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Dead and Deader (2006)

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"I'm sorry Mr Cain, but your career is dead."
“I’m sorry Mr Cain, but your career is dead.”

Twitter Plot Summary: Dean Cain’s bitten by a scorpion and becomes a half-zombie. He goes looking for the rest of his unit and the people responsible, blah blah.

Genre:
Action/Horror/Comedy

Director: Patrick Dinhut

Key Cast: Dean Cain, Susan Ward, John Billingsley, Colleen Camp, Armin Shimerman

Five Point Summary:

1. People sometimes ask “What happened to Dean Cain?” This is the answer.
2. So the zombies are created by scorpion bites? Okay, I can go along with that.
3. Did they really need to do a black stereotype in this day and age?
4. Star Trek alumni! That means it’s worth watching!
5. Susan Ward. Can’t act.

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 01 August 2010.

I went into this film with absolutely no idea what to expect. Quite literally, I didn’t read about the synopsis, the list of actors, the year the film was made, etc etc. I think sometimes going into a movie completely blank can help you enjoy it, although thanks to the rise of broadband and the information overload we are all subjected to these days, it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid spoilers and the various other aspects of the film that may ruin your enjoyment of it when you finally get to the cinema, which might explain why Cloverfield was such an enjoyable film. But I digress.

The only thing I knew for certain about this film is that it has zombies. That’s it. Now the average zombie movie fan will know that you’ve got a 50/50 chance of a zombie movie being absolutely terrible. It could go either way. This one thankfully falls on the good side of the fence, but if they’d gone down a slightly different route it could have been abysmal.

The film opens with a small army unit advancing on a small hut in Cambodia or somewhere along those lines. There’s some strange science stuff going on and, after a brief zombie attack, the hut explodes. Then, the intro sequence. And after that, I finally noticed the lead character was a bleached blonde Dean Cain of Lois and Clark fame. I’d seen his name in the credits but I didn’t twig that it was Superman himself until nearly 10 minutes into the film. I blame his hair colour. Because I wasn’t paying too much attention when the characters were introduced, I have no idea what their names are, so I’ll just go with Dean Cain, Susan Ward and Token Comedy Sidekick.

He wakes up on a mortuary slab, having died in the opening explosion. Turns out he’s a zombie but has retained his personality (his skin gets gradually more pallid as the movie goes on, a nice touch). After a brief discussion with the doctor, Dean Cain experiences pain in his arm and cuts some live scorpions from inside him. It later transpires that the scorpions are infected with something whereby they attack your brain and infect you, turning you into a mindless automaton. The self-inflicted wound soon heals, meaning Mr Dean Cain is in essence an unkillable superman.
He soon realises that at least one of his former soldier buddies is in another part of the base, infected with the same zombifying scorpions. The soldier escapes before Dean Cain can get there, and makes its way into the kitchen, where we meet Token Comedy Sidekick. After a brief scuffle in which the Doctor and Psychiatrist are bitten, turned and subsequently killed, Dean Cain and Token Comedy Sidekick are arrested for their murder, but not before a brief demonstration of Dean Cain’s new desire to eat raw flesh. As the hunger pains take hold, he finds some beef and chews on that, much to the disgust of Token Comedy Sidekick. After their arrest, and in true A-Team style, they promptly escape and make their way out into the world in chase of the zombie soldiers.

As a Star Trek fan I enjoyed the (too) brief appearances of Armin Shimerman (Quark in Deep Space 9) and John Billingsley (Phlox in Enterprise). Unfortunately they’re only in the film for the first 15 minutes, and events take a proper turn for the silly shortly after their final appearances. But I guess it’s still a pay cheque for them at the end if the day.

Dean Cain SMASH!
Dean Cain SMASH!

It’s about halfway through that the main villain rears his ugly head. Surprisingly it’s the actor who played the bad guy in The Mask. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else since then, so obviously it came as quite a surprise when I recognised him. Unfortunately as villains go he’s not very good, sticking to traditional pantomime villainy – his plan is to use the zombifying scorpions to gain everlasting life. Bit pants, quite frankly. The whole ‘zombie soldiers’ thing had a lot of potential in the first half of the movie, but it devolves into a standard tale of revenge and Dean Cain trying to make sure he doesn’t accidentally eat Susan Ward or Token Comedy Sidekick.

Which brings me onto another point. If there’s one thing the film doesn’t need it’s a comedy sidekick, a sidekick who gets progressively more irritating as the film goes on. There’s a sequence shortly after they have fought off the remaining zombie soldiers in a bar, where our plucky trio have to escape from the police and break into a fancy dress shop for a new set of clothes. Cue the obligatory scene of Susan Ward getting changed next to a mirror (no nudity here folks, just FYI). So, bearing in mind that we have a wise-cracking black guy as the sidekick, and this is a zombie film, what do you think he’s going to end up wearing? You might have guessed it – he wears a bright red Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ coat. Yeah, most amusing.

