I haven’t been reviewing movies much lately (or at all) because, ya know, life. But I recently got one of those dandy MoviePasses, so I’ll probably be hitting you guys with a little more if I get the sudden motivation. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been watching recently.
Ready Player One (3D IMAX BLASTEROID EDITION)
Holy shit. I loved this movie. I’m a sucker for pop culture nostalgia references, and I’m an even bigger sucker for a certain 1980 film set in the Colorado Rockies, so this was the perfect storm for me. I was a big proponent for the book itself, though it is by no means a literary achievement. Like the book, just let yourself be a kid again when watching this. No one does exciting, childlike action quite like Spielberg, and he’s at his fun, 80’s best here. The soundtrack is a blast, the acting is joyously hamfisted, and holy hell, watch this on the biggest, loudest, most 3D screen you can, because this is what a wallet-breaking theater experience is all about.
Isle of Dogs
This is the first movie I have used my MoviePass with, and god damn, I could not have picked a better one. While I really liked Fantastic Mr. Fox, I couldn’t help but feel Wes was holding back a lot to try and appeal to the younger crowd. Being as dark as his comedy usually is, it just didn’t quite feel right watching these foxes not going full Baumbachian-existential-crisis mode. Well, here’s the retry. Dogs is dark, man. Like, not only in tone, but the message delivered, as well. I ate it all up. It’s not only a gorgeous love letter to man’s best friend, but a bitingly nasty take on the world’s political climate. This is a fun watch, and while not a typical Anderson film, it’s enough to satiate long time fans. Put this in the top half of his films.
Ok. Just listen. If you played this at the arcade like I did when I was a kid, you agree that the story behind the action was weak as fuck, but who cares, right? LET’S DESTROY THIS FUCKING CITY! Enter The Rock in a tiny t-shirt (let’s be real, it’s probably an XL) as a Primatologist *giggle* in his early 90’s, Schwarzeneggery best. This is by no means a good movie in the critical sense. And really, there could have been more destruction. But if you go into the movie expecting exactly what this movie is – a dumb arcade game – you’ll probably leave as I did: satisfied with some mutant animals absolutely annihilating a city.
A Quiet Place
Alright, I’m going to blame my experience with this movie on the crowd in the theater – most notably, this Starbucks-sipping basic beezy saying “No, no, no, no don’t, don’t, DON’T” in the most suspenseful of scenes throughout the entire film – but, I’m also going to blame my constant needing to know what other critics think of a film. I don’t always rely on Rotten Tomatoes, especially with horror, but seeing a 95% attached to a straight horror film is still surprising. Was the movie suspenseful, frightening, original, even groundbreaking? Sure. Definitely. Is it meant more to watch at home, away from the buzz of reclining seats, package rustling, popcorn munching, and constant bathroom breaks? For me, absolutely. So, if that shit bothers you like it does me, wait to watch this one at home in the dark. That being said, it’s a cool movie. I’m excited for Krasinski as a filmmaker. He’s definitely got the chops.
Alright, that’s it for me here. This probably sounded like an ad for MoviePass. It’s not in the commercial sense, but you should get one. I haven’t been to the theater this much in one month since I was a kid at the dollar theater on Spokane’s Garland Avenue, so at a measly $10 a month, you should probably get one.
The Fate of the Furious (2017) – Action | Drama
So I recently went through and watched and reviewed every Fast and Furious film (go back and check those articles if you are inclined). Now that there is a new F&F flick to whet my tingly parts, I have decided to write a review. This is the first of the series I have seen in the theater and also the first one I have seen sober. F8 is not the best film in the franchise, but it is pretty damn close. That distinction falls to Furious 7, which packed in tons of action and a great plot. It also features a heart-raping final ode to Paul Walker RIP. F8 has a ton of action and the best plot of the series, but is stalled by its two-hour twenty minute runtime.
