Furious 7 (2015)

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It’s absurd, heartfelt, action-packed, hilariously corny, physics defying, balls-to-the-wall, zero to sixty in three seconds, turn off your brain kind of fun. Furious 7 is everything I expected in a 14-year-long running franchise that’s only getting better with age. While not perfect, even according to my “dumb fun” popcorn movie standards, it still delivers the kind of entertainment one hopes to experience at least a few times a year at the theater. “This time it ain’t just about being fast,” so don’t overthink it, embrace your guilty pleasures, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

After the events of Fast & Furious 6, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and friends are now being hunted by Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) big bad brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Meanwhile, a government official who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits Dom and his team to save a computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been kidnapped by a terrorist named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). He wants to get his hands on a program she created called “God’s Eye,” which will allow him to tap into any device with a lens and track anyone anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds. Mr. Nobody promises Dom that if he saves her and retrieves this chip, he can use it to track down Shaw and kill him before he does anymore damage to their family.

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James Wan, who is known for directing horror movies like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, takes over Justin Lin’s seat in the director’s chair. Wan has a knack for elements like tension and suspense, and you can feel it here more than in the previous films. Not to mention, Statham’s character is like a Furious version of a Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, a near invincible human being popping up out of nowhere without explanation of how he got there, and wreaking havoc on anyone he can. Unfortunately, Wan doesn’t quite have the same eye for action, resorting to the old shaky cam, close-up shots, and quick cuts, making for quite a few nauseating fight sequences. But there are plenty of insane set pieces rivaling anything that has come before to make up for some of that. You’ve got cars parachuting out of an airplane, Paul Walker running on top of a bus teetering off the edge of a cliff, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson jumping out of tall buildings, and cars flying through skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. A lot of great, crazy fun is packed into this movie, and if you ask me, it blows the sixth film right out of the water.

Now let’s look at a few of the things I had issues with. First off, I have to inform everyone that I’m a huge supporter of “The Rock” and that I believe he’s the best thing to ever happen to this franchise. I’m serious. Sure, the fifth film was good because it had united all these characters together and it was a cool heist movie that was wildly entertaining, but don’t even tell me the addition of The Rock had nothing to do with the turning point of this series. They threw him in Fast Five and he totally owned the screen. His character, Hobbs, is the most ridiculous character in the entire franchise, he’s got gigantic muscles and the cheesiest one-liners you could imagine, but best of all, he’s a badass–he’s got everything you would want in a character for this type of movie. It was a sin he was so under utilized, and whoever’s idea it was to reduce his role to a mere cameo needs a good old slap across the face. But I’ll admit he still owned the little screen time he had, which included scenes walking the streets of L.A. with a giant machine gun, busting out of an arm cast like the Hulk, and getting to say awesome lines like, “Woman, I am the calvary.” Long live Dwayne Johnson.

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Still on the topic of under utilization: Tony Jaa. I’m really not surprised, because with the exception of Gina Carano in the sixth film, the awesome fighters they cast in these movies usually get reduced to a small henchman role with little screen time. It sucks. He shined brightly with the small time he was given, though, but Hollywood really doesn’t know what to do with martial artists. Oh, and Ronda Rousey really needs to take some acting lessons if she’s going to be doing movies on a regular basis now. She’s a badass and I love her, but her facial expressions are ridiculous and she really gives Vin Diesel a run for his money on the bad acting front.

They also made Jason Statham’s character a bit of a side story, which I wasn’t expecting to happen. He doesn’t have as much screen time as you’d think, and I wish we could’ve had more of him. He was great and he makes a genuinely threatening villain, he can also throw a punch or two, or fifty, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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I also found it hilarious in the scene that’s supposed to take place on the same day Tokyo Drift ends, Lucas Black, who is supposed to be a high school student, looks like a 40-year-old dude now. He’s only 32, but man, it is obvious as hell this film is taking place nine years after that one, and it takes you right out of the movie for a bit. On the same kind of subject, the CGI’d Paul Walker face in the some of the scenes is a little noticeably distracting. I’m not going to complain, though, because what kind of a person would I be, right? I’m just saying, you’ll probably notice.

I’d be lying if I said that the sadness related to Paul’s death didn’t overshadow this movie a little bit. Dying young and so sudden like that is an awful thing, and seeing him in this is a bit like watching a ghost. There’s a few sentimental moments in the movie involving his character, Brian, and Mia (Jordana Brewster) as he struggles to adapt to the fatherly life, but the last few minutes of the film are a full blown tribute to him, allowing his co-stars and us as an audience to say good-bye to both Paul and Brian. Yes, I got choked up, really choked up, it’s hard not to when you’ve spent so many years of your life watching him. All I can say is that it was done in a tasteful way, and I’m pretty sure Paul would’ve been pleased.

