Just a Movie Standing in Front of an Audience Asking Them to Think It’s Dope and Hilarious, or, Fate of the Furious 

fate-of-the-furious-poster-header-image

For your consideration.

Fate of the Furious is an exercise in the absence of subtext. Or at least intentional subtext.

You can watch F8 and try to look beyond Vin Diesel driving an immolated car in reverse so the flames make it go faster. You can search for meaning in The Rock curling a concrete bench while mean-mugging The Stath. You can stare at an empty page and try to will a thought-provoking blog post on the eighth Fast and Furious film into existence, but that way madness lies.

I could try my damnedest to gnaw meat off of a bare skeleton and wax poetic about F8’s exploration of the conflict between the technology of freedom (cars, Coronas) versus the technology of oppression (surveillance, automation, white dreads), about how Dominic Toretto and fam’s real battle is one for the autonomy of motion in a world that is increasingly capable of pinpointing the individual, but it wouldn’t ring true.

There are no political, philosophical or spiritual strings controlling the action and events of Fate of the Furious. There is only one agenda in this film: convince you that these people are so, so cool and that Tyrese Gibson is so, so funny.

Perhaps what NPR fails to grasp about Fate of the Furious is that it isn’t that Tyrese Gibson is so, so funny (he is) and that these people are so, so cool (I mean…) that drove (right? Because cars?) Fate of the Furious to the highest global opening weekend of all time, it’s that the pursuit of that cool and that humor is so genuine, so unencumbered by agenda.

Sometimes, The Rock hanging out of a jeep to kick a missile shot by the nuclear submarine that’s chasing him across a Russian ice shelf is just The Rock hanging out of a jeep to kick a missile shot by the nuclear submarine that’s chasing him across a Russian ice shelf.

Fate of the Furious was never going to be for everyone. It was always going to require us to watch with what can only be referred to as “Vin goggles.” This is a movie, and a franchise, that isn’t trying to trick, or wink at, or subvert. It’s a movie that pulls out all the stops, or at least $250 million worth of stops, to get you to say “boy those people are so, so cool and Tyrese Gibson is so, so funny.” And there’s something utterly delightful about someone spending $250 million dollars just to get you to think they are so, so cool and so, so funny.

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The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Remembered, or, The Pony Tricks Bump: A Myth?

Two of the top five most popular posts on this website revolve around the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. The most popular post on this website today, January 7, 2015, is a discussion of Pain and Gain that was part of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. My decision to see every theatrical film Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson released in 2013 is paying dividends to this very minute for he and I both – lest we forget the coveted “Pony Tricks Bump” the Rock received in 2013, being named the highest grossing entertainer of 2013 by Forbes doubtlessly in no small part due to my examinations of his work.

I think we can all agree the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative was a rousing success.

But what of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

What of it?

Unforgettable.

Unforgettable.

Where the 2013D“TR”JI was a mutually beneficial partnership between Dwayne Johnson and myself in which he became entertainer of the year and I learned several valuable life lessons from Fast and Furious 6, the 2014CTI has proven to be anything but, as not only have the lessons I learned from Tatum’s films this year fallen woefully short of life-affirming, Channing himself didn’t even crack the list of Forbes Top 10 Entertainers of the Year.

That being said, the Pony Tricks Bump still tentatively takes credit for his being cast as Gambit.

I went to the theater four times this year for the 2014CTI and I learned four very different, pretty lackluster lessons.

The LEGO Movie, in which Tatum made a brief appearance as Superman, taught me to keep my cynicism alive in the face of the first largely entertaining feature-length commercial I’d ever seen. Sure, sure, a fine lesson for a four-year-old girl, but I’m a twenty-something-year-old man. I don’t exactly need a refresher on cynicism.

Luckily, 22 Jump Street, which wound up being one of my favorite movies of the year, was there to pick up the slack. Sort of. 22 Jump Street is a masterclass in understanding that repetition, when blended with self-awareness, can be a beautiful thing. There’s no harm in doing something twice when it worked the first time, so long as you remain aware of the pitfalls of returning to the same well over and over again.

A great lesson.

And a total lie. As evidenced by the maligned sequel to the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

My good friend Channing.

My good friend Channing.

From there it was all downhill. The Book of Life taught me to never, ever, ever have kids lest I be dragged into films like The Book of Life every weekend for ten years. And Foxcatcher revealed new depths to my twenty-something pretension.

