Film Review: The Butterfly Effect (dir by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber)


How many different ways can Ashton Kutcher fuck up time and space?

That’s the question asked in the gloriously silly The Butterfly Effect, a film that was a minor hit back in 2004.  Ashton plays Evan Treborn, a disheveled college student who is studying how memory works.  All through his life, Evan has suffered from seizures that are triggered by stress.  Evan has a lot of stress because apparently, there’s not a single bad thing that didn’t happen to him when he was a child.

Crazy father who tried to strangle Evan before being gunned down in front of his son’s terrified eyes?  Yep.

Sexual molestation at the hands of a suburban drunk?  Yep.

A best friend who blew up not only a mailbox but also a mother and a baby?  Yep.

A dog that was set on fire by a neighborhood bully?  Yep.

Another friend who was driven into a catatonic state by all the madness around him?  Yep.

A girlfriend who, due to family tragedy, had to move away?  Yep.

However, things seem to be getting better for Evan.  Now, he’s a psychology major with a bright future.  His professors love him.  He’s even got a roommate named Thumper (played, somewhat inevitably, by Ethan Suplee).   And, as he’s soon to discover, he possesses a special power.  All he has to do is read his old journals and, for a limited time, he can go into the past and change his history.

Of course, it turns out that changing history is a lot more complicated than it looks.  Evan goes back into the past and confronts the pervy suburban drunk.  He then goes back to the present and discovers that he’s now a shallow frat boy who is hated by both his professors and Thumper!  Even worse, he eventually ends up in prison for killing a man.  Going back into the past and saving his dog leads to his friend Lenny (Elden Hansen) spending the rest of his life imprisoned.  Another trip to the past results in Evan waking up as a double amputee.  Depending on what Evan does, his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) either becomes a shallow sorority princess or a drug-addicted prostitute.  Meanwhile, Kayleigh’s brother (William Lee Scott) goes from being a psychotic murderer to a clean-cut religious guy.

Thumper never changers, though.  Thumper endures.

This, of course, is a lot of pressure to put on any character played by Ashton Kutcher and soon, Evan is having nosebleeds and migraines.  Every time he changes the past, his brain is flooded with 20 years worth of new memories.  His brain might explode before he can fix all the damage that he’s done….

Watching The Butterfly Effect is an odd experience because, on the one hand, the premise is genuinely intriguing but, on the other hand, the film stars the reliably goofy Ashton Kutcher.  Ashton grows a beard and doesn’t wash his hair for the first half of the movie, which is the film’s way of letting us know that we’re meant to take him seriously but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still Ashton Kutcher.  Even when playing the most dramatic of scenes, Ashton tends to deliver every line as if it’s the set up for a punch line.  It’s not surprising that the best part of The Butterfly Effect is when Ashton wakes up and discovers that he’s now a frat boy.  Those scenes are intentionally funny and they take advantage of what Ashton Kutcher is actually good at.

At the same time, it’s hard not to get into The Butterfly Effect.  It’s a mess but it’s a likable mess and it’s undeniably enjoyable to see how everyone’s life changes as a result of Ashton’s constant meddling.  (William Lee Scott especially has fun, switching between being full-blown psycho and full-blown religious.)  The Butterfly Effect may be dumb but it’s fun.  It’s a film that’s best watched with your snarkiest friends.

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January


2013 oscars

Why are these Oscar predictions “way too early?”

Well, unlike every other movie blogger right now, I am not attempting to predict who and what will be nominated on January 24th.  Instead, with this post, I am attempting to predict which 2017 releases will be nominated next year!  In short, I am attempting to predict what movies and which performers will emerge as Oscar contenders over the next 12 months.

Needless to say, this is more than a little bit foolish on my part.  I haven’t seen any of the films listed below.  Some of these films don’t have release dates and others are coming out so early in the year that, in order to be contenders, they’ll have to be so spectacular that neither the Academy nor the critics end up forgetting about them.  For the most part, the true picture of the Oscar race usually doesn’t start to emerge until the summer.

For now, these predictions are, for the most part, wild guesses and they should be taken with more than just a grain of salt.  Each month, I will revise my predictions.  At the very least, next year, we’ll probably be able to look back at this post and laugh.

(Whenever trying to make early Oscar predictions, one should remember all of the award bloggers who predicted Nicole Kidman would win an Oscar for Grace of Monaco, just to then see the movie make its long-delayed premiere on Lifetime.)

