Fury (2014)

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This World War Two effort is gritty, brutal and deals with the tense confinement and microcosm of a tank in such a dramatic way. The ending may be slightly twee and Hollywood as an American film about Americans and it’s grander desires of storming out a thoughtful award hitter may be lost to bullet fire and explosions but it works so well in visualising the awful horrors of war.

In the latter stages of WW2, American Allies are pushing forward into Nazi occupied Germany and amongst one division is a fighting brotherhood led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt). His crew consist of religious gunner Boyd (Shia LeBeouf), driver Trini or ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena), gun loader and nut Grady (Jon Bernthal) and petrified typist-now driver Norman (Logan Lerman). As they capture towns, drink, argue, shoot enemies and try to hold ground at a crossroads they become a family in the last ditch attempts to halt or slow down the Germans.

The cinematography of these raging battles by Roman Vasyanov is astounding. The muddy fields, ripped roads and shelled towns are seen in such beautiful yet devastating frames that you can’t evade how shocking the horrors of this war was. It’s images that really bring in the toll of the war efforts and from dirty faces to bloody bodies you see the huge aftermath of the fighting. The locations feel grimy and real, every little detail makes you feel as if you’re there amongst the terror of the Second World War. The way the final scenario of their battered tank at the crossroads is filmed is so effective in building tension and elevating the comradely spirit in what could be their final hours together. Their tank ‘Fury’ is a beast of a machine that tears scarily and majestically through Vasyanov’s and David Ayer’s work.

David Ayer directs this feature with his speciality of translating masculinity and war to the big screen. There is a hell of a lot of loud whistling bombs and gun fire but it’s necessary and he never makes the action sequences get tiresome. Each one seems to come with a different take to make you think how each battle for real life people in that war could never expect anything. Treacherous, nervous times for all that enlisted and Ayer captures that human emotion even when the men are trying to be strong, you believe it’s the best job they ever had, they’re now accustomed to the consequences of war. The moments away from cannons and grenades are in no way boring though as we grow to these men as squabbling drunk fools to lethal and loyal friends.

Threading through all this raw depiction of WW2 is the paternal development between Don and Norman. It can feel a little strained to get an emotional side of things going but after a while you cannot help but attach yourself to Norman as he grows in confidence against people he’d never expected to face in a vehicle he’d never desired to get in. Don is in ways a father figure to all his men but he truly becomes that helpful persona in dealing with Norman’s nerves. It’s a nice human connection to counter balance the visceral extremities of war.

Steven Price is on fine form in charge of music here. I had no idea it was him involved until the credits rolled but after his aural splendour on ‘Gravity’ he’s back with class for this movie. Marching chants blend with unnerving sounds and percussion to rack up the tension in the latter stages of the film concerning the predicament of their stuck tank. There is a hollow like echo and choir whisper to quite a few of the songs that mix in with shocks of backing music to amp up suspense and the deadly trials of war even in it’s closing stages.

In the mix of this very dark affecting showcase of war are some brilliant acting performances. Brad Pitt leads the troop with his usual charisma, flair and macho know-how but you can sense his fear and trepidation as men die around him leaving their tank and squad alone. The decisions are resting with him and shows his at times, fracturing leadership with comfort. Logan Lerman is the biggest emotional weight amongst the men in his vulnerability and innocence, it’s a great journey for him as he makes Norman come to life in the rise from inexperience to all out confidence. Shia LeBeouf is truly great, quiet but domineering in the background and wow does he have the knack for harrowing animal cries when coping with someones death. Michael Pena provides a rarer moment of big laughs when entering the once relaxed cozy setting of a German home with hat and cane. Jon Bernthal is like the rabid dog who you have to grow to love and he plays that with unshakable quality. The entire cast sell a dining table scene with tension and awkward unease making it stand out as one of the favourite parts of the film.

I’d not be too drawn back in saying this film doesn’t have huge mind to its work though. It is brutally thumping and one of the more gritty, dark better war movies I’ve seen but intelligence of a moral/message seems to be looked over to leave us seeing men ridden into the ground or shot in the face.

