“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

 

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

Following the success of 2013’s “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I felt sure that the FAST AND FURIOUS movie franchise would finally end. After all, Universal Studios and director Justin Lin had proclaimed the fourth, fifth and sixth films as part of a trilogy. But to my utter surprise, the producers announced their intention for a seventh film by ending “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” on a cliffhanger.

Anyone who has seen the sixth film knows that Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner and their circle of friends had assisted Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Luke Hobbs in taking down mercenary Owen Shaw in exchange for the clearance of their criminal records and finding Dom’s lady love, the amnesiac Letty Ortiz. Their actions had left Shaw in a coma and a return to normal life. However, Dom and his friends learn that Shaw’s older brother, a rogue special forces assassin named Deckard Shaw, is seeking revenge against the team for what happened to the younger brother. The end of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” revealed that the older Shaw was responsible for Han-Seoul-Oh’s death in Tokyo, which was first seen in the 2006 film, “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”. Next, Shaw nearly kills both Agents Hobbs and Elena Neves in an explosion at the DSS Los Angeles Field Office, leaving Hobbs seriously wounded. After Shaw sends a package that destroys the Toretto home in Los Angeles, a C.I.A. covert team leader named Frank Petty recruits the remaining friends to help him prevent a mercenary named Mose Jakande from obtaining a computer program called the God’s Eye that uses digital devices to track specific people, in exchange for allowing them to use the latter to find Shaw first. Unbeknownst to the others, Shaw has allied himself with Jakande to take down Dom, Brian and the others.

I must admit that on paper, “FURIOUS 7” struck me as a first-rate story. Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been writing for the franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, did an excellent job of continuing the story first set up in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. He even managed to skillfully connect some of the story acrs of the franchise’s past films with this latest plot. This was especially the case for Han’s death in “TOKYO DRIFT”, his romance with Gisele Yashar and friendship with Sean Boswell; Letty’s amnesia, which was never resolved in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”; and, of course, the Shaw brothers. Morgan also did a solid job in utilizing the situation regarding Frank Petty, Mose Jakande and the God’s Eye device for the team’s search for Deckard Shaw. And although I feel that James Wan lacked Justin Lin’s more technical skills as a director, I thought he did a pretty good job in handling a high budget production that was nearly derailed by Paul Walker’s death.

One would have to be blind not to notice how beautiful “FURIOUS 7”. Then again, that has been the case for the entire franchise since the first movie. One has to thank Stephen F. Windon, who has worked on the film franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, and Marc Spicer for their colorful and sharp photography. The beauty of their work was especially apparent in the Abu Dhabi sequences. Speaking of Abu Dhabi, it also featured some of the movie’s best action scenes. One of them featured a fight between Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz character and martial artist Ronda Rousey, who portrayed the head of security for an Abu Dhabi billionaire. Another featured an attempt by Dom and Brian to steal the billionaire’s car, which contained the God’s Eye device. This scene also led to one of the most spectacular stunts I have ever seen on film. In an attempt to escape the billionaire’s security team, Dom drives the stolen car through a series of hi-rise buildings that . . . hell, I do not know how to describe this stunt. It has to be seen on the movie screen in order to believe it.

The movie also featured another over-the-top stunt, in which the team airdrop their cars over the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, in order to ambush Jakande’s convoy and rescue Megan Ramsey, the creator of God’s Eye. For some reason, I was not that particularly impressed with this particular stunt. Perhaps it is because I found the sequence a little too frantic and clumsily shot. The best aspect of the Azerbaijan sequence was the fight scene between Brian and one of Jakande’s men, a martial artist named Ket. Not surprisingly, the film’s producers hired martial artist/actor Tony Jaa to portray Ket. They were also lucky in that Paul Walker had been a martial artist for several years, himself. The pair, along with fight choreographer Jeff Imada, created a first-rate fight scene. They also managed to repeat themselves with another excellent fight scene staged inside an empty building in downtown Los Angeles. Imada also served as the choreographer between the Rodriguez/Rousey fight scene in Abu Dhabi and a surprisingly effective fight between Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw near the film’s beginning. The only fight scene that failed to impressed me occurred between Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Shaw on a downtown L.A. parking structure. If I must be honest, there seemed to be too much testosterone and dialogue, and not enough skillful moves to impress me. It almost seemed as if director James Lin overdid it in his attempt to transform this particular fight into a showstopper. Instead, the fight simply bored me.

