IN ANY other year, Brad Pitt’s new World War Two tank movie Fury might have been marketed as Hollywood entertainment. But the recent centenary of the beginning of the First World War and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East have been sobering reminders of the human cost of war.
And so Fury tries admirably hard to depict true horror with a policy that is shoot to kill – and not, as The Expendables would have it, shoot to thrill.
The absence of actors like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Statham will enable most viewers to take Fury as seriously as writer-director David Ayer intended, even if the story is ultimately not as emotionally-charged as Oscar favourites like Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1995) and The Pianist (2002).
Brad Pitt gives one of the best leading-man performances of his career as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, a Sherman tank commander with a crew which survived North Africa. They are now pushing towards Berlin in Germany, where a desperate Hitler has ordered women and children to join the fight at the tail end of the Second World War.
Having lost his assistant driver in battle, the uncompromisingly brave and sometimes nasty Wardaddy is joined by a new, wet-behind-the-ears recruit called Norman (Logan Lerman). He’s qualified to type at 60wpm minutes, not to shoot Nazis.
Fellow crew members, acting like characters and not stars, include Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini Garcia (Michael Peña) and Boyd Swan (Shia LeBeouf, better than usual but still mumbling).
The best films make you want to see them again after just half an hour, but Fury’s slow early stages might be hard going second time around. It also takes a lengthy break in mid-section, when Pitt strips to reveals what fine shape he’s in and Norman becomes even more of a man than someone forced to grow up by shooting the enemy in the back.
Fury doesn’t fully explain tank logistics or illustrate the bigger WW2 picture, but it shows the unpredictable unfairness of war among the military and civilians alike.
Once Wardaddy’s men are cast adrift, the tension mounts towards the final, inevitably bloody, showdown with the advancing SS. The action scenes are heavy duty, visceral and unflinchingly brutal both inside and outside of the tank. All filmed – like Saving Private Ryan – in brilliant Britain, where the unrelenting mud is an extra character all of its own.
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (PG)
COMMON sense would argue that you should never release a film with a title so hard to remember – but this is based on a bestselling 1972 children’s book by the now 83-year-old author, Judith Viorst.
And the safety net is that ‘Alexander’ is an expensive Disney film starring Steve Carell.
Though not as good as his Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and The Way Way Back (2013), it’s a well-rounded drama and many families will readily identify with his dilemma as an unemployed scientist father.
Ben Cooper’s son Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is just another pre-teen kid with three siblings including older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) and sister Emily (Kerris Dorse).
When things start to go wrong on the eve of his 12th birthday, the run of bad luck begins to affect the whole family.
With nothing going right for the Coopers, individually and collectively, there’s a certain inevitability about proceedings which become a tad predictable.
But, bearing in mind the PG certificate, this is simply light-hearted, family-friendly fare of the kind which might once have starred Robin Williams (Mrs Doubtfire) or Jim Carrey (Liar Liar).
Director Miguel Arteta lets the film unfold at its own pace and, right down to Oxenbould’s lisp, his cast is believably real and not simply Hollywood cute.
Best of all, although the catastrophic set-ups have much in common with Home Alone (1990), the humour is not as vindictive as that trilogy became and mum Kelly (Jennifer Garner) has a gorgeous baby called Trevor (well, he is played by two girls!).
There is also a fun cameo for veteran Mary Poppins’ star Dick Van Dyke, now 88 but still as sprightly as ever, and there’s even a bouncing kangaroo thanks to the arrival of an Australian petting zoo.
LOVE, ROSIE (12A)
WHEN a boy and girl become best friends, the platonic nature of their relationship can become an immovable barrier between them.
Even if they both make mistakes with other partners and seem to be more right for each other than the alternatives, the will-they-won’t-they feeling never seems to reach a tipping point in their favour.
Based on the book Where Rainbows End (2004) by Dublin-born novelist Cecilia Ahern, Rosie Dunne (Lily Collins) collapses shortly after her first kiss with Alex Stewart (Sam Claflin) and they both end up with other partners.
The film then goes into flashback mode to explore their past lives as a signpost for possibly, just possibly, getting together in the future.
