Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift


It's hard to believe nowadays that the Fast and the Furious film series was once in a state of basically putting out nothing but spin-offs. Because that's really what Tokyo Drift is. Even though they tied it into the other movies later, it had neither of its original stars (well, save for an ending cameo from one of them) and it took place in a completely new setting with a completely new kind of racing. If that's not a spin-off, I don't know what is.

This particular F&F installment centers around Sean, another one of them illegal street racers. Only he hasn't had the same luck as Vin Diesel at evading the cops. He's forced to go to Tokyo to live with his father to avoid going to jail. And once he's there, he gets introduced to a new form of racing... drift racing. 

I found the first movie to be relatively forgettable (and I didn't even bother watching the second one). This one, despite its occasional efforts, is even more forgettable. The first one barely got by due in part due to some of the star power (mostly Vin Diesel). I wasn't a huge fan of Paul Walker in the first one, but Lucas Black (Sean) had me missing him. The only interesting character in this movie is Han, who actually delivers a fairly nice speech midway through the movie.

Tokyo Drift tries to interest one with its new form of racing, but it really just doesn't stick that well. Some of the driving is pretty impressive, but eventually the formula gets a little old considering it's basically the same type of moves and driving all the way through. Another thing I sort of liked more about the first movie was the vehicular action sequences (improbable as they often were), but you will find no such thing here. There is a pretty standard car chase, but it's nothing special. Just watching 105 minutes of racing with mostly boring characters really just isn't interesting to me.

And the plot? It's not the worst, but it's not particularly memorable either. The Japanese mafia is involved in this movie, but we get mostly stuck with the typical "descendant of mafia boss" as our main antagonist instead. And that's pretty much it. Young hotshots fighting for street cred and girl. And that's that.

It's not painful to watch or anything, and if you're up for 105 minutes of "drift racing" and hardly anything else interesting you might have an okay time with it. But if this film is any indication, the Fast and Furious series was definitely not anywhere close to quality material back in its early goings. Especially if the first one was the best of the first few, considering that one was mildly fun at best. It's a good thing that from here on out, at least we go back to our main stars and characters.

Friday, March 17, 2017



Unlike most people, I was a bit nervous when they first brought up the idea of an R-rated Wolverine film. Regardless of whether it would be more realistic, I was concerned that they would just make it a gorefest without much concern for story or human elements. And yet, here we are. And pretty much everyone got what they wanted.

Just to make it clear, Logan is not a good movie simply because it finally shows all the more realistic bloody slicing and dicing that rabid comic book fans were denied in previous movies. It's a good movie because it's a good movie, plain and simple; it tells a good story and gives us a whole lot more emotion than some of us might have expected.

This movie takes place in yet another bad future for mutants in 2029; although it's not a Sentinel apocalypse this time (thus the rest of the world is prospering), no new mutants have been born in years. All that's left now is a weary Wolverine, a decrepit Professor X... and Caliban (who?). The Wolverine has definitely seen better days, as he's not healing up as well as he used to. He seems pretty content to live out the last of his days with Charles. Until this woman shows up requesting him to transport this young girl named Laura... who seems fairly normal at first, until Logan's place is attacked by goons after her. And metal claws start coming out of her hands. Just like Wolverine's.

Probably the biggest problem with this movie, in a sense, is the timeline. The timelines in the X-Men franchise have been unbelievably confusing ever since Days of Future Past happened, and this movie doesn't help. As a matter of fact, there have been conflicting reports regarding its place; either it's in the new timeline after Days of Future Past--which is awfully depressing when you think about it since mutantkind fell apart again despite everyone's efforts--or it's in a new timeline of its own, which just opens up another ugly can of worms. Once again, you kind of just have to enjoy the movie on its own merits and not try to think about the timelines too much. Otherwise it gets ugly.

And it is quite a great movie. And it's a very different kind of superhero film, which was likely a relief for many. It's not the typical superhero flick at all; in fact, it actually carries a post-apocalyptic western element to it, of all things. And it focuses more on the characters themselves than the actual conflict, which only leads to them punching you in the emotions all the more as the movie goes on, eventually culminating in an ending that fans won't forget anytime soon.

It's also unlike other films of its caliber lately in that it is pretty bleak and hopeless throughout, so much so that it's almost stunning that there is a shred of hope in the air at all by the film's end. It's not as dark as The Dark Knight, per se, but this isn't one of your normal fairly lighthearted Marvel movies by any stretch of the imagination.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart all do great in their final performances; although Dafne Keen (Laura) is definitely of worthy note as well. She doesn't even speak for most of the movie, but does great with her facial expressions and what not. I hope she sticks around in cinema, because she is great at it. Boyd Holbrook isn't bad either in his antagonistic role as an actor, which is a good thing since the villains themselves are actually quite forgettable. (Again though, this mostly works because of the bigger focus on the protagonists.)

For the most part, the film hits all the right notes. The only other issue for some might be some of the violence; not necessarily the fact that there is violence per se, but just how much of it is carried out on and *by* children, which may disturb some. There is also one other rather gratuitous scene of deaths that could've still had the necessary impact if it'd been done mostly off-screen instead.

The movie may not be quite for everyone; some fans might be too horrified by what goes on screen at times. For everyone else, though, it's quite a triumph and a strong finish for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine; and it would be a great place for them to finish the franchise in general (especially considering that the whole franchise has basically been the story of Wolverine). That may not happen, but aside from *maybe* future movies featuring Laura/X-23, are any more movies really necessary? Especially after the ending of this one? I don't think so.

