Tag: logan lerman

Fury


Fury (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Great war films offer at least one image that makes an imprint in our minds. For instance, in Elem Klimov’s “Idi i smotri,” a boy uses a cow’s corpse to shield himself from a rain of bullets and in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” a little girl wearing a red coat stands out against a monochromatic background. In “Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, the memorable image is that of a young, armed German soldier coming across an equally young American soldier but the former chooses not to turn in or kill the latter. It is likely that some people will ask why that Nazi soldier chose to be merciful, but what is certain is the writer-director made the right decision not to provide an explanation.

Logan Lerman plays Norman, a clerk typist who is assigned to join the crew of Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) when word got around that they are need of a new bow gunner/assistant tank driver. Norman is convinced his new role must have been a mistake because he was trained to type up to sixty words per minute, not to handle a gun, let alone murder another man.

The film is unlike many war pictures for several reasons. Although we know that the story takes place in April 1945 Nazi Germany, there is no big mission presented that will serve as a turning point of war. In addition, the story unfolds over only two or three days. By compressing its scope, it must employ details specific to the characters’ experiences to tell a story that is interesting and engaging. People who grow bored watching this movie are likely to have boxed themselves when it comes to what they expect from a war film: a fantasy where big, heroic action sequence happens every fifteen minutes, where good always triumphs over evil. This one, on the other hand, is courageous enough to leave a bitter aftertaste.

It allows us to get to know the characters as soldiers and as people. I found insight in Norman not wanting to kill even though he knows why he is there and the enemy will not likely think twice before killing him. I found Collier’s leadership tough but necessary and Pitt envelops the role so completely, at one point I was curious how his character must have been like before becoming a U.S. soldier. Scenes between the rookie and the veteran command power because there are two conflicting ideologies on screen.

Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Peña also do a wonderful job making their characters memorable. Bernthal employs an animalistic, intimidating, highly unpredictable personality while Peña provides a bit of humor to an otherwise grim trek across war-savaged lands. I was most surprised by LaBeouf because he is able to turn his deeply religious character into a person I would like to know. The performer almost always has tears in his eyes—as if his character has nothing left to give, his faith, in a higher power and his fellow crew members, being the sole element that propels him forward.

I found the gray, foggy look of the picture to be beautiful. To me, the fog is like a population of ghosts from a distance, remaining on Earth because the skies have no more room for new spirits. We see violent images like people’s heads being blown off and men choosing to kill themselves because being burned alive is too painful, but the film is more than just about violence. It is about living in an apneic nightmare with little to no hope of waking up from.

“Fury” is not one of the most extreme war films I had ever come across. However, it is several levels above many mainstream American war movies because this film wallows in the muck of war and it is willing to share details of war changing people as a way to adapt to impossible situations. The scene with the two German women who make an appearance in middle of the picture creates then bottles up so many conflicting emotions that I detected a whiff of the late Alfred Hitchcock.

Noah


Noah (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Noah,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a film with a core that should be regarded highly. That is, it takes inspiration from a source and stretches it to a point where it becomes an original vision—or at least one that is close to it. I was wary going into this film. Despite a highly respected filmmaker from behind the camera, I thought it was just going to be another one of those stories directly taken from the Bible without any bite, meat, or flavor—out of fear that a group might get offended. On the contrary, the picture has several layers of substance. Not all of them work, but those that do go beyond lessons or religion. It touches upon a more spiritual realm.

Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are descendants of Seth, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. They live off the land while people who live in cities, Cain’s successors, nefarious and vile, spread wickedness all over the world. Noah begins to receive troublesome nightmares about drowning among countless dead people. He deems that The Creator has sent him a warning—that a great flood is coming for the cleansing of the land.

The visual effects are not the most convincing: the animals boarding the ark, plants sprouting from the ground, the inevitable flood all look rather fake—but I did not mind. Nor did I care that there are giants with boulders for bodies for half the picture. I found myself caring more about what is being attempted: a critique of Noah’s blind devotion to his creator. When the title character puts his family’s life second, anybody in their right mind, no matter what anyone’s creed, would and should question the man’s sanity.

This is why Crowe’s performance is key. The actor’s role is a challenge in that he must be loving and brutal at the same time. Being slightly off-key is not good enough. Crowe must embody a man torn by love—that of his own flesh and blood and that of his own creator. From the moment Crowe appears on screen, he is Noah: Noah the father, Noah the husband, Noah the believer, and Noah the fallen man.

