(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “The Fast and the Furious” (2001); “Turbo-Charged Prelude” (2003); “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)

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Back in 2001, a little film named “The Fast and the Furious” found its way out of the woodwork of Universal Studios. Car enthusiasts the world over lifted their arms to the sky and praised the car gods (rather than the hard-working staff at Universal Studios, mind you) for bestowing upon them a movie that captured (or at least tried to capture) the essence of the street racing subculture. Inspired by a Vibe Magazine article (“Racer X”) by Kenneth Li, the film stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and rap artiste Ja Rule. Although it received mixed critical reviews for its abundance in style and lack of substance, “The Fast and the Furious” was a box office hit  and eventually became a certified cult classic within the racing community.

 

So, what’s the big deal about “The Fast and the Furious”, you ask? Well, it spawned a franchise consisting of five (FIVE, GODDAMMIT!) sequels and two short films, several video games, video games inspired by the movies (“Need for Speed: Underground” is a major example, and a game I REALLY enjoyed playing the shit out of back in the days) and a renewed interest in almost everything car-related, from car modification to auto racing. And it’s this this Fast and Furious Franchise (or FFF for short) that I’ll focus on over the next few posts.  I’ will be reviewing all six “Fast and Furious” films (Yes, even that one showing in theaters right now) including the preludes/short films to “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Fast & Furious” respectively: “‘Turbo-Charged Prelude” and “Los Bandoleros”. As an added bonus, I’ll briefly touch on their respective soundtracks, as music plays an integral role in the enjoyment of any film with the words “Fast”, “and” and “Furious” in its title.

 

Oh, and by the way, you can expect some minor spoilers in this write-up, so please don’t say I didn’t warn you. Start your engines!

 

 

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“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” (2001) – Ah, the little film that could. And to think it came out twelve years ago. No fucking shit! Hell, in the next five to six years, this movie will be old enough to get a driver’s license! “The Fast and the Furious”, directed by Rob Cohen (who gave us such timeless “masterpieces” like “xXx”, “Stealth”, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and last year’s travesty “Alex Cross”. I’m being ironic here, folks), kicks off the franchise into high gear. It features Vin Diesel in his kinda-iconic role as Dominic “Dom” Toretto, Paul Walker who plays Brian O’ Conner and a cast which includes Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Matt Schulze (Vincent) and Rick Yune (Johnny Tran). The story centers on Brian O’ Conner, a L.A.P.D. officer, who’s assigned by the FBI to bring down a gang of mobile hijackers led by Dom Toretto. In order to do that, however, he must go undercover into the fast-paced world of L.A. street racing, where Dom is a major figure. Brian befriends Dom, acknowledges the presence of his usually-scowling girlfriend Letty and starts a relationship with his sister Mia, which pisses off her unlikely suitor Vincent. Talk about the “Young and the Restless”….oops, I mean, “Fast and the Furious”. Later in the film, Brian and Dom run afoul of an Asian biker gang led by Dom’s rival Johnny Tran. This gets them deep into the dark side of the L.A. street racing scene, where danger occurs both on and off the road…..or in or outside the car or whatever.

 

If you know your 1990s movie history, then you may already have figured out that “The Fast and the Furious” is “Point Break” on wheels. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (RIP) are replaced with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, and surfboards are replaced with customized cars.  Even the ending of both films (which I won’t spoil) are similar. But whether you saw “Point Break” or not (which you REALLY should, if you haven’t yet), you’ve seen this whole cop-going-undercover-to-gain-friendship-with-supposed-bad-guy-just-so-he-could-arrest-his-ass formula done before in other action and crime movies. But then again, “The Fast and the Furious” is an action/crime movie (with customized cars), and a rather entertaining one at that. The acting by the film’s cast is passable, but it’s Vin Diesel with his monotone voice, scowling face (rivaled by the token ‘tough chick’ Michelle Rodriguez) and bad-ass demeanour, who stands tall among the crowd. The story and dialogue aren’t Oscar-worthy material but it works well, for the most part, with this film. But let’s face it – you don’t watch “The Fast and the Furious” for story and acting. You want to see car chases and car races, and trust me, you’ll get your money’s worth. The car races and chases are exciting and energetic as fuck, but it’s the final chase/race sequence that stands out as the most AWESOME section of the entire movie. The soundtrack,  mostly hip-hop and rapcore-based, is really good, and fits perfectly with the film’s tone. You can look out for Ludacris and Nate Dogg’s (RIP) club banger ‘Area Codes”, Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” (a.k.a. the song that literally every action movie trailer in the early 2000s played), Murder Inc (remember that shit?!) affiliate/weed carrier Cadillac Tah’s “POV City Anthem” (if you were a fan of B.E.T’s “Rap City Tha Basement” (a.k.a. the greatest fucking show in B.E.T. history), you may remember the video to this song. If not, you can check it out YouTube – if you give a shit) and the film’s theme song of sorts (“Furious”) rapped in the most annoying fashion by former Murder Inc. poster boy Ja Rule (RIP – to his career, that is), with current Bermuda Triangle-resident rapstress Vita who simply compliments the very same shit he’s rapping about (“It’s murda, murda, you know it’s murda murda! We live it, we breathe it, we screaming murda murda murda!“). Somebody shoot me. Groan!  And speaking of Ja Rule, his brief appearance, where he manages to drop the only F-bomb in the entire movie (“Fuck you then!”), officially marked the beginning of a popular trend where a rapper must appear in a Fast and Furious movie.