Ultimately there’s a showdown in the bad guys base, where zombies run rampant and Token Comedy Sidekick gets eaten by a crowd of zombies. Except he doesn’t, because Dean Cain and Susan Ward find him hiding in a cupboard. Bit of a strange one, that. The movie ends with good winning over evil and with Susan Ward planning a session of necrophilia with Dean Cain. I’m sure by this stage he’d be cold to the touch, all things considered she’d be better off going with Token Comedy Sidekick. Except that the comedy sidekick never gets the lady, he just sits and watches from the sidelines (hopefully not literally).

As zombie movies go this isn’t too bad, but with a few tweaks to the script, focusing on the army base narrative perhaps and less of the daft humour, then this might have been an essential zombie film. As it stands, a pleasant lack of CGI aside, it’s only going to appeal to the hardcore zombie fan. This is more Return of the Living Dead than Night of the Living Dead, so keep this in mind if you plan on watching this.

Favourite scene: Armin Shimerman explaining to Dean Cain that he’s dead.

Quote: “Dead or alive, men are all the same.”

Silly Moment:  It’s full of them, but Token Comedy Sidekick dressing up a bit like Michael Jackson wins it.

Score: 2.5/5

Predators (2010)

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Banzai!

Twitter Plot Summary: A group of disaparate crims (and Topher Grace) are dumped on an alien planet and hunted. By Predators.

Genre: Action

Director: Nimrod Antal

Key Cast: Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Walter Goggins.

Five Point Summary:

1. “I’m Batman… I mean, er… Royce”

2. Hey look, Danny Trejo’s in…. oh, never mind.

3. Fat Morpheus.

4. The ‘iPod’ Predators have been watching The Passion of the Christ too much.

5. Adrien Brody’s nose is rather distracting…

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 28 July 2010.

So, after seeing many films come and go at the cinema and not making the effort to actually go (with the exception of Iron Man), I finally made my way to the Apollo Cinema and watched the latest film about crab-faced alien hunters (and crab-faced is being polite, I could have said something much more unpleasant). In fairness, I have to say that I don’t think the film was too bad at all.

Looking back at the Predator films we’ve seen before, Predators fits nicely between an homage and sequel in its own right to the Schwarzenegger vehicle that kickstarted the franchise. Stylistically it’s nothing like Predator 2 (hunting Danny Glover in a hot and sweaty city environment? Really?), and the PG-13 near travesty that was Alien VS Predator. And as for Requiem… The Pred-Alien could have actually been quite good with the right script. Hey ho.
The plot of the film sees eight disparate characters literally dropped into a forest (with parachutes, obviously), and in true movie fashion they decide to stick together, safety in numbers and all that.

One thing I would like to see in movies like this is, literally, more fighting amongst the characters. In the original movie they were all members of the same unit, so a bit of obedience to the chain of command is expected. But in this case, they’re all from different nations and different armies, and each of the cardboard cutout stereotypes each has a unique weapon to distinguish them from the rest (except Topher Grace), so surely there’d be a lot more friction than there actually is? A bit of a scuffle when they first arrive and a little bit of verbal jousting throughout (and a bit of a fight early on between the prison convict and the African warlord chap). It’s all a bit too convenient in scripting terms. From this initial gathering we learn that they’ve all been dropped onto a Predator hunting reserve the size of a planet. There’s a nice build up of suspense for the first 30 minutes or so that teases the approach of the Predators and throws in the obligatory heat vision shots to establish what we’re dealing with. There’s a sequence early on that has the group attacked by Preda-Dogs. Some initial reviews claimed the CGI dogs were a bit of a letdown, but in my eyes the CGI was surprisingly competent. The lack of noticeable CGI throughout the rest of the film certainly helped – I don’t see why film makers today can’t just use practical effects if they can’t make CGI look good.

There was also a lot of preamble before the film was released about the fact we would see two types of Predator – the original design from the Arnie movie, and a new, sleeker, “iPod” style Predator for the modern day. Again, my scripting preference would have been a proper fight between the two styles of Predator, with our group of characters stuck in the middle, trying to escape from the planet. Elements of all of this showed up in the final film, but it feels as though they decided to play it safe instead. What we end up with is an entertaining film that just needed a small push in the right direction to make it an essential action movie.

"Yeah, so my nose is huge, what of it?"
“Yeah, so my nose is huge, what of it?”

