Andrew Hates… FAST & FURIOUS 6

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Dir: Justin Lin, 2013

Special Agent Hobbs tracks Dominic Toretto to his secluded luxury home in an effort to enlist Dom in catching criminal mastermind Owen Shaw, securing his assistance by showing proof that Dom’s believed-dead girlfriend Letty is alive and well. In order to reunite with Letty, Dom must bring the old team back together to apprehend Shaw and obtain pardons for their past crimes.

It’s safe to say that no-one comes to a franchise like Fast & Furious for character studies or sharp dialogue. That being said, it’s still disappointing when any film has a complete and utter lack of both. Fast Five’s amusing blockbuster action was also topped off by a lovable, kick-ass antagonist in Dwayne Johnson’s slightly-conflicted supercop. While Fast & Furious 6 has a tremendously nefarious villain in Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw, warmly reviving that age-old English baddie stereotype, there is no conflict to be seen throughout the film. The characters are split straight down the middle – the evil being very, very evil and the good being painstakingly good. That’s all well and fine as far as action movie conventions go if it didn’t make the protagonists so relentlessly boring. Evans clearly relishes his limited yet maniacal turn as Shaw and holds by far the strongest role in the film. A scene in which Shaw, armed with a tank, steamrolls innocent civilians spotlights his character’s pure savagery, thus reinforcing the support of the protagonists and providing one of the franchise’s best and most ludicrous moments yet. But when Shaw isn’t around to chew the scenery and drown puppies, any encouragement the audience should be giving the team of way-too-many heroes fizzles, especially when Diesel and company start droning on about “family”.

Lin handles the plot in an overly-eccentric manner, trying to convince audiences that the more the characters rant in automobile vernacular, the more intellectual the film is. Whenever Shaw’s wicked plan is discussed in all its effluent complexity, bells ring of Team America’s “9/11 times a thousand” gag. There are several unnecessary distractions to divvy screen time between the surplus cast and uses of popular MacGuffins including amnesia, bullet diagnostics and astoundingly-lengthy airport runways. Some are accepted as foregone conclusions of popcorn cinema but most exist for no other reason than to add minutes to the clock.

There are many moments where the film’s clichés are laughably atrocious and just as many when they are downright mortifying. Lin’s vision of London resembles a Grand Theft Auto translation of England’s capital that becomes more of a caricature as the film lingers there. Lin’s depiction of an exotic world of street racing and its cries of “London, baby!” will either frustrate or tickle audiences, possibly both. On the other side of the coin, the action scenes are bloated, the characters bothersome and the deliberate comedy is as callow as it gets. It’s hard to determine whether fourth-time-around writer Chris Morgan’s creativity has been sucked dry or if Fast & Furious 6 represents a franchise that has ran its course. Either way, it doesn’t look like this family will be going anywhere soon, with a July 2014 release set for FF8.

Fast Five upgraded a series that was dead in the water to an action-heist franchise. Fast & Furious 6 sees further evolvement as we now head toward Expendables territory. Lin’s last outing perched in the director’s chair is sure to make trunk-loads of money but fails to give as many reasons to return as its predecessor did.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

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Andrew Hates… BERNIE

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Dir: Richard Linklater, 2013

In the small-town of Carthage, Texas, the most beloved member of the closely-knit community is local funeral director Bernie Tiede. After her husband’s funeral, Bernie befriends millionaire Marjorie Nugent who is infamous among the townsfolk to say the least. This unlikely relationship blooms for several years but when Bernie finally snaps and kills Marjorie, he must keep up the charade that the mean-spirited widow is alive and well.

It’s rare that Jack Black delivers a performance that doesn’t result in either scatting or bellowing until his face turns red. Black is at his best when dialled down (see High Fidelity, King Kong) and Bernie is his most subtle portrayal yet. In a clever move, the cast of talking heads recruited to reinforce the townspeople’s support of Bernie are a mixture of actors and real-life citizens of Carthage, giving weight to the unnerving sense of authenticity that Linklater & Skip Hollandsworth’s screenplay was predisposed on. The unfortunate shortcoming of this aspect is we have too much time spent talking about Bernie and not enough insight into the character himself. When Jack Black gives a rare performance of this calibre, why is it being so shockingly underused?

As much of a black comedy as Bernie claims to be, no-one seems to find the story as funny as the director himself. Linklater treats the material very light-heartedly but there is no comedic weight to the events, be it dark or otherwise. This fascinating true story captivates via its faux-documentary style and a cast who assimilate their characters in an almost congenital manner but if laughter was Linklater’s agenda, it appears the script was lacking the confidence to achieve such a goal. Linklater claims the script’s dreariness caused problems until he promised a humorous result. One would imagine that a filmmaker as distinguished as Linklater would know that if something’s not on the page, there’s little reason it should be present in the final product.

