Sometimes my job is easy and I am given “Fate of the Furious” as the movie I get to prep for. Super mega franchises with star studded casts give me a lot to work with. Maybe “easy” isn’t the right word, because I do have to then somehow narrow down the list of movies I’d recommend to only five. But then sometimes there is a weekend, like the weekend after a super mega franchise releases a movie and scares away any competition for at least 14 days, where I am left with only garbage to pick from.
5 Ways to Prep: Free Fire
By George Rose
April 20, 2017
Should I recommend five movies that could prepare you for Born in China, the next Disney Nature film to exploit the animals of the world in ways already done better by TV shows like “Planet Earth”? I mean, just turn on your TV or go to the zoo. I’d basically just recommend prior Disney Nature films or Kung Fu Panda and I’d be bored doing it because I’d be stretching, at best, to come up with five watchable comparisons to an animal documentary. Also, there’s like zero chance you’re even considering going to see Born in China, so I’d be wasting my breath.
Or, should I recommend five ways to prepare for the horrors of watching a failed Hollywood abortion on the big screen? I don’t mean to make light of that very personal and private decision woman face but, let’s be honest, Katherine Heigl JUST WON’T DIE! We all want her to stop making movies and there isn’t a coat hanger big enough to scrape her filmography from our memories. Her latest film, Unforgettable, has been made a thousand times already with only minor variations. Obsessed starring Beyonce comes to mind. MOTHER. F-ING. BEYONCE. Sorry, Katherine, but you just don’t compare to Queen B or the many other single ladies who have been in movies about women acting bat-shit crazy over men. It’s a tired concept and to be frank, it sets women back a hundred years and I won’t stand for that. It’s 2017. Women don’t need men, so they shouldn’t be crying over them. NEXT!
That leaves us with Free Fire. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either before looking into what movies come out this weekend. As it turns out, the most unknown of the three releases is also the most interesting, which just goes to show you the power of advertising. If there’s a big studio behind the piece of crap coming out, then you’ll smell it from a mile away. What about the little guy?! Free Fire is a smaller, independent action movie that was made in the UK and released there last year. It’s not an independent drama or small studio Oscar bait, but a potentially fun action movie not confined to the restrained corporate consensus of a big studio.
Free Fire, if you’ve seen the trailers, is about an arms deal gone wrong with a bunch of people fighting their way out of warehouse. If Disney made this movie, nobody would die. If Universal made it, Vin Diesel would drive through the warehouse and save everyone. If Fox owned it, Deadpool would somehow be involved. Since this is distributed by StudioCanal UK, you have no idea what to expect. Except for British humor. It’s safe to say there will be plenty of that. Although humor from the other side of the pond doesn’t always translate here in the states, it can often produce something unique and amazing. Some of my favorite films have British backgrounds, like Love, Actually. Like that film, it also has an unexpectedly robust cast of semi-familiar faces like Brie Larson, Sharlto Copely, Armie Hammer and Cillian Murphy.
So, with all that being said, Free Fire would be my choice to see if I get to go to the movies this weekend, and that’s why I’ll be recommending five ways to prepare for it. I’m not saying I’ll actually be going to see it in theaters because I still have to go see Fate of the Furious, but if I was seeing one of the newcomers this would be it. Sorry, Pandas. Sorry, Katherine “please let me be famous again” Heigl. My girl Brie needs me and since she will be joining the Marvel family soon as Captain Marvel, I’m going with Free Fire. Join me on this journey as I look into five films that can help you prepare.
1) Room (2015)
Nobody knew who Brie Larson was a few years ago. She’d popped up in a few things here and there but I couldn’t point her out in a crowd if you asked me to. She had a small part in the amazing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010 as well as 21 Jump Street in 2012, but still nobody knew her. I think she’s a beautiful woman but in the girl-next-door sense, not the bombshell sense. Someone like Margot Robbie is so stunning that one role in Wolf of Wall Street was enough to make her a headline actress. Brie Larson wasn’t so lucky. She had to work for it.
