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Fast and Furious 6

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Released: 17th May 2013

Directed By: Justin Lin

Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez

Certificate: 12A

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.

 

 

 

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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