brad pitt

Review – Allied

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Review – Allied

By guest columnist Narrator26.

This week saw Robert Zemeckis’ Allied land to mixed reviews from both critics and audiences alike. Considering the highly impressive and hugely influential CV of the underrated Oscar-winner, this return must be considered a disappointment as I, too, found Allied to be a missed opportunity.

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‘Fight Club’ Star Rumored to Portray Lead In Red Dead Redemption Film

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‘Fight Club’ Star Rumored to Portray Lead In Red Dead Redemption Film

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest games of this year is set to get a Hollywood film adaptation. The epic western, Red Dead Redemption will be hitting the big screen and according to rumors, one actor is already a favorite to play the lead role of John Marston. Jump past the break to find out who.

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Inglourious Basterds

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I was nervous about seeing Inglourious Basterds because of late, director Quentin Tarantino has been kind of a turn off for me; also the preview looked more violent than even my desensitized action-movie-loving self could stomach. I was pleasantly surprised by a 97% mature, solid, suspenseful, respectful, artistic movie. I’ll go ahead and complain about the 3%, all of which typifies what Tarantino has been doing to keep me away from his movies. He employed his pre-post-ironic random font party titles, metacommentary, severely anachronistic music (no matter how legitimately awesome David Bowie’s Cat People is), and disabled my ability to focus on a key scene with one incredibly distracting casting choice. No, not B.J. Novak (The Office) — Mike Meyers. Now, Mike was great (so was B.J.), and I am glad to see him try his hand at straight acting, but his eyes still sought approval in every take so I still have no idea what that scene was about.

Now: for the rest of it. We’ve seen enough World War II movies to the point that it really is its own genre, with its own shorthand visual language and even clichés. Tarantino pulls out a strong, tension-filled WWII movie and drapes it over a full-on alternative universe revenge fantasy nearly as over the top as Kill Bill, but with — I have to say it — a ton more class. Tarantino keeps his coolness factor up by casting the always naturally hilarious Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, the backwoods leader of the titular American vigilante group. They kill Nazis, and one must confess, they do it with a style designed to grow their reputation from infamous to legendary. Showmanship was a major skill of the Third Reich, and the Basterds in their own hardscrabble way are fighting fire with fire.

And then there is the delectable Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. This guy is an amazing and wonderful oozer of charisma, menace, and sociopathic charm. From his first scene, in a farmhouse in France, to his last (I won’t say where), Waltz is a riveting character and a sublime bit of casting. He’s as unpredictable as the weather, and twice as deadly. It’s a delicious and ironic contrast to see his urbane smoothness contrasted with our good guys’ rough, ignorant crassness. Young Nazi wunderkind Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) is well cast too, his face balancing boy-next-door with serpentine.

The plot does not, as the previews would suggest, center around the pillaging exploits of the Basterds, to my relief. Instead we have a confluence of a Jewish cinema owner, a Nazi hero infatuated with her, a British infiltration, and a film premiere. Chapter three is a web of agendas crashing together in an exciting and suspenseful climax. It tickles you and terrifies you in turns. Melanie Laurent is wonderful as the cineaste whose humble venue becomes the epicenter of all the plots of the film.

I was surprised and pleased to be so surprised and pleased by this violent, sophisticated, tremulous, funny movie. It is none of these things alone but a heady mix of all four. One forgets, with all the French and German over 153 minutes, that you’re watching a Hollywood movie at all — until a trademark Tarantinoism pops in to remind you. It’s good.

MPAA Rating R- strong graphic violence, language, & brief sexuality

Release date 8/21/09

Time in minutes 153

Director Quentin Tarantino

Studio Weinstein Company

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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This is one of those movies I saw the preview for and decided on the spot that I was not at all interested, like I was with Million Dollar Baby. Then, like Million, it got two zillion awards nominations and I know I have to see it now. I dragged my companion, who is probably less inclined to see the movie than myself, and hoped for the best. Well, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button is no Million Dollar Baby. Million pulled out a wonderful movie in front of my cranky, disbelieving, unwilling eyes, and it stands the test of time. This movie feels forced and fake and, like Forest Gump, one to be over-lauded and then seen for what it is only too late. When did David Fincher (Zodiac, Se7en, Alien 3) become Ron Howard (Ransom, A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code)? No disrespect to Howard, he’s a workman of his craft — and I loved Frost/Nixon — but he’s always come down on the gentle side of dramatic, whereas Fincher is an envelope pushing, dark-side cruising artist. Normally.

