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.

Speed Racers, Pt 4 (Fast & Furious, 2009)

fast_and_furious_004_posterFor the fourth film, they dropped “The” from the title.  Because…saving space on the poster?  I guess?  This film brings it back to the original.  O’Conner is working with the Feds again, while Toretto and Letty are pulling heists.  When Letty is murdered, O’Conner and Toretto’s paths cross again.  Admittedly, it is a bit of a strained relationship.  Dominic is seeking revenge on Letty’s killer, but Brian wants to bring her killer in.  Brian also finds his relationship with Mia rekindled.

In the first film, O’Conner ultimately remained aligned to the side of the law.  His devotion was challenged, and while he did not walk away, he made a choice that cost him the job, but he also stayed on the side of good, so to speak.  This film challenges his faith in the law to make the right choices.

In the hopes of getting Toretto off the wanted list, Brian cuts a deal with his boss…but when the agency jumps the gun and messes up a planned bust of villain Campo, it falls on Brian’s head.  He and Dominic set out to get Campo on their own.

This film is the turning point for the series, it also sets the stage for each film trying to really top the big spectacle of the previous film.  This one opens with a pulse pounding attempt to steal some tankers.  It closes with a high speed chase through narrow tunnels.

Director Justin Lin (who directed Tokyo Drift) can put together a compelling action scene and keep it exciting.  This time around, he has a much moire entertaining film, closer in spirit to the first film.

Speed Racers Pt 1 (The Fast and the Furious, 2001)

fast_and_furious_001_poster2000 and 2001 were a good couple of years for Vin Diesel.  He had a supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but only a small spattering of roles before that.  His other “big” role was the voice of the titular character in Brad Bird’s the Iron Giant.  But between Pitch Black and the Fast and the Furious, Diesel’s  value rose prominently.

Rob Cohen (Daylight and Dragonheart) directed this tale of a young and reckless cop who goes undercover into the world of street racing to try and take down some skilled thieves. He of course, gets drawn in much deeper, falling for the sister of his target.  You can pretty much connect the dots from there.

The fresh faced Paul Walker is special agent Brian O’Conner.  He is trying to catch extremely muscular Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, an infamous street racer and adrenaline junkie thief.  He and his gang are pulling off daring heists using their souped up cars.

The Fast and the Furious never promises to be a new take, and it hits all the beats an “Undercover Cop Gets In To Deep” action movie will take. But it does so entertainingly with fun and daring stunts.  The film is a complete knockoff of the 1991 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze movie Point Break.  A couple years ago that movie got remade.  This is the better “remake”.  The cast is generally likeable, including Jordana Brewster as Mia, the previously mentioned sister who complicates things and Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom’s girlfriend and fellow thief.  The Fast and the Furious is a fun action and popcorn film, though if you told me it would spawn seven more films (and an eighth sequel in the works) I would never have expected it.

Let’s Visit Texas (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning, 2006)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_beginning_posterThe very nature of a horror movie prequel is pretty bleak.  If you are going back to “the beginning”, you pretty much wreck any hopes for a happy ending.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Beginning follows two couples.  The young men are brothers, one returning to duty in Vietnam and the other joining him.  Except the younger brother really does not want to go.  In what seems like a small action, he starts to burn his card, but they find themselves in a car accident.  Who should find them?  Sheriff Hoyt.  Except, now we discover that Hoyt is not the Sheriff at all.  Young Thomas Hewlett went on a slaughtering spree the day they closed the only job he could love…working the slaughterhouse.

 

When the sheriff stops Thomas, he is killed and Hoyt took over the role. When Hoyt finds the burned draft card, he gets irate and starts torturing the brothers.  One of the girlfriends got away, but the other suffers all sorts of torment.  The “Final Girl” (a term used very loosely here) tries to save her friends, but the situation just gets worse, right to the bitter end.  You know she cannot get away…the Hewlett’s have to make sure nobody gets away.

Everything is pretty by the book, and the film lacks any real twists, as it is super busy filling in the blanks from the first film.  These were not necessary to fill in, as they were things like “How did that old guy lose his legs?”  Or “How come Hoyt has fake teeth?”  The answer is that everything happened in this one moment of time in the 60’s.

The cast is pretty decent, and again Ermey is disturbingly entertaining.  But other then that, nothing really stands out.  It is gory and gritty, taking it’s look from the previous film.  But it never quite grabs the viewer in any way.  The characters are under developed, and while sometimes a film can be entertaining enough to give that a pass, this is not the case here.

One interesting note is John Laroquette reprises his role as narrator again, though the film closes with his narration instead of opens with it.

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