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Fri07102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Shia LaBeouf returns with a vengeance in Amazon’s Honey Boy, offering both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy!

Directed with great strength by Alma Har’el, the film covers different stages in Shia’s career, including as a young boy (Noah Jupe) and a young adult (Lucas Hedges). LaBeouf sets out to basically show how he had a … well, let’s call it an offbeat upbringing. His father, represented by a character named James Lort and played by Shia, is at once inspirational and terribly abusive—a quirky, angry guy who torments young Shia (named Otis in the movie) as a means of forcing the kid into stardom.

LaBeouf is funny/scary here, while Jupe and Hedges keep proving they are two of the best young actors on the planet.

LaBeouf had a solid year in 2019; may he have many more to come.

Honey Boy is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The legendary rivalry between tennis players Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) was insane while it was happening. I’m old enough to remember it—and Janus Metz’s Borg vs McEnroe does a pretty good job of reliving it.

The film does suffer due to the fact that Björn Borg was a pretty boring figure, as opposed to the fiery McEnroe. Since much of this film deals with Borg’s side of the story, a good chunk of the film winds up being … well, boring.

Such is not the case with the McEnroe side: LaBeouf turns in his best performance yet as the temper-tantrum-throwing American sports star who came rolling into Wimbledon to face off against four-time champion Borg. LaBeouf takes an historical figure in McEnroe and avoids caricature in a role that could so easily become cartoonish. He finds the human competitor at the core of McEnroe, and while LaBeouf can deliver a very mighty, “You can’t be serious!” he finds a lot of sensible levels in the man.

The match itself is all kinds of crazy, and since I forgot what the outcome was, it’s completely unpredictable. The circumstances of that particular sporting event are as intense as any sporting event in the last 50 years, and the film works as a nice time stamp.

Much credit goes to the wig department for making the two actors look pretty authentic. Gudnason does well as Borg, but it’s LaBeouf who steals the movie.

Borg vs McEnroe is now playing at Mary Pickford is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It’s also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

Andrea Arnold, director of the excellent Fish Tank back in 2009, delivers her best effort yet with American Honey, the story of Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl who leaves her home to join a young tribe of traveling salesmen.

The crew is led by Krystal (Riley Keough) and her lead sales weapon, Jake (Shia LaBeouf). They travel to cities in a van full of runaways and vagabonds, coaxing people in parking lots, truck stops and homes into buying magazine subscriptions. Star pairs off with Jake, who shows her the ropes.

At nearly three hours, the film might be a bit long, but it’s still an engaging enterprise thanks to Lane and LaBeouf, who deliver powerful, and largely improvised, performances. Arnold makes excellent soundtrack choices (Bruce Springsteen, Lady Antebellum, Mazzy Star) that contribute to the film’s convincing road-trip vibe.

The film is filled with unknown faces—in fact, this is Lane’s screen debut—with the nutty LaBeouf being one of the few exceptions. Will Patton also shows up, as a cowboy who picks up Star and gets his barbecue party totally ruined.

American Honey is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Dec. 27.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Right in time for Halloween, writer-director David Ayer has come up with a genuine horror show in Fury, his take on a World War II tank crew trying to survive the last days of the war.

This film goes full-bore in showing the horrors of war—in fact, the very first scene depicts a brutal act of violence that proves Ayer is not playing games. His intention is to show the effects of war on a group of men who are clinging to the last threads of sanity after years of claustrophobic, blood-soaked terror inside a tank.

Brad Pitt leads the crew as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a grizzled, scarred individual who behaves questionably as he treks across Nazi Germany. When he’s saddled with a new recruit, Norman (Logan Lerman), his behavior becomes a strange mix of paternal and completely unhinged.

Other members of the crew include Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Ayer may have created each of these characters as odes to the John Wayne war movies of yore. However, that is where the common thread with bravado-filled old-timey war movies ends: There is nothing clichéd or old-timey about the way in which these characters are portrayed.

Much of the film takes place inside the tank, with a few breaks, most notably a scene in which Wardaddy introduces Logan to a nice German girl while he has some eggs. The carnage in the battle scenes is unrelenting. A sequence in which a group of U.S. tanks goes up against one superior German tank is as harrowing as moviemaking gets.

It all builds up to a final sequence during which the tank breaks down, and Wardaddy decides he isn’t going to run away, even though a large group of enemy soldiers is approaching. The crew decides to fight it out alongside their leader. I have to believe that many allied soldiers made similar decisions while taking the Nazis down 70 years ago. Not every battle was planned, and the odds were often stacked against them.

Ayer presents a scenario that’s crazy, yet realistic in many ways. No movie could authentically depict the real-life horrors of World War II; however, Ayer and company go to great lengths to show what happens when a nightmare becomes something hellish.

Pitt is just a few degrees removed from his Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s as if Aldo finished scalping Christoph Waltz, shaved his mustache and joined a tank battalion—at least it is regarding Pitt’s aesthetic and the accent he employs. However, unlike Aldo Raine, Wardaddy is totally lacking in humor. This is a truly powerful characterization from an actor who rarely missteps.

The tabloids had a field day with the weird stuff LaBeouf did while making this movie, including pulling out a tooth (Nicolas Cage-style), refusing to shower and generally acting strange. Well, whatever weirdness he put the cast and crew through resulted in his best screen work to date. As the preacher of the crew, LaBeouf is quite moving as a man who keeps his faith and finds immense joy in reciting scripture. This performance should give him a chance to get his once-promising career back on track.

Peña (who worked with Ayer on End of Watch) is terrific, as usual, as are Lerman and Bernthal. Bernthal, like Pitt, calls upon a past character (the jerk he played on The Walking Dead) for inspiration.

Stay away from Fury if you can’t handle onscreen gore. As I said before, this one is vicious right out of the gate, and it remains vicious through its 134-minute running time.

As action films go, it’s a real winner. As war films go, it’s one to be remembered. As horror films go, I doubt you’ll see anything scarier this month.

Fury is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity.

The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time.

Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you.

Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott.

The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and the Century Theatres at The River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews