Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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The Fate of the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

Racing may have left the franchise, but bald heads never will. With Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally remembering everything, she and husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are spending some much needed R&R time in Cuba, thinking about what the future holds for them in making a family of their own. It would appear that the Dom certainly doesn’t miss the bullets like Brian once did.

Unfortunately, the bullets and high-risk scenarios always seem to find him; this time, via an enigmatic woman known as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron). Cipher, having secret information on Toretto that puts who he loves at risk, forces him to carry out her dangerous plans by using his own team/family to capture a world-altering device…only to take it from them and deliver it into her hands.

Being crossed, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are left to pick up the pieces. And that means going after Dom and figuring out why, with an uneasy ally in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) added into the fray.

If Fast Five was Universal doing Marvel’s The Avengers before that movie happened, the latest in the F&F universe, The Fate of the Furious, feels a little like Captain America: Civil War, or The Avengers 3 or whatever. How so? It manages to bring back almost everyone of note while introducing new characters that are sure to play roles in future offerings, and flips the script a little in making a central character a major antagonist. It definitely lacks the emotional aspect of Furious 7, as well as and the large stakes, character moments, and insane thrill ride that was Fast Five. But, “F8,” though skidding more on the road than past predecessors, doesn’t completely wreck itself.

At eight films deep, the Fast and Furious universe has lore. Lots of it, and the eighth installment uses every inch of trunk space it has to accommodate it. In other words, it has continuity…in a way. Thought God’s Eye was just a MacGuffin to never be seen or referred to again? Put to actual good use here! Believed Elena would just slip into the background? Think again. Everyone knows how ridiculous this franchise can be, proudly wearing that ridiculousness as a badge of honor. But credit to where it’s due; writer Chris Morgan continues to draw up new scenarios that give mileage to the universe.

Don’t mistake that praise as complete support for The Fate of the Furious‘ script. It does enough to get by (a poor man’s version of Civil War, even with a bit of The Winter Soldier), with a familiar theme and intriguing reveal. But for some reason, its story holes and matters unexplained actually make one think about them more in a logical way. That’s not supposed to happen with a F&F movie! And as stated before, the continuity generally works, but the end scene (as well as a few others) does betray much of what the prior movie(s) established in the way of character relationships, making it hard to accept that some sins in this world are somehow forgivable.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Friday) makes the third new different director in the last three Fast and Furious movies to helm the film’s physics-defying action. Having some experience in action with The Italian Job, Gray, like Wan, mostly impresses. It’s hard not to be impressed with the massive set pieces, in large part done practically. CGI gets a little iffy at times for such a big budget production. Like Wan, however, Gray comes up short compared to Lin on a hand-to-hand combat level. Not quite shaky cam, but the angles used can sometimes be disorienting. Still, he makes a case to direct the next one if need be.

Perhaps Vin should give directing a shot, with the amount of power he seems to be wielding as of late. Performance-wise, Diesel simultaneously serves up a surprising job in spots, as well as an unintentionally funny one, often in the same scenes. Unfortunately, Paul Walker is missed, not necessarily in the action scenes where he more than held his own, but in the slower scenes. He brought an everyman presence that is lacking here, especially as the lengthy movie grinds to a halt in spots.

The real news coming into F8 was the legit beef between Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with rumors being that Vin wasn’t happy with Dwayne stealing some franchise thunder. After seeing F8, I can see why. Johnson is the clear star of this series now, bringing his trademark energy, dead-eye one-liners, and larger-than-life persona to the Hobbs character. Jason Statham eclipses Vin as well, his dry and rugged Deckard meshing well with Hobbs and generating interest in a future teamup. Out of the newcomers, Charlize Theron is the most menacing villain the franchise has ever had, if only her Cipher wasn’t as vague in her motivations. Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren add name value, little else, but they’re fun enough. Returnees Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell get little spots to shine, though ultimately take backseats to Johnson, Diesel, Statham, and Theron.

If the Furious series is a mile represented by 10 movies at 1/10th of a mile each, it’s not inconceivable to think it hit top speed a few movies ago, and is decelerating as it approaches the purported finish line. One thing’s for certain, though. There’s no stopping before that line comes, and every drop of gas will be used before it comes.

C+

Photo credits go to irishexaminer.com, birthmoviesdeath.com, and moviepilot.com.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage: Movie Man Jackson

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If Letty can come back from the dead, so can Xander. Previously thought to be dead, former government agent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) lives life as an off-the-grid, Robin Hood-esque character of sorts. His old handler, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), is still heading the xXx program, recruiting individuals with enough extreme to combat threats America doesn’t even know exist.

