FILM REVIEW: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (2022)

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Sonic: Let’s talk about your new outfit: it’s like Professor X meets Mr Monopoly.

Director: Jeff Fowler

Writers: Pat Casey, Josh Miller, John Whittington

Starring: Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally with Idris Elba as the voice of Knuckles and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic

Synopsis: Dr Robotnik returns to Earth with a new ally intent on revenge and in pursuit of a new ultimate power.

What happens if you mix the films Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze with Batman Forever and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, you get Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the fun but kinda crazy sequel to the biggest hit of 2020, Sonic the Hedgehog. Would Sonic the Hedgehog still have been the biggest hit of 2020 if cinemas didn’t close down shortly after due to the covid-19 pandemic? Who knows? It doesn’t matter because at the time the film was a big hit and everyone seemed to enjoy it for its playful harmless fun. The sequel picks up directly after the original with Jim Carrey’s Dr Robotnik stuck on a Mushroom Planet trying to get back to Earth to get revenge on Sonic. As he creates a portal to Earth, he meets Knuckles the Echidna, a red anthropomorphic short-beaked echidna whose father was one of the Echidna’s who killed Sonic’s mother figure, Longclaw, before she sent Sonic to Earth in the original film. Knuckles has a history as a soldier intent on fighting Sonic. Now that I write this, Knuckles isn’t given much of a back story as to why he wants to get Sonic just that his is. He teams up with Dr Robotnik to travel to Earth and find the Green Emerald a plot device which will give the bad guys ultimate power. This is taken directly from the video game and will be a fun easter egg for the fans. Knuckles is a great new character which Idris Elba voices with charm and dutiful service. He makes a great foe for Sonic who in the first film was pretty much undefeatable. Knuckles is powerful like Sonic, but instead of being super-fast he is super-strong.

The film also picks up directly after the original with Sonic living with Tom and Maddie Wachowski (returning players James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) as their foster son…? Tom gives Sonic fatherly advice on a fishing trip as he prepares to leave him alone as he and his wife need to attend the wedding of Maddie’s sister, Natasha (played by the hilarious Natasha Rothwell, returning from the original) in Hawaii. As they leave, Sonic enjoys the empty house by hanging out with the family dog and dancing around making the house a mess. Tails, an anthropomorphic two-tailed fox, is a fan of Sonic from another planet who comes to help Sonic when Dr Robotnik and Knuckles arrive to ruin his home alone time. The film, like the first, goes on to become a buddy road trip comedy adventure with Sonic and Tails becoming close friends (just like in the video game). The character designs are cute and work seamlessly in the live action setting.

The film is pretty similar to the first film with it being a constant clash of a Jim Carrey comedy routine and an adventure fantasy with Sonic and Tails. Also included is a bizarre wedding side plot for the human characters to enjoy some screen time which is absolutely bonkers.

Like the first film this is pretty inoffensive family fun which you can enjoy over the school holidays or a lazy Saturday afternoon. Sonic is a fun character and the new additions of Knuckles and Tails make it differentiate from the original. At times it seems overstuffed but it is a solid sequel which deserves its success.

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Rating: B-

FILM REVIEW: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (2020)

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Sonic the Hedgehog: Your egg drones are impressive, Eggman! But face it, you’ll never catch me!

Dr. Robotnik: Confidence… a fool’s substitute for intelligence!

Director: Jeff Fowler

Writers: Pat Casey, Josh Miller

Starring: Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic

Synopsis: Sonic is an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog who has transported to Earth and makes friends with a local Police Officer, while a mad Scientist tries to capture him.

