It’s a bird….It’s a plane….It’s….”Man of Steel” (2013)

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As I mentioned on my Facebook fanbase page earlier last week, I was planning to review all of the live-action Superman movies, including the recently-released “Man of Steel”.  Because of the mixed reception “Man of Steel” received so far, I saw it fit to address the public on my personal opinion of the movie. Therefore, instead of me going into lengthy detail on the previous Superman movies, I’ll simply talk about them in my intro to today’s post, and follow that up with my fair and balanced “Man of Steel” review.

 

With the exception of the feature-length animated films which were mostly, if not always, pretty decent in their own rights, the live-action Superman movies were always hit-and-miss, with more misses (3) than hits (2). 1978’s “Superman”, directed by Richard Donner, is still the definitive superhero origin story and is one of, if not the, greatest superhero movies ever conceived. It has a strong cast including Marlon (“The Godfather”) Brando (SIDE NOTE: I could never understand why the guy says “Kripten”. It’s “KRYPTON”, not Kripten. Sounds like the name of a fucking cereal! Jeez!), Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve (who was literally born to play Clark Kent/Superman), a great script written by Mario Puzo (author of “The Godfather”) and a timeless musical score by John Williams (the iconic “Superman March” theme song alone gives me goosebumps every time I hear it). Its follow-up, “Superman II”, found the character of Superman in a perilous situation where, after sacrificing his Kryptonian powers for the opportunity to live a human life with his love interest Lois Lane, he’s forced to battle three Kryptonian criminals (General Zod, Ursa and Non) bent on conquering Earth. Yes, there was a greater emphasis on action sequences (made apparent in a ridiculously over-the-top, but  VERY BAD-ASS, battle between Superman and the three Kryptonians),  and it wasn’t as emotionally moving as its predecessor, but “Superman II” was, and still remains, a solid entry in the Superman movie franchise.

 

“Superman III”, directed by Richard Lester, abandoned the emotional beats and cinematic magic that the previous films provided, and, in a controversial and altogether bitch move, supplied slapstick humour. Yes folks, before “Batman Forever”, “Batman & Robin” and “Spider-Man 3”, “Superman III” was the first superhero movie sequel to add cheesy, unneeded comedy into its story. The talents of the late, great comedian/actor Richard Pryor (the inspiration behind nearly every African-American comedian/comic actor out there) is wasted as he plays the bumbling co-star to Christopher Reeve (though they only get less than five minutes of screen time together). The plot, involving an evil businessman and his quest to create a supercomputer to rule the world financially, is poorly-written and poorly-executed. There was an unexpected turn of events when Superman turns “evil” thanks to some manufactured Kryptonite, and it results in the film’s best scene where the “evil” Superman fights the “good” Clark Kent (Metaphysically? I’m still not sure) in a junkyard. But everything else is either corny (like when Superman freezes a lake with his ice breath, LIFTS the motherfucker and drops it onto a chemical plant engulfed in flames), eye-rollingly boring (like the moments where Clark tries to rekindle a friendship/romance with high-school sweetheart Lana Lang – played by a pretty-looking Annette O’ Toole who played Clark’s mother in the recent Superman soap opera TV show “Smallville”) and facepalm-worthy (the most famous example being Pryor giving Superman a bro-shake! It’s in the trailer. You really don’t need to sit through 2 hours of this movie to see it).

 

In 1987, the Superman movie franchise fell with the force of a meteor the size of Texas (Yeeeeeah, that was an “Armageddon” reference. Don’t ask me how that got here!) and crash-landed into the nether regions of Earth, thanks to Sidney J. Furie’s (who?) infamous “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”.  Produced by Cannon Films (the company behind some of the 1980s’ most godawful action movies – a few of which starring Chuck Norris….hmmmmmm), “The Quest for Peace” takes Christopher Reeve’s seemingly interesting premise (yeah, he WROTE the story) of Superman acting as a world ambassador against the nuclear powers of America and Russia, and turns into a celluloid disaster where he fights a solar-powered Superman clone (made by a strand of Superman’s hair, which he DONATED to a museum, in case you give a shit) by the name of Nuclear Man. This movie, cinematic eye torture that it is, is insanely funny – unintentionally, that is. There are moments that defy logic, gravity and intelligence, like when Superman collects ALL the world’s nuclear missiles into a gigantic net and hurls it into the sun, the fake-looking sequences of Superman flying in the air (they use this particular image of Superman in flight about EIGHT times or so throughout the entire movie)….