The repellant premise of Benjamin Button is that he was born old and ages backwards through linear time, so he grows younger as everyone around him wrinkles and sags and withers. Now, we can forgive the biological explanations of “age” versus “youth” and the law of conservation of mass — this is a movie, after all, based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, and we suspend such Scroogery for the emotional metaphor such an idea should achieve. However, the real issue I had with the story was that time should teach us things, not reward our youthful foolishness with new reservoirs of potential and health and sexy vitality. Talk about a Hollywood fantasy! The lessons learned by the people in his life are more along the lines of “live a life you’ll be proud of,” and “it’s never too late to be what you might have been,” which doesn’t much address the counterclockwise life they touch, and is actually kind of deflated by Benjamin’s journey.

While an entire life (served up in over two and a half hours; you feel every minute) is a story, it’s not always a narrative, and this film suffers for that. It seems as though the story were longer than a novel, so stuffed is the film with tangential side characters. He himself floats through like a big squawking Metaphor while the people around him actually have stories. It was interesting to see people treat child-Benjamin as the wellspring of wisdom he outwardly resembled. It would have been interesting to have been let inside his experience — which, despite him narrating the freaking thing, somehow did not occur. I applaud the fantastic special effects employed to allow Brad to play himself as any age not actually in diapers. The use of an actor’s face on another’s body has always been awkward and obvious in the past, but here it’s perfect.

Cate Blanchett actually carried most of the acting burden in this film — all Brad Pitt had to do was wonder at the world around him and grow gradually more handsome. She shares the load with Taraji P. Henson (Queenie) and they make the film survivable. The old man who got struck by lightning was a welcome respite from the over-earnestness of the rest of the film. Sure, I cried at the end. I’m not a robot. But I cry at cat food commercials if they punch the right button. I was not having the “thank goodness I forced myself to see this” experience, but more of the mid-film backlash like I did with Forrest Gump. Looking at the filmographies of screenwriters Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, it’s not surprising. I cried at Forrest Gump too, and I roll my eyes at its overratedness now. I’m sorry, I just can’t get on the Button train. I wish I could have obeyed my instincts and stayed home.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/25/08
Time in minutes 159
Director David Fincher
Studio Paramount/Warner Brothers

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Mr. And Mrs. Smith (2005)

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Oh, this should have been funnier. With Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) at the helm, and two actors who can actually pull off supernatural bad-assness with a certain believability (at least one of which is a proven funny guy), this movie could have been a riot. Instead, it was a weird amalgam of very funny moments, such as when the Smiths are in therapy, and aggressively pointed Action with a capital A. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, when the mix gels. Here, however, we have two superstars trying to be cool, beautiful, funny, and play up the story.

Someone pointed out that all the hype surrounding Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s personal lives makes you watch the chemistry and not the story, but what I noticed is that the movie is all chemistry and not a lot of story – always a lull right after a major plot point. It’s enough chemistry that Jennifer Aniston will never be old enough to watch this movie without getting a spontaneous ulcer. Does the chemistry build into comedy? No. Does it make the action more exciting? Occasionally. Mostly the best parts are watching them do their independent things in such different ways, and then waiting out the lulls while the plot readjusts to new information.

It should not be a shock to anyone who has seen the preview to reveal that they are both spies or assassins or both, and they don’t know that the other person is. Later, they find out. The story ambles sure-footedly through each event episodically and not particularly interestingly. It is necessary to appreciate the entire movie to know their secrets going in; yet it takes nearly all of the surviving bite out of the film when the reveal happens. Instead of the exciting “now what!” that drives all action-adventures, it becomes more of an exercise in waiting for them to get past this phase and to the next one, whatever it may be. The dramatic irony of the pre-reveal is exciting to us. How will they figure it out? How can they keep this secret so well?

All that tension is lost, and instead we are watching two beautiful zillionaires take aim at each other and ruin their impeccably production-designed home. The action sequences are fun, and the episodes have their own charms; little vignettes of any spy movie you care to think of, ending with a perfectly executed job. Pitt shines the most when he is having fun; Jolie shines most when she gets to suck all the attention in the room into her lips. It’s sort of like the biggest budget black box 2 person play in the world, but sadly, written by the guy who wrote XXX: State of the Union and not say, Neil Labute. Labute could have made this movie sing. Indeed, so could have Jon Favreau (writer and star of Swingers).