The new Predators themselves are nicely designed, although it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that they were any different to the original, but this soon became apparent when our motley crew of killers and rapists (and Topher Grace) find an original design Predator being crucified, for want of a better term, at the Predator base camp.
Kudos to Laurence Fishburne for a suitably bat-crazy appearance as a survivor from a previous hunt. He makes his appearance just as the movie reaches an awkward lull in the action, so provides a nice distraction leading into the final third of the movie. I also thought the Yakuza character was surprisingly good despite only having about five lines of dialogue. Adrien Brody also stands out in an action hero role. He showed some of this promise in King Kong, and it’s a totally different role to what I saw of him in the frankly excellent The Piano. He’s doing a very good job of avoiding being typecast, and I have to say I think he does an excellent job here, even if he channels the spirit of Christian Bale’s Batman. It’s difficult to respect a character when all you want to do is give him a throat sweet.
Remember that shot in the trailer where twenty-odd Predator laser sights all appear on Adrien Brody’s chest? Well surprise surprise, but that money shot is not in the final film. Rodriguez even said after the fact that the shot was filmed solely for the trailer. It would have made for a much more entertaining film if it had been a planet full of Predators and not a paltry three (well, technically four). They could have easily made it look like a whole army of them, a la James Cameron’s Aliens.

There are a few other elements that I was less keen on. The dialogue is somewhat lacking and uninspired, but fits perfectly with the action tone of the movie (so really I shouldn’t complain), and there is a minor twist towards the end (I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched the film yet), a twist that is mostly unnecessary. Again, a few tweaks to the script and it could have been fantastic instead of merely “good”.

If you’re into your action films and have enjoyed any of the previous Predator movies then, unlike the characters of this movie, you’ll be in your element here. If, on the other hand, you’re not a fan of science fiction or action movies, I have to ask… Why are you even reading this?

Favourite scene: Hanzo’s all too brief sword/katana fight with the Predator.

Quote: “All right you guys, I got to umm… I have to… you know… pee.”
    “Women pee, men piss.”
    “And what do you do?”
    “I unleash.”

Silly Moment: Adrien Brody doing the original Predator “mud camouflage” thing. Do something new, guy!

Score: 3/5

Building a Universe: Adventures in Writing

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I love building universes. I didn’t realise this until quite recently, but whenever I start writing a new project half of the fun is in creating the characters and, more specifically, the world they inhabit. Case in point, and I keep coming back to this, but my current and ongoing work with my Adventures of Trent Samuels audio series.

As I’ve stated elsewhere on the Random Stoat blog (I’ll be copying those posts over to this blog in due course), the project started as a loving homage to the old science fiction serials from the 1930s-1940s. 15 minute episodes with a cliffhanger ending that would be swiftly resolved at the beginning of the next episode. My original idea was to stick very closely to that format, leaving the characters as 2D caricatures and not developing the story beyond its very basic premise. As time has gone on and the project remains in a vague state of production limbo (all my own fault), I’ve been tinkering with the story on and off to the point where the universe now has depth

Trent Samuels is set in an alternate 2007 where space travel is possible and other worlds near to Earth, relatively speaking, support life. One of these is the planet Sponge, a dry planet ruled with an iron fist by Tony The Absorber (see what I did there?). Sponge has a feudal system, with many smaller kingdoms under Tony’s all ruling empire. Tony is the main villain for the first two series, then a few of the smaller villain from lower down the food chain get their chance to try killing Trent.

As part of the first series, Tony The Absorber (originally a cardboard copy of Ming The Merciless who has since become a unique character in his own right) steals a huge amount of water from Earth resulting in widespread ecological damage and political upset. Admittedly I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this, but I used a global water level simulator to determine what the planet would look like if water levels were reduced by 500 metres. The results were interesting, to say the least. South America and Africa, South Africa in particular, are the winners as far as additional land mass is concerned. The same also applies to the islands in and around the Philippines and the UK, which would see a massive increase in available land.

Now, on top of this I also decided that in this alternate 2007 the world would be governed by a single global government as a result of warfare between the USA and the USSR during our Cold War period. The resultant nuclear warfare wiped out both nations, with the eastern USSR forming New Russia and Canada annexing Alaska and forming Canadia. The lower sea levels also lead to the return of a land bridge between the nations of New Russia and Canadia. Silly I know, but it gets better – due to the reduction of water levels in Trent series 1, Australia and New Zealand are left uninhabitable. If you also factor in that the Amazon rainforest has now become a giant Amazon warehouse and that Japan has gained sentience and flown off into space (with its entire population safely ensconced in protective domes), you can see that I’m possibly a little bit odd. In fact, scratch the “possibly”.

I’ll admit that as far as the characters go, they’re all still mostly caricatures. But they do have a bit more to them than when I first started the project. I think if I tried to give them too much history or unique characteristics it would detract from the original intention of the series. An intertwined narrative is almost necessary these days, but there’s a certain charm to having archetypes just going about their business, saving the universe and all that. I also like to leave a little bit to the audience’s imagination. World building is fun, but you don’t want to give away everything.

