Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 (Mindless Popcorn Action at its Best)

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“Fast & Furious 6” is so ridiculous that even if you  suspend all beliefs in logic and physics heading into the film (as you should), you’d still be awing at the ridiculousness it all.  Yet, the film succeeds by proudly embracing its stupidity and tells the audience “you’re gonna enjoy this because it is damn good entertainment!”

The filmmakers of the sixth installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise have capitalized on making it James Bond-esque in that they can churn out more sequels from now on without feeling franchise fatigue.  Walking in the footsteps of “Fast Five,” which was a success beyond everyone’s expectations (it reached #66 all time box office!), “Fast & Furious 6” had some tough shoes to fill to keep the franchise going, and delivers.

Almost all of the cast from “Fast Five” returns for “6”, joined by new characters played by Luke Evans and MMA star Gina Carano, as well as returning characters played by John Ortiz and Michelle Rodriguez.  Add this to the core cast played by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris, Tyrese, Sung Kang, Elsa Patalky, Gal Gadot… and you have a lot of… people.  Surprisingly, the film doesn’t feel bloated despite the huge cast as it manages to allocate some special moments to all of these characters.

Here is an accurate synopsis of “Fast and Furious 6”:  Good guys chases some bad guys.  The bad guys chase back.  Spectacular car chases occur.  Gun fights and fist fights galore.  Bodies fly in the air.  Things blow up.  Hit and miss attempts at humor.  Plot ‘twists’.  One side wins.  The end.

“Fast & Furious 6” is a Michael Bay film without the pretentiousness.  It is more implausible than all of the “Die Hard” films combined.  It has set the franchise up for more sequels better than Stallone’s “The Expendables”.  But it’s all for good.  And if the film doesn’t put a smile on your face, the ending will.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise return in the second instalment of the J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise, an action-packed sci-fi adventure that leans more in the direction of “Die Hard” than “Blade Runner.”

Clocking at over two hours, the movie features non-stop action sequences, gorgeous visuals, and borderline sappy dialogue.  It felt like this film was the very best they could offer without serving up anything new or ground breaking.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘the very best they could offer’ in this case was an excellent action film.  Amidst of all the explosions, ships crashing into each other, and people literally flying through space, the film by in large retains the chemistry of the ensemble cast that made the 2009 film shine.

The villain of this film is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whom I’ve only seen previously in a support role in “Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy.”  The film did not do his character justice, but in an under-utilized position, Cumberbatch was still able to portray Harrison as an evil, enigmatic, and worthy opponent of Kirk’s team.

The status of the Spock and Uhura characters are also elevated in “Into Darkness,” although I’m not entirely sure of the writers’ intentions regarding their progress.  Both characters have grown from rookies in the first film to experienced battle veterans who are the best in the business, but they engage in dialogue that are reminiscent of the awkwardness and over-sentimentality displayed in the Star Wars prequels (Episodes I-III for those who aren’t familiar).  Although it might be illogical for long-time Trek fans, “Into Darkness” does set up possible sequels starring Spock and / or Uhura without Kirk.

“Into Darkness” is well made, but it lacks the freshness of the 2009 “Star Trek,” as well as the ‘wow’ factor.  I’d recommend it because it’s a solid film, but I believe there are better alternatives out there that are either more entertaining (“Iron Man 3”) or a breath of fresh air (“Oblivion”).

Movie Review: Drive (2011 Film) – When Arthouse Meets Tarantino

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We live in society today where the manic pace of life keep us ever so restless, and we often take this restlessness to the movies, demanding fast-paced, choppily-cut action scenes (thanks, Michael Bay, Jason Statham, the Bourne franchise…).

“Drive” is the antidote that Hollywood seldom provides, a noir-drama film that takes its time, keeping dialogue to a minimum and let the actors’ expressions do the talking.  I can already imagine impatient viewers saying throughout, “why aren’t they saying anything? why is the camera still for so long?”  Read their faces, my friends, and take note of why the camera is pointing in certain directions; it’s where the essence of filmmaking lies.

The movie is poetry in motion; a perfect assortment of quietness and love mixed with car chases and bloody violence.  The script was solid, and the camera work created tension and suspense.  I found myself immersed in a character-driven drama that stayed consistent all the way through.

Having seen this film almost two years after its release, I found myself comparing “Drive” to “Jack Reacher,” the crime-action box office hit from last winter which starred Tom Cruise.  It feels to me like “Drive” is the movie that “Jack Reacher” strove to be.  While “Jack Reacher” is a decent film, it failed to achieve the emotional connection that “Drive” did because it put too much emphasis on plot twists, and the titular character became less compelling amidst all the plot explanations.

