REVIEW: Free Fire

17 04 2017

SXSW Film Festival

Ben Wheatley is not the kind of director to slowly ease you into the milieu of the world he creates. He simply plunges you into the deep end with piranhas, primarily through the use of stylized and highly specific situational dialogue. “Free Fire” does not wait for you to catch up. The loquacious characters simply start spitting out Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump’s words at a mile-a-minute pace, as they naturally would. You either start running or get left in its dust.

The only time Wheatley slows down is not for our sake. It’s to commemorate the first bullet fired of what must be thousands over the course of the film. In suspended animation, we watch it travel and have a moment to consider its impact. Then the full playground game breaks out between two rival Boston gangs in an arms deal, and it becomes absolute pandemonium.

Wheatley uses the film’s singular warehouse location to its absolute fullest, utilizing it like an adult jungle gym occupied by men (and Brie Larson’s Justine) who showed up in what looks like costumes for a trashy ’70s party. Every move to advance around the space requires at least four bullets, and the gunfire eventually immobilizes every participant one limb at a time. Towards the end, Justine relies on a firearm to serve as a combined cane and replacement appendage. Yes, “Free Fire” is that kind of movie.

It’s also a film that leaves behind little but empty bullet cases. Enjoyable though it may be to watch these bumbling gangsters unleash load after load on each other to period tunes (executive producer Martin Scorsese must have lent his personal jukebox), those pleasures prove fleeting. “Free Fire” unyokes the hysteria of Wheatley’s last film, “High-Rise,” from any form of social commentary. This is a very different movie with no pretensions of intellectual depth, yet even adjusting for the difference, it still fires a few blanks. B /

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REVIEW: Sing Street

30 04 2016

As a grade schooler attempting art, you must first ape someone else’s style and form to find your own voice. Just look at the early writings I published as a 16 or 17-year-old here on this site; the reviews read like cookie-cutter English class essays crossed with the humanistic approach of Roger Ebert. While those might make me cringe a little, the same concept playing out in John Carney’s “Sing Street” just made me smile.

The latest film from the writer/director of “Begin Again” once again follows the frustrations and joys of musicians’ creative process. Admittedly, the characters in “Sing Street” make for less obnoxious subjects since they are so young and somewhat innocent. Young cherub-cheeked Conor (first-time performer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) forms a band as a survival mechanism at the Jesuit high school which he is forced to attend, shielding him from bullies both among his peers and in the administration. With little musical knowledge other than what he picks up secondhand from his burnout older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), the premise is ridiculous – and Carney treats it as such, packing the opening scenes full of humor.

The film ultimately evolves into something a little more “happy-sad,” as the band’s muse Raphina (Lucy Boynton) would say – just like adolescence itself. “Sing Street” shows the joys of experimentation, identity play and self-discovery through the rich aural and visual diversity of the 1980s music scene. What were sonic seedlings in Richard Linklater’s 1980-set “Everybody Wants Some” become a full garden in which the characters of “Sing Street” can frolic.

The original songs, inspired by seemingly every musical movement of maturity by 1985, pile on the charm. It’s too bad the script hits rather familiar coming-of-age and frustrated teenager notes. Even so, I left the theater singing the tunes and checking to see if the “Sing Street” album was available on Spotify. I’ll be jamming to these long after I forget the plot details. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Macbeth

13 12 2015

MacbethRoger Ebert once famously quipped, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” This maxim seems to apply doubly so to Justin Kurzel’s take on the Scottish Play, William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Scripters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso take five acts from the Bard and condense them to under two hours on screen. Though no film need overstay its welcome, these screenwriters seem a little too eager to abridge the rich source material. Part of the experience of “Macbeth” is being able to observe the gradual changes in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as the quest for power corrodes their souls. With fewer opportunities to see that conflict play out, it follows that their journeys feel a little less complete.

Having less Shakespearean verse tossed around plays to the strengths of Kurzel, a director whose films thrive on mood and ambiance. In both “Macbeth” and his debut, 2012’s “The Snowtown Murders,” collaborations with director of photography Adam Arkapaw have set brooding, haunting tones from expertly calibrated shots. Here, they focus on the landscape of the Scottish Highlands and how effortlessly it dwarves the characters who pass through it. At the very least, this helps differentiate his take on “Macbeth” from anything one could see on the stage, shrinking actors to mere cogs in the cosmos.

Unfortunately, he never quite finds a cinematic language that makes Shakespeare’s soliloquies feel as natural as the countryside vistas. Try as he might, Kurzel still remains at a bit of a loss as to how to present long stretches of uninterrupted dialogue, a convention audiences have decided to accept when framed inside a proscenium arch. The challenge has escaped many filmmakers, so he’s in good company. Fortunately, Kurzel has two incredible actors in Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard to deliver the dialogue and distract from any staginess.

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