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.

 

Here’s The Red Band Trailer For Free Fire!


Hi, everyone!

When Jeff and I went to see Logan on Thursday night, one of the many trailers that played before the film was this red band one for Free Fire.  Free Fire is an action comedy, one that I think is meant to satirize the ultra violent heist films of the 90s and early aughts.  Seriously, there are parts of this trailer that should make Guy Ritchie cringe.

That said, this trailer is also about a minute too long.  At first, everyone in the theater thought it was kind of funny but then, around the two minute mark, the yawns started to kick in.  “Are they just going to shoot at each other for the entire trailer?” someone asked.

The answer is yes.  And you know what?  The trailer probably doesn’t do Free Fire justice because this movie was directed by Ben Wheatley and I’m still having dreams inspired by his oddly hypnotic A Field in England.  I’ll follow him anywhere!

Free Fire has a March 31st release date in the UK and an April 21st release date in the States.

Anyway, here’s the red band trailer for Free Fire!

Let’s Play Hardcore Henry (2016, directed by Ilya Naishuller)


Hardcore_(2015_film)If you ever wondered whether a movie would ever be able to capture the excitement of watching a total stranger silently play an uninspired video game, Hardcore Henry is here to answer your question.

Filmed with a GoPro Hero 3 camera that used a specially-built rig that could be worn as a mask, Hardcore Henry is an action film that, from beginning to end, is told from a first-person perspective.  You are Henry.  When the film starts, you are having a dream where Tim Roth calls you a “pussy.”  When you wake up, a beautiful woman named Estelle (Haley Bennett) says that you are her husband and that you have amnesia because of a horrible accident.  You also lost your left arm and left leg but Estelle replaces your missing limbs with cybernetic ones.  Just before Estelle can give you a new voice, the laboratory is attacked by a telekinetic albino named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), leaving you as mute at GTA III‘s Claude.  You spend the rest of the movie running through the streets of Moscow, trying to rescue Estelle and getting advice and side missions from Jimmy (Sharlto Copely).  Jimmy was my favorite part of the movie because every time he was killed, he would return in a different version.  Cocaine Jimmy was the best of the Jimmys.

There are a few times when the stunt work is awe-inspiring but too often watching Hardcore Henry felt like watching a Let’s Play video on YouTube, the only difference being that at least the YouTube vid would have featured a joke or two.  The problem is not that Hardcore Henry feels like a video game.  The problem is that doesn’t feel like a good video game.  It feels like a clichéd and uninspired first person shooter, right down to the scenes were Estelle and Jimmy train you on how to use your new abilities and weapons.  (When Henry visits a brothel, it’s as if he figured out how to unlock the hidden rooms in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.)  If Hardcore Henry had a plot that was as interesting as the first person gimmick, it would be a great action film.  But, as it is, Hardcore Henry is just an intriguing experiment that does not really work.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Enter the Dragon, Drive Angry 3D, The A-Team, Ichi the Killer


Tis November 27, 2015 and all 4 Shots from 4 Films are dedicated to four actors who share the same birth date. A date which all will have now figured out as being November 27. One comes from the Master of the Martial Arts himself, another a veteran character actor, a third who became a prawn and, lastly, the one who made the Glasgow Smile cooler before Heath Ledger.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Enter the Dragon (dir. by Robert Clouse)

Enter the Dragon (dir. by Robert Clouse)

This trailer is HARDCORE


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Gamers have been clamoring for some of their favorite games to be made into full-length feature films. Whether it be rpgs, adventure or first-person shooters the games that have had a film adaptation were usually not very good. Even the classic first-person shooter Doom got it’s own film with even a gimmicky sequence near the end that put the action in first-person perspective just like the game. In the end, the film didn’t end up being very good.

Last year, there was a crowdfunding for a project that would take that first-person perspective and build a film around it. At first, it sounded like another take on the found footage craze, but this time around it’s not a film using the found footage narrative, but a film that was from the point of view of the protagonist. The film from start to finish will not stop and we’d only see things from the lead’s viewpoint.

This was done to great effect with the remake of the horror from Maniac. Now we shall see how well it works in an action genre that looks to blur the lines what’s film and what’s video game. Just from the released trailer alone this looks quite like some of the first-person shooters gamers have been eating up for the past decade. Having the film also stay in first-person could also make for many audiences to lose their mind or their lunches or both.

