Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.

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The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.

Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.

Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.

Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?

This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.

Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.

But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.

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Belle: A great heroine

She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.

The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.

One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…

These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.

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Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.

However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.

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The old ones were a lot friendlier looking, I’m just saying

Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.

But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.

Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.

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Le Fou tries to calm Gaston

As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.

All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.

It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Warning! Some spoilers ahead.

Of all of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies this is the one that drags the least, yes, some of the fight sequences go on a bit too long, but it hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up until the finale.

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When we last left Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and most of his dwarf mates they’d just taken back the Lonely Mountain, having evicted the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was flying towards Laketown in a bad mood.

In Laketown were the rest of the party, along with elf maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the family of Bard (Luke Evans), who’d been locked up by the corrupt Master (Stephen Fry). With the dragon on the way everyone decides it’s a good time to get out of town, with Tauriel and the dwarves trying to get the kids to safety while the Master and his assistant Alfred (Ryan Gage) try to haul ass with as much gold as they can.

The only person willing to hang around is Bard, who breaks free, grabs his bow and heads up the bell tower to try and take out the fire-breathing enemy. Which he does, slaying the beast with his final shot.

The survivors of Laketown want Bard as their leader, but he is reluctant. Tauriel reluctantly leaves Kili (Aidan Turner), the dwarf she is falling for as she learns of her banishment from her home. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tells the bearer of this message that he will stay with Tauriel, and they set off to see what the orcs are up to.

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being held captive by the necromancer and is weakened. Luckily for him his friends are on the way and soon Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) rock up to bust him loose. They face off against the ghostly nine kings and finally free their friend, although the spirit of Sauron appears. Galadriel banishes him back to Mordor and Elrond wants to pursue, but Saruman advises him to care for Galadriel and leave it to him. Which if you’ve seen Lord of the Rings doesn’t work out too well.

At the mountain, Bilbo begins to worry for Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s changed since getting his gold back. Suffering from “Dragon sickness” he becomes increasingly greedy and paranoid, obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and beginning to suspect and doubt his friends. Bilbo actually has the Arkenstone, but fears that giving it to Thorin will only make things worse.

Bard and the survivors camp in the ruined city of Dale, and Bard plans to get the gold Thorin promised Laketown so they can rebuild. Also arriving are the elvish army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), who have come for some gems in the mountain and seem to be keen for war. Bard wants peace and goes to speak to Thorin about his promise and the gems, only to find the King Under the Mountain refuses to honour his word, even though he only has 13 fighters.

Gandalf arrives to warn them that a massive orc army is coming, led by Azog (Manu Bennett) and that dwarves, elves and men must unite, but Thranduil doubts him, especially as there is no sign of the army.

Bilbo sees a chance for peace, taking the Arkenstone to Dale, and telling Bard and Thranduil to offer it in exchange for what they want from the horde in the mountain. Gandalf, impressed by his cleverness and bravery advises him to leave but Bilbo defies him, sneaking back into the mountain to stand along his dwarf friends.

And so battle approaches, with elves and men facing off against the dwarves, who receive reinforcements in the form of Thorin’s cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, who’s recognizable as soon as he speaks from a distance) but then gets distracted by the orcs rocking up.

I really dug this movie because as I said, it starts strong. The sequence where Smaug torches Laketown is done magnificently, with genuine terror and destruction gripping the town. Jackson never loses touch of the human side, with the different reactions of the residents and there’s even comedy in the form of Fry and Gage’s greedy fleeing characters.

It’s hear that Luke Evans really takes command as the heroic, noble Bard. In a film with this many characters it’s hard to stand out, but for me Evans’ Bard is one of the strongest. He’s quite an old school hero, uncomfortable with power and extremely honourable, and Evans makes him a convincing badass, and the kind of man others would rally to.