However, the Toretto/Shaw fight scene was not the only disappointing aspect of “FURIOUS 7”. I had other problems with the movie. Exactly how many years had passed between “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” and “FURIOUS 7”? After watching the 2013 movie, I had assumed that Deckard Shaw had killed Han Seoul-Oh at least a few months after the events of the movie. But in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto’s son Jack was still an infant. “FURIOUS 7” revealed that young Jack was a toddler between the ages of 2-5 around the time of Han’s death. So . . . I am confused. Another problem I had with the film was the dialogue written by Chris Morgan. I might as well be frank. Dialogue has never been a strong point with the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. But I was surprised that only three characters were forced to spew some of the worst dialogue I had ever heard in the entire movie franchise. And that bad dialogue came out of the mouths of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. It seemed as if the three actors were engaged in some kind of verbal testosterone contest to see who is the toughest. No wonder some critics had claimed that the movie’s three worst performances came from them. And if this was not bad enough, I had to endure that uber-macho fight scene between Diesel and Statham that really unimpressed me. Worse, the movie featured a moment in which the convalescing Agent Hobbs becomes aware of a struggle between Dom’s team and the combined Shaw/Jakande alliance inside his hospital room. So, what does he do? Hobbs flexes a muscle, forcing his cast to tear apart. It was one of the most wince-inducing moments I have ever seen on film.

According to the movie’s publicists, Universal Studios and the producers had decided not to kill off the Brian O’Conner character, because of actor Paul Walker’s death. For that I am utterly grateful. Learning about his death had been difficult enough. I certainly did not want to see the same for his character on screen. However, the public was told that instead of being killed off, Brian’s character would retire at the end of the movie. This announcement left me confused. Retire from what? Brian’s law enforcement career ended in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”, when he helped Dom Toretto escape from a prison bus. His brief career as a criminal ended, following the successful Rio de Janeiro heist in “FAST FIVE”. Brian and the rest of the team’s actions in the sixth movie revolved around their search for an amnesiac Letty Ortiz and efforts to get their criminal records cleaned. As for this seventh movie, they were mainly concerned with finding Deckard Shaw before he can kill them all in retaliation for his brother’s condition. So, from what exactly was Brian retiring? The producers could have simply stated that Brian, Mia and their son had moved to another city . . . and away from Dom and Letty. How did retirement fit into all of this?

I also had one last problem with “FURIOUS 7” – namely the Roman Pearce character, portrayed by Tyrese Gibson. Ever since his first appearance in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”, I have been a fan of Roman and Gibson’s portrayal of him. But I have become aware of the franchise’s recent portrayal of him as the team’s clown. When this happen? Oddly enough, it began with “FAST FIVE” in which the Tej Parker character made a few snarky comments at his expense. In the 2011 film, it was mildly amusing. In “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, it got a little worse. But the Azerbaijan sequence pretty much solidified Roman’s role as the team’s clown. This sequence nearly made him a dye-in-the-wool coward, when he originally refused to participate in the car jump. What the hell? Roman has always been a verbose, temperamental and impulsive guy. But he was also a very pragmatic man, who always seemed to have a more realistic view of their situations than any of the other characters. This does not mean he was gutless. Why on earth did the franchise decided to make him this embarrassing clown? And why team him with Tej, who always seemed hell bent upon humiliating him? One of the aspects of “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” I enjoyed so much was that Roman and childhood friend Brian O’Conner had struck me as a well-balanced screen team. Brian never went out of his way to constantly humiliate Roman . . . like Tej. And Roman never treated Brian like some adopted offspring . . . like Dom. But the producers were determined to exploit the original Dom/Brian relationship in the movies, starting with “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. And in order not to leave Roman out of the loop, they teamed him with Tej Parker, whom he first met in the 2003 film. Unfortunately, Tej (through screenwriter Chris Morgan), has transformed poor Roman into a clown.

Clown or not, Roman had the good luck to be portrayed by Tyrese Gibson, whom I believe is one of the better actors in the main cast. Mind you, he is no Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou or Elsa Pataky, but I still believe he is slightly better than the other actors and actresses in the movie. Speaking of Russell, he gave a dry and witty performance as shadow agent Frank Petty. The actor injected a good deal of sharp wit into a film nearly marred by bad dialogue. As for Hounsou, he made an effective and intelligent villain, capable of thinking on his feet and quickly exploiting a situation or individual. In my review of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I had commented on Paul Walker’s increasing skill as an actor. This improvement of Walker’s acting skills were obvious in scenes that reflected his character Brian O’Conner’s struggle to adapt to a family lifestyle, his conversation with wife Mia two-thirds into the film and his reaction to Dom’s decision to drive a stolen car through the window of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper. Another memorable performance came from Michelle Rodriguez, who continued her portrayal of Letty Ortiz’s struggles to deal with amnesia. This was especially apparent in a scene in which the actress had to convey her character’s frustration in facing fleeting memories of the past and Dom’s attempts to help her regain her memories. The movie also featured solid performances from Jordana Brewster (who was missing throughout most of the film), Chris Bridges aka Ludicrous, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lucas Black (of “THE FAST AND FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”), Elsa Pataky, Ali Fazal and Tony Jaa. Even Ronda Rousey, despite her lack of acting experience, was appropriately intimidating as the billionaire’s head of security. She is no Gina Carrano, who acting managed to improve by “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, but she was effective.

