Free Fire (2017)

Free Fire (2017)


Free Fire poster

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

TIFF 2013 Review: Canopy

canopy 5“Canopy” is a World War Two film set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942. The film follows an Australian fighter pilot who is shot out of his plane, and wakes up in the treetops, suspended by his parachute. He must set out on a perilous journey to find sanctuary in this foreign jungle. Thankfully, he eventually finds a companion, a Chinese soldier who is also lost. They must join forces to make it out of this jungle alive.

This is a type of movie that people would see for the art of it, and not the sheer entertainment. But by god, it deserves to be seen. It’s an effective experience, if a flawed one. Disappointingly, some may find their attention wandering during the feature. This is only in some scenes, so it usually does a good job of maintaining the viewer’s attention. The feature is led by a tiny cast. Seng, the Chinese soldier, is portrayed by Tzu-yi Mo. He assists with carrying the film, and he is fairly memorable.

canopy_04Khan Chittenden, whose character is an Australian fighter pilot named Jim, is called to carry the film the most. He does an admirable job. There’s power in his silent performance – he acts well with his eyes and actions. He leaves an impression with what he must do, because it is definitely more challenging to act with little dialogue. For much of the film, it is only him and his thoughts – and the thought of putting oneself into the shoes of this man, is terrifying. He is vulnerable in this unfamiliar jungle, and only keeps going because it is his survival instinct. His performance is realistic and believable.

Aaron Wilson is also a star of the film as director. He may be behind the camera, but he controls this set and he creates a well-written story. It must be challenging to write a story with little dialogue. I only remember there being about less than ten words in English, all near the end; and other words in a foreign language that we could not understand. I think the way he does it is effective. When a foreign language is spoken, there are no subtitles. Jim does not understand what these people are saying, so why should we? The experience is enhanced because of this. These two people who are trying to survive must get over the language barrier and communicate. canopy_03

I like the way Wilson goes about handling this story. I learn from the Q/A after the film that, through research, he found that soldiers don’t remember conversations, but all of the sounds in the unfamiliar land and the actions they made. That is why there is such little dialogue. I’d never thought of that experience would deem true for a soldier, but it seems like a true thought after one thinks about it. It’s an innovative way to go about a film like this. I haven’t seen anything like it before. The characters are simply characterized. They are both soldiers fighting for their lives. It is confirmed that Jim has a family back home, but for Seng, it can be assumed. This film’s characterization is far from conventional. This shows the strong influence war has on humanity, and the impact it will leave on a person. This is a nearly wordless experience, but hardly a silent film.

canopy_02There are constant sounds from off-stage. Gun shots, explosions, twigs snapping, people approaching, which causes a state of panic. The sound design, landscapes, imagery and cinematography are phenomenal. It’s some of the best so far this year, and the surroundings Stefan Duscio shows on-screen are gorgeous. Dialogue takes a back-seat to the focus of sound design. In one scene, Jim is walking around in the jungle (like he does for most of the 80 minutes), and we are looking down on the forest. Audiences might have to look for him for a few seconds before they find him making his way through the terrain. I imagine that is how Jim feels throughout, but it takes him much longer to find any sort-of destination, in this terrifying jungle. That is effective. The two central performances, direction, writing, sound design and cinematography and photography are the film’s best aspects.

CanopyMany will have re-adjust their expectations for this experience, because it is so different. Whoever might be expecting a thriller might be disappointed. It’s heavier on the natural drama than it is on thrills, but has a controlled level of suspense.

This is a technically impressive experience. Some might find themselves bored at times, but it’s usually quite engaging. This experience shows that a story could be effectively told through sounds. There is not many other films like this, and especially not WWII features. It is memorable because it is so different and unique. Both Aaron Wilson and Khan Chittenden have bright futures ahead of them. I learn from Wilson that he has a film that has dialogue is on the way, so I will anticipate that one. Much like the sounds of war that soldiers remember for awhile, this feature leaves a lasting impression, right up to the final shot. Definitely see it, because it isn’t time-consuming and it’s quite an experience.


