Fury

The opening scene sets us up for an almost post-apocalyptic vista, we see a black shadow come out of the fug of battle, a German officer, riding on horseback with background music reminiscent of Carmina Burana, only to be jumped by Pitt’s character and killed.

I have to say that this is a good movie but not a great one. If I have to be honest I found it a little derivative and also a little lacking in budget.  If I had to describe it in terms of another movie, Memphis Belle (Michael Caton-Jones, 1990) springs to mind, in so far as it is about the crew on a tank (aircraft) trying to get to the end of the war, despite the challenges thrown at them. The cast is good, if slightly unbalanced. Pitt is a good lead, holding the team together, the star of the show however is Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012).  This is not a Spielberg movie, with wide camera shots and panoramic vistas, this is in your face close-up cinema. Directed by David Ayer (End of Watch,  2012).

The story starts in April 1945, in the dying days of the war, despite the closing chapter , the resistance is still strong, with crews dealing with fanatical hold-outs in the advance on Berlin. At the start we see typist Norman Ellison (Lerman) find his way to the new crew, where he is promptly treated as all newbies,  Driver, Garcia (Michael Peña – who worked with Ayer on End of Watch in 2012) immediately goes through Norman’s kitbag looking for “smokes” these are the important things not the books young Norman brought with him.

As the story develops we learn that the crew has been together for a number of years, indeed the opening scenes see us witnessing one of the crew being removed, headless. Norman is his replacement. As assistant driver, he is placed with Garcia, who quickly sets about making it clear what he needs to do and not do.  All of this is alongside the constant ribbing of Grady (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead, 2010-2012) the gunner’s mate. The large Hillbilly type character is constantly needling the young recruit and causes some tension along the way which Sgt. Collier has to contain.

Sgt. Collier’s call sign is “Wardaddy” and we quickly see why. The opening scene tells us, his crew is the only survivor or a raid. Later on when he is teamed up with a tank squad under the command of a young lieutenant, he quickly puts the young officer in his place while at the same time ensuring that the other sergeants carry out the orders. When the officer is Killed, he takes over command of the squad, all of the other sergeant in the squad already know him and respect his leadership. All this works to define the character as the movie proceeds.

The crew is rounded off by gunner Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, 2012), who takes the shape of a Southern Preacher, often quoting Verse to apply to a situation and trying to offer a sort of moral compass to the crew.

The crew is tasked to support the taking of a town, with a small squad of Shermans. The captain leading the attack (Jason Isaacs, After the Fall, 2014) in the nearby village gives Collier his instructions, where the Tough Collier simply – politely – asks to lead his tanks a certain route, The captain simply replies that he knows him and his reputation, and he should do as he needs to .  In this moment we see what could make this a much better film, attention to detail, little lines that give us character.

Before this attack the team is resting up in the town they just entered, as they approach the town they see the bodies of Germans, young and old, strung up for not fighting the Allies. When the town is taken the Burgermeister  is leading out people under a white flag, among those coming out is an SS officer, Collier shouts down to the Burgermeister (in fluent German) if the officer is responsible for the hangings, yes. On Collier’s orders the officer is taken aside and shot.

This is a motive which carries through the movie. In this town scene. Collier spies a nervous woman by a window and goes to see what or who  she might be hiding, It is her cousin. The women are treated well, by Collier and young Norman, the crew eventually arrive and share a meal cooked from supplies Collier gave the Germans. The crew through Grady is controlled through their childish actions to the German. What we see is a politically correct view that the ordinary German people were as much victims as others. Indeed the hatred is saved of the Nazis, such as SS soldiers.

Collier can be cruel, as with the rest of the crew, we see this when he forces young Norman to shoot a German prisoner, one caught wearing a US officer’s coat. This is done for his own good.  It comes after a blood battle to clear the way for trapped troupes which has caused the deaths of a number of the other crews.

Unfortunately it is the battle scenes which although done well and I have to say violently, let the movie down a little. They reminded me of the cheap made for TV movies which show a sweeping panoramic shot of a great scene (usually poor CGI) and then show all of the fighting close up and clearly limited. I felt a bit like that watching a scene clearly limited by budget.

If we compare it to Lebanon, (Samuel Maoz, 2009), we get the same sense of claustrophobic struggle with which the crews must carry on.

The movie works towards the great climax where the crew holds off an advancing SS battalion, by which stage Norman’s transformation to a fighting soldier is complete, so much so that he gains his new warname of “Machine”.

The movie is stylised, not least of all with the various hair-styles worn by the crew, I suspect crafted to suit the personalities of each of the crew members.

