Faster is an action film with an eerie aura and a darkly unnerving bite to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s action through and through, a genre effort right to its marrow. And yet, there’s something oddly esoteric about it, an obvious extra effort put in by the filmmakers, namely first time action director George Tillman, to give every character an off kilter, bizarre cadence to ensure we won’t forget them. There’s clichés, no doubt, but they’re eclipsed by the strange, full moon weirdness of the rogues running about the film’s story. Dwayne Johnson fires up a furious protagonist in his first action role after a long and ridiculous stint in insufferable family comedies. He plays a quiet, hulking dude known only as Driver, reluctantly released from prison by a watchful Warden (Tom Berenger). Upon exiting the gate, he runs. And runs. And runs. He arrives at a small town junkyard where he tears a tarp of a vintage Chevelle which seems to be left there for him like a care package. From there he launches a bloody crusade of revenge that knows neither mercy nor discretion, and whose reasons we are only slowly allowed to know. He’s a one man wrecking ball, the murders piling up before we really have any idea what this guy is about. He’s been greatly wronged in the past, the culprits of which should all be running scared, as he comes looking for them one by one and with the juggernaut pace of a boulder tumbling down a mountain. Pretty soon there’s two cops on his trail, intrepid Cicero (Carla Gugino) and mopey sleazeball ‘Cop’ (Billy Bob Thornton), a dilapidated piece of work who mainlines heroin and clearly has a murky past. Soon there’s one hell of a hitman (Oliver Jackson Cohen) skulking around looking for Driver, an extreme sports enthusiast who has ‘beaten yoga’ and is avidly looking for the next big thrill. Johnson jumps from one ultra violent encounter to the next with all the corrosive ferocity of the grim reaper, tallying up the corpses until we’re all but sure he’s an inhuman elimination machine. Then.. the film curveballs us and throws a glint of humanity into the mix with some late third act emotion that only goes to show the filmmakers set out with more than a one track mind. Driver has been unspeakably betrayed, and his rampage is undeniably justified, but there’s a complexity to his quest that he didn’t see coming, and neither did those of us who expected pure action without a moral conundrum in sight. I say good on it for grasping something besides the thrills. A terrific cast populates the almost Oliver Stone – esque proceedings, including Maggie Grace, Moon Bloodgood, Mike Epps, Jennifer Carpenter (always superb), Matt Gerald, Xander Berkeley, Buzz Belmondo, Courtney Gains and more. It’s got the depth of a well written graphic novel and a level of thought out characterization that heaps of stale action entries wish they possessed.
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Wow. Where to even start. What a symphony of scorched earth heroics, a two and a half hour maelstrom of thundering action, introspective gloom and very current vibes of apocalyptic dread. I’m not sure if I was watching an entirely different film from some of these bitter bottomed critics who are maiming it with inaccurately nasty reviews. Balls to them. Zach Snyder should be proud of this achievment, for in the face of both ruthless odds and rabid fans who would make any one of us piss down our legs at the thought of ‘getting it right’, he has mounted a titanic epic of a superhero flick, hitting all the right notes and fuelling both casual moviegoers and salivating super fans with a rekindled love for comic book films. A much welcomed grit and violent edge creeps into the proceedings here, a tone which Snyder has a passion for and is incredibly deft with. We begin with a visually arresting opening credit sequence, which Snyder previously perfected to hair raising brilliance in Watchmen, a ten minute opus set to Bob Dylan. Here he inter cuts shots of young Bruce Wayne, both discovering the prophetic swarm of bats and on the fateful night of his parents murder, a sequence done over a thousand times in film, but never quite with the inventive flair used here. We then arrive with adult Bruce (Ben Affleck) in Metropolis right as it’s being ripped to shreds by the Def Jam smackdown match of Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon). There’s eerie shades of 9/11 as Bruce darts through the ashen rubble, attempting to save the employees in one of his towers. One senses the fear and rage in Wayne right off the bat (pun intended). He glowers in seething fury at the man of steel, primally threatened and haunted all over again by loved ones he couldn’t save a second time around. This film addresses the ludicrous amount of destruction that Superman wrought upon Metropolis in several ways. Political nerve endings are fried as Senate and State alike get hostile towards the god in the red cape. No one is more aggressive than Batman, though. This brings me to Affleck as Batman. Without a doubt my favourite cinematic incarnation of the caped crusader, and his debonair counterpart to date. Yes, even more so than Bale. Nolan’s The Dark Knight is still tops for me, but the portrayal of Batman by Bale didn’t strike as harmonious a chord with me as Affleck. It just didn’t feel like pure Batman, it was real world Batman. Affleck feels much more rooted in the comics, and God damn it all if he isn’t the most savage, violent Bats to come our way, well… ever. I’ve always been bothered by the nagging fact that Batman refuses to kill. Even in in a beatdown he could easily inadvertently cause death, so why bother trying? Here, he doesn’t go out of his way to deliberatly kill, but he sure has no problem brutally breaking bones and stabbing his adversaries without an iota of faux-noble hesitation. That’s the kind of Batman I want to see. Fuming, fired up and full of rage demons that erupt into fantastic action scenes. One sequence involving a room full of thugs is just jaw dropping