Tag: idris elba

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Intelligent people will most likely get bored of “Hobbs & Shaw” about twenty minutes in because it reveals its hand too early. Instead of consistently finding new or creative ways to entertain, it offers only two tricks: loud and busy action set pieces and rapid-fire banter between the titular characters (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively) who despise each other. The strategy suffers from diminishing returns and by the end one cannot be blamed for finding any excuse to get up from his seat without the intention coming back. I stayed all the way through and regretted it. I could have spent one hundred thirty-five minutes enjoying the outdoors.

The bombastic action film is directed by David Leitch and his penchant for complex sequences shows, whether it be a car-motorcycle chase across the busy streets London or hand-to-hand combat in a sanitized Russian underground laboratory. He proves to have an eye for what looks good during wide shots or, by contrast, shots that are up close and personal. However, it is surprising that there are screenwriters at all (Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce). Because for every well-lit and marginally impressive choreography, there is at least three cringe-worthy dialogue to go with them. It feels as though the script is written by people without imagination or at least an inkling of how people actually talk in every day conversations. Action movies must be grounded in some way; not everything must be elevated.

This is most problematic during the occasional dramatic moments, particularly when Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a federal agent, and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an M16 agent who also happens to be Deckard Shaw’s (Statham) younger sibling, find similarities in each other. These exchanges are forced and superficial—awkward and uncomfortable at best. The dialogue also fails to work when the subject of family, particularly being estranged, is broached. These would-be personal moments lodged between action sequences are worthy of the biggest eye rolls. To say the quality is television-like would be an insult to good television with well-written dialogue.

Even the action scenes fail to command a high level of excitement despite increasingly elaborate skirmishes. Here we have a villain named Brixton (Idris Elba) who is part-human and part-machine. Despite all the talk surrounding Brixton being a formidable enemy, notice how he and his team loses in every key confrontation. As a result, especially during the second half, he becomes significantly less intimidating. Introducing science-fiction elements in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is not the problem; the issue lies in the lack of more profound or intriguing ideas behind them. Due to this shortcoming, the work comes across as just another lazy cash grab.

“Hobbs & Shaw” fires blanks. Although it is loud, busy, and appears to look expensive on the surface, it offers an empty, nearly joyless experience. It does nothing to push Johnson, Statham, Kirby, and Elba as performers. The work rests on the actors turning on their charisma and nothing else. At least they are getting a paycheck to sleepwalk though a subpar film. We, on the other hand, must pay money and put in the time to sit through it.

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016)
★ / ★★★★

In terms of quality, Justin Lin’s “Star Trek Beyond” is several solar systems away from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” an exciting, thrilling, mainstream summer blockbuster that has more similarities with the classic “Star Wars” pictures than it does with its original material. There is great energy and freshness to Abrams’ film, elements that are sorely lacking in this installment, resulting in a dour, slow, expected foray into what is supposed to be uncharted regions of space.

It begins from an interesting perspective given that the USS Enterprise and its crew are in their third year of a five-year mission. Led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), we feel the team’s fatigue which stems from the day-to-day responsibilities that have begun to feel more like chores. From a storytelling standpoint, it works because it is a way of relating to the audience directly: Although the characters’ mission involves space exploration, what they do is still job and so there are times when excitement hits a low point. But the writers, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, fail to take this perspective in fascinating and thought-provoking directions.

Instead, we are given a whole enchilada of action. Although they can be appealing once in a whole, it comes across as painfully standard. None of the extended shootouts, spaceships crashing on landscapes and onto one another, or even the hand-to-hand combats are memorable. One gets the impression that kinetic movements and a sci-fi action noises are simply served to appease viewer expectations rather than to challenge, question, or provoke. Put the film on mute and the images mean nothing because the majority of them are computerized anyway; there are no concrete ideas for us to hang onto and ponder over.

Because the screenplay is dirt poor, notice that even the musings of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto)—usually the most curious and amusing of the crew—sound forced and out of place. The attempts at humor are even more awkward; the timing from the actors are there but the material’s wit is lightyears away. These exchanges are supposed to function as reprieves between the elaborate action sequences but they, too, do not offer anything of value. Over time, I caught myself actually looking forward to the battle scenes not because they are necessary better but at least they are steps taken toward the film’s conclusion.

It is said that movies within this genre are defined by their villains. Krall (Idris Elba) commands a terrifying swarm of bee-like fleet but the character himself lacks any dimension worth exploring. Some effort is put into fleshing out the villain during the final act but it is too late by then because we have ceased to care about his motivations; the special and visual effects, the noise, and other distractions have completely taken over.