Mud (2013)

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mudPlot Summary: A couple of 14 year old boys find a boat stuck in a tree on a nearby island. They find a man living there and decide to help him both reunite with his girlfriend and make his escape from the law.

Genre: Drama

Director: Jeff Nichols

Key Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland.

Five Point Summary:

1. The Deep South looks awesome.
2. How many times do they have to drop the S-bomb?
3. Living on a river has it’s good and bad points.
4. Has everybody suffered from bad relationships in the past or something?
5. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

Mud is a film all about relationships. It’s chock full of them. New ones, old ones, those that bond families together, the works. Most of these revolve around Ellis, a fourteen year old boy living on the river with his parents. They’re all going through a tough time, as Mum wants to move into the town and Dad wants to stay on the river. Ellis’ best friend is Neckbone, a boy around the same age as Ellis who lives with his uncle, played by Michael Shannon.

The story sees Neckbone taking Ellis to an island where there is a boat randomly stuck in a tree. There they meet Mud, a man with no name and nothing he can rely on other than a gun and the shirt on his back. Again, this hints at Biblical subtext with the boat being a scaled down version of Noah’s Ark which, once repaired, will help him escape from the tides that are threatening to sweep him away. It’s a new beginning.

From this point, the boys help Mud repair the boat, acquiring parts and supplies to make the boat seaworthy and, more importantly, get it down from the tree. This is interspersed with Ellis’ first steps into the world of dating and dealing with women, where his standard response is to punch other guys in the face. Without wanting to give too much away, his ‘girlfriend’ May Pearl reinforces the opinion, set into Ellis by his father, that women will only let him down.

It’s a rare thing when child actors don’t irritate me, so that’s one of many things that director Jeff Nichols got right. The performances from Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are spot on, with both inhabiting the roles almost perfectly. Neckbone, no doubt due to his upbringing, drops S-bombs with reckless abandon, yet you feel that all of his bolshiness is just a front covering for the fact he’s had a somewhat dysfunctional upbringing. It’s no help to him that his uncle is dysfunctional himself, fishing for oysters, living in a trailer, and offending women with his bedroom interests.

Ellis is no better; whilst he’s grown up with his parents, their growing disparity has left him with a somewhat twisted world view – he’s told on multiple occasions by different characters that women are snakes, that they will twist your words and your own self to the point that you don’t recognise who you are. Throw in a literal pool of snakes and we’re talking an obvious Biblical metaphor/simile, which is no surprise given the American Deep South setting.

McConaughy is similarly excellent as the titular Mud, whose relationship with the boys, with his love interest Juniper, and with ex-sharpshooter now river living old grump Tom, remains vague until the final third. He’s an enigma until then, described as a compulsive liar and living in his own world. He’s the very definition of grey.

Juniper, played ably by Reese Witherspoon, is another shade of grey, with our perception of her coloured by Mud’s loved-up appraisal of her and the counter-argument of old Tom who, rather handily, calls her a snake. But then he also says Mud is a compulsive liar, so is he really the best person to listen to? Tom may be Mud’s father, or he may not, but he fills the father figure role for him perfectly. Pay attention to his backstory, as that will come into play before the credits roll at the end.

There’s a lot more that’s bubbling under the surface, but to go into any greater detail would spoil your enjoyment of the film. Suffice to say, Mud’s in a fair bit of trouble with the authorities and a snake-like guy who’s trying to hunt him down. The movie’s final act is combustive, but not a “Hollywood” ending. I would go so far as to argue that the finale and where the characters end up is indicative of how real life actually is. Thankfully the script stayed true to its routes and we’re left with a thoroughly fantastic film.

That was quite a serious review, wasn’t it? I’ll try and include some funnies next time. Badgers.

Favourite scene: Mud saving Ellis after he’s bitten by a snake.

Quote: “This river brings a lot of trash down, you gotta know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go.”

Silly Moment:  Not silly per se, but when Ellis and Neckbone first visit Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, the implications of what Galen wanted to do with the girl who storms out are most amusing.

Score: 4/5

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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fast6Plot Summary: Toretto and the crew are living it large after Fast Five, but they’re recruited by Hobbs to complete one last mission and take down a team of copycats.

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), Gina Carano.

Five Point Summary:

1. They have a tank (but The Avengers have a Hulk!).
2. Street racing’s back! In London! Erm… where’s the traffic gone?
3. The Rock’s 85% less shiny this time round.
4. Spain has incredibly long runways
5. Gina Carano’s a new face, does that mean…?

 

 

So I’m now up to date with the Fast films, and I can at last take time to watch something else entirely. My Sky+ box is looking rather full at the moment, actually… Anyway, Fast 6, or “Furious 6” as it’s being billed in a few places. Sounds like a rubbish supervillain team… this is the latest to hit cinemas (at the time of writing, this week in fact), and was my Tuesday night cinema visit in a surprisingly almost sold-out screening. I’m far too used to being the only person in the screen.