and probably my favourite sequence of the film, even over the titular smackdown with Superman. There’s an earthy, simplistic take to him as well, with a modest suit that gives nods to Frank Miller and even Batman: The Animated Series. He is by far the elemental force that the character should be, and the part of the film that I connected with most. I hope he gets his standalone film real soon. Henry Cavill has grace and intuition as Superman, and a surprisingly earthly aura as Clark Kent, in a fit about Batman’s vigilante tactics. He’s the outsider here, an orphaned deity truly trying to do his best in a world that often shuns him in fear. He was never my favourite superhero, or even on the list, but Cavill combined with Snyder make him a force to be reckoned with, and a hero I can get behind. The two eventually meet in a remarkably choreographed clash of the titans, a duel that really only lasts a few minutes and isn’t central theme, which raises questions in my head about the first part of that title. Their fight is composed of Batman’s hard hitting, blunt force physicality pitted against Superman’s fluid, elegent invincibility which is satisfyingly put to the test by the appearance of a certain green mineral we all know about. The James Cameron-esque suit Batman wears for the fight is a grinding wonder that looks like it weighs a metric ton and could level buildings alongside the man of steel. The combat feels urgent, from the gut and roars into action perfectly. Of course, that isn’t where the fireworks stop, but I ain’t sayin any more than that. Gal Gadot is truly wonderful as Wonder Woman, I also can’t wait for her solo outing, and wish she’d been in the film more. Her much talked about entrance is the definition of crowd pleasing, and will make you cheer in approval, which I did out loud. She’s endlessly gorgeous, and has the toughness to go along with it, a great casting decision by anyone’s tally. Jesse Eisenberg wowed me as a young, jittery Lex Luthor, in what is probably the most clinically insane portrayal thus far. Forget bumbling Gene Hackman and hammy Kevin Spacey, this guy seals it for me. There’s a true madness to his Lex, which when given enough money and resources can have cataclysmic results. It’s a villain to remember, and Eisenberg exudes palpable danger from every pore, his psychopathic sheen of logic barely shrouding the mania beneath. Jeremy Irons is a more restrained, jaded Alfred who is still unconditionally supportive of Wayne, but is reaching the end of his rope which is tethered to pure world weariness. He gets some of the only humerous bits of the film, albeit of dry, brittle variety. Amy Adams is reliably terrific, her eyes pools of perception that mirror the horror and spectacle of the events through the mind of a human, with every ounce of nerve and courage as those around her that have superpowers, or expensive toys. Diane Lane is weathered wisdom and maternal compassion as Martha Kent, nailing her scenes with the small town, kindhearted patience that a film this noisy deserves, tipping the scales to provide occasional serenity in the eye of the hurricane. Kevin Costner makes a brief appearance in one of the films numerous and often confusing dream sequences. He was a highlight in Man Of Steel, and brings the same baleful, gruff adoration here, in a wonderful but brief scene with Clark. Laurence Fishburne is another source of rare humour as the perpetually exasperated Perry, CEO of the Daily Planet. Aggravated and cheeky, he commands every frame he’s in and had me chuckling no end. Holly Hunter has forged a career of playing no nonsense hard asses, here a ballbreaking US Senator here who shares a moment of distilled intensity with Luthor proving that Superhero films can have some of the best written dialogue. Harry Lennix makes great use of said writing too as the steely Secretary Of Defense. Callan Mulvey and Scoot McNairy are memorable in supporting turns. Listen hard for Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino, and look for a certain ocean dwelling dude in the briefest of moments. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also has a cameo that’s almost too good to be true. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, who was so top notch with Mad Max: Fury Road, combine efforts for a score that knocks it out of the park and several miles further. Batman has a soul rousing battle cry of an overture, with subtle shades of Zimmer’s work on the Nolan films, built upon to give us something truly unique and fitting for the character. Lex Luthor is accompanied by a fitful cacophony of strings that sound like the Arkham Asylum charity orchestra having a collectively unnerving seizure. My favourite riff though I think is for Wonder Woman, a deviously disarming jaunt that strays from the grandiose, baroque theme and feels wickedly subversive, getting you just so pumped for her character. Zimmer’s work on Interstellar made it my top score of 2014, because he leapt out of the box of his usual tricks and gave us something we’d never heard from him before. Here he shreds that box with ingenuity and creative output, a varied, explosive piece that assaults your ears splendidly. My one concern with the film was a dream sequence midway through concerning Batman, and anyone who’s seen the film knows what I’m talking about. I’m sure comic book fans have some point of reference or context regarding it, but the casual viewer doesn’t, and a little more explaining would have been nice. I will say though it showcases Batman in an entirely new light which took me off guard nicely. This is what a superhero movie should be, plain and simple. Big, bold, audacious, stirring and full of high flying action, dastardly villains, conflicted heroes clashing like the ocean tides and a sense of pure adventure. Forget what the critics are saying, this one comes up aces in all categories and is a perfectly wonderful start to the stories of a group of characters that I look forward to seeing in many a film to come. Especially Affleck’s Batman.