So the film opens once more with booties and exotic locales as we travel to Havana, Cuba for Dom and Letty’s honeymoon. Dom is approached by a mysterious woman whom we know by the trailer to be the film’s main antagonist, Cipher, played amazingly by Charlize Theron. After this film and Fury Road, and the trailer for the upcoming Atomic Blonde, Theron is proving to be one of Hollywood’s most reliable ass-kicking action stars, and just like Mad Max, she steals the show. She somehow gets Dom to forsake his family, which if you’ve seen any of these films, you know there are like three things Dom loves; fast cars, family, and Corona beer.
So the most inexplicably badass motherfucker in F&F universe has turned on his wife and heist crew for some unknown reason, stealing an EMP and nuke plans for Cipher. Twist time: Dom has a son with Elena from a couple films ago and they are being held hostage and will die if Dom don’t comply (RHYMES ARE BACK!). The final battle set-piece takes place at a frozen sea in Russia and a nuclear submarine and some badass fucking stunts that do make everything the team has endured worth it. Dom must not only save his son and ex-lover, but save the world from a cyber terrorist. He succeeds.
The casting in this film is top-fucking-notch. Theron is a dream. Kurt Russell is back in Jack Burton form with sly smiles and amazing one-liners. Scott Eastwood is an excellent addition to the team, playing Russell’s assistant. The old standbys return as well; Tyrese is at his most hilarious in all the films. Jason Statham returns, working with the team in order to save his brother from some black site prison. His banter with The Rock is truly a highlight. Helen Mirren plays the foul-mouthed mother of Deckard Shaw and is beautiful in the role. F. Gary Gray gets the best acting out of the whole series in this one and his camera work is fun and fluid, leading to some truly magnificent sequences.
The action is really one of the let downs in this one, however. While the fight scenes are well choreographed and the final act of the film delights endlessly, there is a bit of a slog getting to this point. The plot is captivating, but not mindblowing enough to make up for action sequences we have seen in previous installments in the series. Overall, definitely check out the film. It is a solid flick worth seeing, but realize that there is better fare out in the franchise.
Furious 7 (2015) – Action | Drama
Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Paul Walker RIP and Vin Diesel
Review by Eric Scot Lemons
So I mentioned in the past, The Fast & Furious tends to have a formula that has become a bit stale. Nothing that a new director can’t fix. Furious 7 brings on James Wan to replace Justin Lin, and he brings on the fucking pain. Not only is Furious 7 the best of the franchise, it is easily one of the best action films I have ever seen. James Wan ups the action and films some of the most giddyingly experimental shots I have ever seen. Again, these films feel built around high action stunts and this one does not disappoint with every scene relying on tension.
The plot is simple enough, with Jason Statham coming on as the brother of Luke Evans who wants to avenge his brother, who now rests in a coma. He is a super awesome rogue British operative who has decided to wage war on the Torretto clan. We got Dom still trying to seduce an amnesiac Letty and Brian still trying to come to terms with his role as a father. The Rock is attacked by Statham early in the film and breaks his arm and leg in a fall from a building onto a vehicle, and you know that moment they put the cast on The Rock, how that motherfucker is coming off. So this random fucking government agency led by Kurt Russell in his coolest role since Death Proof asks the Torretto team to recover a hacker who has hidden a device called The God’s Eye, which is essentially Eagle Eye from the Eagle Eye movie; a device which composites all digital surveillance devices (CCTVs and Iphones). If they recover it for the government, the government in turn will let them use it to track and kill Statham. Actually a cool fucking plot comparatively. They recover the device and lose it again in an ambush by Statham and return to LA to recover it. How the fuck do you beat The God’s Eye, a device you can’t escape from? Well, if you are fast and/or furious, you outrun it (and hack it). The Rock returns flexing his arm which causes the cast to break then proceeds to fly an ambulance into a drone!
Cameos abound in this one. We get a creepy call back to Sean from Tokyo Drift that is supposed to take place immediately after the events of the third film, despite the fact that the actor has aged almost ten years since. Ronda Rousey plays a bodyguard that speaks like a statue learning to play a sassy black lady, but is very cool in the fight scenes. This is a film that feels like a cultural event, adding as many well known celebs as possible. It feels like they are taking a page out of The Expendables book, but rounding out the action in a way reminiscent of super spy thrillers like MI:Whatever, instead of campy 80’s bullet slingers.
Let’s get back to the stunts. There is seriously a scene in which Paul Walker RIP is inside a bus edging off a cliff. He ends up on top of it as it starts to teeter downward and he must run the full length of the tilting bus and jump off, only to catch the spoiler of Letty who is Tokyo-fucking-drifting around the edge of the cliff in order to catch him. So that’s awesome, and then they try to steal a car from the penthouse of a high rise and when shit hits the fan, they drive the car out the window into another skyscraper next door. When the brakes go out, they drive the car through that window and into ANOTHER skyscraper. Holy fuck. Seriously, check this movie out.
So on a somber note, this is the film that was in production when Paul Walker RIP passed. They apparently had to finish up his scenes with his two brothers as stand-ins, which is very noticeable in certain shots with that shitty CGI facial shit they do. They also had to rewrite an ending that had Brian decide to be a father instead of continuing to do Torretto missions. There is a sappy goodbye which is clearly intended for Walker RIP, and not Brian (cause everyone in the film lives next door to each other). It was a nice touch. I talked a lot of shit about Walker RIP, especially in early reviews, but as the series continued, Walker RIP became a highlight. I teared up. My wife all out bawled. But I can seriously say that Brian and Walker RIP’s absence will be felt throughout subsequent films.
Thank you for following me on this strange journey and be sure to check out Fate of the Furious when it hits theaters April 14th.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – Action | Drama
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Lucas Black and Sung Kang
Review by Eric Scot Lemons
And then there was Tokyo Drift. The Fast & Furious film chronology can easily be split into two parts, best defined by their look. The first three films produced, of which Tokyo Drift is included, are flashy, neon colored affairs that center almost exclusively on bragging rights involved in racing cars. The later three (that I have seen to this point) are hued in metallics and deep blues, focusing on heists and acrobatics. However, due to the strange chronology of the series, the events of Tokyo Drift take place after the events of the sixth film, in which the character Han dies during a car chase. It is all so confusing and stylistically jarring if you are watching the films in the same order as I am.
Story is not this film’s strong point. If you’ve ever seen a film, you have seen this story play out: fish out of water must prove himself. Sean (Lucas Black) is sent to live in Japan with his father, who I assume is in the Navy because every time he is seen, he is wearing a shirt that says “Navy.” He got in trouble for racing in America, so that’s his punishment. He goes to a formal Japanese school where he doesn’t understand the customs or the language and they suck as much “comedy” out of these situations as possible. He meets Twinkie (Bow Wow) and gets introduced to drifting, or sliding your car. He meets Han and they start racing together, and there are a fuckton of training montages, and a hot girl that the bad guy is dating, and there is a final showdown. So yes, you’ve seen this movie before.
This film is definitely the worst of the old school and therefore, the worst of the series. Lucas Black is brought in to be the Paul Walker RIP analog, which I read was the studio’s decision, believing Walker RIP to be too old to continue making F&F movies, but you showed them, right, Paul? RIP. Black has the badass look but is a terrible actor. There are moments when he is telling someone about something and I just am curious why he wants to kick their ass. His tone never matches the scenes. He is full of unnecessary intensity and creepy unmatched goofiness. Bow Wow is clearly a Ludacris analog. And just like the first film, Asians are corrupt as fuck. The only trustworthy people are expats living in Tokyo – including Han – the best motherfucker of all the motherfuckers.
Let’s talk at length about Han, cause he is my favorite subject when it comes to the Fast & Furious films. Sung Kang is such a natural and cool actor that despite being of Korean descent, isn’t a tech genius or a member of the Yakuza, or a martial arts expert. He is just a charming dude making money – which is what doesn’t make sense. Han’s past with the Torretto clan had him raking in millions and millions of dollars in capers, yet he goes to Japan and runs minor scams and skims money from the Yakuza. High risk, low reward type shit you’d think he’d be over.
