Category Archives: Movie

Fury (2014)

It owes a lot to Saving Private Ryan. I bet writer/director David Ayer watched Saving Private Ryan a dozen times as he got this project ready.

Ayer has a thing with people getting stabbed in the eye. Twice, with something that specific, is a thing: this and End of Watch, which was also a mix of drama and horror with gore. He has jump scares. Many. There’s gore, a surprising amount, like End of Watch.

The least forgettable thing is a section where Brad Pitt’s character and Logan Lerman’s character (he of Perks of Being a Wallflower) lock themselves in an apartment with two conveniently aged attractive German women who are terrified of them while they wait for orders. While we wonder if Senor Pitt will rape one of them, order Senor Lerman to rape one of them, or force them into prostitution or some combination of the two. It’s a scarier version of the relationship Jean Gabin has with the woman who hides him in Grand Illusion (a gal for each guy this time), but it just feels yucky. I have a feeling it’ll be the only thing I remember about the movie in a couple of years because other than that the film is pretty straightforward narratively.

Technically it has some problems. The music is on the nose and out front, with chanting German hymns running right into or out of Save The Day music that wouldn’t be out of place in a TV war movie. It’s shot pretty well, but has choppy editing. It wants to be an art movie, but it cuts away from every scene before any emotional resonance kicks in. There are too many cuts – regular cuts, not Baz Lurhman cuts – where there should be pans or tracking shots. Screen time better used for a few more moments with characters were stopped short to spend time watching the tanks drive down roads. Oddly, I spotted a glaring dub gaffe, which confirms my editing problems suspicions.

Shia LeBeouf does a great job being the beating heart of the group with the Bible character. The (older) woman in a creepy position with Brad Pitt in the apartment played by Anamaria Marinca put a lot into her limited screen time and got across a lot of different emotions without having to say much. The green, Star Wars-like gunfire (and tankfire?) looked and sounded cool or terrifying, depending.

Link to Parents Guide for Fury on IMDB

The Oscars (Guest Post – Mary Aagard)

My amazingly bright wife, Mary Aagard, wrote a piece on the Oscars.

After all this broo-ha-ha about the 2015 Oscar nominations — I’ve been thinking about my own favorite movies. Those nominations has even spurred quite a fiery conversation with the purveyor of this here website/blog.

You see, I’m a film school graduate — or rather, a film school lite graduate — not that the school was bad, just the my own choices inside the major were scattered, they didn’t form a coherent base of knowledge and skills. At the end of my college career, I had started working in the university library as a student employee and I saw a future for me there, where I didn’t in filmmaking — hmmm, a library full of women, or Hollywood, full of men. It’s kind of funny to look back now, I could not have chosen two more opposite professions in terms of ratios of men and women in the field.

family watching movie on lawn
Sadly, not us.

I was going to write screenplays, with my incredible wit and conscience and biting dialogue — now that biting dialogue is used in working with student employees and telling patrons that yes, libraries are no longer silent spaces, but playing your guitar in the middle of the book stacks isn’t okay.

Also, I am a full-time employed mother of three small children. Movie going is kind of a pipe dream at this point. Is it sad or hopeful that I keep track of time by what movies are coming out, and then I never see them in the theater?

So back to favorite movies, yeah— I give myself cred for My Brilliant Career being my favorite movie — and it is truly my favorite — watch it, you’ll cry, you’ll feel for Sybylla and her struggle, the choice she chooses to make — it’s marvelous and horrible at the same time. I love Gillian Armstrong and love her movies but if I think of my favorite films, she is the only woman director in that list. I want to see more women represented in the Academy nominations — but I guess I need to do my part and watch movies by female directors (and screenwriters, producers, cinematographers…).

So what do award nominations and winners mean for any of us — for most of us, media is a hobby, a diversion, a moment of pleasure, a way to track time. Most of us aren’t industry insiders that will get better jobs, more prestigious scripts, better parts if films we work on are nominated for awards. This is just a spectator sport for the majority of us.

Besides the issues for diversity in filmmaking, let me see if I’ve seen any movies that have come out this past year are worth mentioning —

And of the nominees, as of this writing I’ve only seen:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Wild
  • Into the Woods
  • How to Train your Dragon 2
  • Maleficent
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Lego Movie
  • Begin Again
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Nightcrawler
  • Imitation Game

Other movies this year that I loved:

  • Belle
  • Chef
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • What If
  • Frank

I have only seen 2 of the best picture nominees — as much as I’d like to have a definitive opinion about movies that came out this year — I don’t. Every year I think I will have more time for going to the cinema and every year I don’t get to see everything I’d like to see. Soon enough my daughter will be old enough to accompany me on my cinema adventures and movie time can turn into bonding time. Will we still be complaining about the lack of diversity in award nominations?

American Sniper (2014)

I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. I didn’t know the history of the main character, Chris Kyle, so I didn’t know how his story ended, so I was as surprised as I would have been with any other movie. It lingered with me longer than I expected.

What we’re seeing is not just one character here but a model of manhood in America. The guy can shoot, he can ride rodeo, he can fight, he can survive Navy Seal training, he holds back a woman’s hair when she pukes, he serves on the ground with Marines where he thinks he might be more useful, he uses m’am and sir, he’s a model of manhood. As an American guy I felt it – he’s what you do.

Some stuff played out how I expected, for example, you see a scene start and the way it’s played, who says what, you know who’s getting killed. Other stuff didn’t. I was pretty shocked by a traumatic scene involving a family. Kids are used a lot in this. Kids in danger, kids being coerced for good or ill, kids as a reason to do good or to be responsible. That can be a cheap shot, it’s a reliable source of emotion. But, one scene in the middle that is set up perfectly near the beginning has such high stakes I found myself literally talking to the screen (“don’t go in there”, more or less).
In some of it I knew I was being coerced. I was aware. I went along with it.