Evans as Bard

Evans as Bard

The rest of the cast are all on fine form, even if some are underused. Blanchett, Lee and Weaving rock up at the start, kick ass like some kind of prog band fused with the Justice League and then leave the proceedings. Ian McKellen is still impressive and likable as Gandalf, but even he is sidelined for much of the movie.

The main focus seems to be the growing bromance between Bilbo and Throin, with the simple hobbit helping the King have brief flashes of the dwarf he was before the dragon sickness took hold. Armitage should be applauded for conveying this decline in a relatively understated way, the only slightly hammy moment being a sequence where he hallucinates.

Martin Freeman is still likable enough as the fussy, still slightly cowardly Bilbo, although he shows increasing reserves of courage when needed and proves to be quite useful. I also liked that true to the books they have him get knocked cold for most of the climactic fight.

Which brings me to one of the major issues I had with the film, the eponymous battle. While it kicks off with some epic scenes and a few nice touches (the dazed battering-ram troll made me chuckle), it gets a little repetitive after a while and you lose track of the major players in the main battle.

Bard, Thranduil and Dain all get little moments of glory, but Jackson then splits onto two fronts, with Thorin, Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili and another dwarf going after Azog, and ignoring much of what goes on below aside for a few moments with Bard and his family.

I’m not saying we needed to see every one of the dwarves in action, because quite frankly there are too many. Aside from Thorin, Fili and Kili the only one I can name is Balin (Ken Stott), the kindly one who looks after Bilbo the most, these aside the only one I was invested in was James Nesbitt’s character (Wikipedia says it’s Bofur), and that’s only because it’s James Nesbitt.

In fact I was a little disappointed that one of the dwarves survived, as he’d been annoying me since the first movie. It was this fella, Ori (Adam Brown):

Urgh.

Urgh.

The problem is that while the major battle rages below we’re treated to a smaller skirmish on the hill- Bilbo and a dwarf vs some orcs, Bolg (John Tui) vs Kili, Tauriel and Legolas and the main event Throin vs Azog. Thorin and Azog’s showdown on the ice is rather well done, but the Bolg vs everyone scrap goes on far too long. Bolg beats down everyone basically, killing one, wounding another before Legolas finally takes him out.

The fight has a few moments, but there’s a moment where Legolas runs up falling boulders like he’s Mario or something and at that point it lost me. I get that it’s a fantasy, but we’ve already seen that Middle Earth has gravity so it’s utterly stupid.

Also, I never fully bought into the Kili and Tauriel love story, as it felt like it developed far too quickly and never resonated right with me. The actors involved do well, and as the fight plays out it does pack an emotional whallop, but for me a death elsewhere was more powerful.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

These minor niggles aside it’s still a very enjoyable movie and does whip along at a good pace, it didn’t feel like I’d been there for almost two and a half hours.

Special praise should also be reserved for Ryan Gage as the cowardly, mono-browed Alfred, who gets a lot of laughs from the creeping, cringing character.

Peter Jackson has done fantastic work bringing Tolkien’s work to the big screen, and even though you feel The Hobbit could have been done in one, maybe two films, the journey from start to finish has still been a fun one and well worth it.

It’s been reported that due to rights issues this may be Jackson’s last foray into Middle Earth, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not a massive Tolkien fan (I enjoyed The Hobbit, but never finished the LotR books) but even the fans I do know admit that the two pieces Jackson’s adapted are the best, and a few have even confessed to struggling with his other writings.

Jackson has made two strong trilogies, which are gripping, entertaining and clearly lovingly crafted fantasy epics, and any filmmaker should be happy with that.

Verdict: The most action packed of the series and a satisfying conclusion to the story. Some of the flaws are still there, but once you go with it this is a fun, exciting epic and captivated me fully. In an ensemble cast some fade into the background, but everyone acquits themselves well. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Dracula Untold

On Friday MWG and I went to see the latest big screen outing for Bram Stoker’s vampire, and announcing itself as giving the story of his past for the first time. The problem is, there have been tons of movies about the Count’s origins (including the so-bad-it’s-good Dracula 2000, which goes with the theory that Dracula is actually Judas), but that aside this is quite a fun movie.

