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Entries in paul walker (3)

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
May242013

Fast & Furious 6

The most appropriate answer one can give when asked if the new “Fast & Furious 6” is any good is a simple one: “It’s another ‘Fast & Furious.’” It doesn’t sound like a great response, but it tells the asker everything they need to know. It’s no better or worse than any other middling installment in this bizarrely lucrative franchise and if you’re a fan, you’re bound to enjoy this one as well.

After the events of “Fast Five,” Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and their crew are rich. However, they’re also internationally wanted criminals and are unable to return to the US. Soon, special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tracks them down and because he’s unable to extradite them, he asks them for their help in capturing a former British special forces officer turned criminal mastermind named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). But there’s a twist. Dominic’s thought-to-be-dead girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has been spotted alive and working with Shaw.

It’s one of those stories of an inconsequential nature, much like every story told throughout this franchise. It would be hard for even a fan to argue that the writing is solid, given its ridiculous dialogue, laughable scene set-ups, undeveloped side stories and thin characters. “Fast & Furious 6” follows suit and little is actually explored or discussed. Even when Dominic and Letty cross paths for the first time, the scene lasts all of five seconds (which is not an exaggeration), despite their relationship being the primary narrative supposedly pushing this thing forward. But when these scenes begin and end in the blink of an eye, like the opening moments when the crew requires little coaxing to once again put their lives on the line, it’s not necessarily due to bad writing, but rather a desire to bypass the fluff and get to the action, showing a firm understanding that story structure is not what these movies are about.

The reason the franchise succeeds as much as it does, despite its vapid stupidity, is because it knows exactly what it is. It has a goal, however shallow it may be, and it delivers exactly what it promises. This series is about action—and lots of it—and the crazier it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. What began as a franchise with smaller, more contained action scenes that took place during street races has become a full blown extravaganza with planes, tanks, death defying stunts and bodies flying through the air and landing unscathed. Even its subtitles zoom on and off the screen in an adrenaline fueled panic. This is absurdity to the nth degree.

But it’s once again that self-awareness that makes it work, never losing its surprisingly solid sense of humor, despite some overbearing dramatics spoken in muted seriousness about “making things right,” as if any of what’s going on actually matters. What’s perhaps even more surprising, however, is the technical expertise behind the film. Although director Justin Lin may not know how to flesh out a story or wring out performances from his actors that exceed anything above “average,” he knows how to stage an action scene. Responsible for the last four films (and one of the best episodes of the underappreciated television show “Community” called “Modern Warfare”), he knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat, even if you don’t really care about the consequences of said action. His fluid camerawork, even during the film’s most hectic moments, allows for a good view of what’s going on. Implementing the shaky cam technique most action movies rely on these days would be doing a disservice to the fantastic action on display.

Yet the fact remains that this is still overly loud and exceedingly dumb. There’s no real substance, no interesting story and its runtime of two hours and ten minutes is unnecessarily bloated. Many will have likely checked out far before the credits roll around out of sheer frustration for a movie that doesn’t know when to quit, but that’s the series in a nutshell. For better or worse, this is exactly what you expect. From the rap infused soundtrack to the explosive finale that takes place on the longest runway ever, this is indeed a “Fast & Furious” movie, and for fans of the franchise, that news couldn’t be any better.

Fast & Furious 6 receives 3/5

Friday
Apr292011

Fast Five

It’s hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast and the Furious is now ten years old. It’s even more difficult to understand how that movie sparked a franchise. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how that franchise reached its fifth installment. Was anyone asking for even one sequel, let alone four? I suppose it’s a moot question because here we are with the alliteratively titled Fast Five, which for all intents and purposes is no better or worse than the rest of the franchise. Take that as you will.

There’s some type of story here that has something to do with a corrupt businessman who has the whole Rio de Janeiro police force in his back pocket and stores his riches in a high security vault inside the police station. And of course, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) are going to rob him. It’s a loose premise that is negligible at best, but if you’re going to see Fast Five for the story, boy are you going to be disappointed.

Like previous incarnations, Fast Five is poorly written and it fails to tie its scenes together. It spends its whole middle section with the characters preparing and concocting an elaborate plan to break into the safe, but then that plan changes almost entirely. The final action scene, as thrilling as it is, only goes to show the pointlessness of everything that came before. It’s like the writers wrote the closing sequence first and then couldn’t come up with a way to get the characters to that point.

What the writers didn’t seem to understand, however, is that it doesn’t matter. Fast Five is a turn-off-your-brain action flick whose viewers demand very little (that this shoddy story has now gone on for five movies is telling of that fact). They want explosions, fast cars and gunfights. Unfortunately, the film spends far too much time talking and foolishly skips over would-be action scenes, like when Dominic agrees to go car for car in a race. After a dialogue exchange, it cuts back to the hideout where it’s evident he won. I imagine this was done to lower the runtime of the film, but at an already exhausting 2 hours and 10 minutes, what’s another few ticks of the clock?

Boredom may set in at certain points in Fast Five, but when the film moves, it moves fast (natch). The action scenes become cases of “enough is not enough.” Take the opening, for instance, which sees our boys robbing a moving train. As they take their loot, there’s a double cross which breeds a fist fight that causes a string of events that plants a car in the side of the train. Naturally, the car begins to leak gas, which causes an explosion and then…well, I suppose I’ll let you experience the rest for yourself. With ample supplies of machismo and crazy action scenes like that one, there’s enough testosterone in this movie to make a eunuch grow a pair.

Fast Five tries so hard to be exciting even its subtitles zoom on and off the screen with a sense of urgency. It’s admirable in a way, but it’s also perplexing because you begin to wonder where things went wrong. The pairing up of Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (playing an FBI special agent) should have been an epic showdown, a battle of fisticuffs as brutal and bloody as any put to screen, but instead it’s merely adequate, an adjective that more or less describes the entire film.

Fast Five has all the pieces to make a great action movie, but forces them into spots they don’t belong. While I am recommending it because, yes, I did have some fun with it, it’s nothing more than another derivative rehash. At this point, the most interesting thing about the franchise is what stupid title they’re going to attach to each film.

Fast Five receives 3/5