Tag Archives: michael pena

12 Strong

In the days immediately following 9/11, George Bush believed that Osama Bin Laden was being hid by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He demanded that Afghanistan hand him over, which they refused to do without concrete proof that he was responsible. So because everybody’s blood was up and something had to be done, they declared war. 12 Strong is about the first 12 guys who were sent over there on a special mission that they apparently did well, and quickly, only no one ever gave them the thumbs up about it because it was classified so they got no credit. This movie is their reward, but not a very good one. I would have preferred a sundae or an iguana or that new sunblock that has glitter in it. Instead what we got is yet another war movie, one that does little to add anything new to the conversation or the genre, one that feels derivative of other work and repetitive even within itself. It’s kind of long and boring and just not very good, other than the acting. Since that’s all the review I think this movie deserves, I will now attempt to act it out for you (minus anything graphic, or racist, hopefully) so that you don’t have to sit through it yourself. Of course, you still have my permission to watch it you wish. Or if you must. Or you can watch it without my permission, as may already have done (sorry I’m so late. I really did drag my feet on this one AND MY INSTINCT WAS CORRECT!) – frankly, you guys have done an excellent job of watching movies without my hand-holding, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever really congratulated you about that.

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When I told Sean I’d watched 12 Strong, he asked “The one with the horses?” Yes, yes it is.

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But not that one. Although, if you have a good memory, you know that apes on horses really freak me out. This movie just has soldiers on horses because there weren’t any Jeeps in Afghanistan. Don’t quote me on that. I just made it up, but it does explain the horses.

Chris Hemsworth plays the main soldier guy, who is just moving into a new home when the first plane hits the towers. Sad moment. Cannot make fun of that.

Good job casting the right Hemsworth, and even better, casting that Hemsworth’s wife to play his wife.  I just had to google Elsa Pataky because she had an accent in the movie but it sure wasn’t American or Australian, and yup, turns out she’s Spanish, so that checks out. I clearly don’t know her from much else besides having married into the Hemsworth clan, and she’s clearly too busy pushing out blonde surfer babies to do much acting, other than the Fast & Furious franchise, which I will politely look the other way on.

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This is the real Hemsworth family, not the movie one. I’m 95% sure.

So being a proud American and a keen soldier, Hemsworth volunteers to do whatever is necessary, and so do Michael Shannon and Michael Pena.

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Once they’re over there, William Fichtner tells them they’re going to fight alongside the Northern Alliance leader, Dostum. I know the titles implies that there are 12 guys but I’ve only named 3 actors, so here’s the deal: the 12 get split into 2 groups, the brave and good and movie-worthy group goes to battle, and the other group stays behind in a fortified camp and they are just as important as the alpha group guys, just as good, even if they don’t really do anything. So Hemsworth’s group is a pack of 6, and they just focus on the most handsome 3, which just makes good sense.

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Do I look like the kind of man who gets left behind at base camp?

Anyway, then there’s like 2 hours of fighting.

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Well, no, okay, it wasn’t a dance battle. If there was a dance battle, do you think I’d be dissing this movie? No, there were your standard guns, guns, bullets, guns, rockets, explosions, guns, bullets, guns. The typical war boner stuff.

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Then an Afghani man drives a very hard sheep bargain

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The transaction was not cute in any way and upon reflection, I cannot for one bloody second remember why Michael Pena wanted a sheep so goddamned bad. Anyway, there was at least one truly horrific scene that I can’t make light about, and Dostum and Chris Hemsworth get all buddy-buddy when Dostum talks about his dead family. But then he gets enraged because some other American contingent is back his rival, so he abandons them, feeling betrayed.

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But then he comes back! And there’s more fighting.

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And an email from Donald Rumsfeld, being a dick (is that redundant?). Michael Shannon gets what is described as a “sucking chest wound” and they all act surprised that someone could get hurt out here (no sense of irony for all the Afghans who have visibly been blown to bits). Don’t worry, Michael Shannon definitely survives because he’s already fighting the next war, which is against books.

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Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael Shannon and Micheal B. Jordan, airs on HBO May 19th.

 

 

 

Then there’s some slow-motion explosions (did Michael Bay make a directing cameo?) and some very heroic music and other American propaganda bullshit.

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And then they all shake hands and touch peckers and go home, because JOB DONE. This movie has embarrassingly zero hindsight and very little perspective. This little top-secret mission comprised the first 23 days of the war in Afghanistan, and they really dropped some bombs and shook some shit up, but guess what? That war is ONGOING. As in, the longest war in United States history. But never mind that. Let’s focus on those first triumphant 3 weeks and let our chests swell with pride.

