The shoot-em ‘up movie genre gets a welcome unique spin that unfortunately falls flat too soon with “Free Fire.” Set in 1978, “Free Fire” stars Oscar-winner Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy (“Batman Begins”) as part of a group of criminals who meet a gang of arms dealers in abandoned warehouse to make what should be a simple exchange of cash for a cache of high-powered weapons.
But when a fight breaks out between opposing gang members, the fisticuffs escalate into a shoot-out with bullets flying from every which way.
As a dark comedy, we discover in “Free Fire” most everybody involved is a terrible shot, resulting mostly in flesh wounds as the bumbling criminals crawl around the warehouse trying to figure out a way to exit.
It’s an amusing take on the genre at first, but the idea quickly wears thin, making the movie feel way too long, even with a 90-minute run time. Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) also star.
Lammometer 5.5 (out of 10)
Listen to Tim’s reviews of “Free Fall” and “The Promise” with Tom Barnard and Michele Tafoya on “The KQ Morning.”
“The Promise” (PG-13)
Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon deliver stellar performances in “The Promise,” a heartbreaking historical drama that chronicles the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks before the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The always-great Isaac (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays a medical student in Constantinople in 1915, just before the Turks begin to round up Armenian Christians for systematic execution.
Bale is terrific as usual, this time as Associated Press journalist reporting on the horrors of the genocide to the West, while Le Bon is a French-Armenian teacher caught in a love triangle in-between them.
The film is a compelling tale that brings to light a forgotten part of history that the Turkish government still fails to recognize today.
While Denise Di Novi has been an influential producer since the early 1990s with such films as Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” and “A Nightmare Before Christmas” — and more recently with “Crazy Stupid Love” and “Focus” — she’s never really had the desire to direct. Intent on raising her two children, the filmmaker said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles said that producing gave her “a lot more flexibility” with her family life.
Ironically, Di Novi said, it’s a family dynamic that powers the dramatic thriller “Unforgettable,” which marks Di Novi’s directorial debut. Written by Christina Hodson, “Unforgettable” follows Tessa (Katherine Heigl), the devastated ex-wife of David (Geoff Stults), who after the end of their marriage finds love with Julia (Rosario Dawson). Complicating matters is the bond Julia forms with Tessa and David’s 6-year-old daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice), pushing Tessa to get Julia out of David’s life at any cost.
With such of a female-driven narrative, Di Novi said the timing was perfect for her to transition from producer to the director’s role for the first time.
“For Katherine’s character, there are definite emotions that come up when she sees her child being mothered by anot
her woman and the husband she’s still in love with being happier with that other woman,” Di Novi said. “How do you deal as second wife with a first wife who’s clearly unstable? These are tough things that people deal with and I loved that they were written from the female perspective.
Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Unforgettable” also stars acclaimed actor Cheryl Ladd as Tessa’s mother, Helen. While Tessa and Julia are at the center of the conflict in “Unforgettable,” Helen is pivotal to the plot in that she’s effectively responsible for her daughter’s irrational behavior.
“She thinks she’s a wonderful mother who loves her daughter dearly, and her heart is so closed off because she’s lived this closed off perfectionism her whole life,” Ladd said in a separate phone conversation from Los Angeles. “She’s trying desperately to save and help her daughter, and she doesn’t realize how painful the things she says are to her daughter and not helpful. She has no idea, though. She thinks she’s being a wonderful mother, but she’s criticizing her daughter so much and it’s just like she’s throwing bricks at her. Plus, she’s working on her granddaughter, too, trying to make her the same way.”
Ladd feels that whether people want to admit it or not, they’re going to find Tessa, Julia and Helen relatable in “Unforgettable.” If you’re not or once were one of these characters in real life, you certainly know one or all of them.
“Some people really have a difficult time keeping it together under that mountain of pain and disappointment, and that mountain of insecurity,” Ladd observed. “For some people, they just snap and they just lose it.”
Katherine Heigl, Denise Di Novi and Rosario Dawson on the set of “Unforgettable.”
And if moviegoers are in denial that they’re one of these characters, Ladd hopes that “Unforgettable” will wake them up to the truth.
