Fast Five and Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Like the everyday pizza it so closely resembles, the new Fast Five offers one thing and one thing only. Forget fancy toppings and artisanal crusts; sometimes you just want something round and reddish. This movie is that pie. And like Domino's, it delivers.
If you remember The Fast and the Furious, the first entry in this 10-year-old franchise, you've already seen this picture. Like the four previous installments, Fast Five gives only the most minimal of nods to plot and characters, concentrating instead on high-end hot rods, screaming tires, and general vehicular mayhem. The stars, once again, are Vin Diesel, playing ex-con street racer Dominic Toretto, and Paul Walker, as ex-lawman street racer Brian O'Conner. Also on hand one more time is Jordana Brewster as Mia, who is both Dom's sister and Paul's girlfriend and, when pressed, a pretty fair wheel-girl, too.
This time out, the three leads have gone to ground in Rio de Janeiro, on the lam following the barrage of action that opens the movie. Their attention is soon drawn to a local crime lord named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who disdains banks and instead keeps his ill-gotten multimillions in safe houses around the city. Dom and Brian want this money. To rip it off, Dom puts out a call to several actors who've been resting up from various earlier films, and soon we're joined by a team of heist specialists that includes Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and onetime Miss Israel Gal Gadot (whose prize-winning butt plays a key role in the proceedings). To reveal that this crew ultimately manages to separate Reyes from his money spoils, I'm sure, nothing.
As always, the movie is packed with elaborate stunts, most of them spectacular, in a vintage, seen-'em-before way, and one of them—involving an airborne truck, a speeding train, and a bridge—pretty damn impressive. Spectacular in its implausibility, on the other hand, is a long sequence in which the gang screeches through the streets of Rio towing behind them a 10-ton steel vault—an episode I'm not up to explaining.
There's also an injection of actual personality provided by rock-like Dwayne Johnson, playing a federal agent intent on taking Dom and company down. Although Diesel is something of a muscle mountain himself, he's a mere bump in the road compared to the towering Johnson, whose character clearly takes frequent time-outs from the action to keep his formidable torso oiled to a high shine.
The picture is beset by the usual Furious shortcomings. Whenever anyone gives voice to dialogue (like "You can't keep runnin', Dom" and "People here need to be free"), your hand meets your head in unbelieving dismay. And director Justin Lin—soon to join Arnold Schwarzenegger in rebooting the Terminator franchise—shoots the action with such blurry abandon that after a while you give up trying to discern what's going on and just surrender to the overbearing score, a merciless assault of skull-shaking percussion and giant battle trumpets. Witnessing all of this pouring off of a 72-foot-high IMAX screen is an experience that's unforgettable for at least an hour after you've left the theatre. Which is to say, fans should love it. And why not? Undiluted crash-bang-boom has its attractions, and here they all are.
With Fast Five, this series would seem to have squeezed every possible permutation out of its premise. You begin to wonder if there's any conceivable way the filmmakers could manage to keep it going. Then at the end somebody says, "I'll see you soon," and you know.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog once staged the pulling of a 300-ton steamboat up and over a steep Peruvian hill, so I think we can say he's a director who's drawn to difficulty. Shooting his new documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, may have been a less-daunting challenge, but it's impressive in a different way. Well, mostly.
Herzog's subject is the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France, which contains 300 of the earliest known cave paintings, many dating back 32,000 years and all looking as fresh as if they'd been daubed yesterday. These subterranean chambers were discovered in 1994, sealed off—and thus immaculately preserved—behind an ancient slide of rocks. The highly protective French Ministry of Culture had always limited access to the site to scientists, but Herzog managed to blag his way in, with certain restrictions. He could only bring a four-person camera crew, only use battery-operated lights, and never step off of the narrow wooden walkways. A further complication was the director's determination to film in 3D—a decision we can now applaud: This picture may be the most intelligent use of that technology to date.
Shooting in 3D has brought a ravishing dimensionality to the cave's winding interior—we feel we could walk right into it. It also heightens the paintings themselves—depictions of rhinos, mastodons, cave bears, and, tantalizingly, a human figure with the head of a lion. (There's speculation that the cave was used for shamanistic rituals.) Thanks to the added third dimension, we see that the irregularities and protrusions of the rock walls on which the paintings are preserved were probably incorporated as an intended part of their effect.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams would have made an excellent hour-long TV special. Padding it out to 90 minutes, though, weakens its spell. Do we really need to see some German fellow playing a tune on a prehistoric flute, or another extraneous gentleman demonstrating Paleolithic spear technique? (I won't go into the mutant albino alligators, which are an extreme stretch.) And do we really need Herzog's ever-present narration? The man's feeling of wonder seems sincere, but his way of expressing it is pure hippie-dip. ("It is as if the modern human soul has awakened here.") When he says at one point, "Listen to the silence in the cave," we only wish we could.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be published next January by St. Martin's Press.