I know what you are thinking. What about Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Surely they were not that terrible? All three actors are pretty decent performers. But “FURIOUS 7” did not show them at their best. As I had earlier hinted, all three were hampered by Chris Morgan’s machismo dialogue and attempt to raise the testosterone level, via their characters. But each actor had their moments. Diesel’s best moments were featured in his scenes with Rodriguez. Johnson’s best moments occurred in the film’s first half hour, which included his character’s fight against the Deckard Shaw character and his playful interactions with Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves. And Statham’s best scene in the film, at least for me, was his first. This featured Deckard Shaw’s visit to his comatose brother’s hospital room, in which he expressed tenderness and family concern for the latter (portrayed by Luke Evans in a cameo appearance). Otherwise, Diesel, Johnson and Statham proved to be problematic for me in so many ways.

I am not saying that “FURIOUS 7” is a terrible movie. It would probably be considered terrible by certain fans and moviegoers, whose tastes in films are a lot more elitist or intellectual. But as action films go, it is pretty decent and a lot of fun to watch. Yes, I found it difficult to endure some of the movie’s bad dialogue, the re-imaging of the Roman Pearce’s character into a clown and the over-the-top machismo portrayed by Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. And James Wan does not exactly strike me as skillful a director as Justin Lin. But, I believe “FURIOUS 7” is still a fun-filled action flick and a worthy last film for the late Paul Walker.

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R.I.P. Paul Walker (1973-2013)

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“RUSH” (2013) Review

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“RUSH” (2013) Review

Before I began this review, it occurred to me that Ron Howard has directed a good number of movie biographies set in the distance past for the last eighteen years, starting with 1995’s “APOLLO 13”. Mind you, the film was not Howard’s first period picture. But in the following years, he has directed four more biopics, including his latest project, “RUSH”

Written by Peter Morgan, who also worked with Howard on 2008’s “FROST/NIXON”“RUSH” told the story about the rivalry between Formula One race drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 racing season. The two drivers are highly skilled and talented race car drivers who first develop a fierce rivalry in 1970 at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in England. Hunt is a brash young Englishman with a tendency to vomit before every race and the Austrian Lauda is a cool, technical genius who relies on precision. While Lauda buys his way onto the BRM Formula One team, which includes legendary driver Clay Regazzoni, following a falling out with his father. Both Lauda and Regazzoni later join the Scuderia Ferrari team with Regazzoni, and Lauda wins his first championship in 1975. Hunt’s racing team, Hesketh Racing, closes shop after failing to secure a sponsor and the British driver manages to land a driving position in McLaren after Emerson Fittipaldi leaves the team. During this period, Hunt marries supermodel Suzy Miller and Lauda develops a relationship with socialite Marlene Knaus. 

Eventually, the movie shifts to the 1976 Fomula One racing season. Lauda dominates the early races, while Hunt and the McLaren team struggle with a series of setbacks that include mechanical failures and a disqualified win at the Spanish Grand Prix. Hunt also suffers a personal setback when his wife leaves him for Richard Burton. All seem to be going well for Lauda, including a private wedding to Marlene Knaus. But all come to a head for him at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, when he suffers a major car crash. While Hunt shoots ahead in points during his absence, Lauda struggles to recover the crash and return to finish the racing season.

Aside from the movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series, the only auto racing movies that ever really caught my attention were two period comedies from the 1960s that featured Tony Curtis, the 2006 Will Ferrell comedy, TALLAGEDA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY”, and the 2008 film, “SPEED RACER”. That is it. Since I had never heard of James Hunt or Niki Lauda, I was almost inclined to skip “RUSH”. Thank God I did not. I would have missed out on something special . . . at least for me. I love action films. One of the aspects of action films that I love are the car chases. But the car racing scenes were not the reasons why I finally decided to see “RUSH”. I had three reasons – Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. But the cincher for me was the trailer. What can I say? It impressed me.