The last film I watched pre-pandemic in the cinemas. What a time, I had no idea that this would be the last movie I watched in the cinema for a whole year! Well actually that’s not true I did end up seeing Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984. However this is about Sonic the Hedgehog – the movie! The iconic video game character, rival to Nintendo’s Mario Brothers. As a child I had a Sega Master System (not a Nintendo) I’m not sure why I got Sega I don’t remember deciding. Sonic the Hedgehog was one of my first video games I played all the time. Eventually I got Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (with Tails) on the next Sega machine – Sega Mega Drive. I kept up with the following sequels as time went on. Sonic was one of my favorite characters growing up. As a kid I always imagined a live action film with an animated version of him in it. During the early nineties this idea wasn’t unheard of. The hit film Who Framed Roger Rabbit was able to blend animation with live action seamlessly and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a television cartoon had a popular live action film. Even Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros had a live action film. They should have made a Sonic film in the nineties everyone would have loved it. However here we are now twenty years later and Sonic finally has a film. In early 2020 it was a weird time for Sonic the Hedgehog to appear in a live action film because Sega hadn’t produced a popular video game with Sonic the Hedgehog in it since the nineties. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Playstation 2, and Microsoft’s Xbox in the early 2000’s, meant the end for Sega as a console manufacturer and in 2001 the company became a games developer for other platforms, including their former rivals, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Several games featuring Sonic would pop up time after time but none of them had the mass popularity of the nineties Sega Mega Drive games. Characters such as Mario and Link were able to continue in their popularity into 2020 thanks to Nintendo being able to keep up with Playstation and Xbox. I admit I am now a Nintendo Switch addict and Mario and Link have taken over as my favourite video game characters. However, I will forever have fond memories of playing hours of Sonic as a kid and it was a treat to take my daughter to see him on the big screen even though she played Mario with me and didn’t really know who Sonic was.

The film makes it easy for newcomers to become familiar with Sonic and most children will get a kick out of his fun, free-spirited attitude. He’s a child as the film opens who lives on another planet with a talking Owl named Longclaw who is like a mother figure for Sonic. Although in the video game Sonic collected rings to increase his power and lives, in the film rings are used to travel to different planets (eventually they are used to teleport anywhere). Sonic’s home planet is under threat and Longclaw gets Sonic to teleport to Earth before she is killed by Echidna-type characters. (Similar to the opening of Superman). The film’s opening is beautiful to look at and a great adaptation of the game, especially the opening level of Green Hills. The characters are designed in CGI and look fantastic. They mix with the live action world realistically. Early in production a trailer went out with a different design for Sonic and audiences were so mad on social media that Paramount had to delay the release to update the design.
As Sonic lands on Earth he grows up in Green Hills, Montana on his own in a quiet, sleepy town that has zero crime and apparently two police officers. One of the Police Officer’s is Tom Wachowski (played by the vanilla James Marsden). Tom is married to the beautiful Maddie played by Tika Sumpter, who has fun with her minor role. Sonic is a fun loving, very fast anthropomorphic blue Hedgehog, however growing up alone has left him lonely and longing for friendship and connection. As he watches kids play baseball, he tells himself he is okay living on his own. That night he plays on an empty court and begins running so fast in anger that he causes an electromagnetic pulse which causes a massive power outage across his town. This gets the attention of the two police officers (the other Officer Wade is played by the hilarious Adam Pally from the excellent sitcom Happy Endings) Tom Wachowski has just been offered a new job in San Francisco and at the time he is packing to leave the town. Wade is completely useless as a Police Officer and calls Tom in a panic. While this is happening Sonic hides in Tom’s garage and they both accidently meet in shock. What follows is a road trip comedy or more of a father-son relationship that anchors the narrative. Sonic needs to leave Earth to a Mushroom Planet because he fears he may get taken by the Government for his powers. Tom agrees to take him to San Francisco where he left his rings which will take him to that planet. Did I mention Jim Carrey is in this…?

For fans of the video game, you will remember Sonic’s nemesis, the fat, bald and loud, Dr Eggman Robotnik, who would use robots and spaceships to attack Sonic at the end of each level. In the film he is played by Jim Carrey (who is completely unleashed) as a highly intelligent and arrogant Scientist who wants to find Sonic and harness his powers. If you are a fan of Jim Carrey from his Ace Ventura, The Mask and Liar, Liar performances you will enjoy his addition to the film. If you don’t then I tell you now do not watch this film! Carrey is completely unhinged in the role bringing his brand of humour to next level altitudes (pardon the pun). As a nineties kid I am a fan of Carrey’s comedic roles and I have to admit I enjoyed his performance in the film. The film overall becomes a mix of Jim Carrey performing a comedy routine and a buddy/adventure comedy with Sonic and Tom.

