The 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
In 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
As 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
Sam 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)
Soon 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.
Going by the trailers that have been released for the latest movie in the Die Hard franchise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is simply a long series of explosions, car crashes and machine gun fire occasionally interrupted by predictable one-liners. You’d be forgiven because that’s exactly what it is. A Good Day to Die Hard is an exercise in soulless, meat-and-potatoes action moviemaking, and this is rendered all the sadder in that it’s the culmination of a franchise that used to be clever and interesting, not just explosive.
This time around, Bruce Willis’ iconic John McClane makes his first trip out of the States to try and find his son Jack (Jai Courtney) who has got into a bit of trouble over an assassination attempt in Russia. McClane finds him, discovers that he’s actually a CIA agent, and the two spend the rest of the film variously chasing and being chased by a bunch of Russian bad guys who, it turns out, want to steal some weapons-grade Uranium and nuke America. Or something. The details of the plot would be as boring to relate here as they were to witness in the cinema, and are irrelevant anyway; there’s a criminal conspiracy, there are betrayals, and there’s a completely uninteresting father-son bonding theme that all serve only to provide tenuous links between the film’s gigantic action sequences.
Granted, these scenes are impressive. It’s hard to fault the CGI and stunt choreography that make up the film’s numerous instances of bullet-ridden, ear-drum shattering intensity. There’s always an element of pleasingly mind-melting escapism in action films, and if anyone wants an evening of un-taxing visual excitement then there’s not much to complain about. But there’s a feeling here that the helicopters and explosions and slightly unnecessary leaping through windows are really just covering up the lack of actual content. This is a genre of film that never puts the nuances of plot before the action, but that doesn’t mean plot doesn’t matter; A Good Day’s evil-Russian-terrorist-intrigue storyline is so hackneyed and uninteresting that at times you begin to wonder if director John Moore has actually set out to make a critical parody of the action movie mode itself. And then you abandon that thought, because there is nothing clever in A Good Day to Die Hard.
And it didn’t used to be this way. Die Hards one through three had explosions and bullets aplenty, but they also had interesting dialogue and subtexts and, above all, a really engaging protagonist. Back in 1988 John McClane was likeable and funny, and represented something more than your standard tough guy with a gun and a single-minded motivation to kill the baddies. Even back then he was world-weary, but sardonically, and his spiky interactions with friend and foe were as entertaining as the action itself. Here he simply looks tired at times, even if his skill at dodging bullets, explosions and death in general seems to have paradoxically increased. 2013’s McClane also lacks the quality of company that he had back in the 90s; comically antagonistic police sergeants and sidekicks like Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver are here replaced by a largely uninteresting son, and where the villains were frightening once upon a time, they’re now more or less cardboard cut-outs of stereotypical Russian bad guys. The one-liners that punctuate the violence have also declined in quality, and, of course, an action romp is only ever as good as its one-liners.
To be fair, you can’t judge a film solely in comparison to its predecessors. But even if A Good Day to Die Hard didn’t stand in the shadow of its mighty forebears, it would still be an undeniably weak movie. 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard had the same name to live up to, and it definitely didn’t suck. That’s because, even four films into the series, it didn’t abandon real cinematic aspiration to unimaginatively re-assemble all the most tired action movie conventions, with more explosions. Sadly, that’s what seems to have happened here.
PHOTO/turntherightcorner, Leland Pierce
Warm Bodies is a strange film. It was billed as a ‘romzomcom’, and its various taglines suggested it would predominantly be a comedy in the vein of Zombieland. This was misleading –there is a comedy element, but it’s ultimately a generic teenage romance in a post apocalyptic setting. The comedic moments, from the relatively subtle scene in which R (Nicolas Hoult) and his ‘best friend’ M (Rob Corddry) grunt at each other in a well-pitched approximation of conversation to the precision F-bomb dropped by M a couple of hours later, are the icing on the cake. The film takes up most of its time developing the romance between R and Julie (Teresa Palmer) and, more interestingly, lightly satirising society and contemporary filmmaking.
