Film Review – “Allied” (2016)

The new classic?

How do I summarize “Allied” in one sentence? “Allied” is a movie whose first half wants to be a Casablanca-meets-Inglorious Basterds action movie (heavy on the “Casablanca” part) while the second is a melodramatic spy thriller (heavy on the “melodramatic”) that doesn’t quite succeed in captivating the audience.

Allied

The film is a story of Canadian intelligence officer Max Vitan (Brad Pitt, who I expected to start talking in Souther accent of Lt. Aldo Raines) and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour. In the first half of the film they meet while working together in order to assassinate the German ambassador in Casablanca. They pose as a married couple, meticulously building an illusion of happy relationship for the benefit of nosy neighbours. Somewhere in the middle, the pretended emotions become real and after accomplishing their mission, the pair flees to London and gets married for real. Marianne gives birth to Max’s daughter in the middle of the Blitz. A year later Max, now working from behind the desk although the War still rages on, gets a call from his superiors. They suspect that Marianne may be a German spy. They organize a test of her loyalty, in which Max must cooperate, and in the event that it’s proven she is working for the enemy, he must also execute her himself. Is the whole thing a test? Is Marianne who she actually says she is? Or has his marriage been all a pretend?

OK, but seriously?

For all the neat little things – and there are plenty! – I left the cinema a bit disappointed. Brad Pitt is, well, Brad Pitt. He looks like himself but doesn’t get much too play – only in the last scene does his face seem to actually show some emotion. Marion Cotillard, on the other hand, really gets to shine as a woman both beautiful and dangerous. This quality seems to have become her Hollywood signature (her roles in Macbeth, InceptionThe Dark Knight Rises and Midnight in Paris come to mind). But for all their efforts, the movie is unbalanced and a bit predictable. The little tricks used in some of the scenes are fantastic – a quick and quiet murder staged to look like suffocation, a fancy card trick, some delightful background characters (Max’s openly lesbian sister who would not be present if the movie were made under Hays code). Camera closeups on reflections in the mirror, or seams of stockings are a hit-or-miss. The fashion is beautiful, but how many films can I watch just for the fashion?

The verdict

“Allied” is definitely not going to be the next “Casablanca”. But hey, Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt are sure nice to look at.

Brad Pitt in a scene from “Allied.”

Allied, Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

Allied, Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

"Allied"

"Allied"

Film Review: “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016)

Florence Foster Jenkins

What’s with that Florence?

Florence Foster Jenkins is a legendary persona in the circle of classical music lovers, whom many called the worst opera singer in the world. Her colorful life gave plot to several plays (the most famous one is “Glorious!”), and recently, also a movie. And with Meryl Streep in the lead role!

“Florence Foster Jenkins” feels like a movie adaptation of a play. A large part of the action takes place strictly in Florence’s apartment, which looks like a completely different era than the one in which the film actually takes place. Judging by Florence’s style and the decor of her apartment, she stopped somewhere at the beginning of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, the film takes place during World War II and the world moved on… but can Florence deal with it?

The story of Florence Foster Jenkins is the story of triumph of passion over talent. Being a big fan of classical music, and quite a rich person, Florence was active in the world of New York music lovers. Very often she went onstage as well, to the delight of her friends. Florence could not sing. But she sang with passion, tackling even the most difficult arias. Originally she performed at private concerts, but the news of her unique voice only spread. In 1944, Florence, aged 76, sang a sold-out concert at the legendary Carnegie Hall.

The relationship between passion and talent is a subject in numerous films about artists (Milos Forman’s Amadeus comes to my mind). The case of Florence is interesting because we know that in her youth she was a talented pianist, so she couldn’t not have musical hearing. The quality of her vocal performance was probably due her long-term illness (syphilis, which causes degeneration of the central nervous system) and the drugs used at the time to cure it, arsenic and mercury (which, in turn, could result in partial loss of hearing).

Secondly, “Florence Foster Jenkins” is a love story. The relationship between Florence and her longtime companion, a British actor and illegitimate son of an aristocrat, St. Claire Bayfield is the type that is rarely shown on screen. Their relationship was really quite unique.

