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

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Transcendence (2014)

TranscendenceReleased: April 18, 2014. Directed by: Wally Pfister. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany. Runtime: 119 min.

Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, Transcendence, uses the character of Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) to introduce an interesting concept. Transcendence is the idea of an artificial intelligence that would be smarter than any person to ever live, transcending the ability of the human mind. It starts out with an artificial intelligence called PINN, and eventually leads to Caster’s consciousness being uploaded to the motherboard after an attempted assassination by a radical luddite. He doesn’t die at the scene, but the bullet, laced with a poison that causes radiation in the bloodstream, slowly kills him. When A.I. Will wants to expand his network and gain more power, it becomes threatening to humanity.

I think artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject in the realm of cinema. Of course, I wouldn’t want it to happen in real-life – at least something to this extent, that could turn into a real-life, high-tech horror story. Artificial intelligence does seem like a distinct possibility. The film proposes an idea that technology should assist us, not control us. It’s a true fact that we knew prior to this film. Everyone’s seen enough technology-is-evil movies to know that this should never happen, or probably ever will. The film’s idea of transcendence is a cool way to live past your physical body. Of course, in order for you not to gain too much power – you should be limited to one or two computers, certainly not entire networks. Otherwise, you’re just being selfish. If computers do rise up I hope those power-hungry f!#ks make sure Paglen doesn’t write another movie because he is way too vague with his ideas; more on that later. (Or at least his next screenplay gets analyzed for logic.)

In this film, the created A.I. can advance medical technology, and make any water safe to drink. I’d personally drink from a pond first before something like the Ganges River before taking the computer’s word for it. The A.I. can make the other world a better place in other ways, too. Ways it explains this and how it might happen is highly illogical and doesn’t make much sense – that’s mostly for how it makes water safer to drink. Some ways it advances medical technology goes against God’s will, which is thought-provoking. Other things that Caster proceeds to do once he’s getting power is something that I won’t spoil – but I’ll say that it borders on silly.

Jack Paglen’s writing ability is lacking. He decides to merely lay a bunch of ideas up so viewers can personally decide where they stand on it all. The themes of the film are largely at their most basic stages of development, where Paglen offers ideas that he doesn’t flesh out. This is what prevents the film from being engaging or compelling. Instead, it’s a true bore that will make you have heavy eyelids early on. The only excitement that comes in this so-called sci-fi thriller come in the last twenty-five minutes, but by that time you simply won’t give a shit.

The characters and performances are forgettable, and they each feel like villains at some point. Depp portrays his anti-hero/villain with subtlety. It’s a good thing he looks like his normal self as the computer, and not the bald and sunken version. Hall’s Evelyn Caster is caught between her love and faith for her husband, and the human side. The film does have a cool premise where the human mind mashes with technology and turns out to be a story where they’re both monsters. It seems like it could be a different technology-is-evil film, but soon goes back into a humans vs. technology comfort zone. Paul Bettany portrays friend of the Casters, who sports the idea that the artificial intelligence really isn’t Will. Bettany on the human side is a funny contrast to him playing an actual technological invention, Jarvis in the Iron Man films.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy’s roles aren’t compelling. Murphy’s character is too generic to even pass the name test. He’s known as Agent Buchanan. There’s a creative choice with Freeman that’s strange. Freeman is in voice-over mode randomly because his character is reading a letter that he read to Evelyn, but not to Evelyn, to the audience. Even though he’s actually with Evelyn during the short scene. It saves time… I guess? But both Murphy and Freeman, who are usually phenomenal presences, are just kinda there – popping up for short periods throughout.

Against Caster’s wishes is a neo-Luddite terrorist group called RIFT, led by bleach-blonde Bree (Kate Mara). She’s not very intimidating as the antagonist to Will’s wishes, but she’s never really called to be. Mara’s pretty okay as the character. I think the hypocrisy of luddites (those against the advancement of technology) in this film is absolutely hilarious. When some are getting busted, one of them is using a laptop. They also set a bomb at one point — that requires all sorts of technology, especially the timer and the detonator. These guys really make don’t make much sense.

Transcendence feels too much like a love story at times, as it explores a woman’s need to have her husband around in computer form. Hall is convincing as Evelyn. The love story aspect might not be that appealing to those simply expecting a good, high-concept suspense drama. There’s little suspense in this however; perhaps because we’ve seen this sort-of film too many times, and Paglen’s story doesn’t allow Pfister to be good at tension building. Due to the film’s familiarity, this film is void of worthwhile surprises. The film’s stunning, at least. It has the scope and usual cast members of Christopher Nolan’s films, as Pfister is his usual cinematographer. Pfister’s film just lacks all the greatness of a Nolan film, mostly because of the story that packs no energetic punch. More of the blame for this disappointing film should be on the writer, in this situation. 

Score: 50/100

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises

Release Date: July 20, 2012

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: A fire will rise.

This one was quite impressive.

   Eight years after Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, a new terrorist leader has come to the surface in Gotham. There hasn’t been a spotting of Batman for eight years, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse around the same time. Wayne must overcome his own personal turmoil and once again protect the city that has branded him an enemy.

It’s a great summer blockbuster that offers many incredible thrills great plot execution, some great twists and turns, and great direction and writing from Christopher Nolan.

The character of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) wasn’t all that great. She offered a nice presence, but she wasn’t developed well enough as the other characters. The other new characters, like Bane or Officer John Blake or Miranda, are really good, and got solid character development. Although, other new characters like Daggett or Stryver, weren’t very interesting at all and weren’t extremely well-developed. The old characters are, as expected, as great as always.

The usual great Nolan atmosphere is offered, and it is one heck of a super-hero film. Its only possessive flaw is the sometimes slow build-up, and the plot feels a little too overused. Of course, what can you expect from a super-hero film? It will obviously have the whole hero vs. villain play-out, and this one has an extremely memorable climax. Its length may also feel like a flaw to some, but really and truly it doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. Also, some of the realism of the whole thing feels off in areas.

This was obviously highly anticipated, and it really does live up to its hype. The cast is stellar, and Tom Hardy delivers a great performance – considering all he must act with are his eyes, voice, and gestures. His British drone and sometimes barely-audible dialogue make his character cringe-worthy, but the majority of his dialogue was understandable – if you listen very well. The subtitles should be helpful to those who will watch it on home media.

Now, here come the inevitable comparisons to the first two films, and the villains before Bane. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t nearly as great as The Dark Knight, but it is much better than Batman Begins. The atmospheric action was greater in D.K., and it had more memorable scenes. Though, this was still amazing. In this Nolan trilogy, Bane is better than Ra’s Al Ghul (as Ken Watanabe), but not Cillian Murphy’s The Scarecrow, Two-Face or especially not The Joker. All Bane has really is a frightening stature, strength, and the whole mystery of why he’s wearing that freaking eerie inhaler thingy-ma-bobber. That isn’t very scary, right…? He’s probably not the best villain because he doesn’t use a whole lot of psychological warfare. Heath Ledger’s The Joker used that all-too-well, and he was downright terrifying with his extreme psychopathic nature. The Scarecrow was just really cool, and he obviously used psychology as a weapon as he poisoned his victims with that gas to make them hallucinate like crazy.

This flick stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, with Liam Neeson and Juno Temple.

The Dark Knight Rises is an extremely impressive piece of cinema that may be flawed, but still awesome. The length may threaten some, but it is an experience that should be had, and even people who don’t like super-heroes can enjoy this. It isn’t as great as The Dark Knight, as [it was] expected, but this is still quite must-see. This is a summer blockbuster at its finest which should snatch up an extremely respectable amount of awards.

90/100