The film is harmless fun for the family to watch on a lazy afternoon or Saturday night. There is nothing here to offend (unless you hate Jim Carrey). The humour is aimed at both adults and children so everyone should have a fun time. The film works even for non-fans of Sonic as he is a great character for kids being funny, fast and generally inoffensive as a quick witted teenage boy. My daughter enjoyed it despite never playing a Sonic game. I think the film works as a mix of comedy, adventure and fantasy. Everything you would want from a film based on a video game and it’s probably one of the best made video game films (which isn’t a far stretch). I’ll even go out and get a new Sonic video game to have some gameplay nostalgia.

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B+

FILM REVIEW: SCREAM (2022)

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Wes Hicks: [suspecting Dewey as the killer] You got stabbed a billion times, got dumped by your famous wife, and crawled into a bottle. I think it’s safe to say you’re on the suspect list.
Dewey Riley: Well, maybe you’re the killer. Because that cut deep.

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Writers: James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega

Synopsis: 25 years after the original brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Scream is not a remake of Scream (1996) but it is actually Scream 5, picking up years after Scream 4 and continuing the story of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette). As the film opens, just like the original, we are introduced to a young girl who is alone at night, chilling out, getting ready to watch a movie when the phone rings. The sinister voice from the previous Scream films responds creepily “Hello Tara”. Tara Carpenter (a nod to horror director John Carpenter) answers innocently “Hello” they begin to chat about movies and how the state of horror films has changed since the last entry in 2011. As the previous films the film opens with a killer stalking a young girl on the phone until she figures out the killer is in the house. This opening scene is done masterfully by new directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett taking over the legendary Wes Craven (RIP).

We are soon introduced to a new batch of characters that will become suspects or murder victims as the new killer stalks them all. As most recent sequels to franchises we are getting a “requel” or “lega-sequel” where the original characters return but make way for new characters to take over (ala Star Wars, Jurassic World, Creed). The new characters include Sam Carpenter (played by the stunning Melissa Barrera from In The Heights) who is the victims older sister with a few dark secrets of her own. Her boyfriend Richie (played by Jack Quaid) who is a newbie to horror films and is enjoying the ride. Amber (played by the devilish Mickey Madison from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Tara’s best friend, who proves to be a tough foe for the ghost faced killer. Also there are Tara’s other friends, Wes (played by Dylan Minnette from Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why) and twins Mindy and Chad (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding, in reality unrelated). All of these characters pose as suspects or victims as the film goes through the standard horror tropes that we’ve come to gotten used to in a Scream film.

However our original favourites Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers and Dewey soon get pulled back into the mystery, with Dewey getting the most interesting screen time. David Arquette excels in his role as Dewey, the simple minded cop, who has been facing this type of killer for too long. The characters all team up eventually to stop the killer and work out why someone is doing this on the anniversary of the films first batch of murders.

Fans of the Scream franchise will find plenty to enjoy in this entry. This is solid sequel which corrects the mistakes of the previous entry and opens up the series to new characters and stories. The new characters aren’t as entertaining as those in Scream 4 however they are well-acted and Melissa Barrera makes a strong new scream queen.

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Rating: B+

FILM REVIEW DOUBLE: DEADPOOL (2016) & DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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DEADPOOL (2016)

Colossus: You will come talk with Professor Xavier.
Deadpool: McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines can get so confusing.

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams

Synopsis: A fast-talking mercenary with a morbid sense of humour is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and a quest for revenge.

Deadpool came out in 2016 in the peak of Comic Book Movie saturation. However with its R-Rated graphic violence, tongue in cheek humour and iconic performance from Ryan Reynolds this became the highest grossing X-Men film and a refreshing new take on the genre.

