Fast & Furious – stop making action a stupid genre

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Why is modern cinema so insistent on drowning us in waves of tedious action films?

I remember when I was a lot younger (and cuter) I was always excited by the prospect of new action films. I was raised on The MatrixIndiana Jones and various superhero films, all of which still stand as good films. But what seems to have happened to action films is that they are substituting substance for style. Well I say “style”, I mean more bulk, more explosions and set pieces, and it is incredibly annoying to see the genre being ruined. One of the main culprits in this movement is the increasingly tedious Fast & Furious franchise.

It’s strange to think about what has happened with this film series because it appears to have died and then been reanimated. You see the first Fast & Furious film came out, it wasn’t particularly important but everyone just seemed to accept it as something different, fine. Then the second film was released and we see the stupid dial being turned further towards eleven but we could still abide this. By the third film it was turned fully to eleventy-stupid and it was all going to Hell in a handcart, looking like the franchise was dead in the water. Then somehow they bounced back from that, making the action louder and more stupid, yet people still flocked to see them. It just makes you ask that all important question: what the fuck is happening to the human race?

The problem I have with the films is that they have very little substance. They have set piece after set piece of badly directed action, crashes and explosions left right and centre, and it just doesn’t mean anything. It is all just stuff. Not only that but badly directed stuff. It’s like CRASH, BOOM, WHACK, KABOOM, end credits. It’s not interesting in the slightest because the plot (and I use that word loosely) is so thin. They attempt to add substance in the screenplay by overusing the word “family”, by constantly saying “we’re family, he’s family, yeah family” but this doesn’t add to the film in any way. It doesn’t aid characterisation and it certainly doesn’t make me feel more engaged. It’s a futile attempt by the screenplay writers to make it seem like it all means something when it really doesn’t. It’s a series of films where the second unit director has more input than the first unit. It’s just silly nonsense for the easily pleased, for people who go “look! Look at the cars! They’re dropping out of a plane! Oh and there’s a tank too! Tanks go boom!” as they wait for their mother to finish warming their milk.

I think one of the bigger problems with the franchise can be attributed to two separate outcomes, but the general point is the scale.

Firstly, because the franchise has continued for so long the films have grown bigger and so consequently the stunts have grown bigger. So what you have is a franchise that has advanced from half decent street races to absolutely ludicrous set pieces featuring tanks, planes and God knows what else. This results in a cinematic experience that gets even more boring with each new film, and action sequences with countless civilian deaths that we’re not meant to care about. It’s just absurdity.

Secondly the scale of the franchise has changed the purpose of the films. They used to be made for entertainment purposes, but now it is purely financial. They know they can pump out any horse shit they can manage and people will still flock to see it. It is a franchise measuring success by how much money the films earn, as opposed to the quality of the films. By this point they’re just squatting down every two years and shitting out a bad film then waiting for the millions to roll in. What you have to consider is that Box Office figures don’t equate to quality of film. Think about it, in 2009/2010 Avatar took more money at the Box Office than Inception. Which is the better film? Inception. It’s the same with Fast & Furious. Earlier this year Furious 7 took more money than films like Whiplash and The Theory of Everything. Is it a better film than either of those? Not even close.

Fans of the franchise try to defend it by saying it’s not all about the money. But as the film critic Doctor Mark Kermode pointed out, the studio aren’t evening hiding the fact it’s all about the money.

Kermode attended a press screening of Fast & Furious 6 before it was released, and as per usual being a film critic he received the press notes. Now, normally the press notes are used to say what the filmmaker’s vision was, what the film means, why it was made etcetera. In the case of Fast & Furious 6 the press notes consisted of three paragraphs about money and one small paragraph at the end attempting to persuade the reader that the film means something. So their intentions were made clear. The press notes pontificated about how much money the film cost to make, how much money the previous films took at the Box Office and how successful they feel the franchise is based on how much money it takes, and so it was clear that money was their primary focus, thus explaining why the film was so rubbish. It’s a typical case of a franchise just pumping out sequel after sequel because they know that people will pay to see them regardless of how awful they are, like Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio is well aware that each sequel will take more money than the previous film which is why they will keep watering the money tree for as long as they can.

So as the ludicrous stunts are taking place and all the gunfire and explosions are happening on screen there is one thing that works in the franchise’s favour. The only feature that works to an extent, but still needs improving, is the gender equality. It is refreshing to see an action film with strong female characters who kick arse as well as any of the men do. I like that Michelle Rodriguez is still looking to play the female action character that is a challenge for any man on screen, much like her smaller roles in older films like Resident Evil and Avatar. However this is still not enough to make up for the ill-disciplined action sequences that account for a considerable amount of the screentime.

