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Movie Review: “Allied”

Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Jared Harris
Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis typically makes big pieces of popcorn entertainment. Admittedly, the “Back to the Future” and “Forrest Gump” director’s most recent films have been more distancing than enthralling, but his latest, the World War II romance “Allied,” is one of his more human and tangible movies yet. It’s also his most purely enjoyable film since “Cast Away.”

Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight open the story with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting down into the French Moroccan desert. It’s quite an image – one that relies on obvious visual effects – but it grabs the viewer’s attention with silence and curiosity, dropping them into the story along with Max. The agent is then picked up by an unnamed man and told that he must meet his wife, fellow special operative and French Resistance spy Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), for dinner. Max and Marianne’s mission is simple: play house convincingly enough for the Germans in Casablanca, make some important contacts, and get into the right room to kill a high-ranking German ambassador. Their mission goes according to plan, but what they didn’t expect is that they would fall in love in the process.

Once the mission is complete, Max asks Marianne to return to London with him. The two have a daughter they deeply love, but their lives begin to crumble when Max is informed by a mysterious (and higher ranking) S.O.E. official (Simon McBurney) that his wife is a spy for the Nazis. If the source is correct, Max will have to shoot his wife or else he’ll be executed. A plan is put into motion – leak information to Marianne and see if it gets to the enemy – but with each passing minute, Max can’t handle the thought that the woman he loves is a double agent.

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Movie Review: “The Big Short”

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Adam McKay

The housing market crash of 2008 was no joke, which is why it might come as somewhat of a surprise that “The Big Short” is directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” Though Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a (mostly) serious movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s clearly passionate about the material – both the real-life events and the book on which the film is based – because it shows in the final product. “The Big Short” isn’t quite as hard-hitting as J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” the underseen 2011 drama that offers a different perspective of the same events, but it’s a nonetheless effective examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh.

Adapted from “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis’ bestselling book of the same name, “The Big Short” follows a group of investment bankers through the years 2005-2008 as they predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then did the unthinkable by betting against (or shorting) the big banks to profit off their greed. The first to make his move is financial guru Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward hedge fund manager who discovers a worrying pattern in defaulted subprime mortgages (which make up the mortgage bonds that the banks trade on) and invests more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, i.e. insurance against the failure of those bonds, which didn’t even exist at the time.

Everyone on Wall Street thinks he’s crazy, except for hotshot Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who sees a potential gold mine in Burry’s theory and convinces short-tempered, nihilistic hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his tight-knit team (Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall and Hamish Linklater) to go into business with him, despite the fact that Mark hates everything that guys like Jared stand for. Word of Vennett’s proposal also reaches small-time investors Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who request help from their mentor, former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), in getting them a seat at the big boys table.

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Movie Review: “Fury”

Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena
David Ayer

Dayid Ayer has always made macho movies; it’s evident even in his early screenplays for films like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Training Day.” But once he stepped behind the camera, Ayer’s proclivity for telling stories about manly men doing manly things became somewhat of a trademark for the filmmaker, one that he wears like a badge of honor in his latest movie, “Fury.” Although it’s nice to see Ayer taking a much-needed break from the crime thrillers that have dominated his career since the beginning, “Fury” also represents a more mature piece of work for him, showcasing his growth as a storyteller without abandoning the gritty style that sets the film apart from the countless others in the genre.

The movie takes place in April 1945, and while World War II has all but ended, the fanatical German resistance continues to fight, forcing women and children to pick up arms and hanging those who refuse. The U.S. military is suffering as well, but with an end in sight, they make their final push through Germany to wipe out the remaining Nazis. At the front of the lines is Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a seasoned tank veteran who’s been fighting with the same crew – including Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) – since North Africa. But when their assistant driver is killed, clerk typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is ordered to replace him, despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone inside a tank.

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Movie Review: “World War Z”

Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Fana Mokoena, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove
Marc Forster

“World War Z” has gone through a battle of its own just to make it into theaters. In addition to rumors of a bloated budget and unrest on the set between director Mark Forster and star Brad Pitt, the film’s original release date was pushed back six months to accommodate major rewrites and additional shooting. The studio may not have been able to keep the behind-the-scenes drama under wraps, but it doesn’t seem to have affected the final product, because you honestly wouldn’t know there was even a problem to begin with from watching the movie. Although fans of Max Brooks’ bestselling novel will undoubtedly be disappointed by how much has been changed during the adaptation from page to screen, “World War Z” is an immensely entertaining film that also happens to be much smarter than your average summer blockbuster.

Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations worker who specialized in averting international disasters. These days, however, he’s just an ordinary stay-at-home dad living with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two kids in Philadelphia. During a routine trip into the city one morning, all hell breaks loose when people suddenly start attacking others on the street like feral animals, transforming the victims into similar monsters within seconds of being bitten. Gerry and his family barely manage to escape the chaos and are eventually rescued by helicopter and transported to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after his old U.N. buddy Thierry (Fana Mokoena) pulls some strings. Of course, Thierry has ulterior motives for saving Gerry’s life and wants him back in the field immediately to help track down the cause of the zombie epidemic, and if he refuses, his family will be swiftly booted off the VIP-only vessel.

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A Chat with Ray Liotta (“Snowmen”)

Bullz-Eye: I was able to check out “Snowmen” – they sent me a screener – and it was a great little movie. My highest praise is that I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I’d be comfortable with her watching it with me.

Ray Liotta: Yeah, it’s really a good movie, and it definitely…it’s more than just entertaining. It definitely touches on a lot of issues for grown-ups or kids.

BE: How did you find your way into the film?

RL: It just so happens that the producer has a kid in school where my kid goes, and they were gearing up and had cast all the kids, and they were thinking about the adult roles, and my name came up. We talked, he gave me the script, and I loved it and decided to do it.

BE: So how much of the character was on the page, and how much were you able to bring to the character?

RL: It was all on the page. All of it. It was really well written. I mean, my job is to make it as real as possible and try to add as much depth and dimension to it as I can. To pretend that I was a dad whose son was sick and thinks he’s going to die, the bills that I have to pay, the guilt that I have from just working too much to pay those bills, maybe missing some of the things that are going on in his life.

BE: How well did you and Bobby Coleman get on? You seemed to have a pretty strong father-son dynamic going on.

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