Starring: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Running Time: 90 minutes
Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars
Guns, swearing and an ensemble cast. Sometimes that’s all you need. At least that might have been the idea behind “Free Fire,” a 90-minute dark comedy meant to entertain and amuse those sick enough to sift through its violence to unearth the humor and enjoy the over-the-top gunplay. “Free Fire” is heavy on style and short enough to justify the full-fledged warehouse shootout, but its lack of storytelling substance and handful of one-dimensional characters risks shooting it down entirely.
Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are representatives with IRA, in Boston to purchase weapons from gun runner, Vernon (Copley). Mediating for the gun runner is Ord (Hammer) and Justine (Larson) for the IRA. Each side has their own underlings to schlep the merchandise around and nothing seemingly goes right during the late night meet-up. Things come to a head when underlings from both sides know one another and before you know it, the bullets start flying.
There are enough off-the-cuff remarks to understand that a few people in the overall group are a part of an underlying double cross, even before things go South. However, there’s just not enough information to fully understand the backstabbing that was about to take place before all Hell broke loose. The secondary plot at work seems inconsequential when everyone’s ready to kill each other off until the bitter end. It’s a story full of bullet holes, but I doubt “Free Fire” was concerned about that.
The movie is written and directed by Bill Wheatley, who certainly has a unique and perceptive style. “Free Fire” is so tightly filmed; it truly feels like a never ending gun battle without a dull moment in sight, unless of course you loathe brainless violence. Wheatley’s no stranger to content that will certain hook some while completely turning off others. “High-Rise” is a movie that’s intentionally repugnant, rewarding those that dig through the putrid humanity for the meaning and infuriating for those that prefer a much cleaner, deeper message.
“Free Fire” doesn’t serve a purpose other than to entertain and pay homage to late-night action movies of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s certainly a movie that Quentin Tarantino would have watched at the video store he was employed at if “Free Fire” had come out about four decades ago. Of course that would have influenced Tarantino to make a better movie. I would have preferred a story to “Free Fire” and much meatier characters so that their sass had more of a bite and their deaths were more consequential.
If “Free Fire” fails at the box office, it’ll surely become a cult classic, but if it succeeds, it’ll be shuffled to the side as a retro tribute to bygone action films. Regardless, “Free Fire” is crass escapism with some of the best filmed gunplay in recent memory. If you’re hoping for a little oomph to the plot and characters, outside of witty one-liners, you’ll be disappointed. If I could make a recommendation with what should accompany this movie, it would be alcoholic beverages and friends who bring out the immaturity in you.
One of the fun things to discuss, debate, argue, or silently complain about on social media is Oscar snubs. Luckily this year, the ship has been righted and I think we can put the #Oscarssowhite controversy to rest because of how diverse the nominees were this year. Although to be fair, the Academy set the bar pretty low the past two years in terms of cultural variety. But there’s one thing the Academy can never escape and that’s snubs. While I certainly don’t believe some of my snubs ever had a chance, they are deserving of some gold.
Best Picture Snub Swiss Army Man
I knew this was a longshot. I know the Academy isn’t about to publicly acknowledge a farting boner corpse movie. But a little part of me had hoped that its indie cred, combined with its existential storytelling, would have made it a respectable dark horse in a field of 10. It’s unique, fascinating, moving, well-acted and wonderfully shot. Its only flaw is that it’s too off putting for general audiences and slightly juvenile for the snobby voters in Hollywood. I swear this is the last time you’ll hear or see me cheerleading for this movie.
