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Free Fire – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Free Fire35

Usually the climax of an action film is the shootout, in Free Fire, the entire movie was the shootout!  In 1970s Boston, two sets of criminals arrange a gun deal, but one of the henchmen (Harry) recognizes one of the other henchmen (Stevo) from a bar fight the night before because the latter assaulted the former’s cousin.  Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) are the buyers and Ord (Armie Hammer), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor) are the sellers.  Just when things are almost settled between the two sides someone pulls a gun and shoots someone.  Though they are initially split by geography and loose loyalties, it soon becomes a deadly game of “everyone for themselves” as everyone grabs a weapon.

Set entirely in one place (an abandoned factory/warehouse) the story is a bit claustrophobic, but I think it was saved by the characters and the cleverness of the dialogue.  While the action was completely over the top, I found it to actually be fairly realistic.  Even though they seemed to have an endless supply of bullets, our bad guys (because they are all terrible people who you can’t really root for)  do have to stop and reload.  Every one of them got shot at some point: a bullet in the arm, a shot in the leg, one man gets grazed in the head exposing his brain; and while it may be gruesome, the violence wasn’t glorified.   I also appreciated that the bad guys were not really good shots, it’s difficult to shoot and hit your target especially when you’re a target yourself, and have been hit yourself as well.

Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) pretty much stole the show, but Michael Smiley (Luther) came really close too.  I loved the dialogue he had with Armie Hammer, almost as much as I loved the back and forths between Copley and Brie Larson.  There wasn’t really a whole lot of a message or purpose or complexity to the movie which is fine, it was pretty much just a black comedy thriller about two groups of trigger happy criminals trying to survive by killing the other guys.  It was fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I think it’s safe to say this film was a bit of an experiment, so the runtime of 91 minutes was perfect.  I don’t think the film would have worked if it was any longer.

Bottom Line: It’s a good thing there’s no honour among thieves, because if the gun deal went down smoothly, Free Fire would have been an awfully short film…


Hardcore Henry – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Hardcore Henry3.0 Stars

Filmed entirely from a first person point of view Hardcore Henry was really just an extended experiment to see if it could be done.  Basically, could they turn the action scenes from a video game into an hour and a half long movie?  Well, they did; whether they should have or not is another question.  With an intro clip starring Tim Roth, and the story carried by Sharlto Copley filling the role of a “non player character” in a video game cut scene, we watch Henry fight through wave after wave of bad guys.

Henry (played by presumably a series of faceless stuntmen) is a genetically altered, technologically augmented, formerly dead soldier with no memory who has to save his wife (Haley Bennett) from a telekinetic warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) who has plans to bio-engineer super soldiers.   The whole movie played out like a video game, and was incredibly violent, often brutal, but not really gory or disturbing.  Lots of shooting, lots of swearing, lots of fighting, lots of car chases and car crashes, and quite a bit of humour and fun too.  It really was just an experiment though.  Can a film “work” without ever showing the face of the main character?  Keep in mind also that the main character never speaks in the entire movie either, so can you develop a character that is never really seen, and you never hear?  Can the technology of filmmaking keep up with the action?  I think it succeeded, even if I didn’t love the film.  The plot was paper thin (and again the “twist” at the end was fairly predictable), but the stunts and achievement effectively made up for that.  Still, this won’t be for everybody, but action and adrenaline junkies will likely love every minute of it.  Fun, but I don’t know if this sort of film-making will (or should) take off.

Bottom Line: I can’t play first person shooter video games, they give me a headache.  Watching Hardcore Henry I started getting a headache too even though the film was fairly stable, there was just too much first person action for me.  So I watched a bit of the film in fast forward since there really wasn’t much dialogue or character development to miss out on…

Chappie – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Chappie3.0 Stars

Another sci-fi film from South African writer and director Neill Blomkamp, set in a Johannesburg just slightly ahead of our own time sees police utilizing humanoid robots known as “Scouts” to help fight crime.  When Scout 22 gets badly damaged (again), it’s destined for the scrap heap until the creator of the Scout program, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) rescues it as an experimental subject for his artificial intelligence program.  A program that succeeds.  Scout 22 has gained sentience and is effectively alive, unfortunately criminals have taken him and Deon in order to pay back a debt they owe to an even bigger criminal.  As the new life form struggles to discover who he is, and who he should be, rival forces from Deon’s own company (Hugh Jackman) have plans of their own, and all the Scouts must be eliminated for them to occur.

I liked the idea behind the film, and for the most part liked the execution, but it for some reason fell flat for me.  Perhaps it was because I hadn’t really heard anything good about the film.  I see that it got a 7.0 rating on IMDb but a 31%/61% score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is telling too.  I had heard going into the film that it just seemed like a reboot (or a third chapter) to Short Circuit, the 1986 film where a military robot is granted artificial intelligence and life (by a lightning bolt I believe) and then goes through the struggles of trying to sort out his new found free will from his programming.

The same sort of thing happens in Chappie, as Scout 22 struggles with doing as his “maker” wishes, which involves no criminal acts; and doing what his “mother” and “father” (Yolandi and Ninja from the South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord  who play the criminals Yolandi and Ninja…) wish, which involves him becoming a proper gangster, swearing and pulling heists.  Yolandi is the one who actually names Scout 22 “Chappie”.  I think that whole scenario is what really bothered me about the film.  The “gangsters” didn’t really seem that credible or smart, or tough or anything.  They really seemed like caricatures of gangsters and were a little too “Tokyo-pop” for my liking in this film that was consciously set in Johannesburg.  Their reasons for “raising” Chappie seemed very simple (to commit crimes for Ninja) and they didn’t really feel like believable characters.  Deon felt believable, Chappie himself felt believable (and brought to life brilliantly by Sharlto Copley), but the character that was most believable was Hugh Jackman’s Vincent Moore, a workplace rival of Deon’s whose own law enforcement solution was passed over in favour of the Scouts.  His design,  called “The Moose” and it looked a lot like ED 209 from Robocop.  I understood his character, his motivations and his actions, and he was essentially the villain of the piece, even though his whole arc was him trying to get his own law enforcement droid approved.  I think his character overshadowed the actual criminals in the film that the Moose, the Scouts and even Chappie were designed to stop, and made them look rather inconsequential.  Jackman is a tremendous actor and gold in almost everything he does, and he knows how to play up his roles for the target audience.