Except that Alex going off to Boston complicates matters enormously.
Directed by Christian Ditter (The Crocodiles), the film is a pleasant enough, light-hearted watch and the end justifies the means. But the journey is uneven and there’s a core central problem – or bonus depending on your point of view.
Echoing Nebraskan writer Nicholas Sparks’ ability to turn modern romantic literature into movie fiction, this is the second major adaptation of one of Ahern’s novels.
Unfortunately, Love, Rosie seems to be a younger-cast carbon copy of PS I Love You (2007), which starred Gerard Butler misfiring opposite Hilary Swank.
It’s just another eye-candy formula film with a capital F, right down to Claflin’s Hugh Grant-style grin and the PS-style two continents’ story (which has less purpose than Daniel Radcliffe’s recent US-to-Dublin romcom What If).
While the comedy of errors set-up is timeless, there are no more surprises than a box of Cadbury’s Roses – which might, of course, be exactly what you’re looking for.
BEST OF THE REST
THE BABADOOK (15)
THE posters promise ‘a flat-out masterpiece’ and a ‘truly frightening’ experience, but this low-budget Australian horror film fulfils neither expectation.
The next time I see a bed shaking like this, or a woman on the floor spouting enough dark liquid to refill an oil tanker, it will get no stars!
Yet actress Essie Davis is otherwise utterly convincing as Amelia, the wizened mother of six-year-old hyperactive child Samuel (Noah Wiseman), strangely knowing of the fact that his father was killed en route to taking mum to hospital for his birth.
One night, mum then reads Samuel a jet-black, pop-up story book with the title of the film. The story ends with the promise of death... and even burning the book fails to remove it from the house. When The Babadook sticks with the psychology of horror it works brilliantly with Samuel’s constant ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy, MUMMY!’ whines guaranteed to get on your nerves.
The cinematography is very good, too, so it’s a shame that writer-director Jennifer Kent gives in to haunted house clichés.
This is a much better pre-Halloween film than the recent Annabelle but lacks the fear factor of a haunted doll. If you judge a horror film by how many hairs it raises on the back of your neck, the answer for all but younger audiences is likely to be not many... if any.
THE BOOK OF LIFE 3D (U)
THE Lego Movie aside, 2014 hasn’t been a vintage year for animation – Pixar’s failure to deliver in the summer has been most conspicuous.
Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro has co-produced this curious hotch-potch. It seeks to explore Mexican myths but looks like The Boxtrolls has been remade with Liqourice Allsorts characters, not clay.
Animation enables a horse to be ridden across a rooftop – wonderful! – and the central story encourages children to write their own stories – great! But it’s all so fractured and episodic that an all-star cast of international voice actors including Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube and Ron Perlman sound detached from the film.
Christina Applegate is Mary Beth, a museum tour guide who explains Mexican folklore to a bus load of unruly children. A family of legendary bullfighters produce a son who doesn’t want to kill an animal, leading one bewhiskered female elder to tut: ‘Kids with long hair and no killing stuff’. It’s an interesting theme of principle vs cowardice that is also echoed in Brad Pitt’s Fury.
With two boys Manola (Luna) and Joaquin (Tatum) vying for the hand of Maria (Saldana), The Book Of Life is at its best when director Jorge R. Gutierrez slows the pace down a bit.
A sword gradually emerging from the screen is a 3D treat you are given the time to enjoy, while the scene featuring the song lyrics ‘Wise men say, only fools rush in...’ is a spiritual highlight.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (15)
NOW 76, it’s good to see Jane Fonda can still roll back the years.
She plays Hilary, the sexually open, surgically-enhanced, newly-widowed mother of four adult kids – New York radio producer Judd (Jason Bateman) and siblings Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver) and Paul (Corey Stoll). Hilary recommends finding the time to mourn.
But this is still a very lively, adult-flavoured comedy with enough sharp lines to feel like a Friends-style alternative to the bereavement issues featured in Meryl Streep’s recent August: Osage County or Robert De Niro’s Everybody’s Fine (2009).
With lines like ‘secrets are a cancer to a family’, expect a few surprises – and one massive bombshell!