The end.

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A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.

My Little Pony: The Movie

I was once a My Little Pony playing girl but the truth is, My Little Pony left fans like me behind a long time ago. It was rebooted in 2010 and found a surprise demographic: not just the expected little girls, but grown men as well. What the heck? These fans, who call themselves by the shudder-worthy nickname “bronies”, were brought to my attention in the 2012 documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Ponies.  It’s fascinating to watch in a train wreck kind of way and if you have to choose between it and this animated film, definitely definitely go for the documentary.

Anyway, whatever these adult fans see in the series is beyond me. And though I’ve now racked up 11 nieces and nephews between the ages of 2 and 9, there is not a single My Little Pony fan between them. To whom does this series appeal?

The film opens up with The Go-Go’s We Got the Beat playing – or is it? In fact, the lyrics giphy (1)have been tampered with. What I thought might be an appeal to our inner 80s kid turns out to be just an extended pony play on words. The song plays as Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship (the horse community has a stunningly high proportion of royalty vs subjects), is preparing Equestria for a festival of friendship when the party’s invaded by a dark force, led by Tempest Shadow and The Storm King, who encase the upper pony echelons in rock and prepare to do some evil, conquery thing to the happy go lucky ponies.

So the “Mane 6” (Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity) go on a journey that I suppose the creators have sold as “exciting” and “unforgettable” but in actual fact, My Little Pony: The Movie has no discernible difference in quality between its theatrical release and whatever passes for acceptable on early-morning kids programming. It feels like an extended episode of something really shitty, with bland, cornball songs thrown in for good measure, spouting predictable lyrics about working together and how anyone can do anything if only the put their mind to it (actual song titles: We Got This, I’m the Friend You Need, Time to Be Awesome). The main characters are all voiced by the same no-names who do the morning cartoons but new characters developed strictly for the film are voiced by the likes of Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, Sia, Taye Diggs, Liev Schreiber, Uzo Aduba, and Michael Pena, which in no way makes the film even remotely more watchable, and in fact, Emily Blunt isn’t even doing her own natural accent, so she’s easy to miss.

The ponies pay lip service to the sharing and caring type shenanigans you’d expect but when the chips are down, some pretty entitled bullshit really drives the plot. The good news is, you’re only likely to be subjected to this if you’re a parent, and there’s truly no other reason to watch it except under duress. And any road trip longer than an hour with kids under 10 counts as duress. The hard part is, I know that in lots of houses with young kids, certain movies get stuck on repeat. At my sister’s house, it’s currently “Woody” (Toy Story) and “Choo Choo” (The Polar Express), which aren’t too bad all things considered. But even Oscar winning fare gets tedious after its eleventh straight viewing. If you’re currently living through a similar My Little Pony scenario, may Pegasus help you.

 

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Sean has a video game called LEGO Dimensions. You buy character packs, build them out of LEGO, and then you can play them in the game. The character packs come in all sorts of cool recognizable shapes and sizes: Sean has the Simpsons, and Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters, for example. He builds a Marty McFly, and a Delorean, and then he can go through the plot of the movie using those characters. It’s pretty cool. But as a completionist, he’s also bought character packs that we have no experience with at all, like Harry Potter, Adventure Time, Portal 2, and Ninjago. And while we knew that Harry Potter were popular books, and a franchise of films, we didn’t know Ninjago at all. In fact, we didn’t even know how to pronounce it correctly until Sean called it Ninja-go in front of his 4 year old nephew, who looked at him like he was a complete sack of shit. It’s pronounced Nin-jaw-go, for your information. And apparently it’s a TV show used to sell LEGO sets. But whereas Bill Murray was a real flesh and blood person rendered into a cartoon version of a LEGO mini figure, the Ninjagos were always LEGO. LEGO has sold over 100 different sets of LEGOs based on that show, so you can see how it’s a big money maker for them. The movie is a cog in their money making machine.

AmazeThe gist of the movie: Garmadon (Justin Theroux) is the bad guy threatening the world of Ninjago. But every time he tries to invade it for good, he’s thwarted by a band of teenage ninjas trained by his brother, Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and led by the son he abandoned 16 years ago, Lloyd (Dave Franco) though none bear any familial resemblance. Being the son of a noted bad guy is hard, and so is being the vaguely named “green ninja” in a crew of ninjas otherwise named for the elements – Cole\Earth (Fred Armisen), Jay\Lightning (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai\Fire (Michael Pena), Zane\Ice (Zach Woods), and Nya\Water (Abbi Jacobson). They get to ride around in really cool LEGO robots that can shoot things and fly, and I can totally see the toy appeal. Lloyd’s robot vehicle is a dragon that shoots missiles from every body part imaginable – what kid could resist? But the genius is that that they all have something different, so the potential for you to spend money is almost limitless.

