Darke Reviews | Free Fire (2017)

Haven’t heard of this one? Yeah few have. It’s kinda an under the radar indie flick from production studio A24. I came across the trailer on YouTube one day a few months and thought “Hey this looks kinda fun and like a Guy Ritchie movie!” I like Cillian (pronounced Kill-ee-an if you didn’t know)  Murphy quite a bit. Brie Larson is largely unknown to me, but she’s going to be playing Captain Marvel so I was curious about her, and Sharlto Copely is usually memorable in whatever he does.

Just to see if you are interested – here you go. This is NSFW (language mostly) –

 

So I was promised something, but did the deal go south?

The movie, if you couldn’t tell by the trailer is a love letter to 70’s action. Not just content to set it in the 70’s but also feel like how an action film would be back then. The action is tight. It is contained. The entirety of the movie takes place in a single building; which does take some incredible precision and vision as a director. At the helm for this then is Ben Wheatley, who also directed last years critically acclaimed film High-Rise. I had the opportunity to watch that one and never could bring myself to review it as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it by the end. Still couldn’t tell you. I know it was expertly directed and well acted but my brain was confused about it. Not so much on the confusion here. Wheatley clearly has vision as a director and knows how to get the best performances out of his cast and the camera.

I could talk about the script and story by Wheatley and Amy Jump (screenplay and editing on High-Rise). It’s straight forward – gun deal goes south. The trick is to maintain a healthy level of tension, realism, and character goals. The movie verges into the absurdist without ever crossing that line as much as say Hot Fuzz does, but still has the humor from the characters themselves being just bloody odd. My only gripe and it’s a single throw away line, but that makes it bother me a touch more – just because you can use a word or words because they were period appropriate doesn’t mean you have to. It’s a single line but it was jarring in the moment for me and wasn’t needed as it never came up again. Unlike say Tarantino who still feels like a kid able to use all the bad words simply because he can.

The actors are good. Murphy, Larson, Copley are just fine. The one that steals the show though is Armie Hammer as Ord. I was wondering about him after The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but he really is charming when he has good direction. He absolutely stole every scene when he was the center and I loved him most of all. I have an idea about Larson now as well and can only say I am looking forward to her turn in the tights as Captain Marvel.

From a technical standpoint – it is shot really well with generally clean action and shots that help progress the story; then allow you a few moments to breathe before the next action piece. Unlike many films today, an intentional move by the director, gunshots hurt. A lot. The actors carry that through the movie and it works for and against the movie. It wears old at the 60 minute mark as the injuries have taken their toll and it becomes very quickly more of the same.

TL;DR?

I think the deal went east on me. I can tell the actors had fun. I can tell the director succeeded at his vision. I can tell it is well shot and hit the vibe it wanted to. I also think the trailer  lied to me. It’s funny – not THAT funny. It’s got action – not THAT much action. It also has some pacing issues as the conceit draws a little long. The characters, even the unlikeable ones are memorable and charismatic so that’s a win over a lot of other films and another tip of the hat to the director.  I mean it is a film about arms dealers – how nice could they all be?

One other huge credit on this film worth mentioning in the positive column – It is ORIGINAL. It is different. That should be celebrated!

Should you watch it?

If you can handle a subdued slow burn 70’s style action? Sure. Otherwise nah. It’s everything I expect to come out of this production house so any real disappointment is on me.

Will you buy it?

Probably?

How is the action?

It is not action like we are used to. I appreciate that.

What next?

I am really really hoping we get Sleight locally. Check this trailer out –

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Darke Reviews | The Lost City of Z (2017)

That’s pronounced Zed within the movie as it is incredibly British. Amongst my interests as a little girl was exploration. The discovery of lost civilizations and new uncharted areas, I can’t say I am still not fascinated every time something forgotten is found within the jungles of Central and South America or within Africa. Granted – when I was a little girl no one talked about the problematic elements of the age of empires and exploration. The treatement of the native peoples, the imperialism, colonialism, etc etc. The entire period of time and how things were handled is not quite covered by the word problematic. We know this now. It needs to be acknowledged.

On the other hand the legends, stories, and what they do to a young girls imagination? I have talked about reading the Tarzan stories and my love for Indiana Jones is well known to those who pay attention. So the idea of a movie based on the discovery of a lost city hidden deep inside the borders of the Amazon? Sign me up.

Should you sign up however?