Florence was a few years older than Bayfield, but it was definitely him who took care of her and all the prosaic things related to their comfortable lives. Bayfield even made sure that Florence’s concerts were only attended by people who could behave, that no sharp objects were ever in her presence and that at parties there was no shortage of her favourite potato salad. The love and tenderness between the two is clear and true. However, they did not have sexual relations (at least in part due to Florence’s illness). In fact, Bayfield had a separate apartment (paid for by Florence), where he lived with his longtime girlfriend Kathleen Weatherley, whom he married after Florence’s death. There is a scene in the film where Bayfield admits to Florence’s accompanist, McMoon, that Florence knows that she is not the only woman in his life, but does not know the details. I think it’s a really interesting relationship and it’s a bit of a shame that it was not explored more.

What about the film itself?

Ultimately, “Florence Foster Jenkins” is a very good and very concise movie. Nevertheless, it is tempting to think what movie it could be if its creators explored how it came to be that Florence closed herself (or maybe was closed by her caring, well-wishing friends) in this magical, but artificial world. If this bubble was punctured in some way a little earlier than in the penultimate scene.

The great cast is of course great. This is obvious when the main role is played by Meryl Streep (I’ve saying it for years, she could play a chair and get an Oscar nomination for it). The film also stars Hugh Grant and the delightful Simon Helberg, whose facial expressions during the scenes of Florence’s vocal performances KILL ME. Incidentally, the singing and accompaniment were reportedly recorded live on the set. All the more credit to Meryl Streep and Simon Helber, because both of them are truly phenomenal!

The costumes are also great. I particularly liked the stage creations worn by Florence, who loved elaborate costumes with big ornaments and headpieces. A woman after my own heart!

The verdict

Reminiscing about this film and Florence herself, I think that she was a remarkable woman. She loved music with all her heart and really did a lot to support this art. Many of her fans recognized her sincere passion and supported Florence in her performances. And the fact that her performances weren’t objectively the best – does it ultimately matter?

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

And that’s how Florence sounded in real life:

Film Review: “Cafe Society” (2016)

cafe societyI have a complicated relationship with Woody Allen’s movies. On one hand, I love their general mood and beautiful visuals. On the other – I am increasingly disappointed by the scripts. They seem to be telling the same story over and over again, and the quality of this story is, sadly, not improving. My opinion of “Cafe Society” is very much in line with this.

3274137510_1_4_0tcghx7h_gif_5608_gif_1359_north_499x_white

The movie is a story of a young man coming to Hollywood looking for something more exciting than work with his father. He is hired by his uncle, a Hollywood producer, and discovers the ups and downs of living in Tinseltown. He also falls in love with his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie. As per usual in Woody Allen’s movies, no love story is ever that simple.

The good

I love, love, LOVE the visuals. It’s no surprise, really – the movie takes place in 1930s Hollywood and New York City. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that for me. All the costumes, scenography and music are simply enchanting. Chanel played a big part in the creation of costumes for the movie and it shows! The glamour is breathtaking! The cast is very good – Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Corey Stall and Blake Lively, as well as Anna Camp who is a very funny one scene wonder.

The movie’s soundtrack is full of wonderful, light variations on well-known melodies such as “The Lady Is A Tramp, “Jeepers Creepers” and “Have You Met Miss Jones?”. I’m listening to it as I’m writing this review and it’s delightful, jazzy, easy listening.

The not-so-good

I’m not very happy with the story of the movie. I’m not even entirely sure that the title is relevant. I would expect some analysis of Hollywood or New York’s cafe society, but apart from a few voice-over anecdotes, the plot really focuses on the rather unexciting love triangle.

Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone! I have a certain taste in movies, which is dictated by my personal preferences and education I’ve received throughout the years. Watching this movie I felt like yes, scenes happened in some order. But there was no real plot to the movie, no culmination, no resolution. Just events happening, one after the other, without structure. I’m sure that this will not be everyone’s opinion.

