Six. 6. Siiiix. 10-4. Sex-minus-E-plus-I. Six whole films. And plans are already in place for Fast And Furious eight. Eight! That’s more sequels than Police Academy! How did this happen? Who is to blame?!
Well, you are. Or at least, we as a species are: the films keep making money. After the comparative failure of the Vin Diesel-less second and third films the shiny growler was brought back, and with him came a nudge-wink self-awareness that served the films incredibly well. The two that followed, Fast & Furious and Fast Five, were daft as tickled mongeese and some of the most fun cerebral hemispherectomies it was possible to subject your common sense to.
The addition into the regular cast of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson tells you everything you need to know about the direction the series decided to take, and will also probably help you decide whether this sixth instalment is for you. Because – and let’s be realistic – it is clearly not a good film.
So, Diesel’s Dom and Paul Walker’s wetly-name Brian, following their heist in the last film, are living the high life of Riley, ensconced in a country of lax extradition laws. Agent Hobbs (The Rock) cuts a hot yellow slice through the ice sculpture that is their retirement when he turns up on Dom’s door: he needs their help, for some illogical and irrelevant reason, and in return offers them someone they thought they’d lost – Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty.
“But didn’t she die in Fast & Furious?!” we can hear none of you howling, and all none of you would be dead wrong. So Dom reassembles his crew and joins The Rock in London, where some cheesy talk about family, some noise and some fast things happen, fastly, and regularly.
Look…what do you want to know? Plot? Ok. For an idea of the plot, try writing ‘PLOT’ on a bat or club of some kind and asking a friend, stranger or acquaintance if they’d mind pelting you over the cranium with it. There’s your plot.
Acting? Walker is…physically present, most of the time. Michelle Rodriguez plays Michelle Rodriguez better than most people we’ve met. Vin Diesel sounds like Paul Robeson after giving deep throat orals to a rowing oar wrapped in fibreglass. Gina Carano, ex-UFC hardnut, joins The Rock in not really being asked to work on the film because of any particular talent in acting, but both are fine. Then there’s the rest of Dom’s crew and the big baddie Shaw, who generally succeed in doing and saying things while being filmed by a camera.
What about the action, you say? Finally! For the most part, it’s superb, with several vehicular set-pieces and a couple of fisticuff-ier ones among the most shamelessly entertaining stuff you’ll see this year. On more than one occasion the screening OTB attended burst into spontaneous applause – ironically, yes, but the film’s in on the joke, and it verges on the joyous. Some of the stunt work is as spectacular as it is impossibly silly.
Criticisms? Well, aforementioned plot, cheesiness, leaden script and acting issues aside, its middle section droops unforgivably, nudging the film well over the two hour mark, which is simply too long. It’s also quite tricky to see what’s going on sometimes, with director Justin Lin’s occasional predilection for quick edits something of a detriment. There’s also an obtuse category-F swear, one of which you can get away with in a 12A, but here it feels oddly crowbarred in solely to tick a box. Sorry, did we say box? We meant fuck.
Nevertheless, Fast And Furious 6, against the standards to which it judges itself, is a success. It’s like going out on the piss in Blackpool: if you haven’t been warned what to expect then you deserve compensation or, at least, sympathy. If you know what to expect and go anyway, knowing you’ll hate it, then your hangover and brand new STD are your fault so you should probably just shut up.
For everyone else? You’ll have a great time.
Fast and Furious 6 is in cinemas on May 17 2013
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In cinemas now
If you made a list of British comedians you’d expect to find leading an ensemble in an American comedy/drama, chances are Matt Lucas (of ‘he’s a baby’ and ‘yer-buh-no-buh’ fame) wouldn’t be at its peak. This is no indictment of his ability – far from it, he was the one member of his respective double-act who could manage to muster a character other than an over-camped version of his own, and his sparkling turn in Bridesmaids was a joy.
No, it’s more to do with his perceived Britishness; his Prime Time TV oddballity. Fortunately, after five minutes in his Yank-accented company in Small Apartments, he’s a film star. Plain and simple.
