Review: Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Kill List, Sighseers, A Field in England)
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Producer: Andrew Starke
Starring: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 91 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Two gangs meet in an abandoned warehouse to exchange a large sum of money for a large sum of guns. There’s some tension, maybe a small argument over how to trade off the goods, but it all goes well and the groups go their separate ways, with the A plot of the movie kicking in after that. That’s usually how a gun deal goes in a crime picture, but in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire we never make it out of the warehouse. A one-location movie occurring in real time, Wheatley’s latest is a very simple and low-key affair, a welcome change after last year’s ambitious but disappointing High-Rise. He’s certainly not taking it easy here however, as orchestrating an entire movie designed as one extended shootout is no small feat, and yet this time he absolutely nails it. With a great cast including Cillian Murphy, recent Oscar winner Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and more, Wheatley loads them with whip fast dialogue that flies as frequently as the bullets.

Ultimately, it’s the insults that the characters shout at one another across the blood spattered warehouse that makes more impact than any of the gunshots. Although for their part, it’s nice to see a movie that treats a shootout a lot differently and more authentically than we’re used to seeing in movies. Ricochets are aplenty and do a serious amount of damage, characters don’t die straight away from taking a shot, as most of them sustain several over the course of the movie, and best of all most of the shots the characters take actually miss. There’s no James Bond style assassin who hits a perfect shot every time while the supposedly trained henchmen fire off a hundred rounds that don’t go anywhere close to the leading man. Everyone is more or less on an even keel here, which makes it a lot more fun to watch them hiding and dodging the bullets as they fly all over this place.
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Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: Hard Times

Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Walter Hill, Bryan Gindoff, Bruce Henstell
Starring: Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, Strother Martin, Michael McGuire
Country: USA
Running Time: 93 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve always felt Walter Hill was an under-appreciated director. The latter half of his career is rather ropey, but the first half is loaded with taut genre classics. In particular I’m a huge fan of Driver, Hill’s ultra-pared down near art-house car chase movie. He followed that with cult classic The Warriors and also directed Eddie Murphy’s smash hit debut, 48 Hours, the excellent Southern Comfort and a few films I’ve heard good things about, but not seen, such as The Long Riders, Streets of Fire and Extreme Prejudice. I must admit though, I’d never heard of his debut film, Hard Times, until now that Eureka have added it to their illustrious Masters of Cinema collection. With my love of Hill’s early work and a great cast to back it up, I was keen to give it a watch.

Hard Times sees ageing drifter Chaney (Charles Bronson) roll into town (New Orleans during the Depression). He comes across Speed (James Coburn), a hustler who organises street fights and asks if he can set him up with one. Chaney proves to be an exceptionally strong fighter, despite his advancing years, so Speed spies a chance to make a lot of money. He offers to manage Chaney and set him up for a big fight with Jim Henry (Robert Tessier), who’s managed by the wealthy Gandil (Michael McGuire). Speed needs some capital though, so he takes out a loan and they win a warm up bout to get some extra cash. After Chaney beats Jim though and Gandil wants to match him up with another, better fighter, the pressure and money escalates. Speed isn’t so good at keeping hold of cash though and gets into trouble with loan sharks. The more honourable Chaney initially steps away from the situation, but when Speed’s life is truly threatened, he has to decide where his honour lies.

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Blu-Ray Review: Drunken Master

Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Screenplay: Hua-An Hsi, See-Yuen Ng
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang, Dean Shek, Linda Lin, Kau Lam
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1978
BBFC Certificate: 15


Regular readers will know I love martial arts movies. My interest in the genre began back when I was a kid and I saw a cut version of Enter the Dragon on TV (nunchucks weren’t allowed to be shown in films/TV in the UK back then). I was already a fan of action movies, but the athleticism of the hand to hand combat blew me away. For some reason though (possibly because at the time I watched nothing but obvious classics and anything that got 5 stars in mainstream magazines like Empire) I didn’t think to delve further into the genre to find more titles that elicited such excitement. When I was 17 though, The Matrix came out and once again I found myself amazed by martial arts on film and not long after I finally picked up an old classic of the genre, Drunken Master. Well, as much as I enjoyed the other two films I mentioned, Drunken Master truly made my jaw drop. From then on there was no satiating my appetite for kung-fu movies and there still isn’t. It truly opened the doors to classic kung fu films for me and the film will always hold a special place in my heart because of it. Plus, few martial arts movies have bettered it in terms of action these near 40 years on. So, of course when Eureka announced Drunken Master was to be added to their prestigious Masters of Cinema label, I practically jumped for joy.

