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Free Fire

Free Fire is basically a movie about an HR issue. Justine and Ord are two “point guys” in an arms deal. She’s bringing Chris (Cillian Murphy), an IRA guy who needs some M-16s to the table, along with his rag-tag crew, and he’s bringing Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the money-obsessed guy with a van full of guns (although, notably, NOT M-16s) and his own motley crew. From the minute these two rival gangs meet, the two sides are twitchy. All they have free-fire1to do is exchange the briefcase full of cash for the crates full of guns, and the deal is done. But they just rub each other the wrong way. Everyone’s got an unchecked ego, everyone wants to be the boss, and nobody’s going to make this easy. If arms dealers had HR ladies stashed away in some ficus-strewn office, all of this could have been resolved with a stress ball and some trust exercises. But arms dealers tend to offer very few benefits as employers, so instead it goes to hell.

It goes gloriously to hell. It turns out that the driver of the first gang had an issue with the driver of the other gang the night before, and seeing each other turns a bad situation worse. Suddenly everyone’s whipping out their little pistols and bullets are flying. How many bullets? About 7000 rounds, said director Ben Wheatley. That’s a LOT of bullets. So the whole of the movie takes place in this abandoned warehouse where this arms deal has been all but forgotten, everyone shooting at each other, everyone forgetting which side they’re supposed to be on, the sides in fact disintegrating as it quickly becomes every man for himself.

I knew going in that Free Fire is a 70s shoot-em-up genre film, but I had failed to fathom how funny it is. Sharlto Copley is an absolute scene-stealer, his over-the-top character MV5BZjk1NjRiNzctZWFiOS00MGJkLWE0YWEtYTI5ODBmYzQwNjg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_really embodies the pure fun and wackiness of this film. It’s madcap madness and I totally loved every minute of it. I didn’t know I could have so much fun at a Ben Wheatley film. A terrific script by Wheatley and Amy Jump is quotable, the cheeky dialogue rolling off the tongues of a delightful ensemble cast. The frenetic, non-stop energy sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of who is shooting who, and where, but once you realize that even the principal players are confused, it really takes the pressure off. The anarchy is entertaining and you can tell it was as gleefully acted and directed as it is consumed. No true hero ever distinguishes him or herself , which doesn’t mean you won’t find your own favourite to root for, only that’ it’s an even playing field where anything is possible.

Free Fire was meticulously choreographed by Wheatley but still required logistic heroics of cinematographer Laurie Rose and precision editing by Wheatley and Jump. The movie charmed me with its audacious humour but it also pulls off an hour-long assault that sounds one-note on paper but honestly, I could have had more. I love the recklessness, the wickedness, the irreverence; I was greedy for it the whole way through and Ben Wheatley served it up as only he could.

 

 

 

Check out the comments section for a Q&A with Wheatley and some of the cast!

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Nocturnal Animals

As the film opens, Susan (Amy Adams) feels guilty for not being happy, despite having ‘everything’ – Armie Hammer plays her current husband, but apparently they were maybe never truly supposed to be together.

A successful art gallery owner, Susan’s home is perfectly styled, filled with lacquered objets, 18nocturnal1-master768-v2beautiful things, much like herself, impeccably dressed, heavily made up. Her “bare” (movie bare, of course) face comes as a shock when she curls into bed to read a manuscript that has arrived that earlier that day, a surprise from the ex-husband she hasn’t heard from in 20 years.

She’s immediately engrossed in the story, which we see recreated as a movie within a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher play two halves of a couple travelling down a remote road at night. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a sinister man threatening them. It’s immediately tense. Disturbing. Distraught, Susan slams the book shut.

But that’s not the end, is it? No, she keeps going. And things get darker, and trickier. Director Tom Ford pulls a nasty trick on us: in casting Isla Fisher, he is intentionally making her a very easy substitute for Amy Adams (Isla Fisher once sent Christmas cards to friends and family with Amy Adams photo-shopped in her place, and no one noticed). But we’re not the only ones to notice the similarities: Susan starts to feel a little unsettled too.

