Tag Archives: Djimon Hounsou

Need For Speed

A masterful cavalcade of carefully orchestrated vehicular mayhem

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Furious 7

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker & Jason Stratham

Directed by James Wan

PG-13

Fast cars and stunt driving have always been Hollywood staples, but nothing raised need-for-speed thrills to the level of pop-art success like the Fast and Furious franchise, which began almost 15 years ago, spawned six sequels and became a $2 billion-plus property—one of the most lucrative ever—for Universal Studios.

Now, in the seventh installment, Vin Diesel and his virtually indestructible crew of pedal-slammers reunite to save the world from more devious dudes, including a super-bad Brit (Jason Statham) out to avenge the death of his brother from a previous movie. But the plot’s just so much air whizzing by from the dozens of vehicles that zoom, smash and sail across the screen. Don’t worry about following a storyline: Just sit back and marvel at the masterful cavalcade of carefully orchestrated vehicular mayhem, a dose of high-octane escapism ramped up to ridiculous, fantastical extremes.

Furious 7

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

In addition to Diesel (who’s also one of the franchise’s producers), the parade of gear-jamming, road-ripping all-stars includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, rapper-turned-actor Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, all of whom will be very familiar to anyone who buckled up for previous F&F joyrides. Kurt Russell comes aboard as a slick, mysterious quasi-governmental deep-cover operative, Mr. Nobody, who needs Diesel & crew’s help to put the brakes on an international criminal (Djimon Hounsou) who’s kidnapped a mastermind computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanual, who plays Missandei on TV’s Game of Thrones).

Director James Wan, the maestro of horror and suspense whose resume includes Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, creates some absolutely stupefying set pieces, jaw-dropping scenes of stunts and special effects. In one, cars drop from a cargo plane, parachute onto a winding mountain roadway and roar off to assault a heavily armored convoy, leading to a literal cliffhanger—then keep going! Another features the world’s most expensive car racing through—and I do mean through—the world’s tallest building.

And, as usual, the car scenes are broken up by equally impressive fight scenes, magnificent, crashing, smashing slam-o-ramas, choreographed to perfection and shot with inventive, topsy-turvy camera angles that bring you right along for the tosses and tumbles. Mixed martial arts fighting champ Ronda Rousey and Muai Thai warrior Tony Jaa both have bone-crunching cameos.

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Paul Walker

But for all the speed and spectacle, something else truly makes this one special for Fast and Furious fans—and that’s the final appearance of Paul Walker, one of the series’ top stars, who died (ironically) in a car crash in 2013 while it was still in production. Using footage already shot, digital effects and body doubles as stand-ins, the filmmakers were able to complete all the scenes—and amazingly, most viewers will likely never be able to spot any trickery.

Rather than simply a character, Walker’s role is a cornerstone of the entire movie, which actually becomes a eulogy and a tribute to him. At the end, as Vin Diesel’s character rides, literally, into the sunset and says farewell, literally, to his old friend, a montage of scenes from their previous movies plays. It’s not fast, and certainly not furious, and it may make your eyes misty, for just a sweet moment or two, from something other than gravel dust, exhaust fumes and the head-spinning speed at which the next sequel, number eight, is already being readied to head our way.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Fire & Ice

High-flying DreamWorks sequel grows along with its young audience

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, & Cate Blanchett

Directed by Dean DuBois

PG, 102 min.

 

A follow-up to the animated 2010 DreamWorks hit about a young Viking boy and his flying dragon, this soaring sequel has grown along with its audience.

This new Dragon reunites director Dean DuBois with most of the original vocal cast (Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and takes place five years after the events of the first movie, as Vikings have learned to coexist with dragons instead of slay them. Now, as we see in the movie’s high-spirited opening, the feisty fire-breathers have become part of the everyday life of the mythical island of Berk, where they’re used for transportation, recreation, companionship and commerce.

“With Vikings on the backs of dragons,” says Hiccup (Baruchel), the son of the Berk’s burly tribal chief (Butler) grooming him for an eventual leadership role he doesn’t really want, “the world just got a whole lot bigger.”

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

And certainly a bit more complicated and dangerous—at least compared to the first movie. As Hiccup, now a gangly teenager, sails through the skies on his trusty night fury, Toothless, with his female friend, Astrid (Ferrera), he discovers a place where the inhabitants don’t see things—or treat dragons—the way they do back on Berk.

Hiccup’s discovery puts his entire village in peril and leads to yet another, even more startling revelation, an Armageddon-like, fire-and-ice showdown, and a life-changing decision. (I won’t reveal much more, but it’s connected to having Oscar-wining Cate Blanchett aboard as the voice of a new character.)

The first Dragon, praised by both critics and audiences, combined a rollicking, family-friendly story (adapted from Cressida Cowell’s British book series) with marvelously rendered, high-tech animation, plus a cast of colorful, amusing characters—and some dazzling scenes, especially if you saw it in 3-D. Dragon 2 upholds those high standards, even pushing them up a couple of notches. The whole movie looks fantastic—fluid, textured and alive.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2The dragons are things of whimsy, wizardry and wonder, intended to make you think of the bonds between people, nature and animals—at various times they mimic characteristics of puppies, ponies, birds, and butterflies. The returning supporting characters are a gaggle of loveable oddballs (Wiig, Hill, Mintz-Plasse), and a couple of new additions—especially hunky, comically inept Eret, Son of Eret (Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington) and the war-mongering dragon slave master Draco Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou)—both add depth and dimension to a story that’s grown up a bit over the elapsed years, just like many of its young audience members

But the real beauty of the first Dragon, and now this one, is how director DuBois and his team never approached them as purely “kids’ movies.” They always aimed higher than that, without ever losing sight of the children who’d find the most resonance in the fantasy-storybook-adventure elements of the tales. Witty, rousing, heartwarming, sensational-looking, and at times touching, uplifting and even moving, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is another fine feather in DreamWorks’ cinematic cap, and proof that it is, indeed, still possible for Hollywood to make movies that virtually all ages can enjoy, appreciate and admire.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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