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.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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