Movie Review: Furious 7

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After my little experiment in February where I watched all six Fast & Furious movies back to back, I decided I had to see Furious 7 in the theaters. Before seeing these movies, I thought they were big dumb action movies. Now that I’ve seen all seven, I have to say that Furious 7 is the biggest and dumbest of them all.

It’s taken seven movies but I’ve finally realized what’s really going on in the Fast & Furious franchise. I’ve been in twenty-six car accidents. (I was the passenger in twenty-one of them.)  Some of the accidents I went to the hospital. Some I didn’t have a scratch. When it comes to the Fast & Furious franchise, the car wrecks are spectacular and undoubtedly fatal…for normal humans. But the stars of the Furious 7 are not normal humans. They are functionally immortal. Even those who appear to die seem to reappear. In Furious 7 an entire parking garage falls on a character who later seems completely uninjured. And then I thought about it. In all of these movies, not once has someone lopped off the head of a main character. I believe this is because many of the characters in Fast & Furious are in fact Highlanders.

Most of them are completely unaware of what they truly are. There have been hints, but Furious 7 is where it becomes clear. Furious 7’s plot is basically that Jason Statham is hunting down the crew because a bad guy from a previous movie was his little brother. Kurt Russell shows up doing his best Nick Fury impression and offers to help them find Statham using a device that is basically the machine from the TV show Person of Interest. Of course there’s a catch. They must rescue a beautiful hacker first before they can use the machine. Not that they really need the device to find Statham since he’s relentlessly chasing them across the globe.

It’s okay though. One shouldn’t think too much about the silliness involved in a Fast & Furious movie. Anyone who saw the trailer for this and thought they’d be getting a thinking man’s car chase movie hasn’t been paying attention. There isn’t a twelve year old alive that will be confused by anything that happens in Furious 7. But they might not catch the Highlander references (which I admit may be only in my head, but are entirely possible).

Thinking of them as Highlanders who simply don’t know that they should be lopping off each other’s heads, the entire series suddenly seems more realistic. In Furious 7 they drive cars out of planes, off cliffs, and through 100 story skyscrapers. No mortal would do all of these things without at minimum serious medical assistance, but a Highlander can do it with ease and no worries. I know what you’re thinking, “But some of them have died.”  Sure. But that just means those people weren’t Highlanders. Then again, they’ve had people fake their deaths in this series before. So maybe they’re not dead at all.

Speaking of dead, the real life death of Paul Walker is addressed in the film with an almost surprising amount of emotion though it relies on your knowledge of his death for that emotional impact. If they spent half as much time with character work as they did filling random scenes with women in bikinis, this moment would have been devastating.

Furious 7 has already broken box office records. So expect Furious 8 within the next year or two. It’s too bad though, because this is a perfect note to end the big silly series. I mean unless they want to officially reveal the whole Highlander thing.
– Jack Cameron

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Gays

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I remember the first time I saw two men kiss. I was about 14-years-old. It was on a cable access channel. I was completely repulsed. Watching these two men on the television screen I felt physically ill. It went contrary to just about everything I had encountered in my life at that time. There were no gay people in my life that I was aware of. The gay characters on television shows always talked funny and would make insinuations, but they’d never kiss. In the late 1980s, you could call someone a ‘fag’ and no one cared or called you a bigot. Being gay or ‘queer’ as the adults around me would say was abnormal.

As a teenager I went to church. It was a Quaker church and I have to say I never once remember even a mention of gay people while I was there. Still, I was aware that most Christians felt that gay acts were a sin. This did not make them bad people. They were simply sinners who were not following the ways of Christ. Eventually, they’d find the Truth, the Light, and the Way and they’d stop being gay.

It wasn’t until I was seventeen that my thoughts on being gay changed. I got a phone call from an acquaintance. I didn’t really know him very well, but he had my number and knew I had a car. He needed a ride. I’m ashamed to say I honestly do not remember his name. He asked me to pick him up a few blocks from his house.

Fifteen minutes later I found him walking down the street. Stumbling. His shirt and face were bloody. I asked if he wanted me to take him to the hospital but he refused. I asked him what happened. He told me that he had chosen tonight to tell his father that he was gay. His father’s response was to beat the shit out of his own son and kick him out of the house.

