Free Fire

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Rated Greg’s Top 5 Movie Shootouts

  1. A Man with a Guitar Case Walks into a Bar – Desperado
  2. Bank Robbery Aftermath – Heat
  3. Airport Hanger Climax – Bad Boys
  4. Shootout at Candyland – Django Unchained
  5. The O.K. Corral – Tombstone

free fire

Reservoir Dogs meets Snatch.  The premise of the action-comedy Free Fire is both simple and yet quite brilliant.  Ten characters, each of varying levels of dickheadishness, meet for an illegal gun deal in 1970’s Massachusetts and relations between the two parties quickly turn sour over the course of 90 minutes.  The hook of this film is that the escalating shootout that transpires is unlike any of the shoot ‘em ups you’ve seen before on the big screen.

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Try thinking of the heavily choreographed gunfights from your favorite action movies.  Many times they involve stunt doubles wielding a pistol in each hand, somersaulting over various objects and shooting henchman with the precision of a samurai, all the while looking like a cool motherfucker as the bullets exit the chamber (John Woo’s Face/Off from 1997 comes to mind, or John Wick more recently).  Free Fire takes that movie trope and throws it on its ass, literally.  When the shit hits the fan, none of these characters really have any business wielding a firearm, no matter how tough they saw themselves up to that point.  Director Ben Wheatley wanted to see what a realistic gunfight among the untrained might look like and he executes it in riotous fashion.  Usually someone getting shot wouldn’t exactly be a punchline in an action film, but somehow it works over and over again in this environment full of assholes.  Grade: B+

Two more items of note:

  • Wheatley purposely set this movie in “Massachusetts” as opposed to specifically in Boston because he didn’t want to deal with any critical dissection of the Boston accent.  While I love Boston movies, this was clearly the right call given the variety of Irish, British, South African accents already in the movie.  Free Fire could pretty much be set anywhere, so I’m not sure how they landed on “Massachusetts” of all locales.
  • I want to make it clear that this is not a spoof on action movies.  This is not “Not Another Shoot ‘Em Up Movie.”  It’s much more original and clever than that, with real stakes, and the pedigree of the actors involved should insinuate that (Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, and the MVP of the film Sharlto Copley).


Patriots Day


Rated Greg’s Top 5 Director/Actor Collaborators

  1. Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio (5 films)
  2. Quentin Tarantino & Samuel L. Jackson (6 films)
  3. Christopher Nolan & Michael Caine (6 films)
  4. The Coen Bros. & Frances McDormand (8 films)
  5. Wes Anderson & Bill Murray (7 films)

best friends

DID WE JUST BECOME BEST FRIENDS!?  That’s what I imagine occurred when each of the pairs above met for the first time.  In the film industry it makes sense that actors would want to work with directors that they know they can trust (and vice versa).  You’re putting a lot of faith in someone that they will promote you in the best light.  It’s the same reason most people will only go to the same barber or stylist over and over again once they find the one that they like.  It’s also the same reason I try to time the exact moment I get in line at my office cafeteria’s sandwich station so that when it’s my turn I get the nice lady that hooks up extra gilled chicken, as opposed to the stingy one.


Frances McDormand was lucky enough to meet her cinematic lobsters, the Coen Brothers, very early in her career. Her debut was the starring role of 1984’s Blood Simple and she would go on to appear in seven other Coen films (she also happens to be married to Joel Coen).  Mark Wahlberg on the other hand didn’t find his lobster, Peter Berg, until 2013’s Lone Survivor, his 33rd appearance on the big screen. That experience clearly sparked something between the two because they collaborated on two more films (both in 2016) with an alleged CIA action trilogy on the way.