This is an average superhero origin story about a mercenary named Wade Wilson who falls for a stripper named Vanessa (played by the stunning Morena Baccarin) but soon gets cancer and doen’t have much longer to live. He decides to go through an experiment which will give him mutant powers similar to Wolverine where he can grow back his body parts and is unkillable. However the experiment leaves him disfigured and he leaves Vanessa and becomes Deadpool to exact revenge on the man who led the experiments, Ajax (Ed Skrein).

Although the plot is mediocre what elevates the material is the mix of R-Rated graphic violence
with the comedy of the character Deadpool who has constant witty remarks, breaks the fourth wall, insults himself and the X-Men Universe. Ryan Reynolds is brilliant as Deadpool, after many misfires as a superhero including Deadpool in the maligned Wolverine: Origins he finally found his own iconic performance. After this film everyone now knows him as Deadpool. Reynolds has always been a great presence on screen with his charming looks and Jim Carrey-esque humour. However he had more misses than hits. This film changed all of that as it was a massive success for an R rated Superhero film. Something the Studios never predicted.

The film also excels with its wonderful mix of supporting characters. The beautiful Morena Baccarin as Wade Wilson’s love interest is every comic book nerds fantasy. You have Karan Soni as the Indian Taxi Driver Dopinder, who seems sensitive and sweet in the beginning but has a dark side by the end. T.J. Miller as Weasel, Wade’s bartender who offers advice in times of need. Leslie Uggams (scene stealer) as Blind Al the ctrotchety blind old black woman who becomes Deadpool’s roommate.

This film is a lot of fun and similar to Iron Man, I wasn’t aware of the character from comic books or the X-Men Film Universe however this film changed all of that and I am now a huge fan of the character on screen and the comic book page.

A-

Highlights:
– Stan Lee as the Strip Club DJ
– Excellent opening establishing Deadpool as a character with his witty banter, conversations through the fourth wall, and then the action packed car chase sequence.
– The Soundtrack of cheesy 80’s/90’s hits

 

DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

Cable: You’re no hero. You’re just a clown, dressed up like a sex toy.
Deadpool: So dark. You sure you’re not from the DC universe?

Director: David Leitch

Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams

Synopsis: Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy of supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling mutant, Cable.

Deadpool 2 is as fun and entertaining as the original. Ryan Reynolds is still perfect as the Merc with a Mouth. However like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 you love these characters and enjoy the ride but the movie doesn’t surpass the original as it is exactly the same experience without the surprise of the first time you see these characters and their depiction on screen. The format is the same with Deadpool still breaking the fourth wall with witty jokes about X-Men films, comic book and pop culture references, and a sweet heart. This time instead of a love story it is a family story at its core.

The film actually borrows a lot from one of the best sequels of all time Terminator 2. A soldier from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin’s second Marvel villain this year) comes back in time to avenge the loss of his family by killing the Mutant who killed his family as a child. That child is Russell (Julian Dennison) a flame throwing mutant who is tested on in a Mutant Orphanage which is a front for dangerous tests and possibly sexual harassment of Mutants. Cable believes that if he kills him he can change the future and save his family. There isn’t much explanation of the character of Cable, all we know is that he is a strong soldier from the future with a cool gun who lost his family. Josh Brolin has a strong presence on screen however the character is quite underdeveloped and could have had more to do than being a killing machine like the original Terminator. Julian Dennison as Russell is a sympathetic character with a great story arc which coincides with each character. Deadpool’s bond with him becomes the heart of the story and provides drama to each action scene where he needs to protect Russell.