First the facts. There was a man named Percy Fawcett. He did try to find a Lost City of Z in the early parts of the 20th century. In the early part of the 21st century David Grann wrote an exacerbated dramatic book based on Fawcett and his explorations. This movie is based on the book more accurately than it is the actual man based on some quick (re: Wikipedia) digging. Director James Gray adapted the book for the screen in a dual credit. Gray’s most known work as a director is the Joaquin Phoenix film We Own the Night – which he also wrote. I believe after watching this he needs to stick to crime thrillers.

There’s no narrative. No point. No characters. There are actors playing parts, but without any real clear motivations or discernible traits. The book cover says it is a tale of dangerous obsession – but that is never realized. While Fawcett as a character is focused on the discovery once we cross the half way point of the movie – yes it takes that long – nothing about it screams dangerous. Obsessed? Maybe. Dangerously so? No. There is never a true sense of danger or tension revealed through the over two hour running time. There is no risk and thus no reward for the viewer. Even if there was a risk the editing does the film no favors in letting you really learn who the characters are and watching them grow or regress during the progression of the story. Everyone is bland. Everything is bland.There’s an attempt by Gray, I think, to try to be “Woke” and have the Fawcett try to talk about how noble and wronged the Natives are by the white man. It doesn’t work.

Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) is absolutely serviceable as Fawcett and pulls off the proper Englishman just fine but perhaps too well as he is totally without charm or memorable in any particular way. Robert Pattinson (Twilight, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and his epic beard actually somehow standout despite being a secondary character with maybe 30 lines and that’s being generous. Sienna Miller (Stardust, High-Rise) tries to elevate her character and at least stands out in my memory but can only do so much before direction and the script hobble her. Our new Spider Man Tom Holland is wasted as Fawcett’s son Jack; yet it can be say he acted as well as he could. All of the actors acted. They did their job. I can tell they tried to do more, but bad directing and bad editing hamper them.

The pacing and tone of the movie from a technical aspect are all over the place and hold the film back from being more. It’s shot well enough, aside from some bad CGI waterfall moments, with clean bright colours in the jungle and cooler colours in England. I would give them a cookie if in any way that was original. It’s not as terribly noticeable as it was in Tarzan but there is some colour correction occurring and light choices that dull the English scenes. Did I mention the editing? Disappearing, reappearing characters? Missing establishing shots.

A scene in the movie:

“The canoe won’t work we’ll need the raft.” and later “Take the horse…”

Whoah whoah whoah. What raft? What horse?! You did nothing to show these things even existed. All the shots were medium shots without a good wide to establish the full scene. It happens so many times I wish I had counted.

TL;DR?

The Lost City of Z needed to stay lost – or maybe was lost in production? The acting is the best they could do with a subpar script, horrible direction, and worse editing. The motivations are as lost as the city itself and the movie neither conveys a sense of wonder or desire to explore from me. My imagination did about six different things that the movie failed to do.

If any credit must be given beyond the actors, it is to Amazon Studios. It is absolutely clear that the costs were not cut to make the movie on the cheap. There is absolutely real production value here and I only wish the story or anything else about the movie had been more compelling.

It wants to be more and the director clearly thinks its more than it is. He just forgot to make the characters or story likable or in leiu of that interesting. Every time I think it’s going to do something stimulating…it fails.

So…I shouldn’t see it?

I can’t even recommend it as a rental. HBO maybe?

Is it really that bad?

No. It’s finely made and with care. It is very well made and I can see where the money went – just everything after isn’t that good.

But Rotten Tomatoes…

Yeah I broke one of my rules and read some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as I got to this part. I disagree with the critics pretty hard on this one.

Anything else?

Tonight was a double feature for me. Free Fire is next.

Darke Reviews | Fate of the Furious (2017)

I can do my usual lead in paragraph if you want? I mean I said it with my Furious 7 review – you’ve already made up your mind to watch this one or not. You are invested in the series or not. This series which started out at least somewhat serious in tone (it has a flippin drive by) has become the beer and pretzels franchise. It doesn’t claim to be more than that – it stopped trying to be more than that a very long time ago. So I suppose the real question is should you see yet another film in this franchise after you thought they had nothing more to tell? Should you see a Fast movie without Paul Walker? Should you get behind the wheel to go see this?

or more importantly – should they have? 

