From Worst to Best, “The Fast and the Furious” Franchise

Fast and Furious Vin PaulFew film franchises successfully make it to seven entries, and even fewer necessitate that number. Counting out long-standing runs like “Friday the 13th,” with it’s incessant reboots, or James Bond, which will continue through the end of time, most prolific series’ seem to call it quits around entry number six. “Saw,” a rarity, pushed to a seventh installment with the notion of using the 3D admission price to keep it running (that failed) and “Star Wars,” amazingly, will welcome Episode VII into theaters this December. Standing tall amidst the rare club of seven-strong franchises is “The Fast and the Furious,” a high-speed, fourteen year-long series with few paramount concerns above slick cars, beautiful women, insane action sequences, and more than enough mindless joy to keep viewers excited about the next long ride. Through its always-growing central cast of beloved characters, which have anchored the series with an emotional hook, and it’s courageous ability to throw caution to the win and embrace it’s tongue-in-cheek blend of action and comedy, the “Fast” films have garnered a major fanbase. As of October 22, 2013, the franchise had earned $2.3 billion at the worldwide box office, officially becoming Universal Pictures’ highest grossing franchise of all time.

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Review: “Home”

Home PosterA short story by George Saunders, a catchy indie tune by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the 2012 Summer Olympics theme by “American Idol” winner Phillip Pillips. These are just three of the many of works of art that have been titled “Home” in the past. Whether or not DreamWorks Studios’ latest animated feature proves to be as generic as its title is the real question at hand. Or rather, does this spin on alien invasion movies fall flat, or is it…out of this world?

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Trailer Reaction: “Spectre”

Spectre PosterIf there’s someone to blame for my obsession with movies, you must point a finger at three specific people. The first two are Ian Fleming and Albert R. Broccoli and the third is their shared creation. The first had the idea and the second personified him as a touchstone of cinematic history; their product is Agent 007, James Bond. The Bond franchise lit the cinema fire inside me, becoming a twenty-plus entry film series that I watched in a consistent cycle until I remembered every line, every plot detail, and every minute aspect that comprised the film as a whole. No matter how good or how bad, I devoured each and ever Bond film countless times over, never tiring of them. My attraction to franchises in general and falling in love with the mythologies of various series’ started only after I had unearthed the forty-year-old Bond franchise.

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Review: “Seymour: An Introduction”

Seymour Intro Poster“You will get nervous when you learn how to act.”

I find it rather amusing that the first great film to deal so centrally with a musician’s craft, etiquette, temperament and pedagogy since last year’s beloved “Whiplash” is “Seymour: An Introduction,” a quiet, melodic, incredibly meditative documentary that stands almost directly opposite Damien Chazelle’s fiery two-hander. Concerning virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein, the documentary is less about one specific contribution or element of Bernstein’s, but instead meanders cyclically about its subject providing insight into his past, his instructional techniques, his fear of live performing, and his beliefs about composing, as well as his convincing argument that talent is its own reward. Through a waltzing progression, at a pace that many may find distractingly lullaby-like, our virtual handshake with Seymour is indifferent to casual documentary construction by reflecting the tendencies of our introducer, Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke, flexing his documentarian muscles for the very first time.

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Review: “Danny Collins”

Danny Collins poster“What do you think of that, Danny Collins?”

In August 2010, English folk-singer Steve Tilston was contacted by a collector to verify the authenticity of a letter written to Tilston by none other than slain Beatles member, John Lennon. The letter was dated 1971, but unfortunately didn’t reach Tilston until almost forty years later. Lennon had been inspired to reach out to the young singer, according to the letter, after reading an interview with the artist in ZigZag magazine in which Tilston mentioned how he greatly feared the influence of wealth and fame on his personal ideals. Lennon tried to assure him that money does not and should not change the way that a person thinks and that if he should ever feel the urge to reach out, he would be happy to talk with Tilston at absolutely any time. He then signed the letter, “Love John and Yoko.” It is from this too-good-to-be-true tale that writer Dan Fogelman has drawn inspiration for his charming directorial debut, “Danny Collins,” an ensemble comedy starring a modest Al Pacino as the eponymous, Tilston-inspired solo artist. Though rocky at the start, “Collins” finds it’s footing thanks to Fogelman’s tender, funny script and its wonderfully colorful cast that stems from Pacino to spotlight top-tier work from reliable thespians like Bobby Cannavale, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, and the forever adorable Melissa Benoist.

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Review: “Get Hard”

Get Hard PosterI’m pretty snobby when it comes to movies. Shocking, isn’t it, coming from a film school student and a movie reviewer? The problem is that I hold ALL movies to the same unfairly high standards: horror to “The Babadook,” action to “The Raid: Redemption,” comedies to “Pineapple Express,” sci-fi to “Blade Runner,” etc. This has hindered me in appreciating a lot of movies for their own merits; most recently, my more casual moviegoing friends vowed never to go to AMC Loews with me ever again after I bashed “Kingsman: The Secret Service” for trying too hard to be both a Bond film and a light-hearted comedy. (In my defense, this is a mostly accurate observation, but I was unable to appreciate the modern themes and fast pacing that appealed to my demographic.) What I’m trying to say is that I’m definitely not the kind of guy that watches bad movies for fun.

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Top 10: Will Ferrell Performances

Will FerrellI once heard famed comedy writer Larry Gelbart say this of a part he was looking to cast: “I’m looking for someone who can open a door funny as opposed to open a funny door.” In my opinion, few lay claim to the ability to both with equal success. Will Ferrell is one of them. He’s an actor who’s fame and success make him seem older, more seasoned, as if he’s been around for four decades. In reality, it’s only been two. “Get Hard” marks twenty years and thirty-fives movies of Ferrell since his debut on “Saturday Night Live.” Let’s do a countdown of his top ten career performances.

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