Also, at the end of the 6th film, we see Han heartbroken over the loss of his love, Gal Gadot. In Japan, he seems carefree and untouched by any trouble ever. Now, I totally understand that the character was given so much more depth in the subsequent films to be produced after TD, but they could have worked harder to mesh these two worlds. Clearly, Justin Lin just loves working with Kang, whom has such an amazing presence in this world. But makes some connections, dude.
Ultimately, the film is flawed due to its title. This is a film focusing on car drifting. Which sounds cool, but after the first time you’ve seen it, you’ve seen the extent of what is going to happen. It is a highly technical racing skill, I am sure, but doesn’t translate well to film. Especially after I just saw F&F 6 in which there are people flying through the fucking air and grabbing love interests before they fall to their death. And this makes the film a strange subject. Like I’ve said, this film should be seen after 6, but really doesn’t fit in with latter F&F flicks. I knew it was going to be bad going in and it was still such a let down, due to what I am used to from Lin & Co. Try to avoid this one, unless you really love Han, or have to witness every piece of Furious lore. But seriously, it isn’t worth it.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – Action | Drama
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker
Review by Eric Scot Lemons
‘How did we get to this point?’ That seems to be the theme behind Fast & Furious 6; ruminating on the past and decisions made. The crew is back together for another task and this film is packed with emotion, which I guess they felt was missing in the other five flicks. Remember how Letty, the love of Dom’s life, died in a previous movie? Well, she is back. But wait, she has amnesia, which seems to be the go-to, along with ‘evil twin’ for bringing a side character back from the dead. We get to see Dom play the suitor to a girl he’d been boning for years, but he approaches the whole situation in that creepy, too close muttering incoherently in her ear style that I believe James Gandolfini probably perfected as he rounded out to 500 pounds. It is romantic, I suppose, if you know their love story, but amnesiac Letty doesn’t. So he just comes across to the audience as a sexual predator.
So the gang, like I said, is back together. They seem to be the default team random government agencies (this time it is DSS) hire to get bad guys who are hard to get. The bad guy in this one is Luke Evans and he is actually really good, mostly because he has that classic Brit baddy feel. The Rock returns for this one and as always, is an amazing motherfucker. He walks into a room of like 20 overweight security guards at computers and just fucking intimidates them into following whatever plan he had going. But seriously, I have no clue what happened or why it happened in this movie. It is so convoluted and every character’s motivation seems to be some lofty ideal unrooted in reality. The end goal is to be granted amnesty by the US government so they can return home to East LA, but there were moments in which side characters just beat on each other for like 10 minutes, and I actually asked my wife, “Why are they fighting?” Why are they fighting is not a question that should be ever asked in an action film, where good and evil are two distinct opposite stances, but all of these characters seem devoted to being a dick to each other.
What is there really to say about this film? It is good. Not the best one, but it is good. It probably has the best stunts of the entire franchise, with the final set piece involving cars and a massive jumbo jet, and attacks on all fronts. And there is another scene involving a tank and fast cars and a bridge that is two miles suspended above the Earth, or so it would seem. Why? Cause it is fucking awesome, but truth be told, it makes no sense in the film. It just is the way it is.
Dialogue is absolute shit in this, and makes me feel spoiled by Fast Five. Gal Gadot dies in the end, leading Han to go to Tokyo without her because he is Korean. Jordana Brewster unfortunately survives this one, despite her forehead slowly consuming the majority of her skull. Paul Walker RIP kinda takes a back seat to this one, cause this is definitely Dom’s flick. Nos is not featured in the cars, but I swear to fucking god, they make a Nos gun. It sounds made up cause what does that even mean? But there’s a Nos gun.
Ultimately, I asked the same question in this film. How did we get to this point? Everyone seems to be going through the motions. The action has become more cartoonish and the motivations more lazy. These films definitely follow a formula, one that has become increasingly stale. But the end of the film finds the gang returning to LA, time for a reset. Raise their children. Make jokes about each other’s engines. Until some new adventure crests on the horizon.