[Happy 15th Birthday!] Shaft (2000)

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Director: John Singleton

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Roundtree

Screenplay: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno

99 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language.

 

Apparently, Shaft is one bad motha-“Shut Your Mouth!”

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John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has carried on the family crest from his uncle John (Richard Roundtree, Se7en, Speed Racer). When he responds to a racial attack and has millionaire rich-kid Walter Wade, Jr (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Knight of Cups) arrested in the death of a black youth. Now, with the help of Narcotics specialist Carmen Vasquez (Vanessa Williams, Eraser, Temptations: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor), Shaft must defend the woman who witnessed the attack from Wade who has now teamed up with drug lord Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).

Shaft is surprisingly not terrible, though it seems to have forgotten a lot of what made the original so cheese-good.

The greatest idea put forth here was to make this incarnation of Shaft a sequel to the previous trilogy. We even get to see the Richard Roundtree as the uncle, also known as John Shaft. I love the idea of continuing the story. Too many films just go the remake route but this works so well.

Sam Jackson does a great job here, but he gets bogged down by the truly disappointing work from Wright and Bale.

I also felt this to be the tamest of the Shaft series. Literally, he doesn’t have any of the sensuality of the original character. Now, granted, as I said before, these are different characters, but I feel like it was a big miss from the film.

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Shaft is good, but I can see why the franchise never continued. Singleton’s directing works in short spurts but this film didn’t really go anywhere. The film had several plotlines that didn’t go anywhere, for example the thread involving Dan Hedaya and that other guy becoming crooked cops. I just didn’t care. There were just a lot of chopping to be done to this film and a lot of elements missing here.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

 

Furious 7 (2015)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.

 

And here we are, after six films, we arrive here at Furious 7, the latest installment in the high-octane series of car action films started with The Fast and the Furious some many years back.

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In the newest adventure, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Saving Private Ryan, Guardians of the Galaxy) and his family have returned to the United States after gaining amnesty for their previous offences. As new parent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) adjusts to the simple life with wife Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV’s Dallas, Home Sweet Hell), he and Dom discover that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Transporter, Spy) is seeking vengeance on them for his comatose brother. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, WrestleMania) is dispatched, the group realize that they need help. In comes a mysterious government agent (played by Kurt Russell, The Thing, Poseidon) who need them to find a piece of high-tech gadgetry that has been stolen by the villainous Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son). The deal is simple: retrieve the tech in exchange for cart blanche to defeat Shaw.

I really enjoyed Furious 7. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious: Chapter 2), known for his abilities as a horror director, supplies the film with much-needed cheese with an incredibly exhilarating experience. The returning cast has grown so close that the chemistry here is great. Diesel’s journey of reintroduction with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills) is one of the better stories to come out of this series, and it ties into the franchise well. I had a lot of fun watching the banter between Roman (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers, Black Nativity) and Tej (Chris Bridges, New Year’s Eve, No Strings Attached). Newcomers Kurt Russell and Jason Statham provide a lot of fun to the equation. Russell’s Mr. Nobody is an interesting new character I’m excited to see further fleshed out. Statham’s Shaw comes off a bit on the cheesy side, especially with his introduction, but overall it works.

Now onto what most people are interested in hearing about: dealing with the death of Paul Walker. Did it work? Suprisingly well, actually. I expected Walker’s role to be relegated to a glorified cameo, but I was wrong. With brothers Cody and Caleb, alongside some terrific digital effects, helped to provide some resolution to Brian’s story in an appealing way. The finale of the film definitely pays tribute well with a closing musical number with a montage of Walker’s role in the franchise served to button up his story and send him off to the next place without coming off as a wasted opportunity. Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” works well here, too.

I like that Furious 7 helps tie the franchise back together with references to Toretto’s relationship with Letty before her “death” and the rarely-seen Race Wars from the original film. The best thing about this franchise is that the crew learns from previous mistakes to make the best film possible.

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Furious 7 isn’t the greatest film in the series (that honor lies with Fast Five), but it definitely takes a step in the right direction after a few missteps with Fast & Furious 6. It serves to provide closure to Paul Walker’s character and career well without sacrificing plot and sets the series up for further adventures which will continue with the upcoming Furious 8 (yeah, it’s happening).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

 

You can follow Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

Fast & Furious (2009)

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Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references.

 

After the serviceable but ultimately disappointing The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Universal had two choices: kill the franchise or put everything you have into it. They chose the latter and brought back what made the series such a powerhouse. The entire principal cast of the original film was back, and with an entertaining story and the work from director Justin Lin (Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee, Annapolis) and screenwriter Chris Morgan (47 Ronin, Wanted), it was a formula that actually worked.

