Furious 7: Movie Review

Furious 7I wasn’t able to watch Furious 7 in its first week, when cinemas were jampacked with people itching to see the late Paul Walker’s final ride in the franchise he started with his bestie Vin Diesel. Indeed, no matter how hard core this franchise is with the cool cars and the hot girls (who are badasses in their own right), it wouldn’t have been as successful without this duo. Being a fan of the franchise, I too, wanted to give Paul a proper sendoff by watching him on the big screen, along with the rest of the fandom. Better late than never, right, and what’s important is that I actually made it. I actually made it to see Paul’s last movie. His real and fitting final ride.

After taking down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in London and getting amnesty for past crimes, Dom (Vin Diesel) and and his crew are finally able to return home to the US. Bryan (Paul Walker) is living peacefully with Mia (Jordana Bewster) and their son Jack while the rest of the team are chilling out in different parts of the country. But it seems the idyllic life never sits well with the team as they are haunted by the events of London, when Shaw’s big bad brother, Deckard (Jason Statham) starts to hunt them down to avenge Owen’s death. But Deckard is a shadow, a former CIA Black Ops who remains always one step ahead of them. When a CIA boss (Kurt Russel) approaches the crew to give them a mission that would help them turn the tables on their enemy, they grab the opportunity without question. The next thing they know, they are involved in the rescue of a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and going after a highly evolved surveillance device called the God’s Eye. When their common enemies join forces, chaos ensues in the streets of LA.

First off, let me just say that Furious 7 was not a perfect movie, nor was it the best installment in the franchise. It had a lot of inconsistencies storywise and some of the characters’ actions just did not make sense. It could have been a lot different if they were not restricted by the fact that one of its lead actors suddenly died in the middle of filming and I’m quite sure that the script underwent some major revisions along the way to accommodate the handicap but at the end of the day, Furious 7 did remain consistent with the general theme of the franchise and stayed true to delivering what the fandom was expecting from the movie. I was kind of bummed to realize though that so little was left of the original team, not until they planned their next mission and the table was so far less crowded than it was for the Rio heist.

One of the issues I had with the movie was the script. In the beginning, there was a lot of talk about family and brothers (perhaps to underscore the parallelisms between Shaw and Dom or maybe because it was a shoutout to Paul whom the crew thought of as family) but towards the middle, it became kind of tedious. True, there were superb action stunts, car chases and gunfire in between but there were really times that it felt overdramatic and depressing. The brooding, nostrils flaring showdowns between baldies The Rock vs Statham, and Statham vs Dom, while on paper, seemed like pretty kickass fight scenes (which they were, up to a certain degree), the amount of time devoted to them circling each other like sharks and posturing for battle at times seemed comical, add to the fact that despite all of the damages they sustained physically, they always survived it. I mean, come on, where’s the realism in that? Leave us not forget the semi cheesy scene with Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) towards the end. (I say semi cheesy because with Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in a scene, it could never be entirely cheesy)

Speaking of realism, the order of the day for the the final FF movie seemed to be “think of the impossible and let’s just do it.” And the stunts in this movie were definitely in that category. I’m not complaining because if audiences suspend their disbelief for one second, it will help them appreciate the scenes for their genius. It was such a rush to see all of these amazing action sequences happening simultaneously and yet, each scene is given its own spotlight without being rushed or slo mo-ed too much, unlike in other movies of the same genre. It really gives the audiences an appreciation for cinema magic. My mind was blown by the amount of creativity it took to think up of things they did in this movie. And as a viewer, I really, really loved it. I liked the lighter part of the script, mostly those delivered by Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) which were more in line with the general vibe of the franchise.

I’m actually super glad that I refrained from reading spoilers or clicking on materials that had to do with Paul’s CGI or Paul’s tribute in Furious 7 before I saw the movie. It made me appreciate the efforts of the entire team in giving Paul the ending that he deserved. The CGI was so masterful that I didn’t know which scenes were CGI and what weren’t. I’m glad that the filmmakers brought Paul’s brothers on board for the project.

Check out how they pulled off Paul’s CGI here:

As for the tribute in the end, I loved it for its meaning. The approach was very subtle but the sincerity in the words reflected the type of relationship the FF family had developed from the beginning of the franchise. It wasn’t about creating drama. It was about sending off a person whom the franchise held dear in their hearts. And this is what made it matter.

If you want to check out the tribute, here’s the youtube version of the official music video:

And here’s Vin singing See You Again for his buddy. This may be one time you hear him break out into song aside from the Peter Panda dance.