Hardcore just had it’s premiere on September 12, 2015 over at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Trailer: Chappie (2nd Official)


Chappie

Chappie will be the third film from Neill Blomkamp and with the release of it’s second trailer there already seems to be a sort of negative buzz surrounding the film. The first trailer made Chappie look like a modern remake of the 80’s “robot come to life” film Short Circuit. For many this is not a good comparison.

This second trailer pulls back on the cutesy Chappie robot stuff and takes a much more ominous and serious tone. The film seems like it’s all about the danger of artificial intelligence and how Chappie may be the key behind what can make A.I. work or fail.

Yet, despite taking a much more action direct approach the negative buzz is still there. Maybe people are not as quick to embrace Chappie after the underwhelming (some say heavy-handed) result of Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9 with Elysium. It’s an understandable reaction considering how high Blomkamp reached and succeeded with his very first feature film.

Chappie (and Neil Blomkamp) has between now and March 6, 2015 to convince people that it will not be another Icarus-like release.

For Your Consideration #3: Angelina Jolie in Maleficent


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Way back in March, when people like me first started to ask ourselves what and who would be nominated for Oscars in January, a lot of us assumed that 2014 would be the year of Angelina Jolie.  We predicted that her film Unbroken would be an Oscar front-runner and quite a few people felt that Angelina herself would become the second woman to win the Academy Award for directing.

And, it could still happen!

However, with Angelina being pretty much ignored by most of the traditional Oscar precursors and Unbroken getting positive but hardly rapturous reviews, it’s starting to look more and more like Unbroken will be lucky to receive a picture nomination, much less a mention for Jolie.

Now, I haven’t seen Unbroken yet so I can’t really judge whether it deserves any awards consideration or not.  However, I can say that Unbroken is not the only film for which Angelina Jolie deserves consideration.

Maleficent came out this summer and did quite well at the box office but it seems to have been forgotten and that’s a shame because it features one of Angelina Jolie’s best performances.  The film itself is a revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, re-telling the story from the point-of-view of the fairy queen Maleficent (played, of course, by Angelina.)

In this version of the story, we see that the true villain was Sleeping Beauty’s father, Stefan (Sharlto Copley).  When they were younger, Stefan and Maleficent were lovers but the Stefan eventually abandoned her, knowing that having a relationship with a winged fairy would only serve to thwart his own ambitions.  Years later, when the humans attempt to conquer Maleficent’s kingdom, it is announced that whoever slays Maleficent will become the new king.  Knowing that Maleficent is still in love with him, Stefan drugs her and then cuts her wings off.  Using her wings as evidence to back up his claim that he has killed her, Stefan becomes the new king.  The now wingless Maleficent is left alone and embittered.  When Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora, is born, Maleficent announces that, on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will sink into a deep sleep and will only be awaken by the kiss of someone who truly loves her.

Maleficent was one of those films that truly divided critics.  Male viewers tended to rightfully criticize the film for being tonally inconsistent and for relying too much on CGI.  Female critics, however, understood that none of that mattered.  As flawed as the film may have been, we knew that the most important thing was Angelina Jolie’s performance.  She may have been playing a fairy and she may have been appearing in a movie that was dominated by CGI but Angelina Jolie brought such strength and complexity to the role that she transcended all of the film’s flaws and instead created a thoroughly real character.  We understood and we related to Maleficent’s fury.  When she first woke up to discover that her wings had been stolen from her, it was devastating because the moment was real.  We all knew what had truly happened to Maleficent.  When she sought revenge, we sought it with her.  When she regretted her actions, we shared her regrets.  Her pain was our pain and her triumph was our triumph.

Angelina Jolie gave one of the best performances of the year in Maleficent and she certainly deserves your consideration.

Angelina-Jolie-as-Maleficent

Trailer: Chappie (Official)


Chappie

District 9 introduced Neill Blomkamp to the world. People bought into that film hardcore and were soon wondering what he would be doing next. Some fans of Blomkamp who have been following his career since he was first chosen by Peter Jackson to helm the now defunct Halo film thought he now had the leverage to get the film made. This was never going to happen.

The follow-up to District 9 was Elysium and the visuals that was slowly released for the film and having Matt Damon star in it gave it some major buzz and hype. The finished product was more than just a tad disappointing.

Was Elysium a hiccup?