The better of the two 2016 Berg/Wahlberg collaborations is Patriots Day, a recounting of the Boston Marathon bombing and the five day manhunt that engrossed the city afterwards. This movie just kinda came and went but is deserving of much more fanfare than it received.  Part of the blame should go to an annoying release date.  It came out in NYC, Boston, and LA on Christmas Day but didn’t make it to the rest of the country until weeks later in the middle of January, thus forfeiting any possible exposure granted from year-end wrap ups like Rated Greg’s.

pat victim

The uneasiness of the subject also probably had something to do with it.  It’s understandable that a terrorist attack isn’t something many people would willingly sign up to experience again.  Shit, even Wahlberg initially passed on the film, only changing his mind once he read the superb script.  But if your making a film about the perseverant spirit of a community, is there anyone better suited to handle that than Peter Berg, creator of Friday Night Lights?  Berg makes a valiant effort to honor those most affected by providing authentic, heartening backstories on the victims.  This definitely isn’t just the Mark Wahlberg show, as Patriot’s Day is more of an ensemble piece.  I have Berg and Wahlberg’s latest as the 8th best film of 2016, right in between Manchester by the Sea and Arrival.  Costarring John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, and J.K. Simmons.  Grade: A+

  • One other item of note. This isn’t really an action movie, but the depicted Watertown shootout is probably the best action set piece from 2016.  Well, either that or the end of Rogue one, but it seems silly now to compare the two.

The Fate of the Furious


Rated Greg’s Top 5 Car Chases*

  1. The chase with the pole-dudes in Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Cage’s Ferrari vs Connery’s Hummer in The Rock
  3. The Miami freeway chase with the car carrier in Bad Boys 2
  4. Arnold and his Harley vs the T-1000’s semi in Terminator 2
  5. The chase with the tank in Fast & Furious 6

*My viewership of films released B.C. (Before Cruise) is admittedly deplorable, so I usually have to disclose that I haven’t seen a few classics that are missing from these lists.  This is especially true for this category, as I haven’t seen Bullitt, the French Connection, or Blues Brothers.

In the beginning, God created The Fast and the Furious.  And God saw that it was good.  It was the hit of summer in between Junior and Senior year of high school and it tricked us into thinking Honda Civics were cool.


On the second day, God created 2 Fast 2 Furious.  And God saw that it was shit.  2 Fast 2 Furious will always remind me of that awful souped up car week in Ocean City, MD.

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On the third day, God created The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.  And God did not see this movie.  NO ONE saw this movie.

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On the fourth day, God created Fast & Furious, the least effort God had ever put into naming something since the orange.  And God saw that it was “you know what, not that bad all things considered, a step in the right direction.”

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On the fifth day, God created Fast Five.  And God saw that it was fucking GLORIOUS, the theatrical equivalent of Kirk Franklin’s Stomp.  Bringing The Rock on board, the biggest movie star on God’s green earth, leveled up the franchise to new heights.  Fast Five pivoted from the previous four and basically turned it into a multicultural Mission Impossible.


On the sixth day, God created Fast & Furious 6.  And God saw that it was a goddamn treat.  More of the same from Fast Five, only this time with a tank.  For the record, this movie is my favorite of the bunch.

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On the seventh day, God created Furious 7.  And God saw that it was bittersweet.  The 5th and 6th installments are really dumb fun, but 7 starts to teeter towards dialogue and action scenes that are a little a too ridiculous (yes, even Fast and Furious needs to draw the line somewhere). That sense is mostly forgotten though since the film is overshadowed by the heartbreaking real life death of Paul Walker (the true O.G. of the series) halfway through filming.  Instead of all the stunts, the most impressive sequence this franchise has ever pulled off is how it handles sending Walker’s character into the sunset at the end of Furious 7.  It’s beautiful.

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God should have stopped at 7.  The Fate of the Furious, or as I like to call it, “Hot Wheels: The Movie” is all the way stupid.  Where Furious 7 toed the ridiculous line, 8 blows right past it.  Why are they all basically super heroes now?  Does villain Charlize Theron’s master plan make any sense? (No)  And why does she have braids?  Was she just on a tropical vacation?  Why is Tyrese’s vehicle of choice for the Russian frozen tundra a Lamborghini?  Isn’t Tyrese just THE WORST?  How is Kurt Russell’s character alive and well without any mention that he died in Furious 7?  Do The Rock and Vin Diesel really hate each other in real life?  (It seems like that reported beef is real because they do not share a single frame in this movie)  Why is this 2 hours and 20 minutes long?  And finally, where’s the Corona?  You can’t drink Corona for seven movies and then randomly switch to the tallboy aluminum Budweisers.


