Fury (2014) – Film Review

Five years after Brad Pitt first entered the realm of fictional war stories with 2009’s ‘Inglorious Bastards,’ Pitt returned to the genre for: ‘Fury,’ a gritty action-drama following the valiant actions of a battle-hardened tank commander and his loyal men as they undertake a treacherous mission. And although the film frequently invites far too many comparisons to the military classic: ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Fury’ is still a tightly-knit story of brotherhood with some excellent performances and a suitably-unflinching depiction of war to carry it through to the end of its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: April, 1945. As Allies make their final push towards the European Theatre, grizzled tank commander: ‘Don Collier’ commands a Sherman tank and his devoted five-man crew on a daring mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, out-gunned and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Don’ and his men seemingly face overwhelming odds as they attempt to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany…

Rather than being based on a singular veracious story similar to most films set during the second World War, ‘Fury’ is actually based on a collection of true stories from many real-life army veterans who spent most of their time during the war inside tanks. But primarily, the film’s storyline parallels the story of American tank commander Staff Sergeant Lafayette G. Pool, who personally destroyed over two-hundred and fifty-eight enemy vehicles before his tank was eventually destroyed in late 1944. According to writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad, Bright) it was his family’s heavy association with World War II that drove him to write and direct ‘Fury,’ wanting the film to be as true-to-life as possible to pay respect to his grandparents, who both served as officers during the historical war.

Before production began, the entire cast of: ‘Fury’ underwent a rigorous month-long training course to further cement them as their respective characters, the final test of which included manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Brad Pitt, who was much older than the rest of the cast, ensured that he participated in all of the same physical training his fellow actors did. Pitt’s dedication to his role is also evident throughout the film, as ‘Don Collier,’ or ‘Wardaddy’ as he is nicknamed by his platoon, continuously remains a burley and resilient character without ever losing too much of Pitt’s natural charisma. However, the other members of: ‘Don’s crew portrayed by Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and Logan Lerman aren’t quite as noteworthy, though the film does attempt to integrate a number of scenes which humanise the soldiers, a few members of: ‘Don’s crew inevitably feel like less-interesting recreations of battle-burned stereotypes.

The set-design, editing and especially cinematography by Roman Vasyanovn all greatly amplify ‘Fury’s grim appeal. Having nearly every location the characters visit be represented through either scorched fields, shattered farmhouses or isolated German towns (which were actually built from scratch by the production crew). Furthermore, ‘Fury’ pulls-no-punches when it comes to displaying graphic violence, as arms, legs and heads are all repeatedly severed in pursuit of pushing the film’s primary theme, that being the overplayed yet still impactful: “War is Hell,” which is only enhanced by the film’s trench-ridden colour palette.

Contrarily, the original score composed by Steven Price is slightly lighter in tone, as tracks such as: ‘April, 1945,’ ‘Refugees,’ ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Norman’ all create a contrast to the film’s distressing visuals, often riding the line between hope and tragedy as a result of the soundtrack’s electronic pulses and grand orchestra. Still, whilst the score does leave a strong impact on the film, there is a distinct lack of memorability throughout the original score, not too dissimilar to much of Price’s other work, e.g. ‘Ophelia,’ ‘American Assassin’ and ‘The Aeronauts.’

In addition to filming on-location in Hertfordshire, England whenever possible, ‘Fury’ also strives for realism through its use of genuine tanks from the time-period. Most notably, the Tiger I tank, making it only the second-time in history that an actual tank of that make has been used in a feature film production, with the tank itself being borrowed from the Bovington Tank Museum, which is coincidentally also located in the United Kingdom. Additionally, many of the costumes that appear in the film were acquired from real World War II clothing exhibits all over the world, keeping in-line with Ayer’s admirable fight for total accuracy of the time-period.