“RUSH” is not the first time Ron Howard explored the 1970s. He directed two other movies set in the same decade –“APOLLO 13” and “FROST/NIXON”. I am beginning to wonder if this decade means a lot more to Howard than he would care to admit. In “RUSH”, the more glamorous aspect of the 1970s was explored, thanks to the artistry of production designer Mark Digby. His work was aptly supported by the art direction team led by Daniel Chour and Patrick Rolfe, and also the film’s set decorations. But if there is one aspect of “RUSH” that truly captured the 1970s – aside from the soundtrack – was Julian Day’s costumes. I adored them. Below are examples of Day’s work:

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“RUSH” did featured a good number of first-rate auto racing sequences. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, along with film editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill did an exceptional job in recapturing the excitement (well . . . from the driver’s point of view) of Formula One racing. This was certainly apparent in two sequences – the Italian Grand Prix, where a barely recovered Niki Lauda managed to finish fourth place; and the Japanese Grand Prix, where the last race of the 1976 season took place. I realize that this might sound gruesome and I certainly do not mean to sound insensitive to what happened to Lauda. But I cannot deny that Howard’s recreation of the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring and Lauda’s car crash was an example of masterful filmmaking, thanks to Howard’s direction, Mantle’s photography and the editing by Hanley and Hill. The movie really captured the spectacle and the horror of the crash.

But “RUSH” is foremost a movie about two racing drivers . . . two men. Mindful of this, Peter Morgan did an outstanding job in recapturing Hunt and Lauda’s personalities, along with the circumstances that fueled their rivalry on the race track. This was not only in scenes that featured their separate private lives, especially their relationships with their wives Suzy Miller and Marlene Knaus, but also the friendly, yet intense rivalry that existed between them. In regard to their personal lives, I was very impressed by the two scenes that featured the breakup of the Hunt-Miller marriage; Lauda’s first meeting with Knaus and one particular scene during their honeymoon in which Lauda expressed concerns about the effects of his marriage on his racing career. However, the confrontation scenes between the two drivers when they were off the race track really rocked, thanks to Hemsworth, Brühl and Morgan’s screenplay. But there are two scenes that I really enjoyed. One of them turned out to be the drivers’ conference before the German Grand Prix, in which Lauda tried to convince the Formula One committee to cancel that particular race, due to heavy rain on the already notoriously dangerous Nürburgring race course; and their last meeting (at least in the movie), not long after the championship Japanese Grand Prix.

What can I say about the movie’s performances? They were outstanding. I was surprised to see Natalie Dormer in such a small role as a hospital nurse that Hunt briefly dated. Considering her growing fame, I had expected to see her in a bigger role. I could say the same about Julian Rhind-Tutt, who had a small role as a member of Hunt’s racing team. Christian McKay gave a vibrant performance as the flamboyant Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh, who financed Hunt’s first racing team. Pierfrancesco Favino portrayed Italian racing legend, Clay Regazzoni, who drove on the Scuderia Ferrari team with Lauda. I am aware that two drivers actually became good friends. Despite this friendship, Favino gave a sly and humorous performance, while recapturing Favino’s occasional frustration with Lauda’s eccentric personality. There were some grumbles on the Internet, when world of Olivia Wilde’s casting as Suzy Miller was first announced. She certainly proved them wrong by giving a first-rate performance, especially in one scene in which Miller’s breakup with Hunt became permanent. I was also impressed by her British accent, until I learned that one of her parents had been born in the U.K. Alexandra Maria Lara also gave a first-rate performance as Lauda’s first wife, Marlene Knaus Lauda. Not only did she project a great deal of warmth in her portrayal of the race driver’s wife, but also a touch of sardonic humor.

The men of the hour, aside from Ron Howard, are Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, who portrayed the two rivals. They were outstanding. Superficially, Hemsworth seemed to have the less difficult role, portraying the outgoing playboy, Hunt. The Australian not only bore a strong resemblance to the British-born racer, but also seemed to relish in his scenes featuring Hunt’s penchant for partying hard and womanizing. But Hemsworth also excelled in those scenes that explored other aspects of Hunt’s personality – the insecurity that generally plagues every human being in existence, the emotional chaos of the racer’s breakup with Suzy Miller and his awareness of the tough competition he faced against his rival. Howard selected German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl to portray the Austrian-born Niki Lauda. Like Hemsworth, Brühl had to utilize a different accent. He almost lost the role, when he attempted an obvious fake Austrian accent during his screen test. Thankfully, he prevailed in the end. Some have claimed that Lauda was a difficult personality. If one is honest, most people are individually difficult. However, Brühl was superb in conveying the difficult aspects of Lauda’s blunt personality, while at the same time, making the racer a very likeable character. It takes an actor of great skill to achieve this goal . . . and the latter did a fanstastic job.

