ALLIED. Writer/director/producer/industry titan Robert Zemeckis works ... a lot. Perhaps because he is so prolific, I've long found his catalog to be a little uneven. From the beginning of his career more than four decades ago, one has had to contend with, say, a 1941 (1979) — to his credit, he wrote but did not direct that one — for every Back to the Future (1985).
As an aside, the real root of this traces back to the late '80s, when my brother was a staunch proponent of Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), while I only had eyes for Tim Burton's Batman (1989). I still stand behind my preference, incidentally, even if history (and each director's subsequent work) seems to have proven I was backing the wrong horse.
Anyway, Zemeckis more recently pointed out this frustrating inconsistency in the course of a single movie. Flight (2012) drew me in with its initial rawness and then settled into an on-the-nose sermon about recovery and remorse. To me, it sort of encapsulates the director's whole career, in so much as there are moments of true transcendence in it, right next to some real duds. This can be frustrating but also inspiring: Zemeckis keeps at it, even if everything he makes isn't a huge commercial or critical success. He's a passionate, talented and obviously a very capable storyteller and he seems to be constantly finding new stories to tell. In this case, it's rather an old story, but then everything old is ... well you know how the saying goes.
Morocco, 1942: a lone operative parachutes into the desert outside Casablanca. He, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian airman-turned-top-secret-operative, makes his way into the city. There, he must rendezvous with Marianne Beausejours (Marion Cotillard), a French resistance fighter posing as his wife, a Vichy sympathizer. They are tasked with a high-profile assassination to disrupt the occupying government. Following the mission, which finds the two falling in love, they make their way back to London and start a family. They settle into domestic life, set though it is against the backdrop of the Blitz, and begin to transition out of their warrior roles. When Max is handed a deeply troubling assignment by his commanding officers, though, things become irrevocably complicated.
Allied represents an interesting collision of aesthetic and narrative: Despite some undeniably modern touches in terms of technique and technology, it is a remarkably old-fashioned looking movie. The blocking, the camera placement and movement, the editing, the heroic lighting are all drawn directly from Hollywood's Golden Age — likewise its story of a beautiful, troubled couple, played by archetypal lead actors. At the same time, though, free of the Hays Code, it lets people talk and behave like they always have: They curse and have sex and, being combatants, do a fair bit of killing. With writer Steven Knight, Zemeckis has created a full-blooded homage to the cinema of World War II. Its deceptive visual and narrative simplicity actually demonstrates great restraint and control, as well as a conscious adherence to a specific design. Pitt and Cotillard are customarily charismatic, with some moments of revelatory vulnerability. R. 124m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
RULES DON'T APPLY. There's probably a book to be written strictly about depictions of Howard Hughes in the movies, but we won't get into that here. Suffice it to say, people are and have been perhaps justifiably obsessed with the billionaire genius recluse for years, Warren Beatty apparently among them. He came out of self-imposed semi-retirement to see this project through. While I admire his determination and even the craft he applied to it, I can't help but wonder if his enthusiasm was misplaced.
Spanning the years between 1959 and 1964, when Hughes (Beatty) was all but personally invisible while still maintaining a billion-dollar tool, oil, aviation and entertainment empire, Rules focuses on Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). She: one of the bevy of kept starlets on Hughes' payroll, a songwriter and devout Baptist. He: her assigned driver with dreams of striking it rich with suburban housing development and a fiancée back in Fresno. Out of their introduction grows a difficult, guilt-ridden, multi-part association that may or may not turn into romance. Both of them are brought into Hughes' inner circle and forced to contend with the complexity of his psychological state.
The bright, blue-sky newness of Hollywood in the mid-20th century features prominently here, with stock footage of Los Angeles informing the look and feel of the movie. The aesthetic works and it suits the material, as do the performances, all compelling and honest. But the script slows to a crawl in the later going, and it makes the movie feel nearly twice as long as it actually is. I think Rules Don't Apply will hold up with time, and likely be remembered well, but its specificity and odd pace will make it hard for some to enjoy. PG13. 126m. BROADWAY.
BAD SANTA 2. The original (2003) holds up, in my opinion, largely because its misanthropy feels genuine, earned. It seems like director Terry Zwigoff found an emotional center in the script that allowed him to make the movie his own, with a visual style that appropriately expressed that shriveled but still hopeful heart. The sequel lacks any of that nuance; replacing it with even more jokes about anal sex.
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is convinced by Marcus (Tony Cox), fresh out of prison, to re-team in Chicago for one last big score. This becomes needlessly complicated by the presence of Willie's loveless mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), clueless Thurman (Brett Kelly) and the fact that they plan to rob a charity.
I laughed a number of times but director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) seems too bashfully delighted by the R-rated material to make much of it. R. 92m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BELIEVE. Struggling business owner, kid who believes in miracles, Christmas pageant. Spoiler: We smell a happy ending. PG. 113m. BROADWAY.
PULP FICTION (1994). A tangle of plots, killers, thieves, swearing and John Travolta's mane in Quentin Tarantino's cult classic. R. 154m. MINOR.
WHITE CHRISTMAS. The Bing Crosby holiday classic featuring Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. PG. 113m. BROADWAY.
ARRIVAL. Denis Villeneuve's movie about scholars and soldiers trying to determine the threat level of visiting aliens is exquisitely crafted and acted, and suffused with sadness, hope and joy. Starring Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
DOCTOR STRANGE. Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton star in a Marvel movie bogged down by pseudo-philosophy and lifted up by strange and wonderful special effects wizardry. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Hailee Steinfeld stars as an awkward young girl who's even more lost when her brother starts dating her best friend. With Woody Harrelson. R. 104m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. Director David Yates and company create a vast, fascinating, Potter-esque atmosphere but the action is antic, rambling and insubstantial. Starring Eddie Redmayne. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
HACKSAW RIDGE. Mel Gibson's movie about conscientious objector, medic and Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is an impressive feat, but drowns the hero's complexities in the din and gore of battle. R. 131m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MOANA. A young navigator (actual Hawaiian Auli'I Cravalho) enlists the reluctant aid of a demigod (actual demigod Dwayne Johnson) on a sea voyage to save her home from destruction in this Disney animated feature. PG. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MOONLIGHT. Attention to the little things and small, powerful moments make for a much wider and more hopeful picture of the world in this three-part coming-of-age-and-beyond story. Starring Mahershala Ali. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
TROLLS. The fluffy-haired toys of yesteryear return in retail-friendly colors and CG animation, singing and saving their village from troll-eating baddies. With Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. R. 83m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill