Furious Seven Review

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There is something glorious about Furious 7. It has a surplus of energy, simply bursting off the screen with its patented formula of hyper-masculine melodrama. What really makes it work is the fact that its characters have emotions as oversized as their ludicrous automotive stunts. It isn’t just the action that is over the top. Furious 7 is a wonderful repudiation of the idea that realism, in and of itself, is somehow a virtue. Furious 7 does not reflect life, it amplifies it.

I have to say that I am not an expert on this series of films. I saw the first two in high school and more or less enjoyed them, though they were quite forgettable. When the third jettisoned the whole cast to jump to Japan, I tuned out completely. Even bringing in the The Rock, who I will gladly watch in just about anything, couldn’t really get my attention enough to get me to the theater. (After seeing Furious 7, I picked up a copy of Fast 5 and now know what a fool I’ve been.) On the back of conflicting buzz about this seventh installment, I heard some wildly differing opinions about its quality going in, I took a chance and caught Furious 7 on a slow Saturday afternoon and was blown away.

Furious 7 uses “over-the-top” as the starting place for its action scenes and goes from there. Co-protagonist Brian tells his young son early on that cars don’t fly and the movie spends the rest of its runtime proving this to be false. In the world of Furious 7 car do fly, or at least fall with style. Physics in this movie are not the same as they are in the real world. And why should they be? Why should film be constrained by life’s limits? At least twice does Dom (Vin Diesel) get into a head on collision only to get out of his car, unharmed, and get into a fistfight. A highway hijacking is old hat, here they parachute their cars down onto the road before getting down to business. Police chase? Forget that. Instead, a chase involving an attack drone tearing up the streets of Los Angeles? Somehow, the movie keeps finding ways to up the ante, even though they went all in right from the start. By the time The Rock flexes his broken arm out of its cast and pick up a fallen Gatling gun to shoot at a helicopter it seems positively routine.

Just doing spectacle well is not enough for a movie to stand out. Everyone does spectacle now, but it is rare to see it done with any sort of coherent base underneath it. It all works in Furious 7 because it is built off emotions that, while not complex, are all but universal. Furious 7 is about family and love and revenge. Not anything new to film, but holding any sort of theme together seems to be beyond the ability of most blockbuster franchises (this is my required middle finger to the highly profitable dreck that is Transformers). For seven movies now, with some stops and starts, this franchise has been building the idea that Dom and his gang are a family. Some of that is literal, with his sister Mia and her husband Brian, some is more metaphorical. For Dom, there is nothing he won’t do for his family. That is mirrored in the villain, Deckard Shaw, who is after them in revenge for what they did to his brother. What his brother might have done is immaterial, they are family and no one messes with his family. That leads him to starting a war with Dom and the rest of the good guys, who have no choice but to respond in turn. The motivations of the good guys does get a little muddled in the middle, going on a globetrotting adventure to get a computer program that will let them track Shaw so he can’t catch them by surprise, but it all comes down to them fighting for their families.

The thing it, Furious 7 knows how ridiculous it is. It wants to viewers to laugh as cars parachute out of airplane or Kurt Russell puts on a pair of night-vision sunglasses in the middle of gunfight and goes to town. It wants the viewers’ hearts in their throats as it does its slightly overused camera roll as the people flip during fights. It wants tears in the viewers’ eyes as Brian (the late Paul Walker) drives off to Valhalla at the end of the film. This is a movie with emotions as over the top as the action and if you let yourself get caught up just a little, it will take you for a ride. This is what spectacle driven films should strive to be.

What I Read in March 15

It was another big reading month for me. That doesn’t seem likely to change as long as I am working nights with little to do. In that case I will keep reading. This month’s books mostly come from the same author. I was talked into getting Gail Carriger’s young adult finishing school series during a Kindle sale and ended up getting the entirety of her previous series after I finished them. I complemented reading four of her books with a handful of fantasy books and another thing I picked up from amazon.

