Tag Archives: Jon Bernthal

Terminally Cool

Young stars shine in fresh, quirky coming-of-age comedy-drama

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Olivia Cook, Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cook and RJ Cyler

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

PG-13

A movie with “dying girl” in its title would seem to be giving you a pretty big spoiler right up front.

But don’t let thinking you know what’s going to happen keep you away from the many delights, heart pangs and sweet surprises of this fresh, quirky comedy-drama, the big hit at last summer’s Sundance Film Festival now spreading into the movie mainstream.

Based on author Jessie Andrews’ award-winning 2013 debut young-adult novel, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl unfolds through its central character, Greg (Thomas Mann), who narrates. He begins, “This is the story of my senior year in high school and how it destroyed my life—and how I made a film so bad it killed someone.”

Intrigued? You should be.

Greg, who’s cruised through high school by avoiding close friendships with just about anyone while breezily associating with just about everyone, has only one real buddy, Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg and Earl have been “associates”—Greg can’t bear to use the word “friends”—since childhood, bonding over classic movies and making their own low-budget parodies. Their video mini-masterpieces include Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind, Senior Citizen Kane and A Sockwork Orange.

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Connie Britton & Nick Offerman

Greg’s mom and dad (Connie Britton of TV’s Nashville and the wonderfully dry Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation) inform him that one of his classmates, Rachel (Olivia Cook of Bates Motel), is dying of cancer—and it sure would be nice if Greg reached out to her. Greg isn’t keen on the idea, and neither is Rachel. But soon the ice between them begins to melt, Rachel begins to dig Greg and Earl’s oddball movies, and Greg begins his next cinematic subject—featuring Rachel. But completing it becomes harder than he thought.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, making his second feature film after a run of TV (Glee, American Horror Story), has a real feel for the material with a keen visual style that captures the story’s emotional swirl and its spectrum of teen alienation, attraction, anger, angst, frustration, whimsy

Olivia Cooke as

and wisdom. Subplot threads about a super-cool history teacher (Jon Bernthal) and Greg’s college application process tie up neatly—and significantly—at the end. And the terrific young actors (who actually range in age from 20 to 25) flesh out their characters with relaxed, natural performances that never feel forced, fussy, sappy, goofy or unnecessarily dramatic.

It’s up at times, down at others, ultimately life-affirming and bustling with originality, even while it traverses somewhat familiar teenage territory: Think The Fault in Our Stars crossed with Napoleon Dynamite with just a pinch of The Breakfast Club for seasoning. It may remind you of other things, but it’s definitely got it’s own chill, cool, youthful, coming-of-age vibe.

Just give into it, go with it and let it take you where it leads you—and don’t caught up in thinking that you already know where that will be.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Tanked

Gutsy, grimy war flick drives home the horrors & haunts of combat

Brad Pitt;Shia LaBeouf;Logan Lerman;Michael Pena;Jon Bernthal

Fury

Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman & Shia LeBeouf

Directed by David Ayer

Rated R

War is hell, and this gripping WWII battle drama brings you about as close to the angry, anguished flames as anyone would ever want to get.

Brad Pitt stars as Sherman tank commander “Wardaddy” Collier, leading his battle-weary crew across Germany to finish off Hitler’s forces in early 1945. Wardaddy’s tank is nicknamed “Fury,” with its name written in white paint along its barrel.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt is the commander of the Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury.”

Even though the war is almost over, the Nazis are desperate and determined to fight to the end, they greatly outnumber the Yanks, and their tanks are bigger, heavier and better fortified.

“Why don’t they just quit?” wonders an exhausted senior officer, who’s just learned of the slaughter of his men by a pocket of heavily fortified, entrenched Germans, who mowed them down in an open field. “Would you?” responds Wardaddy.

Indeed, the “would you?” question hangs heavy over much of the movie, as Wardaddy and his crew confront situations that force them to make instantaneous life-or-death, kill-or-be-killed decisions, and mounting atrocities become everyday occurrences. “This ain’t pretty,” explains grizzled Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) to the tank’s newest team member, wide-eyed Norman (Logan Lerman), who’d never seen combat until assigned to Wardaddy’s command. “This is what we do.”

Lerman’s character becomes the audience’s surrogate, as we share his shock, his revulsion and his reluctance to relent to what seems like madness. We wonder how much we could see before it starts to “do” something to us. We wonder what we’d do with our finger on the trigger of a turret-mounted machine gun, if we could kill other people on sight, without question, without pausing to think about who they are, what they might be planning to do, or what’s right and what’s wrong.

Michael Pena

Michael Peña plays “Gordo” Garcia.

Wardaddy’s crew also includes Mexican-American “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Scripture-quoting “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf), who sings hymns to pass time and prods his tank mates to think if “Jesus loves Hitler.”

Writer-director David Ayer, whose other work includes Training Day and End of Watch, makes us feel every cramped, claustrophobic inch of Fury’s crowded interior space, a dreary metal dome where Wardaddy’s crew barely has room to move—or breathe, or bleed. The landscapes are all mud and muck; faces are dirty and grim; violence is intense; fear is everywhere.

We’ve seen other war movies, certainly—they’ve been a Hollywood staple for decades. But I can’t remember another movie—and certainly not another contemporary one—that’s taken such a hard, gritty, gutsy look at World War II tank warfare. There’s nothing glamorous or glorious about the battles, or the war, depicted in Fury. It’s tough, rough stuff, hard going, and—indeed—it “ain’t pretty.”

But it’s raw, it’s powerful and it sticks with you, especially in a scene when the crew rolls into a German town square, where a little bit of everything occurs. That square becomes a microcosm of war itself, and how it compresses and contorts the world, like a busted telescope with a smudged, shattered lens: life, death, love, hate, past, present, future—they’re all there, and then they’re not, gone in an instant, goodbye.

You won’t be cheering when Fury ends. But you’ll be thinking.

—Neil Pond, American Profile and Parade Magazines

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