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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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie whose reason for being made is one not many people understood, as Marvel was treading into unfamiliar territory. What? A team of superheroes that include a talking raccoon and a big tree? It was a huge gamble for Marvel Studios to introduce a lesser known team of comic book characters and add them into a world with popular heroes such as Iron Man and Captain America. But man, am I glad they took that gamble. James Gunn has brought a fresh new team of superheroes into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they may not all be human, but they sure are a lot of fun.

WARNING: May be some minor spoilers ahead!

The movie starts out in 1988 with a young Peter Quill. After a rather emotional scene in which Peter witnesses the death of his mother, he is abducted from Earth by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his group of space pirates called the Ravagers. Jump to 26 years later, and we see an older Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) with headphones on, listening to one of the many awesome songs on his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” tape, dancing, singing, and kicking small lizard like creatures in his path to a place that harbors a mysterious orb. During his attempts to steal it, he is interrupted by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a man who answers to Ronan (Lee Pace), the main villain of this film.

After he manages to escape the planet, he finds himself on Xandar, being hunted down by Gamora (Zoe Saldana)–a green-skinned assassin sent by Ronan to retrieve the orb–as well as a talking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his big tree friend, Groot (Vin Diesel), who want to capture him and trade him in for the bounty Yondu put on his head. After this little brawl, they find themselves arrested and thrown in prison where they are forced to form an unlikely alliance with each other as well as Drax (Dave Bautista), a big muscled and very literal guy who wants to get revenge on Ronan for killing his family. After seeing what the contents of the orb can do, they think twice about their original plan of selling it and become determined to keep it out of Ronan’s hands so that he won’t be able to harness the power himself and destroy Xandar, or worse, pass it on to Thanos (Josh Brolin), the big baddie who will be a lot of trouble for our heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe later on.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is chock full of well-paced action, gorgeous special effects, and more importantly, humor. One of the best things this movie has going for it is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Whereas some other superhero movies are just too heavy to be genuinely fun, this one is light-hearted and a freakin’ blast from beginning to end. On top of that, this is comedy done right. Some of it is inappropriate, some of it is corny, and some is just down right hilarious, but it all compliments the personalities and quirkiness of each character, makes them likable, and makes the chemistry between them that much more interesting and fun.

Peter Quill/Star-Lord is a likely leader of the group. From the very beginning of the movie, we are emotionally invested in his character, seeing him first in a vulnerable and sad position. When we see him grown up, he is a fun guy, with no doubt questionable morals, but the type of guy you’d want to hang out with nonetheless. Making references to 80s pop culture on Earth that no one understands but him (i.e. Kevin Bacon in Footloose) and listening to some of the best, upbeat songs from the 70s and 80s–contributing to the awesome soundtrack of this movie–he sets the tone for how the rest of the movie is going to play out. I was minimally aware of Chris Pratt’s acting and comedic capabilities. Seeing him mostly in smaller secondary roles, I wasn’t too confident about him being able to pull off the lead guy, but thankfully, my lack of confidence faded away almost immediately as his strong, charming personality pulled me into the film and kept me there until the end.

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Gamora is a great leading lady whose tough, but noble personality rivals that of the sassy, and at times, unethical characteristics of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. In fact, I think I just might like Gamora even more. She’s a strong assassin with great fighting skills and a big heart to go with them. Zoe Saldana, a woman who has made herself a strong and likable presence in the sci-fi genre, brings the same kind of strong willed female appeal to this character as she does to her others. At this point, it seems like a cakewalk for her.

Drax is awesome mainly because he’s such a literal guy. He’s funny without trying to be funny. He makes insults he doesn’t realize are insults because he repeats what he hears. He says things which are meant to be endearing, like “This dumb tree is my friend”, (after having heard Rocket call Groot an idiot), as well as calling Gamora “this green whore,” and then blasting Nebula (Karen Gillian) away for calling Gamora stupid and traitorous, replying with, “Nobody talks to my friends like that.” What a stand up guy. Dave Bautista didn’t have to put much into this character besides his muscles and strength. Drax isn’t really the type of guy to talk with deep inflections so the performance, including the unintentional jokes, are spot on.

Rocket being a talking raccoon with the accent of a tough guy from Brooklyn (a voice by Cooper that is almost unrecognizable at times), putting other characters in their place with his zingers, surprisingly steals the show. He’s quite simply amazing and hard not to like. You feel really bad for him when the other characters call him things like “monster” and “rodent,” as he reveals that he was once tortured and experimented on (poor guy), but his “don’t mess with me” attitude is humorous and admirable, and him going nuts with machine guns kind of makes you forget the unfortunate factors of which his existence is based.