 

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…. the fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man where bits of green-screen encapsulates each combatant, a sleep-and-you-miss-it moment where Nuclear Man’s female prisoner/damsel in distress BREATHES in outer space, and of course, Superman pushing the moon with his bare hands to create a solar eclipse. Wow. The end was indeed nigh for Superman.

 

In the 1990s, he found new life in the fairly decent (but not that memorable) TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”  and the EXCELLENT “Superman: The Animated Series”. In late 2001, the soap opera TV show “Smallville” , which focused on the teenage years of Clark Kent before he became Superman, came out. But it was 2006 that saw Supes’ triumphant return to the big screen with director Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns”. Starring Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and  Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, “Superman Returns” serves as a sequel after “Superman II”, completely ignoring “Superman III” and “Superman IV”. The movie touches on…well….Superman’s return to Earth after he left it for five years to search for distant remains of his home-world Krypton, which, as you should know, was destroyed in “Superman”. He tries to re-establish himself as a hero and saviour to the masses who’ve basically moved on with their lives following his “disappearance”. The problem with “Superman Returns” is that, like the “masses” in the movie, the world has moved on from the first two Superman films. The movie itself lacked the joy, humour and fun of the films that Bryan paid homage to, and tried desperately to keep itself afloat with pathetic attempts to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings (Superman in a coma at a HOSPITAL, guys? REALLY?!), a great abundance of peril as opposed to action (’cause it was 2006 – and audiences really wanted to see Superman kick ass, not see a bullet bounce off his fucking eyeball) and a continual “dumbing down” of Superman, making him come across like a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex (I swear: the scene where he gazes at Lois’ son while he’s sleeping is STRAIGHT-UP CREEPY, yo!).

 

In retrospect, “Superman Returns” wasn’t terrible, and I give credit to Bryan Singer for paying homage to the first two Superman films. I mean, he got Brandon Routh (who was aight as Superman) to look and act like Christopher Reeve. However, it was light years away from being the Superman film that modern audiences desired. Which leads us to director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated and admittedly over-hyped “Man of Steel”. Is it the Superman film to end all Superman films, or is it just another futile effort to make the Man of Steel relevant in this generation? Time to find out!

 

 

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“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) –  Not to be confused with country singer Hank Williams Jr.’s 1983 album of the same name, “Man of Steel” reboots the Superman movie franchise and re-visits the origin story presented in the first film. While Krypton faces imminent destruction,  scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) become the proud parents of a baby boy that they call Kal-El. When the vicious General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup d’état against the ruling council to acquire a genetic codex that will preserve the Kryptonian race, Jor-El and Lara place Kal-El in a spaceship bound for Earth. Though it’s not shown in the film, but is already part of Superman’s lore, the spaceship crash-lands near a farm in Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El is discovered by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and they adopt him as their own child. During his adult years, Clark Kent (Kal-El’s new name given by his Earth parents) becomes a drifter of sorts, helping individuals, if need be, with his superhuman abilities while keeping them at bay. In the Arctic region, Clark discovers a Kryptonian scout ship, and a hologram of Jor-El (think of it like the hologram image of 2Pac at last year’s Coachella event in Los Angeles) inside, which informs him of his Kryptonian heritage and reveals to him the Superman suit – which….duh…. he puts on. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a newspaper journalist from the city of Metropolis sent to investigate the ship, later stumbles onto Clark and realizes that he’s the mysterious “superhuman saviour” she’s been obsessing over. Shit gets real when General Zod and his army arrive on Earth, looking for the genetic codex which they believe Clark Kent has in his possession. They will stop at nothing to get it back – even if it means wiping out Metropolis and its populace. Now the last son of Krypton must reveal himself to the world, and subsequently save it from the forces of the maniacal General Zod.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, “Man of Steel” received mixed reception upon its release. Some reviewers fell over themselves to praise this movie, while others were underwhelmed by what the kind folks at Warner Bros., DC Entertainment and Syncopy Inc. offered to them on a silver platter. Because of the reception it received, I was forced to lower my “hype” levels (which were off the Richter scale since the Nokia trailer came out a few weeks ago) and approach the movie with medium expectations. And for the most part, I appreciated “Man of Steel” for what it tried to do. The story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (who collaborated on the stories for Nolan’s critically-acclaimed Batman films i.e. “The Dark Knight Trilogy”) literally deconstructs that of the origin of Superman. The intention behind sending Kal-El to Earth is changed, General Zod has a goal now and doesn’t come across as a conqueror with delusions of grandeur like in “Superman II”, and the dual identity of Clark Kent and Superman is, at long last, presented in a plausible, non-cliched, manner. The special effects and visuals were SPECTACULAR, and the sound design was very impressive. On the subject of acting, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe, the two father figures of Superman, are the best performers in the movie, with everyone else (even Henry Cavill who was quite good as Superman) gunning for second and third place.

