Free Fire (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson. Runtime: 1hr. 30 min.

I actually saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (on Sept. 9, 2016), and this is a revised review I wrote in mid-September. I didn’t post this because I was a bad blogger back then but without further adieu, here it is…

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, a balls-to-the-wall 1970’s gun battle, is one hell of a ride.

The premise is simple. Brie Larson’s Justine has arranged a gun deal between Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Armie Hammer’s Ord. It’s set in 1970’s Boston in an abandoned warehouse and is largely in this one setting, and it’s the perfect set-up for the wild shootout.

Wheatley knows how to build tension from the word go, as the characters walk into the deserted warehouse to do the deal. Some characters don’t like each other, and after some developments, you can cut the tension with a knife.

The sound design make the initial gunshots sound like an IMAX film, almost like they’re in the same room. For the characters, chances of getting out alive decrease when all hell breaks loose and it becomes a true Mexican standoff. It’s like the atmosphere of The Nice Guys mixed with tension and dialogue that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. This does feel like parts Reservoir Dogs, too, with its limited setting and tension.

Free Fire Armie

Armie Hammer in Free Fire. (Source)

This still effortlessly manages to be fresh, and makes me want to see more of Ben Wheatley’s films (like Kill List and High-Rise). His movies all seem unique and different as he tackles many different genres. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (they’re also married) also edit Free Fire – editing it in such a way where you can follow its quick pace, but you’re not always able to tell where some characters are hiding in the warehouse. It might be a ploy to put the audience in the same space as the characters – not knowing who they’re shooting at or where everyone’s hiding.

The ensemble created is great and each performer brings something memorable to their characters. The costume design, wigs and different accents also set everyone apart. Sharlto Copley’s a scene-stealer as Vernon and he has some of the best moments. Everyone from Brie Larson to Cillian Murphy to Michael Smiley hold their own, delivering physically demanding performances as they crawl on the dirty warehouse floor avoiding an array of bullets.

One of the film’s most pleasant surprises is Armie Hammer. I thought he was bland in The Lone Ranger (to be fair he had little to work with), but here as the calm and collected Ord, he’s badass. He’s also funny as hell, and the range he shows feels like he should be getting more comedic roles.

The most impressive thing about Free Fire is that it’s just deliriously fun. Action comedies can be hit-and-miss especially when there’s a task of finding the right balance. But director-writer Wheatley, and Amy Jump, manage to make the action consistently fresh. The people shooting at each other doesn’t feel repetitive and there are many ways to get characters out of situations. The dialogue’s sharp, witty and hilarious, and this is just some of the best fun I’ve had at the movies in awhile.

Score: 88/100

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone RangerRelease Date: July 3, 2013

Director: Gore Verbinski

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner

Runtime: 149 min

Do you remember the days of your childhood when you’d invite some friends over, and play a good old game of Cops and Robbers? Or maybe you played Cowboys and Indians. Either way, it’s the same thing. Well, that’s precisely what Verbinski’s latest “The Lone Ranger” feels like. A 149-minute game of Cops and Robbers – only it’s about as entertaining as two friends bickering and saying “No! I shot you first!”

Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

This isn’t a terrible movie. I’ve seen quite a few terrible films in my day, and I would never call this a terrible movie. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s good or worth anyone’s time, either. It’s an old-school Westerner that has lots of action and humour. But the movie’s purpose is never crystal clear. It tries to be fun and serious all at once, and that muddles its themes of vengeance, justice and greed. It’s a comedy, a dull actioner, and and old-school Westerner all in one. Since it doesn’t seem that even the film-makers themselves know what type of movie they’re trying to make; it surely won’t be clear to the audience.

There aren’t many surprises in this plot. At all. It’s one of those stories that, if you nod off for ten minutes, you won’t miss a damned thing. All of the action scenes are Cowboys and Indians/Road Runner & Wile. E. Coyote styled. By the time the Lone Ranger shouts “Hi-yo, Silver!” I expected him to say “Meep-meep!” instead. This is an exhausting movie that never feels as if it’ll end. The finale could be a romping good time if it would have happened an hour earlier. But by the time the 90-minute mark comes by, it shouldn’t be called the “The Lone Ranger” any longer. “The Long and Boring Ranger” is a more appropriate title. (And that folks, is why I don’t have a future in coming up with movie titles.)