There is one redeeming factor in Fast 8, and that’s Jason Statham.  In an upset that I did not see coming, Statham earns movie MVP over The Rock and it’s not even close (Tyrese is the LVP).  Each of Statham’s scenes is admittedly fantastic, and it makes me wish he did more action comedy (like he did in Spy) and less straight to on demand Taken ripoffs.  There are already two more Fast & Furious sequels on the way, which I am not excited about, but I would definitely watch a spinoff of Statham’s character.   Grade: C



passengers1 (1)

I often wonder at what point does an actor realize he or she is in a historically bad movie.  I think Ben Affleck thought Batman v Superman was legitimately a banger until he saw the Rotten Tomatoes score plummet to the depths of Mar-A-Lago upon release.  I think Bradley Cooper thought Aloha was good until he saw the discombobulate mess for the first time at the premier.  I’m guessing Michael B. Jordan had an inkling Fantastic Four was gonna suck when the director got fired halfway through filming.  And I bet Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt knew Passengers would be a disaster before they even signed on the dotted line ($20 million for J-Law, $12 million for Pratt).

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A giant payday is the only reason Lawrence and Pratt would have ever done this movie. Nothing wrong with that, they should “keep gettin dem checks,” but this story makes no goddamn sense. No level of cast pedigree could save this movie the way it’s constructed.  I really don’t know what Sony was thinking.  I guess they assumed Lawrence + Pratt + Space = $$$$$$$ script be damned, but they were wrong (the domestic box office came up $10 million short of production costs, not even factoring in marketing).


(Slight spoilers below, but this isn’t a good movie so I wouldn’t worry about it)

The tone of Passengers is composed as a love story however the actual actions of the characters are better suited for a horror movie.  Pratt in particular, pretty much a human golden retriever in all of his past roles, somehow comes off as unlikeable and even creepy which is a feet in and of itself.  He dupes Lawrence into falling in love with him using some very insidious tactics, yet the films treats it as “eh nbd.”  This isn’t like Renee Zellweger forgiving Tom Cruise at the end of Jerry Maguire.  This would be like if at the end of Misery, James Caan decided he was in love with Kathy Bates and decided to stay holed up with her.  Grade: D


Win It All


Rated Greg’s Top 5 Gambling Movies

  1. Rounders
  2. The Color of Money
  3. Mississippi Grind
  4. Casino
  5. The Gambler (2014)  Win It All

Sometimes I feel it’s my duty to champion the great filmmakers that seem to go under the radar to the general public.  It just kills me to think that significantly more people know who Brett Ratner is than Jeff Nichols or Jeremy Saulnier.  If I can change that disparity by the DOZENS of Rated Greg readers, it’s a step in the right direction.  And no director is more deserving of added acclaim right now than Joe Swanberg.


If goldenboy Damian Chazelle is the Steph Curry of Hollywood right now, Swanberg is Kawhi Leonard.  Sure, Curry and Chazelle have won recent awards and operate from larger markets, but pound for pound on the hardwood and screen, Leonard and Swanberg are their respective equals.  Swanberg put out Top 10 movies in both 2013 and 2015 (at least according to Rated Greg), but this is probably news to the non-cinephiles because you will never see a trailer for one of his projects on TV.  He just doesn’t work that way.  Joe Swanberg is about as indie as it gets, financing his movies with primarily own bank account, the remainder coming from whatever his inner circle of collaborators (frequently including New Girl’s Jake Johnson) wish to contribute.  It’s especially commendable because this isn’t coming from someone that already made a fortune in the film industry.  The fact that the modest 35 year old opts to live in his hometown of Chicago as opposed to LA says it all.  As such, these are smaller scale movies that are heavily reliant on word of mouth.  I guess the gambles are well worth it to him in order to clutch 100% creative control of his endeavors and not have to deal with pressures from studio executives hell-bent on mass appeal.  He’s basically forgoing any possible financial surpluses that come from getting a studio-backed wide release and focusing entirely on which streaming giant wants to buy his already set in stone film.