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Here Dracula is Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), a Transylvanian prince given to the Turks as a hostage and raised as a warrior, notorious among his enemies for his practice of impaling his victims. But Vlad has set aside the sword and returned home where he has ruled in peace for ten years, with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). He keeps the Turks at bay by paying tribute to their emperor, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), who he’s knows since childhood.

A Turkish helmed is discovered and Vlad investigates upriver to a cave where a strange creature kills two of his men and he narrowly escapes. Vlad talks to a priest who reveals that the cave is home to a vampire.

The Turks send an emissary and reveals that many of their men have been slaughtered, and to replace them Transylvania must provide 1,000 boys for their army, and Vlad’s son must go as a hostage. Vlad reluctantly agrees, but at the last moment, despite Ingeras volunteering, Vlad kills the men sent to take his son.

Realizing that the Transylvanian forces have no hope of stopping the Turkish army he returns to the mountain where he does a deal with the vampire (Charles Dance). The vampire’s deal is simple, for three days Vlad will have the power over the creatures of the night, heightened strength. If he can resist his new thirst for human blood he will return to normal, if not he will be doomed to become a blood craving monster, and will probably destroy his family.

Can Vlad stop the Turks in three days? Will he resist the temptation of human blood or become a monster?

This movie was quite a lot of dumb fun, and benefits from a solid performance by Luke Evans, who plays Vlad with the right mix of ferocity and nobility. He conveys the desperation that drives him to make the deal and the remorse he carries for his former actions. I’ve had a bit of a man crush on Evans for a while now, due to him putting in solid supporting appearances in the likes of The Hobbit, Fast 6 and The Raven. In the first lead role I’ve seen him in he continues to impress, even if the plot and script are laboured.

Evans- Ferocity and nobility

Evans- Ferocity and nobility

For starters, as soon as Chance sets up the three days rule you know that at some point Vlad’s gonna have to chow down on someone for a good reason, thereby dooming himself and fulfilling the whole “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” cliche. To be fair, despite this it’s engaging enough and you start wondering how they’re going to work it.

The major problem the movie has is that vampire Vlad, armed with his superpowers (which include super senses, turning into bats, super speed and strength) has no real threat or enemy to fight. The filmmakers do pull a clever trick by having the final showdown take place in an environment that puts him at risk, but it’s too little too late and for much of the film’s his scraps with the Turkish army are painfully one sided.

Charles Dance hams it up enjoyably enough, and Dominic Cooper is alright as the villain, but everyone else is kind of bland or underwritten.

Dance- Enjoyably hammy

Dance- Enjoyably hammy

It’s a fine way to pass the time, but it doesn’t really stick with you. It’s not good enough to be great, and not bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, it’s just an average, but enjoyable movie.

Verdict: A perfectly satisfying genre flick, Evans is solid in the lead and there’s some OTT stuff from Dance which is fun, but it’s lightweight fare and a tad formulaic. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Warning! Here be spoilers.

I’m still not entirely convinced they needed to make this into three movies, but credit to Peter Jackson for making another exciting and charming fantasy movies.

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Picking up from where the last movie left off, we find hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) still traveling with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) as they seek to reach the lonely mountain and take back Thorin’s underground kingdom from the clutches of Smaug, the dragon.

Pursued by orcs who have a grudge against by Thorin they try to continue on their way, encountering a variety of characters and dangers along the way. Also they lose Gandalf, who travels to investigate a mysterious and evil force which is emerging.

