Fury

October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia Labeouf, Logan Lerman
Directed by: David Ayer (“End of Watch”)
Written by: David Ayer (“End of Watch”)

In “Fury,” we are introduced to the crew of a World War II tank called Fury led by Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt). When they are sent on a mission that leaves them against all odds, they are forced with a decision to continue forth and make a stand or to get away. Like Ayer’s previous film “End of Watch,” it is gritty in its portrayal of violence and danger. Unlike “End of Watch,” however, it doesn’t quite build the relationships and deeper meaning that it sets out to.

In recent years, Pitt has shown himself to be a strong lead actor and that is evident in “Fury.” It certainly isn’t as meaty of a role as Billy Beane in “Moneyball” but Pitt is able to run away with his screen time as the man in charge of the tank. Most of the actors, in fact, elevate the material with their fine performances with Shia Labeouf and Jon Bernthal in particular standing out as well defined characters and performances. Logan Lerman’s character makes sense in context, but he remains the weakest performer in the cast adding little to the somewhat played out character type of the reluctant and innocent young soldier thrust into battle.

“Fury” does indeed shows the horrors of war, especially in scenes where they must indoctrinate Lerman’s character to his surroundings, but the general camaraderie of those within the tank feels undercooked and sold short. There is also the case of a severely underwritten screenplay from director and writer David Ayer. While his actors deliver the script deftly, nothing ever really scratches the surface beyond general war movie clichés. Most troubling is a section in the middle of the film where Pitt and Lerman commandeer a room in a building and attempt to create some level of a normal life. It is clear what Ayer is trying to attempt with this scene, but it goes on for what feels like about half an hour (and it may very well be) and never really pays off. It’s certainly an odd decision and use of time.

Where “Fury” is able to succeed is in its character designs on a very general level and in its action sequences. There are a few battle scenes (two in particular, one involving two tanks facing off against each other and one standoff) that are able to build tension and show the intensity of war. Unfortunately for the film, any time it attempts to dig below the surface, it comes up empty. Even when characters deviate from their archetypes, they seem sudden and unearned. It isn’t the kiss of death, as the characterizations, performances and action sequences are enough to make the film entertaining enough, but the film as a whole feels completely underdeveloped.

The Company You Keep

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie
Directed by: Robert Redford (“The Conspirator”)
Written by: Lem Dobbs (“Haywire”)

It might flaunt the most impressive cast top to bottom you’re likely to see this year on the big screen (21 Oscar nominations, 4 wins), but the script behind Oscar-winning director Robert Redford’s political thriller “The Company You Keep” can only lead its actors just far enough before they’re let down by the material.

It really is unfortunate since Redford, who earned an Academy Award for directing in 1981 for “Ordinary People,” comes into the project with a lot of the pieces already in place. This should be a more intriguing look into the radical leftist organization known as the Weather Underground in the late 60s and early 70s, but it falters. The revolutionary group, whose members were charged during that time for bombing a number of sites such as the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, were hell-bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

In “Company,” Redford stars as Jim Grant, a New York City lawyer and former activist of the Weathermen, who has been living as a fugitive for the last 30 years after a bank heist he is involved in during his heyday claims the life of a guard. Jim is flushed from his quiet suburban home when one of his former Weather Underground colleagues Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is finally found and arrested for her involvement in the radical movement. Her arrest triggers a domino effect that leads to Jim’s participation in the crime. Now on the run with the FBI and media (Shia LaBeouf plays a scrappy newspaper reporter who cracks the case) on his trail, Jim hits the road in search of a way to clear his name.

Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, “Company” is a sort of slowly-paced road-trip movie where tons of characters join the fracas, but none are very important to the overall narrative. It’s great to see the likes of heavy-hitters like Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte and Stanley Tucci tag in and out like some kind of all-star contest, but the substance behind each of their individual connections to the story is thinly scripted.

The acting makes up slightly for the film’s lack of tension. We’re not looking for car chases and extensive getaway scenes here, but Redford’s inability to draw out more emotional conflict from the script is its greatest letdown. There just aren’t enough big moments the talent can sink their claws into. “Company” is never boring, but it also never shifts out of first gear, which poses a major problem when you have a fugitive on the run and a lot at stake.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring:  Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)
Written by: Ehren Kruger (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)

Textbooks be damned. The use of alternative histories has been such a go-to fad in cinematic curriculum recently that no one should be surprised if impressionable movie-going kids really start believing vigilante superheroes helped earn America a victory in Vietnam (“Watchmen”) or that young mutants saved the country from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis (“X-Men: First Class”).

