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It’s all resting on his shoulders now!

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t a chance to see The Fast and the Furious 8 or otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious (I’ll refer to it as Fast 8 as we go) when it first came out. Weird time of year for me, what can I say? I’m seeing more movies now, though, and I finally got around to the latest entry in one of my absolute favorite franchises. This is a key entry, too. When Paul Walker died, everybody asked “how the fuck is this thing gonna work from now on?”. Many critics wondered whether the series would focus more centrally on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) with the beloved ensemble taking a back seat. The central relationship of the series was always Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and it seemed like there were two possible directions for this to go: try and replace Brian, or center it on Dom alone (at least for now). It looks like they decided to focus on Dom after all, and the results are just fine though that central relationship is certainly missed.

In many ways, Fast 8 feels more thematically grounded and focused than the last few. This was a bit of a surprise, and worked better than I think a lot of people might have expected given the general attitude about Diesel’s ability to shoulder a movie. I think he’s pretty good, though, and while he isn’t stretching the emotional range of Dom much here, there are a few nice subtler moments and we’re definitely seeing Dom in a new situation. With the key relationship of the series missing, Fast 8 decides to trouble the very thing that has kept the characters and the audience along for this very bizarre and now very lengthy ride: fambly.

Is Fast 8 better than the last few movies? Not really. As always, the highs are pretty high but I think this is maybe the least light-hearted of all of them and offers less of the jokes, camaraderie, and goofy warm heart the series is known for. Of course, all this stuff is still here, but this is also the entry where Fast 8 goes darker. That’s not going to work as well for some people, but I think this movie is less uneven than Fast 7 was (particularly the action). The important question isn’t even really if this movie lives up to the rest of the franchise, because of course it does, it’s more about whether it leaves you with a sense that this franchise can keep going without Paul Walker. I think it can, but I think Fast 8 is unable (and probably this is intentional) to fully get to a new stable dynamic on its own. There are seeds of it, but it’ll probably take the next movie before we see where they’re going with certain elements, which this review will explore in detail.

DOING SPOILERS A QUARTER-MILE AT A TIME Read the rest of this entry »

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The natural evolution of Jesse Ventura.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a weird sort of sequel. It liberally ignores the “canon” of its predecessor in many superficial ways, drops characters and icons we saw in the previous film without explanation, and often feels more grounded and as if it takes place in an entirely different world than the first one (which was much more science fictional). The result is something that I can only compare to two different versions of the same comic book character(s). John M. Chu proves he can do more than direct dance movies or follow Justin Beiber around, showing a flair for action and humor that lends itself well to this movie, but he also feels like a guy coming into an X-MenĀ run two years after the last notable one.

This movie also has an interesting production history. There were several rumors going around when it was delayed (it was supposed to come out last year). The most popular rumor was that it had been delayed to bump up the presence of Channing Tatum and his character Duke. 2012 was the make year for Tatum and it makes a lot of sense that the studio would look at this fact and say “our movie needs more of this year’s it-guy”. I don’t know how much they added, but the official report was that the delay was really about a post-conversion to 3D. And here I thought these fuckers had realized what a bad idea that usually is. Fortunately in G.I. Joe 2, the 3D is actually pretty good and often cleverly used to punctuate the action choreography.

Anyway, as to whether or not this movie is any good… you’ll have to ask yourself whether you liked the first one or not. It’s definitely different, as this sequel is more grounded and less ridiculous (for the most part) than Rise of the Cobra. That being said, it’s still a cartoon action movie coasting on a somewhat thin coating of charm and violence. The first movie was more violent and more crazy than this one, and if that’s why you liked it (if you did) then you will maybe be disappointed by Retaliation. Of course, if you didn’t like the first one because of those elements, Retaliation will certainly seem like the better of the two. Read the rest of this entry »

That is my from my favorite part of the movie. You’ve seen it in the trailers, there’s just this sublime ridiculous awesomeness as Paul Walker jumps up on the car, grimly determined to take this stupid-height fall like a man.

It is a metaphor for what these movies are about.

Fast Five will be remembered as the entry of the series that made good. It’s the grown-up version of the fun-loving ridiculousness and car-porn that have typified the franchise and caused it to be largely dismissed as a bunch of dumbfuck movies for teenagers who still park their cars in empty lots to see what’s under the hood of whatever daddy bought for graduation. Somehow, beyond all reasonable expectation, Fast Five is not only a commercial success (which, in fairness, I think all these movies have been) but also a critical success.

Just take that in for a moment.

Here we have a movie in the franchise that will hereafter be known as the Fast/Furious Series that everyone seems to like. That even cinema snobs agree is a pretty entertaining summer action movie and maybe the one to beat in a season ripe with tent-pole superhero flicks and the goddamn monolith that is Transformers 3. Read the rest of this entry »

Easily one of the better posters of the year.