Exquisitely shot and realism of detail makes the battleground of war-torn Germany feel awesomely real, a tense, juggernaut ride with enough loud noises to leave you forgetting true heart is left behind at the tank’s hatch.

7.5/10

Varsity Blood (2014)

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Rife with cheap silliness and blood as you would expect from a horror film of this title and premise. It’s in no way awful but for a horror film the whole thing is cliched and their attempt at a masked ‘Scream’-esque twist gets convoluted in many uninteresting back stories that you just don’t care. It’s one of those cheap movies you’d half watch late at night on telly.

Briefly realising a death happened in the pre-titles, we then see the football mascot slaughter a busty cheerleader, we’re in the cheesy slasher arena for the long haul guys. A group of high school jocks and cheerleaders are preparing for Halloween by heading out to rural farmhouse to get drunk, drugged up and fornicate as is per norm in horror films of this status. Though this arguing nasty group of people, aside from a few have a past they try to cover up and someone, in said mascot uniform may now be picking them off to get revenge.

It’s of course a good looking cast, though acting prowess if obviously not high on the agenda of reasoning to hire them I’d hazard a lot of money to say. The lines in a lot of cases are delivered as if they know they’re in a nonsense horror, almost like they’re trying to be ‘Scary Movie’ about it all. If that’s the plan then I take it back and wow, they’re on point. It’s just wildly girly screaming and boyish masculinity when faced with the creeper at the farmhouse. The actual thicker attempts at story line are delivered so quickly or badly that everything seems to get muddled.

There is way too much going on in the writers of this film trying to be smart by creating ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ intentions, it gets so so lost amongst different characters, their squarely moulded personalities and the angst between them all. I just don’t get how they are even friends, they all seem to hate each other on the whole and then the writing of the killer mascot reveal is so stupendously out there that you have to marvel at how near genius it is for trying to be clever. It kind of works but you know something is up when they keep mentioning the killer is someone else, then you know it isn’t, if they’d never mentioned anything the twist would have been very good.

Apart from the sex, coke and boozing, these guys and dolls are extremely dumb, one girl gets herself killed when she could have just stepped out of the way and geez, the amount of times she kept falling over prior to that, you were wishing her death to come. I know that’s the kind of thing to expect in horror films but it’s so over the top that it doesn’t work. There’s like three characters that I liked in any aspect, apart from that the film fails because you never feel scared for them as they’re bitches or douche bags. They’re the kind of people in school you’d hate as they bully and rule the corridors, so seeing them killed is good. I understand that this film is targeting them on purpose so it gets brownie points for joyfully slaying that crowd.

This film does just enough to stand as a horror film, it probably being the least picked DVD on the shelf but it got there so credit. It’s a scrape through affair that resembles the students of this film scraping through education to become unquestionably forgettable in later life.

4/10

Nightcrawler (2014)

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I was lucky enough to see this as part of a secret screening last night and it’s such a treat to watch. Affectingly dark, this is a solidly engaging and unnerving feature film debut for director Dan Gilroy. The Californian night will never seem so alive with crime and questionable morals of the media and public sourced footage. The film feels like a ticking time bomb as you witness the birth and growth of this nightcrawler’s talent.

In California, a sly yet passionate and willing man by the name of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is seeking quick money and stumbles upon the grimy yet lucrative career of nightcrawling; turning up to crimes, crashes etc to document the danger before police and get it sent to news teams for money. It’s a job that quickly suits Bloom’s nature and after hiring an intern it isn’t long until he’s bending around the law to try and get the next big scoops.

Dan Gilroy has such an eye for this type of story. The beginning is shot beautifully leading you down a road of false security as we see daylight exteriors setting up the location, but as expected the majority of the film takes place during the twilight hours of the city. There’s a simple yet vivid look to most of the movie making everything look sort of like a news report car crash item but the sheen of it gives it a glossy and frankly unnerving image. Gilroy clearly has patience in the 117 minute running time to build that apprehension of Bloom’s psyche and it works a lot as we see repeated shots of his life and/or routine making him seem to focused or normal, i.e, watering his plant or watching TV laughing to himself in his home. The film is undoubtedly stylish but not so much so that you never believe what you’re seeing, it’s lying in this realism of events that could happen that makes it more worrying.