Honorably Snubbed as Well:20th Century Women
Best Director Snub
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Eggers immersed himself in 1630’s New England to deliver a historically accurate portrayal of terror in the unknown wilderness of early America. Everything from the film’s dialogue to the farmstead were meticulously groomed and crafted by the director. He managed to wrangle four (including one teenager) child actors, keeping them from being annoying, as they traditionally are in horror movies. This production designer turned director crafted an atmospheric horror masterpiece. Eggers is one to watch out for.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Swiss Army Man
Best Actor Snub
Tom Hanks, Sully
Let’s clear up this presumed notion I’ve seen on social media. Tom Hanks doesn’t get nominated every year. He hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 2001 and hasn’t won a golden statute since 1995. I’m not asking the Academy to throw him a bone, he doesn’t need one. But don’t overlook the fact that “Sully” is a sub par movie-going experience without Hanks’ hefty talents in the pilot seat. Hanks’ navigates Clint Eastwood’s so-so work into a memorable tale of average Joe heroism and the bureaucratic blame game.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals
Best Actress Snub
Sasha Lane, American Honey
I wouldn’t blame you for not watching “American Honey.” Three hours of wanderlust is too much for the average audience. But first time actress, Sasha Lane, is a treasure to watch. She was up for every challenge of portraying an impoverished young adult. Lane portrays an innocent, if not naive, teenager looking for her purpose and a slice of the American dream. Her character, without speaking usually, represents youthful aspirations and good intentions, despite the thieving people around her. Lane keeps the flame of hope in her character lit throughout the movie, making her character one to root for her and admire.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Amy Adams, Arrival
Best Supporting Actor Snub
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
The story within a story is the strongest part about “Nocturnal Animals,” mainly due to its wonderful performances. Leading the way is Jake Gyllenhaal, but his emotionally distressed character would be nothing without the terrifying Texas psychopath played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. While visually disgusting, Taylor-Johnson’s grimy character radiates off the screen. He’s calculating, but relaxed. He’s vicious, but calm. The dynamic extremes of his character are balanced by Taylor-Johnson who’s “ablicious” and repugnant.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Best Supporting Actress Snub
Haley Bennett, Girl on the Train
I know. I know. This is a bad movie. But the Academy has not been above nominating a bad movie or rewarding the components of a bad movie. Let’s not forget that “50 Shades of Grey” is an Oscar nominated movie with five Razzie wins under its belt. While Emily Blunt should certainly be commended for her performance, it’s Haley Bennett’s performance as the tragically flawed suburban floozy that becomes the center of the movie’s suffering. Her character lives life emotionally empty, only to be killed when finding new life. In the rear view mirror of 2016, Bennett’s performance is brave and engaging, but trapped in a lifeless cliché movie.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Best Animated Feature Finding Dory
Is “Finding Dory” that average? I thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar movie and was surprised it didn’t, at the very least, get a nod. It’s not the best of the year, but it can certainly be mentioned in the same breath as the other candidates. I haven’t seen “The Red Turtle” or “My Life as a Zucchini” so I can’t comment on their quality since they certainly secured the final two spots. I’m sure they’re good. Maybe this is a sign that Pixar should just avoid sequels for a while. At least “Sausage Party” didn’t steal one of the nomination seats or else there’d be hell to pay.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: None. This was a year that saw Angry Birds, so we need to do better in 2017.
Best Original Screenplay Zootopia
It’s been mentioned before, and not just by me, that “Zootopia” benefited from coming out at the right time. The script, while being generously relatable to kids and adults alike, has a wonderful message about acceptance. A city populated with cute, furry animals taught everyone that sexism, racism, classism and xenophobia are still very real and can divide us in a heartbeat. Disney could have easily settled for a buddy cop movies with animals, but instead allowed the script to naturally evolve and survive the rewriting process. Despite nine credited writers, “Zootopia” never became diluted or a jumbled mess. Instead it ran smoothly with a clear message of tolerance.
Honorably Snubbed as Well:The Invitation
Best Adapted Screenplay Silence
Martin Scorsese’s decades long passion project is based on a work of historical fiction. While having never read the novel myself, the folks who have read the book have left nothing, but glowing reviews of it online. If the purpose of the 20th century novel is to make us reflect and question spirituality and our religious beliefs as a whole, Scorsese captured that wonderfully in a movie that, while drawn out, is beautifully retold on the silver screen. Scorsese painted a beautiful picture just like the book certainly transported readers back to post-Feudal Japan.
Honorably Snubbed as Well:High-Rise
Cliff Martinez, Neon Demon
While I’m not completely sold on “Neon Demon” being a good movie, I found myself listening to the soundtrack of “Neon Demon” multiple times. While adding another layer to the movie, the soundtrack on its own accord is a wonderful synth album inducing feelings of hope and despair. “Neon Demon” is a visual experience, complimented by a wonderful score that spurs dread and bouncy optimism, sometimes within a single song. “Neon Demon” is the only movie this year where the music feels like an unseen narrator for how we’re supposed to feel.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Johann Johannson, Arrival
Best Music, Original Song
Drive it Like You Stole It, Sing Street
The coming-of-age love letter to the 80’s, “Sing Street,” should have been more popular. Not only did the Clash, A-Ha, and the Cure get some much deserved love on the screen, but the movie featured some dynamic original music. Most of the original content, like “Riddle of the Model,” was short nods to music by Duran Duran or other iconic bands. However, the movie reaches its crescendo with its most poppy rock hit, “Drive It Like You Stole It.” The song is a big metaphor for the final act and growing up in general. Just listen to it and tell me that’s not the best original song of the year.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: Montage, Swiss Army Man
Best Foreign Language Elle
I’m finding it difficult, once again, to put into words why I like this movie so much. Just read my review.
