Film review

Fast and Furious 6 keeps up the pace

Fast and Furious 6 keeps up the pace

BradWesley123The latest high-octane installment to the Fast and Furious series sees Vin Diesel return alongside his crew to battle new menace Owen Shaw, and proves the films are not yet out of gears.

Since the release of The Fast and the Furious twelve years ago, the franchise has amassed a strong fan-base. While certainly successful, the series maintained a level just good enough to warrant sequels but never really threatened to become more than the sum of their parts. This all changed with the fifth installment in the series, the aptly named Fast Five.

Bringing together the major characters from the previous films, as well as the addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and moving away from street-racing to instead adopt a heist theme, Justin Lin orchestrated a film with echoes of Oceans 11, but swapping tuxedos out for tank-tops.

With Fast Five widely considered the best of the bunch so far, the anticipation for the next installment reached greater heights then ever before, an expectation Fast and Furious 6 most certainly fulfills.

The film opens shortly after the end of the previous outing; with crew leader Dom (Vin Diesel) seemingly enjoying his hard earned lifestyle. Before long though Dom is given a visit by hardcore cop and former enemy Hobbs (the returning Dwayne Johnson), who asks for help from him and his crew, to bring down a new threat: former Spec-Ops soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).

Why take up such an offer? Shaw’s gang includes Dom’s former flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), long thought dead and now amnesia-stricken.  The gang is soon reunited and embroiled in ‘vehicular warfare’ with Shaw’s crew.

What follows is a nitrous-fuelled non-stop adrenaline ride, paced well with comedic and ‘emotional’ scenes allowing the audience to catch their breath. By now for those familiar with the series many of the characters feel like old friends, allowing Lin to move straight into the gags that the movies are so famous for. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (rapper Ludicris) are on fine form here, particularly the former who provides relentless laughs throughout.

Perhaps the film’s main strength is also its shortcoming. Dom’s crew is given an abundance of the camera time and the antagonist suffers as a result. Evans is somewhat dry as Shaw, but provides some opposition to our heroes, including a memorable scene involving a tank bursting from a truck. The film lacks the real edge that Johnson gave as the antagonist last time around. The growing camaraderie between Diesel and Johnson throughout certainly provides some enjoyable scenes, but the film lacks the crunch of a really dangerous bad guy.

However, without giving too much away, the end-credits appear to suggest the next installment may not suffer a similar problem.

This is by no means a critically good film, nor will any film from this franchise ever be. The action scenes range from faintly ridiculous to downright impossible and the plot plays a virtually secondary role merely giving the film a purpose to move forward to the next scene. Despite this there is no denying that those who go into the theatre appreciating this will be rewarded by a film that absolutely delivers what is promised.

For fans of the series, or of the action genre in general, this is a must-see. Those who don’t indulge in the occasional bout of mindless entertainment should steer clear, but for those whose guilty pleasures might include a flying Vin Diesel head-butt Fast and Furious 6 is a film at the peak of its chosen genre, with plenty left in the tank.

PHOTO/ Kristina Bustos, BradWesley123

Mud: Jeff Nichols goes back to his roots

Mud: Jeff Nichols goes back to his roots

dominicpinkIn his third directorial outing, Jeff Nichols takes things back to the Arkansas of his childhood and his directorial début, Shotgun Stories.

 The nostalgia dial that they have in Hollywood production suites – the one that makes everything dappled and golden and just a little shaky – is set to eleven as the fourteen year-old Ellis and his pal Neckbone (complete with Fugazi tee and ‘sheeit’-spouting attitude) set out to an island near  their homes on the Mississippi delta to claim a boat left in a tree by a recent flood.

Unbeknownst to them it is inhabited by the mirage-like Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey and his torso, whose friendship leads the pair into a world of adult problems with little more than the guise of their childhood innocence to protect them.

The film is loosely based on Mark Twain’s classic novel Huckleberry Finn, though not closely enough to inspire the same fandom-motivated throngs of obligatory viewing as this week’s release The Great Gatsby.

Reese Witherspoon plays love object Juniper fresh from an arrest for being intoxicated with power in public, but the effect of casting her alongside fellow schmaltz veteran turned actor McConaughey is counterbalanced somewhat by a recent Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes, making it hard to know how seriously we ought to take Mud.

But anyone expecting a southern wilderness epic of the Paris Texas ilk will be disappointed; Mud is a pistol-totin’, chain-smokin’ melodrama that pays homage to the Western genre.

McConaughey puts in a decent performance as the uncomplicatedly gritty Mud, and Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland do their best with Ellis and Neckbone, but the script is more ropey than Mud’s hammock (it’s made of ropes). For every one-liner that sticks there’s a glibly axiomatic comment on love or life or sex, all that stuff.

The whole thing exudes style over substance – where does Mud keep getting those cigarettes that he grits his teeth around in every scene?

