Review- Fast Five

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast Five (Universal)

As I first discussed in my review of Rio I bring quite a bit of baggage to any American-made film dealing with Brazil and I will be analyzing certain aspects that escape the notice of the common viewer. Obviously, some of these things also come into play when discussing Fast Five and I will attempt to address those as swiftly as possible and address the film as a whole.

However, with this particular film the Brazilian-ness of it and how accurately that is portrayed is a more pervasive concern as it touches many aspects of the film from dialogue, plot, believability, characters, plot points, acting and the like more so than in the aforementioned film.

Some examples: Firstly, I applaud this film for its attempt to be sneaky foreign (like Hanna) and actually include a bit of dialogue in Portuguese and even subtitling certain scenes. Most of the acting in the film as a whole is just fine, however, the noticeable sore spots are created by those portraying Brazilians who are clearly not. Joaquim de Almeida plays a drug kingpin and the mark of the major heist in this film, he does a fine job but as I suspected when I looked up the cast he’s Portuguese not Brazilian. Very noticeably a fish out of water is American Michael Irby as his second hand man. Spaniard Elsa Pataky and Israeli Elsa Godot are quite convincing, the latter not so much in one particular scene due to her look more so than her interpretation. The best Portuguese is spoken by Jordana Brewster who speaks it rarely and I wasn’t even sure she knew any despite being born in Brazil.

Issues with the story with regards to it being set in Brazil are most prevalent in two incidents that I take issue with. So far as having a druglord who has the Military Police in his pocket and corruption, I can take that. It’s an acknowledged issue that’s been long combated, however, if you want to see a film about the PM and how a good man can go bad and see a rather realistic rendition thereof watch Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). The issues are the first scene where the American forces lead by Dwayne Johnson go up into a favela, in very cinamtically clichéd fashion all the runners and criminals brandish their guns like a territorial pissing then Johnson shows his gun and they all back away. The problem there is that that would either lead to a standoff or a firefight, which is not infrequent. It’s a movie device that really doesn’t apply here. There’s a more realistic scene where he’s baited out into the open and surrounded.

The worst scene of the film is the apparent defeat. Here for some reason the American forces decide they should drive, seemingly unnecessarily, through the elevated and undulating streets of a favela and it sets up a ridiculous confrontation.

There is enough action to carry this film along and make it a decent ride. The villain although broadly drawn does have some decent moments. The characters in the film are many so not many are developed in all that much detail but you do get a sense of them and there is a good amount of comedy mixed in which keeps things light in spite of the bickering minorities device that is employed twice.

To give this film its just desserts there is a hand-to-hand combat scene between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel that trumps anything that occurred in The Expendables and no uncomfortable undertones to boot.

Despite being incredibly outlandish in terms of what the heist is, how it’s pulled off and what the reactions of law enforcement are to it at several stages of the film it’s still an enjoyable enough flick. It’s a decent popcorn flick that actually got me in the theatre by adding the heist element to a franchise that had never interested me before. Also, plan your health break carefully and stay through the end credits for a tag teases a sequel.

As a coda, bear in mind that with the financial success of Rio and Fast Five, Brazil will likely be the go to international transplant destination for franchises everywhere. I think James Bond needs a vacation, don’t you?

6/10

Review- Thor

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in Thor (Paramount/Marvel)

To make it very clear I have in the past set down a list of rules regarding adaptations of any materials wherein I try to divorce myself entirely from the source material when gauging a movie. Meaning that I will not comment on adaptation choices or omissions. With Thor that task was much easier as my knowledge of both the legend and the Marvel rendition thereof is severely limited so I came into the film with a fairly clean slate.

Perhaps what is the most surprising part of the story to me is the fact that the film struck a very good balance of locations. It started for an extended period of time in Asgard establishing the characters and setting up Thor’s predicament and then after he’s exiled to earth switches back frequently. The advertising did make it seem as if it’d be very heavy on Earth-based action but I guess they just didn’t want you seeing too much of Asgard.

I think this balance serves the narrative quite well indeed. As Thor struggles to repent and reclaim his hammer at home the stakes keep on rising and events continue to conspire against him unbeknown to him. The pace is tempered so as the tale isn’t rushed and more meaning can be added to the spectacle rather than there just being a spectacle to behold and the audience “Oohs” and “Aahs” and walks out bloated by candy and soda gas.

You film buffs/comics fans out there might be aware, especially through the intimations made in prior films, that Marvel has been gearing up for an Avengers films. They have been doing so very methodically with slight dovetails in previous films. For the uninitiated where S.H.I.E.L.D. gets involved in the story has been the prelude to The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. is more of a presence in this film as they cordon off his hammer in a makeshift compound and detain Thor for a while but they’re only as much of an obstruction as they have to be they never become an encumbrance to the plot as a whole.