The Deadpool films aren’t your typical X-Men films. They are not dramatic character stories involving Mutants dealing with humanity. They are first and foremost superhero comedies (even parodies at some points) so you won’t get the characterisation and drama you expect from an X-Men film. All of the characters aside from Cable and Russell are comic relief with Deadpool as the main funny guy. I love this as it is a fun and different approach to the typical Marvel and DC fare, especially after the grim Avengers: Infinity War. This is just a fun pop-corn film with great action (new director David Leitch from the John Wick films brings a slickness to the action which was missing in the first) and great comedy from not only Ryan Reynolds Deadpool but from the supporting cast including Karan Soni as Dopinder, T.J. Miller as Weasel, Stefan Kapicic as Colossus, Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Leslie Uggams as Blind Al. The original built a successful formula with these characters and the sequel continues with their characters building on the original.

The sequel does introduce more comedic sidekicks with Deadpool trying to create his own version of the X-Men with X-Force which includes one of the best sequences of the film on their first mission to save Russell. Domino (played with charm and toughness by Zazie Beetz) is the stand out of the team and a great new addition to the Deadpool films.

If you enjoyed the first Deadpool I can’t imagine you wouldn’t enjoy this one. There is plenty of tongue in cheek humour and gruesome violence for the older comic book film fans to enjoy. It doesn’t capture the magic of the original but it is still a fun ride and I hope we get more Deadpool soon.

A-

Highlights:
• Best post credit scene ever
• The cameos
• Every scene with Dopinder
• Dubstep

FILM REVIEW: FINDING DORY (2016)

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Dory: The best things happen by chance.

Director: Andrew Stanton (Co-Director) Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse

Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell

Synopsis: A year after Finding Nemo, Dory remembers information which could reunite her with her estranged parents. What follows is a journey through the ocean and a marine aquarium to find her parents while Nemo and Marlin try and find Dory.

Finding Nemo (2003) is still perhaps one of the best Pixar films coming in the height of Pixar’s critical acclaim and popularity. The animators had created a beautiful and unique vision of the ocean and also included captivating characters such as Nemo, Marlin and Dory. Thirteen years later and Pixar has somewhat fallen from their throne. After 2003’s Finding Nemo, Pixar continued its stellar run with The Incredibles (2004), Wall E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Personally I think they lost their way this decade with Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012), and Monsters University (2013). However they acheived redemption last year with the brilliant Inside Out (2015). Finding Dory continues their upward tick in a charming and fun sequel to the classic Finding Nemo. They couldn’t top that original film however they simply continue the story and move the action to Dory’s point of view with Nemo and Marlin becoming the side characters.

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Dory is continuing to hang around Nemo and Marlin when one day she begins to remember things about her parents and how she lost them as a baby. She begins a journey to find them with the help of Marlin and Nemo. Along the way they again meet fun new characters such as the cantankerous Octopus (voiced by the renowned Ed O’Neil), Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) a wide eyed whale shark and Bailey the beluga whale (Ty Burrell). All of these characters provide fun and commentary as Dory continues through different set pieces to find her parents. Differing from the original film most of the story takes place in an aquarium rather than the open ocean which opens ideas about marine life in captivity and our favourite characters dealing with tourists and aquarium exhibits. However most of the film deals with being different and being accepted which is a strong theme for a children’s film in 2016.

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This film is so much fun with a lot of heart as well as you would expect from a Pixar film. It is not one of their best but it is very enjoyable and better than the sequels they have released this decade.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

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Baloo: [singing] Forget about your worries and your strife…
Mowgli: What’s that?
Baloo: That’s a song about the good life.

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Synopsis: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Perhaps Jon Favreau’s most disappointing film in years after the game changing Iron Man films and 2014’s charming Chef. The film is visually stunning however there doesn’t appear to be any linking narrative aka beginning, middle, end or character development. It is simply random scenes connected together by the one-note Mowgli and various animals in the jungle. However I don’t completely blame Jon Favreau as he is merely reenacting the animated Disney original from 1967 with less songs.

