Saturday, May 21, 2011

FAST FIVE (2011) - Saving the best for last

The original Fast and the Furious was a slick if terribly cheesy action movie that kicked off the whole street racing rage back in the early 2000s. Suddenly, every middle school kid started to dream about owning a rice rocket Honda or Toyota and imagined themselves drag racing outside of their school to impress that one chick that ignored him everyday in 4th period science. It made a star out of Vin Diesel, and made bucket loads of cash. Unfortunately for the series, it turned out a bunch of completely crap sequels, which went from bad to worse and only now in this latest one do we get a good flick to enjoy. I groaned when I read they were making Fast Five, but after seeing the trailers I started to wonder if they might have finally made a goddamn decent movie after all. And sure enough, they've managed to make what is in this Guy Movie Blogger's opinion the best movie in the series.

Everybody's back.
The movie opens with a sensational set piece with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel - in case you've been living under a rock) getting busted out of a jail bus and making his way to Rio de Janeiro, where he reunites with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his buddy, ex-cop turned criminal Brian (Paul Walker). In need of some cash to avoid the authorities, they take on a job stealing some high-priced cars from a high speed train. Aboard the train they're joined by a some shady Brazilians, but the job quickly goes bad when they discover DEA agents are aboard the train. The Brazilians go crazy and kill all three agents, and try to kill Dom and Brian. After escaping with a Ford GT that the Brazilians were particularly keen on getting their grubby hands on, Dom and Brian find a special GPS chip in the car. The chip contains a list of safe-houses used for storing $100 million in drug money belonging to the ruthless Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) who basically runs Rio. After Reyes threatens to kill Mia, and now being blamed for the deaths of the three DEA agens, Dom and Brian decide to rob the safe-houses and get the hell out of Rio.

Whenever The Rock is on screen, expect people to get their shit ruined.
While Toretto plans the heist, the DEA sends Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson - The Rock), their best agent to capture Toretto and his gang. He is joined by  local hottie cop Elena (Elsa Pataky), who Hobbs considers one of the few trustworthy Brazilian cops. Hobbs is no joke - the guy is built like a freaking woolly mammoth, drives a f*cking tank, and won't take shit from anyone. Back at their hideout, Brian and Dom have rounded up a new crew with some familiar faces from the earlier movies: smooth-talker Roman (Tyrese), computer whiz Tej (Ludacris), hot Jewish chick Harabo (Gal Gadot), driver Han (Sung Kang) and two random Puerto Ricans who I didn't recognize. The rest of the movie sees them try and figure out how to steal the cash from under Reyes's nose while avoiding Hobbs and his team of agents.  At the same time, Toretto's gang might also be forced to deal with threats from inside their own group.

Steroid sales have gone up 500% after Fast Five was released.
I think it doesn't really need to be said that people don't flock to the latest Fast and Furious sequel expecting to see Oscar caliber acting, but rather good action and plenty of adrenaline-filled stunts. But compared to the absolutely terrible sequels that came before Fast Five, this one has everyone at the top of their game, which was pretty surprising. Vin Diesel was born to play the role of Dom Toretto (and Riddick) and Walker does a decent job. The standout without a doubt is Johnson who nails his part as the badass Hobbs. He eats up all the scenes, drops one-liners like it's going out of style and he seems like he's having an absolute blast. He and Vin have a great beast mode fight scene that had made me giddy like a ten year old as they smashed through walls and generally beat the living shit out of each other. Everyone is in on the joke - Fast Five is ridiculous, why not just embrace it and have fun with it?

Gal Gadot + Jordana Brewster. YUMM.
 The story and plot has been done to death a million times, and except from a few twists near the end, it's all pretty predictable stuff. Good guys steal from bad drug kingpin, blah blah blah. It doesn't really matter though, since almost from beginning to end, Fast Five is basically a 2 hour chase scene that never lets up. The action scenes are flat out the craziest shit I've seen all year, and very thrilling to watch once you accept it for the brainless fun that it really is. By far the best is the 30 minute long final heist racing through downtown Rio de Janeiro at breakneck speed, with everything from shootouts, cop cars getting smashed by a giant bank vault, buildings exploding, jumps, etc. It's gloriously reckless, a little stupid, violent, fast paced, brilliantly shot and very, very fun. It's absolutely bonkers.

