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All posts for the month November, 2015

A pause in my deep dive into the furiously fast to talk about something that plagues us every holiday season.

I do like Christmas. I really do. The sense of togetherness, gathering with friends and family to make the coldest, darkest days of the year* into the warmest and brightest. I say this because it’s kind of obfuscated by two factors: a) I don’t really get into the Christmas spirit until the third week of December, and b) I hate the music.

*Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case enjoy summer, dick**.

**That was mean, I’m sorry. It’s just really cold this week.

Just… never got into Christmas carols. I would theorize that it’s because of my brief time in my elementary school choir, which from September until December was nearly exclusively Christmas carol-based, but that seems like poppycock. Aside from one somewhat embarrassing mishap singing on a department store escalator and one incident of fainting at a gig, something I had to be told happened later that day because it made so little impact on me, the sole trauma of my one semester in choir was giving up my lunch breaks. Not exactly deep wounds there. No, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t care for carols much to begin with, and being drowned in them for two solid months doesn’t help.

But there’s one carol in particular that takes way too damn long, and when you look at it, doesn’t make a lick of sense. No, not Jingle Bell Rock, though you could be excused for thinking so. Jingle Bell “Rock?” Maybe in the 50s it could be considered “rock,” but in 2015 it should be legally required to be called “Jingle Bell Old-Time Country Jamboree.” Unless it’s played by a death metal band. I’d allow that.

No, I’m taking about the 12 Days of Christmas. And if you follow along with me, you’ll see exactly why this “true love” giving you all these presents is a bad gift-giver at best, and a war criminal at worst.

“On the first day of Christmas–“

Gonna stop you right there, actually. How many of you out there actually understood what the hell “first day of Christmas” meant when you first heard this song? I couldn’t have been the only six year old saying “No, wait, back up, there’s only one day of Christmas, or at least only one when I’m getting any presents.” Okay, sure, in the UK, the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Twelvetide, is still a thing for some people. Some people. But in North America the whole idea was slowly killed by secular Christmas and Santa, and the rise of New Year’s Eve as a more popular holiday than 12th Night. Maybe the 12 Days thing was a big deal in 1780, when this bizarre pile of presents was first theorized, but today?

I get that we haven’t come up with a particularly iconic Christmas song since the Kennedy administration, but maybe if the traditions they refer to are dying, we can let a few of these go, is what I’m about to take a long time to say.

Now… what exactly has your true love decided to hand you between Dec. 25th and January 5th?

A partridge in a pear tree

Okay. Not super weird. A pet bird and a tree to keep it in. Although… it is winter. Like, super deep into winter. Not a great time to plant a tree, and that partridge isn’t going to want to sit in it right now. But assuming you have a lawn for the pear tree, and that it doesn’t die before it has a chance to sprout a pear, this… isn’t awful.

Let’s just establish something before we move on. There are two ways to take what’s about to happen. You can assume that this is the only partridge and pear tree combo that will be given out, or you can assume that every single day means a new partridge in a new pear tree, and that 11 out of 12 days will have fresh pairs of turtle doves, etc. I’m choosing to believe the former: that each item is only given once. First of all, because I think this list of gifts is weird and troubling enough as it is, and second, because the merciless pop culture critics over at Cracked have already broken down the financially crippling, feather-encrusted nightmare scenario that comes with assuming that each day you re-receive a fresh set of all of the gifts from the previous day, plus something new.

So this is your only partridge and your only pear tree. Just off the top of my head, partridges aren’t a very common pet bird, and pear trees are apparently hard to maintain and more than a little pungent, so I’d have some serious questions about this true love who assumed he/she had nailed the perfect gift.

Two turtle doves

Turtle doves aren’t exactly a low-maintenance pet. They need a diet of seed mix, fruits, vegetables, and gravel (for digestion). They need a bird bath and a well-designed cage. They need thirty minutes of exercise per day outside of the cage, which needs to be disinfected once per week. And they’re not even the prettier dove. If you’re picturing white doves, you’re way off.

This true love of yours better be damned sure you like birds, because they’ve just given you chores for Christmas. Well, for Boxing Day.

Three french hens

More birds. Great. Thanks.

According to my research, french hens are, in fact, the best chickens to keep as pets. If that’s what you’re into. And hey, free eggs? If you want? People might react oddly to being offered a partridge-egg omelette or a turtle dove frittata, but french hen eggs just sound fancy.

Still… still though. That’s six birds in three days. And weird birds. No parakeets, no parrots, but the uglier doves and chickens. Still, as long as we move on to proper presents soon, it’s not so–

Four calling birds

No? We’re still doing this? Okay. Four more birds. But at least these are songbirds. One could almost consider this a proper pet. Four at once seems like diving in with both feet, though. Ever cared for a songbird before? I hope so, because here’s four of them, on top of the hens, doves, and the partridge you already got.

At this point you’re going to need a full on aviary to keep all of these birds in. Probably a heated one, since not all of these are cold-weather birds. Certainly not the turtle doves. Not to mention it would be a place to keep your foul-smelling pear tree alive in late December. Why is this happening? Did you get, like, a bird statue from your grandmother, and then you put in on your mantle because it’s started to sink in that she’s not going to be around forever so you’d better start appreciating the hell out of her now? Then everyone saw it and assumed you’re totes into birds?

Five golden rings

Now we’re talking. Rings! Golden rings! Admittedly a lot of them. I mean, I probably wouldn’t wear five golden rings all the time. I once considered wearing a grad ring and a wedding band, then as a result had a dream where Liberace accused me of being a little too flashy, but hey, you do you. I know several people, male and female, who make multiple rings work, and it is your true love giving them to you, so it’s not horribly forward or anything.

And even if you only wear one or two of them at a time, at least your true love has stopped giving you birds.

Six geese a-laying

Oh god damn it. Come on now, when are you going to sit your true love down and ask them who could possibly need, or even want, this many fucking birds? Or this many types of bird?