Like Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies uses a zombie-infested world to hold a mirror to our own. ‘This is my best friend,’ says R as he introduces M to the audience, ‘and by best friend I mean we occasionally grunt and stare awkwardly at each other’. The ensuing scene is funny, but also highlights the uncomfortable conversations we find ourselves having most days, even with people we are friends with, as well as playing on the stereotypical inability of teenagers to talk to anyone. The idea of teenage awkwardness appears throughout: ‘Don’t be creepy, don’t be creepy’, R repeats before attempting a ‘conversation’ with Julie. The film also points at the disconnect between people’s lives and society as a whole, for instance when R tells us that ‘this is a typical day for me. I shuffle around, occasionally bumping into people, unable to apologise or say much of anything’ and we reflect that some people’s existences are unpleasantly close to this picture. These allusions aren’t particularly subtle – when R asks himself, ‘What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people?’, he might as well be paraphrasing My Chemical Romance – but subtlety isn’t the aim.Warm Bodies is more interesting when it pokes fun at cinematic clichés and tropes. The entire movie is very tongue-in-cheek, and some moments, such as M’s ‘fuck yes’ and the moment R and Julie kiss, work because they don’t take themselves seriously. The film overtly needles modern cinema in the scene after R has been shot by Julie’s jarhead father, when R reflects that ‘getting shot in the chest hurt a lot and all’ and shows an ironic awareness of the trend for characters to withstand more and more serious injuries without seeming to suffer any serious consequences (witness Denzel Washington’s bullet-absorbing rage in Man on Fire). Even the music in Warm Bodies could be said to be part of this gentle mockery: I was initially annoyed by the way that music is overused as an emotional stimulant – it’s played in pretty much every scene, and the cuts from one mood to another are often jarring – but this also works as a comment on the overuse of emotionally manipulative music in films generally, particularly as Warm Bodies doesn’t exactly go for the gut emotionally.
The film undoubtedly has large flaws: no amount of ironic self-deprecation can save it from Teresa Palmer’s wooden performance, or that Nora (Analeigh Tipton) only exists for one make-up scene, or the undeniable laziness of the worldbuilding (as an actual zombie film, Warm Bodies doesn’t work at all). In the end, though, these problems feel like sidenotes to a fun and enjoyable film – Palmer’s acting is made up for by Hoult’s fantastically delivered internal monologues, Nora doesn’t have enough screentime to be an issue, and it doesn’t matter that the zombie aspect is thin and unconvincing compared to, say, 28 Days Later, because that isn’t what the movie is trying to do.
The films of British ‘master of suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock are experiencing a revival of popularity, including the screening of a full retrospective at the BFI last year. Hitchcock has also been subject to biographical attentions, first in BBC/HBO collaboration The Girl (directed by Julian Jarrold and starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock), and now in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins in the titular role. Both films complicate Hitchcock’s reputation as the genius director behind thrillers including Vertigo and The Birds.
Hitchcock takes as its specific focus the source material and genesis of 1960’s Psycho, providing trivia which makes it a must for any fan of the suspense masterpiece. However, the film tells a rather reductionist struggle-to-success narrative, beginning with Paramount’s refusal to finance Psycho and ending with the film’s explosive opening night. Here Black Swan screenwriter John McLaughlin rights a previous wrong in accounts of Hitchcock’s life and work; perhaps for the first time his wife Alma Reville’s (Helen Mirren) vast creative input is recognised and celebrated. Although Imelda Staunton gave a characteristically well-crafted performance as Alma in Jarrold’s TV movie, Mirren is given a lot more to work with; the best-written scenes are those where Hitchcock and Alma bicker in domestic settings. We also see her lend her talent to projects other than Hitchcock’s, such as helping friend Whitfield Cook adapt his novel into a screenplay. This becomes part of an important theme in any look at the life of Hitchcock – sexual jealousy.
Of course, Alma’s relationship with Cook is just the tip of the iceberg. Hopkin’s Hitchcock has a Norman Bates style peep-hole which allows him to peek at actress Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Thankfully, Hitchcock’s obsession with his female stars is far more subtle here than in The Girl. Instead of a heavy-handed character assassination, Gervasi’s film crafts a more disturbing look at his psyche, partly through scenes where Hitchcock conducts imaginary conversations with the real life inspiration for Norman Bates, Ed Gein (an unnerving Michael Wincott).
The film’s framing technique, however, is less successful. Hopkins irritatingly addresses the camera and the viewers beyond, as Hitchcock did in Psycho’s original trailer. Although this could have been a clever meta touch, it comes across as a rather cheesy gimmick serving only to fill the film’s sparse running time. The same is true of the unfathomable number of lingering close-ups on Hopkin’s falsely-jowled face. Both Jones and Hopkins have performed admirably in underwritten roles, receiving mediocre direction which results in shallow drama, a shame as there is clearly a wealth of worthwhile research behind The Girl and Hitchcock, which could have made for a strong documentary.
The casting of notable talents Jessica Biel and Scarlett Johansson in roles where they do little more than imitate the work of former stars Vera Miles and Janet Leigh also seems a waste, though Toni Collette is able to shine in a supporting role as Hitch’s sarcastic PA Peggy Robertson.
Jarrold and Gervasi have drawn attention to a wider problem with the biopic genre; the depiction of a person, especially when deceased, can be nothing more than an interpretive construction based on subjective accounts. Perhaps it is better to enjoy Hitchcock’s films purely for their own creative merits rather than engaging in an on-screen debate as to whether he was more monster or master.
PHOTO/Destructoid, Nick Martin