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.

18 Movie Reviews in 18 Days #13: 2 Fast 2 Furious

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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.

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

18 Movie Reviews in 18 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.

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

18 Movies In 18 Days #11: Serpico

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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.

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