Fury (2014)

fury

Its climactic scene descends into Rambo territory, however outside of this David Ayer’s Fury contains some impressively loud and brutal scenes of warfare. 

I had been eagerly anticipating Fury, I had faith in it as director David Ayer proved his skill in creating searingly intense action sequences in End of Watch (2012), a film that had a palpable sense of danger. Despite Fury following a tank crew during WW2, I don’t think it matched End of Watch’s pervasive sense of looming peril, as the latter had a hyperrealism and an urban environment more familiar to me than a battleground, thank goodness.

The film opens with several lines of text explaining the situation, it’s simple but rather chilling, informing the viewers that it’s April 1945 and that the German defence is the most ‘fanatical’ the Allies have encountered in the European theatre.

Fury follows a tank crew comprising Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), a battle hardened veteran of North Africa and Europe; Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a timid rookie with only 8 weeks’ training as a typist; Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the cliched zealously religious southerner; Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), a genuinely hateful, obnoxious, rancid Neanderthal who regularly boiled my blood.

Fury’s chief merit is its war scenes. The film features some excellent sound engineering, which was delivered to me by Vue’s thunderingly loud sound system. Be prepared for the frenzied chatter of MG42s, the sudden, reverberating boom of artillery fire and the piercing shriek of tank shells ricocheting. The instantaneous, ceaseless death is executed well, men’s lives end forever left, right and centre in the most brutal fashion, whether it’s death by headshot, fire, explosives or tank tracks – it’s anonymous slaughter on a massive scale. Like any combat-intensive war film should do, Fury leaves you feeling battered, however its power is unfortunately hindered by its stupid concluding battle.

With publicity photos of Brad Pitt posturing meanly with his cool hair, I had worried that Fury would be a Brad Pitt vehicle, a film in which Pitt is a gunslinging B-movie war hero instead of a real soldier. I felt my fears were being confirmed when in the first minute or so Pitt jumps off a tank and launches himself at a man on horseback, knocking him down and vehemently stabbing him in the eyes; however his Rambo emulation was generally kept at bay until the film’s final battle, where his character and indeed the whole film goes awry.

War films and the moralising that comes with some can so easily become hackneyed, and there are times where the dialogue veered very closely to the trite ‘war is hell’ territory with lines such as ‘You’ll soon know… what a man can do to another man.’ delivered portentously and too early in the film by Gordo.

Characterisation also suffered from tired conventions at times; although LaBeouf went method actor for his character (he cut his face and pulled one of his teeth out), he rather wasted his commitment, as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan is the tiringly familiar southern drawling preacher that, according to cinema, was present in every platoon. Saving Private Ryan was also guilty of this with Private Jackson (Barry Pepper), the stylishly ultra-accurate, cross-kissing sniper. Indeed, the areas that these characters hail from constitute the most religious region of the United States, their presence I suppose is entirely plausible, however I think they stink of stock character.

The worst instance of engagement breaking clichéd tosh happens at the beginning of the film’s final scene, in which the heroic Wardaddy decides to fight a much, much larger SS division that possess both vehicles and a comprehensive arsenal of weapons. Initially, the men protest it, but of course one by one they declare that ‘I’m stayin’!’ I did much head shaking during this moment. Despite these brushes with cliché however, I felt that Fury didn’t become a serious offender.

There’s a protracted scene in which Wardaddy and Norman seek refuge in the apartment of a German mother and daughter. To begin with, the scene is wrought with tension as you don’t know the battle-hardened Wardaddy’s intentions; rape of German women was commonplace, particularly by Soviet troops during and after the Battle of Berlin. However the scene eventually becomes overlong and rather misguided, the ambiguous tension being lost long before the expected payoff or denouement, a variety of which never arriving.

And now to the aforementioned final battle scene. I have read numerous arguments defending the scene’s credibility, however the reasoning is invariably flimsy – demonstrably, the scene is very flawed indeed. I have heard some remarkable stories of bravery from WW2, the most recent one being Robert Cain (Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law). Major Cain had been driven to a frenzy during Operation Market Garden, resigning himself to death and managing to disable or destroy six tanks using his deft skill with a 6-pounder anti-tank gun and, believe it or not, a two-inch mortar fired from his hip. Cain somehow survived the ordeal, winning a Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Despite such stories, there are just too many holes in Fury’s last standoff; it’s a lazily written stain on the film that breaks the momentum of the electrifying collection of war scenes that preceded it.

71%

Alien vs. Predator

alien vs predator

In my honest, correct opinion, Predator is a better film than Alien.

While both films share one crucial thing in common, that their narratives both concern a homicidal extra-terrestrial, they are constructed completely differently.  From its score, characters and set design – Alien is all about understatement.  On the other hand, Predator is loud, brash and brilliantly macho. Both films have the same central conceit, however Alien, the one that takes itself very seriously, is the one that unfairly claims all the critical praise.

Despite the massive amount of praise Alien has been steeped in over the years, it’s little more than a B-movie. The film follows a seven-member crew aboard Nostromo, a commercial spacecraft that is carrying millions of tonnes of mineral ore. The cast of characters are:  Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Ash (Ian Holm), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Cotto).

