Fast & Furious 6 (PG-13)

5 Stars

Perhaps I’ve no right reviewing the sixth movie in a series when I’m only acquainted with One through Three. I am literally so lost at the beginning of this film I can’t even tell you.

I want to give it a shot. I’ve heard from several reliable sources that it’s “not as bad as you’d think.”

I’m a sucker for liking movies of this sort. The X-Men films are the best examples coming to mind.

However Fast & Furious 6 is just as bad as I’d think.

There are a few good shots, a couple cinematic moments. But I was hoping for even more eye candy in exchange for 130 minutes of my time.

I support these efforts. You can tell they’re trying to craft intriguing and believable plot lines.

But try as I might, I simply can’t buy into the story. I think my ineptitude in the automotive universe is what gets me. There’s not enough of the “Wow” feeling when certain cars are revealed.

Paul Walker and Ludacris turn in some of the best acting performances in this film. Sung Kang and Gal Gadot, my favorite characters, are also really great. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turns in a solid performance for the writing he’s given.

He’s a cop who tears apart an interrogation room while beating up a witness at the very beginning of the film. (It’s at this point I realize that it’s going to be one of those types of movies.)

That Dwayne is turning into quite the acting talent. I appreciate his commitment to the craft. He never mails it in. Good on ya, Mr. Johnson!

Speaking of mailing it in, Tyrese is not up to his usual par. I usually like him, and I know he’s playing a certain character (which might not be written all that well) but his performance detracts from Fast 6. And I’m sorry to say that.

All in all, there are a lot of hokey scenes, and personally I will never revisit the sixth installation. But if you can stomach irksome acting and weak plot structure in exchange for flashy car chases and decent action, more power to you.

Fast 6 clocks in at 2.5 stars for me, positing it in the ‘just barely unwatchable’ category.

So car fanatics; have at it!

Just don’t come crying to me when the acting and storyline aren’t up to snuff.

Beware the spoilers lurking below.

I admire what they’re doing with the Fast & Furious series. They’re trying to keep an elite cast of characters (well-liked by a certain audience) and retell different stories throughout the franchise’s lifetime.

Perhaps it’s time for a prequel. A shorter, more focused tale, that doesn’t take place on such a grand scale.

Enough speculating, because according to the scene during the credit sequence (that’s right, I waited!) one of my favorite characters gets killed at the beginning of the next film. By none other than Jason Statham.

Which is awesome in it’s own way.

But it’s also super lame. For this reason:

I pick up two favorite characters (both relative unknowns) and they both die by the end of the rolling credits.

Why? Because it creates the illusion of plot depth.

There are twists and turns that slightly justify the unbelievable moments (such as Michelle Rodriguez joining the evil squad because of memory loss, or her character asking Vin Diesel if he knew there’d be a car to cushion their fall). In this way, the writers are trying to lessen the effort the audience must put forth in suspending their disbelief.

So during the climactic sequence, a character must die, because how could they possibly succeed otherwise? And in order to tease the next movie, they must kill another character to create tension and suspense.

But in doing so, they’re only willing to let go of the two most disposable characters in the cast.

To me, this illustrates sloppy writing.

My basic, overall reaction to Fast 6 is, “Fine. But can’t this be done better?”

Diner (R)

10 Stars

You gotta love a movie that holds up.

A classic movie of the highest order.

Written and directed by Barry Levinson, nominated for Best Screenplay in 1982 and set in Baltimore 1959.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, because if you like movies and haven’t seen this gem, you must catch it soon. It’s funny, poignant and has a spectacular cast.

I can’t get enough of Paul Reiser’s character, Modell. Good Golly he’s funny.

Discussing the concept of evolution, Reiser speaks one of my favorite lines, “The guy who makes up this stuff it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard – people do not come from swamps. They come from Europe.”

This line comes from potentially the best post-movie credit sequence I’ve ever seen (or rather, heard). It’s a philosophical comedic audio layover, a bonus diner conversation; an adequate apology for the abrupt freeze-frame ending.

I love how Reiser’s constantly hassling Steve Guttenberg’s character for rides. They’re all such close friends, Reiser manages to never actually ask for the lift, he always gets The Gute to offer.

A young Mickey Rourke is almost unrecognizable in this film. And he delivers a spectacular performance.

