Free Fire: Movie Man Jackson

 

Take your shot. In 1978 Boston, an abandoned warehouse is the scene for a weapons transaction between Republican Army agents (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and gun runners (Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay), brokered by neutral yet-in-the know Americans (Brie Larson, Armie Hammer).

Tensions arise naturally, but the deal is still in place. Just as the deal seems to be squared away, chance undoes it. Immediately, everyone in this warehouse is left to fend for themselves. What does the last man (or woman) left standing receive? Whatever large amount of money is in the now unclaimed briefcase.

On one hand, it’s sort of impossible not to get somewhat taken aback by the frenetic, 90 minute ballistic blitz that is Free Fire. And on the other hand, Free Fire jams much more than anticipated. Why? Let yours truly try to take a shot at explaining.

Want to get right into the bloodshed? Director Ben Wheatley (The ABCs of Death, High-Rise) does just that, creating an adequate igniter that puts the two factions in each others’ crosshairs. Okay, 90 minutes of ballistic blitz isn’t entirely accurate, but 70 minutes is. And it’s during this beginning and subsequent immediate aftermath of this igniter that Free Fire is at its most enjoyable. The action, while a little hard to follow exactly at times, is nonetheless fascinating during this period, with seriously impressive SFX to boot.

However, the second half comes (which is a little of a misnomer, more on that shortly), and it’s around this point in time in which Free Fire’s premise gets spread too thinly and stretched too widely as what essentially amounts to an entire 1st act. It is cool to see action immediately in a movie, but doing that without any real expansion of its participants—or at least some breathing room to shine light on the characters taking part in said action—kind of dilutes it.

With few standout qualities and characteristics, most of the characters in Free Fire end up blending into one another. Everyone seems to say the word “c**ksucker.” It’s honestly hard to remember names, which side of the divide they’re on, who they’re shooting at, etc. If there were more fun dialogue interspersed or a locale change provided by Wheatley, Free Fire may have avoided that feeling of crawling and dragging to the conclusion.

This is a big cast, and as previously mentioned, most sadly blend into each other. Even stars like Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson don’t pop out like envisioned. But, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley do. Hammer, seemingly on a career uptick after The Lone Ranger, is right at home at being the coolest guy in the room…err…warehouse, as well as the biggest badass within it. Copley, South African accent and all, gets to be eccentric and physical in his comedy; every time his mouth opens something funny comes out of it. The two get a good amount of screentime together on the same side, having that vibe that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had one year ago in The Nice Guys. Maybe these two should have been the stars of CHipSthey’re that good, and make up for many of the film’s issues.

Free Fire definitely has its share of blank rounds, but also possesses some pretty explosive ones that occasionally hit center-mass. Worth a cursory view, if just for Hammer and Copley alone.

C+

Photo credits go to sundaypost.com, drafthouse.com, and theplaylist.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com. 

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Hardcore Henry: Movie Man Jackson

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Insert obligatory joke about Hardcore Henry sounding like a porno here. A man named Henry (you/the audience) wakes up one day from the dead in a Russian laboratory. He has no memory at all of how he got there, or how he has become a hybrid of man and robot. He’s been brought back to life by Estelle (Haley Bennett), a scientist who claims she and Henry are married.

As Henry start to adjust to his new cybernetic features, the laboratory is stormed by a group of baddies led by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who somehow has telekinetic powers. They clearly want Henry for a reason, and while he manages to escape, they end up taking his wife in the process. And so, with the help of the seemingly everywhere Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry embarks on a bloody mission to take back his love. 

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When video games are adapted to films, most video game fans want their their treasured playthings be given the best cinematic treatment possible. That is to say, while playing the game is fun, looking at a film that resembles a video game from start to finish may not be the best thing around. Though not a video game adaption, Hardcore Henry feels like one literally, its presentation completely resembling some of the more popular first-person actioners of recent memory such as Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, and Mirror’s Edge. From complete start to finish.

Props is given to writer/director Ilya Naishuller for committing to a vision. Whether he achieves that vision is up to the viewer. The first person POV may not be aesthetically pleasing throughout, but there are some really impressive highlights, a main one being a chase that comes the truest to capturing the FPS perspective. One might not like the perspective, but it would be wrong to call his effort befitting of a hack; there’s a lot of skill and hard work that went into making this. To yours truly, his vision isn’t fully realized, however, because it isn’t that immersive, which is clearly what the movie is trying to be. Many people have already said it, but it is true. It is one thing to play a video game (especially a first person one), and be into it because one is actually doing the controlling, and it is another thing to watch someone play a video game, which isn’t as fun. 