 

I must admit there are flaws in “Man of Steel”. Keep in mind: I don’t intend to be bitchy and nit-pick every wrong thing about the film. That’s not what this blog is about. Besides, every fucking movie has flaws. Fortunately, there aren’t that many flaws in this movie, but there are enough to challenge your overall enjoyment of the movie. Firstly, the main problem I had with the film was the way the story and how it was told. I appreciated the idea of foregoing the traditional linear narrative and relying on flashbacks to fill in the gaps between the fall of Krypton to present day. But I felt that the pacing was off in a number of instances, and the editing certainly didn’t improve the situation. Also, there were little moments where you got to really understand the characters, more particularly Superman himself, and their motivations. They seem to be propelled forward into this story because they’re expected to. Clark must become Superman, Superman must save Lois, Superman must fight Zod and so forth because they’re expected to – since this is a Superman movie and all that shit.  Second problem I had was the camerawork. I appreciated the idea of director Zack Snyder deviating from his visually stylized directorial style that he perfected in films like  “300”, “Watchmen” (still the best superhero team movie ever made. UP YOURS, FANS OF “The Avengers”!!) and quite recently “Sucker Punch” (*cough* BULLSHIT! *cough*) and instead, opting for a pseudo-realistic, hand-held-like approach to the film. However, the lack of stability in the camera in certain scenes looks sloppy and unprofessional, and the unnecessary quick zooms into objects in the middle of the frame look and feel like a rip-off of director Joss Whedon’s similar, but better-executed, camera technique that he popularized in his CLASSIC TV show “Firefly”, its spin-off movie “Serenity” and, of course, last year’s “The Avengers”. Third problem was the over-scoring. Composer Hans Zimmer creates yet another PHENOMENAL musical score in his career with “Man of Steel”. Problem is, his music is used to an annoying degree in like 90% of the film’s 143-minute running time. In the emotional moments, there’s music. In the fast-paced moments, there’s music. Even in the quiet moments, there’s fucking music! No wonder the soundtrack album is so goddamned long! Finally, I felt that the heart and emotion in the movie were severely lacking, as compared to the first two Superman films. Don’t get me wrong! There are emotional, heartfelt moments, especially in the flashback scenes (and quite a number of them in this movie, I might add) involving Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. But they come too far and few between thanks to a large number of intense action sequences. I will admit these scenes were jaw-droppingly BAD-ASS and fun to watch on the big screen. The climatic fight scene between Superman and Zod alone (cartoonishly over-the-top as it was at times) is worth the admission price, and it was the one thing that audiences expected to see in “Superman Returns”, but instead got a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex. Now when I say emotion, I don’t mean another Superman hospital scene.  What I’m referring to is emotional investment in the characters. For example, the action-packed section of the third act would’ve worked better (and stood out more) if the audience was aware of how Superman felt when he valiantly put his life on the line to save the citizens of Metropolis. Some may argue that it’s just a comic-book movie and you don’t need emotion in a comic-book movie. But even films like “Iron Man”, “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “The Avengers” had characters that you connected with on an emotional level, and you were invested in their actions because of this connection. To me, I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to Superman and I couldn’t help but feel detached from his character as a whole.