And we have moved on from cute, small birds, too. Geese? Fucking geese? Geese can be aggressive, you know. These are not pretty birds to keep around the house. Or let into it. If you weren’t building an aviary before, you are now, and it had better have pens for the geese. And good luck hiring someone to build it for you on December 30th.

Before you suggest that you now have access to free fois gras, I’d ask you to consider whether killing and slaughtering your own geese, then dealing with judgemental glares from every vegetarian you know, is actually worth not just buying some in a store. Assuming you even know how to get proper foie gras out of a living, honking, hissing goose that your bird-crazy true love has dropped on your doorstep the day before New Year’s Eve.

Oh yes, and there’s all these goose eggs to deal with. Which means that these six geese might be extra aggressive, since they all just laid eggs and now here you are getting all up in their nests.

Seven swans a-swimming

SWANS? Swans. Forget what I said about geese being aggressive, because we’ve entered a new thing here. Swans will fucking fight you. Swans will knock you out of your boat, then make sure you never find land. Rowing races have been called off because of swan aggression, and rowing crews are basically tree trunks with smaller tree trunks for limbs.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, BITCH

MERRY CHRISTMAS, BITCH

Oh, and since swans are sometimes used to keep geese away from a property, it’s safe to assume that these seven swans a-swimming are going to have beef with your six geese a-laying, and that’s just going to agitate those delicate flower turtle doves, which–

No no wait, stop, shut up… seven swans a-swimming? What are they swimming in? There’s no way seven swans fit in any bathtub. I hope you have a pool, because if not, your Hitchcock-recreating “true love” just flooded something in your house. Your basement, your garage, your newly-built aviary, something just got turned into a swan habitat, and I’m willing to bet it’s not something you’d intended to be a small pond. But too late, everything you’d kept in your storage room is now under water and covered in swan shit. The good news is, you’ll be able to recover what’s left fairly easily, because the swans should be relatively cool until nesting season. The bad news is, it’s New Year’s Eve, and instead of getting ready to party, you’re dealing with a flood and twenty three pissed off birds because this psychopath you’re dating couldn’t be bothered to just get you The Flash on Blu-ray like a sensible person.

And it actually gets weirder from here.

Eight maids a-milking

Eight maids. Your true love has given you eight women. As a gift. Not to clean your house or anything… they haven’t signed you up for a cleaning service to deal with all the bird crap or the water damage from the swan habitat you didn’t ask for. No, these are milk maids. They milk cows, and according to the song (which we’ve probably been singing for five minutes by now), that is exactly what they’re doing. These eight maids are a-milking.

Your true love did not give you any cows.

Putting aside the person-as-gift problem for now (but oh will we ever come back to it), you have been handed criminals. These eight ladies are out there, in the countryside, sneaking onto farms and milking things, then presumably bringing their unpasteurized spoils back to you in your bird-infested house that I have to believe has been the subject of some noise complaints by now.

Happy new year. You are now running a gang of milk thieves. And since there isn’t a lot of overlap between “people qualified to milk cows” and “skilled cat burglars,” I don’t love your chances of getting away with this. A rancher, or worse, a factory farm is about to press charges against you.

Nine ladies dancing

So… now your true love has handed you nine dancers. We have dancers… being given as gifts. This… Your true love’s unorthodox gift plan has gone from a wacky, feathery nightmare to something horrible.

Let’s stop beating around the bush here. Your “true love” has stopped handing you increasingly large and potentially angry birds, and is instead giving you human beings as gifts. As pets. SLAVES. Your true love is a human trafficker. First, eight women who spend their nights stealing you milk, now nine women to dance for your amusement. Which, I guess, as far as women (probably eastern European or Asian) being offered “dance scholarships” in the west go, is less horrific than the usual. They may be slaves in a house overrun with birds and unpasteurized milk, but they actually do get to dance. That’s… something?

Oh, wait… is that why they gave you the rings? The five golden rings? Were they… were they supposed to be your pimp bling? Your true love was dressing you to be a pimp. Marinate on that. The only genuinely positive gift on this list is tainted forever.

Ten lords a-leaping

Oh no. No no no. It’s all becoming clear. I thought maybe your true love was just tapped into a terrible, terrible black market of human slaves and… mildly exotic birds, but it’s so much worse than that.

It is terribly, horribly, tragically easy to buy women. I assume there’s a way to do that on the dark web, something I hope to never, ever have to confirm.

This is going to a dark place. Let's take a baby otter break.

This is going to a dark place. Let’s take a baby otter break.

Your true love didn’t just grab ten poncy-looking brits. No, these are ten lords. Noblemen. People who actually govern (when they choose to) in the UK. People with security and staff, people who would look for them if they went missing and turned up in somebody’s sour-milk-reeking slave mill and birdhouse. Kidnapping one noble takes work, and attracts attention. Grabbing ten? They’re either Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, controlling minds, or else your true love conquered a country. They marched in, seized power, rounded up ten of the ruling class, slapped them in chains, and shipped them to your house to jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up, and get down.

That may have been an inappropriate time for the House of Pain (they’re far from plain), but I thought maybe a touch of levity would help, given that you’re slowly learning that your true love is a goddamn monster.

Eleven pipers piping

Of course. Of course that’s next. What took so long, really? Surely those nine enslaved dancers and ten leaping lords could use some musical accompaniment. Let’s just kidnap a jazz band. Why not at this point.

Twelve drummers drumming

Sure. Come the fuck in. Drum up a storm. Somehow we’ve made it all the way to January 5th and the cops aren’t here, so bring in a drumline. It’s like a bird-poop-crusted Burning Man.

So let’s recap. What exactly has this true love of yours thrust into your home over the last twelve days?

Twenty-three birds, some of which are fighting, all of which are pooping, some of which have cages you’ve been neglecting to clean because of the chaos that followed, so I bet people are starting to get sick.

One hastily-constructed aviary to hold said birds. Hopefully. Which spared you nothing, thanks to…

One aquatic swan habitat, somewhere in your house.