Her latest threat is a device known as Pandora’s Box. It’s a tool that controls orbiting satellites and uses them as projectiles, and its already caused the deaths of many. The people who have control of said device are no match for normal suit agents. As such, Xander is located and pulled out of his self-imposed exile by CIA government handler Jane Marke (Toni Collette). This isn’t a one man job, however, and Cage is joined by deadeye sniper Adele (Ruby Rose), infiltrator Nicks (Kris Wu), and wheelman Tennyson (Rory McCann). Their objective? Take it back, all while figuring out if there’s more to the objective than what is given.

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If Vin Diesel can revive one action franchise in The Fast and the Furious, why not try his luck and go after another, right? About 12 years have passed since an xXx installment, almost 15 if one discounts the State of the Union sequel without Diesel. So, the world gets xXx’d again with the Return of Xander Cage, which ends up playing out like a poor man’s (read: sometimes very poor man’s) Furious/Marvel/superhero movie.

Despite being firmly in the “movies you turn your brain off for” category, Return of Xander Cage is a little odd. On one hand, director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) and producer/obvious lead Vin Diesel seem to be all-in on aiming low and merely achieving competency in some aspects of the movie. This is fine. The story is relatively competent for an action, with a predictable twist rooted around the race for the MacGuffan. Occasional call backs to the original xXx work OK, such as Xander ordering his favorite drink or needing his obnoxious-looking fur coat.

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On the other hand, Xander Cage’s return carries with it an inflated sense of ego, importance, and worth. Caruso and Diesel are awfully concerned with letting people know that Xander is THE MAN! He can do it all, extreme in the streets and in the sheets, bedding about 8 women (five at once!) in the span of roughly 20 minutes of runtime. Kind of hilarious, sure, but also annoying. It wasn’t so bad in 2002 because it was easy to believe, but unfortunately, Diesel’s Cage’s age, which is never touched upon or alluded to in the film as to how long he’s been gone. hurts him here. He does look more ridiculous and less “cool” than he was before. He should be relaxing in Bora Bora somewhere with a hot wife, not trying to prove how extreme he is with people he has a least a decade on.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a mixed bag when it comes to the one thing it should hang its hat on: Action. Every now and then, good set pieces are present, but much of it is hard to follow, whether motorbikes on water or standard hand-to-hand combat. $85 million isn’t all that high for an action budget, but, one would think it would buy better CGI. The film’s two biggest moments suffer from beliveability, not from a “That couldn’t happen” sense, but a “That doesn’t look like it’s happening” sense. Ears should be prepped for an onslaught of EDM/techno music. I liked some of it because I don’t mind the genre, but it can be kind of nauseating after a while.

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One of my concerns going into this movie was the “Torettofication” of Vin Diesel’s Xander. What is Torettofication? When a character Vin Diesel plays in a non Fast and Furious movie begins to feel a lot like Dom Toretto. Diesel doesn’t quite reach that level here, but, the energy and hit/miss humor that he possessed in the 2002 version is absent. It’s not Dom, but by the end it becomes tougher to distinguish between the two characters. He is joined, à la Toretto, by a crew, some shining brighter than others.

IP Man himself Donnie Yen is rather good, and he outshines Diesel by such a wide margin, to the extent that I wondered if xXx would have been better if this was more of Diesel passing the torch to Yen and co-starring instead of starring. Ruby Rose isn’t bad; she’s got a look that’ll carry her well in specific action roles. The wild card is Nina Dobrev, playing the role of M more or less as Becky. Many who decide to watch will find her annoying; yours truly actually found her enjoyable and the most amusing thing about the movie that is actually intentional. The rest of Xander’s crew is extremely forgettable, and/or written to be complete idiots, especially Tennyson and Nicks. Toni Collette’s just picking up a check.

Return of Xander Cage brings the world back into the Xander Zone. Though the ending teases more future mayhem that Xander and company will have to extinguish, let someone else get the girl and look dope while doing it.

C-

Photo credits go to phase9.tv, cinemablend.com, and comingsoon.net.

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xXx: Movie Man Jackson

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It takes a mercenary to take down a group of ’em. After losing multiple agents in a quest to bring down the mysterious “Anarchy 99” Russian solider gang, the National Security Agency is grasping for straws. Who can successfully infiltrate the organization, one widely believed to be contributing to the production of a biological weapon?

NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) believes that a new approach has to be taken. He turns to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), extreme sports aficionado and viral superstar with some dirt on him. Reluctant as he his to serve authority, his record will be expunged if he complies. Dubbed xXx, he’s the new breed of secret agent the government needs for this type of mission.

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It’s important to remember now that when looking at xXx in 2017, the movie was originally released almost 15 years ago, so pretty much a lifetime. It was a very different time then for a bevvy of reasons, but one being the popularity of extreme sports and thrill-seeking mindsets. Sure, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (still the best movie about “extreme-ness”) falls into the grouping, but came before the rise. In the span of about five years from 1998-2003, the world got movies such as the Disney classic Brink!, Extreme Ops, the Rollerball remake, The Fast and the Furious, and Biker Boyz, to name a few. After TFatF, xXx is probably the most famous feature of that subgenre, a slightly barely above mediocre actioner.

