Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker
Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jermaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
With Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, at the helm Disney is back to doing what it does best, the princess movie. But with Moana, they manage to bring a fresh cultural twist to this old standard.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) loves her island paradise home of Motonui, but since she was very young she has felt called by the ocean. Her father (Temuera Morrison), the chief of her village, has forbidden people from venturing beyond the shallow waters of the reef, but when Motonui is faced with an ecological catastrophe she is compelled to set sail to save her people. Folklore told of the time the trickster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole a precious green stone known as the Heart of Te Fiti from the goddess who gave life to the islands. Encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House), Moana sets out to find Maui and convince him to return the Heart of Te Fiti and restore order. Continue reading
Director: James Wan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell
No one does what the Fast & Furious franchise does better than them. From reasonably modest beginnings, and seemingly stalled after its third entry, it has become the jewel in Universal’s crown and has taken over US$3 billion worldwide. Very few franchises make it to seven films, and those that do are often on their last legs, but with Furious 7 this one just keeps getting bigger.
It is impossible to watch this film without Paul Walker’s tragic death being at the front of your mind. Walker was killed in a high speed car accident in November 2013 midway through the shooting of Furious 7 and many legitimately felt that it would be the end of the franchise. But after substantial rewrites, production recommenced, with Walker’s scenes finished using body doubles and digital trickery. And it worked. Furious 7 is not only a fun film but a fitting and heartfelt farewell to Walker, which, in a way, should not be a surprise. At its heart this series has always been about family (just in case you missed the surely hundreds of times the word family has been used across the seven films), so there is arguably no franchise better suited to handling the loss of one of its stars than this one. Continue reading
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gai Gadot, Ludacris, Luke Evans, Gina Carano
Amazingly, as the Fast & Furious franchise extends into its sixth instalment, rather than fizzling out as it tries and squeeze every last dollar out of the concept, it appears to have found a second wind and is getting stronger. By most every measure of quality, Fast & Furious 6 is terrible, except for one… it is heaps of fun.
Adversaries become allies and the hunted become the hunters when Federal Agent Hobbs is forced to turn to Toretto and his team to help catch Owen Shaw, a terrorist he has been tracking across the globe who leads an elite mercenary team of drivers. But what is in it for Toretto and his team? Why would they abandon the high life they are all living having made off with $100m at the end of Fast Five to assist their nemesis? Because one of Shaw’s crew is none other than Toretto’s lost love Letty, who we all thought died in Fast & Furious (the fourth one, not to be confused with The Fast and the Furious, the original). Oh, and she has amnesia… seriously.
The strength of this franchise, particularly with this film and the last, is that it knows exactly what it is. This movie is completely ridiculous, but it revels in it. Fast & Furious 6 is director Justin Lin’s fourth film in the series, having come on board for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and he delivers a very self-assured film. He knows what this film is, he knows who its audience is and what they are there to see, and he delivers it.
The plot is farcical. The acting is wooden. The dialogue is horrendous. But none of that matters because the there are plenty of laughs (about half of which are intentional) and the action is second-to-none. Lin gives us four major car-chase sequences, each one better than the last and each one good enough to be the climax of most action movies. Of particular note are the chase on a coastal bridge in Spain which features an army tank, and the climactic chase involving a cargo plane on a military base which must have the longest runway in the world.
There’s a great little post-credit scene which is going to blow the minds of fans, and assure they are all counting down for number seven.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Michael K. Williams, Rafi Gavron, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Benjamin Bratt
Snitch, the new movie for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, is not quite what you expect it to be. Johnson plays John Matthews, owner of a trucking freight company and father of a young man who has been arrested for intent to deal drugs. While his involvement in the process was nothing more than reluctantly agreeing to accept a Fed-Ex package for a friend, the mandatory minimum laws mean that he is facing at least ten years in prison. His only hope of reducing his sentence is to give up information which leads to the conviction of other drug dealers, but he doesn’t know any.
About half-an-hour into this movie I am wondering what on earth ‘The Rock’ is doing there. This seems like the part for a dramatic actor, not an action hero. But then it starts to become clear. Matthews goes to the U.S. Attorney’s office with a proposal. While his son might not be able to name any drug dealers, what if Matthews can go out and find some? A deal is struck and John Matthews is now an undercover drug-dealer hunter. With his access to semi-trailers an attractive proposition for dealers it doesn’t take long before Matthews is deeper involved than either he or the U.S. Attorney ever imagined he would be.
As an action movie, Snitch is less in the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone tradition, where you would expect a wrestler-turned-actor to make their home, and more in Mel Gibson/Harrison Ford vein. The film even culminates in a semi-trailer chase sequence which is reminiscent of Mad Max 2, minus the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Instead of being non-stop explosions and whammies, director Ric Roman Waugh, whose background is as a stuntman, delivers a film with decent narrative pacing and balance and a surprising amount of genuine emotion. The problem this presents though is that Dwayne Johnson as your leading man sometimes lacks the dramatic range to pull off some of the film’s more human moments.
You don’t often hear this said about an action movie, but Snitch has a really interesting musical score. Composed by Brazil’s Antonio Pinto, the score consists primarily of strings and percussion, and prominently features a single cello, which gives the sound a real Deadwood feel. The music ends up being the most surprising and original aspect of the film.
Waugh and Johnson, who is also one of the film’s producers, appear to have intended for this film to be seen as a political comment about the problems with the mandatory minimum system – the film finishes with captions giving figures comparing mandatory minimum drug sentence lengths to those of murder and rape convictions – but I don’t know that many viewers will engage with the movie on that level. However, if you are capable of suspending your disbelief and accepting the storyline before you, you will find Snitch to be a reasonable action film.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean