Fast Five (2011)

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Once you get behind the wheel,
Of monsters made of speed and steel
And get a taste
Of wild haste
And scruple-free
Velocity,
You’ll crave the rubber-burning pace
It takes to win an even race,
To redirect the losers’ sting
And revel in the conquering.

And sometimes you will use those skills
In shady ways to pay the bills.
Don’t think that I am insincere.
This movie’s moral’s very clear.
________________________

MPA rating: PG-13

And we’re back to the Fast and Furious franchise! Is anyone really excited about that? Oh, well, I’ve started this marathon and will finish it. After hearing that the fifth film in this series is where it finally started rising out of mediocrity into blockbuster gold, I had some high hopes for it. Honestly, it’s still not “my kind of movie,” but I see why it’s viewed as the start of an upward trend.

Despite sharing the same director as the previous two installments, Fast Five just feels… different from the other four before it. Set largely in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, it’s filmed in more of a gritty action movie mode instead of the sleek hot rod preening of its predecessors. Heck, the street racing aspect has been almost completely replaced with car chases, fist fights, and shoot-‘em-ups; at one point, they cut away right before a race to show how easy it was to win, I suppose. There’s still at least one race and some of the sexism and fan service the previous films reveled in, but it does feel like the franchise is in transition.

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Part of that difference is how the storyline has transformed from undercover cops to a full-on heist plot, with newly on-the-run fugitives Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) gathering their past allies from other movies to steal all the money of a Brazilian crime boss (Joaquim de Almeida). It’s almost like this is the car-themed counterpart to The Avengers, bringing together characters you didn’t expect to see side-by-side, from Tokyo Drift’s Han (Sung Kang) to 2 Fast 2 Furious’s Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). And of course, the biggest addition is the introduction of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Luke Hobbs, the shiny, intimidating DSS agent tracking down Dom and his team and doing his best to match Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive as Mr. No-Nonsense Manhunter.

Fast Five is overly long, but I must admit that it’s very good at hiding how thin its plot is by just propelling itself forward with explosions and star charisma. The story pretty much only makes sense because the writers wanted it to. Both the U.S. government and an all-powerful crime lord are trying to take down Dom and his crew, yet they’re able to stay off the radar, prepare for the heist, freely drive and walk around in the city, and only be found when the plot is ready for it to happen. Plus, the streets of Rio are conveniently empty at times, and an extended training montage in the middle is basically rendered moot when those preparations are never used in the actual heist. Not to mention character changes, such as a sudden change of heart for Hobbs that goes further than the law would allow and the fact that Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is suddenly a high-tech mastermind when he was little more than a garage owner with connections in the second film.

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Someone needs a hug.

Despite all this, Fast Five lives up to its thrill ride expectations. The whole final action sequence requires complete suspension of disbelief, ignoring both physics and the human collateral from all the carnage, but it’s the first time this franchise has left me breathless with its high-octane antics. There are spurts of decent character development as well, with Brian learning he will soon be a father, which will hopefully make him rethink his recent life of crime. I don’t typically like heist films since they basically say stealing is okay if you’re stealing from a bad guy, but Fast Five is definitely the best installment in the franchise so far. I can’t wait to see how and if it will keep getting better.

Best line: (Roman) “You know, I think I make a better special agent than you ever did.”   (Brian) “I guess that depends on how you define ‘special’.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
701 Followers and Counting!

Journey’s End (2017)

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(I wrote this in the style of Robert Service, one of my favorite poets, who wrote several poems inspired by his time as an ambulance driver in World War I.)

There’s a time in the life of a soldier entrenched
When he cannot endure anymore,
When his teeth are like glass having been so long clenched
And he’s numb to the screams and the gore,

When his mind barely registers pleasure or pain
And his nerve’s on the edge of a knife,
When his soul is unlikely to wash out the stain
Of the ongoing ending of life,

When the order to “Go” couldn’t move his clay feet
Even if he had will to obey,
When war seems no more than the grinding of meat
For some heinous, infernal buffet.

