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Fast & Furious 8

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Reviewer – Daniel Burden

Director – F. Gary Gray

Stars – Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel

Released – April 12th, 2017

*Contains minor spoilers for F&F8*

For a franchise that started out as Point Break update, all street racing and neon lights, Fast & Furious has certainly evolved. Whereas most continuing series tend to knuckle down and do what they do best, or think they do best (Pirates of the Caribbean, I’m looking at you), F&F never got trapped in one genre. It started with street racing, progressed to heist films and now it has gone full blown James Bond style spy thriller on us.

This latest installment, the first without Paul Walker since his tragic death in 2013, feels like the next step in F&F evolution. We’ve seen the trailers and we know for some reason Dom (Vin Diesel) goes “rogue” and betrays his team, taking off with Charlize Theron’s new villain, Cipher. Now, I’m not blaming him. If I had the chance to run off with Charlize Theron, I probably would. However, we know Dom and he’s a lot of things, but not a bad guy and he would never betray his family.

Family has always been key to these films, in Dom’s eyes at the very least, everything he does is motivated by the people he loves, and that is no different here. In fact, the very reason for his betrayal, is all because of family but that is not a reveal I am willing to spoil here. The trailers show Dom at his very worst and when the audience finds out why, we can begin to understand.

While F&F8 misses the emotional heft of the previous installment, and it was never going to be able to match that, it makes up for it in different ways by telling a different story, giving us entirely new settings and about the most fun you can have in the cinema. From the first moment to the last, this film wants the audience to be sitting there, grinning from ear to ear, we are all in on the joke. This isn’t meant to be high art, instead it is the greatest entertainment and that counts for just as much, if not more.

With so much of the stunts and effects being done practically, some of the obvious CGI stands out but rarely detracts from the action. A dazzling thrillride across New York with automated cars going wild is huge fun, as is the submarine sequence near the finale. Considering where we started with these films, this one gives us Dom being chased across Arctic tundra by a heatseeking rocket. It never lets up, switching countries and locations readily, making this another truly globetrotting adventure.

If you think Dom jumping across a bridge to save Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) mid-air in F&F6 was the most ludicrous moment, well, buckle up, F&F8 is here to call you out on that misconception. Frequently ridiculous but relentless entertaining, the stunts and action are beyond insane here, yet, we can buy into the danger and madness because of the characters, we know them well at this point, and they anchor us.

With all the rumours of tension between Diesel and Johnson, it is quickly apparent that the pair share next to no screen time, and it almost feels like they are gearing up for Hobbs to become the lead at some point in the future. Oddly, I’m alright with that. This franchise once stated “Ride or die”, but it will be more like ‘Change or die’ if this huge success is to continue. Diesel could easily bow out of a franchise he once left, and then returned to save, it’s not his film, it feels largely like a team effort now with Johnson leading the charge.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jason Statham are the standouts here. They have a great chemistry that changes as we learn there is more to Statham’s Shaw than F&F7 led us to believe. The pair have the best lines and get the best fight sequences, the prison riot and escape is a real franchise highlight. These two will be key going forward but I suspect it may outlive even their contracts. If that happens, they need to start doing buddy comedies straight away, they’re a great pairing.

Theron’s villain works well here, she’s icy and has an edge of class we’ve not really seen before. Chances are we will be seeing here again as these films tend to enjoy bringing people back regularly. I’m not sure anyone will even stay dead, giving us fans a hope for a Han and Giselle reunion somewhere down the line.

Kurt Russell returns as Mr Nobody, bringing with him newcomer Scott Eastwood who doesn’t make much of an impact but does get the sore end of several excellent jokes, so serves something of a purpose. Which leads me to the other big takeaway from this film, it is extremely funny, despite having the biggest stakes (World War 3 is mentioned more than once, aside from the personal stakes) it is chocked full of humour. I have always been able to take or leave Tyrese Gibson’s Roman but he is a lot less irritating this time around and gets some great one liners.

Where does this franchise go next? Well, it went big with this one and we know at least two more films are in the pipeline, with potential spin offs being considered. Several people involved even joked about setting the action in space. Sounds crazy? Yeah, maybe not. With Fast & Furious, you just never know, and that is half the fun.

A huge action film with brilliant large scale set pieces, decent drama and characters we know and love doing more of the same, Fast & Furious 8 is another fun installment of a franchise that shows no signs of slowing down.

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

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Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

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A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

Assassination Nation 2 Movie Marker

There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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