I missed David Ayer’s film Fury when it came out last year, and I’ve been looking forward to catching up with it. Set in final months of World War II, the film tells the story of a United States tank crew during the Allied invasion of Germany. Brad Pitt plays “Wardaddy,” the commander of the Sherman tank called “Fury.” Michael Pena plays “Gordo,” the tank’s driver. Shia LaBeouf plays the gunner “Bible.” Jon Bernthal plays “Coon-Ass,” the weapons-loader. And Logan Lerman plays Norman, the new assistant driver/bow-gunner assigned to “Fury” to replace their comrade “Red,” killed in action immediately prior to the start of the film.
There is a lot of greatness in the first two-thirds of Fury. What I enjoyed most about the film is its exploration of WWII tank warfare, and the experiences of the men who lived and fought in the belly of those steel beasts (to borrow a phrase from Henry Jones Sr.). This is not an area that has been well-mined by many previous films. David Ayer’s direction is visceral and tense, putting the viewer right in the thick of some harrowing sequences. The film is exceedingly well-made, with enormous attention to detail in the costumes, sets, props, and most of all the tanks. Mr. Ayer succeeds in making the tank Fury a full-fledged character in the story, through the accumulation of a million tiny details captured in the film.
The cast is strong, bringing life to the loosely-sketched characters. One feels that each one of these characters could have been the lead of the film, which is exactly right. After the greatness of Inglorious Basterds, it’s fun seeing Brad Pitt back in a WWII film. Though “Wardaddy” is the clear alpha dog of the group (not just because of his position as commander), Mr. Pitt allows this character to show more humanity than did Aldo Raine in Basterds, which is appropriate for the role. I frickin’ love Michael Pena in the film, an actor who seems to me to be able to do no wrong these days. (See: Ant Man.) He’s able to bring humor to the film, while never ever loosing sight of the seriousness that the role calls for. Shia LaBeouf meanwhile has become something of a joke these days, but he does solid work here. Jon Bernthal is great as “Coon-Ass.” He’s a viscous jerk in many ways (his nick-name is not ironic), but Mr. Bernthal also allows the audience to see the human being underneath the bluster. Finally there is Logan Lerman, who I will love forever based on his tremendous work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Mr. Lerman has the somewhat thankless role of … [continued]
Last month I had the pleasure of catching up with the fifth season of Louie C.K.’s fantastic FX show, Louie. I’ve been a fan since the beginning of Louie. It’s such a unique show, one that feels like a very personal expression of Louie C.K.’s very particular voice and sense of humor.
While season four experimented with longer story-telling arcs, with stories that ran across multiple episodes, season five returns more closely to something approaching the flavor of season one, with each episode feeling entirely like it’s own thing, a stand-alone loony adventure in Louie’s life. I loved the ambition of season four, but in my heart I think that this is the flavor of Louie that I love best. Each episode feels like its own weird little flight of fancy.
Season five is far shorter than the previous seasons, clocking in at only eight episodes. I’m not sure why there were so few episodes this time around, but I’m thankful for what we got.
After the disappearance of the great opening credits and theme song in season four, I was happy to see them return here in season five (albeit occasionally in a somewhat truncated form, presumably to make room for everything else that Louie wanted to fit into the episode).
Once again Louie C.K. wrote, directed, and starred in every episode. The show continues to be a tour de force work for Louie, a hugely original piece of work that feels like a direct conduit into his mind. I love that about the show. It continues to be quite unlike anything else on TV. The show rigorously refuses to be pinned down to a certain style or tone. The show can veer from hilarious to serious to out-of-left-field loony, often within minutes.
The premiere, “Potluck,” feels like a classic Louie idea: Louie goes to a potluck dinner at the home of a parent of one of the girls in one of his daughter’s class. But he mistakenly goes to the wrong apartment and a potluck dinner of a group of an entirely different sort, something that Louie (and we the audience) only gradually realizes. This is a great set-up, but also in classic Louie style, while Louie finds a lot of humor for the situation, he doesn’t solely mine the situation for jokes. The episode goes to places I didn’t expect.