What of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative was a disaster. Tatum was charming and fantastic in all of his roles this year, but somewhere between “Channing” and “Tatum” a certain “The Rock” was missing from my 2014.

2015 Initiative TBD I guess.

P.S. I love you, Channing.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative Remembered, or, The 2014 Initiative…

Dwayne.

Dwayne.

About a year ago I found myself searching for a New Year’s resolution. Resolutions aren’t something I tend to do, but 2013 seemed like a good year to start. I was fresh out of college, stepping into not only the “real world” teachers had been warning me about for two decades, but the years of my life I had always assumed would be formative. The years in which I would grow from a young man to a regular man. The years that would define exactly who that man would be.

Looking forwards at 2013 from December 2012, it was clear to me that it would be a very important year, one that warranted a very important New Year’s Resolution.

So I decided to watch every one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s films that came to theaters in 2013.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

T2013D“TR”JI proved to be an emotional rollercoaster ride. At times it was hard. At times it was magical. But through it all I persevered. And more than that, Dwayne Johnson prospered.

Forbes recently named Dwayne Johnson the highest grossing actor of 2013, an achievement that is obviously due in some small part, largely, entirely, to a phenomenon known as the “Pony Tricks Bump.” Dwayne, Mon frère, you are welcome.

The proud, inaugural recipient of the Pony Tricks Bump.

The proud, inaugural recipient of the Pony Tricks Bump.

Who will ride the Pony Tricks Bump all the way to the top in 2014? Who’s name will be forever immortalized when it is thrust between “The 2014” and “Initiative?” There were many, many contenders. But first, a retrospective.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative became something far larger than the sum of its meager parts, but it started out, and in its heart forever remained, a New Year’s resolution. It was an earnest attempt to better myself, to grow as a person and to learn.

And learn I did.

Snitch taught me that the drug laws in America today can be brutally unfair, and that if my son ever gets incarcerated I would be better of letting him rot in jail for the rest of his life, and even better off if I just avoid cooking up the concoction of chromosomes and sin that is a child all together.

G.I. Joe Retaliation taught me that I hate the movie G.I. Joe Retaliation.

Pain and Gain opened my eyes to the damage that can be done when real-life tragedy is adapted into a movie by an obtuse, irresponsible director. It also taught me that the brutal torture and murder of the wealthy is cool, because their money should be mine, because America, right?

Furious Six taught me to enjoy the ridiculous things in life. It taught me that not every moment is profound, that not every conversation is substantial and that not every runway is finite, but that they should all be enjoyed and savored for the gifts that they are while they’re still gifts to be given.

And it taught me not to have my heart set on a Wonder Woman movie.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s year was pretty top heavy. Starting in February 2013 The Rock had a new movie in theaters every month, but from June onwards theaters remained Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-less. In the seven months since Furious 6 was released I’ve spent a lot of time applying the lessons The Rock has taught me to my everyday life and my day to day life has prospered for it.

I have no doubt that long after the book has been closed on The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson initiative the lessons I’ve learned this year will continue to guide me into the future…

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative

All Good Things: The End of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative, or, Furious Six Six Sixxx

Presumably, in 1999, an underling at Universal fingered through the Pokémon cards in his chain wallet with fingers attached to hands attached to wrists clasped in studded bracelets and suddenly, struck with inspiration, exclaimed “Godamnit I will make Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle) a movie!” Two years later The Fast and the Furious came out and 12 years after that I found myself taking in the experience that is Furious Six (per the opening credits) as part of my nationally renowned 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. History, am I right?

Aside from potentially forcing myself to watch the first episode of TNT’s The Hero, Furious 6 is, so far as IMDb is concerned, the end of my New Year’s resolution to watch every theatrical release featuring The Rock. And what a finale it was.

Every day is a new day. I'm thankful for every breath I take. I won't take it for granted...

Every day is a new day. I’m thankful for every breath I take. I won’t take it for granted…

Absolutely nothing about Furious Six, or any of its last three counterparts, should ever have worked. Ever. None of it. They shouldn’t even exist. The original film was as awesome as P.O.D.’s “Boom” and earned its Vin Diesel-less sequel, which in turn should have logically been the end of it all, and yet here we are discussing a Fast and Furious franchise. A franchise complete with a cannon comprised of sequels, prequels and interquels. But here we are.