Johnny Depp delivers that same sort-of eccentric shtick he’s been handing out since his Jack Sparrow years. That isn’t saying it won’t be amusing. It’s quite hilarious and he gets some big laughs – and as much as they are wedged in, the laughs become welcome in this overly dull screenplay. The five big laughs that he produces isn’t worth two and a half hours of your valuable time, however. Depp’s performance is becoming less effective since he’s played Jack Sparrow four times, and Tonto once (but it feels like he’s just felt Sparrow five times). He breaks the fourth wall once or twice by recounting his tale to a small boy at a carnival he’s at. He’s in an Old-Western themed attraction, standing in a Native American cubby. Some carnivals like to use wax figures, but apparently others like to use real, ancient-looking Native Americans named Tonto to scare the shit out of kids.

The kid portrayed by Mason Cook (“Spy Kids 4”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”)  is annoying. I don’t know how this kid keeps getting work. I may be biased because I’m not a fan of anyone under the age of ten (except if they’re related to me, or really cute, or animated), but when a child delivers a stellar performance, I’ll praise the hell out of it. (Like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” or the little Pierce Gagnon in last year’s “Looper”.) But if the kid just stands there with a “Oh no mister, say it ain’t so” kinda look on his face, I’ll trash the hell outta it. He didn’t really have to be in the movie at all – and Disney could have saved a lot of money by taking a different route with the story, and not have to use the CGI-aging technology for Depp. (They could have used lots of make-up, though.)

Armie Hammer is nothing to praise. He doesn’t have enough oomph to either make an iconic character feel iconic again, nor does he have enough star power to co-carry a $215-million blockbuster. Depp helps a lot, but even he cannot make this dull screenplay come to life very well; no matter how hard he tries. James Badge Dale feels as if he’s the real star here – but he’s not in enough to make this worthwhile. William Fichtner portrays the shockingly forgettable Butch Cavendish. Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Root and Barry Pepper are ay-okay in supporting turns; and Ruth Wilson is mostly just eye candy.

Gore Verbinski needs to learn the definition of an editing room. I hate mediocre movies that dare run past the 120-minute mark. Quentin Tarantino is easily forgiven for not having stepped into an editing room since 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs”, because his movies are so, so entertaining. Speaking of filmmakers somewhat similar to Tarantino, I could have sworn Helena Bonham Carter stepped onto the wrong set. As soon as she shoots her one-shot pistol attached at the end of her ivory leg, that woman with the machine gun leg from Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” immediately comes to mind.

One last thing before this review comes to an end, here are just a few theories of where I think the hefty $215 million buckaroos went. All of the big names have to be paid; two trains get destroyed; and there’s an unnecessary usage of CGI-aging technology that could be avoided with rewrites. But I think this where most of the money went: The bird seed needed for the dead bird on Tonto’s head. Seriously, he feeds it and feeds it, and its appetite is never going to be satisfied because the bird’s pretty freaking dead. And do you know how else Disney could have saved a bunch of money? By just not making this mess of a film.

If this is good for anything it’s an eccentric and particularly hilarious turn from Mr. Depp, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen in the “Pirates” universe. There’s also a great score by Hans Zimmer. I’m struggling to think of anything better; and whenver I liked a character, they just got killed off. When this feature gallops on generic blockbuster territory, there’s no saving Reid and his fashionably-challenged pal, Tonto. This could be good fun for the casual movie-goer, but to me, it’s somewhat boring and torturous.

44/100

Box Office Predictions: ‘Despicable Me 2’ to crush ‘The Lone Ranger’

box office (1)Despicable Me is one of those universally loved movies. It’s charming, entertaining, heartfelt, and hilarious. Since Monsters University showed that families are willing to spend good amounts of money on animated flicks, Despicable Me 2 is in great condition. And, families might have held out on that – to wait for this. Movies similar to this open to $42.52 million. Despicable Me opened to $56.39 million. There is only three years between the original and this sequel, and that’s great in the animated realm – considering the movies take so long to make. (And there’s a Minions movie coming out December 2014! Woo-hoo! I love those little guys. It’s funny to think that they weren’t made into big henchmen because the studio didn’t have enough funding.) This is one of my most anticipated movies of the year – if not the most anticipated – so to say I’m excited would be an understatement. DM2 has scheduling to its advantage, because Monsters University came out 12 days ago, and that’s almost its only main competition. There’s also the PG-13 rated The Lone Ranger for family audiences and Western movies fans – but I’m not sure how many families will choose that over this. While I don’t think this will exactly manage $100 million in its first 5-day frame, I think it will get close to it; so I’m predicting a $98.3 million opening. 

