Fast and Furious 6- The Review

What is there to say? What can be said of a film like Fast and Furious 6, the latest in the long running series stretching back to the 2001 original? Now twelve years later, we are into the sixth instalment, with the seventh already in development and on its way to cinemas, perhaps even in time for next year. Personally I think it’s a minor miracle the series has lasted this long, but here we are, and it is showing no signs of running out of steam. This franchise has always appealed to a very lazy and uncaring type of viewer, the kind of person that forgives mistakes and horrendous acting in exchange for lots of well choreographed action. In it’s stupidity though, the Fast and Furious franchise has always made me smile, whether down to bonkers set-pieces, hilariously over the top dialogue, or just bad acting. It is the most basic form of cinema; its sole purpose is to entertain, not to provide something to think about, or to provoke any significant emotion. Somehow though, Fast and Furious 6 manages to be awful, but in a very tongue in cheek and uncaring manner.

Fast and Furious 6 catches up with Vin Diesel and his crew after the events of Fast Five, showing them relaxing with their hundreds of millions, after successfully pulling off a daring robbery. Their relaxation is short lived however, when super-cop-badass Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson turns up and asks them to take down a new car riding gang of criminals. The incentive? Their long thought dead gang member Letty Ortiz has switched allegiances, and now it is time for Vin Diesel to find out why. And save the world of course. Or something. As always with this kind of movie, the plot is merely a device in which the main characters get to blow stuff up. And boy, do they blow stuff up well. The action in Fast and Furious 6 has a good range, from very well choreographed fist fights which reminded me a bit of the superior Bourne series, and very high paced and exciting car chases. This is Fast and Furious‘ forte, its action, its car chases. Sometimes it feels like this is the only element of the movie the cast and crew put any real effort into; the quality of the direction and cinematography goes up a few levels and really draws you in to the breathtakingly fast scenes. Occasionally the pace is broken up by incredibly stupid set pieces, but the film rolls with it (“Boss, they’ve got a tank!”). It all results in a large portion of the movie being very slick and very cool, if only because Dwayne Johnson is such a kickass. His arms are the size of tree trunks, he carries a very large and unwieldy revolver, and he delivers each line with such forced seriousness you feel as if he is earning every penny. From Dwayne Johnson to the cars to the script, everything in Fast and Furious 6 is designed to appeal to the horny, adrenaline-fuelled early teenager audience of the twenty first century, and it does what it sets out to do, which is to entertain.

This kind of thing happens a lot.

In between the fist fighting and car chases, the film breaks up into smaller sections of minor gun fights and genuine plot development. Sadly however, the film completely falls down at these moments, rather predictably so. People don’t come to see Fast and Furious for the script, and therefore the writers aren’t particularly careful with what they write. This really shows throughout the film, with lines such as “So you’re team muscle? Don’t make me come over there and make you team pussy” making you laugh, but not in the way the film intends. Vin Diesel stands around and does very little, with every line getting lost under his trademark voice, and I personally thought he and the rest of the cast were a little lost under Dwayne Johnson’s admittedly huge shadow. The direction is actually very impressive, but Justin Lin cannot really do anything but take a back seat as the laughable script fills in the gaps between the action scenes. This is where Fast and Furious 6, like the rest of the series, demonstrates there is nothing under its loud layer of action, and has nothing else substantial to offer. I would say it’s a shame, but what did I expect? Fast and Furious doesn’t pretend it is something it isn’t, and for that it deserves a heap of credit. In appealing so hugely to a certain type of film fan however, it alienates the rest.

Best Bit

The infamous scene, criminally shown in detail in the trailer, where the criminal gang unleash a war tank on a bridge, is so stupid and so downright enjoyable that it becomes the highlight of the movie. No one seems to care the tank is running over a dozen or so cars with people in them; the whole scene is so hilarious and brazenly stupid that you are forced to have a good time with it.

Worst Bit

The script is just awful, and as a consequence a quarter of the film drones on, and the plot becomes lost under the action. I’m sure this is almost deliberate on the films part however. As already mentioned, Fast and Furious 6 knows what it is.