Anyway, when Garmadon makes his most successful bid to capture the city (and a monster threatens to destroy it), Lloyd will have to learn now to harness his vague ninja powers, pull his team together, and also bond a little with his bad guy dad.

Yes, it’s all a big ploy to get into your wallet. But like the other LEGO movies that came before it, it’s also shamelessly fun. But this one is the weakest of the three, in part because it only appeals to the kids who know and watch the show. The other two movies preyed on adult nostalgia and reminded them of the toys they played with as kids. The only thing this movie might remind you of is the sharp little buggers that get lost in your carpet and hurt like hell when you step on them at night on your way to the bathroom. LEGO knows what it’s doing: the butt joke ratio is extremely high, and the kids laugh every damn time. So go ahead and take them to it, as long as you understand that it’s likely to cost you more than just the movie tickets.

CHIPS

CHIPS is an exercise in tempered expectations. One title card should be all the tempering you need: ‘written and directed by Dax Shepard.’ Dax Shepard isn’t exactly a visionary film maker. At best, he’s taking home a Participation ribbon from the He’s Trying His Best Awards. But why would you expect more from a guy who got his start on the prank show Punk’d? His whole career has been one big blinking caution sign: Hey guys, PLEASE don’t take me seriously, because I sure as hell don’t.

That said, CHIPS wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting – but then again, maybe that’s because I was expecting hot, runny garbage and what I got was a neat and tidy compost bin. You may hope for “HAHAHAHAHA!”, but count yourself lucky to get a few “hehs”.

Chips-The-Movie-15I am much, MUCH too young (and beautiful, but that’s besides the point) to have grown up watching CHIPS so the movie didn’t do a damn thing to disillusion my childhood or anything near as serious. It’s a dumb movie written by a guy with a pretty juvenile sense of humour. What you see is what you get.

Shepard plays Jon Baker, a slob, a deadbeat, and a broken shell of an ex-motor cross rider, and he’s also the lowest-scoring guy to ever be pity-hired by California Highway Patrol. Baker’s about to be partnered with his polar opposite, the suave, well-groomed, cocky undercover agent Ponch (Michael Pena) who’s investigating the CHP for crooked cops. Somehow they have to overcome the deficiencies of their partnership (and the script) to take down some very bad dudes.

The movie has its moments: good moments, and hella-bad moments. I did enjoy seeing paparazzi get plowed, Adam Brody get shot multiple times, and Vincent D’Onofrio be described as a man who “never sent a mother’s day card” and maybe also “eats koala bears.”

There’s no mistaking this for a good movie but if you’re in the right kind of mood (read: loosey-goosey), it just might do. And the fact that the cast is rounded out by tonnes of people who have either worked with Shepard or his lovely wife Kristen Bell before to me speaks volumes: he must be a good dude with the comedy stylings of a brazen 12 year old at his first sleepover. Friends in the cast include Ryan Hansen (from Veronica Mars), Josh Duhamel (When In Rome), Maya Rudolph (Idiocracy), Jessica McNamee (Sirens), and Mae Whitman and Rosa Salazar, both from Parenthood. I’m not saying it makes for a good movie, because it doesn’t. But it must mean something, right? In this case, it means a 100-minute celebration of the brainless low-brow.

War On Everyone

Two buddy detectives (Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard) are corrupt as hell and enjoy bashing skulls together as they extort the hell out of any vague criminal sort that crosses paths with them. But that’s a really good way to meet some really bad people, and eventually, they do.

woe_firstlook-2-1024x716It takes all of 4 minutes to realize that this movie is not going to live up to even modified expectations. The dialogue is surprisingly bad, perhaps because writer-director John Michael McDonagh, capable of Calvary, is instead treating this like he’s writing on spec for straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler.

The good news is that both Pena and Skarsgard look pretty darn good in three piece suits. The fault is not with them – I don’t think anyone could survive this kind of sloppy writing. I think I see what McDonagh is aiming for: salty, quippy, something like Apatow meets Tarantino. Not only does it fail to live up to either of those names, it’s forgettable even as you’re watching it. It may as well never have been made. And it never justifies itself. 97 minutes later, I still can’t even account for the 70s porn music that unironically accompanied random car chase scenes, and I definitely can’t decide which of the villains is most laughable. I guess you might find it passably enjoyable if you’re in the right mood, but I am decidedly not. This shit just feels tone deaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.