 

In the end, “The Fast and the Furious” is a high-octane, heart-pumping action/car-racing movie that still holds up surprisingly to this day. Many FFF fans (I wasn’t stuttering, folks.) still consider it the best entry in the overall series, as it contains the blueprint for the the other films to follow in the series (fast cars, hot chicks etc. etc.).  It isn’t a great action movie by a longshot – or an original one for that matter, but as far as car movies go, it’s a classic in its own right. And it will make you forget that a certain racing movie called “Driven” , which starred Sylvester Stallone and Burt (remember me from “Evening Shade“? Matter of fact, have you ever heard of “Evening Shade”?) Reynolds, came out approximately two months before “The Fast and the Furious”. Or existed for that matter.

 

 

“TURBO-CHARGED PRELUDE” (2003) –  This short film, found on the “2 Fast 2 Furious” DVD or Blu Ray or…. ahem….YouTube (gotta love YouTube!), serves as the…you guessed it….prelude to “2 Fast 2 Furious”. “Turbo-Charged Prelude” showcases, in six minutes, a series of events, centered on Brian O’ Conner. After letting Dom escape in the conclusion of “The Fast and the Furious”, Brian finds himself on the run from the law. He goes state-hopping from Los Angeles to Miami, evading the police and winning money in a series of street races. His journey ends in Miami, where he purchases, and customizes, a sweet-ass Skyline GT-R. Nice! This was actually a really interesting short film, and I appreciated the way it relied on visuals and sound, as opposed to dialogue, to tell its story. Had it been in black-and-white and included some piano music and 1920s-looking cue cards, I would’ve appreciated “Turbo-Charged Prelude” more as the ‘silent’ film it tries to be, but it’s good just the way it is. Honestly, it won’t hurt if you skip this prelude, as it doesn’t add anything beneficial to the story of “2 Fast 2 Furious”. But if you’re really curious as to what happened between the first and second films, you should give this one a look. Keep in mind however: the prelude’s closing text “2 be continued” – stupid as it is – should be treated as a fair warning of what to expect in…

 

 

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“2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” (2003) –  a.k.a. the sequel to the little film that could, directed this time by John Singleton who gave us great (I’m not being sarcastic) movies like “Boyz N The Hood” and “Baby Boy”, and a cinematic piece of dogshit called “Abduction”. Anyhoo, “2 Fast 2 Furious” starts off with the BANGING instrumental to David Banner and Lil Flip’s smash hit “Like a Pimp”. SIDE NOTE: When you start watching this movie, you should be nodding your head or ‘throwin’ bows’ at an imaginary crowd at this point in time . I’m just saying. Rapper/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (who plays ex-street racer and racing organizer Tej Parker), assisted by his big-ass Afro, introduces Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker, obviously) to the story. After a turbo-charged opening race, Brian is arrested by U.S. Customs Service agents. His former boss from the first film, Bilkins (Thom Barry), makes a proposition with him: if Brian assists the FBI and U.S. Customs in apprehending Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), an Argentinian drug lord who employs street racers to transport drug money through Miami, his criminal record will be wiped clean. Of course, Brian agrees – but he chooses a driver to assist him: ex-convict and childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson – who starred in “Baby Boy” by the way). Along with undercover Customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Brian and Roman set out to stop Carter.