My favorite episode of the season was “Sleepover,” in which Louie hosts a sleepover birthday party for all of his daughter Jane’s friends. Watching Louie navigate a hyper group of tween girls is hilarious, but the episode goes to far crazier places when Louie gets a frantic call from his brother Booby, who is in jail and … [continued]
My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!
Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction. Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil. Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil. Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm. Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs. Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island. Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga. Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls. Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.!
I was completely unaware when reading B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs that an epic story was beginning, one that would position the B.P.R.D. book as the center of the Hellboy universe and that would wind up rocking that universe to the core. Things come to a head in the “Scorched Earth” trio of mini-series that I will discuss today (along with a few other stories): The Warning, The Black Goddess, and The King of Fear. Onward!
B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man (2008) – This one-shot gives us a glimpse into the origin of Johann Kraus, and what happened to him immediately following the death of his physical form in 2002. I wish we’d learned more about the Chengdou disaster in China that wiped out so many psychics, thus setting Johann’s story in motion.
B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1 (2008) – This was the first of a series of one-shots that told short stories set a few years prior to the current B.P.R.D. books, in the early days of their War on the Frogs. In this one we see Roger hunting down the two surviving Cavendish brothers, who were transformed into frog-men back in Seed of Destruction. It’s nice to see that dangling plot thread wrapped up, but there’s not much to this story. Feels like this would have been an awesome … [continued]
Prepare to lose your afternoon, comic-book fans. Alan Moore (author of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, and so many other great works) answers a TON of questions in this great Q & A thread.
As the release of The Force Awakens draws ever closer, this in-depth interview with J.J.Abrams will help tide you over. (Nice to hear him admit to script problems on Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness.)
In other Star Wars news, you’ve gotta love this super-detailed fan theory laying out the case for Jar Jar being a trained force-user who was secretly behind all of the events of the prequels.
Sacha Baron Cohen & the great Mark Strong have fun with spy movie tropes in The Brothers Grimsby? Sign me up:
I wish Pixar would stick with creating original films rather than sequels, but it’s hard to feel too unhappy about this new teaser trailer for Finding Dory:
I’m also quite happy with the latest, most substantial look at Netflix’s upcoming Jessica Jones show, the adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos’ phenomenal comic book series Alias. I am really hoping this doesn’t disappoint. We’ll know very soon!! This trailer is great:
I don’t think I’ve written anything yet here about the news that a new Star Trek TV series is in the works! (Albeit one that won’t actually air on TV — it’ll only be available on CBS’ All Access digital subscription service.) I love the idea of a new Trek series, it is too-long in coming. Star Trek belongs on TV. But obviously my degree of excitement in this new venture will be determined by who is involved, and the subject matter of the show. (The most pressing question is not just the era of the show — Kirk’s era? Pre-Kirk? Next Generation era? Beyond Next Gen? — but rather the timeline. Will this new show be set in the timeline of the original Trek shows and movies, or the rebooted J.J. Abrams universe?) For the moment, the involvement of Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the terrible scripts for the two rebooted Trek films, as well as several of the abominable Transformers films) does not give me joy. But hope springs eternal. And as for the show’s only being available digitally, I am OK with that. I’ve long felt that CBS/Paramount should play to Trek’s built-in fanbase by using digital platforms to deliver new Trek shows to the fans. (Why not use a Netflix or Amazon model to help pay for the creation of … [continued]
Towards the end of Mark Hartley’s spectacular documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, Richard Kraft sums up the entire story of the company: “Cannon’s legacy will be the insane stories of how that many movies got made, during a very specific period of time, by two guys who had no business doing any of it.”
