So, Free Fire…
I like Ben Wheatley in the same way that I like Neil Marshall, I like that he’s there doing his thing. I’m a big fan of his High Rise (it’s not Ballard’s, which I also love) and Kill List. His other films not so much but I’m glad someone is making them. I’m also excited by the idea of Freak Shift and an oft mentioned remake of Wages of Fear. But I’m here because of Free Fire, his arms deal gone bad gunfight movie. It’s been sold by various reviews as ‘stylish’ and so on but it’s not really. It’s a film about a bunch of unlikable people being unlikable that looks a bit too clean to be as disreputable as it might think it is.
And yet I still quite liked it. It moved along, I knew where everyone was in relation to each other and I wanted to know who would be left standing. Plus the actors are all quite good at being Frank Miller characters.
Had I first seen this film on ‘pan and scan’ VHS when I was too young to watch it then it may have been something really special. As it stands it’s a good watch but a better poster.
Hidden Figures (2016) is good old fashioned Hollywood razzle-dazzle. It takes a little known story, mixes in some smart poetic licence and instantly likeable performers, and turns out a belting piece of mainstream entertainment.
There is no doubt that Hidden Figures is precision engineered to pull at your heart but it is saved from being the same tired worthy film we’ve seen before by focusing on a central trio who overcome adversity with action. From the opening scene onward the film repeatedly makes the argument for equality through sheer utility and every strand tells us that we can reach the stars if we just dump this baggage. This turns it from a film about suffering and the past (and in turn a comfort blanket ensuring us that ‘aren’t we better’) into a positive, activist film that is utterly relevant.
Moments can lift or sink a film. Ten seconds can make ninety minutes seem like time well spent or kill everything that went before. Last night I watched Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and for better or worse the moments were in full swing.
Bone Tomahawk is a rather slight western tale of kidnapping and the posse that goes to rescue the girl. It’s standard stuff with square jaws, old timers and Kurt Russell’s moustache and then there is a moment, a moment that harks back to the glory days of pre-cert ‘did you see that film where..?’ VHS. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film, you probably won’t forget it, if you haven’t it’s worth watching and it lifts the film and carries it, perhaps throws it, over the finish line.
Then there was Rogue One, the first in a planned series of Star Wars side stories and fingertips away from being perfect. Visually it’s stunning, with great practical and CG effects. It also has the characters, in particular the central pairing of Jyn Erso and Cassien Andor and their team, the actors, the director, the story, the themes and ideas and Forest Whitaker, my word Forest Whitaker! It’s brilliant and fun and then there’s the fan service, moments of redundant film buried in the uncanny valley and a fancy dress approximation of a classic character (or did he always look stupid and I’ve only just noticed?).
I’m going to go back for a rewatch because the good stuff is wonderful, it’s just such a shame that the current cinematic obsession with the miscellany of fan culture gets in the way of a perfect object. As for Bone Tomahawk, I’ll never watch it again but absolutely, heartily recommend that you spend some time with it.
With a heap of amazing visuals and an even more interesting cast, Dr Strange (2016) falls down because it just isn’t, not in the slightest. When we enter the Mirror Dimension all we find is the same ‘brilliant man undergoes a superficial change and remains brilliant’ story staring back at us and anything that is interesting merely reflects other, better movies. ‘Like that corridor fight but more’ is the creative vision, enlightenment tourism in Asia the weary trope.
…but I’m being too harsh because there is fun to be had here If you hadn’t seen a Marvel movie before I might suggest this one (although I probably wouldn’t as the Captain America stuff is by far the best). The Stan Lee cameo made me laugh, it’s got Tilda Swinton and Madds Mikkelsen in and you liked Inception (2010) and that bit in Ant-Man (2015) right?
Oh for another Hellboy movie. They were magic.
So maybe I watched this one too soon after seeing the recent Brian De Palma documentary De Palma (2015) after watching a run of De Palma movies. Maybe I’m too big a fan of the 90’s films where Micheal Douglas’ manhood (mental and physical) and some shlocky plotting act as a gateway for a really interesting discussion about gender roles and machismo, or any one of a number of filmmakers who used genre to make us think and talk.
The Girl on the Train (2016), whilst being a decent film is perhaps a little too ‘decent’ for it’s own good. Despite a cast that’s game there isn’t enough fun or provocation within the film to get it over the hill of the final act revelations. Recent thrillers like Side Effects (2013) and Gone Girl (2014) knew that they were indecent and just went for it as the directors had the skill to play with the form. The Girl on the Train seems a bit preoccupied with ‘quality’ to really play any games… which is a real pity as there is so much fun to be had with the way that ‘story’ and viewing are placed front and centre.
It should have been wittier and it’s very telling that the only conversations I’ve had about the film concern it’s structure.
They should really let us know when there is going to be a blooper reel during the end credits of a film. It’s a great indicator that the film is terrible but ‘please leave laughing’. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) is no exception and, despite some funny moments, just isn’t any good. It’s one of those comedies in which everyone is either insane or a doormat, gay / bisexual equals sex pest, poor equals degenerate, and you find it hard to care about the wedding as it blatantly costs more than you’ll make in a decade.
But the blooper reel is interesting because it contains a joke (I say joke but I mean ‘string of words’) that is definitely funnier than the preceding 100 mins and the moment that an admonishing ‘alright’ is heard from off camera you are reminded how much play is made of being ‘outrageous’ without actually being outrageous. Like Suicide Squad (2016) before it, the film falls down in not having the courage to actually be about bad people or the smarts to teach them a lesson without being patronising. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) works because it’s about the ‘game’, The Way of the Gun (2000) works because it’s about people reluctantly drawing a line against their better judgement.
Blah blah, what I’m not saying succinctly is that bad people can do good things but they need to actually be bad for the journey to be satisfying. The mistake here is thinking that identifying with a character and liking them have to go hand in hand. Or just thinking that anyone would give a monkeys. The film should have been about the sister.