Tag Archives: Shia LaBeouf

‘Fury’ as Subtle as, Well, a Tank

Fury
Two stars (out of four)
R (strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, language)
134 minutes

There is nothing subtle about war, so it follows that there’s not much subtlety to be found in war movies.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of writer-director David Ayer’s “Fury,” the film is so desperate to shock and awe, watching it feels like being barreled over by something big, heavy and unwieldy. Like a tank, for instance.

I know that’s a cheap and easy metaphor for a movie about an American tank crew barreling their way suicidally through Nazi Germany in the last, grim days of World War II. Nevertheless, it’s an apt comparison for a film that prizes force over finesse and sprawling, simplistic themes and imagery over convincing relationships and emotion.

That’s not to say a tank movie isn’t a brilliant idea. It’s gotta be one of the most novel war story angles Hollywood has come up with in a long time. And when Ayer focuses his pen and his lens on what it’s like to be inside one of those gigantic, creaking hunks of metal, rolling its way inexorably through a nightmare landscape of smoke, carnage and death, “Fury” is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the director’s focus too often roams to the kind of wartime sequences we’ve seen before in more compelling visions of World War II, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

“Fury” takes its name from its most imposing star — the one that isn’t married to Angelina Jolie — a battered bruiser of a Sherman tank, manned by the seasoned, war-weary Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his faithful crew.

The movie makes a point of telling us that the average tank crew only survived for about six weeks. Collier’s gang has bucked that trend, managing to stay alive and stick together for four years.

The sergeant’s goal is to keep it that way, not an easy task considering his new crew member, Norman (Logan Lerman), is a baby-faced clerk who has no combat experience and has never seen the inside of a tank.

“Fury” may appear to be an ensemble film, but don’t let that fool you. This is Pitt’s show. It’s almost as if the actor is reprising a less comical version of his character from “Inglourious Basterds,” the Nat-zi-hating Lt. Aldo Raine.

Collier schools young Norman in the ways of war and utters the movie’s choicest monologues. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” he informs his scared-stiff, stubbornly pacifist protege in a jaded Southern drawl.

Don’t get me wrong. Pitt is a fine actor. His hair buzzed into a crew cut, his face scrawled with scars, he deploys his signature blend of toughness and torment like a weapon. If only the other members of the cast were given a chance to show their stuff. Instead, they’re made to embody war movie stereotypes.

Shia LaBeouf plays Boyd, the religious one who quotes scripture and refrains from partaking of the spoils of war. Michael Pena, who was excellent in Ayer’s “End of Watch,” provides the comic relief as driver Gordo. Jon Bernthal, so memorable on “The Walking Dead,” is assigned the role of Fury’s resident redneck, the brutish Grady.

None of these characters are particularly likable, so Lerman is there to soften them up as the GOOD guy. In case, we don’t get that he’s the GOOD guy, one of the actors is kind enough to point it out to us. But even though he is the GOOD guy, Ayer isn’t content until Norman is killing Nazis just as gleefully as his battle-hardened comrades.

Lest we feel any sympathy for those dagnabbit Nazis, the Germans are depicted as goose-stepping ghouls who chant so operatically and in perfect synchronization, they may as well be the Orc army marching out of Mordor in “The Lord of the Rings.

Ayer’s last film, the cop drama “End of Watch,” was equally grandiose, but soared on the strength of the relationship between a pair of LAPD officers played by Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. If only the interactions in “Fury” were as solid, but truth is we know very little about the characters or what connects them.

The director resorts to stirring up phony conflict between these brothers in arms in a bizarre, deeply uncomfortable scene in which Collier and Norman hold hostage/seduce/befriend — it’s disturbingly never clear — a pair of German women after securing an enemy town.

On a purely technical level, “Fury” fares better. Ayer obviously took great pains to ensure the film’s authenticity and delivers several suspenseful, horrific scenes of combat, illustrating both the power and limitations of the World War II-era tank.

The movie’s finale ramps up the heroism to almost ridiculous extremes.

Funny thing is, the heroics of everyday life inside the tanks, with their claustrophobia, tedium, close quarters and forced intimacies, probably would have proved more profound.

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Why I’m Boycotting Michael Bay

I spent about two seconds last weekend thinking about whether I should go see “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

My conclusion?

Nah. I’d rather binge watch “Orphan Black.” Or stare at the wall for three hours. Even banging my head against the wall for three hours would be a more attractive alternative to sitting through Michael Bay’s latest extravaganza of shape-shifting robots, wanton destruction, senseless civilian casualties and explosions, explosions, explosions.