From the opening scene, xXx is quick to remind the audience this isn’t a mission 007 could handle, as an individual who bears a resemblance to Bond is immediately snuffed out by the baddies and dealt with in a somewhat amusing fashion, all while metal band Rammstein is performing in the background. But this is still a film inspired by Ian Fleming, plot beats and all. Where the good and great Bonds beat this film by a substantial margin are the writing of its characters, and some of the small yet important minautae. Honestly, xXx‘s script isn’t horrid, but it certainly isn’t as cool or as funny as it thinks it is, and probably takes itself a little too seriously than it needs to. Half of the time, a line of dialogue hits, but the other half of the time, Cage’s one-liners are pretty forgettable.

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Even many years later, xXx stands as one of Vin Diesel’s more energetic roles. No, that doesn’t mean he’s putting on an acting tour-de-force, but it does mean that his role of Xander Cage has much more pop than some of his other more famous characters. Vin has no problem looking convincing as an action hero—in spite of an extremely hilarious fur coat—pulling off many of his own stunts throughout. Cameos by legendary athletes such as Tony Hawk and Mat Hoffman help sell the idea of Xander as extreme.

The rest of the cast is just OK. Samuel L. plays this one rather straight on the Samuel L sliding scale of memorability, essentially the M to Cage’s Bond with the random funny quip. As the villain, Marton Csokas is the stereotypical Eastern European baddie, nothing more or less, doing what is asked of him with a little hilarity thrown in for good measure. Out of the four main characters, Asia Argento is kind of a dud, her love chemistry with Diesel nonexistent. Seriously, the kissing between the two characters is a little awkward.

But xXx gets by as a fun watch because of its action proficiency. Fast and Furious collaborators Rob Cohen (director) and Neal H. Moritz (producer) join forces again. It may not be saying much considering his directorial catalog, but this could be Cohen’s finest hour as a director. Many of the action scenes are shot smoothly, cuts relatively minimal. Additionally, being shot in locations of Prague and Bora Bora help some of the set-pieces stand out more. The only odd looking one takes place on a snow-capped mountain, CGI looking extremely dated.

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Stacked against the best the spy genre has to offer, xXx doesn’t quite have the gadgets to compare. But, it does have just enough panache to get by, making the Xander Zone a passable diversion of time spent.

C+

Photo credits go to alchetron.com, cinemablend.com, impawards.com, and movie-roulette.com.

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Furious 7: Movie Man Jackson

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“They say open road helps you think about where you’ve been. Where you’re going.”

Going into Furious 7, it would be wise to heed the advice once said by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to his special forces team in Fast Five: Make sure you’ve got your funderwear on. London’s successful mission in bringing down Owen Shaw has brought Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) back home to Los Angeles with clean slates. The narrow escape of the past “adventure” provides realization to all involved: It is time to leave these lives behind…

but Deckard Shaw, (Jason Statham) brother of Owen, will not allow that. Driven by vengeance, Deckard will not stop until every one of Toretto’s crew is lying six feet under. There is no choice but to bring the gang back. Getting to Deckard isn’t a easy task, and to do so the gang is going to have to play along with a mysterious government official known as “Mr. Nobody” Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) to retrieve a powerful program that is deadly in the wrong hands. Dom, Brian, and company are going to need every bit of their family bond to survive this one.

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November 30th, 2013. That is the day that Furious 7 became more than just the seventh installment in one of cinema’s highest-grossing franchises. On that day, Paul Walker sadly passed away, and F7 became one of the most talked about, analyzed, and scrutinized movies leading up to April 3, 2015. What would the studio do? What should they do? Should Walker be replaced? Should production even continue? It is almost impossible not to think about the circumstances involving this movie, and the movie doesn’t necessarily make the viewer forget them either for that matter, but Furious 7 should be most of what fans desire: Unfathomable action, quality time spent with its universe’s characters, and a tasteful and deftly executed sendoff for Paul.

Since the series-altering shift in Fast Five, what exists in the scripts of these films serve as just enough glue to connect wildly entertaining sequences to a plot. F7 presents a compelling setup with the common but tried and true revenge angle, and that never truly leaves the duration of the film.

But, it does take a backseat to the A plot. Without spoiling too much, there is a lot of globe-hopping and more opposition than ever before, but with that, some rough edges are found. Perhaps they are present because of the reported rewrites that came about because of the tragedy, which no one could have planned for. There’s a feeling that may be had that everyone did the best they could with the circumstances given, plot included. It isn’t a shoddy one, per se, but more disparate than I would have liked.

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What does hold the “over here, over there” plot together however is the theme of family, both in the world these characters live in, and in the real one. Even through the most ridiculous stunts, family links exist, and have only become stronger with each installment. Never once is there doubt that these characters wouldn’t put their lives on the line for each other (getting to seven movies will do that), and never once is there doubt that Vin, Michelle, Paul, Tyrese, Jordana, Dwayne, and Ludacris aren’t legitimately enjoying each other’s company. This gives some of the dialogue (not the corny but highly entertaining one-liners) about sticking together and realizing what is important more emotional heft, amplified by a score composed by longtime F&F music contributor Brian Tyler. It is fourth-wall breaking in a sense, but not bludgeoning to the point where it becomes the sole mission of the movie.

Walker’s untimely demise usually found its way in any talks about Furious 7, but what went under the radar despite being just as important is the new face driving behind the directorial seat. Justin Lin’s four movie run ended with F&F6, and in steps perhaps the most popular producer and director there is today in horror: James Wan. The result is pretty good for a guy who’s only real exposure to action was Death Sentence, and that is nowhere near the action levels that F7 possesses.

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Wan does a lot of solid things, one of them being (with the technical crew) the difficult task of having to complete Paul’s scenes with CGI and voice-over. To be honest, yours truly hardly noticed where the real Brian and the produced Brian were. Sure, an educated guess can be made where Wan and company had to work a little harder. Some scenes choose to linger entirely on other characters while Walker is speaking or use really quick cuts as to not linger on Walker’s visage, but as a whole, especially in the action, a magnificent job is done integrating what could be a hindrance seamlessly.

Wan excels at showcasing the all-out, vehicular mayhem and wide-scale insanity that Lin perfected with each subsequent movie, and it is even possible that he may have Lin beat in this arena. But from a pure hand-to-hand comparison, he lacks the expertise that Lin brought to the table. There’s a lot of rapid, somewhat odd camera angles with some of the clashes, which doesn’t totally dull the fistfights, but it removes some of the visceral impact they could have. Most directors don’t immediately come equipped to capture action right away, especially in a blockbuster. He’ll get better, because he isn’t bad to start with.

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Enough has been said about the returning characters. Not much is different with them, which can be good or bad depending on your point of view, although there is a well-crafted arc with O’Connor that is developed from the beginning and earned. It can be wondered if the rewrites took screentime away from Dwayne Johnson, but being the persona he is, his presence is still felt. As for the notable newbies, Statham may be the best definitive villain in the entire franchise, but he really only appears when convenient. Djimon Hounsou is a standard bad guy in what may have been the role Denzel was offered. Wherever the franchise goes next, Kurt Russell looks to be a substantial cog. His character is an interesting addition.

Furious 7 marks the end The Fast and the Furious franchise. Not literally speaking of course, with the money to be made with this one, but figuratively and spiritually. There’s a finality that exists amid the spectacular crashes, humorous one-liners, and death-defying stunts. Furious 7 goes out the only way it knows how to: By riding out together.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, businessinsider.com, mashable.com, and usmagazine.com.

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Fast & Furious 6: Movie Man Jackson

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“You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

All roads lead to this, just with more road after “this.” Fast & Furious 6 finds the members of the Dominic Toretto/Brian O’Conner super crew (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker), living very comfortably after pulling off the job of the century in Rio de Janeiro. For some, like Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Giselle (Gal Gadot), comfortable is living lavishly and traveling county to county. For others like Dom and Brian, comfortable is just living with loved ones. Regardless of their definition, they are all free.

And yet there is something missing because living free doesn’t mean fulfilling if you can’t return home. While their incomplete lives are being lived, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is after an elite street gang headed by dangerous mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). As this pursuit has trekked across the globe, Hobbs knows there’s only one way to catch wolves: With wolves. This means asking the crew to reassemble again, and despite Dom’s resistance, Hobbs shows evidence of Dom’s past lover Letty alive with the rival gang. The promise of full pardons and potential of reuniting with Letty is enough to hop back in the driver’s seat one more time.

Film Title: Fast & Furious 6

Once again, the laws of physics have no place in the F&F universe. Fast & Furious 6 follows very much in the trailblazing, franchise-rebranding path of Fast Five, focusing on full-scale car chases, open-environments shootouts, and white-knuckle faceoffs. Is it dumb entertainment? Sure. Is it highly entertaining? Without a doubt.

Director Justin Lin goes bigger and more outlandish with about everything in F&F6 from an action perspective, which is impressive because F5 was nothing to scoff at either. Want to see a tank take out a complete highway? Maybe a wild finale on a plane featuring the longest runway known to man? Or perhaps a simple, good ol’ catfight or two? All of that is here, some of it more ridiculous than others, but the implausibility hardly matters because it looks so awesome and full of unbridled mayhem, with only the rare occasion where CGI sticks out too much.

