Friday, September 23, 2016

Fast & Furious

Image result for fast & furious 4Wow, after two movies of no Dom Toretto he’s back (minus the quick cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift).  Even going one film without Brian O’Conner felt like a while.  But the boys are back in town, LA.

Now we finally get to the one that resembles what the series looks like today.  The plot is more complicated than any we’ve had before and includes both Dom and Brian penetrating the drug smuggling world to avenge Letty’s death (spoiler).  Brian is now a special agent with the FBI (remember his record got expunged at the end of 2 Fast) and Dom bums around the Caribbean and South America pulling off one last job and then lying low.  Dom comes back to the city of angels to kill Letty’s murderer and tussles with Brian who also wants to take down the drug lord scumbag.

Whereas the first film was sort of a throwback action cop movie the fourth fits right in with its peers.  The bigger international story, globetrotting, vengeance, convoluted heists and extreme CGI action sequences are all in line with the Mission: Impossibles, Bournes and comic book movies that are still immensely popular.  I completely understand why the audience took to this installment and why the series has continued to go in this direction.

However I didn’t care for number four all that much and the script is the main culprit.  Like Tokyo Drift this clearly seems like it was intended to be another movie that got rebranded to become a Fast and Furious.  It’s completely different from anything we’ve seen in the first three.  Now while that certainly is a good thing in my book I don’t think the story flows well, the way things are written you really only need one hero so having both Dom and Brian share the lead and do the same shit throughout is redundant and pointless, the villain doesn’t come off very threatening and the car sequences aren’t as well done as the ones in Tokyo Drift.

Image result for fast and furious 4One of my biggest beefs is that the finale is a race/battle through CGI caves and it’s pretty confusing what the hell’s going on most of the time.  It just looks sloppy and cheap that this is the route they went for the grand climax.  Additionally there’s a scene earlier where they drive through the same goddamn CGI caves which makes me feel like I’ve been cheated out of some crazy car stunt work and a proper ending.

It makes sense though that this is the movie that shot the franchise into superstardom.  The filmmakers managed to make the shit on screen seem way more important than some underground street racing thing, truck hijacking or a teen learning how to drift.  The plot is actually more in line with 2 Fast by raising the stakes to include drug trafficking and making all the street racing be only one aspect of that.  But fuck that movie.  Fast & Furious is done way better.

Image result for fast and furious 4 muscle carLook, don’t get me wrong this is an enjoyable picture.  It feels like the proper sequel to the original.  You could completely skip films two and three, go straight to four and not miss a beat.  And that’s one thing that makes the series so fascinating to me, it’s like they planned this entire saga out.  And that notion only seems to get stronger with every installment by expanding and solidifying where the events in each film fall on the timeline.  But we know that that is definitely not the case.  Four and beyond were sorta planned more together but they did an incredible job incorporating everything that happened before that.

For me The Fast and the Furious is the best of the first four with Tokyo Drift at number two, Fast & Furious third and 2 Fast 2 Furious last.  There are too many flaws in the fourth to place it any higher.  But hey if you’re a fan of the series this one is crucially important for two reasons.  One is it sets up the formula and events for the fifth and sixth films.  And two is it did gangbusters at the box office which showed that the series was on the right track and more should be greenlit immediately.  I totally believe this was make or break time.  If number four bombed then either the sequels would continue in the direct to video market or none would be made at all.  Four had to deliver big and it did (just not with me personally).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Image result for fast and furious tokyo drift lucas blackMove over Brian O’Conner, there’s a new kid in town.  The kid, Sean (Lucas Black (Jarhead)), the town, Tokyo.  He’s a troublemaker who’s always getting into street races with kids, which seem to end in totally wrecked cars more often than not.  I guess there’s reason to be concerned.

Sean gets shipped off to Japan because his mother can’t take his shit anymore.  One too many reckless races through under construction housing developments I suppose.  Anyway his father is stationed in the land of the rising sun so it’s his problem now.  The setup is contrived but also fortuitous for young Sean because on his first full day he hooks up with a car guy (and possibly only black person in Japan (Bow Wow (music shit, Like Mike))), who introduces him to the drifting scene, they go to a race, and Sean even gets to be in it despite the fact he’s never drifted before.  And of course he smashes the auto to bits.  So he needs to learn this new style of driving if he’s ever gonna race here.  But there’s also some other conflict thrown in like a rival racer, a girl Sean and the rival fight over, there’s the disciplinary father and, somehow, a Yakuza threat.  Damn they crammed a bunch into this.

Image result for fast and furious tokyo drift driftingThe way they present drifting to you is fantastic with elevator doors opening to two cars flying by sideways across the full frame.  There’s a look of awe on Sean’s face that I also had on mine.  I totally get it guys.  I get why there’s a whole movie out there dedicated to drift style car racing.  It looks so fucking bad ass and beautiful.  The driver is bending the car’s physical capabilities to their will by sliding around very tight corners and various other objects.  And you need to be extremely precise because if you miscalculate only a bit then you’re likely to crash into something.

So as you can guess Sean masters this technique to win the day and his life back.  The story arc is one you’ve seen many times before but it’s solid.  There are enough wrinkles to keep things interesting but unfortunately they all come into play towards the end of the picture.

