Speed Racers Pt 7 (Furious 7, 2015)

fast_and_furious_007_PosterThe seventh film in the series that has not apparently run out of gas (and fifth film directed by Justin Lin) finds the team no longer on the run and being a family.  Dom and Letty are working on their relationship, as she has not regained her memory.  Brian and Mia are enjoying parenthood.  Everything is going smoothly…well, except the fact that somebody is trying to murder the crew…and not just the crew, but anyone connected with the take down of Shaw in the previous film.  Which means Hobbs needs to team up with the family once more.

The big threat here?  Shaw’s big brother… uh… Shaw.  Well, this brother gets a first name as well.  Overseeing our intrepid clan is Mr. Nobody…played by Kurt Russell.  Because if your films are full of familiar faces and names… you cannot go wrong adding Kurt Russell to the mix.

Seven ups the stunt ante again…”Gee, we had a tank last time?”  How about skydiving cars?  Cars driven from from skyscraper to skyscraper…via the top floors?  In this film, they crash cars and use pieces of the cars in hand to hand combat.  The Rock picks up a giant gun and starts to shoot down a helicopter.  And then?  It gets nuts.

Overall, it is a pretty solid effort, though false a bit short of the sixth entry.  Part of this is due to the film having been faced with an unexpected tragedy before they were done filming.  After leaving an awards ceremony Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner) and a friend were killed in a car wreck (the friend was driving).  It was very clear from the response of the cast and crew that they had all gotten very close, and were crushed by the loss of their friend.

But this forced some story alterations.  I doubt their plan was to send Brian out of the series.  But now they had to adjust the story to do that.  With help from Paul’s twin brother they filmed some final shots.  The final moments are full of heavy comments about not saying good-bye and how things are never going to be the same.  They are clearly paying their respects to Walker, which is both understandable and touching.  But it does make things a little awkward.

Paul Walker has passed away, but Brian and Mia are just done with adventuring and are going to raise their kids.  Yet, each character speaks as if they will never see Brian and Mia again.

Overall, while not quite as strong as Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a lot of fun…and it could have made a nice finale for the franchise.

Speed Racers Pt 6 (Fast & Furious 6, 2013)

fast_and_furious_006_posterThe sixth film throws in a twist for Dom, Brian and their family.  Letty is back, but now she appears to be their competition.  Hobb’s has let the gang be, seeing as how they have stayed out of the heist scene since their last encounter…but a new crew of high precision vehicle themed criminals.  Hobbs knows he needs help and seeks the skills of Dom and the crew.  The carrot he dangles before them is the discovery that Letty is, in fact, alive and working with this group that is a threat to free nations everywhere.

The core of the story is Dom’s desire to get Letty back, but she seems to have lost her memory.  This allows the film to have some playful and competitive flirtation between the two, but also gives the villain, Shaw, something to use against the crew.  This is fairly effective.  For Brian, he and Mia have a child and are looking at their future.  What this means for Mia is that she is sidelined from the story, which is a bit disappointing for the character, however, the franchise’s cast tends to grow as fast as it loses characters.

And this is a big cast.  The regulars are back and they are all in regular form, firing quips, arguing, and driving real fast.  This film is as fun as the previous entry, with no fear to go big.  For example?  There is a big chase at the end that involves a giant tank.

This series has benefited from having a single director for the past few entries.  The films feel like the story advances and was actually planned, rather than assembled backwards.  Plenty of franchise sequels simply feel like they have the idea and try to fit it in…but it seems like Lin and the writers planned things out in advance.

Fast & Furious 6 continues the upward tick of the franchise, and makes for a fun adrenaline fueled time.

Speed Racers Pt 5 (Fast Five, 2011)

fast_and_furious_005_posterAnd uh…here is where things get a little weird for the franchise.  Because, uh, the fifth film?  It is probably the best film of the franchise at this point.  This film embraces the absurd and becomes a full on heist film.  Brian has joined Dominic as a fugitive after he and Mia free Dominic from a prison bus.

The three go to Rio where they join in an attempt to steal some cars from a train, which goes horribly wrong.  Dominic, Brian and Mia decide they need to get back at the man behind the failed heist…who is one of the most connected men in Rio.  They assemble a team which brings back cast members from the second, third and fourth films.  This means Roman, Han  and Gal Gadot’s Gisele are all back.

To put a wrinkle in their plans?  Dwayne the Rock Johnson.  He is the unstoppable  Government Agent Hobbs.  Hobbs is determined to bring the fugitives in at all costs.  This results in several reversal of fortune moments for the fugitives and Hobbs that keep the viewer on their toes.

The group they have assembled make for a lot of fun.  While Roman and Tej provide a lot of the comic relief, the film has a lot of fun with the flirtation between Gisele and Han.  The core relationship of Dominic, Brian and Mia hold this group together.

Lin provides multiple exciting sequences, both in and out of cars.  The cat and mouse with Hobbs culminates in an exciting chase through the streets of Rio with cars pulling a giant safe.  I mean, like a vault.  And even that has a giant twist.

Like I said, this film embraces the absurd, not worrying if anything is to over the top.  The end result is a fun bit of action based escapism.

Mythical Voyagers (Moana, 2016)

moana_posterDisney’s Moana is the second time they have visited Polynesian.  The first was the fun Lilo and Stitch. This time around, Moana goes for mythical adventure.

Moana is a young woman, destined to be chief of her island, like her father before her.  But part of her longs to go beyond the reef at the entrance to the island’s cove.  She tries to fulfill her duties, and is doing well, until she suggests going beyond the reef, as the fishermen are catching no fish.  The coconuts are spoiling.

The reason is, because long ago, the Demi-God Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti…and this resulted in a malevolent force spreading across the sea.  Moana’s people have not left the island for fears of what lies beyond the reef, but Moana finds no choice when the sea gives her the Heart of Te Fiti.  She seeks out Maui to make him right his wrong.  The two are forced to endure each other on the mission.

Mismatched heroes is nothing new, and yet, the personalities of Moana and Maui are quite charming.  This is in spite of the fact that Maui is a tremendously egotistical guy who sees everything he has done as heroic.  Moana is both responsible and adventurous, which is a bit more unique.  Often, it seems brash and impulsive heroes have to learn the lesson of responsibility.  Not Moana.

The fact is, rather than take the easy route of making impediments for Moana some brand of villain?  They opted for making them likeable and relatable.  The one time we see Moana’s father express anger, it is not cruel or abusive.  It is out of personal fear that Moana may be to much like him.  Her parents are loving.  Her grandmother is gentle, wise and goofy.

The writers and Dwayne Johnson are able to imbue Maui with charm even when he is being stubborn and selfish.  You want to see him turn it around.

The animation in Moana is vibrant and beautiful.  It is fluid, like the ocean it crosses.  The concept of Maui’s tattoos being a living part of him that act as a conscience is a terrific idea.  It is also worth noting that the tattoos are hand drawn and animated.  They are seamless with the digital animation.

The songs, by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina are both powerful and engaging fun.  The more Polynesian influenced songs play, they swell and explode with a certain power.  The more pop songs (there is one Bowie-esque songs that is truly enjoyable) make you want to move.

The story is inspiring, built on thoughtful dialog, along with a whole lot of humor.  I have tried to find something not to like.  But you know what?  I cannot.  Moana was pure joy to watch.

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