Released: 17th May 2013
Directed By: Justin Lin
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez
Reviewed By: Philip Price
The Fast & Furious universe is damn near getting as big as the Marvel one. With the sixth installment of a franchise that seemed to have completely run out of gas by the time the brand new cast of the third installment showed up, this thing has certainly turned itself around and now shows no sign of slowing down. I wasn’t initially a fan of the original film that premiered in the summer of 2001 when Paul Walker was supposed to be the main draw and only half the households in America had access to the Internet. It was a different time, yet out of this opportunity to capitalize on the interest in street racing and cars as well as Walker’s popularity came the star making role of Vin Diesel and one of the most unlikely film franchises ever. After Diesel decided not to return for round two, Tyrese and Ludacris joined Walker in a Miami Vice-like story in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Tokyo Drift was a series low in terms of box office returns, but it did introduce us to Han (Sung Kang) and gave a hint of what might come as Diesel showed up in a cameo that I never once believed would play out, until now. The franchise was unexpectedly re-vitalized in 2009 when the original cast returned as did Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin. While Fast & Furious wasn’t anything above the average it did show the series still had a profitability factor. This paved the way for 2011’s Fast Five which defied all expectations by being not only a huge box office success, but a critical success as well. It moved past taking itself so seriously and became aware of what kind of movie it was and constructed that kind of movie in the best way possible: a no holds barred, action flick. They are silly, sure, but you cannot say they aren’t exciting or entertaining. Bringing characters together from every installment and having Diesel face off against Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson didn’t hurt either and has now perfectly set the stage for the sixth and seventh films. And if Furious 6 is any indication, we’re in for a good, long ride with this franchise.
When Lin joined the franchise on Tokyo Drift it was unclear where the series might go, but when Diesel showed up on the tail end of the film it became clear that if more films became an option they at least had an idea of where they wanted things to go. With Fast Five the director along with his star and producer Diesel brought all the strands of the previous four films together and created a coherent universe for everything that had happened up until that point while at the same time delivering a high stakes heist film that fired on all cylinders. Though some still hold that Fast Five is the better overall film than this latest installment, Furious 6 (as it is so lovingly titled in the opening credits) only improved on everything Fast Five did right in my eyes. Having escaped Rio and making themselves multi-millionaires in the process the gang have retired to a state of seclusion and serenity, that is until Hobbs (Johnson) comes knocking with news that Dom’s lost love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who was apparently killed in Fast & Furious is still alive and now working with international criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs needs help capturing Shaw to prevent his standard diabolical plan, but what gives this film the same urgency of plot as Fast Five is that Dom, Brian, and the rest of the team are working to put the family back together by saving Letty while at the same time going through the motions of stopping Shaw; and what motions they are. While Evans does his best grimace to allow himself to stand out from the line of the other series villains (though John Ortiz does show up here as fourth installment baddie Braga for a quick minute) what allows him the most leverage over the other guys is not his ability to have (almost) everything planned out ahead of time, but the extent he will go to in order to get what he wants. This no boundaries approach sets the audience up to experience the biggest stunts this saga, and likely any other, has ever seen.
A lot has been made of this series having such a diverse, international cast with blacks, whites, Asians and several other ethnicity’s playing prominent roles, but more impressive than this is the fact very little of the film relies on anything more than practical effects to create these insane stunts the ensemble cast is performing. I firmly believe that after only having seen this film earlier in the day that the last twenty minutes or so will go down as some of the most well-executed and impressive action sequences ever put on screen. In a field saturated by guys in iron helmets and steel claws (not that I don’t enjoy those movies too) it is nice to see so little in the way of special effects but instead a pure, adrenaline rush of a movie that reminds you of why you fell in love with movies of this genre in the first place. In that last twenty minutes Lin stages a massive set piece that has Dom and his crew taking down a massive aircraft. This is giving nothing away as the scene has unfortunately been spoiled in almost every single trailer, but the large cast and each of theirs involvement in this sequence is handled so well that we never feel as if we know where anything might be going. There is literally at least five different groups of people doing five different things in different locations around the plane at the same time that eventually come together perfectly. It is an exercise in expert editing and pacing, but how the shoot was managed is beyond imagination. As I sat and experienced that climactic sequence it became one of those moments where you realize in the moment that this is something special, something major and that people will be talking about it for a long time. I can only say that I was awe-struck by what I was experiencing and that I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the screen. Not only does it deliver these reality-defying action sequences though, but it also by this point has us truly invested in these characters and the makers clearly care enough about them to make these movies as much about them as it is about the cars.
In fact, the series has almost strayed so far away from its original premise that you could almost take the racing out of it completely and audiences would still show up, almost. Here there are chase scenes, but just to remind us all of where this all started there is a race thrown in at the mid-way point. That is what I loved upon first seeing Fast Five and that continues with an even stronger beat here. It is clear there is a grand scheme at play and you should definitely stick around for a mid-credits scene that (if you haven’t been reading anything online) will blow your mind and make you wish next June would be here tomorrow. It will make you question who might show up in the next installment, who might not, and how everyone will play into what could be the concluding chapter on this stage in the Fast & Furious saga. Before I get too ahead of myself though it is important to understand why this is such a great time at the movies. Furious 6 has director Lin perfecting his keen eye for action sequences while getting us to invest in these characters even more than the main plot of the film that is as typical as you might expect in these types of movies. No one cares what Shaw is trying to steal and what could be done to humanity if he ever got his hands on it, no, all we care to see develop are the relationships between these characters be it Brian becoming a father, Dom wrestling with how to approach a love he thought lost, the comedic relief supplied by Tyrese and Ludacris that builds their bond, the unavoidably tragic end to the budding romance between Han and Gisele (the lovely Gal Gadot) and not to mention the powerhouse that is The Rock. Hobbs even gets a new sidekick here played by former MMA fighter Gina Carano (Haywire) who encounters Letty twice in the film and proves this series is not only for the big boys to play around in, but has plenty of room for tough chicks as well. We want to see these people grow and progress in their lives and that is a statement I would not have believed had you told me I’d think it twelve years ago. That this comes down to our relationship with the characters and the unbelievable action sequences are only the cherry on top make these movies all the better. This is truly a great time and if you’re a fan of the series you’ll definitely love it and if you’re a newcomer just ask yourself how awesome it would be to see The Rock and Vin Diesel post up in the same shot on the big screen. Furious 6 gives you an answer to that and it’s just as fulfilling as you’d think.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience
Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.
Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.
Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.
There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.
Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.
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