Tag Archives: Luke Wilson

London Film Festival 2016: Day 12

ff026

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Flash back with me about 60 hours or so, fellow readers, to my press screening of Nocturnal Animals on a Friday morning.  It’s a sold-out screening, completely full from front-to-back of people dying to watch Tom Ford’s new feature.  Now I want you to picture, as soon as the film makes its final cut to black, the sound of the entire back section standing up, grabbing their things, and making straight for the doors.  Not even before a single end title card appeared to denote the film had absolutely and officially finished were a bunch of people making a beeline for the exit.  I was joining them from my slot in the middle of the third row about 10 seconds later, before you judge, and a whole bunch of us basically sprinted the length of Leicester Square to get to the Picturehouse Central, greeting a queue that had already stretched around the corner of the cinema and into the middle of the street.

We were sprinting, you see, because we were all desperately trying to make it into the queue for the press screening of the Closing Film, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire (Grade: B), before the intangible cut-off mark became apparent.  It was a queue that had clearly started long before Nocturnal Animals had wrapped, made up of critics and industry professionals either shut out of or uninterested in that film, or who had decided that missing Nocturnal Animals was an understandable sacrifice given the opportunity of making it into Free Fire, but both crowds had clearly gotten there a good hour early.  I got real lucky and made it to the queue well before the shut-out point, which meant that I got to see Free Fire a good 2 days before the screening I had already bought a ticket for!  It also meant that I’ve been under embargo for the past 2 days, but I’m still at that stage in my critical career where embargos fill me with a kind of geeky excitement so that’s all good.

Anyways, Free Fire is Ben Wheatley’s attempt at lean, mean, semi-mainstream genre fare and comes to you with an incredibly simple premise.  Set entirely in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in America in the 1970s, a group of IRA members led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are trying to buy some guns from South African arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the deal being facilitated by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer).  But what should be a very simple transaction keeps turning ever more complicated and sour the longer it drags on – the guns aren’t what Chris ordered, Vernon is secretly withholding the ammo from the order, nobody trusts each other, and everybody on both sides is a complete goddamn idiot.  When it turns out that one of Chris and Frank’s group (Sam Riley) got into an altercation the night before with one of Vernon’s men (Jack Reynor) over something unconscionable, things turn heated very quickly, and then somebody pulls a gun…

In essence, Free Fire is one of those finger-gun battles you used to play as kids given the big screen treatment, with elements of Sam Peckinpah thrown in for good measure.  That giant kind of free-for-all where everybody’s wildly shooting at everybody else, where every bullet doesn’t kill you cos it totally just hit your shoulder pads rather than any vital part of your body, where everybody has unlimited amounts of ammo for unexplained reasons, and where things eventually just devolve into a lot of people crawling around pathetically in a desperate attempt to finish off everyone else for reasons that are lost even on themselves.  It purposefully aims lower than any of Wheatley’s other films so far, clearly being positioned as a more mainstream calling card and the kind of genre fare that gets placed in various Midnight Movie programmes for many years down the line, which is why it is inarguably his weakest.  It’s a giant empty stylistic exercise, at a stretch you could read the film as being a commentary on rampant unchecked masculinity, but the film also relies on that very thing for its premise and action.

free_fire_storming

No, Free Fire deliberately aims rather low.  That said, I don’t consider that a particularly bad thing.  If the film were any less than the massive amount of fun that it is, then I would consider it a bad thing, but I do love me an exquisitely-made and very fun genre piece.  In fact, Free Fire is near-flawless in what it sets out to be.  The idea of an hour-long gun fight can sound tiring on paper, but Wheatley and his partner-in-crime Amy Jump break that macro concept down into more micro elements, feuds, and tasks in order to keep that pace up – going from that initial exchange, to having to deal with a pair of gate-crashing snipers, to re-igniting the initial feud, to trying to figure out a way to diffuse the situation, and so on.  As a result, the film is impeccably paced, its first half-hour very slowly turning up the pressure, exploding all at once when things go to Hell, and then having contained peaks and valleys despite not too much changing in the grand scheme of things.

