THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Material, Drug and Alcohol Use, Sexual Content including References, and a Fight -all involving Teens

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Directed by: Stephen Chbosky

Written by: Stephen Chbosky

(based on the novel THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky)

Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Paul Rudd, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Lynskey & Joan Cusack

PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a novel that became controversial right from the beginning. Though it is frequently included on high school reading lists, it has also appeared many times on the 10 Most Challenged Books list. Issues addressed in Stephen Chbosky’s novel are prevalent in high schools across the country, yet many adults prefer to pretend they don’t exist or just outright ignore them. None of the controversy stopped PERKS from being a hit among the young adult crowd as well as a number of adults. This all led to the extremely rare circumstances of an author taking the reigns as a screenwriter and director behind the adaptation of his own book. Stephen Chbosky knew exactly how he wanted his words to translate onto film and in 2012, the cinematic vision of his novel was brought to the screen. PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is not only one of the most emotionally realistic coming-of-age stories, but it’s also one of the most important.

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Told through letters/memories from our protagonist to an anonymous friend, PERKS is the story of Charlie. He’s an emotionally distressed teenager who’s especially scared about beginning his sophomore year at high school. References are made that Charlie got “really bad” in the past and it becomes clear throughout the film that he is suffering from Depression. Charlie’s first year looks to be boring, bleak and uncomfortable…until he finds a couple of friends. These friends come in the form of Sam and Patrick, a couple of seniors who happen to be siblings. Sam is adventurous, loves old music and opens the doors wide open for Charlie to be himself. Patrick is a proudly gay individual who isn’t afraid of being teased and embraces his uniqueness. Alongside a group of other friends, Charlie, Sam, and Patrick navigate their way through the turbulence of the school year.

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Logan Lerman has had his share of good performances (FURY) and not so good performances (GAMER), but really stands out as Charlie. The character is a difficult one to play as you can see the outside appearance that he’s putting on around other people, but also feel the sadness inside of the character. Thus far, the best performance of Logan’s career is right here in PERKS. Coming off the HARRY POTTER series, Emma Watson masterfully blends right in as Sam. Everything about the character is complex and little touches in her performance show that she is coping with problems that are similar to Charlie’s. Ezra Miller is fantastic as Patrick and turns his role into one of the strongest LGBT movie characters that I’ve ever seen. Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons shine as a Buddhist/goth and a closeted gay jock. As far as the adults go, Dylan McDermott is great as Charlie’s frustrated father, Tom Savini makes a welcomed appearance as a shop teacher, and Paul Rudd is outstanding as an English teacher with a passion for his subject.

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WALLFLOWER’s big turn off for some folks would be in the marketing. This film was sold as a sort of dramedy, when it’s mostly a serious drama that happens to have a couple of laughs. These laughs mainly come from some light-hearted bonding between Charlie, Sam, and Patrick. The drama comes with you being placed in Charlie’s shoes throughout the rest of the story. The way in which WALLFLOWER addresses its serious themes and issues (including mental illness, abusive relationships, suicide, drug use, and past trauma), but doesn’t necessarily make them the main focus is beyond admirable. At the core this is the story of three high school friends and it just happens to have real-world problems that can be found in every high school across the country. The conclusion is bittersweet and beautiful, actually bringing some tears out of me.

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In my opinion, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is one of the most important films that you could show teenagers today. It’s hard-hitting, realistic, emotional, and reminds that everyone has their own set of problems. The last of those is easy to forget when you’re a teenager in high school with homework and dating on your mind. If you’re looking for SIXTEEN CANDLES or THE BREAKFAST CLUB, then feel free to look elsewhere. PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is depressing, brilliant, and hugely emotional. It’s also far more mature than most teenage-geared movies. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call PERKS a coming-of-age masterpiece.

Grade: A+

FURY (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sequences of War Violence, some Grisly Images, and Language throughout

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Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: David Ayer

Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood & Xavier Samuel

FURY, a historical fictional WWII film, looked like it was something along the lines of U-571 or BEHIND ENEMY LINES from the marketing. The trailers and TV spots gave a sense of this was a glossed over slice of what WWII was like and that Americans always save the day no matter what insurmountable odds they face. I wasn’t the only one with these impressions as I also found that other friends felt the same way. Turns out, we couldn’t have been more wrong. FURY is a gritty, realistic, and dark look at the horrors of war. It almost feels like the second half of FULL METAL JACKET relocated a few decades earlier to WWII. This is a bleak, depressing, but wholly rewarding film!

