Sunday, May 28, 2023

Fast X (AKA Fast Ten Your Seatbelts)


I don't know what to say about these movies that has not already been said by me and a thousand others. "The Fast and Furious" series has gotten bigger and more preposterous with each entry, and the connection to reality disappeared around the fifth one in the series. They are extremely well made, over the top action films, that you can enjoy the heck out of, as long as you are willing to give up any sense of reality. The physics are silly, the characters are cartoons, the stunts are Rube Goldberg sequences that will make you want to go back to your childhood and play "Mousetrap". Every movie has the same tropes in it somewhere, there is a racing scene, shots of girls wiggling their hind ends to hip hop songs at the race scene, and then there are the character beats. Vin Diesel's Dom gets serious and says he has to go it alone, the team mocks that idea, Letty defies the notion, and they all end up working together. There will be new characters introduced, usually with some family connections. A Secondary character will return to be sacrificed at some point in the story, and a dead character will be resurrected. There is also usually a double cross somewhere ion the story, and/or enemies come together for a common purpose. 

"Fast X" or "Fast Ten Your Seatbelts" as my friend Mark Hofmeyer would call it) has all of those moments. Like a Roger Moore 007 film, it checks off the essentials, tosses them together and then gets by on it's stars. Michelle Rodriguez continues to glower at everyone who might be an opponent, and if there is a woman to be taken down, she will get the sequence that requires that ass whopping. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris will do their Abbot and Costello routine, fall out for 30 seconds and then bond again. They are the comic relief most of the time, although there are other characters that do get to put some comedic spin on what they are doing. The characters of Han and Ramsey are along for the ride on this one, but they have almost nothing to do for most of the story. Charlize Theron likewise, is in the story, but the segment with her and Letty is mostly shoehorned in to give them something to do while the rest of the action is taking place. 

The best thing that the makers of this franchise have done, is introduce new characters on a regular basis. Those characters can come back and be part of the action in the next films. Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Jon Cena all started out as antagonists to Dom's team, and end up working with them in later films. Helen Mirren is not given a lot to do, but when she shows up, she classes up the film a bit. I try to avoid spoilers in my essays so be careful with this next bit, although anyone who has followed the series knows that it is true. Characters die in the films, but they all seem to come back somehow. We get a couple of those moments and the film itself is a bit of a tipoff because of how it ends.

Fresh faces keep things lively in the eleven films so far (which includes the Hobbs and Shaw spinoff). Jon Cena was the anti-Dom in the last film, and now he is back as a semi-autonomous surrogate father for several scenes. He seems to be having a great time and I enjoyed his sequences more than most of the others. However, it is clearly Jason Momoa who is having the most fun with this movie. His character is flamboyantly evil, and Momoa plays him with gusto and panache. The character is written as a stylized villain, and the actor embraces the character the same way that John Lithgow took on Lord John Whorfin in the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension. His costumes, hair, eyebrows and voice all scream "I'm the Bad Guy!! Pay Attention to Me!". It is exactly right, even the use of the extended arms in a crucified like position as a visual exclamation point that the character has a habit of posing in, feel like a comic book bad guy should be. The retcon sequence that brings Dante into the story is not as elaborate as the one that got Cena's Jacob in the last film, but it was managed well and it works. 

The one new wrinkle this film gives us is that it ends on a cliffhanger moment. All of our heroes appear to be doomed and the bad guy has won. There are several strings that you can pull at to come up with more story. For example Brie Larson could find her Dad Kurt Russell and start a new hunt on the villain. Jason Statham is on his way to protect his Mama from the bad guy, so that can be a path to follow. And Letty's new alliance with Theron's Cipher has been set up with a twist that I saw coming three movies ago. Regardless of all that potential, I am confident that the dead will rise, the strings will be tied up, and if Dante, Momoa's character is not sent to hell, he will become an anti-hero ally in entry number 12. I heard they were going to stop after the next one, but I also thought Han was dead. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Return of the Pink Panther

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Return of the Pink Panther

One of the reasons I am pursuing this Throwback Thursday exercise, is that it allows me to wallow in the nostalgia of my own nostalgia sometimes. Today's film is one of those occasions.  I covered "The Return of the Pink Panther" on my original project in 2010. You can read that post here. My original memories of the film are catalogued there.

