Baby, Baby, Baby, ‘Annette’ is Absolutely Unforgettable

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Annette (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell

Director: Leos Carax

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Language and Very Intimate Bedroom Scenes

Release Date: August 6, 2021 (Theaters)/August 20, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

Sometimes I come up with an idea about how I’d like to write my movie reviews, and then in the interest of frankness and openness, I decide to share that thought process with my readers. So while watching the Leos Carax-directed musical Annette, I decided that I wanted my review to feel like a conversation I’m having with my fellow movie lovers. It just felt right given the movie’s energy.

So now that I have your attention and we’re having a conversation: you know Ron and Russell Mael, the brotherly duo behind the influential long-running rock band Sparks? There’s a good chance you’ve heard about them recently, considering that there was a whole documentary about them that came out a couple months ago. Perhaps you even read my review of it. Well now they’ve gone ahead and written the screenplay for an entire musical movie, including all the original songs. Their co-screenwriter (also the director) is a French fellow who’s probably best known to American audiences for Holy Motors, a kooky flick about some guy getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in Paris. This is a teamup that has resulted in plenty of sparks.

Annette is a love story! The central couple are a stand-up comedian named Henry played by American actor Adam Driver and an opera singer named Ann played by French actress Marion Cotillard. Annette is their daughter. (I’ll have more to say about her later.) If you want to know what type of comedian Henry is, I would say that he’s an observational comic in the Seinfeldian mode but with a Zach Galifianakis-style deconstructionist sensibility, with some Marc Maron-esque misanthropy for good measure, along with the hostility of Andy Kaufman at his most dangerous. It’s also worth noting that his pre-show routine includes chain smoking and eating a banana and that he performs in little more than a green bathrobe. As for what type of opera singer Ann is, I’m not sure what to say, because I don’t know the intricacies of opera as much as I know stand-up!

So back to that daughter, who arrives about a third of the way through (after some very passionate lovemaking). She gets a lot of screentime, but you don’t need to worry about child labor laws, because for the most part she’s played by a wooden puppet (until Devyn McDowell takes over at the very end). Now, you may be thinking, “A pu-, a puppet?” There’s no way to be fully prepared for that reveal! At the beginning of the film, it feels like we’re in for a totally rockin’ good time, with an absolute banger of an opening number setting the pace. And for the most part, that is indeed what we get. But as it goes along, Annette only gets stranger and more challenging and generally harder to embrace. We learn some unsavory details about Henry’s past, we start to see him become more combative on stage and in his personal life, and then he and Ann get on a boat and head out to sea, both literally and metaphorically. And I should also mention that most of the second half of the movie is dedicated to Annette’s super successful pop music career, during which time we are continually reminded that she is a baby and that she is played by a puppet. So if you’re not sure you can handle that, I’m sure you’ll appreciate being informed ahead of time.

I’m not sure I’m into every wacky development in Annette, but I have to applaud its unwavering ambition. Although “ambition” perhaps isn’t the right word here. Something like “singularity” or “uncompromisingness” might be a better descriptor. We all have different palates; some of you will have the right cinematic taste buds to handle all this, while others, not so much. I was guaranteed to have a good time thanks to that Sparks soundtrack, even if not everything else hit the spot quite right. But overall, my palate is now richer and my life is now fuller.

Annette is Recommended If You Like: Rock operas, the dancing baby from Ally McBeal, the prop baby from American Sniper

Grade: 4 out of 5 Showbizz News

CGI Animals and a Daffy Robert Downey Jr. Performance Make for a Feather-Brained ‘Dolittle’

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Carmel Laniado, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Animal Chaos

Release Date: January 17, 2020

It’s not a great sign when my favorite part of a movie is the end credits revealing who all the voice actors were, especially when it’s a movie about talking to animals, because … I love talking to animals! Not necessarily in the Dr. Dolittle sense, but if I did have that ability, I would be happy to use it. As for Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the classic fictional veterinarian, I wouldn’t say that he is unhappy about his interspecies communication abilities, but he is making some odd choices, what with an unplaceable accent while barely opening his mouth whenever he talks to the point that it seems like he is practicing his ventriloquism. Dolittle is a movie whose existence in 2020 I’m having trouble fathoming, but despite that, I can’t say that I doubt Downey’s commitment, however strange it may be.

Anyway, the plot is some fever dream logic-driven concoction about how a reclusive Dr. Dolittle, hiding away in his home following the death of his wife, is summoned to set out on an adventure to find a cure for a deathly ill young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Naturally enough, his animal friends join him to help out, and their presence on this journey just feels too unremarkable. Perhaps that has to do with the reliance on CGI, which renders these creatures less adorable and more just humans with fur or feathers or scales. For the most part, then, Dolittle is a mix of humdrum when it should be goofy and ridiculous when it should be straightforward. Although, there is one part when Dr. Dolittle removes a set of bagpipes from a dragon’s colon, so this endeavor wasn’t a total disappointment.

Dolittle is Recommended If You Have: A Bottomless Appreciation for CGI Animal Hijinx

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Quacks

This Is a Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed

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In Assassin’s Creed the Movie, Marion Cotillard sends Michael Fassbender into the past by having him inhabit an ancestor of his. In premise and execution, it’s a lot like Wolverine being transported to his younger self in X-Men: Days of Future Past. So watching this movie gives me a sense of “Been there, done that” but also “This can be done well.” Also encouraging: the intricacies implied by the secret societies and the prison-like facility that is supposedly not really a prison. There are some sci-fi mystery concepts worth exploring here.

Unfortunately about halfway through, Assassin’s Creed confirms that it will not buck the trend of unimpressive video game adaptations. Plot developments, pieces of mythology, and new characters are introduced with little, if any, explanation. I suppose if you play the games you might have some semblance of understanding, but I have my doubts that such comprehension would actually improve anything.

I give Assassin’s Creed 200 “Why Are They in This’s?” out of 500 Shadowy Figures.

This Is a Movie Review: Brad Pitt Takes Matter Into His Own Hands in the WWII Thriller ‘Allied’

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Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for the Horrors of War

Release Date: November 23, 2016

The World War II thriller Allied has a hell of a premise: intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is informed that his French wife Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) may actually be a sleeper spy for the Germans. If she is, he must execute her himself or face hanging for high treason. This is the sort of flashy, adult-oriented actioner that can only get studio backing if the biggest star in the world is in it, and that few directors besides Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureBeowulfFlight) are interested in making anymore. That’s a shame. Allied does not set any gold standards, but it is the sort of perfectly enjoyable effort that Hollywood should be cranking out with ease.

Do not let my pleasant but uninspiring description fool you into thinking that Allied lacks personality. Indeed, its best scene is both Max and Marianne’s sexual linchpin and the prime CGI showcase. Their relationship is confirmed as more than just the bonding of fellow warriors as they find themselves stuck in their car in the middle of a sandstorm. The camera rotates with the force of the environment, as the editing pace intensifies, placing them in a transformational vortex, which serves as the point of no return.

As Max disobeys orders and takes the investigation into his own hands, the twists pile up and complicate the initial assessment of Marianne. Yet the plotting remains straightforward. This is the Occam’s razor of spy thrillers: British intelligence may have a reputation for playing head games with its officers, but sometimes the most simple subterfuge is the correct explanation. Furthermore, while Allied’s official reports may be fudged a few times, its emotions never are. Subtlety may suffer, but integrity (and honor in a very classic sense) survives.

Allied is Recommended If You LikeCasablancaValkyrie, Thrillers About the Wrongly Accused Directed by Alfred Hitchcock or Those Influenced by Hitchcock

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Looks of Anguish from Brad Pitt