 

If you haven’t noticed it, I didn’t mention the name ‘Dom Torreto’ in the previous paragraph. Well, if you must know, that’s simply because Vin Diesel is NOT in this movie. With the exception of Paul Walker and Thom Barry, no other major character from “The Fast and the Furious” appears in “2 Fast 2 Furious”. I could imagine this move by Universal Studios pissing the pants off many a fan of the first movie. But I guess that since Vin was busy at the time producing and starring in the forgettable action thriller “A Man Apart”, Universal had no choice but to place Mr. Surfer Boy as the lead actor. Paul Walker does a decent job of carrying the film on his shoulders without the help of Vin, but when you see him paired up with Tyrese Gibson (who’s not a bad actor at all – even if he does star in bad movies – *COUGH*The second and third Transformers movies *COUGH!) , you can’t help but long for the bad-assery of Vin Diesel to seep its way into “2 Fast 2 Furious”. And because of this lack of bad-assery, the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously. Yes, there are a few intense moments that warrant the film’s PG-13 rating, but compared to “The Fast and the Furious”, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is way more fun. The racing/chase sequences are flashier and more over-the-top than in the original – with the first race (ironically enough) topping the list of best sequence in the entire movie. SIDE NOTE: 2003 was a standout year for car chase sequences in movies. This  was the year which gave us the phenomenal chase scenes from “Bad Boys II”, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, with each sequence literally pushing the boundaries of action and car chase filmmaking. The first car race in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is not as jaw-dropping or logically insane as the abovementioned car chase sequences,  but it is an enjoyable thrill ride nonetheless – regardless of the film’s notion that when you activate nitrous oxide (or NOS) in your car, everything outside the car turns into a vibrant, seemingly-drug-induced collage of colours. 

 

The story, while not taking itself too seriously as I already mentioned, is fucking weak. It tries too hard to combine the flashy vibe of the street racing culture presented in the first film with a bootleg “Miami Vice” – like story. This is evident in the third act which feels more like a TV show than a racing movie. Even the “Dukes of Hazzard”-esque climax and wrapped-neatly-in-a-bow conclusion to “2 Fast 2 Furious” has the markings of a TV show. The acting isn’t all that great either. Cole Hauser plays a really shitty villain, Eva Mendes isn’t given much to do except look smoking hot (I’m not being sexist here, folks) and Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson spend half of the time bickering like bitchy schoolboys: “I seen you checkin’ her out, man.” “No, I wasn’t. Shut up!”, “You shut up!”. “No, you shut up!”. Yeeeeeah, you get the idea. Tyrese has the charisma that one expects from a R&B artiste/actor but his annoying antics and facepalm-worthy dialogue (“It’s a ho-asis in here, brah!”, “Hey man, you got something to eat up in here? We HUNGRY!”) will test your patience. Ludacris, whose rap career skyrocketed during the early 2000s, is enjoyable as Tej Parker – and though he doesn’t appear that much in the movie, he still shows up in more scenes than Ja Rule did in the previous one. Also appearing in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is Jin Auyeung, a Chinese-American rapper who first shot to prominence by winning the B.E.T. 106 & Park Freestyle Friday rap battle in 2001. It’s a shame his rap career never blew up though. Shame indeed.

 

So the car chases were decent, but the story and performances weren’t. And Vin Diesel’s not in it. Why then should you sit through this movie? Well, believe it or not, the soundtrack fucking KNOCKS! Released by Def Jam Records and Ludacris’ own label Disturbing Tha Peace, the hip-hop and R&B-based soundtrack to “2 Fast 2 Furious” is, by the far, the BEST Fast and Furious soundtrack in like…..EVER! It’s guaranteed to make your head nod – even if your forehead is in pain from too much facepalming. Songs like the aforementioned “Like A Pimp”, “Pick up the Phone” (by Tyrese Gibson, R. Kelly & Ludacris – which I REALLY enjoyed back in 2003, by the way), “Pump it Up” (by rapper/unlikely VH1 reality show star Joe Budden) and Ludacris’ SMASH hit “Act a Fool” are sure to take you back to the glory days of early-2000s hip hop music. Ultimately, “2 Fast 2 Furious” left its brain somewhere between Miami and Los Angeles, but it still holds up as a stylish, upbeat take on the exact blueprint that the first film formulated (FFF…..get it?!). It’s certainly not an improvement over the first film, and retrospectively, it’s not director John Singleton’s crowning achievement. But if you’re looking for a mindless racing movie with fun, flash and fucking dope hip hop music, pop in the DVD or Blu-Ray (or download it if you’re like me), crank your volume to 11, and act a fool with “2 Fast 2 Furious”

 

And now for your enjoyment, the music video to Ludacris’ “Act a Fool”! ENJOY!