He plays Franklin Franklin, a loner eking out a dire existence in a squalid apartment block who dreams of moving to Switzerland and finding happiness. We also follow the plights of his neighbours, a haggard and perpetually stoned Johnny Knoxville, and an embittered widower played by James Caan, in a tale of Coen-esque nihilism and moral absence that never reaches the heights of the renowned brothers’ best work, but which packs an endearing level of humour, tragedy and salvation into its lean 92 minutes.
We meet baffled simpleton Franklin at his lowest ebb: the body of his landlord adorns his kitchen floor, his role model, only friend and brother sends daily envelopes containing cryptic recorded missives and trimmed toenails from the secure facility in which he’s been living for the past year.
Each of the three residents of the block are lost in their own ways, and while it is Lucas’ arc which is primarily explored, Caan and Knoxville’s journeys provide apposite parallels. In fact, it’s Knoxville who comes as the film’s biggest surprise, giving a performance that begins at adequate and swells into something rather special. Not Oscar special, but it’s great to see him escape the snare of low-brow comedies for which he’s best known.
The cast is completed by fire investigator Billy Crystal, in easily charming and gently tragic form, James Marsden as Franklin’s brother, the easygoing rudder without which Lucas lost, and Juno Temple as derelict and directionless teen Simone.
Actual plot isn’t the primary focus here: it’s a study about loneliness in the cramped confines of a city, our characters crossing paths and bouncing off their interactions with each other, and director Jonas Åkerlund injects colour, warmth and welcome running gags to lay at counterpoints to the generally sombre tone of the events themselves.
It’s not perfect – its scatological nature and desire to cram in so many characters means some arcs don’t receive the payoffs they deserve, and the script provides just as many misses as hits, most notably an overly-convenient tying up of loose ends. But, crucially, Small Apartments has a big enough heart to shake of these problems for the most part. It’s a bit daft and it’s all over the place, but you’ll probably find yourself liking it all the more for it.
Mama is in cinemas now
Often the most irrational and idiotic nightmares are also the most terrifying ones. They’re the nightmares that you can’t remove from your memory, no matter how hard you try to.
It’s just like a dream I sometimes have in which the former Tory MP Michael Portillo beats me with a tube of BacoFoil, as he cackles and caterwauls his way through a rendition of “The Look of Love”. It’s the sheer absurdity of it, I suspect, that makes it seem all the more horrific.
Coincidentally, this is also the only way I can explain my feelings on the film Mama, an utterly ridiculous and yet somehow still very frightening horror, which has audiences peeing their pants with laughter before it has them doing the same all over again with fright.
The plot of the film centres on Victoria and Lilly, the young daughters of an financial firm executive, who is introduced to the audience after having recently shot his business partners and his estranged wife. In a mad frenzy, the man returns home, collects his children and speeds off with tears forming in his eyes, as he tries to fathom what he’s going to do next.
After narrowly avoiding a serious car accident, the man eventually winds up at an old abandoned house, where he decides his only option is to commit suicide, but not after first killing his daughters. However, things don’t quite pan out like that, and when the man holds a gun to Victoria’s head, a strange creature attacks him before he has time to pull the trigger.
Flash forward five years later and a team of searchers stumble across the abandoned house. Having all but given up hope of finding the girls, they’re surprised to discover that they’re still very much alive, although living a feral-like existence, eating wild fruit and walking on all fours.
After returning back to civilisation, the girls are kept in isolation before being put in the care of their uncle, Lucas, and his girlfriend, Annabel, who is essentially a character that Janeane Garofalo would have played back in the ‘90s. Lucas makes a living drawing what look like preliminary sketches and Annabel plays in a derivative punk group, making her in particular an unlikely yet well-meaning guardian.
Understandably, spending the last five years living in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere hasn’t done wonders for Victoria and Lilly, as they keep making bizarre references to someone—or indeed something—called “Mama”. At first everybody suspects that “Mama” is imaginary, but then after a series of freak events, a more sinister conclusion starts to seem like a possibility.
Mama is a horrifying creature. She lives in the closet, she changes form and she can glide around the room making no sound if she chooses. Sometimes she’s a dark stain on the wall. Other times she resembles a human-like form. But we’re kept guessing to what she truly is until the last half an hour of the film.
