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REVIEW: Fast & Furious 8 (2017)

When Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is seduced into the world of terrorism by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), his family and crew must join with old foes in order to stop him.

Fast & Furious 8 really steps it up a gear in terms of stunts and spectacle. There’s car chases on the streets of New York, a giant wrecking ball taking out cars and, of course, a submarine vs cars on ice sequence. They shouldn’t work and sometimes it’s a little chaotic to follow where everyone is but it’s best to let the adrenalin start pumping and go along for the ride.

Cipher is a very different kind of villain to what the crew has faced before. She’s almost all seeing and all-knowing thanks to her hacking skills and is powerful enough to get Dom to turn on his family for her. Most of her scenes are with Dom so it would’ve been nice to see her interact with more of the characters and see how characters like loud-mouth Roman (Tyrese Gibson) would react her.

It’s weird going into a Fast and Furious film without Paul Walker being there and they do have a reason why he and Jordana Brewster are not in the film, but the film generally still holds up with the old crew and a few new additions. There’s Eric (Scott Eastwood) Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) new protégée, who takes a while to gel and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is roped in to join the team. The conflict between him and the team is a bit hit and miss, the film quickly brushes off his history with the team (they almost killed his brother and he in turn killed one of their own and tried to kill the rest of them in the last film) and it would’ve been nice to see some more of that conflict. The one place you do feel that tension is between Shaw and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), their chemistry is great and there’s a lot of humour from them two trash talking each other.

Each member of the team has their moment to shine but in many ways, this is Dom’s film. He has the emotional beats of the film, along with (to a lesser extent) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). She, as his wife, is the most visibly torn up about his betrayal and while she does have some cringey lines, she gives a good performance.

What can I say, if you’ve seen any of the recent Fast and Furious films then you know what you’ll be getting into – a world where the laws of physics don’t apply and the main crew of street racers are more like spies or superheroes nowadays. Fast & Furious 8 continues to be a lot of fun with a thrilling finale and a lot of laughs all the way through the film – it’s mad but it works. 4/5.

REVIEW: Free Fire (2016)

In Boston in 1978 a gun deal in an abandoned warehouse between two gangs goes wrong and turns into a shootout as everyone tries to survive the night.

Free Fire is hilarious. Its humour might not be for everyone because it’s kind of stupid and ridiculous but it works really well. The script is razor sharp and witty, every line is brilliant and the cast just look like they’re having a great time.

Sharlto Copley does slightly mad and/or weird very well. Every line out of his mouth was perfection and had me laughing every time. He plays Vernon, the gun dealer, and Vernon has a bit of a screw loose even before the shooting starts. The rest of the cast is great but Sam Riley’s Stevo was my favourite because he was completely off the wall but kind of innocent at the same time.

This isn’t a film that delves into character backstories or anything, there’s the odd line to help flesh out a character but you don’t really need to know anything about them as it’s just focused on one night in a warehouse and how they all react to this shootout they’re in. They’re personalities and values shine through the mad situation they’re in and that’s all you need.

I don’t usually talk about sound design in my film reviews (mainly because I don’t usually notice anything especially interesting sound-related in what I watch) but I’ve got to talk about it in regards to Free Fire. There’s really clever things done in Free Fire with the dialogue. You can hear voices shouting out and you can tell where the characters are in regards to what’s on screen because it comes from all angles. There’s often a lot going on onscreen so to have the sound like that helps ground you and it’s definitely the sort of thing you get the full effect of when sitting in a cinema.

Free Fire is completely mad, absurd and hilarious. It’s a lot of fun and is well worth the price of a cinema ticket. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

FullSizeRenderBeing a skilled vet who specialises in reptiles, CJ Cameron is difficult to faze. When the Chinese government invite her and some other respected guests to the unveiling of their magnificent, top-secret zoo, CJ is intrigued but not expecting anything too different. Then the Chinese announce what is really going to be in the zoo. For decades, they’ve been breeding deadly creatures believed to be the stuff of myth. Despite the danger, the staff at the zoo stress that everyone is safe and they’ve prepared for every eventuality. But CJ spots flaws in the zoo’s security and believes it’s only a matter of time before the beasts break free.

The Great Zoo of China is a thrill ride from start to finish. There’s a great build up of anticipation as CJ and the other guests, including her photographer brother Hamish, arrive at the zoo and finally realise what the Chinese have on offer for the public and soon after all Hell breaks loose. Once the inevitable happens and the animals break free, the action is non-stop and the book speeds along as you’re with this group of characters and you just know that it’s not particularly likely that they’ll all survive.

Now I don’t think it’s a spoiler considering what’s on the cover and how the books been marketing but the deadly creatures in question are indeed dragons. These creatures are described as terrifying and deadly animals akin to the dinosaurs because that’s what they are. They are smart creatures and are described so vividly you can picture all the different types of dragons in your head easily. The Great Zoo of China doesn’t hold back when everything goes wrong. There are people torn or bitten in half and blood is splattered everywhere when the dragon attack.

