Allied

It is not Rick’s Café Americain that Max (Brad Pitt) walks into shortly after the beginning of Allied. But it is in Casablanca in the period of German occupation during World War II. Inside this gin joint, Max meets, for the first time, his “wife” Marianne (Marion Cotillard).

Like Casablanca, the classic Bogart film of 1942, Allied features an impassioned request for a specific tune played on piano and has a climactic scene at an airport.

In this latest film from director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Forrest Gump, Polar Express and Back To The Future I, II and III), Max and Marianne pretend to be a married French couple working for the Germans. But they are on the side of the good guys.

While waiting to accomplish their mission in sweltering Casablanca, they maintain the charade and live together, pretending to be man and wife. It’s no spoiler to reveal that they become attracted to one another. Consummation occurs in a raging desert sandstorm, a fitting metaphor to connote passion. (The tryst happens inside a car with the windows rolled up, so nobody ends up with sand in his/her navel.)

They escape Casablanca to England where they marry and have a child. Max, a Canadian spy, continues to work for the allies. Marianne, a native of France, becomes a housewife and mom. But is that all she’s up to? Could she be a double agent, working for the Germans?

When Max’s superiors mention their suspicions, he is stunned by the accusation. But soon he begins to have doubts. He even flies into France to query a Resistance leader about her history.

In Allied, Max and Marianne’s relationship is allowed to evolve gradually. Early on, the film trudges slowly between its few sequences of real action. The film seems however to sprint toward its resolution in its final half hour.

While Allied is unlikely to approach the classic status of several of Zemeckis’s other films, it has an engrossing story performed by a strong cast. The two leads, Pitt and Cotillard, are talented pros who carry the movie. Even though Brad may be a bit too old for the role—he turns 53 in December—his performance is likely to please all Pitt fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hacksaw Ridge

Going into combat without a gun at Okinawa during World War II? This would appear to be a bad idea. But there is a reason Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) refuses to tote a weapon.

It seems odd that Doss’s true story has not been widely shared in the 71 years since his heroic actions occurred. After seeing depictions of WWII’s key events (Pearl Harbor, D-Day, etc.) on film over and over again, it’s refreshing to learn about this previously lesser-known episode.

Hacksaw Ridge delivers all the gruesomeness of heavy combat but also provides the enjoyable backstory of Desmond Doss.

Doss is a redneck from rural Virginia whose family life is turbulent. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is the worst kind of alcoholic. He is abusive to Desmond’s mom. When Desmond and his brother fight, dad encourages them to have at it, even unto the point of serious injury.

When the U.S. is forced into the war, Doss sees other young men from his area join the effort and he, too, enlists. But with one condition: he refuses to carry a gun. He says he is not a “conscientious objector” but is a “conscientious cooperator.”

His military leaders, including his sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and his captain (Sam Worthington), are baffled by his refusal. When court martial punishment is waived, Doss’s training continues and he becomes a medic within a combat unit. Armed not with a weapon but with morphine to relieve pain, he is part of the attack on Okinawa’s Hacksaw Ridge.

Director Mel Gibson opens the film with a brief montage of bloody combat violence and death before returning to Virginia and Desmond’s story. Doss meets and marries nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before he ships out. An hour or so into the film, the climb begins up Hacksaw Ridge to overtake Japanese troops.

The action is fierce. Doss sees friends die. He sees men suffer serious wounds. When his unit retreats, he stays and pulls to safety many men left behind to die.

Andrew Garfield’s wide grin is well suited for his role as the likable hayseed. But his big hair is a bit distracting. Wouldn’t a WWII inductee have been given a buzz cut in basic?

Hacksaw Ridge brings to mind the 2014 film Unbroken about another WWII hero, Louis Zamperini. I prefer Hacksaw Ridge because Gibson’s storytelling focuses as much on the central character as on the events.

One more thing: If you choose to skip this film because of director Mel Gibson’s alcohol-fueled unsavory behavior a few years ago, consider that he now claims to have ten years of sobriety under his belt. As a longtime fan (going back to The Road Warrior), I hope he stays clean.

Trumbo

Trumbo is one of 2015’s best films. Its amazing story, its serious message and its sense of humor make it a “must see” for lovers of movies and movie history.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a real-life screenwriter who wrote scripts for numerous hit movies. He was also a Communist. Along with like-minded members of the movie community such as actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlberg) and writers Arlen Hurd (Louis CK) and Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), Trumbo went up against right-wingers like John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip queen Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) in Hollywood.

In one of the film’s memorable scenes, Hurd questions Trumbo about an apparent contradiction: he earns riches and enjoys the fruits of his labors while supporting the socialist philosophy of Communism. Another favorite scene features a confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne, in which Trumbo asks Wayne to let him remove his glasses first in case the Duke plans to punch him.