Their routine procedure is complicated when the crew are ordered to investigate an anonymous transmission from a nearby planetoid. During the investigation, they find a nest of eggs, one of which hatches with worrying results. What ensues back on their ship is nothing more than B-movie fare, which usually isn’t a problem, however its aura of restraint and suspense seems to have convinced people that it’s some sort of masterpiece.

Despite my reservations, I do think Alien is a good film. Its first quarter is compelling, suspenseful and in one particular scene, very shocking. H.R. Giger’s set design is also striking and original, below is an image of the famous ‘Space Jockey’. Last summer I visited the H.R. Giger museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland; it was very interesting, the Alien imagery could be seen throughout his body of work.

space jockey

Through its use of sound, set design and Jerry Goldsmith’s understated, creepy score, the film creates an effectively eerie aura, but it doesn’t do much more than that. I must note that it’s important to consider the impact Alien had on its release. There’s no doubt that Alien is an epochal film that really worked with audiences, however the elements that made it gripping and original in 1979 have unfortunately been eroded by the dozens of spin-offs. On repeated viewings, the film is restrained to the point of tedium; it hasn’t got the replay value of Predator. Some would say that Predator is one of those spin-offs, but it’s so much more than that.

My main problem with the film is its cast, they’re convincing, but the crew members are devoid of charisma, especially Ripley, the leading lady. Predator is by no means an exercise in character development, but its characters are amusing caricatures; the crew aboard Nostromo just leave you indifferent.

After the chestburster scene, a truly remarkable moment, the film drastically reduces its use of on-screen gore. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is testament to the power of sparse amounts of violence, but in Alien, it just feels neutered and disappointing. Also, there are moments that are laughably dated and unfrightening, most notably in the scene captured below.

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Xenomorph: Suprise!!

Just Like Alien, Predator is a B-movie, however it’s as a B-movie should be, exciting and pulpy. The film concerns Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a tough Major who commands a platoon of comparably hard men, including: Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Billy (Sonny Landham), Blain (Jesse Ventura), ‘Poncho’ (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (Shane Black).  The platoon are traversing through the lush, dangerously vast jungles of Central America to infiltrate a camp of guerilla forces who have kidnapped a politician and his aide.

In stark contrast with the believable but boring crew of Alien, the characters in Predator are funny, charismatic and comically masculine, none less than its leading man Schwarzenegger, who delivers his iconic Schwarzerisms with one liners such as ‘Stick around!’ and the now famous ‘GET TO DA CHOPPA!’. Below is a scene I find very unintentionally funny, but female readers be warned, the scene below is pumped with so much testosterone that you may become pregnant.

Dillon! You son of a bitch!

The bloody confrontation at the camp, which serves as the film’s primary action sequence, is brilliantly shot and choreographed, it’s a quality slice of squibby carnage from the superlative action director John McTiernan, who has largely been a wasted talent ever since the superb Die Hard (1988). Unlike Alien, the violence in Predator is strong and grisly, the film hasn’t dated in this respect, and surprisingly its smart use of CGI hasn’t dated either, it remains convincing to this day.

Predator

Its smart, resourceful use of special effects means that ‘Predator’ is convincing 26 years later.

Predator is a film teeming with life and energy, these vibes being very much compounded by Alan Silvestri’s score, which is both excitingly militaristic and intensely suspenseful.  The film takes a B-movie concept and successfully blends the best of the action and science fiction genres, creating a experience which is thrilling, funny and satiatingly violent. Alien on the other hand exercises its talent in typography.

Alien_opening

I concede that Alien’s typography is superior. 

Alien: 78%

Predator: 85%

The Expendables (2010)

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A surprisingly entertaining film that ignores credibility with delightfully wanton results.

All realism and credibility is thrown out of the window in this delightfully macho celebration of the 1980s action film. The action scenes are huge, loud and fantastically violent. It blends brutally choreographed mêlée, explosions and gunfights, with each one of the Expendables having their fair share of the action. However, although the film is satiatingly steeped in aestheticised violence, I did find that some of the CGI violence wasn’t as tangible as I’d have liked, I prefer old fashioned squibs and syrup. This is unfortunately a problem in many modern films,  even in the incredibly violent ‘Rambo’ (2008).

The plot is a simple, familiar one; it follows the Expendables as they infiltrate and overthrow a Latin American dictator, with the token sinister executive thrown in there for good measure. Away from all the wanton destruction are parts that are surprisingly character driven, particularly the chemistry between Stallone and Statham, whose tough, competitive camaraderie may be somewhat clichéd but certainly entertaining.

As the image above suggests, a terrific cast has been assembled, it includes: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and even cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are some notable names missing from the cast, but thankfully there’s scope for a whole Expendables franchise, giving many other fan favourites an opportunity to become an Expendable. This is probably the first time that I’ve found myself wanting a mindless blockbuster franchise to come to fruition; with a team of cine-literate, witty writers, the possibilities are almost endless for potential sequels. Who knows, the film could even attract some heavyweight talent in the form of Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – ‘The Expendables’ could add further dimensions to its celebration of masculinity!

Perhaps my satisfaction with the film was accentuated by my low expectations coming into it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it regardless of expectation; it delivered the masculine, ridiculously excessive carnage that, for me, makes it a funny, exciting break from reality – I left the film with a big smile on my face.

68%