Category Archives: Movies

Why You Should Love the “Fast and the Furious” Series

Few people have seen all four of the Fast and the Furious movies.  Yes, there are four of them.  The titles are strange and confusing, so here they are, in order:

  1. The Fast and the Furious
  2. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  3. The Fast and the Furious:  Tokyo Drift
  4. Fast & Furious

The first movie seemed to get the most attention, mainly because it cast Vin Diesel as the leader of a street-racing crew (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez as Diesel’s hottie girlfriend Letty (isn’t she a dyke now?), and Paul Walker (a previous no-name but eventual heartthrob for the ladies) as the undercover cop, Brian Spilner/O’Conner.  This first movie, surprisingly, was not the highest grossing movie of the franchise, despite its being well-regarded in the popular zeitgeist.  The latest, Fast and Furious, was the best-performing (although it showed on more screens and movie tickets are probably more expensive in 2009 than in 2001 when the first movie came out), according to boxofficemojo.com.

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The perception of the later movies was that the franchise was dying a little more with each progressive film.  The latest film didn’t seem to be marketed very heavily but it’s performed well by the numbers.  The latest two films have the same director, but the first two had two separate directors.  So the styles can vary quite a bit.

So what I want you to understand is that you should appreciate this franchise.  I know it looks cheesy and it seems geared towards a young high school male crowd.  But what the franchise actually does is provide an overview of the history of street-racing culture and documentation of international affairs issues.

Let me explain.

The Fast and the Furious

The first movie sets out to cover street-racing culture essentially where it became biggest, in Los Angeles.  The culture as proposed by the film is macho in nature, mainly men racing cars against each other for money or for pink slips (car titles, or the ownership of the car) or for the favor of women who are usually dressed in skimpy, bimbo’d out outfits.  Michelle Rodriguez plays a tough mechanic in Diesel’s crew who races cars — she breaks the stereotype.

The cars in this film are mostly import tuners rigged up with NOS (nitrous oxide systems) with replacement engines and pearlescent detailing on the body.  The idea is that you buy a cheap car and kit it up so it can go faster with less weight and at a lower cost than buying a sports car (with the added benefit of being a good example of how open standards and modular equipment can lead to innovation, similar to custom-built PC computers).

Since the setting is LA, the mix of people is diverse:  Vin Diesel and his sister and girlfriend are Hispanic, Walker is a cracker, Ja Rule (a rapper) is black, and there are competing street-racing gangs such as the Hispanics and the Asians (who of course have rice rocket motorcycles).  The shy, wobbly guy in Dom’s crew is a dyslexic kid who is somehow a genius with CAD and rebuilding cars.  If only our school system wouldn’t alienate these hidden geniuses!

The first movie moves at one point to a “Race Wars” in the desert, cognizant of the illegality of street-racing inside the city.

At the end, Dom and Walker’s character chase a shamed Asian gang’s leaders (victim to a Joy Luck Club-like humiliation in the form of an FBI raid while eating dinner with their parents and elders) and then finish in an industrial zoning section of LA.  Dom’s car of choice is an American muscle car, a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T.  He was afraid of its power after his father died while racing it.  Yet he rebuilt it anyway.

This movie is all about the American muscle mentality ultimately, despite the use of Asian tuner cars. (see the cars from this film)

2 Fast 2 Furious

The second film had a ridiculous title, a new director, no Vin Diesel, but Tyrese Gibson as Paul Walker’s counterpart.  The franchise lost a lot of momentum with this film.

But the second film took place in Miami around Miami’s narcotics underworld.  Instead of the LA FBI, this film deals with customs agents, Miami nightclubs, and Miami yachts and boatyards.  Instead of straight-up American muscle cars, there are convertible ragtops. (see the cars from the second film)ff2

Eva Mendes is the requisite superstar hot chick (Dom’s sister in the first film, Jordana Brewster, was hot but not well-known enough) who is an undercover agent herself.  Ludacris, the rapper, is the bankroller for the good guys in this film, and he seems to be friends with this super-hot halfie chick named Suki, who drives a pink ragtop that she designed herself.  Obviously in this film there was more effort to break stereotypes.