One thing that has changed in the past thirteen years is that there is now a trailer for the film available on YouTube, which like on most of my posts, you will find at the top of this essay. Back in 2010, the only thing I could find was the title sequence, and that link is now gone. If you watch the titles, you will get a delightful Pink Panther cartoon, one where the silent feline does impressions of movie characters, including Bogart, Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin. I don't know what the inspiration for this theme was, but it feels completely fitting for a Blake Edwards film. 

At this point in the series, the movies became a vehicle for Peter Sellars to do physical comedy and verbal humor. The plot is not really important, which is why Christopher Plummer feels almost invisible in the movie, he is second billed but completely detached from most of the things that happen in the story. In fact, it is actress Catherine Schell who is most involved in the plot as Sellar's Inspector Clouseau, searches for her character's husband, played by Plummer, and also tries to find evidence of his involvement in the theft once again of the legendary titular diamond.  One of my favorite comedic beats comes from her as Lady Litton, running back into the bathroom where Clouseau and a bellboy are hiding in a sauna. The steam from the sauna has made the floor wet, and Sellars and the bellboy have already gotten some laughs with their feet slipping out from under them. When Schell comes back in, she slips as well, but grabs on to a column in the large bathroom, and does a perfect spin on it. The fact that she is in a bathrobe, almost makes it look like she is doing some pole dancing.

When I read my original article after watching the movie this morning, I noticed I had made mention of a joke about a telephone in the foyer of the Litton Family estate. Clouseau, masquerading ineffectively as a telephone repair person, is trying to get into the office to do some digging, and he has to come up with a reason why the phone right there in the foyer will not work for his repairs. It is a throw away minute that I was not paying attention to this morning. After I read my earlier comments, I went back and looked at the moment again, yep, there it was. A visual joke that Sellar's pantomines through and gave me a huge laugh. Again I will not spoil it for you, but be alert if you get to that moment, don't look away. 

"Return of the Pink Panther" was one of the films my fellow Lamb Dave Anderson used this last week on the Lambcast, when arguing that 1975 was the greatest movie summer. I might well have chosen it myself if I had been defending 1975, which as you can tell from this year long project, is pretty special to me. 

This is the iteration of the films where Clouseau's boss, played by Herbert Lom, goes mad and becomes the antagonist for the next few entries of the series. Lom is very amusing as the frustrated Chief Inspector Dreyfus. His twitching eyebrows and maniacal looks let us know he is on the brink of losing it. In the opening section in his office, he is so flummoxed  by the ridiculous Clouseau, that he almost kills himself and his assistant by accident. So between the bellboy, Lom, Schell, and the continuingly reliable Burt Kwouk, it is clear that the slap stick was not just limited to Sellars, but that Blake Edwards had a lot to do with it as well.

Just as a side note, I saw the actor playing the Hotel Concierge, and kept asking myself where I'd seen him before. Victor Spinetti was not a familiar name, but it suddenly broke through to me that he was the frustrated T.V. director in the Beatles Film, "A Hard Days Night". So if you are looking for a stream of consciousness recommendation for a film to put on today, you can't do better than that. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) Revisit


I have loved this film since I saw it in December of 1974 at the UA Theater in Pasadena, with my friend Art Franz. We were both movie buffs and the rock score and theatrical aspects of the trailer and the poster, lured us in with ease. I have since watched it a dozen times at minimum, including a screening in Los Angeles at the Silent Movie Theater in 2012.  Paul Williams, the star and songwriter of the film, made an appearance at that show. I found a notice of that show on the website of "The Swan Archives". 

You can read my own notes on this event here. It was a wonderful evening that reminded me of how much I love this film. So it is a pleasure to report that I had another great experience with Phantom, this time as a result of the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. 

The event on Monday night was billed as a special screening, but it was not clear what was going to be special about it. As far as I'm concerned, anytime you can see a movie you love in a theater, it is a special event, so I was just happy to get a ticket and attend. It turned out to be special for two great reasons. The screening was proceeded by a lecture from the Principal Archivist of the "Swan Archives". The discussion focused on the need for a re-mastered version of the film to be released on home media. The Archivist, Ari Kahan, has devoted much personal time and energy to keeping Swan's name alive., in particular by nurturing this film.

During the presentation, there were extensive demonstrations of changes that had to be made to the original release, due to an agreement by 20th Century Fox, and the representatives of Led Zeppelin. The band used the name "Swan Song" for their publishing rights, and to avoid a legal battle, some compromises were made to the film at the time of it's release.  Those included extensive use of floating matts in the film, to cover up references to "Swan Song" that could be construed as copyright infringement.  Of course that was a ridiculous mistake, and the shaky matts were very noticeable in the power point presentation. Additional flaws have to do with color correction and saturation that undermine many of the scenes in the film.

