Free Guy

Release: Friday, August 13, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Matt Lieberman; Zak Penn

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Taika Waititi; Joe Keery; Jodi Comer; Lil Rel Howery

 

 

 

***/*****

Following more the logic of the heart than the brain, Free Guy is a whacky but entertaining circus of big visual effects, videogame Easter eggs, and shameless (more like proud) product placement for parent company Disney, which now owns the world. It’s also the perfect environment for Ryan Reynolds to flourish, one in which cutting loose and just doing you is the whole point. Or was supposed to be!

The movie’s big draw is of course Ryan Reynolds doing his typical Ryan Reynolds thing, but this is also literally a love letter to gamers and coders. Being knowledgeable about technical stuff will surely elevate the experience though by no means is it a requisite. Free Guy takes a surprisingly high concept approach to a basic template. This is all about a guy (lowercase ‘g’) pursuing his dream girl, a pretty classic convention often obfuscated by all the chaos. Very little here is designed to be stored in the long-term memory. Instead director Shawn Levy and his writing team work overtime to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain as often as possible, injecting silliness, cartoonish violence and a surprising amount of heart into one hyperactive summer blockbuster.

In an open-world game called Free City, Guy (Reynolds) wakes up each morning in a Groundhog Day loop of obliviousness to what this place really is and his role in it. His best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery — Get Out; Bird Box), the cheerful security guard at the bank where Guy works as a teller. Neither has a clue that their lives are a programmed simulation. One day on his way to work he passes a woman humming a Mariah Carey tune and is smitten. He pursues her but unfortunately that train goes off the rails. However something profound has changed within him.

Molotov Girl’s the name and “Leveling Up” is the game he must play if he is to impress her. So of course the eternally upbeat and decreasingly naive Blue Shirt Guy plays along, but he won’t gain experience by doing what most players do — holding NPCs (non-player characters) hostage, blowing things up, generally being lawless savages. No, he’s going to do good deeds, a strategy that earns him Molotov Girl’s respect and a cult following. In fact he fast becomes a “player” of interest for many throughout the world plugged into Free City, represented in a series of stilted cameos by real YouTube celebrities and gamers.

His increasing autonomy also attracts the attention of game developer Antwan (Taika Waititi), for whom the brilliant code writers Keys (Stranger Things‘ Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer — Killing Eve; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) work as dogs for their master. I mentioned before how very little is going to be remembered for long, and if you’re a fan of the Kiwi comedian that’s definitely a good thing. He’s actually pretty awful as the movie’s one-note villain whose whole deal is stealing other people’s work and being as insufferable as possible. In fairness, the character isn’t written to be anything more but his acting is of a quality where you suspect the director didn’t have the cohones to edit his Oscar-winner.

Maybe the director didn’t feel like meddling because he has so much on his plate. Free Guy is arguably over-ambitious, particularly considering a sequel has already been green-lit. What’s going to be left to tell? Yet for all that it is burdened with, the story moves pretty fluidly as it hops in and out of the game, an anarchic environment inspired by the likes of GTA, Fortnite and The Sims, with spirited input from the young Keery and Comer keeping us invested in the affairs of the real world. Concurrent to the Guy plot is a heist involving precious data which could incriminate Antwan and potentially save Free City from his future nefarious plans. To get there, Millie and Keys need to access a secret location called The Stash, and they could really use some help.

Combining the playground aesthetic of Ready Player One, the voyeurism of The Truman Show and The Matrix‘s march toward salvation, Free Guy is a Frankenstein of elements and homages that somehow ends up morphing into its own ridiculous thing. I mean, where else are you going to see Reynolds as an evil David Hasselhoff avatar whose coding is disturbingly incomplete and whose face is super-imposed on an actual bodybuilder? Okay, so I lied. That’s one thing you’re never going to forget from this movie.

Lucky Guy

Moral of the Story: Huge entertainment value trumps logical storytelling and one seriously annoying villain. Because I am a big fan of Ryan Reynolds’ comedic act Free Guy is probably my favorite blockbuster of the year. It’s far from perfect but it is really fun and super easy to get along with, even for non-gamers such as myself. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Is this what recreational drugs feel like?”

Check out the pretty sweet new music video for Mariah Carey’s Fantasy here! 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent o the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; 20th Century Studios 

Assassin’s Creed

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Release: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Michael Lesslie; Adam Cooper; Bill Collage

Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Assassin’s Creed is simply not interesting enough for those who never played the game. You might fairly ask me why I would choose to sit through a movie based on a video game I never played. Um, I was expecting the acting pedigree behind the film’s trio of stars to carry more weight. Or for acting to matter at all in the film. I was hoping I could use what I learned here as a springboard for me getting into the games later. Here’s the best advice I can offer to those in a similar position: don’t do that.

