Saturday, May 27, 2017

Movie Reviews: Allied, The Bye Bye Man

directed by Robert Zemeckis
Prizzi's Honor set in World War Two. Reminiscent of classic films.
In the film Prizzi's Honor, Charlie Partanna, the melancholic underboss and top hitman for the Prizzi Family, makes the mistake of falling in love with a woman who is like him, a thief and murderer. They get married. But the Family discovers that its interests and the wife's interests do not coincide. The Family boss and his oldest friend, Charlie's father, order Charlie to do the unthinkable. Similar to that movie, Allied imagines that two WW2 undercover operatives marry but find that the affairs of the heart are subordinated to state affairs. With the exception of a blink and you'll miss it side glance of a Cotillard breast and a brief showing of Pitt's bottom, this movie would have fit well in smoothly with 40s and 50s classic Hollywood films. Everyone, most especially Pitt and Cotillard, is dressed to impress. The dialogue is rich if not especially snappy. Cotillard has the meatier role. Pitt, while not exactly the film's straight man, is in a position where he has to react more to events than actually be the hero who makes things happen. No knock on Pitt. It's just that the story requires that he's usually one step behind things. This movie is not too violent but the violence that does take place is emotionally real. 

Allied is worlds apart from Pitt's over the top performance in Inglorious Basterds but here, as there, familiarity with language or customs that only a native speaker possesses can be the difference between life and death.  A non-American might not know or care about the differences among US accents and cadences. However, if you claim to be from Peoria but speak English with a Charleston, South Carolina accent, an American will notice immediately. If you lie about your origins what other deception might you attempt? 

Speaking of deception, Allied successfully illustrates how difficult it can be for married people to deceive each other, particularly if they've been together for a while. People who love each other and live together fall into a rhythm. Husbands and wives often notice any variation from that rhythm. This is doubly the case when both people have made it their life's work to pick up on small anomalies while practicing their own duplicity. Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is a Canadian Air Force intelligence/special forces officer. His group has sent Max to Vichy controlled Casablanca, Morocco to assassinate the German Ambassador. Max's local handler and associate is Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). Marianne is a beautiful French Resistance operative who fled Paris after her cell was destroyed. A glamorous fixture on the local Casablanca night life scene, Marianne has remarkable access to all the top places where the German and Vichy muckety-mucks hang out. She can get Max, who will play her Parisian chemist husband, inside to a German diplomatic dinner, where they will kill the ambassador.

Marianne is disdainful of Max's French while Max wonders why Marianne doesn't have the weapons knowledge he thought she would have. The two find themselves attracted to each other despite each knowing and saying that falling in love with a fellow operative is not only predictable but also dangerous.

The film's quintessential and most engrossing scene finds the couple surrendering to their feelings for each other in a car during a sandstorm. The scene is erotic, disturbing, symbolic, dangerous and isolating all at once. Max is not a love em and leave em type of fellow. Life is short. He knows real love when he sees it. After the mission Max pulls strings to bring Marianne back to England. They marry. Roughly a year later Marianne gives birth to their daughter. Everything is coming up roses for Max and Marianne. But good times never last. Shortly before D-Day Max meets with his superior officer and an acerbic fellow who outranks them both. Someone has breached British-Canadian intelligence. The stolen information in German files is intelligence to which Max had access. Word on the street is that Marianne is not who she says she is. Special Operations orders Max to receive some fake information and be sure to let Marianne see it. In 72 hrs Special Operations will know if the Germans have this info. If the Germans do then that is proof that Marianne is the leak. 

If Marianne is the leak, Special Operations will order Max to kill Marianne. If Max refuses that order, attempts to flee with Marianne or warns her in any way then he too can dance at the end of the hangman's rope along with his wife. This is war. Special Operations isn't playing. Like Charlie Partanna in Prizzi's Honor, Max took an oath.

Could you return to your special rider knowing that you might have to kill them in 72 hrs? Wouldn't you try to prove their innocence? Would you look at them differently? When you love someone shouldn't it be the two of you against the outside world no matter what? Allied was an entertaining and romantic war thriller that will ask you a few questions about the meaning of love. Isn't love supposed to mean the death of duty, to paraphrase a Game of Thrones character? I mean it's right there in the marriage vows right? Forsaking all others. Right or wrong, if someone has a problem with your better half, they have a problem with you. Isn't it monstrous to destroy a marriage for duty? But perhaps some duty is all encompassing and comes before everything, including romantic or familial love. What do humans do when those ideals come into conflict? In Allied's final section Pitt portrays the anguish of a man who's no longer sure of his job or his wife. But Cotillard masterfully doesn't let the viewer (or Max) know just what she's doing until the very end. So much of her acting is wordless. Marianne told Max that the strongest deceptions always have a bit of truth at their core. Each spouse will remember that.

The pacing was a little drawn out for my tastes but I guess the director wanted to show Max and Marianne falling in love. I think that might have been better shown in flashback. Solid film, not great but solid. Definitely check this one out.

The Bye Bye Man
directed by Stacy Title
Its best parts are mediocre but overall it's just crappy.
There is a long tradition in horror stories of evil that can not be named for fear of invoking it. The first thing that comes to my mind is Candyman but watch any classic Hammer vampire film from the fifties or sixties to see how the ubiquitous superstitious local peasants react anytime someone says "Dracula" or "Vampires" for a perhaps unintentionally comedic version of this trope. There is also a long tradition in horror films of young sexually active people doing stupid things and winding up dead. And lastly there is a long tradition in horror films of better known "name" actors taking roles for quick cash or for deliberate camp or just to keep their name out there. The Bye Bye Man combines all of these tropes to make a film that could have been cheap cheesy fun but instead was just unsightly rancid mold. Back in the sixties a man kills a whole bunch of people and then himself after demanding to know if they had said the name or told anyone about the name. Fast forward to the present day. 

Heterosexual life partners and college students Elliot (Douglas Smith) and John (Lucien Lavsicount) are set to rent an old off-campus house together with Elliot's girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas). Elliot and John are as close as peanut butter and jelly, having grown up together. All the same Elliot can't help but occasionally wonder if John and Sasha might have googly eyes for each other. Why does he think that you ask?

It's probably watching Sasha grind her bottom into John's crotch at a party that first aroused Elliot's suspicions. Not much gets past old Elliot you see. Two's company but three's a crowd unless you have a really interesting private life. One might wonder then why you'd want your best friend and your girlfriend living together with you but that would make too much sense. And this movie isn't about making sense. In the home Elliot has strange dreams. He finds a nightstand drawer lined with the warning "Don't say it, don't think it." And underneath the lining is carved "The Bye Bye Man". Obviously Elliot says the name and starts thinking it. The resident Goth girl Kim (Jenna Kannell) does a seance to cleanse the house and also says the name. In fact John and Sasha say the name too. More weirdness happens and before long all of the characters learn that the titular character (Doug Jones) is coming for them. They hallucinate and experience suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Elliot goes to the library to do some research. Wash, rinse, repeat. The special effects were uninspired. The story was pretty lame.

Noted actresses Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss show up but don't really give this film any more gravitas. The acting, even by horror movie standards, was bad. The actor and actress playing John and Sasha are English. From time to time their real accents show. The frights were minimal. This is something that tightened up could have been average. As it was, it was a waste of time.
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