They travel through Mirkwood where they escape giant spiders but are, apart from Bilbo, captured by the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace), who offers Thorin a deal that is rejected, leaving the party in the elves’ dungeons. Bilbo, using the ring he nabbed in the first part and helps the dwarves escape. The orcs attack but the dwarves are helped by two of Thranduil’s fighters, his son, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

Legolas has feelings for Tauriel, but his father has warned her that this is not possible, and she also appears drawn to Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the party. Kili is injured during the escape, struck by a poison arrow, but the group reach Laketown, a settlement of man, aided by Bard (Luke Evans), a bargeman who is popular with the townsfolk and loathed by the town’s master (Stephen Fry). The dwarves are arrested by guards, but they are linked to an old prophecy that will return the town to it’s former glories. Bard, who hails from the town the dragon destroyed says that they should not disturb the beast, but the Master uses the mob’s greed to gain popularity and aids the party.

The wounded Kili is left behind along with some of the others to tend to him. Tauriel is following to help and Legolas joins her.

The continuing party reach the mountain and Bilbo enters to steal the Arkenstone (a big shiny rock which will allow Thorin to claim his place as King Under the Mountain and unite the dwarf armies, but also corrupted his grandfather). However, in the process Smaug is awoken and while Bilbo tries to flatter and convince him that he’s acting alone the dwarves are discovered and pursued by the dragon. Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) realizes that Laketown must have aided them and takes flight towards the town, leaving Bilbo and the dwarves behind.

Bilbo gets rumbled by Smaug

Bilbo gets rumbled by Smaug

I really dug this movie and felt it was an improvement on the first part, which I did enjoy, but was overly long. There’s still stuff that could be cut out here, but it has been a few years since I’ve read the book so it might be that things I think are irrelevant may come back to be important in part three.

Some of it I’m fairly sure wasn’t in the books, like the Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle (from what I remember Tolkien isn’t big on romance) but this works in the film’s favour, adding a little bit more of an emotional impact, and while it’s a tad rushed I found the scenes between Tauriel and Kili rather sweet. Evangeline Lilly should be applauded as well for her fine work as Tauriel, who appears to be a lower order elf and so manages to add a more human/earthy quality than the rest of her ethereal species, and has a few outstanding action moments.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Other new additions prove themselves well enough, especially Cumberbatch’s booming vocals as Smaug and Luke Evans (fast becoming a man crush of mine) as Bard, who exudes a quiet nobility and who seems able to handle himself. His distrust of the dwarves seems well placed and he convinces as a man carrying a heavy burden of responsibility. I’ll be interested to see what the character gets to do in the third film.

Evans as Bard

Evans as Bard

The real star of the show is still Martin Freeman, who makes Bilbo a likable character despite his fussy mannerisms, and also succeeds in capturing the early signs of the influence of the ring as well as the character’s emerging and strengthening courage. It’s a warm, amiable performance and I find myself rooting for Bilbo more on screen than I ever did in print, which is testimony to Freeman’s strong performance.

Emerging courage- Freeman is the standout as Bilbo

Emerging courage- Freeman is the standout as Bilbo

Jackson is comfortable behind the camera, and the film is predictably gorgeous. His handling of the action sequences is sublime and he shows great skill in the way he shifts focus through some of the film’s skirmishes, but the stand out sequence for me was the escape from Mirkwood, with the questing troop riding barrels down the river. It’s a thrilling, fast paced sequence which shows a wealth of invention and humour and kept me engaged throughout, unlike the rather

There are flaws, of course, Gandalf’s investigations into evil may help build to the Lord of the Rings movies, but they feel bolted on and don’t add much to the actual plot, and it seems odd that if Sauron is regaining strength here that it’s still 60 years before he properly kicks off.

Also, there’s the appearance of Legolas, which makes sense and will please the fans, but Bloom looks considerably older than his last outing in the pointy ears and as my sister noted regarding the Tauriel angle, it feels silly to introduce new characters when you haven’t properly developed the ones you already have, and it’s true that most of the dwarf party continue to be largely anonymous or reduced to one characteristic.

