Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

  Justin Lin's first entry into the well known franchise is just flat out fun. Its maybe not better than 2 Fast 2 Furious, but definitely on par with it. In short, it has the same weaknesses but, a whole new set of strengths. Its not as action heavy as the first two giving way for some respectable stabs at character development. Its less about crime lords and cops, than it is more of just a fish out of water story, set in the underground racing scene of Tokyo japan. Alot like the very recent remake of the Karate Kid, only instead of karate or kung fu, its car racing.  It works pretty well too.

  The protagonist is a fresh face to the series, avoiding the typical kinds of 'heroes' seen in the previous two. He's just a guy. Not a criminal or a cop. Just a high school guy who happens to be very good behind the wheel of a car. But theres a catch, in THIS racing scene in Tokyo, its not JUST racing. Its drifting.

  Where according to wikipedia drifting is when a driver intentionally over steers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through turns, while maintaining vehicle control and a high exit speed.  It looks way more interesting that it sounds. Well this new guy has to learn how to drift or he's pretty much useless in the racing world here. Its pretty cool and fun. But again... ridiculous dialog, plenty of overacting, and hammy characters. Except by now, those feel less like flaws and more like trademarks of the franchise. Is that a good thing by now? Or a severely bad one?

Well, I'm still unsure. But I had a good time watching the movie. Its nothing spectacular, or even anything special, but its fun. And isn't that all we really want from a movie like this?

  I don't have as much to say about this one than I did about the first two, because it doesn't feel like there is as much to critique. Also in some respects there isn't much to say because it sticks out like a sore thumb in the series. We're not really catching up on Dom Toretto or Brian O'Connor, so I can't really measure the movie next to the first two.  It feels very different. Better? I'm not sure. But its definitely not worse.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2 Fast 2 Furious

  The problem with the first Fast & Furious movie, was the fact it didn't really  have alot of originality. It felt like a poor man's Point Break with the undercover cop befriending the criminals he's supposed to be investigating.Aside from its inherently cliche plot, even most of its car races and action scenes were cliche. Lets not even mention the horrible dialog.

  2 Fast fixes alot of this. Its a cliche genre movie, but it has enough exciting set pieces and flashy cars to keep your attention the whole time. If the first one was loud, this one is louder. If the first one had colorful cars, this one has the whole damn rainbow. Maybe they're compensating for the lack of Vin Diesel's charm here, but it pays off. Its... pardon the pun, twice the fun as #1.
  Movies like this aren't really renowned for their intellectual side or their brilliant dialog.
But they are usually adept in competent action. So 2 Fast's super smart move is ramping up the action.

   It knows it's weaknesses and its strengths and it plays completely to its strengths. The big flashy cars, the sexy women, the loud hip hop music et cetera... Right off the bat, its structurally put together better that its predecessor, it fires off with a big intense car chase, that has an awesome ending. And then the movie just kicks off, unfolding as we're along for the fast paced ride. Its just fun. Stupid fun. But fun nonetheless. Its... just a better movie. I still wouldn't call it a good movie, but overall I don't feel as guilty for liking it as I did with #1. Because this one ticks alot more of the boxes that movies like this SHOULD tick. Still pales in comparison to Fast Five, but overall its not a bad entry into the series.

   I can recommend this one for a fun Saturday night in. But don't expect anything amazing. For that... Fast Five still reigns. n this case, the over-saturation of the action, the car chases, and the silly dialog works. In any other movie franchise, it would be too much. Or too little depending on how you look at it. But it actually fits perfectly in this series. Sign me up for #3.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fast and The Furious

To say that The Fast and the Furious is a good movie, wouldn't be a very truthful statement.  Its not my first entry into the F&F franchise, that honor would go to the rather stale Fast & Furious which hit the big screens in 2009 I believe. Aside from not really impressing me or anything, it was an ok way to spend a couple hours. Now, this one, The Fast and the Furious is the first movie in this odd series. And its an okay foundation to what has very recently turned into a promising franchise with the extremely enjoyable Fast Five.