This remarkable true story is wholly encapsulated by Linklater’s sharp but simple vision of Hollandsworth’s 1998 magazine article. While Linklater touches on themes of law and morality, the charming yet fraudulent title character is treated so politely that it slightly undervalues the tale being told. The limited cast is rounded out by a devilishly aggravating Shirley MacLaine (who reminds you of that impossible-to-please grandparent) and Matthew McConaughey’s district attorney, who is flabbergasted by the town’s refusal to share his law-abiding principles. However, Bernie’s relative success hinges on Black’s central performance, which is superb in its unexpected modesty.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… WARM BODIES

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Dir: Jonathan Levine, 2013

R is a zombie who, along with his undead cohorts, is aimlessly wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While the other zombies are searching for human flesh to feast on, R is searching for a meaning in his “life” – and also flesh to eat. However when he consumes the brains of Perry, R gains Perry’s memories along with his affection for his girlfriend Julie. As R’s love for Julie grows, it sets off a reaction that may just promise a cure for zombies everywhere.

Warm Bodies is what you’d get if you took Twilight, made it self-aware and sacrificed overwhelming teen angst for a dash of much-needed humour. Yet, as much distaste I have for Twilight, Warm Bodies isn’t any better. Twilight establishes a firm set of rules when approaching its lore. Warm Bodies is tremendously muddled over that of zombies. At one moment, R is a lapsing adolescent trapped inside a dead shell and the next he’s forming sentences and controlling his cravings for flesh. The Bonies, who serve as a lacklustre stimulus for the third act, aren’t the least bit threatening unless to the film’s entertaining prospects and exist only to beef up the running time rather than to encourage the film’s message.

For a film that stresses the importance of beating heart, Warm Bodies doesn’t seem to have one. Granted, Levine emphasises the budding relationship between Hoult and Palmer by giving them screen time streets ahead of the shockingly-squandered cast, but it’s a decision that comes at too costly a price. Of course it’s tough to entertain audiences when your lead character rarely speaks but with support in the form of John Malkovich and Rob Corddry at your disposal, there’s simply no excuse for Warm Bodies to be this dull. Levine knows where to put the camera (as backed up by 50-50) but his screenwriting skills are sub-par. His previous writing effort, indie comedy The Wackness, failed to hit the mark as a coming-of-age teen drama and Warm Bodies’ gags are not only overly-casual but are all condensed into the film’s trailer.

Time might heal all wounds and laughter may be the best medicine but Levine challenges anything but love to reverse that zombie apocalypse many of us secretly yearn for. Warm Bodies holds an interesting premise that loses traction as it progresses, evoking that feeling of a fantastic short which was wrought in the name of commerce.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… THE GREAT GATSBY

The Great Gatsby 2

Dir: Baz Luhrmann, 2013

New York City, the Roaring Twenties. A time of celebration and prosperity for all except Nick Carraway, who has plunged into a stupor of alcoholism and depression. Encouraged by his psychiatrist to express himself, Carraway recounts his woeful tale of the greatest man he ever met – the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby.

The works of Baz Luhrmann have always provided a marvellous exhibition of elegance as cameras sweep through grandiose sets and lights shine brighter than Broadway in a dazzling palette of colour. Yes, Luhrmann is as much a showman as he is a romantic. But what’s interesting about Luhrmann’s choice of these passion projects is his treatment of the production in as romantic a manner as he handles the material. His presentation of The Great Gatsby is certainly style over substance but that is not to completely dismiss Luhrmann’s interpretation of the novel as much as highlight the tremendous amalgamation of sight and sound that is flaunted in every passing minute.

Endowed with the challenge of bringing Gatsby to a new generation, Luhrmann repeats the past in revitalising his Romeo + Juliet formula for F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film is littered with exuberant sets, jazzy hip-hop soundtracks and enough pretty young faces to inject life into Leaving Certificate English. DiCaprio is near-perfect as Gatsby, reprising the facade of sophistication he wore in Revolutionary Road and the fluttering charm of a certain Montague. It’s simply a delight to see Leo embody a character that excels confidence before the world but melts into awkwardness in front of the object of his affection. Yet there is a hint of menace within this enigmatic man, a point that is regrettably stressed moreso through several lackadaisical, one-sided phone calls instead of modelling Gatsby’s behaviour. Maguire is incredibly strong as the once-idealistic but now-haunted protagonist through which we see our story and backed up by a repulsively sectarian Joel Edgerton. As a matter of fact, if anyone is short-changed here it’s Carey Mulligan, whose character isn’t explored enough for the audience to sympathise with her flummoxed Daisy Buchanan.

