28 Movie Reviews in 28 Days #14: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

ff3

If flashy car races in Japanese cars is the only thing you enjoy about The Fast & The Furious franchise, then I suppose Tokyo Drift would work for you because it’s the only thing they chose to keep for this particular sequel.

Gone are the cops. Gone is Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Vin Diesel, or any other actor you might recognize from the first two movies. In its place is Lucas Black playing a 17-year-old who has trouble saying three syllable words and doing his best Paul Walker impression. After getting in trouble yet again, he’s shipped off to Japan where his father is stationed.

He soon makes an enemy named DK who is connected to the Yakuza and falls in love with his girlfriend of course. DK has a partner named Han who is amused by all of this and decides to become Lucas’ teacher. I’d tell you more about the plot but there really isn’t anything much to tell.

This installment centers around a phenomenon called drifting that I’ve never really been a fan of or understood. Unfortunately this movie does practically nothing to help. What we get instead is a LOT of footage of cars casually drifting around corners and burning rubber while doing so. It does look cool, but about the 3,000th time you get a little sick of it.

Tokyo Drift had last minute reshoots to add Vin Diesel at the very end, but it’s not enough to save the movie. Instead it just reminds you of what Tokyo Drift wasn’t.

The one redeeming thing I can say is that the car scenes look better. They no longer have the feel of being in some sort of blurry fantasy world. Instead you’re in a fantasy world where someone would put a Nissan engine in a classic Ford Mustang.

This is easily the worst so far in the franchise. It’s a little unexpected that the franchise actually continued after this.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen 1010each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

The Fast and the Furious is available to purchase at this link.

28 Movie Reviews in 28 Days #13: 2 Fast 2 Furious

ff2

With a title like 2 Fast 2 Furious, I wasn’t expecting to take this movie too seriously. And sure enough, this movie starts with a car race every bit as absurd as anything in the first movie. Now they’re in Miami and Brian (Paul Walker) is no longer a cop. The race culminates with a draw bridge jump and the cops chasing everyone and catching Brian with a car taser. Of course car tasers don’t exist, but I’m already learning to just roll with it.

It turns out that the authorities want Brian to infiltrate a Miami drug dealer’s (Cole Houser) ranks so that they can get at the money. Brian insists on bringing his estranged childhood friend, Roman (Tyrese Gibson). They’ve already got a woman on the inside (Eva Mendes) who may or may not have flipped to the other side.

The loss of Vin Diesel and pretty much everyone else from the first movie (with the notable exception of Thom Berry and Agent Bilkins) is noticeable, but entirely believable. Surprisingly, the screenwriters and director John Singleton worked out a good back story and character arc for Paul Walker’s character. Unlike the first installment, this one decides to flesh out Brian just a bit so that we get an idea of his motivations.

Another noticeable change is that there were pretty much only two races in the movie. The rest are car chases. This suits me just fine as I prefer something more on the line than just cars. There’s also the added bonus that they aren’t all just imports. They actually use a few American made cars. Now if only someone in this franchise would notice the Europeans aren’t bad at making fast cars either.

There are moments of absurdity in 2 Fast 2 Furious that are laugh out loud funny. One torture scene in particular is just plain silly. And there are some truck-sized plot holes. It’s not a movie I’d watch again, but I’ve got to give it credit. It’s markedly better than the first installment.

Next up is Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift. I’ve been told to skip this one as it has next to nothing to do with the others in the franchise, but I like to be thorough.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen 1010each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

2 Fast 2 Furious is available to purchase at this link.

28 Movie Reviews in 28 Days #12: The Fast & The Furious

ff1Recently I saw the outright hilarious trailer for Fast & Furious 7. This made me want to go back and watch all of the Fast & Furious movies. Not because of their quality but because for the most part, I’ve never seen them.

Back in 2001, no one knew that Rob Cohen’s movie based on an article about Hispanic East Coast guys drag racing Japanese cars in New York would turn into a multi-billion dollar franchise. It’s clear that Gary Scott Thompson had just watched Point Break when he got the assignment to adapt the article into The Fast & The Furious because if you do those two things, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if you came up with a movie that follows the plot of Point Break but uses Japanese car races instead of cars and trades New York for Los Angeles because no studio objects to filming movies in town. I’m not the first to notice this.

I sat down to watch The Fast & The Furious knowing all of this. I also knew that this movie was going to be to street racing what the movie Hackers was to computer hacking. What surprised me was that it also seemed to have a bit of a post-apocalyptic feel to it. Sure, it takes place in 2001 Southern California, but there is a bare minimum of people who aren’t affiliated with a tribe of some sort. There’s Dominic Toretto’s crew, there’s Johnny Tran’s crew, there’s the Truckers, there’s the Cops and there’s almost nothing else. Tribe means everything and what happens on the road is all that matters.

Vin Diesel plays Dominic Toretto with his typical charismatic menace. Paul Walker does the rookie undercover cop thing, though for the most part he tends to forget that he’s a cop.  Michelle Rodriguez gets to be a bad ass as usual. And Jordana Brewster is basically eye candy as they don’t really give her much else to do.

