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”

Jason Statham: Furious 7 Game Changer

The Fast & Furious series gets meatier and better with each entry. This film got Statham sized.

Jason Statham is the epitome of badass. The Fast and Furious film franchise is the epicenter of ridiculously thrilling action. It’s about time these unstoppable forces met.

In case you have been stuck in an art house film gallery for the past 13 years, The F&F films have taken Hollywood and its audience by storm, turning improbable stunts into a viciously kinetic artform. People try writing them off as childish, hollow and pointless, and they miss all the fun in the game. These are action showcases and if you don’t mind a little family values with your hot rod cars and testosterone packed punches, you may be “furious” enough for Dominic Toretto(Vin Diesel) and his adventures. Jason Statham walking into this pleasure town of chaos is icing on the cake and could make Furious 7 the best in the series.

The 47 year old action star made a blood thirsty cameo appearance at the tail end of Fast & Furious 6 as Deckard Shaw, the revenge seeking older bro of Luke Evans’ crippled baddie Owen Shaw. I don’t know about you but the moment Owen spouted off to Dom about “my brother said you live by a code”, I immediately thought of Statham and his Transporter films. That was the cookie crumble hint being dropped at your feet.

Statham’s cameo also tied the franchise together, placing the Tokyo events in their proper spot and lighting a match on the seventh edition, which takes matters back to Los Angeles before jumpstarting the engine to luxurious places like Abu Dhabi. Director James Wan,taking over for Justin Lin after four films, walked into a treasures chest of action heroes. A buffet of kickass lethal enough to challenge the Persian army(minus the skirts, add tank tops). Why Statham? Well, why the hell do you drink coffee every morning? A dose of Statham is perfect for this world.

Let’s look at the prerequisites to enter the Furious world:

*Bald.

*Badass.

*Muscle bound.

*Good in a fight.

*Cool voice full of one liners.

*Looks good in a suit and tank top

*Very Bald.

Statham passes all tests with flying colors and adds something else. An authentic action star. With no offense to the Rock and Diesel, Statham does this shit for a living and can throw a kick with a smile as fast as he hosts Saturday Night Live or growls for the fans. Statham is the guy who works out with stunt crews in an LA gym and has a framed bullseye in his kitchen. Statham is working out while you are thinking about working out. He is working out while you eat donuts and while you gobble up fast food. He is working on his martial arts when you are thinking about enrolling for a green belt at the local karate class. He lives, breathes and shits action hero bravado. His head is the shape of a bullet and his voice is charming yet sinister.

The juiciest part of his dive here into the fast cars zone is he has never played a villain before. His characters have been far from gracious good souls, but he’s always fought the good fight on film….until now. Statham steps into the action in a big way here. Judging from the eye watering trailers, he gets to tangle with Dwayne Johnson in an office and Diesel on a roof with steel car parts. He also gets to walk into a party in a high rise building and fire a gun into the air ala The Joker in The Dark Knight. Statham is a show stopping presence on film. When I left a Statham film last year and had to use the restroom, I ran into an older film fan as I washed my hands. I asked him about the action banger we just watched in the same auditorium and regarding the British actor, the man simply said “He is something else”. You’re damn right he is. Statham is a special member of the No Bueno Crew.

Furious 7 is special for many reasons, many of them surrounding the late star, Paul Walker. “Pablo”, as Diesel calls his deceased friend, has starred in all seven films. Losing him was the equivalent of a heart losing a fair amount of blood. The engines running dry without as much oil and the transmission failing a few times on a Nissan Skyline. Walker wasn’t the guy you left the movies talking about, but he was also something the films couldn’t live without. The innocent action hero at the center of chaos who also happened to be a great guy in the real world. This film will be a celebration of his work on the film and his life in general. It will also be a celebration of glorious action hero nostalgia, with Statham walking around kicking over trash cans of lighter fluid and lighting the streets with mayhem.