This was the weakest of the four films.  John Singleton directed it, and it came off plain.  It took the least risks.

Tokyo Drift

Tokyo Drift is already playing on cable TV.  It is a sleeper favorite of mine.  It was the worst-performing movie of the franchise, but it was just so outstandingly different than its previous films and than other peer films.

Tokyo Drift takes the young cornfed American muscle car driver kid and portrays him as a troublemaker with a broken family who doesn’t respect authority.  He wins a race at the beginning, his muscle car against a Dodge Viper driven by a high school football player.  Winner gets the football player’s girlfriend.  The starting line girl takes off her bra to start the race.  Very American.  But both guys end up totaling their cars so the kid gets shipped off to Tokyo to stay with his Navy dad.  Football player’s a trust-fund kid with a rich dad so he gets off, thanks to connects.ff3

So muscle car American goes to Tokyo (his flight has Japanese businessmen and a bunch of college kids going to Japan for summer vaycay) and starts attending a Tokyo school and of course hits on a non-Japanese girl who ends up being the “Drift King”‘s girlfriend.  He also befriends Bow Wow (a rapper), who’s the only other American in Tokyo because he’s a military brat.

Muscle car American challenges Drift King (DK) to a race.  But the race is within a parking garage and simple drag racing down a straight strip won’t fly.  Dolled-up Japanese girls in knee socks and lots of makeup line the race’s track.

“You wouldn’t have that problem with a V-8.”

“Boys.  All they care about is who’s got the biggest engine.”

“I’m a guy.  It’s in my DNA.  So y’all race with these things, huh?  Cute little toys.”

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Thus the American learns about drifting, or detaching your car’s wheels from the road to skid around corners without losing speed, being bankrolled by a rich Japanese guy who doesn’t care about wasting money but is so bored he wants to see something interesting.

What’s cool about drifting in the film is that drifting started in Japan, and it is proper for this racing franchise to pay homage to it.  YouTube has a bunch of videos including the originals of the drifting founder, Kunimitsu Takahashi.  Watch this history of drifting on YouTube:

So the American has to learn to drift in order to beat DK at the end, who is actually son to a Yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss.  The American also has to learn how to drive much smaller cars (Bow Wow’s shows a VW Touran with some punched-out frame work done for a fist-shape effect, delivered out of a Tokyo-appropriate automated parking garage machine).  See the rest of the Tokyo Drift cars.  In the end, the American beats the Japanese guy by drifting…in an American muscle car.

The best part for the franchise?  At the end of the film, Dom makes a cameo at one of the parking garage races.

Fast & Furious, the Fourth and Latest

For the latest film, the original cast was brought back. Dom is on the lam, now raiding fuel trucks in the Dominican Republic and Michelle Rodriguez is trying to get his freedom back and also rebuilds his Dodge Charger (the car which takes on a mythical presence in the franchise).

This time, Dom and Brian (Walker’s character) are going to Mexico to kill/arrest a drug cartel leader who offs Dom’s girlfriend.  The American muscle cars are back, and as this page of Fast and Furious’s cars says, the German-engineered BMWs and Mercedes get destroyed.  No love for them.

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Drivers are getting executed in the desert after making a run through the US border control.  Transporting massive loads of drugs across the border.

For some reason this movie did better than the rest of the films, I suspect because it had the original cast back and people expected it to re-capture the original experience.

So Why Should You Love the Franchise?

The franchise delves into strange law enforcement and black market/underground bedfellows.  It embraces the drug war, cultural and ethnic divides, and other taboo topics.  It also embraces the street-racing and car-modding communities in a way that no other films have come close to doing.  It mashes up old cars and new cars and popular actors, musicians, and unknowns.  It pays homage to Paul Newman and drag racing.

It adapts its franchise to different locations with different cultures and styles.  It wasn’t afraid to go to Tokyo to tussle up the franchise.

