Film Review: Furious 7 (dir by James Wan)


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Regardless of what you may think about the rest of Furious 7, the final ten minutes will make you cry.  They made me cry and, before I saw Furious 7, I wasn’t even really a fan of the franchise.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Furious 7 ends with a tribute to both the character Brian O’Connor and the actor who played him, Paul Walker.  While Dominic Toretto (played, of course, by Vin Diesel) says goodbye to Brian, we see a montage of clips of Brian throughout the previous Fast and Furious Films and it’s so poignant to see how Paul Walker transformed over the course of the series, going from being a somewhat bland teen heart throb to becoming a genuinely charismatic leading man.  Watching the montage, you can see that Paul Walker was still growing as an actor and you’re reminded of just what a shock it was when we first heard the news of his death in 2013.

And, of course, we’re very aware that, as Dominic is saying goodbye to Brian and we’re saying goodbye to the actor who played him, Vin Diesel is saying goodbye to his friend.  That Diesel and Walker were friends on-screen and off is no secret.  In fact, that friendship has always been one of the big appeals of the Fast and Furious franchise.  The films are about a group of people (mostly men) who care about each other and who aren’t ashamed to admit it.  When Dominic delivers the film’s final monologue, it’s really all about Vin saying goodbye to Paul.  By the time the words “For Paul” appeared on the screen, there was not a dry eye in the theater.

The death of Paul Walker adds an undeniable poignancy to Furious 7 and it’s sometimes hard to separate the real-life tragedy from what we’re watching on screen.  But here’s the thing — Furious 7 works as both a heartfelt tribute to Paul Walker and as a wonderfully over-the-top and fun action movie.  Furious 7 is a burst of pure adrenaline and style that epitomizes everything that you could possibly want out of an action movie.

Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, a former government assassin who has a personal vendetta against Dom, Brian, and practically everyone else who has ever been a Fast and Furious movie.  Statham isn’t in a lot of scenes but whenever he shows up, he kicks ass and watching Furious 7 was probably the first time that I’ve ever truly understood Statham’s appeal.  How impressive is Jason Statham in this film?  He puts Dwayne Johnson in the hospital, that’s how impressive he is.  And what’s amazing is that after watching their fight scene, you totally believe that Jason Statham could put Dwayne Johnson in the hospital.

Another government agent, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, having a great time), offers to help Dom take out Deckard but first, Dom and his crew have to do a favor for Mr. Nobody.  They have to rescue a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from an African warlord (Djimon Honsou) who is obviously based on Joseph Kony.  That hacker knows about the location of a device that will allow the government to track down Deckard but the device has already been sold to a billionaire who lives in Abu Dhabi….

Ultimately, the exact specifics and logic of it all doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, and Dwayne Johnson are all back and they’re all a lot of fun to watch.  What matters is that the cars look good and the stunt work is just as amazing as you were hoping.  What matters is that the film features things that you never thought you’d see — like cars parachuting down to a mountain road and jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper.

This is an exciting film.  It’s a fun film.  It’s an entertaining film.  It’s a stylish film.  And, ultimately, it’s a film that will make you cry.

What more can you ask for?

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Trailer: Furious 7 (Extended)


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We saw the Super Bowl trailer of Furious 7 (formerly known as Fast & Furious 7). Well, here’s the extended version of it with more Jason Statham mayhem added to the mix. We also get The Rock get beatdown by Statham. Then again we’re all pretty much aware that Statham probably is the only person can put a beatdown on the Rock.

It looks like the summer blockbuster season starting out earlier and earlier with each passing year. Furious 7 is set for an April 3, 2015 release date.

For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn)


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As of right now, as far as I’m concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film of 2014.

Now please understand, I live in fly-over country and that means that there’s still quite a few films that I need to see.  Next week and through the new year, I plan to see Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Wild, and quite a few other films.  And any one of those films could, potentially, become my new favorite of 2014.

But, as of right now, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite.

