Brad Pitt;Logan Lerman

Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman and Michael Peña

There are a lot of despicably violent images in David Ayer’s Fury, a World War II movie set in the scorched-Earth Germany at the end of the conflict.  It begins with a majestic white horse carrying an anonymous soldier through a battlefield, though it’s not long before he’s identified as the enemy when we see Don Collier (Brad Pitt) jump out from a tank and stab him in the neck and eyes.  He lets the horse run off.

Not long after that moment, Collier tells a newbie named Norman (Logan Lerman)  to clean out his seat in their tank, which includes plenty of blood and the upper quadrant of a human face, eye and all.   Norman vomits, and you may want to too.  Not only are the images in Fury grotesque, but much of the behavior is too.  At first, Collier’s tough-but-fair-ness is insisted upon by the script, but then it’s slowly chipped away.   There are times when he seems at risk of transforming into Colonel Kurtz.

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REVIEW: Under the Skin


Under the Skin
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Walter Campbell (screenplay),  Michel Faber (novel)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson 

In Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson plays a wolf that doesn’t quite know how to wear sheep’s clothing.  She is an alien prowling Glasgow and the surrounding Scottish countryside in a white van, seducing and luring unsuspecting men to their death.

Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, based on Michel Faber’s novel, is a gender inverse on a fairly common horror/thriller premise.  The story is told in long, bleak stretches, the camera accentuating the way the creature attempts to move and act human.  Johansson’s performance is crucial to this strategy.  She nails the way the alien flips an “on” switch to turn a dead-eyed stare into a warm, welcoming woman when she spots prey.  Glazer hints at an eroticism with his camera movement that the actress deliberately pushes away.

The most sexually tinged scenes are the bloodless killings.  ScarJo’s victims, blinded by lust, pursue her into what transforms into a totally black stage.  They each leave a string of clothes as they lurch across it, but the men sink into the floor and become trapped.  The rest of Scotland isn’t much more colorful save for a reliably flashy night club.

Despite the color palette, this is Glazer’s most visually accomplished and altogether thrilling film to date.  When I watched it I had no idea that many of the interactions that the alien has with men were filmed using civilians and a hidden camera.  There is a cool, confident stillness to the images that rejects that often on-the-fly filmmaking aesthetic.  The performances, on the other hand, seem unforced and genuinely spontaneous.

Glazer and screenwriter Walter Campbell capture the alien predator’s bizarre point of view by making it clear that she is trying to fit in but can’t.  The result is an odd uncanny valley effect that Johansson’s star power only enhances.  This is evidenced in fairly standard alien movie scenes, like when she tries to eat human food and vomits it up, but also in her everyday movement and posture.  Under the Skin would be nothing without her blank yet inquisitive stares.


The alien eventually begins to unravel during this vague man-harvesting mission.  In one of the most haunting and moving scenes I’ve seen in recent months, she stops to talk to a very deformed, quiet man on a rainy night.  She treats him as she does any of the other victims, but the script lingers on their interaction more.  She asks him if he gets lonely, then grabs his hand and caresses her face and neck with it.  The man’s darting eyes and nervous, muttered reactions are heartbreaking.

After this interaction, she lets the man leave her den, naked and wondering where he is.  He’s eventually collected and (presumably) killed by one of the undeveloped, motorcycle-riding henchmen who (presumably) clean up after her.  After that she wanders and begins trying more and more human things, including eating, riding the bus and sex.  The movie rejects any notion of redemption or change, though. It bounces humanity and their emotions off its central character instead of forcing her to become one of us.

Grade: B



Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Ray Winstone

Noah is a baffling movie on many levels, but rarely is it very interesting.  Director Darren Aronofsky’s artistic sensibility either got lost in the material or the studio put too many restrictions for him to really run wild with it.  The end result is an often absurdly straightforward installment of White People Reenact the Bible (with giant rock monster angels).

To the movie’s credit, Aronofsky makes no effort to subdue the torment a man like Noah (Russell Crowe) both faces and inflicts when tasked with keeping animals and his family alive while everyone else on Earth drowns.  Crowe gives it his all as well, though he and the rest of the cast (except Anthony Hopkins) play the material with a self-seriousness that is often suffocating.  When the movie was allowed to breathe visually, like in a couple of time-lapse tracking shots that follow animals as they fly and slither, it was briefly exhilarating.

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Short Takes: 300: Rise of an Empire, RoboCop, The Wind Rises


300: Rise of an Empire- An unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary graphic novel adaptation. 300: Rise of an Empire didn’t have a lot to live up to and was much better off for it.  How many macho action flicks feature a female character who is so in control and more fully clothed than male eye candy?

Eva Green’s villainous military commander aside, this is the same slow-motion bloodbath that the original was.  The movie’s visual tint doesn’t save the bland, uninspired action sequences and the relentlessly stupid dialogue and story. Had they followed through on the (dare I say?) feminist undertones of Green’s character and given her an actual arc, this may have been a much more interesting movie. Grade: D+

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