Overall

The latest addition to the Fast and Furious franchise is loud and unforgivably brash, bombing you with loud noises and explosions in a reasonably enjoyable fashion. As a proper film however, it completely falls down, thanks to bad acting and a horrendous script. Its redeeming feature is that it realises its flaws and sticks to its wildly impractical guns, which results in a thoroughly entertaining but heavily flawed film. Silly and stupid summer entertainment: no more, no less.

2/5

The Great Gatsby- The Review

Another un-filmable film; the Great Gatsby is a pest to review. What exactly is the director, Baz Luhrmann trying to achieve in recreating the ‘great American novel’? Does he understand its message? Or does he see the book as a burden, a device in which to show off a vast array of beautiful and glitzy visuals? The latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece does its very best to misunderstand the book, while also recreating it effectively word for word in a desperate attempt to understand the meaning behind the illustrious words. As the film plays out, an unsuccessful narrative device is added of Tobey Maguire’s character typing out the novel Fitzgerald wrote, and in a brazen attempt to add meaning to these words, Luhrmann floats these words around our view, in an overly desperate directorial technique to bring the book to life. He ultimately fails: the Great Gatsby dazzles its audience in every way apart from the one that really matters. Like its protagonists, it shines bright with a false heart.

Taking place in the glitzy and bright world of the 1920’s, Fitzgerald’s source material centres around a bond salesman named Nick (Tobey Maguire) who moves in across the bay from his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and also next door to the illustrious and mysterious figure of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who holds wild and famous parties, to which no one is excluded and everyone is drunk.  It soon transpires that Gatsby’s parties are nothing more than a staged illusion, in a flashy and misled attempt to win back Daisy’s heart after five years apart. The book is written with an elegant and beautiful flair, and the standard of the script in the film varies wildly whenever they don’t quote directly from the novel. To their credit, the film is very faithful towards Fitzgerald’s original work, with only a few cheap and quite preposterous attempts at humour breaking up the flow of his work. What carries the film through is the source material, and a quite outstanding performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. The material behind the glitz and glamour that Luhrmann has created is so rich, and so genuine, that it makes the film gripping and immersing (also credit to some very subtle and well portrayed 3D, well worth the extra price).  Nearly all of my credit to this movie goes to its central performer however; Leonardo DiCaprio becomes Jay Gatsby. He injects emotion where Luhrmann’s directing shouldn’t allow it, he brings scenes to life through his dialogue, and he raises the standard of his performance to a level which the rest of the film cannot reach.

It’s a colossal shame then, that the film is massively overproduced. Luhrmann is constantly showing off his so-called director’s flair to the audience, and as is his trademark, making scenes shinier. Many would argue with me about this point; after all, the book itself was in many ways a social statement, arguing that the rich are empty, and the glitz and wonder of their spending and lifestyles are just curtains which they hide behind. In some ways perhaps, Luhrmann has realised the overriding message of the novel, and achieves it by over glamorizing and exaggerating every element. However, if he does do this, he does it accidentally. The sense I got was that Luhrmann at many points saw the book as a burden rather than a device to take advantage of, and quotes to the media such as ‘Fitzgerald was a clown like me’ suggest he doesn’t really understand what the book is about. He is there for the visuals, for the style, and he doesn’t disappoint. The film looks wonderful, too wonderful, wonderful to a point of absurdity. One moment, where Gatsby and his friends drive cars over a bridge is blinding, it glitters and sparkles to a point in which you cannot tell who is doing what anymore. It doesn’t help when Luhrmann adds bizarre touches like including Jay-Z music in the film, which creates a sense of fantasy and unrealism, and is totally out of place. Also, many of the actors, including Carey Mulligan sadly, over dramatize their performances a bit, and I fear this is a direct influence from Baz Lurhmann himself. They become less then people, more like cartoons, with only their spearhead, DiCaprio, fully convincing the audience he has real human emotions and real issues.

