Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I went to see Fury.  I knew it was a war movie and it was going to be violent but other than that I haven't read much about it.  It felt good going into a movie knowing very little and being surprised by it.

Fury is about a group of 5 guys who man a tank toward the end of World War II.   After one of them dies a new guy is added.  Norman (Logan Lerman) was drafted by the Army to be a typists but somehow ended up being assigned to the tank division.  There he joins the tank crew of Fury one of the best and most respected tanks.  The leader is Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) along with other crew members Boyd 'Bible' Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Pena). Norman has never been in combat and was never trained how to operate anything in a tank. His inexperience puts the other crew members at risk and WarDaddy pushes him to the limits trying to show him the horrors of war.  The rest of the crew is pretty tough on him especially Coon-Ass. Norman needs to come to grips with his situation and decide if he is capable of killing.

The story is  pretty formulaic. You can guess how the story is going to go. The characters are familiar enough that you don't need much background on them. WarDaddy is the stern but caring leader.  Bible (as the name implies) is the moral center of the crew always quoting the bible.  Coon-Ass is the crazy one that is a loose cannon. And Gordo is somewhere in between. Despite being formulaic the movie is effective and very well directed. The war scenes are graphic and intense and really pulls you into the story. The actors all did a great job making the characters their own. Logan Lerman created a character that even though felt familiar we could really empathize with.  Brad Pitt was in typical Brad Pitt mode but always great in this type of role.  I think the real surprise here is Shia LaBeouf.  Despite appearing to go crazy this year and walking around with a bag on his head he actually did a great job in the movie.  

I have to give it to David Ayer for writing and directing a great movie.  The movie could have felt like we have seen it before. But the action is intense and the battles between tanks are like nothing we have seen on screen before.  There is a break in the action that kind of stands out where Wardaddy and Norman are in a house trying to enjoy a meal. The whole scene is uncomfortable and while I get the point of the scene I think it could have been done a little better.  But once they get back into the tank and we begin to see Norman's transformation the story picks back up.

Overall: 5/5 One of the best war movies in a long time.  Not for the faint of heart but if you like action and suspense you will love this movie. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Movie Review: Birdman

We got a chance to get to see an early screening of Birdman. It is one of the most talked about movies of the year so far and I was very excited to get to see it. And it delivered everything that was promised.

Birdman is about Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who after playing the superhero Birdman in three massively successful movies turned down the chance to play it a fourth time. Now years later he sees himself as a washed up actor and is trying to reinvent himself on Broadway. Haunted by his past he wrote and is directing and staring in a play based on a Raymond Carver short story. He is out of his element and has to deal with first time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and her difficult actor boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Besides the troubled production he has a troubled personal life. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering drug addict, his new younger girlfriend is pregnant, and his lawyer and best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is worried because all their money is invested in the production and it looks like it might be a disaster.

The movie just blew me away. It is complex, kind of dark but also pretty funny. It has a bunch of pop culture references like Iron Man, The Hunger Games, and Transformers so it does feel firmly rooted in the present. It openly makes fun of Hollywood's love of over the top action and of Broadway's stuffy attitude to movie stars. It also criticizes critics who can make or break a show on their whim. But the whole thing feels very real. No one is perfect in the movie everyone has their own flaws. They are all just trying to do their best and figure out their life. I think that's one of the reasons the movie work so well. It's not that you can relate to any of the characters but you can understand their psychology. There isn't one character in the movie that feels fake. That is till the ending which is kind of odd and hard to tell what really happens.

There are a lot of moving parts to the movie but the whole thing centers around Michael Keaton's character. And Keaton delivers one of his best performances in years. It's hard not to see some similarities between Keaton and Riggan. Keaton played Batman twice then turned down the chance to do a third one. Since then he has been in very few movies. I don't want to say he is washed up but it is easy to find the similarities. Also, Edward Norton's character shares some traits to himself. Mike is a difficult actor always in the part and giving his opinions on how a scene should be done or writing his own lines. This kind of fits the persona that Edward Norton has had on previous films. Many directors have said he is difficult to work with. But Keaton and Norton both turn in excellent performances in this movie. While Keaton and Norton have stand out performances (and both potential Oscar nominees) the entire cast is pretty amazing. There is a lot of dialogue and each of them nails it and they play so well of each other. Zach Galifinakis is probably the most surprising actor in this movie and while he does add some comic relief to the movie it is way toned down from the over the top performances we are use to seeing from him. While Emma Stone and Naomi Watts are more minor characters they still leave an impression.

