Fast & Furious 6


Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

(2013) Action (Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Gina Carano, Elsa Pataky, Clara Paget, Joe Taslim, Kim Kold, Samuel M. Stewart, Shea Whigham, Benjamin Davies, Matthew Stirling, David Ajala, There Lindhardt, Magda Rodriguez. Directed by Justin Lin   

I’m not much of a car person. I seriously couldn’t tell a carburetor from an alternator. When I go car shopping, I look for dependable. I drive a Honda for god’s sakes.

Which would probably make the characters in this film franchise squirm in horror. Any one of them could rebuild an engine of a Ferrari with parts from a Camry with their eyes closed and half asleep. And can they drive? Hoo lawd! These gals and fellers could put a 12-wheeler through a doggie door in a steel house at 90mph. And this series has thrived on people who think that kind of thing’s cool.

In the sixth installment of the series, the members of the crew are living large internationally after their big score in Rio. However, things never stay quiet for long for these guys. Hobbs (Johnson) shows up at Dom’s (Diesel) door, not particularly welcome. Even less welcome is Hobbs’ request that Dom’s crew reassemble to nab an international bad guy who is out to assemble a super-weapon out of component parts. After all, as Dom is happy to point out, they’re all retired from the game.

But Hobbs has a wild card to play – a photo of Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez), Dom’s girlfriend who apparently was murdered in Fast & Furious. Nope. Like at least one other character in the series, she shows up from the dead (albeit with no memory) but as one of the crew of said Eurobaddie, Owen Shaw (Evans). This is all the incentive Dom needs. Family is family, after all so he puts out some calls.

Those phone calls find Brian (Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Brewster) as new parents, Roman (Gibson) and Tej (Bridges) living the high life in Spain, Han (Kang) and Giselle (Gadot) living together in Hong Kong. They agree to help Dom bring Letty back, but Dom wants more – pardons for everyone so that they can go home again.

While Mia and Dom’s new squeeze Elena (Pataky) stay home to guard the baby, Hobbs and his new flunky Riley (Carano) join up with the crew in London to see if they can catch the guy who has eluded Hobbs for years. But the stakes are sky-high, Shaw’s team is as skilled as Dom’s only more vicious and Letty can’t remember Dom at all – in fact the first time they meet face to face she shoots him. This isn’t like any other job; they will be betrayed from within and more than one member of Dom’s team won’t come back from this.

Now, I want you to understand something up front – this isn’t reality at all. There are car stunts that defy gravity, plot points that defy logic and human bodies getting beat up so bad that they defy death. Da Queen and I were consistently making the “jumping the shark” signal to each other (an inverted V on one hand with two fingers on the other making a parabolic arc over the first) throughout the movie. And you know what? It didn’t matter. As ludicrous as this movie often is, it doesn’t matter – the entertainment quotient is so sky high that you ignore these lapses and just enjoy the ballet of man, machine and road.

Vinnie D and the Rock are both fairy limited at this point in their careers in terms of acting ability. That isn’t a knock or a criticism, they both I think understand what their comfort zone is and tend to stay well within it. While that may make for some fairly one-dimensional performances (and occasionally have) they are both also highly charismatic so their own personalities tend to inflect themselves on their characters. It so happens I like hanging out with these guys (or would if I knew them personally) so that isn’t a bad thing at all.

There’s a lot of posturing, a lot of attitude and some great stunts and car chases. While there is a nod to the underground racing roots of the series, the franchise is way beyond that now which is a very smart move – I think the car racing thing got old after the first one and they’ve really allowed themselves to appeal to more than a niche audience, which explains that their highest box office numbers have come with the last two films.

There is a cut scene at the end that you should hang out for – it explains one of the most notorious continuity lapses in the series and introduces a surprise new character in one of the great twists you’re ever going to see in a cut scene (up there with the reveal of Thanos).

This is great summer entertainment and has helped make a solid opening to the 2013 summer blockbuster season. There is definitely a Fast & Furious 7 in the works (already scheduled as of this date to open on July 11, 2014) which the cut scene sets up. As much as a non-car person that I am (as delineated above) and as much as I was disinterested in the series for the first four movies, the last two have made me a fan and I can’t wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: Varies the formula from the first two movies nicely while sticking to the things that made the first movie great. More Jeong is never a bad thing.

REASONS TO STAY: Scattershot much more than the first two films.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence and automotive mayhem, some swearing and a bit of sexuality..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michelle Rodriguez didn’t have a driver’s license when the series first started and only obtained one after filming began on the first film in the franchise.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; critics surprisingly have gotten behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Italian Job (2003)

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Frances Ha

Advertisements

Eye of the Hurricane


 

Eye of the Hurricane

Grant Collins' Popeye impression never fails to get a laugh.

