Michelle Rodriguez

REVIEW: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

My original review of The Fate and the Furious from when it was first released is here.

When Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) turns his back on his family and starts to work with mysterious cybercriminal Cipher (Charlize Theron), his family must team up with old foes in order to stop him before it’s too late.

Like the films that came before it, The Fate of the Furious really does make everything bigger and more ridiculous. The laws of physics and logic go completely out the window but if you are happy to see a bunch of unbelievable stunts with cars then The Fate of the Furious is a lot of fun.

There are some serious moments though in The Fate of the Furious, especially once you learn the reason why Dom has turned on his family. This does lead to some emotional moments though it does also lead to a character we’ve met before getting the rough end of the stick. It would have been nice if the film had found a way around that obstacle that wasn’t so common and unfortunate.

Jason Statham returns as Deckard Shaw but this time he’s forced to work with the people he tried to kill the last time they met. He presents a bit of a wildcard element in the team dynamic we’ve become accustomed to over the past few films. Statham’s banter with Dwayne Johnson (who plays Agent Luke Hobbs) is always fun and Statham almost manages to steal the whole film in one of the final action sequences.

With Dom being on the opposite side to his family, it gives Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) more of a lead role than she’s ever had before. She keeps the family together, leading the team and never losing faith in Dom. Rodriguez gives a great performance and, While Diesel certainly has his moments, she is really the heart of the film.

I have to mention the score composed by Brian Tyler. He has composed all but three of the Fast & Furious films and perhaps it’s because I’ve watched them so close together, but you notice that these films, and this team of characters has a theme. It’s something that’s noticeable in all of the big scenes, the heist in Fast Five for instance, and the finale of The Fate of the Furious as the team races across the ice. It really helps add to these films sense of identity and gives you an extra shot of adrenalin as when you hear it, you know something big is about to happen.

The Fate of the Furious is over-the-top but the cast and crew fully commit to the stunts that defy the laws of physics and that just makes it all the more fun and entertaining. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs help taking down a team of precision drivers led by criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), he turns to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their team. Following the revelation that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive and working with Shaw, Dom and his family will do anything to get her back.

There are high-octane thrills in Fast & Furious 6 with car chases around London (though it never really uses the city to it’s full potential and nearly everything there takes place at night), a tank causing chaos on a motorway in Spain, and a sequence where the team take on a plane.

There are also some brutal fist fights too as Rodriguez’s Letty takes on Gina Carano’s Riley (Hobbs’ right-hand woman) on the London Underground. It is amusing how their brutal and efficient fight is juxtaposed with Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Han’s (Sung Kang) unsuccessful fight against another one of Shaw’s team.

Though Letty is back she has amnesia so seeing her slowly reconnect with Dom and figure out who she is and where she fits in with this group of people who seems to know her is interesting. Rodriguez and Diesel still have a tonne of chemistry even if Letty isn’t the person Dom used to know. Also, credit to the writer as the Fast and Furious franchise really is getting better in its representation of and attitudes towards women. Elena (Elsa Pataky) and Dom had gotten together by the end of Fast Five and how she lets Dom go, and Letty’s reaction to her, is very mature on all sides.

There’s a whole subplot in Fast & Furious 6 that feels out of place. It involved Brian having to leave the team in order to investigate Shaw’s criminal connections and I achieves nothing in terms of furthering the plot. However, it is more of a character study as Brian attempts to atone for his part in Letty’s “demise” and her current situation.

As the series has grown and the team/family of heroes has expanded, it does mean that the villains don’t get much development. Evans tries his best to be a different kind of menacing to the ones Dom and his crew have encountered before, but it doesn’t really hold up bar one scene where he and Diesel have a standoff. Roman makes a comment that Shaw’s crew is like their evil twins but that’s all down to appearances rather than their skills or personalities as you never really get to know any of them.

Fast & Furious 6 is still fun and has bigger stunts than before, though it does have a somewhat convoluted plot. The emphasis is still on family though and on the whole the emotional beats land which is what you really want from this franchise. 3/5.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious (2009)

When reinstated FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) crosses paths with fugitive Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in Los Angeles, they reluctantly put aside past differences to take down a common enemy, a drug lord known only as Braga.

Fast & Furious sees the main four characters from the first film; Dom, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) return and work together. It is great to see these characters again and the cast still has great chemistry, however the story lets them down. The script is dull, the action sequences are, for the most part, uninspired, and there’s more brooding than fun.

In hindsight, Fast & Furious lays the character groundwork for future and better films in the franchise. But that doesn’t make Fast & Furious an enjoyable film to watch. There’s the odd good moment, like when Mia says to Brian; “Maybe you’re not the good guy pretending to be the bad guy. Maybe you’re the bad guy pretending to be the good guy.” But these few interesting character moments are hard to come by.

Fast & Furious is a lot more serious than its predecessors and losing that sense of fun makes the film, and the story, a lot more generic. There’s less straight out car races in Fast & Furious but more action sequences like shootouts and foot chases, though unfortunately the only exciting sequence is the one the film opens with. The opening and first act of the movie are the most interesting as it sets up these characters we already know and it’s exciting to see where they are going. Regrettably, once you know that, the plot is very predictable, and the film loses almost all momentum.

While it’s good to have Brian and Dom back together, there’s not enough thrills nor a compelling story to make Fast & Furious stand out in either the franchise, or as an action film. To be honest, the biggest problem of Fast & Furious is that two of the main action sequences, including the finale, are set in a poorly lit tunnel where choppy editing makes things hard to follow. There’s nothing thrilling about it. 2/5.

REVIEW: Battle Los Angeles (2011)

As a squad of U.S. Marines attempt to rescue a group of civilians during an extra-terrestrial invasion of Los Angeles, they become the last line of defence for the city.