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When fugitive Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) loses everything that matters to him, he returns home to his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV’s Dallas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and crosses paths with Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours), who has earned his life back as a federal agent. The two are forced to join together to take down an elusive new villain never seen and only known as Braga.

Before we get too deep here, I would like to point out that this film is more of an interquel as opposed to a straight sequel. It takes place between 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. It features a character, Han, who we see biting the dust in the previous film. I’m not entirely sure why this choice was made, but I like the idea of Han sticking around. He is a likable hero.

Having Diesel and Walker together again is action gold. These two worked very closely in crafting this sequel with the crew to make it not only worthwhile but also help build a gigantic franchise out of the fledgling series, and it works so well. There are elements of this franchise that owe a lot to this entry. The races and chases are incredible yet simple, the characters actually develop as the film progresses, and I could tell everyone is having fun here.

Director Lin and screenwriter Morgan have learned a lot about crafting a sequel and it shows. Lin’s directing has improved, giving equal time to emotional beats and car-bashing crazy, and Morgan’s screenplay is formulated to transform the franchise and its characters.

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Fast & Furious is the sequel fans deserved and it’s the one they finally got. It proved that a series can learn from previous mistakes and evolve, and it gives viewers some of the coolest action on the screen. It still holds onto the grindhousian insanity that made the first one enjoyable and continues the tradition onward.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

[Short Film Sunday] Los Bandoleros (2009)

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Director: Vin Diesel

Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Mirtha Michelle

Screenplay: Vin Diesel, T.J. Mancini

20 mins. Not Rated.

In Los Bandoleros, we see where Dominic Toretto’s life after he escapes police hands. As he ends up in the Dominican Republic, he takes a break from his life of crime to share time with some old friends as well as his love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills) before embarking on a new job: hijacking a gas tanker in the short film leading up to the events of Fast & Furious and directed by star Vin Diesel (Strays).

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I wanted to like this short a lot more than I did. I still enjoyed it more than the Turbo Charged Prelude. I think that Diesel really cares about this character and this material, so I respect that he wants to stop the action and just take a character beat to learn more about his character’s sensibilities and personality before jumping headlong into Fast & Furious. The short just didn’t do it for me. It felt a bit too much like the opposite of the preceding short film, but rather than giving too much info, it gives too little. It’s an exercise in what is needed in a franchise.

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I would have enjoyed a much-shortened version of this slice of life in the actual film as opposed to this short. Diesel has the capabilities to do something as a director, but it isn’t here.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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Director: John Singleton

Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser

Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for street racing, violence, language and some sensuality.

After Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) walked away from his role as a cop, he was forced to betray everything he knew. Now, in Miami, he’s been caught by the feds and charged with catching the villainous Carter Verone (Cole Hauser, Good Will Hunting, Jarhead 2: Field of Fire) in return for his freedom. Brian recruits former friend and law-breaker Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers, Black Nativity) to assist him in his quest.

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Paul Walker is very similar to Hugh Jackman in that he gets slightly better as the series progresses. His acting here isn’t what it will be and not as good as he could be, but still much better than anyone else here. Gibson and Hauser come off as spooflike in their cheese factor, as does Eva Mendes (Hitch, Lost River).

2 Fast 2 Furious comes off as the bastard son of the original film. There is just so much that goes wrong here. First off, the exclusion of Vin Diesel. If nothing else, it proves that Vin Diesel understands how to make a sequel because he gets the factors that work and the factors that don’t. The editing comes off as real choppy. There are freeze frames, dissolves, and all manner of dull piecework. Director John Singleton (Four Brothers, Abduction) can’t control his races. These are bland race sequences, providing nothing cool to the aesthetic of the series. In fact, did I see a green screen 15 minutes in? Seriously? In fact, Singleton doesn’t get much right here at all. He encouraged improv from a bunch of non-improv actors. Seriously.

There are some things that work here. Roman Pearce as a character has potential (though it wouldn’t be fully realized for some time). Tej, played by Chris “Lucacris” Bridges, is another character that works much better than it would have been had not been rewritten for him. It was originally written for Ja Rule to return, but he was “too big” for the role. Seeing as how the character evolved with Bridges, the audience won here and Ja Rule lost, and the music is better with Bridges. Luda!

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2 Fast 2 Furious wasn’t enough to kill this franchise, but it didn’t do much to keep it alive either. There are a plethora of problems with the action racing sequel, but it did some right. Not much, though. Not much at all.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s Shaft, click here.

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