No less than fifty slaves. Eight of whom are constantly stealing fresh, raw milk and stuffing it anywhere that has less than five birds. Nine of whom are dancing to the music played by eleven enslaved pipers and twelve involuntary drummers, making enough of a racket to draw the attention of the authorities. And let’s not forget the ten lords who were taken either as part of a war crime, or as part of a series of kidnappings that are probably bringing someone’s special forces crashing through your window.

Merry Christmas. You have the bird flu, some sort of milk-borne infection, and you’re on your way to the Hague to face prosecution for crimes against humanity. All because you fell in love with a monster who thought paying for a year of your Netflix subscription wasn’t “flashy” enough. And every year, you get to hear people sing about how you ended up in this mess with smiles on their faces, because somehow they don’t see that none of this is okay.

I mean Little Saint Nick is a bad song, but god damn.

Previously in the tales of people who are sometimes fast and sometimes furious about how they’re not being fast right now… Foghorn Leghorn impersonator/World’s Oldest High School Student flees to Japan to avoid prosecution for moving violations, and learns that his overwhelming narcissism, near-absolute lack of impulse control, and habit of solving all of his problems through illegal racing are, in fact, what life’s all about, and not massive personality flaws. Also the most interesting character is killed.

But you know what? Forget about all of that. Because the franchise sure did its best to do exactly that.

Fastfurious

“New Model. Original Parts,” proclaimed the poster/teaser trailer, because eight years after the original sped through… theatres… come on, me, you’re better than that…

Eight years after a film crew attempted to remake Point Break but got, just, you know, super tired part way through and just filmed people driving in straight lines, all four of the original leads decided they didn’t have enough going on to keep turning down F&F sequels, and we kicked things back off with the numberless, stripped down “Fast and Furious.” Or as I came to see it, “The movie 2 Fast was supposed to be.”

We open with another highway truck heist, but in the spirit of franchise escalation, a slightly more active one. Instead of just driving next to/in front of the truck, then shooting out the windshield so as to hijack it, Dom and Letty (accompanied by Han from Tokyo Drift, who isn’t dead yet, and two Latino henchmen who only speak Spanish and whose names I never caught) pull up behind a truck carrying trailers of gasoline, which we’re assured is super valuable in Mexico, so that Letty can hook them to the crew’s cars, then separate them from the target truck by using liquid nitrogen to freeze and shatter the links.

Which my colleague kind of objected to.

Which my colleague kind of objected to.

This is where we began using the phrase “physics-nopes,” which were any moment in which Dom’s vehicular murder of the laws of physics caused a swift and angry “NOPE” from Daniel. Or a shout of “No… NO… NO! NO! NO!” which was elicited by Dom gunning the engine just so in order to drive under the last truck trailer as it bounced its way down the road.

In the wake of the mostly successful heist, the crew hits the beach, where they talk of the growing heat surrounding Dom. The cops north and, presumably, south of the Mexican border were trying pretty hard to track Dom down, which might seem weird for someone whose crimes were stealing low-end electronics nearly a decade ago, but I guess he never actually stopped stealing stuff, so sure. Han decides it’s time to move on. He says “I hear there’s crazy stuff happening in Tokyo,” to suggest that he’s off to meet his previously-seen drift-fate in Tokyo Drift. The two Latinos… do something. I don’t know. I wasn’t aware these were guys I needed to pay attention to. And Dom? He decides that with all these cops after him, he’s too dangerous to be around, so he sneaks off in the middle of the night, leaving Letty behind in order to keep her safe.

She is almost immediately killed off-screen.

So… good call there, Dom. Way to keep her safe by keeping your distance.

Also, I guess “New model, original parts, but don’t take too long buying popcorn if you want to see all four” wouldn’t have been as catchy a tagline.

But before that happens, we catch up with Brian. I guess the arrest in Miami six years back went really well, because Brian’s no longer doing street races to make rent and/or payments for his ridiculously pimped-out UK import racing car: he’s now been “reinstated” to the FBI. Well, they say “reinstated,” even though he was LAPD before he turned out to be hilariously bad at catching criminals. I’m pretty sure you don’t get “reinstated” to a whole other agency, but whatever.

Anyhoo, now we have a plot. Dom heads back to LA to find out how Letty died, which he does by eyeballing the scene of her accident Sherlock-style. Despite not having previously been a human forensic computer, Dom’s encyclopedic knowledge of fast cars (apparently) allows him to magically deduce that she was run off the road by a green car using a specific and (I’ll have to take his word for this) largely inferior type of nitrous oxide.

F&F3

Which should be super easy to find in all of Los Angeles.

Word also reaches Brian that Letty’s been killed, causing him to reconnect with Dom’s sister Mia, and begin his own search for her killer, which involves infiltrating a criminal organization by winning a street race. Because of course it does. This is Fast and Furious, there is always a street race attended by scantily clad women at some point in the movie. Weirdly nobody at the FBI says “Whoa now, I’m not sure this is a safe environment for Brian, who has at best a 50/50 track record on these things.”

Dom and Brian end up working together to infiltrate to cartel of Mexican drug runner Artruo Braga, whom Letty had been working with, and the FBI has no photos of. They report to one of his henchmen, Campos, and his assistant Gisele (future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot). Dom’s smouldering intensity and car-based flirtation (everything Dom does is car-based) wins Gisele over to his side, and she warns him that their first job is supposed to end in both him and Brian being killed.

F&F4

That first job? Driving a shipment from Mexico to California, avoiding federal helicopters by driving through a mountain tunnel. But they have to do it fast: getting to the other end of the tunnel before the helicopter can get there to see them emerge. Or, you know, waiting in the tunnel for it to leave, but that’s poppycock.

F&F2

Okay, let’s… let’s speed through this, because the plot is only sort of there anyway. Dom confronts Letty’s killer (who confesses right away despite Dom’s evidence being hilariously flimsy… I guess that’s what happens when you’re accused by people who can’t arrest you and you’re planning to kill), he and Brian escape back to LA, it turns out Letty was working undercover for Brian in an attempt to get Dom a pardon, Campos the henchman turns out to have been Braga the whole time in a twist I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for, and when he escapes back to Mexico, Brian and Dom team up to illegally extradite him back to the US, drag race style.

