May turned out to be a good month viewing wise. There were a couple of new releases I really liked, including some that were much better than anticipated. I also checked out some classics for the first time and broadly speaking, got a very pleasant surprise when I revisited the early Fast and the Furious titles. There was also plenty of The Stath. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (2014), David Zellner – I dug this film a lot and there is plenty to unpack. Kumiko is a top character to spend time with, an outsider or even just someone ill at ease with where they find themself. But here is a fearless adventurer who will do something about it. It’s a really good central performance from Rinko Kikuchi, never making the character feel more simplistic or complex than it should. It does lag a touch, especially in the second half. But it’s really not a plot driven film, so any issues on that front slide by fast. It’s works nicely as a film about film too – the way the fantasy of film can inspire and delude, often both at the same time.
- Safe (2012), Boaz Yakin – Ah, The Stath as a former cage-fighting cop. This is a deliriously silly film with a script as monumentally dumb as that premise would suggest. There’s a child The Stath ends up protecting, some Chinese gangsters, some Russian ones and some crooked cops. There are also gunfights, fistfights and car chases which is all fast paced and slickly shot. The Stath is really good and the film is much better when he’s onscreen. He can emote just enough to work well as an action star.
- Unfriended (2014), Levan Gabriadze – My expectations were low, but damn this is an effective little horror flick. It’s super short, but that’s a good thing, allowing the visual conceit of it all playing out on a skype call to be maintained. Taut filmmaking that doesn’t overstay its welcome, helped along by generally good performances. I found this genuinely terrifying and quite troubling too. I don’t think it’s making any grand statements about teens and social media. Rather, it’s using those issues as a fresh way to tell a teen horror narrative. One of the scariest films I’ve seen at the cinema in quite a while.
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), George Miller – Immediately more ambitious and artistic than the first film, though the canvas Miller is painting on is so much bigger it’s hard to compare the two. The car stunts that the series is so famous for step up big time here. Much of it is almost wordless and slow bordering on meditative, which wouldn’t work for a lot of action films. Mostly ones not spearheaded by George Miller. There were some aspects of it that didn’t quite work tonally for me. I’m thinking of the boy with the boomerang, some pretty campy stuff that has dated quite badly and a general lightness in tone. Despite thinking there are some moments in this beloved classic that are actually quite bad, it is still an exceptional film in one of action cinema’s greatest franchises.
- Spy (2015), Paul Feig – Hell of a lot of fun, as a spoof with a cast of McCarthy, Statham, Law, Byrne, Janney and more should be. Nails a couple of very funny set pieces. There is a great scooter chase and one of the better comedic fight scenes you’ll see takes place in a kitchen. Great to have a whole bunch of really good female characters too. McCarthy’s characters are getting a little samey. But she is a hilarious performer and this film is no exception.
- The Fast and the Furious (2001), Rob Cohen – Lol. It’s a film about a street-racing crew using their mad driving skills to steal DVD players. In comparison to the overblown hype the series has become, this feel is charmingly stripped back. It’s stereotype heavy (Japanese dude playing a playstation before the race), but it’s nothing too bad. The script is fun and action centric, quippy without trying too hard. I have become jaded by the later entries in the series. Can’t believe how fun a dumb little action flick this is. Even Vin Diesel is decent! And there is a real weight and stakes to it, so the film actually has some emotion.
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), John Singleton – A very cool reintroduction of Paul Walker’s Brian. A semi-mythical street-racer in need of cash. They cover the loss of basically the whole first cast well. Tyrese is a worthy addition and is funny whilst not being the total caricature his character has become. You still feel he’s a character with serious force despite the wisecracks. The old buddies dynamic between these two works quite well. This is a nicely stylised film in an action filmy way and it never looks fake even in the OTT racing sequences. Great set-up, with the characters being recruited by the FBI to bring in some baddies and have their past crimes erased. Overall, a good balance of fun moments and intensity.
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), Justin Lin – There’s some pretty frank stuff here. Rich kids getting off, poor kids being shipped off to Tokyo and father issues abounding. Bow Wow is actually a pretty charismatic dude. He should be in more. Similarly Lucas Black in the main part has a gritty charm and is a cool character. As is Han, and you can see how he went on to become a fan favourite. This is perhaps the strongest of the series storywise, though it falters a little with the overly computerised presentation of the driving scenes. Though it’s cool they’ve introduced drifting as a new driving style. There’s something nicely low-key about the narrative and it ends with a great set-up for the future films.
- Shield of Straw (2013), Takashi Miike – Miike seems to be increasingly moving away from his hyper-violent reputation. This kicks off with a simple crime/gangster film premise – family of a murdered child takes out an ad offering a massive reward for the murder of her killer. At times it lays it all on a little thick and it’s a touch repetitive. But the simplicity gets it through. The sassy female cop is a good character, a single mother looking for a promotion. It all plays out like a high concept horror film idea played as pretty serious crime procedural. There’s some cool action beats mixed in, some well shot gunfights and it’s all pretty well acted.
- Orange is the New Black Season 1 (2013), Jenji Kohan – An awesomely diverse cast – transgender, African American, Latino. Portrays a lot of narrow minded attitudes that pervade prison institutions and the ideology behind them. Uses flashbacks to dig deeper in a satisfying way about why these women committed the crimes they did. The story of Laverne Cox’s Sophia is especially affecting. Kohan’s shows seem to be characterised by having a heap of really strong characters and cool performances from little known people. The writing is whip smart, touching on a whole range of issues without ever losing narrative momentum. Taylor Schilling is really good in the lead role. Her character is not as strong as others, but she takes you on the emotional journey. There’s a fair bit of intense shit going on here. Prison’s a depressing fuckin place and even though there are some fun moments, the show never lets you forget that.
Not Worth Watching:
- Crank (2006), Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor – This is terrible, cheap and shoddy stuff. After a cool start, with The Stath waking up drugged to the teeth to a DVD saying “Fuck You” on it; this collapses in a heap. It looks appalling and like it was shot on a phone which doesn’t help. There is zero nous or craft to the butt dumb storytelling and it throws in some homophobia and an awful rape scene too which far outshines the moderately fun moments, which you could count on one hand.
- Fast & Furious (2009), Justin Lin – Seriously, WTF is with the naming conventions in this series. It’s immediately apparent from the very first truck sequence where CGI predominates, that this is going to be different. And by different I mean worse. Looks like a PS1 game. It all feels a little misjudged too. The Han timelines don’t make much sense and a major character (who is in the film) just happens to be killed off onscreen and we are informed by someone getting a phone call… electric storytelling that. This is where the series starts trending down, and all the hallmarks of the later films are here – appalling script, cheap looking, noticeable product placement, big, glossy and dumb.
If you only have time to watch one Orange is the New Black Season 1
Avoid at all costs Crank