Furious Six picks up almost immediately after the events of Fast Five. That is a sentence that I just wrote and you just read. While Six never quite reaches the masterful heights of the climactic safe sequence or the Dwayne Johnson/Vin Diesel brawl of its predecessor, it maintains enough of the momentum to easily be one of the franchise’s best entries.

The Rock makes good on the promise he made at the end of Fast Five to find Vin Diesel. Again, that is a sentence I just wrote and you just read. And those aren’t even the characters names. Those are the names of the actors. Furious Six. From there Diesel and The Rock broker a deal wherein Diesel and the gang help The Rock take down some British guy, who I don’t recognize from Game of Thrones and who is really good at cars, in return for full pardons so the fast and furious can return home to America and just be fast.

But wait! There’s more! You didn’t think Vin Diesel would do literally the only thing he does ever for “the man” just to pardon all of his DVD player thefts, did you? No, the kick in the butt Diesel’s Dom Toretto gets to undertake one last job after his last one last job is the news that his angry old lover, the deceased Anna Lucia a.k.a. Michelle Rodriguez a.k.a. Letty is still alive.

The Fast and The Furious movies have been a lot of things, but Furious Six marks the first time the film has blasted through the airplane cargo hold of car-based action movies right onto the flaming tarmac of daytime soap operas. Let’s go down the list; a baby, multiple Hispanic women and amnesia. Days of our Fast and Furious Lives.

Of course the car-based action is there in spades and amped up to eleven. Whether it’s the muscle car v. tank bridge-battle turned gravity-defying romantic leap of faith or the two guys v. one guy v. lady v. lady foot chase/fist brawl throughout the London Underground.

Of course the centerpiece of the entire film is undoubtedly the climactic final action sequence in which Dom and the gang use their loudest, fastest, sportiest, most muscly automobiles to bring down a C-130 cargo plane. The sequence is over the top, action packed and easily twenty minutes long. And those NOS fueled twenty minutes are interesting ones, considering that with the plane and cars moving at a consistent minimum of 60 mph the runway would have to be a minimum of a hundred million miles long, a solid 99 million and change miles longer than the worldwide runway average per wherever I would get that statistic.

Just a couple of Joe Cools.

Just a couple of Joe Cools.

It’s an impossibly long runway and an epically long action sequence that goes on far longer than it has any right to and against all odds still holds your attention well after it should. But that hasn’t stopped the Fast and Furious franchise before. Sure the runway should have ended about five minutes into the scene, but the Fast and Furious franchise should have ended immediately after the Vin Diesel-less 2 Fast 2 Furious. Sure the plane should have taken off long before the militia of muscle cars managed to harpoon themselves to its wings, but under absolutely no circumstances should there have been a sequel to Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, a film that couldn’t even lasso the talent of Paul Walker.

But somehow against all odds the ridiculous final set piece to Furious Six just works. And just like the endless climactic runway, the juggernaut speedster franchise has pressed onward and somehow, six entries and over ten years in, just works. Furious Six is so dumb. It is so freaking dumb. And man was it great.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson initiative has been an emotional roller coaster ride, from the shitty sons of Snitch to the Channing Tatum of G.I. Joe Retaliation to the glorification of horrific real life murderers in Pain and Gain to the glorification of real life fake car thieves is Furious Six, which was easily the greatest cinematic feat The Rock has cooked up this year, due in no small part to his own breathtaking biceps and perpetually perspiration-prone pecks.

If I’ve learned anything from my impressive undertaking of The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiaitive it’s a secret and I’m not going to tell you. Nice try. Some will say I wasted my time and money seeing all of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s movies. Some will say I am a really cool dude for being so dedicated to such a noble ideal and that in time the rest of America will join me in the sun. I like to think the second one. With the nobles and stuff.

Only time will tell.

A rock amongst pebbles.

A rock amongst pebbles.

God bless you Dwayne Johnson. You did the Lord’s work in 2013.

The Return of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative, or, Why am I Still Participating in the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative?

If there can be such a thing as spoilers for a 90 minute toy commercial, then a lot of them are here.

$11.50.

After seeing Snitch last month I was beginning to think that my New Year’s resolution to see every theatrical release featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2013, also known as the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson initiative, was kind of stupid. Then I saw G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Now I know that my New Year’s resolution to see every theatrical release featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (the aforementioned 2013 D“TR”JI) is kind of stupid.

When I saw G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra last summer I was blown away by how little I liked it, which lead to me being even more blown away by just how much I did like the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In retrospect, I can now confirm that I just liked White Stripes dub step and the El Camino. Who knew?

This is traditionally the part where I force a piece of entertainment into whatever overly analytical box I have lying around. That was $11.50 ago. Because I spent $11.50 going to see G.I. Joe. Because I am an idiot.

The movie starts at the North Korean DMZ.

Yep.

More like G.I. Bros.

More like G.I. Bros.

Within minutes Channing “Hottest Butt” Tatum, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a bunch of weirdoes and the kid from Jurassic Park have breached the North Korean perimeter to apprehend a defector. But they need a distraction. So they fire a bullet at a guard’s tea cup along the single most hostile border in the entire godamn world – presumably sparking an all-out nuclear conflict between two countries that have almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie (except for a slew of North Korean jokes in the third act. Yes, you read that right. North Korean jokes).

Of course while this fire-fight-turned-world-war is unfolding between the North Korean guards and the deadliest, most efficient special operations unit on the planet one of the G.I. Joe’s replaces the North Korean flag with a G.I. Joe flag. Here’s some sequestration advice – if you’ve got a guy on your deadliest, most efficient special operations unit on the planet who has enough time to replace a North Korean flag with a G.I. Joe flag than you have one too many guys on your deadliest, most efficient special operations unit on the planet. Maybe furlough.

After the guns-blazing introduction, however, audiences get a chance to see Channing “Hottest Butt” Tatum (Duke) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Roadblock) bro out. And it’s pretty great. In a perfect world they would be in an awesome buddy cop comedy flick about Tatum trying to “touch a Samoan man’s radio.” There’s a perfect mix of sincerity and corniness between the two that had potential to really drive the movie into the D+/C- stratosphere.

Oh and then Channing Tatum gets blow the shit up saving the flag dumbass’ life. As I sat watching the dumbass staring at the fiery remains of the explosion that took Duke’s life from five feet away yelling “Duke! Duke!” like an idiot, I couldn’t help but see a metaphor. Because Duke’s dumbass friend is an idiot. And G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an idiot. And I am an idiot.

$11.50.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets shit done. Say what you will about the man’s caliber as an actor but the guy is an entertainer and entertain he does, even as the fictional world around him goes to hell. Unfortunately it isn’t enough to save Retaliation from making you wish a snake was biting you in the eyes.

Segway!

Take the ninja subplot, for instance. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, heretofore known as the black ninja and the white ninja, are the main players in a parallel and intersecting narrative thread that sees the two duke it out in some crazy temple or some shit on the side of some dumb mountain. Then a bunch of other ninjas come out and fight the black ninja on ropes and stuff.

Anyway.

The gist of the white ninja and the black ninja’s story is that they both had the same master but then the white ninja killed him and ran away and became a G.I. Cobra.  But it turns out he didn’t really kill their master! As we learn in a shocking twist during the second act of Retaliation, thanks to a brilliant line of questioning courtesy of Ninja Master RZA, the sword that was used to kill their master wasn’t the white ninja’s sword. Because he says so! Twenty years later! Duh!

Classic.

Then there’s the matter of the President, who isn’t really the President, replacing all of his secret service agents with Cobra agents. Sneaky. Except that his Cobra agents literally wear Cobra pins on their jackets. On national television.

And how could you forget the heartwarming moment at the end of the film where Bruce Willis awards Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson a gun within ten feet of the actual President. Oh, and the gun is General Patton’s. And it’s loaded.

Take that, $11.50!

Take that, budgetary restraint!

$11.50.

I felt a hole burning in my pocket for days after seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation. And then I heard it won the box office. And then I had a “retaliazation.”

More than $11.50 was spent to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

In fact, I could wager to guess that more than $20 was spent to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

At one point in the film, Channing Tatum makes a bet with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and if he wins, The Rock has to “take a promotion.”

More than $25 was spent to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

A fugitive Snake Eyes is put into the most secure prison on the planet. A prison so secure it’s enclosed in a chain link fence, and run over by a motorcycle.

More than $50 was spent to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Having to go into hiding from the puppet U.S. Government, The Rock turns to the only man he can trust: his black friend from the hood.  The Joe’s hide out in the rec center where The Rock was recruited by the G.I. Joes, and a monologue about his troubled childhood, complete with prop punching bag, happens.

More than $100 was spent to make G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

And more than $11.49 was spent to see it.

