Fury

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2014

Columbia Pictures/QED International/LStar Capital

Written and Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, John Lesher, Alex Ott, Ethan Smith and David Ayer

If you’re like me and spend way too much time watching Turner Classic Movies then you surely must have seen many of the World War II movies they frequently show. Especially during Memorial Day Weekend which is given over to nothing but war films, most of them taking place during World War II. You have? Good. Because if you’ve seen a significant amount of World War II films, especially those made during that period then there’s nothing about FURY that’s going to surprise you or make you think you’re watching something new. Oh, it’s a helluva lot more profane and hideously bloody but for all intents and purposes this is a 1940’s war movie with way more graphic violence and language.

In writing and directing FURY, David Ayer has actually taken a step back and made a movie that’s unashamed of being violently macho. Sam Peckinpah would have loved this movie, I think. Because it’s a movie very much about When Men Were Men and doesn’t make any apology for it or the actions of “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and his four man Sherman tank crew. There are definitely some questionable scenes in the film that more sensitive viewers than I may interpret as involving American soldiers committing atrocities against German POWs and a possible consensual rape. But I will leave that discussion up to others more qualified than I to judge the rightness or wrongness of such actions.

It’s the last months of the European Theater in April of 1945 and the Allies are making their final, decisive push directly into the heart of Nazi Germany. In the forefront of the 2end Armored Division is the M4 Sherman tank named Fury commanded by Don “Wardaddy” Collier. It’s crewed by the deeply religious Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) the brutish Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) The fourth man was killed in a recent battle and Fury gets Norman “Machine” Ellison (Logan Lerman) as a replacement.

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Norman is so far out of his depth it’s pathetic. As he tells Wardaddy; “Yesterday I was sitting in an office typing 60 words a minute. Today I’m expected to machine gun Nazis.” Watching Norman’s transformation from terrified office worker to combat veteran is the major character arc of the movie and while it seems to me a really quick process as Norman takes to killing quite well I bought into the reasons for it because…well, it’s a World War II movie. What do you want, Shakespeare?

Norman and Wardaddy develop a strong bond that is tested when the crew of Fury accepts a mission to hold a vital road crossing against three hundred elite SS soldiers. Of course, at the time they accepted there was three other tanks backing them up. The other tanks are lost so it’s up to this one tank and five men, outnumbered and outgunned to protect the crossing. By doing so they’ll buy valuable time for a supply train to get through.  I’ll only just say that the apocalyptic battle between Fury’s crew and the three hundred SS soldiers reminded me a whole lot of that final fantastic shoot-out in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and leave it at that.

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A lot of FURY is mostly giving us that “War Is Hell” message that we’ve all seen in just about every war movie made. FURY can also indulge in a lot more brutality and downright viciousness but it also can take a moment to provide us some insight into Brad Pitt’s character of Wardaddy Collier, a man who has let the war make him as much of a horror in battle as the Nazis he hates with a frighteningly relentlessness. Between his work in TV’s “The Walking Dead” the movies “Snitch” “Grudge Match” and FURY, Jon Bernthal is rapidly becoming a favorite actor of mine. He’s one of those actors that always does something worth watching when he’s on screen. Michael Pena is nothing less than excellent as he always is.

The guy who really surprised me, though? Shia LaBeouf. I’ve never disliked his work but he’s one of those actors that I can “see” acting. Know what I mean? And he unfortunately was being shoved onto the public by the Hollywood press who tried desperately to convince us that we loved Shia LaBeouf when actually, many wished he would just stop making movies. But I’ll tell you something…he actually is pretty good here. Now, I’m not saying he was Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen good but at least I couldn’t see the parts moving when he was on screen like I could in his other movies.

So should you see FURY? Yes. It’s a solid piece of entertainment that has exceptionally good location shooting and production value. It was made for $68 million and looks like it cost twice that much. Just don’t go in expecting Brad Pitt to be playing a version of Lt. Aldo Raine. Wardaddy certainly isn’t anything like that character and FURY is most definitely its own kind of war movie.

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures' FURY.

