Vin Diesel

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Vin Diesel Starring In Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots

Mattel, Inc. announced today plans to develop Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, the classic tabletop game featuring battling robots, into a live-action motion picture. Mattel Films is working with Universal Pictures and Vin Diesel’s production company, One Race Films, on the project. Diesel will also star in the film. Mattel Films will produce the project

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Movie Review: Riddick (2013)

Remixing History

A Film review of Riddick

By: Lawrence Napoli



Anyone familiar with the Riddick Trilogy could have easily seen the trailers for this most recent installment and said, “Hey, I think I’ve seen that before,” and they would be absolutely correct. It seems as if the formula for this excruciatingly rigid character can find no wiggle room outside of stories strictly about being hunted by mercs. What I find most distasteful is the fact that Riddick returns to his roots with an almost exact, bullet point for bullet point, plot recreation of Pitch Black. Of course, this isn’t much of a big deal for those showing up late to the Riddick party, and I can completely understand seeing how these films never seemed to reach an audience outside a cult following. The fans, on the other hand, will be somewhat disappointed because despite the charisma of the character, the story is completely recycled and appears to be going nowhere fast.

Riddick is a film that had no business being made in the first place seeing how Universal and Vin Diesel had abandoned the franchise after the abysmal performance of The Chronicles of Riddick back in 2004 when that film’s global take at the box office was only $10 million dollars more than its production budget of $105 million. According to the Riddick Wiki page, Diesel and filmmaker David Twohy secured the rights to produce a sequel that promised to return to the basics, which in turn got Universal interested in distributing it. In order to finance this production’s near $40 million dollar budget, Diesel leveraged his own house, and what followed was a series of financial setbacks that sandbagged the whole production. Despite these clear red flags, the production managed to pull through and land in the can, and I have much respect for all the crew, production staff and cast that made the film a reality. But an “A for effort” does not a film worthy of your hard-earned dollars make, especially when the story was supposedly going to bigger and more interesting places. “Due to private funding and a limited budget, the ‘Underverse’ plot could not be continued.”

Clearly, the real world of dollars and cents encroached heavily on this page of Hollywood history, but when big bucks, bigger names and the best effects cannot be relied upon to deliver the spectacle; writing is the only gun you have left in the cabinet. Unfortunately for Riddick, this tale is shooting blanks. I completely understand looking to a franchise’s original film for inspiration in troubled times during a follow-up, but carbon copying the basics of that story is inexcusable. If writer/director David Twohy was so starved for creativity thanks to his distracting production woes and multiple responsibilities, he should have considered shamelessly rebooting the Furyan all together, and why not? Reboots are in. As it stands, the story picks up all but immediately where we left Riddick as the Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, the most powerful force in the galaxy. So naturally, we spend 5 minutes of Riddick taking all of that away from him and stranding old shiny eyes on yet another god forbidden planet. Insert the plot of Pitch Black here (mercs show up, precise killing, creepy crawlies target everyone, an uneasy alliance occurs, retrieving a ship’s power source to escape), and that’s Riddick in a nutshell. I couldn’t tell if the revisited story was more annoying than the awkward cursing by everyone that seemed too forced to overemphasize everyone’s status as a bad ass or the ever bland one-liners by Riddick himself whose quotes easily devolve to vintage Stallone/Schwarzenegger. I understand that certain conventions are inevitable in sci-fi/action films, but that wasn’t what made this franchise (and this character) unique in the first place. Playing around with themes of light vs. dark both literally and contextually through character, rooting for the supposed bad guy and a shoestring budget yielding a big picture look are all things that made Pitch Black unique. There’s nothing unique about Riddick.

I will give the production staff a lot of credit for making this film at least look the part of a big time Hollywood production. Detailed creature CG is sporadic, but very functional in wider angles. Gunplay is standard issue, but not particularly intense. Landscapes are bright, but rudimentary. Costumes are necessarily minimal and vehicles are easily the most impressive in how they move amidst the backdrops they are framed within. I am absolutely certain that Vin Diesel’s home is safe, and an opening weekend just under $19 million is certainly a step in the right direction. However, if the true purpose of this production was to transform this franchise into a more cost effective carrot to dangle in front of studios for future film development, the audience needs more than a good looking movie to spread that word of mouth like wildfire. $40 million dollars can only get you so far, but higher stakes, rounder characters and a unique plot would’ve brought more butts to the theatres.

