Films rarely vanish as abruptly as Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty, a courtroom thriller made with top talent, but one which somehow failed to connect. Lumet is, of course, the director of classics like 12 Angry Men and The Verdict, and his return to court must have been widely anticipated, particularly as his subject was the longest court-case in US history, involving a crowd of men accused of having mob connections. Throw in a hot new star, Vin Diesel, sporting a lustrous head of hair, and rising star Peter Dinklage, and you’ve got the ingredients of a classic. But Lumet is a talent who has no interest in repeating himself, and the true story of Jackie DiNorscio is told in a serio-comic fashion that reviewers and audiences didn’t get. The opening credits are at pains to emphasise that the court scenes are based on the actual transcripts; if true, then DiNorscio (Diesel) made a mockery of proceedings. Either way, Diesel is fantastic here as a wide-boy who deals with being ostracised by friends and family, but triumph through his own sense of himself. If you only know this actor through his Fast and Furious/XXX characters, Find Me Guilty shows there’s much more gas in the tank.
Vin Diesel is never afraid over over-sell his material, and his prophesy of a franchise for The Last Witch Hunter seems somewhat redundant when Breck Eisner’s fantasy thriller his screens like a rotten tomato in 2015. Then again, Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick seemed to have flatlined another franchise until Diesel brought it back from the dead, so who knows? The Last Witch Hunter certainly has something to commend it, not least some tongue-in-cheek support from Michael Caine and some nicely rendered CGI-backdrops as Kaulder (Diesel) cannons through the centuries into a big boss battle with a Queen Witch. With reams of laughable expository dialogue about Witch Prisons to stumble through, The Last Witch Hunter is a nice example of the good-bad movie; it’s gibberish, but at least it’s fluent gibberish.
The development of the Fast and Furious movies is one of the more abnormal franchises, driven by fan power and divided into two different trilogies, ingeniously tied together by the closing sequences of Fast 6. After the original, solid, entertaining film, Vin Diesel opted not to return, and John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious seemed to take the sequence down the laws of diminishing returns. Paul Walker also elected to body-swerve the third entry, but it’s arguable that Justin Lin’s Tokyo Drift is the film that got the car-race franchise back on track.
Lucas Black is a serviceable if unexciting lead as Sean Boswell, a US teenager who decides to avoid a jail term by shifting to Tokyo, where he becomes involved with the world of drift racing. Sporting a rather natty blazer, Sean appears to have an almost unlimited budget for high-performance cars, and spends his days practicing driving around in circles with considerable diligence. With no grand heists or any of the crime-busting action of the second trilogy of films, Tokyo Drift settles for street-racing, and delivers in spades, with colourful backgrounds that seem to have been torn from video games. Tokyo Drift is the black sheep of the franchise, with only Han (Sung Kang) and a cameo from Vin Diesel offering a firm connection to the chronology, but it’s a fast paced and enjoyable diversion for the blockbuster franchise.
A pre-Pixar Brad Bird creates a wonderful family film with this 1999 adaptation of Ted Hughes book, a bromance between a young boy Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) and a huge rusting robot called The Iron Giant, voiced by Vin Diesel. Falling to earth, the giant is discovered in the small beatnik-era Maine town of Rockwell by Hogarth, who determines to keep his metal friend a secret from the authorities and his mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston). Presumably the unfashionability of animation at the time stopped The Iron Giant from making a big impact, but Bird’s film deserves a cult-following; it’s smart characters and thoughtful life-lessons make it a moving experience for young and old alike.