I took him back to my parents’ place and let them know my friend was spending the night. He and I talked most of the night. I kept thinking that there was no possible excuse for what his father had done. No act, set of words, or confession could possibly make it okay for a father to beat his son bloody. And the idea that such an event could happen simply because his son was physically attracted to other boys was absurd.

That night before we went to sleep, he kissed me. I didn’t want him to and it solidified my feelings that I was most definitely a heterosexual, but I after what his father had done to him, the last thing I was going to do was add another rejection.

The next morning he called his parents’ house. His mother pleaded with him to come home. He asked me to take him. I asked if he was sure. He said that he was. Over the next year or so, I’d see him every now and then and we’d talk, but he never came over again and we did not become good friends.

The truth was I had many gay and bisexual friends as a teen. I just didn’t know it. I was completely oblivious for much of my high school existence. When I learned they were, it wasn’t a big deal to me because of my experience with that acquaintance.

When I was 19, my parents split up. My mom moved in with a female coworker. When her mother, my grandmother was in the hospital, her entire side of the family was there, but only one person could go in to visit at a time. When my mom went in, relatives asked me if my mom was a lesbian. I said, “Y’know, my whole life I’ve not known much about my mother’s sex life and I intend to keep it that way. If you want to know about it, ask her.”

These days some of my favorite people are same sex couples. I’ve lost count how many I know because it simply doesn’t matter. When I saw those two men kissing on that cable access show, I thought my repulsion was due to some fundamental wrongness with gay culture. I know now that it was simply my reacting to something that was entirely foreign to me.

I used to think that the term ‘homophobe’ wasn’t correct. Anti-gay people weren’t afraid of gay people. They just thought their lifestyle was wrong and shouldn’t be condoned. I was incorrect. Homophobe is exactly the right term. It’s the same as any bigoted response. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand and so they condemn it or try to shut it out. It’s homophobia.

Homophobia isn’t religious, though many nest their homophobia in religion. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. And sure, you can find passages in various holy books that condemn homosexuality, but in those very same books you’ll find that they condone slavery. Our moral compass has evolved since pre-industrial times. One cannot condemn an entire culture using ancient books as their sole justification.

If you find yourself unable to let go of your homophobia, I’m going to suggest you do something very difficult and very rewarding: Get to know gay people. You’ll find that they’re just people who talk and laugh and smile and love the same as the rest of us. They’re just people. Like you and me.

I know for some that request is an impossibility. There are people out there like that father who beat his son for saying he was gay. On a deep core level these people know that being gay is wrong. Our holy books say so. For those people, I want to say that the best way exemplify religion is not to condemn others, but to live your own life in accordance with your beliefs. The most powerful weapon in a Christian’s arsenal is forgiveness.

– Jack Cameron

Me and My Dad

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Me & My Dad 1988

My Dad is very important to me. My entire life he has been the moral center of my life. I learned right and wrong from my Dad. I have my Dad’s name. I have his voice. I do not have his values. Despite my upbringing, we have distinctly different moral compasses. This is due in no small part to the fact that he’s a Born Again Christian and I’m an atheist. I’m a former Believer but thanks to my parents, I was encouraged to think for myself.

A few years ago I wrote a book called Ruin Your Life. It was a tongue-in-cheek guidebook on bad behavior. I gave a copy to my Dad because he’s my Dad. When I came by the following week he handed the copy back to me and politely asked that I remove the book from his house. I knew that the book wasn’t going to be his cup of tea. I had no idea he was going to treat it like a brick of cocaine.

This month my second book, 15 Minute Stories was published. It’s a collection of the short stories I wrote in January on this site with illustrations by Ossaín Ávila Cárdenas. I told my Dad about it this weekend. He asked if it was ‘R rated’ material. I explained that it was whatever was in my head that day and that it wasn’t all suitable for children. He expressed no interest in having a copy. This did not surprise me. I hadn’t planned or expected that I’d be giving him a copy of it any more than I plan or expect that he’ll read this.

