JIM SCHEMBRI'S NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEWS
FAST & FURIOUS 6 (aka FURIOUS 6) ***1/2 (130 minutes) M
The next time there's any meaningful discussion about the exploits of movie super heroes, the cast of the latest Fast & Furious funride simply have to be included.
Far from the earthbound exploits of the first F&F episode - made in 2001, its street-racing muscle-car motif now seems quaintly nostalgic - the cast can now leap across freeway lanes, survive car crashes and withstand bullet wounds with such resilience it's a surprise they don't wear capes.
And while franchise anchorman Vin Diesel, playing wheel man Dominic Toretto, still looks vaguely human with his shaved head and middle-age jowls, co-star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is now so pumped up with gleaming muscles and ropey veins he looks like a walking relief map of the Amazon basin.
London and Spain are the chief locales for all the mega-sized crash-and-bash action sequences, all noisily staged in the service of a blurry plot involving the recovery of a world-threatening computer chip being held by nouveau-terrorist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), an ex-SAS soldier gone bad.
Toretto's motive for getting the gang from the previous film back together is the lure of finding Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), his former squeeze who was supposed to be dead, but who we discovered at the end of 2011's Fast 5, isn't.
With an apparent brief to set a new franchise record for on-screen vehicular mayhem, the film's signature sequence involves the car-crunching daylight pursuit of a tank as it powers down the wrong side of a Spanish freeway. It's magnificently nuts - though not quite as enjoyably ludicrous as the over-blown finale, with the team chasing a giant cargo plane down what turns out to be the world's longest runway.
Seeing this film with a packed preview crowd proved especially illuminating. For while people chuckled at the movie's excesses, when it came to the key hero shots and emotional pay-offs, they applauded. It's testament both to the often-unheralded skill involved in directing big films such as this, and to the audience's willingness to go with it.
Fun Fact #1: As well as being an entertaining popcorn pusher, the film is the latest in what has turned into one of the smartest tentpole franchises going. After the third one, Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, the series sputtered.
But rather than let it die, Diesel, who bowed out after the first one, bowed back in again as a producer. With director Jason Lim and the other producers, they reworked the concept by broadening the movies' muscle-car appeal and turning them into turbo-charged, genre-based heist films.
And it's been a boon for Universal. Furious 6 has already taken north of $480 million worldwide since its release on 24 May. Unsurprisingly, the end of the film's credit crawl features a major tease for the seventh, with Jason Statham chiming in as the new baddie.
Let's face it, folks. They're going to keep making these things until one of them loses money...Then they'll reboot!
Fun Fact #2: Aussie director James Wan, who kicked off the Saw franchise and directed Insidious, is set to direct F&F7.
STILL MINE ***1/2 (103 minutes) PG
The renewed sense of purpose that can accompany personal hardship is beautifully portrayed by journeyman actor James Cromwell in this moving, nuanced, fact-based Canadian drama.
Cromwell (best know for Babe, Star Trek: First Contact and for having the best line in The Green Mile) plays Craig Morrison, a salty timber mill owner whose wife (Genevieve Bujold) is stricken with Alzheimer's.
Yet his defining struggle isn't coping with her; it's dealing with the local bureaucrat who protests when he starts building a new house so he can care for her.
There's a lot of great detail in the characterisation of his adult children, his lawyer (a lovely performance by Campbell Scott) and the local building inspector (Jonathan Potts, very good in a thankless role).
It's a measured, heart-felt piece, written and deftly directed by Michael McGowan, that warmly invites you to wonder over how richly symbolic the building of a house in a movie can be.
Although Michael Haneke's Oscar-winning Amour has attracted a lot of attention for dealing with the travails of old age, this film and Sarah Polley's 2006 drama Away From Her arguably deal with the issues in more emotionally involving terms.
PING PONG ***1/2 (76 minutes) PG
Terrific, uplifting, often raw and frequently funny British documentary following eight elderly people as they prepare for the world championship table tennis tournament in China. Of particular note is the 100-year old competitor from Australia who discovers what a celebrity she has become once she gets to the games. Director Hugh Hartford divides his time between the play-offs - which get a tad nasty when one victor gloats how her rival couldn't move - and nicely detailed background portraits of each participant. If the film has a theme, it's how the ageing process can often afflict the body far more than it does the mind.
SINISTER ***1/2 (105 minutes) MA
In this highly effective, tense little fright rouser, Ethan Hawke plays a desperate true-crime writer who moves his family into a new home as he works on his latest investigation.
Gruesome and often graphic, the case involves a box of found Super 8 footage documenting a rolling series of multiple murders spanning decades. But who is making the films? Is the supernatural involved? And why are kids so damned scary?
Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) knows how to squeeze the most out of horror movie conventions; most of the film is shot in dark rooms, dimly lit corridors, shadowy attics and in ominous settings where the grain of 8mm film somehow adds an extra dimension of creepiness to the grisly proceedings.
And they do get grisly. So a warning to the squeamish and the sensitive: Sinister deserves its MA-rating.
Though the film has received a quiet release here (we were able to preview it on disk), Sinister, made for a paltry $3m, was a big theatrical hit, taking around $88m worldwide. If you're a horror fan, you won't be disappointed.