Though familiarity with the franchise isn’t needed to enjoy the pedal-to-the metal set pieces, a level of it makes for more connection with the story and namely the characters who make up F&F. The actual story is nothing more than a gang trying to stop another gang from getting/creating some high-tech military piece that can shut down an entire region (or something), but the real story that has been fueling the series for sometime now is the bond between family and friends. It is the type of thing that may be overly sentimental and not mean much to those who haven’t spent time with thees movies, but for those that have a level of investment exists, and it gives a layer of emotion and feeling as crazy as that may sound.

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Lasting over 10 years has meant a lot in the way of chemistry and banter. When Fast & Furious 6 isn’t busy rewriting Newton’s laws or trying to give some middling efforts to the plot, it is more than happy with letting its characters talk and crack jokes, which are legitimately comical, especially anything having to do with Tyrese as Roman Pearce. Whether he is delivering lines or taking them from other crew members like Tej, Han, Giselle, or Hobbs. In a lot of ways, the movie does comedy better than actual comedies.

Back to Hobbs for a second. While he may not be the “antagonist” he was in the latter movie throwing down against Toretto and O’Conner, his presence and bold, no nonsense persona is on display throughout, with a little bit of humor thrown in just like his wrestling days as The Rock. As important as he is (and he is very), Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are still the guys driving this vehicle, and what Mia (Jordana Brewster) states about Dom and Brian being stronger together than apart applies to the actors themselves.Call it a bromance if needed, but the two are just akin to peanut butter and jelly in the way they mesh.

Coming back into the fray is Michelle Rodriguez, still robotic in delivery but also at the forefront of many of the film’s best fight scenes. It is nice to see her return here. Lastly, Luke Evans serves as the heroes’ foil, and he isn’t a dud, but his character and crew never seem to serve as a true formidable force to the honorable gang. Ultimately, Evans’ greatest contribution may be serving as a launching pad to potentially the series’ greatest villain as seen in the post credits.

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The roads aren’t the only terrain occupied. It isn’t the reinvention like Fast Five was, but Fast & Furious 6 continues on what was built there with more characters, more humor, and more explosive action. The engine’s still revving.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to planetofmovies.com, aceshowbiz.com, & cinema.theiapolis.com.

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Fast Five: Movie Man Jackson

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“And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

When street racing doesn’t pay the bills anymore, it is time to find another lane that will. Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, when Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) lead an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.

The three are forced to flee out of the states and to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Herman Reyes, who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and others, but if successful the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in relentless special forces agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”

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It isn’t everyday that a franchise gets to five movies. Even rarer is a franchise reinventing itself in a fifth movie. Fast & Furious 2009 in retrospect got the ball rolling with the evolution to the series, but Fast Five takes the ball and runs with it, blazing a new, wildly fun path for the series. Though it is a new path aimed to reach out to a wider population and a fairly doable jumping point for newbies, it is hard to see many people despising 1-4 and immensely enjoying this, but is is certainly possible.

The shift to a broad action flick with cars in the rear-view as opposed to cars being at the forefront is a sound, efficient change, but there are one or two moments where fans of the earlier films may miss the traditional race scenes. One moment in particular has a perfect build towards one that occurs, but all that is seen is the aftermath of it. If the story shift wasn’t believed before, it is here where F5 cements it.

However, it is only a small downer though, because the street racing story focus had a limited ceiling, especially in 2011 (or now) compared to the start of the franchise in 2001 when street racing was still very popular. Those earlier movies may still have been filled with mayhem, but they always felt restrained, restricted to only one gear. Not so here. Director Justin Lin fully embraces the departure from the norm, removing the shackles from the car culture focus and in the process creating over-the-top and physics-defying action set-pieces. They are also loaded with fun and extremely hard not to enjoy, shot with great precision and clarity, and Rio makes for a new, unfamiliar playground to feature the craziness. Look past the impossibilities, and it is hard to find flaws from an action perspective in Fast Five.

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At least script-wise, F5 shares more in common with the Ocean’s movies than it does with its franchise brethren. With that similarity, there is a feeling of “been here, done that,” but for every film save for possibly the first, the story found here is all and all pretty good, even if some aspects of it aren’t bought into easily (for fugitives, these guys sure do get a lot of time and resources to hone their plan). The more “emotional” sections may do nothing for people unfamiliar or long uninterested to the F&F universe, but for those who have had enjoyment with it more times than not, these occurrences do work, if only for the simple fact that five movies does lend a level of connection to these characters.

