Fury – David Ayer

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Fury starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, and Michael Peña,

As far as World War II movies go, Fury does a good job following five men as they battle the Nazis from inside their Sherman tank, all the while being surrounded by smoke, mud, fire, and death – lots of death. Fury is essentially a day in the life of this odd band of characters, lead by their Sergeant (Brad Pitt), the man to whom they give credit for keeping them alive since the fight in North Africa some years ago. In all honesty, their names, where they’re from, and what they did before the war doesn’t really matter in this film, what matters is their dedication to the fight and how they each play their part. There certainly isn’t as much character depth as there is in a movie like Saving Private Ryan, but then again that’s not really the type of movie Fury is trying to be (it’s also 35 minutes shorter, to put it in perspective). The main focus is on the rookie (Logan Lerman), a typist who suddenly finds himself at the forefront of the war and replacing a key member of the original team, and how Sgt. Don tries to break him in.

By far the movie’s best performances are put in by Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf is almost unrecognizable as the overly religious and mustachioed gunner. Thankfully none of his former arrogant/witty/charming personas (for which he is best known) make an appearance in the film. Lerman flawlessly portrays the terrified rookie just trying to cope with his new situation and survive his new team. Brad Pitt puts in a solid performance, as usual, and shows just enough emotion to connect the audience to his character. It is unfortunate that a lot of the dialogue is lost in muffled and mumbled speech (the southern American accents don’t help much either), but the banter between characters is pretty great (and tense) at times.

The real reason to watch the movie is for the tank battles. As with any WWII movie, there is a lot of death and a fair amount of gore, but David Ayer seemed to make every effort to keep the battles realistic and exciting at the same time. The audience gets to watch the Sherman tank and its team operate in a number of different situations – from an open-field tank-on-tank battle to defending a post against a mass of foot soldiers. Each situation is gripping, has you on the edge of your seat, and makes you grimace as the odd body part gets blown off.

Another aspect of Fury that cannot go without mention is the score. There is one scene in particular where Steven Price’s music just adds that extra layer to an already emotional moment and allows the audience to really connect. And as rare as it is, the end credit music is equally as fantastic and is worth sitting through.

Overall, Fury was a decent WWII movie that is worth watching. It doesn’t feel too long even though its running time clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes. There are a few scenes that last a little longer than they should, but it isn’t painful but any means. Those who can’t handle violence should probably avoid Fury but most people should enjoy it for what it is.

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The Judge – David Dobkin

The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

This is a movie that the average movie-goer will enjoy more than the critics. Most of the reviews for The Judge say that the movie is riddled with clichés and that the characters were weak. The reality is, if you have/had a father, you will find this movie moving and will likely be brought to tears on more than one occasion. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play father and son in this courtroom drama that takes place in a small Indiana town that, in the words of Robert Downey Jr.’s character Henry “Hank” Palmer, everyone “just wants to leave”. Upon hearing that his mother passed away, Hank, a big-shot defence attorney in the city, makes the trip to his home town where he must face “The Judge”, his father Joe Palmer. It is obvious before they even meet face to face that their relationship is strained, to say the least. When The Judge is suddenly faced with a manslaughter charge in the wake of his wife’s funeral, Hank is forced to stick around and deal with the siltation, much to his father’s dismay. The two characters clash all the way down to their basic ideals, Judge Joe Palmer has been the town judge for over 40 years and firmly believes in justice and the law’s part in it, while Hank operates under a somewhat different principle, summed up in this perfect line: “Innocent people can’t afford me.”

The Judge has been labelled as a courtroom drama but most of the movie actually takes place outside of the courthouse and deals with the intense family dynamic and Hank trying to cope with his old demons rather than the trial itself. The acting is superb, with a great supporting cast that includes Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton, and there are just enough quick-witted one-liners to lighten up the mood when things get a little dark. And they definitely do. You’ll find yourself more interested in the family and how they are going to get through it, than finding out the details about the hit-and-run that started the whole thing.

Watching this movie, it is hard to believe it is directed by the same person who brought audiences Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up. Upon further inspection, it appears that the screenplay was written by Nick Shenk, who also wrote Gran Torino. Suddenly things seem to make a little more sense. The Judge has a hefty runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes which some critics have complained about, but there is enough suspense (in terms of the trial), unanswered questions (in terms of the relationships), and impending re-conciliations to retain the audience’s interest. The argument that the movie is “something we’ve all seen before” sounds like its coming from all the people who thought Avatar was “just a Pocahontas rip-off”. Sure, there is a formula (there usually is), but that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t worth watching, because it certainly is worth it.