 

Ultimately, “Man of Steel” is far from the best Superman movie ever made, but it’s also far from the worst. Apart from the over-abundance of action sequences and downplaying of emotion and actual substance, this movie does show promise of what the future of the Superman movie franchise holds. With a 2014 sequel and a possible “Justice League” live-action movie in the works, I expect to see more character development in this new Superman, and a greater emphasis on story rather than spectacle. Despite the flaws that I mentioned above, “Man of Steel” is still a worthy summer blockbuster/popcorn flick and will be one of the most talked-about and memorable films of the year. Personally, I have no problem watching this movie again. Maybe I’ll appreciate the movie a lot more after a second viewing. Who knows? I can safely say that “Man of Steel” won’t claim the Number 1 spot in my “Best Films of 2013” list – which is unfortunate since I was rooting for it to be the best movie of this year. However, I do think it will find a spot on my list  – but not in the Top 5. But then again, that’s my point of view. My criticisms of the film shouldn’t stop you from seeing it (again – if you’re like me) so please check it out as soon as you can. And feel free to drop a comment or two on your thoughts on “Man of Steel”.

 

MY RATING –  3  1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”).

– Matthew

 

(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “Fast Five” (2011); “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)

And now – the season finale of “(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews”.

 

Less than two months ago, director Justin Lin announced that “Fast & Furious 6” – the latest installment in the Fast & Furious anthology – will be his final contribution to the series. James Wan, director of 2004’s “Saw” (the first and best in the now-deceased … hopefully …. horror franchise), the 2003 short film that inspired it and 2011’s okay-ish “Insidious”, was announced as the director of the next sequel. Yes, ladies and gents, we’re getting a “Fast & Furious 7”. DEAL WITH IT ALREADY! But for now, I’m not worried about the franchise’s future, but I am curious as to how a guy who spent his career making nothing but horror movies will be able to handle a franchise about fast cars and high-speed chases. I guess that question will be answered by July 11th 2014 (the proposed date for the movie’s release (FFF fans, mark your calendars).

 

So were Justin’s final two Fast & Furious films worth it? Let’s find out!

 

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“FAST FIVE” (2011) – Previously in the Fast & Furious anthology, “Fast & Furious” (2009) sucked! And now we have “Fast Five”,  which begins exactly where the previous film left off. Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. While Dom’s being transported to the prison by bus, Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker) (who had resigned from the F.B.I. at the end of “Fast & Furious”….oops, there goes a spoiler alert) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) stage a daring vehicular assault on the bus to save Dom. Fleeing the authorities, Dom, Brian and Mia head to Rio de Janeiro. Days later, the trio, along with their old comrade Vincent (Matt Schulze) (you know, from the first Fast & Furious movie) pull off a job in which three cars are stolen from a train occupied by D.E.A. agents.  One of these cars, a Ford GT40, is of extreme importance to a ruthless Brazilian drug lord named Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Meanwhile, a Diplomatic Security Service agent by the name of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) arrives in Rio de Janeiro with his team to arrest Dom, Brian and Mia for the murders of the DEA agents on the train – which, of course, they didn’t commit. Hobbs requests the assistance of Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), a Rio police officer, in his mission. Meanwhile, Dom and Brian discover a computer chip in the GT40, which contains details concerning Hernan’s drug money. Apparently, Hernan has US$100 million dollars stashed away, and Dom wants all of it.  But in order to get this money, Dom, party planner that he is, needs a crew. Looking through the casting lists from the previous three Fast & Furious movies (just kidding, folks),  Dom calls up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) (both from “2 Fast 2 Furious”), Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) (from “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious”), and Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), Leo Tego (Tego Calderon) and Omar Santos (Don Omar) (also from “Fast & Furious”) to help him, Brian and Mia out. Dom informs his crew that this will be their “last job”. Once they take all of Reyes’ money, they can leave their thieving pasts behind and move on with their lives. Will they succeed or will Luke Hobbs beat (and I mean, literally beat the shit out of) them to the chase? Or will Hernan Reyes get to them first? And will it really be their “last” job?

 

To answer that final question – AWWW HELL NAW! If it was their last job, then there wouldn’t be a…….

 

 