A few of the supporting actors are miscast. Although Logan Lerman, who plays Ham, Noah’s middle-born son, and Emma Watson, the adoptive daughter, are able to have some moments where they do shine, their looks are too modern. I had too difficult a time believing that they are playing characters from an ancient time. In addition, Lerman’s accent comes and goes while Watson tends to overdramatize especially toward the end when it is time to wait for a sign of dry land.

In place of Lerman and Watson, I would have rather seen plain-looking but very good performers. When the weaknesses in their acting are front and center, I wondered if they were cast mainly to attract the younger audiences. Somebody needed to match Crowe’s intensity and they are not up to the job. Jennifer Connelly, playing Noah’s wife, has one wonderful scene where she has to beg. However, her character is not fully developed. Naameh should have been written to have a complex subplot, one that is comparable, if not parallel, to Noah’s consuming passion.

Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, “Noah” is difficult to swallow for many people mainly because of expectations. One group may find it too rogue from the original—and rather short—story. (I went to Sunday school.) Another group may find it not extreme enough especially given the director’s track record for focusing on characters driven by an obsession. Putting those aside and evaluating the picture as is, it is well-made and well-acted at times especially by the lead. It doesn’t quite touch the very depths of our soul but it does offer some food for thought.

The Three Musketeers


The Three Musketeers (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), collectively known in France as The Three Musketeers, find themselves living us bums when their services are no longer needed by their country. Petulant and cocky D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), son of a former Musketeer, visits Paris in hopes of following his father’s footsteps.

King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), to everyone’s knowledge, is an incompetent leader, more concerned about matters of the heart than actually running a country. Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the Cardinal, wishes to take over the throne by making the king believe that his wife (Juno Temple) is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), thrusting France and England into war.

Based on the screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies, “The Three Musketeers” attempts to appeal to the younger crowd by featuring an overabundance of action sequences involving tricky swordplays and flying ships equipped with cannons. Still, it all feels like a slow march to the death—all technical acrobatics and ostentatious visuals but the story is a complete mess.

We learn nothing about Athos, Aramis, and Porthos prior to their group’s break-up other than they are good at fighting and working as a team. So when D’Artagnan arrives in the city and we discover that the former trio waste their days drinking and wandering in the market, they look like fools instead of fallen heroes with plenty more to give.

Despite D’Artagnan’s complete lack of likability during the early scenes, he is supposed to be our point of view considering that he is young, full of optimism, and willing to prove himself to be worthy of being on the level of his heroes. But when he finds out what they have become, neither the script nor the actor provides emotional shift—such as disappointment, anger, or regret—in D’Artagnan. I got the sense that the filmmakers are afraid to delve into real emotions because they consider it too risky, “too emotional” or “sensitive,” for an action-adventure picture. As a result, the film comes off deathly one-note and boring.

The action scenes are shot beautifully, but it has one too many slow motion montages. The more they do it, I felt increasingly less impressed and more annoyed. Over time, I became more convinced that the slow motion action sequences would have probably worked better as a three-minute fashion video. For instance, when Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), Athos’ double-crossing lover, jumps through booby traps, the slow movements highlight how her boldly designed and colorful fluffy dresses form perfectly angled waves. When she falls and gets up, not a smidgen of dirt is found on her outfit. She does not even break a sweat despite her gymnastic-like movements worthy of the Olympics.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, despite “The Three Musketeers” taking plenty of liberty to deviate from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, the work is as weightless as the flying ships it features. There is nothing special or heroic about the good guys because the writers fail to give them emotional complexity. The bad guys are bad because they want power. The good guys are good because they want some sort of redemption. We might as well have just watched cardboard cutouts for two hours.

Stuck in Love


Stuck in Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Since the divorce of Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Erica (Jennifer Connelly) two years ago, the Borgens household has become an abode for serious writers. Over Thanksgiving break, college student Sam (Lily Collins) reveals that a book she had written over the summer is getting published. Bill is extremely proud but Rusty (Nat Wolff), Sam’s only sibling, sneers across the table. He has yet to publish any of his material. His muse is right around the corner, however, when he is forced to read one of his work in class—a poem about a girl (Liana Liberato) who sits several feet away but happens to be seeing another guy.

Written and directed by Josh Boone, “Stuck in Love” is full of whiny, irritating, arrogant people with bland personalities. It takes a solid premise—a family of writers who have a certain competitiveness in their blood—and minces it into a standard three-piece love story where the outcomes are easily predicted by anyone who is half-asleep.

