17 years later: The Fast and Furious franchise engine remains strong

A mixture of casting, locations, identity recognition, and stunt heaven.

When it comes to sequels and legit cinematic franchises, the name of the game is domestic and international gross. Worldwide figures, ladies and gentlemen. Over its first weekend, The Fate of the Furious-the eighth film in the movie franchise-broke the record for the largest global opening at 532 million. After four days, the film has doubled its massive budget, and is well on its way to a billion dollar gross.

How is it  still doing this after eight films? Casting, directing, stunts, and knowing what your identity and key audience is. In other words, you keep replacing the engine and wheels, and assemble body work on the car. Let me break it down further.

Back in 2007, the Fast and Furious franchise was on fumes. Vin Diesel, the star of the original, had bolted after the first film, and the second and third film were trash and didn’t make great money at the box office. Luckily, Diesel was brought in for a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift that signified his return to the franchise as star and producer. The team was back together, and the magic relaunched. Continue reading “17 years later: The Fast and Furious franchise engine remains strong”

‘Fate of the Furious’ is a special brand of fuel ejected movie swagger

Unplug your brain, sit back, pop open a cold one, and just enjoy the mayhem.

Outrageous. Ridiculous. Far-fetched. Impossible. The Fast and the Furious franchise live mightily by the same descriptive words that would scare other producers, directors, and writers out of their minds if they were listed in their reviews. Here, it’s that special brand of fuel ejected swagger that separates their films from the pretenders.

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It’s their code of honor-when the spring rolls around, it’s time for fast cars, beautiful women, dialogue with macho-infused fuel running through its veins, big sweaty bald-headed action stars, and outlandish stunts to take over. The Fate of the Furious-the eighth entry in the franchise that never sleeps and shows zero signs of dying-is a highly entertaining and luxurious experience for action fans to rejoice with for two hours.

This time, the Furious six are divided when their leader, Dominic Toretto (franchise face, Vin Diesel), goes rogue due to a mysterious piece of leverage held over him by Cipher (Charlize Theron). She exploits the main weakness of our rogue anti-hero, and that is the invaluable existence of family. This forces him to run his foe turned friend Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) off the road after a successful heist in Berlin, and leave the rest of the crew dazed and confused. Continue reading “‘Fate of the Furious’ is a special brand of fuel ejected movie swagger”

Kong: Skull Island—No thank you

Go watch Peter Jackson’s Kong instead.

Here is a movie that will end with you asking yourself one question: why did I just hand over ten dollars of my hard earned money and two hours of my life to such an unnecessary reboot? Kong: Skull Island assembles a wonderful cast of actors, tosses them into recycled action sequences, bores you to death, and is a complete waste of time and money.

Tom Hiddleston is paid to brood around the set, and play the storied action hero role. I liked him better as Loki in Avengers. Brie Larson just won an Academy Award for The Room, but she is given the role of “damsel in distress who steals the big fella’s heart”. It’s a classic Oscar win rebound role, so I hope she has something special planned with Captain Marvel. John Goodman gave one of the most overlooked performances of 2016 in 10 Cloverfield Lane, but there he is playing the supposedly crazy “geological” hunter of inhuman beings. Snooze-worthy. Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson again, and there are mild benefits to that which drift away quickly.

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John C. Reilly is the only one who didn’t run to the bank to cash his check, and actually breathes a little life into the role of the local Island kook who leads the trackers, photographer, and soldiers around to their imminent death. Continue reading “Kong: Skull Island—No thank you”

Boss Baby: An adult comedy trapped inside an animated kid film body

Alec Baldwin’s voice work elevates the film.

Thank you Tom McGrath and Marla Frazee for creating a kids film that parents can also appreciate. More than a mere animated film about the tyranny of an adopted “boss baby”, the film takes not so subtle glances at the responsibilities of a big brother and the effect that a new kid can have a household. It’s also a very funny film that will gather more chuckles out of its older audience than the preferred younger demographic, and that is for a simple reason: Alec Baldwin.