While I loved the two movies Larson was in that I already mentioned, it wasn’t until I saw her in Trainwreck with Amy Schumer that I thought to myself, “Who is that girl? I love her smile and laugh and I want to be her friend!” Then, without warning, she was EVERYWHERE as the front-runner to win Best Actress in a little seen movie called Room. It’s a haunting portrayal of a woman held captive in a tiny room with nothing to occupy her time except for raising the son she gave birth to with her captor. It’s some twisted stuff but the kind of material that all but guarantees an Oscar nomination. It’s Larson’s raw talent as an actress that landed her the win.
Since then she recently starred in Kong: Skull Island, which is the Brie Larson movie I probably should be recommending, since Free Fire is an action movie, but Kong is still in theaters so it’s hard to recommend a movie you’d want to see before going to the theater if that movie is also in theaters. Unless you were planning for a double feature, of course. Still, I’m recommending Room because it got Larson the Oscar and showcases her incredible acting chops. I want to undo the damage Katherine Heigl is doing to the female race this weekend and show that women can be strong survivors, not simply unstable, codependent man-chasers.
2) Hardcore Henry (2015)
There’s a century of cinema for me to pick from but for some reason, 2015 is proving very helpful to me for recommending movies for Free Fire. While Brie Larson is the sole woman headlining the new movie, the top-billed male is Sharlto Copley. Many probably don’t know him by name, but he has been in many movies you might have seen. For a minute there, he was the go-to guy for director Neill Blomkamp; the pair worked together on the Oscar-nominated District 9 in 2009, the Matt Damon-led Elysium in 2013, and finished the hat trick in 2015 with Chappie. And if you somehow didn’t see one of those movies, he played Aurora’s father, King Stefan, in Disney’s Maleficent.
Once actors have appeared in a couple of movies, they tend to try their hand at producing. Copley’s first attempt at executive producing a movie was Hardcore Henry in 2015, an independent action movie. While this isn’t the best movie for me to recommend for Copley, it’s the most applicable to Free Fire. As I said before, action movies produced by independent studios have the freedom to break the traditional mold and try new things and Hardcore Henry is a perfect example of that. It’s primarily shot in the first person so you aren’t watching actors act; you are the actor. The viewer is Henry and the camera stays behind Henry’s eyes throughout the movie, giving Hollywood its first attempt of what a movie might be like if it was more like a video game.
In one hand, it’s a concept not often used in cinema and for good reason. When you’re playing video games, as I do (Xbox One fan here), you can play the first-person style with ease because you know where the character is about to move so you are well prepared for the effects of that movement. In Hardcore Henry it can be a bit jarring and more than a bit nauseating at times because, unlike video games, you have no idea where Henry is about to go. From a visual standpoint, it was quite amazing to watch an action movie in the first person and it’s something that should be used, albeit sparingly. From a movie standpoint, it’s a novelty that should not be used outside of the occasional scene, because nobody wants to get sick at the movie theater. To watch an action movie for an hour and a half in the first person was tough on the big screen. I have faith it’s more manageable at home on your TV but I saw it in theaters so that’s my memory of it.
However, for what little I have to complain about in terms of the camera movement making me a little sick, Copley saves the day with his many comedic performances as Henry’s ally, Jimmy. Jimmy takes on many different forms in the film (I won’t spoil the reason behind that), showcasing Copley’s range as an actor and comedian. He is a joy to watch in nearly every movie I’ve seen him in and the trailers for Free Fire suggest he will continue his hot streak as one of the Hollywood’s most underused talents working today.
3) High-Rise (2015)
Oh my God, enough with 2015 already! What’s the deal here? It was a breakout year for Brie Larson, it was Sharlto Copley’s year to try producing, and it’s the same year High-Rise came out. What’s the connection here? Well, I already recommended a movie from the actor and actress of Free Fire”, so it’s time to make my director’s recommendation. In doing some research for Free Fire, I’ve gotten to know its director, Ben Wheatley, a little better. He directed some TV stuff and a handful of British movies: Down Terrace in 2009, Kill List” in 2011, Sightseers in 2012, and “A Field in England” in 2013. I had never heard of any of these because I’m a mainstream Hollywood junkie and am not as well versed in foreign films, even if British films are the least foreign of all since we both speak English.