Daniel Stern’s character is also great, now that I think about it. You know him from Home Alone. His character is such a well-meaning fella. When he argues with his wife over his records, you don’t know who to root for, and it’ll set your heart-strings aquiver.

It can get dusty at times.

Stern also has a great moment with Guttenberg, when he explains that getting married doesn’t necessarily make life any easier.

Kevin Bacon’s character is, as always, excellently executed. He is like a tightly wound spring, but worth much more than first appears.

The minor character who memorizes the lines from “Sweet Smell of Success,” cracks me up every time he interrupts a conversation.

I’m not sure if women will enjoy this film as much as men. The themes seem very masculine; they reflect the subtleties of my interactions with my male friends. I’d be interested to hear if women feel like they really connect with certain aspects of the movie.

One might say Diner is misogynistic.

I say, “Feh!”

One could argue that the pacing is slow at the beginning, but personally, I won’t do so.

The only criticism I can muster is about the moment of most tension, the pinnacle of the film’s conflict. It gets resolved in such a quick fashion it might make your head tilt.

Otherwise, this is a spectacular film.

As always, don’t expect too much, and you’ll be oh-so-sweetly rewarded.

The Wolverine (PG-13)

9 Stars

First, a caveat.

I’m a huge fan of the X-Men franchise, Marvel Comics, and superhero movies in general. I rarely dislike them. Wolverine is one of my particular favorites.

On top of all that Hugh Jackman’s my favorite actor. You might naturally assume I’d enjoy The Wolverine. However, I’d like to think I have high expectations.

That being said, to temper this stipulation, I heard negative reviews prior to seeing the film, so perhaps my expectation level was considerably below the norm.

I find The Wolverine immensely enjoyable. The plot is well-written, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, stays true to the comics in a satisfactory way for the fan-boy audience. There is more than one villain; each with their own compelling motivation.

The action is spectacular, the cinematography’s a couple notches above average and the story involves some questions of moral ambiguity. Just barely breaching the two-hour mark, it toes the line between too long and too short. I don’t think I need much more, but by no means is it a clock-watcher.

There are the usual pitfalls that come along with superhero movies today: A couple hokey character interactions, several moments are distracting in predictability, but overall, I think it’s a very solid film.

Now, this section contains spoilers, so reader beware.

Let’s begin with what works, which coincidentally starts at the film’s open.

The opening scene is a dream within a dream: Something I’ve never experienced here in four-dimensional reality. It makes for good filmmaking, though.

Scientifically speaking, I’m skeptical of Wolverine’s ability to protect the Japanese kid from harm, but damn it’s cool to think how he suffers through the pain of the blast. It’s heroic, and I like how Yukio’s father reinterprets his experience into stories of the “magic man” who would protect her at night.

I also enjoy the interactions between Wolvey and the bear. The filmmakers are clearly trying to move things in a more artistic direction, attempting to draw more meaningful connections from the story of a tragic superhero.

The fights are nothing short of exceptional. Not only the ninja capture of Wolverine, but also the action between him and the yakuza thugs atop the bullet train. It makes the turn from “good enough” to “spectacular” when he out smarts the last thug rather than resorting to brute force.

Both villains are great, but I can use a bit more face time with Viper. Aside from her intriguing mutation, I’m unfamiliar with the actress (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and I think she’s convincingly sinister. The green suit, noxious breath and strawberry blonde hair are a helluva combo.

Apropos of Viper, here are some things that don’t work so well. Her mutation is complicated and only mentioned once, so I’m unclear on her part in the grander evil scheme until conversing post-credits.

Another downside includes an occasional wink of poor editing, and the dying bear is very clearly animatronic at one point. Early on, some hunters are firing guns outside a supermarket, and the cliché scene reeked of “troublemaking.”

In my notes, I write down that “upright chopsticks are reminiscent of incest at a funeral,” but think I hear her wrong. I believe the word is “incense,” which is quite dissimilar.

On an unrelated note, I appreciate the tormented visions of Jean Grey but can’t help thinking there are sources of greater guilt in his history.

Finally, I could have slapped my buddy in the face at the exact moment Mariko’s husband did the same to her.

All that being said, be you a biased or unbiased viewer, The Wolverine is a fantastic movie. Easily worth the five dollars to catch the flick on demand and I would have paid double to see it in the theater.