“Drive” was Ryan Gosling’s film.  Director Nicholas Winding Refn knew when to let go of the plot pedal, and let Gosling cruise in the driver’s seat with charm and aplomb.  There was a point in the story where the screenwriters could have taken the film to a different direction regarding some East Coast gangsters, but doing so would have convoluted the plot, and risked robbing the audience of their feelings for the characters established earlier in the film.

To those who walked into “Drive” expecting “The Fast and the Furious,” I’m sorry you wanted the latter because the former represents a higher class of film craft.  If you missed this when it came out in 2011, I totally recommend it.

Movie Review: Oblivion (Visual Spectacle with Brains)

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“Oblivion” stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, a tech assigned as the ‘mop up’ crew to protect a few machines on a post-apocalyptic Earth…

Things begin to go awry.  Some excellent action sequences occur.  A more intriguing-than-expected plot develops.  All the while the film dazzles you with jaw-dropping cinematography and visuals.

The highlight of “Oblivion” is undoubtedly its stunning visuals.  My eyes widened as I took in the majesty of a once-familiar world now devoid of all of its species.  Director Joseph Kosinski is a master at creating various tones through visuals; the tones can be monotonous, tranquil, desolate, or desperate.  I love films where dialogues are kept to a minimum and the story is told through what the audience sees, “Oblivion” is one of those films.

Tom Cruise gives another strong performance, playing a role that is right up his alley.  Harper is good at his job, but he is haunted by nightmares of which he cannot decipher or remember its origins.  This film also gives Cruise opportunities to do his signature ‘shocked’ face, where a shattering truth is revealed to his character and he stands dumbfounded and struggles to grab a handle of its meaning.  Cruise fans can remember such shocked faces from “Minority Report,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “Mission Impossible: 3.”

As for “Oblivion”s plot line: I’m usually quite capable at predicting the story lines of films; I have to say that the twists and revelations “Oblivion” offers caught me off guard.  But rather feeling tricked as some bad films with bad twists would, these surprise turns of events fit well into the story and was, well, pretty cool.

It had occurred to me that, as the end credits rolled, that this film could have been a mind-blowing, and refreshing reboot / sequel continuation to the “Terminator” series.  This film begins in a post-apocalyptic world as the result of extraterrestrial attacks on Earth, and the aliens possess the intelligence to exploit the various weaknesses of human beings (the physical, the conscious, etc.).  The mental capacity of these extraterrestrials would have been a great way to explain how the machines in the “Terminator” films have evolved.

To experience “Oblivion” fully, see the film in IMAX, and prepare to be wowed.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (Just keep paying R. D. Jr.)

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Many movie franchises get stale by the time they reach the third installment.  “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Spider Man,” even “Jurassic Park” and “The Godfather,” all could not escape having a third installment  that is noticeably weaker than their predecessors.  And as “Iron Man 2” was nowhere near the spectacular feat that was “Iron Man,” I felt anxious about “Iron Man 3” taking another step down.

Lo and behold, “Iron Man 3” trumps “2” by a large margin, and even manages to be on the same level as the first “Iron Man.”  With a whole slew of cool techs, a focused plot, a great ensemble cast topped off by another magnificent performance by Robert Downey Jr., this film was a pure joy from start to finish.

As I headed into the theatre, my main question was how the filmmakers would be able to continue the story from not only “Iron Man 2,” but also “The Avengers,” of which Iron Man played a central role.  The issue was solved brilliantly, as the villain of the film, The Mandarin, though menacing and has a global reach, felt like he was localized to become solely Iron Man / Tony Stark’s problem.  The story line follows Stark, who practically paints a bulls eye on himself by challenging The Mandarin, and subsequently establishes a vendetta to seek revenge upon those who hurt the ones he loves.  Making matters personal for Stark effectively explains the lack of presence of Captain America, Nick Fury, Black Widow, etc.

Capping at over two hours, the film doesn’t feel long, as it moves on a brisk pace and was never boring.  The supporting cast was great.  James Badge Dale, who plays Aldrich Killian’s henchman, was a frightening presence and did a good job at making the audience hate his character.  Gwyneth Paltrow takes it up a notch in this installment,  playing a more integral part of the story and surprises us in the most entertaining fashion.  The only under utilized role was played by Rebecca Hall, who is magnetic on screen and deserves more lines than she was given.

The ending of the film effectively wraps up the series as a trilogy, but with the amount of money this franchise has raked in, and as long as the charming Robert Downey Jr. desires to spend a few months to make another movie and make another ton of money from it, I’d be shocked if “Iron Man 4” is not already in the works.