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

Fury poster

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!

FURY, from left: Xavier Samuel, Brad Pitt, 2014. ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

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.

FURY, Logan Lerman, 2014. ph: Giles Keyte/©Columbia Pictures Entertainment/courtesy Everett

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.

FURY, Michael Pena (left), Logan Lerman (back, obscured), Alicia von Rittberg (standing, left),

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.

FURY, Shia LaBeouf, 2014. ph: Giles Keyte/©Columbia Pictures Entertainment/courtesy Everett

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.

Fury 5

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

NYMPHOMANIAC (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 4 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Nymphomaniac poster

Directed by: Lars Von Trier

Written by: Lars Von Trier

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth & Udo Kier

Never one to shy away from controversy, Lars Von Trier has encountered a lot of scrutiny over his latest project. This four hour (original cut was nearly six hours) movie chronicles of the life of a sex addict. It also serves as the final film of Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, which began with ANTICHRIST (an horrific near-masterpiece) and continued with MELANCHOLIA (a beautiful picture lowered by the weight of an uneven story). On a pretty asinine (money-grubbing) move from the studio, NYMPHOMANIAC has been split into two separate volumes (so thus costing double the money to see it as a whole). I did watch both volumes together as a one long movie and that’s the only way to experience Lars Von Trier’s concluding piece of his Depression Trilogy (if you’re interested in subjecting yourself to this material at all). NYMPHOMANIAC has wonderful stretches and manages to maintain a grasp on the viewer’s emotions. However, the sheer size of this film is ultimately what makes it a lesser experience than it could have been…along with pretentious nature that comes with the territory that is Lars.

Nymph 1

The story opens on a beaten woman lying in a snowy alley. Her name is Joe and a kindly stranger, named Seligman, comes to her aid. In Seligman’s rundown apartment, Joe chronicles her life story for the curious man. She’s a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac and her addiction to sexual gratification has brought her to the point of winding up battered in that grimy alley. Her obsession with her sexuality started as a child and evolved as she grew older. Through Joe narrating scenes (that we are shown), we see her fuelling the ever-growing need for sex over the years. Her life story includes some possible love (though Joe claims to rebel against this notion), some light-hearted moments, and a whole lot of tragedy.

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Breaking down the narrative, this is the story of one person (a female sex addict) relating the story of her life to another person (Seligman). The film plays out on a grander scale than merely that spanning different locations and colorful characters. The cast is littered with a lot of big name actors showing up in some big or significantly small (near cameo) roles. Everybody does a solid job (including Shia LaBeouf as Joe’s first lover). The chronicles of Joe are spaced over four full hours. Right there, you can find the film’s major flaw. NYMPHOMANIAC is too bloated. Even with 90 minutes already being removed from the original cut, there’s still plenty of room for edits that don’t benefit the story in any real way.

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One of these key expendable things is the character of Seligman. Played by Stellan Skarsgard, Lars might have intended for this figure to represent the filmgoer’s reactions to Joe’s story. As a character, he interjects far too much with increasingly far-fetched theories about what may be causing Joe’s obsession with sex. Some people may seem to think that Seligman is an integral part of the story, but his role could have easily been summed up in a brief 5 minutes with Joe narrating. That in itself, might have cut about 40 minutes out of the running time.

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Another overused technique that became annoying can be found in the overuse of archive footage in montages. When a character is discussing something as simple as a gun, the audience doesn’t need to be shown different clips showing different people from different eras holding different guns. This happened far too many times and seemed to be another way of stretching the film to an unnecessary length.

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With all my bitching concerning the four hour running time, one might think that I didn’t care for NYMPHOMANIAC. On the contrary, I thought that this was an ambitious leap for Von Trier. He hits on a lot of core levels. The first half (or in the case of the idiotic marketing: VOLUME I) of the film showcases some light-hearted humorous scenes. There’s a sense of humor on display that I wouldn’t expect walking into a Lars Von Trier film. It’s in the second half (VOLUME II) where I can see a lot of viewers being turned off of the film. This is where Joe’s sexual conquests turn into decidedly darker, more tragic territory. It’s also here where Von Trier beat my emotions down to a fine dust. That’s a huge compliment for a drama like this, but I can’t help but think things might have worked better without the unnecessarily long running time and pretentious tweaks.

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As far as the filmmaking here goes, everything is professionally made. The sex scenes themselves (of which there are many) aren’t erotic in the slightest. One of the common misconceptions I’ve heard from people about this film is that it essentially sounds like an epic-length porn, but that’s far from how the execution comes off. By definition, pornography is supposed to arouse and excite the viewer, NYMPHOMANIAC is about as erotic as staring at a tree for four hours (unless that’s a fetish for a certain viewer). The sequences do get graphic and (in some cases, mainly in the latter half) hard to watch. This is absolutely not a feel-good film about romance. This entire film is a depressing examination on an addict’s downward spiral in life. It’s best to set aside some recovering time afterwards, because this one will bum a lot of people out (which is what it primarily set out to do). The feeling after finishing NYMPHOMANIC left me wanting to take a shower and eat some ice cream.

Nymph 7

In a lot of ways, NYMPHOMANIAC reminded me of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR in terms of the errors that both films carry. The problems mainly come in unnecessary additions to a plot that could have made for an awesome movie. The bloated running time for both films (3 hours for BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, 4 hours for NYMPHOMANIAC) ultimately knocks what could have been two really amazing films down to two decent films. I never plan on sitting through NYMPHOMANIAC again. This is partially out of the four hours it would take to do so and mostly because of how heavy the depressing story is. I don’t regret experiencing it in the slightest. It’s an appropriately downbeat way to conclude a trio of films revolving around Depression. If you’re a fan of arthouse cinema and Lars Von Trier’s work, then I can give this a solid recommendation. I wouldn’t suggest it to anybody else in the slightest.

Grade: B-

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