And then none of this gets Dom out of being convicted to 25 years in jail for all that stuff he did, so Brian, Mia, and those Latino henchmen I’d already forgotten about break him out of the prison truck as the credits roll. Brian is not good at being a cop. He goes native so easily. But Mia likes him again, and I’d consider committing several crimes for Jordana Brewster, so okay.

General reactions

It’s hard for me to not see this as the franchise calling a mulligan on 2 Fast 2 Furious. I mean, that movie still happened, because Brian managed a brief return to law enforcement (which would not have seemed likely post-F&F1), and two of his supporting cast are about to make a comeback, but aside from Brian’s FBI status this feels exactly like what the second movie would have been if they’d been able to get more than Paul Walker and Agent Bilkins to come back. Brian’s awkward reunion with Mia, who he loves but whose life he did kind of ruin; Dom and Brian needing to team up to take down an Even Worse Bad Guy (though less comically evil than 2 Fast’s torture-happy drug runner); having the finale be based around, for all intents and purposes, a race through Mexico. Capturing Braga was easy, because the real climax had to be outrunning his henchman back to Mexico.

Also worth noting, Braga went to the “cocky villain” place when they were extraordinary-rendition-ing him back to the US, right until he realized his henchmen were shooting at the car he was in. That shut him up pretty fast.

It’s a little commendable that, thus far, Brian’s been kind of okay at not killing people. Sure, Johnny Tran got killed in F&F1, but it wasn’t Brian’s idea to have a driving gun battle through LA. Wannabe Yakuza probably didn’t survive his car crash in Tokyo Drift, no, but that’s on him more than Methusa-brah. And yes, in the end, Dom does kill the guy who killed Letty, sure. But they went out of their way to not kill Vince, the biggest asshole from Dom’s crew, Brian only shot 2 Fast’s Carter Verone in the shoulder and didn’t kill any henchmen, and Braga gets to American prison alive and intact. So, 50/50? About that? That’s a better track record at not murdering bad guys than all of the Avengers combined.

It’s weird that Gisele is set up as Dom’s romantic interest, despite the fact that Letty just died like five minutes ago, but to their credit, that never actually goes anywhere. Gisele is willing to betray her boss for Dom, but that’s about it.

Overall? It’s… okay. Much like the first movie, it’s not actively bad, it’s just a little forgettable. I’d been paying attention (and live-tweeting) the whole time, but one point I noticed there was only half an hour left in the movie and I still wasn’t sure what it was about.

At this point in the franchise it would be easy to say “Well, it’s really just a bunch of barely-connected movies centred around street racers. They haven’t been world-building. This isn’t going anywhere.” And at the time? Maybe you’d have been right. Brian went from cop, to fugitive working undercover for US Customs, to not in the movie, to FBI agent. Han was, in theory, only in Fast and Furious to cement his connection to Dom and justify Vin Diesel’s cameo in Tokyo Drift, before heading off to, presumably, that part of the timeline. The entire supporting cast of 2 Fast vanished.

And then they flipped all of that on its ear in the next instalment, in which they bring the ruckus… and the Rock. Which we’ll look at soon.

Previously: some people were fast, others were furious, and it doesn’t really matter because this movie isn’t about any of them.

Three years after 2 Fast 2 Furious proved 2 silly for any of the stars to come back*, but 2 lucrative for Universal to stop making sequels, they took a chance and hoped that the name “The Fast and the Furious” would be all they’d need to keep the magic (for a very liberal definition of the word “magic”) going.

Did it? Well… that is a very qualified yes at best.

An associate and I watched this, along with the next three movies, while live tweeting our reactions. I’ll sprinkle that in as I go.

*Okay one, but only really briefly.

Tokyo Drift

As F&F:TD opens, we meet a new protagonist (if that’s the word I want), a supposedly 16-17-year-old high school student who looks to be about 38. I know Hollywood doesn’t like to cast actual teenagers as teenagers, but come on, there comes a point when it just gets silly. As this was the first (and so far only) F&F movie where I couldn’t be bothered to learn the characters’ names, we simply referred to this withered husk of a high schooler as “Methusa-brah.”

After an opening credits sequence that indicates Methusa-brah’s school is full of assholes facing very little in the way of consequences for their actions…

Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.

Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.

…the douchiest douche bro jock to ever douche it up bro-style (played by the oldest son from Home Improvement. Wouldn’t have guessed that) is picking a fight with Methusa-brah for daring to speak to his girlfriend. I want to complain about the level of alpha-male possessiveness that is soaked into the franchise so far, but the sad thing is I need to wait because there’s more. This being a movie based on furious people being fast, before long they’re challenging each other to a street race. Which said girlfriend is swift to encourage.

TD2

The drag race through a residential construction site that is weirdly deserted for 4:00 on a weekday goes badly, with both cars having disastrous crashes and the law ending up involved. Doucheking and his girlfriend will skate, because of their rich parents (naturally), but Methusa-brah is risking being tried as an adult.

TD3

And so, his mother comes up with a solution, one that the local cops who were weirdly gleeful to lock Methusa-brah up a minute ago seem weirdly okay with: she’ll send him to live with his father. In Japan. Pretty sure the cops are supposed to be against fleeing the country to avoid trial, but okay, let’s get away from the baseball captain/future serial killer and towards the actual plot.

TD4

Arriving in Tokyo, Methusa-brah is quickly sent off to a local school by his military father (who forgets to pick him up at the airport, with the excuse “I thought you were coming yesterday,” and upon answering the door has to quickly clean up his, well, prostitute) despite the fact that he seems to speak zero words of Japanese. Honestly, I don’t know how this was supposed to work, but it’s clear that Methusa-brah’s dad (or slightly older brother) does not care nearly enough to get him a private tutor.