This is only Tom Ford’s second film; I was blown away by his first effort, A Single Man. He has a distinctive style, he’s incredibly visual, but the story in A Single Man held up. More than that: it crawled right into my soul and crushed it, just a tiny bit. Colin Firth was robbed when he didn’t maxresdefault-6win an Oscar for it (well, he lost to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart, and that was certainly deserved as well; luckily Firth one the very next year for The King’s Speech). You may know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer, but that’s clearly not the only trick up his sleeve. His direction is not a gimmick (it likely helps that he leaves the costuming to someone else, and that no Tom Ford suits appear in the film). Maybe it’s little more style than substance, but it’s not without substance, or merit, or worth. Nocturnal Animals is dark and moody and horrible. It is sometimes graphic, and psychologically tortured, and stunning.

It’s the kind of movie that will haunt you for days. There are lots of performances worth talking about: Amy Adams, and the sadness she can convey in her downturned eyes; Jake Gyllenhaal’s fire, and his anguish. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his supporting skeevy work here, but I think it’s Michael Shannon who maybe deserved the nomination, mustache and all. Can this man do any wrong? Oh wait

Most people bill Nocturnal Animals as a work of revenge, but I feel it’s more about regret. I suppose your interpretation may rest on the ending, which is intentionally vague, but I believe an indictment on Susan’s character. What did you think?

 

 

TIFF: Birth of a Nation

It is sometimes difficult to separate the message from the movie. I’ve already braved backlash by confessing that I didn’t care for 12 Years a Slave. This is not the same as saying I love slavery or I hate black people, but some people will choose to hear it that way. I can see with my own eyes that 12 Years A Slave does have artistic merit. Steve McQueen has a stylistic sensibility I can’t ignore, and Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a riveting performance amongst a strong cast. But the movie felt derivative to me. In a crowd of slavery movies, this one didn’t have a distinctive voice and I was bored. How does Birth of a Nation compare?

Well, it’s both better and worse. The first two-third to three-quarters of Nate Parker’s movie is a lot of the same old. We get it: slavery is bad. I actually don’t require 90 minutes of convincing on that subject. But the last chapter of the story is when it finally comes alive: the slaves rise up. birth-of-a-nation-nate-parkerNat Turner, a docile preacher, reaches his breaking point and leads a rebellion. A bloody rebellion. White slave owners will be slain in their beds. These scenes are so jarring that I can understand why one might think that 90 minutes worth of context are important. Those minutes establish that yes, slavery is bad. There were indeed lots of vicious slave owners who were just despicable human beings. But slavery movies often have a benevolent slave owner as well, one who is “not so bad,” I suppose so that white people don’t shout “They’re not all like that!”

As Samuel, Armie Hammer is this year’s Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s not too terrible. But his character’s arc is perhaps the most compelling of the film. As children, he and Nat are playmates. They aren’t equals, but maybe they’re friends. It is only as Samuel inherits the plantation and all of its chattel – which of course includes the human beings who work the land – that this relationship transforms. It is clear that Nat is not just his employee – there is a subservience to their interactions that is immediately repulsive. Times are tough in the south. Plantation owners are under a lot of pressure, and the slaves are of course the first ones to suffer, to work longer hours with less food. Samuel, being “one of the good ones” begins to drink, ostensibly to deal with the increasingly degrading things he must demand of his slaves. He slides from benevolent to aggressive, and it’s a great performance from the man you’re probably not watching as closely as you should. But that’s the problem with owning slaves. Once you accept that owning another human being is okay, of course it’s a slippery slope that leads directly to the rapes and whippings and deprivations we’re so used to seeing. There is no good way to own a slave.

As Samuel slides further down into the muck, Nat is rising from it, with increasingly radical ideas about his oppressors. So Nat Turner rises up. Samuel Turner gets cut down. Are we prepared toenter_slavery_2_la see this? Prepared to watch people be chopped up as they sleep in their homes? It’s brutal and shocking. And justified: the film has made sure of that. Of course this is a true story so you know there is no happy ending here. Nat Turner’s is a necessary voice in the story of slavery, and Nate Parker’s choice to make religion both a weapon, and salvation, are a fresh take on a crowded genre.

