Friday, 17 May 2013

Fast and Furious 6

12, 2013, Directed by Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez

Let’s face it - a new fast and furious film is either going to get your motor running or turn your engine off. For those edging towards the latter, let it be made clear that every film in the series is probably everything you'd expect it to be; mindless action intercut with clichéd characters spurting ridiculous dialogue in between the revving of engines and shooting of guns. But, as the people in the former's camp would tell you, the action - mindless may it be - is usually well-crafted heart-racing material; the characters - clichéd may they be – are, for all intents and purposes, much-loved additions to the action; whilst the dialogue - ridiculous may it be – is... ridiuclous, amped up to ninety. 

With the cast returning in 2009’s disappointing Fast and Furious, the franchise seemed destined to grind to a tumultuous halt. That was before 2011’s Fast Five – with newly added Dwayne Johnson – revitalised the series by delivering the best thrills of the series thus far, not to mention a film many considered a superior action flick. And so we have Fast and Furious 6, the next ‘episode’ of Vin Diesel’s street-racing posse. Living the high life in Brazil following their financial coup at the end of Fast Five, all seems well in paradise until Hobbs (Johnson) shows up picking up where that tantalising post-credits scene left off; Michelle Rodriguez’s presumed-dead Letty is alive, amnesia-ridden and rooting for the wrong villainous team under the guide of Luke Evans’ brooding big bad, Owen Shaw. Yep, his slimy, yet refreshingly English, villain wishes to enact something as forgettable as other villains before him have done in ways that pave the way for ensuing car-nage. Don't roll those eyes just yet.

The series is officially on a different page to what it was when we first met Toretto (a heroic Vin Diesel) back in ’01; the initial trilogy was all about full-speed ahead action – the pulsating street races in exotic locations more than enough to make a sizable dent at the box office. But the past three films (under the protection of Justin Lin, directing since 2006's Tokyo Drift) has transitioned the series to character-driven ensemble. First-timers beware - Fast and Furious 6 feels like a soap opera on steroids.

Fortunately, the sixth outing has built on the set-pieces. Here, we have mayhem in the form of vehicles dangling from Russian cargo planes, a grenade-shooting tank and 'flip' cars - think racing cars designed to cause motor accidents. Lin has a real knack for both capturing this action so strategically and intercutting it with fulfilling character moments; although nothing quite reaches the heights of Fast Five's bank vault chase, Lin's standout is an extended sequence involving a tank which contains a zany payoff that will undoubtedly stir appplause in cinema screens.   
Back are the favourites: Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce, Sung Kang’s Han, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges’ Tej and, of course, Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, more than living up to her fellow female counterparts (most prominently of which is MMA superstar Gina Carrano of Haywire fame – the two brutually lock fists on the London underground in a scene that would break up many a commute.) And so, with most of the film’s action grounded in London, which means we have to deal with a few inevitable missteps – namely Mr Stereotype in the form of uppity policemen and a camp car salesman, not to mention a cameo from bloody Rita Ora. But it’s still neat to see familiar locations falling prey to the driving skills of Diesel and Ridriguez, even if you can’t help but wonder when the streets of central London have ever been that empty.

The film boasts little originality (save for Vin Diesel’s delivery of a flying headbutt), nothing particularly fresh in the way of technical filmmaking and Chris Morgan’s script is going to earn no acclaim. But what Lin hands to the audience is well-thought out vehicular action, supplying the fans with everything they desire in the form of hilarious character interaction, entertaining sub-plots and treats galore - not to mention an exhilarating part-and-parcel post-credits sequence that teases in a big way.

In a time where cinema is bogged down by the need to put on glasses to achieve maximum visual potential, it’s a real pleasure to announce that Fast and Furious 6 is pure and simple good ole-fashioned two-dimensional fun.   
…and for a franchise that could have gone the way of the junkyard long ago, that’s not bad going.