At his new school, Methusa-brah meets a few people of interest, and no, I still don’t care what their actual character names are: the only non-Japanese (but to the franchise’s credit, non-white) girl in the school, Trophy Girlfriend; second-hand electronics pawner and soon-to-be-sidekick Bow Wow; and the one-dimensional combo of Wannabe Yakuza, the wannabe-gangster nephew of an actual Yakuza boss, and his bleach-blonde henchman. Bow Wow leads Methusa-brah to the one constant across this entire franchise: an illegal street race filled with custom racing cars and scantily-clad women.

Seriously. Every time.

In a completely unexpected and unprecedented turn of events, Methusa-brah chats up Trophy Girlfriend, angering Wannabe. Because God forbid even one movie in this series not have one or more in this case of the villains decide they hate the… (hero? No. Protagonist? Still too positive…) main character for reasons other than “eyeballed my woman.” And every time they act amazed that being psychotically jealous and aggressively possessive isn’t a big turn-on.

TD10

Can we start teaching girls to hate that sort of macho possessive bullshit so that we can finally breed these assholes out of my species? Sorry, where was I…

Anyway, getting all in the face of Wannabe (and in his face he gets, despite not having money, cars, friends, or basic knowledge of the culture he’s been thrust into) gets Methusa-brah into a race with the frosty-haired henchman, because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Sadly, here in Japan, people don’t just race… they drift race. Customized cars designed to “drift” around the tightest of corners.

Seriously, that’s all they do. These people can’t go for a romantic drive in the mountains without drifting along the highway. I know I give F&F1 a hard time for having most of its car sequences involve driving in a straight line, but once this movie hits Japan, nobody gets into a car if there aren’t corners they can drift around. This movie is obsessed with drifting to a point I’ve only seen in one other place: Mario Kart. Once Nintendo developed the mechanics for belt turns (and ultimately the blue sparks of Double Dash), they became such an intrinsic part of the game that it was basically impossible to win without them. As it is here.

Anyhoo, a local named Han (who makes a more convincing American than Methusa-brah, who is doing a southern drawl so thick it could stop a bullet) backs Methusa-brah in his race, but given his inability to drift, he not only loses the race to the top of the parking garage, but basically destroys the car Han lent him. As such, he now owes Han a car, and must join his criminal crew, where he learns to race properly.

In essence, exactly what happened with Dom and Brian two movies ago, only Methusa-brah’s not a cop.

Methusa-brah’s dad objects to him racing again, threatening to kick him out and send him back to American jail. In one scene. That’s it. This never becomes an issue. Methusa-brah immediately starts spending his nights learning to race and collecting money/driving for Han, and his father never objects again. He starts winning races, and the heart of Trophy Girlfriend (because that’s how trophy girlfriends work).

TD5

Thanks to Han he’s living the high life. Until Wannabe finds out Han has been skimming from his legit-Yakuza uncle, at which point all Hell breaks lose.

Han is killed in a drift-based car chase, Wannabe reclaims Trophy Girlfriend basically at gunpoint, and Methusa-brah knows he’s living on borrowed time, so he does the only thing he can… he goes to Legit-Yakuza uncle to make amends, return the money Han skimmed, and suggest a peaceful solution for him and Wannabe: they settle their differences in a race.

Because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Literally all of them.

TD6

TD7

TD8

They meet in the mountains, for a high-stakes drift race down the hill that a whole crowd of people are watching on their flip phones… despite that fact that no one is or could be filming the race. They drift, they run each other, but eventually Wannabe’s hate pushes him too far, and he flips off the road to his probable death.

Which everyone’s basically fine with. Even his Yakuza uncle shrugs and walks off as if to say “Yeah, he basically had that coming, it’s all cool.”

Methusa-brah becomes the new king of Tokyo street racing, his father presumably being too buried in beer and hookers to notice, or having just stopped caring at some point. But as the movie wraps up he gets a challenge: someone claiming to have known Han, saying he was “family.” Vin Diesel, returning as Dominic Torreto, in exchange for the film rights to the Riddick character. They race off, and we, mercifully, go to the credits.

General reactions

TD9

Where do I even start with this turd biscuit of a movie.

Methusa-brah made me miss Paul Walker. Brian O’Connor wasn’t the strongest protagonist the first two times through, and while Walker’s passing was a tragedy, he wasn’t exactly Olivier, but next to the 40-year-old teenager poncing around Tokyo Drift, he’s the love child of Indiana Jones and Laurence of Arabia.

There’s never really a moment when Methusa-brah becomes someone worth rooting for. He just trundles around the movie, flirting with the worst people’s girlfriends and challenging them to races when they take offense. I don’t know what he wanted other than to race people and generally not try very hard at life. Dom had his speech about feeling free, Brian had the conflict between his responsibilities as a cop and his growing connection to the Torretos, Roman was torn between his hate of cops and his desire for a clean record, and none of those were really super well done, but at least they were something. Methusa-brah has nothing. No greater motivation, no arc, no reason to care about anything that happens to him. He is the worst.

And as far as the story goes… is there one? Really? Methusa-brah and Wannabe hate each other because they both like Trophy Girlfriend, who barely exists beyond being, as I said, a trophy girlfriend. So a protagonist we don’t like, an antagonist who feels like the least interesting henchman of a proper villain who never emerges, and a love interest who isn’t lovable or interesting.

Plus, and I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating, it is so obsessed with drifting that when Methusa-brah and Trophy Girlfriend go driving for their first date (much as Brian and Mia did), they don’t just go driving, they go drifting. In the hills. With like six other cars.

What in the name of Zeus, Buddha, and the King in Yellow did having all the other cars there add? And could they just spend five minutes in a car without belt turning? No. No they can’t. Because if they can’t bother with characters, story, or emotion, they may as well stay on their ridiculous theme. If you can’t do something well, do something bad super thoroughly.

It made money. Less than the first two, but enough that, despite all logic, they decided the franchise was worth keeping alive. Still, the studio did have one moment of clarity and decided that the only way they could make another Fast and Furious is if the original cast could be lured back. Which, as it turns out, they really, really could.

We’ll talk about how that went next time.

