Tag Archives: Vin Diesel

John Cena’s In This One

F9: The Fast Saga

by George Wolf

So if this is the ninth installment, that means all laws of physics went out the window 7.5 Fast films ago. Just remember that when there’s a Plymouth Fiero in space for reelz.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have been trying to live a quiet life in the country with little Brian, but they’re going to need a sitter.

Seems Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) sent the gang an S.O.S. not long after he captured Cipher (Charlize Theron). Now Mr. N. is missing, Cipher’s on the loose, and everybody’s trying to get their hands on both halves of a device that, when made whole, will take control of every weapons system in the world.

And you know who already has one half? Dom’s bigger little brother Jacob (John Cena). We haven’t heard about Jacob until now because the boys have serious beef about who was to blame for their father’s death in a 1989 stock car race.

So Dom’s ad nauseam mantra of “family” has its limits.

Lighten up, right? Don’t take it so seriously, this franchise is about the action! I get it, and when the tone is right (like it was with director James Wan in Furious 7) I’m right there with you.

But this film takes itself waaay too seriously. Director/co-writer Justin Lin is back for his fifth go ’round, and after an opening filled with the usual auto gymnastics, settles into a story surprisingly heavy on the spy game.

Cena gets no chance to flash his charismatic mischievous side, as he and Diesel seem intent on making steely stares and jaw clenching an Olympic sport. Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) try to fill the playful void left by Hobbs and Shaw, but their hi-jinx seldom rise above silly wise cracking.

Plenty of familiar franchise faces return (Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Helen Mirren, Jordana Brewster and Sung Kang), often bringing with them a good amount of exposition explaining what their characters have been doing or why they aren’t really dead.

There’s so much nostalgia, you’d think they were actually trying to put a bow on this whole thing if the film wasn’t simultaneously inventing new threads. And as the running time keeps running, it all starts to feel pretty tedious.

But if you want your flying cars and electro-magnet explosions on the biggest screen possible, F9 will eventually give that to you (even in IMAX where available). Just don’t expect the self-awareness to realize how close they are to self-parody.

Also, hang through the credits and you’ll get a stinger with a big clue about what’s coming in the tenth round: a Prius on top of Mt. Everest.

Not really. But at this point, why not?

Soldiering On

Bloodshot

by George Wolf

“Nobody wants to make any real decisions. They just want to feel like they have.”

For a movie that couldn’t have seen shutdown weekend coming, that’s one line in Bloodshot that feels pretty damn timely.

So whether or not there’s anyone in the theater to greet him, Vin Diesel brings the latest comic book hero to the big screen in a visual effects throwdown searching for any other resonant thread.

If, like me, you’re not familiar with one of the most popular characters in the Valiant comic universe, Ray Garrison (Diesel) is a battle-scarred soldier forced to watch his wife’s murder before he eats a bullet himself.

Waking up in lab of RST industries, Ray hears some hard truths from the brilliant Dr. Harding (Guy Pearce).

He died from that bullet, but he’s back now as the prototype “enhanced soldier” Project Bloodshot has been aiming for. Any injury Ray suffers will repair itself almost instantly, so he can soldier on for war and profit.

Does Ray have trouble accepting his reality? Not enough, which works in a way because the realities keep changing. While Ray only wants to track down his wife’s killer, the vast computer program that keeps Ray upright has surprises in store.

Bloodshot is director David S.F. Wilson’s debut feature after a ton of video game visual effects credits, which is probably why it looks like a giant video game drunk with budget allowances. And though that budget does buy some slick sequences, the film’s Matrix-type mainframe device leans too much on the buzzkill that is the computer keyboard.

Diesel’s guttural emoting is on auto-pilot, while Pearce gets to ham it up a bit and Baby Driver’s Elia Gonzales gets hung out to dry. As a fellow enhanced soldier, her superpowers seem limited to posing, pouting, and squeezing into the tightest wardrobe imaginable.

The screenplay, from the team of Jeff Wardlow and Eric Heisserer, does manage some needed self-aware humor about movie cliches, even as it’s serving them up alongside heavy doses of stilted, expository dialog.

