By David Elliott
APPETIZER: Reviews of Allied and Bad Santa 2Allied
Of all the war movies in all the world, few have had the nerve to go back to Casablanca. Which means Casablanca, and its Moroccan port city haunted since 1942 by Rick, Ilse, Ugarte, Capt. Renault … round up the usual suspects. And here we are, back there again in Allied, and just a year later. We are with Canadian-British agent Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), and soon he is with undercover va-voom de chic Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), of the French Underground or something. Her back story is a furtive murk of Euro intrigue and could stand more light, but Cotillard gives her reality.
Robert Zemeckis’s movie, from a crafty pastiche script by Steven Knight, bounces off the esteemed classic with true verve. Nobody beats Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in black-and-white Casablanca, but Pitt and Cotillard flesh out a vivid color parallel. She’s at the apex of her French beauty, he has finally settled handsomely into solid middle-age. They share a Great Love, and although they never make it to Rick’s Café Americain, there is a remarkably bold assassination at the German legation.
Rick’s movie has a fabled sequence in Paris, and here wartime London is rather less seductive. But Zemeckis is very good at staging major set pieces: hot sex during a sand storm, childbirth during a bombing raid, a booze-driven Blitz party, even an airport finale that echoes Casablanca. While no Hitchcock, he keeps the tension wired with his strong stars and a neat surprise or two.
Allied is unabashedly old-fashioned. It has a true story arc, and doesn’t rely on big effects, long shocks, monsters or a coy, franchising finish. If Pitt’s manly feelings are a touch rote, well, that’s Brad. Like Warren Beatty’s more adventurous Rules Don’t Apply (see last Nosh, below), the historical nuances are ripe. Not exactly a letter of transit in today's market.
Bad Santa 2When someone, soused, slams into the cinema bar and slurs, “Gimme a BB ’n BS,” insiders will understand at once: Gimme Billy Bob Thornton in a Bad Santa. It’s taken 13 years to get a sequel, Bad Santa 2. This does not mean maturing – that would be a betrayal. Mr. Thornton, grizzled but game, still knows how to open a holiday movie with Dickensian cheer: “Let’s just say my whole life has been one long fucking nightmare.” Nobody lobs a snark better than Billy Bob, and he has certainly made up for his verbal limits as Karl, in his stellar launch pad Sling Blade.
As Willie T. Soke, an alcoholic thief pressed into another heist, while posing as an obnoxiously rude street Santa, Thornton again partners with fuming dwarf Marcus (Tony Cox is as tall as any man when it comes to hurling curses). The profanity snorts feminist fire when Kathy (Misery) Bates unloads as Willie’s mom (calling him “shitstick,” repeatedly, she’s all heart). Along with raunchy women and sex gags, there is bizarre balancing of Elvis’s funky “Santa Claus is Back in Town” with a Chopin nocturne. Above all, spirited vulgarity trashes holiday clichés and cooks the sap in every Christmas tree. I admit to numerous laughs. Thornton, Bates and Cox are a profane trifecta.
SALAD (A List)Here is my ammo clip on the Fifteen Best World War II Movies (with director and year), not documentaries or prisoner or death camp films: Come and See (Klimov, 1985), Attack! (Aldrich, 1956), Cross of Iron (Peckinpah, 1977), The Cranes Are Flying (Kalatozov, 1957), The Devil’s General (Kautner, 1955), Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942), The Pianist (Polanski, 2002), Il Generale Della Rovere (Rossellini, 1959), The Guns of Navarone (Thompson, 1961), The Story of G.I. Joe (Wellman, 1945), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Huston, 1957), The Big Red One (Fuller, 1980), The Purple Plain (Parrish, 1954), Sahara (Korda, 1943) and The Enemy Below (Powell, 1957).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)Talking to Peter Bogdanovich, Citizen Welles saluted his fellow “martyr” to Hollywood studio constriction, Erich von Stroheim, “whom I knew well and loved. He was just a nice Jewish boy and I was always on to that – that’s what I think is so great about him … a great charlatan, and a true artist. My God, he had talent!” (From This Is Orson Welles, by Bogdanovich and Welles.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)“My language limits blocked almost all foreign films. Silent cinema remains a lovely but distant music. My Oscars piety centers only on The Oscar, that stunning, unintended comedy (1966) that debauches the awards. I only got excited by box office when dear Harry Potter stacked up his millions.” (From the explanatory Introduction to my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle).
DESSERT (An Image)A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Robert Mitchum, Marine, comforts nun Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (20th Century Fox, 1957; director John Huston, cinematographer Oswald Morris).
For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.