The verdict

If you like Woody Allen’s movies, are excited about retro fashion, are looking for light entertainment and a few laughs – by all means go and see it!

cafe society cafe society ksbr12-0 ksbr13-0

wasp2015_day_09-0159.CR2

ksbr16 00-holding-cafe-society Cafe-Society-2773187 Cafe-Society-27731872 Cafe-Society-kristen-stewart-woody-allen-2166 Cafe-Society-kristen-stewart-woody-allen-kinopoisk.ru-Caf_26_23233_3B-Society-2773182 chanel-cafe-society-02 chanel-cafe-society-03 chanel-cafe-society-04 chanel-cafe-society-05 chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0 CjfE2MZWgAAeeWo cafe society

All pictures from The Woody Allen Pages.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

You guys! If you like old (and I mean really old) cinema, I’ve got a treat for you! I found the full 1920 horror silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on YouTube so I immediately thought I have to share if with you! The film is available there completely legally, as it is not part of the public domain. Must-see for old cinema enthusiasts!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The film is based upon Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. It was directed by John S. Robertson, produced by Adolph Zukor, written by Thomas Russell Sullivan, Clara Beranger and Robert Louis Stevenson (novel), and the film was starring John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane and Nita Naldi.

Summary

The scientist Dr. Jekyll discovers that there is a second, evil personality residing in every human being. With a potion invented by himself, he releases his own personality, turning into a monster. With each passing day, this second persona takes control of his life, leading him toward the inevitable fall.

 

The movie!

Production Trivia (from Wikipedia)

  • The early part of Jekyll’s initial transformation into Hyde was achieved with no makeup, instead relying solely on Barrymore’s ability to contort his face.
  • In one scene, as Hyde reverts to Jekyll, one of Hyde’s prosthetic fingers can be seen to fly across the screen, having been shaken loose by Barrymore’s convulsions.
  • In the short Renaissance flashback memory sequence, where Hyde is explaining to Gina about the poisonous mysteries of his secret ring, set pieces and costumes were brought from “The Jest”. That was a hit play in which John Barrymore had starred with brother Lionel Barrymore on Broadway in 1919 before shooting this picture.
  • John Barrymore hauled many of his prized potted plants from his apartment to the set to appear in scenery in the movie.

12 Retro (-themed) Movies Available on Netflix NOW!

At the moment, the weather behind the window makes me dream of nothing else than cuddling under a blanket and watching a movie. Since Netlix is available in Poland for two months now, I decided to prepare a little list of retro movies for you (and me) to watch.

International readers, take note that I live in Poland and having Netflix is a very new thing for us. Also, the selection of titles I will be writing about is definitely available in Poland, I do not know about other countries (although if you know, drop me a line in the comments!)

If English is not your first language, all of these movies have English subtitles available. Sadly, none of them have Polish subtitles. However, as a person with MA in English, I encourage you to give English subtitles a try, I find I’ve learnt most from exactly this type of activity.

A Night At The Opera

Netflix: A Night at the Opera | The Marx Brothers wreak opera house havoc in the film that contains one of the guys' most popular comedy bits ever: the crowded stateroom scene.

The Marx Brothers wreak opera house havoc in the film that contains one of the guys’ most popular comedy bits ever: the crowded stateroom scene.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Netflix: A Streetcar Named Desire | After losing the family plantation to creditors, aging Southern belle Blanche DuBois travels to New Orleans seeking solace in her sister, Stella.

After losing the family plantation to creditors, aging Southern belle Blanche Dubois travels to New Orleans seeking solace in her sister, Stella.

Casablanca

Netflix: Casablanca | American expat Rick Blaine runs a Moroccan nightclub during World War II and contends with his ex, who walks back into his life.

American expat Rick Blaine runs a Moroccan nightclub during World War II and contends with his ex, who walks back into his life.

Chinatown

Netflix: Chinatown | With a suspicious femme fatale bankrolling his snooping, private eye J.J. Gittes uncovers intricate dirty dealings in the Los Angeles waterworks.

With a suspicious femme fatale bankrolling his snooping, private eye J.J.Gittes uncovers intricate dirty dealings in the Los Angeles waterworks.

Gangster Squad

Netflix: Gangster Squad | When notorious East Coast mob boss Mickey Cohen looks to set up his operations in L.A., it's up to a group of hard-nosed LAPD cops to take him down.

When notorious East Coast mob boss Mickey Cohen looks to set up his operations in L.A., it’s up to a group of hard-nosed LAPD cops to take him down.

Gone With The Wind

Netflix: Gone with the Wind | Self-absorbed, headstrong Southern Belle Scarlett O'Hara meets her match in Rhett Butler just as the Civil War breaks out.

Self-absorbed, headstrong Southern Belle Scarlett O’Hara meets her match in Rhett Butler just as the Civil War breaks out.