With all that in mind, here are my way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

All Eyez on Me

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

Blade Runner 2047

Crown Heights

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

T2: Trainspotting

War Machine

Again, for the most part, these predictions are a combination of wild guesses, instinct, and wishful thinking.  It’s entirely possible that none of these films will actually be nominated for best picture.  (Some might even end up premiering on Lifetime, you never know.)  Here’s why I think that some of them might be remembered next year at this time:

All Eyez On Me is a biopic of Tupac Shakur.  Assuming the film is done correctly, Shakur’s life would seem to have all the elements that usually go into an Oscar-winning film.

Battle of the Sexes is a film based on a true incident, a 1970s tennis match between a feminist and a self-declared male chauvinist.  It’s directed by the team behind the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine and it stars two former nominees, Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

The Beguiled might be wishful thinking on my part but, at this point, wishful thinking is all I have to go on for most of these predictions.  The Beguiled is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film and it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, Sofia Coppola!  Much like Battle of the Sexes, its misogynist-gets-what’s-coming-to-him storyline might make it the perfect film for the first year of the Trump presidency.

Blade Runner 2047 is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2017 and it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is hot off of Arrival.  The Oscar success of Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a sequel can be a contender.

Every year, at least one contender emerges out of Sundance and this year, it could very well be Crown Heights.  It tells a fact-based story, about a man trying to win his best friend’s release from prison after the latter is wrongly convicted.  That all sounds very Oscar baity.

Speaking of Oscar bait, Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.  If that doesn’t sound like Oscar bait, I don’t know what does.

Downsizing is Alexander Payne’s latest film.  It’s about a man (Matt Damon), who shrinks himself.  It may not sound like typical Oscar bait but Payne is definitely a favorite of the Academy’s.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s big epic for 2017.  Will it be another huge success or will it just be bombastic?  We’ll see.  The Academy has a weakness for World War II films and it could be argued that the very successful yet never nominated Nolan is overdue for some Academy recognition.  (It is true that Inception received a nomination for best picture but Nolan himself was snubbed.)

T2: Trainspotting is probably coming out too early in the year to be a legitimate contender but who knows?  The trailer was great.  Danny Boyle is directing it.  And, much as with Blade Runner 2047, Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a well-made and intelligent sequel can find favor with the Academy.

War Machine is described as being a satire about the war in Afghanistan.  Could it be another Big Short?  With Obama out of office, the Academy might be more open to political satire than they’ve been in the past.

Best Director

Danny Boyle for T2: Trainspotting

Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Again, there’s a lot of random guessing here.  Personally, I’d love to see Sofia Coppola receive a second nomination for best director.  Payne and Boyle are always possibilities and, if Villeneuve’s work on Arrival is ignored this year, nominating him for Blade Runner would be a good way to make up for it.  As for Nolan, he’s going to get nominated some day.   Why not for Dunkirk?

Best Actor

Tom Cruise in American Made

Sam Elliott in The Hero

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Logan Lerman in Sidney Hall

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

In American Made, Tom Cruise plays a real-life drug runner.  It sounds like one of those change-of-pace roles that often results in an Oscar nomination.  Gary Oldman has never won an Oscar and has only been nominated once.  The Academy might want to rectify that situation by nominating him for playing Winston Churchill.  And finally, Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in a big budget musical that’s scheduled to open on Christmas Day?  It sounds like either a total disaster or the formula for Oscar gold!

Logan Lerman is one of those actors who appears to be destined to eventually be nominated for an Oscar and, in Sidney Hall, he ages over thirty years.  Finally, Sam Elliott is a beloved veteran who has never been nominated.  If The Hero is a hit at Sundance, it’s easy to imagine the Oscar campaign that will follow.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry

As of this writing, Meryl Streep does not have a movie scheduled to be released in 2017, which means that another actress will get the sport usually reserved for her.  But who?  Jessica Chastain could be nominated because she’s Jessica Chastain and the Academy loves her.  Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for a second time in Victoria and Abdul.  The Academy loves movies about British royalty and Dench has already been nominated once for bringing Victoria to life.  Naomi Watts plays a loving but possibly crazy mother in The Book of Henry, which again sounds like a very Oscar baity role.  If Emma Stone doesn’t win for La La Land, the Academy could make it up to her by nominating her for Battle of the Sexes.