By all means, support your local theater this weekend. And if you’re a fan of the Bloodshot comic, your decision to catch this big screen version will most likely be a good one.

Otherwise, there’s not really enough here to make you feel like it was.

Awesome Mixtape: Side 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Three years ago, James Gunn and Marvel became superfriends, making use of inspired casting, crisp writing and some classic 70s jams to make Guardians of the Galaxy the most fun to be had at the movies in 2014.

But is that second mixtape ever quite as awesome as the first? Rarely, and that’s the Catch-22 of the original film’s surprising blast of space zaniness. While we never saw that one coming, this new one arrives with weighty expectations.

No, Volume 2 can’t match the ruffian charm of the first, and there are some stretches of not-much-happening-here. But Gunn’s sequel shares a lot of heart, swashbuckling visuals and more than a few solid belly laughs.

But please, stop trying to make Howard the Duck happen.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, rugged everyman dufus) and his band of misfits-for-hire run into some troubles here and there across the galaxy. Yondu (Michael Rooker – hooray!) and his crew of Ravagers are still on their tail, and some pompous gold people from Sovereign (so they’re “Sovereign citizens” – well played) want Rocket dead.

But all might be well when Quill finally meets his father, Ego (who else but Kurt Russell?) and learns the surprising news of his lineage.

What – a comic book movie inspired by daddy issues? Stop it!

It may be a logical character arc for Quill, but when one too many tragic backstories build at the expense of fun, the running time starts feeling a bit bloated. Good thing Gunn has a fine instinct for when enough is about to become too much, pivoting from the dramatics with dazzling derring-do or exactly the right gag.

He also knows we’re already invested in these characters, and doesn’t mind spending some of the capital he earned last time out.

Bradley Cooper again offers ripe sarcasm as the voice of Rocket, but Dave Bautista is the breakout comedy anchor of GOTGV2. As the hulking Drax, Bautista’s booming guffaws or deadpan one-liners are a consistent treat. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems the odd Guardian out, too often given little more to do than deny Quill’s claim that they’ve got a “Sam and Diane unspoken thing” goin’ on.

And then there’s Groot (Vin Diesel).

As a baby.

Baby Groot.

For the win.

There are more great classic hits to re-discover (or, for you kids, get to know), including a fantastic piece of action set against the backdrop of…wait for it…Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer.” Stingers? Oh, yes, during and after the credits, so just plan on staying around til the staff sweeps you out with the candy wrappers.

Does Guardians 2 seem like a rehash? Sure, at times, and there’s never any doubt whoever’s shooting at our heroes is bound to have horrible aim. But when a rehash serves up this much wit, eye candy and escapist fun, you know what they say….

“I am Groot.”

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Fate of the Furiosa

The Fate of the Furious

by Matt Weiner

Maybe it was when it rained cars down on 7th Avenue in New York. Maybe it was the shootout on a plane with a baby. Or maybe—just maybe—it was when the gang attacked a nuclear submarine with sports cars gliding across a tundra.

However naturally each absurd setup manages to segue within the operatic universe of the franchise, the totality of The Fate of the Furious finally answers the question: how much is too much Fast and the Furious?

In the eighth installment of the series, the gang goes up against one of their own: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) breaks bad to abet a criminal hacker (Charlize Theron) in mass genocide, and only Dom’s makeshift family of gearheads and misfits can save the day.

(If you need to review how Dom’s crew went from outlaw street racers to extralegal super-spies over the last 15 years, there’s Wikipedia—or there’s the fact that it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t matter, you’ve either bought into these movies by now or you haven’t.)

To help take down Dom, the gang has to work together with a former foe, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). It’s not an original twist, but the chemistry between Statham and Dwayne Johnson is the most pitch-perfect sendup of action movie homoeroticism since Hot Fuzz—maybe more so, given how truly gifted the two men are at contrasting their action figure physiques with deadpan comedy.

If the film has one glaring weak spot besides a wanton disregard for physics, it’s that Cipher is a too-aptly-named villain. Charlize Theron does her best to inject some genuine fear and malice into the character, but all the effort in the world can’t change a flimsy backstory and the fact that she’s basically just there as the catalyst for Dom vs. Everyone Else.