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“FAST & FURIOUS 6” (2013) –  DURRRRRH!! Ahem…anyhoo, after successfully pulling off the heist in “Fast Five” (sooooo not a spoiler alert), Dom and his crew are officially retired from jacking electronics, cars and big-ass vaults. Brian and Mia are parents to a baby boy named Jack (Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!), Tej and Roman continually splurge in their earnings (Roman even has his own private jet – ain’t that some shit?), Gisele and Han (who hooked up in the previous film) moved to Hong Kong, Leo and Omar (though they’re practically non-existent in this movie for some weird reason) were last shown gambling in a Monaco casino, and Dom and Elena are a couple now (who’d have fucking thought?). While they live the good life, the hard-working DSS agent Luke Hobbs and his female partner Riley Hicks (played by former mixed martial artist Gina Carano)  investigate the destruction of a Russian convoy by ex-British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew. One of the members of the crew is Dom’s presumed-dead girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) who, as revealed in a pre-end credit scene in “Fast Five” (oopsie….another spoiler alert), is STILL ALIVE! DUM DUM DUMMMMMMM!!! Hobbs tracks down Dom (’cause tracking criminals is what Hobbs does best – cue Tigger laugh) and requests his help (and his crew’s) in bringing down Shaw. In return, they’ll get full amnesty for their past crimes, which will allow them to return to  U.S.  soil. Dom agrees, and calls up Brian, Tej, Roman, Gisele and Han for the mission. Will our heroes succeed this time in vanquishing evil? And how will they deal with Letty, now that she’s on the bad side? Do all roads really lead to this – as stated in the film’s poster? And what is “this” exactly? Is it tangible or intangible? And where the fuck are Leo and Omar? Did they have their phones off when Tej tried to call them? Or did they misplace them somewhere in that casino in Monaco? And who’s bigger – Vin Diesel or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? You can find out the answers to these and more burning questions in “Fast & Furious 6”!

 

MY THOUGHTS:   Director Justin Lin certainly learned from his mistakes from his previous films “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious”, and made up for it with “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” which are, by far, the BEST (yeah, I said it!) and most entertaining entries in the Fast & Furious series thus far. “Fast Five” took specific elements of the previous films – be it major like the vehicle-assisted heist element of Part One and the over-the-topness of Part Four, or minor like the humour and dumb fun of Part Two and the “drifting” aspect of Part Three, and injects them into a major adrenaline rush of a movie. The acting is pretty decent (for a Fast & Furious movie), the characters are better-developed (also, for a Fast & Furious movie), and the story (which brilliantly fuses action, comedy and drama) is always fast-paced and engaging. The action is more insane and illogical than before (this is a Fast & Furious movie after all), especially in the climatic (and incredibly AWESOME) chase scene where a vault is dragged (by two cars) through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson ultimately steals  the show from Vin Diesel and proves that there can be more than one bad-ass in the proverbial ring. Speaking of “ring”, the two get the chance to duke it out in a brutal (even by PG-13 standards), WWE-like fight scene later on in the film. Why this fight failed to gain a fucking nomination for Best Fight at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” won it, in case you actually gave a shit) remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. Die-hard F&F fans may complain about “Fast Five’s” lack of pure racing sequences – although there is one short race scene with our heroes driving in police cars. But the movie succeeds in showing that there can be more to the Fast & Furious franchise than just generic street races. Two years ago, on the first Best of the Year list I made on this blog, I rated “Fast Five”  as the FIFTH best movie of 2011. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy putting a movie called “Fast Five” in the number five slot, but two years later, my views haven’t changed. It succeeds as a rejuvenation of a franchise that literally ran out of gas since the previous two films. “Fast Five” is sheer entertainment from start to finish, and guaranteed to satisfy fans and non-fans of the series.

 

“Fast & Furious 6” sticks with the winning formula of “Fast Five”, but like most sequels nowadays (*COUGH*“Star Trek Into Darkness”*COUGH), this movie is surprisingly dark. It’s almost as if Justin Lin took the dark tone of “Fast & Furious” and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The action is more intense, the stakes are way higher and the tone is more grim. Yes, the action set pieces are more over-the-top in this F&F entry (in two respective scenes, which have to be seen to be believed, our heroes face off against a TANK and bring down a PLANE), but with the exception of the tank sequence, the other major action sequences take place at night (which further adds to the movie’s dark tone). Fortunately, “Fast & Furious 6” maintains the humour and fun (which I stated was sorely lacking in “Fast & Furious”) that the previous film presented. The acting, like before, is still pretty decent – though I personally felt that Luke Evans  (who plays his role well enough) didn’t stand out that much as a villain. He was menacing, yes, and he orders his goons to do menacing things, yes, but he deserved more screen time and a bit more character development to make his Owen Shaw character more effective. Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who looks ridiculously bigger than Vin when they’re framed together) continue to kick ass – not at each other (since they’re buddies now) but to the bad guys. On the subject of kicking ass, Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano get the opportunity to beat the shit out of each other – and my goodness, is it entertaining to watch!  And for you hardcore F&F fans who yearned for an authentic street race in “Fast Five”, there IS one in this movie. Rejoice, my brothers and sisters, and again I say rejoice! Ultimately, “Fast & Furious 6”  is Justin Lin’s heartfelt tribute and farewell to the franchise.  He combines the seriousness of “Fast & Furious” with the anything-goes mentality of “Fast Five” and even ties the events of this film with that of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” – and for the most part, it works. Due to a few editing and pacing issues in the film, however, I still prefer “Fast Five” over this one (only by a  tiny bit though) . But “Fast & Furious 6” does manage to top its predecessor in more ways than one, and I did enjoy the shit out of it, which is more than enough for me to recommend this movie.  Maybe by the end of this year, it’ll claim the number six slot in my upcoming Best Movies of 2013 list. But who can say? There’s a lot more great movies coming out this year – one of which involves a certain Man of Steel (which will be the basis of my next post, by the way). So….yeah, we’ll see.