It’s not that I’m a film snob who doesn’t like action films at all. On the contrary I really like action as a genre. I’ve grown up with Marvel films which often make very good action films, such as the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m also a big fan of Matthew Vaughn who directed Kick Ass, which still remains one of the best films of recent years. The problem is that action is a genre that slips into stupidity very easily, so with films like Transformers it’s incredibly boring seeing building after building get smashed for two and a half hours. Thankfully, it is a genre that is mastered brilliantly by certain people.

If you want to watch a really good action film then I cannot recommend highly enough the Indonesian hit The Raid, directed by Gareth Evans. It is the perfect example of an unabashedly bold action film that has a beating heart and an intelligent brain. It is a brutal film about a SWAT team attempting to clear out a tower block inhabited by criminals and gang members, and for such a simple premise they managed to make a fantastic film out of it and transcend everybody’s expectations. The action sequences are directed with such pinpoint precision, and it’s shot in such a fantastic manner whereby the camera moves like liquid from floor to floor and the action looks and feels real. You can feel the weight of every hit, every kick, and because the narrative takes its time to develop you genuinely feel scared for the main character and establish an emotional connection with him. Most importantly this means that the events of the film matter to you as the audience. It is genuinely a fantastic film and proves that action does not have to be stupid.

However it’s not just the smaller action films that impress me, the big blockbusters can often be good action films. Just recently I finally got around to watching the new Godzilla project, which I thought was very good. It was a relief to see the talents of Gareth Edwards growing after his success with Monsters. I also got around to watching Robert Schwentke’s RED which I was well informed was a good film by my friend Molly and indeed it was. And of course I have to mention how some franchises are still holding their dignity, most notably Star Trek which J.J.Abrams has done wonders for, and James Bond which Sam Mendes completely mastered with Skyfall and whom has everybody’s support with the follow up project Spectre.

Unfortunately not every director thinks like Abrams or Mendes. There’s a common rule among filmmakers, particularly action filmmakers, that the way to make a film a success is to be more stupid than the audience. Fast & Furious sticks to this rule, with every film being bigger and louder and more stupid than its predecessor, and they’re more than welcome to do this. However this will never stop filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, making films like Inception and The Dark Knight, filmmakers who treat the audience as intelligent sentient beings, and most importantly who understand that small arthouse films and big blockbusters don’t have to be exclusive. The Fast & Furious team can keep churning out sequel after sequel, but there will always be filmmakers out there proving that action films do not have to be stupid.

Interestingly Vin Diesel has been promoting Furious 7 rather ruthlessly this year, paying various tributes to Paul Walker in the process, for which he has my utmost respect. During this period Diesel revealed that there is an eighth film in the works. Which wasn’t a surprise to anyone because we all live on planet Earth and know it will take even more money than this film.

He also was quoted as saying that Furious 7 could win an Oscar. That’s the same attitude adopted by the studio that brought us Transformers: Age of Extinction, the same studio that actually gave it to the Academy for consideration in the ‘Best Picture’ category.

Check the nominations, see how well that went.

Instagram – One Of The Reasons Why People Annoy Me

I thought I would make a change from posting about film and attempt to talk about something different. As a teenager I can see the benefits to social networking, I think in some cases it’s brilliant. It allows me to communicate with people without having to walk to their house just to inquire as to how they’re feeling today. But sometimes I have to admit I get annoyed by it very easily.

It seems that in today’s world there is a very small amount of things people keep away from the public eye. In a way I miss the days when people were only just starting a Facebook profile, because it was the days when people barely posted anything, in fear of being mocked or judged by others. Those days were brilliant, the days where you got the basic facts about how someone was and what they were doing without being bombarded by pointless information. You could scroll through your news feed and see statuses like “I am in Spain at the moment. I am very Happy”. But now we have this strange situation where every thing is splattered across social networks. You’ve got where someone is, how they’re feeling, who they’re with, what colour socks they’re wearing, what drink they’ve got, it’s just getting out of hand. I know people have the freedom to post what they want, and quite rightly so, but sometimes it does seem a little excessive to be posting constantly. 

I’ve got less anger towards Facebook and Twitter because they bring me a lot of fun, through reading arguments or indeed being involved in arguments. However there is one form of social networking that annoys me to the extent of wanting to throw my phone at a wall, and that’s Instagram. I’ll say it now because I don’t want to seem like I’m being a hypocrite; I have an Instagram account and I used it for quite a long time. Nowadays my account is still open and I have the odd flick every now and then, but other than that I do not use it. Anyway, the concept is quite basic and could work nicely, if people didn’t use it for absolutely everything, and I mean everything. If you want to share a picture that your friends can see, then at least make it a picture that is worth sharing. The idea of having a photograph for me, is to capture a memory that you want to keep hold of, like on holiday or at a gig or whatever event you hold close to you, because it captures what you consider to be special and important moment that you will possibly never live again. It seems as though the concept of a picture has changed, now it seems to be something for you to get ‘likes’ on. 

