Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fate Of The Furious Review

The Fate Of The Furious
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast Headliners: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, many many others
Original Release Date: April 14th, 2017

The Fate of the Furious, or as most will likely call it “Fast and the Furious 8” came from an interesting predicament. On one hand, the previous , seventh installment acted as a form of perfect conclusion to the series and tribute to its late co-star Paul Walker. But also the FnF film franchise , including that film, were tremendous financial successes. So the “last ride” turned out not to be so, an once again this franchise continues on. The stakes are high with it going Brian-less and attempting to raise the stakes and wild mania. Not surprisingly, the film manages to find ways to out-crazy or at least rival the last several and provide plentiful action, laughs, and cheese.
The movie opens up, gorgeously, in Havana, Cuba (actually one of the few every Hollywood films to be shot there). Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) brings in the token street racing scene that still superfluously sticks around in his casual life with Letty Ortiz(Michelle Rodriguez). Even in its mundane-ness this racing sequence is exciting, silly, and outrageous with Dom's vehicle literally flaming from the speed at one point. True fans wouldn't want it any other way. The series continues to embrace its tongue in cheek more and more while also being serious. For the most part, it works.
Events soon transpire to where Dom finds himself enslaved to the evil new villainness Cipher(Charlize Theron). It's up to his old crew of racers / secret agents to save him. The crew this time(understandably minus Brian, who at least gets a fitting mention) includes Agent Hobbs(Dwayne Johnson), Roman(Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey(Nathalie Emmanuel). They are assisted by the CIA in Mr.Nobody (Kurt Russell) and newcomer Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood).
It's an ensemble cast, as is expected, with some more surprises that have to be seen firsthand. With Dom going to the apparent “dark side”, it's interesting to see the role of 7's villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) become noble as he is forced to work alongside the heroes in their mutual enemy of Cipher.
For a series that's about crazy and meatheaded car action it's impressive how intricate its worldbuilding and ramping up of characters is. Existing characters bring their warm, silly “family” together, whether its the great Tej, Roman, Ramsey love triangle or the mocking mentorship of Russel's Nobody to Eastwood's rookie. The writing often leans towards dumb but also can be quite funny and pops with chemistry. Of other note is the love / hate connection between Johnson's Hobbs and Statham's Shaw. Their sequences are both awesome and hillarious which indicates that pairing them was a great idea. It builds on past films in a way rarely seen outside of the likes of those series as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars, and likewise gives moments to shine.
Some characters fade in the rush. Rodriguez's Letty once again brings the same kind of “what re you doing” yelps whilst the villians of Theron's Cipher or persons such as her henchmen Rhoades(Kristofer Hivju) are generic. Although the scale of Cipher's threat and meaning to the story shows where future installments will go. Dom's turn to evil fits Diesel's acting style since in action scenes he doesn't do much anyways. This time there's the addition of extra cheesy, extra weak dramatic scenes of anger and edge that are contrasted with some slight effective emotion.
When one goes for Fast and the Furious films they only seek partially its family of characters. They seek, these days, a epic plot and outlandish action. Director F Gary Gray steps to his take on the director's chair quite well. The movie is cleanly shot with sweeping vistas and solid cinematrophy as has been expected with the last few. There's some poor CGI at moments but there is also some believable practical effects as wel. What is often unbelieveable, and always exciting, is the aciton scenes. Whether its racing in Cuba, avoiding AI smart car swarms in New York City, or re-enacting Mad Max but on ice in Russia with a submarine in the awesomley long ending act there's plentiful and diverse aciton. The film often throws surprises at the viewer. Sometimes the mania gets TOO wild but that's only in that the viewer will be laughing more than ever at the mania. It is entertaining however and they gave a noble attempt at raising the stakes even if it becomes a bit too wild in moments.
8 movies in things become to blur a bit. From the 5th film to now it's been a whirlwind of cars, jokes, and surreal action. However even in its churn the franchise finds ways to entertain through twists, new and nuanced character pairings, and inventive wild set pieces. It's got it's problems over its (perhaps over lengthy) runtime , but it's also pure popcorn fun fans would want. 8.06 out of 10

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ghost in the Shell Review

Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast Headliners: Scarlet Johannsson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt
Original Release Date: March 31, 2017
 It’s wild to think this film exists in the first place. An American , live action adaptation of classic manga/anime Ghost in the Shell? That almost once happened under the Disney umbrella? Regardless if it was there or released under who it is now, Paramount, one can assume it’d turn out similarly to this. Ghost in the Shell takes the classic franchise and attempts to both serve as tribute to the original while serving as an entry point for newcomers. It has its ups and downs while certainly appearing shiny along the way.
                In semi-far future Japan, operatives of secret government agency Section 9 do… deep government espionage and anti-criminal work. Their organization is never really explored deeply and as much of the plot happens it just kind of comes and goes.  The Major (Scarlet Johannsson) is both the main protagonist of the film and centerpiece of the unit. She is a living brain in a humanlike body. Which means she is a super powerful android / cyborg with powerful abilities including invisibility cloaking and withstanding pain. Helping her in her unit are various other soldiers and cyborgs including the wisecracking and friendly Batou (Pilou Asbaek).  
                For a movie about humans and cyborgs it’s not too surprising that there is a few stale actors but, not to compare to the original anime film or series, the supporting cast is especially unmemorable. Asbaek’s Batou serves as a fitting version of the original character, with jokes and a fearsome sense to him he brings it his all.   However the rest of the Section 9 / Hanka Robotic’s “crew” don’t really stick, with people like Chin Han’s Togusa, Juliette Binoche’s Dr.Ouelet, and Peter Ferdinando’s Cutter boring with exposition and attempted serious concern more than adding to drama.  Commander of the group above the Major is a well meant Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Beat Kitano) but for some reason he’s the only character in the film who speaks Japanese in a cast of English speakers which creates a dissonance.
                This would be made up for more if the Major was a great protagonist , and she can be in the anime, but here.. it’s varying. There’s been controversy about Johansson’s casting, but aside from that what we do get is….. alright. She really attempts to have no emotion and be robot-like down to some awkward movemonts. But there are moments too where she can be cool especially as some more emotional reveals and stakes happen.  Her scenes with villain Kuze (Michael Pitt) raise his quality as well, they have semi-intense standoffs that otherwise he comes across as silly.
                The script and plot are for the most part mundane. However, they do a good job of making the world easy to understand for newcomers while weaving together elements from the film, series, and original stuff to mostly work. The dialogue and themes aren’t nothing too crazy from what one has seen before and don’t reach their source’s heights but the twists and excitement do have their impact. There is plentiful action and intrigue at least. Although it drags at parts before reaching the good.
                And what a world to learn it is. Director Rupert Sander’s is known for his visual knack, and the same is true here. The vistas and art design of cityscapes and interiors are absolutely a overwhelming sight for the senses. Almost too much in fact, it feels like one is in some sort of Tron sequel at parts. But they are colorful when they need to be, drab when they need to be. This applies to various cyborg people as well. The action Is frenetic. The music has some of the incredible original (mostly in the shot for shot opening sequence which is just as powerful) with original score as well.
                So overall, it’s a film with a deep amount of style, and attempts at substance. Fans of the anime , who don’t mind some changes to casting and plot, will like to see it come to life in  a new way. For newcomers, it’s a competent , shiny, if straightforward action sci-fi to view in one’s free time. It could have been better, but it also could have been far worse. 7.5 out of 10