Finally, there is the issue of the title, which at one point would have been simply "Phantom", but someone was concerned with confusing the film with the comic book character (this was well before the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical). "of the Paradise" was an addition that referred to the theater that Swan had constructed to be his ultimate concert venue, much like the Fillmore East or West of the day. The original elements had to be recreated since the negative has the matts on it, and the editing had to be cleaned up as well. A remastered version has been created with the help of the original editor, Paul Hirsh, one of the crew who turned the original "Star Wars" into a success.  The films writer and director Brian DePalma, has been supportive of this restoration effort, and the current owners of the film rights would be willing to follow through, if the now defunct Led Zeppelin, would release the studio from their agreement. Even after a lengthy appeal, supported by a variety of film and music notables, the answer was no. So a remastered version of the film will not be coming to you anytime soon.

However, that doesn't mean that remastered version will never be seen by anyone. It appears that the screening on Monday night had all of the corrections that had been discussed in the lecture. The copy screened for us was the version that Kahan, DePalma, Edgar Wright, Paul Williams and a variety of others would like us to have. It was well worth the effort. I did not get a chance to speak with the Archivist as we left, he was chatting with some others, but I did shout out a thank you and give him a thumbs up.  

The Film  

If you have never seen "The Phantom of the Paradise" let's just say it is a version of Faust and Phantom of the Opera, set in the rock world of the early 1970s. Ambitious composer Winslow Leach, has his music stolen from him and in a series of complications, is disfigured and now hunts down his tormentors in the Rock and Roll Concert Palace called "The Paradise". Winslow is played with heart breaking sincerity by  the late William Finley, probably most recognizable from DePalma's film "Sisters".  His antagonist is simply known as "Swan", a musical producer who seems to have become a minion of evil, trading success for souls.

Swan is played by Paul Williams, who will be instantly recognizable to anyone over the age of fifty, but might be a new face to those millennials and Gen Z audience members, discovering the film for the first time. While Williams is terrific in the role, sufficiently  charming and repellant simultaneously,  it is his musical talent that makes the greatest impact on the film. He composed the score and the songs used in the film and they are well crafted, satirical, and very entertaining. The fictitious band "The Juicy Fruits" do "Goodbye Eddie" and "Upholstery" in do wop and surf styles, mining the then current nostalgia wave. Fans of the Broadway Musical that came later, will probably appreciate "Special to Me" and "Old Souls" performed by ingenue Phoenix, played and sung by Jessica Harper. Those moments foreshadow "Think of Me" and "I Remember" from the Broadway show. 

"The Juicy Fruits" and "The Undead" are two bands that are background characters in the story, the same actors portray both bands and they get to do some funny satire in the opening song, and a great deal of stage theatrics in the debut of "Faust" on the Paradise stage. One of whom, Peter Ebling billed as Harold Oblong, also did the choreography. The stage sequence and makeup for the song "Somebody Super Like You" is a blast, reminiscent of Alice Cooper and Kiss.  All of that gets shuttled aside when Beef makes his appearance. The Glam/Metal rocker is played by Gerrit Graham, and he practically steals the movie. He is supremely confident at times, and manically insecure and fearful at other moments. He has some of the best comic moments of the film and he gets maximum milege out of them.

I smiled with delight as the movie opened, and I nodded my approval at the altered titles which indicated that we were getting the remastered version of the films. I had to stop myself from singing along and humming the melodies, so as not to disturb the other members of the audience, but it was an emotionally satisfying 90 minutes and I am pleased to share what I can of it with you. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Three Days of the Condor

 Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don't see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Three Days of the Condor

This week's Throwback Thursday is a real treat, one of the great paranoia films from the 1970s Starring Robert Redford and Fay Dunaway. "Three Days of the Condor" is a spy film about a guy who is not really a spy, he just works with them. As an analyst , Redford as Joe Turner, codename Condor, trips over a secret plot by a covert group operating inside of the CIA. 

"Listen. I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books! We read everything that's published in the world. And we... we feed the plots - dirty tricks, codes - into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas... We read adventures and novels and journals. I... I... Who'd invent a job like that?"

