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

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Review- Rio

Rio (20th Century Fox)

For any viewer, regardless of your experience, academic acumen or whatever other qualifications you may have, there will invariably be occasions where a film plays into a sensitive area for you where it’ll either excel with flying colors or fail miserably, perhaps to a greater degree than it would otherwise, due to your personal experience. In the case of Rio it was targeted on my radar early on for two reasons: first, and the lesser of the two reasons, for my love of birds and conversely my loathing of smuggling but it hit home more because it’s set in Brazil, a nation of which I am a dual citizen.

Having been one who grew up cinematically with only Carmen Miranda and the anti-Lambada propaganda film The Forbidden Dance as major reference of American interpretations of Brazil onscreen my apprehension is understandable. Not that there’s anything wrong with Carmen Miranda but any icon can be turned into a stereotype in the wrong hands.

Suffice it to say that most of my concerns are addressed by the fact that one of the film’s writers and its director is a Brazilian, Carlos Saldanha. Yet, you also do not get a Disney-fied Saludos Amigos or Three Cabelleros rendition of Latin America, you have in the narrative of this film a setting which actually plays a role, which is rare but also one that is presented without frills and bereft of commentary. You see the glitz and glamor of Rio, the natural beauty, the beach life, the skyline at night, carnaval but also the favelas and in a minor way, crime. It’s a subtle but accurate portrait that doesn’t impose itself above the story. It shows the good and the bad. So with that personal concern overcome I can begin to address the rest of the film.

When dealing with animation set overseas there are invariably headaches of logic. There’s always the minor bugaboo of when do you float a word in said foreign language that English speakers will readily recognize? How many Brazilians and/or actors of Hispanic descent do you include in the cast? Now, there’s only one Brazilian in the principal cast, however, considering that many Brazilian actors have recently been cast as either Hispanic or “Vaguely Foreign” characters (such as Rodrigo Santoro himself in Love Actually) it all comes out in the wash.

In fact, quite a lot the voice talent does quite well either toeing that line or just being convincing that it makes you forget. Jesse Eiesenberg conveys the stressed, caged bird in the wild well and also has the unexpected task of struggling/learning to embrace his newfound culture. Anne Hathaway, perhaps more than any other name actor in the cast, vanishes behind the veneer of her character. Thankfully she is given license to sing and the few seconds of Portuguese she’s asked to speak sounds good.

The rest of the voice cast does rather well as a whole also. One of the most distinctive and hardest voices to overcome is George Lopez’s but his shtick with his wife is funny enough such that you eventually forget. While Tracy Morgan always sounds like himself it works in tandem with his character so well that it doesn’t matter. Will i. am provides the most consistent comic relief and perhaps the most overlooked voice work belongs to Jake T. Austin, perhaps best known for his work on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, he convincingly comes across as not only a Brazilian kid but also one who’s younger than he is.

The story of this film resolves itself quite neatly. It gets just the right amount of complication what with the smuggling plots getting aided with a scene-stealing performance by a Cockatoo (Jemaine Clement, who thankfully is also allowed to sing). Events head for the collision course you hope they’ll have and while there are dueling love plots and a heist everything thing has its proper priority within the infrastructure of the narrative. There’s more going on here than meets the eye with many of the villains not willing to do their own dirty work, such that you can see how it may be described as a mess but it truly does all work towards one end.

And that end is truly one of the more graceful and visual I’ve seen in some time. You realize the film is all but over and there are at least three questions/open ends you’re wondering about that are addressed in a few shots and wordlessly, without any lengthy denouement. It’s a thing of beauty of behold.

Moreover, it’s a musical that’s actually musical, meaning there are a few musical numbers where characters breakout and sing but not once does it seem random and forced. The score is tremendous and very present and when it’s not there it’s replaced by source music, which is usually a new take on a Brazilian standard. It’s another example of the synergy of location. The score is indigenous without feeling forced or trite. Even incorporating Samba beats the score and source music still underscores the action tonally.

I typically leave the 3D commentary for near the end when I do see something in 3D. I did see it as such and my general feeling is that right now animation, specifically animation by the biggest studios (Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks, Fox/Blue Sky) is usually your best bet for getting the most bang for your buck 3D-wise.