Ant-Man

Ant-Man reminded me a lot of the first Iron Man movie (which started this recent superhero craziness) so it makes a nice bookend as we close out Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a small, focused and mostly self-contained movie about some good-hearted criminals who can’t be that good at their jobs since they all have served significant time in prison. But for whatever reason, Michael Douglas takes a liking to Paul Rudd. And really, it makes sense because Paul Rudd seems like a guy who you could trust with your superhero suit. So after a fairly long lead in, Paul Rudd learns to be Ant-Man and saves the world.

The thing about superhero movies is: the plot doesn’t matter anymore. Every origin story is going to be the same, more or less. What separates the good from the bad is whether the movie (a) feels new or novel in some way; (b) makes you care about the characters and/or the outcome, even after having seen like 30 movies in this genre; and (c) makes you want to see the character join the Avengers/Guardians/Justice League for their next movie. On those criteria, Ant-Man is a smashing success.

I felt like this was something new and a movie that could have stood on its own. I cared about Ant-Man and wanted him to succeed. And after seeing Ant-Man, i hope that he joins the Avengers, if nothing else so we can see him interact with all of them.

And if/when Ant-Man jumps to the team, i hope Michael Pena tags along. He’s the funniest part about this movie and a huge reason why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Which was a lot, so i give Ant-Man nine subatomic superheroes out of ten!

Adding to the fun were the rumble seats, which are called D-Box at Cineplex for some reason. They were hard to choose over VIP at Lansdowne (food and alcohol delivery to my seat is the best thing i can think of) but now they’re in Gloucester too so that makes them easier to recommend. I would pay the extra money again for an action movie.  Just be sure to turn the chair to its max setting, because obviously you want the most shake available! It’s not quite up to par with all the immersive movie rides we recently went on at Universal but it’s still fun and worth a try for the punching effect by itself. I look forward to trying them for Southpaw.

Fury

Another WW2 movie released in 2014 – see my reviews of Unbroken and The Monuments Men – that didn’t get a whole lot of attention. Is it possible the American film-going population is finally sick of movies about old wars? None of these movies is great but neither are they bad, which to my mind place them above American Sniper, which showcases a more recent war effort but alsofurybradpitt glorifies it.

Fury is about a tank crew in the final days of the war. Brad Pitt plays “Wardaddy”, an aging staff sergeant to a veteran crew: “Bible” (Shia LeBoeuf), “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal), and “Gordo” (Michael Pena), who credit him with keeping them all alive. They’ve recently lost their fifth man so newbie Norman (Logan Lerman), a typist who’s never seen the inside of a tank let alone the ravages of war is drafted to join the gang. Pitt’s in charge of his tank, nicknamed Fury, but it’s obvious that the fury also comes from inside him. He’s angry at what he’s seen and takes comfort in abusing prisoners and killing Nazis. He counsels young Norman to do the same, but Norman doesn’t think killing prisoners is “right” and refuses.

fury-movie-2014After discussing the moral relativism inherent in A Most Violent Year, this movie had me thinking more along the lines of righteousness, and whether those ideals apply to wartime at all. The film does a brutally stirring job of showing good Nazis, bad Allies, sympathetic Germans, ignorant Americans, and everything in between. THIS is truth. This isn’t Clint Eastwood’s fanatical fanboy version of war, this is the real and harsh and horrid. One man may be both hero and monster. Both sides believe in what they are doing. Everyone’s afraid.

Director David Ayer put his actors through a controversial process, starting with boot camp, but also forcing them to live together in the tank, encouraging them to fight each other physically on set, and hurl verbal abuse at each other, while swearing them all to absolute secrecy. Shia LeBoeuf, never a stranger to controversy himself, took things a step further, pulling out his ownfury tooth, cutting himself repeatedly, and refusing to shower for the duration of the shoot.

Did all of this make for a better movie? Certainly the tank stands in for their “home” and the crew as their “family”, with all the dysfunction and closeness and claustrophobia that brings. The violence is relentless. The tension is gut-clenching. But it’s the middle act that stabbed at me – how the Greatest Generation is merciful and merciless at war. Unfortunately, we get a little glimpse of anyone’s life pre- (or post) war and the characters feel a little one-note. Brad Pitt, kind of old to be a non-commissioned officer at this point, may also be a WW1 veteran, but in Fury, nothing outside the tank matters – or maybe they’ve just been at it so long they’ve forgotten who they used to be. Watching them go from one act of savagery to the next, it’s easy to believe that whoever they once were, they aren’t anymore. When we sent these men home (if they made it home at all), they were changed.

 

 

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.