The best advice is to stop reading reviews and just go see it for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, and at the end you’ll be happy you saw it.

Gone Girl – David Fincher

Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

How well do you know your spouse? That is the question that forms the premise of Gone Girl, David Fincher’s latest masterpiece that stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as “Nick” and “Amy”, a couple struggling through their marriage as the movie begins on the morning of their 5th Anniversary. It is on this day that Amy disappears and Nick is suddenly thrown into a tumultuous investigation where he is the prime suspect. It begins slowly, with a lot of questions and clues, and progressively ramps up until it grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go.

This is not the first glowing review for Gone Girl, nor will it be the last. It’s an odd mix of thriller, mystery, and drama with enough giggle-worthy dialogue thrown into it to make it truly unique. It is gripping from the very beginning and hangs on to your attention until the credits roll. Gone Girl‘s running time is 2 hours and 29 minutes but it never feels forced or dragged out. In fact, the only disappointment was that it ended at all.

Aside from Affleck, who is perfect in his role of the lost husband making all the wrong moves in the ensuing media storm, the cast of females in the film is what gives it it’s punch. Rosamund Pike is truly amazing, and saying anything else beyond that would be giving too much away (it is a film that relies on suspense and genuine shock, so providing any more details in a review would be a disservice). Supporting actress Carrie Coon takes on the role as the bold, tell-it-like-it-is twin sister “Margo” and Kim Dickens is the bright lead detective assigned to the case. Both are very compelling and often funny as “Nick” slowly pieces everything together surrounding his wife’s sudden disappearance.

The movie is based on a best selling novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, and one can only imagine how good the book is based on the success and reception of the film so far. Given the detail in the movie, it’s hard to believe there could be more to the story that just didn’t make the cut.

The instant buzzing of discussion and the looks of pure astonishment and joy on the faces of the movie-goers once Gone Girl ended said it all. It’s still early, with Oscar season right around the corner, but this is easily the best movie of the year (so far).

The Drop – Michaël R. Roskam

The Drop starring the late James Gandolfini,  Tom Hardy, and Noomi Rapace

Dennis Lehane, the author of  Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone that were famously adapted into award-winning films with amazing ensemble casts, brings us another adaptation of one of his short stories called The Drop. Teaming up with Director Michaël R. Roskam, they deliver a film that in many ways has the same feel to it as those other crime dramas but is significantly less disturbing than the two mentioned above.

The film takes place in a gritty part of Brooklyn where the local watering hole doubles as the occasional “drop bar” for the city’s thugs and their money. Tom Hardy plays bartender “Bob” who just tries to keep his head down and his nose out of everyone’s business but his own. The late great James Gandolfini, in his final role before his unfortunate death, plays “Cousin Marv” the bar’s acting manager who now answers to some mean Chechens after losing ownership of the bar some years ago. Things start going wrong when the pair are robbed early on in the film, and the rest just follows from there.

There isn’t much to the film in terms of plot but it never feels that way. We follow Bob as he rescues a Pitbull puppy and takes on the responsibility of being a dog owner with the help of a woman played by Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). As usual, Tom Hardy all but disappears into the character. He’s quiet, calculating, maybe a little naive, and yet it always seems like there’s something else hiding behind his sad puppy dog eyes and small smirk that makes a very rare appearance on screen. Noomi Rapace is equally as good as a woman with her own secrets.

It’s a slow-burning film but it never loses your interest as you try to piece everything together. The odd scene will actually generate some laughs, or at least some chuckles, and are mostly brought on by Bob’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude, which also makes him the only truly loveable character in the film, next to Rocco the puppy of course.

The Drop is a drama through and through but there is enough intrigue and there are enough moments that lighten the mood in order to sustain most viewers, even those who typically prefer more action to dialogue. It is possible, however, that some will find it a little too dull and seriously lacking in the shoot-em-up department. So those people looking for a lot of action and a true crime thriller will be a little disappointed but will likely still enjoy the film because as a viewer you really do want to find out where the story is going and how everything turns out for each character. Whether you notice it or not, you’re invested.