Based on the 1980s toy line and cartoon series, the original “Transformers” trilogy is packed with colossal morphing creatures, sleek technology, things that go boom and gratuitous shots of voluptuous pinups posing as leading ladies. They are flicks made for boys, both the literal sort and the kind who never grew up. And I just can’t bring myself to sit through another one.

I know I’m in the minority here, considering that “Age of Extinction” set a record for biggest box office debut of 2014, grossing $300 million worldwide. It may be futile, but I’ve decided to take a personal stand against Hollywood’s most annoying, antiquated and nonsensical filmmaker.

I’m sick of the way Bay blithely mingles jokes catering to the 8-year-olds in the audience with wildy inappropriate innuendo, harsh violence with treacly sentimentality, and cutting-edge filmmaking technology with politically incorrect, hackish storytelling that borders on quaint.

I’m weary with sitting through movies that double as jingoistic recruitment videos for the armed forces.

Bay may have an impressive grasp of how to serve up insane visual effects sequences, but he’s sexist, juvenile, self-indulgent, wildly unfunny — and judging from his on- and off-set antics over the years — something of a douche bag.

So while I dutifully sat through last year’s utterly pointless and morally bankrupt “Pain & Gain,” I won’t be seeing “Age of Extinction” or the upcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which Bay produced. This despite the promise of Dinobots and Mark Wahlberg.

And the only justification I need for this decision can be found in the original “Transformers” trilogy.

2007’s “Transformers” is big, loud, bold and brainless, and mostly diverting in that insanely excessive, more-is-more Bay kind of way. It has car chases, explosions, air strikes, ambushes and all varieties of mass destruction.

Then there’s the cleavage, bare midriffs, gratuitous slow motion and weirdly uneven mingling of wacky, politically incorrect humor with laughably “serious” moments set to overbearing symphonies of strings.

The plot is straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon and treated alternately with the utmost gravity and tongue-in-cheek glee. It’s essentially the tale of a boy — Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) — and his car — trusty Camaro Bumblebee, who is actually an “autonomous robot from the planet Cybertron.”

The highlight of the film is its computer generated vehicular stars, who are not only stunningly and realistically rendered through the considerable marvels of CGI but are surprisingly intriguing as personalities. The Autobots, with their sad, robot eyes and agenda of peace, are far more engaging than the film’s overstuffed assortment of human characters.

If the first “Transformers” is a flashy sports car, the sequel, “Revenge of the Fallen,” is simply a piece of junk as the robots in disguise are rendered virtually indistinguishable. With this second installment, the king of Hollywood excess’ trademark profusion ceases to be enjoyable, threatening the audience with total exhaustion.

There’s too much going on in the movie: too many characters, too many robots, too much so-called comic relief, too much mayhem and too much of a plot that is at once vague and over-complicated as Sam heads off to college and is swept up in an Autobot mission to stop the evil Decepticons from resurrecting their leader, Megatron.

“Revenge” isn’t 2½ hours long because it’s stuffed with actiony goodness. It’s seemingly endless because of the nonsense Bay fills it with, like sexy coed Isabel Lucas, who turns into a serpentine assassin, a conspiracy theorist roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) and Sam’s mom’s (Julie White) wacky interlude with a pot-laced brownie.

In the previous film, the Transformers were the stars of the show, hulking, meticulously detailed hunks of metal with personality and heart, showcased with loving care. In “Revenge,” there’s no time for that. In some scenes, it’s a strain to even tell them apart.

The third “Transformers” film, “Dark of the Moon,” may be an improvement over the virtually unwatchable “Revenge” but it’s still a ridiculous, cacophonous spectacle built on equal parts juvenile humor and superlative special effects.

The film depicts an epic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, which results in the gleeful destruction of large swathes of downtown Chicago. The movie clocks in at two hours and 37 minutes, but there’s a lot of nonsense we could do without, including another appearance by Sam’s annoying parents and John Malkovich’s funny but utterly pointless cameo as Sam’s eccentric new boss.

In the grand, unenlightened tradition of “Transformers” babes, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley traipses around in her underwear and waits for Sam to come rescue her.

Bay continues to beat us over the head with supremely silly moments, as when Optimus Prime gives an inspiring speech in front of a battered American flag while thundering music threatens to drown out the dialogue.

The only reason he gets away with it is because we all love Optimus Prime.

Perhaps the director’s biggest crime is ruthlessly and relentlessly preying on the insatiable nostalgia of the children of the ’80s.