I DON’T HAVE A CREED, SORRY

Everything is going to be okay, despite what Rotten Tomatoes says (yikes). I wonder how seriously game enthusiasts take film critics when they review game adaptations. Like recent releases inspired by gaming phenomena — Warcraft, Resident EvilMortal Kombat — the film has a substantial enough built-in fan base that will ensure a sequel or three will get the green light. So if you actually use the tomatometer as a measuring stick for what you want to watch, you might take a close look at how audiences are responding instead of reading my list of grievances against a pretty dull film.

The film doesn’t completely alienate the outsider, but it hardly gives you a warm fuzzy. Director Justin Kurzel’s reverence for the game’s well-established, sophisticated lore is apparent. We are effortlessly transported to a quasi-romantic/dystopian universe, one split between 15th-Century Spain and an hyper-stylized approximation of the present day. The film’s gorgeous in its steely griminess, a wardrobe tailored to the actors’ shape while remaining faithful to the ornate designs of the source material’s costumes. Assassin’s Creed clings to this façade with desperation, a large portion of the footage dedicated to overemphasizing said wardrobe. And an onslaught of skywards shots of our heroes parkouring the hell out of a city is presumably intended to invoke the sensation of being involved in this mission.

The narrative draws upon the mythos established in the original game, now a decade old, but instead of retracing familiar steps for those who have long been in control of Desmond Miles’ destiny, it opts for an origins story involving a completely new avatar. And while much of the film succumbs to the same issue that plagues many a video game adaptation — a confused or uninteresting point of view that just leaves viewers cold — at least the action scenes, particularly the furious hand-to-hand combat sequences, make an attempt to include the  average paying customer (the APC*).

Assassin’s Creed introduces everyone to Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a career criminal who at the start of the film is preparing to be executed. Then he “wakes up” in what seems to be . . . um, Heaven’s waiting room? No, that can’t be right; capital murderers don’t get a pass. So this is Hell’s foyer, then? Wrong again. This is actually a sterile room within a remote Abstergo Industries facility, a modern manifestation of an ancient underground society known as the Templar Order. Callum is first greeted by a scientist named Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of visionary Abstergo CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who proceeds to inundate Callum with a few orientation materials. Like letting him know that he no longer exists in the world. That he is about to be repurposed.

SOME PHILOSOPHICAL SHIT

In 2007 Ubisoft engineered a stealth adventure for the thinking gamer. I can appreciate their popularity as these games have been able to separate themselves by blending heady science fiction with historical settings and events. Unfortunately the complexities pose a problem from a cinematic storytelling perspective. The task falls upon Cotillard to shoulder an encyclopedia’s worth of exposition because, let’s face it: there’s just too much world-building to be done beyond the physical, and no one is going to sit through a three-hour long movie based on a video game. Cotillard does what she can, but there’s only so much a great actor can do with such clunky, uninspired writing.

Through one of Sophia’s many monotonous monologues he learns he has assassin’s blood in his veins, and that one of his ancestors was Aguilar de Nerha, a noted assassin during the Spanish Inquisition who had for years been in pursuit of the Apple of Eden. This apple is not so much a fruit as it is a piece of technology that contains man’s original sin. It also possesses the very fabric of free will itself. (The more I write the stupider it all sounds, which is the very phenomenon that occurs the more these people talk.) Across centuries these assassins have had to contend with the Templars who don’t share their views on the future of mankind. While the Templars believe global peace is achievable, albeit only through control, assassins hold that man’s free will is a gift that cannot be touched or tampered with. On paper, all of this sounds like some pretty fascinating, philosophical shit, doesn’t it?

On screen, however, very little of said philosophical shit translates enthusiastically. Or creatively. The film looks great but the whole thing concludes in the same numbing state in which it began. If you’ve made the mistake of coming to the picture for the acting, prepare yourself for Fassbender’s first on-screen performance following the lobotomy none of us knew he had. Yes the action scenes are good, but everything else is so disappointing it seems almost farcical.

Assassin’s Creed stunningly wastes an opportunity to present an intellectually stimulating, challenging cinematic excursion. There’s a fixation on the god complex that is just begging to be explored in greater depth. The assassins we see early in the film prove their unwavering test of devotion via blood sacrifice. Callum’s body being manipulated by The Animus — a giant mechanical contraption that has undergone some physical alterations so the film, supposedly, avoids comparisons to The Matrix‘s own psychosomatic technology — often finds the character in Christ-like poses as he soars into the air and flails around. The script also tends to harp on the phrase “man’s first disobedience.” And Rikkin’s ambitions of uniting mankind under his thumb, well. That’s pretty obvious.