This is a war movie but not an epic. The effects are close up without any big expensive sweeping shots that we have seen in movies like Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998) or even Bridge at Ramagen (John Guillermin 1969). If I had to liken this to a particular movie, it would be Ramagen, with Segal’s Lieutenant Hartman being an analogue  of Colliers’.  The danger with close action shots is that certain extras can pop-up more than necessary, there was one soldier who seemed to pop-up a few times here when they could have used another extra, scrappy.

A firm 3star movie, not bad but will not be a classic.

’71

This movie tells the story of a young British soldier  accidentally separated from his squad and forced to try and find his way back to barracks. First time director Yann Demange  manages to capture a certain moment in the earl'71ier years of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular.

A friend of mine asked what all the fuss was about with “Twelve Years a Slave” in America, I mentioned the historical nerves that it touched and mentioned how we tend to look at works about Northern Ireland in a similar fashion, with a very critical eye. This is true for “’71” also, would it be an overly simplified piece of almost offensive rubbish, or be able to stand on its own. It did, it worked.

That said, could this movie have been made 10 or 15 years ago, possibly not. Wounds, if they can, need time to recover. This movie touches on a number of the historical elements which might be overlooked by some.  The  movie works by deliberately not looking at the bigger picture of the politics of Northern Ireland, instead it pieces together a montage of events all linked to the young squaddie trying to get out of a situation alive.

Fresh out of training private  Garry Hook, along with his squad, is posted to Belfast. We see O’Connell’s character finishing his training, say farewell to his son and ending up on a cot in a disused hall in an old school, somewhere in Belfast. We see from the time with his son that, he’s an ordinary father who loves his son and gives the impression he just wants to get on with life.  The “elephant in the room” here is O’Connell’s performance in “Starred Up” (2013) where he played the part of a young offender, who because of his violent nature was starred up to the adult prison, where he fights to fit in, overcome his own flaws and even meet up with and reconcile with his inmate father. O’Connell’s character showed a potentially decent person trying to come to terms with his way of life and the inherent violence it brings. While in ’71 we see what is basically an ordinary guy dealing with immeasurable violence as well as charity.

On the first full day in Belfast the  squad is tasked to provide security cover to the RUC while they raid a group of houses on a street. Prior to setting out, their equally inexperienced lieutenant (Sam Reid, Anonymous , 2011) orders Berets only, because they are trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals. The squad stand the line protecting the perimeter of the police operation, however the situation quickly descends, the platoon is overwhelmed by the crowd , a soldier is injured and in the confusion his weapon is stolen, private Hook and another are sent to retrieve the rifle but in doing so are set upon by the locals. One of the local women manages to get the gang off them, only to have a member of the provisional IRA shoot the other soldier and after a chase, fail to shoot Hook.

In the chase that follows we come across Captain  sandy Browning (Sean Harris, Harry Brown, 2009) and his men.  Together they make-up an undercover team working behind the scenes with both loyalist and republican terrorists. O’Connell manages to escape the young republicans who despite orders from the “Old-guard” not to kill the soldier, continue on their search for him. Meanwhile he is found by a young loyalist boy (Cory McKinley), whose father was killed and whose uncle is  a serving senior loyalist volunteer. While in the pub where they are based events unfurl and set private Hook is once again on the run, this time he is rescued by republicans. Towards the end of the night we are faced with the regular and undercover army looking for Hook, and competing elements of the IRA also searching for him.

The movie works best for those who have some background knowledge of The Troubles, the dust-bin protests, the double dealing, the undercover squads, the rules and struggles with in the paramilitary groups and how the ordinary person is impacted.  Two of the younger IRA volunteers Martin McCann (Killing Bono, 2011), and Barry Keoghan (Love/Hate, 2013) came to attention not least of all because of their  parts which showed how people are brought in to causes and essentially be the foot-soldiers of higher-ups who are intent on keeping a distance.

There are a number of twists along the way in this movie, seen from the view of history they walk. Overall this movie captures an event and all it entails without sending any particular political judgement. If there is a judgement it is on the situation in its entirety and how ordinary people from all lives are caught up in events. Just who can be trusted? People turn against their own people for various reasons, not least their own self-protection. Overall an excellent movie which flows well and produces exactly the performances needed by all the cast.  This is one of those films that will not hurt the career of anybody involved.

Rating 8/10 –

The Judge

On coming out of the movie theatre after seeing the movie “The Judge” you might be forgiven for asThe Judge New Posterking what kind of movie you just saw.  Part court-room drama, part road movie, part family drama. Rather than being a schizophrenic mis-mash it actually comes together well.