At times such as these, when one’s mettle and wits
Have been wrung further than they extend,
The heroes decide alongside hypocrites
How they choose to meet their journey’s end.
_________________________________

MPA rating:  R (I consider it a light R, for a few violent moments and occasional F words)

Though it may seem I’m destined to only post on holidays, I am trying to get to a more consistent schedule. It seemed only fitting to review a war movie on Veteran’s Day, and a World War I movie seemed even more fitting, considering the significance of November 11, when the armistice ending that terrible war was signed. Journey’s End brings the desperation of that war to life in a wholly compelling way, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in WWI.

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Based on a 1928 play by war veteran R. C. Sherriff, which has already been adapted four other times, Journey’s End doesn’t try to provide a sweeping look at the whole war, instead focusing on a single week in March of 1918, as British troops braced themselves for an expected German offensive. Fresh-faced 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) asks to be assigned to Company C, commanded by his former school friend Captain Stanhope (a tortured Sam Claflin). He finds his old pal changed by the horrors of war, and his initial opinion of a war raid as “exciting” is quickly sobered by experiencing them firsthand.

What Journey’s End does best is capture snapshots of the feeling of trench warfare, albeit mainly from an officer’s perspective. We feel the tension of soldiers wishing something would happen, followed by the grim resignment of being chosen for that something; the seeming indifference of superior officers; the conflict of different coping mechanisms; the helplessness of men at the end of their own rope having to comfort others at the end of theirs; and the mental anguish of wishing someone both “goodbye” and “good luck,” possibly for the last time. Plenty of small details add to the realism, such as the men getting a dose of rum and emptying their bladders before going “over the top.”

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The obvious comparison for me in appraising a WWI movie is judging it next to last year’s 1917, and, while Journey’s End can’t quite compare on technical proficiency, it surpasses the newer film in characterization, with Paul Bettany’s personable second-in-command being a particular light among the dull grays of the trenches. In addition to the acting, the cinematography is also excellent, though, with a few comparatively short tracking shots bringing 1917 to mind. War films can be hard to sit through, but those like Journey’s End are a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be able to sit around on couches watching movies when we could just as easily have been down to our last nerve in muddy trenches, but for the distance of 100 years. To all veterans, thank you!

Best line: (Bettany’s Lieutenant Osborne, writing home) “There is a job to be done. It ought never to have arisen, but that is not the point. I have had so very much out of life, but all these youngsters do not realize how unlucky they are, so new are they to their very existence.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
701 Followers and Counting!

Doctor Sleep (2019)

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We all have our ghosts,
And we carry them close,
An undying weight
Doctors can’t diagnose.

Our parents, our fears
Echo on through the years,
And so many drown them
In vices and beers.

The shaft of despair
Has no bottom down there
But does have a top
If we’d only seek air.

Yourself you may yield,
With no hope to be healed,
But the sight of another
In need of a shield,

Unbent, hopeful yet,
In the path of a threat,
Just might be enough
To redeem your regret.

__________________

MPA rating: R (for horror violence, language, and that creepy naked ghost from The Shining)

Where has October gone? I’m thinking I should probably stop apologizing for the long stretches in between posts since the demands of full-time work and school just make it hard to find enough time for anything else. Nevertheless, I felt like Halloween was a good time to make my return to the blogosphere and resurrect my annual tradition of reviewing a scary movie that I watched by myself late at night. Past notables include The Conjuring, The Babadook, and Under the Shadow, and this year’s is also up there with the best.

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With so many sequels being made to cash in on thirty-to-forty-year-old classics, it was easy to underestimate Doctor Sleep, the long-delayed follow-up to The Shining and likewise based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the original may have been divisive, but it’s iconic enough that you would think Hollywood would have the sense to leave it alone. (Then again, look at Ready Player One.) Yet this subsequent story about a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) turns out to be more than worthy of its celebrated ancestor and creates a surprisingly mature and entertaining tale built on the trauma of the Overlook Hotel.

