Tag Archives: fast and the furious

A Blob Gets Furious: Movies and some TV

According to producer Jack Harris on the commentary track for THE BLOB (1958), his goal was to combine an SF film and a juvenile delinquent film. That gave us this story of a meteorite that hatches out an oozing mass of protoplasm that absorbs any animal matter that comes near it like, for instance, people. Steve McQueen and his girlfriend know it’s true, but can they convince the cops or their parents the town is in danger?

While the film comes off as what Seeing is Believing classifies as conservative centrist — the community of regular folks comes together to fight the menace, no need for a brilliant scientist to whip up a cure — it also strikes me as straining the formula. The sort-of delinquent kids see the threat first but so does the town’s doctor (he dies too soon to weigh in) and cops and parents ultimately turn out pretty reasonable. It’s not an entirely successful mix of genres but it’s an interesting one. “Thanks to you, we’ve wasted our eighty cents.”

FURIOUS SEVEN (2015) is a direct sequel to Furious 6, starting with Shaw (Luke Evans) in hospital, being visited by his brother (Jason Statharn) who vows to avenge him; the camera then pulls back to see how much damage Shaw 2 has wrought getting past the guards which is effective but dumb (Statharn wants his brother to live, which is a lot less likely with the hospital half-demolished). Shortly afterwards Shaw’s revenge puts Hobbs in hospital (in a later scene he busts his arm out of its cast just by flexing his muscles) and blows up Brian and Mia’s house.

All of this forces our heroes into an alliance with enigmatic agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). If they’ll help him stop bad guy Djimon Hounsou from hacking into Godseye, a satellite that can instantly access any security camera anywhere (we’re apparently supposed to be chill with the U.S. government having the tech), Nobody will help them nail Shaw. This leads to the racers traversing the globe, driving between the tenth floor of two skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, Michelle Rodriguez having a clash of titans with Ronda Rousey and a final showdown in which the cast races around Los Angeles dodging Predator missiles. This was more preposterous and less interesting than the previous film, partly because Statharn’s one-man army doesn’t seem as formidable as his smarter sibling in 6. This was the last movie for Paul Walker, who died in an unrelated traffic accident mid-filming (the ending makes a big deal of saying goodbye to his character). “Only two things keep a group like this together, fear or loyalty — and I don’t see a drop of fear in you.”

GRAY MATTER (2018) is an utterly mindless low-budget SF film with a threadbare plot — Grays send a reprogrammed abductee to hunt down alien parasites taking over humans and turning them cannibal — that justifies endless uninspired action scenes. I watched a lot of this on fast-forward and didn’t miss anything. “Boobs … boooooobs!”

I recently finished the first season of EXTANT, a 2014 CBS SF drama starring Halle Berry as Molly Haskell, an astronaut in a near future setting who returns home from a year in space to discover she’s pregnant. Her boss, Sparks, initially tells her the agency hit her with experimental fertility drugs without telling her because her last miscarriage was so rough (like other stories in this vein, it doesn’t provoke half the outrage is should). In reality, she’s carrying an alien/human hybrid; Sparks is willing to let it happen because the creature can create 100 percent realistic illusions, like making him think his daughter is alive again. A dying techtrepreneur has skin in the game, believing the aliens can save his life. Can Molly stop them from getting a foothold on Earth? How will her android son respond to having such a peculiar brother? Not classic SF but it’s well-cast and I did enjoy it. “I assume you’d like to see your family again — interpret that any way you choose.”

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Aliens abduct us fast and furiously!

FURIOUS 6 (2013) picks up some months after Fast Five with everyone comfortable in their new lives and Brian and Mia (Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster) happy new parents. Then Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) shows up with proof Dom’s (Vin Diesel) wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive and working for Shaw (Luke Evans), an international criminal plotting to steal components of a Doomsday McGuffin and sell them to the highest bidder. That’s all Dom has to hear to get the band back together and we’re off for another round of over-the-top action.