Judging from the manner in which I had just raved over “RUSH”, one would start to believe that I could not find any faults with it. First of all, there is an aspect of Mantle’s photography that did not sit well with me. I found it slightly metallic and wish that it could have been more colorful, especially in a film about the heady days of auto racing the 1970s. I missed that sharp color that was apparent in some of Howard’s past films. And I also could have done without the footage of the real James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the movie’s last reels. Such scenes belonged in a featurette about the movie, not in the movie itself. The footage brought back disappointing memories of how Steven Spielberg ended “SCHINDLER’S LIST” and Spike Lee ended “MALCOLM X”.

Aside from my few quibbles, I enjoyed “RUSH” very much. It was a first-class look at two auto racing rivals who not only lit up the racing scene in one memorable season in the mid-1970s with their driving skills, but also their colorful personalities. Thanks to an excellent screenplay written by Peter Morgan, a superb cast led by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and some outstanding direction by Ron Howard; “RUSH” has become one of my favorite movies of 2013. And it has also become one of my favorite sports movies of all time.


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“FAST AND FURIOUS 6” (2013) Review

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“FAST AND FURIOUS” (2013) Review

When “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” first hit the movie screens in 2001, I never imagined that it would be such a major hit . . . or spawn five sequels. The franchise seemed in danger of ending with a whimper with 2006’s “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”, due to its lack of critical success. Three years later saw the rejuvenation of the franchise with the success of 2009’s “FAST AND FURIOUS”. This movie spawned a mini trilogy of its own, culminating in the latest film,“FAST AND FURIOUS 6”

The franchise’s fifth installment, “FAST FIVE” ended with Dominic Toretto and his accomplices reaping the rewards of a successful heist from a Rio drug lord. In the film’s Easter egg segment, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Luke Hobbs learns from U.S. Customs agent Monica Fuentes (from 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”) that Dom’s former girlfriend, Letty Ortiz, is alive and well, and working with one Owen Shaw, a British criminal (and former Special Forces soldier) who had recently pulled a heist on a Russian military convoy. Hobbs and his new partner, Riley Hicks, recruit Dom, Brian O’Conner and other members of the gang who helped pull off the Rio heist; to help them take down Shaw. Hobbes convinces Dom to help him, revealing Letty’s existence and offering full amnesty for past crimes. With the exception of Mia Torretto and former Rio police officer Elena Neves (who remain behind to care for Mia and Brian’s new baby), along with Leo Tego and Rico Santos (who remain on the French Riviera gambling); Dom, Brian and the rest of the gang arrive in London to help Hobbes and Hicks to track down Shaw. Upon their arrival, they discover that Letty has amnesia and that capturing Shaw might prove to be more difficult than they had originally imagined.

After watching “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I came to the conclusion that it was my second favorite movie in the franchise after “FAST FIVE”. However, I am not so sure anymore. There are certain aspects of this latest film that makes me reluctant to view as the franchise’s second best. One, the movie’s premise is not that original – even for a FAST AND FURIOUS movie. In fact, the story premise for “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” bears a strong resemblance to the premise for the 2003 movie, “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”. In that movie, Brian O’Conner and Roman Pearce helped the Feds bring down a Miami-based drug lord in exchange for pardons and clean records. Brian, Roman, Dom and others help Fed Luke Hobbes take down international criminal Owen Shaw for . . . what else? Pardons and clean records. I also had a problem with the Roman Pearce character. I had no problem with Tyrese Gibson’s portrayal of the character. But I found it odd that Roman would immediately drop his airborne love fest with a group of models due to a summons from Dom Toretto, of all people.“FAST FIVE” did not exactly end with Roman and Dom as the best of friends. If the movie had established that Roman had received the summons from Brian, who was his childhood friend, I could accept his immediate decision to join the team. One last problem I had with “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” proved to be a flashback from 2009’s “FAST AND FURIOUS” regarding the origin of Letty Ortiz’s amnesia. The 2009 movie hinted that Letty had been killed by Arturo Braga’s henchman, Fenix Calderon. But a flashback in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” revealed that Calderon missed Letty completely and shot the car to which she was standing near. The car exploded, injuring Letty. Why Calderon failed to confirm her death after the explosion remains a mystery to me. The entire scene struck me as clumsily handled. I also noticed that Dom’s ridiculous “Daddy issues” and desire to be “Papa Toretto” to anyone close to him still remains. When he made a comment at the end of the movie about Brian and Mia’s son, Jack O’Conner, being solely a Toretto, I merely laughed. When he repeated the “joke” again, I began to wonder if he was making a demented attempt to claim the toddler as his own offspring. Right now, I feel that Brian and Mia should leave the Toretto home and purchase their own house to raise their kid.