James Newton Howard who is so successful and has talent for motion picture scores, uses that know-how for this smaller scaled film and it gives it a burning grimy quality, especially in the car chasing segments and at one montage point as you see the rise of Bloom in this field of expertise. That montage in general is fantastically done, with edits tallying up to Bloom’s home video collection, back and forth’s of his new car adding pace to the film, it’s also helpful to adding more tension to what was already there as we see how dangerously efficient he is at this new role.

The story itself, written by Gilroy is coursing with dark undertones, the writing of Lou Bloom is thick with that bubbling current of suspicion and unease. He spiels off information like a better written Wikipedia page, he has an eye for details and framings and has the brains to carry out the best led story, even if it means letting people die in the process. It’s a calmly scripted character that does so much more to make you anxious watching him, than if he was just overly mad for the sake of it. Of course you need bursts of his true self coming through and you get that now and then but it’s in the more relaxed, smarmy clearly scheming side of things that his character comes alive.

Taking the morning news angle and dangling a moral compass over the authenticity of it as a media package is very interesting as you just know news hounds and press teams will do anything for a story and it does all get shockingly crude as they document house invasions or bloody bodies. It may of course be a far stretch from how American news channels really work but you can believe it to a degree that they loosen their morals to get the best headline. Every character involved in this film is necessary and never contrived, they all work to compliment or go against Bloom as the lead and that gives space for opposing ideals, some loving his work and others firmly going against his footage.

It really is the Jake Gyllenhaal show however, as he embodies this deadly yet charming figure of a man. It’s an odd performance making you see Leo as some ghoul of a guy, in physicality and mind. Gyllenhaal uses his eyes a lot and to great effect, there’s something so scary in those wide eyes that draw you in and work hard to keep you there. He is excellent, one of his best performances ever and chilling is not the word to use for his acting, it’s so much better than that, a wiry, shadowy creepy performance that entices you and sucks you into the sleazy world of this film.

The only thing that is of minor bugging to me is the ending, I still don’t know whether I liked it, whether it worked or not. There’s also slight bits and pieces in the last 15 minutes of the film that feel rushed. These are small criticisms that might completely evaporate when I see it on release day, but they’re there nonetheless.

Deep and dark in visuals and performance, ‘Nightcrawler’ succeeds in balancing actual quality moments of hilarity with awkward laughter and metal tangled, blood drenched nightmarish after dark frights in a fresh and bold way.

8/10

The Fly (1986)

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Horrendously icky in the right way, this sci-fi horror flick hits so well thanks to a convincing tragic undercurrent and the gooey downfall of Jeff Goldblum’s character. It’s thick with hair raising transformations added with an extra spice of fear with the music over all the action. An outstanding feat of human horror giving space to feel anxious of technology and flies at the same time.

In the throngs of a press event, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets and gets to know journalist of ‘Particle’ magazine Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) rather well, so much so that he takes her back to his and shows her the latest invention he’s been tinkering away on. This scientific endeavour is a breakthrough, it being a transporting device to move items from one pod to another, soon normal items aren’t enough and Brundle steps into the ‘telepod’ himself little realising the company of a fly he’s got in there with him.

I’m going to go straight in with the whole make-up of this film and boy is it something special. Chris Walas hits it out of the metaphorical ball park with this ageing like process of Brundle’s condition. From nails peeling off to bulbous hunched shoulders, the decay and progression of his insect themed infliction is horrifying. It is so much better than any CGI stuff because it feels more together, the look of this hybrid creature needs more fleshy realism and special effects can’t do that. The gloop and gory nature of Brundle turning into a fly is shocking and adds whack to feeling for him, as he was never a bad guy. This emotional connection we feel for him makes the deterioration that much worse to witness. The final product of it all is seeing the ‘Brundlefly’ mutate into a tall and deformed fly wanting to drag Quaife into an even worse hybrid and let me tell you, the lighting, music and visuals of this final tense set-up are brilliantly mastered.