It’s such of a woman’s story, with all of the walls we put up and the image we try to project, and in the meantime are hiding our feelings, our vulnerability and things that bring us pain, because we have to buck up and get on with it,” Ladd said. “When you’re raised to just swallow your feelings and do the right thing at every turn and not misstep, it’s very difficult when life hands you disappointments or you make a bad decision — and you don’t even know how to start coping with the bad decision you made.”
Di Novi said casting the role of Helen was difficult because they wanted to find someone “as flawlessly put together as Tessa.” And while Di Novi found exactly what she was she was looking for with Ladd, she was slight hesitant because the “Charlie’s Angels” icon’s kind demeanor in real life is she’s the exact opposite of Helen.
“Cheryl is so sweet and gracious, I wondered if she could be this cold, uptight character,” Di Novi said.
Ladd, however, is thrilled Di Novi went with her gut and cast her because the idea of taking on such a cold and calculated character is why she loves acting so much.
“That’s why I was interested in doing the character,” Ladd said. “The nice thing about getting older and having a long career is when things come up, I can say ‘No,’ and if it’s something I feel that I’d really like to tackle, I say, ‘Yes.’ It’s a nice place to be, and I’m just finding that the characters at this age are deeper, wider, interesting and more challenging, and I love it.”
Ladd said that she couldn’t have been any happier working with Di Novi on “Unforgettable,” not just for what she did for her character, but for every character in the film.
Look at the picture Denise made. There’s not one false step from a character,” Ladd said. “Each character is so deeply real and deeply relatable in how they go about their lives and the hiding of their feelings. Everything comes from real truths from within these women, and that’s why I think it’s even more scary and relatable because you sense they’re real. It’s got it all I think Denise is going to be directing a lot of movies and I hope I get to be in some of them because she’s wonderful and so talented, and really knows how to tell a story from beginning to end.”
While it’s not a total spinout, “The Fate of the Furious” – the eighth film in the seemingly endless “Fast and Furious” franchise – seems to have lost its way following the blockbuster worldwide success of “Furious 7.” After an entertaining 10-minute race scene to kick off the film, “The Fate of the Furious” quickly loses the type of self-aware sense of humor that made the last film such a joy; and remains stuck in neutral with a formulaic action movie plot until it miraculously pulls itself out a funk for the third act of the movie.
Diesel is back for his sixth “Furious” film as Dominic Toretto, the cocksure street racer who has evolved over the film series into the leader of a band of international mercenaries whose jobs often find them trying to save the world from disaster. But when Dom is coerced by notorious super hacker Cipher (Theron) to go rogue, he’s forced to turn against his crew in order to secure an EMP device that has the power to shut down a major city and turn the scene into complete chaos. And that’s not all …
Convinced that Dom is taking commands against his will, the crew (including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Michelle Rodri
guez – whose Letty is now married to Dominic) takes up an offer from government shade Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new right hand, dubbed “Little Nobody” (Scott Eastwood, who appears to be filling the void left by late Paul Walker) to recover the EMP and other potential weapons of mass destruction to clean their crime-riddled slates.
While its far inferior to “Furious 7,” “The Fate of the Furious” isn’t a bad movie – the action in the final third alone will give audience members what they’re looking for with subplot that involved a Russian nuclear submarine. Thankfully stars like Johnson, Jason Statham, Russell and Helen Mirren (who sadly appears for about 5 minutes in a pair of scenes) didn’t wait that long to let you know they’re in the joke.
On the flip side, Vin Diesel and the film’s new villain, played by Charlize Theron, are trying to play it straight throughout the film; proving that even Oscar winners can’t act their way out of horrific dialogue.
Listen to Tim’s review of “The Fate of the Furious” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show.”
A little sense of humor clearly would have gone a long way, and while Diesel attempts to charm his way through the opening scene, playing it straight for most of the way exposes all of the actor’s weaknesses (mainly, that he only knows how to play one type of character – a wiseass tough guy) and he hits a low point as he barely squeezes out a couple crocodile tears.