I like to think there is a job like that, it is something I might have liked doing. I may not quite have been ambitious enough about espionage to become James Bond, but I could probably do this. The opening few minutes of the film establish the mundane existence of most of the employees of the CIA. They file reports, process data, gather statistics and read a lot of things they may have no interest in. Condor is a bit of an iconoclast in his working group. He mocks the security measures that gatekeep the front door of his office, he rises a bicycle with a motor on it to work (and he is consistently late to the exasperation of his superior), and he by-passes the back door security when it rains. His diffident nature is what allows him to accidentally escape the fate that befalls his co-workers. The event that sets up the rest of the story is shown as a brutal, passionless, exercise by professionals to take out a leak, by murdering seven innocent worker bees. 

While Turner is not a field operative, he is still pretty smart and capable. Condor may be a little panicked about what has happened, but he is also now highly suspicious of everyone. That sense of paranoia infuses the film with the suspenseful atmosphere that director Sydney Pollack was certainly shooting for. It takes a while for we the audience to figure out what is going on, Turner is trying to do so while being hunted, and it is a complex plot. The elements of a procedural are there, as Condor ties to fit pieces of information together to understand what has happened. There is also a 007 trope of involving an outsider, as both a ally and a romantic partner, and that is where Dunaway comes in. She does not show up in the first half hour of the film, and the tense and fearful relationship she has with Condor is believable. That period of antagonism and disbelief makes it easier for us to swallow a romance between the two that might otherwise have seemed an illogical contrivance.

Operating on his own, Turner seeks more information about the command structure that might have taken something he wrote in a report as a threat. Once Dunaway is on board, he has a collaborator who allows him to try various means to identify who in the CIA is after him and why. For my money, the best part of the story is the contract agent Joubert, a tall taciturn European, who leads the hunt to wipe out the leaks, especially Condor. Joubert is played by the great Max Von Sydow, who seems to have done a similar role as an unreliable spy in a half dozen other films. There is a terrific shot right at the stary of the attack on Condor's work group, where Von Sydow is crossing the street and we see his reflection in the uneven waters on the street and in the gutter, right after it had been raining. Along with the execution sequence, this is one of those moments when a professional like Pollack was the right choice to put the script on the screen. 

Joubert has two other strong moments in the film. In one, he is riding in an elevator with Condor and a group of unaffiliated people. He knows who Condor is, but Turner doesn't know him, he only suspects the man who is polite in the elevator. It is a scene of tension and a little bit of humor as they play cat and mouse while the elevator descend to the lobby. At the end of the film, in an odd twist, Joubert becomes a different figure and he now does a little bit of talking and mentoring. Von Sydow played Blofeld in the 1983 James Bond offshoot, "Never Say Never Again" and it would have been fun to see him in that role in a series of Bond films. 

Also in the cast is John Houseman, who appeared in "Rollerball" a TBT film I wrote about earlier this year, shows up in another of those roles that would define his later career. After winning the award for Best Supporting Actor in 1973 as the imperious Harvard Law Professor Kingsfield, he was the go to choice for dry, humorless corporate mandarins. The CIA in this film is filled with unreliable types who act ruthlessly in order to achieve their objectives. Houseman is a senior to Cliff Robertson's character, who at first is trying to help Condor, and then suspects Turner, and finally seems to turn into the same kind of man as the rest of the CIA has become. 

Along with "The Parallax View", "The Conversation" and Redford's next film "All the President's Men", "Three Days of the Condor" would lead you to believe that there is always a conspiracy, everyone is watching and listening, and the good guys don't always win. That is definitely 1975 for you.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Last Starfighter (1984) Revisit


I love seeing older films on a real theater screen. As much as I might enjoy re-watching a favorite movie at home, seeing it on the big screen reminds me that it is not a video product but a theatrical experience that I can see on video when the optimum viewing experience is not available. "The Last Starfighter" is a movie from 1984, one of my favorite movie years. In fact, if you look on this page, you will see a link to a whole series I did almost a decade ago on a film year that was thirty years old at the time. Starfighter is an example of the 80s style Science Fiction that was so popular at the time. This year had a Star Trek Film, the first big screen adaptation of Dune, and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension". "The Last Starfighter" was also an early adopter of computer imagery to create environments for the story to take place in. 