“Star Trek Beyond” is missing an identity and substance. Compared to its two direct predecessors, notice there is not one moving scene to be found here that precisely digs into why this team and its members are worth investing our time and energy into. It is clearly inferior, not at all within the league of its livelier and more thoughtful antecedents.

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

These days it is simply not enough to have beautiful images gracing the screen, especially when it comes to family-friendly films where every age must be engaged and entertained. “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau, is able to translate a Disney animation classic, about a boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is raised in the jungle by wolves, into a live-action adventure that is full of thrills and wonderment. Favreau takes a beloved material that has been told a number of times before and breaths new life into it.

Although the majority of the animals are made using a computer, they are convincingly life-like. The details of their furs, ears, snouts, tails, and eyes are impressive; the longer one admires every feature, the more tactile they appear to be. But it doesn’t stop there. Look at how the filmmakers manage to capture the correct posture of the computer-animated animals when they rest, eat, and interact with one another. One gets the impression that great efforts were made to research actual animals in order to create a most convincing universe.

The film offers numerous memorable sequences, from Mowgli being mesmerized by a giant Indian python (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) to heart-pounding chases involving a villainous Bengal tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) whose face is half-burnt. But one might argue that the best parts of the movie are times when nature is front and center. Two standouts include a terrifying mudslide as unsuspecting water buffaloes make their way on the side of a mountain and the other involves Mowgli’s attempt to kick down honeycombs hanging from a cliff as he is stung by bees.

These two scenes are vastly different yet somehow they fit perfectly in the film. For instance, the former is drenched in black and gray while the latter features kaleidoscopic hues. The mudslide scene reflects a struggle for survival, as signaled by rapid camera movements, while the honey gathering scene highlights a growing bond between a man-cub and a new friend (voiced by Bill Murray)—this time the camera still and overall tone playful. The balancing act is assured and professional. What keeps it all together is the consistent eye for detail.

Admittedly, it took me a good while to get used to the animals’ mouths moving when they speak. The mouth movements and voices are not distracting—in fact, all of the voice actors are well-chosen—but the partnership is, at first, unnatural. After about thirty minutes, however, the transition was complete and I was able to get into the reality that some of the animals were able to speak.

“The Jungle Book,” based on the collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling and screenplay by Justin Marks, dazzles and delights the senses. It might have been improved if the subject of belongingness and home were explored more deeply and with more mature insight.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

San Francisco, Manila, Cabo–the first three cities demolished by the Kaiju, towering monsters from another world that have gone through a portal located deep within the Pacific Ocean. In response to the catastrophic attacks, nations of the world band together and create the Jaeger program. Led by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), giant robots are sent to exterminate the leviathans each time they surface. For seven years, the program has proven to be a glowing success. However, not only have the aliens turned more massive over time, it appears as though they have learned to adapt.

“Pacific Rim,” based on the screenplay by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro, is propelled by two elements: nostalgia and faultless visual effects. When I wasn’t running around outside with my cousins or collecting bugs as a kid, I sat in front of the television around dinner time and marveled at shows like “Ultraman,” “Chikyu Sentai Fiveman,” and “Chōdenji Machine Voltes V.” When an episode was not dubbed, everything was in Japanese. I didn’t mind; the images spoke for themselves. All I really cared about was the action–especially during the last ten minutes or so when two figures fighting, one standing for good and the other for evil, grow taller than mountains and anything goes from there. I approached the film with optimism.

Fans of sci-fi action will be satisfied. Children, especially most boys, will be drawn to the picture. Themes like determination and heroism are present, but the centerpiece, colossal figures duking it out until an arm is torn off or the target is pummeled to electrical malfunction, allows it to stand out from other movies that showcase robots and superheroes smashing into skyscrapers.

The magic is in the detail and execution. While we are given some time to gape at the giants’ full bodies from a good distance, tight shots that linger are also implemented so we can observe the roughness and scaliness of the creatures which directly contrasts with the angularity and bulkiness of the robots. It is a completely different experience–a pleasant one–compared to other work within the sub-genre in which most of the action is largely composed of quick cuts. It is inviting. Instead of repelling or inundating us with rampant and incomprehensible editing, the filmmakers actually want us to see what two hundred million dollars looks like on screen when it is done right.

Having said that, I am a little older now and action is no longer the only element I care about. The dialogue is not particularly strong especially when the mood takes a serious turn. In addition, trying to steer some of the material toward a dark and dramatic territory is a miscalculation because paths are created but never explored meaningfully. There are ways of creating character development without necessarily making more subplots. For example, since the planet is in a state of cataclysm, it is more appropriate to focus on the decisions the characters feel they must make, how they live with those choices, and what their specific roles mean to them within the Jeager program. By streamlining its scope with respect to characterization, there might have been less scenes that drag or feel forced.