(2012) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Melanie Lynskey, Brian Doyle-Murray, Nicola Peltz, Campbell Scott, Jose Zuniga, Gregory Cruz, Grant Collins, Wendi Motte, Joyce Guy, Colin Ford, Eddie Bowz, Andrew Wilson Williams, Ben Sabet, Christopher James Forrest, Julie Ann Dinneweth. Directed by Jesse Wolfe

 

What happens during a natural disaster is sometimes not nearly as devastating as what happens in its aftermath. Sometimes the worst part of picking up the pieces is realizing that the pieces will never be reassembled in quite the same way ever again.

A small town in Florida has been hit by a devastating hurricane and stands in ruins. Electricity and water are out and most of the residents live in a tent city. Amelia Kyte (Lynskey) is in a state of shock; her husband, who flies a hurricane hunter for the Air Force, hasn’t returned and she holds vigil at the local base (which itself was severely damaged in the storm) until she gets some news, which isn’t forthcoming. In fact, she isn’t even allowed on the base nor will anyone in charge talk to her about the fate of her husband, or whether he is alive or dead or even missing.

She is far too involved in her own grief to pay much attention to her children; 16-year-old Renee (Peltz) who is forced to fill out forms and watch out for her little brother, 9-year-old Homer (Collins) who lost his eye in the storm. Homer is sure that if they find the missing eye that it can be put back in his head no harm no foul. To this end he enlists Abby Nelson (Motte), his best friend and maybe the toughest girl in town.

A local fisherman, Bill Folsom (Scott), is trying to extract his boat out of the water where it is blocking the ramp, irking other fishermen who know that the ramp is needed for the crane they’ve hired to pull their own boats out of the water as well. Bill is sweet on Amelia and has been for a long time. He keeps watch on Homer as much as he can, but has a tendency to do and say the wrong thing – like telling Homer tales about the Seminole (Cruz), a local figure reputed to have magical powers. Eventually, Homer gets it into his head that the Seminole might be able to use his magic to help find Homer’s eye.

Bill is trying to work some magic of his own, spending nights and what’s left of his cash to repair Amelia’s house and making it livable again so that maybe he could move in there with her sometime down the line. In the meantime, Renee has fallen for a married relief worker (Zuniga) and is frustrated and fed off with her mom who is completely self-absorbed. By the time word finally comes through and Amelia re-joins the land of the living, it may well be too late to repair the rift that has grown between her and her daughter – or to save her son, whose own obsession has led him to attempt something incredibly dangerous.

I really wanted to like this movie; the premise is intriguing and there are some solid performers in the cast. Unfortunately, there are also a whole lot of logical lapses. For one thing, no military base – even one that’s compromised as this one was – is going to allow the wife of one of their own to sit outside their gates wondering if her husband is dead or alive. They would at least give her some information and if not, assign someone to help her family out. They wouldn’t just leave her hanging like that.

And FEMA be damned, the Red Cross wouldn’t have one or two case workers to handle a tent city like that. A place like that would be swarming with personnel and there’d be evidence of electrical workers trying to restore power. Here the town is left pretty much left forgotten and yet it’s possible to drive to Miami where there are lights, bars that are open and serving beer to minors. I’m not sure if the filmmakers knew the legal drinking age here is 21, but they depict beer being served to people clearly identified as 16 years old without being carded. No bar is going to risk their liquor license like that.

Those are just the few off the top of my head but you get the drift. Little things like that annoy me, I have to admit. What’s worse is that the juvenile actors cast in the parts of Abby and Homer don’t come off as being real kids. That might be because the parts weren’t written that way, but they act more like kids on a TV show rather than kids who have been through a major disaster and in Homer’s case, have been injured to the tune of a lost eye. While I can see Homer’s obsession with recovering that eye and of boredom and lack of supervision causing them to get into trouble, there are times that Homer just is too much like Bobby Hill in “King of the Hill;” a little bit too snarky. Same goes for Abby; she was acting like a kid out of a Tyler Perry movie.

The sad thing there’s really a movie here. Scott, Lynskey, Zuniga and Peltz all deliver solid performances and while Lynskey’s Amelia was annoying early on as you got to know the situation her motivations became pretty clear and suddenly she was a bit more sympathetic.

It’s really hard sometimes to critique efforts like this; for one thing, we’re not talking big budget Hollywood productions here and I know that the filmmakers want to tell the story the best way they can. Unfortunately, I can’t in all conscience say that I liked this movie and I can’t for the same reason recommend it without a whole lot of caveats.