Alex Rogan is a teen, dreaming of a different world , rather than the modest surroundings of the trailer park he lives in with his Mom and little brother Louis. He is a lot like Steve Rogers from the MCU, devoted to doing the right thing and willing to sacrifice for others. His Mom works as a waitress and they manage the park, which means Alex is the handyman. He has to be available to reboot an electrical panel, fix a leak, put up a TV antenna, you name it. It often means that he sacrifices time with his girlfriend Maggie, who lives in the park with her grandmother. "Starlight, StarBright" is the name of the trailer park, and there is a community that appreciates Alex and his friendship, but they are all a little quirky. Otis, who runs the little grocery store at the location, is an older, friendly mentor to Alex, who sees his potential and tries to keep Alex from despair of ever getting out. One night, Alex gets started playing the lone arcade game in the facility, "Starfighter", which he has mastered and seems to be a natural at. As he gets close to breaking the record, Otis calls all the residents out to cheer him on, and the sleepy little community gets a collective chance to celebrate Alex and his achievement. It might seem a corny and improbable moment, except it is set up by seeing how Alex has interacted with everyone and how all the residents are in each other's business to some degree.  His victory seems short lived as his Mom delivers the news that his application for student loans has been turned down and he will be doomed to the local community college and staying at the trailer park.

This is when the story takes off. It turns out that the video game is actually a recruiting tool for pilots who might be able to fight with the Star League. The nostalgic home front has been established nicely, now it is time for Alex to show what he is made of. The recruiter is Centauri, played with ebullient enthusiasm by Music Man Robert Preston. He turns on the flim flam man charm and his character punches the energy level of the story into the next gear. As usual, the hero has doubts, hesitates to step forward and seemingly withdraws from consideration. It is only when he is confronted by the threat to himself and the planet he is from, including his little community, that he fully commits. 

The hero needs a mentor and a connection to the new culture that is asking him to save. Grig, a lizard like alien with a wife and 6000 little griglings, is played by another old pro, Dan O'Herlihy. Even under a prodigious amount of makeup, O'Herlihy gives a lively performance conveying warmth and humor. The byplay between Alex and Grig is full of those moments that are in every hero movie, but they are underscored with a lot of laughter, and the two warriors seem destined to achieve "Victory or Death" as the other now dead starfighters chanted. 

The effects in the film are primitive by today's standards. The planets, asteroids exterior structures look like early video games. The Starships on the other hand are solid. Centauri's vehicle looks like a DeLorean on steroids, the Xur fighters are distinctly designed to distinguish them from the Kodan ships. The Kodan ships look like early renderings of the fighters in the Star Wars Prequels. Alex's Gun-Star is the most interesting ship design, and the secret new weapon system is deployed at a key moment and it is fun to watch. 

The battles are important, but the heart of the story is back on Earth in the Starlight, Starbright trailer park. At the close of the film, we see Maggie and Alex resolve their conflicts, reach for the dream they both have, and they inspire his little brother to start dreaming himself. Some in the audience at last night's screening laughed a bit at the corny moments of the community, but I saw that this is where the real battles were being fought by Alex. All of the intended humor still works, and even the derisive laughs coming from some audience members did not seem to bother the nearly sold out house for this terrific 1984 film. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Furious 7 (2015) Revisit


So this is the one with the parachuting cars and the cars that fly from one building to another. Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Colorado serving as a stand in for the Caucasus Mountains are the setting, until the conclusion where Los Angeles gets the treatment that London got in the previous film. This is one that I actually saw when it was released in 2015

In addition to the convoluted spy plot, the pyrotechnics and the physics defying car stunts, we get evil Jason Statham, as a mass killing machine who is as implacable as the Terminator, and slippery Kurt Russell, as a government agent so secretive, we don't even know his name. The team of Torretto and company have gone full blown spycraft now, and the macguffin technology and secondary villain are almost forgotten in light of all the crazy stunts, chases, and unfortunately, the cinematic illusion of making Paul Walker look like he was there for the whole time. This is the one they were filming when he died in a mysterious high speed crash in Santa Clarita. 

The main difference in this film is that there is only one car race that is planned as a race rather than a chase. Usually, the team would have to strap up their cars to go out and obtain cars for the heist they are planning. Here the joke is that they have enough money of their own, and the resources of the U.S. government, to get all the tech they need without having to steal it or win it. There is a time glitch in the story also, this film seems to take place right after "Tokyo Drift", so that film chronologically must come after Fast 5 and Furious 6. 

