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.

Need For Speed

March 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”)
Written by: George Gatins (debut)

Soon after actor Paul Walker’s tragic death in a car accident this past November, many people wondered what the future of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise would be. Beyond the obvious logistics of how the series would carry on, fans wondered how they would get around making a film and telling a story that so heavily involved dangerous driving, the very same thing that took Walker’s life. While the next installment of “Fast and the Furious” isn’t slated until next year, the loose video game adaptation “Need For Speed” is the first test to see how the car racing/driving genre fares in the wake of the passing of one of it’s biggest stars.

After being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, mechanic and amateur car racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) gets out of jail and decides to get back at the man who framed him, professional driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). To do this, Tobey must drive cross-country to get the attention of a man who runs an underground race in order to gain entry to this exclusive competition where he can get revenge on his archenemy.

From a story perspective, “Need For Speed” stumbles right out of the gate by introducing Tobey’s rivalry with Dino without giving any back-story or reason to become invested.  This kicks off a series of events that is meant to pull at the heartstrings and give Tobey his motivation, yet can be seen from a mile away. From there the film begins its revenge plot by way of a wildly generic screenplay. Similar to the “Fast and Furious” films, “Need For Speed” spends time around a crew of fellow mechanics and drivers that aid Tobey in his cross-country trip. Unfortunately, these are all characters who themselves are also generic and add nothing but a means to push the story forward and spew cheesy, inane dialogue. For his performance, Paul isn’t given much to work with in Tobey. He’s the “strong and silent” type who is hellbent on revenge and reluctantly bringing car broker Julia (Imogen Poots) along from the ride. Aside from a terribly written introduction to her character, Poots is probably the most enjoyable character to watch and her scenes with Paul become better as the film carries on.

Aside from a mess of a story, the main draw to “Need For Speed” is obviously its action sequences. Admittedly, there is some pretty neat stunt driving and coordination, including one wild scene involving a car and a cliff. But mostly, the film spends most of its time glorifying completely reckless driving all in an often obnoxiously loud presentation.

More to that point, there is even a scene of Tobey driving stupidly in an effort to “scare” Julia from wanting to ride with him. To do this, and with assistance from a friend in a helicopter, Tobey speeds his way through city streets, zigging and zagging, driving purposely on the wrong side of the road and leaving mass destruction in his wake. Coupled with some fiery car crashes that are eerily similar to the images associated with the wreck that took Walker’s life, it will be very interesting to see how audiences react to this film now that one of the actors who popularized the genre has fallen victim to the very same thing he made popular in a unbelievably cruel twist of life imitating art. But any and all of that aside, “Need For Speed” is just a bad movie. It’s noisy, overlong and features a banal screenplay and characters. For his first performance after his amazing and nuanced role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” Paul deserves much better.

Paul Walker – Eight Below

December 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

Actor Paul Walker is looking at the bigger picture and he likes what he sees.

Besides the critically-acclaimed film “Pleasantville” in 1998, in which Walker plays a 1950’s teenager exposed to a colorful world outside of his black and white existence, the self-proclaimed “über-Californian” has taken on scripts generally geared to teenage audiences.

Although films like “She’s All That,” “Varsity Blues,” “The Fast and the Furious” and “The Skulls,” might have put a check in his back pocket and given him the stardom he has today, Walker, who starred in his first film at the age of 12 (1987’s “Monster in the Closet”), knows there is more for him in the industry than the usual teenie-bopper fare.

“As you get older, your mind opens up a little bit more,” Walker, told me during an interview this week. “I just do what feels right.”

What feel right as of now, Walker says, is moving forward in his career and finding roles that resonate with him on a more mature level. With two film releases in February, family adventure “Eight Below” and action thriller “Running Scared,” Walker has found roles, albeit at different ends of the spectrum, that are launching him down a new career path.

In “Eight Below,” Walker plays Gerry Shepherd, an science researcher and guide, who must leave a group of Siberian Huskies behind when an accident occurs during an expedition in Antarctica. Although he plans to return to retrieve his dogs the following day, a severe snowstorm and orders from military personnel keep Gerry from reaching them for many months. During this time alone, the dogs break away from base and attempt to survive the harsh winter conditions by searching for food and staying together to fend off would-be predators.

With a young daughter and a number of nieces and nephews, Walker said it was his mother, who told him he needed to find a role in a film that children could enjoy.