Drawing on the point I made earlier about the first days of Facebook when people barely posted, and how now they post everything, Instagram is the epicenter of this nightmare. You’ve got people posting pictures of everything so that you know every tiny detail about them. ‘This is the page of the Jodi Picoult book I’m reading’ ‘I’m on the 43rd minute of an Adam Sandler film’ ‘my underwear is blue today’.  It’s even gotten to the extent now of people posting pictures of them selves in the bath! When did this start happening? When did somebody decide ‘you know what I actually feel like invading my own privacy’. Do people need to know you’re in the bath? And furthermore do we need pictorial evidence to allay our doubts? There wasn’t masses of people questioning the situation, thinking ‘maybe they’re just sat in a puddle’. It’s gotten out of control really,  I’m dreading the day I see my first snap of someone on the toilet. You may laugh at that but you’ll stop laughing eventually when you realise it will happen.

The worst thing about Instagram for me is that it’s ruining Holidays for people. Instead of going to another country and experiencing another culture, we’ve got people sat on their phones trying to decide which filter to use on the picture they have just taken of their flip flops. It just amazes me how someone can have a different country, a different culture right in front of them, and yet they would rather take a picture of themselves with their tongue out and caption it “got my sunglasses on!”. I would understand it if they were taking pictures of the country they were in and taking in the amazing views, but if you’re just taking the same stupid pictures that you take at home it seems a bit pointless. I can understand using a social network from abroad because it lets your contacts know that you’re still alive or that you’re having a good time, but if you are constantly using one whilst away then it somewhat negates the benefits of going on holiday. It makes sense wanting some pictures of yourself on holiday because they hold quite good memories for you, but there’s a line people cross that becomes excessive. There are some people I just wish I could shout at “you are in a beautiful country that is so much different from the one you live in, put your silly little phone down and appreciate where you are”. 

If you ever get Instagram you will soon find that the bane of your life becomes the hash tag. That thing is everywhere! Literally, for quite a dull picture that doesn’t have a lot of elements you’d be surprised how many ‘hashtags’ people can squeeze in. And that’s where two problems lie for me, the first is that the idea of a hashtag is that people search under that category to find pictures of that nature. So why would you need to hashtag quite a ordinary thing such as ‘#coffee’? As if there are coffee enthusiasts worldwide searching for their update on people’s caffeine intake. It just seems silly to take pictures of something that in all likelihood people have no interest in and it’s something that you come across on a daily basis. Problem number two is that people don’t know when to stop with hashtags, they overload a caption with to the extent of labeling things that are not even in the picture. You’ll see a big paragraph of ‘#girl #young #teen #blond #blueeyes #newnails #curlyhair’ which just leaves you baffled because it’s a picture of their mug of tea on a table. Are we that desperate to get ‘likes’?

Perhaps I’m just old fashioned in my views? Maybe the point of a photograph is not to capture a moment that is rare, maybe it’s now all about capturing things you experience on a daily basis, like putting socks on or brushing your teeth. I hope that’s not the case. I still can’t understand why someone would want to see a picture of something so dull like your feet, or new gloves, or the sandwich you’re having for lunch. If you took a picture and the caption was “got my new socks on” I would consider the possibility that you have quite an empty life. If however you posted a picture and the caption was “got my new socks on… and I’m on the moon” then I would take an interest and feel jealous that I’m not part of this memory. 

As I have said before I have an account, and I will admit I have fallen victim to some of the things I have mentioned (not to such an extreme extent luckily) so I can’t act completely innocent in this grand scheme of shit. I used to post pictures of the most tedious rubbish that sprang to mind “look here’s my cat” “here’s the new film I’m bought” “here’s the Neil Diamond song I’m currently listening to”.  I will say it, it’s only after you’ve looked at it from an outsider’s perspective that you realise just how stupid it all is, and it makes me feel like an idiot because I was part of it for a good seven months. There are people that post pictures of themselves three or four times a day, which to me kind of shows that they must have quite a boring life. 

The situation only gets worse from here though, camera phones are the main way we view things in today’s world. They give people the freedom to post pictures of whatever they want and post them however many times they want, but then on the other side of the coin I have the freedom to express my opinion however many times I like. In the future if any large events happen they’re not going to be viewed normally, they’re going to be viewed through the screen of a smart phone, with a filter on them to make them look slightly darker with a hint of black and white, and a pretty frame. I can’t wait.