But despite these problems, “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” turned out to be a pretty damn good movie. The franchise’s street-racing theme played a major part in the efforts of Dom’s team to stop Shaw’s team from carrying out their crimes. This theme was definitely apparent in four scenes. One of them was a car chase through the streets of nighttime London that ended with the team’s failure to capture Shaw, as he was fleeing his hideout. Another scene featured Dom and an amnesiac Letty in a street race that ended in a sexy moment in which the former tried to revive the latter’s memories. There was also the film’s final action sequence at a NATO air strip in which Dom and his team finally prevented Shaw from escaping by plane. I found that particular sequence a little hard to bear, considering that at times, it seemed to go on forever and it was shot at night. The only daytime sequence that featured vehicles on a highway not far from that NATO base in Spain. What made this sequence memorable for was the spectacular car chase that featured an outstanding stunt performed by Tyrese Gibson . . . or his double. There is a spectacular fight scene between Letty and Hobbes’ partner, Riley Hicks, in the London Underground. I heard that Michelle Rodriguez felt a bit wary in doing a fight scene with Gina Carano . . . and I do not blame her, considering the latter is a mixed martial arts champ. There was also a pretty decent Dom and Hobbes vs. Shaw and his men aboard the cargo plane in Spain.

Action sequences were not the only staple that made “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” entertaining for me. The movie also featured some pretty damn good dramatic moments and rather funny scenes. I have already pointed out that sexy moment between Dom and Letty in which the former tried to revive the latter’s memories. I also enjoyed the sequence in which Brian allowed himself to be “arrested” (courtesy of Luke Hobbes’ Federal connections) by the FBI, in order to question former adversary Arturo Braga about Letty’s connections to Shaw. Not only did it featured a humorous reunion between Brian and his former FBI colleague, Special Agent Stasiak; but also a very dramatic one between Brian and Braga. “FAST FIVE” featured the beginning of a romance between Han and Gisele. But their relationship took on a more poignant note in this movie, which I found very satisfying. I especially enjoyed how Roman quickly figured out Han’s true feelings for Gisele. Speaking of Roman and Han, the movie featured a very funny moment in which both of them secretly agreed not to inform the others of their defeat against one of Shaw’s men in the London Underground. In fact, Roman proved to have the best lines in the movie. My ultimate favorite? Read the following scene between him and Tej Parker:

[Roman asks Tej for change to use the vending machine]
TEJ: You’re a millionaire and still asking for money?
ROMAN: That’s how you stay a millionaire.

“FAST AND FURIOUS 6” featured some pretty decent performances. But there were those that stood out for me. I especially enjoyed Tyrese Gibson, who not only proved to be even funnier as Roman Pearce, but shared a nice dramatic moment with Sung Kang, while the two discussed Han’s feelings for Gisele. Michelle Rodriguez gave one of her better performances as an intense and amnesiac Letty Ortiz, who is torn between her confusion over her identity and her growing wariness toward Shaw. Dwayne Johnson continued his energetic portrayal of DSS Agent Luke Hobbes with great style. Luke Evans made a particularly formidable foe as former Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw, who proves to be a very difficult to take down. Then again, the franchise has always featured some first-rate villains. Not only did Vin Diesel provided an unexpectedly sexy performance in one particular scene with Rodriguez, he and Elsa Pataky provided a nice poignant moment between Dom and former Brazil cop Elena Neves, who end their relationship due to Letty’s re-emergence in Dom’s life. However, Paul Walker really surprised me in this film. He has always struck me as mediocre or solid actor in the past. But his acting skills seemed to have grown considerably between “FAST FIVE” and “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”. This was apparent in his scenes with John Ortiz, which featured a hostile reunion between Brian and Braga in a California prison.

I feel that “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” had its share of flaws. But thanks to Justin Lin’s direction, a charasmatic cast and a solid script written by Chris Morgan, I feel that it not only proved to be one of the better films for the summer of 2013, but also one of the better films in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise.

Favorite Movies Set in MIAMI

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Miami, Florida: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN MIAMI

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1. “Bad Boys II” (2003) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starred in this hilarious sequel to their 1995 hit film about two Miami cops who, this time, battle a Cuban drug dealer. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Gabrielle Union, Jordi Mollà and Joe Pantoliano.

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2. “Miami Vice” (2006) – Michael Mann directed this remake of the 1980s television crime drama about two undercover cops for the Miami-Dade Police, who investigate a Columbian drug lord on behalf of the F.B.I. Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell starred.

