Allied review

Robert Zemeckis directs Allied, a WWII spy drama based around a Canadian intelligence officer who comes across a French woman living in Nazi occupied North Africa and the two become intertwined, planning to undermine certain operations, the film stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Vincent Latorre.

The central conceit of Allied is an interesting one, centred around espionage during the second world war and even around the idea double crossing which definitely did occur, with axis aligned agents pretending to be allied agents and vice versa, the premise itself is probably what got you to watch the film and it works for the most part. Pitt and Cotillard make a fairly good on screen couple as it turns out and they have a fun rapport on screen, driven mostly by Cotillard in a spirited performance as French agent Marianne Beausejour, the chemistry between the two is there but I found Brad Pitt seemed a bit bored in quite a few scenes and lacked emotional expression which made for a bit of an odd viewing/pairing.

That being said he isn’t necessarily bad in the film but pretty average, which is a shame for an actor of his calibre. Cotillard does make up for Pitts apparent lack of enthusiasm though and the interactions between the two are fairly enjoyable to watch, though seeing them in action more would have been a bit more fun.

I feel like Allied is a tale of two halves of a film, the first half mostly in North Africa with Max and Marianne on duty being intriguing, interesting and exciting as they go about their duties but the second half definitely loses some of that intrigue and excitement, which is understandable as the plot literally goes to a different location and context to be fair, though this is still all during WWII. There’s a bit of an odd feeling to the film as a whole, as it tries to juggle a few things at once it’s a espionage drama without that much actual espionage and also a story about romance but the two don’t exactly mesh together as seamlessly as you would hope and the result of which is oddly toned with an imbalance of romance and drama. And this imbalance makes for weird transitions between time in which the characters do different things and it’s a bit jarring towards the middle when the action slows down a fair bit, which may feel like things get a bit boring for a lot of viewers.

The romantic side to things is present but a bit rushed along, especially in the 2nd half of the film, probably for the sake of the plot and the premise around Marianne being accused of being an Nazi spy but that aspect of the story, while being the lynch pin for a big portion of the plot, is barely explored and merely touched upon, concluding a pretty disappointing fashion.

6/10

. Odd tonal balance to film, neither a great drama or romance

. Aspects of Max and Mariannes’ romance feel rushed and not that convincing

. Cotillard gives a good performance, Pitt not so much

The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King review

The Lord of The Rings trilogy draws to its end with The Return of The King as Frodo and Sam near Mount Doom and the end of their journey, while Sauron mounts his forces for a final attack on Gondor in order to destroy it, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett.

Return Of The King is quite the epic in every sense of the word, a very natural feeling crescendo to the LOTR trilogy I feel, as we follow the main characters from the films (the fellowship mostly) go along their separate journeys, now even more separated in different stories, though off together in pairs aside from the trio of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, it’s great to see some characters together even though they’re separated as a group as a whole, all working towards the same goal of fighting against Sauron/evil essentially. The stakes just feel a bit higher this time around with all of Gondor being the centre piece for battle and the focus for a lot of the film as we really get a scale of the power of Sauron and the armies that he commands, dwarfing the already massive army that Isengard brought out at Helms Deep in The Two Towers.

Like I mentioned in a previous preview, I like how the series shows war as it is, gritty, indiscriminate and brutal – even with the fantastical elements of this story and we see this in the chaos that takes place during the battle of Minas Tirith and Pelennor fields later in the film, with some great editing and use music in particular to emphasize the tone of certain scenes – a loss of hope, fear against evil while Minas Tirith was besieged which slightly turned to hope when Gandalf marshalled the cities forces and rallied them. I feel like small details like this are great, showing the complexity of the characters in the situations they’re in, the characters are just like people – even Gandalf, sometimes hopeful, fearful, happy and sad but importantly for the story with the main characters, they never give up.