The plot of The Jungle Book revolves around a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who has been raised by wolves and the wise panther Bagheera (voiced regally by Ben Kingsley) in the Indian jungle. With threats from the chilling tiger Shere Khan (voiced menacingly by Idris Elba) Mowgli must leave the wolves and find his own people. Along the way he meets a sneaky snake (voiced seductively by Scarlett Johansson) and a laid back bear named Baloo (voiced with charm by the always great Bill Murray). He also ends up in a temple run by the gigantic ape King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken playing The Godfather). These series of events barely connect with each other and the film eventually finds a climax where the hero prevails but little else really matters. In fact the whole film felt like a series of events that don’t really matter. Mowgli is constantly saved from any threats and the actor does such a poor job in gaining any respect from the viewer as he clumsily reads through his lines and stares blankly at cgi creatures. I understand it must have been difficult for him to stare at tennis balls or sticks and create a realistic performance but with Favreau’s past with child actors including Emjay Anthony from Chef or Ty Simpkins from Iron Man 3 I was expecting more.

Where Favreau doesn’t let the audience down is with the breath-taking special effects. All of the animals are uniquely structured with meticulous design to put you in a real world of walking talking animals with genuine personalities. It was amazing to watch however if only the story and protagonist were more impactful.

Rating: 2 Stars

FILM REVIEW: FURIOUS 7 (2015)

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Dominic Toretto: I used to say I live my life a quarter mile at a time and I think that’s why we were brothers – because you did too. No matter where you are, whether it’s a quarter mile away or half way across the world. The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room, right here, right now. Salute mi familia. You’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.

Director: James Wan

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell and Dwayne Johnson

Synopsis: After the death of a close ally, Dominic Toretto, brings his gang back together to seek revenge and also go on a worldwide mission to help the government get their hands on a new form of GPS tracking equipment that can trace anyone in the world.

Unfortunately franchise fatigue and tragic behind the scenes events weigh heavy on the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious saga. It has been said again and again but it is quite the feat to have a b level action film from 2001 with no stars or credibility to go on to become a billion dollar franchise over ten years later. After the original The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a surprise hit and made street car racing popular the studio quickly went on to develop a sequel with the partnership of Vin Diesel’s stoic bad boy car racer, Dominic Toretto, and Paul Walker’s good boy charming undercover cop, Brian O’Conner to recapture the magic of the original. However Diesel didn’t want to be a part of it (believing he’d have a stronger career in more dramatic roles) so the studio went ahead and replaced him with Tyrese Gibson’s bad boy, Roman, who was essentially a more charming version of Toretto in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious (great title). Then in 2006 Universal released The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, which essentially strayed away from the buddy cop genre conventions of the previous two and went with a new story revolving around a troubled youth who has to move to Japan and discovers car racing and drifting. The film was the least successful of the franchise but did introduce Sung Kan’s Han who would become a series regular. The film also ended with a surprise cameo from Vin Diesel tying the film to the franchise. Perhaps the most important asset the third film brought was the introduction of director Justin Lin who would go on to re-establish the franchise for the better. In 2009, Lin brought the original four back together with the reunion of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez. It was a fun reunion and was a huge success at the box office showing that the franchise could live on. In 2011, Lin directed the best in the series with Fast Five, taking the gang on a wild heist and introducing Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Hobbs a federal Marshall on the hunt for Toretto. Johnson brought swagger and charm to the role of Hobb’s and Lin brought breathtaking action sequences to new heights and the series was now a phenomenon. In 2013, Lin made his final bow with Fast Six, which was another action masterpiece with incredible set pieces. However Lin decided to leave the franchise when Universal wanted to rush production and have Furious Seven released a year later. James Wan, successful from horror hits such as Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring was brought in to complete the film. Wan a talented director wanted to explore an action film and things were on the way however only months into production, Paul Walker tragically passed away in a car crash. The film appeared to be over however with time away and further negotiations, Diesel and crew decided to complete the film as a tribute to Walker. With CGI, Walker’s brothers as stand ins and existing footage they were going to complete the scenes of Brian and also send him off with a farewell from the team/franchise.