At the end of the day though, while I enjoyed the film, there wasn’t enough to really set it apart from the pack except for the Johannesburg setting.  It seemed to be really riding the coattails of Blomkamp’s previous works, and this was not District 9, nor did it really capture the feeling and magic of that first film.

Bottom Line: why did this average film have to be two hours long?  Perhaps some editing would have cleaned it up a bit.

Maleficent – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Maleficent3.5 Stars

So Disney is making “live action” versions of their old animated hits eh?  Is the House of Mouse out of ideas, or have they struck upon something brilliant?  A few weeks ago Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, opened, and I suppose that is the “official” first film in this live action series, but last summer came Maleficent, a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale; and the film I finally watched tonight.

Full of magic, and fairly decent effects, Maleficent was a pretty brilliant piece of writing.  The original tale that we know from the animated feature of 1959 is expanded and fleshed out to a marvellous degree.  We are given Maleficent’s backstory.  She’s a fairy, not a witch, though she is just as magical.  She’s the protector of her realm, a magical land known as the Moors bordering on a human kingdom.  She lost her wings when she trusted a man (Sharlto Copley) who she thought had loved her until he cut them from her to present to his dying king so he could take the throne himself.  Laying a curse on his infant daughter Aurora, she proclaims she will be in a death-like sleep unless she receives true love’s kiss; a handy loophole in the curse that is meant to be a jab at the king.  Aurora (Elle Fanning) is raised by the three fairies, but here’s where the story really twists off on a tangent: she discovers that she also has a fairy godmother who’s shadow has been protecting her all her life.  Of course that shadow is Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who seems to regret her irremovable curse and has become enchanted with the young princess.

I really liked the spin this story took.  It was very much a family and love story, and full of Disney morals about not judging books by their covers, that even in the darkest souls there still can remain some light, and that human greed is always a pretty big motivator.  There were battles with knights and magical creatures, and we actually got to meet Aurora more, because in the original tale, she was asleep for a lot of the story.  Certainly darker, but at the same time charming, and I think it accomplished what it set out to do: make us feel sympathy for the “villain”.  Jolie was excellent and perfectly cast in the lead.  Very much paying tribute to the iconic performance by Eleanor Audley which set Maleficent up among the pinnacle of Disney villains.

If you’re looking for a fun and magical film, Maleficent lets you revisit a familiar story, but adds in a nice dose of “what if”.

Bottom Line: I prepared for my movie watching tonight by taking a nap beforehand.  I’m not ashamed.

Elysium – Blu Ray review 3.5/5 stars

Product Details3.5 Stars

As I mentioned in some other post, I’ve finally gotten around to getting back into science fiction, and that meant that I finally got around to watching Elysium.  Matt Damon stars as Max, a former car thief in a futuristic world who, after a radiation accident at work, finds he has only five days to live.  There is however a cure for his condition, but that’s on the space station Elysium which orbits the planet Earth.  In this future, the rich have left the wasted planet below for the poor, while they live in comfort on a giant wheeled space station.  Only the rich are citizens of Elysium, and only the citizens have access to their advanced medical treatments.  Approaching his old criminal friends, Max and Spider (Wagner Moura) develop a plan to steal passcodes and programs from Max’s former boss that will reboot the Elysium core and trick the computer into effectively making him a citizen to get the treatment he needs.  The program they steal is downloaded and encrypted directly in Max’s brain, but when they do decode it, they find it could be used to make everyone on Earth a citizen too.  After discovering that his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) has a daughter with leukemia that could also be cured on Elysium, Max sets off on his mission though he’s being hunted by Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a vicious covert agent sent by Defence Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) to retrieve the information in Max’s brain by any means.

I thoroughly enjoyed Elysium, but the only thing keeping me from giving it 4 stars was Jodie Foster.  I thought her acting was terrible in this one, I suppose it was not only her acting, but her voice.  I get that the rich and powerful were on the station from all over the world, and that there would be languages such as French and Italian being used; I get that there would be accents on segments of the elite, but hers was awful!  Her delivery was too staccato, and after hearing her in the bonus features, I wish she had just used her regular voice.  This is the second picture from writer/director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and it was another excellent effort.  I wish he wouldn’t wait five years between films, but I suppose the quality of both his works so far can excuse that.  Other than Foster’s acting I enjoyed everyone else; Damon delivered a quality performance as usual and it was pretty cool to see Sharlto Copley playing the “bad guy” after his role in District 9 (he was Wikus if you recall).

The story was well done, and the “future” seemed fairly plausible, both in technology and in mood.  Elysium touched on a lot of social issues that are being experienced today, (though mostly in America) such as illegal immigration/border hopping, the separations between the classes, and even health care.  Good science fiction stories have always had social issues mixed into them to some degree or another, and Elysium is no exception.  Fortunately it doesn’t get too preachy about them, but just uses them as a background to tell a pretty good, action-packed story.

Bottom Line: Sci-fi is usually either dystopic or utopic, here we got both.

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