It’s uneven, but it’s enjoyable. It’s disposable fun, like a Wetzel dog in the mall before dinner. For your double feature, see this before Batman Begins.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/10/05
Time in minutes 115
Director Doug Liman
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Troy

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Thank goodness I had not read the Iliad before I saw this film. (And no, I am not so much of a smartypants that I read it after, either). Had I been more familiar with the source material – “source” in that the names and locations are very similar – I would have been furious and bored, instead of just bored.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The film has gobs of hot male nudity, with three distinct levels of hunkiness to choose from, and practically no female nudity. The costumes are stunning, fantastic, amazing. The crowd scenes, even knowing there has to be some CG supplementation, still look pretty convincing. OK, some of the sets were cool too.
Um…yep, that’s it.

While I find pre-gunpowder battle generally more interesting to watch, both in terms of manner of combat but also in the choreography of huge crowds, I still was bored out of my flippin’ mind. “Bored? But there are all these big, epic battles, with swords and clanging and…?” Yep. Not to beat a dead Trojan horse, but they all looked Greek to me and it was impossible to care when every side had a pretty good point about why they should be victorious. This should have lead to a complex morality play about which sin is the bigger and the proportionality of war – had Robert McNamara been there I have no doubt it would have been a more interesting film. Instead it led to the kind of stubborn posturing, fighting, personal torture, and unpleasantness which frankly we can all get on the news for free these days. Of course, on Fox News we don’t get to gape for long minutes at a time at Brad Pitt’s inguinal area, but then again, we could just rent Fight Club for that.

James Horner’s pushy score and the muddled and confusing politics were at odds – pushing me to care, pulling me to analyze. The underlying themes were not love or homeland or doing the right thing, but rather being remembered long after you are gone. Well, we’ve heard of lots of people from long ago, like Hitler and Tutu – let’s try to have something a little more appealing to the audience as a driving motivation, shall we, or at least learn from having such superficial goals. The weird semi-accents, trying for an epic, serious-movie vibe, belied the haphazard writing and moldy dialogue.

Achilles, as you will not learn from the movie, was the son of a goddess and a mortal man, who was dipped in the waters of invincibility, but where they held on to him for the dipping he remained vulnerable. This is important, but not addressed. I tell you know because most people, if they can even spell Achilles, seem to only know the body part, and the movie won’t clear that up for you. And the obvious solution of finding peace through the clearly popular concept of intermarrying the royal families seems to have eluded our Mediterranean ancestors. Instead, we watch stubborn kings and warriors pit their fighter drones against each other and rock the cradle of democracy. And it’s not very interesting at all.

Diane Kruger plays Helen of Troy, aka the face that literally launched a thousand ships to go to war and kill thousands of men. This lovely Teutonic lass is not exactly horrific to look at, but she is no Helen of Troy. Michelle Pfeiffer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Catherine Deneuve, Isabella Rossellini, these women are true sirens (albeit too old for the part) who could believably inspire men to commit treason and do all kinds of crazy things. But dear Ms. Kruger pales beside her would-be sister-in-law Saffron Burrows. It’s not just bone structure (and modern makeup), it’s presence, it’s ditching the Valley accent for something more elegant. Would you go to war against a country with whom you had just allied yourself for Leelee Sobieski?

It’s got some good visuals, so find a friend with a big TV and HBO and watch it then – you can talk during the battle sequences.

MPAA Rating R -graphic violence & some sexuality/nudity
Release date 5/14/04
Time in minutes 162
Director Wolfgang Petersen
Studio Warner Brothers

Ocean's 11 (2001)

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With such a winsome cast, how could a remake of a dreary Rat Pack hoke-fest be anything less extraordinary than decent? Well, apparently by letting Ted Griffin (Ravenous) adapt the 1960 screenplay, and letting Steven Soderbergh direct it. Yes, THAT Steven Soderbergh, formerly of the forgettable Gray’s Anatomy and The Underneath and recently Oscar bait from Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Can you imagine? I even liked Ravenous, except for the horrible music. I know Ocean’s 11 didn’t make an impression on me when I had to struggle to remember that I saw it a week before I started writing. I will admit, this is the first time I have ever found Brad Pitt sexy, which may surprise some of you. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that Brad is usually either playing “sexy” or “a good actor,” with occasional and welcome forays into “funny guy next door,” and, like Bruce Willis (hair=bad, bald=good), one can predict his performance just by watching the preview. But I squibble. Brad was perfectly fine, as were Julia, George, Don…