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With Walker’s death changing everything the film suffers on two levels. One it is hard to watch Walker drive into death defying situations without feeling uncomfortable knowing he died in reality doing the same sort of thing. Also his later scenes feel clunky with him speaking on the phone filmed from his back or fighting Tony Jaa in the dark to obscure his face it shows that despite their noble efforts the filmmakers still couldn’t hide the fact that Brian was no longer played by Walker. Also the films narrative switches to accommodate his characters departure from the franchise. Although in previous films Brian partnered with Torreto’s sister, Mia (played by Jordana Brewster) and even had a child with her. Now he decides to leave the gang and live with her far away. The final scenes are an emotional tribute to Walker and Brian however after further thought his character could have had a stronger exit.

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Now for the rest of the film the gang is on two missions. One is to fight Jason Statham’s new character of Dereck Shaw, brother of Owen Shaw from Fast Six that was put into a coma by Torreto. As Torreto and his gang fight Shaw they meet a new ally in Kurt Russell’s Mr Nobody, a shady government agent who gets Torreto’s crew to work for him to find a GPS tracker which can find anyone in the world. Despite some great action scenes the films multiple plots are hard to keep track of and at 137 minutes of exploding cars, helicopters, city streets it all becomes a bit too much. Lin was better equipped at handling action scenes in FF 3 – 6 with slower panning and longer edits. Unfortunately Wan films his action in quick cuts and it is hard to keep up with the space of the characters, cars, helicopters, etc in most of the action scenes. Wan shows some impressive camera angles in the first fist fight between Johnson and Statham however as the film moves on to car chases and explosions Wan suffers under the pressure to top the last films action creativity.

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With a confusing plot and action scenes with jarring quick cuts unfortunately Furious Seven ends up being one of the least enjoyable in the franchise. The film isn’t terrible with a moving tribute to Walker and a few enjoyable action scenes. It is disappointing as the previous entries have set the bar extremely high. Only Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs saves the film with a bit of humour but he is also taken out far too quickly in the opening scenes of the film.

Rating: 2 Stars

Ranking of the Fast and Furious Franchise.

1. Fast Five (2011)
2. Fast Six (2013)
3. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
4. Fast & Furious (2004)
5. Furious Seven (2015)
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

FILM REVIEW: THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014)

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Stephen Hawking: There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.

Director: James Marsh

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Synopsis: The story of physician Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane.

The Theory of Everything is an above average biopic which unfortunately doesn’t rise above its strong subject matter. The problem with biopics is that they end up being clips of important parts of a famous person’s life. Biopics such as A Beautiful Mind and The Aviator although have strong performances from its lead actors only skim the surface of powerful lives. Films such as The Social Network and Schindler’s List provide an accurate take of a part of that person’s life (possibly the most important part). The Theory of Everything unfortunately falls into the former category by trying to fit in twenty or more years into a two hour frame. Therefore we don’t quite get into Hawking’s theories or how he came to them (except for clumsy scenes depicting a look into a fireplace birthing his theory of the black hole). Where the film succeeds is in its extraordinary performances. Eddie Redmayne’s performance of Hawking captures the physicality and heart of a man paralysed by ALS. His performance never feels false and this is quite an achievement to capture the speech and physical bodily tension of Hawking over the years as his body slowly degenerates. Felicity Jones also excels as his wife Jane. She could have played it as the sad wife constantly trying to help however Jones fills Jane with a strong spirit and a will all her own as she tries to find her own identity as a wife of not only a successful and popular physicist but also a man whose body is failing him. Also she must take care of her children and find time for herself to finish her own studies. It is a powerful and heartbreaking story which elevates this biopic to something greater.

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The film is visually striking and captures its time quite perfectly. Overall a better than average biopic which often falls into the pitfalls of telling a vast story in two hours but the lead performances make it memorable.

Rating: 3 Stars

FILM REVIEW: AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)

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Wayne Kyle: There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs, Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Synopsis: The true story of Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history with over 160 confirmed kills over four tours during the Iraq war. However when he returns home to his family he can’t easily escape the war that now lives inside him.

