Free Fire (2017)

★★★★

What makes Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire so damn good is the use of sound in the movie. I knew exactly what angle the bullets were coming from in the theater. What we also get is a gritty, violent, action flick based in 1970s Boston.

While the conflict begins to arise quite quickly it never feels poorly paced. It is actually quite the opposite. The 90 minute run-time is the perfect amount for the plot to keep you interested while confined in one place for the whole movie. It is gripping to watch the characters slowly move from cover to cover while in the lengthy shootout and that is a hard thing to achieve for over one hour.

The soundtrack of Free Fire is the beautiful sound of bullets being fired from all directions. The lack of music in many scenes improves the movie all for the better and the addition of John Denver at some points makes it even better, as well as a funky saxophone.

What’s odd is that Brie Larson has now been in two movies released back to back that take place in the 70s. The other film I am talking about it of course Kong: Skull Island (2017). Both have good period set designs but Free Fire would remind most of the aesthetic and color palette of 2016’s The Nice Guys. Another film set in the same decade as the latter two. The combination of yellow and brown just seems to fit the era well.

Free Fire is another great addition to A24’s ever-growing plethora of great films to choose from. What other film has numerous actors wear fake facial hair as well as polyester suits and makes you want to listen to John Denver on your car ride back from the cinema?

 

Personal Shopper (2016)

★★★★

Never have I seen a ghost story told like Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper. The eerie way the cinematography is done, the unconventional storytelling, and the tone overall is a critical gift to us all.

While Maureen, (Kristen Stewart) only speaks English, the film is authentically French. Nearly the whole movie was filmed there. The small little pieces of French culture help remind you where you are while not being too overt about it. An example, would be the the French Public Transit notification noise played on the over-com at train stations. This is a subtle detail that anyone who has visited Paris would appreciate.

The whole movie seems almost like, it isn’t even a ghost story at all. Which is one of the film’s greatest strengths. It blends genre conventions together to create a unique experience. The inclusion of the phone as the way that Maureen communicates with the dead elevates this film in many ways from other ghost stories. It makes communication much more direct and less ambiguous. This makes it so Personal Shopper explore other aspects of talking to the dead while also exploring Maureen’s inner psyche and characterization.

After proving herself with an extensive portfolio of work post-Twilight, it is safe to say that Kristen Stewart is a great actress. She owns every scene in this movie and I can’t think of a better character to play the lead. Everyone else does alright but they are never the focus, this is Kristen Stewart’s movie, no one else’s.

Personal Shopper leaves you with that feeling of ambiguity that makes you happy, that makes you want to watch it again, and that makes you want to write about what you just saw. And that is the best kind of movie.

T2: Trainspotting (2017)

★★★

Should a sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting been made? Probably not. As, the first film ended perfectly the way it was. But now, more than twenty years later, Boyle, has gotten the whole cast back together. In some ways, it is a reunion; a meetup of beloved characters that you want to catch up with and see how they have changed since the last time you saw them. But in other ways it relies too much on the memories of its predecessor to stand independently on its own.

Heroin is not the focus of T2: Trainspotting. Instead the themes of moving on and time are much more prominent. This thematic change is very much reflective of the older age of characters Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and how they all do not feel as indestructible as they used to feel twenty years ago. And if Trainspotting was convincing enough to steer people away from trying heroin, T2: Trainspotting does an even better job, showing the effects of heroin usage with age. Some are unable to kick the habit or even begin to abuse other drugs.

What ends up making T2 a good movie in the end, is the dialogue. Irvine Welsh and John Hodge succeeded in recapturing the black-comedy found in the original film. Renton’s revised “Choose Life” speech is just as well written and meaningful with updated and more current issues. Seeing the four characters interact with each other sounds natural as they all speak how they spoke in the past. Where Welsh and Hodge’s writing falters however, is the usage of references to the first film. Sometimes, the references are used creatively, but many times it seems like just a way to remind viewers of memorable scenes from Trainspotting.

In Trainspotting, Scotland looked disgusting. In the sequel, Boyle has made Caledonia much more attractive to the eyes. The transition from film to digital may have also helped with this new look but nonetheless, it gives T2 a much more different feel overall. What also helps to the disconnect of both movies is the inclusion of heavily stylized subtitles of dialogue. These visuals effects are inserted into the movie at random and do not really fit well, while also not really serving a purpose.

T2: Trainspotting is not a sequel in the same vein that Bad Santa 2 was a sequel. Mostly everyone connected to Trainspotting on and off the screen were involved with this followup. There was a lot of care put into this movie and with multiple viewings I feel, this movie will get better and better. The thematic shift between the two films creates a good dynamic that really warrants back-to-back viewing. As time has shown, Trainspotting is a movie that is deeply ingrained with the 1990s. And I have a feeling time will show that T2: Trainspotting will become a movie deeply ingrained with the 2010s.

A Series of Down Endings: Losing in Film

The cliché of the underdog coming from behind and winning the “big game” has been repeated countless amounts of times. Air Bud (Smith, 1997) and numerous other films fall into this trap of giving viewers they ending they want rather than the one that is more grounded in reality. The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976) is the motion picture that decides to deflect genre conventions and has the main characters lose their championship game, benefitting the film rather than making it disposable entertainment.

The plot of The Bad News Bears is already quite far fetched and, by having the Bears win at the end, it makes for an even more unlikely plot. A team of outcasts, who do not even know the mechanics of baseball should not be able to win the championship game let alone even make it to the playoffs. Once the Bears hit their stride, the continue to win and win, until the rug is pulled out under the audience’s feet when the Bears lose the championship game. Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock seems to mirror many of the plot devices used in The Bad News Bears. Dewey Finn (Jack Black) and his band made of middle school kids lose the battle of the bands at the end of the movie but grow from the experience just like Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) and his players do from losing their championship game. The importance of the characters losing in these films has more to do with how people evolve personally from losing which lasts a lifetime, rather than obtaining a trophy or cash prize, which is a temporary reward.