Here’s a clue – I had to check the IMDB just to recall who else was in the movie. Oh yeah, huge star Matt Damon, cultish star Casey Affleck, and old warhorse Carl Reiner. It was frustrating not to be impressed, it was annoying to only occasionally be engaged, and it was not refreshing to see another movie shot in Vegas about Vegas and about stealing. Obviously, it was far better than 3000 Miles To Graceland, but only because it was never really insulting. And Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner were nowhere in sight.

I like a heist movie, especially one with sexy people doing pretty complex and daring things in interesting locations, but I do want to think that they pulled it off with their brains and skills, not just an astounding Vegas-style run of super-luck. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s not unlike the infamous Powerbook interfacing with the Independence Day aliens kind of run of luck. So, there you have it. It’s merely OK, but it is completely watchable, and equally forgettable.

George Clooney is the titular Ocean, who assembles a crew of (guess how many) to rob some casinos. It’s a big deal, and the actors by and large seem to have a great sense of fun together on screen. The fun only filters off the screen and into the audience a little bit – we are too involved in checking to see who has the best hair to really get into the characters, and the plot certainly doesn’t give us many opportunities to sweat nervously. This is disappointing. It has also been excruciating to attempt to say much about what should have been the star power explosion of the year. I mean, my god, look at all these sexy people, conventional and unconventional. Look at Elliot Gould, for goodness sakes, and a severely Britishized Don Cheadle. This is an odd choice but I have to say, it made the film infinitely more interesting. As the weeks pass I find that his lines and Julia Roberts’ outfits are about all I have taken away as memories of that movie.

Why they chose to remake the cheesy genesis of the Rat Pack, a slightly dated notion of Vegas as a city of hope and wonder, I will never know. It is nice that no one sang this time, however. That would have been too much for too little.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/7/01
Time in minutes 117
Director Steven Soderbergh
Studio Warner Brothers

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Snatch

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If you have not seen writer/director Guy Ritchie’s former film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is lots of style, lots of nouveau-Pulp Fiction cum Trainspotting style and Clockwork Orange men-oriented ultraviolence with touches of absurdity to make it go down more smoothly. Snatch follows the same lines, but with somewhat less brutality, more absurdity, and Brad Pitt doing a wicked accurate gypsy accent. This is not to say that Snatch is not an entertaining film – it is entertaining, it is amusing, and it is full of surprises. However, Snatch is also rather like Chinese food. Tastes great, but no sense memory afterward. I am giving this movie a lower rating than I gave Lock Stock even though I actually enjoyed Snatch more. This inconsistency will surely be noted by my friendly detractors (KS), but I have decided I like these films less than I initially was seduced into thinking I liked them.

A zillion characters parade about in Snatch, each trying to out-leverage the other and get the prize – though some of the stories seem utterly unrelated despite their intimacy within the story. I hardly took a note, so involved was I while watching it, but it was a thin slice of pure entertainment – I am even struggling now for something to say. Please note the padding to make the minimum 450 word review length. This, to me, is not the sign of a fine film – or an awful one. I recalled thinking, a while afterward, that Lock Stock was very funny, but upon rerenting it, discovered it was really more the laughter that you have when you don’t quite believe something – when a huge, complex tidal wave of happenstance bears down into a sharp point, you laugh in nervous amazement, and (I felt, at least) sheer delight that somehow the screenwriter was able to tie it all together. Snatch ties together less neatly, but inserts more genuine (though thin) humor to make up for it. Less stories are juggled, less onscreen violence, and some yuks improve Snatch as a sort-of action movie, sort-of drama, but it is the same non-genre that Trainspotting and Reservoir Dogs belong to.

The humor being more of the self-deprecating British punk humor than the you-deprecating Yank humor, and the attendant darkness behind all crime-humor gives Snatch it’s charm. I liked it, but I doubt I would see it again. Four hundred and six words, and what can I say? It looks cool, but not innovative. It is amusing, but not lasting. It’s better than a music video, it has a genuine, involved story, but it’s just paper thin. Like this review – no substance.