Ridley Scott’s vast, intricate crime epic American Gangster is one of the director’s finest achievement in film to this day. It’s sprawling in nature, expansive in scope but never chaotic or muddled. It always maintains a laser focus on its characters and story, thumping along at a rhythmic pace which swells and falls to the time of one of the most iconic stories in true crime. It’s Scott’s Heat, a titanic tale of cop vs. criminal in which neither are the villain or hero, but simply men adhering to rigid, ruthless principles moulded by the environments they have grown up in. Both men have an intense set of morals completely different from the other, yet equally as captivating. Russell Crowe is a troubled bruiser as Detective Richie Roberts, a cop so determined to convince himself of his own upstanding nature that he won’t take any illicit payoff in any amount or context. In contrast, every other aspect of his life is a shambling mess. Denzel Washington is quiet fury as Frank Lucas, an enterprising gangster and drug smuggler who rides the tidal wave of capitalism like there’s no tomorrow, flooding the streets of Harlem with pure heroin directly from the southeast Asian source, and rising swiftly to the peak of underworld infamy. The two are on an inevitable collision course, two juggernauts with different empires backing them who will stop at nothing. Lucas believes himself to be untouchable, shirking the flashy, preening nature of his peers and remaining out of the limelight, until cunning Roberts catches onto him. The rough and tumble world of New York in the 60’s and 70’s is lovingly brought to life by Scott, his cast and crew who go to impressive lengths in order to bring us that grit, realism and specific anthropological aura of another time, another setting. Speaking of cast, this has to be one of the most rip roaring collection of actors ever assembled, even to rival that of Heat itself. In Richie’s corner there is senior Detective Lou Toback (a sly Ted Levine, perpetuating the vague Michael Mann vibe even further), a scummy colleague (Yul Vasquez), and an off the books team of gangbusters including John Ortiz, John Hawkes and a mumbling RZA. He also clashes with his bitter ex wife (Carla Gugino) in an ugly custody battle for their young son. Over on Frank’s side of the hill are his huge extended family including Common, TI, Chiwetel Ejfor and Ruby Dee in one of the film’s finest performances as his strong willed, passionate mother, one of the only people who could talk sense into him and keep the animal inside at bay. Lymari Nadal is great as his bombshell Puerto Rican wife as well. His rivals include superfly-esque Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and a brief, hostile turn from Idris Elba. He also deals with the Italian mafia, personified by a hammy Armand Assante, an earnest Jon Polito and a slimy Ritchie Coster. One of the best performances of the film comes from Josh Brolin as positively evil corrupt narcotics detective Trupo, threatening everything that moves with his grease slick hair, porno moustache and silky, dangerous tone. As if that army of talent wasn’t enough, there’s also work from Kevin Corrigan, Joe Morton, Clarence Williams III in a powerful turn as an ageing Bumpy Johnson, and a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Norman Reedus as well. What. A. Cast. The whole thing rests on Crowe and Washington, though, and both are like Olympian titans of crime and conflict, sweeping up everyone around them in a whirlwind of explosive violence, shifting alliances and the booming arrival of capitalism giving the American people in every walk of life a defibrillator jolt of economic change, laying the foundation for the world we live in today, one brick, one bullet, one business deal at a time. Scott achieves legendary heights with this one, a crime film for the ages that one can always revisit to see not how one hero cop took down a villainous drug lord, but how the forces which inexorably bind humans to various fates in accordance with their decisions swept up two extraordinary yet mortal men into historic infamy. In a word: Epic.
Hope everyone enjoys!