Wheatley and Jump wring every last drop they can out of their premise – whilst that 70s setting pulls double duty in explaining why nobody can call for back-up, and allowing the pair to indulge themselves in some truly criminal facial hair and snappy suits from the era – and they manage to stage and edit the firefight with surprising coherency.  Logistically, this must have been a nightmare to organise and edit, but it’s almost always clear where everyone is in relation to everyone else and who is shooting at whom, with the few instances where it’s not creating the intentional effect of disorienting the viewer in the same way that the cast are disorientated.  The script does a very good job at crafting a varied cast of characters when it could have been very easy for each of them to become interchangeable and samey, and it’s often very funny, albeit not as funny on paper as it often thinks it’s being.

That’s where the cast comes in.  Stacked from top-to-bottom with a mixture of big names and talented character actors, they’re more than up to the task of picking up the slack when the script occasionally lets them down and turning quips that otherwise wouldn’t be that funny into howlers, as well as finding a hundred different ways of yelling out the f-word.  They’re all clearly having the absolute time of their lives playing thoroughly awful people and staging an over-the-top gunfight, and that enthusiasm is properly infectious.  Brie Larson gets to remind you that she’s capable of some of the best eye-rolls in the business, Jack Reynor continues his recent redemption streak for Transformers: Age of Extinction, Armie Hammer is delightfully smug, Sam Riley is often a goddamn riot, Sharlto Copley finds the sweet-spot between “hammy” and “irritating” that he doesn’t always nail, Michael Smiley is a load of fun, and Cillian Murphy gets to bust out his natural Irish brogue for once and it’s still as dreamy a voice as ever.

Like I said, Free Fire is almost likely going to be a minor footnote in Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s respective careers once they both finally wrap up and get those giant deserving retrospectives, but that’s by design.  Free Fire isn’t trying to go down as a classic, it isn’t trying to blow minds, and it isn’t trying to say anything at all.  It’s a 90 minute style exercise, an attempt by the pair to make a slice of lean, mean genre fare.  And I can’t really knock them too hard for it, not when Free Fire is this near-flawlessly constructed, and not when I had this much fun the two times I saw it.  I’m cooler on it after my viewing of it on Closing Night than I was after the press screening, but I still really enjoyed it, as did the rest of both of the capacity screenings I was in, and that’s really all you can ask for out of genre fare.

ghoul_the_chris_outside_-kathleens

Sticking with Wheatley-affiliated works, because I did in fact watch other films today, Gareth Tunley’s directorial debut The Ghoul (Grade: C+) is a really hard one to talk about.  I would tell you the premise, except that the premise is not the premise at all, as revealed about 20 minutes in to this 81 minute film, and it’s the kind of reveal that’s necessary to experience fresh in order to get the most out of the film.  In as vague terms as I can put it, The Ghoul is a psychological thriller about depression, daydreams and imaginations, and psychotherapy, that manages to create the impression of the film withholding its ultimate explanation for a reason rather than because the film itself doesn’t even know what it’s doing.  At its best moments, it creates this unsettling bad dream atmosphere; the kind where it feels real but keeps jutting around, and where you feel like something’s wrong but aren’t sure why until it’s far too late.  Like I said, it’s hard to properly talk about The Ghoul, which is why this review’s so short, but it is a solid first effort.  It’s messy, a bit too self-serious, and a little over-ambitious given its no-budget, but that atmosphere and a very well-handled lead performance by Tom Meeten pulls it through.  Worth a look, overall.

Since I didn’t get an approved ticket for Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, the kick-off film to my final day at the festival was the Chinese-funded, American-made, Western-aimed kids animation Rock Dog (Grade: C) in 3D (which added absolutely nothing to the film beyond mild dizziness as usual).  Set in an all-animal world – which is distressingly becoming the default setting for most animated films once more – the film follows Bodi (Luke Wilson), a dog and the son of Snow Mountain’s chief protector, Khampa (J. K. Simmons).  Snow Mountain is entirely populated, apart from Bodi and Khampa, by sheep and, once upon a time, they were terrorised by evil wolves, until Khampa used mystical martial arts to repel the village of them.  Bodi is being groomed to take over as protector of the village, but he’d rather become a musician and, after a radio falls from the sky and exposes Bodi to rock music, he becomes inspired to pick up sticks and move to the city to become a rock star.