That said, it is extremely stylish, if not effortlessly so. The setting and cinematography are gorgeous, and Nichols never misses an opportunity for a wide-angle shot of the Mississippi River landscape or the ramshackle houseboats that make up Ellis’ community. The sense of this community is one of the most endearing features of the film, with a number of successful minor roles contributing to an overall impression of banality from which the boys escape, though Ellis’ family problems are dealt with rather brusquely, as is his belief in the power of love that encourages him in his assistance of Mud.

There’s also a lovely tension between the boys’ compellingly naïve confidence and the agony of watching them stick their necks further and further out in helping Mud in escaping from his island hideout. The film is shot from the teenagers’ point of view, which partially excuses some of the clumsy thematic simplicity and scripting; the film hinges on the premise of adolescent self-importance for much of the drama, and just about sustains this impression through one or two moments that would otherwise be a little cheesy, Ellis’ first brushes with romance being foremost among them.

For fans of cowboy flicks or those looking for a visually stunning mood piece, Mud is an involving portrayal of youth and young manhood. Just don’t expect anything too venomous.

PHOTO/Fiona, Dominic Pink

High Drama in Almodóvar’s ‘I’m So Excited’

High Drama in Almodóvar’s ‘I’m So Excited’

TomBreugglemannAs we’ve all been told a thousand times before, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I’m So Excited, the latest film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (Volver, The Skin I Live In) also suggests that you can’t judge a film by its trailer.

The Spanish title, Los Amantes Pasajeros, a pun meaning both ‘the fleeting lovers’ and ‘the passenger lovers’, emphasises the film’s comic elements, and first glance at any of the marketing material suggests that I’m So Excited is merely a camp and farcical romp.

Take the subject matter: a group of airline stewards, all gay, turn to drink, drugs and cabaret to get through a stressful flight to Mexico City. Of course the presentation of business class stewarding team Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajas (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) does rely somewhat on stereotypes, especially when they perform The Pointer Sister’s ‘I’m So Excited’. Descriptions of some of the passengers, such as a corrupt businessman and crazed psychic also sound like archetypal characters we’ve seen countless times before. However, the film manages to be much more than recycled characters and forgettable popcorn comedy.

Once the garish (but wonderful) opening credits fade a moment of predictable klutz comedy is countered by a touching scene between airport colleagues and couple León (Antonio Banderas) and Jessie (Penélope Cruz). Regrettably these roles are only cameos, and it’s a shame that these characters remain grounded when the plane takes off.

The confined setting of the Airbus 340, and the malfunctioning landing gear which forces the plane to circle aimlessly for hours, does encourage bonds between the unrealistically sparse number of business class passengers. Most have fairly nuanced stories, and these are gradually revealed as the film progresses. The rather convenient device of a broken telephone, which means all conversations are played to the entire compartment, promotes empathy between characters. There is also some usage of monologues, in a comparable vein, though less emotively, than in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.

Almodóvar’s is also a much darker film than the trailer suggests, treating themes such as murder, crime, and mental illness. One of the only times we catch a glimpse of the world outside of the aeroplane has major potential to tug on the heartstrings. Passenger Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo) makes a call to his ex-girlfriend Alba, and she answers from a precarious position atop a viaduct from which she was intending to jump. In a whimsical coincidence befitting a Woody Allen screenplay, when Alba drops her phone it lands in the basket of a cyclist passing under the bridge – who just so happens to be another of Ricardo’s old flames. A love triangle from the past is hinted at, but via the plane’s less-than-private phone Ricardo is able to mend old rifts.

Unlikely coupling is a theme throughout, and this is one area where the film disappoints. The stewards decide to drug the passengers with mescaline in order to subdue panic, and as a result of side effects many characters, both passengers and crew, join the mile high club. The treatment of sexual relationships is distasteful; a man repeatedly date-rapes his new wife and the psychic takes advantage of another drugged passenger.

The plot may be utterly ridiculous, and the blend of gross-out humour and more emotive moments rather odd, but I’m So Excited is engaging and entertaining throughout, with a well-judged and modest running time, unlike much cinema of today.




PHOTO/ Gary Ellwood, Tom Breugglemann

Deep in the Hundred Acre Woods – A Review of Evil Dead

Deep in the Hundred Acre Woods – A Review of Evil Dead

buddy2bloggerSam Raimi once described his original The Evil Dead as The Three Stooges but with gore instead of custard pies. The 1981 version is the locus classicus of a myriad of horror tropes and clichés that have since been used and abused to death.

 Many horror films that have come since owe their hallmarks to The Evil Dead. The raison d’etre of Cabin Fever and The Cabin in the Woods is owed to The Evil Dead formula: a group of five college-age youngsters representing every social demographic (making you wonder if these people would be best friends in real life) becomes isolated in the woods. One of them then does something foolish to cast the demon. In the Evil Dead’s case, unlocking an evil spirit by reading passages from The Necronomicon – the H. P. Lovecraft inspired grimoire bound with human flesh. The spirit then possesses and picks off one by one the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool and the virgin (as the group is best described and parodied in The Cabin in the Woods).