The action is just as daft as ever, featuring tanks (and a daft moment where Vin Diesel auditions for Man of Steel), giant cargo planes, and a mixture of races and chases throughout the streets of London. Ignoring the fact you’d be lucky to break the 20mph mark in the city centre, as expected they’re nicely shot and you can actually see what’s happening without losing the excitement and tension. It goes to show that shakeycam, aka “a man with inner ear problems filming an action scene during an earthquake whilst jumping up and down” isn’t the end word in directing action set pieces.

A brief note regarding the tank scene (and indeed, the rest of the film where civilians come under fire) – how many people actually died? Nobody seems to care!

One major gripe (and there are a lot of smaller ones) is how often everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, kept going on about “family”. Yes okay, we get it, you all think of each other as family, you don’t have to keep reinforcing that point every five minutes. But then in place of any meaningful interaction between the cast members, this essentially takes on the role of characterisation. Nope, it really doesn’t. Okay sure, there are a lot of amusing one liners, but that does not a character make. Apart from Roman, he’s a quipping machine.

The final set piece, and I’m not spoiling this or any other part of the film because it’s all in the trailer, featured the gang trying to stop a cargo plane from taking off, which would allow villain Shaw (a slightly menacing if somewhat underplayed turn from Luke Evans) to escape with some device “worth billions” that could take out a country for 24 hours (or possibly longer – to be fair the specifics of the point were superfluous to my enjoyment of the film). The big issue here – how long was that runway? The plane didn’t turn at all, and the scene went on for about 15 minutes. Bearing in mind how fast those things have to go, I’d expect them to be halfway across Spain by the time Vin Diesel continues his “Man of Steel” impression and bursts out of the plane’s nose, triumphant. In a car.

It was nice to see the series go back to its routes and feature a bit of street racing, which served the plot much more cogently than the earlier films. It also provided an excuse to move back into that gaudy world of fancy cars, if only for a short while, before the mute colour palette reasserted itself.

Jordana Brewster continues her descent into ‘crone’ territory, I was half expecting her to start cackling and turn green at any moment, which given how ludicrous the story was wouldn’t have been unexpected. It would have made more sense than Theodora’s transformation in Oz The Great and Powerful, at any rate. Don’t ask me why I’m so negative toward Jordana Brewster, I’m sure she’s a lovely person and is no doubt attractive to some/most people, but all I see is a trainee witch.

I don’t think it had quite the same level of ‘awesome’ as Fast Five, but it’s still a solid if incredibly dumb action film. In some circles that would be a bad thing, but if you disengage your brain for a couple of hours and just go along with it, you’ll have a heck of a time.

Favourite scene: The dual fist-fights in the London Underground. Nicely choreographed and didn’t outstay its welcome.

Quote: “You’ve gone from Shaggy to Scooby. This is something we don’t doooo.”

Silly Moment: The tank chase. That is all.

Score: 3.5/5

Fast Five (2011)

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fastfivePlot Summary: So there’s this heist in Rio, blud, and they steal a safe or sutin, and The Rock turns up all sweaty, like.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock).

Five Point Summary:

1. Big dumb action scenes
2. Look, it’s The Rock!
3. Yes, it’s yet another plot involving drug cartels.
4. Rio looks amazeballs
5. The safe – what a twist!

 

 

 

Analysis:

Bringing my epic catch-up weekend to a close, I watched Fast Five for the first time. To quote/paraphrase Father Ted, it was like two completely different sheep. Of course in this context the two sheep are Fast Five and the previous four Fast movies. The decision to eschew the focus on car modding and/or driving for the same of it in favour of big stupendous action moments, an actual plot, and witty banter between the ensemble cast was clearly a good move. I’d go so far as to say that it’s my favourite of the series to date.

Kudos also to The Rock for adding a breath of fresh air to proceedings, even if he spends most of the film in various warehouses looking shiny and moaning at people. He also looks stupidly big, in fact he’s not far off from looking like his WWE All Stars video game caricature. To me, anyway. After comparing the two, I’m not actually sure that stands up.

RockWWEAllStars

Having a character like this has helped the franchise immensely, even if it might alienate the fans who are only in it for the modding/street racing aspect (and for those people, I suggest you find and play Street Racer on the Super Nintendo. It’s not relevant in any way but just saying “street racing” made me think of the game…).

All of the driving scenes served the plot for a change, and once again whilst the action scenes were completely ludicrous, they were all well shot (none of this shakey cam nonsense) and are just big, dumb fun. In fact the final 20 minutes or so of the film sees the team heist a safe and drag it, via two modified cars, driven by Toretto and O’Connor, and much mayhem and destruction ensues. Now, big daft car chases like this work well for me, whereas street racing just for cred and giggles doesn’t. It’s all the better for letting the scene breathe – I can imagine the script was only about 3 pages long for the entire sequence. On a serious note, I’d be surprised if it was much more than that, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun, over the top chase and I loved every second of it.

