Sunday, 24 April 2011

'Fast Five' Review

'Fast Five' (dir: Justin Lin, 2011), Cert: 12A

Yes, it's back. Honestly, I'm not lying. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return for the fifth picture in the 'Fast and Furious' franchise. Fast cars, beautiful women and men in far too tight t-shirts seems to be a winning recipe and director Justin Lin is taking full advantage of it. This will be his third feature in the series and it's clear he's trying to shake off the horror that was 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' (2006). This film sees some old faces and indeed new ones, and with it's pretty long running time of 130 minutes, it needs a lot more than bikinis and muscle cars.

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Walker) team up once again to pull off a huge heist in Rio De Janeiro in which they plan to rob the city's biggest drug lord. However in order to succeed in this massively complex and dangerous task, they are going to need a lot of help. They gather a crack team including Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges). But whilst they are planning this ginormous robbery, FBI federal agent Hobbs (Dwanye Johnson) and his team are plotting to bring Toretto and O'Conner to justice.

 The first thing that struck me about 'Fast Five' was the reviews; like usual I expected critics to bash this movie to kingdom come but I was surprised to see the amount of positivity regarding it, even from some of the harshest journalists, but I can understand why because actually, this is a very good film indeed. There seems to be so much more to it than the odd Dodge Viper and some cheesy rap music; it's almost as if Lin and his crew have sat down and actually thought about ways in changing and indeed improving this franchise. Nothing feels rushed, or forced upon, nothing feels empty or misplaced; it feels like it's own individual feature and I think that's great.

 The direction is wonderful and presents skill, passion and energy; seeing as this is Lin's third outing, it's obvious he understands the environment and world of these movies but here he has broken old traditions and has turned down some of the absurdity. There isn't as many semi-naked women, or one-liners; he's found that balance between ridiculous fun and sensibility. I'm not saying this film is 'grown-up' because it's not - it still has silly dialogue and impossible scenarios, but the tone and processes of the movie seems more thought-out and calculated.

Still from 'Fast Five' (dir: Justin Lin, 2011)
 As previously mentioned, this film is long but it's doesn't drag through it's duration. It's well paced, well timed and works with flurries of action, racing and activity, as well as decent dialogue and character development sequences. There isn't an explosion every 30 seconds, but there's more than enough carnage for any pyromaniac. This film also allows new viewers to enjoy without worrying about past pictures; if you haven't seen any of the previous four, still see this one.

 The performances overall are good. Diesel and Walker do their day jobs and roll along quite nicely. Brewster is given a bit more of an emotional scope but she handles it well and fails to let it bother her tough exterior. Gibson provides essential laughs and Bridges contributes too. I have a bit of a soft spot for Dwanye 'The Rock' Johnson; I find him rather endearing for a gigantic cocktail of bronzer and steriods, so I was pleased to see him cast in this movie. He like all the other cast members are well within their comfort zones but that's where they work best so why bother trying to change it?

 'Fast Five' does more than what it says on the tin; you get the traditional racer picture with the hot chicks, pulsating action and the throbbing music, but you also get a decent and well-pitched story, exquisite direction and above all, a solid evening of entertainment. It surprised and massively impressed me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gallons of testosterone, fuel and muscle mixed with crafty camerawork and an engaging narrative. 'Fast Five' isn't just a pleasant surprise, it's a generally great movie.

By Chris Haydon

Monday, 11 April 2011

Sidney Lumet R.I.P

R.I.P Sidney Lumet (1924 - 2011)

On the 9th April, the world of cinema lost another true great. The wonderful Sidney Lumet passed away due to a long struggle with Lymphoma. The director, most famous for directing such classics as '12 Angry Men' (1957) and 'Dog Day Afternoon' (1975) will be forever remembered and admired for his massive contribution to American cinema and the film industry.

It's a huge shame to lose such an incredible talent. Rest in Peace Sidney.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'Source Code' Review