One final note (with maybe a vague SPOILER warning): The ending itself is quite tragic, and even though it was somewhat to be expected, it's still quite a punch to the gut. The final few minutes in general are quite emotional. They are also arguably some of the best few minutes of cinema you will see all year.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Doctor Strange


As we've gone through this Marvel Cinematic Universe, we've all been thinking, "Okay, at *some* point they're going to screw up and make an actually bad movie. Right? Right?" Granted, we've had a couple that were below average compared to the others, but none of them have straight up failed yet. If the improbable success of Ant-Man didn't silence the naysayers, then Doctor Strange ought to do it for good.

Ant-Man was just a rather lame superhero that Marvel Studios somehow made cool (or at least decent); in part by not taking the movie too seriously. Doctor Strange, on the other hand, isn't so much lame as he is complicated. He is a sorcerer, with abilities including traveling between dimensions and universes, manipulating time and opening portals. Lots and lots of portals. Making his movie good without it being incomprehensible or just weird was going to be quite difficult.

If you're not familiar with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)--like pretty much everyone else who watches these movies but doesn't read comics--he begins off as a talented surgeon; with an ego and levels of narcissism that would make even Tony Stark *before* Iron Man happened raise an eyebrow. But when he gets in a car accident that puts him out of his line of work, he is forced to look for answers elsewhere. And he somehow ends up in Nepal. Learning the mystic arts from the Ancient One. And he goes through his own Iron Man-esque transformation of sorts into a different kind of superhero. If he can even be called a superhero, that is.

Somehow, despite the odds being quite frankly against them on this one, Marvel somehow managed to pull this off. Doctor Strange is a surprisingly entertaining and amusing movie that actually makes almost as much sense as it can. Much like some of the other Marvel movies, it's actually often quite light-hearted; which helps out its case. Even Strange's final ultimatum to a certain antagonist is more humorous than anything. The time travel is kept to a relative minimum, so there aren't any weird paradoxes or anything like that. The visuals are astounding (even though sometimes they're "out there" enough to make even the titular character ask if it's LSD). The cast is pretty solid, led by Benedict Cumberbatch making another strong role for himself, rounded out by Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen.

If there's one thing about this movie that's actually annoying, it's that there are a few scenes where some dimension warping (or something) is done through use of kaleidoscope effects. This is actually done during action scenes a couple times, and those scenes are a little bit difficult to keep up with at times. Thankfully, they don't consume the majority of it, so it's more of a passing annoyance than anything. Of course, there's also some mystical mumbo jumbo every now and then in the dialogue (as well as medical mumbo jumbo) that occasionally can be hard to follow.

Doctor Strange is arguably the movie that should finally have broken the Marvel Studios streak. If they'd done a few things differently--such as not making the movie light-hearted or using those weird kaleidoscope effects the *whole* movie or not casting Cumberbatch--it would've probably fallen apart, and since the whole "magic" thing may play into future Marvel movies, it would've been a big problem for them. But they've succeeded once again. After surprising us with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man (even if the latter was one of their "lesser" efforts), we probably should've learned by now; but if Doctor Strange doesn't make you learn to give them the benefit of the doubt from here on out, probably nothing will.

Friday, March 3, 2017



Some movies are more difficult to describe than others. Arrival is arguably the epitome of that. For one, it's already an extremely cerebral sci-fi drama (possibly even more than Interstellar), and how can you even describe much of it without spoiling the movie anyway?

I mean, on the surface by itself without watching trailers, the synopsis sounds rather cookie-cutter; aliens come to visit Earth in a bunch of weird ships and the people of Earth have to figure out who they are and what they want. Then in the trailers they showed us the creative communication required between the two species--hence why they bring in a linguist to be the main character--which looked more creative and less typical. But none of that could ever prepare us for what else was to come in this movie. Which I can't really say much of.

I guess I could look back at Interstellar, another sci-fi movie which involved some insanely complicated twists that left everyone scratching their heads at the end and wondering what just happened. To be clear, Arrival is quite different from Interstellar in that regard. Different things happen. This particular ending is a bit more ambiguous, leaving what happens after the credits roll a little bit up for interpretation. And unlike Interstellar, where you can more or less understand what happens in the end (even if you don't understand how), you might find yourself struggling to tie everything together in your head about this one.

While I came out more or less liking the film, it gets a little frustrating at times. It sometimes rides the fine line between being ingenious and incomprehensible. While the former manages to ultimately sort of win out, you're still kind of left with a feeling of "...what?!"  But at the same time, you have to give them credit for one of the more original movies we've seen in a while.

Thus, in an odd sense, you can't help but kind of applaud them for what they've managed to come up with. It's the kind of movie that will probably bring people back for a second or third viewing in order to try to figure everything out. And that's part of the trick, really; getting people to *want* come back at all to watch again to try to get their heads straight when you put out a movie this cerebral. Arrival more or less succeeded, then, at its mission.

It's not quite as perfect, though, as some might try and make it out to be. The pacing up to the point were they actually meet the aliens for the first time is *incredibly* slow and drawn out. It's like at times they got obsessed with doing more interesting camera shots than with actually starting the story. But once the story gets moving, it gets moving. The only real other issue is the fact that it is difficult to understand at times, but I suppose that was part of the point; to make people think.

Arrival's certainly not the kind of movie you'll see every day. Or even every year. It's the kind of movie that is likely to both frustrate and amaze. I must certainly admit I'm impressed, to some degree. Could I be even more impressed following a second or third viewing? It's possible. But I'm not necessarily in a rush to do that. And others may not be either. While obviously most people have been amazed, it is worth mentioning that if you're not a fan of "thinking" sci-fi films, you should probably stay far, far away from this movie. Everyone else should give it a go, even if they're not big sci-fi fans--it's more of a drama with sci-fi elements anyway. While some may be more impressed upon first viewing than others, there will be few who straight up dislike it.