The other problem I have is a personal one, in that I really don’t want Thorin to succeed in regaining his throne. I mean, Smaug’s gotta go, but Thorin’s just such a douche. There are flashes of compassion and decency, but they’re smothered by his obsession and blunt manner with people, and also he seems to be finding others to blame throughout (the elves for not helping, Bard’s granddad for missing the shot at Smaug).

However, these are minor quibbles and for the most part Jackson and co. should be applauded for creating a film which while epic in length and scale still includes some nice character touches and a sense of fun and thrills. Better than part one, and leaves you eager for the conclusion.

Verdict: Jackson’s direction and view of Middle Earth continues to impress and delight, and most of the cast are on fine form, even if some aspects are underwritten, but for the most part it succeeds and is properly entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

This isn’t going to be a standard review. It’s hard to review a movie which is the sixth installment in a series, because surely by now everyone knows if it’s their kinda thing or not.

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So basically deciding to see this movie comes down to one simple question: Did you like the other Fast and Furious movies?

If you say “no” then this isn’t going to change your opinion.

Personally, I did (well, apart from 3, which I didn’t dig that much) and so I already have a taste for it’s brand of action. Like previous installments its stock full of things that will please teenage males.

Following on from part 5 this finds the group enjoying their new wealth. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has settled down with Brazilian copper Elena, and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a child together. The rest of the gang is spread around the world having fun and living large.

Things change however when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) turns up to ask for Dom’s help in tracking down a highly skilled and vicious gang of thieves. The incentive for Dom is a recent photograph of his old flame Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez), who he believed was killed two films ago.

Dom and O’Connor rally the gang (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot) to go after the gang with Hobbs and his new partner, Riley (Gina Carano), with the promise of full pardons and being able to return home to the US.

The gang's all here

The gang’s all here

The leader of the gang, Shaw (Luke Evans) is an ex-SAS officer and general badass. Dom chases Lettie down, but she shoots him. O’Connor discovers she is suffering from amnesia and has been recruited by Shaw.

Can the gang figure out Shaw’s moves and bring him to justice? Will Lettie remember her former life?

I had a ball watching this movie.

It’s pretty simple and fun, but it works. The cast all know what they’re doing and Vin Diesel is still cool as Toretto, all gravel voiced intensity and macho swagger, although it’s nice to see him display a slightly softer side in his scenes with Rodriguez.

Similarly Rodriguez has a switch of pace, with Lettie being less self-assured than before and struggling with who she is and what she’s doing, although she’s still something of a badass. Of course, it’s hardly an in depth character study, but it’s more than the hot badass chick she’s played in the past.

Rodriguez- Sexy badass

Rodriguez- Sexy badass

As with part 5 the show is stolen by Dwayne Johnson, who’s hulking form dwarfs Diesel and who’s easy, muscular charm is in evidence. He gets stuck with a bit of exposition work, but he’s still badass when the action starts and shares some nice comedic chemistry with Ludacris. They also give him a decent physical threat in the form of a gigantic henchman.

Johnson and Carano

Johnson and Carano

The rest of the gang are on familiar ground, and all do fairly well with what they get. Walker is still the weak link, but he does well enough as O’Connor, even if he doesn’t convince as a tough guy. Tyrese Gibson is quite fun as the slightly dim car thief and Sung Kang and Gal Gadot are kinda sweet as the lovers in the gang.

Newcomer Gina Carano is quite cool as Hobbs’ partner and has a bruising fight with Rodriguez which was one of my favourite parts of the movie (I just like a good catfight, alright?).

As the villain of the piece Luke Evans is alright, he’s cold and ruthless seeming, but the character is a little on the bland side and underwritten.

It all whips along at a lick, and they keep it light, with lots of gags and tomfoolery along the way. The script is nothing special but I’ve definitely seen worse in the action genre, and there are some nice touches, even if one of the “twists” fails to fully shock.

The action is pretty well done, with some great car chases and some explosive set pieces, but on a simpler level it works with the shootouts done well and some nice hand-to-hand stuff.