Sure, there is an obvious difference between the allegorical political statements in Neill Blomkamp’s apartheid-inspired sci-fi thriller “District 9” and the renegade Jewish soldiers who unload a slew of bullets into Adolf Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” but it’s all in good fun when films mix make-believe scenarios and momentous events of the past. Wouldn’t more people know the history behind the Louisiana Purchase if Napoleon Bonaparte was really a French cyborg soldier?

If anyone in Hollywood needed to avoid rewriting the history books it should have been director Michael Bay, who had already mortified WWII history buffs by making 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” into a foolish wartime soap opera. And yet, a decade later, Bay is back with a unique variation on the Apollo 11 spaceflight in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third — and hopefully final — installment of the action- adventure franchise based on the Hasbro toy line of the ’80s. Yes, it’s better than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” but that doesn’t say much, since the second movie had the aesthetics of what could only be described as rusty robot porn.

In “Dark of the Moon,” Bay and returning screenwriter Ehren Kruger decide the July 1969 lunar landing by NASA was more than just a space mission to beat the Soviets to the moon, a goal we see President John F. Kennedy lay out to Congress six years prior via old news reels and mediocre digital re-imaging. Instead, the objective for Apollo 11’s astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is to investigate the mysterious crash landing of an object on the moon’s surface, which turns out to be an Autobot spacecraft containing technological secrets.

Flash forward to present time and a carefully crafted close-up of the panty-covered backside of Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model with Walmart-brand personality) strutting up the stairs to her hero boyfriend Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is quick to brag about the presidential medal he received for saving the world but can’t land a job that makes him feel as relevant as he did when he was part of the Autobot forces.

A regular 9-to-5 job will have to wait when an exiled Megatron (Hugo Weaving) returns to Earth to once again lead the Decepticons against Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his Autobots, now working across the globe to protect the human race. When the Decepticons figure out a way to use the Autobots’ technology for their benefit, a new battle begins between the robot races. Sam and his military cohorts find themselves in the middle of a Chicago warzone leaping from crumbling buildings and dodging twisted metal, all in glorious and exhausting 3-D.

Some of the startling computer-generated visuals are what actually make “Dark of the Moon” tolerable, even at an inhumane runtime of 154 minutes. As with most of his films, however, Bay doesn’t take the less-is-more approach when it comes to spectacle. That he saves for his convoluted screenplay and flat human characterizations.

Quirky history aside, “Dark of the Moon” is exactly how you’d expect Bay to end the bankable trilogy. Let’s just hope a promise from LaBeouf to not return for a fourth will be enough to put this series to rest. At least, that is, until we find out Thomas Edison patented Megatron’s weaponry.

Transformers 2

June 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers”)
Written by: Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) and Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”)

The robot war wages on in the inevitable summer blockbuster that is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” While the 2007 film may have filled a void for fans of the 80’s animated TV series and Hasbro action figures, director Michael Bay and crew prove that bigger, louder, and more obnoxious isn’t always better when it comes to nonstop action sequels. Who knew endless explosions and computer-generated combat could be so tedious?

In “Revenge of the Fallen,” actor Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Whitwicky, the geeky high school kid in the original who is now on his way to college and looking forward to putting the intergalactic battle of two years ago behind him. Sam wants a regular life and even goes as far as leaving his beloved Camaro Bumblebee in his parent’s garage. Even more irrational, he leaves his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) behind and hopes occasional web chats will be enough for their relationship to survive a long first semester.

Sam goes to school just long enough to meet his roommate, Leo Spitz (Ramón Rodríguez), a conspiracy theorist who runs his own website on the subject. Before Sam realizes it, the two shape-shifting robot species, the Autobots and the Decepticons, begin to butt machine parts again in an attempt to save the universe and destroy the universe respectively.

In the sequel, many of the same robots are back. You can’t have a “Transformer” movie without leaders Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). For diehard fans, more advanced characters rear their metal heads on screen including Jetfire, Sideswipe, Soundwave and, of course, The Fallen, who is considered one of the original and evilest Transformers. There are also annoying additions to the CGI cast like Mudflap and Skids, who are about as funny as electric shock therapy.

Aside from the chaotic and devastatingly long script penned by return writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and newcomer Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”), “Revenge of the Fallen” is brash and boring and exactly what you would expect from director Bay, whose cinematic track record is consistent at best. It’s always the same with Bay. There is no volume button; no room to breathe; no climax. Everything he does is in one whirling motion where by the end of it you feel more scatty than satisfied.

It might be a visual bonanza when you can actually tell what’s going on as the robots fight to the death (that’s probably why we see more slow-motion action in places where you can’t distinguish one metal appendage from another), but “Revenge of the Fallen,” like its predecessor, is a meaningless diversion that’s an hour too long and devoid of any human value or emotion.