TIFF13 Review: The Sacrament

sacrament_01Ti West sends his movie regulars into an isolated village called Eden Parish. Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) sister has been missing for six months, but out of the blue, he receives a mysterious letter from her (Amy Seimetz). It tells him to take an airplane to somewhere, where there will be a helicopter to bring him to the undisclosed location. He decides to bring a few colleagues along, who work for a  journalism company called Vice. Vice practices immersion journalism, a style in which the journalist immerses themselves in a situation and with the people involved, and the final product usually focuses on the experience, not the writer themself. AJ Bowen portrays the main journalist, Sam, while Joe Swanberg portrays Joe, the camera man for much of the film.

Once there, they are plunged into a situation straight out of a horror film, and real-life; as they find themselves fighting for their lives after the leader of the commune, known as Father (Gene Jones), instigates a mass suicide.

sacrament_02Father wants to protect his people from threats of capitalism and materialism, and all the other things of America that threaten their way of life. Father has a way of getting into the heads of those who are in his presence, even Sam during an interview, in one of the film’s best but bewildering moments. The interview is quick and hard to absorb completely, and I think that’s the point. It feels like The Father really does have a way of getting into peoples’ thoughts. It is easier for him to get into the thoughts of his people. He asks them to give up their worldly possessions to fund his vision. He goes around as a church and picks up people for his cause, where he makes them work and sleep deprives them and easily brainwashes most.

This is Ti West’s modernized way he sees how the events of the infamous events at Jonestown unfolded. Father is the stand-in for the infamous Jim Jones, who led one of the largest mass suicides in history back in 1978. This is an interesting subject for a feature film. It’s slow but it feels like an expert’s interpretation of something that fascinates many, and it features a great finale. The sheer meaning of Jonestown is hard to portray, because one can’t fully understand, but West sure portrays the facts of it well. He has a great understanding of suicide cults.

sacrament_03 (1)This isn’t pitched as a found-footage film, but as a documentary. These events are both terrifying and told with great realism. It is also all the more terrifying that it is so realistic, and that it has actually happened – and not just something from someone’s mind. It’s a solid premise. There is enough shock value to keep many, well, shocked. It has the intelligence of a documentary film, and the sheer suspense of a great horror film. It is often hard to watch as well, but it’s a great food-for-thought flick, and it leaves an impact on people’s memory. The ending is predictable, but some won’t be able to predict the insane way in which the events do happen. As someone who is fascinated by the events that unfolded at Jonestown, and as a lover of horror films, I can say this is a great ride, and an interesting look at the depths of religious fanaticism.


TIFF 2013 Review: All is By My Side

all is by my sideJohn Ridley’s “All is By My Side” takes a bio pic route less travelled by, depicting how Jimi Hendrix became the rock n’ roll icon he is, not a totally different part of someone’s life – like their legacy or death (like “The Last of Robin Hood,” a film also at the festival). That’s one thing that is easy to admire about the film.

Some might not know a lot about Jimi Hendrix going into this film. You’ll throughout that he does drugs, he’s all about love and happiness, and he’s seemingly pacifist in parts; yet he beats women, but immediately makes up with them. He seems to care about people, but he is influenced by others’ ideas and important events. He sees his music as an art-form, which I can appreciate. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his father, so perhaps that affects him. He has to deal with discrimination because of his skin colour. He is a layered subject for a biography, but a complicated one. Many might go in wanting to learn a lot about Jimi Hendrix, and while there is enough facts some may not know; they’ll forget them soon after the credits roll, and some (like myself) might walk out of the theatre the same way them came in: Little familiarity with a complicated Hendrix.