Riddick is not a film that contains what anyone would refer to as a marquee performance by anyone, but considering its production woes, getting “average” out of anyone could be considered a major victory. Gone is the charm from the likes of Keith David and Judi Dench, and as nice as it was to see Karl Urban again as Vaako, his cameo is merely five minutes of interesting (and far too brief) exposition that connects this film to the last. The cast is basically a collection of tough guys and gals that are physical, intimidating and as flat as your kitchen table. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but plenty of action films in the past have had similar requirements of their casts and a number of them proved capable of doing more with less, performance-wise. This is Vin Diesel’s baby, and as much as I appreciate his efforts as a labor of love, he’s still Dominic Toretto with glowing eyes. Jason Statham plays Jason Statham like Michael Cera plays Michael Cera and so too is the same with Diesel. He’s a tough guy without the most staccato of line deliveries. He gives you everything you could possibly expect of him in Riddick.

I actually enjoyed Pitch Black and much of that was thanks to Diesel’s performance as Riddick. He cares about his character and he cares about these stories, and that is something that you just don’t see with most Hollywood productions (especially the big-budget-effect ones). Unfortunately, Riddick is simply not good enough to recommend to anyone paying any price for a general admission. This is a Netflix/On Demand situation all day long, and for all the money and effort that went into making this film, I can’t help but think it could have been more if the filmmakers hadn’t simply gone to ground with the safest, plausible scenario they could think up to make this franchise profitable again. You’d think a smaller budget with less corporate ties and interfering influences would help foster more spontaneity and courage in regards to story and character, but this was not the case for this film. Oh conventionalism, you truly are a silent killer. The audience covets your familiarity, but your lasting impression involves the individual thinking about all the other things he or she could have been doing rather than subjecting themselves to something else they’ve probably seen many times before. My suggestion: Put your $10 towards GTA 5 which comes out in just over a week.

Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

A Little Left in the Tank

A Film Review of Fast & Furious 6

By: Lawrence Napoli


Back in 2001, a little movie called The Fast and the Furious introduced mainstream America to contemporary street racing, NOS and Vin Diesel doing what he apparently does best.  None could have predicted that this series would have turned into such an immense financial success considering it took three different directors before finding one that was truly committed in Justin Lin and his first entry (Tokyo Drift) is to this day regarded as the weakest link.  Lin listened to the fans and got back to the basics of what made this fiction work and the result was a cacophony of stunts that continued to push the envelope, an added level of brawling combat and gunplay, but most importantly characters that had explosive chemistry together.  Fast & Furious 6 is the most recent entry and it’s a rarity to find any franchise capable of holding up to that kind of mileage.  If any of you have concerns regarding the possible sputtering of a series long overdue to be put to bed, know that Fast & Furious 7 is already in pre-production and we’ve just gotten past opening weekend for #6.  No studio is dumb enough to gut that kind of golden calf before at least running it (humiliatingly) into the ground.


Is the franchise hanging on for dear life?

Writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson return to pen F&F6 and they try really hard to duplicate the general plot points of the last film: assemble the team, give them a challenge, car stunts, punches to the face, victory.  It sounds simple enough, but Fast Five was such an incredible experience for being the first to draw in all the marquee characters from the previous films and added The Rock to the mix as the cherry on top.  In effect, the F&F franchise capitalized on an “Avengers” effect even before that movie came out.  Unfortunately, most of what the audience experiences in 6 feels awfully familiar as we see our favorite criminals with hearts of gold doing the same things they’ve done before with the same level of camaraderie.  The story still feels big, but the logistics of getting these main characters back into the conflict seems a tad convoluted and everything else that follows from character arcs to twists come off as slightly ridiculous.