In summary, while ‘Fury’ may offer plenty of fantastic performances and visceral action set-pieces, the film’s overly-long runtime and absence of any incredibly likeable or unique characters ensures that the film never manages to live-up to its larger ambitions, which in some ways could also be a result of David Ayer’s lacklustere writing, as in my opinion, Ayer’s screenplays often leave something to be desired. Regardless, ‘Fury’ is definitely worth a watch, but I’ll personally stick to ‘Inglorious Bastards’ for my simultaneous fill of Brad Pitt and insight into World War II. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Steve Jobs (2015) – Film Review

The third film to be based on the real-life story of tech-designer Steve Jobs following ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ in 1999 and ‘Jobs’ in 2013. ‘Steve Jobs’ is a gripping drama which interestingly chooses to take-place over the time-span of three iconic product-launches, focusing on much of the backstage drama of Jobs’ life as he attempts to revolutionise the world of technology and eventually become the C.E.O. of Apple Inc. Making for the best cinematic-interpretation of Steve Jobs’ life story as of yet, despite the film lacking in memorability in a few areas.

Plot Summary: Steven Paul Jobs has always been known a major player in the digital-revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, his passion and ingenuity being the driving force behind the digital-age we currently inhabit. Yet whilst his commitment to revolutionise the technological-landscape was more than commendable, it was also sacrificial, as Jobs’ work often took a toll on his family life…

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire), ‘Steve Jobs’ was actually considered a box-office failure upon its initial release, with the film being pulled from over two-thousand cinemas after just two-weeks. And while I can’t say this is too surprising, as a biography focused around the story of a computer-designer does sound dull at a first mention. In execution, ‘Steve Jobs’ is anything but boring, as the film’s sharply-written screenplay makes for a very captivating watch, and draws many parallels to ‘The Social Network’ from 2010. Which is no coincidence, as both films were written by Aaron Sorkin. Furthermore, David Fincher was once attached to direct the film following his previous collaboration with Sorkin on ‘The Social Network,’ but Fincher was eventually dropped in favour of Danny Boyle after he demanded a higher-salary.

First and foremost, ‘Steve Jobs’ is definitely an actor’s film, as the performances outweigh nearly every other aspect of the film aside from perhaps the writing, with Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels all giving tremendous portrayals of these real-life figures. With Michael Fassbender portraying the titular man himself, and although Fassbender is quite far physically from Jobs’ appearance (with Fassbender going the extra-mile to wear brown eye-contacts to achieve a closer look), Fassbender impresses as usual, presenting Steve Jobs as a brilliant success when it comes to his products, but a significant failure when he tries to communicate with the people in his life. And refreshingly, the film is never afraid to delve into Jobs’ many personality flaws.

With the film playing-out over the course of three different product-launches, beginning with the Macintosh in 1984 and ending with the unveiling of the iMac in 1998. The three time-periods are cleverly represented through the cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler, with each segment being shot on 16mm, 35mm, and digital to illustrate the advancement in Apple’s technology across the sixteen-years of Jobs’ depicted life. And with the camera constantly tracking the actors as they walk through ever-changing locations, the camerawork really helps to make the film more engaging. Director Danny Boyle even integrates some of his signature ‘Trainspotting’ style with the film’s editing, displaying flashbacks through snappy quick-cuts and projection-like images which appear stretched over the walls behind those in frame.

From ‘It’s Not Working’ to ‘Child (Father),’ ‘Russian Roulette’ and ‘1998. The New Mac.’ The original score by Daniel Pemberton is a perfect mixture of minimalist electronic and grand orchestral tracks, encapsulating both the technological achievements of Jobs’ career as well as the spectacle of each one of unveilings. Unfortunately, the one moment the film’s soundtrack falters is an important one, as the film’s very last scene is sadly spoilt by the use of the pop-song: ‘Grew Up at Midnight,’ which feels immensely out-of-place when compared to the remainder of the film’s score.

