Furious 7

April 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Directed by: James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Insidious: Chapter 2”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6”)

If nothing else, the evolution of the “Fast & Furious” series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait, is de facto family leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals? Oh, remember how much fun “Fast Five” was?

The seventh film in the franchise opens with villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vowing revenge on Dom and his family for what they did to Shaw’s brother Owen (Luke Evans) back in “Fast & Furious 6.” Don’t remember what happened in the last film? No big deal, because “Furious 7” doesn’t really care either. The film does do some serious continuity house-cleaning though, finally putting to rest the strangely out of timeline stinger of the third film, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” by sending Dom to Japan after Deckard kills Han (Sung Kang) and blows up Dom’s house in Los Angeles. After Han’s funeral, Dom confronts Deckard in a head-on collision, only to be interrupted by a black ops military team led by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody (ugh), who ultimately let Deckard slip away. But Nobody has a deal for Dom: track down a surveillance technology called God’s Eye and Dom can use it to find Deckard.

The dumb, convoluted mess of a plot notwithstanding, the biggest issue I had with “Furious 7” is the very real ghost of Paul Walker looming heavily over everything. Walker was killed during a high speed crash in a souped-up sports car during a break in filming “Furious 7” around Thanksgiving in 2013. Walker still had plenty of scenes left to shoot, and instead of scrapping the project and starting over, the filmmakers rewrote the script and finished Walker’s arc with his real-life brothers and digital masks as stand-ins. The knowledge of the late star’s tragic death from an automobile accident paints many of the film’s set pieces in a ghoulish light, namely the numerous thoroughly destructive car crashes scattered across the movie that characters walk away from without a scratch, including the Virtual Paul Walker, oddly and unsettlingly silent during too many scenes.

Diesel’s Dom goes on and on about family during the movie, and you can’t help but feel the real life loss of his friend Walker creep in over all the stupid plot points and impossibly ridiculous stunts he takes part in. There’s a real sadness here as the film works hard to retire Walker’s franchise-founding Brian O’Connor with old footage, computer graphics and the backs of other people’s heads. Maybe this is the catharsis Vin Diesel and fans needed to move forward, and maybe next time Dom and crew can have some fun again.

Insidious: Chapter 2

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey
Directed by: James Wan (“Insidious”)
Written by: Leigh Whannell (“Insidious”)

With two horror films hitting theaters over the last two months, it seems director James Wan (“Saw”) has spread himself a bit thin. While his creepy 2010 chiller “Insidious” felt like an example of a well-executed throwback in the same vein as Sam Rami’s “Drag Me to Hell” the year prior, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is a prime example of what happens when a horror movie sequel goes bad. Without the tension or overall disturbing nature of the original, “Chapter 2” should close the book on Wan’s journey into the paranormal.

“Chapter 2” comes right off the heels of the first movie where Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has escaped the spiritual world known as The Further and saved his son from the clutches of a Darth Maul-looking demon. In doing so, he becomes possessed himself and kills the supernatural medium, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who helped him tap into his ability to surf through parallel worlds. Now, the Lambert family, including wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and their two boys, move to Renai’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) house for safety. But as Elise so pointedly says in the original, “It’s not the house that is haunted. It’s your son,” the Lamberts should already know their change in address isn’t going to stop the evil parasites that have already taken over Josh’s body.

Turning into a kind of poor-man’s version of “The Shining,” “The Amityville Horror,” or “Mommy Dearest,” “Chapter 2” falls back into a generic narrative and ignores the effectively sinister tone its predecessor flourished on. Instead, Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell place the Lambert family in an old, abandoned hospital and flash images of ghoulish women dressed in 19th century garb on the screen in a lame attempt to incite cheap scares like most American horror movies do these days. Basically, in “Chapter 2,” Wan takes the weakest moments of the first movie (the woeful last half hour when Wan tries to impersonate Rob Zombie) and extends them into 105 minutes of Halloween costume playtime. If you’ve seen one malevolent ghost lady with dark mascara screaming like a banshee, you’ve seen them all.

Still, credit deservedly goes to original composer Joseph Bishara, who found his way back to Wan for both “Chapter 2” and “The Conjuring” this past summer. There’s something incredibly unsettling about the warped sound Bishara has been able to create for the “Insidious” franchise. If anything keeps you up at night – if you start straining your eyes to see what is lurking in the corners of your bedroom – just hope Bishara’s composition of shrieking violins doesn’t enter your consciousness at that exact moment. In “Chapter 2,” what Bishara does with his music is really the most frightening thing you’ll experience.

The Conjuring

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Directed by: James Wan (“Insidious,” “Saw”)
Written by: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (“Whiteout”, “House of Wax”)

The best way to describe “The Conjuring” is to call it old school, which is an easy way to say that it’s a horror movie free from the excessive CGI, herky-jerky editing, or creepy Asian kids that have come to signify what modern horror filmmaking has become. Instead, director James Wan’s ’70s-set haunted house story goes for the slow burn and forgoes the laundry list of cheap scares typically awaiting moviegoers looking to jump out of their seats.

“The Conjuring” opens with the story of three roommates and an incredibly disturbing doll. The year is 1968, and strange things are afoot in the apartment they share. When the creepy doll starts doing predictably creepy things, the roommates call in Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), paranormal investigators with a knack for tracking down evil spirits. Three years later, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters move into an old farm house. The discovery of things around the house like a boarded-up basement and a spooky music box give way to a full-fledged poltergeist, putting the entire family in danger. Left with no choice, the Perrons enlist the help of the Warrens, hoping to rid their home of the infesting evil.

As the first reels unwind, “The Conjuring” tiptoes on the edge of feeling routine. Family moves in to an obviously creepy old house where spooky supernatural things start happening? That plot line is like a well-worn shoe. Evil spirits start manipulating objects and/or members of said family? Seen it. But instead of going the contemporary route, ramping things up and populating the film with computer-generated terror, Wan keeps things simple and grounded. The 1970s color palette and musical selections complement the locked-down camera work, while the entire cast plays it straight, keeping the performances low-key and matter-of-fact. Wilson and Farmiga come off especially well, maintaining calm and realism in what could be scenery-chewing roles. And, in what could be the most pleasant surprise of all, that creepy doll featured so heavily in the prologue doesn’t figure into the climax whatsoever. She doesn’t wield a knife, doesn’t throw anyone down the stairs—nothing. When was the last time you could say something like that about a horror movie?