Eagle Eye

September 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”)
Written by: Hillary Seitz (“Insomnia”), John Glenn (debut), Travis Wright (debut), Dan McDermott (debut)

Looks like the Patriot Act wasn’t such a good idea after all. At least that’s what the U.S. citizens who are forced to carry out terroristic conspiracies think in “Eagle Eye,” the newest action thriller directed by D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”).

Don’t look now but regular people are being is listened to and watched through the technology they use everyday. Jerry Shaw, local employee of the Copy Cabana, realizes this first hand when he answers his cell phone and a mysterious female voice on the other end begins to give him directions so he can escape a situation he has no control over.

Having just buried his twin brother, who was in the military, Jerry doesn’t know what to believe when he find a surplus of weapons in his apartment and $750,000 in his once meager bank account. Soon, Jerry is running for his life from FBI agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who thinks he is part of some sort of terrorism plot.

Deciding to follow the directions of the unidentified woman who continues to call him, Jerry is led into a car driven by Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a desperate mother who receives a message telling her that she has also been “activated” and that her son will be harmed if she does not comply with similar instructions. Before they know exactly what they’re involved in, the newly-introduced duo is blindly chasing after something although they have no idea what it is.

Helmed by four screenwriters, which can sometimes raise a red flag in any script, the idea of cyber-terrorism presented in “Eagle Eye” feels outdated even when it takes an Orwellian approach and adds clever twists to modernize the story. Still, the advances in the film’s surveillance techniques aren’t too impressive and the writers end up driving the plot uncomfortably close to ridiculous. It’s especially meaningless by the third act when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the cause of all the mayhem. There’s not much to beam over in the writers’ decision making at this point. And there’s only so much a talented LaBeouf can do, even if he is supposed to be the next Tom Hanks.

Although in some earlier scenes the paranoia factor reaches some intense moments a la David Fincher’s “The Game,” those instances are too few and far between and Jerry and Rachel’s mad dash to the finish line pulls up limp. “Eagle Eye,” with all its underlying messages about high-tech governmental regulation, manages to become a bit more exciting than finding a convenient store with a dashboard GPS.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Spider-Man”)

The idea worked with Sylvester Stallone when he got back into the ring as “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. It missed the mark when he returned this year for another “Rambo.” Resurrecting a film series after its last movie hit theaters more than 15 years ago seems to be the hippest thing to do in Hollywood these days. So, when director Steven Spielberg was attached to a fourth installment of “Indiana Jones” (the last one, “The Last Crusade,” premiered in 1989), it really was no surprise, especially in a cinematic day and age where original screenplays are about as hard to find as Indy artifacts.

What is a bit astonishing, however, is how very aged this series feels with the newest edition of the epic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” No, we’re not talking about the fact that Harrison Ford is returning as the title character at the age of 65. Instead, it feels worn out because there isn’t any type of evolution after almost 20 years. Where “Rocky Balboa” developed was in the way it changed from over-the-top choreographed boxing matches to realistic pay-per-view bouts. And although the recent “Rambo” lacked in story, no one can deny that the violence in this one made the first three look as vicious as Estelle Getty packing heat in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!”

In “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Ford dusts off his fedora and goes on a search for an ancient, Mayan crystal skull said to have mystical powers. Actually, it is a group of Soviet KGB agents who want to get their hands on the skull and have forced the professor of archeology to come along for the ride. Leading the Russian antagonists is Irina Splako (Cate Blanchett), a dominatrix-looking (grab that whip Indy!), Ukrainian-sounding Soviet who kidnaps Jonsey and forces him to help her solve the skull’s secrets.

Set in the 1950’s (“Last Crusade” takes place in the late 30’s), Indiana is flanked this time by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a huffy, motorcycle-riding greaser who comes to Indy when his grandfather (John Hurt), an old colleague of Jones, goes missing in Peru while searching for the lost city of gold.

Following the same exact formula as the prior films, we are given all the creepy-crawling bugs, blazing chase scenes, and basic humor the previous trio delivered. It’s a step slower, however, as screenwriter David Koepp mismatches genres and add some sci-fi to the mix, which really doesn’t work to the film’s advantage. There’s no question that Steven Spielberg knows his extraterrestrials (“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A.I.,” and “War of the Worlds”), but in “Crystal Skulls” the supernatural, alien storyline becomes careless and flat.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Indy fought Nazis in “Last Crusade” and Spielberg has gone on to bigger and better things (“Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report”). It’s almost like Spielberg has found his high school letterman toward the back of his closet and tried it on just for the heck of it. Sadly, it doesn’t fit. It might be nice to remember the good times, but with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” only the biased albeit faithful fans will enjoy another less-impressive journey.