The film’s lead character, played by the incomparable Jackie Chan, is the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. Still an arrogant teenager, his martial arts skills are pretty good, but he’s not quite the master he is set to become in later years and wastes his talents on goofing around, picking street fights and making unwanted advances on young women. After getting into trouble one too many times, his father Kei-Ying (Kau Lam) sends him away to be set straight by his uncle, who’s nicknamed Beggar So (Siu Tin Yuen). This master of the 8-Drunken Genii kung-fu is notorious for crippling his students, so Fei-Hung tries his best to escape, but ends up having to endure So’s brutal training regime. When both of them are humiliated though and Fei-Hung discovers the true strength of drunken boxing, the young master must prove himself against the highly skilled assassin Yim Tit-sam (Jang Lee Hwang).

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Blu-Ray Review: The Life Of Oharu – Criterion Collection

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda
Based on a Novel by: Saikaku Ihara
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Tsukie Matsuura, Ichirô Sugai, Toshirō Mifune
Country: Japan
Running Time: 137 min
Year: 1952
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve covered most of Kenji Mizoguchi 1950’s films here in my review of Eureka’s outstanding ‘Late Mizoguchi’ box set. However, frustratingly absent from that otherwise exceptional set was one of the director’s most well respected films, 1952’s The Life of Oharu. Out of print on DVD for a while, it’s been fairly hard to come by without paying a hefty price tag. Luckily The Criterion Collection have come to our rescue and released the film on Blu-Ray in the UK (and the US I believe), so I was keen to finally check it out.

Like most of Mizoguchi’s work, The Life of Oharu centres around a female protagonist (the titular Oharu, beautifully played by Kinuyo Tanaka) who is hard done by the men around her. The film opens to show her as an ageing prostitute, struggling to attract any customers on a cold night in 17th/18th Century Japan. Sheltering in a temple filled with statues of Buddha, one reminds her of a man from her past and she reminisces about how she ended up in this position.

We learn that she was once a noble woman, but her love for a lowly page, Katsunosuke (played by Toshirō Mifune, a fact I somehow didn’t clock until writing this review), causes her and her family to be banished from the court and Katsunosuke executed. From here on out, Oharu is knocked further and further down the social strata as she is used and abused by those in power.

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Review: Going in Style

Director: Zach Braff (Garden State, Wish I Was Here)
Story: Edward Cannon
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi
Producer: Donald De Line
Starring: Joey King, Ann-Margret, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz, Kenan Thompson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 96 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Hollywood has truly hit a point now where basically anything is ripe for a remake or reboot or revival, whatever they decide on calling it, with the end result ultimately being dredging up some title from the vault for a new coat of paint on the same old shell. We’ve gotten now to the extreme of seeing remakes of remakes, like last year’s Magnificent Seven and the upcoming Scarface. Instead of using acclaimed, still popular and widely seen sources like those though, which tend to give off the stench of being made primarily for monetary reasons, the more enticing remakes (which is admittedly a bit of an oxymoron) are ones of films that had solid concepts that maybe didn’t reach their full potential, or ones of films that have been long forgotten and aren’t known these days by the large majority of viewers. Going In Style would be an example of the latter, remaking the 1979 Martin Brest film starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, which was a minor hit in its day but has faded from the public awareness in the decades since.

The tale of three down on their luck pensioners who plot to rob a bank, this version stars Oscar winners Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, and is quite bizarrely directed by Zach Braff of all people, from a script by Hidden Figures writer/director Theodore Melfi. Thankfully, Braff holds off on the whimsy and indie cliches that have defined his previous directing efforts, instead delivering a straightforward and feel good little comedy that banks on the appeal of its starring trio more than anything else. In that regard it works in spades, as all three actors bring a different flavor to the mix that makes for a pleasant concoction, and they have wonderful chemistry with one another. Freeman brings his sage wisdom and gravitas, Caine is the suave gangster with dry British wit, and Arkin (who oddly starred in the similarly themed Stand Up Guys a few years back with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken) is the boisterous wild card who gets all of the biggest laughs.
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Blu-Ray Review: The Lady From Shanghai

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Novel by: Sherwood King
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: PG


Orson Welles blew everyone away with his ‘official’ directorial debut Citizen Kane (he made Too Much Johnson before that, but it was only originally produced to be integrated into a stage show and was never screened in cinemas until its rediscovery decades later). OK, it didn’t particularly make waves at the box office, but it was critically acclaimed and made people sit up and take notice of the precocious young director. However, Welles didn’t have much luck following that. From his follow up The Magnificent Ambersons onwards, his productions were plagued by interference from studios and he never managed to strike gold in the same way due to this. In an early review – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/11/touch-of-evil/, I argued that Touch of Evil might be a better film than Citizen Kane, but I saw the ‘director’s cut’ which had been re-edited in the 90’s from the original studio released version.