So when we last left those fast, furious, or a combination of the two, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) had (presumably) thrown away his law enforcement career in order to allow Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) to escape, rather than arresting him and his surviving associates for stealing a bunch of televisions in the most unnecessarily dangerous manner possible. I mean, I assume the one guy from the crew got arrested, the one who needed medical evac after getting shot by the trucker they were trying to rob.

It was like if somebody was asked to sum up Point Break in fifty words, so they got the basic plot points, but had to leave out at the details and motivation.

Now, Vin Diesel had moved on to XXX, and was thinking his career was 2 hot, 2 lucrative (see what I did there?) to be doing sequels. Paul Walker was under no such illusions. So when Universal came calling for more furious fasting, he was game.

Let’s look at how he did.

(Think I might skip the live commentary from here, it doesn’t make much sense if you’re not watching along)

Brian’s back

We open with a Miami street race, because of course we do. Where was the movie going to start, a complicated chess game? Actually, we begin with the Universal logo as some sort of hydraulic bouncing rim. And this people prefer to Scott Pilgrim’s 8-bit Universal logo. Where’s the alternate universe where MY movie tastes win out?

Anyway racing. Through this we meet Ludacris’ Tej, who will be important later in the franchise, and Devon Aoki’s Suki, who sadly will not. She’s here to play a less hostile version of Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty from the first film: drive well, look good, don’t wear too much, be acceptably badass (though less than Letty, because she’s not involved in crimes worse than street racing).

Brian didn’t just leave the LAPD after his, objectively speaking, disastrous undercover operation against the Toretto gang. In fact, he’s a wanted fugitive for just how badly he bungled it. But we don’t learn that until after an opening race that, in this movie’s defense, is more exciting than basically any car-based action setpiece in the first movie. It has tight corners, four combatants, and a raised bridge, whereas only two out of seven of the first movie’s car scenes even had turns.

So it seems clear that going into the sequel they decided “If this franchise is about pimped-out import cars being used in dynamic ways, maybe we should put any effort at all into that.” F&F1’s drag races were deemed 2 short, 2 simple (Boom!), so this time we have a little more action than “Two people drive straight, one of them does it faster.”

Anyhoo, Brian gets arrested post-race, only to be greeted by literally the only other actor from the first movie they could talk into this: Agent Bilkins, the FBI agent who was a dick to him. Seems Bilkins has changed his tune since last we saw him, as he wants Brian’s help with another undercover operation. They need a wheelman to go undercover with a drug trader, and he thinks Brian’s the man for the job.

Which… why? Why, though? Did he forget everything that happened? Because it seems to me that based on the events of F&F1 Brian O’Connor is woefully unqualified for this job. He lost his only street race so badly that he broke the car, and when he managed to infiltrate the gang anyway he ended up siding with the criminals. Why would you trust your high-end drug money sting to a disgraced former officer with a history of being bad at his cover story and letting criminals escape? I don’t know, maybe he’s realized that he was kind of a jerk to Brian last time. Maybe he beat cancer or something between movies, developed a new outlook on life, and became a believer in second chances. Whatever the reason, he’s Brian’s new best friend, offering to clean up his record if he does this job. But’s a two man job, and Brian’s quick to dismiss the Customs officer they intend to partner him with, pointing out how ill-equipped he is to blend in.

Brian O’Conner says this. The man who blended in with the LA street racing community about as well as Donald Trump at a Black Lives Matter rally is telling someone they can’t pull off an undercover role. But okay, that’s fine, it gets us moving towards the plot… because there’s only one man that Brian can think of to partner with: his old friend Dominic Toretto Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson).

Not Vin

For the bulk of this movie it was impossible for me to see Roman as anything but a quickly-written substitute for Dom Toretto. Turns out Universal commissioned two scripts: one with Dom and one without. And it’s really clear that they only did some minor tweaks for the “Vin’s out” script. Because it’s hard to believe they thought “And for this version we’ll have a completely new character, who also has trouble with the law, who also feels betrayed by Brian because of it, and who also happens to be a world-class street racer.” Well, okay, Brian’s better, and that probably wasn’t in the “Vin’s in” version.

Regardless, Roman brings us to what someone decided was the next step for the Fasts and Furiouses. Last time around, the thing that bonded Brian and Dom (other than mutual affection for Dom’s sister Mia) was their mutual dislike for the even-worse bad guy Johnny Tran. Dom and his crew were the bad guys, sure, but Tran and his crew were the BAD bad guys, and teaming up to get him justified Brian letting Dom escape.

In theory.

Also, let’s remember, Dom was stealing and fencing low-end electronics and not even killing people. He wasn’t exactly Alec Trevelyan.

But Tran was sort of tacked on to the main plot. This time, the plan was clearly to abandon “will Brian betray Dom” and just have Dom Roman and Brian team up against an Even Worse Bad Guy in the form of drug trafficker Carter Verone.  A criminal 2 mean, 2 nasty (okay, I’ll stop) for Brian to be seduced by the lifestyle.

There is, however, someone else who might have that problem.

Let’s have a woman, I guess?

Eva Mendes turns up as an undercover Customs agent, key to recruiting Brian. Somehow. And let’s get this out of the way: she is given even less to do than Michelle Rodriguez was in F&F1. Devon Aoki has more to do in this movie, and after the first race she mostly just stands next to Tej looking pretty. (Which she excels at but that’s not the point.)

Eva first appears at Brian’s big race at the beginning of the movie. Brian spots her in the crowd after his big win in a moment so infused with significance that I had to assume they knew each other.

They did not.

No, he just happened to lock eyes with the one person out to recruit him for a redemption quest. Sure, okay, if that’s… yes, I get it, Eva Mendes is pretty spectacularly attractive, but this was in a crowd filled with great-looking women in skimpier outfits standing next to racing cars.

There is just an endless supply of good looking women willing to dress sexy and hang around street races in these movies. I picked the wrong hobbies, I tell you what.

Anyway, she’s their inside woman, the person getting Brian and Roman close to Verone. The problem is, she herself is a little uncomfortably close to Verone, leading Roman to suspect she’s compromised. Brian disagrees, because she’s a fine looking woman, and if F&F1 teaches us anything, it’s that dangle a fine looking woman in front of Brian, and he not only won’t believe she’s up to anything, he’s probably looking for a way to help her brother escape the law.

So we’ve got an ex-cop with a history of going native while undercover; his ex-con buddy who hates everyone he sees with a badge; an inside woman who appears to be literally sleeping with the enemy; and a senior Customs officer so convinced Brian and Roman can’t be trusted that he almost blows their cover 15 minutes into the operation.

I changed my mind. I think Agent Bilkins is just trying to get fired.

Overall thoughts?

Not as bad as I expected. Not good, but not as bad as I expected.

First of all, having Brian and Roman team up to bring down worse criminals is, I’ll admit, the jump-off point for the world-travelling terrorist-battling mega-franchise this becomes. It’s like the American Dr. Who pilot: yes, it’s bad, but contains a prototype version of a lot of what makes the franchise good down the road.

A friend and I had a long-term argument back in 2005 regarding the ill-advised sequel to XXX. John was convinced that XXX: State of the Union could not, as I claimed, be a step down from the first XXX, because XXX was way too stupid to be superior to anything, even its own sequel. However, based on my own observations and the box office for the Ice Cube-led State of the Union, I feel I was correct. It was possible to be worse than XXX. I say this as context for my next sentence, which otherwise would seem like a nonsense statement to many people.

The movie does suffer from Vin Diesel’s absence.

Walker and Gibson are a little 2 bland, 2 unengaging (I lied about stopping) to carry the movie. Walker is still capping out as a slightly better version of Keanu Reeves in Point Break. It took an hour of movie before I saw Roman as anything other than a jive-talking Dom clone, because that’s how long it took for his and Brian’s backstory to have any sort of traction. Until then, it was simply a rapper working his way through Vin Diesel’s story beats. Brian says “bro” about 50 million times in this movie, and every time it sounds about as natural as it would coming out of Dick Cheney.

They did their best to up the car-based action (to the point of having the final boss fight be simply landing a car on his boat… you heard… and then shooting him once in the shoulder) but there’s still way more closeups of speedometers and gear shifting than actually exciting visuals. That’s what turned me against this franchise when I was running it at the Moviedome: 2 Fast 2 Furious had a lot of gear-shifting, while two hour Mini Cooper advertisement The Italian Job just showed cars driving super fast.

On the one hand, there are the seeds for the F&F franchise-to-be. On the other, there are also a lot of reasons why maybe it should have been put down. The only thing that separates it from any other fairly generic action movie is the street racing and weird surplus of customized racing cars. And if I had to name a strength of this movie, all the street-racing (and in one case jetskis) ka foofaraw wouldn’t be it.

Actually if I had to name a strength of this movie I’d claim to need the washroom and sneak out of the window.

It… kind of has a story, I guess? I just finished it a few hours ago and I’m having trouble naming what it was about. What the struggles were, what the arcs were. They had a job, the bad guy proved (extensively) he was bad, and then they foiled him and the movie was over. I don’t know what else I expected, but it’s starting to feel even more hollow than F&F1.

Very much a film franchise that would need redemption just as much as the careers of its original stars. But first, they had to go Tokyo Drifting.

Random thoughts

  • Ludacris starts out with an afro that would put half the cast of a 70s blacksploitation movie to shame, then ends up with cornrows the next time we see him. Who told him that was okay?
  • I wondered why Brian’s racing car in the first scene was British, all steering wheel on the right. Turns out that was actually Paul Walker’s car. He was huge into street racing and actually a skilled driver. He even did some of his own driving stunts. Respect. (Reminder: yes, he died in a car accident, but no, he wasn’t driving)
  • Brian still fits in around mostly POC street racers about as well Carrot Top at a TED talk.
  • In the second big driving action scene, neither lead is wearing a seatbelt. They are driving OBSCENELY fast. SEATBELTS, PEOPLE.
  • I don’t know that I’ve seen as many tricked-out import cars in my life as seem to be wandering around Miami. Although I suppose I’ve never been to Miami.
  • Racing for pink slips remains a key plot point. I mean, eventually they have to face enemies who can’t be defeated by drag racing, right?
  • Another repeated plot trick: have the BAD bad guys torture somebody in front of Brian. The difference is a) the torture’s WAY worse this time, and b) the BAD bad guys aren’t some tacked on bonus characters there to create a bond between Brian and the LESS bad bad guys.

See you next time, as the studio pins its hopes to the franchise name being enough of a draw to not need its stars.

Way back when, The Fast and the Furious happened. And I ignored it. I hadn’t seen Pitch Black or Iron Giant so I didn’t really care about Vin Diesel. I cared less about 2 Fast 2 Furious, the one Vin Diesel skipped for the seemingly more lucrative XXX franchise. I assumed the world agreed with me that the 100 minute Mini-commerical The Italian Job was the superior car-based movie that summer. And when none of the stars returned for Tokyo Drift, I assumed we were done with these movies.

Then something weird happened. Everyone came back for Fast & Furious, and then the whole franchise shifted: gone was the blatant, blatant I say, Point Break knock-off. Instead, with Fast 5, it went from “series of second-rate car-based heist movies” to “series of car-based action movies so ridiculous they became awesome,” to the point that internationally Furious 7 beat out Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office. And I missed all of it. So, let’s get caught up before And The 8 comes out.

And while I’m doing that, let’s put them under a narrative microscope.