At this point the cast are about one step short of becoming either a superhero team or a 1980s cartoon franchise (Camestros Felapton suggests mythic heroes too). This film has all the trappings: a former teammate returning from the dead (with amnesia, natch), continuity touches (the crimelord who murdered Letty turns out to be working for Shaw) and pitting the good guys against their mirror image team. The difference, unsurprisingly, is that the Racers of Justice are, as Dom points out, a family, where Shaw sees his team as interchangeable parts; if one doesn’t work, he replaces it. Oh, and we have an ending introducing a new foe, Jason Statharn as Shaw’s brother, who turns out to be responsible for Han’s death in Tokyo Drift (so we’re finally caught up in continuity with that one). Can’t say it grabs me more than earlier installments, but it’s interesting to watch the series evolve. Gina Carado has a supporting part as Hobbs’ sidekick. “Like I said, you were never in the game.”

THE FORGOTTEN (2004) has Julianne Moore in a spectacular performance as a mother still grieving for her son’s death in a plane crash a year ago. Except suddenly everyone, even husband Antony Edwards, is insisting her son never existed (“You had a miscarriage.”), all her photographs of him are gone and the videotapes of him are blank. Then, when she refuses to accept shrink Gary Sinese’s insistence it’s all in her head, the NSA gets involved — what’s going on?

The answer? Her son has been alien abducted as part of a sinister ET experiment. Like the movies I wrote about a few days ago, we’re absolutely helpless in the face of the alien power: the government’s involved because collaborating is the only way to protect Earth from retribution. It’s a creepy, chilling tale but it gets way too stock in the stretches where Moore and fellow abductee-parent Dominic West are running from cops (include Alfre Woodard) or feds. It also suffers from a big plot hole: the aliens can erase newspapers and videotapes, wipe memories, but in a key scene it turns out they simply painted over a child’s nursery walls. Still good, but it could have been so much more. “I’d say ‘god only knows’ but I don’t think he’s in the loop.”

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Racers, assassins, colonials: movies viewed

FAST FIVE (2011) strikes me as a game-changer for the Fast and Furious franchise, replacing the usual formula of street racing and scantily clad women (there’s one brief scene of that and the race takes place off-camera) with a caper film. Following directly on the ending for Fast & Furious, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker relocate to Brazil. Instead of hiding out, they find themselves in the gunsights of Brasilia’s most powerful crimelord and of Dwayne Johnson as a federal agent out to drag them back to stand trial.

The solution? Rip off the crimelord’s money from an impregnable vault at police headquarters, thereby giving them enough cash to retire beyond the reach of any of their pursuers. This requires bringing together most of the cast members from the first four films (Gail Godot is the standout name) and culminates with literally tearing the vault out of the police building and dragging it behind their cars through the street. The filmmakers were obviously prepared for this to be the last in the series — it has the kind of happy ending that could resolve everything but doesn’t rule out more sequels — but shifting things up clearly worked, given how many more sequels we’ve had. “This just went from Mission Impossible to Mission In-Freaking-Sanity!”

The French film La Femme Nikita inspired both the U.S. Point of No Return and the Chinese THE BLACK CAT (1990), which I caught last weekend. Like the other films (and the Peta Wilson TV show) this has a female drifter kill a cop, go to jail, then get recruited by a black ops group as a counter-terrorist assassin. Unlike what I remember of the others the protagonist here is  a formidable killer even before she gets trained; said training includes an implanted microchip that enhances her performance but I honestly don’t see much difference. Not up to the French original. “From this moment on, we’re the only ones who can help you.”

Alfred Hitchcock had wanted Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman for the lead roles in The Paradine Case; in 1949, he got to use them both in UNDER CAPRICORN but that didn’t help this turkey. Michael Wilding plays a younger son of the aristocracy, arriving in 1800s Sydney to make his fortune. He becomes a friend and business associate to surly Joseph Cotton, a former groom turned convict who’s now a wealthy landowner; complicating things is Wilding’s crush on Cotton’s alcoholic wife, Ingrid Bergman, whom he knew from childhood. This was based on a well-regarded historical novel (adapted for Aussie TV in the 1980s if you’re curious) but it doesn’t work at all, and both Cotton and Bergman feel miscast in their roles. With Cecil Parker as the pompous Aussie governor, I’m inclined to suggest The Court Jester as a double bill for his equally unappealing leader there. “A gentleman’s word in Australia doesn’t mean much.”