The Lady From Shanghai is one of these studio tampered films, with the original cut presented to the producers coming in an hour longer than the version we have today. Welles was also particularly vocal about his dislike for the score by Heinz Roemheld (a 9-page memo he wrote detailing changes which were never made can be found in this handsome dual-format set). Nevertheless, the film is regarded as one of the better studio films he made, so a Blu-Ray re-release like this is more than welcome. I’ve seen the film once before, but couldn’t remember a lot about it so was keen to revisit it.

The Lady From Shanghai opens with Irish rogue Michael O’Hara (Welles) happening across the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and soon after saving her from the hands of some muggers. They share a sexually charged horse carriage ride, following which Elsa offers O’Hara a job on her yacht. He initially refuses this as he discovers she’s married, and to a criminal lawyer to boot. However, her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) comes to see O’Hara and persuades him to take the job. O’Hara and the audience can smell something fishy, but the hard-headed Irishman decides to risk it and heads along on the couple’s cruise. Of course, he gets into a mess of trouble as Arthur and his associate George Grisby (Glenn Anders) drag him into a faked murder plot.

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Blu-Ray Review: Brotherhood of Blades

Director: Yang Lu
Screenplay: Yang Lu, Chen Shu
Starring: Chen Chang, Shih-Chieh Chin, Dong-xue Li, Shi Shi Liu, Yuan Nie, Qianyuan Wang
Country: China
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


Decent new martial arts films from China or Hong Kong have been getting thin on the ground of late after the boom they enjoyed in the early 2000’s. That’s why I got very excited when the recent Call of Heroes ended up meeting my high expectations. Hot on its heels (in terms of a UK release date at least) is Brotherhood of Blades. Directed by Yang Lu, a newcomer to action movies, and featuring none of the big martial arts stars, I was nonetheless excited to check it out, as word of mouth was good and the marketing made it look impressive.

Brotherhood of Blades is set in late Ming Dynasty China and follows three friends, Shen Lian (Chen Chang), Lu Jianxing (Qianyuan Wang) and Jin Yichuan (Dong-xue Li), who are skilled members of the Imperial Assassins. All three of them are struggling with personal problems which could be solved with a large amount of money. Well, luckily for Shen Lian, when the three assassins are assigned with the mission of killing Wei Zhongxian (Shih-Chieh Chin), Shen is offered the chance of taking bags full of gold away with him in return for faking Wei’s death. When he takes up the offer however, he makes life incredibly difficult and dangerous for himself and his two friends as their honesty is put into question and they realise they’re being used as pawns in a much larger game.

This film didn’t impress me quite as much as Call of Heroes did unfortunately, but it’s still a solid entry to the wuxia genre. It’s handsomely presented – lit and shot beautifully with some lavish period production design.

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Blu-Ray Review: Swiss Army Man

Director: ‘The Daniels’ – Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Country: USA, Sweden
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


Swiss Army Man is a film that rode in on a wave of hype after several festival screenings, but I feel it’s hype that both helped and hindered it. Becoming known as ‘the farting corpse movie’, or variations of that, helped give the film a great amount of publicity, but I think many might have dismissed it due to this over-simplified description. Sounding like an even lower brow version of Weekend at Bernies, the film can’t have appealed to the more ‘sophisticated’ cinephiles out there. But, having now watched the film, I’d say they’re missing out on something truly special.

Swiss Army Man opens showing Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island, preparing to kill himself as he’s given up hope of rescue. However, just as he’s about to do it, he spots a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe), washed up on the shore. This is no ordinary body either. It’s rather flatulent, which initially merely distracts Hank from his suicide attempt. When the farts get more powerful though, Hank realises this ‘wind’ can be harnessed more effectively and uses the corpse as a jet-ski to reach a neighbouring lush island which is littered with rubbish, suggesting it may be inhabited.

Once on the island, Hank struggles to find any more signs of civilization, but develops a great bond with the corpse (named Manny), who miraculously comes alive (if not mobile) after a while. Manny has no memories of his life before though and has many questions about the world around him. This prompts Hank to teach him, using the limited resources around them, whilst simultaneously altering his view of his own miserable existence. In particular, the two of them discuss the subject of love, as they tackle how to approach the elusive girl on the bus, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seems to be a part of one or both of their memories.

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