People will find out on March 6, 2015 if this was indeed just a blip on the rising career of Neill Blomkamp as his third feature film, Chappie, will arrive in theaters.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Maleficent”


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Is it just me, or is this year’s summer blockbuster season incredibly front-loaded?  Not only did it get off to a ridiculously early start in April with the release of Captain America : The Winter Soldier, but it seems that, with the notable exception of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which is slated for a July release, everything that I was interested in seeing came out prior to the Memorial Day weekend — which was, in years past, the time when Hollywood’s blockbuster onslaught usually began.

Oh well. I guess there’s still some stuff I have some sort of low-level semi-interest in hitting theaters, with Disney’s Maleficent being a prime example of what I’m talking about. I wasn’t “hyped” for it, per se, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing else going on, what the hell — it’ll do in a pinch. Anybody with a functioning neural cortex pretty much knows what they’re getting into with something like this — a purportedly “modern re-telling” of a classic fairy tale (in this case Sleeping Beauty) that’s also, perhaps paradoxically, billed as being “truer to the roots” of the story than the universally-known animated version. Maybe everything that’s old really is new again.

In any case, the pattern these kinds of thing inevitably follow was set fairly firmly by Snow White And The Huntsman a couple summers back, and with a live (well, okay, live plus lots of CGI) action version of Cinderella already in the pipeline, it looks like “modernized fairy tales” (that are, again, supposedly “closer” to the “source material”) is a full-blown trend in Tinseltown. At least until one flops spectacularly.

Maleficent is too precise, clinical, and by-the-numbers to be that first big flop, of course, as this is thoroughly audience-tested material from start to finish, and while that same uber-conservative approach definitely sucks any sort of life or individuality from the proceedings, it does ensure that Disney will almost certainly turn a healthy profit off this thing, even with a budget estimated in the neighborhood of $200 million. It is, for all intents and purposes,  a can’t-miss investment, and that’s what it plays out as.

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Which isn’t the same thing as me saying that Maleficent is actively bad — it’s just that it’s not particularly good, either. Oh, sure, Angelina Jolie is perfect in the title role (there’s already Oscar talk) and it really does feel like it’s a part she was born to play, and the CGI work is spectacular and breathtaking and jaw-dropping and all that, and yeah, Elle Fanning as Aurora ( that’s what we call her now, folks, not “Sleeping Beauty”) leads a very talented supporting case that also includes the likes of Imelda Staunton, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, and Brenton Thwaites, all of whom do good work, but it’s all in service to the most pedestrian, production-line cinematic engineering possible. First-time director Robert Stromberg, who hails from a CG effects background, most likely knows what he’s doing here, but he’s given so little room to maneuver that failure just simply isn’t an option. This is a film that literally could have been directed by nearly anyone with at least some sort of cinematic background and turned out okay.

And maybe that’s what bugged me about it the most : just that sort of hyper-aggressive okay-ness. Given the opportunity to completely re-set the table, the Disney execs who originated and then green-lit this idea were more than happy to just tinker around the edges and “update” things without actually changing them. We all know the story, and while we’re admittedly getting a heavily-padded version of it told from the perspective of the “bad guy,” the fact remains that at the end of the day, all we’re left with is a more expensive, glitzier take on what we’ve already seen.

Angelina-Jolie-as-Maleficent

Maybe I missed a bit by just seeing this in 2-D, but let’s face it : any flick that leans upon the crutches of 3-D,Imax, and all that crap to “get the most from it” is one that’s entirely reliant upon bells and whistles — and while those bells and whistles are, no two ways about it, most impressive in this case, there’s just no substitute for a genuinely involving script, and Maleficent doesn’t have one. Mind you, it doesn’t have a bad script, either, it just — has a script. And the job of that script is to provide some sort of plausible set-up for one admittedly magnificent effects sequence after another. It’s cool and all for about a half hour, but after two full hours of Stromberg and company having to top themselves every five to ten minutes, you just end up feeling sort of worn down by events rather than invested in them.

maleficent-trailer

Still, I suspect that Maleficent is going to prove to be pretty well “review-proof” and enjoy a healthy run in theaters before going on to do equal, if not even greater, business on home video. This is a film that’s precisely engineered to do exactly what it’s supposed to and nothing less (or more). Kinda like a robot. And it’s that robotic, auto-pilot, cruise control sensation that prevents this movie from being at all memorable — for good or ill.

