3 stars

REVIEW: Point Blank (2019)

When ER nurse Paul’s (Anthony Mackie) heavily pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) is kidnapped, he has to work with injured murder suspect Abe (Frank Grillo) to get her back as they face off against rival criminals and renegade cops.

Mackie and Grillo work well together here. Their characters are polar opposites which leads to some amusing moments, but they bring a lot of energy to their scenes together as thy have a common goal. Paul wants to get back to his wife, while Abe wants to get back to his younger brother Matteo (Christian Cooke) and all four of them are trying to keep ahead of the criminals who want them dead.

Point Blank is a predictable action thriller but the way the action is shot and how the plot speeds along makes it a fun ride. Quick edits a long with some decent fights make those scenes interesting however the car chases are more pedestrian than exciting. There are some surprisingly emotional moments though the script isn’t good enough to really pack an emotional punch.

There are some odd music cues in Point Blank as a fight or something will kick off and it’s like a needle drops onto a record but the song that starts playing isn’t one that really fits. It can be quite jarring and takes you out of the film as what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing really don’t mesh that well together. Sometimes the music choices even cheapened those times where they were going for something dramatic.

Towards the end of Point Blank, it starts to lean too far into the buddy comedy element and the ending is cheesy, but that doesn’t stop most of the film being a fast-paced and a generally compelling action film. 3/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Sri Lanka: Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller.

Lucky is an unemployed millennial programmer. Her husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay, presenting their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front while dating on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother falls, Lucky returns to her mother’s home in Boston and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood friend and first lover, Nisha. When the two rekindle old romantic feelings, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie and finds herself pushed to breaking point.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is an unflinching look at how someone who does not fit into their culture’s ideals can try and reconcile two sides of themselves. Lucky is in almost constant conflict with herself. She knows and accepts she’s a lesbian, she likes being a lesbian, but she doesn’t like how she has to hide that part of herself from her family. This struggle of being who she is but not wanting to lose or disappoint those who are closest to her is something that is almost constantly on Lucky’s mind as she tries to find the strength to be who she is.

Lucky’s mother wants her and Kris to have a baby and be just like all the other Sri Lankan families in their community. Lucky’s mother wants Lucky to fit in as she knows what it’s like to be shunned by the community. Lucky’s parents are divorced but naturally her father and his new wife (a close family friend) are treated just the same by everyone, it’s her mother that is seen as an outsider for being a divorcee.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is written in the first person from Lucky’s point of view but you never really get a handle of how she’s feeling about what is happening in her life. Lucky is so emotionally closed off from a lot of what is happening around her that she barely reacts to what those closest to her are saying or doing. It makes the emotional impact of some big, potentially life-changing moments, not feel that important at all.

While they are obviously pretending to be happily married for their families, often it seemed like Lucky didn’t even like Kris and resented him for being married to her even though it was something that she agreed to and it worked for the both of them. Their relationship was never satisfactorily explored.

Nisha was equal parts frustrating and understandable. She would often have these big ideas, saying to Lucky they should run away together, but when Lucky tries to take her up on that, she reverts back to being the doting daughter. She is just as scared as Lucky about potentially losing her family and community over who she loves but she is so torn that she keeps hurting Lucky with her indecisiveness and mixed signals.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a well-written and poignant story. It handles the complexities of sexuality, religion and culture well but having a distant protagonist made it difficult to connect with her and the story at times. Also, in its honesty Marriage of a Thousand Lies becomes a very sad story as you, and Lucky, realise there might not be a way that everyone finishes this story happy. 3/5.

REVIEW: Bullet to the Head (2012)

After his former partner is killed, Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) comes to New Orleans and forms a reluctant alliance with hitman James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone), whose partner has also recently been killed, in order to bring down a common enemy.