Those four movies from 2009-2013 star nobody I’ve ever heard of so I decided to watch the trailers for them to see if I might watch one. After doing so, I noticed a trend. Down Terrace was his first movie but after that the trailers for the next three all mention some version of “from visionary director Ben Wheatley.” This terrified me. When a trailer says “from acclaimed director…” it’s a good thing, because critics like the director’s previous work. When they say “visionary” they mean “visual,” meaning he isn’t necessarily a good director but one that likes to experiment with the visual aspects of film. This could be good; this could be bad. What I learned next was that he made a movie in 2015 called High-Rise starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans. Regardless of my perception of Wheatley’s earlier directorial work based on the trailers, I figured he must actually be a good director because good actors finally wanted to work with him. That then made my choice easy for which of Wheatley’s movies to watch for this article. I grabbed my fiancé, a few snacks, turned on Netflix and got started.
Well, that backfired. The movie is crap. Total crap. The premise had potential; the world now basically operates with a bunch of high-rise buildings that have poor people at the bottom and rich people at the top. They fight over who gets the power. I don’t mean, like, power over each other. I mean like electricity. At first, it made me think of Snowpiercer with Chris Evans, where there is a big train and poor people live in the back and rich people live at the front near the engine. Except, in that movie, Chris Evans fights his way through the train cars, through the classes, and through a visual journey of all the cool ways you could show real life confined to a train. One train car is a sushi restaurant, one has poor people on bunk beds, another is a rich people dance club, another is an aquarium, and so on. It was amazing! I thought High-Rise might be the same because as I was promised from several trailers, Ben Wheatley is a “visionary” director. Oh no. No no no no no no.
We don’t’ get to see how all the different floors are decorated dramatically different from one another. We get to watch people cry about electricity, which might be an intriguing concept if they actually focused on that storyline. Instead, we watch the high-rise descend into madness. Not fun madness, but crazy madness. Like, everyone is having sex with everyone, while complaining to everyone else, while partying with some other people, while swimming in a pool, while doing some dancing, now we’re at a party, Tom Hiddleston is cooking a dog’s leg, people having sex again, oh look there’s a child running about, and more “that imagery is soooo deep and meaningful, even though it’s just Luke Evans dancing by himself against a black background.” Seriously, if I had paid to see this movie I’d be so pissed but it was free on Netflix.
So why am I recommending this movie to you? Just because a director makes a bad movie doesn’t mean they will all be bad. Given the actors involved, it is still the most realistic suggestion I could make for you since there is no way in hell you’re going to watch the rest of Ben Wheatley’s British back catalog of films. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, High-Rise got me laid. My fiancée and I were so bored watching this nonsense and were only remotely interested when people were having completely unnecessary sex, so we started having sex ourselves. The best way to go to a movie and enjoy yourself is to “shoot your gun off” beforehand. So if you want to best position yourself to enjoy Free Fire, you should watch High-Rise to unload some of those bullets built up in your pants so you can relax and enjoy Free Fire without getting the raging testosterone boner that I usually get when I’m pumped up during an action movie.
4) Unknown (2006)
It’s official; movies released in 2015 are now just like Katherine Heigl because I’m done with them! Time to move on, back to a time when people said things like “direct-to-DVD” instead of “digital download.” Granted, I didn’t see Unknown in 2006, but that’s when it was released. A few years ago, I worked at a car insurance company and wanted to kill myself every day. What saved my sanity was a coworker of mine that also loved movies. We developed a great friendship, doing weekly trips to Best Buy to purchases the latest Blu-rays and went to all the early Marvel movies together. It was the kind of crazy friendship that had us drinking at 10 a.m. before going to see Iron Man 3 and then peeing in the theater because I didn’t want to miss a single scene. We didn’t just both love Marvel; we both also loved horror movies. Not just popular horror movies but those laughable B-movie and all the way to F-movie horror classics like The Collector, Dead Snow and Creature. We must have seen almost a hundred movies together in theaters and at home over the years and one of those films was Unknown.