The cast isn’t all that important though because the majority of the scenes are little more than cut scenes from a video game in between races. The races are full of super quick cuts, shaky cam, and just about everything but holding the camera still for a shot more than three seconds long. The result is a lot of excitement with an equal amount of confusion as to what exactly is happening. The opening quarter mile race somehow reaches speeds of 140mph and lasts two minutes.

It would be relatively easy to review this movie and rip it to shreds as it’s a stolen plot with minimal acting or character development and unrealistic action. However, once you realize this is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which reality isn’t a factor, you can enjoy the movie for the popcorn schlock that it is.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen 1010each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

The Fast and the Furious is available to purchase at this link.

28 Movies In 28 Days #11: Serpico

Serpico_poster_1214968378
After watching Stand Up Guys, I had to remind myself why I love Al Pacino. So I chose to watch a classic movie that I had sadly never seen. The 1973 classic Serpico is one of Al Pacino’s best movies and possibly his best performance. I came to the movie knowing only that Pacino played an undercover cop and that it was based on a true story.

The first thing I noticed about Serpico is the stark reminder of just how raw and real 1970s crime movies were. In many ways, they are grittier and more realistic than anything being put out today by major studios. And so when there’s a gang rape early in the movie, it ends up seeming much more brutal and terrifying than a similar scene in a modern movie. The violence in Serpico and other 1970s movies like French Connection and Dirty Harry looks like violence rather than stylized violence.

The result of this sort of filmmaking is that everything feels more authentic. It’s still the Hollywood version of what really happened, but nothing is pretty. Even when Serpico is sharing a bathtub with a woman, they look like two naked people in a tub rather than airbrushed models. Modern filmmaking could learn a lot from 1970s movies.

In Serpico, Pacino plays the title character of NYPD Officer Frank Serpico. In the opening scenes we see him shot and bleeding profusely as he’s taken to the hospital in the back of a squad car. We then flash back to his graduating from the police academy. Serpico quickly makes a name for himself with his investigative work and his policy of not taking bribe or extortion money. When he tries to report the corruption, he gets the run around.

Years go by and we watch as Serpico becomes increasingly frustrated and increasingly notorious. Serpico can count his friends on one hand and even they aren’t there for him at times.

There are two things that set this movie apart. One is the economy of filmmaking that director Sidney Lumet uses. He never tells us anything. There are no title cards saying where they are or how many years have gone by or any number of other things that so many movies spoon feed their audiences. Instead Lumet uses visual queues such as Pacino’s facial hair or the growth of his dog to denote the passage of time.

The other thing that sets Serpico apart is of course, Al Pacino’s incredible acting. Pacino inhabits the part of Frank Serpico so completely that the frustration of the character isn’t just shown in his actions and dialog. It’s etched on his face. Two years later Lumet and Pacino would do the equally classic Dog Day Afternoon and it’s easy to see after this success why they’d reteam.

Serpico is a cautionary true story. The real Frank Serpico sent his badge and clothing to the New York Police Department’s museum. They refused it. Even today, Serpico’s courageous effort to stop corruption is seen by many cops as a betrayal.

If you’re like I was this morning and haven’t seen this justifiable classic, take a couple hours and watch Serpico. It’s worth it.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen 1010each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

Serpico is available on Netflix or you can purchase it at this link.

28 Movie Reviews in 28 Days #10: Cashback

cashback

It’s been so long since I put the movie Cashback in my Netflix queue that I’m not entirely certain what it was that made me want to see it in the first place. Whatever it was, by the time I watched it this morning, any prior knowledge I may have had of the existence of this movie was gone. Maybe I liked the thumbnail poster. Maybe it was the Oscar nominated short film of the same name. Whatever the case, I ended up watching the movie with no expectations whatsoever.

On one level, Cashback is like a British version of Clerks. It’s about an art student named Ben who works the nightshift at a grocery store because he can’t sleep. Each of the workers at the store has a different way of getting through the shift. Ben’s is the most unique. Ben has the ability to stop time.

There are any dozen ways that this might be interesting, but all Ben does with this power is undress the female customers, draw them, then dress them again. In the short, this works because it’s 18 minutes long and it becomes almost haunting. In a feature length film, it just becomes creepy. The only way to view what’s happening without being bothered by it is to assume that the female customers aren’t people. Otherwise it’s just a guy using supernatural powers to violate the privacy of attractive women.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worthwhile in the film. There are funny moments throughout and some of the camera tricks are genuinely stunning. It’s just a film that failed to hold my attention due to its rampant sexism and lack of good dialog.

The more I think about Cashback, the more I get the feeling it’s simply not a movie for me. I expect that there are young men in the UK who absolutely love this film. Writer/Director Sean Ellis does create an interesting world for these people to inhabit and if you don’t think about it too much, then it works. But I end up wondering how he got the power, why he doesn’t use it for other things, how he learned how to use the power, and any number of other practical questions that are never answered.

Eventually I decided the stopping time thing was less a sci-fi device and more a metaphor. When I think about the movie like that, it works slightly better but it still involves Ben failing to treat women like fellow human beings.