For all of the obsession with sinning and human imperfection the irony of how Kurzel and company have themselves ended up committing one of filmmaking’s greatest sins by producing one of the year’s most disappointing and boring movies becomes painful. I don’t know. Maybe I just need some secret codes or something.

* Synonyms include (but are not limited to) ‘loser,’ ‘heathen’ and ‘deplorable.’ 

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2-5Recommendation: Disappointing video game adaptation squanders the massive talents of its leading trio in Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons. Of course, this film could have gotten by with some average performances if the story were presented more compellingly. The longer the film went on, the sillier it all seemed. Damn it, this should have been really good. I am so bummed out and I haven’t ever played the games. I still might, though. These universes are just too cool to ignore. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “We work in the dark to serve the light. We are assassins.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hardcore Henry

'Hardcore Henry' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ilya Naishuller

Directed by: Ilya Naishuller

Hardcore Henry isn’t a film for the thinking man. That might even be obvious from the title, one that hints at a crude breed of action-thriller where people excessively swear, have lots of tattoos and women — and innocent bystanders — are as disposable as a Kodak camera. But if you’re low on adrenaline and need a quick, main-line shot of it, Hardcore Henry‘s got you covered.

It’s no secret that the film has been subjected to all sorts of scrutiny based on its gimmicky first-person point of view, the use of Go Pro cameras designed to truly integrate audiences into the story, giving the impression that we’re the ones performing all the ass-kickery. “We” wake up in a strange room with only a female doctor circling around us, inspecting the work that has been done to our body after a devastating encounter has literally cost us an arm and a leg.

Before too long a hostile group of rebels . . . or something . . . appears and kidnaps our doctor, who apparently is also our wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett). (Needless to say, it’ll be less of an uphill battle for the male percentage of the audience to feel as if they really are Henry.) Leading this group of assholes is Akan (played by Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky, who in a few fleeting moments bears a passing resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch when he played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange), a warlord with telekinetic powers and a serious vendetta against us.

The film unfolds episodically, with some scenes in serious need of another edit or two. But there’s an abundance of energy as we lurch from one grimy set piece to another, stumbling across a map ripped straight out of Call of Duty. It’s also a little 007 meets Halo, the latter especially given all that the opening escape sequence reveals about our location. That, and the sophisticated technology that has provided enemies with untold amounts of firepower and has given Henry/us a new lease on life. The gore owes much to infamous PC releases like Soldier of Fortune and Half Life, the likes of which incentivized players to become creative with their kills.

‘Videogame-esque’ is a particularly apt description given the way information is drip-fed to us at various checkpoints, while perpetual gunfire and flamethrower . . . um, fire . . . all but confirms that it’s pretty much us against the world. We start the film as a slab of meat, unable to speak, having to learn how to use newly acquired prosthetic limbs, and our memory’s been wiped clean. Sharlto Copley‘s Jimmy, a crippled soldier who has managed to find a way to transplant his conscience into other people, is there to guide us from point A to B. He’s our shield for half the film, able to escape close calls by re-spawning as a different person.

Copley’s chameleonic role is one of those things that will either make you scoff at all the ridiculousness ongoing or it will make you scoff at all the ridiculousness ongoing. There’s no way around it — Jimmy is an absurd loophole for director Ilya Naishuller to justify how Henry/we can make it all the way through this film without being vocal about things. Or, alternatively, without being killed prematurely and having a movie that lasts all of 20 minutes. On the positive side, Copley gives us someone with whom we can interact, and his spirited performance serves the film well.

There aren’t many other performances to speak of, but Kozlovsky stands out as a psychopath bent on the resurrection of a bioengineered army of soldiers whose emotional and psychological components have been stripped away. Call Akan the Final Boss. We realize it’s he with whom we’re going to have to do battle, but on several occasions Naishuller and some brilliant camerawork make a compelling argument as to why that won’t be easy.

Hardcore Henry has a habit of raising questions it has no intention of answering. It brutalizes you with an onslaught of fighting sequences that also beg the question as to how many Go Pros were used in the making of, and the acting isn’t stellar. The story’s nothing any experienced gamer hasn’t immersed themselves in already, nor something any ’80s action flick geek hasn’t seen before. But it is far more than a gimmick; this is a unique, absurd and chaotic world that makes suspension of disbelief easy and that’s a big plus in my book.

