Skip to main content

You keep running your piehole and you’re going to smell an asskicking.


Fast and Furious 6
(2013)

The retooling of the Fast & Furious franchise as a heist movie, ensemble take-down thing, rather than car racing, paid off big time with Fast Five. So if you have a new formula and it works, don’t fix it. The series may have newly defined its genre, but structurally it bears most resemblance to the Bond films; the plots are a loosely stringed together series of set pieces. And they go on and on and on. Not out of a desire to progress the narrative but due to a "longer means better" template. There’s also the small matter that there are so many regulars to cater for now that anything less than two hours would be unfeasible.


This time around Vin Diesel’s Dom is beckoned from retirement by Dwayne Johnson’s formerly antagonistic DSS agent. The goal; to bring down a crew led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).  The MacGuffin is pure Bond; Shaw is attempting to build a Nightshade device, a “tech bomb” that can blind a country for 24 hours. Each robbery he pulls off is to secure a vital component. So that sets up the structure. What about the theme? Don’t worry, “We’re family” is a refrain repeated so often that you’ll be in no doubt about everyone’s motives.


Poor amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) isn’t dead after all, but she’s working for Shaw. This provides Vin with a particularly strenuous acting challenge as he tries to imply he has feelings for Rodriguez (there’s more sexual tension during Paul Walker’s one platonic scene with Letty than in the numerous ones between Dom and her). Still, both the ladies in Dom’s life concur that, “He’s an amazing guy” (which he is, it’s no inconsiderable feat to leap from a car on a bridge, grab hold of your intended in midair, and land unscathed on the bonnet of another car on another bridge). Unlike most movies, the other halves are fully on board with this notional family, Jordana Brewster practically packing off husband and father of her child Paul Walker on the mission. You’d have thought she’d want him to stay at home and not be killed. But no. These guys have extraordinary, unflinching values; they even end the movie by saying grace!


What's most interesting is that four-times-helmer Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan have pulled together the trappings of mythology and iconography from the thinnest of histories; with none of the character investment to make them fly, or any emotional depth, the reliance is purely on audience recognition. This succeeds up to a point, but it doesn't take long not to give much of a shit. Fatigue is inevitable.


There is a very democratic endowment of scenes to all the major players, but it's the comic banter of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Ludacris’ Tej that leaves a lasting impression. They have numerous amusing lines, and Gibson is a naturally very funny guy (the jokes about his “big-ass forehead” are especially chucklesome). But this is all on the same level as the movie itself; thrown together, rather than lovingly crafted. What is done is well done, but t’were well it were done wittily. Gibson is also involved in the film’s most amusing set piece, as it becomes refreshingly evident that he is no pugilist. Both he and Han (Sung Kang) take an arse-whooping from Jah (Joe Taslim) in the best movie scene set on the Tube since… Skyfall? It seemed like there was only An American Werewolf in London for years, and then two come along at once (speaking of which there are also good few London buses to behold).


Dwayne Johnson again shows he's a decent actor beneath those “Samoan Thor” muscles, but his character is perhaps the least interesting of the lot (which is really saying something). Still, he’s a guy who can turn a line like “You keep running your piehole and you’re going to smell an asskicking” into pure gold, so it’s a pleasure to have him in the ensemble.


The fella I wonder about it is Paul Walker, coasting on blockbuster cachet but even less able to attract a non F&F audience than Vin. He gets a significant enough plotline (going undercover in prison) because he’s one of the originals, but he leaves no impression. I’m sure Walker is a perfectly affable chap, but he must be counting himself very lucky that he has, by default, avoided the career wipe-out of Josh Hartnett.


Justin Lin handles the mayhem and car stunts in a superficially coherent manner (appropriate I suppose) but he is less certain with close-quarter fisticuffs. Rather than relying on the solid choreography he employs shuddery after-effects. Still, I can’t deny there’s enjoyment to be had with the gleeful bombast he brings to the car chases. An early one, through London as pursuing heroes find their cars shorting out, is only topped by the sheer excess of the aforementioned bridge sequence (“Somebody better do something. I got a tank on my ass”). Then there’s the finale, with the already much commented on interminable airport runway. That didn’t get me double-taking so much as the sight of Dom driving his car through the exploding nose of a plane. You go, Vin.


I suppose I should find the manufactured sincerity and the glib platitudes laced throughout the movie endearing  (“What you found out is for you, what we do now is for her”; eh?) but they go to highlight how disposable these movies are. They aren’t going on to attain classic status, not with this kind of writing. I’ll be interested to see what James Wan’s debut on the series brings, but not overly. The script is still from Morgan, who has pared nothing down. The departees  from Six, both regular (Gal Gadot, Kang) and one-off (Evans and Gina Carano, neither of whom make much impression) are replaced by a raft of faces, both familiar to the series (Lucas Black) and new (Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou). It looks like it will also takes a leaf out the Die Hard book; it will now be a revenge action heist movie, with the Stath surfacing at the end of Six to inflict furious wrath for the demise of little brother Evans. In a move of hilariously complex continuity that belies the Neanderthal nature of the series, the Stath is the guy who kills Han in Tokyo Drift, the actual Fast and Furious Six. I’m sure we’re all relieved that everything makes sense now.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Hello Johnny, how are you today?

Twin Peaks 3.10: Laura is the one.
(SPOILERS) I’ve a theory that all it takes to tip a solid episode of Twin Peaks (in any season) into a great one are three or four slices of sublime strangeness. The rest can hum along amiably, in contrast to that electricity the Log Lady has something to say about, but it’s those scenes that define the overall shape and energy. Laura is the one has a good three or four, and maybe the funniest sustained Lynchian visual gag so far.

That comes in the form of the Mitchum brothers, or to be more precise Robert Knepper’s Rodney. He’s aided and abetted by Candie (Amy Shiels), part airhead, part fruit bat, attempting to swat a fly while Rodney examines casino surveillance logs. And like most of the director’s comic gold, this goes on and on and on, and you absolutely know it will end with Rodney getting clobbered. I wasn’t expecting it to be with the TV remote, though.

I’m not certain Candie’s mental state, sustained though it is, is going to be about anyth…

That Freud stuff’s a bunch of hooey.

Spellbound (1945)
Spellbound is something of a stumbling follow-up to Rebecca, producer David O Selznick’s previous collaboration with Hitchcock. Selznick was a devotee of psychoanalysis, and the idea of basing a film on the subject was already in the mind of the director. To that end, the producer’s own therapist, May Romm, was brought in as a technical advisor (resulting in Hitchcock’s famous response when she pointed out an inaccuracy, “My dear, it’s only a movie”).

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…