The actor’s voice work isn’t just spot on for the title role, but will remind cinemaholics of his brief yet legendary role in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Instead of telling poor young Tim (voice as a kid by Miles Christopher Bakshi and as adult by Tobey Maguire) to put the coffee down, the cookies are restricted in Michael McCullers script. When I finished watching Glengarry for the first time, all I wanted was more of Baldwin’s shadowy yet vital figure. With Boss Baby, I was given a full serving of his anarchic personality.

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What’s it all about? Tim isn’t pleased when his parents (delightfully voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) welcome a baby brother, who is dressed like a Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dog instead of a onesie. From the moment the baby sits down and the dinner table and belts out a cry, the older brother knows he has met his match. The baby has the two adults firmly placed in the palm of his hand, but Tim knows its more than simple cute looks and endearing giggling. Continue reading “Boss Baby: An adult comedy trapped inside an animated kid film body”

‘Land of Mine’ carries ‘Hurt Locker’ tension with its dark heart

Here is a story that you didn’t know and a follow-through that you didn’t see coming.

“If they are old enough to go to war, they are old enough to clean up their mess.”

For Sergeant Carl Rasmussen(Roland Moller), vengeance has grown on trees inside his soul due to the cost of war. It’s May in 1945, near the end of World War II, and the Germans have surrendered. But the war isn’t over for some people. When we first see Carl, he is fuming in his military jeep as he drives past German P.O.W., and the rage has taken over his body. He abruptly stops, beats up a couple prisoners, and screams at the others to get out. “This is my country,” Carl proclaims, and that is how the powerful Land of Mine begins.

The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars this year, and I can tell you why: it is a striking piece of cinema that won’t let you go for days. I saw it five days ago, and I am still brushing the story off my conscience. Independent (especially foreign) displays a freedom that most American films simply can not on average, and this film is the latest example of its power. It’s in Danish and German subtitles, but the moral of the film never gets close to being lost.

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Writer/director Martin Zandvliet casts a spotlight on the unknown fallout of WWII: the aftermath of the carnage and how certain countries committed tragic war crimes in order to rid their country of the weapons of the trade in the months following the surrender of Germany. The story centers on Rasmussen and the 14 German prisoners that are assigned under him to dig up land mines along the western Denmark coast line. There’s just one thing; the prisoners are young men, kids even. Continue reading “‘Land of Mine’ carries ‘Hurt Locker’ tension with its dark heart”

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ has a resounding impact

This is what happens when a heartfelt story about World War II resonates

The Zookeeper’s Wife is an extremely moving film that relies on two things to power its engine: a small piece of World War II history and a strong cast to follow through on a director’s promise. While the film runs a little too long and shows us parts of WWII history that have been unfortunately over-cooked in our minds, it makes you feel and has a resounding impact.

This is the second film to reveal a powerful perspective of World War II in the past month on St. Louis movie screens, with the first being Land of Mine. While that particular film carried the tension of The Hurt Locker, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a mixture of drama and thriller that will lure a larger audience in. Namely, the part of the story that centers on animals. Continue reading “‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ has a resounding impact”

Christopher Walken: From “who is that guy” to “freak of cinema”

Walken’s 132 films are a product of hard work and a distinct personality

My dad and I were watching True Romance one day when I was young, and a tall man appeared in this scene. He was larger than life, but not in the same manner as Arnold Schwarzenegger. He loomed over the camera like an inevitable storm, but didn’t make you hide in the addict. He made you interested in what he would do next. His hair was slicked back, his words pierced through the screen, and he was taking a small role, and essentially blowing it up. I looked at my dad and asked, “who is that guy?”

Christopher Walken has acted in 132 different films and television series’, with a few reprisals filtering a number of highly unique and wildly weird characters. Some would call that a lot of acting, Calling Walken an eccentric performer is like labeling Guinness as just another beer, because it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Walken is a freak of cinema, a man who likes to work has built up a resume of work that 99 percent of the acting population would crave. Last week, that freak of cinema-a man who has interrogated Dennis Hopper and broke Robert De Niro’s heart-turned 74 years young. Continue reading “Christopher Walken: From “who is that guy” to “freak of cinema””