Starring Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Bridget Moynahan, it had enough star power to get our attention and an interesting enough plot to give it a shot. Five guys wake up in a warehouse without their memory. They come to find out something horrible has happened and the people responsible are on their way back to the warehouse. The real trouble here is that we know of these five men, some are good and some are bad but not even they know the truth with their current amnesia. This leads to both fights amongst themselves and the fight for the truth. It’s less of a horror movie and more of a thriller, but when you used to drink as much as my friend and I, you didn’t always shoot the dart and hit the center of the target with perfect accuracy. Not every film was great and not every film was the horror movie we were hoping for.
However, it’s not a terrible movie. Sure, the actors aren’t exactly bankable, the movie never got a wide release in theaters and it has pretty bad reviews, but with the right amount of alcohol and the right friend by your side, Unknown proved to be quite the passable movie and one worth a watch if you find yourself bored. People died in interesting enough ways and it showed what kind of thrilling action can take places in the confines of a warehouse. What little I know about Free Fire suggests most of the movie will be set in a similar location. Hopefully the director sticks less to his “visionary” flare and more to the interesting possibilities that are available when you take a handful of talent and lock them up together in a room with a couple of guns.
5) Reservoir Dogs (1992)
There are a few things I have to admit. One, I love Quentin Tarantino. Two, I only love what I have seen of his and I have not seen everything, which I guess makes me a “bad” movie fan. Three, I’m 31-years-old. so I’ve seen more than some of you youngsters and less than some of you older farts. In 1992 I was only seven years old. There’s no way my parents were going to let me see Tarantino’s directorial debut. Oh, and number four, I must admit that while I love movies, I love moving forward with movies, not backwards. I tend not to like older movies. I’ve seen tons of movies but I don’t backtrack too often. Yes, I’ve seen Star Wars and Indiana Jones and a bunch of ‘80s stuff but by the time I was old enough to see a R-rated movie, I was eighteen and the year was 2003. I was more likely to see a new R-rated movie than go back and watch Reservoir Dogs. However, I came of age just in time for the release of Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” in 2003 and I was the better off for it.
I was OBSESSED with the Kill Bill movies and, based solely off those two classics, declared myself a Tarantino fanatic. Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained were both great, prompting me to finally go backwards and watch Tarantino’s second film, Pulp Fiction, almost 20 years after it came out. But I never did see Reservoir Dogs. In fact, I still haven’t even though I’m recommending it to you now. The reason for that is when reading the reviews for Free Fire I noticed many of them suggest similarities to Reservoir Dogs in both tone and quality. Since all those fancy professional movie critics mention it, I guess it stands to reason it would make a good addition to a list of movies you should see before Free Fire. This list isn’t just for you guys, it’s for me too!
I wish I could have faith in the theory that “I liked every movie I saw from Tarantino so far so I’ll probably like that one too.” I have faith I’ll like Reservoir Dogs, despite my general lack of interest in movies from long ago, because I like Tarantino. But they compared Tarantino’s work to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire and I did not like the work of Wheatley’s that I saw. So, the theory of “if you liked everything so far from one director that means you’ll like his unseen work” can’t be true. There’s a chance I could like Free Fire and I really hope that I do, since mindless comedic action is a genre I love immensely. But I haaaaaaated High-Rise, and if Free Fire is anything like that movie and Reservoir Dogs is anything like Free Fire then maybe I don’t like Tarantino as much as I think I do. Either way, critics suggest similarities between the two (both deal with deceit among a merry band of criminals) and Tarantino so far has a good track record with me so I’ll be giving Reservoir Dogs” a fair shot sometime soon.
And there you have it, my friends, the five movies I recommend you see before seeing Free Fire. The movie has a lot of promise. So far it sits at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes which is pretty good for the genre; it has a great cast of talented actors and an Oscar winning actress; it’s made by an independent studio so there could be risks not usually taken that could lead to great action rewards; and it’s better than paying the ticket price to watch Pandas you could see on TV or Katherine Heigl continue to embarrass herself. Check back again next week as I enjoy one final week of garbage movies to prep for before the summer movie season kicks off and I’ll have at least three months of consistent blockbuster entertainment to make recommendations for.