Whereas many of these decades-later sequels are content to rehash more or less the same story as the original, Doctor Sleep goes the other way, showing far more interest in the underdeveloped psychic abilities of Danny and others than in the haunting of malicious ghosts. This “shining” or “steam” that only a few individuals possess makes those people targets, not just for spirits but for a vampiric cult called the True Knot, led by the top-hatted Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who seek out such gifted children to torture and consume their essence. Over the years, Danny has sunk into alcoholism and despair, yet when the spunky Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a particularly powerful wielder of the “shining,” makes herself known, Danny decides to help her fend off the unholy villains craving her power.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Doctor Sleep is that it almost feels like a superhero origin story. While Danny thought he had to suppress his psychic talents, young Abra revels in them and proves to be a match for Rose herself, putting the girl in even more danger. In that superhero vein, the good guys are unfailingly sympathetic, even lovable (I liked recognizing a RWBY figurine and poster in Abra’s room, perhaps connecting her own gifts with that show’s concept of semblance abilities), while the bad guys are irredeemably despicable. One scene of child torture could have been worse but went on uncomfortably long for my taste, even if it confirmed just how wicked the True Knot were.

Of course, I would have liked it to be less R-rated, but the story itself and its thoughtful script is masterfully composed, from the gradual development of the True Knot’s nature to the psychic friendship between Danny and Abra to Danny’s overcoming of his latent shame and terror surrounding his childhood. One scene between Danny and the ghost of his father has some powerful dramatic tension that almost overshadows the horror tension that follows. It seems too long at two and a half hours, but it’s a length that feels deserved rather than unnaturally stretched like, say, the Hobbit movies. Another interesting creative choice is the recasting of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Scatman Crothers with very close lookalikes (including Henry Thomas as Jack Torrance) rather than any attempt at digital manipulation, which feels more natural even if the difference is unmistakable. And the film definitely points back to its roots by the end, providing some difficult catharsis that The Shining lacked.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of The Shining, even if I appreciate the iconic terror of its most memorable scenes. Too much was left unexplained for my taste, and as I said, it offered no closure to its tale of insanity. In contrast to the claustrophobia of the first film’s secluded setting, Doctor Sleep builds up a far more expansive world without wasting Danny’s history, an accomplishment that transcends its status as a horror movie. While The Shining prided itself on dread and insanity, Doctor Sleep actually manages some hope as well, which makes it the superior film, in my opinion. Director Mike Flanagan is no slouch when it comes to horror, and Doctor Sleep is a testament to his skill as writer and director. Even Stephen King himself said it “redeemed” his dislike for the first film, which is as high praise as any adaptation sequel could wish.

Best line: (Danny) “Our beliefs don’t make us better people. Our actions make us better people.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
701 Followers and Counting!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

2020 Blindspot Pick #4: Pom Poko (1994)

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Nature weeps “Farewell”
As mankind bids it “Hello.”
Neither understands.
_____________________

Some may look at the fact that I’m only reviewing #4 of my list of 12 Blindspots for the year in October as a sign of being way behind and perhaps despair because of it. I prefer to think, “Wow, I’ll have such a great sprint of good movies around the holidays!” Either way, I’m finally returning to my Blindspot series with Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko.

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I’m very fond of the majority of the studio’s work, including the heartrending Grave of the Fireflies from the same director, but Pom Poko has never gotten much of a spotlight. Even in montages of various Ghibli movies, Pom Poko is pretty much relegated to one notable scene: a comical battle between two warring tribes of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs), which happens to be one of the very first scenes in the film. The rest of the movie was a mystery to me, so I was quite curious to see the rest of the story. Now that I have, I can see why it’s counted among the B-list of Ghibli classics, with the studio’s trademark charm and weirdness being overextended by length and repetition.

From the humorous battle scene on, the film often plays like a mythological nature documentary, explaining the many eccentricities of tanuki pulled straight from Japanese legend: their mischievous antics, shapeshifting abilities, penchant for parties, belly drumming, and…um, their prominent testicles. Yeah, more than anything else, that last point is probably why Pom Poko never hit it off in America. Folk tales tell of the many uses tanuki have for their shapeshifting male parts, and the movie runs with that (the English dub using the euphemistic “raccoon pouch”) as they’re shown expanding their “pouches” into parachutes and weapons. Just writing this feels bizarre, but hey, myths can be weird, especially considering raccoon dogs are a real species.