The specialty of the franchise is getting bigger with each film. This stunt crew goes big or stays home. The Fast Five entered Johnson’s hulking agent, Hobbs. Statham was teased in the following film and makes a grand entrance in Friday’s clash. When fanboys talk about wet dreams and cinematic collisions, Jason Statham and Fast/Furious franchise ranks near the top of the list. This is the thing that rolls off the tongue at 130 in the morning as you finish an order of tacos and blurt to your friend, “Bro, it would be mad sick if that Statham did one of these movies.” The Furious team is fearless and turns dreamy scenarios into realities.

Show some self respect and check out Furious 7 this week on Blu Ray or DVD. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the previous six films. This about true action appreciation. If you want realism, turn on the Sundance Channel. If you want balls out visually wasted cinema, buy a ticket for this movie. This is a stand alone adventure and will be given the proper tasting when Toretto answers that phone on his porch and hears a familiar British voice.

“Dominic Toretto. You don’t know me..but you’re about to.”

Jason Statham has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. He was born fast and is furious when he sleeps. Jason Statham. Those two words alone should get your ass in a seat.

Riddick: Vin Diesel’s Best Role

While he may be known best for Fast & Furious, Diesel’s best role happened on another planet.

“Like I said, it’s not me you have to worry about now.”-Richard Riddick

Vin Diesel will always be known as the rugged, romantic race car heisting family man Dominic Toretto and for good reason. The Fast and The Furious films are blockbuster hits and summer film launching gems that have gotten better with each entry. In the business of make believe, the role that nets the studio the most cash brings you the most acclaim. That’s why Harrison Ford is known as Indiana Jones and Star Wars instead of his best role, Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. With no disrespect to the soulful nitro powered hero Dom, Diesel’s best role is Riddick, the criminal steely eyed killer who can tangle with desert serpents like we put together a bowl of cereal.

It all started back in 2000 with Pitch Black, a relatively low key science fiction action thriller with a unknown Diesel, Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell being stranded out in a futuristic kill zone with the planet’s worst inhabitants(think Aliens mixed with Starship Troopers). Pitch Black was a great time at the movies because it didn’t take itself too seriously and allowed Diesel to use every ounce of his charisma, action hero brutality and gifted use of one liners. Continue reading “Riddick: Vin Diesel’s Best Role”

Furious 7 Delivers The Action And Tugs At the Heart

I remember where I was when I watched The Fast and The Furious. The first film that launched the careers of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez into the

imageHollywood stratosphere of invincibility. I saw it with my dad at Esquire in St. Louis when the theater was a hot spot. The theater was only half full because the cast was a bunch of nobodies then. Unknown faces yet interesting ones. The soldier who died for a little girl in Saving Private Ryan in Diesel. The ill fated quarterback from Varsity Blues in Walker. The tough fighter from Girlfight in Rodriguez. Who were these people? Rob Cohen directing the flick with barely a resume. Here was this cheap little independent action flick about hot rod cars, muscle bound men and tough babes. Innocent, simple, ridiculous and entertaining. By the end of the film, something else peeked up and showed its head. A heart. Something most action films dispose of before the credits begin and before the first bullet is fired.

Continue reading “Furious 7 Delivers The Action And Tugs At the Heart”

Guardians Is An Enjoyable Romp

2014_guardians_of_the_galaxy-wideGoing into Guardians of The Galaxy this week on DVD at home, I felt like the last soul on the planet to watch this flick. I sat in my living room on my couch like a lonely soul in a movie theater. It felt weird and that is something a film-addict should never feel. Imagine getting to a Christmas party and seeing the cake all picked at and eaten and somewhat missing. Sometimes, films come and go without me seeing them in theaters. It happens when you digest so many cinematic treats. Occasionally the cookie jar gets crowded with forgotten fare and I don’t make it a point to see the big blockbusters in theaters.

What did I think of Guardians? Is it the greatest thing since toasted garlic bread or just another fun film to get lost in for two hours? This film wasn’t exactly polarizing but it had its lovers, admirers, and haters.

A few things about the film I liked-

*The soundtrack is kickass. Take some 70’s and 80’s rock and pop classics, blend them in with some forgotten bluesy gems and the movie never feels boring. The tunes selected makes for one great mix and doesn’t feature one original soul. Thankfully, there is no Fall Out Boy or other weak boy band lead song stuck in the end credits. Instead, we get Marvin Gaye singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. On the DVD menu, we get Blue Swede’s unforgettable classic, “Hooked On A Feeling”. At the beginning of the film, Chris Pratt dances around a lost planet in space to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. If there is a sequel, the soundtrack has big shoes to fill. Nicely picked, James Gunn(the writer and director from St. Louis, MO).