There’s a time and a place for big dumb action movies, and Fast Five knows its audience well enough that it can throw everything into the mix and see most of it stick. The detritus that drips slowly to the floor is still good fun, and even if it doesn’t quite work you’re moving onto the next big action scene before you have time to think about it.

So whilst there isn’t a huge amount of characterisation to be seen (characters have dialogue and one liners but that’s pretty much the extent of it), having some semblance of story no matter how ridiculous marks this a step above the previous four films.

Favourite scene: The chase through the streets of Rio. A suitably epic/ludicrous finale.

Quote: “Aright listen up! The guys we’re after are professional runners. They like speed and are guaranteed to go down the hardest possible way so make sure you’ve got your thunderwear on. We find ’em we take ’em as a team and we bring ’em back. And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

Silly Moment: Escaping through the streets of Rio with a massive safe attached to the back of two cars.

Score: 3.5/5

Fast and Furious (2009)

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Fastandfurious2009Plot Summary: O’Connor and Toretto have to unite against their common enemy (the Judean People’s Front?!) by infiltrating a heroin dealer’s operation. I would say it’s not as simple as that, but it really is.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, John Ortiz.

Five Point Summary:

1. Heyyy the old team’s back!
2. Black cars. Wherefore art the colourful stuff?
3. Some nifty action set pieces.
4. Some tosh about a drug dealer.
5. Bad CGI. I mean, REALLY bad.

 

Analysis:

Things were ramped up a notch in this 4th entry in the series, as O’Connor and Toretto have to team up to once again drive cars dangerously and take down a drug lord whilst doing so. Nothing original about that story, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s about as cliche as the series gets, but I can ignore that just because the action is so impressive. The opening 10-15 minutes of the film are expertly done, as Toretto and his team assault a petrol tanker. We’re then re-introduced to O’Connor who now works for the FBI. He’s still clearly a bit of a rebel, but thankfully he’s done away with that ridiculous bleached blonde hairstyle. Unfortunately Jordana Brewster looks more liable to drift off in a breeze, and strangely looks a bit like she’s going to start her own witches coven (I imagined her cackling whilst throwing spare engine parts into a cauldron). That puzzled me for a little while, but then something else blew up and all was well.

Michelle Rodriguez showed promise in the opening scene, but her presence is soon curtailed and isn’t even given the opportunity to die onscreen. Sorry – SPOILERS. But then you could argue that the writers were planning a few films ahead with that one, who knows. I think that might be gifting the screenwriters more credit than they possibly deserve.

The key difference I noticed was the lack of pretty cars. The whole colour palette was much more muted, lots of blacks and darker colours, which was more apparent in the climactic chase sequence – a far cry from the gaudy racers we’ve previously been accustomed to. Even Vin Diesel spends most of his time in a black tank top. It’s as if the production team said “we need to make it darker”, so that’s what they did. Not just the script though – EVERYTHING. It even reaches the point where you’re looking at Vin Diesel wondering if he’s Toretto or Riddick. This also caused me much consternation for a few minutes.

If there’s one area the film fails, and quite spectacularly so, it’s the CGI. Cartoonish, video game-esque quality is the story of the day. It’s quite disappointing to an extent as the previous films got that bit right, on the whole, but here it feels at odds with this darker look and feel that they seem to have wanted to do. The final scene through the tunnels between Mexico and the USA are breathtaking and laugh-inducing in equal measure.

Essentially a reboot for the franchise, Fast and Furious is to me a sign of things to come. Okay, the CGI is really bad and as soon as they jump back into the tunnels at the end it feels a lot like the mine cart levels in Donkey Kong Country, but the action set pieces are fantastic and act as a bridge to Fast Five, both in the action stakes and literally in terms of the story. After the extreme focus on the cars in previous outings, for a general movie goer as myself this was a step in the right direction.

Favourite scene: Squashing Fenix with a car. Awesome.

Quote: “Stasiak, go get yourself cleaned up. You’re bleeding on my floor.”

Silly Moment: Vin Diesel leaps from one moving car to another, then narrowly avoids being burnt to a crisp by a fireball. As you do.

Score: 2.5/5

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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tokyodriftPlot Summary:  Sean Boswell is faced with prison or moving to Tokyo (it’s in Japan, you know) to live with his father. Naturally he goes to Tokyo where he’s drawn into the underground world of drift racing. Or something like that.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Lucas Black, Bow Wow (seriously?), Sung Kang, Nathalie Kelley.