The plot of Bullet to the Head is somewhat derivative but the action sequences and the characters make that plot enjoyable on the whole. Stallone and Kang make an unexpectedly great duo and the scenes of them finding their feet around one another are fun. Stallone’s Bonomo is the typical monotone antihero who resorts to violence to get what he wants very quickly, while Kang’s Kwon is a by the book cop who wants those responsible for his partners death to face legal justice. The filmmaker did a nice job of sidestepping the usual trope of having the Asian lead be a martial artist, instead Kwon can throw a punch but it’s his logic and connections with the police that help him and Bonomo track down their partners killer.

While Kang and Stallone are fun to watch, Jason Momoa steals every scene he’s in as sadistic killer Keegan. He’s an intimidating combination of brains and brawn and manages to standout against a physical adversary like Stallone, and against a potential strategic adversary like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Morel.

There are some grisly fights in Bullet to the Head and the action sequences pad out a plot that is surprisingly convoluted with multiple bad guys, and people double-crossing one another at almost every turn. The plot is unoriginal, but having minor characters who then get a backstory and motives means there’s a lot of moving pieces and they don’t always come together neatly.

Bullet to the Head is a retro action film that knows exactly what it is and leans into all of its one-liners. It’s not great but it’s not boring either. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

After getting caught street racing one too many times, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) has to move to Tokyo to stay with his father to avoid a jail sentence in America. There he meets Han (Sung Kang) who becomes Sean’s mentor and coaches him into becoming a major competitor in the world of drift racing.

Besides a cameo at the end, and the whole messed up timeline thing future films cause because of Han, Tokyo Drift is a film that can very much stand on its own in the franchise. It has new characters, a new setting, and a whole new style of racing not seen before in the franchise.

Having the racing style be drifting rather than a 10 second drag race, means the race and chases have a whole new feel compared to the previous films. Cars drive around like they’re on a slalom ski slope rather than the busy streets of Tokyo. The way the races are shot, along with a score that’s not so heavy on the techno beats, leads to some thrilling moments.

Considering how far this franchise of films goes in terms of having more female characters, and often ones that are just as capable and as layered as their male counterparts, it’s jarring to see in the opening five minutes of Tokyo Drift a teenage girl offering herself up as the prize for two young men to race for. It does leave a bad taste in your mouth and while there continues to be scantily clad girls, when a new female character is introduced in Neela (Nathalie Kelley) it is slowly revealed she’s not just a pretty face and has the most interesting backstory in the film.

Sean isn’t the most interesting of leads, and Black’s performance is not that great either (the guy doesn’t really know how to emote) but luckily Sean is surrounded by more interesting characters and actors who do better at delivering clichés-filled lines of dialogue than Black. Han is cool, calm and collected and is the kind of person who stays in the background to observe people. He forms a bond with Sean but that doesn’t stop him working with D.K. (Brian Tee), a young man connected to the Yakuza. It’s Black’s scenes with Kang and Kelley that make Sean feel more than a stand in for the audience as you get glimpses of what can almost be classed as chemistry between them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift makes great use of the Tokyo cityscape, making night-time races look slick and the colours of the city lights, and the bright cars, pop. The first half of Tokyo Drift is a bit slow, but the second half is a thrill ride as things come to ahead between characters and stakes get higher. Tokyo Drift is a bit like the black sheep in the Fast and Furious family, and it’s one that has more resonance after the events of Fast & Furious 6/Furious 7, but it is still a good time. 3/5.

REVIEW: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

After getting busted for street racing, disgraced former cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is enlisted to bust dangerous criminal Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). Brian recruits his childhood friend and fellow street racer Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) to bring down Verone, and in the process earn their freedom.

2 Fast 2 Furious is the first film in the franchise without Vin Diesel and instead there’s the chemistry between Walker and Gibson that sees you through this film. Maybe Paul Walker just had natural charm and chemistry with everyone? Having Roman be a childhood friend of Brian’s means you get a bit more of his backstory, and as the two of them have known each other for so long, there’s easy camaraderie with each of them calling the other out on their antics when needed. The filmmakers did well not to try and replicate the Brian and Dom dynamic, and instead created a very different foil for Brain in Roman. Roman is loud, brash and kinda ridiculous but he’s a guy with a heart of gold under all that bluster and Gibson and Walker make the not-great bantering dialogue work.