When I tell people about my Dad’s lack of interest in my writing, they tend to think that such behavior reflects bad on my Dad. Why doesn’t he just smile, take the books, and be done with it? I know that it’s because he doesn’t want to lie to me and I can appreciate that.

However, I’d be lying myself if I said I didn’t care. I’ve been thinking about it and I wonder if I’m ever going to write a book that my Dad would be proud of. I’m not one of those people who spends their whole life trying to get their Dad to be proud of them. I know that he loves me and that’s really enough.

A few years ago he had a medical condition that put him in the hospital for the summer. There was a very real chance he could die. I visited him every day. We talked more than we ever have in my adult life. You know those things you’ve always wanted to say to your Dad? I’ve already said them. We’ve had those final talks that so many people don’t get and I’m aware of how supremely lucky I was to have that opportunity and for my Dad to recover the way he did.

Still, it’d be nice to create something he liked. I’m not sure what story that would be or what form it would take. I rarely write fiction with the thought that I should try not to be offensive. I go where the characters and story take me.

Is there a story I need to tell that would suit my Dad’s taste? I doubt it. My Dad likes books, but I’ve never seen him read a novel. At one point I asked him if I could write his biography, but there is much in his past that he does not want to revisit or recount. It’s too bad because he has some great stories from those days, few of them aren’t ‘R rated.’

– Jack Cameron

18 Movies in 18 Days: Furious 6

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What started out as a franchise about car racing thieves has now morphed into a live action version of Grand Theft Auto. After everything I’ve said about the previous movies, this one is actually hard to review.

Dwayne Johnson recruits the old crew to go to Europe in search of Liddy where they find she’s hooked up with a crew of bad guys who are out to get a McGuffin, but it turns out that Liddy has no memory and is now a bad guy. She’s so bad she shoots Vin Diesel, but it’s okay because his body is made out of Nerf.

The crew realizes that this all ties back to the bad guy from the fourth movie who is in prison in Los Angeles. Rather than have Dwayne Johnson, who is a government agent, go and beat the information out of him (which is what Johnson does to another informant), they come up with this stupid plan to have Brian turn himself in for 24 hours.

Furious 6 goes out of its way to tie the other movies into this one. They show flashbacks during the opening credits and the final scene is a twist on the scene from Tokyo Drift which we now know takes place after Fast & Furious 4,5 and 6 despite being the third movie. I’m not sure why they go to all the trouble for that because it’s clear throughout the franchise that they basically just do what they want regardless of character or continuity.

The final battle takes place on and near a plane that is trying to take off literally for 13 minutes. Some people have said that the runway would have to be between 13 and 25 miles for that to work. Others insist that there’s some scrap of realism. I don’t know why. From the outset, the Fast & Furious movies made it clear they took place outside of reality.

In the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60, a character goes on a rant and says, “We’re all being lobotomized by this country’s most influential industry that’s just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn’t include the courting of 12 year old boys. And not even the smart 12 year olds. The stupid ones.”  This quote was in my head throughout the entirety of my watching of the Fast & Furious movies this past week because it’s incredibly clear that stupid 12-year-old boys are exactly who this franchise is targeting.

Directly after watching Furious 6, I decided I needed to watch a character driven action movie with cars that doesn’t openly insult my intelligence. So I watched Ronin. In Furious 6, Dom is shot in the upper chest. He yanks out the bullet, puts a Band-Aid on it and is good to go. In Ronin, Robert Deniro gets hit with a bullet ricochet in the gut and ends up helping his buddy surgically remove the bullet. Deniro passes out and is injured the rest of the movie. It’s not just about being realistic. By having actions have consequences, Ronin has more character and plot than six Fast & Furious movies.

Furious is available to purchase at this link, but really, you should purchase Ronin at this link.

18 Movie Reviews in 18 Days #16: Fast Five

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Remember how I said that the first Fast & Furious movie writers must have Point Break before they wrote the screenplay? This time around the screenwriter watched Ocean’s 11.

Fast Five picks up right where the fourth one left off with a daring prison bus break out. I would argue that this prison bus scene is more absurd than anything they’ve done in previous movies and that’s really saying something.