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Kids, teens, a jester and a maid: movies

INVADERS FROM MARS (1954) is one of the landmark Kids And Aliens films as the young protagonist discovers his parents, the police and the little girl he plays with have all been taken over by a sinister Martian ship. What makes it memorable is less the story than the striking visuals by William Cameron Menzies: everything is a little distorted and “off” for reasons that eventually become clear. Leif Erickson as the boy’s father gives a striking performance swinging from kindly, patient father to an abusive brute, though it doesn’t make much sense (everyone else is reduced to pod people-class emotionlessness so why is he so vicious?). Well worth seeing. “Could you disprove, for example that the Martians have bred a race of synthetic humanoids to save themselves from extinction?”

The same cannot be said for Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake, INVADERS FROM MARS which follows the plot outline but misses the magic. Instead of Menzies’ eerie set designs, we get impressive but unimaginative F/X; instead of the dreamlike tone of the film, we get a somewhat more realistic story that lacks any power to move me. “You saw the bandages on the back of their neck!”

THE SPACE CHILDREN (1958) makes me think that family is a running element in Kids And Aliens films (Spielberg said that was the emotional heart of E.T. too). The core family in the film has been shaken by Dad uprooting them to move to an isolated military research station on the California coast where he’s working, uneasily, on a new nuclear super-weapon; the two boys think it looks like fun but Mom is decidedly unhappy. A neighboring family is worse off, as stepfather Russell Johnson is an abusive drunk. Enter an alien space brain that starts manipulating the kids and using them as conduits for its psi-power, wielding them against the project. As it turns out the alien’s a good guy (deactivating this and similar projects around the world will avert WW III), that makes this the anti-Village of the Damned, with the seemingly dangerous kids actually working on our side. Not well executed, but it has its moments. “What is this thing that’s come into our lives?”

PAJAMA PARTY (1964) was the first of AIP’s Beach Party movies not to star Frankie Avalon opposite Annette Funicello, with the male lead role going to the extremely bland Tommy Kirk. As the Martian spy Go-Go, Tommy’s mission is to study the American teenager before the Martians invade out of fear our crazy teens will inflict their behavior on the rest of the Solar System once we make it into space; this entangles him with Funicello and her swingin’ friends, dotty heiress Elsa Lanchester, and Jesse White whose mob is plotting to rip off Lanchester’s fortune. I like the Beach Party films but this one doesn’t work for me, and Buster Keaton in redface as White’s Native American sidekick has really not aged well. With Don Rickles and Dorothy Lamour in bit parts. “Show me a crazy teenager and in ten years I’ll show you a crazy adult.”

TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) makes Pajama Party look like Rebel Without a Cause. A young ET from the Supreme Race rebels against their cold, emotionless ways and runs off during a stop on Earth, meets an Earth teenager and falls in love. Then he discovers his people are planning to use Earth to graze their monstrous space-livestock and sets out to stop them. Stiff dialogue, wooden characters and being teenagers hardly makes a difference to anything. “It had a life — and that life you had to take to satisfy your endless hunger for killing!”

JOAN THE WOMAN (1917) was Cecil B. DeMille’s epic of the Maid of Orleans, here a Simple Country Lass played by opera singer Geraldine Farrar (well-known enough that a lot of critics balked at her in the film, and found her earthy for the innocent virgin she’s portraying). Inspired by God she frees her country from the English only to have king and church both betray her, as does the Englishman she loves. This is embedded in a frame of a WW I English soldier inspired to make the Supreme Sacrifice to redeem himself for his past life as Joan’s lover/betrayer. Shows DeMille had the touch even then, but at two hours this could have stood some cutting. “If every sword in France were broken, if every man were dead, there is still the God of Justice to free us from thy yoke!”

FAST & FURIOUS (2009) reunites Vin Diesel, Paul Walker (now improbably upgraded from cop to G-Man) and Jordana Brewster to get revenge (or in the case of Brewster, wring her hands over the crazy risks the men are taking) for the murder of Diesel’s sister Michelle Rodriguez by a drug kingpin. This was actually less engaging than the second film, with less visual flash and a more conventional action film plot; Gal Godot plays a race organizer and a Japanese character from Tokyo Drift gets retconned into the series in the opening flashback. “Are you one of those boys who prefers cars to women?”