Anyway! Can’t wait for Pain and Gain, am I right? It’s Michael Bay so I’m sure it won’t be dumb. The 2013 D“TR”JI will totally be worth it. Just you wait.

On an unrelated note, when you are watching a movie and the credits for that movie include “Hasbro,” maybe don’t watch that movie.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative, or, Dad Attack!

New Years is a time of renewal, both for the calendar industry and for hard working, red blooded Americans everywhere – myself included. This year I made it of particular self-importance to really take the beginning of 2013 and reinvent myself personally, professionally and spiritually and what better way to start than with a dogmatic adherence to a New Year’s resolution that will help me ascend the ranks of men and legend alike.

So yeah, I’m watching every Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film that comes out in 2013, a.k.a. the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

Enter Snitch, The Rock’s first feature film of 2013.

Look. A truck.

Look. A truck.

Basically, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a really shitty son.

More complexly, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson owns a construction company and a Ford F-250 and is divorced and his estranged son gets snitched on by some dumb snitch and ends up in jail and the jail is all like “if you snitch on some other dumb snitch you can maybe not be in jail so much” and then Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s kid is all like “I ain’t no snitch” and then the Rock is all like “you are a terrible snitch and the worst son of all of the sons” and then decides that if his son won’t snitch then maybe he can snitch for him by infiltrating the world of snitches and snitching on them to the snitch master.

Also Shane From “Jon Bernthal” The Walking Dead is in it.

Snitch is a movie about fathers and collars. It’s a what-if that asks what actions a father is willing to take for a son whether those actions are beyond their financial or psychological means or not. The movie is at its best when it focuses on this paternal theme, particularly when paired with the juxtaposition between Johnson and Bernthal’s characters, a.k.a. Dwayne n’ Shane, a.k.a. the Snitch Snatch Boys.

The Rock owns a construction company that he built from the ground up. He may have been a blue collar worker back in the day, but his elaborate mini-mansion suggests it’s been a long time since his last Larry the Cable Guy Show. Shane, on the other hand, just left the orange collar world of prison behind to try to pick up the pieces of his family life. He works for The Rock picking up bags of things and moving them over to other places and stuff I guess, and he keeps his head down because at the end of the day he’s not just moving those bags of things for The Rock, he’s moving them for his wife and son.

So naturally, when The Rock’s “Son of the Year” ends up in jail the two dads “dad out” like no dads have ever “dadded” before. They drive trucks full of drugs and go to buildings full of drugs and sneak around parking lots full of drugs. Sometimes they even use a wire and talk about drugs.

Oh yeah, and then three-quarters of the way through the movie they just say “screw it” and murder basically everybody with guns and trucks and bigger trucks.

Unfortunately none of those murders are very awesome because at the end of the day Snitch is something of a political science paper disguised as an action movie. It’s a portrait of a justice system that leaves every entity caught within it a slave to someone else. As a convict Shane has to answer to essentially any employer that will have him. The Rock has to answer to a local prosecutor, played by a cardboard cutout of Susan Sarandon, who is running for Senate. The campaigning prosecutor has to answer to the fickle whims of the voters. The voters have to answer to a war on drugs that is broken and arguably causes more harm to innocents than it does to drug runners. It’s all interesting stuff and it makes for a great discussion – but it doesn’t make for a very exciting action movie.

Snitch made me think, but it didn’t make me pump my fists and kick the person sitting in front of me in the back of the head then pantomime pumping and firing a shotgun into the air. Not even once.

Also, one time, The Rock cried.

Two dads. Best friends. Dwayne n' Shane.

Two dads. Best friends. Dwayne n’ Shane.

Also, all of the Spanish subtitles were written in caps lock! I don’t think I’m reading too far into anything when I state that the creative powers that be behind Snitch are out to perpetuate a “kill the gringo” Tex-Mex agenda.

I didn’t see any English subtitles in Snitch – and they certainly weren’t in all caps!

I’m sure Snitch thought it could pull the wool over our eyes by blinding us with the sweat glistening across Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s pulsating biceps, but you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak a new world order of linguistic hierarchy by me.

Nice try “Dwayne.”

It’s this kind of perceptiveness that leads me to believe that my 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative really is paying off and making me a better person. I mean, look at how good I perceived all of the things in that movie. I knew I was on the right track.

G.I. Joe Retaliation – here I come.

I mean seriously, have you seen that trailer with the Seven Nation Army dub step? I think there may have even been an El Camino in there!