The last two chases involving a tank and a plane are over the top to a ludicrous degree, but it’s never been a series built around subtlety, has it? And in a way the ridiculous stunts just add to the cartoony joy of the film, as every other franchise seems to buy into the idea that you have to go darker, it’s nice to see an action movie that knows it’s role as popcorn fodder.

And oddly for a higher numbered sequel, this actually leaves you eager for more, thanks in no small part to a scene in the end credits which teases the villain for Fast 7, the awesome Jason Statham. The Rock vs the Stath? I’m in.

Verdict: Loud and dumb, but great fun. Johnson and Diesel do the action hero stuff well enough, and the supporting cast do their jobs. The villain is lacklustre, and it holds no surprises, but on balance it’s a solid action movie and an entertaining way to spend an evening. Get a pizza and some cans in, kick back and enjoy the show. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Raven

Its been ridiculously foggy around here the last few days, and rather foolishly I took a shortcut through a cemetary the other day which left me seriously creeped out as it was like being in a Hammer horror movie, and I expected Jack the Ripper or Christopher Lee to come lunging from the mists.

The Raven

The new horror-thriller The Raven is similarly shrouded in fog, and does have a slightly old school vibe to proceedings.

The film is set in 1849, during the last days of the life of the writer Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) and finds him in Baltimore, down on his luck and staggering from bar to bar running up tabs and getting thrown out a lot.

A grisly double murder is discovered and Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) gets the feeling that the crime is familiar, and further digging reveals its a copy of an event in one of Poe’s stories. Poe is a suspect, but as another body is discovered with a taunting note and Fields recruits Poe as an advisor.

The stakes are upped when Poe’s love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), is kidnapped by the killer, and that will further clues will be provided at other crime scenes to test Poe’s wits and save her. Poe and Fields begin to hunt down the killer.

The film’s far from perfect, but quite good fun. The crimes are fairly gruesome and the gore is well handled, and the foggy, gothic settings are interesting. The murder mystery is a little basic (I sussed it quite a bit before the reveal) and that’s the film’s major weakness, you feel that the plot could have done with a few more red herrings, the two that are provided fall flat- one is too obvious and the other so minor that I may have imagined the implication as I hoped it would take a new twist.

But the film is still engaging enough and is carried by a solid performance by Cusack as Poe. He gives Poe this odd mix of swaggering pride and ego which seems to be a gossamer thin mask to cover his fragile and melancholic character. Poe’s oddly charming and funny, but you fully understand why he irritates people and that he might be responsible for lots of his misfortunes.

Oddly charming- Cusack as Poe

I think Cusack’s success comes from the fact that he underplays it, there’s no campness or hamming up, even his odder traits never seem forced, it always feels natural to the character.

As the more straight-laced Fields, Luke Evans has a less showy role but I thought did quite well. He brings a kind of clever toughness to the part. Evans is charismatic enough and I liked the suggestion that Fields’ own past was a little murky as well. I can definitely see Evans building from this and could be a good leading man in thrillers and the like.

Clever toughness- Evans as Fields

I’m a little reluctant to big him up too much as a few weeks back I rewatched Pitch Black and was reminded of how I’d thought Vin Diesel was going to be the next big thing.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Emily, the love interest who I’d feared was going to be a bit of a wet blanket but showed sparky wit, toughness and resourcefulness which made it clear why Poe would be drawn to her. Alice Eve, who I was unaware of before, is extremely charming in the role.

There’s also a good supporting role for the ever reliable Brendan Gleeson as Emily’s gruff father, who’s the kind of father-in-law anyone would dread having.

Unfortunately, as someone with next to no knowledge of Poe and his work, I did get the impression I was missing out on lots of little references and in jokes, but even with my limited awareness I found it an enjoyable thriller.

Verdict: A grisly, entertaining if a little daft and simplistic thriller. With good, solid work from all concerned, particularly Cusack who avoids overplaying it. 6/10

Any thoughts? You know what I do. BETEO