Hours. The parts focused on the central gimmick are tense and focused, as they should be. The rest (long intro and flashbacks) adds some meandering softness that undermines it. Good one-man show, though.

Into the Blue

Into the Blue. One of the mid-level ‘00s action/adventure films that holds up. I love some of the cliche characters here. Like, yep, that new friend is definitely going to ruin everything by doing something dumb. You know it instantly. And I’d totally forgotten about Brolin’s role in this. If a movie makes you envy a lifestyle even if it’s not a great movie, it’s still doing something right.

Furious 7

Furious 7. On the whole, much more of a soap opera than the previous movies. Or just opera. It’s grand, it’s sentimental. The series seemed to transition from heist flick into slightly more of a superhero ensemble piece. The mission and conflict is much more personal through and through, rather than practical.

The bus scene up there is not in any way ruined by the trailer. So much better than I thought. Other good stuff: I like how they set up and executed the staircase scene. And this one felt funnier than the previous ones. It’s a bit slighter and choppier in hindsight, but when I was watching they really played the whole range pretty well.

I also have to mention that it was difficult to watch at times, for real-life reasons. Seeing Paul Walker doing dangerous things in cars, knowing the circumstances of his death, made me a little uneasy. In the theatre it made me think of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. It’s all too easy to make those eerie parallels with the real world. I trust that this one, too, will be easier to watch again later, because you also get to see him just having fun with his fellow cast, enjoying this ride like we do.

Filed under: The Fast and the Furious. I guess I have to go back and re-watch all of them now.

Fast Five

Fast Five. My, my. This franchise has gone a long way from where it started. I’m struggling to keep up. More is more, but also more is not more. The movie warms up with bus-jacking followed by a high-speed train robbery. Street races feels so quaint in comparison. But it also means this movie doesn’t feel as idiosyncratic as the earlier ones in the series, and there’s more standard-fare crude language, violence, vulgarity. Exploding toilets? Come on, guys. Although, there was one scene where Walker had this goofy, exhilarated smile and just seemed so happy to be at the heart of all the destruction, and I’m like, yeah, I get that. The final tow-chase was legit.

This one also has the undeniable joy of a cast reunion and team chemistry. It’s heist time! (Downside: Sorkin-style teamsplaining the plot, and the inevitable camera that rotates around the planning table at HQ.) And alas, I couldn’t help but let out a resigned sigh when I saw the team’s bundle of new gadgets and spy-tech. Vin Diesel seems to have acquired superhuman strength, and a new rival in the no-nonsense fast-talking Dwayne Johnson (hints of TLJ in The Fugitive), and they get in a fight that’s not very interesting.

The family/togetherness theme was more upfront in this one than the others. “Money will come and go. We know that. But the most important thing in life will always be the people in this room.” And earlier, “Promise me we stick together.” It made me remember back to Tokyo Drift: “I have money. It’s trust and character I need around me. You know, who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are.” With that in mind, I think that’s why some of the best tension of the franchise isn’t in this film: for the most part, they’ve staked out their loyalties and they don’t have to wrestle with them very much.

Two last notes: One, I was disappointed to hear a greater reliance on fairly standard orchestral scores; I remember the earlier movies having more song-based soundtracks that were connected with locale. And two, I love how they did the subtitles, floating and fading out on the screen instead of hugging the bottom edge. Small touch, but it’s cool that they took the time to make it cool.

Fast & Furious

Fast & Furious. Decent. Most franchises don’t stay strong after three movies. It’s definitely grown up: multi-national settings, gratuitous helicopter flyover shots, fancier locations, and pretty fireball explosions among the big-budget must-haves. The obvious CGI in the tunnel scenes was a bit of a letdown. The races more frenetic and choppy; the crashes were definitely more… comprehensive. I was also thinking this is first in the series that’s felt wholly like a work of the 2000s. Even has teal and orange in full force, along with some shaky-cam here and there. Good to see Vin Diesel back in a bigger role here, though sometimes it seems like he’s following instructions or something. Gotta like him, though. I also really, really enjoy John Ortiz as a villain. So good. He has a knack for balancing the malice and the charm without turning into a sideshow (see also his role in Miami Vice). I don’t think the music is as strong as in the previous three. Also, border crossings and expendable, replaceable labor force? Where have I heard that before? Final thought: I’d love to know how many times in movie history there’s been a woman/man/couple carrying groceries into a house, unloading in the kitchen, and then devolving into an argument/outburst/tears/etc. It’s movie boilerplate.

I’m now four deep into the F&F franchise. My top and my bottom picks are pretty secure, but for the middle ones, right now I think I’d rank them like…

  1. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
  2. The Fast and the Furious
  3. Fast & Furious
  4. 2 Fast 2 Furious

2 Fast 2 Furious

2 Fast 2 Furious. Not as good as the first one, bro. Seemed more exploitative, more dopey, more juvenile. Tyrese is funny and charismatic, whereas Paul Walker’s performance reaches new levels of… subtlety (Ebert perfectly describes him as Don Johnson lite). BUT, those chases are fun. Nice to see them driving in legitimate traffic this time around. Also: Luda + Eva Mendes. Out of Sight and Miami Vice are far better Miami movies. I still haven’t seen either of the Bad Boys films, unfortunately.

The Fast and the Furious

The Fast and the Furious. Almost exactly what I was expecting. One surprise, though: I figured there would be some fun, gratuitous style flourishes, but didn’t think it would be so cinematically interesting. The way they edited the racing scenes, the warps and perspective shifts, reminded me of the welding scene in Thief. It goes from a more neutral third-person observer perspective into this subjective-experience interpretive moment. Nicely done. It’s not high drama, but credit for making some gestures towards character-building, even though that’s not the point. And there’s a fun soundtrack. Two-Lane Blacktop is another good movie with itchy street racers.