The name Cannon Films strikes a huge nostalgic chord in me from my childhood years in the eighties. It’s not an entirely favorable recollection, as I most know Cannon for its involvement in the dismal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. That Superman film was one of the first times as a kid that I started to discern that not all movies were created equal. It was clear to me right away that something was “off” about Superman IV, that the sequel wasn’t as great as the previous Superman films that I loved so much. (As a kid I detected the flaws in Superman IV even before I started to question Superman III.) I started to wonder why that mighty have been, and after doing some reading about the film in magazines, in the days/months after the film’s release, it became clear that the new producers of the series, Cannon, had tried to make the film on the cheap and the results showed on screen.
Nevertheless, I have always held a warm spot in my heart for the cheesy low-budget craziness of Cannon films. And so I was hugely excited when I first heard of Mark Hartley’s documentary.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films does not disappoint. The film is a spectacularly thorough, and tremendously entertaining, look back at the Cannon Group.
The Cannon story centers on the two men who ran the company from 1979 until 1989: Israeli cousins Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus. These two men, particularly Menachem, were big personalities and quite idiosyncratic in the world of Hollywood. Everyone interviewed for the film — and the film boasts an enormously impressive array of interview subjects — seems to have a story about Menachem. And almost everyone in the film seems to relish showing off their personal imitation of Menachem — his distinct Israeli accent and his brash personality. The film is stuffed to overflowing with outlandish, hard-to-believe stories of Menachem and of the crazy, seat-of-the-pants way in which the Cannon Group operated.
Many of the subjects interviewed for the film seem to have liked Menachem and Yoram, and many strongly disliked them. It is hard to argue that Cannon succeeded in making many movies that were any good. But what I enjoyed about the documentary is that Mark Hartley clearly has an affection for Cannon … [continued]
As Sicario opens, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) raid a house in Arizona looking for kidnapping victims, only to discover that hidden inside the walls of the house are the gruesome remains of dozens of dead victims of the drug cartels. Kate agrees to be reassigned to a team of men hunting the cartels, despite the shadowy nature of some of the men involved, including Matt (Josh Brolin), who Kate suspects is a CIA agent, and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) a man who seems to have inside knowledge of the cartels. Kate is taken off-guard that the team’s first mission takes them outside the U.S. and to Juarez, Mexico to extradite a prisoner. On the way out, they find themselves in a violent shootout with cartel men in the middle of a crowded bridge. Kate has found herself suddenly surrounded in a world of terrible violence and increasingly murky morality, as the actions of Matt and Alejandro and their team seem to be of questionable legality at best. To what end will she allow herself to go in pursuit of the cartel head-honchos? Just what sorts of means will justify their ends?
Sicario is a tense thrilled that had me quite on the edge of my seat for much of its run-time. I like the way the film throws the audience into the story, not giving us (or Kate, our main character) much chance to catch our breath or to get our bearings. I enjoyed the murky moral questions that the film, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, raises.
But I didn’t quite love the film the way so many other reviewers seemed to. Throughout the film I found myself repeatedly scratching my head as to why Matt (Josh Brolin) behaves like such a dick to Kate, and why she tolerates that behavior. Sicario is a film whose story only really works if you accept the notion that Matt will withhold key information from Kate until late in the third act, and that Kate will continue to go along with what’s happening without insisting on someone giving her a straight answer. Part of my brain can accept this, thinking that people go along with all sorts of things when they want to fit in and look like a good, agreeable person to their bosses in an effort to get ahead. I can see this being even more of an issue in Kate’s case, a woman who, despite the film showing us her smarts and competence, is nonetheless the lone woman among all these alpha dog males. On the other hand, the other part of my brain recognizes the withholding … [continued]
Spectre, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Ian Flemming’s James Bond, is not a completely terrible film but it’s a huge missed opportunity for the franchise and is probably the worst of Craig’s four Bond films. (That’s right, I think Spectre is weaker than Quantum of Solace.) This film should have been the triumphant and thrilling return of the best and most iconic Bond villains — S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld — after forty years on the shelf, but instead it’s a humdrum head-scratcher and I am left wondering what the heck went wrong.
