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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 25, 2016)

24 Nov 2016

American Thanksgiving sees a lot of big new releases this week.  Unfortunately, this reviewer had to miss most of them like BAD SANTA 2 and MOANA due to screening time conflicts.

FILM REVIEWS:

ALLIED (UK/USA 2016) ****
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

The World War II romance thriller, ALLIED feels like the old Hollywood war romances like CASABLANCA, the kind that featured top Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  Part of the reason is at the film’s start, the hero, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes down to the Moroccan desert only to land make way to Casablanca where he meets his mission-assigned wife, Mairanne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard).

The story is set in 1942 North Africa.  Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on a secret mission behind enemy lines. The couple reunites in London and get married, eventually having a daughter together.  Their relationship is strong and normal but becomes threatened by the brink of war, as Vatan is presented with the possibility that Beausejour is a sleeper spy working for the Germans.  Vatan is then placed under considerable pressure to kill Beausejour himself or to be executed for failing to obey orders.  Convinced of her innocence, he sets out on a very dangerous mission to clear her name.

Zemeckis creates and maintains a solid tense atmosphere throughout the film.  The few action sequences (the assassination of the German ambassador; the prison break) are executed efficiently without much ado, keeping in line that ALLIED is a suspense thriller and not an action flick.  The romance between Pitt and Cotillard works.  The love scene is executed with finesse and taste with the sexiness intact.  The couple make love in the car, the scene ending with the sand storm outside the vehicle blurring the windows of the vehicle.

ALLIED is a star movie, no doubt about that.  The film would be so much less effective if  Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard were replaced with lesser known actors, just as CASABLANCA cannot be envisioned without Bogart and Bergman.  British actor, handsome Matthew Goode is hardly recognizable in the role of Guy Sangster, whose face is scarred by the war.  The film has a gay slant with the addition of Max’s lesbian sister, Bridget (Lizzy Caplan) who in one ironic scene is asked by soldiers as a request to kiss her female companion.

For all the film’s seriousness, Zemeckis adds in some very wry humour, especially in the scene where Max is confronted with orders to kill Beausejour.

Zemickis makes sure these questions remains on the mind of every member of the audience:  Is Beausejour really a German spy?  If she is, would Max complete his duty and kill her?  Despite the obvious answers to the two questions, Zemeckis pulls a good twist to the story at the end.

ALLIED proves once again the talent of director Zemeckis.  He has proven his mettle with films of different genres like the BACK TO THE FUTURE  films, THE POLAR EXPRESS

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and of course, FORREST GUMP.  Allied adds another success to his list.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSCQWX-pUSg

ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE (Canada/India 2016) ***

Directed by Deepa Metha

The news of the 2012 rape and murder of a 23-year old Indian woman on a moving Delhi bus shocked and angered the world.  Protests and angry demonstrations on the subject of injustice to women began.  Celebrated filmmaker Deepa Mehta (THE BEEBA BOYS, her last film) investigates the crime - one of India’s most notorious in her angry, impassioned and essential new film.

The details of the true unfortunate incident:  

In the December of 2012, a 23-year-old woman and her friend got on a private bus in Delhi.  The men already on board — five passengers and the bus driver — gang-raped the woman, beat her friend, and threw them onto the street.  The woman died of her injuries two weeks later. The case made worldwide news and was instrumental in activating Indian policy discussions about women's rights and the government's duty to prosecute for rape.

Metha uses words in the form of titles on the screen at the start of the film to impose the sense of seriousness of the film’s subject matter.  It is a long sequence which involves lots of reading, with key phrases highlighted.  But the tactic works well in the film’s context.

Director Metha takes a brave and different approach of making a statement.  The film is not a reenactment of a crime but a tale of possible sociological and psychological influences that could have taken place.  The lives of the guilty 6 men are imagined and formulated.  But they share a common trait - there is some reason for the violence be it childhood abuse, disability or male chauvinistic personality.

To show child abuse, for example the penetration of an adult on a minor, she has an adult actor perform the role of the minor.  Though the scene involves two adults, the scene saves the discomfort of both having the audience watch a child being abused as well as the difficulty of having a child perform such an awkward scene.  

The climax of the film is the rape of the woman.  Metha completely omits shooting the scene - an artistic and wise decision no doubt.  In the words of Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, what is imagined is often wise than watching what takes place.

But her film is by no means perfect.  By taking on too many male antagonists, the film tends to get a bit muddled with character’s lives flowing into each other and undermining another’s importance.

Still Metha’s ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE is not an easy film to watch because of the sensitive topic.  And Metha does not hide away from the issues that result either.

Thought the lives of the antagonists are fictional, the actual outcomes of the trials and sentences are revealed on screen at the closing credits.  

According to the filmmakers, the film has garnered mandatory showing in Iceland in schools while drawing the attention it deserves in many other countries as well.

ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE (which could also be called WHAT MAKES A MONSTER) is Metha’s most courageous work.  It challenges her audience to enter unsettling territory in the observation of what crimes are happening today.

(No trailer currently available)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (USA 2016) ****

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

 

There is an excellent segment at the start of the film that perfectly sums up the character of the protagonist Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck).  A handysman, Lee has just finished fixing the dirty toilet plumbing of one of the apartments in the building he looks after.  The woman asks if it is ok for her to give him a tip.  He thinks the tip is a form of advice she is about to give him for perhaps a mistake he did in his job instead of the monetary reward she intended.  Lee is shown here as a hard-working well meaning person with extremely low self-esteem.  This personality reinforces itself time and again during the film.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s new film after a long absence since his impressive debut YOU CAN COUNT ON ME followed by MARGARET.  The new film follows Lee, a reclusive handyman who must face his painful past when he returns to his Massachusetts hometown after the sudden death of his beloved older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler).

Lee spends his days shovelling snow, fixing leaks, and doing his best to ignore the tenants' small talk.  He spends his evenings either alone in his basement apartment or nursing a beer at his local, where he will pick a fight with anyone who throws a glance his way.   Obviously, there is something buried beneath this sadness is another life - which is slowly revealed later in the film.

To make matters worse, Lee receives the news that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a congenital heart condition and that, to his unpleasant surprise, he's been appointed legal guardian of Joe's teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee returns to his nearby seaside hometown (hence the film’s title), a place of both cherished and painful memories. 

Lonergan shows that despite the sudden loss of his father, and in stark contrast to his uncle, Patrick is full of life.   A popular student, he juggles hockey, band practice, and two girlfriends.  As this mismatched pair stumbles through the mundane details of estate planning (the most humorous part being Patrick upset at his father being put in a freezer till buried) and the awkward strain of adolescence, Lee is forced to confront his past, revealed seamlessly through flashbacks, and the realities of his present.

The beauty of Lonergan’s film is the way his drama unfolds.  He does not rely on cheap theatrics, melodrama or dramatic monologues to get his points across.  In tandem, Affleck delivers a quiet, disciplined yet forceful performance, undoubtedly the best of his career.  The young actor Hedges also delvers a well matched performance as the spirited nephew.  The film’s best segments have the two arguing with each there.

The film alternates between sad and wonderful.  It would be good preparation to bring lots of Kleenex as this is a powerful and extremely moving film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

 

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Best Film: HACKSAW RIDGE

Best African/American Film: MOONLIGHT

Best Action: THE ACCOUNTANT

Best Animation: WAY FAR NORTH

Best Documentary: TOWER

Best Drama: AMERICAN HONEY

Best Foreign: STANDING TALL

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