When the film sticks to that hook, director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton. The Italian Job) delightfully serves up the best and worst of the franchise. There’s more excess, more teenage boy wish fulfillment, more glib treatment of women, more stereotypical wisecracking—and since more is more, there’s over two hours of it.

Which brings up the question: has the series gone too far? The Fate of the Furious without a doubt sacrifices some of the franchise’s ramshackle charm in order to deliver a smorgasbord of winking action comedy.

But it would be unwise to accuse this franchise of jumping the shark. Really, it would be unwise to mention sharks anywhere near these movies. If the crew ever does come across a shark, they’re just as likely to punch it in the face, strap sticks of dynamite to it, launch it at some larger, angrier target and keep moving without missing a beat. Isn’t it comforting to have a family you can rely on?

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Man Against Nature

The Last Witch Hunter

by Christie Robb

Perhaps it’s for the best that I find it nearly impossible to understand the words that come out of Vin Diesel’s mouth. The man sounds like my half-broken garbage disposal when I try to run a bunch of coffee grounds through it.

I don’t think a greater understanding of the dialogue would have significantly improved my enjoyment of the Last Witch Hunter, though. The strength of this supernatural/detective/action movie lies in the visuals.

800 years ago a vaguely Viking looking guy named Kaulder (Diesel) took on a Witch Queen and won, getting cursed by her with immortality in the process. Fast forward to modern day and we catch up with him. He’s older, a collector of art (and apparently of stewardesses), and working with an organization called the Axe and Cross to keep the peace between witches and humanity, making sure that magic isn’t used against humans.

He’s aided by a retiring handler, Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine), who, on the eve of his retirement, is attacked using prohibited magic. With the help of the replacement Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) and good witch Chloe (Rose Leslie), Kaulder must unravel a nefarious plot by bad witches to bring back the Black Plague, force muggle society to its knees, and return the earth to its more natural state.

Let’s set aside the fact that Diesel is completely unconvincing as an 800 year-old man. He seems entirely too well-adjusted and jovial to have seen over 30 handlers die on him.

The plot of the movie is also rather thin. Not enough time is spent explaining the politics of the Axe and Cross, the Witch/Muggle peace process, or the exact rules of “immortality.” However, that time is instead spent on visual effects that range from the grotesque (plague flies squirming around just under the skin), the beautifully stark (an ancient tree set against snowcapped peaks), the whimsical (a witch cocktail bar), and the action-y (flaming swords against enchanted beasts made of wood and bits of human carcass).

Like Vin Diesel, the movie is enjoyable enough to look at. Just don’t spend too much time trying to understand it.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Furiouser and Furiouser

Furious 7

by George Wolf

So, I went to a car racing movie and the next Avengers broke out. And that’s okay.

After six installments of Fast & Furious, a savvy new director is smart enough to go all in and take number seven to the superhero playground that the previous installments were yearning for.

The entire premise puts the “donk” in redonkulous anyway, so why not go..ahem, full throttle? Remember, these are street racing criminals that have “won” their freedom and are now working for the Feds to take down drug lords and mercenaries. Up to now, the films were just too earnest about what they were shoveling. Credit director James Wan for a welcome “let’s just have fun and do some cool stunts” attitude.

Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Saw) lets you know this is a different sort of ride even before the first credits, with a fluid opening full of action and style. After that, we learn that ex-British black ops killing machine Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) has come to avenge his brother from part 6, which means Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his gang have to take Shaw out first.

That mission is sidetracked by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a covert intelligence honcho who offers Dominic a deal. Track down a hacker who has invented the world’s best surveillance program (“God’s Eye”!), and get the the full support of U.S. black ops in return.

Ooh, it’s on!

Turns out, though, the hacker gave her program to some guy in Dubai, so it’s off to the UAE so she can sport a bikini and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez’) can fight Ronda Rousey and Dom can fly a super car between two…check that…three skyscrapers!

Wan makes sure that stunt and many others, both car and fist related, look fantastic. In particular, the sequence with Brian (Paul Walker) escaping as a bus falls over cliff is likely to bring roars of gleeful approval.