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3. “Absence of Malice” (1981) – Paul Newman and Sally Field starred in this high-powered drama about a liquor warehouse owner, whose life begins to unravel when a prosecutor leaks a false story about him being involved in the murder of a union leader. Sydney Pollack directed.

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4. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) – Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson starred in this exciting second film in the FAST AND FUIROUS franchise about former cop Brian O’Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce forced to help the Feds arrest a local Miami drug importer in order to clear their names. Directed by John Singleton, Eva Mendes, Chris Bridges and Cole Hauser co-starred.

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5. “The Crew” (2000) – Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Seymour Cassel and Dan Hedaya starred as four retired mobsters who decide to make one last score to save their apartment at a South Beach retirement home. Directed by Michael Dinner, the movie co-starred Carrie-Anne Moss, Jeremy Piven and Jennifer Tilly.

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6. “Bad Boys” (1995) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith first starred together in this funny movie as Miami-Dade cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey; protect a witness to a murder, while investigating a case of missing heroin. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Tea Leoni, Tchéky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano and Theresa Randle.

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7. “The Birdcage” (1996) – Mike Nichols directed Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this funny remake of the 1978 movie “La Cage aux Folles” about a gay couple who pretends to be straight for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancée. Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, and Dan Futterman co-starred.

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8. “Marley & Me” (2008) – Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston starred in this heartwarming adaptation of John Grogan’s 2005 book about the experiences of a journalist and his family with their incorrigible Labrador Retriever. The movie was directed by David Frankel.

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9. “A Hole in the Head” (1959) – Frank Capra directed this engaging comedy about a womanizing widower who struggles to raise his son and hang on to his small Miami Beach hotel. The movie starred Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Edward G. Robinson.

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10. “Moon Over Miami” (1941) – Betty Grable and Carole Landis starred in this charming musical about two Texas sisters who move to Miami in order to meet and marry millionaires. Directed by Walter Lang, the movie also starred Don Ameche and Robert Cummings.

“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

I have never seen a movie from the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise before 2011. Never. I never had the inclination to see any of these movies, despite the series being a consistent cash cow for producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Studios for the past decade. One might begin to wonder what led me to see the franchise’s latest entry, “FAST FIVE”

I might have to retract a little. I did see the first movie, 2001’s “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” last December. Well, I only saw two or three minutes of one of the movie’s early scenes on a large screen television at my local electronics store. But those two or three minutes did not convince me to go see “FAST FIVE”. The movie trailer did. When I first saw it, I had rolled my eyes in disgust at the idea of a fifth FAST AND FURIOUS movie. When I saw the trailer for a second time . . . it intrigued me. Because of this, I decided to end my ban on the franchise and see the movie.

In order to understand the beginning of “FAST FIVE”, one would have to watch the past four movies – especially 2009’s“FAST AND FURIOUS”. That movie, featured law enforcement officer Brian O’Conner’s reunion with the Toretto family – street car racer/thief Dominic “Dom” and his younger sister, Mia – after he had allowed Dom to escape arrest at the end of the first movie. Dom and Brian investigated the murder of the former’s girlfriend, Leticia “Letty” Ortiz and her connection to a major drug lord. Brian made arrangements with the FBI for Dom’s release in exchange for the latter’s assistance in the drug lord’s capture. However, a Federal judge reneged on the deal and sentenced Dom 25 years to life in prison. The movie ended with Brian, Mia and two of Dom’s colleagues (Tego Leo and Rico Santos) attempting to free Dom from a bus en route to the Lompoc Penitentiary.

“FAST FIVE” picked up with Dom’s rescue from the prison bus. Dom, Brian and Mia are forced to leave the United States as fugitives from justice. Upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; they encounter Dom’s former colleague, Vince. He recruits them to participate in steal cars from a moving train, on behalf of a Rio businessman and crime lord named Hernan Reyes. When Dom realizes that one of their fellow thieves, Zizi, is only interested in stealing one car – the Ford GT40 – he has Mia steal the car, while Dom and Brian fight Zizi and his henchmen. The fight results in Zizi’s murder of three DEA agents on board the train. The murders are pinned on Dom and Brian. The trio discover a computer chip from the Ford GT40 that consists of details of Reyes’ criminal operation and locations of $100 million dollars in cash. They decide to rip off the crime lord’s money in order to start a new life, with the help of old friends. Dom, Brian and Mia also discover that a diehard U.S. DSS agent named Luke Hobbs is in Brazil to capture them for the murders of the DEA agents.

