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”

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”

‘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””

Christmas Vacation: The perfect holiday flick

26 years later, Christmas Vacation is still the must see holiday film for me to watch. Here’s a reason to check it out.

Every patriarch knows the pain of Clark Griswold around the holidays. Trust me. The collision of family, responsibility of family, and the undeniable tension that comes with Christmas. One of John Hughes’ best scripts was Christmas Vacation and over 25 years later, it still has bite left in it. Some heat on its fastball. The movie still plays extremely well, all the jokes zinging like they were written yesterday and the actors buying in with great comic relief.

Warner Brothers Pictures

Most of the actors aren’t working much anymore. Chevy Chase was a movie star back then, but he has the occasional cameo or TV show these days. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie still draws the best moments of the film, but the actor has gone cucko the past decade. Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecko(Big Bang Theory) aren’t exactly sleeping on the job, but they aren’t household names. That’s the jewel of some films. The movie undoubtedly outlasts the cast when it comes to value.

While The Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life carry a certain special place in many movie fans hearts(and for good reason), Christmas Vacation is my gem and go to holiday film. I remember watching it with my dad many times as a kid, reveling in the awkward yet hilarious scenes between Quaid and Chase that draw the true laughs. As I have grown older and started a family of my own, the film has gained reverence and stature. Some things you just don’t understand when you are a kid. Meeting your parents’ expectations. Being a hero to your kids. Having the best house on the block. I see parts of Clark in myself and a lot of him in my dad. At their best, movies are mirror images of real life, especially when you watch them a few times.

The best part about Christmas Vacation was the honesty it depicted in family gatherings. The people you don’t look forward to seeing and the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise. Hughes didn’t sidestep the messy aspects of holiday dinners. It didn’t overdo the sap in the end either, involving cutthroat corporate policies with the strains it puts on certain families and the employees who hang their year end happiness on a bonus and not a jelly of the month membership. Without intention, Hughes created a classic that my son will be able to enjoy.

While Cousin Eddie’s raucous behavior will garner the most laughs, it’s the quiet moments with Clark and his family looking for trees, his comments to his co-workers at the end of a work day and an old man lighting a match next to a large tree with a squirrel in it that resonate. Every time I watch it, I pick up something different and unique.

This weekend, gather the family around and watch Christmas Vacation. Sure, your grandmother will talk about Chase’s roles in other films. Your uncle will register with Eddie’s thought process while he pops open his 15th beer. Your mother won’t understand why a man has to wear a hockey mask to trim a tree trunk. Your son will tell Clark to watch his language. Your dad won’t be able to take his eyes off the supermodel lingerie clerk and guess what, Julie Louise-Dreyfus gets attacked by a squirrel and a dog.

In the end, people will laugh and be glad they took it in. That’s Christmas. Flawed happiness that’s wholesome. That’s this movie. It’s perfect. It has bite, an edge and just enough warmth to keep your eyes from rolling.

One more thing. Don’t watch it on ABC Family. Get the unedited version. Spend the ten bucks at Target. The jokes land hard and right without a blanket attached for landing.


Robert Loggia: A classy face of cinema

The movies lost a great player on Friday. My tribute to Robert Loggia.

A gangster named Frank Lopez in Scarface. A toy company CEO in Big. A priest. A wise man. A dozen cops. Two dozen other gangster roles. For over 64 years and 230 different movies and television roles, Robert Loggia was a face of cinema you couldn’t forget. General Grey in Independence Day! Loggia played three different characters on the 1970’s series, The Rockford Files. Charlie’s Angels. Starsky and Hutch.You name it and Loggia played it.

He was FBI agent Nick Mancuso for over 20 episodes. He was Coach Wally Rig in the Scott Bakula football cult classic, Necessary Roughness. Loggia, after five hard years of battling Alzheimer’s Disease, passed away Friday at the age of 85 years young. He earned every one of them and his work in the land of make believe to live on for decades. You can watch his movies on Netflix tonight if you wanted. He wasn’t in it for the fame and glitz. Loggia was a true actor. A worker. Hard edged and passionate.

Born and raised in New York City, Loggia broke into acting at the age of 21 years old and did more than four projects per year. Like Christopher Walken, he didn’t care what the role was. He just did it and did it well. In a way you would remember. No one will ever forget Loggia’s raspy laugh and street wide smile and cackle. It was a signature part of every role he played.

He never stopped working. In 2015, he had four releases planned and has three incomplete films slated for post production as this is typed. The only thing that could have kept Loggia off a set was his lovely wife Audrey, whom he was married to since 1982. What St. Louis and Missouri film fans may not know is that Loggia graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a journalism degree in 1951, the year he started acting. He served in the army and spent time on Broadway.

Nothing scared Loggia when it came to life or film. He was a month shy of his 86th birthday when he passed. The film world owes a debt to him. How many actors can you think of have acted in over 200 films or TV shows? How many have played in so many and elevated every single one they were in?

Loggia was a classic face of film, someone you see and smile knowing that the part he is playing will be played with fierce attention to detail and the authenticity that a film fan covets.

Stop by Netflix tonight and watch these Loggia aided films. Wide Awake, Over the Top, or the holiday film, An Evergreen Christmas.