Nightcrawler

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Coming Soon: In Theaters This Week

Posted: October 20, 2014 by Michael Smith in All, Movies, Trailers
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Ouija

John Wick

St. Vincent

Laggies

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In 1945 World War II was beginning to wind down, the Allies had stormed the beaches of Normandy a year earlier and had since crossed into Germany on a march to take Berlin. Making up the backbone of the Allied offensive into Germany was the Sherman Tank and its crew of soldiers. Each tank had a crew of 4-5 soldiers; a tank commander, driver, mechanic, gunner, and loader that all worked and lived together in or around their tank. Writer/Director David Ayers has brought the story of one such WWII tank crew to the big screen in Fury.

Fury was the name of the M4 “Sherman” tank commanded by Sgt. Don “War Daddy” Collier, played by Brad Pitt. His crew of 4 was made up of gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia Labeouf), driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), mechanic Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) and machine gunner Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). These 5 men came from distinctly different backgrounds and contributed to the team in very different ways, both professionally and with their personalities.

David Ayers wrote and directed Fury without any real story arc that you can dive into. The setting is irrelevant and the plot details are interchangeable. Much like Ayer’s previous movies Training Day, End of Watch, and Sabotage, Fury places more emphasis on the characters themselves to drive the movie.

Each of the five men that make up this tank crew brings something different to the group that is, at times, complimentary to the team and other times detrimental to the team. The characters are all dichotomies of heroism and villainy. As each character’s story is developed, you see them make incredible swings in their individual senses of morality. As the scenes unfold, you are watching from the edge of your seat to see whether this crew of American soldiers is going to be the pillars of honor that we all imagine them to be, or outright bastards that we should be ashamed of.

In addition to the emphasis on the characters, Ayers also places a great deal of detail on the emotions of war. He drives home the point that those emotions are often complicated and swing between joyful and painful like a pendulum. Acts of bravery and honor are contrasted by acts of rage and depravity. Brief moments of joy are almost immediately negated with overwhelming scenes of pain and loss. From the characters themselves; the youthful fear and idealism of the new guy, Norman, is opposed by the confidence and callousness that comes with being seasoned in war embodied by Collier, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”

Themes of brotherhood and individuality, faith and hopelessness, compassion and vengeance, and bravery and cowardice were all prevalent as Ayers tries to emphasize the duality of war.

Ayers also uses the graphic scenes of battle like a blunt instrument to get across the point of the brutality of war during that era. The clear images of horrific battle injuries and the over-the-top examples of death were hard to see at times. The scenes of battle between the Sherman tanks and the vastly superior German Tiger are historically accurate and will have you sitting with your jaw agape wondering how the Allies managed to win a war with such inadequate equipment. The final battle scenes are emotionally gripping and compelling despite the fact that the end result is so obvious and inevitable.

To complement the diverse characters, an equally diverse cast of actors was brought in to play the various roles; all of which delivered as needed and beyond. Brad Pitt delivers a performance that was equal parts Inglourious Basterds and Saving Private Ryan. Shia Labeouf is able to shake off any negative impact that his off-screen antics, and the Transformers movies, may have had on his career and give a performance that many will be surprised by.

Brad Pitt’s character, Collier, was very complicated one; both for the actor and the audience. Pitt had to embody a man that was very rough on the outside, but also compassionate. Collier was a man that acted as if he was fueled by anger, while trying to balance being reasonable. Pitt is able to deliver on all of those points perfectly.

The true highlight of the cast has to be the 22 year old Logan Lerman. Lerman was remarkable in his ability to step out of the shadow of Percy Jackson, and his other “teenish” roles, and step into a role that is far and away more complicated and mature. Lerman was asked to play a young man that was forced into the role of tank crew member from his previous role as a desk clerk. The character, Norman, is forced to change from meek and cowardly into a machine that would fight and kill for his team without question. In the end, Lerman delivers a performance that should elevate him to more roles that are mature and rich.

As a whole, Fury is one of the best movies that I have seen this year. As disturbing as it was at times, I found myself enjoying every moment. The incredible acting talents on display, the look and feel of the movie from being shot on 35mm film with an anamorphic lens, and the compelling characters all made for a movie that should give even more strength to the already impressive resume of David Ayers’.

Fury

The Book of Life

The Best of Me

Dracula Untold

Men, Women and Children

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Judge

Addicted

 

Annabelle – Review

Posted: October 3, 2014 by Michael Smith in All, Movie Review, Movies, Trailers
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John and Mia are a young Catholic couple in California that are starting out their lives together in the late 1960s. John is a med student about to start his residency and his wife Mia is an expectant mother. One night their home is invaded by members of a satanic cult bent on killing someone. While the cultists are killed by police before they can do any apparent harm, they manage to leave behind something that is far worse than any physical harm they could have inflicted.