L.A. Confidential

Netflix: L.A. Confidential | Three wildly different cops form an uneasy alliance to ferret out police corruption in this Oscar-winning whodunit set in 1950s Los Angeles.

Three wildly different cops form an uneasy alliance to ferret out police corruption in this Oscar-winning whodunit set in 1950s Los Angeles.

Roman Holiday

Netflix: Roman Holiday | Audrey Hepburn stars as a stifled princess who slips away from her guardians and is taken under the wing of a tabloid reporter looking for a scoop.

Audrey Hepburn stars as a stifled princess who slips away from her guards and is taken under the wing of a tabloid reporter looking for a scoop.

Sin City

Netflix: Sin City | In these intertwined tales, an ex-con avenges a hooker's death, a gumshoe gets mixed up with dangerous vixens, and a cop saves a dancer from a rapist.

In these intertwined tales, an ex-con avenges a hooker’s death, a gumshoe gets mixed up with dangerous vixens, and a cop saves a dancer from a rapist.

Sunset Boulevard

Netflix: Sunset Boulevard | When a struggling screenwriter stumbles upon the crumbling mansion of washed-up actress Norma Desmond, she persuades him to help her mount a comeback.

When a struggling screenwriter stumbles upon the crumbling mansion of a washed-up actress Norma Desmond, she persuades him to help her mount a comeback.

The Great Gatsby

Netflix: The Great Gatsby | Fascinated by the mysterious and affluent Jay Gatsby, his neighbor Nick Carraway bears witness to the man's obsessive love and spiral into tragedy.

Fascinated by the mysterious and affluent Jay Gatsby, his neighbour Nick Carraway bears witness to the man’s obsessive love and spiral into tragedy.

The Maltese Falcon

Netflix: The Maltese Falcon | Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Sam Spade in this noir classic that finds the sultry Miss Wonderly seeking protection from a man named Thursby.

Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Sam Spade in this noir classic that finds the sultry Miss Wonderly seeking protection from a man named Thursby.

So, did you like this little list of retro movies? Would you like me to review some of them before you decide to watch them? Let me know in the comments!

All images and descriptions taken from Netflix.

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! THE ROMANS ARE COMING! ‘Epic’ is a term too often used nowadays but few could argue that Hail Caesar! currently in the final days of shooting at Capitol Pictures, is undeserving of this epithet, writes Thora Thacker.[[MORE]]“An army of technicians and actors, and top notch artistic people are working hard to bring to the screen our biggest release of the year,” explains Capitol’s Eddie Mannix.  “Hail, Caesar! is a prestige picture with one of the biggest stars in the world: Baird Whitlock.”Few movies take up not one but TWO stages on a studio lot, but then Hail Caesar! is no ordinary movie: it’s the most expensive picture Capitol has ever made. It looks - for now at least - as though the greatest story ever told is in safe hands.

This past weekend my friend and I had “strictly entertainment” plans for weekend, so of course our schedule had to include a visit to the cinema. After a brief examination of the available titles, we decided to give the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! a go.

The movie is a light, colorful tribute to the 1950s movies and studios who made them. It is essentially a day in life of Capital Studios’ head of physical production, Eddie Mannix. Mannix’s job means he’s a solver of all studio problems. Movie stars of course create lots of problems so the hours worked by our hero are late. We are walked through a series of cameos with hilarious members of the film industry. And the real movie’s cast includes some impressive names! Just to name a few: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and of course Josh Brolin as the legendary Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix. What Hail, Caesar! turns out to be is a movie about making movies. But not in a very intellectual way. In a fun, parodic kind of way.

Fun (and it’s good fun!) is made of Christianity, Communism, gays (albeit subtly), cowboy movies, and generally the movie industry as a whole. It’s a pastiche, but it’s made with a lot of affection for the source material.

Stylistically the movie is gorgeous. The costumes are beautiful, the colors are warm and everything looks pretty in technicolor.

I cannot help but feel a bit disappointed about the underused cast. Scarlett Johansson’s character definitely deserved more than two scenes! So did Channing Tatum (who is working hard to prove his comedic chops). The plot clearly isn’t the most important element of this movie. What makes it watchable is the Coen brothers’ clear love of their craft and the fun everyone seems to be having on-screen. I highly encourage it to everyone who needs some light entertainment and likes a good laugh.

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

All images are from the movie’s official site which you can reach here.