Thursday, 16 May 2013

Fast Five

12, 2011, Directed by Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Tyrese Gibson

Picking up immediately where Fast and Furious left off, it’s clear that Justin Lin has evolved this franchise into becoming two things: one - an out-and-out action romp that respects its characters as much as cars, and two - something to get excited about. With Paul Walker’s O’Conner and Jordana Brewster’s Mia hot on the pursuit of the prison van escorting Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto to lock-up, they free him and head to Rio de Janeiro as fugitives where they set to planning a heist to steal $100,000 from a corrupt businessman. An obstacle arrives in the form of a dropped Rock as Dwayne Johnson stars as Luke Hobbs, a boulder of a US agent who has his sights squarely aimed at Toretto. Spewing laugh-out-loud lines with tongue-in-cheek tact, Johnson is an insanely-welcome addition to the ever-growing cast, which sees the return of series favourite’s Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Han (Sung Kang) and Giselle (Gal Gadot), all whom lend a hand to earn a cut of the money.

Perhaps overlong, this can be forgiven for providing audiences with a scene that could vie for the series' best; a car-chase on a speeding highway  which features a car dragging along a destructive bank vault behind it, knocking out buildings and pursuing cars in the process. The decision to evolve the street-racing to high-octane car chase sequences amidst a heist is one that pays off.

And a post-credit sequence involving a few unexpected familiar faces fixes the wheels in motion for what's to come. A fifth film in a series has no right to be this fun.




Fast and Furious

15, 2009, Directed by Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker,
Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez

Back in 2001, critics labelled Vin Diesel as the next big movie superstar, and despite flops xXx (2002) and The Pacifier (2005), the actor's return to the franchise which launched him (alongside Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and, of course, Paul Walker) is warmly welcomed; it's a shame though that this reuniting slice of action is the weakest in the series.

With returning characters at the forefront of the action, Fast and Furious tzkes time to establish each characters standing; Diesel's Toretto and the 'family' - including Sung Kang's Han, imediately placing the film's chronology pre-Toky Drift, are still committing highway heists, whilst Walker's Brian O'Conner is inexplicably working for the FBI in LA. Despite a thrilling extended opening that reintroduces the team like they never left us, inputting slow-mo to heighten the thrills, Fast and Furious plays like an extended episode of a US soap. The over-arching plot involving heroin importer and cartel leader Arturo Braga (Jon Ortiz) proves pretty similar to previous story attempts, which isn't to say the many plot-twists all work (an early death shocks) and seeing the cast reunited lives up to whatever expectation there was.

The original's fresh foot-pumping street races are absent, replaced with more lazily-constructed efforts to exhilarate – perhaps best summed up by a street slalom where the characters are denied improvisation –due to the placement of a sat nav. But, that breathlessly-paced opener just about carries you throughout, and when lines are spoken such as ‘When the GPS calls, you follow”, it's hard not to be entertained. With fuel injected late on, Justin Lin ensures that once the climax zooms past, you’ll be drawn back into the mindless shenanigans of Toretto and co., and ready to take your seat for numero five.



The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

12, 2006, Directed by Justin Lin
Starring: Lucas Black,
Sung Kang, Bow Wow, Nathalie Kelley

A franchise-resetter, the third instalment of The Fast and the Furious series axes all former characters and translates the action to Tokyo, where teenage American rebel Sean (Lucas Black, clearly in his twenties) embroils himself within the underground world of drift racing in Tokyo, locking heads with 'Drift King' Takashi in the process.

What feels like a straight-to-DVD attempt to keep the franchise burning soon elevates itself to ridiculously watchable fun as Sung Kang's potato chip muncher Han takes Luke under his wing, handing him shiny new cars, and teaching him how to professionally drift. Merge this with Kill Bill's Sonny Chiba waltzing onto the screen as Takashi's high-ranking Yakuza grandfather and you might actually find yourself enjoying something you probably never expected to.
A late-minute surprise cameo ties the seemingly-unrelated film to the rest of the franchise with fist-pumping success secures writing/directing duo Chris Morgan and Justin Lin as the guys responsible  for extending the film series' miles.


2 Fast 2 Furious

15, 2003, Directed by John Singleton
: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser

The production of 2 Fast 2 Furious, the (believe it or not) second film in The Fast and the Furious franchise, was plagued with sure signs of bad-sequel syndrome; Paul Walker was the only original cast member to return, with even director Rob Cohen jumping vehicle, leaving it to Boyz N the Hood guy John Singleton to lift the reigns. As doomed as things sounded, the result is an equally as fun, even more quotable if a little tiresome rehash of similar events. The presence of Cole Hauser and Eva Mendes (as drug cartel boss and undercover cop girlfriend, respectively) helped lift things, as Paul Walker’s former cop Brian O’Conner and former criminal pal Roman Pearce (a wisecracking Tyrese Gibson) are handed carte blanch by the feds in order to go undercover themselves, ride around Miami and bring Hauser's Carter Verone down. Cue car-racing time trials, fit with Brian and Roman pulling dangerous stunts on busy highways, and a central friendship between the two which adds neat laughs in between the action - all of which makes up for the lack of Diesel.