Honorably Snubbed as Well: I’m not sure. I should be more cultured.
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Running Time: 119 minutes
Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
Late in the chaos that engulfs Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) welcomes a woman into his paint splattered flat exclaiming “I think I finally found the right tone!” Against all odds, he may as well be describing the film itself. An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel that was long thought unfilmable (producer Jeremy Thomas tried 30 years ago), Wheatley and Co. have managed to create a wonderfully anarchic microcosm of a society breaking down as it builds upwards. If the social commentary–the hazards of worshiping material wealth, the “1%” literally living it up on the top floors–is simplistic, Wheatley’s production team offers it up in the most absurdly beautiful ways. From the brutalist production design to a stunning score by Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream), High-Rise is a darkly humorous, sexy, and oftentimes grotesque cinematic experience.
The film opens with a bearded, bedraggled Laing foraging for supplies in the corpse-strewn detritus of his high-rise apartment building. “For all its inconveniences,” a civilized sounding Hiddleston narrates, “Laing was satisfied with life in the high-rise.” Laing then rotisserie roasts a dog for supper. As one does. From here we go back to simpler times three months ago, when Laing was just moving into the shiny new development. At floor 25 out of 40, the good doctor quickly learns the strict class divide of the upper and lower residents between which he sits–or, nude sunbathes actually–nearly smack in the middle. Laing is welcomed into the upper echelons by Charlotte Melville (Miller) as she dallies with lower-leveled married man Richard Wilder (Evans). Laing’s even invited to the penthouse occupied by mysterious architect Royal (Jeremy Irons, regal in all white). Royal views what he has wrought, one tower in a series of five, as a “crucible for change” while brain surgeon Laing pleases Royal when he describes it more as a “diagram of an unconscious psychic event.” Royal is so impressed with Laing he attempts to invite him to a decadent fancy dress party thrown by his wife. Laing is roundly rejected by Royal’s peers and experiences the first of many power outages from within an elevator he’s been unceremoniously shoved into. The honeymoon is over.
These early sequences of life in the High-Rise had me enthralled. Laing’s exploration of the tower is paired perfectly with Clint Mansell’s driving orchestra music, which manages to capture the entrepreneurial spirit of the shiny all inclusive tower while suggesting the underlying tensions of the residents pulsing through the structure. One tiny inconvenience is enough to upset this flow and set everyone off into rage. To top it off, everyone is impeccably tailored. Meanwhile, from his place in the middle, Laing is able to interact with all levels of residents who can’t seem to grasp which ‘slot’ he is meant to fill.
Hiddleston’s Laing is a hard one to pin down and makes for a fascinating entry into the film’s madness. He initially tells Charlotte he doesn’t think he can change (he’s speaking of getting into a swimsuit but the line, like so many in Amy Jump’s script, is delivered with more weight than that) and for a while that’s true. Laing seems a neutral character, claiming he desires a blank slate in the wake of his sister’s death. When confronted with quarreling residents, he seeks to pacify the tensions between lower floor residents, the maintenance man and the architect who has accepted him. But the longer he’s in the building the more Laing’s crueler tendencies come to light. Mouthing off at a child, casually implying a deathly prognosis to a social rival–Laing’s mean streak is comparatively subtle in the shadow of Evans’s aptly named Wilder but Hiddleston is quietly menacing throughout. And his desperate need to keep his dress shirt and tie on is a nice touch.
As the tower devolves into darkness, murder and crammed garbage shoots, your enjoyment of the latter half of the film may depend upon whether you buy into the notion that the residents do not run screaming to the authorities. After all there is an outside world to this tower, this isn’t Snowpiercer. However Wheatley crams enough absurdist humor into these late stages that I, like the looney residents drolly contemplating lobotomizing their rivals, surrendered to a logic more powerful than reason. Or just damn stylish film making.
This film received its New York premiere at last week’s Tribeca Film Fest and is available to rent now onDemand, Amazon and iTunes–though for the best experience, hold out for its theatrical release May 13th!