Robert Downey  Jnr, sets-off Robert Duvall’s character perfectly. There are essentially two main story lines, firstly the family dramas which unfold following the death of the mother of the clan (who we never meet) and then the court-case involving his father, the judge.

Downey’s character, Harry (Hank) Palmer is a  Chicago lawyer, who on the surface has everything, great house, family, career all. Upon news of his mother’s death he returns to the home from which he has been estranged for some years. Upon his return it soon becomes clear why. The head of the house, Judge Palmer, played by Robert Duval is a painfully honest man, who  sees things in his own way, of basic uncomplicated justice. He has been Judge in their town for over 40 years and his legacy hangs heavy on him. The character in some ways reminds me of the character he played in Secondhand Lions, ( 2003) again a tough old guy, straight as a die, who does not suffer fools. His wisdom of Solomon  type approach may have kept the townsfolk out of trouble most of the time, but it was a recipe for disaster at home. He had 3 sons, the oldest Glen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio,(Law and Order: Criminal Intent, 2001)  the middle son, Hank, (Downey) and  the youngest son (Jeremy  Strong).

It was directed by David Bodkin, who is better known for movies such as “Wedding Crashers” or “Change up”, while Nick Schenk (Gran Torino 2008) and Bill Dubuque took the lead with the script.

While home and dealing with his own pending divorce, Hank Palmer runs immediately in to the family tensions. We find out early on that the eldest son Glen was destined to be a baseball star until a car accident in his late teens damaged his arm and put an end to his career. We are allowed to presume who was responsible for the accident, it is only later that we are told what actually happened.  Glen has the resentment of the son who stayed at home while his brother became something, he had to remain in his father’s shadow, running his own garage at the edge of town  and also helping to look after his youngest brother Dale, played brilliantly by Strong has learning difficulties and uses a movie camera to record the life around him almost all of the time.

Not long after Hank arrives home, all three are on the porch of the house, when the Judge announces he is going to bed and makes final arrangements for the funeral, going inside he turns to his youngest son and looking him in the face, calmly says to him that if the camera makes an appearance at the funeral it will go up his arse.

While the family comes to terms with the loss, we see Glen’s resentment at life and we see the Judge being as stoic as ever. Hank, takes some time to watch his father in court and also meet some old neighbours (girlfriend). In to this mix comes news that their father has been in a traffic accident and a young man has been killed.  The difficulty is that Judge Palmer has no recollection of the accident and the person he killed was somebody he locked away 20 years ago for the murder of a young girl, who has just been released on parole.

Such are the tensions that just as Hank is returning to Chicago he is told of the Judge’s arrest. Despite the tensions in their relationship Hank immediately begins to legally defend his father. When his father announces that he has hired one of the local lawyers for his defence, Hank sits in on the meetings. When the case comes to court it is quickly evident to all concerned that the local guy C.P., (played by Dax Shepard, Parenthood, 2010) is out of his depth when up against the sharp special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton, the Man who Wasn’t There, 2001)brought in to fight the case.

Downey quickly takes over his father’s defence and struggles to defend him. His father’s health and general attitude prove the biggest challenges.

There are so many twists and turn that I do not want to say too much.  Outside of the courtroom we get a view of the family and in particular the three sons (neither of Glen’s two sons will ever play baseball professionally). What we see is three brothers who when allowed to be themselves get on perfectly, but in the presence of their father revert practically to kids, he controls the house. The Relationship with Hank and all the other is obviously stained, at one stage the Judge turns to him and said how he wished he liked his him more. With Downey being in  the movie there are a number of opportunities for some light humour, all of which Bodkin takes, mainly revolving around events between Hank and his ex-girlfriend  (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, 2013)of over 20 years ago, who he meets almost immediately upon return home. The issue in question is whether or not her daughter might actually be his also.

The movie is in many ways similar to “August: Osage County” from last year, this however is a better movie. We see essentially three movies in one, the homecoming/road movie, the family struggles and the court case.

As the movie develops, the Judge’s health declines, further adding to the developing story. This could have been a bad made-for-TV movies except for the quick wit created by the screenwriters and brilliantly delivered by the cast. The cinematography is simple, no great sweeping or dramatic shots to allow the director to tell the world how great he is, instead every scene counts, we get a feeling of closeness and despite being over 2 hours long, you do not feel the time go.