The set pieces in Return Of The King dials things to 11 in terms of action and set pieces as well, in massive open fields, tens of thousands of soldiers in armies and of course, the ever memorable Rohirrim charge, the challenge to adapt such ambitious battles on screen must have been a huge undertaking but they’re done well, showing the action clearly and again, emphasizing the mayhem and ruthlessness of war when it all comes down to man to man combat. And for a film in the early 2000s, the visuals still hold up and look decent due to prosthetics and more ‘real’ looking Orcs that aren’t all CGI, though even the CG looks okay. The film isn’t all action – though there is a fair amount of it, with some great, downplayed emotional moments between characters, Faramir wanting his father (Denethors) love and respect, even to the point of endangering himself, Sam and Frodos ongoing journey and tumultuous friendship due to Gollum which almost breaks them apart as well as other side stories that are ongoing that are all important to the main over arching plot. And again the stories are balanced well, leading to a satisfying and emotional conclusion.

I’m not going to lie, I kinda love Return Of The King as I feel it’s a perfect conclusion to one of the best stories on film, with great set pieces, great character arcs/developments and some fantastic individual moments that remind you why you probably like or love the series as a whole, excellently well done fantasy with a compelling world and engaging story.

10/10

. Brilliant conclusion to the overall story. Good character development and arcs, characters grow and change

. Fantastic, poignant set pieces with some good visuals even up to today

. Consistently strong performances

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers review

The Lord Of The Rings series continues with the 2nd entry, The Two Towers as the fellowship, now split goes about its separate ways, Sam and Frodo continue on to Mordor, following Gollum, meanwhile Isengard prepares for war and martials its forces as it prepares to face Rohan, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban.

The epic story of Middle Earth continues in The Two Towers, now in a bit of a darker tone than Fellowship with the returning main cast plus a few new additions, we now see the story go back and forth between travelling parties from the fellowship as the plot progresses, a more or less equal amount of time being given to the characters with some literally following others e.g. Aragon, Legolas and Gimli following Merry and Pippin. The great thing is that even with the story being split in three, the different parts are still all as interesting and engaging and as is the norm with a lot of sequels, we get an expansion on the world we’ve been introduced to with the introduction of Rohan,Ents,  Isengard, Saruman and Helms Deep, all key players and important parts to the film, this makes for a more compelling story as we see the far reach of Sauron and his evil magic, even affecting normal men and we really understand why the ring needs to be destroyed.

Rohan brings an interesting key aspect to the story as we get to see a big faction of men and how they react to evil, the ring and how they take action, interacting with Gandalf, Aragon, Legolas and Gimli and driving the story forward, if the Fellowship of the ring was an introduction to the story and the start of an adventure, The Two Towers is a war film first and foremost, focusing quite heavily on war and showing what it looks like in Middle Earth. I like that the films don’t shy away from showing the horror of war and loss, not being explicit on gore or blood but you still see the casualties of war, men, elves, orc alike (and so on), even in a world of fantasy and magic, death is still gruesome and prevalent and this makes for an interesting aesthetic for a fantasy film that has a fair amount of magical creatures and beings.

The series as a a whole grounds things to a degree, not overly relying on magic or special spells to save the day for the good guys but good old fashioned tactics and force of will… and a little but of good fortune as well. The Two Towers takes the story to an interesting middle point, involving the main characters in a lot more peril which makes things all the more engaging as we’re fairly empathetic towards the characters at this point as we want to see what happens to them as the story progresses and the film amazingly manages to juggle its multiple ongoing stories to a good degree, giving each of them enough screen time to stay interesting.

9/10

. Interesting expansion on the lore of Middle Earth, interesting introductions of Rohan, Isengard

. Great balancing of different ongoing stories

. Gritty depictions of war and death, even in fantasy makes for compelling viewing

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring review

Peter Jackson directs the opening entry in the classic LOTR trilogy, as we follow Frodo Baggins, a hobbit from the shire that sets out on a journey with his companions as commissioned by a wizard – Gandalf, with the aim to take the ring of power to Mordor and destroy it, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett.

The film that kicked it all off, The Fellowship Of The Ring is a wonder, being tasked with bringing a whole world of fantasy to modern audiences that may have been unfamiliar with it, having not read the books or heard of Lord Of The Rings even, Peter Jackson had a monumental task on his hands in simply adapting the massive story for the big screen but he managed to do it and to do it rather well at that. First off by getting a great cast for the film and for the roles of the main characters that we’ve now come to know and love, a mix of actors from around the world that perfectly fit their role and play up well to the theatrical, near play like drama that encompasses the story, down to the characters actions and their dialogues, casting choices like Ian Mckellan as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman – 2 wizards on opposing sides were brilliant choices and they brought gravitas to the film.