Clint Eastwood returns to fine form in this gripping true story of American soldier Chris Kyle. The film opens in Kyle’s childhood with his strict Catholic father teaching him the respect for guns and to protect your own no matter what. It is these values that follow Kyle into adulthood when he begins to see America is under attack from foreign enemies. He joins the army and becomes a NAVY seal. His skills with a sniper rifle are quickly discovered by his superiors and he is promoted. Meanwhile Chris meets Taya and they soon fall in love and get married. However just before they get married the tragic events of 9/11 occur which sparks the American war with Iraq.

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Eastwood has a strong eye for action scenes from his early works such as The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) to Sudden Impact (1983) to Unforgiven (1992). Even his dramas can contain gripping action sequences such as Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008). It is during Kyle’s tours in Iraq where Eastwood’s direction really shines in his gripping and tension filled sequences involving Kyle having to take a shot, whether it is a child or mother or another skilled sniper these action sequences are breathtaking and elevate this film to a very high standard. Eastwood knows there is no black and white reason for the war or for taking a life and Kyle’s story is filled with compromised choices that no man should ever have to make. Eastwood also shows the human frailty of being in the war and taking so many lives as Kyle returns to a quiet and loving home but can’t get the screams and gunshots out of his head.

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Bradley Cooper gives a gripping performance as Chris Kyle not only physically (he put on mass pounds to appear bulky as the real Kyle) but also emotionally with his piercing eyes showing us the cost of war. He is riveting throughout and elevates the film to near classic status. Sienna Miller also turns in a strong performance as Kyle’s wife Taya who also must deal with raising a family and trying to save her husband from the war he can’t leave behind. The politics do become a bit shaky by the end of the film as Eastwood and Cooper show a man struggling with this devastating war however as the film ends Eastwood begins to portray Kyle as a true American hero however Cooper portrays him as a broken man who had given too much to his country with little reward. Although the politics are a tad unsteady, Eastwood and Cooper deliver a strong and riveting drama.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: FOCUS (2015)

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Nicky: It’s about distraction. It’s about focus. The brain is slow and it can’t multitask. Tap him here, take from there.

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie

Synopsis: Veteran con man Nicky teaches a young apprentice Jess in the art of the con. Never lose focus, however as Nicky grows feelings for his apprentice their latest con may become more difficult for everyone involved.

The old school charming Will Smith is back in form in his latest con caper romantic drama, Focus. Smith was the hottest star of the 90s with blockbuster hits such as Bad Boys (1995), Independence Day (1996), and Men in Black (1997). In the 2000’s he began to explore his dramatic side with the biopics Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) but still found time to provide blockbusters such as I, Robot (2004) and I Am Legend (2007) however the 10s haven’t been as kind to him with the box office and critical failures such as After Earth (2013) and Winter’s Tale (2014). As a comeback vehicle Smith has chosen a con artist caper film in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and American Hustle (2013) however this film is a pale imitation at best.

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Although Smith returns to form with his charming one liners and buff muscles flexing through his stylish clothes, the film has a flawed script which never lives up to the potential of its excellent leads. Matching Smith’s charm is the beautiful Margot Robbie hot off her impressive debut in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Robbie is not only a sexy foil for Smith but she also has the acting ability to stretch her character from inept pocket thief to a skilled, sexy and appealing hustler. The plot revolves around Smith’s Nicky training Robbie’s Jess into a skilled con artist. Soon enough Nicky falls for Jess and decides to abandon her so he doesn’t “lose his focus” as a skilled con artist who can’t have anything or anyone stop him from completing the long con. Predictably they meet again three years later as Nicky is planning his next con which could make him millions.

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In a film like this I was expecting plenty of plot twists and clever set pieces involving people getting conned. Unfortunately there aren’t many twists and the final act is a convoluted mess which should have left the audience surprised instead of scratching their heads wondering what the point of the last two hours were. With impressive cinematography and good actors unfortunately the script and its surprises aren’t impressive and leaves this film feeling like a waste of everyone’s time.

Rating: 1 Star