As for Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled — well, let’s call that wishful thinking.  My hope is that Sofia Coppola will do great things with The Beguiled and she will get another great performance out of Nicole Kidman.  We’ll see if I’m right.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Carlyle in T2: Trainspotting

Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Experss

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Bill Skarsgard in It

Kevin Spacey in Billionaire Boys Club

Admittedly, the guesses here are fairly random but there is a logic behind each nominee.  Robert Carlyle was great in Trainspotting so he might be just as great in T2.  In Billionaire Boys Club, Kevin Spacey plays a sleazy con artist and that sounds like the type of role with which he could do wonders.  If It is to be a success, Bill Skarsgard is going to have to be a terrifying Pennywise.  If Heath Ledger could win for playing the Joker, surely Skarsgard could be nominated for playing Pennywise.

As for James Franco in The Masterpiece … yes, it’s more wishful thinking on my part.  Franco will be playing Tommy Wiseau, the director of the notorious The Room.  Wiseau is, needless to say, an eccentric figure.  Not only do I think James Franco could give an award-worthy performance in the role but I also just like the idea of someone getting an Oscar for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Finally, we have Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Express.  Why not?  It seems like someone from that film’s huge cast is destined to be nominated so why not Johnny Depp?

 

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Aniston in The Yellow Birds

Danai Guirra in All Eyez On Me

Kelly MacDonald in T2: Trainspotting

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

These guesses are even more random than my guesses for supporting actor.  Jennifer Aniston and Danai Guirra will both be playing mothers who lose their sons.  A lot of people were surprised when Aniston was not nominated for Cake so here’s a chance for the Academy to make it up to her.  As for Kristin Scott Thomas, she’ll be playing Winston Churchill’s wife and the Academy loves historical wives (i.e., Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything).

As for the last two predictions, Tilda Swinton is listed because she’s Tilda Swinton.  Kelly MacDonald is listed for the same reason that I put Robert Carlyle down for supporting actor.  She was just so good in the first film.

So, there you go!  Those are my too early Oscar predictions for January!  Will they prove to be accurate?  Probably not.

But we’ll see how things change over the next couple of months.  At the very least, you’ll be able to look back at this post and laugh at me for thinking that … oh, let’s say Battle of the Sexes … would ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

As for me, I’ll be revising my predictions in February.  At least by that point, maybe the Sundance Film Festival will have provided some guidance…

Tommy_Wiseau_in_The_Room

Here Are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!


Here are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!  I don’t know what the cat’s yawning about; these nominations are actually an interesting mix of the usual suspects (Moonlight, Manchester, La La Land) and a few unexpected but intriguing picks (like 13th and The Witch).

THE 2016 SEATTLE FILM AWARD NOMINEES:

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Robert EggersThe Witch
  • Barry JenkinsMoonlight
  • Paul Verhoeven – Elle
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  • Ryan GoslingLa La Land
  • Logan Lerman – Indignation
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma StoneLa La Land

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Naomie HarrisMoonlight
  • Kate McKinnonGhostbusters
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:

BEST SCREENPLAY:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • EllePaul Verhoeven, director
  • The HandmaidenPark Chan-wook, director
  • The InnocentsAnne Fontaine, director
  • Under The ShadowBabak Anvari, director
  • The WailingNa Hong-jin, director

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

BEST FILM EDITING:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (18 years of age or younger upon start of filming):

BEST VILLAIN:

10_Cloverfield_Lane

4 Shots From 4 Films: Sabotage, The Raid 2, John Wick, Fury


2014 had it’s share of very good action films and here are four that I was particularly drawn to. While the film themselves were of varying degrees of quality in terms of storytelling. These 4 films all had one thing that I enjoyed despite their films’ flaws. They all had action scenes that I thought were quite excellent.

You have gritty present-day action thriller, an operatic gangster epic, a revenge thriller and a war film. One stars an aging action star back from playing politician. Another a foreign film whose filmmaker and star have set the bar for all action films for years to come. Then there’s the stunt coordinators and 2nd unit directors finally making their mark with their first feature-length film. Lastly, a war film that brings the brutality of World War II tank warfare to the forefront.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

So, was Noah good or not?


Poster-Noah-Aronofsky

Was Noah a good movie or not?