This brings us to Swanberg’s latest film Win It All, which after a reportedly raucous premier at SXSW was exclusively released worldwide on Netflix April 7th.  Win It All is an homage to the gambling classics above, starring the aforementioned Jake Johnson as a part time Chicago Cubs parking lot attendant, full time degenerate gambling addict who attempts to finally clean up his act at the behest of his family-man big brother.  It hits a lot of the same beats that you would expect knowing that premise, but because the characters are so damn likeable you’re highly entertained anyways.  One way this film does differ from other poker movies is that it doesn’t spend a ton of time playing out the details of actual hands.  For instance in Rounders, there are a lot of scenes showing what cards Matt Damon is holding and anticipating what card is going to come on the river.  It’s great filmmaking but also would be confusing if you don’t know how Texas Hold ‘Em works.  Win It All on the other hand is much less concerned with this.  You never see what cards anyone is holding in the few poker scenes because that’s not really point of the movie.  The suspense is obtained elsewhere.


Overall, Win It All is a very solid addition to the Netflix original content platform and well worth the 90 minutes.  I did knock it one tier down because there are some logistics introduced as part of the main problem that just didn’t make sense to me by the end, but who knows maybe I missed a key piece of dialogue or something while checking Bumble.  Streaming on Netflix.  Grade: A-


One last thing.  I do also need to disclose that Swanberg and his mumblecore tendencies are probably not as universally liked compared more mainstream films.  I certainly wouldn’t judge you if this isn’t your thing just like I hope you wouldn’t judge me upon hearing that I fast-forwarded through roughly half of Fences.  But if you do like this film, I cannot recommend Swanberg’s other films enough, specifically:

  • Drinking Buddies (2013).  A love rectangle drama starring Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston.  Streaming on Netflix. A+
  • Digging for Fire (2015). 7 Year Itch dramedy starring Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kendrick, Brie Larson, Orlando Bloom, and Mike Birbiglia.  Streaming on Amazon Prime. A-
  • Easy (2016).  This is actually an 8 episode anthology TV show he made for Netflix.  More of the same starring literally everyone.

2017 Movie Report Card – April Update

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I’m switching things up a bit and keeping the films from 2016 that I’m still trying to catch up on separate from the 2017 releases.  You can see updated 2016 rankings using the top left icon.  

Q1 2017 was actually the strongest first quarter I can remember.  Generally A+ films do not come out in January through March but we got two this year in Get Out and Logan. We’ll see if we get anymore in Q2.  My most anticipated for April – June are:

  1. The Big Sick (Sundance darling)
  2. Alien: Covenant (possibly best cast of the year)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
  4. The Lost City of Z
  5. Baywatch (R-Rated Rock is the best Rock)
  6. The Mummy (Tom Cruise alert!!!)

You might notice Fate of the Furious is missing from this list.  I don’t have anything to back this up (I haven’t even seen the trailer), but I just have a hunch that the 8th installment of the franchise is going to be one of the biggest let downs of the year.  When it comes to sports I have terrible intuition on who’s going to cover a spread, but I’m pretty confident in my ability to predict Rotten Tomato scores.  So here goes, The Fate of the Furious will get a 59% or less.  You heard it here first.




The Hangover with feelings.  After his upcoming wedding is cancelled in tragic fashion, a former groom and a mishmash group of buddies decide to go forward with the already paid for bachelor party in Ojai, California.  What attracted me to this movie was an intriguing cast of up and comers, but it turns out the cream of the crop (Jake Johnson, Aubrey Plaza, Jenny Slate) are really just cameos and remain off screen for much of the movie.  The primary actors (Adam Pally, Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch) are fine but the story doesn’t bring much to the table.


Just because a reunion movie has certain relatable interactions doesn’t automatically make it compelling. Also, the wet blanket versus party animal versus straight man scenario is getting a little played out. If you want to watch a movie about old friends reuniting loaded with future stars, you’re much better off with 2011’s 10 years starring Chris Pratt, Channing Tatum, Anthony Mackie, and Oscar Isaac all before they became A-list. Joshy isn’t worth your time.  Grade: D