 

In closing, I can envision the Fast & Furious series going further and farther than before. Whenever I look at the “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” posters, I take notice of the expanse of sky in each frame. And I can’t help but think that someday, in the not-too-distant future, there’ll be a “Fast & Furious 10” where a middle-aged Dom Toretto and Brian O’ Conner (with his rebellious teenage son in check, of course) fly gigantic starships at top speed through the far reaches of space, with a cataract-suffering Luke Hobbs on their tails. Hey, Christopher Lloyd said it before in “Back to the Future”: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.

 

MY RATINGS – 

“Fast Five” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“Fast & Furious 6” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew

(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006); “Los Bandoleros” (2009); “Fast & Furious” (2009)

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Last season on “A Legally Black Blog”, I reviewed the first three (and a prelude between the first and second) films in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Today, I’ll continue this silly project of mine by reviewing the third and fourth entries in the series.

 

After handling production on the first two Fast & Furious films, Neal H. Moritz went on to produce the 2004 biker equivalent to “The Fast and the Furious”: “Torque”. Directed by Joseph Kahn (i.e. the guy who, even though he directed Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, Eminem’s “Love the Way you Lie” and Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” music videos, you genuinely don’t give a shit about him) and starring Martin Henderson, Ice Cube and Jay Hernandez, “Torque” elevated itself from a campy, so-bad-it’s-good action movie to a logic-defying (in one scene, Martin rides a bike at top speed – assisted by NOS, of course – with NO fucking helmet on), so-bad-it’s-bad pile of horseshit in a matter of seconds. And yes, I was one of many who suffered through 84 pain-inducing minutes (end credits included) of that cinematic flop.  But I can imagine the Fast & Furious fans burning their “Torque” ticket stubs and offering them to the car gods as they prayed for yet another Fast & Furious movie. Universal Studios (in their infinite wisdom) green-lighted the next Fast & Furious film, aptly titled “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”. For this latest outing, Moritz hired Asian-American director Justin Lin (after being impressed by his 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow”) to handle directorial duties. Lin must have made some impression on Moritz, as they would collaborate together in the subsequent Fast & Furious movies: “Fast & Furious”, “Fast Five” and this year’s “Fast & Furious 6”.

 

Though not as memorable and positively-received (to a point) than “The Fast and the Furious” and “2 Fast 2 Furious”, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious” were both commercially successful in the box office. But how do they fare in 2013?

 

Not that well, I’m afraid.

 

 