“I have a mom that’s laying on me saying, ‘You gotta make something the kids can see,'” he said. “She’s the Jiminy Cricket that is on my shoulder and Jiminy Cricket gets heavy after a while.”

At first thinking “Eight Below” was not something he would like to work on because of the similarity to 2002’s ill-received “Snow Dogs,” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Walker said he decided to read the script anyway and make up his mind from there.

“I read it and it reminded me of ‘Old Yeller’ and I loved that movie when I was a kid,” he said. “So, I thought this was a good family movie to make. A few years ago I wouldn’t have cared to do this movie. But you grow up, you mature and you start seeing the bigger picture. You really start seeing life for what it really is. I wouldn’t have made this film if it didn’t resonate with me.”

Growing up in California, Walker said he did get a chance to experience the snowier parts of the state as a kid and did not go into the film never having felt a bit of frostbite. Despite his preference for a warmer climate and his Nissan Skyline R34 over a sled, he did not mind adapting to the drop in temperature while filming in British Columbia. All it took was a little patience.

“Getting into the snow is not bad,” he said. “It takes some time to adjust. It was hard for the crew. They were knee-deep in snow humping around with all the gear. As an actor it’s not a big deal. If we’re working on one scene and the storm blows in, we move to another scene. We had it easy compared to the crew.”

Patience was also needed, Walker said, to learn the basics of dog sledding by professionals for his role, a skill he says he is “pretty proficient” in now.

“[The professional sledders] broke down the doggie-politics and wanted me to learn this and that,” he said. “But the truth is, it’s all progressive. It’s one day at a time. In one day you know very little, but at the end of three months you’re pretty kick-ass.”

With his dog-sledding days behind him and “Running Scared” opening wide Feb. 24, Walker’s world has catapulted onto a whole new level. Along with his first stint as a producer on a new film called “The Death and Life of Bobby Z,” in which he also stars, Walker is also wrapping up “Flags of Our Fathers,” the 20th film of his young career alongside Academy Award winners, director Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”) and screenwriter Paul Haggis (“Crash”). In “Flags,” Walker portrays one of the six men, who raised the American Flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima, a turning point of WWII and now an iconic wartime symbol.

“You want to live and grow as much as you can,” Walker said. “As time goes on, I hope more opportunities present themselves and I hope to continue to grow as a person and an actor.”

Fast & Furious 6

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Justin Lin (“Fast Five”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Fast Five”)

In his fantastic “How Did This Get Made?” podcast, comedian Paul Scheer referred to “Fast Five” as “‘Ocean’s 11’ with Axe Body Spray.” As hilariously apt as his description was, “Fast Five,” even with its innate cheesiness, was ultimately a pretty decent and entertaining film, ushering the transformation from a series about street racing culture to a full blown heist movie. In this installment, tables are turned and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their gang work with the law to help bring down a criminal. Clearly, this ain’t your slightly older brother’s “Fast and the Furious.” So strap on your seat belt, tighten those spark valves and crank that motor rotor, cause here comes “Fast and Furious 6.” (Sorry, I know nothing about cars.)

After the events of “Fast Five,” the crew has spread out and is living their lives in luxury. Things change, however, when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) pays a visit to Dominic to recruit him and his team to help take down an international criminal. While Dominic resists at first, Hobbs convinces him by showing photos proving that his presumed dead ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive and working for the criminal. To rally around Dom, and to get their full pardons to allow them back into the U.S., Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew team up with Hobbs to catch the bad guy.

It is no secret that Diesel is not the world’s best actor. Joining him this time around is MMA fighter Gina Carano (“Haywire”), who while kicking plenty of ass in her hand-to-hand combat scenes still hasn’t figured out the whole acting thing either. Together they form a duo with the acting ability and personality of a bag of lugnuts. Since the film does a fair amount of globe and character jumping, the structure leaves a never-ending string of peripheral characters without anyone truly taking the spotlight. Johnson, who we are apparently not allowed to call “The Rock” anymore, is one of the characters who stands out above the rest, displaying the charisma that gave him an entrance into the acting business in the first place.  Also making an impact is Tyrese Gibson, who is fed virtually every humorous line in the script and delivers each of them well.

From the opening credits, which include a montage of scenes from the previous “Fast and Furious” films, it is clear that “Fast and Furious 6” serves to tie the franchise together. It’s certainly an interesting decision for a series of films that wasn’t exactly begging for more in the way of a true anthology. While it isn’t necessary to re-watch (or even watch) the previous films, “Fast and Furious” historians (Fastorians?) should be pleased with unanswered questions being paid off.