The team is back.  Now give the audience a reason to stay.

I think the film trailers actually worked against the writers in that they revealed too many major plot twists such as spear hooks into giant planes and the return of Letty, someone believed to have been dispatched as of the fourth film.  Perhaps the trailer reveals wouldn’t have been so bad had there been larger spectacles and/or developments lying in wait, but this was not the case.  To compensate, Morgan and Thompson reach further back into the franchise mythos to resurrect slightly more obscure characters which is nice for nostalgia, but not enough to keep the Fast and Furious formula fresh.  What’s worse is that to appreciate F&F6 you must have seen every previous film because the references to the past and a thematic return to what once was in the very first film is the engine for this film.  That being said, the story is entertaining enough while maintaining that satisfying focus on family as well as a couple of neat developments along the way.


Guess who’s back?

For a franchise built on car races and stunts, I find it disappointing yet somewhat inevitable for it to have evolved into a more standard action/adventure film.  There’s also a hell of a lot of jumping, falling and launching of bodies in this movie which is an interesting curveball to the action, but seems far too super-heroic even for former street racers, hackers and ex-FBI to be capable of.  F&F6 features the most combat action from gunplay and fisticuffs to date which is executed very well on screen, but plays a second fiddle to the true spectacle: massive set-piece-chaos.  Notable sequences are the car chase around London and the climactic run-in with a military transport plane near the end.  The problem with both of these sequences is that we’ve seen chases similar to the prior and the latter boils down to movement in a straight line for what seems to be a 30 mile runway.  The absurdity of the action mirrors the exponential proficiency of each and every protagonist which, despite the separation in real and in-film time between all the sequels, still feels like Paul Walker is trying to squeeze out an extra 10 horsepower from his cheesy import.  None of this will probably to most fans seeing how a 6th entry in a film series has more to do with luring crowds in with familiarity rather than innovation.  But know this, at no one point does F&F6 outshine its predecessor in any aspect of filmmaking, which leads me to conclude that Justin Lin needs a satisfying and conclusive way to wrap up this fiction for part 7 before it gets recognized as Saw’s spiritual successor.


Tyrese believes he can fly.

Performances across the board for F&F6 were reliable and expected.  No one outshines anyone else and every character (save for Letty) behaves exactly as they have with no surprises.  That being said, this film is all about Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and every other character, even The Rock, falls in line.  I’m sure Diesel is a great guy to work with, but his emotional range varies between mopey-eyed to angry-mopey-eyed and that’s it.  This is unfortunate considering this film gave his character an opportunity to emote a little more in between bouts of crashing and punching.  Luke Evans as the nefarious Shaw presents as generic of a villain as one can get, but then no villain in a F&F film ever stood out something to truly watch out for either the characters’ or audience’s perspective.  They’re all merely speed bumps to the action and camaraderie.  The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, is noteworthy because he’s still himself and built like he could run through a brick wall without suffering a scratch.  Like the rest of the cast, he doesn’t really show anything new acting wise, so if you are interested in that, I suggest you check out Pain & Gain.


Can you still smell what I’m cooking?

The true theme of Fast & Furious 6 is: “been there, done that.”  If you want you your fill of action and consider yourself too cool for super heroes, too dumb for sci-fi or too interested in a sex life for fantasy, this film will adequately address your needs.  But it is also by no means a game-changer for this summer as something truly remarkable to see and this will reflect at the box office.  Fast Five represented the peak of what this franchise was capable of accomplishing in terms of story, action and character as well as being a natural end that culminates on a high note.  Dragging everyone back for this film officially feels like going through the motions and I don’t particularly care for that.  The film’s teaser reveal post-credits connects the fiction back to Tokyo Drift (the last sequel in the franchise, chronologically) even seems like jumping the shark because the actor earmarked as the big bad for F&F7 was a real surprise, but in hindsight feels way over the top.  Fast & Furious may be biting off of The Expendables and that franchise is already getting as tired, old and dusty as Stallone himself.

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