Sharlto Copley stars in HARDCORE HENRY Courtesy of STX Entertainment

Even when going in with the most minuscule of expectations to Hardcore Henry‘s plot, it actually manages to disappoint more as the runtime goes on, because there is actually some unforeseen potential, in my opinion, that its setup lends itself to. But, whether Naishuller just couldn’t cobble together a good story, or chose not to in an effort to mock similar games for not having one, there’s little to care for after a while.

It’s a probable possibility that I am looking way too much into this, but if there weren’t so much story potential, I wouldn’t be as frustrated. And it is unfortunate, because for having such a small budget, Henry’s got some notable style to it, kind of feeling like a melding of steampunk with psychedelic aspects. Part of it has to be due to the music, which is awesome from a soundtrack and score perspective.

Most of the notable cast, small as it is, is pretty forgettable. Tim Roth is the most famous name to appear, but his screentime is approximately less than five minutes as our father. As a villain, Danila Kozlovsky is certainly hateable, but extremely forgettable, much like Haley Bennett, who might as well be Princess Peach. The one true bright spot is Sharlto Copley, who always seems to be one of, if not the, most memorable piece in a movie. But watching him in Hardcore Henry just makes one wish that he was in something better. 

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Looking for a film to cure that insomnia? Hardcore Henry really isn’t it. But all of its nonstop, frenetic, well-captured first-person mayhem is actually less interesting than an action fan (at least this one) would hope. It’s the equivalent of a video game that is OK on one playthrough, but has little replay, or in this case—rewatch, value.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to nerdist.com, collider.com, and dorkshelf.com.

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Europa Report: Movie Man Jackson

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“Who are we? Why are we here? Where do we come from? And, are we alone?”

The question may get old, but it will always be asked (albeit worded differently): Is there life on other planets? Perhaps on Jupiter, there may be. In the Europa Report, six astronauts are brought together to investigate one of Jupiter’s moons known as Europa. This moon has been discovered to contain water, and along with the heat readings emitting from this moon, the existence of life appears to be more of a certainty than a possibility.

Any astronaut is aware of the inherent risk that comes with space exploration. Still, none of them can be prepared for what lies on Europa. Eventually, a mission of exploration turns into a struggle for survival. Does the possibility of finding new life mean anything if you lose yours?

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Can there ever be too much science in a science fiction? Personal preference is the determining factor, but Europa Report seems to firmly have its feet more in the science realm compared to the fiction realm. Despite its space exploration similarities, those looking for an experience comparable to Gravity or Interstellar may end up disappointed.

Europa Report and its director Sebastian Cordero have no such problem with not just featuring science, but actually talking about it and all of its particulars. As for the environment and visuals, everything looks and sounds scientifically accurate…because it legitimately is. Bona fide footage from many past space feats is utilized, and to ensure that the moon of Europa is as accurate to the real thing as possible, the production crew compiled data from NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) to be put to use.

From time to time, all of the science talk and jargon can become tedious. This is coming from yours truly, by no means an astrophysicist, but one who generally likes hearing and learning about the laws of the universe. By that extent, this feels less like a film and more like something seen on CBS such as Nova, which is great in its own right but not something I necessarily want to see in a flick. When it isn’t like a documentary, it bears some resemblance to a video game (take a look at that first still again), with its HUD-like display and first person point-of-view.

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Making a movie for roughly $10 million, which happens to be Europa Report’s estimated budget, is pretty cheap. Not dirt cheap, but cheap. As mentioned earlier, though, the money looks to be spent in the right places. With that said, Europa Report does rely on a filmmaking approach all too familiar and often derided for being cheap: found footage. It may not be as annoying in comparison to how it is used in other works, but its presence makes for a somewhat disjointed plot, with the constant shifting between what has happened on the ship and the analysis found in the Nova-style documentary. One can only begin to think about whether the exploration tale would have been more effective and entertaining if a standard way of storytelling would have been deployed.

But, that isn’t to say there are no positives with the story. For starters, it doesn’t last too long, though a case can probably be made for an extra 15-20 minutes, which could have made for a stronger resonance on an emotional level that the movie tries to jam in at the very end. Impressively, Europa Report does a good job at creating real tension and unease; the less you know about this, the better. Great tension demands a great payoff however, and the payoff that is found here is average to yours truly, at best. It is the type of ending that will work better for some and not others, depending on whether one is able to connect with the characters.

Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, and Sharlto Copley, along with others, appear here. Their roles as exploring astronauts don’t require a ton of flair, but simple realism. With that being the case, all do what is needed to sell the viewer on this mission, which the movie treats as more important than its characters until about right near the end. Aside from Copley’s character, so little is known about the crew that when stuff begins to go down, it barely registers emotionally.

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The final report on this one? Europa Report is a sharp-looking, smaller-budgeted, tension-filled, science fiction that probably will not inspire much thought-provoking or even a truly fulfilling conclusion, but does serve as a fairly interesting direction taken on intergalactic exploration.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, magnetreleasing.com, and salon.com.

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Chappie: Movie Man Jackson

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“How was I supposed to know that you would become you?”

The mind is, or can be, the strongest muscle in one’s body. It is also the most impressionable muscle as well. In a near-futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa, crime has curtailed thanks to the deployment of robots on the police force. Created by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and distributed through weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, Wilson is hailed as a genius. Like many great geniuses however, he’s thinking about the next innovation, the next augment. He wants these robots to think and feel for themselves.

But he’s missing one thing: The clearance from his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). Still, after successfully building the artificial consciousness, Deon decides to test it on a robot previously left to the scrap heap. The implementation doesn’t go how he envisioned though, as he becomes kidnapped by Ninja (Ninja), Yo-landi (Yolandi), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a gang looking to utilize a mechanized bot to complete a high-importance heist. Forced to comply or die, Deon reluctantly uploads the program to the bot, and gives not just new life to it, but sentience. Chappie (voice of Sharlto Copley) becomes the name. He is alive, and can be molded into anything a person desires, good and/or bad.

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Just in case it wasn’t known, Chappie is directed by the man who did District 9, Neill Blomkamp. Sure, he also did Elysium which was entertaining, but his full-length directorial debut in D9 is held in high regard as not just one of the best science-fictions in recent memory, but even of all time. That amazing height he reached in that debut may be just as much of a curse as it is a gift, similar to Nas’ Illmatic and the trouble he’s had with following that classic. This isn’t to disparage Chappie, which to yours truly is still a fairly solid sci-fi, if somewhat misleading.

With this being the another sci-fi, it is clear that Blomkamp has a comfort within the genre and an appreciation for it. But, the feeling cannot be shook that the world here feels awfully reminiscent to that other film that took place in South Africa, right down to the initial moments and to the explosive finale packed to the brim with a little too much slow-motion. Still, this familiar world and what occurs within it is not irritating to the eyes, or the ears for that matter. The production is of high quality, with the score being a high point done by the legendary Hans Zimmer. Occasionally, the sound mixing and levels are more overpowering than they should be, but it isn’t a consistent occurrence.

Blomkamp is a director full of ideas, some more subtle than others. Chappie is no different, with the only difference with this one being that the themes of autonomy and especially parenting are not as “grand” as health care or racism to name a few. While his examination on child rearing and exactly how parents/environment can shape their offspring is interesting, riveting, and touching in places, the autonomy and what it truly means to be human is underdeveloped, especially when held up to movies such as RoboCop and A Clockwork Orange. It is still a pretty fascinating story for the entirety of the two hour runtime, but saddening also as the trailers (first one, at least) appeared to be going a slightly different direction.

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Where there’s Neill Blomkamp there’s Sharlto Copley, this time providing not only the voice but the motion capture work for the titular robot.  Much praise has to given to the filmmaker to making Chappie seamlessly integrated into the world, and not an obviously-looking CGI entity. As for actually injecting it with real emotion and child-like wonder, that is all Copley with his movement and verbal delivery. If the plan was to care for Chappie himself throughout, Copley certainly did his job in making yours truly do so.

As essentially Chappie’s father, Dev Patel gives a great performance to a somewhat compelling but still lacking character. There may be a missed opportunity to say more about his usage of technology, his background, and more, but the movie does make the viewer question if Wilson’s aspirations for Chappie, though noble, are really any better than the aspirations had by Ninja and Yo-landi in a vacuum.