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The Silmarillion

JRR Tolkien

The Silmarillion is many things. It is beautiful, majestic, dry, aloof and unfinished. It is not an easy book to read, especially if someone is expecting a novel of some kind. That is not what The Silmarillion is. It is a history, a detailed outline of the myths and history of the early days of Middle Earth. There are some great stories in there, but they are told in a very remote way. It doesn’t deal with characters, but with figures. The wondrous and tragic events that take place over the course of this book can make for great reading, but the reader is kept so far removed from the action that it is hard to form any sort of attachment to these characters. It is just a series of small episodes that kind of form a history. I think a lot of the chappy nature that that creates has to do with The Silmarillion not being finished when JRR Tolkien died. His son and Guy Gavriel Kay did an admirable job of pulling the various versions of these stories he left into a coherent whole, but it still feels incomplete. It is unlike any other fantasy book I’ve read, and it works really well at times. How much the reader is invested in the setting of Middle Earth probably has a lot to do with how much they will enjoy this book. I can’t say that I actually enjoyed it all that much, but I am certainly glad to have read it.

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Curtsies and Conspiracies

Gail Garriger

I wasn’t overly impressed with the first book in this series. It wasn’t bad, but instead of making me want more it felt more like I didn’t get enough. That would have been a problem if I didn’t have another book to start on right after I finished the first one. Curtsies and Conspiracies isn’t really any better than Etiquette and Espionage, it is just more of it, which solves that books biggest problem.

It really builds off of the world that the first book only really began to set up. I know that these books are connected to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but the first book didn’t really help acclimate the reader to the world of this series. The second book only does about as much as the first on that front, but together it is enough to finally ground the reader. Sophriona remains an engaging protagonist. She is still exceptional, even among the students of this spy and assassin finishing school, but that strength is actually turned into a flaw for her. Her constantly putting her skills to use makes it harder for the others to trust her. She also has to learn to deal with the opposite sex and deal with the practical application of her skills. The supporting characters never really break out, but they are more fully fleshed this time.

For the most part the book does a great job of deftly mixing different genres, mixing adventure and comedy of manners-type stuff, but occasionally the humor is a little too cute for its own good. Giving character ridiculous names is only funny to a point, there has to be something else there. Mostly, though, it hits. Maybe it is just that I am not especially familiar with YA books, other than reading Harry Potter, but this book too feels like it is missing something. It just feels like something is missing.

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Waistcoats and Weaponry

Gail Garriger

I continued this one straight from the next, and its quality is largely the same as the previous two books. It has the same strengths and the same flaws. This time Sophriona and friends end up on a stolen train that is somehow causing all the mechanicals, somewhat robotic helpers that exists in this steampunk world, to malfunction. It really focuses in on the handful of characters that matter, Sophriona, Dimity, Sidheag, Mersey and Soap. Sophriona’s love triangle between her, Lord Mersey and Soap comes to a head and the three “intelligencer” students put their skills to good use in a mission of their own. It still feels like something is missing, with storylines being played up before disappearing completely, but those are mostly easy to ignore. I don’t know when the fourth (and final?) book of this series is coming, but I am now really looking forward to it. The more I read of Carriger, the more I wanted to read from her. These three books may not be perfect, but they are incredibly charming.

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Soulless

Gail Carriger

I picked up the fairly cheap collected edition of this whole series as soon as I finished Waistcoats and Weaponry. This is a more fleshed out take on the same thing as the finishing school series.

This is a fun combination of a steampunk adventure and romance. Though it deals with vampires, werewolves and mad scientists, a significant portion of the books is about the romance between the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, and the werewolf Duke Maccon. Alexia is a “preternatural,” a person whose apparent lack of a soul causes nearby supernaturals to lose their powers. That power lets her fight off the advances of a starving vampire at a ball and gets her involved in a mystery involving suddenly appearing vampires and a mysterious group of mad scientists. She also has to deal with her flighty mother and sisters half-sisters as well as dealing with some unexpected romantic interest.