Beloved characters losing is something that is rarely ever seen even in horror movies, one character almost always survives. But when it does happen, it gives it a larger sense of importance, even reflective of our own real world.

I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings.” – Dante Hicks, Clerks 

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

★★★½

The Fast and The Furious franchise is mindless entertainment that is mindless in the best way possible. The Bollywood-esque action sequences are so stupendous that it makes them hard to dislike. And now, we are in  the eighth installment of this franchise (with two more left) and though the lack of Paul Walker is sad and overall hurts the film, that’s not to say it isn’t a lot of fun.

The Fast and the Furious films seem to exist in their own world. Where every line of dialogue is delivered in such an unconventional way, and all people want to talk about is who is true “family”. In this world, it is also considered acceptable for Charlize Theron to have dreads and beat people “like a Cherokee drum”. This is the universe that the Furious movies exist in and it fits it so well. This is a film where you need to suspend your disbelief, which, yet again isn’t a bad thing. For example, Hobbs (The Rock) pretty much has inhuman strength in this movie and can pretty much life up any object without even struggling.

Even though the cast in these films continue to expand, they still manage to make the characters memorable which really says something about the effort that is involved. With the exception of Ramsey, played by Nathalie Emmanuel who is simply just there to be attractive, I can safely say I liked all the characters. Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, and The Rock had the best performances out of everyone because they seemed to be having fun with their roles. Vin Diesel’s parts were also great because of how serious he is in them. Like when he talks about his “family” especially, which is a very common trope of this franchise to fall back on.

The Fate of the Furious is the first movie in the franchise to completely lack character Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) due to Paul Walker’s tragic death in 2013. It was sad to see his character absent from the crew. While not as large and heart-wrenching as Furious 7‘s tribute to the late actor, a small one is given at the end by Dom (Vin Diesel).

The Fate of the Furious checks all the boxes for great, mindless entertainment. It has cool cars doing awesome stuff, it has funny melodrama, and the music is so stereo-typically generic that it fits in an ironic fashion. If you are looking for something to do on the weekend, see this movie. Hell, even see it with your “family”.

M (1931)

★★★★★

Other than Citizen Kane (1941) is there any film that shaped modern cinema more than Fritz Lang’s (1931)? is not only magnificent for it’s terrific use of sound but for the gripping story that comes along with it.

The subject matter, child murder is still a controversial and disturbing topic to cover in film. addresses it through themes such as the morality of man, through the questioning of what to do with someone such as the antagonist of the film, Hans (Peter Lorre). The streets of 1930 Germany could not look more authentic than they do in M. The camera pans to a birds-eye shot as we look at the empty barren streets. Emptiness gives M it’s perfectly eerie vibe. It provides suspenseful buildup whenever Hans is near any children or when other characters chase him through the city of Berlin. The very look and feel of is what inspired the film noir of the 40s. The long trenchcoat and fedora became a staple for movies like Double Indemnity (1944) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Not only was the look of influential in cinema, but also Lang’s use of sound. was Lang’s first film with sound. Rather than to be used gimmick, Lang used it as a way to build atmosphere as well as a way to deliver important lines of dialogue. The chilling whistling of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” let’s you know a child is about to be murdered by him. Through this technique, Lang demonstrated that sound was not just a way to deliver exposition in cinema, but opened up a whole other dimension for artists to experiment with.

Fritz Lang’s is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Every person interested in cinema needs to watch this movie, especially if you want to make movies. The movie also couldn’t look any better thanks to the Criterion restoration of it in 2000 which means there is no reason to not be watching Fritz Lang’s M.

 

Song to Song (2017)

★★

Has Terrance Malick lost his touch as a director? That is the question that was raised during my viewing of Song to Song, Malick’s latest film. Now, hopefully Malick is just making more personal pieces for himself, as that what it almost seems like. Because the director of Badlands (1973) is capable of much more than this.

Before we delve into the bad, let’s talk about the good. Like all Malick movies, the movie looks beautiful. If the Song to Song did not look as good as it does, it would be nearly unwatchable. Besides how the film looks, certain scenes utilize music quite well. For example, in a montage of Cook (Michael Fassbender) and Rhonda’s (Natalie Portman) relationship is edited in such a terrific way that makes it really stand out in the movie in a good way.

As far as the bad goes, there is a lot to cover. First off, the way Malick wrote the love stories came off as very unrealistic. Instead of having characters show their love for each other with meaningful dialogue, they just kind of touch each-other’s faces and stare into their eyes. On top of that, the characters are also spouting cliché dialogue about how “in love” they are with each-other. By the end of the film, the relationships with the characters all feel distant from the viewer, not really being able to see the chemistry that the characters have with each other. In some scenes, the music overpowered the dialogue which was irritating as well as a very weird choice. Possibly, if the music fit well with the scenes, it would be more excusable; there are many misses and very few hits when it comes to how the music choice represents the film, tonally. All the characters were forgettable but Faye, (Rooney Mara) was easily the most unlikable of the main four characters. Most of what Faye did was make the same face for most of the movie whilst sulking most of the time. At least she has some parts where she narrates pretentiously just like the rest of the characters do.

The wasted potential of a project like Song to Song is what is the saddest part of it all. As Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, and Natalie Portman all in a movie together with Terrance Malick directing and writing should be nothing short of incredible. But, all it turned out to be was a beautifully looking, self-indulgent film lacking substance. If you did not like To the Wonder (2012) or Knight of Cups (2015) then you will not like Song to Song.