Nevertheless even with a running time of 130 minutes, Luhrmann brushes through the narrative; more considered with adding extra layers of varnish to what frequently resembles a heavily-stylized music video and Jay-Z’s executive producer credit leads to a Jay-Z/Beyonce-heavy soundtrack which is distracting to the point of becoming propaganda. Also, Luhrmann’s attempt to garner a wide audience results in a compromise of the subject matter as the story never reaches the depths that it should, instead tailoring itself to a 12s audience.

Yes, the films reeks a little too much of Romeo + Juliet and the melodrama reaches unbearable heights in the third act but The Great Gatsby remains a tableau of luminous colours and intoxicating performances and a rare film which I regretted not witnessing in 3D. Not the adaptation Gatsby deserves but admirable nonetheless.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

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Dir: J.J. Abrams, 2013

Reckless and disobedient, Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise is displeasing Starfleet left and right with his arrogant yet benevolent methods. But when John Harrison, a terrorist with ties to Starfleet, attacks London and wages war against the Federation, Kirk and his crew are charged with hunting him down. This dangerous mission will force Kirk to question everything he knows about Starfleet, about friendship and about himself.

It’s been a long four years since J.J. Abrams made Star Trek cool again. Evidently not, though, for James Tiberius Kirk who is still the same brash, young captain that we loved in 2009’s reboot. However, Kirk has been proving his inaptitude at helming the Federation’s finest vessel by violating prime directives and snubbing authority as he does what he believes to be right. Chris Pine continues to juggle that perfect level of cockiness and charm in a role destined to prove that keeping the chair is harder than getting it. Still being brought to school by lovable father-figure Admiral Pike, Kirk’s level of growth this time around just isn’t considerable enough for another story, unless including his blossoming bromance with Mr Spock.

While Abrams brings more of the dazzling, smack-bang-wallop action set pieces that we saw in the first film, they seem more of a beautiful distraction – like a Michael Bay film with finesse – yearning to lure our focus away from a plot that involves cryogenics, nuclear reactors and a government’s unexplained desire for warfare. The film jumps in and out of characterisation briefly but overall adds little to anything we’ve seen before. The relationship between Spock and Uhura is almost forgotten and the former’s embracing of his mixed heritage jumps into warp along the way. Abrams’ time-travel manoeuvre in the previous outing allowed any and all manipulation of the Star Trek canon but here Abrams chooses to replicate entire scenes including lines of dialogue from the Shatner film series, albeit with minor tweaks.

The tender notion of crew/family that Star Trek left us with is revisited upon in name only, as many members of the cast are pushed to the back (literally for Anton Yelchin) with one or two amplified. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is expanded upon in an unwelcome, Ghost Protocol-like manner and Urban’s Bones is humorously beefed up as Doctor Metaphor. Sadly the likes of Zoe Saldana, John Cho and the previously-mentioned Yelchin are left by the wayside, making room for additional eye-candy Alice Eve, a deliciously dubious Peter Weller and of course, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Big Bad.

On that note, Cumberbatch owns the film as one of the most sinister, intense villains we’ve seen since Heath Ledger drove a man’s head through a pencil. Harrison’s cold and calculative nature paired with his undeniable strength and volatility makes Cumberbatch’s upcoming CGI appearance as The Hobbit’s fire-breathing antagonist Smaug suddenly look a little less daunting. In response to minor criticisms, Abrams follows up the tongue-in-cheek baddy Nero with a character that emanates menace whether he’s on-screen or not. Unfortunately in the last act, just when Harrison is at his most threatening, Abrams abandons the character in favour of gravitational difficulties and Trekkie nostalgia.

Abrams glitters the screen with remarkable actors, pristine special effects and a thankful reduction of lens flare. Funny, explosive and never a dull moment, Star Trek Into Darkness is indeed an entertaining space romp and by no means a failure. Into Darkness simply disappoints after its magnificent predecessor by lacking enough to enthrall new audiences and can’t help but leave you with the taste of filler in your mouth between that of Star Trek and Star Wars, the latter of which should prove to be more of the same.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… WISH YOU WERE HERE

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Dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2013

Married couple Dave and Alice are invited by Steph, Alice’s younger sister, and her new beau Jeremy on a sunny vacation in Cambodia. After a wild party on the beach, Jeremy goes missing. The three return home, devastated with shock, but cannot escape the tragedy of that fateful holiday as secrets begin to come to light about what happened the night of Jeremy’s disappearance.