The animated feature film has become more of a box office and aesthetic presence than it ever was. It has truly grown in leaps and bounds over the history of cinema as something that was virtually a one-studio specialty to a medium that has become, at long last, a bona fide Oscar category. Having said that the category has been virtually monopolized. It’ll be very hard to justify that this year with Rio entering the fray I think.

As I may have said before, I now treat sitting through the end credits like a standing ovation. Considering the fact that I was so apprehensive about seeing it in the first place, I truly did not expect to watch this film all the way to its literal conclusion. Rio is a tremendously effervescent film that actually manages to capture some of the spirit of the city in a very honest way.

10/10

A Recap of Super Bowl Film Commercials

The Super Bowl this year, as it is many years was replete with ads that either advertise films or referenced them. Here’s a quick recap.

Captain America: The First Avenger

This is the first look I’ve really gotten at Captain America. At least in terms of a trailer, this seems like a rather good glimpse at at least some of the highlights of the origin of the character. Playing the tale as a period piece is also likely to work to this film’s benefit.

Fast Five

A continuation of The Fast and the Furious series. This installment takes place in Rio de Janeiro, there will be a Brazilian theme. What is most humorous about this one is that our heroes will drive through favelas and mess up hardened criminals and likely walk out unscathed. Very realistic.

Super 8

This was, hands down, the best trailer of the night. Oddly enough, esteemed publications like The Hollywood Gossip ran a headline which reads “Super 8 Movie Trailer: What the… ?!?” Now granted the article does admit it’s somewhat excited for the release but why complain about being confused. Super 8 first released an even more arcane teaser months ago and now about four months prior to its release we see a little more. This is how trailers used to work. You see just enough of a film to be intrigued into watching it, instead now sometimes you feel like you watched a whole movie. I finish seeing many and say to myself “That movie sucked.” because I feel like I saw the whole thing. This gives us just enough to want more and I’m even more amped for it than I was before. Bring it on Abrams and Spielberg.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Another example of why less is more. The original trailer while it was a little annoying when you found out what it was for was a little more mysterious.Now you see more than before and it gets silly from the get go and that’s just annoying.

Thor

While this ad made me giggle because I randomly thought of re-writing the song “War” and inserting “Thor,” it is decent. Not nearly as effective as the theatrical trailer as this one shows some possible chinks in the armor but not bad.

Rango

This is literally a film that has been overexposed and again reiterates the brilliance of the Super 8 strategy. I have been seeing trailers and commercials for this for so long I am fatigued of it and the worst part is the concept was only borderline in my estimation to begin with.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Nothing could be less appealing to me than another Pirates film considering that they have fallen off precipitously and I literally fell asleep during the last one, which was fine by me save for the fact that I needed to be woken up because I was snoring. This ad actually presents the film in a better light than does the full-length trailer.

Cowboys & Aliens

This is the kind of film most people already have an opinion on based on the concept. You either think the combination of two disparate entities such as these is ridiculous or inspired. The fact that the director of this film is also responsible for Elf, Zathura, and Iron Man won’t sway you. Aside from the much hyped ‘seeing more of the alien craft’ not much to be gleaned here or to change one’s mind.

Limitless

Not much to see here. a condensed version of the trailer. The concept has potential but it seems like it gets pushed to extremes. Interesting to note that it’s one of the few films coming out in fairly short order that shelled out the big bucks for a Super Bowl ad. It will be interesting to see what it does.

Rio

It’s a short 0:15 spot but even here you get to see some of the unfortunate aspects of the film: Hispanic actors subbing in as Brazilian and inaccuracies of beach life in Brazil such as the overly-large bikini cuts. While there is some promise in the concept of a film about the birds of Brazil it seems like it might not quite hit in this rendition.

Now some websites are mentioning The Adjustment Bureau, Just Go With It, Priest and Battle: Los Angeles, the last one I saw pre-kick-off. Others I didn’t see in-game. Maybe I was on a health break but I only count kick-off to final whistle and those were the ones I counted. Did I miss them?

There were also a few ads inspired by or referencing films such as the Bud Light Product Placement ad, Budweiser Cowboy singing “Tiny Dancer” reminiscent of Almost Famous, Volkswagen Mini-Darth Vader and Hyundai Sonata a bit callously referencing silent films.

To see all the ads go here.

What was Your Favorite Film Commercial During the Super Bowl?
(polls)