This movie didn't much impress me, cause well... the dialog is terrible, the awkward stabs at character development is half-assed, and we really have no reason whatsoever to give a crap about these characters.  Diesel's iconic character Dom Toretto is supposedly the hero, but why? He doesn't really do anything good. His only redeemable quality is his unflinching loyalty and devotion to his rag tag family, but they're all criminals anyway. So at this point there is a massive disconnect here.

I already care about the characters because of what I've seen in Fast Five, they sort of are like modern day Robin Hoods. So to speak. In that movie, they take down a ruthless drug lord with a death grip on the slums of Rio De Janeiro. Its hard to not root for Dom & his team in that movie. But in this movie all that's at stake is some pretty delicate egos and alot of street cred. I will say though, that by the movie's climax I am invested in these characters, even though, like I said, we're never really given a reason to be. So as the movie progresses, we can really get involved in it, because I suppose that the vague family dynamic that is there is appealing from a certain standpoint, and Dom is like a father figure in a way. Its a nice concept.

   I wish that the movie around these characters could've been much better. Diesel comes very close to having a great performance here, but the movie and the cheap script weigh him down. The movie almost feels like a poor man's Point Break but with less to work with.I actually really enjoyed this movie due to alot of the flashy cars and a nicely staged climax, but I don't expect many others to. Its really devoid of anything really unique. It does have alot of charm and charisma, but thats all it has to offer beyond a few car races and chases. It is also initial foundation to the ever evolving storyline of these characters which is nice to see in a way.

   But considering how many better movies have much better car chases and races, go see one of those instead unless you're a F&F completionist. Which I fear I am becoming. Or perhaps, quite possibly instead I've become a Vin Diesel fanboy.  Which means, 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift won't be earning any mercy points from me.  Vin Diesel has this cool ability to make even a crappy movie like this and make it lots of fun, so I'm not sure how I'll take in the ones without him.

After the insanely awesome Fast Five, its kind of awkward to go back and see its rather weak (but charismatic and oddly enjoyable) origins. They pale in comparison to Fast Five's massive blockbuster power. Seeing as how promising the future of the franchise is looking after this latest one, I am thoroughly excited for sequels. But I definitely need to catch up on the other movies. There isn't much else to do until Justin Lin and crew get The Fast and the Furious 6 underway.
And then after that, The Fast and the Furious 7.

  Overall, its a really guilty pleasure that is really really brainless.
Not everyone's thing, but I don't mind having this one around for rainy afternoons like this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


  I wanted to see this movie as soon as I heard about it.
The whole concept seemed fresh and engaging to me. Would they really keep the camera inside with Reynolds the whole time? The answer is yes. Ryan Reynolds' face is pretty much the only face you will see in this movie. And you will see it incredibly close. For an hour and a half. Now, don't get me wrong, Buried is an excellent movie. A masterpiece if you will. Doing SO much with SO little is amazing.

   Precisely 3/4ths of the movie's capability to pull off what it was trying to, rests on Reynolds' performance, and he really delivered! In spades.  He had me as soon as the film started rolling. I totally bought into it. His acting was impeccable and the way the movie is crafted really draws you in. Getting you really emotionally involved with everything. The other 1/4th of the movie is the whole concept of being with this guy for almost two hours, as he's been buried alive in a wooden coffin. Its really risky not cutting off to anywhere else; not seeing the rescue effort, not seeing the people he's calling on that cellphone he has. Nobody else. Just him.

   That concept alone was wildly intriguing to me. Half because I didn't think they'd stick with it, half because I was itching for them to really do it. Something unique. I have to say, this movie, really got me into it. I was biting my nails, sitting at the edge of my seat, and taking breaks about every ten minutes to go get some snacks or something because the tension was shredding my nerves alive. It uses color shifts to give us new settings per se. The blue hue from his cell phone evokes a very distinct feeling, the orange hue from the lighter evokes another feeling, and finally so does the green from the glowstick.

   This is clever! It can take us out of one setting and place us into another setting without ever really leaving the coffin. Very cool. Finally there is a plethora of interesting problems he has to deal with, is a veritable gauntlet of life threatening obstacles he must overcome.
Which brings me to this... what I didn't realize was, with something this fundamentally unique, indie, and edgy...there is always some kind of catch. There will be a massive spoiler involved from here on out. So if you don't want to find out the ending to this movie, avoid the rest of this review.


