Film Review: Free Fire (dir by Ben Wheatley)

Last night, I saw Free Fire, the latest film from the visionary British directing-and-screenwriting team of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump.

Free Fire takes place in Boston in the 1970s.  We know it’s the 70s because of all the wide lapels, the flared jeans, and the impressive facial hair.  In short, everyone looks like an extra from Thank God, It’s Friday.  Note that I said Thank God, It’s Friday and not Saturday Night Fever.  None of the characters in Free Fire could pull off John Travolta’s white suit.  As much as they try to pretend otherwise, everyone in this film is low rent.  No one is as clever or street smart as they believe themselves to be.  Even more importantly, no one is as good a shot as they think.

The film takes place in a decrepit warehouse, the type of place that is strewn with rats and hypodermic needles.  Chris (Cillian Murphy), Frank (Michael Smiley), Steve-O (Sam Riley), and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) are members of the Irish Republican Army and they’ve come to the U.S. to purchases weapons.  Chris and Frank are no-nonsense professionals.  Bernie is a well-meaning moron.  Steve-O is a drug addict who, the previous night, got beaten up after he smashed a bottle across the face of a 17 year-old girl.

Working as intermediaries are Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer).  Justine specializes in keeping jumpy people calm.  She and Chris flirt as they wait for the guns to arrive.  As for Ord — well, let’s just say that Ord was my favorite character in the film.  He’s always calm.  He looks really good in a suit.  And, whenever things get intense, he’s always quick to light up a joint and make a sarcastic comment.  This is probably the best performance of Armie Hammer’s career so far.  (Or, at the very least, it’s the best performance of his that I’ve seen.  I hear that he gives an excellent performance in the upcoming Call Me By Your Name.)  Certainly, this is the first film that I’ve seen, since The Social Network, in which Hammer seemed to be truly worthy of the hype that has surrounded his career.

Finally, there’s the gun dealers themselves.  There’s Martin (Babou Ceesay), who seems to be fairly low-key professional.  There’s Gordon (Noah Taylor), who is a henchman who looks disconcertingly similar to Chris.  And then there’s Vernon, who is from South Africa and who is constantly talking and smiling.  Not surprisingly, Vernon is played by Sharlto Copley.  Finally, Harry (Jack Reynor) is a driver who desperately wants to impress Ord.  Harry loves John Denver and he also loves his cousin.  In fact, he loves his cousin so much that, when he recognizes Steve-O as the junkie who smashed a bottle across her face, Harry pulls a gun and starts firing.

The rest of the film deals with the resulting gun fight, which is complicated with two mysterious snipers (Patrick Bergin and Mark Monero) suddenly open fire on both of the groups.  Who hired them and why?  That’s a mystery that could be solved if everyone stops shooting and yelling at each other.  Of course, that’s not going to happen because 1) no one is a good enough shot to actually get the upper hand and 2) almost everyone in the warehouse is an idiot.

At it’s best, Free Fire mercilessly parodies the excessive violence of modern crime cinema.  When it comes to crime films, most people just remember the shoot outs so Free Fire takes things to their logical extreme by just being a 90-minute gun fight.  At its weakest, Free Fire occasionally becomes exactly what it’s parodying.  The film’s structure — one night in one location — proves to be limiting.  At times, you find yourself really wishing for a flashback or at least a little exposition to explain who everyone is outside of that warehouse.  The cast is full of good actors and they all give good performances but the characters are, at best, thinly drawn.  At times, it was difficult to keep track who was who.  I especially found myself mixing up Michel Smiley and Sharlto Copely.  It was all the facial hair.

About 30 minutes into Free Fire, I was already composing a bad review in my head but, by the final shot (and yes, the double meaning is totally intentional), Free Fire had won me over.  It’s an experiment that doesn’t really work but it’s so relentless and dedicated to seeing its story to its conclusion that I couldn’t help but appreciate the film’s efforts.  When the guns finally did stop firing and the end credits started, I was shocked to discover that, without even realizing it, I actually had gotten just a little caught up in the film’s story.

Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump previously gave us one of the most memorable films of the decade (so far), A Field in England.  Free Fire might not quite work but I’ll always make the time to see the latest from Wheatley and Jump.


Halloween Film Review: Highway to Hell (1991, directed by Ate de Jong)

Highway to HellHighway to Hell, a low-budget take on the legend of Orpheus, opens with a young couple, Charlie (Chad Lowe) and Rachel (Kristy Swanson), driving to Las Vegas so they can elope.  When they stop to get gas, Sam (Richard Farnsworth) warns them not to drive on the back roads at night.  Charlie ignores him and the couple continues to drive through the desert until they are suddenly pulled over by Sgt. Bedlam (C.J. Graham), a scarred and mostly silent demon who is also known as the Hellcop.  The Hellcop drags Rachel out of the car and then vanishes with her.  Charlie returns to the gas station, where Sam tells him that Rachel has been kidnapped to Hell and will become Satan’s latest wife.  After Sam gives him a shotgun and a car, Charlie heads into Hell to rescue Rachel.