That’s a question that was first asked way back in March.  At the time, the answer depended on who you asked.  For instance, Noah is one of Arleigh’s favorite films of the year.  My reaction, however, was far more mixed.  Noah was one of those movies that I thought I would review as soon as I watched it but that proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected.  As I found myself wondering what I should say in my review, it became very apparent to me that I wasn’t sure whether I liked the film or not.

By the time that I finally decided that I was, overall, disappointed by Darren Aronofsky’s controversial and spiritual-but-not-quite-biblical version of the Deluge, over a month had passed and we had all moved on to different movies.

And so that review remained unwritten.  And, at first, I thought it wouldn’t matter.  As much as I try to review every single movie that I see, I know that the world is not going to end if I miss a film or two.  After all, I’ve never specifically written down just how much I hated the latest Transformers movie and the world has yet to plunge into the sun…

And yet, for all of its flaws and the fact that it left me feeling underwhelmed, Noah has stuck in my mind in a way that many of the films that I saw this year have not.  It would be a struggle for me to remember much of anything about Dracula Untold but Noah Noah has stayed with me.

Thinking back, it’s easy for me to say what did not work about Noah.

As opposed to Aronofsky’s best films (Requiem for A Dream, The Wrestler, and my beloved Black Swan), Noah felt oddly paced with certain scenes ending too quickly while other scenes seemed to drag on forever.

The film’s environmental message was delivered with such a heavy hand that it ultimately did not make much of a difference whether you agreed or not.  For a film that went out of its way to establish itself as not being a traditional biblical film, Noah was certainly preachy.

While the film deserves credit for not flinching in its portrait of a surly and self-righteous Noah, it still doesn’t change the fact that the movie was essentially 138 minutes spent with a very unlikable character.

Anthony Hopkins gave perhaps the worst performance of his career as Methuselah.  In the role of Tubal-Cain, Ray Winstone was such a one-dimensional villain that I half expected him to invent trains just so he could tie Emma Watson to the tracks.

And, of course, there were the Watchers — fallen angels who had been turned into sentient piles of stone by a vengeful God.  I know that some people loved the Watchers but to me, they looked ludicrous…

NoahWatchers

And yet, that’s the reason why we love Darren Aronofsky, isn’t it?

Obviously, it was a risk to portray the fallen angels as being a bunch of talking rocks.  It was also a risk to take a character who is mentioned only once in the book of Genesis — in this case, Tubal-Cain — and then use that character as a representation of everything that’s wrong with the human race.  It was a risk to make a “biblical” film that openly questioned both the existence and wisdom of God.  We expect and demand that directors take risks but, at the same time, we also want to ridicule and judge when those risks don’t work out.  That’s the issue that we, as film lovers, often face.  Do we celebrate and perhaps excuse a director for his intentions or do we solely judge him based on the results?

And the thing with Noah is that, as much as the movie did not work for me, it also did work for me.  For all of those flaws that I listed above, Noah is full of images that are so beautiful and so memorable that I can still visualize them as if I saw them yesterday:

Noah and his sons walk across a gray and blasted landscape, stopping just long enough to stare at a foreboding city in the distance.

Noah walks through a decadent settlement and briefly, this somber film is so full of bright colors and flamboyant characters that the viewer is almost as overwhelmed as Noah.

That Ark, looking small and isolated, floating across an endless blue ocean.

And finally, Noah talking about the horrors of humanity and briefly, we see that the shadows that he’s visualizing are dressed in modern clothing.

For all of my issues with Noah, it’s such a visually impressive film and takes so many risks that I can’t help but respect it.  I don’t consider it to be a great film but, after all this time, I can say that it’s a film that only a true artist could make.

And, considering the current state of American film, that’s one of the best compliments that one can give.

noah-banner222

The Brief Thrill Of The Phoenix Film Critics Nominations


Lego MovieI have to admit that, when I first looked at the just-released Phoenix Film Critics Nominations for 2014, I got really excited.  I saw The LEGO Movie listed among the nominees for best picture and I thought to myself, “Oh my God!  Could The LEGO Movie be set to be the fourth animated film to score a best picture nomination from the Academy!?”

Seriously, my inner movie trivia lover was so excited!

Then, of course, I remembered that critical recognition doesn’t necessarily translate into Oscar nominations.  And I was forced to admit that The LEGO Movie probably will not be nominated for best picture, though it definitely remains a front runner for best animated feature.