Mama is certainly not without humour. There are many amusing moments, such as when Lilly plays with Mama while Annabel goes about household chores, completely oblivious to what’s happening in the next room. There are also plenty of just plain stupid moments—many seemingly unintentional—which had the audience around me snorting and whispering little witless remarks.
Yet when the scary parts happened the laughs seemed to turn into nervous titters, because part of what the film does well is mixing the completely absurd with the unsettling. It indulges in expected clichés, but always shocks the audience seconds later with some deeply macabre imagery.
There are, unfortunately, countless incidents where the film tries to startle the audience with loud noises or by having something appear on screen rather unexpectedly: making somebody jump doesn’t really mean anything if there’s no suspense to back it up. But more often than not, Mama is a decent, albeit quite campy, horror that draws the audience in with its silliness before devouring them whole with something truly frightening.
Watching with friends will likely provide many laughs, but later on, long after the film has ended, one might find oneself checking underneath the bed, lest Mama is hiding below the mattress.
A Good Day To Die Hard
In cinemas now
“Yippee ki-yay Mother Russia” It’s a good tagline: it’s just not got much of a movie to go with it. Bruce is back in the vest and heading over to Russia, where his son (Jai Courtney) is involved in a CIA plot to rescue a government whistleblower (Sebastian Koch). Things soon go tits up, and Willis and Son find themselves racing across Eastern Europe to retrieve some tasty secrets.
This being a Die Hard, of course, nothing’s that simple. Neither, in this case, is it that clear. Gone are the clever feints of the original, to be replaced by twists that feel obligatory and make a nonsense of everything that’s gone before. Not that what had gone before made a lot of sense anyway.
It’s interesting that the Russians have swung around to being the Hollywood default for bad guys again, but this isn’t a film that’s interested in the changes their country has seen in the past 20 years. It’s just full of cool and scary names the writers sorta recognise from a dozen other trashy flicks. The screenplay’s got low-grade photocopy all over it, and it’s grasp of nuclear physics makes Dan Brown look like Robert Oppenheimer.
Willis’s relationship with his son is a retread of his relationship with his daughter from the last movie – and a barely developed one at that. Plenty of franchises end up bastardising their first entry, but few rip off an already shit sequel. There might be a character arc there if you squint (let’s lay some chips down now that Die Hard 6 will see Willis going after his ex-wife), but the film won’t thank you for spotting it. It’ll barely thank you for being present.
Even if you can be bothered to concentrate, frenetic camerawork and cuts every millisecond make it difficult to follow. In an early set piece, trucks and armoured cars barge their way through the Moscow traffic, but it’s all spectacle and no elegance. It’s like watching someone playing Grand Theft Auto badly.
It’s also a humourless affair. There’s nothing like the endlessly quotable lines from the original. Instead, we’re thrown the sort of crap flippancy that wouldn’t raise a laugh in a footballer player’s locker room. Willis remembers these films were once funny, but has dialled his archness up to a point of intolerable smugness. He’s not just someone’s dad; he’s someone’s incredibly annoying dad.
A Good Day to Die Hard is ridiculous, but so rough around the edges it doesn’t even qualify as mindless fun. It can’t be bothered to engage with its own narrative and instead looks like an accountancy spreadsheet flickering past at 24 frames per second. The next instalment’s already in the pipeline: let’s hope they get the marketing guy to write the script.
Internet dating doesn’t appeal to some. It might be because they have political ambitions and it might come back to haunt them. It might be that their idea of happiness doesn’t involve an SSRT blissed out singleton with a soft-rock soundtrack. But anecdotal evidence mostly suggests it’s because they refuse to believe that the person they’re destined to end up with will find them through tick-box compatibility.
Rust and Bone is a love story, but not the sort that Type A princesses spend their formative years creating a vision board for. It is about the kind of love that meanders unreliably and blooms unpredictably.
Director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) coaxes intense yet physically intelligent performances from both Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, Inception) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead). The Belgian, in particular, embraces Tony Soprano’s ideal of a male lead, a man who “wasn’t in touch with his feelings, he just did what he had to do.”