Quick Review: Elysium (dir. by Neill Blomkamp)


elysium-firstposter-full2In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp gave us District 9, a quiet film that amazed with its visuals of an Earth populated by refugee aliens from space. Produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, the film was a great success in some ways for both the director and its lead, Sharlto Copley. Both Copley and Blomkamp reunite in Elysium, also adding Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner & Diego Luna.

I’ll admit that on seeing the film, I was impressed by the visuals, but my hype machine was cranked just a little too high. Any disappointments with the film are the result of my expectations after seeing the trailer. I thought I was going to see something similar to the upcoming game Watch Dogs, where maybe Matt Damon’s character would be able to hack & control a whole network, using it as he saw fit.  He’d flip cars, crash planes and cause all sorts of interesting mayhem. The kid in me jumped in his seat at the thought of that.

What I got, however, wasn’t quite that. It came off feeling like a cooler, much better written version of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. The first hour of the film was very solid, but the second half shifted gears somewhat (at least for me, anyway).

Elysium is the tale of Max Da Costa (Damon), a former car thief who lives and works on Earth in the year 2154. The world is divided into an even greater scale of the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Most live on the overpopulated planet under horrid working conditions, run down pavelas and broken down roads. Those who can afford it can buy a ticket to live on Elysium, a large habitat orbiting the planet, filled with Mansions and other luxury homes. The houses also contain medical systems that can cure any ailment. When Max suffers an accident on the job that leaves him with only 5 days left to live, his immediate goal is to get to Elysium to cure himself. With the help of his friend Julio, Max meets up with a former associate from his crime days for a job that could give him what he needs. In order to complete his mission, Max is outfitted with an exosuit that makes him stronger. Considering that most of his enemies are robot sentries, the suit becomes a necessary asset.

Elysium is protected by Delacourt (Foster), who makes sure that any unauthorized ship is diverted. When Max’s job directly intervenes with plans of her own, she enlists the aid of Kruger (Copley), a somewhat unstable mercenary to clean things up. Will Max be able to heal himself? That’s what you’ll need to see to find out.

Visually, the movie is pretty good. Elysium itself is a marvel. If there was ever a Mass Effect movie to be made, effects makers wouldn’t have any problems recreating the Citadel space station, based on what you see here. Robot Police using futuristic weapons are well rendered, though they don’t really have the cool factor of something like say, I, Robot or Total Recall. It’s minimal in some ways, but effective. For a budget of just $115 Million, Blomkamp and his crew knew where to put the money.

Musically speaking, I did a bit of searching and found that supposedly the score comes from newcomer Ryan Amon, who Blomkamp found on YouTube. The music does the film some justice, though it isn’t anything sweeping and grand. It does what it needs to for the film, at least that’s how I felt. I hope to see more in the future from Amon, actually.

Cast wise, Damon is effective as always and I’ll admit that I liked Jodie Foster in this one, though she didn’t seem like she was given too much to do. The same almost applies to Alice Braga, who plays Da Costa’s childhood friend, Frey. Both Diego Luna and Wagner Moura (as Spider, Max’s former associate) had some interesting moments. The standout by far is Sharlto Copley. His Afrikaans accent is pretty strong, and almost makes it hard for you to catch what he’s saying, but he’s creepy. If the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willy somehow caught rabies, his mannerisms would probably be what you get from Copley in this film. Very wild stuff there. He and the effects are the best parts of the film for me.

On the second half of the film, I felt as if the film shifted from a drama to an action film, but I don’t know. There was something odd about it. It wasn’t new for me – District 9 did the same thing in it’s 2nd half, but Elysium seemed as if with all the robots and all the guards, some of the events occurred just too easily and without their intervention. I didn’t get a feeling that there was danger around every corner, but that’s just me and it’s a very minor gripe on my part. There weren’t too many cheer moments for me (and by “cheer moments”, I refer to those scenes where you want to yell something but keep yourself in check – or forget to do so and yell anyway like with Pacific Rim). It was a little generic for me, despite the original and fresh elements leading up to it in the setting and Da Costa’s sense of purpose.

Overall, Elysium gives the audience an interesting situation, and populates it with at least 2 good characters (in Kruger and Da Costa). See it for the visuals and the solid first half, but don’t expect the story to be the best thing in the world. Just enjoy it for the escapism.