Having said that if you should see Thor be sure to plan your bathroom trip carefully because you’ll want to sit through the end credits for a teaser and a cameo appearance.

What might perhaps be overlooked is that in a tale such as Thor where you’re dealing with gods in another realm, the Earthlings who find him and those trying to detain him is that acting is pivotal. It’s pivotal both in the casting and the direction of the film. Which is why Kenneth Branagh, as counter-intuitive as it likely sounded to you at first, is the perfect director for this vehicle. This is a man who made his name as an actor and a director by interpreting Shakespeare if anyone can infuse some comedy but also lend this kind of tale the kind of gravitas it needs to succeed it’s him. Yes, it’s strange to see his name attached to something CG-heavy but there umpteen thousand people involved in that aspect he’s just making sure the tale is communicated and it is.

Speaking of the effects they were absolutely fantastic. The most challenging thing for a film is to create a wholly new world and this clan did that with ease. There is some pretty effective creature-work in here too, chilling stuff. The effects, of course, can only do so much it’s merely an interpretation of the production design which is also great. The sets and locations, where they need to be, are grandiose and majestic and just marvelous.

And now for my token paragraph on the 3D. I did see it in 3D. I debated not seeing it in 3D. I don’t think I would’ve liked it one iota less if I had gone the conventional route. If you want to save some money go for it. The colors, scope and vistas will be just as impressive.

I will readily admit my expectations were not very high for Thor. I’ve given you the positives as there were many. It wasn’t perfect but it was darn good and enjoyable and left me wanting more no matter how I come about it (be it comics or a sequel).

8/10

Review- Hanna

Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (Focus Features)

It’s really easy to love a film like Hanna. It takes a tale wherein the plot upon final examination is not all that complicated but it is rendered perhaps in the most interesting fashion that can be thought of. While it may not be the most original tale ever told it still bubbles over with freshness and enthusiasm for its subject matter that makes things seem quite new indeed even though they may not be.

It’s a film that also sneakily incorporates foreign languages and many locales within the narrative but due to this being an action film those averse to reading subtitles may be quickly won over and not cringe during these sparsely scattered scenes. The locales also vary but a journey geographically can be a great way to mirror a character’s journey to understanding about themselves and that’s what’s at the crux of the matter here: understanding. Whether it be for the audience or the protagonist we both start with the basics that we need to be allowed to function and move on from there picking up pieces along the way.

New information always clarifies and adds meaning to the tale as well as raising the stakes such that it’s all very expertly done. Yet we as the audience also are taken on a wonderful journey as we not only seek to find Hanna’s place in this international intrigue but also the motives of one Marissa who is seeking to hunt her down.

The film often balances wonderful action sequences and taut dramatic scenes that have an air of mystery about them as well. It paints it characters interestingly but not blatantly. Marissa being an example, her duplicity is underscored by her ever modulating accent. Yet Isaacs is another illustration. In very short order we see him as flamboyant club owner, then informant and then assassin. This kind of building of character alongside the building of the plot is great and rare to find. Add to that a final destination that Hanna must reach and you have yourself a surefire recipe for a great flick.

Hanna features a much-hyped, and discussed score by The Chemical Brothers. Now ultimately I must say I was won over by this score for two reasons: first, director Joe Wright spotted the film beautifully in terms of where he wanted score and where he didn’t. The opening of the film was quite quiet and there was a wonderful intimacy to it all. Then I did like the music itself is very good, worlds better than was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just got an Oscar for, it really puts the pedal to the metal when it has to and gives an offbeat vibe to this film. It does, however, for one section get too intrusive. Now in my A.I. paper I discussed intrusiveness of score. All are to some extent but there is a line I feel it crossed in her escape where it combined with the lighting and editing just made it too much of a music video feel.

Keeping these nitpicks in perspective, however, I’d always rather see a films whose negative qualities come from it trying to hard rather than it not trying hard enough. And that’s what this film did on two occasions. The second such was a scene where Hanna has just arrived at a room in Morocco and having been sheltered she is overwhelmed by the modern conveniences and their noise and fury and the sequences is overwrought and over-edited. It makes its point but perhaps too emphatically.

Ultimately, it must be said that this movie may be standing tall by the end of the year and these little nitpicks may knock it down a peg or two but it is still a great work. The acting in this film is tremendous and not simply for the fact that nearly everyone had dialogue in a language that is not their own. Many if not all the characters had moments that are memorable. Not failing to mention, of course, a screenplay which gives all these characters chances to have their moments but still telling a good and tight story.

There are rarely action films that both get your adrenaline pumping but also allow and, in fact, require your brain to remain functioning and not take that time off and this is one of those films. It’s as smart and well-told as it is exciting.

9/10