rock_dog_01

If you pulled out your Generic Kids Animation Bingo Card halfway through reading the description and got almost a full-house by the end, you’re pretty justified in doing so.  Rock Dog is absolutely generic interchangeable animated kids fare, almost exactly the same as any other foreign kids animation that’s given a haphazard English dub and punted into UK cinemas in the hopes of a quick easy buck.  There’s the usual “be true to yourself and everything will work out” moral, an excessively naïve and optimistic lead character, a soundtrack filled with incredibly on-the-nose needle-drops, far too many characters that distract from the main tale and lead to the film being far too busy, wacky physical comedy and screaming for the kids and almost-swearing gags for the adults, way too much plot that just needlessly keeps the film in first gear…  If you can think of a cliché, it’s almost definitely here.

That said, it’s not as numbingly dull as most other generic and effortless animated kids fare.  The art style may be poor – although it does feature the interesting design choice of having Bodi’s village represent Eastern, and particularly Tibetan, aesthetics whilst the city more represents Western aesthetics – but the character animation itself is halfway decent, going for the kind of 3D squash-and-stretch that Genndy Tartakovsky and the Hotel Transylvania crew have been trying to accurately transfer over the CG medium.  The film also does pick up some steam once Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) enters the scene, being a delightfully self-centred and cantankerous rock star parody that’s so over-the-top, and so well-performed by Izzard, that he actually pulls out laughs on a regular basis that are otherwise lacking in this film.  Look, you probably already gathered that Rock Dog wasn’t going to be worth much once you realised that they likely expanded all of their creativity and effort on the title (reverse the Dog part) and those are low expectations the film mostly fulfils.  It’s not bad or offensively lazy, it’s actually quite watchable, but there’s also not much to recommend here either.  It’s ok.

Although it does now hold the title of being the weirdest place that I’ve heard Radiohead’s “No Surprises” crop up in.  So, that’s something, I guess.

Day 13: I reflect on the madness of the last 12 days and provide my list of the 10 best films of the festival.

Callum Petch got him a rock and roll band!  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Ridiculous 6

23579834

A new two-hour long Netflix Original was released yesterday called The Ridiculous 6. It’s the second Netflix Original Film, after Beasts of No Nation, and the first of four (yes, four) productions by Adam Sandler for the online streaming service.

Set in the wild west, The Ridiculous 6 is a spoof of old fashioned westerns, taking its title from John Sturgess’s 1960 genre-defining classic The Magnificent Seven – well, duh – and is most likely also a pop at Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight. Kind of like how the bastions of quality over at the Asylum try to copy other bigger budget, better films with their mockbuster titles.

In it, Sandler is joined by his usual posse of sycophantic chums, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia and Terry Crews. One by one, they each discover that they all share the same dad (Nick Nolte) and heralded by the “Injun” raised Sandler, set out to steal enough money to pay a ransom to a bandit (Danny Trejo) to save their absent father’s life.

For the past few years, the branding ‘Netflix Original’ has been something of a mark of quality. Generally speaking. From some of their earlier productions like the award winning original dramas Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, to more recent shows such as Better Call Saul and Daredevil, their label has been a signifier of some level of quality. Even when some of their more ambitious projects like Sense 8 have left me impressed but overwhelmed, I still kept faith in their ability to produce new and exciting material.

Although, with some of their more recent output like the smug-fest that was the God-awful joyless A Very Murray Christmas, my faith is being tested more often than I’d prefer it to be.

Back in October last year, it was announced that the first Netflix movie was in production. It seemed inevitable that they would be producing feature films sooner or later. Whilst we’re still waiting for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny to get up and stop hiding, somehow this piece of garbage wrangled its way into production and onto my YouView box.

I tried with the best will in the world to give it a chance on Friday afternoon. I managed to reach the 15 minute mark before holding my hands up in the air, declaring “nope”, and then switching it off. I couldn’t stand any more of it. I took a breather, watched a few episodes of the excellent Narcos, and then finished The Ridiculous 6 off afterwards, all so I could confidently state that it is without question the worst Adam Sandler film that I’ve had the misfortune to waste 120 minutes on.