There is an early showdown with Statham's Deckard Shaw, which end up taking Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs out of the plot for 80 % of the movie. That first fight is all hand to hand combat and the two have an amazing choregraphed fight scene, that if it were real, would leave any of us mere mortals dead. Of course these two are not mere mortals, and they are in a movie, and there will be another showdown. The second massive fight sequence gives Statham a chance to rough up Vin Diesel before having a concrete garage dumped on him. Of course he will survive for the next film, and the sp[in-off that is coming. Michelle Rodriguez gets to face another woman MMA champion, Rhonda Rousey, in a cool fight in a luxury building in Abu Dhabi. That one is also full of punishing hits that would wipe most human out of furter action, at least for the duration of the film.

Djimon Hounsou  is a secondary bad guy named Mose Jakande: A Nigerian-born mercenary and terrorist who leads a private military company that allies with Shaw, He does not get much to do except scream from a helicopter and shout orders. Maybe it's in his contact that he doesn't have to go fisticuffs with a behemoth twice his size. 

The parachuting cars come early in the movie, and once that scene happens, nothing else can be taken seriously. People complain about the 007 film "Die Another Day", but they can accept this silly element. That's probably because the "Fast and Furious" films have never felt particularly real, and we began accepting the more outlandish elements way too soon in the story line. Just pass the popcorn, and let's not ptretend these are great movies, they are just great entertainment.  

Furious Six [AKA Fast and Furious 6] 2013


While the movie can't quite decide what it's title is, that fits because it also can't decide on what sort of film it is. Is it a heist film, a spy film a racing film, who knows? Maybe since it has all of those elements we should not be too worried about classifying it, and more worried about the whiplash we get as we move from one action sequence to another. Maybe the transitions are supposed to be made easier by the brutal fight scenes that break out around them. 

Logic aside, Furious 6 has some great things going for it. The return of Dwayne Johnson gives the extended plotline a little more coherence. Johnson drips charisma and he gives Vin Diesel someone to act against who disappears into the scenery. This time he is accompanied by another DSS agent, in the form of Gina Carano, another actor with charisma to match the counterparts on Dom's team. Carano's character, Agent Riley,  engages in an extended fight with Michelle Rodriguez's Letty in the London Underground. These characters are as brutal as any man would be in a similar fight, and I suppose the justification for this is so Letty can have some combat scenes and not have to be pounded on by one of her male co-stars. The resolution of Riley's storyline is disappointing because she could have been a compelling recurring character. I guess they have enough of those already, so adding to the reoccurring cast was undesirable. 

Location shooting in London looks great, and as a Bond fan, I always appreciate when Great Britan is featured at the center of a spy story. The villain of this episode is Owen Shaw, played by Luke Evans, and his character is basically Bond gone bad. As if Dr. No persuaded double o seven to join SPECTRE and commit international terrorism on a scale only dwarfed by the events of 9/11. Most of London gets bruised in the early section of the film, and then Spain gets the destruction of hundreds of cars with passengers in them for a chase scene involving a tank. I've read that the tank crushing of the cars was real and not just a CGI animation. I can believe it because the weight and mass of a tank in comparison to some European sedan would be massive. There was an incident several years ago where a deranged Army Vet stole a tank and decimated a neighborhood in San Diego. You can see in the news footage that a tank can in fact run over a car with impunity. Where the scene gets it wring is in the use of a couple of cars to try and anchor the tank so it will flip. It is also a big stretch to see Dom, flying through the air to catch Letty and then landing safely on the road. 

A good suspenseful climax that gets drawn out by a series of complications is always welcome, but it needs to be somewhat grounded. The plane/car chase here is just not acceptable for suspense purposes, but it is fine for spectacular action. Cars getting on and off a plane, a harpoon gun taking down the whale of a cargo jet, and an extended fight sequence in the belly of the plane are all fun but at no point do you think this is going to come out wrong for our heroes. Even the apparent death of one of the female crew is nearly dreamlike, we never see the outcome, just a moment of vanishing, but into the dark and we are not sure how far of a fall is there. Characters in this series get revived from the dead all the time, so i would not "Wonder" if a certain actress were to return in a future film. 

The best payoff in this movie is the thirty seconds of Jason Statham, glaring at the camera and scowling as he makes a threatening phone call that will set up the action in the next film. I think the best way for me to keep track of these movies which are all fun but forgettable, is to check the location and stunt moments. Furious 6: London Car Flipping, Spanish Tank Chase, NATO base with the longest runway in the world and a car plane chase. There, that should help you remember more than Letty does for most of this film.