'Source Code' (dir: Duncan Jones, 2011), Cert: 12A

Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock and Harold Ramis decided to make a movie? On paper, it doesn’t really sound like it would work. You’d probably end up with Chevy Chase running round like a madman trying to capture Tippi Hedren - But if you were to mould two of their pictures together, it would start to look something like this. British director Duncan Jones stepped out of his father’s (David Bowie) heavy shadow with his outstanding debut feature ‘Moon’ (2009) and now he’s back and in Hollywood with ‘Source Code’; the Sci-Fi Thriller that echoes ‘Strangers on a Train’ (1951) and ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993), but this film is much more than a cocktail of past great pictures; ‘Source Code’ is it’s own picture, and a mighty fine one at that.
 On the morning commuter train to Chicago, a man wakes up on board but not in his own body; Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is that man. Not knowing why he is on board, or why a young woman called Christina (Michelle Monaghan) is referring to him as ‘Sean Fentress’, he is confused and perplexed by his bizarre scenario. Eight minutes into his journey, a deadly bomb detonates killing everyone on board. Stevens then wakes up to find himself in a pod being instructed by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who informs him of his mission; he must find the bomb and the bomber before he strikes again. Stevens has been programmed into the ‘Source Code’; a highly experimental military computer programme that allows somebody to return to the past for the last eight minutes of someone’s life in order to prevent acts of terror. Stevens must battle his confusion and frustration, and use the ‘Source Code’ to go back onto the train in order to complete his mission and save the woman who he’s fallen for.
 Creating good Science Fiction must be a British thing nowadays; it seems the British are able to tackle the US in this field and win over audiences in a flash. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is the obvious choice and apart from it being the best film of last year, and probably of recent times, it proved that films don’t have to ‘dumb down’ in order to maintain and entertain an audience. Jones clearly has the same mentality because ‘Source Code’ is not only gripping and exciting, it’s also intelligent. The film explodes with style and substance, both in equal measure; Its CGI is sparse but breathtaking; especially a wonderful ‘slo-mo’ sequence which ignites the screen in colour and emotion, the film’s narrative is fluent, prĂ©cised and sure-footed, and it’s tension and atmosphere is so apparent, it’s almost visual.
 ‘Source Code’ achieves what many films cannot; a central idea that’s compelling and intriguing within itself enabling Jones to run with it without boring or misleading the viewer. Much like ‘Groundhog Day’, the sets are limited and the scenarios play out with tiny differences each time, but like Ramis’ masterpiece, each time is more exciting and more involving, the only difference here is the comedy is replaced with solid drama. The film’s tense nature is only heightened by Chris Bacon’s score which pounds and trembles throughout making this train ride incredibly exciting – who knew people spilling coffee and nattering on phones could be so effecting?
Still from 'Source Code' (dir: Duncan Jones, 2011)
 Also at the film’s core is a really charming and sincere romance which warms the hearts of the viewer. We never find out too much about Christina, but she is a beautiful and charismatic woman and her relationship to Stevens/Fentress is an engaging one. To be able to make a swooning romance in the middle of a Sci-Fi Thriller that deals with issues of free-will, terrorism and certain death is certainly up there on the ‘How would that ever work’ list, but Jones pulls it off with such cool that it seems utterly effortless. He certainly is a filmmaking prodigy and he’s landing back on the ground running with this one; I hope he doesn’t change his tune because his Sci-Fi is refreshing and essential to modern cinema. For me, this tops ‘Moon’ and I think he’s raised the bar highly for himself and indeed other filmmakers.
 The performances are knockout all round; Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors as I frequently exclaim and he is wonderful as Colter/Sean. His performance is like a bull to a red rag; at first timid and nervous, but suddenly ferocious and powerful. It’s a grand screen presence and he dominates the picture - He’s tremendous. Monaghan is also fabulous as Christina and as I previously mentioned, although we don’t find out lots about her, Monaghan runs with the content she’s given and presents a fantastic and controlled performance. Farmiga is always great and she doesn’t disappoint her either; Goodwin is a strong-presented but warm-hearted woman who feels for Stevens but orders him to continue his mission. Considering the majority of her screen time is through a monitor in his pod, she swallows the scene. Jeffrey Wright also stars and gives a determined and tough performance as the ‘Source Code’ creator, Dr. Rutledge.
 If you are expecting a Michael Bay mega-festival of pyrotechnics and mayhem then ‘Source Code’ won’t deliver, but if you are looking for a calculated and efficient Thriller that gets the pulse racing and the knuckles whitening, then climb on board right now. Jones has survived the ‘second film’ syndrome with ease and I think this is going to be very tough to top.
 ‘Source Code’ is a relentless, time-switching and nerve-shredding roller-coaster ride that will thrill and excite audiences, as well as keeping them on their toes so you’d better keep up because this movie won’t wait around for you. If you see one movie this Easter, make it this one.
Complex, genius and above all, totally brilliant. Sorry ‘True Grit’, I think you’ve been overtaken; ‘Source Code’ is probably my favourite film of 2011 so far.
By Chris Haydon

Standing Up For 'Sucker Punch' Video

Standing Up For 'Sucker Punch'

If you've read my review below for Zack Snyder's latest, 'Sucker Punch', you'll know that I absolutely adored the film and it's one of my favourite pictures of 2011 so far. You will also know that it has been beaten to a pulp by film critics bar me, so here's a video in which I further defend this wonderful movie.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