All in all, I’m glad that this movie became Paul Walker’s swan song. It was the franchise that brought him to stardom and it was right that his final movie was made with the people he loved doing what he loved. For all its faults, Furious 7 was entertaining, and delivered on fans’ expectations. Sure, it could have been more. But it was still a good movie which accomplished what it set out to do, which was to end (?) the franchise with guns blazing.

Brick Mansions:Movie Review

paul-walkers-action-film-brick-mansions-has-a-2nd-trailerIn yet another movie featuring Paul Walker shown after his death, Brick Mansions is a remake of the French action film District 13 (Banlieue 13 or B13) released in 2004 starring actor/stunt choreographer/founder of Parkour David Belle. The film, written and produced by Luc Besson enjoyed great success in Europe so it was natural for Hollywood to want a piece of the action.

The year is 2018 and Detroit has become the most crime-ridden city in the world. With violence running rampant, the mayor has ordered the erection of a wall that will serve as a divide for the city’s slum area (Brick Mansions) and business district. After years of leaving the residents of Brick Mansions to oppression, poverty and a general lack of social services, the mayor asks for support from the city’s elite to build a high end commercial district in place of the slums, with the promise that he will take care of all the members of his constituents. Meanwhile, he and his men send out undercover cop Damian Collier (Walker) beyond the wall to disarm a bomb hijacked by crime lord Tremaine Alexander (RZA) which threatens to wipe out the slums. Belle reprises his role in the original movie as Lino (he was Leito in the French version), the vigilante who helps Damian get to Tremaine and find justice for  his father, who he believes was killed by Alexander.

I must say that Brick Mansions was a film that had a lot of energy. A lot of running, a lot of action, a lot of cool stunts, a lot of great cars and a lot of explosions. Its the type of movie that does not allow audiences to blink during an action sequence because the choreography is so interesting and so tight that one must really give credit to the stunt choreographers who worked on the innovative moves. David Belle had no problem executing his stunts and the guy is such a joy to watch because from the first glance, audiences know that he’s the real thing. Paul Walker’s scenes were also good but audiences could tell that he’s not as learned in the execution as Belle was. Because there was such fluidity and speed in Belle’s movements, the very slight delays in Paul’s punches seem more pronounced in comparison. But still, credit to Paul (or his stunt double) for the well executed synchronized moves which were great to see.

While the action was great, the same thing could not be said with the rest of the movie. RZA, though oozing with coolness outside of this movie (he’s the frickin founder of the Wu Tang Clan for Pete’s sake!), seemed unable to strike the perfect balance between menacing villain and consciencious do-gooder. As a result, no matter which team he played for, he was not a great presence because there was no conviction in his portrayal. The rest of the goons seemed like cardboard cutouts of goons before them and it was just sad because the environment truly called for more brutal and graphic representation. Belle and Walker might have made a great team in terms of action but there was no real connection between the two stars, and no pivotal moment that would solidify their bromance. There was no rapport between the characters at all. And the mayor! If a person was going to be cast as a main villain in a movie, shouldn’t it follow that some effort would be required to pull off the role? Should’nt said villain be compelling enough to bring enemies together for a common cause? Sadly, Bruce Ramsay may not have gotten the memo because his chief of staff seemed more in tune with his dark side than the evil mayor.

The narrative was all over the place and seemed more concerned about  moving the action sequences along to give audiences the illusion that they are being entertained, no matter that there is no genuine substance behind the plot and no big set up for the final reveal. It was very predictable, as expected from the beginning. The ending was super cheesy (not the good kind) that it made me want to hide under the desk because of embarrassment for Paul Walker. If you give this film the time of day, you would understand what I’m getting at.

All in all, my main problem with the movie was its reliance on the stunts to sell the movie. For a supposed film that talks of oppression of people, it should have connected with audience at some point because evidently, the residents of Brick Mansions were the ultimate underdogs, shunned by the government that was supposed to protect them. Its frustrating because how can viewers sympathize with the characters when they themselves couldn’t care less about their plight? Nobody supported Lino’s lone crusade from the beginning and its hard to cheer for people who are that lazy to fight for what they deserve. Still, the characters are not entirely to blame. This lack of connection owes mainly to the film’s lack of heart, which is evident in the haphazard editing and cardboard characters. It was such a waste of talent. Good effort from David Belle though. At the end of the day, I’m glad that this is not Walker’s swan song. (Because no matter what movies claim, its gonna be the final Fast and Furious). He deserves to be remembered for more.