Other than just being a more complex work than her Finishing School series, Soulless really shines on its supporting cast. The leads, Alexia and Conall, are both well drawn and interesting, but the other characters elevate this. Professor Lyall, the second in command of the werewolf pack, is an intriguing mix of contradictions, an educated monster and a small but powerful fighter. He interesting enough to lead a book himself. The same goes for the flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama, who is independent from the vampires trying to kill Alexia. Her family might be a little too flighty, but her friend Ivy is just about right. The eclectic cast of characters really helps the humor, which can still be too precious for its own good at times, actually be funny. Writing humor is a hard thing to do and Carriger does it better than most that I’ve encountered.

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Changeless

Gail Carriger

With this book, the pieces all fell into place as to why I felt like I was missing something at time with the Finishing School books. Most of those dropped plots and subplots are actually call backs to this series. Which makes reading the two of them together more fulfilling, but it makes that sequel series feel like it is missing something. But that was only a small problem with those books and have nothing really to do with this one.

This time Alexia is investigating what is causing supernaturals, like werewolves and vampires, to suddenly lose their powers and become completely human. Since she can do the same thing with just a touch, it is first assumed that she is somehow behind it. Soon, it appears it has something to do with a returning regiment of Scottish werewolves, who had recently been overseas and lost their pack alpha. Since that is the pack that Alexia’s husband left twenty years ago under mysterious circumstances, he heads to Scotland to help them find a new leader. Alexia’s investigation sends her the same direction. With new friends and continual attempts on her life, Alexia has a lot of problems to deal with in her first official assignment as part of Queen Victoria’s Shadow Council.

My only real problem with this book has to do with the ending. While I am sure it will be resolved going forward in the series, the events at the end of Changeless feel kind of manufactured to me. They just don’t feel true to the characters as they have been presented for these first two books. It is not an unreasonable complication, just one that doesn’t feel all that earned. It kind of soured my feelings on the whole book.

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A Regimental Murder

Ashley Gardner

I picked this up in a bundle with a couple of other books from this series about murder mysteries set in Victorian England. I really don’t have a lot to say about it. It isn’t a bad book, just one that didn’t really invite further thought. Captain Lacey, the former soldier turned investigator, sets out to help a woman whose husband apparently committed suicide but she believes was murdered after being forced to take the rap for some bad behavior during the war. So Lacey looks into the men who were truly responsible for that, while also forming a relationship with the widow. His investigation takes him to the hedonistic parties that those men throw, as well as forcing him to ally with his former mentor turned nemesis when more bodies start showing up. It is a reasonably entertaining mystery, but it didn’t do much to really excite me.

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The King of the Murgos

David Eddings

I’m not sure why I am reading these. I didn’t like the first book, Guardians of the West, and this one did nothing to improve my opinion of Eddings as a writer. There are two problems that derail The King of the Murgos and the series so far. The first is that, while this book does say Book 2 on the cover, it is actually something like book 7. The Mallorean, the series, is a sequel to the Belgariad, it is building off the foundations that first series built. That is all well and good, but Eddings does nothing to endear new readers to these returning characters. More than half the book is just characters reminiscing about the last time they did this exact same thing. It is a part of the series, that the two sides of this prophesy will keep fighting until someone finishes things right. However, that doesn’t change the fact that large portions of the book mean nothing to people who haven’t read the previous books. Did this book not purport itself to be the second book of a series that wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t pick up book six of a series and expect to follow everything perfectly, but if I read books one and two I should be able to figure things out.

The other is that it is just the most bog standard, dullest of quest fantasies. Without giving the reader reason to care about the characters, which King of the Murgos does not, it is just a group of characters doing things that are themselves not that interesting. They travel a not too exciting fantasy world and make broad judgements about the people they meet. Like the first book, I think it is trying to be funny with the byplay between characters, especially along gender lines, and with the supposedly racial traits of the countries they visit but it mostly ends up feeling like a bad sitcom. Polgara is bossy, Belgarath is messy, Durnik wants to sneak away from his wife and go fishing. It all comes together to form an unappealing fantasy mush.

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Towers of Midnight

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

See Here

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A Memory of Light

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Coming Soon