We all love the coming attractions at the movies. Consider this post your first teaser as we start getting ready to record this podcast.
Unfriended (1 out of 10); Directed by Levan Gabriadze; Written by Nelson Greaves; Starring Shelley Hennig, Matthew Bohrer, Will Peltz and Heather Sossaman; Rated R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug and alcohol use – all involving teens; 82 minutes; In wide release on April 17, 2015.
Hollywood loves found-footage films because they are cheap to produce and usually make a ton of money. Unfortunately, most of these end up being complete rubbish and exist only to add to the studio’s bottom line. Unfriended looks promising because the trailers portray it as a unique and fresh take on the tired genre — a Blair Witch for the Facebook generation. Sadly, its gimmick is all it has going for it, and after it wears off 20 minutes in, all that’s left is an utterly boring and forgettable experience.
The whole movie takes place on a MacBook screen where the plot is laid out via text messages, Skype, YouTube and Facebook Messenger. Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her friends are all happily Skyping each other when an unknown person hacks in and starts harassing them. At first this hacker is merely an annoyance since it won’t go away, but when it starts revealing dirty secrets about each teen’s past, they desperately try to get rid of it even as they begin to turn on each other. Blaire eventually figures out that it is the one year anniversary of the death of Laura (Heather Sossaman), one of their classmates who was driven to suicide after a particularly lecherous video of her was released online and ruined her life. Sure enough, the ghost of Laura has indeed possessed their computers and is out to get revenge against the people who tormented her in life. One by one, each teenager falls prey to her twisted games in order to punish whoever was responsible for recording and posting the video.
The only good thing about Unfriended is the initial novelty of watching everything unfold on a computer screen. Considering that many of us, and especially Millennials, pretty much live in their phones and computers, the idea of a ghost stalking you through social media is actually pretty cool and creepy. The director does a decent job of making it feel like we are watching a real teenager use her computer as she constantly flips through apps and web pages in the way a bored adolescent would. But like I said, that gets old really fast.
The last two-thirds basically boils down to a bunch of teenagers texting, drinking and yelling obscenities at each other, and that’s not a movie, that’s something on MTV. None of the kids are remotely likable; there’s no one to root for as each is an abominable person who we want to see killed in horrible ways except we really don’t get to.
Sure, the kids begin to die off in presumably gruesome ways, but instead of allowing us to see what happens, their computer will freeze or “buffer” allowing only a brief glimpse of what took place before their session hangs up. Half the fun of a horror movie are the death scenes, but Unfriended isn’t even kind enough to give us that. Which leads to the biggest problem of all.
Horror can be funny, bloody, scary or outright strange, but this one isn’t any of that. It’s literally nearly an hour and a half of watching kids text with an occasional moment of “tension” thrown in when we know the ghost is going to kill someone. It isn’t scary in the least nor is it funny or remotely entertaining. This is the very worst kind of film because it’s very obvious it — and the inevitable sequels — only exist to fill a bank account.
I guess one can argue that it is trying to make a statement about the evils of cyber bullying, and yes, that is an underlying message, but most people would probably find an after-school special more interesting than the drivel presented here. There’s just nothing going on.
Unfriended is so bad that months down the road, most people won’t even remember it exists, and I can’t think of a more damning sentiment about a film. This could have been really fun and creepy, so it’s too bad that the final result was so terrible.
Furious 7 (8 out of 10); Directed by James Wan; Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Kurt Russell; Written by Chris Morgan; Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language; 140 minutes; In wide release on April 3, 2015.
The Fast and Furious franchise hasn’t made a name for itself for its deep acting, storytelling or filmmaking. Fans go in expecting fast cars, beautiful, scantily clad people and lots of ‘splosions, and most of the series has provided that in spades. Some misfires in the middle gave way to a decent fifth and sixth outing, but this final film has trumped them all and is easily the best in the series. Not only fun and frantic, it also pays tribute to the late Paul Walker and delivers a satisfying and touching experience.
Due to the twisted continuity of the films — four, five and six are prequels — Furious 7 takes place after the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift with ex-MI6 assassin Ian Shaw (Jason Statham) on a mission to hunt down Dom (Vin Diesel) and the rest of his crew in revenge for their nearly killing his little brother. Brian (Paul Walker) is happy yet not content with his new life and family and agrees to come out of retirement to help Dom and the crew put the Shaw issue to rest once and for all. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his shadowy government organization rescue them and promise to do everything in their power to stop Shaw if Dom and Brian will do them a favor — rescue a brilliant hacker and her tracking program from a notorious terrorist. The crew races across the globe in an attempt to guarantee her safety and also stay one step ahead of the madman out for their blood. Enemies join forces and force an epic showdown in the streets of L.A. where fast cars and fancy driving may not be enough to help Dom and his family survive.
While this isn’t high art by any means, Furious 7 is definitely one of the more entertaining movies to come along in awhile. In fact, the only other recent one I can think of that I’ve enjoyed this much was Kingsman. Yes, it’s incredibly stupid and has no idea how gravity or the laws of physics work, but the whole experience of watching cars literally fly through the air and the streets is exhilarating. Newcomer James Wan has an incredible eye for shooting action and doesn’t disappoint anywhere. Whether it’s jumping cars in between and through luxury high rises in Abu Dhabi to having them literally fall from the sky, he never lets up or fails to eke out the most excitement possible in each shot.
The same can’t quite be said of the script which, while not horrible, is definitely the weakest point in the film. I wasn’t expecting The Godfather, but the rewrites and edits are evident throughout as characters react or respond to things that were never mentioned or said anywhere else. It’s also too long, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours. It’s entertaining throughout, but there are a few too many moments where we are waiting for everyone to stop talking about family and get to the next action set piece.
The best thing here is the thoughtful and poignant respect they paid to Paul Walker. Without spoiling anything, I can say that they give his character a proper send off that was befitting of his role in all seven of the films. The wonderful montage showing some of the his well-known moments in the series combined with a touching voice over by Dom will no doubt leave moviegoers a bit misty-eyed as they exit the theater.
Too many action movies take themselves far too seriously or end up being brain dead, but Furious 7 never forgets what it is and what it wants to do. It delivers a surprisingly well-done and fun thrill ride that also squeezes in a poignant ending. Film snobs will absolutely hate it, but if anyone is willing to sit down and just enjoy the spectacle for what it is, they’ll have a good time. It’s big, dumb fun with heart … and nitrous.