Allied (2016): WWII Spy Romance and Brad Pitt’s Still Face

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Written  by Steven Knight and directed by Oscar winning Robert Zemeckis,  Allied is a romantic spy tale set in WWII. Starring the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard  and the somewhat still-faced Brad Pitt. The story, one of love and betrayal in England during the second “big” war, is well done and entertaining, although perhaps a bit too transparent in places. 

The main problem with Allied is Pitt’s immobile face. Whether the recently divorced male half of “Brangelina” has opted for plastic surgery to erase those signs of character, aka crow’s feet and laugh lines or gone the botox and collagen route to plump out and freeze his features is unclear.

What is certain is that there is no real physical chemistry between Pitt and his romantic lead. To her credit, Collitard evokes enough emotion to almost make up the lack of response from Pitt, but it is not enough.

To be fair, cinematic acting is on the “down-low,” in other words; the best acting is down played and low key. However, the complete lack of expression on Pitt’s face removes any nuances of romantic interest. In fact, the actor has no facial reaction to anything.

Because of this lack of reaction, it seems that perhaps Pitt has opted for botox, which freezes the face and done some plumping up with collagen. While he looks years younger, it has hurt his performance in this instance. The end result is a one-sided love affair, with Cotillard convincing the audience that as a suspected double-agent, she really has given it all up for Pitt (Wing Commander Vatan).

While the film can be seen as a variation on Mr & Mrs Smith, without the humor, or indeed, the former Mrs. Pitt,  it was entertaining enough that I never found myself looking for the old English electric sockets during the domestic scenes.

(I did, however, find myself noting that the set designers made sure that every thing was glossed, with multiple layers, including the older stair post seen in several scenes.)

There are some gaffes, such as having a party during the Blitz with all the window shades wide open and there were other black out conditions that were ignored, but overall things moved along well enough that these moments did not distract too much.

The biggest problem with Allied is the film’s male lead. Pitt could almost be sleepwalking through his role and it is this, combined with that immovable face, that lets the film and his co-star Cotillard down badly.

From the very start of the film I spent more time on wondering what was going on with Pitt’s features, and their lack of movement and previously spotted lines and creases, than the plot or the storyline. This preoccupation almost kept me from noticing the relevancy of the Casablanca storyline.

There are nice touches in the film. Pitt’s character reads a Graham Greene novel in one of the scenes, where he has to plant evidence to convict his wife, and it is a clever addition to the film. Greene was a brilliant writer who turned out a number of spy stories; each one a cracking tale, and this nod and wink was well done.

Overall, Allied is a 4 star film. Despite Pitt’s painfully obvious lack of emotion, the tale entertains. Cotillard convinces, as does Jared Harris, but the main male protagonist badly lets the side down here.

The film is available on DVD and can be streamed via the major platforms on the internet. Have a look at the trailer below:

Assassin’s Creed Movie Filming in September With Two Cast Members?

Poster for Assassin's Creed I
I have deliberately avoided reading anything about the upcoming film version of Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft. One reason has to do with Nolan North, it is his voice I hear when Miles speaks in my mind, just as it is his verbal utterances I hear when thinking of Nathan Drake, another has to do with the watering down of the game in the franchise. The news that filming is due to commence in September this year, with an apparent cast of two, is surprising to say the least.

Michael Fassbender, whom I’ve been a fan of since the Brit horror film Eden Lake, where he played a chap who did everything wrong early in the film and the equally English TV show Hex, may make a great Desmond Miles, although not as great as Nolan, in my humble opinion. The actor will also, again in my own humble opinion, never top his android David from Prometheus.

As for Marion Cotillard being the female scientist/assistant who aids Desmond? I am not really sure that she is who I envisioned as Lucy in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cotillard, so much in fact that I actually sat down and watched another French film; last year’s Two Days, One Night.

Michael Fassbender via @Pinterist
Michael Fassbender as Desmond Miles?

Another reason I’ve not read paid much attention to the big screen version of the game also has to do with the video game itself.

When Assassin’s Creed first came out, my daughter bought the game from Game in Ipswich. Her Christmas present had been a PlayStation 3, something I knew that I’d get plenty of use from, Dad’s no fool, and when we first plugged the game in, and waited ages for it to upload, we were not too overly impressed with the graphics.