The Expendables: Movie Review

expendables_ver4_xlgI unearthed this review of the first Expendables movie from my Facebook page before I started this blog. Seems fitting yo post this now that the third movie is coming. My take on Sly Stallone’s action packed The Expendables, ladies and gents :D

Fans of action are guaranteed to love this flick. One: because of the general testosterone overload. Two: because of the lineup of iconic action superstars, both past and present. Three: because of the pure kick-ass-ness of the entire movie. Name it, they have it —  hand to hand combat, blades, explosives — the works. The story is a no brainer — very typical in fact — a gang of mercenaries (Stallone, Statham, Li, Couture, Crews) were hired by the CIA to take down a military junta in the small island of Vilena, which is being used as the manufacturing and transshipment point of of an illegal drug syndicate financed and headed by the villanous Eric Roberts, who, himself was a CIA agent gone rogue. The payout was $5 million. Stallone and Staham scout the area, discover that the mission was too dangerous, and opted out of the job. Some complications arise and they end up taking on the job anyways, and this, is basically where the non-stop action begins.

I have to hand it to Stallone. I loved the last Rocky and Rambo (both directed and penned by him) because it portrayed the characters as humans, who go through life just like the rest of us. They had personal sh*t to deal with, just like any other guy. The same formula was used in The Expendables, but only, it was more complicated because of the amount of big names who signed up for the movie.

What I liked best about the movie was the humor and good-naturedness of each of the characters. They poked fun at each other and their own weaknesses like a typical group of friends having beer on a Friday night while watching a sports event. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, and obviously had fun doing the movie. Unlike in their own personal starrers, they took hits in the action scenes, as well as dished out beatings of their own. Reminiscent of The Forbidden Kingdom where Jackie Chan and Jet Li shared billing, Stallone managed to balance the screen time among all of his characters, without it seeming forced. The transitions between the scenes and the focus were good.

Stallone managed to stand out as the leader of the pack but did not hog the limelight to himself. He gave each character their own moments to shine. And because of the variety of action scenes and stunts, each character was able to excel in their fight scenes, which were very well choreographed and executed, by the way. There were elements of wrestling, mixed martial arts (Stallone used an armbar on one of the goons), Couture even mixed up his routine by doing a wall climb and superman punch. Steve Austin kicked Stallone’s ass. Statham, well, he’s an all around ass kicker for sure, but unlike in previous movies, he was not a car expert on this one, but rather, an expert in blades and the like. Terry Crews (Latrell in the The White Chicks), who was a professional football player in real life was able to show off his quarterback skills by throwing a ginormous missile across fire to take down a chopper, but Jet Li is the cutest among them all, with the dialogue emphasizing how small he is as compared to the other guys on his team. He just went along with the movie-long prank and did his awesome martial arts moves flawlessly against Dolph Lundgren. He, in turn, was beaten up just to even the score but the scene was equal parts entertaining and amazing. Mickey Rourke added to the mix by bringing in the drama factor leading to the turning point of the film, while Bruce Willis and Arnie lent more starpower to the flick by delivering dialogue loaded with punchlines and zingers in reference to their real life and their former movie characters.

All in all, the movie was not the greatest because of some lull in the middle part of the film while Stallone was laying out the story, but the action scenes and the fun script made it one of the good action movies that I will remember for a very long time. Statham said in one of his dialogues. “You Should have waited, I was worth it”…. Well, they were worth it indeed and I’m glad I did wait to see this on the big screen.

Getaway: Movie Review

Poster-art-for-Getaway_event_mainOn paper, Getaway should have been one kickass movie. It had a catchy title. It starred great actors. It featured a fast paced stunt heavy movie. It had a great piece of machinery in the form of a Ford Shelby Snake in the front and center. It even had a neat soundtrack. But after sitting through this 84 minute feature in the cinema, I couldn’t help but felt cheated of what this film could have been. For this year alone, that makes two Ethan Hawke movies that made me feel this way. (The Purge being one of them) And I, for one, am disappointed beyond words.

Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) was a talented race car driver who was forced to retire from his sport because he did not have the right temperament to go all the way to the top. After taking on seedy jobs that require his particular set of skills, he falls in love with his wife Leanne  (Rebecca Budig) and this makes him decide to choose a quiter life down the straight and narrow. When he arrives home one day to find his house ransacked and his wife missing, he is forced to take orders from a caller who claims to hold his wife captive. In a sleek the top of the line Shelby Snake rigged with cameras, he is tasked by the voice to wreak havoc to the city, endangering lives and causing  massive damage on the streets. In the process, he meets a young woman (Selena Gomez) who claims to own the stolen vehicle. Before long, the duo are trapped into doing what the voice has commanded, later revealing the true purpose of the orders.

TOO CUTE TO KICK ASS. I have no doubt that Gomez is a good actress but perhaps not good enough to overcome her handicap -- her cuteness.

TOO CUTE TO KICK ASS.  No doubt that Gomez is talented but perhaps still not good enough to overcome her handicap — her cuteness.

Getaway is basically Phone Booth in a car. However, unlike Phone Booth, audiences don’t really feel a sense of danger from the whole ordeal. There are no layers to the revelation which will complicate the plot and other than the actual identity of the mastermind, the plot grows pretty tedious. It was obvious that the wife was just a pawn and no matter how great an actor Ethan Hawke is, his panic wears on after saying the same thing in every conversation with The Voice. The same thing goes for the intricate car stunts — while at first, it was awesome, it slowly but surely lost its luster when pretty much the entire movie was one scene in repeat mode. There was even one prolonged scene where Brent was tailing a black SUV that went on for a couple of minutes. Just that, tailing.

I also had a problem with the casting of Selena Gomez. No matter how she tried to play the part of a rebellious teen, her role as a sports car afficionado/computer geek did not really sell. The gun pulling and the swearing was really just pathetic because she was just too cute for the part. She looked like a sulky little munchkin rather than the surly tough cookie that the film wanted her to be which kind of killed the intensity the filmmakers were gunning for, right there.

All in all, what Getaway managed to achieve was advertise the speed and durability of a Ford Shelby Snake limited edition and the mileage that this car could totally chalk in. Imagine, going around the city in top speed for an entire night without needing to gas up? That would be awesome if it were true. Aside from that, it also presented the story of the systematic destruction of a decked out $60,000 car, a fact that real life car geeks around the world are weeping over, no doubt. This movie made me really sad, really. I feel really bad for Ethan for sticking out his neck for this movie with the entire thing backfiring in the end.

Premium Rush: Movie Review

Premium_rush_filmIf there is one word to describe the experience of seeing this movie,  it would be “a rush.” Oh wait, that’s two words. What about a frickin’ awesome rush? Well, that sounds a bit better, but that’s three words and that’s my bad. In all honesty, Premium Rush had me at the edge of my seat from the first minute until the last and that, ladies and gents is entertainment at its finest.

Directed by David Koepp, and written also by David Koepp and John Kamps, the film revolves around New York bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who unwittingly receives a premium rush delivery which contains a ticket worth a huge amount of money. He tries to make it to the deadline while a dirty cop indebted to the Chinese gambling mob does his damnest to stop him from delivering the envelope, chasing him all across the streets of Manhattan to achieve his goal.

Premium Rush was a nail biter from Minute One. I loved the pure athleticism and skills of the actors and stuntmen involved in this movie, which effectively depicted the day to day dangers encountered by over 1,500 bike messengers in a city as busy as New York. There were plenty of great riding in the film, further made cool by tricks worthy of the X-games (well, close enough). Man, most of the chase scenes almost gave me a heart attack because of its sheer speed.

I loved the way the story unfolded, and the way the entire film was presented. It had an indie sort of edginess but still tempered by mainstream flavor that would appeal to audiences. This, I think was made possible by great editing and effects. The GPS and the trial and error effects were executed flawlessly and were very relevant to the movie.

There were only a few actors who were in the movie, Gordon-Levitt being on the front and center, but somehow, the movie seemed bigger because of the focus on the key characters.  The irony of his name, being similar to Wil.E. Cayote, who is known for his endless (yet unfruitful) pursuit of the Roadrunner to his character being the one pursued by the dirty cop to great personal cost was a great touch.

Gordon-Levitt deserves a great big pat on the back for pulling off the cycling part of the movie to endearing himself to the audience with his character’s smart alecky ways and resourcefulness, as with the rest of the cast. Levitt was Premium Rush. They couldn’t have cast a better actor to fit the part.

All in all, Premium Rush was a great ride. Hats off to the filmmakers to this salute to bike messengers, all around the world. There’s no greater way to honor them than by showing the audience what an awful risk is involved in delivering messages, and humanizing their profession by highlighting their sense of community.