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In the final year of WWII, the tank crew “Fury” make their way across enemy lines in Germany. In desperation that he’s losing the war, Hitler has ordered that all men, women, and children to take up arms and fight. The US military forces are going town to town, killing the opposition and capturing those who surrender peacefully. Along the way, plenty of people on both sides are lost. Private Norman Ellison is a pencil pushing clerk who has been ordered to serve as Don “Wardaddy” Collier’s (head of Fury) new bow gunner. Inexperienced and unprepared for the carnage that lies ahead, Norman gets a nasty wake-up call and must find a place within his new tank family as they do whatever it takes to complete their mission to the best of their abilities.

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Director/writer David Ayer (SABOTAGE) nails one important quality right out of the gate. These characters are excellent and performances from stellar cast members bring to them life. Some of these guys may seem a little iffy at first (especially Jon Bernthal) but they do grow on you. The sad truth is that these characters are hardened by seeing “what a man can do to another man” (as a remarkable Shia LaBeouf states early on). I warmed up to each person in varying degrees. It felt like these people had been together for so long that there was an honest family dynamic between them. Logan Lerman is outstanding as Norman, maintaining a kind of innocence in spite of how dire circumstances get. The stand-out performance belongs to Brad Pitt as “Wardaddy.” He may seem like a tough instructor and collected from the outside, but we’re given brief glimpses of him almost emotionally breaking down away from his crew. He is deeply affected by the violent repetition around him, but will deliberately walk away from his fellow officers to hide it in order to maintain his tough appearance.

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FURY also has a thick, gloomy atmosphere that never once eases the viewer into feeling safe (the state of mind that the characters are always in). Though movies can never fully relate to reality, FURY seems to go out of its way to capture just how horrific war can be (at least on the screen). There’s a lot of gore in this film. I knew it was going to be bloody and brutal (R rating and all), but we actually see flattened corpses, limbs and heads exploding, pieces of gore that are sizeable enough to tell what they used to be (a piece of someone’s face in the opening 10 minutes). This is disturbing stuff, as it should be. Like FULL METAL JACKET, there’s no use in prettying up what is a horrific time to begin with. We never see the sun shine in FURY, clouds always loom over every town, field and road. This gives off a further feeling of bleakness.

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Another fantastic quality in FURY is how well-paced the movie is. At over two hours, the running time whizzes by. It’s not as if the film is all combat sequences and battlefields either, because there’s a solid stretch where we see the aftermath of the U.S. forces taking a town. It leads to some revealing emotional scenes that tell a lot about both Norman and Wardaddy, but shows how hardened some of the other men are. Nothing particularly graphic or violent happens in this long sequence, but its gripping nonetheless. The finale is also fantastic and not portrayed in a way that feels like it’s a blockbuster action sequence or a piece of “America can do anything” propaganda. It puts us inside the tank with the men and kept me gripping my armrests.

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FURY is a grim, brutal war movie that delivers in every area. The characters might not initially seem like the kind of people you want to watch for two hours, but I warmed up to all of them over the course of the movie. The violence is shocking, but never feels exploitative. We see the consequences of killing a man and the tension is as thick as the clouds covering the enemy territory. FURY may not be a happy experience, but it’s a good and fulfilling one. I can safely recommend FURY as one of the best war movies to come along in years.

