Tag Archives: Death

Movie Review: Furious 7 (2015)

furious7

The Fast & Furious franchise has more or less perfected the craft — a team of familiar characters and stars, suped-up cars, scantily clad women, stylised violence, over-the-top action sequences and a truckload of cheesy one-liners. It’s a formula that has worked wonders for the last few entries, and Furious 7 takes it up yet another notch notwithstanding a major director change from Justin Lin to James Wan. Though Wan is known as a master of horror (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), the Aussie legend doesn’t miss a beat.

As I’m not a car fanatic and can’t stop thinking of Mini-me on steroids whenever I see Vin Diesel’s face, I’ve always been somewhat “meh” about the Fast & Furious franchise. This time, however, I stopped hoping for something I knew I was never going to get and just went along for the ride. As a result, I had a blast. If you’re after the ultimate popcorn movie, look no further — this is it.

The film takes place after the events of Fast 6 and around the time of Tokyo Drift (the third film in the franchise), which unfortunately means we are missing the cool Asian guy (Han) and is hot Israeli girlfriend (Gisele), with Sung Kang and Gal Gadot relegated to brief flashbacks, though Tokyo’s new drift king, Lucas Black, does make a triumphant return in a cameo, looking about 10 years older for some strange reason (racing with Mini-me must have taken a lot out of him).

On the bright side, the loss of Han and Gisele ensures more time for the other characters and offers enough room for the addition of Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays a hacker Kurt Russell wants Mini-me’s gang to track down so the US government can get their hands back on a super surveillance device called God’s Eye. The trade-off is that if Mini-me can get it for Russell he’ll be able to use it to track down supervillain Jason Statham, who plays the big brother of the baddie from the last movie (Luke Evans).

This premise allows the film to do several things. It still gets to do the whole heist thing that has worked well for the franchise the last few times, while also setting up epic set pieces to showcase the talents of the characters and cast. Apart from crazy car stunts, the film is highlighted by several brutal one-on-one confrontations. The Rock, Mini-me, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez all have their own well-choreographed fight scenes, but the best ones of course involve Statham, who absolutely shines in this role with his slick moves and brooding charisma, and elevates the movie several levels above what it should have been. He’s the perfect addition and the most memorable villain in the franchise — by far.

Two other new characters to steal a couple of scenes are MMA queen Ronda Rousey and Thai martial arts expert Tony Jaa, each of whom get to show off their stuff by squaring off against members of Mini-me’s gang. The only guy who doesn’t get to do much is Djimon Hounsou, a bland secondary villain who pales in comparison to Statham.

So just when you thought the batshit insanity of the last two films the franchise could not be topped, here comes this masterclass in how to depict over-the-top action, car chases and violence on the big screen. Cars and bodies are constantly being tossed, crashed into and mangled throughout, in ways that would be laughable had everyone involved not embraced the absurdity with so much genuine enthusiasm and confidence. Everyone’s pretty much indestructible unless they need to die.

This is the type of movie that The Expendables wants to be and what Michael Bay has been trying to make every time he sits in the director’s chair. What sets Furious 7 apart is the creativity and the overall sense of fun. It’s not just big, loud explosions all the time and obnoxious characters shooting things with massive guns. Furious 7 has likable characters who take on their tasks with just the right amount of cheesiness, and they’re put in situations we might not have necessarily seen before. You can complain about the cliches and the bad dialogue and the stupidity of it all, or you can embrace it like I finally am.

Of course, everyone will remember this one as Paul Walker’s last film after the actor died tragically in a car crash before the film was completed. Furious 7 does a great job of finishing off his scenes with his brothers as stand-ins coupled with CGI effects, and more importantly it provides him with a moving tribute by offering his character a fitting send-off. He’ll be missed, but with The Rock and Jason Statham likely becoming franchise regulars, there should be some life left in this series yet.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Book Thief (2013)

book_thief_ver2_xlg

I consider myself a fan of Markus Zusak’s The Boof Thief, one of the most acclaimed novels to come from an Australian author in recent years. I only gave it 3.5/5 in my review, but I was impressed with the idea of a Holocaust story narrated by Death and centering on a young German girl rather than a Jew. And perhaps more pertinent is the fact that I became enamored with Zusak’s writing style and his journey towards success, an inspiring story for all aspiring writers about the necessity of hard work and dedication.

When the book started making every best-seller and critics list I knew a movie adaptation would be forthcoming, but I knew whoever made it would have their work cut out for them. Would they make Death the narrator in the film version as well? Who would do the voice? Was it going to be in English, like the novel, or in more realistic German? And when you strip the book down, not a lot of exciting incidents happen throughout — so how were they going to make it more exciting for a screen audience?