The 8th…yes…8th installment of the series is directed by F. Gary Gary who has in his career since 1995 given us Friday, Set it Off, The Negotiator, and recently Straight Outta Compton. He worked with Deisel in A Man Apart (2003); which has some of that mans best acting. He is reuniting with Theron and Statham from when he ddirected them both in The Italian Job (also 2003); which had some pretty decent car stunts as well. It seems he is a perfect choice for this film series – and you’d be right mostly. The problem is the series has fully devolved into its beer and pretzels and cannot decide what tonal quality it wants to go for.

Will I be a serious film with real intensity and some brutality – well when Vin Deisel is the main focus? Yes.

Will I be a 7 layers of cheese dip with all the corny lines to go with it – well when Vin isn’t on screeen? Yes

Will I be somewhere in the middle, even briefly, when the group as a whole is on screen with him? Of course.

Yes he directs them all fine. I honestly think these guys could do a movie without a director at this point. ….I might even pay to see that. Yes the action scenes are fun and new (more later); but the character pieces never linger long enough to care about the stakes beyond your initial investment in the characters, which likely has been dwindling alongside the franchises respect for the laws of physics.

I think I have to blame someone I praised previously though. Chris Morgan has been on the franchise since Tokyo Drift. I think he is chained in a cage somewhere with nothing but a word processor and a printer being forced to write these at this point.  It is entirely possible he is using one of these to come up with the concept, plot, and events of the movie:

Admit it – you’re now thinking you should try it!

 

Nothing in the movie lasts long enough to care. The motivations are as foggy as a San Francisco morning (with one exception). The dialogue is just lazy. They didn’t even bother with having the two cyber specialists try to talk Hacker at the camera. A few vague words, lots of typing without actually see them doing anything. I kind applaud them for that one. Overall though its phoned in to the nth degree.

And it doesn’t actually matter.

You are paying to watch the actors do things with cars (usually). So how are they? Let’s bullet it as there are a lot of them.

  • Vin Diesel looks stern, talks about family, is generally bad ass. I honestly don’t know how much different the actor and character are at this point.
  • Jason Statham has some of the most fun I have seen from him since Crank?
  • Dwayne Johnson mugs for the camera. He flexes for us who go that way. He chews scenery. We love him for it.
  • Michelle Rodriguez is underused.
  • Tyrese earns that paycheck (credit CinemaSins) and mostly tries to be funny and fails – which I think is the joke. Humor and I don’t speak to each other often.
  • Charlize Theron is actually pretty solid when she wants to do a villain in a film like this. Nicely done.
  • Kurt Russell in this mode needs to be in all the things. There is a real possibility he ad libbed every line and I am 100% ok with that.
  • Scott Eastwood shows unlike in Suicide Squad he does have a personality.

Ok – so thats that.

How are the stunts and effects you ask? 

This gif is my answer.

Shark Jumping Duh

If you know this image – you are old. You also very clearly get the message.

 

Most of the stunts with the cars are fantastic. The others are  “fantastic”. When they go practical you will wince, when they go CG you will probably wince for other reasons. It’s pretty typical for this franchise, but they do take it to 11 this time. Its true the series jumped the shark long long ago – but now they have forgone any pretense.  What absolutely kills me is the shaky cam in the non-car fights. You have quick, powerful, or agile actors – we don’t need the camera looking like its sitting on the San Andreas during  an earthquake to add ‘dynamism’ to the fight. If you need that to add energy – rechoreograph the fight. Please. No more shaky cam especially when you have talent.

TL;DR?

It is absolutely fun. It is absolutely stakeless on an emotional level.  Yes it has stakes and a threat, but I couldn’t care less. In other movies I would probably rip them a new one for such behavior, but Fast and the Furious has earned its stripes and there is real effort and love in the movie.  In an era of unnecessary grit and hyper realistic action Fate of the Furious is a glass of cool lemonade on a hot summer day.

Should you see it?

I have no regrets. I doubt you will.

Would you see it again?

At home with a few beers, pizza, and friends? Yes

So you buying it?

No question about it. Yes.

The magic 8 ball is leaving me confused did you like it or not?

Yes, I liked it. It gave me everything I wanted it to be and didn’t disappoint on any of the facets I cared about for a Fast and Furious movie. This is the 8th movie in a franchise not based on anything but itself. That doesn’t happen in Hollywood anymore – maybe ever. I am happy to celebrate that.