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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12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100

Little Nicky (2000)

Little NickyReleased: November 10, 2000. Directed by: Steven Brill. Starring: Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans. Runtime: 90 min.

I’m not sure why I give Dennis Dugan a hard time as a director. It isn’t that he’s a poor director; it’s just that the movies he directs are usually brought down its poor writing. But Steven Brill is probably the worst director out of Adam Sandler’s crew.

Little Nicky’s (Adam Sandler) two evil brothers Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) have just escaped from Hell and are wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting earth. His dad (Harvey Keitel) is disintegrating and it’s up to Nicky to save him and all of a humanity by midnight before one of his brothers becomes the new Satan.

“Little Nicky” is sort-of a guilty pleasure. Yeah, the premise is far-fetched, but it’s a fun movie. It’s not the worst movie out there, but I know it certainly isn’t the best. One main flaw about the movie is the soundtrack. It just feels like it was made the night before development started, from Rock N’ Roll’s greatest hits.

The main character, Nicky, isn’t exactly the greatest guy out there. He’s the son of Satan. He’s oddly likable, if one could get past his facial oddities. Patricia Arquette a great actress who makes for one of Sandler’s finest on-screen counterparts. In any other Sandler movie, she would not work. But Valerie’s, Arquette’s character, oddities really match the odd personality Nicky possesses. Arquette is sweet and softly-spoken, so she brings Valerie to life well.

The movie’s hilarious at times but the sentimentality doesn’t ring true, really; and the writers attempt to force the sweetness too much. I like the fish-out-of-water humour, and some of the cameos are hysterical. Dana Carvey as a referee, Whitey, who was actually a character in “Eight Crazy Nights,” portrayed by Sandler. Peter Dante and Jonathan Loughran are funny as people who hail Satan.

Quentin Tarantino is awesome as a Deacon who one would see on the streets, the cuckoo guy preaching God’s word. Reese Witherspoon shows up for a bit as a sexy angel. A character from one of Sandler’s classics makes a cameo. And Jon Lovitz shows up as a pervert peering in on a sexy mother, and get sent to hell for it. Whenever he shows up, Kool & The Gang’s Ladies Night sounds, and it’s a great touch.

You’ll only find this movie funny if you enjoy Sandlers’ shtick. He talks in a funny speech impediment throughout. It will get laughs from his fans. His character is distinctive because of the speech impediment. The movie lets us know that Nicky got his speech impediment by being hit in the face by a shovel by his brother Cassius. (Speaking of Nicky’s brothers, Rhys Ifans puts in an amusing turn as Adrian.) Why doesn’t anyone just hit him with a shovel early on again? Maybe it’s like amnesia? Reverse effect, guys…

The movie is completely stupid, but it knows it. So that’s good. That’s funny. But it would be better if it just feels like “Little Nicky,” not “Popeye’s Chicken presents: Little Nicky.” The comedy also gets extra points for shoving pineapples up Hitler’s ass. Thanks for the laughs, Satan.

Score63/100

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

Django Unchained (2012)

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance

Quentin Tarantino has brought us many great films like Pulp Fiction, the two Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, and now, he has given us the extraordinary Django Unchained, his best and longest feature yet. The spaghetti western inspired Django Unchained follows the titular character, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave-turned-bounty hunter who gets purchased by a former dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). King purchases Django with the intent of Django assisting him with finding the Brittle brothers, a trio who each have high prices on their heads. Schultz soon mentors Django and he makes him his deputy, and after a winter of killing criminals and collecting pay, King feels responsible for the young Django; so he wants to help him find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This leads the two to Candyland, a plantation ran by the most ruthless slave/plantation owner in all of Mississippi, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino is a man who strives on creativity, and the creativity is ever-so-evident here. It is stunningly brilliant and creative. It is one of the most original screenplays of 2012, in fact. The writing is immaculate, with flairs of dark comedy throughout the feature. Like a kid in a candy store who can’t help but ask for a chocolate bar, Tarantino just can’t itch that need to entertain his audience. Even during the most serious of situations, he writes in the humor with his great talent. This shouldn’t really be classified as a comedy because the laughs are far between, but when the funny material is there, it makes this one hilarious experience. He is one of the greatest working writers in cinema, and I would love to know what lucky pen he uses.

His usual direction is there, too, and those aspects aren’t the only great things. The characters, the performances and the soundtrack are the other real highlights. Oh, and the topics that are explored are very well done.

There’s not a lot to say about the soundtrack, except the theme song is amazing and the music fits perfectly for this story.

The concepts of slavery and racism back in this time are never dropped. They play running themes in the film, and they are quite fascinating, really. Mostly everyone treated the blacks like scum back in the late 1850s and 1860s. Now, when I say mostly everyone, I mean everyone but Schultz. He is originally from Germany, and he often thinks how unfairly these black people get treated as often baffling. He is also against slavery, as he states when he explains to Django of what he wants from him. When Django is riding one of Schultz’ horses, he doesn’t understand why everyone is staring at them. He is the face of those who are more tender to the black people, even for a bounty hunter. This person seemed to be very rare, indeed, back in the 1860s.