Whilst ‘Steve Jobs’ is well-written on all regards, with much of the film’s dialogue being continuously witty and humorous in addition to playing-into Jobs’ God-complex and smug nature. However, with that said, a large amount of the film’s writing also relies on tech-specific dialogue, with everything from circuit boards to graphical interfaces and binary code all being casually mentioned in conversations, which I imagine could be fairly confusing for some viewers depending on how familiar they may be with that terminology.

In conclusion, ‘Steve Jobs’ is certainly one of the better biographies in recent years. Although I’m sure many will still be disinterested in the film purely for its main focus, the film does have a lot to offer, and in my opinion not only excels past the previous films based on the story the late tech-designer, but also the novel: ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ which the screenplay actually takes heavy-inspiration from. And even in spite of several of Jobs’ associates claiming the film doesn’t represent the man they knew, just like Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network,’ this version of Jobs is very much a creation of its writer, and what a sensational creation it is. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film adaptation of: ‘Hidden Figures’ serves as compelling and entertaining delve into the past as it tells the true story of the mostly unknown women who helped push-forward the space program. Through its brilliant performances from Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Costner (among the rest of the cast) alongside its magnificent writing, the film manages to keep its audience constantly invested in spite of its occasionally bland filmmaking.

Plot Summary: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s cross all gender and race barriers within their workplace to follow their dreams and inspire generations, serving as the brain-force to help send astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit…

Despite focusing on three separate stories of three separate characters, ‘Hidden Figures’ never feels unfocused, as each of the three protagonists receive a decent amount of development as well as at least one or more memorable scenes between them. As the film displays its main theme of female and Black empowerment proudly, without ever becoming overly cliché as it avoids many of the over-done tropes that other films built-around the racist barriers of the 60s can begin to rely on. For example, the film’s opening scene in which the trio of women are confronted by a white police officer, as this moment could’ve easily felt like overly-familiar ground should it have been handled-poorly, yet aside from some inappropriate stereotyping at first, the scene actually results in the three of them heading to NASA without any horrific racial ridiculing.

The three protagonists portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are all excellent throughout the film, as each of them remain determined and outgoing despite the world’s many attempts to drag them down, always fighting against the unfair judgement of them simply for the way they look, repeatedly with a lack of preachy dialogue. Alongside them, the supporting cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kristen Dunst and Mahershala Ali are all great even if some of their characters are a little under-utilised within the narrative. One of the reasons the performances within the film are as accurate as they are is due to some of the cast actually having the opportunity to meet with the story’s icons before production began. Most notably Taraji P. Henson, who met with the real Katherine Johnson (who was ninety-eight-years-old at the time) after she signed-on to the film.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is serviceable overall, as while the film features a good number of attractive shots, they are dragged-down by its many mundane ones. However, ‘Hidden Figures’ does actually make effective yet subtle use of colour throughout its runtime. As the film’s colour palette constantly reflects the mood within each scene, with the many of the sets at NASA where calculations and preparations take-place utilising mostly sterile whites, greys, and silvers, which creates a sharp contrast to the warm/inviting colours of the ladies’ homes.

Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch handle the original score for the film, which is an incredibly mixed-bag overall. As whilst the film does have some decent tracks such as: ‘Katherine,’ ‘Mission Control’ and ‘Hidden Figures,’ the soundtrack also features a number of pop-songs by Pharrell Willaims, which don’t remotely fit the tone of the film or the story’s time-period. Usually resulting in it feeling very forced and sometimes even takes-away from the film’s dramatic moments. This is most likely a result of Pharrell Willaims overseeing all aspects of the film’s soundtrack, which I personally feel is a huge misstep as his style of music really isn’t suited for a drama.

In addition to portraying the female heroes of the real-life story as accurately as possible, the film also makes substantial use of its time-period. As to keep the viewer up-to-date with what knowledge that the American public had at the time, ‘Hidden Figures’ occasionally cuts-away to archive footage of rocket testings or president John F. Kennedy making public announcements, both which are surprisingly effective despite not being used continuously. Personally however, I still would’ve preferred a bigger presence of songs from the 1960s rather than the constant barrage of pop-songs the film contains, as mentioned previously.