The Fast and the Furious

15, 2001, Directed by Rob Cohen
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

It's somewhat a shock to consider that The Fast and the Furious raced onto cinema screens well over a decade ago - in the summer of 2001 - to impressively rave reviews. It's testament to Rob Cohen’s original that what has become a guaranteed bankable franchise has stood its ground amidst the insurgence of 3D and the moody superhero blockbuster. Upon retrospect, what The Fast and the Furious does so well is what every ensuing film in the series has done since; embraces its mindlessness in a winking manner. Whilst the original was aimed at thrill-seekers who love their cars shiny, fast and surrounded by scantily-clad women, in essence all it comes across as is Point Break - minus the bank-robbing surfers, but with added truck-robbing street racers.

First time around, the cast may not cause much to shout about. We've got Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, the hulking silent leader of the street-racing ‘family’ which consists of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) – and new addition Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), whose loyalties are tested in ways you are meant to care about in between the frenetically-paced car race sequences. It has to be admitted though that although the cast haven't gone on to the illustrious careers expected of them (between them, flops range from xXx to Into the Blue), perhaps these were the characters they were born to play.



The Great Gatsby

2013, 12, Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton

Originally slated for a Christmas release, cinema-enthusiasts and literary lovers alike have been tantalised by the idea of Baz Luhrmann’s big-screen translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Great American Novel’ The Great Gatsby for a few months more. With no aim for awards success and concern consequently arisen, the purists began to doubt the man who brought Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! to life in only the way Baz could - perhaps intensified by his unique use of 3D and a soundtrack filled with several Jay-Z collaborations. We’re set in the 1920s, remember.
It is down to Tobey Maguire to assume the role of our narrative guide Nick Carraway, a Long Island-lounging stockbroker, cousin to the delectably-desired Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Together with Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton, on brutish form), and our titular next door neighbour is 'old sport' Nick immersed into the luscious lifestyle of how the other half live, and the knowledge of a past life attempted to be relived.
Leonardo DiCaprio continues his journey as perhaps the finest actor of our generation, if not one of. Portraying Jay Gatsby’s mysteriously cryptic, but strangely alluring presence in the finely-tuned way that he does not only impresses (once again), but stays true to Fitzgerald’s character description. Maguire, for all his wide-eyed innocence, impresses more than ever as Carraway, whilst Mulligan deals the film its dull note. It can’t be taken away that she looks the part, but perhaps Daisy Buchanan is a character best encountered on the page.
Much can be said for the film’s final stretch; as an exploration of Gatsby, the film soars. When Luhrmann hands things over to the narrative, removing much of the flair dealt to us from the offset – right through to the oddly downbeat ending – is when things helplessly fall flat. It’s like enjoying an all-night party with the host calling things off at around 2am.
Perhaps upon retrospect, The Great Gatsby merely delivers in the way people can expect a Baz Luhrmann film to deliver; a lovingly-crafted cine-visual treat (it’ll shock you how loyal an adaptation this remains; in parts, Fitzgerald's words literally grace the screen). It’s a shame that the novel’s representation of hope is left under the mound. But with bundles of bravura, a damn cool soundtrack many will scramble to download and a story for the ages that jumps from the pages, it’s safe to say The Great Gatsby succeeds.
The 20s are like they’ve never been, leaving no stone unturned in pleasing the aesthetically-charged eye. Scenery, costumes, décor, zoom shots – you’re thrusted a fistful of elements to gorge your eyes on before the 15-minute mark has been hit. And that’s before any of the party scenes. As dazzling as you’d expect, everything contained within the screen oozes decadence, even if the doses move from dazzling to desperate in the space of a few scenes.
Still, when Leo raises that glass, half-smiling at the camera with fireworks erupting around him, it’s hard to deny that Gatsby has moments of greatness.