*Chris Pratt is very good here. The guy has serious comedic chops and keeps the action light and moving. He has spent his career hanging around the movie stars and taking the supporting helpings. Here, he is the main guy and his “Starlord” routine is hilarious. He anchors the action. Continue reading “Guardians Is An Enjoyable Romp”

Paul Walker 1973-2013

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As my Film-Addict colleague Chris McHugh finely put it, Paul Walker’s death was “2 Fast 2 Furious”.   A reference of course to the weakest film in the Fast/Furious franchise but a blunt description when it comes to losing a young movie star.  Walker died today in Southern California when he was riding in his Porsche as the car spun out and crashed into a tree and burst into flames.  He was 40 years old and was participating in a charity event for his foundation, Reach Out Organization.

When TMZ first reports a celeb’s death, they are usually dead on.   I found out via their site about the deaths of Tony Scott and James Gandolfini.   When I heard about Walker’s in the past hour, it was literally as shocking if not more.  Walker was a young man.  Whether you like his films or not, he was a father of a 15 year girl, had a family and did a lot of charity work.  You will know him for his high throttle film work in the Fast/Furious franchise as well his taut little thrillers Running Scared and this month’s Hours.  He also did kids films such as Eight Below and the classic high school football film Varsity Blues.   Walker also had a small role in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Father’s.

This news will cause a genuine eruption on the set of the blockbuster car racing series, currently filming its 7th installment.  Walker tweeted a picture of himself, Tyrese Gibson and Vin Diesel last night around 7:45 p.m. from the set.  The cast, especially Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordina Brewster and Gibson, had become a close knit family with Walker.   They had worked together for over 12 years on these movies.  There is no clue how his role will be rewritten or worked into the plot of the 7th film, which brings British action star Jason Statham into the mix for a revenge style adventure.   That’s not important right now.

What is important is the loss of a young ambitious man, a father and a passionate giver.  Walker was raising money for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines this week and may have crashed in the midst of a test drive he was giving people to raise money for the fallen country.   More details will come out soon.  For now, all we can do is remember his film work and the man he was outside the set.  He gave until it was gone.

This month’s film, Hours, promised a different kind of Walker.  Playing a father who brings his wife to a New Orleans hospital on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, Walker stretches his acting limits(in a good way) as a dad who must do whatever it takes to save his infant daughter when the power goes out in the hospital.   In addition to Fast & Furious 7, Walker had recently wrapped Brick Mansions.

Walker, who just turned 40 in September, first broke into film with a role in Monsters in the Closet in 1986 and went on to slowly become a popular face in cinema.  Sure, his range wasn’t as wide as others, but he was still an enjoyable presence and being a hardcore car lover, he did a fair share of his own driving in the Fast/Furious films.

I will remember Walker in taut thrillers like Joy Ride, with Steve Zahn and Ted Levine.  His frantic character in Running Scared, which was an underrated thriller starring Vera Farmiga and Chazz Palminteri that scored on many gritty levels.  His offbeat role in Pleasantville as the hunk Skip Martin.   Playing a menace in The Skulls, Walker was more convincing than expected.  In Eight Below, he was a calming presence as a leader of sled dogs.  While he may be remembered for his hell raising car action flicks with Diesel, Walker did more than people realized in his 27 year long career which included 42 roles.

His beginning was quiet, in 1973 in Glendale, California.  His end came in a blaze of flames, on a regular day in December in California.   A bittersweet end for Walker’s life carried more than enough of Hollywood flair.  He had just welcome his daughter in California to live with him.  It’s just a sad deal, but that’s life and death for you.  It’s never fair, either with the rich and famous movie star or the blue collar worker.  I didn’t expect to write this tonight and it truly pains me to finish it here.

Rest in peace, Paul Walker.  You left us too soon.

Written by Dan Buffa

Film-Addict Co-Creator/Writer

dbuffa@film-addict.com