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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
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Pitt’s Progress

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Wednesday October 15, 06:37 pm
Brad is a far more glorious basterd in his second run at World War II

Fury

Cineplex

4/5

For all its virtues — particularly those harrowing early 15 minutes — Saving Private Ryan was a traditional World War II movie: the goal is clear, the villains are obvious and common cause overrides any flaws or discrepancies among allies. Moral ambiguity isn’t a factor — this isn’t Vietnam, after all.

But don’t tell that to writer/director David Ayer. Better known for teeth-clenching police dramas (Training Day, End of Watch), Ayer loves to question both authority and the status quo. I didn’t know Ayer had Fury in him: his previous effort was the little-seen (and understandably so) Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Sabotage.

Set in 1945, Fury sees the Nazi cause all but defeated — but because of that, Hitler has called for total war, meaning the entire German population is supposed to fight the invading Allies. The forced resistance spells trouble for the American infantry, particularly the tank division, as their vehicles are far less resilient than those of the Germans.

Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson fame), a kid with zero war experience, is assigned to copilot “Fury,” a Sherman tank that’s seen better days. Under the order of grizzled Sergeant “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), Ellison faces both the surreal environment of war and the highly dysfunctional “camaraderie” of his fellow soldiers.

Fury works in two stages. The most obvious, the “men on a mission” level, is gripping: Collier, his four men and their rusty tank must face 300 well-armed Nazis to prevent the slaughter of Allied soldiers in the heart of Germany. Ayer knows how to shoot a tight action scene, and the siege is a thing of sick beauty.

The effectiveness of the action set-pieces is impressive, but it’s the depiction of men under the spell of war that lifts Fury above its peers. Compassion is prohibited because it might cost lives, prisoners have no rights and might be executed on the spot, and the chain of command is more a suggestion than a certainty. Oh, and pillaging knows no boundaries — national or otherwise.

A troublesome yet fascinating scene involves Sergeant Collier, Private Ellison and two German women from a recently liberated town. Collier wants a moment of civility among the chaos and encourages Ellison to pursue the younger gal, while he enjoys reading the paper and a homemade meal. The façade crumbles with the arrival of the rest of his men, who are less educated than he and the young recruit are. The scene is utterly theatrical, and even more tense than the carnage that precedes and follows it.

If Pitt was cartoonish in Inglourious Basterds, he’s brilliant as the stoic and reliable (but quite possibly breaking) superior in Fury. Shia LaBeouf, whose off-screen antics have eclipsed his acting career, is equally solid as the second in command and the most sensitive of the bunch, while Lerman is a revelation as the audience’s stand-in: his journey is brief and brutal, and shows a man transforming in spite of himself.

Fury may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as war movies go, this one is meatier than most. Chew on.

 

Pride

Roxy

4/5

In 1984, British coal workers went on strike following a number of measures adopted by the Margaret Thatcher government, including the closing of 20 supposedly unproductive mines. The work stoppage lasted almost a year, causing all kinds of grief to the striking miners.

The superb Pridedepicts one of the few bright moments of the defining event in Thatcher’s regime. A group of members of Britain’s GLBT community finds common ground with the strikers’ struggle (government bullying, police abuse) and organizes a fundraising rally on their behalf. In spite of their good intentions, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) movement has a hard time finding someone to take the money; because of their religious and social beliefs, the mining community isn’t exactly receptive to alternative lifestyles.

A small town in Wales becomes the main beneficiary of the LGSM’s work: there’s some serious initial resistance, but a few open-minded people see the gay activists as kindred spirits. So begins a process of acceptance and solidarity that would have unexpected consequences on a country-wide level.

A near-perfect mix of fish-out-of-water comedy and quality social drama of the type the British excel at, Pridebenefits from both a powerful real-life story and an eclectic cast, from the always reliable Bill Nighy to a subdued Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock). The standout is Paddy Considine, as the earnest union representative who takes the LGSM offer at face value and is compensated beyond his wildest dreams.

 

The ending is an absolute tearjerker, but a happy one nonetheless: Prideshows that the ripples of a simple act of goodwill can be unimaginably huge, and that social movements can make a difference.

 

St. Vincent

Cineplex (opens Friday 24)

3/5

The story of a grumpy old recluse who breaks out of his shell with the assistance of a spirited kid has obviously been done too many times, turning into a tired cliché.

But it hasn’t been done with Bill Murray. Until now.

St. Vincent is more effective than it has any right to be. Murray’s cantankerous persona is a perfect fit as Vincent McKenna, a reprobate living from loan to loan, legal and otherwise. Vincent gets a chance to make at least a few honest bucks babysitting Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher), the scrawny kid living next door.

It’s clear early on that Oliver is in dire need of company — and boxing lessons— while Vincent needs to admit that human interaction might not be completely unpleasant.

The script moves through the standard motions (hidden nobility, questionable associations, inappropriate environment for a kid), but the cast is so good that the freshness (or lack thereof) of the material doesn’t matter. Murray is engaged and willing to push himself a bit further than usual, while Melissa McCarthy tones down her act and becomes a sympathetic figure again. The revelation is Naomi Watts — no one’s idea of a comedic actress — as a pregnant Russian stripper. Her accent and demeanour alone justify the ticket price.

 

Towards the final third, the movie takes a dramatic turn that sets the ground for a tearjerker of an ending. Thanks to strong character work, the conclusion is surprisingly touching, with a reference to Stripesto boot. Nice.

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