Movie Review: “Free Fire”

Starring
Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
Director
Ben Wheatley

“Free Fire” is the idea that hits someone 12 hours deep into a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie movie marathon. “You know what would be cool? It’s like paintball, but with real guns.” And to be fair, that is an interesting framing device, but when everything that follows has been done several times before, the device loses its charm rather quickly. This would explain why the film felt like the longest 85-minute film ever made. It’s interesting, but maddening, thanks in large part to a threadbare story structure, underwritten dialogue and next to no character development.

The story is set in Boston in the late ‘70s, where Ord (Armie Hammer) is serving as an intermediary in a weapons deal between career criminal Frank (Michael Smiley) and gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley) in an abandoned warehouse. The guns that Vernon brings to the deal are not the ones that Frank’s main man Chris (Cillian Murphy) requested, making a tense negotiation worse, but the deal blows up when Vernon’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) shoots Frank’s junkie son-in-law Stevo (Sam Riley) in retaliation for something that happened the night before. Everyone runs for cover and the battle lines drawn, but they’re all trapped in the warehouse with no easy way out. To further complicate matters, two snipers begin shooting at both parties from the rafters, at which point everyone realizes that they’ve been double crossed by someone on the main floor.

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Blu Tuesday: Split and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Split”

Contrary to what some people have suggested, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film isn’t much of a comeback at all. Instead, it’s yet another case of the premise being better than the final product. A psychological thriller that’s largely devoid of actual thrills, “Split” owes much of its success to James McAvoy, who gets a chance to flex his acting muscles as a man with 23 distinct personalities. Though we only see a handful of them in action, each one is so unique (from their voices to their mannerisms) that it’s amazing to watch as McAvoy jumps back and forth between them, sometimes in the same scene. Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s inability to get out of his own way prevents “Split” from fulfilling its full potential, despite a killer last-minute twist that will excite fans of his early work.

Extras include a making-of featurette, profiles on actor James McAvoy and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, an alternate ending and deleted scenes. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring
Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Kristofer Hivju
Director
F. Gary Gray

Following the untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013, it would have been completely acceptable had everyone involved in the “Fast and Furious” franchise decided to call it quits, particularly because “Furious 7” works so well as a bookend to the family saga. Despite the loss, the series has soldiered on with another installment (and two more on the way), but while “The Fate of the Furious” proves that the mega-franchise can still function without Walker’s character, it definitely suffers from a Brian O’Connor problem.

Much like how the Avengers curiously never show up to help each other in their respective solo movies, the attempt to explain Brian’s absence in this film (especially considering the personal nature of the main plot) only serves to open old wounds. It’s a void that director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan try to fill with some new additions to the team, and though it’s not entirely successful, the movie gets by on the charisma of its cast and the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from the series.

The story begins in Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are busy soaking up the culture on a much-deserved honeymoon, only to have their vacation cut short when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) enlists their help in retrieving a stolen EMP device in Berlin. But when Dom suddenly double-crosses the team and gets away with the weapon, they discover that he’s secretly working for a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who Letty believes must be blackmailing him. Beaten, bruised and betrayed by their friend, the team reunites under the direction of shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and is forced to work alongside former adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own history with the notorious hacker and wants revenge, in order to track down Dom and Cipher and prevent them from starting World War III.

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Movie Review: “Going in Style”

Starring
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Joey King, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz, Christopher Lloyd
Director
Zach Braff

Zach Braff must be desperate for work; it’s the only logical reason why he would agree to direct a remake of 1979’s “Going in Style,” a movie so unmemorable that most people have never even heard of it. It’s completely out of character for a filmmaker like Braff, whose first two features (“Garden State” and “Wish I Was Here”) were such deeply personal pieces of work that it’s very surprising to see him slumming it as a director-for-hire. Then again, he probably couldn’t resist the opportunity to work alongside three Hollywood legends, and it’s hard to blame him, because the casting of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin is pretty much the only thing that this movie has going for it.

The actors play a trio of lifelong friends and former co-workers who have just been informed that their pension fund at the local steel factory is being dissolved, leaving the already financially-strapped retirees in a tough spot. Without a pension to pay his mortgage, Joe (Caine) is at risk of losing the home that he shares with his daughter and grandchild to bank foreclosure, and Willie (Freeman) is in desperate need of a kidney transplant that his insurance won’t cover. The curmudgeonly Albert (Arkin), meanwhile, has practically given up on life already, despite the romantic advances of peppy supermarket clerk Annie (Ann-Margaret). But when Joe witnesses a bank robbery in progress and gets the idea to pull a heist of his own, he convinces Willie and Albert to help him rob the bank that’s responsible for screwing them over.

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Movie Review: “Life”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare
Director
Daniel Espinosa

Daniel Espinosa’s “Life” is a lean, mean studio B-movie that knows how to move. Right from the start, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t waste time. The sci-fi thriller’s simplicity and brevity is one of its many strengths, in addition to some compelling performances, a genuinely nasty alien and a third act that finishes strong.

Calvin is the name given to the film’s antagonist, a deadly little organism (and the first sign of life discovered on Mars) that grows larger and more lethal over the course of the story. The alien wreaks havoc aboard an International Space Station inhabited by a team of scientists, including Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Katerine Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya). They’re all given personalities at an extremely efficient pace, so once the number of crew members begins to decline, it doesn’t feel like candy being tossed aside. The stakes are monumental in “Life,” and you can definitely feel it as the crew floats around in zero gravity trying to figure out how to kill this thing before it finds a way of reaching (and destroying) Earth.

“Life” is a pretty straightforward genre flick, but it isn’t thin. In fact, the simplicity that Reese and Wernick have achieved with movies like “Zombieland,” “Deadpool” and now “Life” is exhilarating in this day and age of bloated blockbusters. There’s not a single ounce of filler in these three films. They pick up and start running immediately, which Espinosa communicates in a lengthy opening take that is sometimes dazzling and sometimes a little obvious and strained. It’s the only scene where you’re aware of the filmmaker’s hand, but the sequence still has its moments. With the rest of the movie, Espinosa serves up an increasingly tense experience.

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