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As with many other Ghibli films, the story is an environmentalist fable, detailing the loss of the tanuki’s forest habitat as man and technology encroach further and further. (I find it interesting that the comic strip Over the Hedge debuted just a year after this film with a similar basic premise.) Much of the movie is spent with the creatures attempting to fight back, leading to some highly entertaining sections where they use their supernatural abilities to scare the unsuspecting humans away. However, from the moment they realize mankind’s threat to the point of no return, there are far too many scenes of the leaders debating their strategy, weighing their options, and trying the same things repeatedly. At nearly two hours, I felt like the film could have easily shed a half hour with little loss.

Director Isao Takahata, Miyazaki’s compatriot in heading the studio’s early releases, won my heart with Grave of the Fireflies, but nothing quite compares with that tragic masterpiece. Pom Poko is at least a visual treat, and the character animation swings wildly in depicting the tanuki as realistic animals, anthropomorphic bipeds, or cartoony caricatures, depending on the mood of the scene. The English dub (which Americanizes the tanuki as just “raccoons”) also boasts a talented voice cast, including Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Clancy Brown, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, and J.K. Simmons.

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Aside from Spirited Away, Pom Poko might be the Ghibli film most wedded to Japanese culture; one extended scene has a master tanuki conjuring a horde of illusory yokai (Japanese spirits) to scare the humans, referencing stories that are no doubt far more familiar to Japanese audiences than Western ones. Plus, despite its cartoonish aspects, its themes and a few story elements are geared for somewhat older audiences compared to the more kid-friendly Ghibli options. Pom Poko is weird, overlong, creative, frequently delightful, wacky, and even bittersweet by the ending. It’s not likely to become a favorite, but I’m glad to have seen another entry from a legendary studio.

Best line: (Narrator, with a line you’ll never find in any other film) “They used their balls as weapons in a brave kamikaze attack.”

Rank:  Honorable Mention

© 2020 S.G. Liput
701 Followers and Counting!

Fast & Furious (2009)

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You can drive like a demon
And be like the he-men
Who populate movies with muscles and stunts.
You can live on life’s edges
And leap off of ledges
And live for the thrill, even if only once.

After such escapades,
When adrenaline fades,
The life that remains will be yours in the end.
When you have to face
What is after the race,
I hope you’ll be left with at least one real friend.
______________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

After yet another series of delays, let’s return now to the Fast and Furious marathon, specifically the one with the worst name. Seriously, they couldn’t have added a 4 to indicate where this movie fell in the timeline? Just Fast & Furious, same as the first movie, but it must be so fast that it outran the Thes in the original’s title. Anyway, I was eager to get through this fourth film. It marked both the franchise’s lowest score on Rotten Tomatoes but also a shift from small-scale street racing culture toward international espionage and action that I can only assume will get more pronounced in the following films.

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The very first heist sequence sort of proves there’s a difference, as Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his hijacking crew attempt to steal an oil shipment from a moving truck, a chase reminiscent of Mad Max that culminates in the franchise’s first truly logic-defying effects-laden stunt. After Dom is forced to leave behind his accomplice/sweetheart Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez), the news that she has been killed brings him back to the U.S. in search of revenge, even as his old frenemy-turned-FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) works in parallel to track down the drug lord behind Lettie’s murder.

I’m not really sure what to say about these movies anymore. The cars are fast, the characters are occasionally furious, and the whole thing is low- brow but entertaining. While the plot tries for a couple twists, it’s largely predictable as Dom and Brian end up on the same team over time; when one scene has them racing through tunnels past a bunch of explosives, it was such an obvious Chekhov’s gun that I knew they’d revisit it. (I was not disappointed.)

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Yet there are flashes of improvement as well. For one thing, this is the first sequel to bring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker back together and actually feel like a sequel rather than a spin-off. Plus, I was not familiar with Gal Gadot before her breakout role in Wonder Woman, but I guess she had already “broken out” off my radar in this franchise, being introduced here as Gisele, who works for a drug dealer but is sympathetic to Dom. Unfortunately, the film’s final moments are much like the first film’s, ending on a weird note of good guys breaking the law which I guess is a cliffhanger but doesn’t promise much for the next film. Regardless, Fast & Furious is decent but unremarkable. At least the franchise should only get better from here.