Dwayne Johnson is still huge, Vin Diesel is still as wooden as his dialogue, and the plot is much more convoluted than necessary, bloating the film by at least thirty minutes. A faster Furious is a leaner, meaner, better Furious.

But there’s fun here. As the gang fights a terrorist and blows up half of downtown LA in the process, just think of these cars as Iron Man’s newest super suit, and go with it.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Outtakes: Hippies, Chickens, Sobbing Women and Iron Giants

 

I somehow missed The Iron Giant when it was originally released. I’m not sure how. My son Riley, pictured here as a hippie, was a 6-year-old in ’99 – clearly the film’s target audience.

rileytoby

 

In a nutshell, director Brad Bird (who’d go on to win two Oscars with Pixar) puts Vin Diesel’s voice inside a weapons-grade robot from space.

 

At the height of the Cold War, lonely Hogarth befriends the monster, teams with a beatnik (Harry Connick, Jr.), and tries to hide the innocent metal heap from the US government that seeks to destroy it.

 

And yet, I neglected to get the boy to this film, and never saw it myself until years later when I was babysitting for my niece Ruby (pictured here as a chicken).

Chicken Ruby

 

She owned the book and had seen the film once already, but Iron Giant was her Netflix streaming choice one rainy afternoon. From her comfy spot on my lap, her head just beneath my chin, she kept me abreast of the plot: he’s really a bad guy; he makes crazy stuff with metal scraps; he’s a really very bad guy.

And then, the next thing you know, I am bawling. Just gulping and sobbing, tears rolling off my cheek and slapping the top of Ruby’s little head.

My God that movie broke my heart.

This is the Superman movie you want to see.

If you get the chance, check out this surprisingly powerful animated gem. It screens this week as part of the Gateway Film Center’s From Book to Film series. Catch it Saturday, 7/13 at 1:30 PM; Monday, 7/15 at 7 PM; or Wednesday, 7/17 at 1:30 PM. Go to http://www.gatewayfilmcenter.com/  for tickets and details.

Bring a hanky.





Furiouser and Furiouser

Fast and Furious 6

By Hope Madden

 

There’s this code, see. And while Fast & Furious 6 doesn’t spell it out, I gather it has something to do with steroids and bald heads.

Six! Can you believe this is the sixth installment in this street-racers-turned-international-thieves-turned-good-guys series? Boy, that time sure slid by in a sheen of muscle oil and turtle wax, didn’t it?

Well, this go-round Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson participate in a big-and-bald-off for a little over two hours while some limey tries to steal a world-ending computer chip. Who cares about that, though, when Dominic has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to bring back?!

It is nice having Rodriguez back in the cast. Her level of skill is debatable, but her face is an impressive mask of undiluted contempt. Director Justin Lin wisely pairs her with MMA ass kicker Gina Carano, meaning she finally has the opportunity at a fair fight. Otherwise she’d have just had to make the rest of the cast her bitches and be done with it.

Flanking Rodriguez is the predictable assortment of hulks and hotties. Paul Walker took a break from his rockin’ career in pizza delivery to join Pumpasaurus Rex and the Pec-tets. Meanwhile, Tyrese Gibson gets the chance to be uncharacteristically but intentionally funny.

Diesel’s comic moments are more unintentional. He’s unflappable, sporting a weirdly peaceful expression and spouting lines like, “What you found out is for you. What we do now is for her.” He’s like a gravelly voiced Buddha.

Dwarfing Buddha is the enormous Johnson, whose performance feels eerily familiar – same head cock, same arched eyebrow, even the same undersized Under Armour tees. Yes, I believe he may have just wandered accidentally over from the GI Joe set. I think I heard him call Toretto Cobra Commander just now.

Eventually it seemed clear that my best course of action was to unplug the brainstem and let the loud noises and pretty colors wash over me. Ignore the “plot”, disregard the “acting”, and just appreciate the well choreographed car chases and fisticuffs. It was working, too – a little MMA, a little old school WWE and a whole lot of girlfight – until Act 3 reared its bulbous head.

No power to suspend disbelief is strong enough to contend with the epic ridiculousness of the final reel or two of this film.

I’ll have to try harder with FF7, I guess.

Verdict-2-0-Stars