It makes the mistake of allowing the supporting characters to overshadow those who we are supposed to care about most. A character worthy of an entire film is Louis (Logan Lerman), Sam’s classmate and a potential love interest. Like Sam, he is a writer but one that specializes in mysteries and detective stories. Unlike Sam, his life is interesting and his personality has genuine substance. He deals with illness but he is pleasant to be around. Lerman is smart to reel in some of the awkwardness and turn some of that into charm.

Equally lovely to see on screen is Kristen Bell who plays jogging-obsessed Tricia. She and Bill have sex from time to time and they have a common understanding that what they share is purely physical. Unlike Sam, Tricia is no love interest. I enjoyed her relationship with Bill because they seem to fit well as friends. One of the highlights of the picture involves Tricia helping Bill with his wardrobe prior to going on a date. It is unfortunate that the screenplay does not make full use of the friendship, to delve into it more, and build emotional resonance out of it. She appears and disappears for comedic effect.

Louis and Sam’s banters are tolerable and amusing at times, but I found Rusty and his class crush quite unbearable to watch. Perhaps part of the problem is that Wolff and Liberato share little to no chemistry. During the more intimate scenes, it feels like watching two inexperienced actors rehearsing. There is not enough rhythm or flirtation to make the scene magnetic. Rusty is supposed to be a hopeless romantic. It is feels off that the relationship bears little romance.

The Borgens’ problems are not at all deep despite the drama happening all around. Right about the halfway point, I caught myself wondering if I was supposed to care and whether the screenplay would even bother to throw a curveball that is designed to break the ennui. The point is, the Borgens’ problems can easily be solved if they just acted like real people for a change. Hold a family meeting. Person A does not want to see Person B? Tough luck. In reality, people are required to do things they might not particularly like or agree with.

The central problem is foreshadowed in the title. The screenplay is essentially stuck with a familiar formula, only occasionally colored by slight brushes of independent filmmaking. There is nothing wrong with attempting to appeal to a wide audience while saying something intelligent or insightful. The key is an elegant script that this film lacks.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)
★ / ★★★★

For years, Camp Half-Blood, a refuge for half-human, half-god children of Olympian deities, has been safe from outside forces due to a magical barrier surrounding its perimeter. But when a mechanical bull manages to break through, the demi-gods become in danger of extinction. Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, has an idea: if they obtain the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters, it can be used to reestablish the camp’s defenses. Although Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, is chosen to retrieve the fleece, Percy (Logan Lerman), son of Poseidon, and his friends decide to acquire it, too.

“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” based on the screenplay by Marc Guggenheim and directed by Thor Freudenthal, is a sequel at its limpest, most predictable, and least entertaining—so frustratingly unimaginative despite special and visual effects present in just about every other scene. The story should have been more fun, daring, and intriguing given that it has ample sources of inspiration. We deserve better than this.

The material takes its time to take off—and for nothing. This is reflected in the amount of time the protagonists spend in the camp. A new character is introduced: Tyson (Douglas Smith), son of Poseidon and Percy’s half-brother. He also happens to be a cyclops. The screenplay does nothing to this potentially interesting character. We get to see that he has superhuman strength and fire does not hurt him.

However, the human element is lost. Because he is a cyclops, a select few hold a level of prejudice against him. None of it is explored in a meaningful way and so when those people who eventually come around and “learn” a lesson, they come off disingenuous. Furthermore, the relationship between the siblings is not given enough gravity. Percy, who should be the most interesting character of them all, is reduced to being reluctant to call Tyson “brother.” Really? Why not perhaps explore real emotions—like jealousy—since Percy feels that their father is closer to Tyson?

Action sequences seem very similar to one another. Oh, there’s trouble? Percy takes out his sword and swings it about. He loses grip on his weapon? Well, that’s what fists are for! Whatever happened to teamwork and creativity? Percy and his friends are supposedly on a journey together and yet we do not get a chance to feel their bond, how well they work together, and why each of them is a necessary piece to succeed on their mission.

The villain is as boring as a brick under the sun. Luke (Jake Abel), son of Hermes (Nathan Fillion—a breath of fresh air), does nothing interesting other than to look like a constipated Bond villain who tries too hard to look menacing. I did not believe for a second, at this stage in his rivalry with Percy, that he is a formidable enemy.