But, for a few moments there, I was truly an excited Oscar watcher.

Anyway, here are the Phoenix Film Critics Nominations!

(h/t to Awards Circuit)

BEST PICTURE/ TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Gone Girl
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Lego Movie
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
  • David Fincher, Gone Girl
  • Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Brendon Gleeson, Calvary
  • Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Amy Adams, Big Eyes
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Hilary Swank, The Homesman
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Logan Lerman, Fury
  • Edward Norton, Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J. K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
  • Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ENSMEBLE ACTING

  • Birdman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods

BEST SCREENPLAY WRITTEN DIRECTLY FOR THE SCREEN

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Whiplash

BEST SCREENPLAY ADAPTED FROM ANOTHER MEDIUM

  • American Sniper
  • Gone Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Wild

BEST LIVE ACTION FAMILY FILM

  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods
  • Maleficent
  • Muppets Most Wanted

BEST ANIMATED FILM

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • The Lego Movie
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2

OVERLOOKED FILM OF THE YEAR

  • Calvary
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Obvious Child
  • The Skeleton Twins
  • Snowpiercer

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Force Majeure
  • IDA
  • Mood Indigo
  • The Raid 2

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Citizenfour
  • Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Life Itself
  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • Everything is Awesome, The Lego Movie
  • Immortals, Big Hero 6
  • Lost Stars, Begin Again
  • Miracles, Unbroken

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Birdman
  • Gone Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • The Theory of Everything

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Birdman
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Unbroken

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Gone Girl
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Snowpiercer

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Inherent Vice
  • Into the Woods
  • Maleficent
  • The Theory of Everything

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Interstellar

BEST STUNTS

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • John Wick
  • Need for Speed
  • The Raid 2

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE ON CAMERA

  • Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Jenny Slate, Obvious Child

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE BEHIND THE CAMERA

  • Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
  • Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  • Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child
  • Jon Stewart, Rosewater

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A YOUTH – MALE

  • Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
  • Daniel Huttlestone, Into the Woods
  • Jaeden Lieberber, St. Vincent
  • Ed Oxenbould, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A YOUTH – FEMALE

  • Lilla Crawford, Into the Woods
  • Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar
  • Sterling Jerins, And So It Goes

grand-budapest-hotel

Review: Fury (dir. by David Ayer)


Fury

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”

1998 saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Prior to this most films depicted World War II as a noble endeavor that needed to be done to help rid the world of Hitler and the horror he was inflicting upon Europe (beyond if given the chance). It gave birth to the “Greatest Generation” that people still look up to even to this day. These were young men who volunteered for a conflict that would change history and for the millions involved. Yet, World War II films were always cut and dried. It was always the good guys (American, British, Canadian, etc…) fighting against the nameless and efficient Nazi war machine.

In time, so many of these films followed the same formula that character stereotypes came about. We always had the cynical, older veteran who becomes a sort of father figure to a hodge-podge group of young, untested soldiers. What these films also had in common was the fact that they remain bloodless despite the nature of the story being told. Some filmmakers would try to buck this time-tested formula (Sam Fuller being the most prominent), but it would take 1998’s Saving Private Ryan to set a shift in how we saw World War II.

Spielberg lifted the rose-colored glasses from the audience and dared to show that while noble, World War II was still war and it still had the horror and brutality that all wars have. 2014’s Fury by David Ayer would continue this exploration of the last “Good War” in it’s most gritty and blood-soaked detail.

The film shows the last gasp of the German war machine as Hitler gives one of his final orders for the German people to repel the invading Allies. It was to be a scorched earth defense. Whether by choice or forced into this desperate tactic, every man, woman and child was to take up arms to their last breath to defend the Fatherland. It’s in this nightmare scenario that we find the veteran Sherman tank crew led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier trying to survive these final days til war’s end. Their home for the last two and a half years since North Africa has been a modified Sherman tank they call Fury. It’s a crew that’s been battle tested from the sands of North Africa, the maze-like hedgerows of France’s bocage and now the countryside of Germany itself.

