Brad Pitt


As a self-professed cinephile, I try to be a student of film. Admittedly I’m not as well versed in the finer points of film history and avant-garde genres as some others, though I pride myself on at least knowing the masters, from Kurosawa to Kubrick. Moreover, I try to view the classics such as Citizen Kane and Casablanca (I enjoyed the latter more than the former). The films of yesteryear give a glimpse of the glamor of Old Hollywood, replete with dashing leading men and captivating leading women. Allied harkens back to that golden era in its stars Brad Pitt (The Big Short) and Marion Cotillard (Macbeth), two spies who fall in love amidst the danger and turmoil of World War II.

Pitt stars as intelligence officer Max Vatan, whom we first meet parachuting into the middle of the Moroccan desert. Cotillard features as spy Marianne Beausejour, Max’s mission cohort who has been laying the groundwork for his arrival. Posing as husband and wife although only having just met, I was enchanted by the delicate dance between characters, Marianne taking the lead as a compliant Max deferred to her expertise. Having to play the role of lovers (of course) leads to real feelings between Max and Marianne, but their focus is razor sharp – and in one scene Max reminds the audience that even though he is maintaining an outward charade, he cannot afford to let his guard down, as any momentary lapse in judgment could not only cost him the mission, but their lives.

It’s tempting to glance at this film and compare it to Mr. & Mrs. Smith, another film in which Pitt and his female co-star are featured as married spies. That would be a mistake, as any comparisons are superficial. Allied is a far superior film, though to be fair both movies have their place. Not purely a love story, Allied should appeal to an array of viewers with its air of romance and intrigue. Writer Steven Knight (Burnt, Locke) punctuates the story with suspense and danger, equal parts action and love story. Pitt and Cotillard’s chemistry is undeniable, both organic and intentional. Pitt hasn’t been this magnetic on screen in years, and veteran director Robert Zemeckis (Flight) depicted every detail beautifully, effectively capturing every passionate, dangerous moment between the two sizzling leads. In one unforgettable scene Max and Marianne make love in the middle of a sandstorm, the swirling sands rocking their car to and fro as they reach their pique within.

I can’t find a single fault with Allied, a well-acted, well-written, beautiful film with something for everyone: action, suspense, love, and mystery. Stylish and atmospheric, it was reminiscent of a bygone era but will undoubtedly appeal to contemporary audiences. This was one of the better films I’ve seen in 2016. Grade: A.


The Counselor

Have you ever left a movie theater and asked yourself what the hell just happened?  Ridley Scott’s The Counselor left me confused and disappointed, despite a red-hot cast and seemingly entertaining plot.  The ingredients were top-shelf, but the final dish left me unsatisfied.  Let’s examine briefly why I thought this would have been a good movie, that way if you were intrigued by the same factors – I can save you the trouble of buying a movie ticket or even watching the bootleg.

Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) is a very talented actor.  He has the versatility to do mainstream movies like those of the X-Men franchise, but also the gravitas to take on movies like Shame, where he blew me away with a raw, intense performance.  Penelope Cruz (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall) are Academy Award winning actors, and Cameron Diaz has plenty of hits under her belt.  Brad Pitt is, well…Brad Pitt.  The cast clearly pulled me in, but I also like movies of this type.  Crime-themed, maybe a little on the violent and sexy side.  Check, check, and check.  Imagine my dismay when it became clear to me that The Counselor was a turd.

Fassbender stars in the title role, and we never get his real name.  Everyone annoyingly refers to him as “Counselor,” which stops being clever relatively quickly.  Cruz is featured as Laura, his adoring fiancé who is naïve to her lover’s questionable legal ventures.  Presumably to keep his beloved in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed, or perhaps just due to good old-fashioned greed – the Counselor decides to participate in a questionable transaction with a high-level drug kingpin.  Javier Bardem is Reiner, the client who helps broker the unseen deal.  Cameron Diaz (Bad Teacher) smolders as Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina, contrasting sharply with Laura.  Brad Pitt makes an appearance as a middleman for the deal.  And this is right about where I got lost – shortly after the movie began promisingly enough with an introduction to the main players.

The chief problem with The Counselor was not one of the performances.  The cast was powerless to elevate their roles above the source material, though Fassbender certainly gave it a go.  Actually, they were all rather alluring characters, in their own way.  But the movie was all over the place.  It’s almost like some scenes were deleted and we got a rough cut.  I’m talking plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon.  The script lacked cohesion, which led to illogical things happening.  I went to a late showing, so I wondered if maybe my eyelids got heavy at one point and I’d missed something.  Nope, the consensus is that it sucked.  Perhaps this movie will air on cable one night and you can laugh at the unintentional comedy.  That’s the only recommended viewing for this stinker.  Grade: D

World War Z

The heartthrobs of yesteryear have still got it.  I said it last year about Denzel Washington in Safe House, and I’ll reiterate the point here with Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), who scores the highest grossing debut weekend of his career with World War Z.  Although Pitt has aged nicely since he first came on the scene in Thelma & Louise, it’s not really about his looks here.  He’s our leading man, but I think he’s shying away from the types of roles that characterized his earlier career.  The  zombie storyline of World War Z is a familiar one, as television shows like The Walking Dead have become increasingly popular. The movie’s action was immediate and relentless, and I found myself quite literally on the edge of my seat.

The film begins with an introduction to Gerry Lane, a former UN employee who left the organization to spend more time with his wife (Mireille Enos, The Killing, Gangster Squad) and daughters.  Within five minutes of meeting the family, the horror begins on a routine drive to school through downtown Philadelphia.  While sitting in an unusual traffic jam, Gerry and his family notice that there is an unseen commotion swelling behind them.  Something weird is going on.  In this age of terror attacks, one can never be too careful, and this early scene was authentically unsettling.

A passing police officer gives Gerry an ominous warning to remain in his vehicle, and no sooner than he turns to leave, an out of control truck flattens him instantly.  Gerry barely has time to process what has happened before nearby pedestrians begin to run from an unknown horror.  As they flee, he turns to see a man convulsing and contorting his body in ungodly positions.  He has a wild, diseased look in his eyes, and it is clear that this “person” is not of this world.  It’s the zombie apocalypse!

The movie chronicles the zombie outbreak as it affects the entire planet, with each continent facing population extinction.  Torn between remaining with his family and returning to his old job to help figure everything out, Gerry eventually decides that if he wants to help his family, he must resolve to help humanity first.  Apocalyptic tales fascinate me, as they reveal much about the human psyche.  When the constraints of traditional society and civilization are stripped, we see man return to his most base instincts of survival, with Darwinism prevailing.  The immediacy of the zombie threat and the prospect of death created an especially terrifying climate, and the panic and fear were palpable.  Pitt was an ideal protagonist: brave, resourceful and facing some tough odds – everything you’d want in a hero.

If there were any criticism to be had, it would be that things just sort of happened.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, because it simply wasn’t that type of movie.  There is a singular catastrophic event central to the plot, and everything else happens in furtherance of that plot.  I didn’t read the book, so if the movie fell short in its interpretation; I wouldn’t know.  Overall it was very good, and if you’re one of those folks who occasionally doze off during movies, rest assured – it won’t happen here.  Grade: A –