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“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT” (2006) – The third entry in the series introduces a new character to the masses: 17-year old Sean Boswell (Lucas Black).  Now you’re probably thinking: “What the fuck”, right? What does this (presumably) young dude have to do with the epic, sprawling saga that is “The Fast and the Furious”? Well, he starts off the film as a student at a typical American high school. After a montage of random moments of high-school life (which was a really unorthodox way of opening a Fast & Furious movie), Sean tries to hit on a girl (*cough*slut*cough – I’m not kidding. She was) who just so happens to be the girlfriend of some douchebag . The douchebag challenges our hero to a race, where the winner gets the girl (*cough*slut*cough). The race itself , set to Kid Rock’s still-dope-as-fuck 1999 rap metal smash hit (ridiculous title aside) “Bawitdaba” (at this point, you may find yourself visually stimulated by this impressive racing sequence, or head-banging to the music, or both), doesn’t end well for Sean. His mother gets him off the hook, but due to his previous criminal activities, she sends him to live with her estranged husband in Tokyo. He goes to a new school and meets an American student nicknamed Twinkie (former child rap star turned Ciara’s ex turned “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker supposed to make me buy your fucking album? Negro, please” mature rapper turned current co-host of B.E.T.’s “106 & Park” to pay the I.R.S. Bow Wow) who introduces him to Tokyo’s drift racing scene. Sean falls for an attractive Australian schoolgirl named Neela (Nathalie Kelley) who just so happens to be the girlfriend of Takashi (Brian Tee), nephew of Yakuza member Kamata (played by the original “Street Fighter” Sonny Chiba – who played Hanzo Hattori in the monumentally excellent “Kill Bill Vol. 1”) and self-proclaimed “Drift King”. Takashi or “DK” (not to be confused with Donkey Kong, folks) as people call him, challenges Sean to a race. See? Same shit, different country. Anyhoo, DK’s friend Han (Sung Kang – who’ll reprise his role in the next Fast & Furious movies, by the way) lends our hero a car for the race. DK uses his drifting skills with his car to win the race, and of course, Sean smashes the shit out of Han’s car. Sean is forced to work for Han as payment for his smashed-up ride. Fortunately, Han trains him in the ancient ways of drifting, and after a montage of drifting practice (which would’ve been more effective if the Sesame Street song “Practice, Practice” – you know, the one sung by “Bob” (remember that guy?) was playing throughout it), Sean becomes a drifting champion. And…..we have our movie.

 

If it’s one thing the Fast & Furious series taught me so far, it’s that if you’re a guy, and you really know how to drive a car, you’ll get the girl in the end. And while it’s obvious to anyone over the age of 12, that’s exactly what happens at the end of “Tokyo Drift”. I give Justin Lin credit for trying to add a different spin on the series at that point. The film is less flashy than its predecessors, and actually tries to emphasize more on story than fast-paced racing. Problem is, the film, with its combination of cliched scenarios (protagonist-learning-about-responsibility; fish-out-of-water; underdog-overcoming-the-odds) gets old and boring right after the opening race, and the lack of charisma in the cast (and bad acting by most) doesn’t help. Sure, it picks up after each racing sequence (the middle one being the best, and most pivotal, in the entire film) but then the movie gets dull again. The characters are uninteresting, with the exception of Han whose character was downplayed for some weird reason, and Kamata who exuded a much-needed sense of bad-assery in the film. Even Dominic “Dom” Torretto from the first Fast & Furious movie was interesting. And speaking of Vin Diesel, he appears in the last couple of minutes before the end credits (spoiler alert) where he hints that he knew Han (who he calls “family”) and challenges Sean to a race. Cutting to black (another cliche), and then displaying a fucking disclaimer about “not attempting any of the stunts shown in the movie – blah blah blah”, was a really shitty way of ending the movie though. On the plus side, the racing sequences were well-done, the Tokyo locale was a welcome change in scenery for the series so far, and the music was bearable enough (although Teriyaki Boyz’ “Tokyo Drift (Fast & Furious)”, hate it or love it, may find itself on auto-repeat in your head after you see this movie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”  isn’t the most memorable of the series (many Fast & Furious fans will agree with me on this) as it lacks the style that the first two films presented, but it’s far from terrible. Besides, if you’ve been on board with the series so far, you haven’t seen “terrible” yet. But first….

 

 