Audiard doesn’t make it easy for the audience – he trusts the two leads to flesh out a chronologically stuttered plot – whilst Cotillard and Schoenaerts’ characters don’t make it easy for each other. They are both self-destructive individualists: He acknowledges his lack of interest in romantic continuity, whilst she admits that she only enjoys a man’s attention until he commits to her.
Nonetheless, this is what sustains interest in the characters: it’s not a story about two people falling in love, it’s a story about two people adjusting to emotional levels that are new to each other.
This, in turn, makes the narrative much more affecting; not because the progress of their blossoming romance mirrors your own story; but because it highlights the unpredictable cause and effect that catalyses desire into something more permanent in an immature, but emotionally plausible way.
No dramatic gestures, no Disney safety net, no manufactured happily ever after – but a far more honest interpretation of what it means to be yourself, accept another for their potential incompatibilities and persevere in the hope that the sum is greater than the parts.
A wise adolescent once told me that she recognised that she’d reached romantic maturity for the first time when she no longer had to ‘have the conversation’ to know what her relationship status was – she just knew. At a time when so many love stories require their leads to be unnaturally explicit with their feelings to the audience, Rust and Bone is a terrific film about what it takes to fall in love and what falling in love takes from you.
Rust and Bone is out on DVD on the 25th of February 2013
*Warning contains spoilers*
In surveys polling the subjects voters are most concerned about, civil liberties rarely feature, and the consistent willingness of citizens to allow security theatre to infringe their human dignity for entertainment is the only logical explanation for the success of 24.
It would be unfair to tar Zero Dark Thirty with a Jerry Bruckheimer production brush, but the dramatic appeal comes a distant second in the critical appraisal the film has received for its use of violence.
This is entry level marketing: If you can’t sell a film on the quality of the performances, then sell it through the disproportionate publicity you can generate from a controversial stance on a contemporary subject.
Despite the damage done to their reputations at Leveson, some of the last idealists remaining in the adult world are journalists. While the remaining sell-outs still remember fondly the intense undergraduate debates they had as first time stoners.
Combine this with a reasonable PR budget and a subject which remains highbrow only because of the lack of attention it gets and you’re guaranteed a decent publicity window.
Yet the amount of “enhanced interrogation” the film shows is less than five percent of the total running time. The idea of it pervades the film, but what appears on screen is factually accurate but not viscerally engaging.
One of the most frequently used arguments in favour of torture is the “ticking bomb” scenario. However, the most useful information gained by the CIA is after an attack, when Chastain et al trick a sleep deprived prisoner into believing that in his weary, amnesiac state he has given them what they needed to stop his co-conspirators. This allows them to pressure him into revealing other information now that he is a known collaborator.
Torture as inoffensive character and narrative development; or ‘the banality of evil’ as Hannah Arendt would call it.
Forgive me for being Brechtian, but is it too much to ask that a film this dependent upon the exploitation of one of the most serious issues modern society faces doesn’t leave the audience as complacent as ever?
Jessica Chastain’s character is unsubtly used as a metaphor for America as a whole – an innocent naif before she discovers those who want to hurt her, but by remaining determined and persevering through adversity she destroys her enemy. All the while clothed in the attractive facsimile of a protective maternal figure who will do whatever it takes to protect her family.
Zero Dark Thirty is almost a good film but certainly not a great one. Its artistic merits are overwhelmed by a desire to achieve the collective catharsis of a hubristic nation frustrated by a decade of impotence. The only thing less surprising than the ending is the inevitability of Enoch Powell patriots chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” after watching it.
Monday 14 January
BBC 4, 10pm
America isn’t just losing the War on Drugs, it’s not even fighting the battle. That’s the slogan, and The House I Live In hits you with it again and again for two hours. Eugene Jarecki’s examination of the War on Drugs – from federal government down to individual street corners, and from the early parts of the 20th century to the present day – won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
But all that really tells you is it’s the sort of film that riles up the US’s left-wing intelligentsia against the right-wing populists. To an international audience, that can be part of the shock. Fallout from the Phoenix and Sandy Hook shootings has given us a fresh reminder of the foothold the far right has in American policy.