But of course, life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and even if it did, the characters played by the members of rap group Die Antwoord (characters with their actual rap names!) would still be terrible people. Perhaps it isn’t the fact that they are so grating and irritating, but the fact that Blomkamp decides to feature them, mainly Ninja, to the extent that he does only serves to exacerbate the problem. Yo-landi isn’t too bad, but I still get the sneaky feeling that this will likely be the “biggest” movie they both do.

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Having Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver usually mean good things in a film, as long as they are used correctly and flat out used at all. Jackman plays Vincent Moore, an engineer who works at the same place that Patel’s character does. These two are on a collision course with opposing viewpoints on technology, which has the makings of something awesome since they are both attempting to achieve the same thing.

However, Moore is eventually turned into a stock antagonist with little motivation, with the turning point occurring at a moment in the film that completely renders his character as a monster with no build towards it, and not to mention any repercussions. For what he is given, Jackman still does well, and it is a nice refresher to see him as the villain. Sigourney Weaver seems to only be here to give a level of star power, as she does nothing more than take space. The role could have easily been removed, or filled with anyone.

Chappie is not a new step in evolution for the genre, but it isn’t utterly riddled with defects either. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre should make use of autonomy and make it a point to view at some point down the line.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to galacticnewsone.com, vanyaland.com, and nydailynews.com.

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Elysium: Movie Man Jackson

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“We’re not gonna f*****g dying here.”

Is 2154 so much different than 2015? Los Angeles (and what can be assumed the whole Earth) in the year 2154 is no man’s land. The City of Angels is dilapidated, grime-infested, crime-infested, and overpopulated beyond capacity. Its inhabitants are on one end of the spectrum, while the extremely wealthy are on the opposite end. They live on a man-made, not exactly secure but hard-to-get-to station in space called Elysium, where all of society’s physical, mental, and environmental ills are not to be found.

Max da Costa (Matt Damon) is on the low end of the spectrum, a guy who has desired his whole life to “get up there.” However, when he becomes exposed to a life-altering event, his desire becomes a need. Getting to Elysium will not be a smooth flight though, with Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) doing everything in their power and outside of it to keep the unwanted out of their haven. If successful, Max will not only improve his live, but unbeknownst to him, the lives of others.

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To director Neill Blomkamp, Elysium isn’t a foreshadowing of the future like some science fictions are. As stated by the man behind District 9, “This [Elysium] is today. This is now.” And it really is evident from the get-go that Blomkamp has much to say about health care, immigration, class warfare, and other current hot-topics. It is nice to see a filmmaker with pronounced opinions not be afraid to place them in this films. Now, whether his opinions are overly heavy-handed or not will be up to the viewer.

It may be best to look at Blomkamp’s second offering, similar in many places from a plot perspective as his first feature, as more of a hybrid action sci-fi than a truly cerebral one. Not to discredit the commentary here because things are being said and inspire thought, but if compared to D9, and yours truly hates doing this (but the movies are in the same genre), the societal aspects found here are not handled as deftly.

With all of that said, this is still an very entertaining flick, and it starts with the world that is featured in it. Blomkamp knows how to craft a setting to the intended effect. Earth in particular is introduced in the first five seconds as a cratered, miserable, and overall unhealthy place to reside on. Contrast that, also established within seconds, to the Elysium space station, which is so beautiful and eye-popping in a synthetic way. With the movie named Elysium however, it is disappointing that little is examined as to how everyday life is on it, how it operates, etc. It is one of those movies that easily could have used an extra 10-20 minutes to expound upon this intriguing focal point.

Matt Damon stars in TriStar Pictures' ELYSIUM.

While it may have somewhat of a slower initial pace in a mostly successful attempt to build its setting and characters, the action rises to the forefront when the time calls, and Blomkamp seems to relish in it, from Halo-like force fields to high-powered exoskeletons. None of the set pieces are truly large scale in nature, but they all carry a high level of importance. And, it doesn’t hurt that they look splendid in their presentation. The unstable, shaky, sometimes slo-mo camera effects are slightly disorienting early on in “normal” scenes, but actually add to the action and gives it a pronounced flair as the movie goes on.

Having good-looking action is one things, but the right people are needed to make it look cool and believable. Matt Damon has proven his badass hero capabilities before, and does so again here. The role is basically the antihero in it for himself first and foremost, but his plight is one to see through towards the end. In a smaller role, William Fichtner is effective as businessman John Carlyle, snarky and overt in his disdain for Earth and its residents.