In addition, just seeing many of the key players from previous entries come together to assemble and banter is like a poor movie’s The Avengers. These interactions are cool and amusing, but they can feel stretched out in spots, which is a reflection of the movie’s runtime. 130 minutes could and probably should be no more than 110.

For all of the things F5 does better than the rest, for yours truly there is one thing that it finally gets right: the villain(s), or a more fitting description, the opposition. And, it isn’t as obvious as believed. There is a traditional villain, and he isn’t really all that great, but contrasted with others from earlier films, he does grab attention. But he pales in comparison to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as dogged Luke Hobbs. Johnson steals scenes and ups the ante anytime he appears, and gives Dom, Brian and the crew a formidable and intimidating foe for the first time. To the main characters he may be the bad guy, but Hobbs fighting on the right side of the law actually makes the crew, namely Dom & Brian, villains and opposition in their own right. This dynamic, not mind-blowing in the least, does give a extra layer of intrigue to the events.

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Enough has been said about Dwayne serving as a newfound rock to this series, but the old hands are still as consistent and effective as before. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel will forever be Brian and Dom, their characters being a great combination of chemistry and healthy rivalry mixed with respect. The supporting characters of Roman Pierce, Tej, Han, Gisele, and others fit nicely throughout, whereas before many were stretched in the movies they appeared in. Jordana Brewster’s role is scaled back but still pretty important. No one is going to blow viewers away with their performances, but for what they are all asked to do little complaints can be had.

At this point, Fast Five will likely not be the epiphany to change those who cared little or nothing at all for the franchise. For those that have been having fun riding with Dom and Brian for a while now, this still has trademark NOS running through its vehicle, it is just not the singular thing anymore.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to fanpop.com, pixarplanet.com, and fastfive.co.uk

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.

The Fast and the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

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 “Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”

Seems like just yesterday street racing was all the rage! Street racing and its culture are at the forefront of The Fast and the Furious, and it is a culture that has its own code and social mores. It is a culture that LAPD officer and FBI agent hopeful Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) has been infiltrating for months.

On the LAPD’s radar is a street gang led by a man named Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who all are prime suspects in a recent wave of stolen high priced electronic items from big rigs. As O’Connor gets closer and closer to thine enemy, his loyalties become tested, not just to Dom but his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) as well. Perhaps Brian is better suited for this street racing thing in comparison to enforcing the law.

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Yours truly isn’t ready to say that street racing is dead (I live in the Midwest now instead of the West, a area in love with street racing), but it may not be too crazy to say that interest has been waning for a while now. There was a time where it seemed like many I personally knew romanticized the culture and the life, as well as hailing The Fast and the Furious as the best movie of all time. While that last statement is probably pushing it ever so slightly, even 13 years later, TFATF is still a cool and pretty entertaining 106 minute ride to watch.

While it is an entertaining flick that spawned a lucrative franchise with tons of fan support, this franchise doesn’t cater to a vast audience like say the Marvel movies or the Harry Potter movies do. It really is less “inclusive” from a moviegoers standpoint than the average action. Chances are if the first did nothing for you, you never came back to the franchise or have any inclination to do so even with the later changes.

As for the actual movie itself, while TFATF may be a bit dated with just how much it focuses on street racing, subsequent culture, and a possible over-glorification of such a dangerous practice, the culture and racing aspects are captured in great detail by director Rob Cohen. Here, Cohen appears to be successful in detailing the atmosphere of what illegal racing and the underground scene is like.

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Even if some details are not in line to what occurs in the everyday scene, it isn’t hard to imagine that the popularity of the film may have influenced the real life happenings in the subsequent years after the release. Most importantly, he has a flair for filming one of the more important hooks in the movie: the racing. He utilizes the right effects to create a real sense of speed and acceleratio , which is amplified by the unique colors found here. This is not a dull-looking film from a tint perspective, with all types of greens, oranges, yellows, and warm filter throughout, and they seem to “pop” which seems to give even more speed to all of the numerous races and fast-paced moments.

There’s a story in The Fast and The Furious, but as expected it is pretty basic, but also adequate and functional. No one would ever describe it as deep and meaningful, though surprisingly, family and being true to one’s self are done at a fine and un-cheesy or sappy level. Between the racing and action scenes, they exist to make TFATF a sliver more than balls out adrenaline and machismo.

Now, the actual writing on the other hand as it pertains to dialogue? Let’s just call it mediocre at best and stuck in reverse at worst. Again, it is unreasonable to desire a high quality of talking with a film like this, but man, talking about the tuna, how one stands by their car, and never “narcing” on nobody carries a high amount of cringe with it. Yours truly just rolls with it; it is one of the film’s (and franchise’s, really) calling cards, and at this point the stuff works well as unintended comedy.