The Fast and the Furious

Fast-and-Furious

  • Some films are timeless. No matter how old they’ve become, they still resonate just as much with audiences. But then some films ask me to recall a time when combination TV/VCRs were considered high-end merchandise. It’s like when Vincent in Pulp Fiction complains about a milkshake costing five dollars, and I struggle to remember a time when that was an unreasonable price to pay for a full-sized milkshake.
  • Okay, yes, that stevedore clearly just sold the truck full of TVs (from fancy to “fits in your dorm room”) to the thieves. But if the second season of The Wire teaches us anything, it’s that life for stevedores has gone downhill. The unions struggle, the hours aren’t always there, and sometimes crime is the way you get food for your family. Unless I’m allowing life at the port of Baltimore to unfairly colour how it is at the probably-busier Port of LA. That might be it. In fact, asking these movies to live up to the “painful reality of life” narrative that was The Wire might be unrealistic.
  • Doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop.
  • The opening car-based heist felt like a lot of work to steal a bunch of $300 televisions. I’m just saying. The truck wasn’t even that full.
  • Paul Walker is introduced. And at some point the director just pointed a shaky camera at a green car driving a visually dull track, with no real sense of speed, and said “Nailed it. Don’t need any more footage for those eight seconds.”
  • You get the feeling that Brian (Paul Walker) is trying to show off to Mia (Jordana Brewster) by ordering the dullest sandwich possible for two weeks straight. Tuna on white with no crusts? It’s amazing she remembers you’re a person long enough to make the sandwich.
  • It’s hard to imagine that these four people driving their extensively customized racing cars through a relatively poor LA neighbourhood might be up to something illegal.
  • Paul Walker is doing his very best to emulate Keanu Reeves in Point Break. Which is… not a good choice. Ever.
  • “Here we are at the meeting point for the illegal street race. How many songs can you fit into the background? We’re trying to sell soundtracks here.” -An executive at some point.
  • Is this movie the reason NOS energy drinks exist? Because I’m starting to think it is. And that is not a positive.
  • Brian is supposed to infiltrate this gang of street racers, but so far he blends in about as well as Lady Gaga in Amish country, and I’m not super convinced he’s that good at driving. This plan has some serious flaws. I mean, having Keanu Reeves infiltrate surfers? That at least made sense.
  • One million dollars worth of cameras and DVD players? Let me see… I guess that’s only 2,000 of them, but that still feels like it would take all four of the recent hijackings they mention. There HAS to be something more lucrative they could be doing.
  • So, Vince, the dick who keeps trying to fight Brian because he hasn’t noticed that being super territorial is not one of Mia’s turn-ons… he betrays Dom (Vin Diesel) at some point, right? After he notices everyone is sick of his shit? Can that be soon?
  • You know, I’d heard that these movies tended to have a huge lull in the middle where the action stops and everyone just talks about family, honour, and cars. That seems to be the case. But maybe we’ll have another action beat while Brian tries to prove that the Latino gang are the bad guys and not the 50% lovable band of street racers he’s hanging with. Given that he clearly hasn’t seen Point Break and doesn’t know where this is going.
  • “We can’t let the Chinese gang know we’re in their territory. Get our whitest, flashiest car and we’ll sneak over there.” -Dom, being bad at plans.
  • Dramatic irony is achieved when the audience knows something the character doesn’t. When Oedipus calls out to find the man who murdered his wife’s former husband? Dramatic irony. When Cat Grant talks to her employees about Supergirl, not knowing that Supergirl herself is in the room? Dramatic irony. Is that what they’re going for here by having Brian be the last person to realize Dom’s gang are the car-based thieves? Because they can’t imagine the audience doesn’t know.
  • Crazy thought. If you’re only mostly sure you’ve found the right gang, maybe don’t take the undercover guy on the raid. Just in case.
  • How obvious has it been who the thieves are? Brian’s boss just tells him. “It’s Dom. Deal with it.” No revelations, no new evidence, just “We’re running out of movie, time to decide who you betray.”
  • No, yeah, you’re right Brian. In the middle of a quasi-legal racing festival filled with criminals is the exact place to confess to your girlfriend that you’re a cop after her brother. Smooth.
  • And for the climactic heist, everyone just gives up on disguises. Or the cover of darkness. Sensible.
  • Oh, that wasn’t the climax? Odd…

Wrap-up thoughts

It’s not that the first Fast/Furious is bad, per se, it’s that it’s hollow. No, wait, hollow isn’t good. I guess it is bad. Sorry, my mistake.

It’s Point Break with half the action and a third of the story, and Point Break is not a good enough film that you can afford to strip away anything. Point Break at least tried to build a bond between Bodhi and Johnny Utah (Jesus Christ that movie was ridiculous) that would explain why Utah is so unwilling to accept that Bodhi is robbing banks to fund his surfing, and why he’s conflicted about bringing Bodhi in. Where Fast/Furious is concerned, Dom’s okay, I guess, but the motivation for Brian not thinking Dom’s crew are the thieves rests entirely on Dom’s sister Mia and Brian’s desire to get with that.

And Jordana Brewster does her best. I’ve also kind of bought Chuck Bartowski being willing to commit some mild treason for her, so… I guess? Sure? This makes a little sense? Also all the people Brian works for are demonstrably jerks, and let’s face it, Dom was stealing electronics and not killing anyone. This ain’t exactly the James Gang here.

Also, the writers can barely make themselves car about the car-facilitated heists. There’s one at the beginning, one that goes bad towards the end, and that’s not even the climax. The actual climax is Brian and Dom chasing down the Chinese gangsters that have been the Worse Gang for the last hour and a half. Point Break had a Worse Gang too, but they were shuffled off the mortal coil at the halfway point.

As far as the “extreme sports” hook that any Point Break knockoff or remake requires, car racing is, in theory, more exciting than surfing. But it also seems to be more expensive, because there are only, like, four races, and they’re all straight lines. Cars go fast, one car tries to go more fast, then other car goes much more fast, race over. Not exactly high-octane thrills.

There is no hint of the larger franchise in this movie. No sense that eventually these people are going to be travelling the world fighting terrorists in cars that make the Batmobile look like a beat-up Yugo. Frankly, I’m not stunned that it took a few movies to get Diesel back in, since I don’t know where he’d have thought there was to go with the character. Of course he’d have thought Xander Cage and Riddick would be more fun, and there’d be no need for anyone to come back to these characters.

If only he’d known. If only any of us had known. But as I said, I don’t see how anyone could have.

Next time… the Fast/Furious universe expands as Paul Walker picks up a new crew. It’s 2 silly, 2 pointless, but if I’m gonna deep-dive this franchise, I’m-a do it right.