 

 

 

MY RATINGS – 

“The Fast and the Furious” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)

“Turbo-Charged Prelude” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“2 Fast 2 Furious” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

 

– Matthew

Double Feature – “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” (2013) & “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)

“Star Trek”, created by the late Gene Roddenberry, began as a campy 1960s TV series and grew into a franchise and worldwide phenomenon, cementing itself permanently into the realm of  pop culture. After 6 TV series (3 of which are hailed as some of  the greatest shows to grace the television screen: the original “Star Trek”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”), 10 movies (seriously!) and a slew of video games (NONE of which I ever had the luxury of playing), the essence of Star Trek seemed only to exist in its ever-faithful fans, nicknamed the “Trekkies”. But after the valiant efforts of rejuvenating film franchises like the Batman series (i.e. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” in 2005 and 2008 respectively) and the James Bond series (with “Casino Royale” in 2006) proved rewarding in the box office, it was only a matter of time until the “Star Trek” film franchise got the opportunity to be rebooted for a new generation.

 

Like over 60% of the world’s population (give or take), I truly enjoyed director/producer/writer J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise back in 2009. Not only was I wowed by the extraordinary special effects, fast-paced action and ‘popcorn movie’ fun that the film delivered, but I was impressed by the excellent casting of its actors, great characterization and the film’s emphasis on alternate timelines which helped connect the events in this reboot with that of the original series. And after four years of patient waiting, Mr. Abrams returns to the director’s chair of the Starship Enterprise to produce and direct the second chapter of the Star Trek reboot: “Star Trek Into Darkness”.  But with the surprising success of the first film, was its sequel worth the wait?

 

Only one way to find out….

 

OH RIGHT! I almost forgot! I have to talk about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” first! Awwww maaaaan!

 

Like over 90% of the world’s population (give or take), I saw the trailer for this film last year and thought to myself: “You have got to be fucking shitting me!”. The words “Hansel & Gretel” and “Witch Hunters” should not be in the same title, I told myself back then. After the releases of “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” films last year (which technically told the same story, even though the latter took a dark approach to the source material – you can read my review on both films here if you like), it only seemed fitting (I’m being ironic here, folks) to take an already dark fairy tale about two kids being fattened by an evil witch into an action fantasy shoot-em-up (No, I’m not being ironic!). Co-written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (some dude from Norway), and released in glorious, money-sucking, brain cell-frying 3D by Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MTV Films (the fuck?!!) and Gary Sanchez Productions (founded by comic actors Will Ferrell and Adam McKay)(also – the fuck?!!),  the film generally received negative reviews. This was fairly obvious since (a) it was released in January – where the dregs of a full barrel of money-making Hollywood films are disposed into theaters; and (b) the name of the movie IS “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”!

 

So why am I writing on witch hunters instead of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” (2009)? For one thing, I had intended to review both Star Trek films, but because there were a number of pre-summer blockbuster season films that I wanted to write on initially, I chose instead to focus on one film currently showing in theaters alongside one that I missed out on – or one that I saw, but didn’t get the time to write about it – earlier this year. Secondly, talking about it now saves me the hassle of talking about it – and watching it – later on this year. Thirdly, and quite honestly, you don’t need me to go into lengthy detail as to why the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film was so great, when all you’re itching to find out is if the second one is worth it or not. And finally, “Hansel & Gretel” appeared online this week on one of my favourite streaming sites. So fuck it, what did I have to lose – apart from 90 minutes of my life? Anyhoo…

 

 

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“HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS” –  “Hansel & Gretel: Witch-Ass Kickers” (not the real title) opens with a young Hansel and Gretel being abandoned by their father in the forest. They come across at a Tim Burtonesque-like gingerbread house, and as you would expect, they go inside  – only to be captured by an evil witch who wants to devour them. The siblings outsmart the witch, and they get to stab and incinerate (Daaaaaamn!) their ‘witchy’ captor in the process. 15 years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are leather-wearing, gun and crossbow-toting, expletive-spouting badasses who kill witches for a living. They arrive at a town, and learn that a witch named Muriel has kidnapped some kids to sacrifice during a ritual that will take place during the self-explanatory Blood Moon. Muriel, by the way, is none other than Famke “Honestly, all I did in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ was scowl, talk evil and act bitchy” Janseen who played Jean Grey in the first three X-Men films. A mysterious woman accused of witchcraft (Pihla Viitala), a local fanboy knowledgeable in Hansel and Gretel’s exploits in witch hunting (Thomas Mann), and a troll named Edward ….yes, I said it….A TROLL NAMED EDWARD….who works for Muriel the witch, get themselves involved in our heroes’ journey to stop Muriel and save the kids. And that’s the movie – in a nutshell.