Nate Parker co-wrote and directed himself in The Birth of a Nation, and his passion is evident. I only wish he trusted his audience more. In the hands of a more competent director, we might have a Best Picture contender here, but instead he allows his slow build to be overplayed, turning his third act into a bit of a cocky circus act. It’s uneven. It neglects secondary characters – and with Aja Naomi King so damned good, it seems a crime not to give her more screen time.

Speaking of which. I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t bring up the skeletons in Nate Parker’s closet. The Birth of a Nation was a Big Deal at Sundance. Fox Searchlight eagerly bought it up and set an October release date, certain it would be on the path toward Oscar. But rape allegations in Parker’s past resurfaced. When he was a student at Penn State, he was accused and charged with sexually assaulting a woman along with his roommate and The Birth of a Nation co-writer, Jean Celestin. They stood trial; Parker was eventually acquitted but Celestin was found guilty before having the verdict overturned on appeal. The story gained traction when it was reported that the victim had committed suicide. Even with an acquittal to his name, an a newfound belief in god, Parker’s mea culpa press tour has been lacking. His remorse has been sparse. Gabrielle Union, the actress who plays a rape victim in The Birth of a Nation, herself a real-life survivor of sexual assault, has struggled to reconcile his past and her part in his present. Can we and should we separate the art from the artist? What kind of shadow does this cast over his film? As Union puts it, “As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly.”

The Birth of A Nation is an important story and deserves to be seen and heard. I said before that I thought it was both a better and a worse film than 12 Years A Slave. What I meant was: it’s not as good a movie. It’s more formulaic, more conventional, less sophisticated, a little too obvious. But as a piece of art, it inspires conversation and controversy. I can’t discount it.

 

TIFF 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Chris Pratt is swarmed by fans and autograph seekers as he arrives in Toronto

The Toronto International Film Festival kicked of last night, September 8, with the premiere of Magnificent 7. The party started the minute Chris Pratt stepped off the plane and strutted through Pearson airport. He manages to look pretty happy about being swarmed though, doesn’t he?

Actually, technically the party started the night before, at the traditional benefit gala. This year Michael Fassbender was the guest of honour, where he confessed that his super power was his ability to nap anywhere, anytime, and that his biggest challenge was learning lines (a real obstacle to taking on the Steve Jobs role, a wordy Aaron Sorkin script). Fassbender has a somewhat limp movie in theatres right now, The Light Between Oceans, but he’s also got one screening at TIFF: Trespass Against Us, where he plays Brendan Gleeson’s son who is trying to escape his crime family’s fate. Fassbender’s no stranger to TIFF, having been

2016 Toronto International Film Festival - TIFF Soiree With Special Guest Michael Fassbender

part of the 2013 People’s Choice winner, 12 Years a Slave. In fact, he mentioned that when he and director Steve McQueen first met, McQueen hated him, and called him arrogant. Was it nerves? Fassbender’s not sure, but the two went on to collaborate very successfully three times.

Michael Fassbender wasn’t the only star on hand Wednesday night: Canadian stars Pamela Anderson and Martin Short were part of the pre-show at the AMBI gala. Short was dressed in his Jiminy Glick and interviewed the Baywatch babe (who was actually looking pretty good in a stunning gown) and elicited her

2016 Toronto International Film Festival - AMBI Gala

top-secret beauty regime – “donuts and sex.” Honourary co-chair James Franco and his creepy little mustache were in the audience, and weirder still, so were Mike Tyson and Billy Baldwin, among others. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, Earth, Wind & Fire performed.

Thursday night was all about Magnificent 7. It’s a remake of the 1960 classic with an obvious twist: Antoine Fuqua deliberately chose a diverse cast, and then just as deliberately chose not to have race mentioned much in the movie. He cast friend and frequent collaborator Denzel Washington in the lead role; Denzel, having earned an Oscar under Fuqua’s direction in Training Day, jumped at the chance to work with him again. Fuqua, meanwhile, maintains “I just wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse!” Don’t we all.