DiCaprio gives perhaps the finest performance of his career as the mysterious Jay Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a missed opportunity and a personal disappointment for me. Although it remains faithful to the book, it misreads or misunderstands many of the themes presented, and the director seems keener just to create a visual spectacle. The cast couldn’t have been better picked, Carey Mulligan is a wonderful actress and seems like a perfect choice for the complex character of Daisy, but her character is underwritten in the script and doesn’t develop into a proper personality. Joel Edgerton was a great villain as the manipulative and slightly repulsive Tom, and he performs his role fantastically, if a bit melodramatically. The role Nick played in the script could have been played by absolutely anyone, and Tobey Maguire does adequately but unspectacularly. Much of his work is reading from the novel, as he is the narrator, and really a device Fitzgerald used to express his feelings on society. And Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect lead, he gives the Great Gatsby its heart and soul, and without him the film would never have worked. With a better script, and a more tactful director, the Great Gatsby could have been an excellent adaption of a literary masterpiece. Instead, it doesn’t do the book justice. It starts badly, and finishes very strongly, but ultimately it misses the mark for what Fitzgerald was trying to see. It’s all style, all glamour and all glitter, it delves into the realms of fantasy with it’s over excessive visuals, and finally fails to deliver either emotionally or meaningfully.

Best Bit

Leonardo DiCaprio’s entire performance is magnificent. He is the perfect man for the most complicated and difficult of roles. He carries it off effortlessly, and could be the finest performance of his career.

Worst Bit

The scene in the secret bar behind the barbershop with Gatsby’s friends is a mess of odd visuals, awkward and melodramatic acting and a bizarre reliance on Jay-Z music to carry it through. It introduces characters that are never seen again, and again Luhrmann seems to miss the point spectacularly.

Overall

The Great Gatsby is a triumph of CGI and cinematography, but relies heavily on the source material and Leonardo DiCaprio’s talent to provide the heart that the book was full of. In increasing his reputation as a sparkly and over glamorous director, Luhrmann appears to view the book as nothing more than a story in which to base his visuals around, and this is where the movie loses its heart and its grasp on reality. What a shame this is, the potential of the cast and material was infinite, and in another director’s hands could have presented something special. For many, they will be excited and satisfied by the special effects. For me and the other appreciative fans of the book, it is an overproduced mess in which Luhrmann loses sight of what made the book so memorable. It’s no longer about obsessive love; it’s no longer about a social statement regarding the excessive spending of the rich. Luhrmann turns the Great Gatsby into a firework show. But a glorious one at that.

2/5

Star Trek: Into Darkness- The Review

I found myself in an awkward position after seeing the original Star Trek, the rebooted beginning of a series of prequels to the original set of television series and films. Masses of people, ‘Trekkies’ or otherwise, came out of the film waving their arms and screaming about a piece of genius; the director J.J Abrams had managed to unite hardcore fans and also make it appealing for a new generation. I came out of it having enjoyed it, a smart and fun sci-fi adventure, but also somewhat baffled by the continuous media frenzy over it. I had never become a ‘Trekkie’, had only seen a handful of episodes and maybe two of the films at the most. Now we have the sequel, also directed by J.J Abrams, and I come out of it with my hands in a Vulcan salute, grinning from ear to ear. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a riotous and adrenaline filled space adventure, which feeds off some fantastic performances and some fine directing. It is wonderful summer entertainment, and although it lacks the fine characterization and emotion of the original, it more than makes up for it with some incredible visuals, the plot’s many twists and turns, and a wonderful performance from new villain John Harrison, played by the British star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Taking place not much longer after the events of the first film, we rejoin Captain Kirk and Spock as they are exploring the galaxy. Abrams opens with an opening eye-fest, showing off the beautiful visuals with a jaw dropping sequence involving Spock and an erupting Volcano. Called back for a conference concerning an apparent suicide bombing at the public archives, Kirk and Spock barely survive a planned attack which leaves the majority of the high ranking offices in the Starfleet dead. John Harrison, a mysterious traitor of Starfleet, takes responsibility and hiding in Klingon territory, where Starfleet can’t catch him at risk of starting an already inevitable all out galactic war. So begins a top secret and dangerously unprofessional mission by Kirk and the Enterprise to track down and kill John Harrison. But is he everything that he seems?

