Film reviews: Fast Five | The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec | Beastly | Pina | TT3D: Closer to the Edge
Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...
Fast Five(12A) ***
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster
THE Fast and Furious series is one of the more curious action franchises. At various points the original stars all left, only to come crawling back after their careers stalled. Now the series is so big it has become a magnet for other fading action stars, with the once-promising Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson joining Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and various long-forgotten cast members from the previous four outings for more fuel-injected larceny high jinks. Kicking off with an idiotically exciting prison break, the action quickly relocates to Rio where Diesel once again dons a baffling array of leisure wear as he and Walker's disgraced FBI agent plot to pull off "one last job" against a drug baron who is using corrupt local cops for protection. Johnson is the straight-edged federal agent sent to hunt them down, and while his hilariously butch presence ratchets up the homoerotic tension considerably, it also provides a further excuse for a lot more gleefully irresponsible action sequences. These veer from breakneck-brilliance to Top Gear tedium, but when it's exciting, it is really exciting. It's just a shame the meditations on family act like speed bumps in a film that should, by now, be able to cut to the chase.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adle Blanc-Sec (12A)***
Directed by: Luc Besson
Starring: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles LelLouche
MARKING something of a return to form for Luc Besson, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adle Blanc-Sec is a spirited, if chaotic, fantasy adventure that pilfers the best bits from Indiana Jones and gives them a distinctly Gallic flavour. Though the source is a series of comic books by Jacques Tardi, it is to cinema's most famous archaeologist that Besson looks for inspiration for his titular heroine, a feisty early-20th-century novelist with a wry sense of humour and a habit of getting herself into scrapes that her smarts and derring-do only just allow her to escape. She's played with star-making confidence by Louise Bourgoin in a film that sees her embark on an offbeat mission to track down some mummified Egyptian remains in the hope that her mad scientist friend Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) can use them to help save her beloved sister from a freak-accident-induced fate. Unfortunately, it's a mission complicated by dastardly rivals, corrupt politicians, lovestruck suitors and a young pterodactyl that appears to be terrorising the unsuspecting citizens – and dogs – of Paris. It all makes for an intriguing mix of fantasy and tongue-in-check humour, bolstered by a heroine who is a lot of fun to be around.
Beastly (12A) *
Directed by: Daniel Barnz
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris
ANOTHER week, another insipid fairytale revamp with dodgy sexual politics. Beastly – a modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast – follows the later Twilight films and last week's Red Riding Hood by sending out a weird message to teenage girls that true love can only be found with cheekbone-chiselled, abdominally perfect guys who have the potential to hurt and imprison them. Of course, the film may pretend to be about the way personality vacuum Alex Pettyfer's shallow, vain, borderline fascist rich kid Kyle is forced to realise that being pretty on the inside is more important than external beauty after a witch, played by Mary-Kate Olsen, transforms him into an Abercrombie & Fitch version of the Elephant Man. But in having him learn this lesson by kidnapping a hot scholarship student (Vanessa Hudgens) and keeping her locked up in his Brooklyn penthouse for her own "protection" until she falls in love with him (thus breaking the curse and transforming him back into a poster boy for the Hitler youth), it's basically programming a generation of young girls to yield to the will of a patriarchal society and grow up to become biddable Stepford Wives. This evil must be stopped.
Pina (U) **
Directed by: Wim Wenders
WITH cinemas already overrun with rubbish 3D movies, Wim Wenders' first foray into faux-immersive filmmaking distinguishes itself by featuring the worst use of the technology thus far. A documentary tribute to the late German experimental choreographer Pina Bausch, it's a film in which any potential interest in the subject matter for non-aficionados will likely be killed off by experiencing it in dark, blurry, eye-ache inducing 3D. Interviews with colleagues and dancers who worked with Bausch during her 36 years as artistic director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal have a nauseating effect thanks to backgrounds being inverted in odd ways, while the dance sequences they intersperse – including re-staged sections of four of her most famous works – are weirdly disjointed as the cameras try and fail to capture the flowing nature of the performers. Of course it's possible that such discomfort is the point: Bausch's early pieces inspired plenty of hostility until audiences became attuned to what she was doing (one of her most famous works an interpretation of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring). But I suspect that's giving too much credit to a once great film-maker trying to reassert his relevance.
TT3D: Closer to the Edge (15) ***
Directed by: Richard De Aragues
UNLIKE Pina, I saw this 3D documentary in regular 2D, and while it's possible that the extra dimension might have added another level of visceral intensity to all the point-of-view shots of motorbikes tearing round hairpin bends at 200mph, it's still pretty exhilarating watched the old-fashioned way. It helps that in making a film about the insanely dangerous Isle of Man TT, film-maker Richard De Aragues has all the ingredients for great drama at his fingertips: hair-raising action, life-or-death situations, lots of high-stakes conflict and, in maverick, mutton-chopped biker Guy Martin, a genuine star. Obsessive and, at times, embarrassingly honest (his explanation for his disinterest in women exemplifies "over-sharing"), Martin provides most of the off-track entertainment as his endearingly pure outlook on life punctuates the kind of pseudo-mystical macho chat normally associated with extreme sports. There's tragedy too, which can make the film seem a little ghoulish at times, but for the most part this is an entertaining look at a dangerous and exciting sport done for love and personal satisfaction rather than fame and fortune.
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