Grade: A

NOAH (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Disturbing Images and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Written by: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins, Douglas Booth, Frank Langella, Marton Csokas, Madison Davenport & Nick Nolte

Biblical epics are nothing new. Since the art of filmmaking has been around, talented (and not so talented) directors have been putting scripture stories into cinematic form. It’s odd that the story of Noah’s ark has only been brought to film twice before. I have yet to see the 1929 silent film and the 1999 made-for-TV movie looks embarrassingly bad. Darren Aronofsky’s film version of the tale is sure to be a divisive one. Instead of staying completely word-for-word true to the source material, Aronofsky plays everything as a sort of fantasy epic. It is ironic that the people who might enjoy the film also might condemn it on sight. I’m not speaking of religious people, but atheists. There are admittedly stupid decisions here and there in Aronofsky’s storytelling (one of which definitely knocks this movie a notch down on my grade factor), but I found NOAH to be a stunning piece of work that stays true to the themes and overall message of the Bible story, even if it’s not close enough to the material for many viewers’ comfort.

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For those who have utterly no knowledge of the tale (despite it being prevalent through many different religions), Noah is a good man in a world of wickedness. He has visions from God (or as they only refer to him in the film: The Creator) that inform him of the impending destruction of the world. The Creator plans to wipe everything clean with a massive flood that will cover the entire planet. With the help of fallen angels in stone form (more on that in a moment), Noah constructs a massive ark that will carry two of each animal safely through the watery doom. The evils of man pose a threat as the king (descendant of Cain) plans on taking the ark from Noah by force when the flood arrives.

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One thing should have immediately stuck out from that previous paragraph that is vastly different from the Bible story and that’s the rocky fallen angels helping Noah out. These beings looked like the Rockbiter from NEVERENDING STORY (big strong hands) and the fact that they do talk in gravely voices made it even more awkward to watch. The first 15 minutes featuring these beasties front and center are a bit shaky to say the least. However, it does get to a point where they are merely means to an end in the background. I did like what they resolved these creatures with as well. There are other fantastical elements added as well, but I thought these other ideas were integrated very well into the story.

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The really interesting stuff comes after those first 15 minutes. The film is the Noah’s Ark story, but new ideas have been thrown into the mix that make Noah a much more fleshed out character. He’s portrayed as very flawed and faces tough choices before the flood arrives and while on the ark. The supporting cast of Noah’s family includes familiar faces too. Jennifer Connelly is great as Naameh (Noah’s wife) and delivers some really heart-wrenching emotional moments. Logan Lerman (PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) plays the rebellious son named Ham and does it well. Meanwhile, Emma Watson is nothing short of amazing as Ila (an adopted daughter of sorts to Noah’s family). Anthony Hopkins also appears in about four scenes as Noah’s wise grandfather. Ray Winstone is a gruff and intimidating figure in his most notable roles. As King Tubal-Cain, he shines. This is the arch-enemy of Noah and there’s more to this character’s story than meets the eye. I really liked where director/writer Aronofsky took things with this plot-thread. Finally, there’s Russell Crowe himself as the title character and he gives a powerhouse performance as Noah. You feel his desperation, his struggle, and see where he’s coming from (even if you don’t agree with some of his actions).

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Effects-wise the film is absolutely amazing to behold. This is spectacle done almost perfectly. It’s a movie made to be seen on the big screen and it certainly adds power that the story’s so compelling. For all the mistakes in the opening that hint at an awkward experience shown in the beginning, NOAH gripped me more as the film went on longer. Once the flood comes and the family is aboard the ark with all the animals, you’d think the film would slow down. Instead, it went in a much more human-nature oriented direction that I imagine a lot of Bible purists won’t approve of, but I found it to be very deep and profound. The flood sequence itself and the battle leading up to it are awesome. There is a stark raw brutality around the film that must be respected too. The Bible had uplifting messages in its stories, but plenty of them weren’t pretty and the same can be said of this film adaptation. There were a couple of scenes that really shocked me at how dark Aronofsky decided to go with this material.

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Even though this story has been given almost a sort of LORD OF THE RINGS epic treatment, the message is still at the heart of this film. The concepts of sin, repentance, human life as a gift, giving thanks for blessings, and things happening for a reason are all examined in a respectful way. It’s ironic that atheists might enjoy this film a lot more than most Christians. The religious relatives I saw the film with thought it was boring and just not very well made. I heartily disagree. There is one dumb decision (those lame rockbiters), but everything else is absolutely awesome. It’s a slightly flawed biblical epic that I plan on revisiting many times in the future. Worthy of seeing on the big screen!

Grade: A-

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