It’s highly stylized with quick cutscenes of fuel being injected into a combustible engine with NOS treatment to provide blurry-filmed bursts of speed (sort of an homage to the Three Kings gunshot wound scene).

This film I think defines Vin Diesel’s Hollywood presence moreso than Pitch Black did.  His glowering and growling aren’t easily replaceable.

The attention to detail in cultural differences in locations is remarkable given the pop culture atmosphere of the movies.

Women are portrayed as the educated engineer types, with every movie giving a prominent scene to a female mechanic or gearhead or computer junkie.

The FBI should totally try to use this franchise for recruiting — embracing kids who do questionable things but offer skills the FBI might need.  Maybe it’d be a complete waste of time but the FBI could at least exploit the nominally-positive FBI mood in the franchise.  The FBI is seen as the stereotypical insular, out-of-touch organization, but it’s employing a new generation of kids (think 21 Jump Street or The Mod Squad) in the franchise.

The franchise covers a decade of the American experience at home and abroad.  Drug trades in Miami and Mexicali, kitting and piracy in LA, the art of drifting and expats in Tokyo.  US primacy is no longer unquestioned, as external influences in the form of drug cartels and the mafia exert counter-balancing power against American might and American law enforcement.  The rise of the rest, with Latin America pushing in on America’s borders and Japan’s culture being completely unknown, but not untouchable, to Americans, dominates the tone set by the franchise.

To sum up, there just aren’t many other franchises covering strange subcultures like the Fast and the Furious franchise did.  There’s something unique about this one, despite its goofiness at times.  That’s why you should love it.

[More on the franchise from Mahalo.]

Other Taboo Movie Topics

I explained this amazing franchise to my friend Preetum one time — she’s still skeptical.  But there are other film subjects I will gladly defend with ferocity.  I still maintain that as much as you can make fun of Keanu Reeves (and my buddy MonkeyPope does a hilarious impersonation of him), the guy has a filmography any actor would kill to have:  Point Break, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Much Ado About Nothing, being in a William Gibson book-turned-movie (Johnny Mnemonic), Parenthood, the Matrix trilogy, Dangerous Liaisons, The Replacements, Speed, The Devil’s Advocate, and of course Bill & Ted.  You can’t argue against that résumé.

For that matter, I also think that while the original Matrix was by far the best, the rest of the trilogy is worth watching as a whole summation of parts.

And with that, my nerddom is done for now.

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Mash-Up Culture is Still Young

A buddy of mine on IRC posted a YouTube video that mashes up (a phrase meaning to mix up different sources of music and video and other media into one product) drum n’ bass (dnb) music with footage from church sermons with people dancing and being overcome by religious experience and priests giving emotional sermons.  I used to listen to a lot of dnb so I enjoyed the video a lot.

These particular videos below are 3 parts of “Baptazia” called “Super Sunday”, posted on YouTube by a user named airloaf.  I don’t know much about him except for what’s on his profile.

Watch the three below:

Well done, dude! Indeed, there’s a whole slew of related videos that mash up gospel stuff with dnb. airloaf calls it “speedgospel”, but I guess it could be dnb gospel too.

It’s funny posting so many YouTube links; the “other” founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, used to be in the IRC channel I still use to this day.

One of the more well-known mash-up artists right now is Girl Talk. The guy behind Girl Talk is mentioned quite a bit in Lawrence Lessig‘s new book about remix culture, entitled “Remix”.

Girl Talk, coincidentally, has a similar video for the new single off his album “Feed the Animals”; “Play Your Part” also uses church footage:

I don’t know who thought to put the two together, but obviously mash-up artists like using the crazy dancing in church sermons for their video bases.

Intellectual Property Law Hurting Innovation

In Lessig’s “Remix”, he talks about how intellectual property law is constricting innovation in video and music at a time when it’s possible for any individual to mash stuff up easily on their computers. The freedom we have to mash-up and remix text is what needs to happen for video and music next, but we’re a long way from that both in terms of technology and of legal protection.