134 minutes

Rated R

Edge Of Tomorrow

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2014

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Doug Limon

Produced by Erwin Stoff

Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

After all these years Hollywood has finally managed to do it. They’ve made a video game movie that actually is entertaining to watch and is clever enough that most people who watch it won’t even realize they’re watching a video game movie. But make no mistake; that’s exactly what EDGE OF TOMORROW is. Whenever the hero dies, his life is reset back to a starting point and he has to start all over again. But each time he gets a little further as he gains more knowledge and experience. And there are different levels where he has to accomplish certain tasks before he can move onto the next level.

The story begins in the fifth year of a vicious war humanity is waging against an alien race called Mimics. All of Earth’s armies have combined into the United Defense Force and it’s the job of a slick public relations officer, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to keep the propaganda machine well oiled. He’s assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to provide on the spot coverage from the front line during Operation Downfall, an all-out invasion of Europe, which is entirely under Mimic control. Cage is no combat soldier and foolishly tries to blackmail the General to get out of the assignment. Brigham promptly has Cage arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown to the tender mercy of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and his squad of misfits.

Cage and the squad land on the beaches of Normandy and are quickly wiped out by the hordes of Mimics who have apparently been waiting for them. Cage doesn’t last five minutes but is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and it’s this that “resets” him every time he dies. Every time Cage gets killed he immediately wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on the morning of the day before Operation Downfall.

Now it doesn’t take Cage long to figure out what has happened and of course he can get no one to believe him. No one except Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) known as “The Angel of Verdun” due to her spectacular victory there where she slaughtered hundreds of Mimics by herself while wearing a Jacket.  Jackets are armored exoskeletons that effectively turn a soldier into a walking tank. It would do that for Cage if he could only figure out how to turn the damn thing on.

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Turns out that Rita once had the ability to “reset” as well and it was this ability that allowed her to kill so many Mimics at Verdun. Before she lost her ability she learned of The Omega Mimic which is the consciousness that controls all the other Mimics and can also reset time. Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can survive long enough to get them to The Omega Mimic and destroy it.

Once you get the gimmick behind the time loop, you can sit back and relax and just enjoy the mayhem. Cage gets progressively better at using his Jacket and since he remembers when and how he and Rita get killed in the previous life he’s able to use that knowledge to avoid getting killed the same way twice and get closer and closer to his goal. You’d think that a movie about a time loop would be repetitive but there’s some really funny moments thrown in to break up the grimness of the story. And I wonder if Rita isn’t a statement on video game players who have no patience with the game they’re playing when they can’t advance as when she gets frustrated she simply kills Cage to “reset” everything and start all over.

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The Mimics aren’t terribly clever enemies. Looking like great big whirling balls of tentacles they’re simply here to fulfill what every video game needs: something to shoot at. Don’t go in expecting a lot of characterization here either. We’re told exactly what we need to know about the characters, no more and no less. I did like how Tom Cruise wasn’t playing his usual gung ho Man Of Action who jumps into the fray with fearless abandon. Will Cage is a coward, straight up and he’s not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He has to grow and develop into being a hero and Cruise sells it well.

It’s always fun to see Bill Paxton, no matter what and Emily Blunt does a more than capable job backing up Tom Cruise. So how does EDGE OF TOMORROW measure up against the other science fiction/action movies Tom Cruise has done? It’s light years ahead of “War of The Worlds” and “Oblivion” but doesn’t come close to touching “Minority Report” It’s an undemanding movie that does exactly what it’s designed to do: provide you with 113 minutes of spectacular action. It’s also a lot smarter than I expected and a lot more fun as well. It’s the best video game you’re going to see at the movies this summer. Enjoy.

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113 minutes

PG-13

 

 

 

Paths of Glory

PATHS OF GLORY

1957

Bryna Productions/United Artists

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Produced by James B. Harris

Screenplay written by Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham

Based on the novel “Paths of Glory” by Humphrey Cobb

We could discuss and debate all day long about why Stanley Kubrick is a genius filmmaker and why so many of his movies are masterpieces of cinema but here’s why his movies work for me: he didn’t sentimentalize or romanticize the way the people in his films behaved. He never worked at trying to make audiences like the people in his movies. He simply presented them as people and it’s up to you as a viewer to decide how you feel about them and what they’re doing. In a Stanley Kubrick movie, People Are People. And that’s just the way I like it.