What really makes this movie stand out is the movie feels like one long take. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses of long takes and they are edited seamlessly to make the movie flow as if it was all done in one shot. The camera moves around the set and follows characters as they walk. We sometimes jump ahead in time as the camera just pans around a room. It gives the movie a kinetic feel although sometimes it was a bit dizzying like watching a found footage movie. I have not always loved Alejandro González Iñárritu's work. His 2000 Mexican film Amores Perros was a great but Babel and 21 Grams were just ok. With this movie he takes a completely different approach. While those movies dealt with different individuals whose lives interconnect in someway this movie follows just one person who has many different interactions. It's much more simplified and is easily his best work.

I can't say enough about the screenplay for this movie. Like I said there is a lot of dialogue in this movie but it all flows really well. Each character feels fully developed even if we don't spend a whole lot of time with them. I usually get worried when I see more then 2 writers on one movie but González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, and Armando Bo somehow worked together to make it a memorable script. I can't wait to read the script and see how they wrote it. Keeping the energy alive and writing to make it seem like one giant take must have been a huge undertaking.

The score was for the most part was just a jazz drum solo which did give the movie energy and a little bit of a different feel. And I did like what they did when there were certain fantasy sequences the music changed to a more Hollywood style score. But maybe it's just my personal music taste but the jazz score didn't entirely work for me.

Overall: 5/5 This is currently in my top spot of movies I have seen this year. I loved almost everything about. It was so well written and even though the "one take" feeling was kind of dizzying at points it was very well done. This is a must see movie.

Everyone is talking Oscars for this movie so might as well make my predictions now. It will be nominated for lots of Oscars. Best Picture, Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Screenplay are almost guaranteed.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Movie Review Gone Girl

David Fincher is one of my favorite Directors and every one of his movies is an event.  Even though it took me a while to see it I finally got around to seeing Gone Girl in the theatre.  At 2 and half hours I thought it might be a long movie but it keeps you enthralled and the twists and turns keep you guessing.  It doesn’t have that dark moody feel that Seven and Fight Club had but it is a dark psychological thriller.

It’s hard to explain Gone Girl without talking spoilers since there are many twists so the synopsis is going to be brief.  The movie is about married couple Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) Dunne.  Their marriage is falling apart and on their 5th wedding anniversary Amy goes missing.  The daughter of  famous writers her disappearance gets national attention.  The detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) feels like something isn’t quite right and Nick becomes the prime suspect. Despite Nick’s firm denials the media attention turns on him and he ends up hiring Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) a high profile lawyer from New York.  Was Amy Kidnapped? Is she dead? Who did it?  These are the questions that come up and it takes some strange turns to get those answers. 

Like I said at 2 and half hours this could have been one boring movie. But the story really keeps you guessing.  There are so many surprising things that happen you are constantly saying “wow”.  The screenplay was written by Gillian Flynn based on her book.  While I haven’t read the book it seems that it is mostly faithful to the story.  But for her first screenplay she knocked it out of the park.  It is well written and with mostly believable characters that kept you guessing.  In the hands of David Fincher the movie is masterfully directed.  Getting one of the best performances out of Ben Affleck I have seen in a while.  And he took Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris two people known more for their comedies and gave them dark characters to play.  I wasn’t sure how much we would see of Rosamund Pike since she is the girl that is gone in the movie but there are flashbacks to their early relationship and her character is probably one of the most interesting characters ever on screen.  But back to Affleck. He has been in some good movies but this is by far his best role.  He plays a character that we aren’t sure if we are supposed to be empathizing with or hating.  And he treads that line so well. 

While there is going to be lots of Oscar speculation about this movie as there should be the one thing we should be able to agree on is that the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is pretty amazing and will get nominated.  Not sure if it will win like they did for The Social Network but this is probably one of the most original and haunting scores I have heard.  At one point before I saw the movie it was streaming online and I have never heard anything that sounded like it.  If the Academy wants to award originality then it will win and it perfectly set the tone for the movie and added to the suspense like any good score should do.

Overall 5/5. One of my favorite movies of the year so far. Nothing really bad I can say about it.  I loved every twist and turn and just blew me away when it started getting more and more complicated.  The ending will have people talking and can’t wait to find more people that have seen the movie so we can discuss it and that’s how you know it’s a great movie when you want to keep talking about it. 

Almost forgot to mention that if you get queasy you might have to cover your eyes at some parts. There are some graphic scenes but not too many.