Once they’ve rescued Dom, the group head down to Rio De Janeiro where they meet up with the one guy still alive from the first movie that we haven’t seen, Vincent. Vincent, as you may recall, told Dom back in the first movie that Brian was a cop. Dom ignored him and bad things happened. Since then Vincent went south of the border, hooked up with a girl, had a kid and seems to be doing just fine for himself. And he’s even got a job for them to do.

Vincent’s train job is fairly elaborate and crazy. It makes the bus thing seem normal. But things don’t go as planned of course. Later, Vincent tells them what they should do. Dom ignores him. Vincent points out that Dom never listens to him and bad things happen. And it’s about this point that I realize Vincent is 100% right.

Meanwhile, the powers that be have sent Dwayne Johnson and his team of guys to capture Brian and Dom. Unfortunately, that’s not their only problem, that train job that didn’t go so well, has royally pissed off the guy from Clear & Present Danger who played a South American Drug Lord. In Fast Five he also plays a South American Drug Lord.

Having botched the job they were supposed to do (in which admittedly the drug lord’s guys were going to kill them in the end), they’ve wound up with a list of safe houses that the drug lord keeps his money and a desperate need to disappear. So the plan is to steal $100 million from the drug lord, but to do that, they’re going to need a team.

If you’ve seen the other Fast & Furious movies and Ocean’s 11, then you know what happens in the rest of the movie.

For a franchise that started out focusing on racing, there’s a distinct lack of races. By my count there was exactly one and it was just for fun. At one point they race a guy for a Porsche they pretty much never use but they don’t even show that race (not even in the extended edition).

The movie ends with an end credits scene that totally sets up the next movie as it turns out that Liddy isn’t dead. She’s doing heists of military convoys in Germany and Eva Mendes has taken notice.

If there’s a clear point where the Fast & Furious franchise decides to just go for absurd set pieces and ignore things like character, plot, and king hell silliness on a gigantic scale, it’s Fast Five.

Fast Five is available to purchase at this link.

18 Movie Reviews in 18 Days #15: Fast & Furious

ff4The fourth movie in The Fast & The Furious franchise reunites all of the stars of the first movie, though Michelle Rodriguez ends up only sharing screen time with Vin Diesel and it’s a welcome return to form after Tokyo Drift.

Fast & Furious opens with an on the road heist in the Dominican Republic that has more interesting action than anything in Tokyo Drift. Dominic has a new crew, including Han from Tokyo Drift, but since he’s dead, this must actually take place before the third movie. Han even mentions something about going to Tokyo soon.

Paul Walker’s character has somehow made the career journey from LAPD to wanted felon cooperating with the feds in Miami to FBI Agent in back Los Angeles. He’s trying to take down a crew of drug smugglers who happen to use fast cars for their smuggling.

The smugglers are using a gigantic underground tunnel the likes of which hasn’t been seen on film since Temple of Doom. Given that they have this elaborate tunnel, I’m not certain why speed really matters, but if this franchise has taught me one thing, it’s that you shouldn’t ask ‘why’ when watching a Fast & Furious movie.

Fast & Furious is a marked improvement over Tokyo Drift. The action set pieces are fun to watch. But it’s still a check-your-brain-at-the-door action movie for people who thought The Bourne Identity was too brainy.

If you want no major spoilers, don’t read any more of this review.

Still here? Okay. These movies aren’t much for character, but one of the few things they did with Dom back in the first movie is talk about how important his Dodge Charger is to him. He wrecks it in the first movie and his sister Mia has restored it this movie, but it gets destroyed during the big tunnel chase. However, that’s okay because for some reason it’s inexplicably fine for the final scene where they’re breaking Dom out of the prison bus. I suppose in the months between his being arrested, being put on trial, and sentenced, Mia could have restored it again.

There’s a lot in Fast & Furious that requires you to have a lot of stock in these characters in order for you to care. The problem is that the franchise never did much character work to make you care. Yes, we’ve seen these guys in multiple movies, but so what. I get that it’s a brainless action movie, but if they’d spent some time doing character work, the entire franchise would be better for it.

Fast and Furious is available to purchase at this link15.

18 Movie Reviews in 18 Days #14: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

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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.

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