The Lone Ranger

The other main film debuting this weekend is The Lone Ranger, a Western starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger; and it is from the creators and director of Pirates of the Caribbean. I think Johnny Depp will give a very similar performance to that of Cap’n Jack Sparrow – but it’ll still be entertaining, nonetheless. I don’t have many expectations for the movie – so hopefully it’ll surprise me. And hopefully it’s decent, too, because the last Pirates disappointed the hell outta me. Movies similar to this open to $43.27 million. I think the scheduling will really screw this up, though. I think this could be a decent money-maker, but the reported $250-million budget is a bit insane. And whoever thought Disney would ever earn that money back is very insane. It doesn’t seem to use a whole lot of CGI, so a good chunk of that must went to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski. Anyway, I’m predicting $51.7 million for its first five-day frame. I think it’s more than likely Disney will be crying about this one for awhile.

Here’s how I see the top 10
1. Despicable Me 2: $76, 300, 000 (5-day: $98.3 million)
2. The Lone Ranger: $35, 700, 000 (5-day: $51.7 million)
3. Monsters University: $24, 075, 000 (my review)
4. The Heat: $23, 600, 000 (my review)
5. World War Z: $15, 050, 000 (my review)
6. White House Down: $13, 475, 000
7. Man of Steel: $10, 625, 000 (my review)
8. This is the End: $5, 600, 000 (my review)
9. Now You See Me: $3, 950, 000 (my review)
10. Fast & Furious 6: $1, 850, 000 (my review)

Despicable Me 2

The Social Network (2010)

The Social NetworkReleased: October 1, 2010Director: David FincherStars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin TimberlakeRuntime: 120 min.

The Social Network tells the great true story the world’s youngest billionaire, the motivated Mark Zuckerberg. The film follows the young computer wiz’s climb to the top, going through past and present to when he apparently steals the idea for Facebook, and when he squeezes his best friend/co-founder out of the business. Often times, the computer talk and mathematical algorithms go right over my head, but the storytelling is very compelling. The brilliant writing by Aaron Sorkin is just one of the greatest things about the film. The music, the editing and the direction are also great. Jesse Eisenberg is great as Mark Zuckerberg, a fine movie star whose sarcastic humour brings Mark to life. He and Andrew Garfield do great jobs of expressing remorse, regret and pain. Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer also do great jobs.

Score: 100/100

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

Release Date: March 30, 2012

Director: Tarsem Singh

Stars: Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: One Bad Apple

An evil Queen (Julia Roberts) steals power of a kingdom and then hides the true fairest of them all, Snow White (Lily Collins), in the castle. That is until Snow is exiled and she must fight for her birthright with the help of seven resourceful dwarfs.

Out of so many remakes of a classic tale, this does not stand out.  This is simply inferior to a fairly good Snow White adaptation, Snow White and the Huntsman.

Mirror Mirror remains in my mind as a boring experience made better by the stunning Lily Collins. It’s easy to believe that she’s the fairest in all the land. Roberts isn’t, especially those eerie mirror or old hag versions of her. The dwarfs are rather unappealing, with one being that little Yoda-looking nerd from The Benchwarmers. Armie Hammer is just okay, but he’s a star I don’t thoroughly enjoy. Hopefully, my opinion of him changes with next year’s The Lone Ranger.

Anyway, back to the movie in the judgement chair. The only other good thing about this film is the fresh idea it brings to the table. It’s the first adaptation to have the Prince be romantically interested in both Snow White and the Queen. For a film that only has two redeeming qualities, this is still branded a waste of time and effort.

In a nutshell: Mirror Mirror may offer a nice action experience for the kiddies, but they’re the only ones who will enjoy this. Granted, it’s tailored for them, but it should be bearable for the parents who have to take the little tykes. For anyone of an older audience who has seen the original 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will realize this is no worthy substitution.

40/100