Monthly Archives: September 2016

Best romantic drama

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play spies in love in a steamy World War II drama where there are more romantic fireworks than tanks and explosions.

Depending on what you believe, “Allied” is either a Robert Zemeckis-directed period spy thriller or “the movie that broke up Brad Pitt’s marriage,” but watching Pitt parachute down into Morocco as the film opens might make you expect more of a James Bond-inspired flick.

Instead, “Allied” turns out to be a slower wartime romance in which Pitt plays Max Vattan, a British assassin sent to Casablanca to kill a high-ranking Nazi officer. We see early on how deadly Max can be, but he’s been assigned to create the ruse of being married to Marion Cotillard’s Marianne Beauséjorge, an equally deadly French agent.

Pretending to be married eventually drives them closer together and Max and Marianne decide to get married for real, despite the warnings from Max’s commander (Jared Harris). Marianne soon becomes pregnant as they settle down in England to lead a more domestic life.

That tranquility is shattered when Max learns that Marianne may actually be an undercover Nazi spy.

There was a time when the romance displayed on the movie screen was so palpable, moviegoers believed the actors were truly in love. While that might not be the case here, there are clear parallels drawn between being an actor and being a spy, another job in which you must pretend to be someone you’re not. The fact that Pitt is in the midst of a divorce off-screen will probably have some viewers reading into the chemistry of the leads in “Allied” during the love scenes.

The Casablanca section of the movie is just fine, a slow burner that gives us some idea what their characters are capable of, but things get far more interesting once Max needs to track down the truth about his beloved wife and mother of his child. Lizzy Caplan has a small role as Max’s lesbian sister, but she, like the rest of the supporting cast, tends to get overshadowed by the film’s two leads.

What happen with the showcases Natalie Portman

“Jackie” is a profile in courage.

Its hero doesn’t carry a gun. She isn’t even in uniform — unless you count the pink suit and pillbox hat.

But she does wage a war, for her husband’s legacy, and to hasten her country’s healing in the aftermath of his death.

Natalie Portman stars as Jackie Kennedy in a film that looks at the worst four days in her life — from a Friday in Dallas that ends with her cradling her dying husband, to a Monday in Washington that begins with his funeral procession.

Portman’s been a committed, in-the-moment actress since she was a skinny kid running after “Leon: The Professional” but “Jackie” is an accomplishment on the Oscar-winning order of “Black Swan.” She gets the former First Lady’s breathy voice, her quiet style — and ever-present, barely-held-in-check nervousness.

And Pablo Larrain’s movie shows just what the real Jackie Kennedy had to deal with that November — a new President itchy to take over, powerful in-laws who had their own idea on how to grieve and a nation that didn’t know what would come next.

And so Jackie shows them — by crying in private, holding her head high in public and gently, firmly, bringing us all along with her on that long walk to Arlington National Cemetery.

As expert as Portman is, the rest of the cast settles for approximations. Peter Sarsgaard gets some of Bobby Kennedy’s feistiness, but he doesn’t really sound or look like him. If someone didn’t call him by name, you’d never guess that John Carroll Lynch was supposed to be playing LBJ.

Better is Billy Crudup, playing a journalist who, weeks later, has gone to Jackie Kennedy for “the truth.” Except she knows what the nation needs is a myth. And while she’s reluctant to talk about the assassination itself (which the film eventually recreates, in gruesome detail) she is intent on beginning the legend of Camelot.

The perfectly exact White House sets help her do that here, while Mica Levi’s throbbing orchestral score adds the proper funereal tone. And whenever the movie begins to falter — it cuts, sometimes confusingly, among at least three different timelines — Portman pulls it back together, and sets it back on course.

Which, of course, is what Jackie herself did for an entire country — all those impossibly distant, different years ago.

Marks upcoming auteur to behold on movie reviews

Halloween may be behind us, but those still looking for jarringly disturbing filmmaking should appreciate Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut.

Shot completely in black and white, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca, a young girl living in seclusion on a remote farm with her eye surgeon mother and farmer father. After her mother is murdered by an armed stranger, Francisca (Olivia Bond) is left alone with her father (Paul Nazak), who chains his wife’s murderer in the barn. After her father dies, Francisca keeps his corpse around for company, making it obvious that seeing her mother’s murder has left Francisca quite disturbed.

Told in three distinct sections, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca as she grows up and takes up her own hobbies — like doing unspeakable things to that stranger in the barn.

Kika Magalhaes, who plays the older version of Francisca, is quite an amazing find. The camera is captivated by her, whether she is doing mundane things or randomly murdering anyone who follows her home. The tone and delivery of her scarce dialogue is quite distinct.

Certainly, parallels can be drawn between Pesce’s film and horror classics from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” The opening scene of a woman running across a deserted highway draws immediate comparisons to the low budget classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — but this is a slower and more brooding piece of filmmaking.

In some ways, Pesce’s film is often more disturbing for what it doesn’t show than what it does, with the last act probably the hardest to watch.

Even if you hate the movie’s premise or the way it’s executed, you have to give some credit to the brilliantly stark cinematography by Zach Kuperstein and the captivating score by Ariel Loh, both of which keep the viewer on edge.

New Coming Beatty and Howard Hughes

Warren Beatty has been dreaming of making “Rules Don’t Apply,” his Howard Hughes project, for decades. Because of both his status as a Hollywood icon and his involvement with one of the most expensive film flops ever, “Ishtar,” Beatty’s project had assumed the whispers of legend before a frame was shot.

The story follows aerospace billionaire Hughes and certain key members of his entourage during some of his later years when he became a reclusive and odd figure, an object to this day of speculation. What was going on with Howard Hughes? “Rules Don’t Apply” offers a potential answer.

That Beatty started working with his actors years ago shows onscreen in subtle ways: such as how Hughes driver Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich, becomes comfortable in his relationship and proximity to Hughes, a feeling one can imagine a young actor reaching only after spending ample bonding time with Beatty.

Beatty and the billionaire do an almost quantum shift — turning the act of watching the film into a brain twister in which one tries to both watch Beatty playing Hughes and sink fully into the story. But then you think: that’s Beatty and he’s playing Hughes with such aplomb, he’s clearly enjoying this.

One wonders: does the Hughes of “Rules Don’t Apply” resemble the real Hughes? If so and even if not, Beatty’s choices as an actor, his adoption of a bunch of ticks to reveal his take on the recluse, are rather delightful. You get to know this guy, how he reacts to stuff, and what is likely going on inside his odd brain.

Sure, the proceedings are a bit bombastic at times. The conjuring of mid-century Los Angeles mirrors the surface content of what is either the main plot or a big subplot, watching the repression of sexuality as it plays out in two young adults. On the surface the city is sunny and pastel, as are the easy demeanors of the pair with their church-going and mealtime graces. But underneath it all, there is desire and desperate dreams and a clawing to have what the successful people have.

She’s a contract actress pushing for her big break; he’s hired by Hughe’s people — two of them played by Martin Sheen and Matthew Broderick — to drive her around. But he seeks an audience with Hughes to cajole him into a real estate deal. This being L.A. real estate, you have a pretty good idea that buying a whole bunch of acreage to build affordable houses in the 1950s is a pretty good idea, so you know Frank’s not unsharp and that helps you like him. Will the two young’uns fight through obstacles and end up together?