Gunshots vs. trigonometry 

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As if you needed another reason to check out the Whistler Film Festival (WFF), it's worth noting that the WFF brings us excellent flicks waaaaayyyy before the general public ever gets to see them. Case in point: Free Fire opens this week, almost six months after it first played as part of the 2016 WFF.

Don't miss it this time around though, because Free Fire is an ultraviolent, madcap action-comedy about a deal-gone-sour between some gun dealers and the IRA. It has bullets, a sassy dame, epic '70s wardrobes, and clocks in a tight 87-minute run time.

Set in an abandoned Boston manufacturing plant sometime in the 1970s, Free Fire stars Brie Larson (Room, Kong: Skull Island), who steers the picture as the middle woman for an arms deal between an IRA rep played by Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight, Inception) and gunrunner Sharlto Copley (District 9, A-Team).

English director Ben Wheatley (Highrise) is not looking to reinvent cinema with this one, and he wastes no time on things like deeply imagined character backstories or motivation. Instead he strikes the match on a balls-to-the-wall, shoot-em-up with booming action, exploding tension and rich thematic undertones about the way money brings out the worst in us. It's like Reservoir Dogs meets the original Assault on Precinct 13, but with gunfire instead of dialogue. Good stuff.

Also opening this week — Born in China is the latest from Disneynature and follows three animal families — snow leopard, panda and golden monkey — through the circle of life in the wilds of China. With Planet Earth-level camera work, the flick offers stunning visuals and intimate glimpses into a world few humans have ever witnessed, but the animals are anthropomorphized to the extreme (it is Disney, after all), and Born in China also over-narrates and seems terrified to let the stunning images tell the story. This is a recurring theme with Disneynature (spoonfeed knowledge, no independent thought), but even with those missteps, seeing this movie sure beats the hell out of taking your kids to the zoo. Just be sure to explain to the little ones that, while the Chinese animals are amazing, the Chinese government has violently occupied the nation of Tibet for over half a century and is still actively suppressing the culture of one of the most rich and peaceful nations on the planet. (Meanwhile, Hollywood clamours for that Chinese box office money. Is it that none of those execs remembers when Brad Pitt made Seven Years in Tibet? Or just that no one cares?)

Back in movieland, Gifted is also playing this week and while it's probably not even that bad of a movie, the music in the trailer made me want to puke in my popcorn bag then chuck it at the screen. Chris Evans (Captain America) stars as a single dude raising his dead sister's precocious seven-year-old kid, played exceptionally well by McKenna Grace (Independence Day: Resurgence). It's a custody battle flick: on the one hand, the young girl can solve math problems like a young Marjorie Lee Brown and her grandma wants to send her off to be a genius at some stuffy prep school. On the other hand, uncle-dude knows his sister's wish was to just let the kid be a kid. Cue the cutesy sentimentality and tear-duct-massaging finale.

Gifted is directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) so it's probably not total crap (think Good Will Hunting meets Little Miss Sunshine) but my bet is that this one underwhelms, plays it safe, and goes for the easy tears. See for yourself, I guess.

Speaking of weepy eyes, the Download of the week is Lion, which also played last December at the Whistler Film Fest. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) stars as an Indian orphan raised in Tasmania who is driven to search for his mother and roots back in rural India. It's a tale of resilience and persistence, and damn if the young Indian child-actors at the start don't almost steal the whole picture. True story, though, well-executed, and a definite tear jerker. This one was up for Best Picture.

The other Download of the Month, throwing it back to math, is Hidden Figures, another true story about a team of genius mathematicians working at NASA in the '60s trying to help launch the first astronaut into orbit. What makes the story amazing is that they were all African-American women, so it literally took 50-some years for any of us to hear about them.

Better late than never, though, right? Here's hoping the future generations will learn to be human a bit quicker than the last few. Here's hoping they can free Tibet.

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