Then my youngster got a better TV, an HD one. When we watched the scenes of Assassin’s Creed unfold on the screen of this new telly, our eyes did not seem big enough to take everything in. The graphics were incredible and so real. The story had already become a favorite, Altair’s fall from grace, his having to start over and the slow realization that not all is as it seems trumped what many called the repetitive game play.

The game spawned a glut of sequels, including the annoying Ezio Auditore who took over as the franchise hero. Even though my love for the game declined with each new version, I miss it. When I moved from England I sold my (sob) UK PS3, and my Xbox. I still have some favorite games, Uncharted, all of them, Assassin’s Creed, et al, all lovingly stored in a box…in the shed…sniffle. I have yet to get a replacement for either of these long lost consoles and it kills me.

For that reason alone, I’ve avoided any talk of games to movies, but also because of Naughty Dog and their Uncharted franchise’s move to film their game’s story. When they initially decided to have the game adapted to the big screen, the company opted to relinquish creative control. While fans of the game expected either Nolan North to play Nathan Drake, or at least Nathan Fillion, the filmmakers had decided to cast Mark Wahlberg as Nate.

IGN mockup of Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake
Fillion and Drake, 2010 dream casting idea.

After a few choice expletives and OMGs, the news then came that Bradley Cooper was the main choice, Fillion was considered “too old.” On top of all that, it seemed that the film version would also not have Emily Rose as Elena and Sully was to be scrapped in favor of characters who did not exist.

The last word on Uncharted the film, has Seth Gordon down to direct, according to Wikia and while IMDb has the film opening in 2016, there are no cast members listed. Thankfully, Wahlberg’s name is absent.

It will be interesting to see just what the film version of Desmond Miles and his adventures with the Animus will be. Since filming has not started yet, it will also be interesting to see who will wind up in the final cast list. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for incredibly cheap PS3 and or Xbox replacements, cheap as in free…if you get my drift.

2 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

‘Two Days, One Night’ Marion Cotillard in Belgian Drama (Review/Trailer)

‘Two Days, One Night’ Marion Cotillard in Belgian Drama (Review/Trailer)

Written and directed by the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, Two Days, One Night is a Belgian drama that stars Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as a worker in a solar panel factory in a French speaking town in Belgium. In the film, Cotillard’s character Sandra, is a young mother and wife who has missed a lot of work due to illness. While she is off recuperating the company she works for realises that they can meet their production quotas with one less worker.

Inception (2010): Matrix for the New Millenium **may contain spoilers**

Cover of "Inception"
Cover of Inception

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan Inception is a masterpiece of a movie. It features an all-star cast and has so much chopping and changing of plots and action that you begin to feel like you’re watching a movie version of the game Twister.

Starring in no particular order:

Leonardo DiCaprio

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Ellen Page

Ken Watanabe

Cillian Murphy

Tom Berenger

Marion Cotillard

Michael Caine

Pete PostlethwaiteDileep RaoTom Hardy, and  Lukas Haas. A pretty impressive group by anyone’s standards.

The budget for this film was 160 million dollars and the box office return was in excess of 825 million dollars making Inception a real blockbuster film with a capital B.

The basic (as basic as you can get in this film) is that Cobb (DiCaprio) is a dream thief. He is in exile from America as he has been accused of murdering his wife and he is unable to see his children in Los Angeles as a result. The irony is that this dream thief dreams constantly of returning home and seeing his kids.

Cobb has been offered a ‘clean slate’ by ruthless businessman Saito (Watanabe), which will allow Cobb to return home and wipe the murder charge from his record. What Saito wants in return is for Cobb to not steal a dream, but to plant an idea which is known as “Inception.”

The target, a business conglomerate, owned by tycoon Maurice Fischer  (Postlethwaite) who is dying and leaving it all to his son Robert (Murphy). Saito wants Cobb to plant the idea through Robert’s dream state that his father really wants him to sell the conglomerate off and make his own fortune.

Cobb’s ‘business’ partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) says it is not possible. Cobb maintains that it is. He and his deceased wife Mal (Cotillard) had practised this. Unfortunately it is very dangerous and we learn that this was how Mal died. Although Arthur decides to help Cobb he is not convinced that they can do it safely.