Five Point Summary:

1. Japanese culture (duh).
2. Lovely shiny cars
3. Another completely superfluous love story.
4. Driiiiiiiftiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!
5. Sonny Chiba classing the place up


Analysis
:

Until this week, this was the only Fast and Furious film I’d seen. Yeah I know – random, right? Let me explain. I am a former subscriber to the Lovefilm rental service, and despite having all (four films, at that time) on my viewing list, they decided to send me the third one first. Go figure. So having little choice in the matter I watched this, returned the disc, then received something completely different next time round. I never did receive any of the other Fast and Furious films, and not being a massive fan of cars I didn’t get round to seeing the rest. Until now, of course.

On my first viewing all that time back, in the long dark recesses of 2009, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the story, and that feeling has remained. It’s passable, and certainly better than the old Fast and Furious method of “how can we get the characters to drive somewhere and make it fit it into the paper thin story somehow?” But to me it was a glossy reprint of the storyline from the first two films, only transferred to the gorgeous looking streets of Tokyo and handed to a younger (and mostly foreign) cast. The key twist here as well is that the focus is on drift racing rather than the usual 10 second race stuff. The stunts, as a result, look fantastic. I can fully appreciate the skill required to drive like an absolute NUTTER and yet still maintain control of the vehicle. Apart from the obligatory sections where Sean can’t drift and he hits pretty much everything, all of the driving sequences with cars slipping and sliding all over the place are a joy to watch. Additional bonus: not CGI. Practical effects for the win!

In an effort to give some of the characters a bit more than the standard 2D cardboard cut-out fare, Bow Wow (I’m never going to use his character name) is a purloiner of  half-inched (pinched) technology and similar gubbins, which is usually broken or damaged in some way. He’s beaten up by one of the Japanese guys (sorry I couldn’t tell you who, they all look the same… SHOCK HORROR -RACISM! I jest, I know who the actor is. It was… oh, erm… anyway, moving on.)

One more thing I love about the film is the cinematography. Stephen F Windon, I doff my proverbial cap to you, sir. This is the same guy who did the cinematography on Deep Blue Sea and Anacondas. Somehow I think he should focus more on lighting cars than actors reacting to CGI creatures in future. As he’s also done the same job on every “Fast” film to date, then I would say we’re in good hands. The cars look fantastic, enhanced by the Tokyo setting. In fact I would say that applies to any film that shows Japan at night, the Resident Evil film series included (but that’s for another review). Justin Lin brings a real sense of class to proceedings and pushes this a step above the first two films in every sense. Except for the script, unfortunately he couldn’t do much about that.

So… it’s more of the same, yet slightly different. Cinematography and a director who actually has a clue what he’s doing will only get you so far.

Favourite scene: Anything scene where Sonny Chiba turns up. Cinema gold.

Quote: “My mother, she’s blind in one eye and she can drift better than that.”

Silly Moment: Bow Wow slips into the lift alongside a group of ladies, then breaks the fourth wall and winks knowingly at the camera.

Score: 2.5/5

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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2 Fast 2 FuriousPlot Summary:  The authorities catch up with Paul Walker and he’s given a choice of either going to jail or helping the police take down a drug lord. So far so mundane.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: John Singleton

Key Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendez,


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! And Cars! And more cars! Oh my!
2. Glorious Miami sunshine
3. Wisecracks and a knowing sense of silliness.
4. Paul Walker’s lovely yet off-putting bleached blonde hair.
5. An actual story!

 

Analysis:

My quest to watch the first 5 Fast and Furious movies in one weekend (or one weekend and the Monday night) continues with 2 Fast 2 Furious. This second entry felt more rounded in terms of story, but suffered from only focusing on Paul Walker rather than the ensemble of the original. With that in mind, however, it’s also great fun just for being so ridiculously silly. Walker’s O’Connor is finally caught by the police and is given a choice: to go to prison for his crimes or to go undercover again and help them take down a criminal overlord who, somewhat amazingly, needs skilled drivers to pull off a caper. I get the impression that all of the ‘Fast’ films are set in an alternate universe where drivers and/or driving in general are more important than hired help, gun fights or any other of the standard criminal underworld tropes. For that I suppose the series should be commended. Yeah okay there are guns, but they’re always secondary to the “get to this location before the other guys” that permeates the series. On that note, surely doing a basic CRB check on random guys who you’ve never met before would make sense before letting them come work for you. Too obvious? Hmm.

The CGI was more noticeable to me this second spin around the streets, but the cars themselves look amazeballs, so I think the standard ‘Fast’ fan will be more interested in that rather than how artificial the background looks. There’s the obligatory glut of street races and daft twists to said races, but we’ve got a proper story this time round, even if it is a complete throwback to the action movies of the 80s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I might add. My one gripe is the conceit that O’Connor will only drive if one of his old friends is his partner for the job. Surely the police in the real world would balk at the idea? This again supports my theory that drivers are the only thing that matters in the ‘Fast’ universe.

