Warfare, dementia and martial arts – this week’s biggest DVDs reviewed.
Set in April 1945, during the final days of World War 2, Fury (Sony) follows Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt, World War Z), a Sherman tank commander who leads his veteran crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.
At the film’s outset Wardaddy’s battle-hardened crew – gunner Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers), loader Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead) and driver Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Pena, End of Watch) – are reeling from the death of fifth crew member, Red. His replacement is enlisted Army typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, Noah), who has never experienced combat, let alone seen the inside of a tank. Badly out-numbered and comprehensively out-gunned, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds as the conflict edges closer to its chaotic end-game.
Brad Pitt gives one of his strongest performances in years as Wardaddy, the tank commander with a passion for killing Nazis. It’s a stylised performance, and one which seems to consciously obliterate his more cartoonish role as Nazi hunter Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Young Logan Lerman also impresses as Norman, and we experience the stomach-churning horrors of WW2 through his naïve eyes. The rest of the ensemble cast also impress, including the often-irritating LaBeouf, who delivers a satisfyingly restrained performance.
Over the last decade or so writer-director David Ayer (Harsh Times, End of Watch, Sabotage) has carved an impressive career exploring the Los Angeles underworld (earlier screenplay credits include Training Day and Dark Blue), and Fury represents his first real attempt to examine new subject matter. The decision to step out of his comfort zone is a good one and this gruelling, episodic movie is a grim, unflinching triumph. If you like your war movies tense, visceral and hellish, Fury comes highly recommended.
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Dying of the Light (Signature) tells the story of Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage, Con Air), a desk-bound CIA agent who is edging towards retirement with the spectre of early onset dementia looming over him. At the same time he discovers that his former nemesis, Jihadist Muhhamed Banir (Alexander Karim, Tyrant), is not dead – as has been assumed for the last two decades – but is alive and receiving experimental medical treatment. Banir’s exact location is unknown, but with the help of a disgraced young agent (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek), Evan embarks on an audacious mission to track down and confront his former tormentor – before it is too late for both of them.
Written and directed by Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader, Dying of the Light is an undeniably intriguing prospect on paper. Unfortunately, the film adds up to far less than the sum of its illustrious (but slightly tainted!) parts, and reports that the studio seized the film from Schrader at the 11th hour and re-cut it adds to the underwhelming vibe. On this evidence Schrader’s vision was unlikely to have been a masterpiece, but the reworked version generally comes across as a needlessly cruel hack-job.
To his credit Nicolas Cage delivers a committed lead performance, and demonstrates that he is still capable of far better than his recent streak of B-movies may suggest. The plot may sometimes feel like a half-baked episode of Homeland, with Carrie’s bipolar disorder substituted for Evan’s dementia, but it is a passable enough way to spend an hour and a half. All in all: another bizarre footnote to Schrader’s off-kilter career.
In Kung Fu Killer (Signature) Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Blade II) stars as Hahou, a former martial arts instructor imprisoned after accidentally killing an opponent. When a vicious killer (Wang Baoqiang, A Touch Of Sin) starts targeting martial arts masters, Hahou offers to help the police capture him in return for his freedom.
After notching up one of his biggest successes with 2008’s Ip Man – which documented the life of the man who trained Bruce Lee – Donnie Yen has rarely gone short of work, even if his biggest hits have subsequently been comedies! Unfortunately, despite its theatrical UK release, Kung Fu Killer isn’t the return to form that some fans may be expecting. While there are some decent fight scenes, the movie feels too contrived for comfort and the clumsy fusion of murder mystery and martial arts does Yen few favours.
After the inventiveness of game-changing martial arts movies such as The Raid and The Raid 2, Kung Fu Killer feels curiously old hat and weirdly off the pace. In fact, Yen himself explored a similar narrative ten years ago with the enjoyably violent Kill Zone, which comfortably outclasses this patchy effort. As the end-credits tribute montage testifies – it highlights how many notable Hong Kong action stars had cameo roles in the movie – Kung Fu Killer is undeniably well-intentioned. Unfortunately it has also been sloppily scripted and haphazardly conceived! Non-essential.