After World War II, Trumbo and other Hollywood figures are summoned to testify before Congress. Trumbo is held in contempt and incarcerated. Upon his return to L.A., because he is blacklisted, he has to work under assumed names. Much of that work is on “B-movies” for Frank King (John Goodman). Another favorite scene has King grabbing a baseball bat and menacing a right-winger who threatens to lead a boycott of King’s movies. Trumbo’s script for Roman Holiday (written under an alias) earned a screenwriting Oscar.

With love and support from his family, including wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and daughter Niki (Elle Fanning), Trumbo gradually edges back into the mainstream. Courageously, actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) step up and hire Trumbo to script Spartacus.

Trumbo deals with a serious topic but has many good laughs. Cranston plays the role with sincerity but a bit of bemusement at the way his career careens. The director is Jay Roach who directed the hilarious Austin Powers and Fockers movies.The script is by John McNamara.

Trumbo concludes with a heartfelt speech at an awards ceremony that allows Dalton Trumbo to say how he feels about what happened to him. In postwar America, just three decades after Russia’s revolution, there was serious concern about the threat of Communism. It is easy to look back now and see how the response to Trumbo’s activism was an gross overreaction.

The Imitation Game

 

Another movie based on a true story, The Imitation Game tells a fascinating story of brilliant minds deducing methods to break Germany’s unbreakable Enigma cryptography code during World War II.

The genius of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) causes him to be a bit of an egotist. He knows how smart he is and he flaunts it: first, with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) at the UK’s secret code-breaking agency; later, with his co-workers who have a hard time liking the guy.

Intercepting the Germans’ encrypted messages was easy. The mission to break the constantly changing code was deemed impossible. But Turing and his team made it happen. They required patience and a major outlay of funds from the government to finance the project. With Winston Churchill’s support, they got the money. The result was an early, primitive version of a modern day computer.

The team battles a series of frustrations. In the film, when they are able to finally break the code, they can’t share the info they obtain. Their fear that the Germans would quickly realize that the Allies know their plans might compromise the whole mission. Ultimately, the breaking of the code was credited with saving millions of lives.

The Imitation Game has similarities to the current release The Theory of Everything. Both central characters are brilliant British men who have circumstances that could challenge their abilities to accomplish great things. For Stephen Hawking in Theory, the challenge is ALS. For Turing, the challenge is his closeted homosexuality. (Turing was actually arrested for being gay.)

Keira Knightley appears as Turing’s friend Joan Clarke, a fellow code breaker. Her character’s significance is said to be inflated a bit in the film, but Knightley provides box office appeal and a feminine presence in a male-dominated movie.

The story of Alan Turing and his work is one that has not been widely told while many have been familiar with Hawking for decades. Benedict Cumberbatch is a certain best actor nominee and The Imitation Game is a likely best picture nominee. The film is directed by Norway native Morten Tyldum.

The Imitation Game is one of 2014’s best films and one that I recommend highly.

 

 

Fury

 

Fury is a beautifully constructed WWII movie. The story, the script, the characters, the acting, the tanks, the effects are all top-notch. But is it special? That’s the big question about Fury. It’s a truly entertaining film, and maybe that’s enough.

Fury is a tank, commanded by “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt). He’s fought Germans in Africa, France and, now, on the Krauts’ home turf. The film is set in spring 1945, just weeks before the war’s end. Germany is reeling, but the bloody battles continue.

When any war movie introduces its characters, you know: some will die; some will survive. Wardaddy’s group includes the religious Swan (Shia LeBoeuf), Latino “Gordo” (Michael Pena) and redneck “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal).

The most interesting character in Fury is Norman, a callow youth played by Logan Lerman. Norman is a pencil pusher, just 8 weeks into his Army career, when he’s somehow assigned to Wardaddy’s crew. He is unprepared for witnessing death and certainly not ready to kill people.

A couple of battle scenes set up the final showdown. The faceoff between Fury (and other American tanks) against a bigger, stronger German tank depicts the intense effort of those inside the tank and the constant movement of the tanks for strategic positioning. (A note at the movie’s opening notes that American tanks did not quite measure up to German tanks.)

A sequence that follows the takeover of a German town shows Wardaddy and Norman enjoying a cordial visit with 2 German women. It’s a moment of quiet humanity amidst the horror of war. Later, the other 3 tank men crash the party and behave uncouthly until Wardaddy takes control.

When Fury is assigned to go it alone and defend a key rural intersection, they sit and wait for German activity. Norman scouts from a hillside and spots hundreds of Germans on their way for the film’s climactic battle, which is loud, intense and furious.

Writer/director David Ayer frames the film with memorable opening and closing shots and his overhead shots of the tank positioning are cleverly shot. In Fury, though most of the action occurs during daytime, the days are gray and dismal—appropriate for the grim business of war.

As Fury depicts it, war is hell. WWII, particularly so.