Magnificent Seven is meaner and edgier than its predecessors, and funnier too. Chris Pratt, as you can imagine, has a lot to do with that. He even had reporters in stitches in the press conference, declaring that the whole ‘remake’ question was moot: “Eventually you just run out of namesmagnificent-sevenjpg-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x724. If I have a son named Chad, is he a remake of somebody else named Chad? No! And I’m not going to give him another name like Schnarkle. This [The Magnificent Seven] has reach. It gets people engaged. But it’s probably a lot more The Wild Bunch than it is The Magnificent Seven. We used the title. We used the story. There are seven guys and we’re all fucking magnificent. But let that movie [the 1960 version] be that movie. This is a different movie.” For now we have to take his word for it, but Magnificent 7 will be out in theatres September 23rd, and you can judge for yourself. Last night, significantly more than just the 7 magnificent bastards walked the red carpet, including Peter Sarsgaard, who was easily mistaken for a homeless person. Both Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke struck a lot of goofy poses as they were quickly ushered along the press line (they were running 30 minutes late!) but it was Denzel Washington who created the biggest crush, and he still had a smile for everyone.

Late, late on Thursday night, there was another premiere at the kickoff of TIFF’s Midnight Madness programming. The midnight movies are not always horror, but they’re scary or violent or grotesque. Last year Matt saw Hardcore Henry at Midnight Madness; this year he’ll be taking in Headshot. Some of the Midnight screenings are surprisingly commercial, with the new Blair Witch set to make its debut, and Emile Hirsch bringing his new film, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and last night’s screening bringing out some big stars indeed: Brie Larson and Armie Hammer for the new Ben Wheatley movie, Free Fire, a genre homage to vintage action movies.

Check out the comments section for more photos, and be sure to be following along on Twitter where we’ll be posting all the action, as it happens: @AssholeMovies

Filed Under M

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – Guy Ritchie wanted to make a spy movie that was “sexy, fun, and the-man-from-uncle-alicia-vikander-armie-hammer-henry-cavillfrivolous”, harkening back to the Roger Moore era of James Bond. He got the frivolous part right. This movie doesn’t mean much. It’s got some very charismatic stars, none of whom are served well by the material, and none of whom can pull off an accent as well as they think they can (Alicia Vikander sounds Irish more than German). It tends toward flippant rather than funny. It is very stylish (and stylized), I’ll give it that, but that’s a lot of money to put on a retro fashion show. However, if you’re one of those people who love a vacuous spy movie with no action or suspense, then boy has your time come.

Max – We never would have seen this movie on purpose but it was the second movie in a double-bill at the drive-in, so that explains why we were there, though not why we stayed. We stayed mostly for the people-watching, as it turned out, since the couple in the car beside us were topless, the better for him to expunge the blackheads from her back, while their interior lights are on, for all the world to see. It really made me reflect on how I might multi-task while at the drive-in. Suggestions? My only suggestion to you is to skip this movie. Lauren Graham and Thomas max-coverHaden Church play a good old flag-waving, down home American couple who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Their eldest son dies in Iraq, and his service dog gets decommissioned from the army (sorry, marines) and comes to stay with them, to be loved and trained (and healed!) by the angry younger son. The army honours its strong tradition of turning its back on veterans with PTSD, even when that vet is a dog who just wants to serve his country and retire in peace and kibble. Convoluted plot devices ensue to really bring this family together in their grief, with heavy doses of patriotic piety that I found hard to swallow. Makes you proud to be Murican I guess. A country song plays over a memorial to dead wartime dogs at the end.

mortdecai_612x380_0Mortdecai – I think this movie was a bet. I think someone just decided to see how much weird they could cram into a movie, as long as that weird was uninteresting and unremarkable. I was embarrassed for the simpering Johnny Depp, and for his mustache.