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Rocket’s best friend and bodyguard, Groot, a tree which can grow and retract limbs at will, is hilariously endearing. Not able to say anything except, “I am Groot,” (a phrase which only Rocket can understand different meanings of), his personality is shown best through his actions and facial expressions. There’s one scene where he grows a long arm and takes out a group of bad guys with it, swinging them back and forth and pounding them between two walls. He then turns around to look at the rest of the group with an excited, self-satisfied smile as if he were a puppy who’s done something worthy of praise. If ever there was a point when I would’ve thought a movie with a raccoon and a pet tree would be stupid, I would take it back right now. This duo is awesome.

Ronan the Accuser is a decent enough villain. He is more or less a terrorist who wants to destroy a planet in which his people have made a peace treaty with. Although, he may not be so memorable in a universe where so many villains exist. I can’t fault Lee Pace for that, though, as he does a fine job with the character. Nebula, as Gamora’s not-so-related sister, is a force to be reckoned with, although her motivation isn’t exactly clear, but it seems as though she’s jealous of Gamora and eager to please whatever higher power she can. Michael Rooker as Yondu is like watching Rooker’s character from The Walking Dead, except here he is blue and he has an awesome weapon that answers to his whistles. Glenn Close doesn’t have a huge part, but she does alright as Nova Prime. Benicio Del Toro plays a lot of quirky roles, and often times his characters’ motivations are questionable, which is why I think he’s perfect as The Collector. Looking forward to where his story goes for later movies. All in all, I enjoyed the characters, major and minor alike.

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Guardians of the Galaxy has an entertainment level that rivals that of the already widely loved The Avengers, in fact, I can’t decide which one I love more as they are equally entertaining in their own right. This movie has the perfect balance of action and humor, as well as visual effects that are a pleasure to look at. It’s nice to have a Marvel movie that leaves Earth in the beginning and does not return. We’ve already seen superheroes saving lives on Earth, and here we get to see them saving lives, and at the same time, exploring the outer reaches of galaxies in all their glory. New creatures, new races, new worlds, and the beautiful mixture of colors out in space are amongst the things we get to discover. The characters are given just enough backstory to work with to make the audience care about what happens to them, and their individual traits add to that by making them extremely likable in a lot of ways. This movie is a surprisingly successful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is simply a blast and a movie that I would recommend to Marvel and non-Marvel fans alike.

5/5

IMAX Sneak Peek of Guardians of the Galaxy

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Thanks to my cousin being on top of all things Marvel, tonight I was able to make it to the IMAX 17-minute sneak peek of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which will be coming to theaters on August 1st.

If you’ve seen the trailer then you already know that somehow these 5 characters end up in prison together. The footage we were shown tonight starts off with what you see in the picture above, with them all lined up and John C. Reilly’s character identifying them by name and crimes committed. The rest of the footage focuses on their plan and, ultimately, their attempt to escape the prison.

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Being unfamiliar with the story from not having read any of the comics, I can tell you what I know about the characters from the little bit that I’ve seen. I’m not giving any spoilers here, since what I saw wasn’t very spoilery anyway. Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is the charismatic leader who is very sensitive about his music, specifically Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” which facilitates a brawl with an alien police officer. I don’t blame him, really. That song is pretty catchy. In fact, I’m still singing it to myself right gamoranow. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is basically a green-skinned badass who has a low tolerance for idiocy. Her fighting style looks awesome. Gamora also has a connection with the main villain of the story, I won’t say how since I am not sure of its level of spoilery. Rocket, who has a real tough guy voice courtesy of Bradley Cooper, not only serves as the brains, but also the comedic flair. I couldn’t expect more from a violent, machine rocket-and-grootgun-wielding raccoon. No really, he might even be my favorite character already. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) doesn’t really have much to say except for “I am Groot,” but he proves himself very useful in a lot of ways as Rocket’s personal bodyguard. Drax (Dave Bautista) is a very big guy who can no doubt hold his own against any enemy, and he’s known for being very literal. But nothing goes over his head, because he’s “too quick, and will catch it.” Overall, it’s a pretty good draxensemble and I love the way these characters work together. I especially love the bickering between Peter Quill and Rocket, a lot of the dialogue and the way it was delivered just shows how comical this movie will be, and from what I’ve been told, the comic books are just as funny and light-hearted. It’s good to know they’ll be sticking to them tonally.

Aside from the characters, this movie just looks absolutely amazing in IMAX 3D. If you have the option to see it in that format when it comes out, I would highly recommend it. It takes you right into that world. Of course, the prison scenes hardly even do it justice, but if you’ve seen any of the recent trailers for it in IMAX 3D, you’ll know how cool some of the scenes look. I can’t wait to see the rest of this movie, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far and it looks awesome. Hopefully will not be disappointed.

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Below is the most recent trailer that accompanied the sneak peek tonight.