Daniel Nava reviews “Free Fire,” “The Promise,” “Cezanne et Moi,” and “Colossal” on Chicago Cinema Circuit



The challenge: after having spent ~90 minutes in the company of Ben Wheatley’s cadre of arms dealers, where much of its action occurs within the expanses of an abandoned warehouse, consider mapping out its topography. Consider doing this while watching the film. Transitioning from passive viewer to detailed cartographer isn’t necessarily a requirement. Simply begin with the obvious (a red van parked within the warehouse) and trace where each character starts their journey and where it (brutally, mercifully) ends. My suggestion is that it cannot be done, at least not to any degree of certainty. Characters are persistently on the move, crawling through debris as they agonizingly bleed out, their legs petrified by lead, dragging their carcasses in what so often feels like a circular pattern. Spatial coherence is the least of Ben Wheatley’s concerns in Free Fire. But to a larger point (which, yes, this too should be obvious), this absence of visual coherence serves as an irreconcilable impediment to the film’s enjoyment. I could feel myself biodegrading as Free Fire slogged to its inevitable conclusion. A conclusion that’s so cortex-decaying in its emptiness that it precludes all matter and meaning.


It’s easy to allow the political reality of our present to inform our reading of a new film, as if to suggest that the countless days that lead into months that lead into years in which a film is in pre- and post-production lead to some carefully calibrated zeitgeist moment. Those moments aren’t so conveniently arranged. For a film like Terry George’s The Promise, a film that depicts the systematic genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire, it’s difficult not to be persuaded by the picture’s heartfelt call for humanism, all during a political present that makes the very concept unfashionable.


Uncharacteristically prolific, Monegasque director Danièle Thompson has made a series of forgettable films that reach some kind of apex in her latest, Cézanne Et Moi. It’s a little mystifying to consider the struggles of some foreign directors, some of whom are incapable of securing even the most measly of U.S. distribution, while Thompson regularly churns out such maudlin exercises like Jet Lag (featuring Juliette Binoche, in what may be her worst performance if I could actually remember the film) and somehow manages to secure prominent shelf space at Blockbuster Video during the mid-aughts. Perhaps I should explain: regular trips to my local BV would always include the vision of numerous un-rented Jet Lag DVD cases with this remarkably unfortunate yet nevertheless kind of cute poster art as its cover.  There’s something inexplicably fascinating about the way Jean Reno holds his cellphone to his cranium that made renting the film absolutely, positively necessary. The market for middle-brow entertainment thinly veiled as art house specialty is alive and well. It would certainly explain Drake Doremus’ career.


I’m not offended or outraged by Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal – I just don’t really get it. Conceptually and thematically, nothing about Colossal worked for me. It brandishes plenty of worthwhile and intriguing ideas, but very few of them coalesce into anything meaningful. It’s a nutty film, but not the kind that excites or raises your pulse. It’s merely befuddling and obvious, straining for pathos yet yielding to nerd-culture theatrics to make a point. It’s a film about alcoholism without understanding addiction, a film about confused masculinity and privilege without saying anything meaningful, and a kaijū eiga without the breadth or spectacle.


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