It's no surprise that the ending sets up the movie for yet another sequel, but whereas before I would've been aching to blow up the studio responsible for cinematic turds like Tokyo Drift, I actually have some hope for the next one if they manage to go back to basics like this flick has and if they get The Rock back. The dude has single handedly brought the series back to decent ground.Fast Five is a perfect popcorn action movie, check your brain at the door and enjoy it. That last heist scene is worth the admission all by itself. Also, make sure you pay attention after the credits for a sneak peek at where they'll probably go with the next sequel.

TL;DR - The best movie in the series is also the best action movie so far this year - 8.5/10

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SOURCE CODE (2011) - Bombs (and time travel) on a train

For the last couple of years the world of movies has taken over by sequel mania. It's been a never ending stream of sequels, remakes, "re-imaginings" or blatant rip offs of older movies and it shows no sign of stopping. There's been a few good ones, but also a whole bunch of terrible ones. Every once in a while, we get a decent, original story and it's always a breath of fresh air. 2009 had Duncan Jones direct Moon, which was a good sci fi flick and had an interesting concept and terrific performance by Sam Rockwell. Jones now turned his attention towards the action scene and his new film is one of the best movies this year.

I hope you like explosions, Jake.
Source Code opens with Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up on a train, with no memory of how he got there or why. We learn that Colter is an Army helicopter pilot and has been in combat in Afghanistan, and apparently is one tough bastard seeing as how he survived a disastrous mission and saved the life of his buddies. Across from him sits Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who starts a conversation with him despite the fact he has no idea who she is. Confused, Colter makes his way to a bathroom where he is shocked to discover his reflection on the mirror shows the face of another man. A bomb explodes on the train, killing everyone on board, and all of a sudden, Colter wakes up inside a dark, capsule looking thing with a uniformed woman (Vera Farmiga) speaking to him on a computer monitor.

I'd ride an exploding train to sit with Michelle any day of the week...
Colter is told that he is in fact working inside the Source Code, a rift in time that allows a user to re-live the last 8 minutes of a person's life. He has been placed into the body of Sean Fentress, a teacher and passenger on the train, to try and find out who has put the bomb on the train. Colter must find the people responsible and prevent an even bigger nuclear attack against a major city. He is placed back into the Source Code and each time he relives the last 8 minutes, but small differences begin to appear, as he starts to predict things like accidents, things people say, etc. Colter also begins to doubt the official explanation given to him by Vera Farmiga's character, and he not only has to stop the bombing, but also investigate just why they won't give him any more information about where he is or about the project's secretive boss (Jeffrey Wright).

... and then instantly regret it.

At first the glance, the plot might seem a bit confusing, but if you've seen movies like Memento or The Prestige, you'll know that by paying attention it really isn't all that hard to follow along. Gyllenhaal does a great job with his role, showing both the take charge side of his soldier character and the confused side of the guy inside the Source Code capsule. He is surprisingly convincing as a grizzled veteran, and does his action scenes pretty well. Michelle Monaghan is in most of the movie, and does a great job with adding little changes to her constantly replayed scenes. Everyone else puts in a decent effort as well. The real highlight is the thriller basics in the story. The movie plays out like a fast-paced action flick but has some great plot points that leave you wondering.

Lady, who the hell are you?
It is refreshing to see a nicely crafted action movie that doesn't include Shia LeBeouf, the number "2" in the title, or relies on some shitty 3D to sell movie tickets. Source Code is a damn enjoyable movie and it kept my attention throughout the whole running time. It's pretty smart and provoking as far as most action flicks go, and has likable leads and manages to make Jake Gyllenhaal a convincing action hero for the most part. My only real gripe was the fact that I didn't really love the ending, as I was expecting them to go in a whole different way with it, but it suits the movie just fine. Recommended.

TL;DR - Maggie's brother tries to save the day, 8 minutes at a time - 8.5/10