It’s meant to be a spoof of westerns in general, particularly the stereotypes that those old movies often employed; yet I see it more as a spoof of Adam Sandler’s ability to keep getting huge wads of cash to make lowest common denominator, repetitive, unoriginal, schmalzy, unfunny, complete and utter fucking dog shit over and over again. Only, instead of a satire of Sandler’s monopoly on “buckets of turd” (an actual line from the film) made by a much funnier comedian, it’s actually not a spoof. It really is the 50 year old actor still pretending to be 13 years old.

It has every single Adam Sandler trademark that you can think of. There are: attractive women desperately trying to capture his attention (but he’s too cool for that, given his already very attractive fiancé); “hahaha he’s black ahaha and we’re white ahahahahaha”; sidelined female characters (and that’s stretching it calling them characters); an elderly person saying something along the lines of “ow that’s gotta hurt”; an animal and related dick / toilet humour, etc. I can’t think of a single “joke” that you might associate with an Adam Sandler film, that isn’t right here in the opening 15 minutes.

And who can blame him? How much money has this schtick made him and his production company, Happy Madison Productions? If you come at this from a business perspective, thinking of Adam Sandler as just some other guy who goes to work like everybody else and earns a living, then there really is no reason for him to change what he does given that there’s clearly a paying audience for this constant barrage of mindless twaddle.

What makes it more infuriating is that I can’t hate The Ridiculous 6 for being bad, because I actually thought it was well directed by Frank Coraci – to a certain degree. It’s a film that’s meant to be seen in 4k, a service that Netflix charges users more for, suggesting that they clearly see Adam Sandler as not only a draw for new customers, but also enticing existing subscribers to upgrade. Not me, I can do without seeing his smug unbothered face in ultra-high definition, thank you very much.

My point is that there clearly was a lot of effort put into making it look very snazzy. There are plenty of lovely individual shots of the old west, as well as nice sequences that give it a bit of a spaghetti western feeling, even though it was shot in New Mexico rather than the cheapest most expansive land in Italy or Spain. The costumes are also rather cool in their own way too, adding a bit of character to otherwise quite bland caricatures. I just get the impression that everybody working on The Ridiculous 6, from set designers to the well-stocked suppliers of push-up bras, they all seemed to want to do something good with this film.

That’s everyone except for Adam Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy. I’m not suggesting they intended to make a bad film. Worse, I’m implying that they’re incapable of it. In an effort to put together a semi-cohesive story with a couple of call backs and set ups along the way, it appears as though they just decided to forgo writing clever, funny gags. Instead, I think they went straight to a local charity shop to spend 50p on a children’s joke book from the 1970’s.

At one point, a farting donkey sprays shit all over a wall for no apparent reason whatsoever except so that he can do it again later at a slightly more opportune time without it appearing to be too random. At another point in the plot, there’s a rock that looks like a giant phallus because LOL IT’S A ROCK THAT LOOKS LIKE A COCK, which impresses everyone with its size, except for Crews because he’s black lololol. Taylor Lautner plays a retard who laughs at every joke so you, the expectedly similarly retarded audience, also know when to laugh.

Which, in hindsight, is fair enough because I certainly didn’t know when to laugh.

It’s not even that the cast are unlikeable. I have a lot of time for Terry Crews. Brooklyn Nine-NineThe Expendables series, even White Chicks, he’s pretty damn funny in them. But here, he’s reduced to little more than token black guy who makes jokes only at the expense of his race. Jorge Garcia does fat-guy-falls-down. Schneider is a donkey-loving Mexican. Luke Wilson is Luke Wilson. It’s just thinly veiled attempts to satirise the pervasive stereotypes of old without having anything new to say about it. It mimics the offensiveness with neither subtlety nor impetus.

The less said about the controversial portrayal of native Americans, the better (although the whole “four out of 150 stormed out during production” seems to be something of a storm in a teacup.)

For a comedy, it is the biggest crock of shit that I’ve seen all year. The worst thing is, is that I knew it would be and yet I still wanted to give it a go because of that Netflix Original brand. With another three of these films to go, regardless of the quality of Beasts of No Nation, I’m beginning to think that maybe they should have just stuck to making original shows, steering clear of the movie business. Because if the poisonous Sandler infection spreads and Netflix ends up as a syphon for his bankroll (this fucking film cost $60-fucking-million to make) then I may have to reconsider my subscription.

But hey, if you’re looking for something to submit in your “worst 3 films of the year” category for the Failed Critics Awards, then why not give it a shot.