The script for “Fast and Furious 6” is a disaster. Sure, people don’t really go to see a “Fast and Furious” movie for whip-smart dialogue, but when Rodriguez’s character tells a bulky meathead who is part of Team Muscle, “Don’t make me go over there and make you Team Pussy,” you can’t help but sigh in disbelief. The previously mentioned constant jumping around to characters couples with a boring story to construct a film that is clearly only there for its action pieces. And those action scenes are about what you’d expect – a car that flips over other cars; a tank that drives on a highway and pancakes cars in its path; and plenty of fight scenes. The problem, however, is that the majority of the bigger sequences feature stunts and action beats that are entirely implausible and unrealistic. Play a game with your movie-going friend and count how many times you say, “Oh, come on!” over the course of the film.

Without question, “Fast and Furious 6” caters to its audience, so if you stuck with the film through it’s first five installments, you should know what you’re getting into. It’s loud, completely brain-dead and lacks the set pieces and tension that made “Fast Five” a success. Even with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, “Fast and Furious 6” sets new levels for absurdity in its action sequences. Regardless, there’s an audience for these films, and with the 7th installment already teased, casted and in pre-production, don’t expect Diesel and company to drive off into the sunset anytime soon.

Takers

August 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Tip “T.I.” Harris
Directed by: John Luessenhop (“Lockdown”)
Written by: John Luessenhop (debut), Gabriel Casseus (debut), Avery Duff (debut), Peter Allen (“Klash”),

There are only so many things you can do with a screenplay as unoriginal as “Takers.” You can either compare it to better heist movies that have come before it or you can save your breath and take it for what it is: a generic, one-dimensional collection of cocky, GQ-fashionable stars running around with nothing meaningful to say or do.

In “Takers,” a group of professional thieves (Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, and Chris Brown) team up with Ghost (Tip “T.I.” Harris), a former member of their crew who was recently released from prison after being the only one to get arrested during the boys’ last run together six years prior.

Now out of prison, Ghost wants to steal $30 million from an armored truck and feel his old friends owe it to him to join up for another heist. Although some of the men don’t trust Ghost, their leader Gordon Jennings (Elba) accepts the proposal since Ghost never took a plea bargain and ratted any of them out when he was in the joint.

On the other side of the law are LAPD’s finest, officers Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez) who are hot on the trail of the “takers,” but have problems of their own to deal with as well. Like the criminals they’re after, neither of the boys in blue have much personality aside from a typical law-enforcement temperament.

Besides a few well-shot action sequences (this doesn’t include a pretentious shoot-out scene played over symphony music), “Takers” is not engaging unless you’re entertained by big-budget pissing contests. The testosterone and fashion might be at an all time high, but when you’ve seen one slow-motion strut in an Armani suit you’ve basically seen them all.

Fast and Furious

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster
Directed by: Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

The fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” is much like its three predecessors. The dialogue is flat, the CGI is passable at best, and the script seems to have been written in a garage full of exhaust, but that doesn’t mean mainstream fans of the high-octane series won’t come out in droves especially with the original cast back in the driver’s seat in “Fast and Furious.”

It’s been eight years since Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) shared the road together and things haven’t changed much since their first race through Los Angeles in 2001. That’s probably because “Fast and Furious” starts right where “The Fast and the Furious” left off. Forget “2 Fast 2 Furious” or “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” In the world of underground street racing, it’s like the other two never pulled out of pit row.

Banking on the idea that a reunion would revamp the parade of fast cars, easy women, and ethnic stereotypes these types of films are typically known for, everyone involved here seems to be on cruise control. It wouldn’t matter either way since screenwriter Chris Morgan, the scribe behind “Tokyo Drift,” could have Twittered this in and made just as much sense.

In 150 or less characters: Dominic is out for revenge when (spoiler alert) his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is gunned down (it happens early on, so get over it) by a drug cartel led by Campos (John Ortiz). The baddies are also part of a street-racing gang who Brian is tracking. Jordana Brewster returns as Mia, Dominic’s sister and Brian’s ex-girlfriend.

If it all sounds drearily similar that’s because it is. The only real different in this race is that the drivers take time to turn on their GPS devices before hitting the gas. If that’s not ridiculous enough, the most preposterous scene happens when Dominic figures out everything that happened the night Letty is murdered just by looking at tire marks on the road. If the action scenes aren’t painful enough, nothing says torture like watching Vin Diesel play thoughtful.