When “FAST FIVE” first hit the theaters, many fans and critics declared it to be the best in the franchise. Following my first viewing of the movie, I watched the other four that came before it. Two of them proved to be well-written entertainment; one of them seemed decent, but a little mediocre; and one barely maintained my interest. But “FAST FIVE” definitely turned out to be better than the first four movies. Although the movie featured an extreme car chase through the streets of Rio, it barely touched upon street car racing, a theme that dominated the other four films. In fact, the movie only featured two street car races – a good natured contest between four of the characters and another between Dom and Brian right before the movie’s end credits. In other words, “FAST FIVE” was more of a heist film. And although certain fans had complained about the limited emphasis on street car racing, the critics and other fans had expressed that the heist plot made “FAST FIVE” the best in the franchise. So far.

Not only do I believe that “FAST FIVE” is the best in the franchise, I feel that it is one of the better heist movies I have seen in recent years (aside from 2001’s “OCEAN’S ELEVEN” and 2007’s “OCEAN’S THIRTEEN”). Aside from a small quibble regarding the Vince character, screenwriter Chris Morgan’s plot turned out to be a strong continuation of the first, second and fourth films. Morgan’s utilization of characters from the previous films provided “FAST FIVE” with a strong ensemble cast. In fact, I happily noticed that none of supporting characters had been shoved into the background or overshadowed by the Dom, Brian and Mia characters. Most of the supporting characters have previous connections with Dominic, except for two – Roman Pearce and Tej Parker – who appeared in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” as Brian’s friends. This fifth film provided a warm and humorous private reunion between the three. And thanks to Morgan’s script, the franchise’s theme of family (especially fatherhood) resonated strongly. This theme also led me to view the Dominic/Brian friendship with a jaundiced eye.

The movie’s production also struck me as top notch. Aside from the train robbery sequence, many of the exterior scenes were shot in Puerto Rico and Rio. Director Justin Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon did a first rate job in conveying the elegance, color, chaos and squalor of Rio de Janeiro. I also have to commend Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner for their editing of the film – especially the foot chase through Rio’s Rocinha Favela (shantytown) and the chase sequence throughout the city.

Before I end up gushing over the movie, I do have a few quibbles. The train heist had been shot in Arizona . . . and looked it. I am aware of the scrub lands that exist in Brazil, but the train featured in this sequenced looked as if it was traveling through a very stark and dry looking terrain. And Morgan’s script never revealed how Vince ended up in Brazil. He had last been seen in “THE FAST AND FURIOUS”, being evacuated to hospital by a medivac, after being badly injured in truck heist gone wrong. Had he been convicted following his release from the hospital? How did he end up in Brazil in the first place?

Considering the number of performers featured in the cast of “FAST FIVE”, I figured it would take a separate article to write about them. If I must be honest, there was not a performance that hit the wrong note. I noticed that the movie seemed to have a strong sense of ensemble acting. Not only did the gang of thieves summoned by Dominic and Brian clicked with perfect magic, but Dwayne Johnson and the other actors who portrayed the DSS agents clicked very well as a team. And I could say the same about Joaquim de Almeida as crime lord Reyes and Michael Irby as his henchman, Zizi.

There were some performances that caught my eye. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker made an even stronger screen team, now that the latter’s character (Brian O’Conner) officially became a criminal. And Walker’s chemistry with Jordana Brewster seemed a lot stronger and more stable than it was in the first and fourth movies. Speaking of Walker (again), he was also able to re-create his strong chemistry with Tyrese Gibson, who portrayed his childhood friend Roman, from the second film. As for Gibson, not only did he have the worst line in the movie, he also had most of the best ones. He was dynamic as ever. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges gave a deliciously cool and sardonic performance as Tej Parker. Spanish-born actress Elsa Pataky really connected with Diesel and Johnson in separate films. And it was great to see Almeida in a strong role again. I found his character’s view on the differences between Spanish and Portuguese colonization rather interesting and chilling. Sung Kang (Han Seoul-Oh) and Gal Gadot (Gisele Harabo)’s characters created a surprisingly sexy romance. Tego Calderon and Don Omar made a hilarious screen team as Dom’s old colleagues from the Dominican Republic. And even Dwayne Johnson gave a slightly scary take on the “holy roller” Federal agent, Luke Hobbs.

Considering how long this article is, one would assume that I really enjoyed “FAST FIVE”. And that person would be right. And I find this surprising, considering my initial contempt, when I first saw the movie’s trailer. Not only did I really enjoy “FAST FIVE”, it is one my favorite movie of the summer . . . and of 2011, as well.  I am impressed.