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Anchored may be an incorrect description, but TFATF puts most of its focus on Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. In regards to their acting chops, neither possesses supreme talent but both are fun to watch in the right environment, like so here. Despite a lack of great skill, both do have a real screen presence about them and always have, and seem to be at their respective bests when in the F&F universe.

Walker and Diesel show the makings of a good rivalry/partnership in this first installment, and for whatever limitations had they don’t seem to matter much here. The rest of the cast supplements these two nice enough, even if they are stereotypical to an extent. The only performance that stands out in a bad way is Michelle Rodriguez’s, who doesn’t even look like she is trying much at all, probably because she is the same character in just about everything she finds herself in.

Yours truly probably hasn’t said anything that would be shocking to anyone who is reading this. For some, these movies will always be treated like poison to the film industry beginning with this one, akin to a Bugatti or Ford E-150 being bad for the environment. For others, The Fast and the Furious is a supercharged, NOS-fueled ride with more than enough under the hood to power across the finish line in good shape.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to wikipedia.org, furiouscinema.com, and speeddoctor.net.

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Man Jackson

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“You said it yourself, b***h We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Not many movie studios are as hot as Marvel is at the moment. Since 2008’s Iron Man, their tightly yet expansively crafted cinematic universe has amassed crazy amounts of money on what some would call similarly structured films with established and recognizable heroes. The template is flipped a bit with Marvel’s latest feature Guardians of the Galaxy. In it, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is your average fortune hunter and legendary outlaw known to very few as “Star-Lord,” scouring the vast pockets of space for potential treasure. The potential treasure manifests itself in the way of a mysterious orb, valued by many unknown to Quill.

After others catch word of the galaxy-altering orb being temporarily in Star-Lord’s possession, an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saladana), and bounty hunters Rocket Racoon/tree-like Groot (Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel), all get into the mad dash for the crown jewel. Unfortunately, they all end up in jail where they come across Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who is after some personal vengeance. With the orb still up for grabs, villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) targets the five for elimination. Despite having no true ties to each other, the individuals soon find that their and the galaxy’s best chance for survival is their cooperation, no matter how reluctant and hard that may be.

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Hyperbolic as it may sound, the general thoughts and feelings in the months leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy appeared to be of the either/or variety: Either it was going to be an impressive success which would build toward the future and further cement Marvel Studios, or it would be a critical and even commercial failure that would knock said studio down a few pegs. With its release, the concerns are alleviated. Guardians of the Galaxy is over-the-top and unconventional fun.

Story-wise, this isn’t much different than past fare, most closely resembling the fight for the Tesseract in The Avengers, the first Captain America, and Thor. But the execution? Nothing is predictable about the way events play out. As a famous wrestling legend once said, “Just when you think you have all of the answers, I change the questions.” This movie revels in doing the opposite, being zany and flat out peculiar. And you buy into it despite the wackiness, because it is highly amusing, yet also carrying more emotional heft than anticipated, giving the sort of familiar “chase” story some weight.

Back to the main aspect that distinguishes this from others: comedy. GoTG is written with a ton of wit that hits consistent laughs, sometimes very hard. In most respects, the dialogue itself between the ragtag group is lightyears better than the action, which is solid if kind of unimpressive. What is great about the humor is that it isn’t limited to just one person. Sure, some characters just lend themselves more to comedy than others, but all have certain styles and specific moments where they shine front and center. Everyone in this played the comic relief at one point, which is a welcome surprise not often seen.

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95 times out of 100, Marvel gets it right with casting, and this film is no different. Chris Pratt is Star-Lord, convincing as the sort of everyman (albeit outfitted with a slick costume and snazzy gun) that is really just trying to survive daily in the harsh galaxy. As seen in Parks and Recreation, Pratt knows how to elicit laughs, but it is his turn as a galvanizing leader here that is most intriguing. Zoe Saldana at this point seems pretty comfortable playing alien-like creatures in movies, but that doesn’t take away her overall effectiveness. Even Vin Diesel voicing three-worded Groot is memorable, though that may be more due to the technical achievement than anything Diesel does.

These three are great and without their contributions Guardians isn’t as impressive, but the two scene-thieves are Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Raccoon. The former, played by Dave Bautista (known to wrestling fans as simply Batista) is in many respects the deepest and most versatile character. Drax slides effortlessly into rage and deadpan humor at the drop of a dime, and Dave never seems stretched when doing so or out of place among his more accomplished stars. Last but not least is the hothead Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is allowed to be unhinged as Rocket, an anarchist wrapped in an animal’s body, akin to Conker from the Nintendo 64 days. You can tell Bradley is enjoying this, and so did I. Even with his diminutive stature, it isn’t hard to imagine Rocket being the face of the Guardians in regards to marketing.