But the real standout is Sharlto Copley as the completely unhinged and remorseless Agent Kruger, in a complete 180 from his character of Wikus from D9. From the moment he reveals his face cloaked under a grungy brown hoodie, you just know that this individual does not need to be around people. For some, he may be a little over-the-top, but for yours truly Copley brings a load of menace and unpredictability along with some occasional laughs.

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Not all is solid on the acting front. In a true shocker, Jodie Foster turns in a downright shockingly odd performance, putting it nicely. It is just hard to get a feel for what she is going for here as Secretary Delacourt, and the apparent audio dubbing and comically stiff delivery only make things worse. At least she makes a mark on this, which cannot be said for Alice Braga, playing Max’s friend/love interest as Frey. The “/” is intentional; while it can be inferred that the two maybe had something romantic at some point in the past, their relationship isn’t clear and ends up dulling the intended emotional moments. Whatever status is had between the pair, little chemistry exists between Damon and Braga. For as little time as he is on screen, Diego Luna character possesses a stronger bond with Max than Frey does.

Elysium may lack the touch and “bite” found in classic science fictions, but there still lies a world and a story here that is worth spending time with. And in Blomkamp’s eyes, we are already doing so.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to ign.com, rottentomatoes.com, aceshowbiz.com, and wearemoviegeeks.com.

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District 9: Movie Man Jackson

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“He was an honest man, and he didn’t deserve any of what happened to him.”

The aliens have landed. Well, hovered is more like it. 20 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, aliens arrive in a ship and do little more than hover over the city. However, fear of the unknown spurs the humans to cut into the hovercraft where they find that these foreign beings are malnourished and living in trash. Feeling pressure to do the right thing for them, Johannesburg sets up a living space known as District 9.

20 years later, District 9 is nothing more than a ghetto slum housing 1.8 of these “prawns.” They cannot be contained though, which prompts a massive private company to go forward with a plan to move the aliens to concentration camp-like District 10, led by a snide field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). During this forced removal, Wikus comes in contact with a strange black substance that immediately begins to transform him into one of them. Valued as nothing more than a science experiment, Wikus now is a branded fugitive in his own land.

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It definitely isn’t required, but good science fictions often seem to reflect or touch upon society—past, present, and/or future—in some way. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 makes its intended focus evident. For decades, South Africa was known for Apartheid, racial segregation somewhat akin to what the United States experienced. Maybe to some it can be argued that it is really heavy handed, but it is clear within the first 10 minutes what the film’s message is. And it makes District 9 no less captivating.

The documentary-style approach, sometimes rightly attributed to cheap filmmaking, is an asset here. Utilized early on and through a solid chunk of the film, it really places the viewer into an alternate universe that truly feels like the real thing. That is to say, that even with the inclusion of aliens, yours truly never found this world odd or hard to buy into. This literally feels like it happened and is a part of actual history.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the movie looks impressive. Whether it be a prolonged horrific transformation sequence (still chilling), or the simple way the aliens look and exist here, the attention to detail is impressive and is on par with many, more expensive blockbusters. District 9 goes down as one of the better movies that integrates visual effects and digitally created entities into a realistic world at an extremely high level.

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Blomkamp makes quite the debut as a full-length director with this one. Not only does he craft an wonderful allegory touching upon xenophobia, segregation, private corporations, and more, he allows it to play out and build with efficient pacing. Nothing ever comes off as rushed or stilted. With that said, there is a noticeable shift in the third and final act. The story is still dedicated to its preexisting themes, but the abundance of ultraviolence is undeniable. It does look impressive and serves as a solid climax, but some of it only appears to exist for cool purposes. How many exploding heads are enough?

Part of the charm and effectiveness of D9 is in large part to the people who appear in it. Sharlto Copley isn’t a recognizable star, maybe even a “mild” star at that. But that unfamiliarity works wonders, and adds another element of realism as he is featured heavily in the confessional moments of the documentary. His metamorphosis, both physically and mentally, is something to behold, especially when you consider that Wikus is a hard guy to sympathize with. He is very unlikable, and yet Blomkamp and Copley do just enough to make the viewer care about his reclamation. Despite being digital, the sadness, fear, and emotion of the aliens is on full display, and it becomes very easy to side with the group’s struggles and hardships.

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There may be a lot of secrets in District 9, but being a first-rate film isn’t one of them. Featuring a brilliant plot, proficient directing, and visceral action, it still stands as one of the better science fictions in recent memory.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, marucarrion.com, dvdactive.com, and screenrant.com. 

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