Evil Dead continues the noble tradition of dispensing with the definite article laid down by Wild Wild West, Fast and Furious and Facebook. This is not the first remake of The Evil Dead. The Evil Dead II was arguably more a remake than a sequel and, in this reviewer’s eyes, a better fulfillment of The Evil Dead mandate- no holds barred comic book violence and creative deaths that makes you shriek and laugh in the same breath. Edgar Wright described it as ‘the best episode of Scooby Doo but with gore and shocks and tree rape’.

The director, Fede Alvarez, has decided to take Evil Dead in the direction of straight horror rather than the horror/comedy of Raimi’s films. As a result, I think it looses a lot of what was so appealing about the original two.

If you want to see the film’s one gag, stay until the end of the credits. Raimi once noted that ‘horror and comedy are very close to one another’ by which he didn’t mean that horror was funny or that comedy was frightening, but the aesthetics of the two can be very similar. Both genres also get an immediate review from an audience; you can tell if your fellow cinemagoers like a comedy or horror if you hear laughing or screaming. There weren’t many screams in this audience, but a fair few ‘eugh’s and ‘ahhh’s.

Evil Dead had quite a J-horror atmosphere with the desaturated grunge wash over the colour pallet that’s very typical of modern horror films. There’s a habit of remakes and reboots to shoehorn in backstory into the original plot. During the films opening scene I was worried we would be getting a lot of description of the evil spirit’s origin rather than the important thing, which is how it’s going to dispense of these ‘redshirts’. Thankfully, this seemed to be just an excuse for a gruesome immolation to set the tone. The film retains the infamous and controversial ‘tree-rape’ scene of the original that gave a new meaning to the phrase ‘Deep in the Hundred Acre Woods’.

To the film’s credit, the film doesn’t employ CGI for anything other than touch ups. The crew utilised every trick and illusion in the book to achieve the gaudy gore, which is very much in the ‘pencils in the Achilles tendon’ spirit of the original. Describing Evil Dead as ‘gory’ doesn’t quite cut it. The final scene could very easily rival Braindead’s “lawnmower scene” for sheer volume of blood and it did render me wanting to scream ‘How are you still standing? You should be in searing agony!’


*** (3 Stars)


In love with Insanity: Silver Linings Playbook

In love with Insanity: Silver Linings Playbook

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKSoon to be released on DVD, Silver Linings Playbook tests the limits of romantic comedy with its bleak and unflinching portrayal of mental illness. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star as Tiffany and Pat, two unemployed twenty-somethings struggling to rebuild their lives in the drab landscape of suburban America. Pat is a manic depressive former school teacher recently released from a mental institution and Tiffany a recovering sex addict traumatised by her husband’s death. They share a history of breakdowns, expert knowledge of psychiatric medication, and a propensity for excruciating social gaffes. On a superficial level, the movie follows the tradition of cult classics like Harold and Maude, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Punch Drunk Love, all of which feature eccentric romances between the profoundly alienated and marginally bipolar. Even the protagonists of more mainstream, supposedly ‘normal’ romantic comedies have their fair share of neuroses, from the obsessive compulsive tendencies of the heroine of When Harry Met Sally to the chronic anxiety of Woody Allen’s urban intellectuals. Yet Silver Linings Playbook goes further than its predecessors to capture the unpalatable reality of mental illness. Even as it invites the audience to laugh at its hapless characters, it never loses sight of the destructive effects of their condition on themselves and those closest to them.

Far from being reduced to endearing eccentrics, Pat and Tiffany develop into complex and unpredictable individuals, whose extreme personalities even threaten to alienate them from the audience. Pat’s flat voice and stony expression becomes a terrifying prelude to physical violence, as he shifts in a moment from incomprehension to uncontrollable rage. Tiffany expresses her neuroses through the more traditional means of hysterical shrieks and manic laughter, which Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar winning performance somehow manages to elevate above simple stereotypes of psychosis. Although liable to exploitation and prone to self-destruction, Tiffany’s honesty and openness lend her a degree of power that Pat entirely lacks.  At one point, she describes Pat and herself ‘the honest ones’ compared to her married sister’s stiflingly conventional family.

As the movie gradually introduces Pat and Tiffany’s friends and relations, it challenges the division between normality and mental illness, revealing the pathology inherent in the air they breathe. Pat’s father’s superstitious faith in national football eventually jeopardizes his son’s recovery and his entire family’s future. Even more disturbing is the case of Pat’s former colleague Ronnie, a bland, mild-mannered husband and father secretly nursing corrosive rage and unhappiness. Pat’s desire for normality and ‘a silver lining’ becomes increasingly self-destructive, as he tries and fails to control his mental illness. Participation in Tiffany’s dance contest brings not redemption and cure, but a growing sense of empathy and self-acceptance. Yet the film is far from a protest against the tyranny of normality, or a challenge to the medical definition of mental illness. Pat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Cliff Patel, provides wisdom and guidance throughout, joining with Pat’s parents to help the couple realize their dream of domestic peace. The conclusion balances resignation with life affirming hope, as Pat abandons his efforts to live life along rigidly normal lines and embraces the unexpected happiness of the present.

PHOTO/Alice Tynan

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