The political short-termism induced by the rampant drive to get votes and hit targets is not exclusive to the conservatives, but the particular demonisation of the poor seen here is. Not that we should get too smug this side of the pond. The current talk of ‘benefit scroungers’ and ‘hard-working poor’ are Victorian caricatures of the deserving and undeserving poor come around again.
In Britain, The House I Live In should be seen as a warning of how the refusal to acknowledge “the Dickensian aspect”, as The Wire put it, can block social migration and lead to criminal stagnation. We just lack the ironic backdrop of an American dream to show it up. As one talking head puts it, “In the inner city, these kids are making rational choices.”
Many of our misconceptions of what crack cocaine is and how it differs from other drugs – or who uses it, or the reasons those people turn to it – could be disproved with the minimum of research. But we – and more worryingly legislators – are not minded to do so because they pander to our particular prejudices. It’s what Nick Davies, in his excellent book of the same name, called ‘Flat Earth News’.
The problems perpetuating America’s War on Drugs are macro in scale. They are the petty prejudices and particular problems of a populist legislature. They feed into issues of race, of class and of economics. More than anything else, however, it is the problem of self regard. Of validating oneself by demonising and damning the other.
And if you’d like to see that same moral with songs, Les Mis is on.
Tuesday 25 December, BBC1, 4:35pm
If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, then how do you account for Christmas day television? From depressing filler programmes like TV’s Naughtiest Christmas Blunders to EastEnders in which everything is heart-shatteringly awful, the entire day is like being pinned down and force-fed misery by the spoonful.
Even the supposedly chirpy Live at the Apollo is pretty bleak, with some of Britain’s most derivative yet commercially viable comedians telling sub-Seinfeld observations about how terrible their electrical appliances are.
It’s surely enough to make you pine for the days when Christmas TV was fun and light-hearted and free from irreverent attacks on toasters.
Well, fortunately, this Christmas day at 4:35 there’s a touching animated short on BBC One called Room on the Broom, which has been adapted from a book by Gruffalo creators Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
Narrated by Simon Pegg, it tells the story of a caring witch who invites a number of cute critters to ride with her on her broom, much to the frustration of her adorable, but very protective pet cat.
The cast is notably impressive with Gillian Anderson, Rob Brydon, Martin Clunes, David Walliams and Sally Hawkins all voicing characters. However, so much of the story is told through the wonderfully compelling visuals that not much is actually said, with the film sticking as close as it can to the original book.
Aesthetically, the short strikes a nice balance between computer-generated animation and an almost hand drawn style, which adds a lot of appeal to these quirky and immediately lovable characters. In fact, even the fiery antagonist, who takes the form of an enormous dragon, is somewhat cuddly.
Voiced by Timothy Spall, the dragon has far too much charisma to come across as genuinely scary — although, regrettably, I so heavily associate Spall’s distinctive South London twang with the Wickes advert that I couldn’t help thinking his character was going to force me to buy a bit of MDF or a new kitchen.
Still, it’s hard to complain about much else. With a running time of just twenty-five minutes, Room on the Broom is perfect for those with young children—or, indeed, people who, like me, spend Christmas alone eating semi-defrosted ready meals with the aid of a bit of old coat hanger.
It doesn’t really matter who you are; regardless of your age, gender or disposition, it’s difficult to deny this gem’s heart-warming charm. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of thing that you’d hope would air on Christmas day: irresistible and fun for the entire family.
Anyone with a soft spot for cartoons like Raymond Briggs The Snowman and Father Christmas should get a tremendous kick out of it.
Find out more about Room on the Broom at www.roomonthebroom.com
The DVD is available from the website or Amazon from 18th March 2013
December 24th 2012, 8pm, Channel 4
For the last thirty years Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman’ has been a stalwart of Christmas TV, its images of an idyllic Christmas snowscape and sweet story of a young boy’s friendship with magical snowman warm the hearts of old and young alike.
Not me though, even as a five year old I found it twee and cheesy. There were no laser guns or explosions and the enforced viewing of it every year drove me bonkers.