There are a lot of characters in Battle Los Angeles and they spend most of their time in full tactical gear including a helmet, so it is often difficult to tell them apart. Plus, as there’s so many characters who have only the bare minimum of character traits to make them stand out, it’s hard to keep track of who has just been killed and who is still alive.

The squad is led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) but the real main character is Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the one that has more than a superficial backstory and has some dramatic moments too – he gets a rather good speech where everyone else looks at him with respect.

Michelle Rodriguez’s Tech Sergeant Elena Santos is one of the more memorable characters, that that could be because she’s one of two women in the main cast of characters. The actors all do as well as they can do with what they’re given. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, the dialogue is full of military clichés and there’s expository dialogue every ten minutes or so.

While Battle Los Angeles is an alien invasion film it plays out more like a war film with the aliens attacking the squad from a distance, and each side taking cover, so you never really get a good look at them. When the aliens do become clearer, the creature design is not that imaginative or interesting.

There are some exciting shootouts in Battle Los Angeles but they’re unfortunately few and far between, and the slower, more serious moments seriously bog down the film. It’s also far too long and had at least three moments where you felt like it was coming to a conclusion but then things kept happening. 2/5.

REVIEW: Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead criminal husbands, take their lives into their own hands as they conspire to steal the money they need to repay the men who are out to hurt them, and to make a better life for themselves.

Directed by Steve McQueen who cowrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and many other twisty stories, Widows is a tense heist thriller that never lacks in character and world building.

Widows grabs your attention straightaway, with the heist that goes wrong and leads to four career criminals dying. From then it’s an exploration of the people who are left behind and their grief and loss of what to do next. Viola Davis’s steely Veronica is the one who brings the widows together. She has plans left to her by her late husband (Liam Neeson) and needs help in order to get the money to stop those who wish to hurt her.

All four leading ladies are magnificent. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda is struggling to provide for her young children, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice has no career prospects, and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is working multiple jobs to keep herself and her family afloat. They are four very different characters but they come together with one goal in mind. That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, but together they find a strength and determination that some of them didn’t know they had.

Set in Chicago with a backdrop of criminal activity, by politicians and more traditional criminals alike, Widows manages to be a compelling story about interesting and layered women while also managing to bring in race, politics and class into the story. These elements flesh out the Chicago setting. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a career politician and whose family has been elected to office for generations, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, a man who has criminal connections but is from the neighboured he’s campaigning to represent. These two men each have underhand dealings but they approach illegal activity, politics and violence in very different ways.

While Widows is building towards a heist, it’s the characters themselves and the stages they have to go through to prepare for the heist that’s the main focus of the film. That doesn’t make it, or the final crime, any less satisfying. You learn about these women, the hardships they’ve faced, and the forces that are out to stop them, and you soon realise that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they set out to do. 5/5.

Thoughts on… the Resident Evil films

Last month I finished watching the Resident Evil film series for the first time. I watched the first film back in May on Netflix and then when I saw a cheap deal on a box set of all the films I decided to get them and slowly make my way through them all.

The films are apparently very loosely based on video games with the same name. The films follow Alice (Milla Jovovich), someone who was once a security operative for the Umbrella Corporation, a bioengineering pharmaceutical company that develops bioweapons, as she fights against the corporation and the undead monsters it created with its bio weapons.

They are not particularly great films and the early ones haven’t aged particularly well in regards to the special effects but generally there’s something somewhat enjoyable/good to be found in each one. There’s often a lot of quick editing, making it hard to follow or appreciate action sequences and the dialogue isn’t always that great either. there’s a lot of heavy-handed exposition dumps throughout the film-series, especially in Resident Evil: Retribution. The later films were obviously shot/converted into 3D as there’s so many shots of bullets or knives flying towards the screen. It’s this sort of thing that might have looked cool or added something to the film if you were watching it in 3D in the cinema but now, watching it on the TV it’s just a gimmick.

My favourites out of the six-film series is the first Resident Evil film and Resident Evil: Extinction. The first film because it’s really quite a tense film that combines mystery and horror well. Being in The Hive (the underground research facility), such an enclosed space with only a small group of characters who are learning about the undead at the same pace you are is interesting. Plus, the deadly artificial intelligence offers an extra layer of threat because it has control of the whole place. The characters themselves all follow pretty typical military-esque stereotypes with strong, in control leader James Shade (Colin Salmon) and the lone-badass girl in the team Rain (Michelle Rodriguez).

I like Resident Evil: Extinction because it really feels like a post-apocalyptic world. It’s set in the desert states of America, Alice’s outfit is the most practical out of all her various outfits she wears across the films, and it’s got a lot of interesting characters like Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) who is really cool and capable and I loved his relationship with Alice, and Claire (Ali Larter) the leader of this ragtag group of survivors you follow. All the other character you see in this group of survivors are obviously somewhat smart and capable to have survived so long and when Alice comes into their lives, you get to really see how her abilities have developed.

Both films feature the zombie dogs which are my favourite scary creatures in the series. I think it’s because you see monster-humans a lot in media but you don’t really see the animals become undead or evil. The sequences with undead dogs and crows are some of my favourite, they’re instantly more tense and scary in my mind.

The Resident Evil franchise is not the best thing ever but in my mind, it’s not the worst either. I think Resident Evil: The Final Chapter did a good job at wrapping everything up, especially as the films seemed to get more convoluted as they went on. There was the various clones, characters who didn’t stay dead and the Umbrella Corporation’s over the top evil plans, it all got a bit confusing and unnecessary at times. I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time on them, they were mostly entertaining, easy-watches – though I didn’t really like Resident Evil: Afterlife, I found it kind of boring.

Have you watched the Resident Evil films? What do you think of them?

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.