CJ is a badass and a great protagonist. She’s calm under pressure, especially as she’s already had some experience of being in a struggle with a deadly creature with a lot of teeth, and she’s good at making the best out of a bad situation. Some might think she’s a Mary Sue but you could say the same think about Indiana Jones.

While I’ll admit The Great Zoo of China is no literary masterpiece, the science side of it is semi-plausible which is always a plus and it is a lot of fun and exciting. If you love Jurassic Park then this book will be right up your street. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Core (2003)

the core elenasquareeyesWhen the Earth’s core stops spinning, the only way to save the planet is for a team to drill down to the core and set it spinning again.

The Core starts with an ominous scene and from there the pace never really lets up. You’re introduced to our heroes and they figure out how to save the world with a ridiculous and dangerous plan. The action and special effects are pretty good, though some haven’t stood the test of time, the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly memorable.

The Core has all the usual characters seen in disaster films. The team sent to jumpstart the Earth are comprised of the seasoned pilot (Bruce Greenwood), the young protégé who seems unbeatable (Hilary Swank), the nice guy scientist (Aaron Eckhart), the Government scientist who you’re not sure if you can trust (Stanley Tucci), the mad scientist who was once betrayed by someone else in the team (Delroy Lindo) and the nice guy scientists best friend (Tchéky Karyo). Back on top of the Earth you have the helpful hacker (DJ Qualls) and the General who doesn’t like to be told he’s wrong (Richard Jenkins). They might be what we’re used to seeing but one thing in The Core’s favour is that a lot of these characters have good chemistry and bounce off each other really well. Quite often you find yourself caring about them which often leads to heartache considering the film’s genre.

Besides the cheesy moments, The Core’s main problem is that it ends up being quite formulaic – there’s a problem, the crew have to figure it out, they fix it, someone may or may not die, and repeat. That being said, often you do actually feel something when one of the team ends up dead, there’s self-sacrificing moments and unlucky accidents and they both add drama to the film.

The Core isn’t necessarily a good film, but it is quite fun most of the time and has all the usual tropes for a disaster film. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Gauntlet (1977)

the gauntlet elenasquareeyesHard but average cop Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) is assigned to escort Gus Mally (Sondra Locke) a witness in custody from Las Vegas to Phoenix, but a lot of people are literally betting that they won’t make the trip and everyone seems as if they’re out to get them.

The Gauntlet is super fun. It’s action-packed and violent and it never really lets up. From the moment Shockley and Mally meet the sparks fly. They are polar opposites and they definitely clash early on in their relationship especially because Shockley doesn’t really believe that there’s someone out to get them.

It’s nice seeing Eastwood play a cop that isn’t really in control and isn’t respected by his colleagues. It’s unusual seeing him be a bit of a fish out of water but (naturally) he rises to the challenge and turns out he can be a bit of a badass in a pinch.

The violence in The Gauntlet really is quite violent. There’s helicopters with machine guns, cars get blown up and a more realistic and frightening moment is when Mally is almost raped. It’s shocking and unapologetic and it’s a bit jarring coming after a string of action set pieces.

After all the action and Shockley and Mally often beating the bad guys, the ending is a bit of a let-down. It just seems that those responsible for putting Shockley and Mally through hell don’t really get a decent enough comeuppance.

Fun and action-packed The Gauntlet is sometimes silly but it’s always a good time. 4/5.

REVIEW: Big Game (2014)

Big-Game-poster-Samuel-L-Jackson-722x1024Thirteen-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) is taking part in a rite of passage in the Finnish woods when he discovers the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) when Air Force One was shot down overhead. Together they must survive the forest and the men who are out to kill the president.

Big Game is funny, though you’re not always sure if it’s being intentionally funny or if it’s the typical genre tropes and sometimes cheesiness coming into play. That being said, the dialogue is often witty and the action sequences are spectacular.

One of the highlights of Big Game is the relationship between the President and Oskari. They are both thrown together but become friends and save each other along the way. They have great chemistry and a scene in which the President tells a disheartened Oskari how proud he is of him is quite touching. Oskari’s journey from a boy trying to prove himself to his father and the people of his village to being the one person who is trying to help the President is great and Tommila is a very talented young actor. Playing against his now typical badass-self, Jackson’s President is often defenceless without Oskari and can’t stand up to the bad guys in a fight.

The bad guys are quite typical of the genre and are often easy to spot but there’s also surprises and so many of the cast look as if they’re having such a good time it’s hard to dislike the film just for that.

Big Game is 90 minutes of fun and there’s a lot packed into it but it never feels slow or bloated. Big Game is the best of the fun action films from the 80’s and 90’s. It may have some text-book type characters but it’s also got great action sequences and fun dialogue. 4/5.