P.S. Here in the Philippines, bike couriers are called “Lagarista” and mostly carry film reels from one theater to another. There was a movie released in 2000, directed by Mel Chionglo which starred actor Piolo Pascual. It was shown in several international film festivals (Toronto, Chicago, Pusan and Hong Kong) and had local limited release.

Safe: A Review

There are two things that audiences expect from a Jason Statham movie: 1. heart pounding action and 2. elaborate car chases that put them at the edge of their seats. On these two counts, Safe does deliver. As for whether or not the movie reaches the level of Statham’s greatest offerings, I’m not quite sure.

Ah Mei is an elementary student from China who is gifted on the subject of numbers. Her extraordinary talents catch the attention of the Chinese Triad so they take her hostage to use her as a human database for their operations in the United States. Luke Wright is a reformed hitman who ekes out a living as a mixed martial artist for the underground circuit. During a fight, he inadvertedly costs the Russian Mafia a pretty penny by knocking down and permanently injuring a rising star whom the Mafia has bet millions of dollars on. As punishment, the Mafia kills his wife and keeps him alive, but shadows his every move and kills anyone he ever gets close to.  Backed into a wall, Luke tries to kill himself but not before he spies a little girl being chased by mobsters on the subway. The girl turns out to be Ah Mei, who survives an ambush on her car by the Russians to get hold of a set of numbers she has memorized, numbers so precious that they unlock a safe with millions of dollars and an incriminating disc that could put an end to the Chinese Triad.

The plot for Safe actually has great potential with the amount of conspiracies and double crosses integrated into its main story. Aside from the gangster warfare between the Russians and the Chinese in New York, corrupt policemen also join the fray by selling their loyalty to the higherst bidder. I got a kick out of seeing Robert John Burke, who plays Bart Bass in one of my guilty pleasures Gossip Girl as Chief Wolf, one of the most bad ass cops I’ve seen on the big screen in a while. Director and screenwriter Boaz Yakin, who incidentally wrote the screenplay for Prince of Persia really dug deep into his experiences as a New Yorker to come up with such an intricate plotline.

The fight choreography, which I read was one of Statham’s main criteria for choosing movies to star in, was also top notch, ranging from hand to hand combat, grapling, stunts, gunbattles and all sorts of ass-kickery. However, I confess that I fell asleep during the earlier parts of the movie while the conflicts were still being established. I just felt that the transitioning was lacking in coherence, especially when the film was going back and forth between China and the US , and between scenes featuring Ah Mei and Luke.

As a result, the movie read like a two-act play, wherein the first part was dull and boring and relied mainly on lengthy dialogues and negotiations. During the second act, however, the filmmakers pushed the pedal to the action and held nothing back in establishing that Safe is indeed an action movie and that there should be no doubt that they know what they are doing.

All in all, there was really nothing safe about the movie. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I loved it. I just felt that there was something missing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as yet.

101 ways to leave a game show: A premiere review

I’m only writing this entry because I really think this show is so cool. If you think Fear Factor has a cool concept (despite being gross), multiply that by 10 and you get this crazy game show that escorts losing contestants out of the show by way of 101 dangerous stunts. Developed by the creators of Wipeout, the winner gets $50,000 and losers get a rush from the creative and wacky exits the show’s team has cooked up for them ranging from car explosions, drops from moving vehicles, ejections by jet pack and plane rides outside of the planes.

EXIT BY JETPACK. How cool is it to leave a game show by getting shot off a jetpack, just like in the movies? The contestant doesn't seem to think so.

In the preliminary round of the show, the contestants are asked a uniform question which they will all answer, closest answer to the correct one gets first pick from the multiple choice entries for the actual question. The contestant who gets stuck with the wrong answer gets booted off the show in style (with his life in peril). Second round is pretty much the same until only four contestants remain to battle it out for the cash prize. The US version is hosted by Jeff Sutphen whose ad libs are off the hook.

The reason why I totally love this show is because I too, am an adrenaline junkie. Anyone who knows me would likely say that I would probably get more of a kick out of getting the wrong answer if only to experience the cool exit (despite the danger). I love how the contestants cry for dear life and panic at the thought of getting ejected but for me, its all great entertainment. I mean, at the end of the day, how often can one person experience the same things they did on the show, right?

This show rocks! Its totally over the top but in a good way. I wouldn’t change a thing.