“LOS BANDOLEROS” (2009) –  While the title sounds like that of an Encore Westerns feature presentation, “Los Bandoleros” is actually the second short film in the Fast & Furious series and a prelude to “Fast & Furious”. Mind you, it’s not directed by Justin Lin. Instead, the director hat belongs to Vin Diesel – of all people. Anyway, this short focuses on Dom Torretto who (if you watched the first film) fled to Baja, Mexico, to escape the police. Five years later, he’s in the Dominican Republic, working as a mechanic in a small town. He’s offered a proposition by some politician named Elvis to hijack a fuel tanker to supply the townspeople with gas. Dom has his local crew ready: Tego “Teddy” (played by Puerto Rican reggaeton icon Tego Calderon), Omar Santos (another Puerto Rican reggaeton icon Don Omar) and Cara Mirtha (Mirtha Michelle). Han (who’s revealed to have met Dom in Mexico) flies down to assist Dom, and even Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) rears her scowling face. And she gets to be all intimate with Dom in the film’s last five minutes or so, since they’re in love and all that icky shit.  As a whole, “Los Bandoleros” is fucking awful.  There’s no action, no car races, no car chases and not much of a story. You do get an overall sense of the set-up for the first part of “Fast & Furious” (the tanker job) but it doesn’t even get you hyped for what happens next. Instead of a cliffhanger (of sorts), you get some boring-ass conclusion with Dom and Letty on the beach, making out. If the idea was to showcase their relationship before they…ahem… parted ways in “Fast & Furious”, then why wait until the last five minutes to show them together? Why spend a huge chunk of the story showing Dom interacting with the other members of his crew, when technically it’s supposed to be about Dom and Letty? I won’t go as far to say Vin Diesel is the reason why “Los Bandoleros” sucks, as he’s not that bad of a director. And perhaps this film was intended to present a more dramatic direction to the Fast & Furious series. But as a well-written short film and as a prelude meant to whet the viewer’s taste buds for “Fast & Furious”, “Los Bandoleros” fails on both levels. Skip this shit!

 

 

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“FAST & FURIOUS” (2009) –  Shit has apparently changed since the first Fast & Furious movie. While Dom and his crew are busy knocking over FOUR fuel tankers in the Dominican Republic, Brian O’Conner spends his time working for the FBI. One night, Mia calls Dom to inform him that Letty was murdered. Dom heads back to Los Angeles FAST AND FURIOUSLY, determined to find the killer. His search leads him to a Latino drug dealer called Arturo Braga (John Ortiz)  who employs street racers to traffic heroin between the Mexico-U.S. border. And wouldn’t you know it? Brian’s looking for the same guy also!  Dom’s and Brian’s paths cross, and tensions are raised since Brian literally lied to Dom and Mia about his non-allegiance with the police. Add some dramatic B.S. to go on top of the film’s already generic story and we have “Fast & Furious”. After opening with the spectacular and utterly ridiculous fuel tanker heist that was set up so sloppily in “Los Bandoleros”, “Fast & Furious” lays the groundwork for a totally new direction in the series: over-the-top action and over-seriousness. It is, by far, the darkest and most serious entry in the series as it’s devoid of the campiness of the first movie, the fun in the second and the sleekness of the third.  Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty character is “killed” and put in the back in the proverbial trunk. Tego Calderon’s and Don Omar’s characters are proverbially kicked out of the car after the prologue,  and picked back up nearing the end. And Sung Kang’s character is proverbially shipped off to Japan right after the opening action sequence. That’s some proverbs, I tell ya. But we are given a new character to ogle take interest in: Gisele Yashar (played by Israeli actess/model Gal Gadot), liaison to Arturo Braga. On the subject of Braga, John Ortiz does his best with his villainous character, but gets bogged down by the film’s lazily-written story. It was good to see the dynamic duo of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reunite, but even that turns out to be uneventful due to their thinly-developed characterization. But the biggest sin of “Fast & Furious” is its lack of great racing sequences – which are one of, if not THE, main elements of a Fast & Furious movie. I’ll elaborate: there’s the fuel tanker scene at the beginning, a street race involving Dom and Brian at the end of the first act, a driving scene through some underground tunnels (don’t ask) and a chase sequence through the same tunnels (also don’t ask). In other words, there’s only ONE street race in the entire movie!  Fans of F&F deserve a lot more than ONE street race and some bullshit in a tunnel. Once again, I give Justin Lin credit for the series’ new approach, but by taking out the elements that makes a Fast & Furious movie….well, a Fast & Furious movie….it becomes a standard action movie – with vehicles involved. Even the chase sequence at the end of the movie feels like something out of a been-there-seen-that-in-a-better-movie.  Other than the “death” of Letty and the film’s outro (which makes up for the rest of the movie in more ways than one), there’s no real reason to sit through “Fast and Furious”. The mere title contradicts itself as it’s more “furious” than “fast”. If there was one thing I learned, it’s a statement made by a minor (and I do mean MINOR) character in the film: “Muscle (cars) beats import every time!”.

 

Lesson learnt, my friend.  Lesson learnt.

 

2 BE CONCLUDED…..

 

MY RATINGS – 

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

“Los Bandoleros” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

“Fast & Furious” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

 

– Matthew