The Concept of the Screen

Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired Magazine and well-known internet visionary, recently published an article in the New York Times Magazine about “screen literacy”. Kelly makes similar points to Lessig, saying that we have already achieved “text literacy”, freely cutting and pasting text and bookmarking and Kindle-ing and quoting and referencing in papers freely. Both Lessig and Kelly point out that no one has any problem or legal disagreement with being able to quote someone else’s text without their permission, as long as attribution is made.

Kelly then goes on to say that video sharing is still in its infancy. We can’t yet really link an article about a scene from a movie to the actual scene from a high-quality feed of that movie. Says Kelly:

“With true screen fluency, I’d be able to cite specific frames of a film, or specific items in a frame. Perhaps I am a historian interested in oriental dress, and I want to refer to a fez worn by someone in the movie “Casablanca.” I should be able to refer to the fez itself (and not the head it is on) by linking to its image as it “moves” across many frames, just as I can easily link to a printed reference of the fez in text. Or even better, I’d like to annotate the fez in the film with other film clips of fezzes as references.”

Kelly then closes his article as follows:

“With our fingers we will drag objects out of films and cast them in our own movies. A click of our phone camera will capture a landscape, then display its history, which we can use to annotate the image. Text, sound, motion will continue to merge into a single intermedia as they flow through the always-on network. With the assistance of screen fluency tools we might even be able to summon up realistic fantasies spontaneously. Standing before a screen, we could create the visual image of a turquoise rose, glistening with dew, poised in a trim ruby vase, as fast as we could write these words. If we were truly screen literate, maybe even faster. And that is just the opening scene.”

The Four Screens

Interestingly, Nokia has been doing a lot of hardcore research into the future.  It employs the now well-known (as the result of an inspiring NYTimes article from April of this year) Jan Chipchase as an anthropologist who goes out and studies how people use cellphones or how they build solutions to everyday problems.

Nokia also published a video called “The Fourth Screen”, about how cell phones are a fourth screen of history that are just beginning to revolutionize our world:

Nokia argues that the moving picture or movie was the first screen we ever used.  It was a public meeting place-type viewing experience.  The second screen was the TV, which allowed us to stay in our homes.  The third screen was the computer screen and internet, which let us share with each other again, but still from our homes.

And now there’s the fourth screen, the mobile phone, that lets us go out and be social again, while still having the power of the internet and digital communication with us.

It is interesting to think about this only being the beginning.  In many ways we consider technology to have a predictable path now.  We have cellphones, and okay, maybe they will be a little faster on the internet and have better cameras soon.  But do we really imagine much more?

Nokia and more international development-oriented organizations (Grameenphone, etc.) think that cellphones can do a lot for poor people.  A lot’s been written on the topic.  But how will humankind interact and mash things up once technology is freed from the tyranny of the literate towards video and music, which even the illiterate and uneducated can relate with?  What will happen when we can search videos with the same relative ease as we can with text on Google?

It’s still too difficult.  I’ve been messing with ACID (audio editing) and Final Cut Pro (movie editing) and it takes a long time and it’s hard to get all the different file formats from different media under one roof.  You have to use the tools a lot to learn how to mix up the content well.  I just made a mixtape for a Christmas gift, under a silly pseudonym I like to use, DJ Industrial Average (for DJIA, the acronym for the Dow Jones index), and the quality of my mixing was poor, given especially that it took me many hours to do it.

So there’s still lots of work to be done before everyone can use this stuff.  But the flood is coming.

More on Girl Talk

To conclude this post, I’ll leave you with some more mashed up YouTube videos, this time using Girl Talk’s blend of 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s music with their accompanying music videos.  Make sure to watch all 14 parts, which are not all from one user as YouTube is probably removing them gradually for copyright infringement (sadly).