Whether walking at pace through bright corridors, or flying through space, the surroundings Kirk and Spock find themselves in are always nothing short of beautiful. This is a film, seemingly of a dying breed, where the visual effects are used to enhance the story, not to distract us from the shortcomings of the script (Oblivion, I’m staring at you). The sound design too, is stunning, and the whole film is just produced to such a degree of quality you can’t help but enjoy the spectacle put in front of you. It really is a treat for the senses, in every sense. I didn’t see it in 3D, and I personally advise you to go see what I saw; it’s cheaper and just as effective in its use of visuals. I could tell where the 3D points were used in the film, the tell-tale signs being when something sharp and pointy hurled towards the screen, and I can guarantee that seeing this in 3D would have both annoyed me and also made me slightly queasy.

Although he can sometimes create a film with unbalanced pace, J.J Abrams is doing an absolutely incredible job in almost reinventing the science fiction genre for a new generation. His direction here is flawless (although enough with the lens flares!), but what really stands out is his overriding ability to please the hardcore Star Trek fans, while also creating a very entertaining, funny, dark and beautiful movie for the average viewer as well. He has convinced me he is the man to lead us forward into the new age of science fiction, an excellent choice to combat the challenge of continuing the Star Wars series. There will always be a place for one off, original works of science fiction, like the excellent Looper from last year, but Abrams is moulding himself as the king of sci-fi, and Star Trek: Into Darkness does a lot to reaffirm that claim. This latest instalment is so much fun, such a glitzy and adrenaline pumped ride that I nearly laughed out loud randomly in the cinema from the sheer thrill of the whole thing. Cinema is supposed to be enjoyed like this, comparing it to a roller-coaster doesn’t do it justice, you will lean left, right, back and forward in your seat in an attempt to keep up with the story, the characters and the fun. No doubt it is darker than the original reboot, but at the same time I had a lot more fun with it. Sounds like a paradox, but it’s the best of both worlds.

The original Star Trek seemed to work for so many people because of its bromance between Captain Kirk and Spock, played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. They bickered and fought for power in their conversations, developing such a strong bond that it fuelled the whole story. It was an incredible showing of characterization by the script, and Abram’s deft touch, and I was disappointed it was much less prominent in Into Darkness. The third party has entered the fray, with Benedict Cumberbatch brilliantly portraying the mysterious John Harrison, but the film has paid a heavy price for including a strong villain. The consequences of this is that some of the chemistry between the two leads is lost (too often, Quinto steals the show as Spock and Pine is just too ordinary as Kirk), and in the films intended heart rendering moments, we don’t care as much, or even not at all. In its hastiness to include such a strong villain, the writers lost a lot of what made the first film so warm and refreshing, and many will feel this while watching the movie. Although that is a decisive shortcoming of the script, the supporting cast do a great job of it, particularly Simon Pegg, with his energetic comic timing as Scotty shadowing over the fact he can’t do a good Scottish accent. The most amazing fight in this movie is the fight between the actors themselves, Quinto and Cumberbatch, in an effort to steal the show. Spock is cold and calculating but shows glimpses of a warm potential, John Harrison is ruthless and efficient, but does show moments of grief and genuine pain. Cumberbatch wins. Just.

Best Bit

A spectacular space sequence where Kirk and John Harrison fly out of a air vacuum of one ship, into another. An extraordinary CGI sequence, filled with wonderful sound design and stellar directing by Abrams.

Worst Bit

The disappointing lack of new characterization between the two leads, Kirk and Spock, and the movie ultimately loses what made the original such a success. In introducing a strong new villain into this new universe, one of the great bromances in the history of cinema gets ignored, and for many this could be unforgivable.

Overall

Star Trek: Into Darkness is a beautiful and high octane thrill ride of a movie, with a genuine heart and a fantastic new villain. Although it loses some of its soul from ignoring the characterization between Kirk and Spock, it is relentlessly exciting and an incredible amount of fun, with each actor giving strong performances. An unpopular opinion, but I enjoyed this more than I did the original. Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t just a good Star Trek film, it’s a good film in its own right; and when you think about it, that’s nothing short of a minor miracle.

4/5