 

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is every bit as ridiculous as the title suggests. The characters are underdeveloped, the story is unintelligent and the action sequences that the film boasts are uninspired. Yet the film always manages to remain self-aware of how ridiculous it is, making the experience of watching it more of a guilty pleasure than a chore. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play their two-dimensional characters well enough, and Famke Janseen relishes herself in her ‘witchy’ character as she spits cartoonish lines like “We….will be…invincible” and “I go by many names. None of which you are worthy of pronouncing”.  Yeeeeeeah. Thomas Mann’s (who starred in last year’s exercise in teenage partying and implied anarchy “Project X”) character isn’t given much to do. The only thoughtful thing he really does is offer a bowl of porridge to an injured Gretel in one scene, followed by his delivery of the film’s most facepalm-inducing line: “Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right”. And here we go…. ONE…TWO….THREE….*FACEPALM!!!*. The action scenes, like I said, are uninspired, with nearly all of them shown in snippet form throughout the film’s trailer and most of them relying on fake-looking blood effects. The final action sequence, which made up for the rest of the seen-that-in-the-trailer-already events of the first and second acts, was easily the best thing about “Hansel & Gretel”. It’s every bit as over-the-top and bad-ass as the entire film should have been.  The make-up effects and production design get individual points, and the decision to use an actor in an animatronic suit to play the troll instead of “simpler” computer graphics worked for the film. Ultimately, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is light years FAR from great, but it’s really not that terrible of a movie. I can see this film becoming a cult classic in the next ten few years or so, with audiences looking past the piss-poor story and lack of characterization and enjoying the one-liners, weird characters and scenes involving Hansel and Gretel chasing witches on foot through the forest (why a witch would RUN away from his captors before jumping on a broom or scaling up a tree to escape danger is anyone’s guess).  And in time, the film may find itself ranked among the great cult classics like “Labyrinth” and “Army of Darkness” (their influences do resonate on “Hansel & Gretel”, by the way).  But for now, the world won’t end if you skip this film. If, however, you’re still curious about it, I strongly suggest watching it with some popcorn and a bottle of rum nearby. But before you do, accept these words of caution from Gretel herself: “Whatever you do, don’t eat the fucking candy”.

 

 

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“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” –  Previously on “Star Trek”, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) became the Captain of the USS Enterprise starship, and together with communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), chief medical officer “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), helsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and everyone’s favourite half-human, half-Vulcan First Officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto),  they blow shit up, kick alien ass and not to mention, boldly go where no man has gone before. In this latest outing, Kirk is called to action, following the bombing of a Federation-based building in London, and a vicious attack on the Starfleet Command building in San Francisco. The perpetrator is a former Starfleet agent, and EVIL sonuvabitch, named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).  The tragic outcome of the attack on Starfleet Command leaves Kirk with a personal score to settle with John. And so, Kirk leads his crew members on a manhunt for John – a manhunt that will forever change the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise.

 

Before I begin this review, let me make this clear: I am NOT a Trekkie! I do remember watching parts of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series as a child, wondering how in the hell Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) was capable of seeing through that visor covering his eyes, why the hell Data (Brent Spiner) was so emotionless (I had no idea what an android was back then, folks) and what the FUCK was up with Worf’s (Michael Dorn’s) forehead. Oh, and I was amazed by the voice, sheer awesomeness and bald head of its lead actor, Patrick “Why did they cast me at the last minute for ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine'” Stewart. And no, I haven’t seen all of the Star Trek movies, and as far as I’m concerned, I probably never will. I may not be a Trekkie, but even I know that with the exception of the first film -1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (criticized for its slow pace and over-reliance on special effects) and the 10th film in the franchise – 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” (i.e. the proverbial final bolt in the franchise’s proverbial coffin which was immediately shot into proverbial orbit as part of a  proverbial space burial after its proverbial crash-and-burn in the box office), the even-numbered films are better than the odd-numbered ones. And it’s the even-numbered films (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and “Star Trek: First Contact”) that I enjoyed as opposed to “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” that I skipped, “Star Trek Generations” and “Star Trek: Insurrection” that I forgot about, and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (*COUGH*Worst Star Trek movie ever made*COUGH) and “Star Trek: Nemesis” that I regretted seeing.