Best line: (Dom) “I’m a boy who appreciates a good body, regardless of the make.”

Rank:  Honorable Mention

© 2020 S.G. Liput
700 Followers and Counting!

42 (2013)

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Hate has a sound, neither quiet nor calm.
It’s harsh as a screaming match, loud as a bomb.
It hides where it can, but when called to resist,
It bursts on the scene, and it cannot be missed.

By fruits, you shall know it, by fire and fear,
By people too busy condemning to hear,
By pointing of fingers and counting of sins,
And seeing, not people, but labels and skins.

But how does one fight it? More fire and fear?
More yelling in hopes that bystanders will hear?
No mind has been changed meeting rancor with wrath,
But by the more difficult, opposite path.
_______________________

MPA rating:  PG-13 (mainly for multiple racial slurs and a few profanities)

Like so many others, I was heartbroken at the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing on August 28, the very day that MLB was celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson Day, since it’s the day Robinson and Branch Rickey first met. The premature loss of a talented actor who played so many African-American icons has prompted a resurgence of regard for his past work, and it seemed only right to revisit 42, the story of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson. I had seen it years ago and, not being a baseball fan, vaguely logged it in the “good, not great” category, but I recall my dad really liking it and watching it several times. Now rewatching it with my mom, I enjoyed even more this true story that has become timelier with age.

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Aside from his history book summary, I wasn’t very familiar with Jackie Robinson’s story, but I was pleased when some further reading revealed how historically accurate much of 42 is, from individual lines of dialogue to the shared Methodist faith of Robinson (Boseman) and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). It would have been so easy to turn the colorful Rickey into a mere caricature or lose the nuance of Robinson’s restraint. Yet both Ford and Boseman do outstanding work here, filling both characters with a realistic dynamism, Ford trying to disappear behind facial prosthetics and a Southern growl and Boseman embodying Christ-like nobility. The film itself might have been too pedestrian to be an awards contender, but I rather wish that the two of them could have gotten a nomination or two for their performances. In light of Boseman’s death, lines like “He was made to last” have also taken on a more bittersweet tone than before.

Perhaps the film’s themes are a bit on-the-nose at times, such as one mocked scene where a hesitant white boy starts yelling slurs at Jackie when he sees his father do the same. Yet I don’t doubt that such interactions do serve to perpetuate prejudices. That same boy is later shown looking regretful when he sees Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, grown up since Tokyo Drift) put an arm around Jackie on the field. I know it feels a little manufactured since the kid probably would have been raised to be used to such language, but it still serves as an example of how children can be shaped by what they see and hear. Bigotry or its opposite don’t come from society as a whole, at least not anymore, but from individual interactions that shape how we view each other, so the film’s message still rings true.

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At a time when racial disparities and injustices have come to the forefront of national debate, 42 feels like a shining example of how to combat racism on a one-on-one level. While Robinson later assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, he epitomized King’s principle of nonviolence on the field, having “the guts not to fight back”, as Rickey tells him, even while being lobbed by blatant abuse. I loved the perceptive line “Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours,” while the alternative plays out beautifully when Robinson’s hesitant teammates take his side over the sneering vitriol of an opposing team’s manager (Alan Tudyk). Turning the other cheek has gone out of fashion in our modern society, but the stronger the contrast between offender and victim, the more support there will be from good people to address such indignities. In every new or daring pursuit, there must always be a first, and, as the first, Jackie Robinson did untold good in moving the sport of baseball and the country closer to its ideals.

Best line: (Jackie Robinson) “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”
(Branch Rickey) “No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow, and they’ll say, “The Negro lost his temper,” that “The Negro does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding, only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?”
(Jackie) “You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2020 S.G. Liput
699 Followers and Counting

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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There’s one thing that surpasses
Every culture, race, and creed,
A deep, unsleeping hunger
Men across the globe must feed,
A simple, primal craving
That I’ve yet to see suppressed:
The ever-fervent appetite
To prove themselves the best.