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Recommendation: The fast-and-frenetic action thrills of Hardcore Henry aren’t going to please all who flock to this unique cinematic presentation, but I’m happy to report that the camera set-up/POV filming isn’t the only selling point. The mystery we unfold as we go on is pretty compelling and the stunts occasionally give Mad Max‘s bloody confrontations a run for their money. I personally felt rewarded for the risk I took by seeing it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 96 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinchemoreno.com; http://www.imdb.com

Need for Speed

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Release: Friday, March 14, 2014

[Theater]

At the very least, Need for Speed has a need for tighter editing. One lap around this fast track will take you a little over two hours, a gratuitous length of time for a movie that centers around a videogame about street racing. The other obvious question is what, if any, need is there for this film to exist?

Many of us have played the game(s) over the years and hopefully those who spent time with it/them enjoyed doing so. The playing experience, though hardly revolutionary, was unique enough to be remembered fondly. While it did share traits with the superior (and more challenging) ‘Gran Turismo,’ ‘Need for Speed’ identified itself by offering up more cars as eye candy than any other game. Visual effects were pretty impressive (at the time) and the combination of dream cars with glistening sunset-dappled race courses while being pursued by the police was a pure delight.

Then in 2013 it was announced that a full-length feature film adaptation of this E.A. Sports creation was going to hit theaters in the spring of 2014. Reaction to this news came in the form of simple, one-word responses: “What?” “Huh?” “How?” “Why?”. . . .among other, more choice words. It was a move not designed to increase the game’s popularity. This was a complete gimmick designed to destroy what little was left of Hollywood’s credibility when it comes to talking about what they choose to adapt and not adapt.

Besides driving multi-million-dollar vehicles in the tropics, the greatest appeal of the gaming atmosphere was having this anonymity about you when driving. Your car was the main character; you as the driver remained unseen, unnamed and unexplained. You could have been a convict, you could have been Mother Teresa. It didn’t matter, and that was what made the generic feel of the game effective. Anyone could feel empowered.

By slapping a face on the franchise in the form of the quite likable Aaron Paul from a T.V. show you’d have to be crawling out from under a rock in order to be unaware of, its clear the studio and director Scott Waugh didn’t want to go the Mother Teresa route. Instead, it was decided that Need for Speed should be a sleek and shiny, adrenaline-fueled adventure that capitalizes on including as many top-tier automakers as possible while also providing the thrill of the chase element that was established by its source material. Thankfully, these are things that the film does not lack. However, what is lacking is a good reason why this wasn’t made to be a direct-to-DVD release.

At its heart is a story of vengeance. When a New York street racer, Tobey Marshall (Paul) loses one of his friends in a terrible accident during a romp through the streets he is framed for murder by his rival, the perfidious Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), and sentenced to a two-year stretch in prison. Upon his release Tobey is not only a little ticked off that his friend is dead (and that he was set-up), he has also painted a target on the back of Dino’s head because he knows the truth about the way things went down that fateful day. He’ll settle his anxieties by way of an extremely unlikely road trip across the country in a vehicle he was requested to build by none other than the snake himself, Mr. Brewster.

A silver-and-blue striped custom Shelby Mustang puts in the film’s best performance as Tobey and his roadtrip buddy, a British car enthusiast by the name of Julia (Imogen Poots), hurtle through changing scenery in Hollywood’s awful attempt to capture the experience of driving in the videogame. Wandering direction, along with problematic (possibly nonexistent) editing stages, create one long, loud, and laborious experience that could stand to be at least forty-five minutes shorter. Or upgrade the rating so at least the conversations might be more realistic.

In defense of the cast, they shouldn’t bear the brunt of the criticisms. Characters that inhabit this world aren’t well-defined — at all — but by the same token they are neither unlikable nor played with indifference by actors who seem committed to such a generic affair. In fact, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi as Benny serves as welcomed comic relief when the script stalls. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him improvising most of his lines. He’s easily the most watchable. . . . .apart from this film’s token girl. And despite Paul’s character being the Chevy Impala of this adventure, Tobey is worth rooting for. Sort of.

Where fingers should be pointed to the most is none other than Hollywood’s (probably) least-hired screenwriter, George Gatins. His involvement with a short film titled My Wife is Retarded and what sounds like a reliable full-length feature, You Stupid Man, is how I’d like to bow out of this review. I’ll leave you with that tidbit of information as you make up your mind over whether or not to see an unnecessary film.

