Free Guy (2021) Director: Shawn Levy Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn 3½ out of 4 stars.
I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from knowing that Joe Keery was in the cast (because I’m a huge Stranger Things fan) and also that Shawn Levy was the director. In looking over his filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson,and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.
The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage (Tron, anyone?) yet carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe. But I, for one, appreciate the range. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that but in Free Guy you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar.
My review for Charming The Hearts of Men on Film Festival Today. This one was tough to write about. I find myself thinking and saying this a lot when I’m writing reviews, but this film really had such potential that never got fully lived up to. I say as much in the full review, but I really do believe Charming the Hearts of Men have worked better as series, limited or otherwise.
The seeds of an innovative premise can be found, though they don’t get the chance to mature … the film calls out sexism more directly than racism, which winds up feeling disproportionate and awkward. First-time director S.E. DeRose examines the concurrent struggles of multiple oppressed groups and outsiders, as well as the parallels, the distinctions, and the insidious way that prejudice can affect the very oppressed people, themselves. It’s not a new idea, but worth investigating further and, sadly, the film doesn’t invest in an equally nuanced payoff … Where the film takes a bolder approach, it works … it hammers home the reality of how little has changed since the 1960s…
I enjoyed it very much but it also really shocked me. It’s surprisingly intense, emotionally-speaking. This is a spoiler, but I think it’s important for anyone considering watching it: Vivo is primarily a grief story.
Vivo boasts absolutely stunning animation… the soundtrack is catchy and charming and the songs span a wide range of genres… the real magic occurs, though, when Vivo and Gabi harmonize, musically and narratively. It’s worth noting, however, that this is a grief story, which hits unexpectedly hard. Moments in which multiple characters express regret and desperation reach Pixar levels of potency in their ability to conjure tears... Yet, at other times, the story careens into side-quests, almost like a series of Odyssey-style vignettes, needing to overcome obstacles and, sometimes, literal monsters.
This film was a real experience. As part of the “stunning visuals” I mention in my review, the stunning black-and-white presentation was a real surprise and metaphor in and of itself.
Very rarely does one come across a truly unique interpratation of the mermaid mythos. They usually fall into a trope of one sort: the sweet, feminine ideal; the monstrous siren; or some unsettling mix of the two. However, in Scales, Saudi Arabian writer/director Shahad Ameen explores the mermaid concept in a fascinating new way. Here is a depiction of mermaids as nightmares and deep-seated beliefs made uncomfortably real. The story, or what there is of one, takes place in a dystopian landscape and commences with the disturbing ritual in which the citizens of a fishing village must sacrifice one daughter to the “sea maidens.”
This film really made me want to bust out my rollerblades…
Skater Girl treats both the titular character and her sport with a lot of heart. Beautiful intentions are on display here, between some gorgeous, energetic cinematography and a few stellar performances by young and relatively unknown actors. The downsides are an inconsistent tone and a plot that builds to an abrupt and limited ending, dulling the many other elements of this story about being true to oneself and following your dreams … It’s a shame, too, because it is easy to see how great this movie could have been … Gupta absolutely shines in her performances on and off the skateboard. Patel is a tremendous delight, too, with whimsical counterpoints to many serious moments. On the whole, Skater Girl is quite enjoyable and worth watching
My review for Grace and Grit on Film Festival Today. This one was such a disappointment. I really had high hopes from the trailer.
It’s clear that there isn’t a lot of time available to establish the romance before the [breast cancer] diagnosis kicks in, but creating a foundation of profound love has most definitely been done before. Here, though, Treya and Ken’s romance winds up seeming to be based entirely on physical attraction or starry-eyed naïveté (perhaps both), due to cloying dialogue, melodramatic gazing into one another’s eyes… Particularly frustrating is the abrupt point of view switch, abandoning Treya’s direct experience for Ken’s distress. The film almost singularly depicts how the disease impacts their marriage, rather than also exploring Treya’s individual suffering. The most we get are fleeting flashbacks to her teenage self, standing in front of a mirror, exploring her femininity. There is a legitimate sense of helplessness most of us are probably familiar with when watching someone we care about suffer. That could have been a much stronger motif, had it been the starting point, but it’s not.
A real challenge for any tale such as this is to create depth among even the antagonists, and this film strongly succeeds. All of these relationships feel layered and complex …
The stakes, however small and personal, are clearly defined. The story never careens too far into any extreme, avoiding becoming too volatile and maintaining cohesion, all enhanced tremendously with the stunning cinematography by Denson Baker …
The film builds to a conclusion that dodges an overabundance of melodrama, opting for a more stripped-down truth that lands beautifully in its finesse.