David Cronenberg directs with his flair of body horror style and poor Jeff Goldblum takes the majority of the flack in this sci-fi nightmare of fly/human bonding. It all starts with a nicer air as Brundle flips, makes love and works out like some Greek god, this all works in setting up a maddening decline as his sweaty hero appearance moulds into something much worse. The dull industrial feel of his lab makes everything seem that much worse too, really slicking on that layer of grimy horror needed for the story being told.

There’s some great, maybe not perfect character writing here but great nonetheless. Seth Brundle is an eccentric smart guy who wants the best for the future and himself but he never comes across as arrogant, a fine trait for empathising with him as he changes. It’s such a cool invention that you can’t help but share the passion he has for it as something like that would be awesome, though it being a horror you already know not to trust the pods. Veronica Quaife, splendid name by the way, is a caring soul and not the typically dirt digging two-dimensional journalist hack she could have been portrayed as. The relationship she has with Brundle may happen mightily quick but you end up believing it and caring for her as she gets herself stuck in a sticky situation.

This film is clearly iconic for the gory imagery it has, being referenced lightly or heavily in many later pop cultural items, from ‘The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episode to the Mohinder curse in ‘Heroes’. It’s obvious to see why this has such an effect on media as it has such an effect upon watching it. The way he develops as this fly thing is so grotesque he still possesses his eyes, the last real ounce of humanity making you connect to him and identify with the monster. That’s a fantastic character move and plays on fears of obsession.

Jeff Goldblum is so good in this movie, going from sort of awkward science guy through his own stages of buff hunk to sexual master before the more demonic stages of his fly life itself. The ticks and little tongue movements as he begins becoming the fly are subtle but brilliant choices to make him feel that less with it and make him more deranged as he goes on. Even as he’s smothered in excellent make up, he sells the worried Seth magnificently making you still see that trace of compassion he’s so frightened to lose. Geena Davis is strong and shifts herself, from flirty to angry dealing with her ex, she demonstrates the right dose of horror in seeing Seth deformed, not too much which makes you like her as something in her performance makes you see she’s still trying to cling onto what she remembers of the man she met at the press do.

Squirmy, bloody and mind-scaringly searing in forcing such a worrying change of science fiction horror into our eyes. It’s quirky and interesting too with well rounded characters making everything that much more horrifying as you put yourself into this tragic situation.

8.5/10

The Judge (2014)

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Excelling in acting finery and showcasing majestic beautiful shots is all well good if the story is solid or at the very least powerful in the majority, alas this film stumbles on the plot points and gets lost in making any other characters beside the leads interesting and tripe-esque attempts at being emotional don’t ever work.

After hearing that his mother has passed away, great defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) travels back to his smaller roots in Indiana. There he reunites with his younger and older brothers, an old flame and his cantankerous father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who is hiding a secret and may have just killed someone. So it’s down to the less than close pair of dad and son to try and protect his honour.

The film looks gorgeous, that’s a given with no shadow of a doubt. Locations and framings of exterior and interior places are almost exquisite. One still stands out, so simple but tells a relationship in picture alone. The sight of Joseph and Hank walking opposite directions in a stretched horizontal shot really hits home the distance they have with one another. It’s all very law and order too with browns and dull tones making the court house feel more heavy and foreboding. As the once Judge now finds himself in the firing line it twists his home environment in a cruel way and you can feel that come across.

Annoyingly a lot of the film takes too much time with Hank and Joseph, I get that it’s about their strained bond but a good film takes moments to round out supporting characters too and all other players feel badly written or at least their backgrounds get shoved in quite sketchily to make it feel like they’re important. It’s clear that the film is really working with the father/son duo though and the brothers who could be very supportive become badly drawn cliched siblings, the ex girlfriend is the typical mum and bar owner happy in the place she was born. The only other character that briefly shines is Hank’s daughter when driving in the car with him she may be spewing cliched dialogue about divorce melodrama but she gets a chance to become three dimensional.