Bradley Cooper, who looks an awful lot like the guy as he’s shown in the pictures at the end, pulls off the humble/amazing/leader/gentlemen/troubled guy thing really well.
A couple of things it tries to straddle I don’t know if it totally nails. The PTSD is not played down, but it’s dealt with in a way that doesn’t diminish from his sense of duty. I got the sense that HE could make it in combat, though he could get really scarred, but that others couldn’t, it would be too much for them. Their weakness is alluded to, and there’s a practicality in that in terms of who you’d want in your squad, but in the end, everyone who fights ends up in trouble in their head. I plan on reading the book, I’m curious about how his brother turns out, because he’s a main character early on and then gradually used only to make points about Clark, so maybe he doesn’t do as well.

I did really feel like I got a sense of place. I felt like I knew their house. The domestic drama wasn’t as strong – Cooper, in his role as husband, is better at being stony and then saying something positive, but I read an article today about how this is pretty accurate for how some vets and their wives feel in conversations with vets.

I don’t know about the racist thing. It makes some specific points about good/bad within the Bad Guys (“savages”) and puts a couple of Iraqi people at risk to show their bravery, and it humanizes a critical ‘enemy’ character just long enough, but overall it’s not about making a fair statement about the Iraqi people. It has to demonize them to a certain degree or we wouldn’t empathize – so yes, probably racist.

Again, though, I was inspired after the shock wore off. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been thinking about it for a while and about Kyle as a role model. That surprised me, I can be pretty cynical, but this hit the right buttons.

Snowpiercer (2013)

I really liked The Host. I went back and tried to watch Memories of  a Murder but didn’t make it too far, and I haven’t seen Mother. But I like the writer/director, Joon-ho Bong enough to put them back in the queue. At least I like The Host enough.

Snowpiercer is on Netflix right now, surprisingly, because it has still been running the festival circuit (which makes me feel better about not getting into some festivals I sent my scratchy little 8-minute student film to), and was in limited release in June, and not big anywhere else. It’s huge other places – it was made for about 32M and has made something like 86M worldwide, only 4.5M here in the U.S.

It’s not a regular action movie. Reportedly Harvey Weinstein, a producer/distributor made a version with 20 minutes of cuts, maybe he doesn’t get a percentage of the worldwide revenues and wanted to make sure it was a hit in the U.S. I think it would be a tough sell no matter what. The version on Netflix is the ‘universal’ 2h 6 min version as far as I can tell.

It’s really violent. Not in a torture-porn way, not in a Transformers way. In a “let’s have two armies fight to the death on a train with hatchets” kind of way. There’s no sexualized violence, no sexualized anything – it’s all about plain old revolutionary violence and fighting. There are some really cool sequences – the run-up and attack on a huge guy swinging around a huge weight to keep the mob away by a character called Grey (Luke Pasqualino, who apparently wasn’t trained as a fighter but could have fooled me) was amazingly Matrix-like. When the attack up the train begins, it’s a tense scene, really tense. Actually as soon as it starts it doesn’t really let up, though there are some bizarre little pauses in action that surprised me. I didn’t really enjoy them – I kept waiting for something terrible to happen. Maybe if I watched it again I’d see their place. The violence was so surprising other places I never felt like I knew what was going to happen. There’s a horror-movie like sequence in the middle (you’ll know it when you see it) that fits perfectly with the terror they keep running into, and the information that Mason chirps off before it starts is important later – I guess that’s something it did well, it really build things up in layers. Everything means more than one thing.

It isn’t afraid to kill its darlings. Like some sci-fi message movies (Contagion comes to mind) it sticks with characters as long as it needs to and then moves on, though it has a few it follows the whole way through.

For me the standouts were two Korean actors, Kang-ho Song, a gate-cracker they need to get out of prison, and his daughter Ah-sung Ko (both of them pulled out of morgue-like beds, which make sense in a twisted way, to save space). They were both in the Host, and played a father / daughter combo there, I just realized. They made it feel more human. Their characters wandered through and did their job to earn drugs as payment. It’s so heavy sometimes – it’s an allegory, basically – and when these two could lighten it up just by playing things a little differently and not-on-the-nose it’s fun. It’s a good allegory, well put together, about the sacrifices of leadership, control and balance in society, what lies “need told” to keep things in order, etc. It’s a little tame on some things than I expected. Maybe the need to stay with the comic limited how things could happen and dialogue. It was slightly clunky in parts. I wonder what 20 minutes would have been cut. If it was from a couple of bits at the end, would have been ok with me.

There’s this whole thing with limbs, like limbs of bodies. Sacrificing ‘life and limb’ is literal here. As a symbol and practical idea it pervades the whole movie. It’s connected to the religious theme of the movie – the train conductor as God – and what challenging that idea brings (this reminds me of the Reign of Fire, where they chant instructions for avoiding dragons religiously). The Host was basically anarchist – things just kept happening and going whatever direction they needed to – where this is more or less straightforward masses overthrowing a jerk dictator. It does make me want to read the comic, because there are obvious pieces missing, and it’s probably worth watching again if you can stomach it to add the layer we get at the end to the beginning. As far as I can tell it’s consistent – things build up on each other naturally one compelling way before doubling back to have meaning in a second compelling way.

There’s a great scene (part of which is in the trailer) where Tilda Swinton (Mason) is giving a speech to the crowd before punishing them for disobedience (she also adds some humanity, she’s anything but stiff), and as we look behind her at the crowd the rail cars behind the one we’re in gently sway back and forth, the edges in and out of sight. It’s a nice touch. I’d like to see the director Joon-ho Bong untethered from a set story again, he goes strange and cool places on his own. This is making buckets of money – maybe he can do whatever he wants next.