 

With that being said, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a really, REALLY fucking good movie. Seriously, it is! Similar to its predecessor, “Into Darkness” has a fast-paced story, dazzling visuals (and lens flare – OH MY WORD! the lens flares are in full effect in this film) and spectacular action sequences. The acting is great throughout, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto (whose potent chemistry – which, at times, bordered on subtle ‘bromance’ – served as the heart of the previous film) stepping up their individual fucking game with two of the film’s best performances. But alas, they’re out-shined by Benedict Cumberbatch who delivers the most memorable performance in the entire movie. Benedict, who, honestly, I never heard of until I saw him play Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s highly-intelligent modern mystery series “Sherlock”  (which was recently Americanized into the CBS series “Elementary” – a show I have yet to watch), is cold, brutal and menacing as John Harrison. He truly brings the darkness into a film that chose to call itself “Star Trek Into Darkness” without a fucking colon in-between the words. But despite the action scenes, flashy special effects and stellar acting, the day belongs to J.J. Abrams, who once again, delivers a solid directorial effort with this film. He never allows the action and visuals to overshadow the characters and story, and as such, the main characters are given an amazing level of depth, and the story is much layered than you might expect. There are moments of drama that will keep you enthralled, and moments of emotion that WILL tug at your heartstrings. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shedding some tears (man-tears if you’re a guy) with this film. Also, there are particular references to the original series and a couple of Star Trek movies (I’ll only give you one clue – they’re EVEN-NUMBERED  😉 ) that should appease the Trekkies out there, and encourage the non-Trekkies (myself included) to actually get themselves involved in the Star Trek franchise already!

 

Now I know this movie won’t be for everyone: if you truly dislike the Star Trek franchise, or if you’re one of the veteran Trekkies who hated the shit out of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of “Star Trek”, then this film will do little to change your mind. But if you loved the reboot, and you’re looking for a summer blockbuster/sequel that will entertain you mentally and move you emotionally, then “Star Trek Into Darkness” is definitely worth your time and money. And it’s possibly the first “best movie” for 2013 – so you should get on board the USS Enterprise immediately and boldly go where no movie so far this year has gone before! Live long and prosper.

 

MY RATING:

“HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS” – 1 1/2 out of 5 stars (“THAT SHIT CRAY!”)

“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” – 4 out of 5 stars (“SEE THIS MOVIE”)

 

– Matthew

Double Feature – “Pain & Gain” & “Iron Man 3”

“Pain & Gain”, the 10th film by the “author of action”, “trailblazer of thrill rides” and “ejaculator of explosions” (Yeah, I just made those up), Michael Bay, marks his return to R-rated territory since the 2003 guilty pleasure of a mindless action movie “Bad Boys II”. It’s written by the collaborative duo of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (in case you actually give a shit who wrote the script for a Michael Bay movie), the screenwriters behind the “Chronicles of Narnia” films and the underrated and very entertaining pre-Avengers film “Captain America: The First Avenger”. The cast of “Pain & Gain” includes Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in his third (THIRD, I tell you) movie this year, Anthony Mackie (a.k.a. the last guy to lose to Eminem in the gritty rap drama “8 Mile”, the only black character I could remember from Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning war thriller “The Hurt Locker” and the last guy I’d ever fucking expect to play Tupac Shakur in the Notorious B.I.G. rap biopic “Notorious”), Tony Shalhoub (famous for playing the O.C.D.-diagnosed detective Adrian Monk in the TV series that I still wished was martial-arts related: “Monk”), Rebel Wilson (fresh from embarrassing the shit out of herself with a slew of fat jokes on the recent MTV Movie Awards) and veteran actor Ed Harris (who played the villain in Michael Bay’s 1996 film “The Rock” which still remains his crowning achievement and my all-time favourite Michael Bay movie). As the poster for the film clearly states, it is based on a true story. Like we haven’t heard that before (*COUGH*in almost every demonic possession horror film to come out during the last five years*COUGH)!

 

“Iron Man 3”  is the first post-Avengers movie since…..DURRHH!! last year’s box-office smash “The Avengers”.  That’s all I have to say for the moment.

 

Besides, I have a LOT of shit to talk about concerning these movies, so brace yourself for a long-ass review. But first……

 

 

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“PAIN & GAIN” –  Set in 1995 (HEY! That’s the year “Bad Boys” – Michael Bay’s first feature length movie – came out! WOOOOOOW!!) Miami (HEY! That’s the same place “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II” were set in! WOOOOOOW!! Okay, okay. I’m done. Jeez!), “Pain & Gain” opens with the introduction of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a bodybuilder who works at the Sun Gym. Daniel is obsessed with self-improvement and the American Dream. He idolizes fictional characters like Scarface and Michael Corleone (from “The Godfather”) just as much as he idolizes his own muscle-bound body. And like Scarface himself, he wants the world – and everything in it. But since this movie is based on true events, and we all know how Scarface ended up, he’ll just settle with money and success. Anyhoo, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a self-made businessman, joins the Sun Gym. While training Victor, Daniel observes his rich lifestyle – and the scantily-clad girls surrounding him regularly – and begins to envy it. Y’see, Victor is a rich bastard (and not in a good way, mind you) and this forms the catalyst of Daniel’s master plan: kidnap Victor, torture him and extort him for his riches. Of course, Daniel can’t do this job alone, so he brings in trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie)  and ex-convict Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to assist him in his nefarious mission. For the American Dream that they desire in their own individual way, these three bodybuilders embark on a path of lies, schemes, debauchery and violence – a path that will forever change their lives and those around them.

