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Entries in james wan (2)

Thursday
Apr022015

Furious 7

Few things in the world of film perplex me more than the popularity behind “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. It’s not so much that people enjoy them—they can indeed be mindless fun—but the passion those fans exert seems like it could be used on something of more substance. Still, one can’t deny the franchise’s effectiveness, at least in the last couple entries. What started as a mediocre (at best) street racing story with poor dramatics and thin characters turned into an over-the-top, jet setting action extravaganza. The franchise retained its poor dramatics and thin characters, but it began to realize what it was, downplaying the things that didn’t work while increasing the action with each successive entry. But this seventh entry has a very been-there-done-that feel to it. They try to up the ante, and do, but the last two films were so exaggerated that it’s a marginal increase at best. “Furious 7,” despite some fun moments, shows pretty clearly that this franchise is running out of steam.

The story this time, as inconsequential as it may be to the overall picture, sees the gang getting back together to collect for a shady government agent (Kurt Russell) a device called God’s Eye that allows them to track down and find anyone on the planet using every technological resource available to them. If they do this, they’ll be able to use it to find Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who is on the hunt to take them all out after they severely crippled his thought-to-be-dead brother, the antagonist of the sixth film.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Despite a lengthy set-up with lots of cringe worthy dialogue—including speeches about finding oneself and an extremely poor exploration of Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) PTSD symptoms—there isn’t much filler. In fact, after this set-up, there’s barely a moment to breathe at all, as the film jets from here to there and does things with cars that only a screenwriter in Hollywood could think up.

And boy, are those sequences stylish. Director James Wan, the man behind horror films “Saw” and “The Conjuring,” brings his usual flair to the film, even if he allows the camerawork to get too shaky for its own good; long gone is the fluidity of “Fast and Furious 6” where you could actually see what was going on, a concept that has become novel as action films have tried to up their excitement through manufactured stylistic techniques.

Yet one can’t help but appreciate what Wan brings to the table—you’re not likely to have seen a body slam portrayed in quite the way he does here—but, unfortunately, some of that style is misplaced. Taking a page out of the late Tony Scott’s book, Wan tries to make even the calm moments more interesting with unnecessary camera movements, like when it rapidly rotates around characters as they’re doing nothing more than standing there and talking. It’s an understandable addition; when the rest of the film moves so fast, attempting to mask the boredom with something resembling action makes sense.

But this tactic comes off as silly, similar to how subtitles zoom on and off the screen with a ridiculous sense of urgency. Perhaps worse is its egregious use of slow motion and brooding stares. There’s more macho posturing here than the bro-est of bro-dude movies, particularly in the half a dozen times Jason Statham and Vin Diesel gaze at each other with a strange, almost homoerotic hate.

The reason to see “Furious 7,” however, isn’t due to its highflying antics, explosions or car chases. No, it’s to see the beautiful tribute to Paul Walker at the end, who died before filming was completed. Not only does this tribute work within the context of the story up to this point, but it’s a fitting sendoff to a man who was said to be one of the kindest, gentlest people in Hollywood. The final shots are enough to make even the most jaded moviegoer shed a tear, as the fictitious film ends its run and the realization that someone very real lost his life far too soon.

In a way, though, it almost makes you appreciate the movie more. The franchise has gone on for so long that each successive film is actually becoming a generic copie of its forebears, but even with a far-too-long runtime of two hours and 20 minutes, “Furious 7” managed to end on the best five minutes it has ever produced. And no, there wasn’t a fight or an explosion or any gunfire whatsoever. It was a quiet moment, with a poignancy few other films, even the best dramatic ones, fail to achieve. I may not be the biggest fan of this franchise, but these final moments alone, as it remembers a friend it has sadly lost, makes “Furious 7” worth seeing.

Furious 7 receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr012011

Insidious

Many people consider the horror genre the lowliest form of cinema. Their inherent focus on death can be off-putting and as time has gone on, they have gotten more and more grotesque. To not enjoy the genre is, at this point, understandable. That’s why, as a critic, I’m supposed to scoff at torture porn movies like Hostel and The Human Centipede. And I do. But one film I believe is unfairly lumped in with those films is Saw. The sequels are another matter (although some, like number six, at least manage to provide interesting commentary), but the first film was original and thought provoking and, contrary to popular belief, didn’t concentrate on a large cast of no names getting mangled by overcomplicated contraptions. It was a tight psychological thriller with two skillfully developed main characters who became more nuanced as it went on (though it was by no means perfect). The duo behind that movie, Leigh Whannell and James Wan, have been on my radar ever since that film. They are a force to be reckoned with in the horror community, especially after their severely underrated 2007 film, Dead Silence. Their newest, Insidious, isn’t quite as good as those two films, but given the state of horror these days, it’s still worth a look.

Husband and wife Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house. They haven’t quite finished unpacking yet and their days are hectic. Josh works hard during the day while Renai tries to balance out the care of her three children with composing piano music. Suddenly, however, their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) sadly and unexplainably falls into a coma. Three months pass and he still isn’t awake, but Renai is beginning to hear and see things in the house and she thinks his coma might have been brought on by something not of this realm.

Insidious is your typical haunted house story. Things go bump in the night, faint apparitions appear behind thinly veiled bed canopies and doors creak open and close. Those are only a few of the sub-genre’s tried and true tricks the film borrows. It’s most certainly not original, but it excels in a few key areas and manages to frighten on more than one occasion, particularly in the first act.

The opening scenes perfectly set the tone for the film and James Wan’s visual style is eerie without being overbearing, employing black and white footage in the opening credits montage and canted camera angles to show that something is not right in the house. He has a visual eye for the macabre. Even when things seem normal, you get a sense something unseen is close by. It’s an effect that is not easy to pull off, but Wan does it here.

These early moments promise a slow building ghost movie, similar to something like 1980’s effective chiller, The Changeling, and this is when it works best. Ghosts are left hidden or at quick glimpses and its use of shadows keeps you on the edge of year seat, aware that something could be hidden beneath the shroud of darkness. It’s about what you don’t see, which makes it all the more frightening. Unfortunately, this tight, focused ghost movie becomes more and more ridiculous, and even occasionally laughable, as it goes on. The unsettling feeling present in the early scenes all but vanishes, leaving you only with predictable jump scares as it spirals down the same problematic pathway many horror movies do. As the ghosts become more prominent and the filmmakers put them front and center, it becomes decidedly less scary, stripping away whatever terrifying design your imagination has conjured up and replacing it with something that, frankly, looks kind of stupid.

Insidious, despite its many problems, is anchored by two terrific performances from two accomplished actors and it manages to redeem itself in the last ten minutes or so in a climax that mixes the dreamlike visuals of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the exploration of a survival horror video game like Silent Hill. In the end, Insidious squanders its opportunity to become a truly scary movie, but a few inspired moments and effective frights make it a fun diversion nonetheless.

Insidious receives 3/5