REASONS TO GO: Scott, Lynskey, Peltz and Zuniga do well.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many lapses in logic. Juvenile actors too inconsistent.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there and some implied sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted on March 15 at the Omaha Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trouble the Water

SWAMP BOAT LOVERS: There are several different types of boats regularly used in Florida swamps and the Everglades on display here, from rowboats to skiffs to power boats.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Girl Model

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)


Blood: The Last Vampire
Sailor Moon, eat your heart out!

(Goldwyn) Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, JJ Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham, Yasuaki Kurata, Larry Lamb, Andrew Pleavin, Michael Byrne, Colin Salmon. Directed by Chris Nahon

Count me as an admirer of Japanese anime. I enjoy the imaginative worlds created by Japanese animators, as well as the detailed artwork. I also know that there are some faults with the genre overall, with underdeveloped characters and juvenile plots more the norm than the exception. Blood: The Last Vampire started out as an anime back in 2000 and now makes its way to the live action medium.

Saya (Jun) is a demon hunter. Demons have existed hidden on this earth for thousands of year, ever since their most lethal Demon lord Onegin (Koyuki) won an ancient war. However, there have been demon hunters, those who have take out the evil creatures with katana, Japanese swords. Saya’s own father was murdered by Onegin, leaving her in the care of Kato, a respected swordmaster.

However, Saya isn’t just your ordinary demon hunter, oh no. She’s half-vampire, with all the strength and skills that a vampire possesses, but able to walk about in daylight. And about her father? He died 400 years ago and she’s been searching for Onegin ever since. That’s a long time to be pissed off at someone but nobody ever said a woman couldn’t hold a grudge.

These days (or at least circa 1970 when the movie is set) she works for a shadowy agency called The Council who seem to be mostly American. When she kills a demon (as she does on a subway train to open up the movie), they’re the ones who clean up the mess afterwards. Her contact there is a terse ex-CIA operative named Michael (Cunningham) who hands out her assignments.

Her latest one has her undercover at an American naval base school to investigate a rash of vampire killings. She makes friends with Alice McKee (Miller), daughter of the base’s commanding officer General McKee (Lamb) – although why a general would be in command of a naval base is beyond me. Still, Alice runs afoul of a trio of schoolgirls who turn out to be vampires, until Saya saves the day.

In fact, it turns out that the base is full of demons, as is the surrounding town and Saya has her hands full, not only keeping Alice alive but trying to avoid being caught up in Council politics – all with Onegin hovering in the background.

I am not only a fan of anime but also of martial arts movies, and there are plenty of nifty fight scenes here. In fact, if action’s your thing, you’re going to love this movie because it’s essentially non-stop battles, chases and fights. There’s a whole lot of gore, and the seductive sexiness that only comes from a lithe Japanese schoolgirl in a sailor costume.

Unfortunately, the faults that are part of Japanese anime – a lack of solid, realistic characterization and mindless plots – rear their ugly heads here. Other than Saya, most of the characters here are one-dimensional clichés that don’t act in the same manner real people would act, and spout off grade B dialogue in a wooden manner. Some would call this cartoonish, although I think that there are plenty of cartoons that escape this trap.

Jun is one of the best parts of this movie. Alone of all the characters, she has some depth and a little bit of humanity, which is awfully strange to say about a character that’s half-vampire. She has an emotional center that Jun gets across in a way consistent with the character, and it works. I suspect that with a better script, she’d be a candidate for stardom along the lines of a Michelle Yeoh or a Gong Li.

There are an awful lot of special effects here, from wirework actors flying about the air like mosquitoes and demon blood spurting out of wounds like raspberry jam out of a jelly doughnut. The demons in demon form aren’t particularly scary and there are a lot of CGI effects that look about ten years out of date, and for videogames at that.

There isn’t a ton of things to recommend the movie other than the action sequences and Jun, but for those who like that sort of thing this movie is going to be your new best friend. For the rest of us, I can’t help but think that if the filmmakers had just put a little more effort into this it could have been a rather decent movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Some fun action sequences and great wire work. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The characterization is non-existent, the special effects are weak and one gets the sense that the film’s reach exceeded the budget’s grasp.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of blood – not all of it human but nonetheless – and flying body parts, as well as some relatively non-scary demonic sorts. Not for the young kids but should be okay for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Bill Kong of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge fan of the anime and picked up the rights to make a live action version to be directed by Ronnie Yu. When Pathe, the French distribution company became involved, Yu was kicked upstairs to a producer’s credit and Nahon got the directing chair.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.9M on an unreported production budget; I’m guessing the movie either broke even or lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Day Five of Six Days of Darkness.