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that will ever get a major Oscar nomination.  It’s unfairly dismissed as being pure entertainment or just a summer blockbuster.  A few critics group have been nice enough to mention it but, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that’s going to be given serious consideration for the big awards.

Except, of course, by me.

Below are ten reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy deserves serious consideration:

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1) Never underestimate the importance of escapism.

Usually, when a film is described as being “escapist entertainment,” it’s a back-handed compliment.  The implication is that the film may be entertaining but it has nothing to do with real world issues and therefore, it’s not as important as other films.  We’re allowed to enjoy it but we’re supposed to feel guilty about it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, we need to be able to escape.  That was certainly true this year.  2014 will not be remembered as a great year for humanity.  From January to December, it’s been an endless parade of cruelty and intolerance.  And no, we should never pretend that we live in a perfect world.  We need to be aware of what’s happening outside of our own little corner of the world.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t earned the right to escape for 122 minutes.  In fact, I would argue that 122 minutes of pure entertainment is something that we need to make time for if we are going to remain strong enough to face and perhaps change the realities of the world.

In short, when I walked out of the theater after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt better than when I had first taken my seat.  I felt happy.  I felt enthusiastic.  I felt ready to face this fucked up world of ours.

There is a place for pure, unadulterated escapism in cinema.

Not every film has to be a somber, self-important mess like Man of Steel.

Thank God.

2) The unappreciated subtext of Ronan

However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not pure escapism.  Much as in this case of The Purge Anarchy and Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, there is a deeper subtext to the film.  You just have to be willing to look for it.

One of the more frequent complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy is that the villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), isn’t particularly interesting and it is true that, when compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Iron Man’s villains, Ronan does seem to be a bit bland.  His goals and his motivation are pretty simple.  He destroys stuff and he kills people.  Why?  Because he’s the bad guy.

But, let’s take a closer look at Ronan.  Ronan is a fanatic who believes that only his way is the correct way and only his beliefs are pure.  Anyone who has different beliefs must be unpure and therefore, if they don’t agree to convert to his way of believing, Ronan is justified in destroying them.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

For all the complaints that Ronan was a one-dimensional villain, the same can be said of Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-un, and Jihadi John, and Fred Phelps.  The same can be said about a lot of evil people but that does not make them any less evil or dangerous.  Ronan may be a simple villain but he’s also the type of villain that we can find all over the world.

The one thing that all Ronan-style fanatics have in common is a complete lack of imagination and humor.  When Peter Quill stood up to Ronan by dancing, it was more than just a crowd-pleasing scene in a big action movie.  It was a call-to-arms to not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Ronans of the world.  It was a plea to not let the fanatics among us steal our imagination and our right to find joy in our own individual way.

In short, it was a lesson that the entire world needs to learn.

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3) I Am Groot

Yes, yes, I know.  At this point, we’ve all had to listen to hundreds of friends, relatives, and strangers who have gotten it into their heads that they can perfectly imitate Vin Diesel saying, “I am Groot.”  But, seriously — there’s a reason why everyone fell in love with that catch phrase and that’s because both Diesel and the film do more with those three words that most actors can do with a four-page monologue.

And if you didn’t tear up when you heard, “We are Groot,” then I’m sorry.  You may be too cynical for your own good.

4) Introducing … James Gunn!

If you’ve read my review of Super or Arleigh’s review of Slither, then you know that James Gunn has long been a favorite of ours.  One of the joys of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has been watching him become a favorite of everyone else as well.  And he deserves every bit of that success.  Working within the confines of the summer blockbuster genre, Gunn has created a film that works as both a superior action movie and as a quirky comedy.  With Guardians, James Gunn proved that it is possible to make a mainstream film without selling out your own individual style.

5) Introducing … Chris Pratt!