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Filed under Anthropology, Economics, Mobile, Movies, Music, Openness, Tech

At the Movies: Munich

I went to go see Munich. I had to drive down to Nashville to catch it at the big movie theater, since the local one was no longer playing it. I remember reading in Iraq how Munich was being called the movie of the year and all this stuff. I was skeptical — Spielburg’s most recent films have been questionable to me, ever since A.I. (I perhaps inappropriately defend A.I. I admit it). I didn’t like Catch Me If You Can very much. It seemed overly indulgent (and a waste of what was awesome material, a kid who’s encouraged by his father to be a con man), and so did the next Tom Hanksathon, The Terminal. War of the Worlds was, well, not fun. It was stupid. Who makes an alien invasion a subplot to yet another retarded broken family story?

It seemed to me like Spielburg’s just forgotten how to make fun movies that thrive off the energy of the screenplay or story.

Golda Meir

So Munich, about a fictional hit squad unleashed by the Israeli Mossad to execute facilitators of the Olympic hostage disaster, should have a badass storyline to work with. I mean, fucking political intrigue with Golda Meir! Evil terrorists! Underground assassins! Regret, repugnance, death, and despair! Right?

Munich seemed to me like Spielburg was trying too hard to make an important film. There’s something extremely visceral about the Muslim radicals in the way that they devote themselves to a cause and love their families and think that they are doing the right thing, going through with crazy schemes to get closer to paradise. And the Israelis (particularly the Mossad) live day-in and day-out with the subconscious idea that they’re fighting for their survival. They’re surrounded by the enemy constantly. They are told to do anything to ensure their safety.

Spielburg muddled the film with stupid scenes that were supposed to parallel or haunt both the hit squad’s actions and the hostage crisis. For instance, I don’t get why Eric Bana sees flashes of the hostages dying as he fucks his wife. “Honey, you turn me on so much it’s like a helo full of Jewish hostages getting shot as a terrorist freaks out!”

While I’m on the subject, I hate when we’re supposed to see something through someone’s eyes, yet what we actually see is a third-party view. What, is that fucker like able to live out of his body or something? So much effort is spent on getting into the mind of a character, but we can’t even see important flashbacks through their eyes?

Anyway. It seemed like Spielburg compromised his integrity by trying to pay homage to his Jewish heritage. It’s just totally not interesting. And he shows the “human” side of the evil Arabs being successful people in non-Arab countries. Are they just normal hard-working people with extremist leanings? Or are they trying to blend in to avoid danger? I have no clue. And the whole thing with his wife is just confusing. There’s no relationship there, it’s just some woman who makes cameos every once in a while. “Oh, my husband disappears for months at a time and is doing all this secret stuff…that’s really neat! Hee hee! PLOP! Out comes a baby!”

Spielburg brings in the idea that blood only brings more blood at the end but this too is just more boring moralizing. I mean, do we fucking care? Is movie-watching supposed to be didactic?

Can you imagine if in the Indiana Jones movies, he spent half an hour showing how maybe the Nazis were more human, deeper than we give them credit for, instead of leaving them as the comical, absurdly strict and humorless German kraut Nazi goose-steppers we’ve come to know and hate? Can you imagine if Indiana Jones developed a guilty conscience?

(edit: My buddy MonkeyPope reminded me that Spielburg directed Schindler’s List. I’d forgotten that. I am not sure why that movie turned out so good and this one turned out so bad. Maybe we just know the German Nazi better than we know the Muslim extremist.)

Quite frankly I just don’t understand how I can be so bored and turned off by this movie when I am so intensely fascinated by the Israeli intelligence services and by the call to jihad of the Muslim terrorists. It’s as if I had a naked supermodel grinding in my lap and was like, “Boy, I could really play some Freecell right about now.”

On a brighter note, before Munich, there was a trailer for what looks to be an awesome movie: Why We Fight. It’s a documentary about the effects of contracting in the militaristic culture of the U.S. government. About how defense contractors are capitalizing on the Global War on Terrorism which no one else seems to be benefitting from. This war is hot money, and not only that, the worst kind of hot money, that of opaque, no-bid, nepotistic contracts.

Here is the trailer.

So, yeah, hurray for us! Go USA!

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