It’s so evident that director David Dobkin and star Downey, Jr. are trying to get this film into Oscar fields of vision, what with family drama, murder mystery and deathly illness to boot, it’s sad that it’s so obvious they’re trying to garner Academy attention because it makes the possible sad moments less than so and makes the entire film feel unreal. The constant back and forth between the will-they-won’t-they reconnect family plight gets pretty tedious and it’s just so predictable that the film will become all sunshine and rainbows in the end, well maybe it doesn’t go that far but it’s obvious that the fracture could mend.

Robert Downey, Jr. is very good on the most part, he convinces the audience that his sole purpose on our planet isn’t only to play a whizzing megalomaniac superhero but that he can play a confident megalomaniac lawyer too. What I’m saying is he is so Downey, Jr a lot of the time in the film, in the beginning even more so as he just sounds like Tony Stark in his cocksure and sometime unlikable manner but then he has bold flashes of brilliance where he shows he can bang on that door of emotion and bust it open. Robert Duvall is the pinnacle of the film, he plays the grumbly weathered Judge with complications and a possible motive for murder under his hat with great aplomb. You really hate and feel for him in different scenarios and once his condition comes to the fore you really see the Duvall broken down portrayal stand out. Billy Bob Thornton is a cool little addition to the cast too and in his smaller scaled role tries getting into the heart of his character and thanks to his charm and cold looks you get slight glimmers of what he could have become given more time.

A long film that feels long and it only has the qualities of it’s two leads to really make it anything of note, if not this film is something you don’t need to see.

5/10

Phenomena (1985)

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Grand in spectacle and skin crawling detail, this Italian horror also known as ‘Creepers’ strikes an oil well of out there imagery, serial killer plot and incredible music. It’s operatic in both its style and soundtrack and you feel like you’re experiencing some lucid ride as you watch this insect filled story progress.

Introducing the unseen killer by offing a tourist who misses the bus she was on gives us a glimpse of the quick and bloody manner they have and clearly the crazy nature they possess by showing them break free from chains. After this we see Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) who attends a Swiss Academy for girls while her famous father is away. She finds out, though that in the nearby area is this brutal slayer who murders young girls. Through her sleepwalking, gift of insect friendship and help from scientist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence) she attempts to track and uncover the multiple murderer.

Director Dario Argento clearly has an eye for the lavish and demonstrates striking yet odd beauty in his work. The many uses of close ups in his film add further closer inspection to places and people and also stir up more unnerving feelings as we feel they could be something more than what they appear. This movie does a magnificent job of generating an aura and with the near constant wind Switzerland seems to have in this movie it somehow works in making you feel cold to the bone. It may not be overtly scary, apart from one part that made me jump out of my skin, but Argento’s theatrical style provide chills.

It’s the sprawling location of hills and the hideous fraction of the overly posh clinical Academy that contrast and make the film stand out further. Both sides still hold that worrying feeling, the freedom of nature gives the killer room to run and kill as seen in the fantastic stone tunnel chase opening and the girl school just feels locked down and too ordered that you get a gist of something going on you don’t like, this manifests into the bullying of Jennifer as the other snobs torment her pretending to be worshipping insects of hers.

The story is no doubt surreal and you cannot deny it’s original but there’s times you question it or wonder why on Earth this idea even came about, or how. The whole serial killer angle lands the film in horror land but it feels laboured just to get that bloody spree involved, though I guess never knowing who is behind the murders leaves you guessing and therefore watching. It’s just weird in many places but wonderfully so, even if the insect kingdom aiding Jennifer comes across as strange, you buy into it because the film feels theatrical.

There’s an awful lot going on, what with killers, forensic science, detective work, dream studying, Jennifer’s plight and insect talk in general that it could feel like too many cooks spoiling the broth but perhaps luckily it all boils together nicely like a six armed Gordon Ramsay perfecting every aspect of the preparation to bring out a top notch dish. The strongest feature of this film lies in the world of the shuddering nastiness. Maggots, body parts and flies come together to really make you squirm and see this landscape as insane and nightmarish.