Even before he played Peter Quill, Chris Pratt was one of those actors who I have always been happy to see on screen.  He just has such a naturally likable presence.  But nothing he had done previously had prepared me for the pure joi de vivre that he brought to the role of Peter Quill.  Whether he was trying to convince people to call him Star-Lord or hilariously attempting to “rally the troops” or daring Ronan to a dance-off, Chris Pratt was a joy to watch.  If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that proves that Chris Pratt is a star (perhaps even a Star-Lord).

6) And let’s not forget Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro

Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro are both such quirky and unpredictable actors that I’m always happy to see either one of them on screen.  Having both of them in one movie is even better.  Rooker is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only be believable as a blue-skinned alien with an Alabama accent but who could also make that character into one of the most compelling in the film.  As for Del Toro, I know that his defiantly eccentric performance was controversial but personally, I loved the strange energy he brought to all of his scenes.

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7) And …. everyone else!

One thing that I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is that there were no wasted roles.  Every character — from Peter to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to John C. Reilly’s upright military guy to the people who only had a line or two — felt real.  For a lot of viewers (including me), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was an easy favorite.

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However, if I had to pick a best performance, I’d go with Dave Bautista as Drax.  Bautista did so much with so little.  As written, Drax is a physical dynamo with a need for revenge and absolutely no sense of humor.  That’s a pretty standard character for a film like this.  However, Bautista did so much with that character that poor, literal-minded Drax ultimately became one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  My favorite Drax moment came when, in response to hearing that everything goes over his head, he explained that nothing could go over his head because he would reach up and grab it.

8) That soundtrack

I have to admit that I didn’t care as much for Interstellar as some people did.  One of my big problems with the film came down to Hans Zimmer’s score.  It was so loud and overbearing that I actually found myself covering my ears.  But what really bothered me was how unnecessary it was.  Whenever Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway made a profound statement or the spaceship started to shake, the music would suddenly blast in my ear.  It was like having Hans Zimmer in my head, repeatedly shouting, “IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  EXCITING!  EXCITING!”

BLEH!

And it made me appreciate how much I loved the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.  By using songs that you would never expect to see in a science fiction epic, that soundtrack both mocked the genre’s natural tendency towards self-importance and also forced us to take another look at familiar scenes.  From the minute Peter started dancing to Come and Get Your Love, I knew that I was watching a special movie.

9) The Prison Break

From planning to execution, this was without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year.  From Rocket laying out his overly complicated plan while Groot tries a much simpler method in the background to Peter asking for the guy’s leg to the use of The Pina Colada Song, this was a perfect scene.

10) And finally … Dancing Groot!

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And those are just a few reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

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(For a differing opinion, check out Ryan’s review here.)

 

Trailer: Furious 7 (Teaser)


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To much fanfare we finally have the teaser trailer to the latest adventures of Dominic Toretto and his band of misfit drivers.

Now officially titled as Furious 7, the latest film in the franchise goes further away from it’s street racing roots and into the spy thriller and superhero genres it drifted into with Fast Five. Even the title alone sounds like a superhero team straight out of Marvel Comics. It’s almost as if I expect to see Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Elektra plus three other furious heroes fighting the good fight.

The teaser pretty much teases the sort of over-the-top, physics-defying action scenes we’ve come to expect from this franchise. It’s almost as if with each new film they up the ante as to how much universal laws Dom and his crew will break in order to entertain it’s massive fan audience.

Furious 7 is set to ride and die this April 3, 2015.

Guardians of the Galaxy 5-minute Extended Clip


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“Hold on…what’s a racoon?”

With just a little over a week before Marvel Studios releases it’s latest comic book film with Guardians of the Galaxy it looks like the Disney marketing machine is in full swing.

Last week saw them give a 17-minute preview on IMAX screens which was well-received by those who actually went and watched it. Then just over the weekend a select number (200 or so) film journos were invited to the Disney lot to watch an advance screening of the full film. From the reaction by those who saw this screening over on Twitter it looks like Marvel has another hit in their hands which should feed the hype machine leading up to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’ve already bought and reserved my seat for the early Thursday night screening next week in San Francisco’s IMAX @ the Metreon. The year-long anticipation is almost over, but for now here’s the latest offering from the Marvel and Disney marketing machine.

