Fury – LFF Review

Fury

It is April 1945 and allied troops are slowly making their way across Germany. The crew of one tank find themselves one man down and rookie soldier Norman (Logan Lerman) joins as assistant driver. Norman is a former office clerk and wholly unprepared for battle. Reluctantly taking on new blood into their tank Fury are Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), Bible (Shia LeBeouf), and the unpleasant duo consisting of Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and Gordo (Michael Peña). The job of Fury and its occupants are to move in convoy from village to village evacuating Germans who surrender and killing those that fight back.

Initially Norman is not accepted by his fellow soldiers. His reluctance to kill and desire to surrender or die make him a liability but through the toughest of love his team attempt to turn Norman into a real soldier. Each soldier treats Norman with utter contempt but as they are bonded together through the horrors of war mutual respect is found. As Fury and company moves from village to village the tanks come under attack as our band of brothers is truly put to the test and Norman is given a baptism of fire.

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As war films go Fury is perfectly acceptable but little more. The action scenes are suitable bloody, muddy, and violent as heads, limbs, and other extremities are shot off and numerous soldiers set on fire. Capturing the brutality of war is Fury‘s strongpoint and it does so with gusto, loud noises, and nerve-shredding frenzy. What threatens to weaken the action is the fact that our lead cast are always inside the tank during battles; while explosions and carnage rage outside the five main characters are mostly sitting and shouting. The final battle aside the inside of Fury always felt relatively safe, particularly in comparison to the war zone in the fields outside.

Writer/director David Ayers may have done well at making war seem like a bad thing but he does less well when it comes to making the characters feel like real people. Each of the five is a different caricature and yet their personalities still struggle to maintain consistency. In what seems to be an attempt to add layers of complexity to the characters they all have occasional flashes where they change their attitude completely. This normally takes the form of an unpleasant type suddenly being nice to Norman as if keen to let the audience know that they aren’t all bad really. The dialogue is riddled with clichés, patriotism, and variations on the “war is hell” theme. Despite solid performances, even from Shia LaBeouf, the script lack enough authenticity for the actors to come across as anything but actors.

Fury certainly passes the time and provides plenty of spectacle though not on a scale we haven’t already seen before. It’s hard to know what the film is trying to say and what it has to offer that is not just treading old ground. If we can all agree that war is unpleasant then you can probably give this one a miss.

Fury has a UK release date of 22nd October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

12 Years a Slave – LFF Film Review

12 Years a Slave

Slavery is not quite a taboo subject but is certainly not one that is dealt with seriously in cinematic terms very often. At the start of 2013 we were given Tarantino’s Django Unchained which tackled slavery in a stylised fashion with bloodshed being the main method of emancipation and without me ever really getting a sense of the brutality of life as a slave. With Tarantino at the helm the film felt all too fictional to have an effect. Within just the first few minutes of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave I felt like I could finally comprehend just how slaves were seen in pre-Civil War America in the eyes of their masters. These were not human beings, they are a commodity and closer to cattle than anything deserving basic rights.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the free black man Solomon Northup who is kidnapped and sold back into slavery while his wife and children are left behind to assume him dead. More used to a life as a relatively respected gentleman and musician Solomon finds himself stripped of everything he owns down to his name and struggles to retain his dignity and sense of self. After being sold on to a relatively kindhearted plantation owner, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Solomon struggles to keep his head down and after rubbing up an overseer (Paul Dano) the wrong way is sold on to a brutal new master called Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his equally cruel wife (Sarah Paulson).

It is on this second plantation that Solomon suffers the most as he gradually loses all hope of ever returning to his civilised life and more importantly his family. His learned past does not do Solomon any favours as his intelligence frequently threatens to leave him out of favour with his master and therefore suffer at the thin end of a whip. The only slave sticking out more than Solomon is a young woman Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who has caught the amorous eye of Epps and with it the scorn of Epps’ wife. Patsey brings about some of the most graphic violence in the film which hits home, hard.

The plot of 12 Years a Slave is not a complicated one as we stick with Solomon throughout his years spent enslaved. The day in, day out barbarism that surrounds him is displayed without glamorisation by McQueen in a film that is beautiful to behold but positively painful to watch. Here the violence is not cartoonish and the audience is made to feel every lashing delivered by the whip and you are never sure when the next beating will come. The whole 2+ hours were a hard-hitting experience and while I would never suggest that I enjoyed the film as such it truly is a masterpiece that manages to be powerful and intimately epic.