Helping Brian and Roman on their mission is undercover agent Monica Fuentes (an underused Eva Mendes). She’s undercover working for Verone and the moments where the danger is truly apparent for her, Brian and Roman, you can see her calm façade start to crack. Other characters who help out Brian are his friends; garage owner Tej (Ludacris) and racer Suki (Devon Aoki). Suki is a character I’d love to make an appearance in another Fast & Furious film, she’s so cool, a great driver and says so much with just a look.

2 Fast 2 Furious has some good car chases but it’s a car decoy scene in the final act that really steals the show. It’s inventive and touches on the set pieces full of characters coming together, both minor ones and main ones, to help solve a problem that become more frequent in future films in the series.

2 Fast 2 Furious is fun, fast-paced and the car chases are sharper than those in the previous film. It sets up a great new character dynamic, and the sometimes-cheesy dialogue can be forgiven as it really is a fun film that’s perhaps more joyful than the first one as it refuses to take itself seriously. 3/5.

REVIEW: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

When Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer, he learns that the key to success is having a “white voice” but the road to success and fortune isn’t what it seems.

Sorry to Bother You is a scathing look at capitalism and racism and how the two interact. There is a lot going on in this film and it doesn’t always seem to give each thing the attention it deserves. The idea that having a “white voice” will make you more successful and respected is obviously terrible but people in the real world have experienced such double standards. There is also the idea of the power of protests and unionising, standing with your co-workers to demand better pay and rights – though the success of this is shown to be debatable as the capitalist machine may be too strong.

Sorry to Bother You is set in the present-day though everything is just a bit different or over-exaggerated. This makes every theme the film touches on more eerie and relevant. The choices of what kind of television shows to appear on in the background, or what kind of things trend online, is very close to our reality and it shows how they can be used for good or for bad.

The performances in this film are great, both the actors on screen, and those that do the voice work for the “white voices”. It’s weird and amusing to hear very different voices come out of a character’s mouth. Hearing David Cross’s voice from Stanfield’s mouth is strange but both the physical and vocal performance make you believe that is Green’s voice. Green’s girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) is a great character as she uses her art to make a statement and believes in standing up for the everyday person. Her character was a more interesting character who was proactive in her story compared to Green who instead just seemed to be just wander through the story until the very end.

Sorry to Bother You is very weird and surreal. It’s billed as a comedy though it doesn’t really hit that button, instead it’s a unsettling fantasy that hold a mirror up to our world today. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Fast and the Furious (2001)

I’ve decided that on the run up to Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw this summer, I’m going to rewatch and review all the previous Fast & Furious films. Any of the films I’ve previously reviewed, I’ll link to at the start of the new review.

Undercover LA cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) must decide where his loyalties lie when he becomes enamoured with the street racing gang he’s been sent to destroy.

Everything about The Fast and the Furious is so early 2000s it’s ridiculous – the clothes and the music make it like a miniature time capsule. But in some ways that kind of adds to the films charm especially when you look back on it as this was the foundations of an unexpected franchise juggernaut.

The Fast and the Furious is rightly known as Point Break but with cars. The undercover cop becoming close to the suspected criminals is not a unique plot but, for the most part, the film handles it well. It’s not just Brian having a romantic relationship with Mia (Jordana Brewster) that makes him questions things, it’s her brother Dom (Vin Diesel) who pulls people to him like gravity. The chemistry between the three of them, along with other members of Dom’s crew, make all the clichés work.

The car races and chases are pretty good, the with last 30 minutes of the film being truly gripping and entertaining as everything that’s been building between these characters come to ahead. The techno music that plays during one of the last chases is a bit much though.

The Fast and the Furious is a bit cheesy, with the dialogue being on the nose and the performances not always that confident, but it’s the chemistry between the leads that made these characters ones you’d want to revisit. 3/5.