Based on Rick Riordan’s novel, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” need not have darker content or tone than its predecessor to be interesting, but it must increase the ante somehow or else it risks doing the same thing. In the end, I felt as though its universe did not at all progress despite the material laying groundwork for another sequel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Over the summer, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is hospitalized due to what sounds like a suicide attempt. He writes a letter to a friend and claims that he is very anxious about his first day as a high school freshman because he does not want people think of him as “that weird kid who spent time in a hospital.” His situation isn’t helped by the fact that he has an introverted personality and he finds it difficult to make friends. For a while, Charlie struggles to find a connection with his peers until he meets outgoing Patrick (Ezra Miller) and empathic Sam (Emma Watson), seniors, at a football game.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the novel, screenplay, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, is one of the reasons why I believe that coming-of-age movies are immortal. Although the story attempts to tackle familiar elements, like teenagers feeling alienation and isolation, such are expanded upon in ways that are refreshing and exciting. Furthermore, it is executed with a genuine love for its characters and it challenges us to deconstruct our notions about convenient labeling.

The commonalities among Charlie, Patrick, and Sam are rendered beautifully but never obvious. As young adults still trying to figure out who they are, we watch them get into situations that are out of their control and their forthcoming struggles. Charlie remains to grieve over his best friend’s death, Patrick falls for a boy who isn’t out of the closet (Johnny Simmons), and Sam strives to put her life back on track despite a reputation that followed her throughout high school. Because Chbosky takes the time for us to understand the trio’s messy pasts, their current but constantly evolving wants and needs, and what they wish to accomplish in the future, we eventually grow to want what is best for them. By the end, it feels like we know these characters as people who live and breathe instead of cardboard caricatures that happen to be in a movie with a light yellow glow wrapped in a melancholy tone.

In theory, the material at times should have collapsed under its own earnestness. Too much narration and the screenplay might have told more than shown; too much soundtrack and it might have come off as syrupy or serve as padding when the characters ought to be talking to one another. Instead, the aforementioned techniques are used only during the right moments as to highlight an insight or trend in order to enhance our experience toward familiarizing ourselves with what is at stake for each respective character. Since the material has the necessary focus to tell its story, there is a rhythm in the small and critical revelations sans ostentatiousness that distracts.

Despite having a main character that has thoughts about ending his life, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” aims to instill hope and live one’s life no matter what one’s age. It isn’t without genuine moments of comedy. The late night reenactments of Jim Sharman’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at a local theatre quickly comes to mind as well as Patrick’s brutally honest remarks toward his friends. With so many children and teens who decide that their life is somehow not worth living, whether it is because of bullies that make attending school feel like walking barefoot through the embers of hell or living with a secret that cannot be shared out of fear that no one can be trusted, this film is a beacon for it shows alternatives on how one can regain control of his or her life and changing it for the better. It makes the case that the foolish twiddle with their thumbs and wait for change to happen while those who choose to participate and try to implement the changes that they want to see happen are the ones who come out on top.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thought that he was nobody special but was, in fact, the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). After Hades (Steve Coogan) kidnapped Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener) because he believed that the boy had stolen Zeus’ lightning, Percy, his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) and Athena’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) went on a quest to find a way to go to the underworld, rescue Percy’s mom, and save the world. Based on a series of novels by Rick Riordan, the film impressed me with its special and visual effects but the big picture left me wanting more. It’s strange because for a two-hour undoubtedly thrilling action-adventure, it felt somewhat like an empty experience because it failed to really explore its characters except for exposing their most obvious quirks and dominant personalities. I like Logan Lerman as an actor but there were times when I spotted weaknesses in his acting. Some of the lines he delivered fell completely flat and I caught myself either rolling my eyes or chuckling because I just did not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. There was a disconnect between him and the character and therefore his character and the audiences. This was particularly glaring during the most emotional scenes when he was supposed to summon sadness or rage. Perhaps if he was given more takes, he could have nailed the lines. However, as far as children’s adventures, I hardly think the movie was a failure. I enjoyed many scenes such as the duel with a minotaur, a nice surprise on who played Medusa (and I think she did a wonderful job), and that brilliant scene in Las Vegas in the Lotus Casino (it was nice that it illuminated why it was called as such). It was fun to watch, despite the characters making unnecessarily stupid decisions, lacking internal dialogue and angst, because it was very energetic and creative when required. If a sequel is in store for “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” directed by Chris Columbus, I’ll be interested in watching it. People have compared this film to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and its sequel so I’m curious to see if it can grow as a strong franchise. In order for it to achieve “Harry Potter”-level, it is going to need more focus on the story and characters, much stronger acting especially from the lead, and more magic via playing with our expectations and emotions.