 

“Pain & Gain” is rather tricky to figure out. From the premise of the film itself, and the flashy trailer that came out before the film’s release which, I must say, succeeded in getting me hyped for another Michael Bay movie since 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon which was not inspired by the Pink Floyd album “Dark Side of the Moon” even though listening to that is much more rewarding than sitting through that piece of cinematic horseshit again”, I was under the impression that it was, in essence, a dark comedy. I mean, beefed-up bodybuilders kidnapping, robbing and murdering people for money? And it’s based on a true story. How could that not make for a good dark comedy? Problem is, while the movie has its moments of sharply satiric humour and dark, serious content, it hardly blends the two properly. In one minute, you’re either laughing your ass off or facepalming yourself off the stupidity of Wahlberg’s, Johnson’s and Mackie’s characters, and in the next minute, something violent takes place and you’re reminded that these people are, in their own individually ridiculous way, selfish, despicable individuals – and, dare I say, fucking assholes. And it becomes a huge challenge to continue laughing at, and rooting for, characters who torture, kill and botch their way to wealth.  In a sense, this film takes a true story and gives it the Scarface/Godfather treatment. In other words, the audience is supposed to root for the bad guy, because he’s a bad-ass and he’s ballsy and he fought hard to attain everything he ever wanted.  But even Al Pacino’s Tony Montana and Michael Corleone characters had morals, values and a rigid code that they broke when necessary. For every decision they made, whether good or bad, they thought about it carefully, and there was a reasoning behind these decisions. It wasn’t like “Oh, let’s kidnap this guy, and torture him for a week, just so he can sign over his money to us, and we’ll be rich. And by the way, when we do get the money….we gotta kill him”.  

 

Now an argument could be made that “Pain & Gain” isn’t meant to be taken seriously in the first place (since the actual case that inspired it is downright preposterous) and you’re not supposed to root for the protagonists anyway since they are bumbling idiots. And the film itself does revel in its own preposterousness. The over-the-top characterization, vibrant visuals, and constantly-moving camerawork create a sense of hyper-reality to this real-life situation. But it tends to exaggerate itself so much that it’s really hard to take anything seriously, which, in turn, contradicts the “based on a true story” aspect of the film. It contradicts itself so much that it had to remind itself, and the viewer, TWICE that it is still based on a true story. But despite all that, I was entertained by “Pain & Gain”. The acting was good for the most part, especially from Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris, who plays the private detective Ed DuBois who tracked the three douchebag dipshits down in real life. Michael Bay’s directorial style is still as energetic and stylized as before, and it’s guaranteed to satisfy the Michael Bay purists out there. And while it is unevenly paced at times, and too long for its own good (clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes), the film is far from boring. In short, after four years of directing gigantic robots that leap out of planes and transform into vehicles which somehow manage to find their way onto a fucking road, “Pain & Gain” is a worthy return of Michael Bay into the R-rated action world which made him a legend, for better or worse. If you’re one of the many who despise his movies – even “Bad Boys II” – then this film will be a PAIN in the ass for you. But if you’re a fan of his movies, then you’ll GAIN (see how I did that? Heh heh heh.) two hours’ worth of brutal, insane and self-indulgent fun with enough over-saturated visuals and low-angle 360-degree camera rotations to keep your brain stimulated. Yes, I said “brain”. Don’t leave it at the door, like you normally would with his films. Keep it in your head for this one. Trust me.

 

Or you can spend a few more dollars (for 3D glasses that you may or may not get the opportunity to carry home, depending on the stickiness of your fingers) and see this instead….