Anyway, that’s the past, but in this post-apocalyptic world, the powers that be have decided to give us a sequel. Not actually created by Raymond Briggs, but made with his blessing none the less.
As the original star of the tale, James would now be pushing 40 and so we have a new central character. His name is Billy and soon after moving into James’s old house his dog dies.
Before long he has found the accoutrements of the old snowman (hat, scarf) and a photo of the frosty golem with James and sets out to build another one.
As he misses his old companion and because this is a sequel, he goes one step further than James and knocks up a snow dog as well.
From then on it’s pretty much EXACTLY the same as the previous animation. The snow man pokes around the house, this time (because it’s a sequel) the snow dog starts to melt by the fire and then they all fly off to the north pole or something and have a party with some other snowy characters.
The one part of the original I liked was the flying. A brilliant sequence, as the boy hand in hand with his weird new friend flew across the land, seeing the night time world of 80’s Britain. Its excellence was only heightened by the haunting yet joyous song ‘Walking in the Air’ sung Peter Auty (the more famous version by Alled Jones was a cover version released in 1985, if you must know).
The song they have used for the parallel sequence in this sequel is atrocious. It sounds like an abominable cross between the worst of mid-seventies chart drivel and the forgettable weary warbling of an X-Factor runner up’s stab at the big time. Just dreadful.
I could say nice things about it. The animation is good and there are some nice sequences such as building of the snow man and dog but it’s nothing that wasn’t done in the original.
Like most sequels this is just a flagrant attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor and it will no doubt get decent viewing figures this year for novelty value. But will it be held in such high regard as the first one in years to come? Not a chance.
Friday 14th December, 9pm, FX.
Move over Denmark, the Aussies are coming.
Well, one of them is. And his name is Irish. Jack Irish.
For the last few years the more discerning TV junkie’s Skybox has been full of Scandinavian thrillers such as ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’, along with Italian coppers such as‘Detective Montalbano’ and the British made ‘Zen’. These obviously go alongside the staggering amount of home grown and American shows that we snort up with gay abandon.
The British crave murder and sleuthery in all its forms; from old lady amateur to grizzled old policeman. We scour the world like a rabid coke head pawing through the threads of a deep shag carpet desperate for some crumbs of white magic to satiate our cravings.
Up until now the Telescape has been free of Australian crime fiction, which is strange as the Brits love Antipodean soaps, comedy and kids television. This is all set to change with the release of ‘Jack Irish: Bad Debt’s, the first of two TV movies based on the successful novels of Peter Temple.
Jack, ex lawyer and gambler, is busy trying to get over the shocking death of his ‘too good to be true’ wife via the usual methods of drinking too much booze and a spot of carpentry. Then, out of the blue he receives a message from an ex client begging to meet him.
When the client is found murderised, Jack, inspired by a mixture of curiosity, justice and guilt sets out on a quest to find out if it really happened. Following the trail he is lead into a murky world of paedos , charity leaders and the upper echelons of government (sound familiar?) as well as the arms of sassy journalist Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp).
It’s all pretty standard stuff and on paper and it doesn’t add up to the most original of formats. Even the name, Jack Irish, sounds like it was picked by a committee tasked with finding the most cliché name for a TV/Movie gumshoe possible.
However, ‘Bad Debts’ is bloody good. Yes, Jack Irish is a stereotype: he’s super bright, he has a troubled past and yes, he dabbles with the sleazier side of life whilst somehow retaining a strong moral compass. Yet Guy Pearce, with the class and restraint that has made him such a reliable and watchable character actor, makes these unlikely qualities believable, likeable and extremely watchable.
He is very much aided in this by an excellent script that manages to crackle and spark with some scintillating back and forths between the accomplished cast, whilst remaining realistic and true to life.
‘Bad Debts’ is also very nicely structured; every new location, character and revelation gently leading you toward the denouement in an unhurried yet attention stealing manner.
I was hoping I could be rude about something this week after the TV love fest I was responsible for last week, but there is no denying that ‘Bad Debts’ is a very welcome addition to the TV Detective canon.
With a few more quid to spend on production values I could very much see this mature and intelligent show pulling in the punters on the silver screen as well.