MPAA Rating R -strong violence language nudity.
Release date 1/19/01
Time in minutes 103
Director Guy Ritchie
Studio Screen Gems

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Fight Club

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Like other David Fincher films (Seven, Alien 3), Fight Club is brutal, grungy, has a gear shift that coincides with a brief lull before an intense climax, and explains too well how to do various forms of mischief; Fincher’s Guide to Young Felons. After seeing this movie, which we universally agreed was “good,” my companions and I wondered what demographic this movie was skewed for? Collectively we decided it was disillusioned Gen X malcontents in the third stage of desensitization to violence; this covered why we enjoyed it, at least. The beginning is overly stylish, swooping, invasive camera work, sucking you in, and then it takes off and becomes a pretty standard looking movie with occasional camera winks and nods (some of which get explained in a brief, Ferris Bueller as Hunter S. Thompson-esque direct narration to the audience) and nutty content. The “normal” world has more showy camera tricks, and the insane later sections of the film look normal. Maybe this is on purpose, but maybe not.

Pointed dialogue treats us to a moderately goofy plot element but some great one-liners, razor sharp bitterness and hair-pullingly jolting scenes. I don’t know a cube drudge alive who won’t respond to this movie on some level or another, in morbid fascination of the shock value mixed with corporate drone destructo fantasy. Imagine if the printer mauling scene from Office Space was directed by Quentin Tarantino – it is only comparable to QT in the glee it takes in the physical release of violence. Brutality is not so much glorified as elevated to a kind of spiritual performance art. Plenty of moments where your only verbal response to what is on screen is, well, the F word. “Oh my god” doesn’t even cut it. Fight Club, like the club itself, is not for everyone. It will keep most people riveted or revolted; intrigued or insecure, 95% of the time, and it’s interesting to dissect afterward. It is no Sixth Sense of post-viewing “oh YEAH I get it” but there are rewards to be gleaned from paying attention and then thinking about it afterward.

Brad Pitt is almost at his 12 Monkeys fever pitch but much cooler and more controlled, dressed in a Buffalo Exchange thrift store mish mosh that somehow makes him look more dangerous than slovenly. Ed Norton is interesting – before he slides into his relationship with Pitt, he is a young American everyman – a real Willy Loman. Helena Bonham Carter, while looking like a crack-addled homeless club kid, still manages to look sexy and vulnerable under her disheveled bitchiness. Sometimes. The movie is chock full of decaying and disheveled people and places, not to mention about a zillion squibs (blood packets). But my god, that money shot when Pitt stands up after one fight. Guys, you get to see Helena’s bubbies too.

Fight Club is very interesting but kind of feels a little hollow afterward, not unlike Seven, and very much unlike Sixth Sense. It is definitely worth seeing, but be forewarned it is not for everyone.

MPAA Rating R-violent anti-social behavior, sexuality &language.
Release date 10/15/99
Time in minutes 140
Director David Fincher
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Devil's Own

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Two superstars. A lengthy politically charged plot about IRA terrorists and their human side. Two hours of excellent performances and deep character development. If you don’t know anything about the IRA, you won’t learn anything. Harrison Ford looks ready to pass the marquee stud boy mantle along to Brad Pitt, but then he leaps in and is a great hero like he always is.

I took a while deciding what I thought about this movie, because it was interesting, but at the same time, I didn’t walk away with anything. My butt was sore and I needed to go to the bathroom, but I am glad I saw it.

Some of you may have heard press on interstellar tensions on the set between Ford and Pitt, but on screen they have great chemistry. It’s fairly violent, and some of the Irish accents can get pretty deep if you aren’t used to hearing them. Some folks I have talked to (who might know better, I don’t know) said that they head Brad’s accent was in and out. I thought it was very consistent and fit him well.

This is a much shorter review because it’s one of those movies I just don’t know how I feel about. It’s definitely not a waste of time, but if you have to choose between this and something else (like Sling Blade!) maybe you could rent this later. It will not lose anything but noise and power to the small screen, but it does merit a matinee viewing.

It does not suck, it just doesn’t stick. Like Chinese Food.

MPAA Rating R for strong brutal violence, and for language.
Release date 4/8/97
Time in minutes 110
Director Alan J. Pakula
Studio Columbia Tristar