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1-5Recommendation: Need for Speed misfires on virtually all cylinders. Despite me refusing to believe it would be anything more than crappy, I still came away disappointed. And irritated. The product has several other problems I didn’t even touch on, but in the spirit of not completely overstuffing one review, I called out only the major ones. If you were ever a fan of the game may I suggest you leave your memories of those years in tact by avoiding seeing this at almost all costs. (However, if you have a projector malfunction like the one I experienced before this one got underway, and you find yourself with a free ticket, this movie might be a good way to use that guy.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “They took everything from me. I do not fear, for you are with me. All those who defied me shall be ashamed and disgraced. Those who wage war against me shall perish. I will find strength, find guidance, and I will triumph!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ride Along

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Release: Friday, January 17, 2014

[Theater]

It’s official. Kevin Hart is the black Chris Farley. Er, well. . .he’s certainly trying.

His new comedy vehicle sees him performing at a spasmodic level not seen since cocaine was readily available in the 80s. I mean, damn dude, someone give this guy a beta blocker before he strokes out! Bless his little fast-beating heart, he is more than welcome to try and imitate the great SNL star, just as long as he makes a promise to not go out in the same way as Farley. . .

The jokester, standing all of five-foot-four, is a storm of energy and quick wit in Ride Along, and while the laughs he extracts from audiences may not quite approach the painful levels of his Philadelphian peers like Dave Chapelle or Eddie Murphy, he turns this incredibly bland buddy-cop adventure into an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment. There’s not much to chatter about excitedly afterwards, yet for the lack of creativity on display there’s no harm done in the process. Unless, of course, you take exception to the mental images of Kevin Hart and his black hammer. Ew.

Ben (Hart) is waiting for the right moment to ask James (Ice Cube) for his blessing in taking his sister’s hand in marriage. The two haven’t exactly been getting along ever since Ben apparently damn near barbecued his potential brother-in-law alive at a family gathering awhile back. But because he failed to melt Ice Cube’s cold heart over a charcoal grill, Ben sets out on a mission to prove himself worthy of James’ respect. So he enrolls in the Atlanta police academy, with the goal of becoming a lieutenant on his horizon.

Oh man, can you imagine?

One thing that actually isn’t difficult to imagine is the fact that the camera gravitates toward Hart for most of the duration, despite some other big names present as well, such as Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill and, yes, the aforementioned Barbershop star. Because James reluctantly agrees to take this obnoxious motor-mouth on a “ride along” with him, Ben finds all sorts of ways to become an obstacle more than a useful partner, and more importantly, a man worthy of Angela (Tika Sumpter)’s love. James is attempting to track down the whereabouts of a notorious criminal named Omar (Fishburne), much to the annoyance of his superior, Lt. Brooks (McGill), who doesn’t approve of this hot-shot officer’s renegade tactics. Wherever these two go, the camera can’t help but get stuck on Hart’s frenetic energy and perpetually rubberized facial expressions.

However, when it moves away from Hart and reveals other bits and pieces of this loosely-assembled plot, the problems stack up quicker than Hart’s feathery frame getting blown sideways against a wall at the firing range.

Ride Along simply insists on being a very brainless exercise as director Tim Story seems comfortable with his usual formula (you need not know much more than the fact he directed Fantastic Four and Think Like a Man to realize he’s a pretty uninspired filmmaker). In this case, he maps out the Atlanta area in a simplistic blueprint, leading us by the hand from point A to point B, tossing in jokes wherever and whenever possible. As it so happens, this is arguably the only fault in Hart’s presence: at times he gets a bit irritating with the sheer number of his faux-Farley freakouts. The supporting roles barely are worth mentioning, although it is quite chuckle-worthy to see Morpheus talking all gangsta-like in his role as the big baddie.

Despite the film’s underachieving status, extra points are still going to be awarded here because Ride Along makes the best of the chemistry between Ice Cube and the world’s funniest short man. If that’s not enough for you to call shotgun on this joy ride, then. . .well, you can just ride in the backseat. Party pooper.

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Legit gamer.

2-5Recommendation: Ride Along fails and it doesn’t. The audience it plays up to should be perfectly satisfied with the results — as evidenced by the drastic difference between critical and audience reviews on the big aggregate sites like RT and IMDb. Feel free to select this one if you’re keen on shutting down your brain, stuffing some popcorn down the hatch and laughing like a hyena at a few scenes featuring Hart doing his thing. Oh yeah, and there’s just a killer hot girl in it. The damsel in distress thing should really draw in a crowd. Boom.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Thank you, ass-face.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com