'Sucker Punch' Review

'Sucker Punch' (dir: Zack Snyder, 2011), Cert: 12A

If there’s ever a recipe for disaster, it’s Zack Snyder and film critics; the pair just doesn’t go together. Snyder, the fan-boy turned filmmaker is famous for making films that frustrate and annoy critics such as ‘300’ (2007) and ‘Watchmen’ (2009), and now in 2011 the ‘visionary’ director brings us ‘Sucker Punch’; a full-throttle, visually insane and downright ludicrous Sci-Fi Action picture that features 5 skimpy-dressed heroines destroying robots, dragons and Nazi zombies. As you can probably guess, critics have absolutely destroyed it and it has a staggeringly low rating on Rotten Tomatoes (20%). So it doesn’t look like Snyder’s relationship is getting any better with us critics, or is it?
 After being placed in a mental facility by her abusive stepfather, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is faced with even further depressing realities. Due to be lobotomised in five days, she and four other girls in the asylum escape the boundaries of reality and take refuge in an alternative imagination where they must hatch a plan to escape their ordinary lives by locating a series of items. The lines of reality and fantasy begin to blur and soon Baby Doll, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Amber (Jamie Chung) have to fight for their survival in a collection of epic battles.
 As I mentioned earlier, Snyder is often referred to as ‘visionary’; a term that actually means incredibly over-the-top and all style, no substance. Thankfully that dreaded word was left off the promotional pieces for this movie and indeed the thought of no substance was eradicated too. ‘Sucker Punch’ is certainly set in over-drive and its absurdity is turned up to 11 but as a whole, this is one truly unforgettable movie experience.
 ‘Sucker Punch’ is a dynamic, explosive and mesmerising visual feast that smashes and dashes across the screen in a carnival of colour and expression; it’s a gloriously manic spectacle that takes the breath and squares the eyes. Its action is incredible, its fantasy is intoxicating and it’s imagination is endless. It’s clear Snyder has been building this project for some time and his passion for it shows dramatically. But ‘Sucker Punch’ isn’t just a warped video-game influenced feature that lasts for 110 minutes; it also has a decent and constructed story which I think the majority of film critics have misinterpreted. Its narrative is dark, leery and unsettling which mixes perfectly with the dramatic escapism and mayhem. This is Snyder’s first screenplay and although it might not be the finest of film scripts, it’s a very strong first effort that matches his high-octane sensibilities.
Still from 'Sucker Punch' (dir: Zack Snyder, 2011)
 The film hasn’t just been failed by journalists however, the BBFC and the MPAA are massively at fault too because there is no reason at all why this picture should be rated 12A (PG-13 in the US). It’s obvious from it’s subject matter and story that the picture was supposed to be R-rated (15 or 18 here in the UK). The film heavily implies rape, prostitution, domestic and sexual violence. Now I’m sure younger people who watch the film will be far more interested in the insane action and the ‘slo-mo’ sword wielding than the grotty undertones of the movie, but I still find it deeply troubling how this can get a 12A certificate when a film like ‘Limitless’ receives a 15 just because it’s drug-related.  I also think the film would have benefitted from a higher certificate because then certain images and themes wouldn’t have had to been repressed which could have played in it’s favour, but this isn’t a criticism of the picture, it’s the fault of the censors.

 In fact, I don’t have a bad word to speak about ‘Sucker Punch’ because it does exactly what it was supposed to do; entertain. The film explodes off the screen in a frenzy of gunfire and girl-power. After first seeing the trailer last year, I had very high hopes for it but they were damaged by the amount of hatred from writers so I entered the movie with fairly low expectations. When I left the cinema, my original hopes were met and restored because I had an absolute blast watching this spectacular marvel of a film.
 The performances are all engaging, particularly from Browning who is wonderful as Baby Doll; she captures all that raw emotion that’s been built from her difficult life, and that mixed with her innocent-faced, yet fearless persona makes her a great heroine. Malone is great as the tough but over-protected Rocket, and Oscar Isaac is brilliant as the sinister asylum ringleader ‘Blue’ whose treatment of women is both foul and depressing, but he plays the part with conviction and skill.
 In a way, I actually think critics are scared to admit they like movies like this, so they write a bad review so it doesn’t hurt their ‘reputation’. I can agree that ‘Sucker Punch’ not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I just find it some troubling that such universal damning of a film is seemed normal and that anybody who actually likes it is in the minority. Zack Snyder’s relationship with critics might still be awfully uneasy, but he’s landed himself in my good books with this one because it’s easily his best film to date and it’s one of my favourite movies this year.

Ferocious, imaginative and experimental; there isn’t anything quite like ‘Sucker Punch’. It’s a fabulous movie that hits the right spot and I can’t wait to see it again.
By Chris Haydon