Annabelle is a spin-off / prequel to the super successful horror hit of 2013, The Conjuring. The story is written by Gary Dauberman and directed by John Leonetti and stars a couple of TV actors in Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton. Also appearing in supporting roles are Alfre Woodard and Tony Amendola.

The movie is a thinly veiled attempt to capitalize on the huge financial success of The Conjuring. Sadly, it is nowhere near the movie that its predecessor is. That being said, it wasn’t a bad movie; it just didn’t live up to my preconceived expectations.

For the first 45 minutes of the 98 minute movie I was genuinely uncomfortable in my seat. Each scene brought something unnerving to the table; whether it was the imagery of Mia sewing with her fingers much too close to the movimg needle of the sewing machine, the way the camera focused on the doll and you expecting it to move, or the various regular household sounds that were distorted into something sinister. It was scary in a way that made you feel like Leonetti, the director, was using a scalpel to slowly cut away at your defenses to really “get” you later on.

At about the halfway point in the movie something goes horribly wrong and Leonetti abandons his scalpel and goes for a machete. From that point on, the “scares” stop being scary. The scenes that should be thrilling or exciting feel more like the filmmaker trying too hard to be shocking. The great uses of sound and imagery that made the first half of the movie great are all but abandoned.

In the end, the movie that had such potential ends up being, “just another demon/possession movie.” You have you a witless victim, her doting husband, the Catholic priest, and the helpful expert. Of course the priest has a bad day and the witless victim makes every clichéd mistake that has ever been made. No real surprises in the story telling at all but I guess, all things considered, it could have been worse.

If you feel like you simply have to see this movie, take a step back and look at the $25 you were about to spend to see it in the theatres and think of some other way you could use it. You will only need about $1.50 to see it in Redbox in about 6 weeks.

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Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are all spoken of as movies that are well worth seeing for their stories. All of them feature plotlines that appear to be straight-forward and otherwise uneventful when thought of in the scope of movies that have been made. What makes them different and noteworthy? The short answer… David Fincher calling the shots.

The last time we saw a movie directed by Fincher was back in 2011 when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made its big screen debut. Since that time, he has done a couple of TV endeavors and even a music video, but nothing truly worthy of his pedigree. That all changes now.

Fincher has brought another work of genius to the table for us all to marvel at and drool over. His newest offering, Gone Girl, is a wickedly smart adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s New York Times Best Seller of the same name. Gone Girl is the story of a relationship that goes bad in the worst possible way and how we as a society can hang onto the lies that reside in appearances and accept them as truth.

Some would say that making a movie from a novel as compelling and complicated as Gone Girl would not really translate well to the big screen. For one, the level of detail needed would be hard to capture on screen. Second, the complicated nature of the story would have to be confusing. Finally, the “twists” in the story are too widely known to really keep audiences engaged.

Fincher not only overcomes those issues, but he does it in a way that leaves you wanting more. Even after sitting through the full two and half hour runtime. His take on the “unreliable narration” that is so critical to the story is done in a way that will truly keep you guessing about what is real and what is not. Gone Girl is truly some of his very best work.

The cast of this soon to be classic consisted of Ben Affleck in the center-piece role of Nick Dunne with Rosamund Pike as his wife Amy. The supporting cast of Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens filled out a group of actors that all lived up to the hype that has surrounded this movie.

Seeing the performance that Affleck gives under the direction of Fincher makes you really question if that really is the same guy that starred in duds like; Jersey Girl, Gigli, Daredevil, and the many others that have poisoned his acting reputation.

As the story unfolds, Affleck goes from aloof, to incriminated, and even to victimized, all with a screen presence that has you really guessing about his character. The mystery surrounding Nick Dunne is masterfully held by Affleck all the way until the truth is fully revealed. The range of emotion that he demonstrates with his facial expressions alone gave me a new found appreciation for him. Affleck has to be considered one of the top contenders for the Best Performance awards during the upcoming awards season.

If Affleck is going to be given a nod for Best Performance, then Rosamund Pike has to also receive some serious consideration for Best Supporting Actress. Her performance was equal parts; sexy, demented, and endearing. She perfectly brought to life the character that Gillian Flynn introduced to us in the novel back in 2012.

Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris are both able to shed their more commonly known comedic characters of Madea and Barney to really contribute to the story in a meaningful way. Rarely can you say that an actor with less than 10 minutes of screen time can play a pivotal role, Perry and NPH can say it with pride.

Overall, during a time when superheroes and guys with “special sets of skills” seem to be filling up the theatres, it is very refreshing to see a movie, like Gone Girl, come along and be truly different. What this film brings to the table has been missing for quite a while, intelligence and originality. I can only hope that Hollywood will take a long hard look at what Flynn, Fincher and Affleck have done and do the best they can to follow-suit.