In conclusion, I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is an important film many should experience. As whilst there has been an array of films based around the misogynistic/racist nature of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Hidden Figures’ is for sure a stand-out through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative. Although films like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ may be slightly more powerful with their message(s), I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is fairly underrated when it comes to historical dramas, as the film is simultaneously both informing and touching. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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Hacksaw Ridge (2016) – Film Review

Serving as both an intense war film as well as the real-life biography of Desmon T. Dos, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a respected Oscar-nominated film which deserves much of the praise it receives. As through the stand-out performance by Andrew Garfield alongside the attractive cinematography by Simon Duggan and array of tense moments, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ soon becomes a very emotional and memorable experience for any viewer, whether overly familiar with the war genre or not.

Plot Summary: World War II American Army Medic Desmon T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refused to kill a single living person despite push-back from his superiors. Doss soon became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot on the battlefield…

Directed by Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto), ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is most effective when displaying war at it’s most brutal, never turning away from displaying the graphic violence and horrific destruction World War II inflicted on many people’s lives, and while the film can sometimes go a little too far when it comes to its gore (feeling a little tasteless and over-the-top at points). I did find ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ more engaging than many similar films within the war genre, and the grim atmosphere the film presents is sure to keep any audience member constantly on the edge-of-their-seat.

The main cast of Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Luke Bracey are all phenomenal, with Andrew Garfield in particular, giving a fantastic performance as Desmon T. Dos. Never failing to portray him as a likeable and brave man thrown into the dark world of war, despite a huge amount of scenes being left on the cutting-room floor as a result of time, which I feel is a shame, as the film isn’t overly long and could’ve benefitted from a few more moments of characterisation. However, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ also features some extremely peculiar choices when it comes to the supporting cast, as Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both portray strict war-camp generals early on in the story, which in spite of them both giving fairly decent performances within their roles, I couldn’t help but feel their characters could’ve been better cast.

Although the cinematography by Simon Duggan isn’t anything overly incredible throughout the runtime, the film does have a number of visually pleasing shots, in addition to the film utilising an array of hand-held shots to further the film’s presentation of the uncontrollable chaos of war. Unfortunately, despite not being used very heavily throughout the film, the shots involving CGI that we do see could definitely do with some improvement. As the CG effects for the film’s enormous battleships and fiery explosions do look a little unusual when compared to the film’s time-period-accurate battlefront.

The original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is one of the stronger elements of the film however, as the soundtrack helps to build tension throughout the story in addition to being surprisingly memorable. Although in my opinion, I always felt the score never quite managed to build tension as well as the score for: ‘Dunkirk,’ or had the huge emotional impact as the original score from one of the definitive war films: ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ which stopped the soundtrack from reaching the heights it truly could. That being said, the late James Horner was initially attached to the film after being the composer for much of Gibson’s other work. But after Horner’s untimely death, another composer was brought on before Rupert Gregson-Williams was eventually finalised on, so the film’s soundtrack has been through a very rough-road of development.

One area of the film I feel is fairly underappreciated is the make-up and costume design, as every horrific injury seen throughout the film always appears realistic and looks extremely painful, whilst every costume also feels very accurate to the film’s time-period, almost making the film appear as if the production actually took-place during World War II itself. These elements also help make-up for some of the weak writing early on in the film. As whilst the film’s writing isn’t awful by any means, a large amount of the dialogue could be seen as a little cheesy/cliché when it comes to developing the film’s characters.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and distressing, whilst it isn’t quite perfect in its execution, mostly due to its few small issues in regards to its writing, excessive violence and supporting cast. I still feel all of these problems are mostly minor when compared to the remainder of the film. As ‘Hacksaw Ridge’s brilliant war-torn visuals and tense atmosphere on-top of the memorable and charismatic performance by Andrew Garfield, leave ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ a film I feel many should see at least once. Final Rating: 8/10.

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