Cobb must now come up with a new powerful dream ‘architect’ because this was Mal’s job before she died. Ariadne (Page) is recruited via Miles (Caine) Cobbs father-in-law. He then gathers the rest of his team; Eames (Hardy) an identity forger, Yusuf (Rao) who controls the sedatives required by the team, Arthur and Saito as the mission observer.

In order for the idea to be planted, the team must go into several dream states, each deeper than the previous one, in order to evade the target’s defences.

And evade they must for Robert has had his brain ‘trained’ by a security company. This training allows his dreaming state to be patrolled by security guards who can spot intruders and terminate them with extreme prejudice. This is not the only hurdle the team have to overcome. It seems that Cobb’s dead wife, Mal, is alive and well in his sub-concious and she will try to sabotage their mission.

The last ‘danger’ the group face is being in the dream world too long. If you go too deep and cannot be brought back, via a drop or your dream self getting killed, you will remain in the dream state forever. You can also become confused as to what is ‘real’ and what is a dream, to help each team member keep track, they each have a personal totem that behaves differently in the dream state. Cobb’s is a top that spins perpetually.

So the  team must go into a dream and then go into another dream and into another dream. Each dream state requires a team member to stay in that level and watch over the remaining members as they go deeper.

Confused yet?

This film looks amazing, you can see where the 160 million went. Nolan masterfully helms the many twists and turns of the verse and at no time does he leave one string dangling. My daughter and I went to see this at the cinema. We both were on the edges of our respective seats through the entire film.

What The Matrix did for cinema combat, Inception does for cinema environment. Two of the film’s set pieces, ‘the exploding room’ and ‘the anti-gravity room’ were real sets. The mountain fortress was real as well, just in miniature so it could be blown up.  CG was used at a minimum to help sell the shots. Nolan created these set pieces by taking a step back in the world of special effects. 

But where CGI was used, it worked beautifully. When Cobb is interviewing Ariadne, the scene begins with the two of them at a Parisian Bistro. They are seated with drinks in front of them. Cobb is explaining how dream architecture works. He then looks at Ariadne and says, “Do you remember how we got here?” When Ariadne starts to respond, items from the ‘busy’ set start exploding. *On a side note here, the scene has so many props in it, that if it were not computer generated it would have set Nolan back a large part of that 160 million.*

After the set explodes, they then start walking the streets. Ariadne starts practicing her architecture and literally bends the streets and buildings, while Cobb explains the rules of the ‘dream verse.’

CGI is used for the world that Mal and Cobb created that resulted in Mal killing herself in the mistaken belief that the created world was the real world that she desperately wanted to go back to. The city in the parallel world is almost Dali-esque in it’s depiction. When Cobb and Ariadne go there to deal with Mal, it is decaying and falling into the ocean. It is like the place is eroding from lack of use and it looks disturbing.

But two of the most impressive scenes that did not rely on CGI were the exploding room at the beginning of the film and in the hotel scene later on.  Using an ‘anti-gravity’ room, which in essence was a ‘room’ that was suspended in mid-air and rotated. The actors were attached to wires in some cases, but for the most part they really were working in ‘free-fall.’

And free-fall is how Nolan sells the film so well. Remember the “dream within a dream within a dream” bit? Well, this tier system that requires a team member to stay behind in each level, starts with the first team member, who actually has everyone else with him but in a dream state, drives a van they are all in off a bridge. Cue the first free-fall. And it has a effect on the next team member who is in the hotel portion of the dream.

The film only had  about 500 visual effects. A very small amount for a film with so many special effects and such a huge budget.

The film moves almost seamlessly between the real world and the dream world. But it does this so often that is almost like a cinematic shell game. By the end of the film you have to decide what was real and what was a dream. What ever you decide is based on your interpretation of the series of events.

When the film ended (prepare yourself for the controversy) two things happened almost simultaneously, we both looked at each other and said, “Blu-ray.” We also immediately started discussing the ending and how we saw it. We weren’t the only ones either.

For the first time in years, I saw a room full of people discussing excitedly the film they had just seen. The room was full of laughing, talking, and arguing people. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an audience act that way after a film.

As we left the cinema, my daughter turned to me and said, “Wow, that was ‘The Matrix of the new millenium.”

I think she’s right. Just like The Matrix, Inception changed the rules and bent the rules it couldn’t change. It went so far outside the box, that the box ceased to exist.

If Inception is not on the list of  films to see before you die, it should be.

Right at the top.