It’s been many years since I’ve seen Danny Kaye in THE COURT JESTER (1955) but the film has lost none of its charm. The Robin Hood-esque Black Fox has dedicated himself to removing usurper Cecil Parker from the English throne; Danny Kaye is a carnie who yearns to fight instead of just entertaining the Fox’s men. Opportunity arises when he gets to replace jester Giacamo (John Carradine) and slip into the castle alongside Glynis Johns (one of the Fox’s fighters) but things are complicated — like the fact Giacamo is an assassin hired by scheming Basil Rathbone to eliminate his rivals on the king’s council. With Angela Lansbury as a princess and Mildred Natwick as a witch, this is an absolute delight with Kaye at his flamboyant, comedic best. “Like you said — flowers to their widows.”

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Womanizers, superhumans and Japanese racers: movies viewed

DON JON (2013) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the eponymous ladies’ man who doesn’t think he has a problem just because he can’t orgasm with his many lovers, but only watching porn afterwards. When he gets serious about Scarlett Johansson, she finds out and demands he stop, but can he break the addiction? And will Julianne Moore as the voice of reason be able to help?

Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed this one so it’s a pleasant surprise he doesn’t go overboard and make Johansson just The Bitch. She certainly has flaws — her view of gender roles is so rigid she freaks out about her lover’s fondness for cleaning his apartment almost as much as his porn addiction — but she’s pretty much in the right on the porn problem (compare this to Woody Allen’s Anything Else).  I rewatched this simply because TYG was rewatching it, but it was worth the attention. “And just when you’re getting into it, there it is, on your computer — a dick!”

Gordon-Levitt was also in Netflix’s PROJECT POWER (2020) but I gave up on this superhero movie about twenty minutes in. The story of a super-power drug hitting the streets and the efforts to find the supplier — Gordon-Levitt is the hardcase cop on the case who’s using the drug himself — seemed much more a stock cop film than a superhero film, and anyone who’s still using Matrix slow-mo special effects for superpower scenes has a black mark against them in my book.

FAST AND THE FURIOUS: Tokyo Drift (2006) is one of several Part IIIs I’ve seen that make a radical reboot from the first two films (Halloween III is the first one that comes to mind, partly because it was such a flop). As the producers couldn’t get any of the cast from the first two films back, the protagonist is a working-class Southern teen shipped off to his dad in Japan to avoid jail time for an illegal street race. Cars are his life so before long he’s breaking his promise and racing again, this time a version called drifting; this leads to a rivalry with a Yakuza-linked driver over the requisite pretty woman.

Unlike Halloween III this sticks faithfully to the Sexy Women & Fast Cars formula of the first two films, but it never rose above talking-lamp status for me (it didn’t do as well as the first two so apparently I’m not alone). Vin Diesel shows up in a cameo at the end, Bow Wow has a supporting role and Sonny Chiba cameos as a mob boss. “Your bookkeeping is incomprehensible, but even I can figure out your partner is stealing from you.”

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From Miami to the dawn of time and all points in-between: Movies and TV

Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor returns in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003), street-racing in Miami after losing his badge (due to his decision at the end of The Fast and the Furious). Busted by the cops, he agrees to help the cops take down a drug dealer with the help of Brian’s former best friend (Tyrese Gibson) and undercover agent Eva Mendes. I was surprised how much better this played than the first film, whether because of John Singleton’s direction or because the multiple clashing agendas make for more drama as it’s harder to guess who’s selling out whom. I’ll get to the third film eventually though I’m not in a rush. “This is some Dukes of Hazzard shit, bro.”

I wasn’t blown away by MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996) when I first caught it but as my friend Ross points out, it has the distinction of lasting six films (with more to come) where attempts to turn The Man From Uncle or Get Smart into a franchise tanked. The film has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Béart) the sole survivors when a traitor sells out the IMF; with Ethan fingered by the government as the probable traitor, can they clear his name and catch the real bad guy? Rewatching I found it enjoyable, and certainly well cast, with Jon Voight as Jim Phelps, Ving Rhames and Jean Reno as former IMF agents Ethan recruits and Vanessa Redgrave stealing every scene she’s in as an arms and information broker. The high-tech break-in at the CIA was the least interesting part, compared to the con games used to manipulate their adversaries. And even though it isn’t that faithful to the series (the big twist is one that cropped up a lot in spec scripts and invariably got shot down), it is a glossy, competent action film with a bankable cast, so maybe that’s enough. “Would you care for something from the Ukrainian cinema?”

