Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Film Review: "Allied" (2016).

"Deception is an art. Truth is a test. Is love a lie?" This is Allied. This war film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight. The film follows Max Vatan and Marianne BeausĂ©jour who are World War II operatives who never reveal their true identities. After falling in love during a risky mission, they hope to leave all that double-dealing behind them and start new lives. Instead, suspicion and danger envelop their marriage as both husband and wife become pitted against each other in an escalating, potentially lethal test that has global consequences.

In early February 2015, Paramount Pictures and New Regency announced that Robert Zemeckis was to direct an untitled World War II romantic thriller, in which Brad Pitt would star and Steven Knight to pen the script. In early June 2015, Marion Cotillard was cast to play a spy along with Pitt, who fall in love during a mission to kill a German official. In August 2015, Knight said that the film would be based on a true story told to him at the age of twenty-one, and also that the shooting would start in January 2016. By February 2016, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Anton Lesser, August Diehl, Charlotte Hope, and Raffey Cassidy. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late May. Filming took place in London, England and Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. For the film's costumes, Casablanca (1942) and Now, Voyager (1942) were the inspirations, in terms of how they combined both simplicity and beauty.

The film stars Pitt, Cotillard, Harris, Goode, McBurney, Caplan, Lesser, Diehl, Hope, and Cassidy. This cast, especially Pitt and Cotillard, almost made the film watchable. It's just that the script and direction didn't do them much favours. There's a certain distance with which you view the characters, the involvement is not such that they stay with you after the film. We didn't really get heroes, not even flawed ones. Pitt, our marquee man, chases through numbing plot contortions only because of his lust for Cotillard's Marianne. By the time the film ended, I had barely a clue if the good ones had lived or died.

A beautifully flawed experiment, Allied is an entertaining if unbalanced war drama that places modern cinema mores on a classic style of American film when the Hayes code would never have allowed such overt sexual reality. The film is a movie wonk's triumph and no one else's. Zemeckis gets the visuals right but not the clean storytelling line of classic cinema, nor the iconic characters or moral certainty of the oldies. It is a homage to the romantic war films of the 1930s and 40s, a tribute that tries hard but, alas, misses the mark. While admirable as an example of directorial innovation and homage, the film fails to connect on a basic emotional level. Allied is the bad movie. Except for the ambience - the look of the film - it stumbles awkwardly on every level.

Simon says Allied receives:

Also, see my review for The Walk.

Film Review: "The Neon Demon" (2016).

"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing." This is what it takes to be in the world of The Neon Demon. This psychological horror film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Refn. When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

Originally working on a project entitled I Walk With the Dead, that would have starred Carey Mulligan as the lead, with Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn decided to develop a psychological horror script about the modelling world in Los Angeles instead. Inspired by Elizabeth Báthory, the film would mark the first female-led film directed by Refn. In November 2014, Refn's production company Space Rocket Nation alongside its co-financiers Gaumont Film Company and Wild Bunch announced that Refn's next film would be titled The Neon Demon, to be filmed in Los Angeles in early 2015. Mulligan later dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. Refn then approached Elle Fanning to replace Mulligan. In January 2015, Fanning joined the film, and helped Refn with revisions of the female characters' dialogue in order to make it sound more authentic. Refn made Elle Fanning watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) for her preparation. In the same month, Abbey Lee Kershaw was added to the cast. In February, more cast was added to the film, including Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote. In March 2015, Karl Glusman and Desmond Harrington were added to the cast. Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles in March. The film marks Refn's second feature film shot in Los Angeles. The film was shot in chronological order, and the ending was created and improvised on-set. Abbey Lee served as a unofficial advisor for the film, regarding details about the fashion world. Lee gave Refn intel about how an audition for models would play out, down to the things that the casting directors would have on their table. Lee also taught Fanning how to do a proper catwalk as a professional model would do. Fanning, Malone, Heathcote, and Lee had to endure a lot of fake movie blood during production, even having to taste a portion of it. The crew made it taste like syrup, in order to make it more pleasing for the performers. In November 2015, Amazon Studios acquired the distribution rights to the film.

The film stars Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves. The cast gave abysmal performances where the film's characters are non-people; the things they say to each other are non-conversations, the events they enact are non-drama.

Director Refn remains as visually stylish as ever, but The Neon Demon fails to add enough narrative smarts or relatable characters to ground its beautifully filmed depravity. The film is an abstruse, neon-dunked nightmare that spits in the face of coherence and flicks at the earlobes of good taste.

Simon says The Neon Demon receives:

Also, see my review for Only God Forgives.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

U.S. Trip: Los Angeles - Day 8

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favourite directors. So to find out there was a LACMA exhibition on his work during my time in LA, it was a no brainer for my eighth day.

Del Toro is indeed one of the most imaginative directors of his generation who is sadly not making enough movies that he should. Known for his imaginative worlds and out-of-this-world monsters, del Toro is one of, if not, the leading directors of horror and fantasy. In his filmmaking career, del Toro has alternated between Spanish-language dark fantasy pieces, such as The Devil's Backbone (2001), and Pan's Labyrinth (2006), and more mainstream Hollywood fair such as Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and Pacific Rim (2013).