Allied (2016)

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Different kinds of bad movies are bad for different reasons but we love them just the same. Sort of. Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is the French-speaking Canadian intelligence agent parachuted into occupied Morocco on a mission during WW2.  He arrives in a bar and cosies up to his fake wife Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) who introduces him to her friends. They are all speaking French. Max and Marianne are spies and have never actually met before tonight. Before you can say Operation Desert Storm they’re having it away in a swirl of sand in their car and without even a hint of jeopardy they carry out their ostensible mission to assassinate the local Nazi chief at a lovely party. Then they fetch up in London at their wedding and while the city is bombed Marianne has their baby daughter. A year later Max is working and she’s staying at home and he’s asked to look at the evidence against his beloved – his superiors in the Special Operations Executive claim that he is sleeping with the enemy and the couple are pitted against one another as Max is forced to question everything and has to figure out if he must kill his own wife….  This starts out kinda like Casablanca. Well. That’s to say it starts in Casablanca which is not the same thing at all. But it does end in an aerodrome. The first half hour is in the realm of the ludicrous – perfect design, badly paced, poorly written and wholly unbelievable. The acting is debatable. I suppose there was some.  Marianne criticises Max’s Canadian French (I know – the worst insult I ever had in Paris was that my accent was Canadian – sheesh!). Except that it was a rainy Saturday, that was me. But it actually gets better. There’s something about dull old north London burbs that has a lingering interest and wondering how wicked Jared Harris might be in planting a seed of doubt in Max’s mind about his lovely wife – not that it lasts for long. This is a turkey that mutates into something of a hybrid spy romance melodrama. It wanted to be a classic but refined its ambitions to resemble something like Hanover Street. Oh I’m too kind. More story, less sauce, next time, you naughty boys with your Lesbian antics. Written by Steven Knight and directed by Robert Zemeckis. I know! Can you believe it? Frankly, no.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind Special Edition (1977/1980)

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No film is made by one person. Paul Schrader, David Giler, Hal Barwood, John Hill, Jerry Belson and Matthew Robbins all contributed to the screenplay in one way or another but it had one originating sensibility and intelligence – that of Steven Spielberg. He twisted and turned their various interpretations of his story to something that was and remains ineluctably his:  sceptical but imaginative and wondrous. It starts in a desert where planes that disappeared in WW2 are discovered. Then a little boy Barry (Cary Guffey) runs after a spaceship in Muncie, Indiana where there’s a power outage and electric lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) gets major sunburn from a flying saucer at a railroad stop. The witnesses to the ice cream-shaped vehicles zipping along the rural highway think they’re going crazy. Roy starts sculpting mashed potato at table, leading his children to cry and his wife (Teri Garr) to leave. He then takes garden soil into the living room and starts to build. Meanwhile, Barry’s mom (Melinda Dillon) sketches a mountain, repeatedly… The Devil’s Tower is where the alien encounter is planned by French scientist Lacombe (director Francois Truffaut) along with the US Army and other government agencies.The film was released before Spielberg believed  it was finished – Columbia was under pressure for a hit and they got it.The additions (some new scenes on top of deleted scenes) entirely expand the premise and the later Director’s Cut still retains the arc but is somewhat darker. Even if you believe (as I do) that most of the essential films were made between 1955 and 1965, this is monumental filmmaking. Once seen, never forgotten.

Battle Hymn (1957)

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I love the films of Douglas Sirk because despite their largely being remakes of weepies he cuts through the sentiment with astringency and formal style. Usually. Not so here in an adaptation of a memoir by preacher Dean Hess. Hudson is full of remorse for having accidentally killed 37 children in a German orphanage in WW2 and signs up to train fighter pilots in Korea leaving wife Martha Hyer at home to brood (literally – she’s pregnant). He conceals his religiosity and newfound ministry from old buddy Don DeFore and his colleagues until he’s found out and they feel deceived. He puts his beliefs to good use in acts of atonement for local orphans who are being cared for by Anna Kashfi (the London Irish model who pretended to be Indian, even fooling husband Marlon Brando). She falls for him, unaware he is married and he participates in bombing missions and then tries to save DeFore after a disastrous outing and the orphans need to be saved from repeat attacks. This is in many ways a typical service movie but with added mawkishness rendering it close to intolerable even with Hudson acting his socks off and some more than decent aerial photography.

The Great Lie (1941)

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Captain Algernon Polan Banks may seem like an unlikely moniker for the writer of terrific women’s stories but reel life is weirder than you might think. His novels provided the basis for a handful of Hollywood movies and the best is probably this. Warners got one of their best writers on it – the venerable Lenore J. Coffee – and one of their best directors, the estimable Edmund Goulding. Then they only went and cast Bette Davis! We are thrice blessed. And it doesn’t end there. She marries professional drinker, cad and flyer George Brent (whom we also love) only to find his hours-long marriage to her love rival, famous concert pianist, Mary Astor of the famously strange hairdos, has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. So when Brent disappears, the women hole up in a cabin, Astor gives birth to little George and Bette presents the tyke as her own. And then Big George comes back…  and Astor suddenly thinks life on the road ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is what was once called the well-made film. Davis and Astor rewrote much of the script and turned it into one of the great bitchfests of all time. It was so fabulous that Coffee adapted John Van Druten’s Old Acquaintance a couple of years later for Davis and lo! Another screen classic was born. Wonderful.