Now, many will learn generics about the man, but for a film that sets out to capture the spirit of Hendrix, it doesn’t do a good job. When a bio pic hardly leaves a lasting impression, it means the biography doesn’t execute its sole purpose well enough for complete enjoyment. It is interesting to see Hendrix’s road to fame, as that isn’t what most bio pics would do. It’s stylish, but the quick cuts are hard to appreciate. It feels as if director John Ridley wishes to start one scene before he finishes the one before. It makes it hard to focus on what’s happening on-screen. The way images overlap over people’s conversations will be admired by some, but it makes it feel like too much is happening on-screen; and it won’t enhance many people’s experiences. At one point, Hendrix and Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) are having a conversation, but another couple in the room are having a conversation – so it’s hard to focus on what’s being said in the more prominent Hendrix conversation. The editing is haphazardly done and will probably give people headaches. The editing feels like a practice in redundancy.

To make a film about a rock and roll icon told without much of his music is an interesting choice, and some musical performances offer entertainment. I rarely don’t enjoy biographies. This is the second one I haven’t liked, after “The Iron Lady.” It doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable to some. It’s just not as powerful as it could be. The character study of Jimi could be more clear and concise, and a stronger plot would assist the movie, as well. At least it’s unpredictable. The performance by Andre Benjamin captures the soul of Hendrix. He’s a good part of the film, but in my eyes, he’s rarely astounding. Benjamin is the only one to capture Jimi’s spirit fairly well.  The story misses.

The performance from Imogen Poots is a memorable aspect. She struggles to be a friend to Jimi, a task that is surely difficult. She is memorable because she is wowed by Jimi’s talent, and she discovers him. She brings some enjoyment to the film, but when she is off-screen, the movie ever-so-slightly suffers. So it suffers for most of the film, but I love the thought that someone can change one’s life in an instant like that. It’s especially important for aspiring rock n’ rollers like Jimi; being discovered heavily relies on luck, and of course, talent.

You might like this. I don’t know. There’s comic relief. The audience I saw it with laughed a lot. But a quarter of the time, I felt like I wasn’t in on the joke. That isn’t a good feeling during a feature film. I normally don’t like abrupt endings, but I liked when this one ended. This film just couldn’t absorb me in its boring atmosphere.


TIFF 2013 Review: Intruders

Intruders“Intruders” is a taut thriller from South Korea that is one of those movies that is much better if you see it without many spoilers. It takes that simple Cabin in the Woods horror premise, and writer/director Noh Young-Seok has a lot of fun with it. But not quite as much fun as Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” mind you. There’s an overlapping news commentary throughout that comments on a brewing war between the two Koreas, but I won’t go into it. (I think that’s what the news was about – all I remember it was political.)

This film has a lot of surprises. It might stay close to my heart because it was the first movie I ever saw that was part of a film festival programme. If I just saw it at the theatre, I still would have liked it. It’s immensely entertaining. It has plenty of scares and it’s an edge-of-one’s-seat experience. It’s great for that. It also has plenty of great laughs, if your sense of humour is dark. I like the type of Young-Seok’s type of humour.

Intruders 2His characters are simply characterized. There’s a funny comic relief character who is friendly and oddly insistent. There’s a timid writer who is the main protagonist that goes to an isolated lodge to finish a screenplay. When he begins to feel relatively terrorized by a duo of hunting locals, he jumps at the chance to rent a room out to a small group of skiiers. It went from one person at a cabin in the woods, to the traditional five. It always interests me to see American horror tropes have a cultural cross-over. This film makes it unique, as it blends solid thrills and black comedy. The way Young-Seok gets laughs is simple, yet so effective.

I’ll let you be surprised for the rest of the experience. I liked the characters. I laughed, I didn’t cry, and I almost jumped a few times. It’s a fun experience. I have a few nitpickings about the ending – but eh, what can you do? Young-Seok achieves what he sets out to do; he puts his small cast in a  blisteringly cold village, and everyone involved seems to be enjoying themselves. The tension-building is impressive. The finale drags a bit, making it feels like a movie that is over 100 minutes, rather than 99 minutes it actually is. Those are my minor complaints.

Intruders 3It was an interesting experience to watch the film with the director sitting in the audience. It was a great gesture that everyone was really kind to him and applauded his film. I don’t usually applaud after films at my local theatre, but the applaud was deserved. Well done, Young-Seok. It’s a fun film that’s rarely as obvious as it seems.