I did start the film wondering how it was going to go, my first impressions of Downey were of a reprise of his Tony Stark (Iron Man 2008) type character; arrogant and quick witted, but quickly we saw the character of Hank Palmer.  The supporting cast was kept tight, but before I finish a word must go to Jeremy Strong(Robot and Frank, 2008), who played the youngest brother, a great performance, understated and calm but very effective.

Overall the movie works on many levels. If I was to say what the film was about I would have to say, “tension” tension between a father and son, a prodigal returned, a high-school jock now raising a family, the ex-girlfriend etc. what makes this film work is that the tension can be overcome. This is seen most through the developing relationship between Hank and his father, both in and out of the Court.

Rating 9/10

Some people thought it was not as strong as it could be, I however thought it worked even striking one or two raw nerves along the way, go watch it, the  direction is strong and the performances nicely delivered. Each aspect of the plot is developed and I’m carefully trying not to give too much away.

Gone Girl

This is a movie which initially left me thinking if this is a good or bad movie. It grew on me as it progressed and turned in to a thriller I was happy to watch. Not the best movie ever made but far from the worst. It reminded me of the old Noir thrillers such as Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) or Joan Crawford’s What Ever Happened to Baby GG_Jane (1962). Ben Affleck (Argo 2012) is the ordinary everyday guy who,  on the day he is celebrating his 5th wedding anniversary,  comes home to scene of a struggle in his house and his wife missing. The events take place the town of North Carthage a sleepy backwater which is a mirror to the busy New York lives Affleck and his wife lived prior to coming to the town (for personal and economic  reasons). Following the initial call from Affleck’s character, Nick Dunne, the police wonder if all is not quite what it seems. The missing wife Amy (Rosamund Pike, A Long Way Down, 2014) is actually the inspiration for a children’s book character by her parents. Upon hearing of her missing the Parents come to town and quickly set-up a volunteer network to find their daughter. Through a series of flash-backs we see how Nick and Amy met, and eventually ended up back in small town North Carthage. This also allows us to get to know the missing wife and  sets the scene for the action to unfold as the movie progresses. The tension between Nick and Amy’s parents is palatable if under played, very nicely done. As with any detective story we are immediately fed with a collection of possible suspects and a town who is growing increasingly hostile to Nick and his sister as they are suspected of Amy’s disappearance. The deliberate clues being left behind don’t help the situation either. As is always the case we begin to get the self-opinionated locals with this own theories as to what happened. In the middle of all this is Detective Rhonda Boney ( Kim Dickens, Sons of Anarchy, 2013-14) who does not let the emotions of the small town crowds cloud her judgement. She is looking for a missing woman. Having been a suspect, events unfold and Nick is eventually released again, such is the objective nature of Detective Boney, that Nick at one stage turns to here and asks “so we are friends again?” Her response is a calm, yes, now that she is happy he is not guilty. As the search progresses we start to see cracks appear in the perfect marriage between the Dunnes, we also learn of the history of people and their romantic pasts. Nick Dunne is originally from the town and spends a good deal of his time with his sister, who unwittingly becomes involved in the evolving situation. As the situation descends Nick is forced to hire an expensive New York lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry, The Single Moms Club, 2014) to protect himself. The only other person Nick has on his side is his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon, Intelligence, TV, 2014) with whom he shares ownership of a bar, “The Bar” in town. It also does not help Nick’s cause that his perfect marriage, has a kink in it, both husband and wife are feeling the tension in their marriage and we later learn Nick might have been doing something he should not have. However things are not as they seem and as the movie progresses we see the true crime reveal itself through the deliberate clues placed previously by his wife, Amy. This movie may place the character of “Amy” as one of the better Noir characters full stop. The support cast with the likes of Neil Patrick Harris (The Muppets, 2011) is excellent, such is the picture painted of Harris’s character even before we meet him that it (deliberately) shadows our opinion of him right to the end, as the movie unfolds his past is something that sits in the shadows waiting to come out. I would love to tell you about the movie, but there are so many twists and turns that anything said will impact the story. With some movies twists are thrown in to try to keep the audience engaged and sometimes look purely as an attempt to keep the audience. Here the twists are an essential part of the plot without making it feel laboured or drawn-out. I had certain concerns about this movie starting off, but they quickly disappeared. The movie is directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, 1991, The Social Network, 2010), his experience shows, we are brought along as the plot and characters develop. Rating a solid 7/10, not perfect, but not bad and it keeps us well entertained, drawing us in to the continuously unfolding story. Just as we get to one level or accept a twist, there is another one quickly following behind. The Screenplay is written by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the novel as a result the team knew the movie they wanted to make and did so. Watch it and enjoy it.