I’ve only seen two of the five significant films opening today — Lu Chuan‘s Born in China (Disney) and Terry George‘s The Promise (Open Road). Neither are “bad” — I certainly respect the effort that went into their assembly. But neither lit a fuse, much less a fire.
I had access to screenings of Ben Wheatley‘s Free Fire (A24) during the 2016 Toronto Film Festival as well as recent screenings here, but I didn’t want to sit through what appeared to be a “mayhem for mayhem’s sake” gun ballet exercise. Rotten Tomato and Metacritic ratings of 68% and 64%, respectively.
From my recent review of Born in China: “The same old Disney stew. Stunningly beautiful, drop-dead photography. Adorable animals (especially the monkeys). Folksy-kindly narration (voiced by John Krasinski) aimed at eight year olds. But with much of the sadness, harshness and occasional brutality of nature sidestepped or flat-out ignored. Because the kiddies have to be shielded from the realities. Raise them in McMansions, give them sedentary lives in front of screens, gently poison them with fast-food diets but never let them see what real life is really like. There’s plenty of time for that later. Keep them in fantasyland for as long as possible.”
I had a respectful “meh” reaction to The Promise when I caught it in Toronto 19 months ago. Apologies to George, whom I know personally, but I can at least clarify that “meh” doesn’t mean his film is a problem. It just didn’t rouse my soul. As others have noted, it’s a decent enough World War I-era drama that blends a romantic triangle with the Armenian genocide. Nicely captured by dp Javier Aguirresarobe. Right away you want Charlotte le Bon to end up with Oscar Isaac, portraying a medical student, rather than burly Christian Bale, as an American journalist.
“Bale isn’t the romantic type,” I said in a 9/16 trailer-reaction piece. “He’s always about his moods and his quirks, especially when he’s put on a little weight. I’m trying to think of an established star who’s more of a ‘doesn’t get the girl’ type. He’s about strangeness, weirdness, pot bellies, beards, temper tantrums, glaring expressions, etc.”