The movie introduced the concept of samurai warriors to the West and showed them in a strikingly graceful light; it focused on humanity as well as action, and both aspects have a profoundly poetic quality. (Stick around until the awesome, rainy, muddy final battle.) It was a huge success, and made a star out of Toshiro Mifune, who played the appealingly loose-cannon member of the group. The great actor Takashi Shimura (Godzilla, Ikiru) also had one of his best roles. It has inspired generations of filmmakers, as well as the Western remake The Magnificent Seven (1960).
Amazing on Amazon Prime
For a little while (until he started making movies with his wife Madonna), it looked as if Englishman Guy Ritchie were going to follow in Quentin Tarantino's footsteps with his fresh, funny, inventive crime films: the low-budget debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the bigger-budgeted follow-up Snatch (2000). Moving at a lickety-split speed, and with a wisecracking attitude, the movie zigzags through several somewhat connected denizens of the underworld, hitmen, criminals, thieves, gamblers, and boxers.
The cast is clearly having a ridiculous amount of fun, and each greedily attacks his zingy dialogue, including Benicio Del Toro, Vinnie Jones, and Stephen Graham. Dennis Farina is arguably the funniest, as an American jewel dealer, and Jason Statham became a star with his gruff line readings as Turkish, a boxing promoter. But Brad Pitt undoubtedly steals the picture as the explosive no-gloves boxer Mickey, who speaks with such a thick accent that he's completely, hilariously unintelligible. There's just no telling what Pitt will do in this role, and he's mesmerizing.
Very good on Vudu
Brad Pitt returns as a seasoned tank commander in this tight, muscular WWII movie, which is — refreshingly — based on an original screenplay and not on an "important" true story. Fury (2014) takes place at the tail end of the war, with American tanks roaming through the German countryside, barely hanging on until victory is declared. A rookie, Norman (Logan Lerman), is ordered to join the crew and must face the hard realities of war, while learning to fit in with his resentful colleagues.
Director David Ayer, who made the highly detailed cop drama End of Watch, does an impressive job of conveying the inner workings of the tank, the space, the rhythms, and the process of operating it, without any exposition. The battle sequences are clear, and the relationships between the characters, depicted in blunt shorthand, are quite strong. Michael Pena, Shia LaBeouf, and Jon Bernthal are all excellent as the remaining tank crew.
Catch this on Crackle
Safety Not Guaranteed
Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed (2013) is a rare science fiction movie that focuses on characters, relationships, and humor with the gimmick of time travel — is it real? — saved for the end. Derek Connolly's screenplay is based on an actual newspaper ad, in which a man sought a time-traveling partner ("safety not guaranteed"). A reporter for a Seattle magazine, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), and two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), discover the author of the ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), and Darius tries to get close to him to find out what's really going on.
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