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There's something fascinatingly detached about Jules Dassin's 'The Naked City'. In many ways there is no real "lead character" that we follow through the film and get to know. Instead we have our ominous narrator merely putting us through the paces. We see the police do their job but don't really learn anything about them other than their steadfast devotion to that job. In the context of today's screenwriting expectations this would be a total failure but when considering the 1940s period that this was made, it is understood that the real star here is the PROCESS of solving the murder rather than any one man doing it. This is fascinating in terms of film history but doesn't particularly make for entertaining viewing by today's standards. Gotta love those great shots of NYC scattered throughout though!
It seems like only yesterday when moviegoers reveled in seeing Brad Pitt swagger across the screen in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds asking his men to deliver to him 100 Nazi scalps. His character's name was Lt. Aldo Raine and he really wanted those scalps. And now, five years later, Pitt is back in the Nazi-killing business with another director in Fury, which may or may not be the twelve thousand and eighty-second film made about World War II.
This type of film has truly been a dime-a-dozen in the decades since America went to war against the Axis powers in the 1940s and it therefore takes a strong guiding hand to set any new film apart from the countless ones that have come before it. Fury benefits in that department by having writer/director David Ayer at the head of the ship.
With writing credits like the original The Fast and the Furious and Training Day under his belt, Ayer really made an impact on me in 2012 with his LA cop story End of Watch. What I expected to be another routine cop movie ended up being a completely shocking and emotional viewing experience that hit me in all the right places thanks to some really superb direction by Ayer. I therefore approached Fury with the expectation that he might do the same for the World War II men-on-a-mission genre and sadly only found those expectations about halfway met.
The story of Fury is actually a very simple one. Pitt plays Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the commander of a tank team that makes their home away from home in tank named "Fury". Sitting inside the tank with Wardaddy is a crew of men that has been with him throughout the war made up of Shia LaBeouf (who cries at the drop of a dime in this movie), Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal. Sadly, the fifth member of their crew is revealed to be dead at the beginning of the film and is replaced by the bookish rookie Norman, played by Logan Lerman.
Norman is as fresh as they come in terms of soldiering. He was expecting to be working as a clerk when all of a sudden he is thrust into the heart of the action with expectations from his new team to do his part and kill as many Nazis as he can. logan-lerman-in-fury-movie-2There is a version of this character in just about every war movie ever made but it's rare for said character to take on such a leading role as Norman does here. Luckily, Lerman pulls it off with aplomb and becomes one of the film's real highlights.
With the tank team complete, they set off across the German landscape facing increasingly deadly resistance until they find themselves alone and broken down on a road with 300 German soldiers approaching. It's a crucial moment of fight or flight (I think you know what they're gonna pick) that sets up the rousing climax of the film that showcases the film's best asset: action.
Oh yes, the action is what Ayer does best with Fury. With bullet fire colored to somewhat resemble laser blasts and plentiful bits of realistic gore, the violence in this film is visceral and in your face. Combine that with editing that actually makes it fairly easy to discern who is shooting at who and which direction tanks are moving (more easily said than done in recent Hollywood films) and you get some extremely solid action filmmaking that rivals what a lot of classic World War II films have been capable of.
It is sadly the scenes in between battles that leave a little to be desired. And it's not that they're bad - they're just kind of expected. Even the film's most intriguing non-battle scene, which finds our boys spending some downtime with a couple of German ladies, is punctuated by a tragic moment that you can probably see coming from a mile away. It's done nicely but the film and characters immediately move on as if they checked off that box and don't need to worry about it anymore. In fact, if you cut the whole sequence from the film I'm not sure anyone would even notice.
And so it's with mixed feelings that I recommend Fury. As an action-packed World War II drama it delivers the goods on the battlefront and will therefore satisfy a large percentage of the audience for this kind of film. I was just hoping for something with a little more depth and originality to the proceedings. But I guess that's what we keep Inglourious Basterds around for.
'Under the Skin' is one of those movies that I find almost impossible to assign a star rating to. How I feel about it now immediately after watching could very easy change by tomorrow morning and then again a week from now. The initial few minutes of the film had me rolling my eyes thinking, "This is going to be a long 105 minutes..." but then I found myself slowly intrigued by and sucked into the film...at least for the first half before it became a slightly more conventional fish-out-of-water story. On one hand I applaud the entire film for being a purely visual experience that lets the story unfold by showing us rather than telling us in the true cinematic fashion. But even at that the story is paper-thin and leaves a bit to be desired by the time the end credits start to roll. At the very least this gives me something to chew on for a few days and that in itself makes it worthwhile viewing.
How does one even begin to write about 'Birdman'? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has made a film so technically marvelous and full of ideas that I couldn't possibly hope to write anything resembling a coherent (or concise) review without at least one more viewing and a whole lotta time to process all of the wonderful things this movie made me feel and experience. Michael Keaton is just beyond incredible in the lead role and is surrounded by absolutely perfect supporting cast with impressive performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Amy Ryan. There are scenes between these cast members that absolutely crackle with energy and the ever-moving single camera takes capture it all so beautifully that you leave the theater wondering how it was all even possible. This is movie magic in every sense of the word.