Ejiofor may be surrounded by more recognisable names (other than those already mentioned Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti also pop up) but he more than holds his own as he takes the substantial weight of the film on his shoulders. It is Ejiofor who leads us on this journey with every grimace and wince his detailed performance brings with it. He is nothing short of magnificent which will be no surprise to anyone who has seen any of his work to date.

12 Years a Slave is a searing film that takes its weighty subject seriously whilst not scrimping on cinematic artistry. I cried for the second time this week and the audience of press applauded the film which is not a common occurrence. Expect to be hearing a lot about this film when the Oscars come around.

12 Years a Slave screens at the festival on the 18th, 19th and 20th October and is in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

World War Z – Film Review

World War Z

Gerry Lane (Bradd Pitt) was a nice dad man who used to have a super important job at the United Nations. Gerry Lane liked making a breakfast of waffles for his wife and two daughters every day because he’s a nice man. One day a zombie virus broke out and Gerry Lane was told to go and save the world or his family would be left for the zombies, so Gerry Lane decided to visit all the countries in the world and save humanity.

Kid-friendly, bloodless and politically diluted, World War Z is about to hit screens after its lengthy and highly publicized “troubled” production. Rewrites, reshoots, the director of Quantum of Solace and Brad Pitt with silly long hair; it’s understandable that people were apprehensive of the movie. As far as disaster films go though, World War Z is pretty solid.

You read correctly: disaster, not zombie. Sure, the primary antagonist is neither an asteroid nor global warming, but the sheer scale of zombie apocalypsing is insane and very disaster movie-like. The waves of the walking dead ravenously piling over one and other, brutally destroying all in their path is not unlike the tsunamis wiping out NYC in The Day After Tomorrow – it’s just there’s a little more chomping. As we follow Gerry on his worldwide travelogue of the zombie outbreak we bear witness to some truly epic and intense set-piece action that definitely makes up for the film’s blaring flaws elsewhere.

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Whilst the third act rewrites have drawn much attention and spawned many tweets that feature their posters wanting to teabag Damon Lindelof it is the first two thirds of the film where most of the problems lie. Early in the film a doctor from Casualty states that “movement is life,” a sentiment director Marc Forster takes a little too much to heart as the film initially rushes from one scene to another with characters mumbling incoherent exposition as quickly and quietly as they can. If I was cool I’d quip something along the lines of this style being as dead but animated as the film’s zombies.

On his speedy country-crawl Gerry also has a nasty habit of leaving everyone behind (mostly because they die – oh, inconsiderate zombies) which means that, aside from a badass Israeli soldier or his family – who are all but dropped from the narrative within 30 minutes – we have no one to root for other than Gerry, who tiresomely dodges death more times than South Park’s Kenny McCormick. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a bit of Brad Pitt but even Roland Emmerich’s films have more to offer in the way of interesting and sympathetic characters.

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Because I don’t want to continue writing many paragraphs where I shame the film when it’s actually very enjoyable I will put my remaining negative thoughts in a bullet point list:

  • Why do the lights in all corridors suddenly flicker after the outbreak? Because zombies are eating people now everyone’s light bulbs suddenly decide to balls-up?
  • There’s a Matthew Fox cameo that only lasts for 3 frames.
  • There are 6 different times where the film unnecessarily makes you jump.
  • Seriously, it doesn’t add anything to the film; it just makes you wee yourself a bit and look like a moron.
  • Bryan Cranston is nowhere to be seen.
  • Silly, pointless jumpy stuff *grumble grumble grumble*
  • Gerry Lane’s daughter has asthma. This adds nothing to anything other than that she is a stereotype and I don’t like her.
  • The film plays itself so straight that when you laugh at something that’s actually pretty funny you feel dirty and awkward.
  • The 3D is sub-par.
  • Brad Pitt doesn’t look good with that long hair.

It seems that not many people are hugely excited for World War Z but you should be… kind of. The plot is tedious, the score is dramatic and the action is spectacular; what more could people want in a summertime zombie horde film? It’s a totally enjoyable dumb piece of action cinema. Way better than that Danny Boyle schlock.

World War Z is released in sub-par 3D and cool 2D nationwide on June 21st.

2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading