Tag: shia labeouf

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.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II


Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Vol. II” is a superior second half because it strips away symbolic—some might say pretentious—talk that range from fly fishing to the Fibonacci sequence. It feels like a slightly more ordinary drama on a technical level but it is ultimately the correct approach because it gives the picture a chance to narrow its attention on the deeply damaged self-described nymphomaniac.

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) notices that although she has told plenty of details about her highly erotic sexual encounters with other men—most of them complete strangers—Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) is not at all aroused by any of it. When confronted by the fact, he tells her that this is exactly why he is the perfect person to listen to her stories. Unlike many, he is able to provide her an objective opinion of what she has and is going through. Seemingly satisfied with his answer, she proceeds to recall a time in her life in which she has completely lost all sexual sensation.

The portion of the film that grabbed me most is the subchapter called “Dangerous Men.” It is injected with a sharp but very uncomfortable sense of humor as well as a slight mix of horror. I say “horror” because I was afraid for the lead character’s safety. At one point I wondered what else Joe is willing to give when, really, she has nothing else to offer.

Since her husband cannot keep up with her sexual needs, they make an arrangement that will essentially free her to have sex with other men. Her choice is a black man wearing a green jacket who does not speak a word of English. In the motel room, two men enter the door: the man she had her eyes on and his brother-in-law. She is surprised by this because she had arranged to meet only with one. Still, she welcomes the opportunity.

It is a very funny sequence because the way it unfolds is far from anything many of us might come to expect. The writer-director uses humor in a subversive way: by taking the subject’s addiction to sex as a template and applying a droplet of comedy on the surface, we are given a chance to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and at ourselves.

There is a level of irony to it. Through a solemn narration, we learn that Joe is expecting a sexy and steamy encounter since the language barrier will force them to focus on their bodies and to determine what they need from one another telepathically. Instead, it almost turns into some sort of farce. Body parts flopping about—utilizing quick close-ups of sexual organs from time to time—made me snicker and then laugh uncontrollably. The scene has a two-fold function: to take us out of the situation by creating a lightness and to leave us off-balanced for what is about to come.

It has been a while since I have encountered a character that shook me to the very core. K (Jamie Bell, absolutely brilliant here—my level of admiration to his performances matches that of Uma Thurman’s in “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I”) is one that I will remember for a long time. We learn close to nothing about him but the things he ends up doing with Joe made me watch some of the images through my fingers.

I don’t consider myself to be a prude, but the erotic practice of dominance and submission has never appealed to me. (Perhaps never will.) So to watch someone being whipped—causing welts, bruises, and wounds—and being smacked across the face—the writer-director ensures that we see it all unfold front and center… with the accompanying sounds—made me feel very uneasy. Still, I was unable to look away.

“Nymphomaniac: Vol. II,” like BDSM, is not for everyone. It is challenging, weird, sad, and at times confusing with what it really wants to say or be. But for me, just about everything about it works because even though the range of topics it wishes to tackle is not pretty, it encourages us to understand—maybe even empathize—with the lead character. When one considers to look at the big picture, Joe is an outcast. The outcast in us should be able to relate to her on some level.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. I


Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

After picking up groceries from a nearby store, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) comes across a woman, bruised and bloody from what appears to be a beating, whose body is sprawled across a cobblestone path. He attempts to wake her and although she is conscious, he tells her that he will call an ambulance. The woman insists he does not. Seligman remains concerned so he takes her to his home so she can recuperate.

The woman tells the man that her name is Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). When asked about her life, she casually begins to talk about the moment in time when she, as a little girl, discovered the pleasure that lies between her legs.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I” has a strange calm about it despite having a protagonist with an unquenchable need for sex right at the center. Movies with a lesser vision and control tend to cheapen the subject but this picture commands a high level of elegance and grace. Because the approach is serious, we are piqued by the woman—her history, the way she thinks, and the manner in which she perceives herself—rather than judging and dismissing her right away.

A series of scenes like two teenage girls (Stacy Martin, who plays the younger Joe, and Sophie Kennedy Clark) having a contest on who can have sex with more men while aboard a train is handled with maturity, a pinch of humor, and sadness. We observe a pattern: Joe’s hesitance to flirt with complete strangers, Joe’s competitive nature taking over, the sexual act, and then Joe’s feelings of shame and empowerment. The girls regather. The pattern continues until they meet a man in first class who is on his way to see his wife.

Many of the situations, in my opinion, are not meant to be titillating. After all, though the majority of the picture consists of recollections, it always goes back to the older Joe who seems very unhappy, almost angry at herself for giving away too much of what she ought to have valued more. There are even a few lines which suggest that she thinks she is a bad person. But, I must admit, several times I was excited by the young Joe, wonderfully played by Martin with utmost solemnity and natural beauty, enjoying a man—sometimes a total of seven or eight men in one night—being inside her. However, I am not suggesting that the film is any way pornographic.

Yes, we see male and female genitals both in flaccid and erect states but there is a dignified story behind these images. To tackle the subject of nymphomania without showing the tools for sex or certain erogenous zones would have taken away an air of reality on some level. Not once do we feel that the writer-director is taking advantage of his actors. On the contrary, they are pushed to deliver good performances. For instance, I have never considered Shia LaBeouf, who plays one of Joe’s lovers, of really having a chance of becoming a “serious” performer. To my surprise, I enjoyed his interpretation of the character even though I was not completely convinced by his accent. To me, the magic is always in the eyes and LaBeouf has got it down.

“Nymphomaniac: Vol. I” would not nearly have been so electric if Uma Thurman’s one scene had been excluded. She plays a scorned woman who learns that her husband is moving in with another younger belle. Her strategy: to follow her spouse to the whore’s abode—with her three young sons. The direction commands a masterclass confidence because the scene is allowed to escalate in tone and build emotional momentum to the point where it is very uncomfortable—reflected by the increasingly manic movement of the camera as well as characters who do not quite know how to respond to the livid wife.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
★ / ★★★★

When Americans landed on the moon in 1969, astronauts discovered the remains of Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), a deactivated robot of alien origin. Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, the rivalry between the Decepticons, robots that want to enslave the human race, led by Megatron (Hugo Weaving), and Autobots, robots that protect mankind, led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), reach overdrive. Lacking proper means of transportation to return home, the evil Decepticons plan to use Sentinel Prime, former leader of the Autobots, to teleport their planet onto Earth.

Written by Ehren Kruger and directed by Michael Bay, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is filled with noises of metals scraping against each other, swish-swoosh of zigzagging bullets, and characters yelling orders or simply out of frustration. Its attempt to inject a human aspect to the war between the robot races is obvious and barely there. In addition, the picture lacks an identifiable protagonist.

Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is a recent college graduate without a job. But life is still good somehow because he has a spankin’ new hot girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), who is more than happy to provide him daily meals. The first third of the film showcases Sam whining because he fails to acquire a fancy job right after he graduated from an Ivy League school. And since, as he mentions more than once, he saved the world twice and received a medal from the president, he feels that he should be regarded highly in society. In a other words, Sam is a narcissistic jerk who thinks a good life should come to him. Not for a second did I feel sorry for him nor did the screenplay attempt to get us to like him.

I wished the picture has focused more on the government employees, like Mearing (Frances McDormand), who has special clearance to certain kinds of information. I believe that if Sam’s character is completely excised from the film, the material would have had a chance to make characters like Mearing to be more multidimensional. At this point in the franchise, an unexpected twist might have been a great idea: she is a strong woman who does not need macho men to make decisions for her. Instead, Mearing ends up looking like a stuck-up government official instead of bona fide leader who has to make difficult choices for her country.

The action sequences still consist of junk flying around although there is one that really impressed me. While the soldiers’ plane is slowly being destroyed by the Decepticons, they have to jump before it explodes and, equipped with a wingsuit, have to navigate their way through the massive skyscrapers of Chicago. The scene gave me goosebumps because, for a second or two, the booming score is absent and all we hear is the air gliding along the suits. The Nuclear Emergency Support Team are not necessarily important characters in the film but I caught myself really caring about whether they will land safely. That is more than I can say about Sam, his girlfriend, and the robots.

I did not get the impression that the director made “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” with true passion. If he did, he would, in the least, have given the picture a proper ending. The way it ends reminded me of how young children would end a story: right after the climax, they would cutely say, “The End.” Essentially, the same thing happens here but far less cute.

Surf’s Up


Surf’s Up (2007)
★ / ★★★★

Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) was a penguin who knew how to surf but did not know how to have fun while doing it because his brother and mother did not always show their support for him. So when a recruiter for surfers visited Cody’s hometown, Cody did not think twice about competing in the Penguin World Surfing Championship. On his journey to the finals, he met an oblivious but very entertaining chicken (Jon Heder), a cute penguin lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel), a highly competitive penguin (Diedrich Bader) and a surfing legend (Jeff Bridges) who decided to hide from the world. I feel like I am the only person that did not enjoy this animated mockumentary. In what people found inspiring, I found recycled jokes, or worse, jokes that were just not funny. At first I thought it had potential because I have never seen an animated film take on a mockumentary style of storytelling. But I quickly got bored with it because even though everyone had a lot of energy, there really was no story and a defined main character. The images were cute (especially the baby penguins) but the movie did not have enough substance for me to really get into. As for the star-studded voices, I found them to be very distracting. Instead of seeing the penguins come to life, I was forced to think of the actors instead. I was pretty excited to watch this movie because it was light entertainment and I needed a break from a series of serious films. And when I heard that this movie was nominated for an Oscar, my expectations were that much higher but it did not deliver in a way where I could be entertained by the jokes while at the same time getting me to invest in the story. I will say, however, that this film was quite atmospheric at times. I loved the first few scenes when it went back in time to tell the audiences what made Cody feel so inspired to go after his dreams. There was a certain campiness and cleverness about it. Unfortunately, the rest did not hold up especially the scenes where the legendary surfer taught Cody “the ways” of being a real surfer. It was cheesy and, as a person who is not interested in surfing, I found the whole thing quite boring. I’m not sure if kids can enjoy this movie with bright colors alone. It needed a bit of edge, a bit of sadness and a whole lot of originality. Instead of elevating the picture, the mockumentary style felt like a bad gimmick.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Everyone told me that this was probably the most pointless movie they’ve ever seen, but I decided to see it anyway because I wanted to judge it for myself. While I don’t think it’s one of the worst movies ever made, I do think it’s one of most unnecessarily long. With a running time of two hours and a half, there were too much action and not enough reasons why we should care for Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and the Autobots except for the fact that the Decepticons wanted the sun’s energy so that they could continue living. What I loved about the first “Transformers” was its sense of wonder. It hid the robots for pretty much half of the movie and developed some sort of heart and genuine funny moments with Sam. But in this picture, everyone’s simply shooting guns and running away in slow motion (especially Megan Fox, which I understand was the eye candy for guys). I also didn’t like the fact that Michael Bay, the director, kept adding unnecessary (and annoying) characters such as those played by Ramon Rodriguez as Sam’s new college roommate, Kevin Sunn and Julie White as Sam’s parents. Their pathetic attempts at comedy were so embarrassing. When I did laugh (or was it scoff?), I was laughing at the characters instead of with them because of their utter stupidity. No one in their right mind would do the things they did. It’s difficult for me because I do like to give credit for films that are ambitious and this is undeniably one of those films. I could feel it wanting to be “bigger and better” than the first but it doesn’t have a concept of overload. The many negatives far outweigh the very few positives. People who would most likely enjoy “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” are those who don’t want to think or even make sense of the plot. (I found myself very confused with pretty much half of the movie.) In other words, mindless action sequences with big explosions and women running around half-naked. That’s completely understandable. After all, sometimes movies are supposed to be pure escapism. I kind of like the fact that Bay still makes movies despite critics and audiences alike tell him that he makes the most brainless movies ever. It’s just that you can still have a popcorn action flick that is funny and intelligent. The writers and the filmmakers just have to try a little harder to put the right pieces together. This film coming out only two years after the first one, I think they rushed into it and made a very messy, very incomprehensible junk. I just hope the third one will be better (the standard is low) because it’s a shame that people actually pay to see something that they can see in a video game at home.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints


A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

This movie contains a powerful story supported by powerful performances. Shia LaBeouf and Robert Downey Jr. are great as younger and older Dito, respectively. LaBeouf proved to me that he can carry dramatic pictures as well as action pictures. I really felt for him as a teenager who wants to spread his wings and fly–to actually become someone he can be proud of–but cannot do so because his family and friends tie him down whether they are aware of it or not. Downey Jr. is electric when he conveys his character’s frustration and anger toward his parents (Chazz Palminteri and Dianne West). As a teenager, Dito’s father never really paid attention to him. In many scenes, Palminteri seems to want to get to know about his son’s friend (Channing Tatum) more than his own. And it’s really heartbreaking because LaBeouf couldn’t tell if his father truly loves him. Melonie Diaz as young Laurie and Rosario Dawson as the older Laurie are wonderful as well. It’s interesting because Diaz always reminded me of Dawson, so I found it funny that they actually played the same person. Diaz and Dawson have this uncanny ability of making me smile whenever they’re on screen. They’re so good at embracing their characters and the audiences get to really feel for their plight. Although there are many elements that this movie tried to tackle (some argue that it’s unfocused), I thought it was effective because all the confusion and unanswered questions reflect the craziness of the characters’ lives. But the scenes that really got to me were the parts during LaBeouf and his Scottish friend, Martin Compston, would talk to each other. LaBeouf’s character never really got to be himself around his other friends because it is implied that sensitivity is a weakness. With Compston, they are able to talk about each other’s needs, wants, and dreams. One can definitely translate their relationship in a romantic angle but ultimately I thought it was friendship at its finest. It was so touching whenever they’d talk about running away to California with their band. Although it’s hopeful, it’s also really sad because I could sense the desperation of the characters–to get out of where they currently live. Directed by Dito Montiel (yes, it’s based on real life), this film surpassed my expectations. I thought it the picture would be just about tough neighborhoods but it’s really about wanting to become someone… more.