It is not without a sense of humor. I am usually repelled when scientists are portrayed as being so smart that they are unable to relate with anything that has to do with reality, but Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Newton and Gottlieb, respectively, are so fidgety, you’d think they chugged at least three Red Bulls prior to “Action!” I was amused by simply watching their characters struggling to stand still and keeping their opinions to themselves when their superior demands that they speak one at a time. Scientists with different perspectives on how to solve a problem is nothing new, but Day and Gorman’s performances create an illusion that it is new. Also, I liked looking at their lab. Newton’s side is like a bizarre candy store. That piece of Kaiju brain floating in a tank made me hungry. (I like to eat pork brain.)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, “Pacific Rim” is made with a love for the medium. It engages us with its visuals without relying on them too much to the point where there is no story. And although the script is somewhat limited, it remains a delight throughout. When you feel that the filmmakers have taken extra steps to create a work that is worthy of your time, especially in today’s increasingly cynical attitudes toward moviemaking, know that what you have seen is a rarity.

The Losers

The Losers (2010)
★ / ★★★★

“The Losers” was titled as such because five members of the CIA (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Óscar Jaenada) were framed by a voice on the radio named Max (Jason Patric) whose goal was to obtain a new generation of weapons in order to generate a worldwide war. The CIA operatives, after everyone believed they were dead, took refuge in Bolivia (and acted as, well, losers) until they met a woman (Zoe Saldana) with plenty of resources who wanted to hunt down and kill Max. “The Losers” is anything but boring because action sequences were abound. I liked its energy, its reckless abandon in terms of sticking with realism, and even its (very) lame jokes. What I despised with a passion, however, was the fact that it was never really clear on why Max wanted the five CIA agents dead. Since Max was supposedly smart and had a lot of money, why were the five men so special or so threatening? If he had kept the five in the dark in the first place, then he wouldn’t have a problem with achieving his goals. Furthermore, his ambition to obtain a weapon and eventual world domination felt like it was something out of an “Austin Powers” movie. Not for a second did I believe that he was menacing or remotely intelligent because he kept making ridiculous voices. I found his right-hand minion (Holt McCallany) a more believable villain. What could have made this movie more interesting was if it had given the five main characters more heart. Since it was based on a comic book series by Andy Diggle and Jock, it would have been nice if the movie had given us an extra dimension to explore instead of just the typical revenge story. Three of the five had families and the picture could have explored what it meant for them to survive. I wanted them to be torn between their loyalty to their team and their families. As for the romance between Morgan and Saldana, although they looked together and they had undeniable chemistry, I did not feel tension between them. Since Saldana’s character had a malleable sense of loyalty, I kept waiting for the movie to be one step ahead of me when it comes to delivering the potential twists. It was painfully obvious and eventually I just could not wait for it to end. Directed by Sylvain White, “The Losers” is like pop rocks candy. Once it enters the mouth, it’s explosive and we are able to feel strange and fascinating sensations. However, once the explosions die down, we all know that we’ve consumed nothing but empty calories.


Obsessed (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Directed by Steven Shill, “Obsessed” was a whole lot of nothing. The supposed story was that a temp named Lisa (Ali Larter) started to flirt with her boss (Idris Elba), but he didn’t realize that she was essentially a crazy stalker. At first it was sort of harmless–a look here, a glance there–but it eventually turned ugly–date rape drug here, attempted suicide there. Elba’s character stupidly kept everything that was happening around him a secret from his wife (Beyoncé Knowles) so he looked guilty when everything came out in the open. I honestly did not care less about the drama behind the characters’ lives. I just wanted to see Larter and Knowles fight it out in the end. Almost all of the characters here were unlikable: Elba, arguably, did send the wrong signals to Lisa which prompted her to think that he wanted her so he was not entirely blameless, Knowles was a suffocating and clingy housewife, Elba’s co-workers and supposed best friend did not know when to be serious and I felt like I was watching a bunch of high school pricks whenever I saw them on screen, and, well, we were supposed to hate Larter because she was the villain, but I hardly think she did that much of a good job either. As far as comparisons to “Fatal Attractions” goes, Larter did not come close to Glenn Close’s level of delusion and insanity. In some parts, I thought it almost became a farce of lunatic femme fatales because of all the unintentionally funny one-liners. I think it took itself way to seriously to the point where it collapsed on its own attempt to entertain. But even I have to admit the the trailers got me interested; it looked intense and it seemed to have a lot going for it. It goes without saying that I’m not going to give this a recommendation. Even then I think I’m being lenient on it because I’ve seen really good films prior to watching it. I can just imagine what I would have written if I saw “Obsessed” on a bad day.