Director Darcy-Smith, who also penned the screenplay with Felicity Price (who plays Alice), brings you Australia’s answer to The Hangover, only subtract both Bradley Cooper and an avalanche of comedy and replace them with Joel Edgerton and an equally-crushing level of guilt. Edgerton leads a terrific trio of Aussies including Price and Teresa Palmer who bring the pain as a family haunted by tragedy but none for the same reason. Darcy-Smith knows how to handle his cast, giving actors little room to breathe but knowing when to stoke the fire.

Edgerton is tremendous, brooding in a mask of anxiety whilst Price amalgamates the nerve-wracked mother and abandoned wife in a palpable state of fragility. It’s also great to see Teresa Palmer with a meatier role than that of the many patterned love interests she’s been representing in American films recently. Conversely, although we get coverage of Antony Starr’s Jeremy sufficient enough to gather an opinion of the character, that of a charming devil-may-care who plays his hand close to his chest, the brief glances we see of him in flashbacks aren’t enough to make the audience care as to just what happened to him.

At a mere ninety minutes, Wish You Were Here drags on for a peculiar amount of time, given the tension that should be building with the story being told. While the monotony of the present-day narrative is broken up by revisits to the holiday, these bursts aren’t enough to move the film forward at a healthy pace. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Dave knows more than he lets on but watching the lead character fumble about for an hour in a bizarre state of paranoia makes you question whether he’s even a character we should be connecting with. We’re treated to the cataclysmic implosion of Dave and Alice’s marriage for far too long without any hint of revelation. It’s only in the final thirty where Darcy-Smith kicks the action up a notch and tempers flare as the truth at long last comes out. Unfortunately, by the time the big reveal rears its head, it’s hard to care anymore – though not a mistake in structure as much as story.

The real tragedy of Wish You Were Here is even as the performances are at boiling point, the pace of the story isn’t observed closely enough, allowing attentions to waiver and shoulders to shrug. Recent films such as Animal Kingdom, Sleeping Beauty and Snowtown are keen demonstrations that Australian cinema is evolving in the ranks of universal storytelling. Wish You Were Here may not turn heads but it certainly won’t do anything to damage the ever-increasing reputation of contemporary Australian film.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… MANIAC

Maniac

Dir: Franck Khalfoun, 2013

Frank is a demented serial killer who tracks young women, scalps them and brings his souvenir home to his mannequin store where he staples the bloodied hair to the plastic skulls. Tortured by head-splitting migraines and cruel hallucinations of Mrs Bates-esque mother, suddenly Frank finds friendship in the form of a beautiful, mannequin-mad photojournalist named Anna.

Maniac is viewed primarily through the point-of-view of Frank which is an effective tool in dragging the audience kicking and screaming into the mindset of a psychotic and emotionally disturbed individual. These hammy POV shots crop up frequently since 1960’s Peeping Tom but here is an unwavering insight into how a serial killer performs his trade that is just one of many unnerving aspects of Maniac. Khalfoun pounds the audience over the head with the upsetting nature of the character. Obviously the last thing this director wants to do is soft-pedal murder but the malevolence is so grotesque and misogynistic that it is downright sickening.

From the opening credits which involve Frank driving through Los Angeles, you can immediately ascertain the heavy influence that has been taken from 2011’s Drive (clearly the director thought Cruising would be too obvious an eighties horror to polish in such a fashion). The remake has been transferred from New York City to the City of Angels, infusing the film with a significant amount of gloss and volume in an attempt to highlight the brutality of the content. In what can also be accredited to Drive (but can also be argued as a tribute to the original film) Khalfoun employs that melancholic synth sound that is so iconic of the eighties, aspiring to the audible illustriousness of The Burning or Halloween II but instead resembling something that would be present in the darker scenes of The Neverending Story.

That Frank can so openly pursue distressed women through downtown Los Angeles is a creative licence bordering on preposterous and serves as only one of the fatal reasons why Khalfoun’s message loses its merit. Frank’s tendency to dwell on reflective surfaces seems too conceited a reason to show off Elijah Wood’s face and the character’s dialogue is so blatantly recorded off-screen that the moment he begins to speak, the audience might as well be sitting in the editing booth and being asked to empathise.

I commend Maniac for taking me completely out of my comfort zone and challenging me with something interesting but ultimately, the film has little to offer other than a sadistic, chauvinistic dream world where women are cattle, men are predominant and the police are essentially nonexistent.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.