I knew black people got treated unfairly back in this time (and around the time of the 1960s, as well), but never this unfairly, to a point of even fighting to the death. They are traded and sold like it’s an everyday occurrence, which, back then, it was. Well, thanks Tarantino, for giving me an idea of what people did to the slaves. I know it may not be completely accurate since, let’s not forget, Tarantino is a very creative and imaginative man.

Schultz treats Django like an equal, and brings him his freedom, two things Django had never received from a white man before. This causes their relationship to appear quite unique in this time, and it is a great thing. To us, the audience, it feels natural – even though it does not seem this way to anyone else. Everyone assumes that Django is yet another slave, but people are often shocked when they learn he is actually a free man. They just think he’s yet another black man. While I am on the topic, racial slurs are used excessively, but it is merely to show how people actually treated them back then.

Racism is explored, but it is actually explored more subtly than slavery. Slavery is explored relentlessly and sort-of ruthlessly, but not in a bad way. The amount of ruthless material is exactly what you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino. Slave owners and others are completely brutal to the slaves – they whip, place them in hot boxes, and often make them fight to the death, among other immoral and ruthless acts. Keep in mind, to most white folk, these acts were not immoral at this point in history. These two themes of racism of slavery are explored expertly.

The first half of the film is very, very entertaining because we get to watch the two bounty hunters (Django, Schultz) kill and have a few yuks while doing it. These themes of racism and slavery are very much there near the beginning, but these two concepts become more ruthless when Monsier Calvin Candie makes his first appearance. He first shows up while watching two of his “Mandingo fighters” fight to his death, which first gives you a glimpse at his sadistic personality. This man is completely chilling and ruthless, but is nonetheless fascinating and often funny, and he is a villain you’ll love to hate. He just about steals every scene he is in, and Leonardo DiCaprio is in a role that should finally win him that Oscar. He is the best villain of the year. He is better than Javier Bardem as Silva in Skyfall, and I did not believe anyone could out-perform that man, and he did it. And he did it well.

Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly the best performer of the bunch in this film, and he steals just about each scene he’s in. Christoph Waltz is also a great supporting actor, and the character change is interesting: a Nazi (in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s last film) to a bounty hunter in this film. Jamie Foxx isn’t worthy of many awards in a year of so many great leads, but he’s a great performer altogether. He captures the emotions of intensity of all kinds. Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson (as Stephen) are also fine.

In a nutshell: Django Unchained is Tarantino’s finest film yet, and it’s truly an exhilarating experience.  It’s a great story about survival and it has great themes of racism and slavery, that Tarantino explores expertly. The performances, the writing, the soundtrack the direction and the themes are all immaculate. Sorry, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this takes over as my favourite of the year.

100/100

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Seven Psychopaths

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Runtime: 110 min

Tagline: They won’t take any Shih Tzu

Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling writer trying to write up a screenplay entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’. He doesn’t really know how to start it out, and is struggling to find inspiration. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) tries to offer him some inspiration, despite constantly accusing him of being an alcoholic. Marty soon becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld, much to his dislike, after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) prized Shih Tzu.

The screenplay is smart and fun.

The plot is great and the film is just a fun experience. The pacing can feel a little off, and the plot can get quite ridiculous, but that’s what makes it fun.

If there’s any message I would have taken from this is that McDonagh makes great and original films, and his humour can sometimes be similar to that of Quentin Tarantino. The film is fun and can get a little crazy, but who could have thought up a plot so ridiculous? There is a lot of humour found in the most intense of situations, and I love that.

One of the funniest things about this film is all this carnage was started over a little Shih Tzu. Nope, not a wife, not a bunch of stolen cocaine, not the kidnapping of a best friend (even though a dog can be a man’s best friend) or anything like that – but a freaking Shih Tzu dog named Bonnie.

I love the characters. Even Harrelson, who is the main antagonist, is a great character. Who thought psychopaths can absolutely be this lovable and hysterical? My favourite character would be a hard answer to give. The female psychopaths (played by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko) would be out first, because they hardly have a lot of lines of dialogue at all. Tom Waits’ character of Zachariah is hysterical. Of the main protagonists, Billy (Sam Rockwell) would be the funniest, and then Hans (Christopher Walken). Generally, Charlie (Woody Harrelson) is my favourite, because he is just hysterical. Each character is well-developed.

For those of you who may have seen McDonagh’s In Bruges, will be familiar with his certain sense of humour, and you may also know that his films have the tendency to get extremely gruesome. There is gore left right and centre in this film, but for anybody who likes that sort of stuff – will be probably love this.

The film offers a laugh at least every two minutes, and its spikes of crime and violence are great. Some of the time there are flashbacks and stuff which are good, and there are also movie-within-a-movie subplots which are effective. The moods set for this film is great, and all the subplots and general plot are extremely clever.

Seven Psychopaths stars Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish and Zeljko Ivanek.

Seven Psychopaths is a clever screenplay that can have some poor pacing, and offers a fairly simple, ridiculous, yet clever plot; but, it is another winner from writer/directer Martin McDonagh. It can be equal parts brutal, clever and hysterical. It is most of all extremely memorable, has great characters and a very good cast. Each cast member portrays their characters well. This is yet another 2012 film (I’m talking about Ted or 21 Jump Street, not Project X) that proves that this is a year to beat for comedies. and this may just have to get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

80/100