  We spend the entire movie face to face with Reynolds' character, Paul Conroy. When he is in anguish... so are we. When he feels a lil hope so do we. When he's absolutely positive he's about to be rescued, he has so much hope right then, we're riding high at this point, at this nerve shredding climax which is a race against the clock as his coffin is filling up insanely fast with sand. Then... right when we're ready to let out that breath we've been holding and see this guy FINALLY be rescued...
his rescuers are actually nowhere near him... they were led to a different coffin somewhere far off the actual mark.

 The closing shot of the movie is Reynolds' coffin filled with sand. He's bound to suffocate within the minute... and we hear the man on his cell...

    "I'm sorry Paul... I'm so sorry."

Then the credits roll.

I sat there with my mouth open. Unable to let out that breath. I was devastated... it really did a number on me. So, if you get really emotionally involved as I do. Stay away from Buried.
I wanted to roll over and die from that ending. Seriously. I see what they were going for, defying conventions, shattering expectations, avoiding the cliche, but that ending... In a typical hollywood movie, he would've been rescued and we would've left the movie okay. Perfectly fine. Not a second thought about it. But this way... it certainly sticks with you. But it feels so harsh... a perfectly cruel mirror of reality.

Extremely well made, but not my cup of tea. Movies are escapism for me, and this just left me feeling dead inside, and, of course...trapped.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fast Five

  When I first saw Fast Five I was incredibly impressed to say the least, its a top notch movie in a bottom shelf genre. Its like junk food that actually happens to be incredibly good, no one thinks much of junk food, but everyone eats it.  However, upon second viewing, I think Fast Five is an ideal serving of over-the-top cinematic desert. Pure indulgence.
  Vin Diesel has pretty much in my eyes, attained classic action star status in the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone with Fast Five. It was well received by critics (which was pretty mind-blowing in itself) and it turned out to be an all around rock solid (no pun intended. Seriously.) action movie.  Its everything I could've asked for from a movie like this.  The last big movies like this, with the stars in their prime, that managed to be as satisfying as this, in my opinion, were from the eighties.

   Which would mean that Fast Five is the 2nd coming of wholly entertaining slam-bang action movies. It definitely ranks as one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a long long time.  Vin Diesel's star power is definitely not wasted here, his character is the leader of this team he's put together to pull off an insane heist in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. He plans to take this ruthless drug lord's money, all of it, every last cent, right out from under him. Which ends up totally about $100 million dollars. Because our 'heroes' are ripping off an evil heartless person, it gives us a reason to root for them. Cause lets face it Dominic Toretto is no saint. When it all boils down to it, he's considered a bona fide criminal. But, Fast Five reminds us... so was Robin Hood.

  So its okay to go with these guys for this high octane ride and watch them pull off a 'mission: impossible'. But of course these guys do it in style. And lots of it.

   Not even the ever popular Transporter movies, which star another big name in current action movies, Jason Statham, are this fun to watch.  Fast Five is wall to wall action, clever one-liners, timely comedy, thrilling car chases, and lots of pretty women. It takes an established genre formula and manages to actually improve on it. Its really fun to watch. The cast has incredible chemistry and a really cool dynamic thats reminiscent of movies like The Italian Job.  In fact alot of this movie is like The Italian Job except hyped on massive action scenes and bass pumping music.

  Fast Five has alot of heart to go along with all the action scenes and car chases. It has a strong sense of family with series mainstay Brian O'Connor (Tokyo Drift aside.) and Mia Toretto in a relationship and a little surprise on the way.  This makes way for some quieter moments between the iconic trio, Dom, Brian and Mia, and really adds to the family aspect. Which make it all that more intense when their lives are on the line. And, fortunately, the core, and extended cast has been together through so many other movies that the family dynamic, that stretches out to even secondary characters, feels genuine and is actually pretty moving at times.

   I firmly believe that without some emotional tie to the characters, an action movie cannot properly anchor itself on anything but shootouts and such. And because we've actually seen all that stuff before... it'd feel insanely shallow and empty. Thankfully, and amazingly, Fast Five has that essential emotional anchor which makes the action sequences that much more engaging and exciting.
So fun and I completely reccomend it.