The movie was originally intended to be a sequel to 1967’s soapy and sappy VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, but Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert (yes, THAT Roger Ebert!) changed course and concocted this satirical, surrealistic saga that skewers Hollywood, rock music, the sexual revolution, and anything else that got in its way.

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Like the original, the story concerns three nubile young ladies trying to make it out in La-La Land (that’s Los Angeles, folks), only this time they’re a Midwestern rock power trio named The Kelly Affair. Kelly (Dolly Read, former Playmate and soon-to-be wife of comedian Dick Martin), Pet (model/actress Marcia McBroom), and Casey (Playmate Cynthia Meyers), along with Kelly’s boyfriend and band manager Harris…

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Late To The Party : “Doctor Strange”


Trash Film Guru

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I’ll say this much — Marvel Studios’ latest mega-blockbuster, Doctor Strange, certainly is an amazing feast for the eyes. From the amazing opening fight sequence to the trippy other-dimensional mystical mindscapes peppered throughout the film, director Scott Derrickson (who also co-wrote the script along with John Spaihts and the erudite-sounding C. Robert Cargill) pulls out all the stops to “wow” you and succeeds in his goal admirably. In fact, if there’s ever been a flick that you need to see in 3-DD, Imax, and all that shit, it’s this one.

Here’s the rub, though : if you’ve seen all, some, or even just one of Marvel’s other cinematic products, then you really don’t “need” to see this thing at all.

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By all rights, of course, this movie (which only came out two weeks ago, but I’m slapping my “Late To The Party” header on it anyway since most people…

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Artwork of the Day: New York Movie


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New York Movie (1939, Edward Hopper)

I could never work in a movie theater.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love movies, as anyone who has spent any time reading this site should know.  I consider both the Alamo Drafthouse and the Dallas Angelika to be a second home.  But, even if I didn’t have a degree and I was totally alone in the world and I desperately needed a job, I could never work at either one of them.  I would be scared that, if I did, the act of going to the movies would lose its magic.  My love of film would be destroyed by the drudgery of employment.  (For that same reason, I could also never work in a book store.)

That’s something that I find myself thinking about as I look at Edward Hopper’s New York Movie.  As a writer, it’s impossible for me to look at any painting or photograph without immediately trying to turn it into a short story.  While the theater’s the audience is sucked into the fantasy of cinema, the usher stands to the side and appears to be lost in thought.  Much as I’ve looked at John French Sloan’s Movies, Five Cents and subsequently spent hours considering who the woman in the audience is looking at, New York Movie has inspired me to spend hours wondering what the usher is thinking about while the audience watches the movie.  Is she bored or is she sad?  Is she thinking about the movie or the audience or about what she’s going to do when she gets off work?  Does she like the movie, does she hate the movie, or has she reached the point where she doesn’t even notice the movie?

Edward Hopper’s best known work was Nighthawks, that famous painting of four people in an all-night diner.  Hopper’s model for New York Movie‘s usher was his wife, Jo, who posed under a lamp outside of their apartment.

Music Video of the Day: The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982, dir. Alvin Hartley)


I don’t want to talk about the messy history and battles over this song.

I am taking mvdbase’s word and saying this was released the same year as the single.

The music video makes a great double feature with Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. That one put turntablism at the forefront of the song. This one does the exact opposite by making Melle Mel’s vocals the focus of the song. The visuals are also at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rockit is very experimental and surreal. The Message is very down-to-earth and realistic. It does have some video effects, but it is all focused on the environment in which the character in the song lives. They filmed it in Harlem, New York.

Enjoy!