It’s not at all a shock that
Wars and races share a cause,
For when a challenge beckons,
We put common sense on pause.
The winners plan their parties,
And the losers future wins.
I guess that competition’s
Not the worst of mankind’s sins.
______________

MPA rating:  PG-13

Boy, you never realize how little time you have until college courses take it from you. My apologies for being absent lately, but it’s time to return to the Fast and Furious series. Tokyo Drift feels like the black sheep of the franchise. The lack of any characters from the previous two films (mostly) is evidence that the filmmakers were willing to just experiment with story lines as long as they still revolved around the testosterone-fueled art of street racing. It simultaneously fits in with this franchise by emulating its predecessors while also having every right to just be a separate movie with no connection at all.

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Tokyo Drift could conceivably even work as some kind of origin story for Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, showing how he became such a good driver, but no, it’s instead the origin of one Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a rather dull teenage Walker wannabe with a Southern accent. Prone to vehicular recklessness and the inevitable trouble that follows, Sean’s only option other than juvie is to move in with his Navy dad in Tokyo, but even there he can’t stay away from the thrill of racing for long. In a way, his transfer-student introduction to his high school is like a live-action anime at first, but soon the plot shifts to borrowing heavily from The Karate Kid: Part II, with the plucky foreigner butting heads with a Japanese hotshot (Brian Tee) over a girl (Nathalie Kelley) and being trained by an experienced master (Sung Kang) to challenge his rival.

Now three films in, I’ve gotten a grasp on what I like and don’t like about these movies, and both are integral to them so far. I love the car races and chases. Who doesn’t love a good car chase? In the spirit of the classic Initial D anime, Tokyo Drift is all about drifting (the horizontal swing of a car rounding tight corners that is clearly harder than it looks) and it makes good use of the concept, from a unique race through the levels of a crowded parking garage to a climactic set piece down a winding mountain road. What I don’t like is the requisite pre-race party scenes full of macho attitudes and scantily-dressed women, which is a little more concerning here since several of the characters are high-schoolers. I don’t know how close this atmosphere is to actual street racing culture, but I have even less interest in said culture if it’s accurate.

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Tokyo Drift doesn’t reinvent the friction-worn wheel, but it’s an entertaining car-centric flick, whether as part of the Fast and Furious world or not. Sung Kang as the cool, mentoring Han is easily the best new character, though I’m not sure if we’ll get to see any of these characters again after things swing back to Walker-Diesel-land in the next movie. It may not do much to serve the franchise, but Tokyo Drift is a watchable slice of East-meets-West automotive action.

Best line: (Sean) “Why’d you let me race your car? You knew I was gonna wreck it.”
(Han) “Why not?”
(Sean) “’Cause that’s a lot of money.”
(Han) “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. One car in exchange for knowing what a man’s made of? That’s a price I can live with.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
699 Followers and Counting

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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They say it’s not bragging if it’s proven true,
So if I said I could drive faster than you,
It’s not arrogance or a source of disgust
If I can then leave you chagrined in my dust.

I’ll eat my own words if my pomp is disproved,
But I’ve yet to leave an opponent unmoved.
So what do you say? Let our wheels choose between
A legitimate boast or a punk who can preen.
___________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

On to the second film in the nitro-powered franchise, cleverly utilizing its sequel number in its own title. That’s right, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Considering how synonymous Vin Diesel/Dom Toretto is with this series, I was surprised that he wasn’t in the sequel, which instead featured Paul Walker as the star, in buddy cop mode opposite Tyrese Gibson. Better in several ways than its predecessor, it’s a film confident in its own undemanding entertainment value.

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The film starts very much like the first, with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner being called in for a four-way street race, but this time the cars have such bright neon colors that you can’t tell what’s real and what’s CGI, which isn’t a positive in this case. After letting Toretto go in the previous film, O’Conner is on the run, but he’s given a chance at redemption when law enforcement recruits him to infiltrate the organization of a Miami drug lord who needs fast drivers. To do that, he seeks out an old friend named Roman Pearce (Gibson) who, despite harboring resentment against Brian’s police past, joins him as a lean, mean street-racing duo.