Charlie discovers that Hell is even stranger than he was expecting.  The highways are full of VW bugs and motorcycle gangs.  Charlie passes a road crew made up of Andy Warhol look-alikes.  (In a clever touch, they also work for the Good Intentions Company.)  When Charlie stop to pick up a hitchhiker (played by Lita Ford), he is suddenly attacked by a crazed ice cream man.  Occasionally, a friendly mechanic (Patrick Bergin) shows up and helps Charlie out.  The mechanic’s first name is Beezle.  Did you already guess that his last name is Bub?

There are parts of Highway To Hell that do not work.  Chad Lowe seems lost as Charlie and Highway To Hell’s abrupt ending feels like it belongs in a totally different film.  But Highway to Hell has enough odd characters and weird moments to make it worth watching.  For instance, I liked the scene where the Hellcop stops off at a roadside diner that is full of zombies.  Anne Meara plays the counterwoman who won’t stop talking long enough to take anyone’s order.  (It is Hell, after all.)  Jerry Stiller shows up as another cop and, finally, Ben Stiller plays a short order cook who won’t stop yelling.  Ben Stiller actually plays two roles in this movie.  Later, he shows up as Atillia the Hun, eating breakfast with Hitler (Gilbert Gottfried!) and Cleopatra (Amy Stiller).  Hitler tries to convince them that he is actually a teenager named Bob and that he was sent to Hell accidentally.

Despite the film’s title, AC/DC is nowhere to be heard on the Highway to Hell soundtrack, which is obviously a missed opportunity.  In fact, with the exception of Lita Ford’s cameo, there is no metal to be found in Hell which seems strange considering that this movie was made in 1991.  Music aside, Highway to Hell is an entertaining journey into the underworld.


What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Shark Week (dir. by Christopher Ray)

Last night, I watched a little film called Shark Week on the SyFy channel.

Frankie Cullen in Shark Week

Why Was I Watching It?

I was watching for a few reasons.  Number one, it was on the SyFy Network and that’s always a good sign.  Number two, it’s the latest film to be produced by the folks at the Asylum and that’s usually another good sign that the film, if nothing else, is going to be an interesting viewing experience.  Finally, some of the wittiest people on twitter were live tweeting this film and they were tolerant enough not to block me when I decided not to join in.

What’s It About?

It’s Saw Meets Jaws!

So, there’s this evil millionaire guy named Tiberon (played by Patrick Bergin) and he apparently owns a private island just south of the Florida keys and he’s a little bit upset because his son is dead and there’s 8 people that he holds responsible for the death.  Those 8 people all have individual names but, to be honest, they’re all pretty interchangeable and I found it easier just to refer to them all by nicknames like Blue Shirt, Tattoo Girl, Skinny Vin Diesel, Ugly Katy Perry, and my personal favorite character in the entire film, Psuedo Arquette (who was played by Frankie Cullen).

Tiberon and his assistant Elena (played by Yancy Butler) kidnap our 8 victims and dump them on an island where they’re forced to fight for their right to live while having to deal with several shark-related booby traps.  Why?  I assume because the evil guy is named Tiberon (and yes, that’s how he spells it, according to the imdb).  Just imagine if the guy was named Kittens.  It would have been a totally different movie. 

What Worked?

Speaking of the imdb, one reviewer over on that site has already declared that Shark Week is the worst film ever made.  To him, I say, “Calm down, your judgmental toadsucker.”  Shark Week is a low-budget film with a bunch of hammy acting and obviously cheap special effects.  It’s also a lot of fun.  Shark Week, like the best SyFy offerings, is a film that’s been specifically designed to inspire you to talk back to your TV.  Shark Week is not a film that you watch alone while jotting down critical observations in your Hello Kitty notebook.  Shark Week is a movie that you watch with a bunch of friends and you have a good time while doing so.  Shark Week doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you.

Plus, I absolutely adored Frankie Cullen, who played a character named Frankie.  I, however, referred to him as Pseudo Arquette throughout the entire film because he really does look like a less goofy, more manly version of David Arquette.  I mentioned on twitter that I thought Pseudo Arquette was the cutest guy on the island.  “Sweetie, he’s a porn star,” someone tweeted back, referring to the fact that, outside of Shark Week, Cullen’s filmography is made up of movies like Celebrity Sex Tape, The Breastford Wives, The Devil Wears Nada, and Busty Coeds Vs. Lusty Cheerleaders.  Well, no matter.  I still loved my Psuedo Arquette.

Speaking of which, if I ever take up a second career as a super-powered crime fighter, I hope that the newspapers call me, “Busty CoEd.”  As in, “Thank you, Busty CoEd, you saved our town!  YAY!”

What Didn’t Work?

The title was a bit of a problem because the film appeared to take place over the course of just two or three days.  Certainly, they weren’t on that island for an entire week.  Add to that, we were using the #SharkWeek hashtag on twitter to talk about the film while we were watching it and, as a result, we had to deal with other people making  random comments like, “I can’t wait for #SharkWeek to start on the Discovery Channel!”  Seriously, it got a little annoying after a while.

“Oh my God!  Just Like Me!” Moments

Much like Tattoo Girl and Ugly Katy Perry, I’m scared of sharks, too.  That’s one of the many reasons why I always stay in the shallow end of the pool. 

Lessons Learned

Two lessons learned: First off, you can literally do anything as long as you’re in international waters.  Secondly, baby sharks are seriously cute.