Fast & Furious 6
The Fast and the Furious franchise goes all the way back to 2001. Minus the definite article and with a sexy ampersand in the title, Fast & Furious 6 proudly proclaims that this silly bit of gearhead fluff has matured into one of the most exuberant and tightly composed pieces of action filmmaking ever. It’s directed by Justin Lin, who has directed all the films of the franchise since the third, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and has become an unrivaled master of automotive mayhem. Picking up action from the previous installment, Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Luke Hobbs teams up with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of mavericks to take down a rogue special ops agent. The plot, as far as it goes, is perfectly adequate to support a string of top-notch automotive stunts that are done old school, using long shots rather than making do with choppy editing and CGI assistance.
Christmas Rose (聖誕玫瑰)
Written and directed by Charlie Yeung (楊采妮), probably best-known to Western audiences from her co-starring role in the Pang Brother’s action film Bangkok Dangerous with Nicolas Cage. Christmas Rose is a courtroom drama that deals with issues of sexual harassment and medical malpractice in a serious if rather melodramatic fashion. The cast is led by Aaron Kwok (郭富城) as a fearless lawyer who represents a paraplegic piano teacher played by Kwai Lun-mei (桂綸鎂) against a doctor she believes sexually assaulted her in the course of an examination. The defense is led by a fast-talking legal wunderkind played by Ha Yu (夏雨). The strong cast and tense courtroom scenes ensure that the moral complexities of sexual harassment and courtroom ethics don’t become too ponderous.
Schoolyard drama from Mexican writer/director Michel Franco who targets the hot button issue of bullying in a slow burn of a movie that builds to powerful effect. After the death of her mother, Ale (Tessa Ia) and her father Roberto (Hernan Mendoza) try to make a new start. A single misstep leads to a falling out between Ale and her new school friends that degenerates into bullying and the edges of criminality. Ale, who wants to be a support rather than a burden to her father, finds herself pushed to the edge. The director does not provide the audience with easy emotional cues and lets the actors do their job. Ia is particularly fine in a difficult role, and there is good support from a bevy of non-professionals who play her tormentors.
The Indian film industry once again showing the world that it can do much more than standard Bollywood. Barfi! does not so much tell a story as create a cinematic montage around its title character, a young deaf-mute who wanders through a kaleidoscope of romance and adventure. Starring Ranbir Kapoor, and featuring the very considerable talents of newcomer Ileana D’Cruz and former Miss Universe Priyanka Chopra, the film is so full of good humor that its slight infelicities are easily overlooked. There are echoes of Amelie in its magical imaginings, and a touch of The Artist in the homage to the power of silent film, though in the case of Barfi!, it is only the lead actor who remains silent. There is a splendid score by Pritam Chakraborty, often jokingly performed by a trio of instrumentalists popping up in odd corners of the screen.
It is a commonplace of the cinema that literary adaptations are dangerous ground, and when the work is a great, and massive, classic, as is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the challenge is even greater. Director Mike Newell’s (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) work has a splendid supporting cast, with Helena Bonham Carter amping up the Bellatrix Lestrange-like witchiness as Miss Havisham, Robbie Coltrane terrific as the wily, manipulative Jaggers and a bravura piece from Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch. Newell finds himself somewhere between the hyperrealism of Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and the stagy theatricality of Joe Wright’s recent Anna Karenina, and while it may not please fans of the book, there is plenty to enjoy.