 

 

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“IRON MAN 3” –  Following the events in the “Avengers” film, millionaire playboy/super hero Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) suffers from insomnia and panic attacks. He keeps himself busy by re-building and refining his Iron Man suits, which puts a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Meanwhile, a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) orchestrates a string of bombings in the United States. Tony’s best friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), formerly known as War Machine but now assumes the new title and armour of the Iron Patriot,  tries to warn Tony of the Mandarin’s presence, but to no avail. However, when an associate of Tony becomes badly hurt after a Mandarin-related bombing, Tony wises up, and publicly vows revenge. The Mandarin takes him up on his offer, and responds by destroying the holy fucking SHIT out of his home! Luckily, Tony survives, and undergoes a journey of realization and redemption that will determine the futures of both Iron Man and the man underneath it.

 

If you haven’t heard the news by now, “Iron Man 3”  has divided fans of both the Iron Man movies (more the first one than the second) and the comic book source material. Why, you ask? Because there’s a specific moment in the film … or should I say twist …. where something unexpected happens. To prevent any future threats of assassination and/or ass-whoopings, I’m not going to tell you what that moment is and when it occurs. But I can safely say that when that moment takes place, it’ll be up to you to either accept it as part of the story that will indefinitely make sense in the end, or stop caring about the story all together. At the end of the film, you’ll either be part of Team I STILL ENJOYED IRON MAN 3 DESPITE THE TWIST or Team FUCK IRON MAN 3! TWIST THIS, BITCH! (team names are subject to change). Personally, I accepted the twist, and it didn’t deter me from enjoying the rest of the film. But I will admit it took a lot of guts for the creators of this film to pull this stunt, and for Marvel Studios to sanction it, but they must have been aware that it would piss the hell out of many dedicated Iron Man fans. And the last thing you want to do is piss off the very same people who spent money on watching your films. But like the series finale of “The Sopranos” (which I finally saw, in case you were wondering why I mentioned it), I expect this twist to be the subject of much debate for weeks – hell, MONTHS – to come. Let’s just hope the kind folks at Marvel Studios don’t attempt a stunt like that in their future films. I’m just saying.

 

Anyhoo, about “Iron Man 3”. Replacing Jon Favreau in the director’s chair in this latest outing is Shane Black, writer of the buddy-cop action/comedy classic “Lethal Weapon” and writer/director of the FANTASTIC neo-noirish crime comedy film “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (which also starred Robert Downey Jr.). And he does a terrific job with “Iron Man 3”. Like “Lethal Weapon”, the film shifts tonally between comedy and action. Moments of seriousness shift consistently with moments of genuine humour. On the subject of humour, “Iron Man 3” is, by far, the most humourous of all the Iron Man movies so far, with most of the hilarious quips delivered from…who else….Robert Downey Jr. Once again, he pulls off an excellent performance as the sarcastic and narcissistic, yet humanely vulnerable and sympathetic, Tony Stark. And on the subject of Tony Stark, like “The Dark Knight Rises” that preceded it, “Iron Man 3” has more moments of Tony Stark and less of Iron Man. This, of course, will infuriate those who expected to see more Iron Man, but at least you’ll be given a chance to see the man behind the suit, and how he’s able to handle situations, big or small, without the use of his armour. As expected, the performances by the cast rarely disappoint (especially Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Kingsley who literally steals every scene he’s in) and the dialogue, as expected from Shane Black, is sharp and witty. Not to mention, the action sequences are SPECTACULAR enough to justify seeing the film on the big screen – and in 3D. And the story, while it falls under the weight of its own plot points at times, is well-written and well-executed by Shane Black himself.  SIDE NOTE: There’s a brief moment in the third act  between Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle which resembles the buddy scenarios of both “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. With Shane Black’s skills in writing buddy movies, maybe he should do a “Hawkeye & Black Widow” movie in the future. ‘Cause let’s face it – even B-list Avengers deserve a fucking movie as well!

 

In the end, I enjoyed the hell out of “Iron Man 3”. Even with the aforementioned and now infamous twist, it delivered a superhero film experience with laughs, action and a surprising amount of heart. While 2008’s “Iron Man” still remains the best in the trilogy, “Iron Man 3” is a considerable improvement over the slightly disappointing, but still entertaining “Iron Man 2” (2010). Like I said earlier, the twist in the film will decide whether you’ll enjoy the film or not, so proceed with caution. But if you’re willing to accept the twist, or at least let it slide until the ending credits, then you should enjoy this latest film entry into the Marvel universe. But if you have seen “Iron Man 3”, refused to accept the twist and have already commenced the condemnation of everything coming out this year from Marvel Studios (even the upcoming X-Men sequel “The Wolverine”), then there should be a spot for you in Team FUCK IRON MAN 3! TWIST THIS, BITCH! The team name is still subject to change though.

 

MY RATING:

“PAIN & GAIN” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“IRON MAN 3” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

– Matthew