Guardians of the Galaxy Extended Trailer Ch-Ch-Ch-Cherry Bombs In


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Marvel Entertainment just released the extended “Cherry Bomb” trailer for it’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s been known coming straight from the film’s director, James Gunn, that Guardians of the Galaxy will feature a very eclectic selection of 70’s and 80’s tunes. These are songs that’s become part of Peter Quill’s hold on his Earth-heritage. It’s all he has left of his time as a child on Earth before leaving for a galaxy far, far away. We’ve already heard two songs that have been confirmed for the film with “Hooked On a Feeling” and “Spirit In the Sky”.

Now we have another song featured on this trailer that Gunn himself has confirmed as part of the film’s soundtrack with The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”.

Oh yeah, the extended trailer also includes some new scenes that doesn’t spoil the film, but just extends the smaller sequences we’ve already seen.

Guardians of the Galaxy is set for an August 1, 2014 release date.

Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean Dublois)


how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Ah, Berk. That fictional far away land where Dragons once plagued humans, until a young boy made friends with a Night Fury and changed everything.

How I’ve missed this place.

Fox & Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 brings us back to its dragon riding fun, taking place 5 years after the events of the first film. While the story doesn’t have the same level of depth as say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it still manages to be an enjoyable thrill ride when the dragons are taking flight.

Since this is an animated feature, let’s do visuals first. The animation is roughly the same as the original, with a bit of aging here and there for the main characters, but both the colors and the depth of field are a major standout. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) was brought back on board as  a consultant for the lighting, focus and color tones and it definitely shows. If at all possible, this film should be seen in its 3D format. The flight sequences are a joy to behold and when they’re not flying, you shouldn’t find yourself squinting and pinching your nose too much. Chris Sanders wasn’t on hand this time for the writing and directing, although you can still see his designs all over the film.

Additionally, there were a number of technical changes that improved the process. Just as Pixar did with Renderman, Dreamworks ended up creating their own software, Apollo. Apollo uses two tools – Premo, which allowed the animators better control of characters through the use of Wacom tablets. Even more magical is Torch, a lighting system developed with Deakins’ assistance that allowed for more natural setups in animation. One of the best uses of this is when Hiccup is surrounded in a dark room and needs to use his sword to illuminate the area. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s used in other Dreamworks projects.

All of the familiar characters are back – Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is a little older, and much wiser than in the original, with he and Toothless mapping the lands around Berk during their flights. Hiccup’s flair for gadgetry hasn’t left him, as in this film, the character is introduced almost as a medieval Batman. Between he, his father Stoic (Gerald Butler) and his girlfriend / Dragon Racing Champion Astrid (America Ferrera), they get the bulk of the screen time. His friends, played by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse,  and Kristen Wiig, felt more like cameos than anything else here. Then again, they really didn’t have that great a part in the first film. Toothless, the Unholy Offspring of fire and darkness itself, is still as cuddly and emotive as ever, despite not being able to actually speak. Through the film, both Toothless and Hiccup find themselves growing up in different ways and their relationship is at the heart of everything here. Hiccup and Stoic still have family issues, this time centering around Hiccup preparation for becoming Chief of the town after Stoic steps down.

When Astrid and Hiccup discover dragon hunters (Lead by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose character here still knows nothing), they find a new evil on the horizon in the form of Drago (Guardians of the Galaxy and Blood Diamond’s Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army to do some harm.

Where the movie may stumble is in its last act. It felt abbreviated to me, but as this is meant for children, I suppose it’s not meant to be that long of a film. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it moves fast. For a kid’s film, Dragon 2 rises to some interesting heights that even adults would appreciate. The film doesn’t assume you need to be retold everything you may have missed in the first film, though it does reference some elements of it. The themes of the story are coexistence (between humans & dragons), leadership, friendship and family, and they’re done well.