I used the first season of YOUNGER (2015 to now) mostly as a talking lamp while I was doing other stuff, but it’s pleasant enough for that, and occasionally quite funny. Protagonist Liza (Sutton Foster) is a divorced fortysomething who finds her years out of the workforce make her unemployable. The solution? Reinvent herself as a 20something just starting out, which lands her an editorial assistant, a new buddy (Hilary Duff) and studly 20something boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella). Can Liza keep up the pretense? Is Josh becoming more than just a convenient lay? Can Liza fit in with twentysomethings who see the world very differently? The first season ends pretty much where I expected, but it was enjoyable enough getting there. “That was from the Torah? I thought it was from Game of Thrones!”

Based on the same-name novel, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018) has a writer in post-WW II Britain traveling to the Channel Islands to write the story of the eponymous group and its role in fighting the German occupation (not fictional — Germany really did hold Guernsey and the other islands for a while) only to discover she’s stepped into a complicated drama and has a few of her own to deal with. I couldn’t get into this, but it may have been me rather than the film (COVID-19 worries were bound to distract me sooner or later).

My brother plays Adam in GENESIS — THE BIBLICAL MUSIC EXPERIENCE (2020), a stage show in LA that’s now streaming on Amazon. You’re probably familiar with the story, which starts with Creation, then the Fall, then ends with Noah’s flood and the aftermath, using a video-screen backdrop to expand the action (the sets are simple and sparse, which works fine). This well done with some excellent singing, though I’d have liked it better on stage — this kind of creative staging never looks as good on screen. “Eat not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

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Bruce Lee, Alfred Hitchcock and More: Movies viewed

And I also reviewed the 12 Monkeys TV series on Atomic Junkshop.

After reading Bruce Lee’s biography, I Netflixed ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), the movie that showed Bruce Lee’s dream of superstardom was within his grasp (he died too soon to realize it). Lee plays a Shaolin monk recruited by British intelligence to hunt down a Shaolin renegade running a crime empire, including a sex-trafficking ring. Getting to the bad guy requires competing in his martial arts tournament against John Saxon (who only realized midway through the film that he wasn’t the hero) and Jim Kelly (the trio of white/black/Asian fighters was part of Lee’s idea for another, unmade film). Solidly entertaining, though now that martial arts films are so mainstream, it doesn’t have the seismic shock it must have given audiences in ’73. “A man’s strength is measured by his appetites — no, a man’s strength is fueled by his appetites!”

Alfred Hitchcock again — MURDER! (1930) suffers from being a yet another Filmed Stage Melodrama in which actor-producer Herbert Marshall tries to clear a former protege of murdering a rival (“If I hadn’t told you to gain experience in the provinces, this wouldn’t have happened.”). Despite several stagebound scenes, though, some of the visual moments are interesting, such as a couple getting ready in the morning, the pressure on Marshall to vote guilty with the rest of the jury. “We use life to create art, then we use art to critique life.”

NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932) is another filmed play, but with a lot of what would later be classic Hitchcock elements, such as lots of identity games and a very visual final chase. However, after an initially great shot of a windswept street, the results are dull and confused as the various cast members explore the eponymous address which contains a dead body, a stolen necklace and possibly an undercover cop. Hitch’s next film was the equally forgettable Waltzes of Vienna but I’ll be jumping over that one to the classic Man Who Knew Too Much. “You don’t have to do nothing — in this house things just happen.”

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) has a cop infiltrating a street-racing ring with an eye to bagging alpha racer Vin Diesel for a series of highway robberies, only to find himself going native as he bonds with Diesel and falls for the racer’s younger sister (Jordana Brewster). I watched this because any series with this many movies in it must be doing something right; while fast cars, sexy people and male bonding all have time-tested viewer appeal, I can’t see anything that made this in particular stand out. Michelle Rodriguez plays Diesel’s woman. “I watched my dad burn to death — I remember hearing the scream.”

Directed by Hiyao Miyazaki’s son, Studio Ghibli’s TALES OF EARTHSEA (2006) has magic mysteriously going haywire, forcing the wizard Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton) to search out the cause and restore the balance. A young man guilt-ridden over having slain his own father joins with the wizard and together they confront an immortalist (Willem Dafoe) desperately struggling to open the barriers between life and death, no matter the cost. This was good, though the young man’s patricide doesn’t make any sense to me. “You turned away from light so that you could see only darkness.”

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