Fellowship, like the other 2 films in the trilogy has some fantastic elements to it that make the world of Middle Earth feel and look real, from the set designs to the character costumes, characters and races look distinct and unique, elves being tall and slender, dwarves short and stout – orcs rather ghoulish and dirty, these details go some way to help suspend disbelief and engross you in a fantasy world as a viewer, you also have to mention the fantastic vistas and locations present in the film as a lot of the films were shot on location in New Zealand. The mountain ranges, open wild trails etc are great to look at but also help to emphasise the sheer size of Middle Earth and the distances in between locations that the characters have to travel to.

The film has a nice sense of whimsy and adventure to it as we see the fellowship set about on their journey together as a group of 9 and it’s great to see the characters interact for the limited amount of time we see all 9 together, chased by the ghastly Nazgul all the way and because they’re so different to each other, it makes the journey more enjoyable to watch, that coupled with them running into enemies along the way makes things more interesting – as them simply trekking across Middle Earth does feature quite heavily. Fellowship isn’t all sunshine and roses though, having a mixed tone that reminds you that this is a fairly adult story of loss, death and friendship and the story has you empathise with the characters to a degree that losing one carries real weight, even though this is the first film in the series. This is due to small moments that reveal aspects of the characters, from fears to doubts and so on that show that they’re multi-dimensional and interesting. Another great aspect of the film is the score, one of the best in any film series – ever in my opinion, fitting certain scenes perfectly and making the trek across Middle Earth for the fellowship feel all the more epic, Fellowship is a brilliant starting point to one of the best film trilogies in cinema history and a great introductory piece to the Lord of The Rings story.

8.5/10

. Great casting choices, fantastic, convincing acting

. Brilliant visuals, great shots of landscapes to represent Middle Earth

. Engaging and engrossing story told well

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith review

George Lucas directs the concluding chapter of his prequel trilogy in Revenge Of The Sith, starring  Ewan Mcgregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, as the story has progressed, Anakin has grown closer to reckless, violent side, while a secret plot involving the republic comes to the forefront.

Revenge Of The Sith kicks things off right away with a fantastic scene above the planet Coruscant, following Obi-Wan and Anakin as they’re tasked with retrieving the wanted Count Dooku, it’s a great looking scene for one and a good barometer of things to come with a fairly action packed film as a whole, though Episode III also manages to mix a fair amount of drama in it as well. A high point of the film is its visuals, the best in Star Wars to date with some good action sequences and great special effects and up to that point, Star Wars had never looked this good and it makes for some pretty epic set pieces, particularly the opening sequence for the film.

The tone of the film is markedly darker and logically so as the plot goes on, with this being the most emotional film in the prequels and the more emotional moments do work for the most part with some better acting performances, some improvement from Hayden Christensen and a good performance from Ewan McGregor. Seeing the height of the power of the Jedi in this period and then seeing its decline is an overall great unfolding plot point and the twist that is sprung by the film was predictable, but still impactful (ugh the Jedi kids) and importantly, the film doesn’t simply stray into and remain in a completely dark, depressing mood. As we come to learn there’s always hope, pun intended, the prequels were an… interesting foray into politics and how ideals and beliefs can become corrupted and even fascistic – presented in how the Galactic republic slowly becomes the Empire, an basic measure of this is very visible in the clone troopers and how their design and look changes over the prequels to closely resemble the traditional stormtroopers, as the capital ships also change to resemble Star Destroyers. Touches like this are small and may be missed entirely if you don’t look for them but I find them interesting in relation the lore of Star Wars as a whole.

And while supporting characters played by Natalie Portman and Samuel L Jackson are also decent but not spectacular, the journey of Anakin and his eventual transition to the dark side is what the story ultimately rides on and you have to buy into it, empathise and sympathise with the character for it to really work. And for the most part it works, despite Hayden Christensens’ less than stellar performance, simply because the remaining elements of the film all work well, from a great soundtrack which fits the film, good action and visuals and the feeling of a satisfying conclusion to the prequel story, which you already know continues into the original trilogy.

7/10

. Has some great visuals, fun set pieces

. Has some of the better performances from the prequels

. Manages its overall tone well – dark yet hopeful