In discussions I have with people about Stanley Kubrick the major complaint I hear from people as to why they don’t like his movies is that they’re too ‘cold’ and ‘cerebral’ which really perplexes me because those are words I would never use to describe “Spartacus” “Lolita” “Full Metal Jacket” “The Killing” “A Clockwork Orange” or the movie we’re going to be talking about now; PATHS OF GLORY.

We’re in the middle of World War I when General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) a senior member of the French Army General Staff visits General Mireau (George Macready) on a matter of grave urgency. The decision has been made (and quite pointedly it’s never made clear who exactly has made this decision) that an extraordinarily well-defended German position nicknamed “The Anthill” must be taken. Mireau is horrified at first. The Anthill is virtually impregnable. Taking it is a suicide mission and Mireau cites the brutally high cost of lives lost among his troops to take The Anthill and even if his men are successful, so many would be killed in the attempt that they couldn’t possibly hold it.

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Mireau sings a different song when Broulard dangles a fat promotion in front of his nose. All of a sudden Mireau thinks that such an attack will succeed. He leaves the actual planning of the attack to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who is frankly and openly aghast as he insists that the only thing this attack will do is waste the lives of good soldiers.  Mireau doesn’t back down and Dax insists that he be allowed to lead the men.

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The attack is a disaster right from jump. So many soldiers are killed in the first wave that the rest refuse to leave the safety of their trenches. An enraged General Mireau orders his own artillery commander to fire on Dax’s men to force them out of the trenches and onto the battlefield. No fool he, our artillery commander: if Mireau wants him to fire on their own troops, he wants it in writing. The attack fails miserably and with a hideously high body count to show for it.

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Mireau picks three soldiers to court-martial for cowardice. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) is chosen only because there’s a secret he knows about a murder his drunken lieutenant committed. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked because he’s a “social undesirable.” Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) is chosen randomly and he really has no business being on trial as he’s got citations for bravery. Dax volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial as in his civilian life he was a criminal defense lawyer but it soon becomes obvious to him that the entire trial is a kangaroo court and no matter what he does or says, three innocent men are going to be sentenced to death and stood up in front of a firing squad.

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The outrageous injustice of what happens to these three men, each good and loyal soldiers is the core of what makes PATHS OF GLORY such an incredibly compelling movie to watch. The movie is a war movie but then again it isn’t about war, although it’s got one of the most impressive battle scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s about the hypocritical and deceptive nature of cowardice masquerading as leadership. It’s about the abuse of power and arm-chair warriors deciding whose life is valuable and whose life should be thrown away. Even in an office setting there are Generald Broulards and General Mireaus.

It’s some powerful stuff and there’s an equally powerful cast to sell the story. For me, Adolphe Menjou walks away with the acting honors. The way General Broulard manipulates the events that happen in this movie has to be seen to be believed. If his character had ever managed to meet and marry Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin from “The Manchurian Candidate” the two of them could have taken over the world. I see him more as the villain of this piece than General Mireau who is little more than an opportunistic fool who doesn’t know how to cover his own ass. Ralph Meeker owns every scene he’s in and this movie is has one of the best and strongest performances I’ve ever seen him turn in. And Kirk Douglas…well, he’s Kirk Douglas. ‘Nuff said.

The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and this is one of those movies that I watch and I weep for those of you who refuse to watch black-and-white movies. There are movies that I can’t imagine being in color and PATHS OF GLORY is one of them.

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So should you see PATHS OF GLORY? Absolutely. It makes a terrific companion piece with Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic “Full Metal Jacket” It’s a perfect example of the kind of movie that people mean when they say; “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” And along with “Spartacus” it’s the Stanley Kubrick movie that people who claim Mr. Kubrick didn’t make emotional movies should watch. After scenes such as the kangaroo court, the doomed soldiers spending their last night together embracing their doom, the final walk to the firing squad and the final scene with the German girl singing to the French soldiers it’s obvious to me than Stanley Kubrick may have been the most emotional filmmaker the 20th Century had.

PATHS OF GLORY is available for streaming on Netflix and can also be seen on YouTube. I’ve provided the link below. Enjoy.

88 minutes

NR