We can see right from the start that this crew has been through hell and back many times and already resigned to going through hell many more times before they can eveb think of getting back home. It’s a crew that’s already lost one of it’s own minutes into the film. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) looms over his crew like a weary father figure. This ragtag group consists of Bible (Shia LaBeouf) as the born-again Christian who sees their survival battle after battle as a sign that God’s grace is upon Fury and her crew. Then we have Gordo (Michael Peña) who has been so traumatized by the war and what he has had to do to survive that he has numbed himself from these memories by being in a constant state of drunkenness. Lastly, we have the tank’s loader Grady (Jon Bernthal) whose misanthropic attitude comes as a crude and brutish counterpoint to Bible’s religious fervor. Into this misanthropic soup of a crew comes in the replacement to their recently killed comrade.

Logan Lerman’s character, the young and naive clerk typist Norman Ellison, becomes the audience’s eyes in the brutal world of Fury and her crew. We’re meant to see the war’s brutality and horror not through the jaded and cynical eyes of Wardaddy and his men, but through a young man who has never killed an enemy or even fired a weapon in anger. Norman becomes the surrogate through which we determine and decide whether there is such a thing a nobility and honor in war.

Honor and nobility have always been used by those always willing to go to war to convince the young and impressionable to follow them into the breach. Fury takes these two words and what they represent and muddies them through the muck and gore left behind with each passing battle and tries to see if they remain unchanged on the other side. Norman is a literal babe in the woods as he must adapt or die in a war nearing it’s end but also becoming even more deadly and dangerous than ever. His very naivete quickly becomes a hindrance and a real danger to Wardaddy and his crew. He’s not meant for this world but has had it thrust upon him.

The film treats Norman’s humanity as a liability in a war that strips it from everyone given enough time. We see Wardaddy attempt to speed up the process during a tense sequence where Norman’s being forced to shoot a German prisoner. It’s a sequence of events that’s both unnerving and disturbing as we see the veteran soldiers encircling Norman and Wardaddy cheering or looking on with indifference in their eyes. They’ve all been in something similar and one can only imagine what they had to do to make it this far.

Fury straddles a fine line between showing and explaining it’s themes to the audience. It’s to David Ayer’s skill as a writer that the film’s able to use some finely choreographed scenes both violent and peaceful to make a point about war’s effect on it’s participants both physically and mentally. Whether it’s through several well-choreographed battle scenes to a sequence of tense and quiet serenity in the apartment of two German women that bring back the plantation segment from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux, the film does a great job in showing how even when stripped down close to the bone, Wardaddy and his veteran crew still has semblance of humanity and the honor and nobility they all began the war with.

As a war film, Fury brings a type of combat to the bigscreen that has rarely been explored and never in such a realistic fashion as we watch tank warfare at it’s most tactical and most horrific. Ayer doesn’t fall for the jump cut style that many filmmakers nowadays sees as a way to convey the chaos of battle. Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasnayov have planned every sequence to allow the audience to keep track of the two opposing sides and their place in the battle’s geography. And just like Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan, Fury shows the very ugly and bloody side of World War II. There’s a lot of bodies being blown apart and torn to chunks of meat yet they never seem to come off as gratuitous. Every bloody moment makes a point on the horrors of war and the level of inhumanity that another man inflicts on another man.

If there’s something that Fury does lag behind on it would be some of the narrative choices dealing with Norman’s character. The film takes place literally over a day’s time and the quick change in Norman’s mentality about the war seem very sudden and abrupt. While this day in the life of Fury and her crew worked well in Ayer’s past films (both as writer or director) here it puts Ayer stuck in a corner that made it difficult to fully justify Norman’s sudden change of heart from babe in the woods to hardened Nazi-killer. We can see throughout the film that the war is affecting him in ways that could lead up to this change, but to have it happen in just under a day really stretches it’s believability to the breaking point.

Yet, despite this the film is able to stay on course and recover from this misstep on the strength of Ayer’s direction and the performances of the ensemble cast. Brad Pitt has been the focus of the media campaign leading up to the release of Fury, but every actor who comprises the crew of Fury leave their own mark in the film. Shia Labeouf has had a tough past year both professionally and personally, but one has to admit that performances like the one he had in Fury is a reminder that he’s a damn fine good actor. Whether this film has become the path to his redemption in the eyes of the public is irrelevant. One doesn’t need to like the man to respect the talent he’s able to put up on the screen.

Awards season is in full swing as Fall 2014 arrives and Fury makes it’s case known that genre films (and make no mistake this is a genre film) can more than hold it’s own with the more dramatic life-exploring films that critics tend to put on the pedestal as examples of great filmmaking. While Fury is not perfect it is a very good film full of great performances that just misses being great.