Review: Furious 7

Furious-7 Making the seventh outing in a franchise that should have seemingly never made it past three films is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. Somehow the Fast and the Furious series has made it this far, and seems to have enough fuel to make it to the obvious goal of ten films. With the lose of Paul Walker, a mainstay since the original 2001 film, it would be a slightly tough road to say goodbye, pay homage, and continue the insane action of the series in one single outing. Furious 7 not only handles these tasks with ease, it actually surpassed anyone’s possible expectations and leaves the audience wanting even more.

New to the franchise was director James Wan, who took over for Justin Lin after his very successful re-ignition of the fledgling series. Wan was able to bring the beloved over-the-top insanity back and in spades. Fans of Justin Lin’s work will be happy to see that there was no missteps in the changing of the guard. Every bit of overly dramatic family focused wink and a smile action beat was present in the series.

The events of Furious 7 pick up right after the previous film. We find Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a hospital bed clinging to life as his big brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vows to get revenge on whomever hurt Owen. Its a simple scene but there is so much more once their 'touching' reunion is over. From there Deckard is on the hunt for information about his brother’s assailants. He visits Hobbs (The Rock) and get information on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew. The close combat action sequences were uniquely shot and brought a level of freshness to the franchise. Rotating cameras, inventive shooting angles, and well choreographed fights made me smile. Its funny to think that we have a film series that is so silly in premise but delivers on action far better than most. There are a lot of lessons modern action films could learn from a couple of DVD player thieves in hooked up cars.

In the midst of all of this, Dom and crew are recruited to help track down and rescue a hacker who has software that could be helpful in stopping Deckard. Once again, the stakes are high and the team needs to use their unique skills of driving to be successful. The length that they go to pull off these elaborate stunts is breathtaking. Its pure fun and adrenaline red lining from beginning to end and frankly I was exhausted by how much fun I was having. After seeing Fast 6, I didn’t know how they could possibly top it, but Furious 7 is much like the Shaw brothers. If you thought the first one was tough wait until you get a look at its bigger and badder brother.

All of the main actors that we have followed since the 2001 film were still great here. Vin Diesel leads his crew of misfits with ease per usual, Michelle Rodriguez has come back and her presence is fully felt as a true member of the team again. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue to be hilarious comic relief and their dynamic is about pitch perfect here as well. Last but certainly not least, Paul Walker. He has never been a stellar actor but he always seemed like he was genuinely having such a great time with his close friends. The film’s final send off to the character of Brian O’Conner and even more so Paul Walker himself, was really quite touching. For hardcore Fast and Furious fans, you can’t help but to get a little choked up as they used the proper story elements to end his time with the crew while simultaneously saying goodbye to their “brother.” Stellar work all the way around, and any fans of the series are sure to love it, and it might convert some newcomers to go back and start from the beginning.

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Review: Brick Mansions

brick-mansions-16 Manly and stupid with a few funny moments interspersed amongst the more cringe-worthy one liners, Brick Mansions is a money-grab remake of a pretty great parkour movie urbanized and up-tempoed for American audiences, and it is the worse for it. Not only is the original 2004 french action film, District B13, much more entertaining (and ten minutes shorter at 81 minutes) but it also starred two actors able to sell the physicality of both the intricate moves of parkour and the bone-crunching beatings on display. Sadly Paul Walker can do neither and while he’s clearly game, the lackluster script and shaky camera work don’t help him in what became his final on-screen performance.

The original film, titled Banlieu 13 (changed to District B13 in english-speaking countries) came from french movie person Luc Besson, known for his work with Jean Reno in action flicks like The Professional. It was taut and frenetic and featured the amazing urban traversal skills of David Belle, who is credited for inventing parkour. It was one of the first times that this style of fast economical movement through a given space was lent major screen time, and Belle’s performance of the stunts and moves himself gave the action a certain grounding on film. Couple that with the acrobatic martial arts skills of fellow frenchman Cyril Raffaelli and you at least have an entertaining (if silly and full of plot holes) movie worth watching.

Brick Mansions is not that movie. It follows the basic plot of the original (madman threatens the poor people of the city with a bomb and only a cop and his criminal partner can stop him) with Paul Walker taking on the role of rogue cop Damien, played by Raffaelli in B13. And man, does this movie miss ol’ Cyril. Walker is just not a martial artist or a parkour traceur, and it shows in the camera work and fight scene editing. David Belle is back and on hand to further destroy his knees in the parkour scenes as misunderstood felon Leito, but he’s ten years older and it shows, particularly in the opening chase scene.  It’s one of the best parts of District B13 and sets the tone for the whole movie, but here it seems lackluster and much less death-defying, despite the inclusion of your standard Hollywood rooftop fireball explosion. Take out much of the martial arts and sprinkle in a few car chase scenes for the Fast and Furious fans and that’s what’s left for moviegoers to appreciate.

Or to not appreciate, because this movie is terrible. Poorly written, poorly acted (welcome back, Rza! Now go away again!) and just overall pretty poor. I’m specifically referring to the fact that, for the first 30 minutes of screen time Belle’s character is called Leito, like in the original. Halfway through Paul Walker starts calling him “Lino,” and you have to imagine no one was smart enough to catch it until it got to the editing bay. By then, for obvious reasons, it was too late for reshoots and they went with what they had. He’s credited as Lino on IMDB so take that for what you will.

Taken as a remake, Brick Mansions is a very obvious cash-grab for all involved and isn’t worthy of standing in the shadow of the original. Reviewed independently, it’s a dumb summer flick for action movie and Paul Walker fans, but the shoddy script, confusing plot and frankly one of the dumbest wrap-up endings ever committed to celluloid keep it from being worth your hard earned dollars. Stay home and do a double feature of District B13 and its 2009 sequel, District B13: Ultimatum, both available on Netflix, and enjoy a better and cheaper movie night.

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