High production is par for the course with Marvel, and this once again applies. It is a visual treat to look at, reminiscent of Mass Effect in many places. The only issue that pops up from time to time is that of the noticeable CGI in hand to hand fight scenes. It is fully realized that this is less rooted in reality than, say, The Winter Soldier, and it isn’t a huge qualm, but it is visible. What is audible is the old-school music vibe from beginning to end throughout this, giving a retro feel to a futuristic backdrop. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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It is a little easier to take risks when you have a deep well of past successes , but the fact that Marvel was willing to do something like this to shake up the template is a small marvel in of itself. Guardians of the Galaxy embraces being offbeat and wears it like a proud badge of honor. Add another money making film galaxy to the comic book universe .

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, and nydailynews.com.

Fast & Furious: Movie Man Jackson

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“A real driver knows exactly what’s in his car.”

New model. Original parts. That is the tagline for 2009’s Fast & Furious, the fourth film in the racing series. Though being the fourth film, chronologically this is actually the third, taking place roughly five years after 2 Fast 2 Furious and a few years before the Tokyo Drift installment. Dominic Toretto, still wanted in the United States, now makes his living with Letty, Han, and crew knocking off fuel tankers. While lucrative, the heat on the crew gets exponentially hotter after their garage is raided, forcing the gang to flee.

Back in Los Angeles, somehow Brian O’Connor has become a F.B.I agent in spite of the trouble he put himself into previously. No matter, he is hot on the trail of Arturo Braga, a worldwide heroin drug lord.  It is around this same time that Dom reappears in LA, now looking for vengeance after being notified of Letty’s death. It is not long until their paths intertwine, and their once doormat feud comes back to the forefront reignited.

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Now a little over 5 years since this has been released, this movie can be examined through a lens so to speak. Fast & Furious remains sort of dumb, not really that well acted (but not pitiful), and CGI-heavy from time to time. But with that said this movie served as a litmus test to how much moviegoers desired to see Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner, and the rest of the crew again, and the final box office results proved that there was still potential in this gang (363 million worldwide). Previously focused entirely on street racing, F&F started the franchise’s trend to break away from the illegal pasttime and become more “sophisticated” from a plot standpoint. F&F is not a flawless tale, and it again is hurt by an extremely weak villain, but I definitely had a feeling that a strong effort was made to inject more weight into the story.

I am not ready to say this is entirely character driven, but the two leads have never been more developed. In a nutshell, both have internal and external strife to overcome. Toretto is now focused on revenge and shows more uncertainty than ever before, while O’Connor is ultimately struggling with his morality. Sure it sounds simplistic, but here it felt perfect within the confines of the story, and it ends up painting a darker entry than previous films.

Yep, Fast & Furious is way more darker than anything before it. Street racing isn’t exactly a safe hobby, but the previous iterations never came across as truly life-threatening for their main characters. Here, with the added desperation, the danger behind the wheel and in everyday settings came off as more perceptible, to me at least.  Even the style that director Justin Lin showcases comes off as intentionally minimalist and lacking in vibrancy, aside from the few car sequences that feel too polished due to CGI.

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If you have made it through the previous first half of the franchise, you have definitely witnessed cheesy and/or badly delivered dialogue. Which should be to no one’s surprise, this rears its head here in certain scenes. I hate to say it, but the worst offender is Paul Walker. His charisma is there, but he is forced to deliver some fairly heavy scenes, and though he doesn’t fail at them all, a few fall horribly flat. Vin Diesel is surprisingly competent, in his “Vin Diesel” way if that makes sense.

Michelle Rodriguez is not around long enough to make an impact, and Jordana Brewster is the obvious love interest of Walker’s character, rendering her role one-note. At least they’re attractive. To this point in the series’ existence, there has never been a truly interesting villain, and the trend continues here. Nothing about the man is memorable or even formidable, and for most of the film he is just really weak.

The main draw is seeing Toretto (Diesel) and O’Connor (Walker) back together as a reluctant duo. Clearly, they are better collectively than individually, and there is so much natural chemistry the two possess that makes the movies good fun. It is clear to see that the two had a great time doing this, and as a result, I enjoyed viewing this. There almost is a sort of nonverbal admittance seen between the two that affirms that the they know that these are the roles they were meant to play. It may sound hyperbolic, but the F&F movies have cemented Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor as one of the 21st century’s iconic duos.

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Director Justin Lin showcases a very convincing hand in most of the racing scenes, one of note that occurs a third of the way into the movie that will remind fans of the first. Some as previously alluded to fall victim to way too much CGI, and the coolness factor becomes lost. I would have loved to seen some more variance between vehicles. Walker and Diesel still have their signature whips, but for some reason they look less distingushable.

Fast & Furious may have problems, but it also serves as not only an effective reintroduction to its world, but a foreshadowing of what was on the horizon for the future. Fans would do well to take a ride with this gang once again.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to forbes.com & fanpix.net.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.