A lot of names to follow but; Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman, Fabio Pignatelli and Simon Boswell mixed in with the likes of Motorhead and Iron Maiden must be credited massively for the music in this film. The loud sounds of operatic/progressive rock and heavy metal tunes really gets the non-diagetic side of things pulsating and many times it kicks in really breathing atmospheric tension into the film. It coincides with the remarkable visuals of Argento to create a truly energetic thrilling story.

There are problems like believabilty of such an unbelievable plot but bypass this or view the story as a grotesque fairy-tale then you may just enjoy this film…a lot, like I did. There are shoddy moments of insect effects that don’t work but you’ll end up fist punching the air thanks to an outstanding primate and both the music and film will excite and shock you.

It’s exceptional and succeeds as a horror film for worming into your mind and creeping you out. The out there aspect of it all is fine and rather cool to see, especially when blended in with heightened dream like imagery, pounding music and clever interesting direction.

8/10

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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One of the best horror films for being intelligent, scary and fun too. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a scream from start to end and with endless crazy yet clever imagery throwing together the nightmarish behaviour of Freddy you can’t help but appreciate this film for the story it puts across.

Four high school students, friends and partners all have the dreadful connection of dreaming about the same thing. As they sleep they see a striped jumper wearing man with a burnt face and sharp gloved hands stalking them in a steamy boiler room. After Tina (Amanda Wyss) dies Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) realises this ‘Freddy’ persona can kill you in real life by killing you in your dreams, so hopefully with the help of her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) she can find Freddy (Robert Englund) and bring him to the real world to get him caught or killed and leave her and other teenagers alone.

Wes Craven who both directs and writes this film; his eighth feature strikes gold with such a great idea that you wonder how it hadn’t been done before. The script is believable considering how make-believe it can be and the dialogue is at multiple points funny and realistic. The direction Craven waves over his film is steady and sweeping for a lot of the time which helps tremendously in constructing the sense of a dreamlike world. In fact this movie is brilliant for blurring the gap between reality and subconscious platforms, it reads like some blood soaked ‘Inception’ as you wonder whether Nancy is sleeping or not.

The design of Freddy Krueger is so effective, a torn and ratty jumper, a hat and some knifed gloves do more than enough to make him one of the most iconic and scary movie villains of all time. It’s a brilliant character and works with the 80’s slasher boom going on. The theme of killer hunting down promiscuous youths is of course prominent but Freddy goes further as you find out why he’s stuck in nightmares and why he looks the way he does, a back story for the killer is a neat touch and the youths in question aren’t just sex obsessed but they’re smart too making them more likable to root for. Nancy especially becomes more than a typically horror movie idolized object when she proves herself with wit and know-how setting up booby traps for Mr. Krueger.

Imaginative and bold, this movie has so many stand out moments of ‘Holy cow’ ideas, even today they still work and feel fresher compared to the stale things we see a lot of the time. The hand pressing down through the roof or the sinking stairs are clever film making tools and help build up that supernatural quality of Freddy’s world. There is plenty of gory fun to be had in the way he messes about with not only the teens but himself to freak them and us out. Freddy and Nancy become a dueling pair and you can’t help but like both. It’s good vs evil and this film works as it keeps you enjoying both sides.

Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger, the maniacal way he plays this dream tormentor is fantastic. You truly believe the giddy delight he’s having tearing down chasing these four teens. He plays the rotten murdering scamp with such ferocity and charm that you fear Freddy is real and even watching it at my age it still puts some chills into you making you think about the dreams you might have. Langenkamp is a great lead, there’s only a few slips where her acting makes it look like she’s smiling instead of crying but she improves and becomes a brave horror female character with brains and beauty to tempt the killer into a place less sure for him. Depp too makes his film debut here in a role pitting him as the helpful yet dumb jock, he doesn’t have much to do but he makes Nancy look better.

It’s a great premise and Wes Craven joyfully puts together the ideas into a film with shocks, sequences of nightmares – something we can all be afraid of, and an awesome and haunting horror killer. Full of invention, primal fears and fun, it’s superb to see this film still feel as modern now as it was probably back then.

8/10