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Furious 7 is totally over-the-top absurdity, but it’s some honestly good popcorn entertainment for sure. I really enjoyed seeing the characters again, I think that the theme of “family” that seemed so forced in the previous movies actually holds some real sentiment now, and I’m sure that Paul’s real life tragedy has something to do with that. I liked the addition of Kurt Russell and Jason Statham to the cast, there were some underused actors like Dwayne Johnson, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, and Statham to an extent, but the action makes up for some of what’s lacking in character.

In the end, it does a decent job delivering on what you’d expect, if you’re a fan of the franchise, you most likely won’t be disappointed. It’s good, dumb fun with a real emotional element, and includes a lovely send off to the late Paul Walker.

4/5

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Horror Week: The Conjuring (2013)

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Seeing as how Halloween is this Friday, it’s about time to start rounding up some reviews on horror movies. Props to those who have been doing a horror review every day this whole month, I wish I had the motivation to do the same, but sadly I’ve been slacking. I’ll have to settle for a horror week instead of a month. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s, though! So this is going to be a random selection of horror movies I’ve either seen recently or a long time ago. Some will be favorites and some won’t, but they’ll all be ones memorable enough for me to think of off the top of my head. So without further ado…

The Conjuring is a horror movie I’ve seen recently this past month. I found myself putting it off because I’m a bit of a little girl when it comes to some scary stuff, and refuse to watch movies like this at night time by myself. But no matter, I’ve finally gotten around to it. If I were to rank this movie on a scare scale of 1-10, 1 being not scary at all, and 10 being pissing my pants, I’d give this about a 7. I jumped at some parts and it stuck with me long enough until the sun went down and I started thinking how freaky it would be if a ghost grabbed my feet while I was trying to sleep. Needless to say, I had a little bit of trouble sleeping that night. Overall, I’d say that’s a success.

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It’s easy to say the scariest stories are the true ones. Unfortunately, “true stories” when it comes to horror movies end up being about as true as me saying Bigfoot lives in my back woods. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in any ghost stories. I’ve been to one of Lorraine Warren’s scary ass Hallow’s Eve lectures and let me tell you, she’s pretty damn convincing–enough to where while I was driving home that night, I had to try my hardest not to look in the rear view mirror lest there be a scary face sitting in my backseat. Hollywood sucks at telling true horror stories, though, and take liberties that make it lose any credibility, and therefore, a lot of the genuinely scary elements. I’m pretty sure they’ve done much of the same here.

The Conjuring follows the story of the Perron family after they move into a new house in Rhode Island. Shortly after they move in, they start experiencing the usual kind of paranormal activity–strange noises, visions of ghosts, the mother, Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor), actually wakes up with bruises on her body, and the five daughters experience some pretty creepy situations as well. When they realize what they’re dealing with is serious business, Carolyn and her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) track down the famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and ask them for help.

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For the first half of the movie, director James Wan seems to understand that sometimes the scariest elements in a movie are what we don’t see. Pictures falling off the wall, doors slamming, a quick glimpse of a shadow or a face, these are the things that build suspense and create jumpy situations, something classic horror movies heavily relied on in the past. I don’t know about most people, but it’s these things that get me, not long shots of an actor in bad make-up or a CGI ghost wailing at the screen. However, once it gets towards the end, the whole vision of Bathsheba the ghost witch was a little ridiculous. Actually the possession scene was a little over the top in general. This is coming from someone who is scared to death of demon and possession related stuff (thank you, The Exorcist), but the possession here wasn’t all that scary, not to mention, the Warrens have stated numerous times they would never do an exorcism without a priest, so that whole scenario is an example of Hollywood fiction at its finest, or worst, depending upon how you see it.

Also, the inclusion of the Annabelle doll seemed extremely out of place. Sure, dolls are scary. I used to have one doll in my room I got for my first Holy Communion when I was a little girl, it was a praying doll. One night, it randomly fell off my dresser, and you know what I did? I kicked that thing the hell out of my bedroom. It sits downstairs now in a glass hutch in the dining room. But I digress. My point is, Annabelle, aside from being a creepy ass doll, served no purpose to this particular story. However, it was obviously put there for the possibility of a spin-off, which did happen, and I didn’t see it, mainly because I heard it was awful. So, I think it’s safe to say Annabelle is just a big fail on all accounts.

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I know I’m mainly nitpicking here, but it’s tough to find some good horror nowadays and I feel the need to be harsh for some reason. However, The Conjuring, despite a few issues I had with it, really is some of the best horror I’ve seen in a while. Half the time I don’t even bother going to see horror movies in the theater because I just know they are going to be bad, and that’s probably why I didn’t see this one. I’m glad I was wrong, though. James Wan directed something worthwhile here, and it doesn’t hurt that the actors did a top notch job at acting terrified, Lili Taylor wasn’t so bad at pretending to be possessed either. This definitely isn’t a bad pick for Halloween.