2 Fast 2 Furious is summer movie entertainment, full of vehicular stunts that remain just believable enough to make viewers think they could jump a moveable bridge too. (Please don’t.) Without the constant parallels to Point Break, this one feels more sure of itself than its predecessor did, and Walker and Gibson have great tough guy chemistry that grows with time. The dialogue about their past friendship even sheds a little light on O’Conner’s actions at the end of the first movie, which make a little more sense now. Even so, it’s too bad Diesel was too busy filming The Chronicles of Riddick to reprise his role, but his Pitch Black costar Cole Hauser makes an unpredictably ruthless bad guy as the Argentinian drug lord drunk on power.

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With high-speed thrills and more downshifting than you can shake a stick shift at, I’d consider 2 Fast 2 Furious a better film than the first, and the lower your expectations are, the better it seems. It’s a good action movie but, amidst that overcrowded genre, there’s nothing remarkable that would warrant a multi-film franchise. Yet if this movie can improve on its predecessor, I’m still curious to see what the films that follow can bring to the table.

Best line: (Brian) “You ready for this?”   (Roman) “Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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The Fast and the Furious,
If you were curious,
Knows what it is, and at that, it is good:
Cars going fast
And a masculine cast.
I’m curious what else is under the hood.
____________________

MPA rating: PG-13

Periodically, I like to delve into a series that I’ve unconsciously avoided until now, and I’ve largely enjoyed past explorations of franchises like Mission: Impossible or the Riddick trilogy. So then it’s finally time to investigate the Fast and Furious movies, a series that has surprisingly risen from “that little series about car racing” to a huge blockbuster phenomenon. I’m wondering what the hubbub is about, so I’ll be watching all nine films in the franchise to see just what has made it so wildly popular.

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So what of the very first movie from 2001, the one with the “the”s in its title? Is it the kind of innovative kickoff film that promised big things ahead? Um, no, I would not go that far. The Fast and the Furious is a right decent action movie, in which undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) infiltrates LA’s illegal street racing scene and the crew of racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who might be behind a rash of recent high-speed robberies. I can’t fault Walker and Diesel, the former full of cautious self-confidence and the latter boasting an intense glare to match his skills behind the wheel.

The problem is that The Fast and the Furious follows the exact formula of Point Break, just substituting driving for surfing and comes up short in most respects. And by the open-ended conclusion, the attempts at character development just don’t quite justify Brian’s sympathy for Toretto, making the cop’s actions a bit puzzling. Plus, I just have very little interest in cars that go vroom, so I’m sure I’m not the target audience for this kind of movie. Even so, do feminists not have a problem with how women are portrayed here? It was nice to see Michelle Rodriguez (Lost alert!) as Dom’s girlfriend Letty, who gets a few moments to be cool, but women here are mostly little more than trophies and hood ornaments for the swaggering male drivers, which was a turnoff for me and my VC (my Viewing Companion, who happens to be female), though it plays into the comparison to exploitation films that other reviews have made.

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The high-speed chases are entertaining and I’ll keep watching, but right now, it’s hard to imagine a decades-spanning franchise based on this film alone. I understand that the scope of the series changes around the fifth movie, so I’m curious to see what that looks like. Stay tuned.

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

 

Rank:  Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Edward Scissorhands: Christmas in July Blogathon 2020

Here is my contribution to the annual Christmas in July Blogathon, hosted by Drew of Drew’s Movie Reviews. This year, I opted to write a poem and review for Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, since I lean toward unconventional holiday fare outside of December. Check out the other posts for the blogathon and have a Merry Christmas in July!

Drew's Movie Reviews

Welcome to day 3 of the Christmas in July Blogathon 2020! Today we are joined by the cinephile and poet SG from Rhyme and Reason. SG uniquely combines his love of movies with his love of poetry, as you’ll see below. Definitely go check his blog out for a unique movie review format. Today, SG reviews the non-traditional Christmas film Edward Scissorhands.



Scissors for hands – what a curious trait!
What a sad and bizarre and improbable fate!
For scissors for hands, with their razor-sharp edges,
Would terrify all, and especially hedges.
How lonely ‘twould be to be born with such digits,
Endangering life with the slightest of fidgets!

For who could love someone so strange and pathetic,
With hands so unsightly, unsafe, and synthetic?
Somebody could, though you might call it schmaltz,
For love can look past all exterior faults.
Some mock and some fear, but if…

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