Faster is another counter-punch in the prize fight between a reimagined old school sensibility in action cinema and the stuff we’ve gotten used to seeing these last 10 years anywhere except the DTV aisles where our old princes age gracelessly and try to hold onto their territory. It’s reminiscent of what was once a bygone era not only because of its no-frills style but also because of its protagonist.

Dwayne Johnson has long been held as chief among the men who are poised to inherit the mantle held by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Lundgren, etc. Understand that this opinion was largely held in the days before most of those guys began trying to recapture their glory days by revisiting the franchises that made them action icons or, in Stallone’s case, trying to ignite new ones. The Rock’s physicality is probably one of the more important components of this, as he reminds us of Herculean strongmen that used to populate action movies as protagonists as opposed to antagonist muscle. He also has the charisma that eludes others who have tried for the spot, especially other wrestler-turned-actors like John Cena and Steve Austin. He’s the real deal, in other words, and the community of people who were waiting for him to stfu and accept his crown heaved a collective sigh when he said “No.” and dressed up as a fucking tooth fairy instead.

Anyway, now he’s back. Faster works as a return to action, though not quite as a return to form. It is not a better exercise of what is special about the guy than The Rundown was, or even Walking Tall. However, it does show another side: intensity. He is intense as fuck in this movie, barely speaking and marching around killing motherfuckers like the Raginator. As an exercise of versatility, it kind of works but his character isn’t central enough to the film, at least in terms of execution, for it to fully connect.

The thing is, Faster is concerned with more than the straightforward tale of revenge that most primarily involves Johnson’s character. It also wants to talk about themes like redemption and forgiveness, cycles of violence, and the consequences of hatred, all with mixed results. It also wants to throw in a subplot about the ultimate thrillseeker and world conquerer that, while cool and somewhat satisfying by its own lights, belongs in a different movie altogether.

Let me elaborate. Faster is about a guy who helps his brother out by performing the services of a driver during a bank robbery. Soon after, their crew is decimated by a group of thugs and our hero is left for dead. 10 years later he’s been molded into a badass and is filled with so much righteous fury that he basically runs into the desert to find a car and get on with it. This forward momentum only lets up when he begins to see that some of his targets have changed and there’s someone behind the curtain. Meanwhile he’s being pursued by a troubled cop on the verge of retirement and the aforementioned ultimate thrillseeker, a Brit with a chip on his shoulder who takes down hits for $1 a piece just for the challenge.

There are a lot of small roles in this that had to work just right and they mostly do. If every supporting character connected the way the preacher does, we’d be talking about a movie that is the soul of brevity (in a good way). Instead, we have a movie that is like a steak with no fat, some garnish that looks good but doesn’t fit, and some knobbly bits that you spit out because they’re too chewy to risk swallowing. I won’t complain that people like Tom Berenger and Deb from Dexter only get glorified cameos, because these are not wasted characters. The way we are told about Johnson’s character isn’t always as straightforward as the plot itself, but it tells us everything we need to know without that fat we maybe didn’t want.

The supporting cast is very good, but notables like Billy-Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino could sleepwalk through material like this. Johnson is intense but not quite electric, I’d rather see him use some of that charm and do action movies with a bit more of a sense of fun. Or maybe something that takes advantage of his physicality and charm without being overtly action. Something like the role of Shadow if they ever get around to doing something with Gaiman’s American Gods.

Anyway, enough dreaming. Faster is ultimately a satisfying action movie. Some sequences, like the hospital basement, are actually pretty great and this is helped a lot by Clint Mansell doing the music. It’s well shot, straightforward, and if you’re sick of CG or shaky-cam (or both), you’ll find none of that “modern bullshit” here. This movie could have walked right out of the late 80’s or early 90’s to fuck your shit up.

Right, Mr. Johnson?

“God can’t protect you from me.”

No, no he can’t. Still. Dude, I like you… pick better scripts. You could be dynamite in the right movie. You don’t need to keep showing up in this middle of the road shit. Do something great. Take more risks like Southland Tales why don’t you?

Don’t star in movies where they throw in an uber assassin on psychiatric meds who wants to shoot people because he wore leg braces as a kid and is overcompensating to such an extent that it makes me want to cry and hold him. If this character and subplot connected to the themes of your character’s story, the very story of the film, in a meaningful way (try: at all?) then we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.

When you read that script, were you like “cool, man, that’s just a cool idea?” because I BET THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SCREENWRITER AND PRODUCERS THOUGHT. Nevermind if it makes narrative sense or feels totally out of whack.

Okay sorry, review kind of went off the deep end there. By now you should know what kind of movie this is and whether or not you’ll enjoy it. I enjoyed it for what it was, but like the last cup in a Reese’s package, I was left wanting so much more.

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