Cashback is an odd movie. The cinematography is incredibly creative. The stopping time thing looks good. It’s just a lack of an interesting story or redeemable characters that stop it from succeeding.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen 1010each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

Cashback is available on Netflix or you can purchase it at this link.

28 Movie Reviews in 28 Days #9: Stand Up Guys

stand-up-guys02

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into when I selected Stand Up Guys from my Amazon Prime queue. It’s a movie with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin and it was made in 2012. This was most definitely an old-tough-guy-dick-joke movie.

To be honest, the reason I chose to watch it in the first place was that Julianna Margulies is listed on Amazon Prime as being the director. Being a big fan of her, I thought it was exciting that she was directing. Instead, it turns out that she’s actually just in the movie seemingly playing a version of her character from ER.

As old-touch-guy-dick-joke movies go, Stand Up Guys isn’t bad. Pacino’s character gets out of prison after serving 28 years. Christopher Walken picks him up in classic Blues Brothers fashion. And hijinks ensue.

It’s certainly entertaining watching these guys together, but for the majority of the movie it seems like the movie can’t decide if it’s trying to be funny or trying to be serious so it fails at being either. Luckily, the cast is so strong that I tended to ignore the failings of the script or tone.

Though he’s billed as one of the main guys, unfortunately Alan Arkin isn’t in it very much. The bright side is that this gives Walken and Pacino a chance to chew the scenery. Really, watching these two guys in anything is fun, even if Al Pacino is spending most of his time talking about the effects of Viagra.

Stand Up Guys is directed by Fisher Stevens. He’s an accomplished actor but this is only his second feature film directing and it shows. There were moments in the movie that I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be funny or not. The film tries to walk the line between serious and silly but too often swerves to the silly. Walken can easily be funny. Pacino is an amazing actor, but comedy just doesn’t come as naturally to him.

This is writer Noah Haidle’s first feature screenplay. He lucked out in that he has a good cast, but the script would have benefitted from additional rewrites.

I can’t say I was all that disappointed with Stand Up Guys though. It certainly has its faults, but it’s an old-tough-guy-dick-joke movie and I knew that before I started watching it.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

Stand Up Guys is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime or you can purchase it at this link.

28 Movie Reviews In 28 Days #8: American Sniper

American-Sniper-2014

The American military, and the Navy SEALs in particular are fans of the Marvel Comics Character The Punisher. They read his comics. They put his skull symbol on their vehicles and on their clothing. For those who don’t know, the Punisher is a character who loses his family and then embarks on an endless violent war. American Sniper is about a man who embarks on an endless violent war and loses his family.

I suppose I should say that this review will definitely have spoilers but the book it’s based on is a best seller and the real life story has been in the papers and online. So I don’t feel I’m ruining anything. If you’re someone who wants to go in to movies blind, I suggest you stop reading movie reviews.

American Sniper begins with Chris Kyle in Iraq shooting a child carrying a grenade. It then flashes back to Kyle’s first experience killing something while hunting with his father. Through the handful of scenes of his childhood we see that Kyle is raised with a specific belief system. It is one that believes in good and evil. It’s one that believes anyone who doesn’t believe in good and evil is a ‘sheep’. And it’s one that can easily excuse any amount of violence for a righteous cause.

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle with a single minded intensity that shows off his acting chops. The fact that he did this and did the voice for Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy is impressive. I’m glad he finally got out of the role of playing the asshole in romantic comedies. He’s a better actor than that.

We watch as Chris Kyle joins the Navy and goes through the rigorous Navy SEAL training we’ve seen in a dozen other movies. And then we go through all four tours that Chris Kyle went through. In between training and the tours, Kyle meets, marries, and impregnates Taya, a woman he meets in a bar. The scenes with Chris Kyle home between tours are torturous. Not because they’re bad, but because it’s so abundantly clear that Kyle feels every moment he’s away from the war, people are dying because he’s not there to protect them.

It would be easy to criticize American Sniper for continually referring to the people in Iraq as ‘savages’ or for directly implying that 9/11 has anything whatsoever to do with Iraq, but as this is Kyle’s story, I’m not sure this is so much a mistake as it is just the simplistic way in which the character of Chris Kyle seems to view things.

After his four tours, Kyle tries his best to return home. He finds that he can help his fellow veterans and that doing so gives him a sense of accomplishment. He does his best to reconnect with his family. And then things end tragically. I found it a strange choice on director Clint Eastwood’s part to show so many graphic deaths and then shirk away from actually showing the fate of Chris Kyle. I suppose one could argue that it’s out of respect for Kyle’s friends and family, but it’s not as if the other people killed throughout the movie, both allies and enemies didn’t have any friends or family.

American Sniper is a well-made and entertaining movie that won’t challenge even one preconceived notion you might have about war, Iraq, or being in the military. As movies that take place in Iraq go, it’s better than Jarhead but not as good as The Hurt Locker. If you’re really looking for some great Iraq war drama, I highly suggest you check out the HBO miniseries Generation Kill.

For the month of February, I’m reviewing one movie I haven’t previously seen each day. These reviews will be posted on JackCameron.com and on FivePointReview.com

American Sniper is in theaters now. You can pre-order American Sniper at this link.