Spoilers ahead, gang.
One of my favorite things about the Daniel Craig Bond films has been the continuity between the films. I loved that Quantum of Solace directly picked up on the events of Casino Royale, specifically Bond’s grief at Vesper’s betrayal, as well as bringing back characters such as Mathis and Mr. White, who was revealed to be connected to a criminal organization called Quantum (or perhaps Q.U.A.N.T.U.M.). (One of my complaints about Skyfall, which I enjoyed but didn’t view as the triumph that most everyone else seemed to, was that it was a stand-alone adventure that didn’t continue the development of Quantum.)
This sort of continuity in the Bond series feels like a radical new idea, but in fact it’s a very old one. Though the series became famous for each film’s being a totally stand-alone adventure, the original Connery Bond films had a gentle continuity between them. Characters carried over from one film to another (such as Sylvia Trench) and we gradually got to learn more about S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the criminal organization behind much of Bond’s troubles, and its leader Ernst Stavros Blofeld.
A turning point in the Bond series — and what stands as the series’ greatest missed opportunity (though boy does Spectre give it a run for its money) — is the abandonment of that continuity following the terrific cliffhanger ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That film under-performed and audiences did not respond well to the newly re-cast Bond, played by George Lazenby. And so while the follow-up should have been the grand culmination of the story that had been slowly developed over the course of the first six films, an emotional and epic climax to Bond’s fight with S.P.E.C.T.R.E., now taken to an intensely personal level following the murder of Bond’s wife, the producers made the decision to totally abandon that story and quickly do away with Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. From that point forward, the films became stand-alone adventures and, following a brief and stupid appearance of a Blofeld-like character in the opening of For Your Eyes Only, that was the last we ever heard of Blofeld and … [continued]
In the ripping crime yarn A Most Violent Year, Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the owner of a Brooklyn-based oil company. As the film opens, in 1981, Abel and his friend and attorney, Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks), have just secured a great deal: the purchase of an enormous fuel terminal near the East River which will give Abel an enormous leg up on his competitors. But as Abel’s company has grown, so too have his troubles. His oil trucks are being hijacked (likely at the hand of one of his competitors) costing him an enormous sum of money and problems with the Teamsters who represent his drivers, and his company is being investigated by the State government for criminal activities. Abel’s wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), pushes Abel to fight violence with violence, but Abel has prided himself on not being a criminal like Anna’s father. As Abel’s situation grows increasingly desperate, what will he be forced to do?
First of all, wow, who knew that Oscar Isaac would be in basically everything I’ve watched this month?? Mr. Isaac grabbed hold of my attention with both hands back when I first saw Inside Llewyn Davis (click here for my review), but in the past few weeks he has blown me away with his work in Show Me a Hero (click here for my review) and Ex Machina (click here for my review) and now A Most Violent Year. (And, of course, Mr. Isaac also has a major role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!) Mr. Isaac’s power as an actor is demonstrated with full force with his tremendous work here in A Most Violent Year. This is a movie-star performance. This film rises because of Mr. Isaac’s commanding work, in pretty much every scene of the film. Mr. Isaac has created a hugely compelling character in Abel, a smart and magnetic personality whose talent and charisma has taken him far from his humble immigrant origins… perhaps too far? As I watched A Most Violent Year, I was captivated in wondering where the film, and Abel’s story, was going. Would Abel prove to be the hero of the piece… or the villain?
A Most Violent Year was written and directed by J.C. Chandor. I didn’t realize until after watching the film that Mr. Chandor had also written and directed the terrific 2013 film All is Lost, the near-silent movie starring Robert Redford, about a man alone at sea in escalatingly calamitous circumstances. (Click here for my review.) Wow, Mr. Chandor is clearly an enormous talent. This is a filmmaker to whom I will be paying very close attention from now on!… [continued]