Theron’s turn is almost more painful to watch, though, as her over-the-top madwoman questing world domination borders on a mustache-twitching villain that revels in evil. Theron, like everybody else in “Furious 7” should have been reveling in the ridiculousness of what the franchise it has become. It’s too bad, because Theron has proven otherwise that she’s an extremely talented actress.
True, no amount of criticism will stop “The Fate of the Furious” from being another worldwide blockbuster (“Furious 7” grossed $1.5 billion worldwide two years ago) out of the gate, but the shift in gears to a semi-serious film (“The Fate of the Serious”?) will no doubt be a drag on the long term prospects of the box office and the films that come after it.
Big screen legend Alan Arkin has without question been one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood over the past 50 years, making indelible impressions in the mid-60s with such classic films as “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” and “Wait Until Dark.” The films signaled an auspicious debut for Arkin in the film industry, paving the way to such hits over the years as “Catch 22,” “Freebie and the Bean,” “The In-Laws,” “The Rocketeer” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Of course, Arkin’s career hit overdrive in 2007 with his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for “Little Miss Sunshine,” which led to plum roles in such films as the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner “Argo.” In short, Arkin has done it all — that is, with the exception of doing a movie with fellow iconic actors Morgan Freeman and Michael Change. But that’s all changed with “Going in Style,” a poignant comedy new in theaters.
In the film, Arkin, Freeman and Caine play Albert, Willie and Joe, respectively, a trio of lifelong friends who have toiled for decades at a steel mill. Trying their best to enjoy retirement, the friends are shocked to learn from the mill that all company pensions have been dissolved. All broke and with a mortgage foreclosure pending for one of them, Albert, Willie and Joe hatch a plan to rob the bank that’s involved in the pension fiasco to recoup what would be coming to them if they hadn’t been swindled by their company.
A remake of the 1979 comedy of the same name, director Zach Braff’s “Going in Style” is updated to reflect the financial crisis hitting seniors today. It’s a brutally honest reality to confront, but often times great comedy is rooted in truth, Arkin said in a recent phone conversation from New York.
“Even the most outrageous comedy has to be rooted, even subliminally, in some kind of truth or else it has no meaning,” Arkin said. “I was thinking about that connection with the Marx Brothers. Interestingly enough, people don’t analyze the statements — and I don’t mean messages — but emotional statements that exist in comedy. People think having a good time doesn’t warrant examination. But even with the Marx Brothers, even though it’s a much more stylized version of what we’re doing, it’s the same idea: Three kids from the Bowery on the lower east side stickin’ it to the man. That’s what most of the Marx Brothers’ material is about.”
Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in “Going in Style.”
“Going in Style” also stars screen great Ann-Margret as Annie, a fiery grocery store clerk who wants to develop a romantic relationship with Albert, a longtime musician who worked in the steel mill to support his passion for music. And while Annie wants to make a different kind of music with Albert, they do at one point in “Going in Style” take to the stage to sing some karaoke.
Funny enough, Arkin, whose first feature film appearance came as a singer and guitarist with his group The Tarriers in the 1957 film “Calypso Heat Wave,” was a bit anxious to take center stage again 60 years later.
“It was a little bit terrifying because we didn’t know what song we were going to sing until the night before we did the scene, and we had no rehearsal whatsoever,” Arkin said with slightly nervous laugh. “They threw us up in the bandstand and I was amazed that anything worked at all.”
And while some actors use fear as a motivating factor in prepping for a scene, the comedy great, 83, said he’d prefer to leave that method of working to somebody else.
“I’ve had enough of that,” Arkin deadpanned. “I prefer these days of not having fear being a motivation for anything.”
Arkin has earned a stellar reputation over the years of being such a natural, and you can definitely feel it through his relatable character in “Going in Style.” Part of the relatability no doubt stems from the actor’s natural gift of improvisation, which he’s used quite often over the years.
“I spent a long time in improvisational theater, so I know how to work with dialogue. When it’s not working, I spend a lot of time changing dialogue,” Arkin said. “If people don’t like it, they can hire somebody else. I don’t spring new dialogue on people, but I change stuff a lot – I’ve done that on at least half the films I’ve worked on. I’m very happy to comply with writing that has texture, dimension and depth.”