This film is the one that gets shat on the most in the series, especially the title for some reason.  While I agree number three was definitely some other movie that they slapped the Fast and Furious brand on it still works.  All the trademarks of the series are here and I can’t blame them for either attempting to hit the reset button on the franchise or simply trying something new.  I actually did find it refreshing to not have an undercover cop story for a third time and instead be introduced to a new style of racing with “new characters” (Sean is basically a teenaged Brian O’Conner and the Han character (Sung Kang (LiveFree or Die Hard)) shares many traits with Dom Toretto).

Image result for the fast and the furious tokyo driftTokyo Drift is much better than 2 Fast 2 Furious but far behind The Fast and the Furious.  Unlike the first sequel it at least looks like an A picture that’s shot and edited more professionally.  Plus the stunt driving is better choreographed and executed.  The car chase through the streets of Tokyo and the winding mountain road finale are both better than anything in 2 Fast.  Justin Lin shows good filmmaking chops with plenty of potential to improve upon them if given the chance.  Luckily the suits agreed and let him run with the next three installments during which he would grow tremendously.

Don’t dismiss this one like so many others have done over the years.  It’s not the dumb one in the series like the world wants you to believe.  I had a good time and would recommend checking it out.  It’ll always hold a special place in this sequence of pictures as the rebel that did its own thing.  And without it we may not have gotten any more.  That’s why I show respect to the drift king.

Image result for the fast and the furious tokyo drift vinOh and did anyone else get goosebumps when Dom showed up at the very end?  The incredible reveal of first gradually panning around the American muscle car starting from the rear and slowly inching up towards the passenger side window to get a peek at the driver was masterfully done.  Top it all off with Vin turning his head to look directly into the camera and you’ve got one helluva moment.  It may have been my favorite part of the movie.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

2 Fast 2 Furious

Image result for 2 fast 2 furiousIt looks like they couldn’t get Vin Diesel back for some more but the Hollywood suits decided to continue anyway with the adventures of Brian O’Conner, ex-cop.  He has to go undercover again but this time he’s coerced into it.  Either he goes to jail for letting Dom go at the end of the first one (plus numerous other crimes) or he plays ball and helps bring down a drug lord.  Unexpectedly he chooses to go to prison, it’s actually a pretty short movie.  I’m just kidding he takes the option that allows him to drive fast cars ‘n shit: work for the FBI?

Unfortunately this installment is pretty much exactly the type of film everyone thought the entire series was for so long.  Everything’s dumbed down, not very well executed and way more frat house-y than the first.  I swear every other word is “bro” or “homie”.

The script has some good ideas in it like the boat jump at the end and the tag team race where the winners get the losers’ cars.  There’s a fine foundation with going undercover (again) to get to the bad guy but it wasn’t fleshed out enough.  One of the main issues is the villain isn’t nearly menacing enough.  Maybe it was just Cole Hauser (Higher Leaning) who played it too laid back.  Or maybe the character was underwritten.  Or both.

Image result for 2 fast 2 furious cole hauserSwapping Tyrese Gibson (music shit, Death Race (2008)) for Vin Diesel doesn’t help either.  He plays Roman Pearce who starts out as a tough guy (a la Dom Toretto) but then abandons that and gets goofier as the movie goes which is a little weird.  Rome finds his place later in the series as the smack talking yet apprehensive comedic relief and I think that’s the best use of the character.

All the racing and action sequences are a bit more outrageous than the first but not much.  They tried to amp shit up with smaller things like a drawbridge jump finale on the first race or weaving in and out of traffic at high speed.  My favorite driving sequence may have been the tag team race I mentioned earlier.  Brian and Roman know they can’t win straight up so they play kinda dirty to force the outcome in their favor.  I guess that was fun.

On a technical level this is not a very well shot or edited picture.  The driving scenes get a touch confusing at times and there were other parts that would throw in an awkward camera angle for no good reason.  Also John Singleton directed which seems real odd to me.  He did shit like Boyz n the Hood, Rosewood and Baby Boy that have explicit messages about society and black culture in particular.  So I wouldn’t think he would go for a flashy illegal street racing movie that’s intended to be mindless popcorn fun.  I dunno maybe the material really interested him, maybe he needed the money. Or both.

Image result for 2 fast 2 furiousBefore I wrap this up there are a couple of things that really annoyed the shit outta me in here.  One is all the hype talk during the racing.  All drivers constantly blurt out terrible crap like “hahaha”, “c’mon stay with me”, “yeeeeah!”, “Romy Rome, you never heard of me?” and “woooo smack that ass!”  And second are the million and a half insert shots of people shifting gears.  I don’t need to see every shift guys, it sorta waters down the excitement when you show me all of them.

The sequel stupidly exaggerates many aspects of the first film (the number of ogling chick shots, the cartoonish blurring when someone hits their NOS button, TWO undercover cops) and doesn’t add anything new to the mix.  Ok, they added Roman but that wasn’t by choice.  A lot of the time it feels cheap and B movie-ish in not the best way.  It’s amazing the series survived after that last sloppy medium shot of Brian and Roman walking towards the camera giggling like a pair of high teens.

I kinda like the title though.  It’s not 2 much if you ask me.  And it wasn’t 2 much of this series for folks ‘cause there would be more, a helluva lot more.