I honestly can’t rate the movie any lower or higher than the first – it had its good and bad points both in comparison to the first film and when considered as a standalone movie. You don’t need to have seen the first in order to understand what’s going on, much more of O’Connor’s history is covered in this entry. And what’s going on with his hair? I know he’s supposed to be operating outside of the law and everything, but did he really need to pander to the fashions of 2003 and bleach his hair, looking about 17 years old in the process? Yes, is apparently the answer. There’s a great scene with what seems like hundreds of cars emerging from a garage in an effort to distract the swooping police, and it’s stuff like this that make the film worth seeing. Simple idea, yet effective.

The villain, ably played by Cole Hauser, is about as cardboard cutout as they get, but he has a subtle air of menace to him that creates a decent sense of threat (as it happens, he also shows up later in Die Hard 5 and Olympus Has Fallen. I’m sensing a pattern). There was a slight problem in that I kept confusing him with one of the henchman, so I was never sure if it was the Big Bad doing the dirty work or if it was only the henchman. I’m pretty sure if I watched this again I would still confuse the two.

And finally – Eva Mendes. I suppose she’s in the mix to represent a “strong female character (TM)”, however she doesn’t get to do much apart from skulk around in the background being an undercover spy and acting, naturally, as a former/current love interest for Paul Walker. Before you can say “cliche!” she’s solidly in damsel in distress mode. Yawn.

Favourite scene: Attacking a boat with a car. And winning.

Quote: “Whoa, fellas, fellas. I know my tags are outta date, but damn.”

Silly Moment: Exactly the same as my favourite scene – with seemingly no other options available to them, and the life of Monica Fuentes in the balance, O’Connor does the only sensible thing – he drives his car up a ramp, at top speed, and lands smack bang on top of the moving boat. Incredibly silly but it’s fun at the same time. It might even be one of the inspirations for John McClane taking out a helicopter in a similar fashion in Die Hard 4.0.

Score: 2.5/5

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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The Fast and The FuriousPlot Summary:  Paul Walker is an undercover cop tasked with taking down Vin Diesel, but he falls for Jordana Brewster and starts to question his loyalties.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: Rob Cohen

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster.


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! Ooh, pretty.
2. Michelle Rodriguez scowling.
3. NOS-related shenanigans (also known in wider circles as cheating).
4. Obligatory bit with cops arguing.
5. Vin Diesel’s bald pate.

 

Analysis:

Despite watching a ridiculous amount of films each year, with the exception of Tokyo Drift (more on that in a forthcoming review), I’ve never seen any of the Fast and Furious movies. My initial reasons for that were mostly due to my general disregard for car culture and my lack of interest in driving in general. Whilst I still don’t have any real affinity for all of that, I can appreciate the films for what they are. As action thrillers go, this was neither particularly action-led nor much of a thriller. The stars here are the vehicles (sorry, Vin), and as a result the story and most of the cast don’t get much of a look in. The only characters who are anything approaching three dimensional are Vin Diesel’s Toretto and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, and I think that’s only because the majority of the movie hinges on those two characters. Everyone else, even supposed love interest Jordana Brewster, has very little to do.

It might look like I’ve given this film a low score, but given the “out of 5” rating system I use (thanks for that, Flixster), to rate it any higher would put it alongside films like Jack The Giant Slayer (yep, it’s better than this) or Oz The Great and Powerful. It’s more in line with something like Bullet To The Head or A Good Day To Die Hard – serviceable but nothing special. With that said, it looks nice, the cars look and sound great, and the plot does enough to justify sitting through the entire film. Direction is crisp, but the soundtrack suffers from classic early noughties action movie fatigue, with half the soundtrack taken up by generic “modern” rock/metal tracks. They work relatively well, all things considered, but it’s a bit of a cliche of the genre with 10 years of hindsight. I rather liked the race sequences and that bit where the car blows up in a NOS-related kaboom. With a few tweaks to the script (or maybe even the performances?) I might have cared a bit more about what was going on, but in my eyes at least it’s mostly forgettable. That’s the problem when you watch a film about cars and don’t really have an opinion on them…

It’s not a film I’ll be in any rush to own, and many others have done this story before and in a much better way, but it’s a typically brainless kind-of action film and it’s worth seeing at least once. More so if you’re a fan of the ol’ brum-brums.

Favourite scene: The final truck chase/assault. It didn’t overstay its welcome and was nicely edited.

Quote: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”

Silly Moment: Chinese chaps fire a ridiculous amount of bullets at Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Chad Lindberg. They only manage to hit the latter (seemingly with one bullet), with the rest of their bullets impotently hitting the grass, shrubs and the car that Chad Lindberg was supposed to give them at the end of an earlier race. Also… did Chad Lindberg’s character die? I don’t think that was established. Meh.

Score: 2.5.5