As it turned out, my fears were more or less realized in the film version of The Book Thief, directed by Downton Abbey’s Brian Percival. In an attempt to capture the essence and the quirks of the book, the film was trapped by a number of obstacles and failed to deliver the same emotional punch as its source material. It wasn’t terrible by any means — there were poignant moments and some strong performances — but it bordered on dull at times and missed out on an opportunity to create the resonating experience that the book was.

The story, which begins in 1938, is simple. Young Liesel Meminger (Canadian teen actress Sophie Nelisse) is entrusted to lovely foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) following the death of her brother. The narrative then follows young Liesel as she lives through the Holocaust, making friends, hiding Jews and stealing, of course, books. It’s a relatively small-scale movie in that it focuses on only a few characters, but the larger events of that time are not ignored.

The most positive elements of the film come straight from the book, being the humanity it depicts in one of the darkest times in human history. The suffering and brutality is there, but it’s not an in-your-face kind of story that tries to shock you with the visceral horrors of war. The focus is more on the Liesel and the children, the good Germans, and the little decisions they had to make to deal with the atrocities happening around them every day. The whole feel of the film is different to most WWII films I’ve seen in the past. I wouldn’t call it “sanitized”, but it is the kind of Holocaust film that can be watched by the whole family.

Geoffrey Rush, who is magnificent as always, provides warmth and humour as a wonderful man who needs to balance what he believes in against the safety of his family. Emily Watson is also very good — though not exactly who I pictured from reading the books — as the foster mother who has a heart of gold behind her snarky exterior.

On the other hand, the things that didn’t work also didn’t work because they were taken straight from the book. The idea of having Death narrate the story is a clever literary device that has become one of the defining characteristics of the novel, but it hasn’t translated well to the screen and comes across as gimmicky without really adding much to the film. Death is voiced by British stage actor Roger Allam, who doesn’t a fine job, though it’s not the type of voice I imagined when I was reading the book (this is subjective, of course). But he doesn’t really do anything except pop up on rare occasions to sneak in a word or two, and it’s jarring because it’s easy to forget that he’s even part of the story. I had the same problem when I read the book, but it wasn’t anywhere near as uncomfortable as it was in the film.

The other problem is that, when you start stripping away Zusack’s beautifully storytelling, you realise that not a whole lot of stuff really happens in terms of physical action. Not to say that nothing happens, but it becomes more difficult to generate excitement when this kind of story is translated to the screen. Coupled with its overlong 131-minute running time, there are times when The Book Thief feels plodding. The ending, in particular, comes on a strange note and somewhat abruptly. It worked well in the book, but not so much in the film.

I sound a little harsher than I mean to be because there are some well-executed elements and a warmth and humanity in The Book Thief that make it a worthwhile movie to watch. Perhaps my expectations were too high and the things about the adaptation that didn’t work clouded my overall judgment of the film. Maybe they needed to deviate from the source material to make the film a more memorable experience, but as it stands I think it was merely a passable adaptation of a beloved novel.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Sure, Invictus was just okay, but it seems to me old Clint Eastwood can do no wrong these days.  There is a quiet confidence in his approach, a lovely subtlety in his pacing and pauses.  And no matter what, he manages to evoke powerful, genuine emotional responses from his audiences (I mean, come on — Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino…).

Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter, is no different.  It’s a dangerous project because, as the title suggests, the film is about death and what comes after, which makes it prone to soppy melodrama and manipulation.  And of course, the afterlife is a topic often subject to ridicule and parody, so there’s the additional hurdle of keeping the film serious without tipping it over the edge.

Somehow, some way, Eastwood delivers.  Pound-for-pound, Hereafter is perhaps not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s certainly one of his better ones — and it holds great potential to be one of his most popular films.

It tells three separate stories about three different characters — Marie (Cecile de France), a well-known French television journalist; George (Matt Damon), an American factory worker who just gave up on his old job; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a British boy with an older twin brother and a crackhead mother.  I won’t say much more than that except that each of their lives is touched by death and what lies beyond.

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with the film’s themes and/or my appreciation for Eastwood’s direction, but I was totally engrossed by Hereafter from start to finish.  Sceptics might have a natural bias against the film because it lays quite a lot out on the table (similar to say atheists towards The Passion of the Christ or fundamentalist Christians towards The Da Vinci Code — even though it’s fiction), but those who keep an open mind will find it hard not to be moved by at least one of the three stories in the film.  It’s a shame that many people will simply scoff at this film because of its subject matter and try to discredit it on other grounds.  I’m just glad religion played an almost non-existent role in all of this.

Anyway, I loved it.  Eastwood butchered the ending in my opinion with a pointless sequence but apart from that I found it beautiful, absorbing, poignant, and ultimately very satisfying.

4.5 stars out of 5