Vin Diesel

Universal

It’s been years since I read the Bible, but if I recall correctly one of the plagues that Charlton Heston sent down on the Romans involved souped-up muscle cars raining from the sky. That image so indelibly burned into my impressionable young mind has now been brought to life by director James Wan in the first trailer for the seventh installment in the world’s most improbable blockbuster franchise, Furious 7. The entire gang is back again — Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky… hell, they even brought back Lucas Black. They’re joined (or opposed) this time by the likes of Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou and Kurt Russell. Kurt Russell I said. The plot appears to pick up after Furious 6‘s stinger ending that saw Jason Statham offing a member of the family in explosive fashion. His personal vendetta continues and the gang is forced to join the FBI and fight back or something. I don’t know. Does it matter? It looks like another ridiculously-fun offense to physics, and I’m already looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. Check out the first trailer below.

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Fast Six

By this time next year, our world will be home to seven Fast and Furious films. This is truly the golden age of franchise cinema, and bless the broken road the allowed a seemingly throwaway feature about muscle cars and macho dudes to spawn one of the world’s most beloved and ballsy film franchises. But although the Fast franchise has managed to easily pivot from chronicling car racing and backyard barbecues into a full throttle heist series, there’s one alteration they’ve never been able to nail: those titles. The franchise’s titling has never been uniform — like, at all — but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the world’s highest grossing series. What’s in a name? When it comes to Fast and Furious, well, not much.

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Spaceballs Barf and Lone Star

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie where we could go on and on with relevant recommended titles. Its main hero, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is a guy who spent his first 10 years on Earth enjoying a lot of movies and music. He’s a good representation of many people his age who are still Earthbound, because he’s focally nostalgic for ’80s pop culture and is always ready to make a reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or some other property that existed prior to his abduction in 1988 by the space pirates known as the Ravages. In addition to the direct allusions spoken or spotted on screen (it’s cool that Star-Lord is familiar with a classic like The Maltese Falcon and apparently had an ALF sticker in his backpack when taken), the movie is highly influenced by past movies, with some big antecedents such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark being too popular to bother including. And of course Guardians of the Galaxy is also reminiscent of the many followers of those two George Lucas productions. As John Gholson notes in his spot-on comic-strip review, the new Marvel movie “has more in common with Star Wars wannabes,” as he features posters for four examples: Ice Pirates, Battle Beyond the Stars, Serenity and The Last Starfighter. On top of all the movies we could urge the fans go back and watch, this release had me wanting to also do a whole list of TV series to watch after you’ve seen it. […]

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Guardians of the Galaxy Obscene Gesture

At the start of Guardians of the Galaxy, “A Film By James Gunn” flashes on the screen, and that’s exactly what we get. For a big Marvel movie under the Disney banner, this isn’t the kind of story we expect to see from them, so when the end credits roll, Gunn’s name seems to shine brighter than the audience-magnet brand and the internationally beloved corporate entity above them both. His style survived the blockbuster process. Of course, once you know the director behind Super and Slither made Marvel’s latest, it’s not much of a surprise. The drama is unexpectedly sincere, while the jokes are wonderfully dirty — a tonal blend he can’t get enough of — while staying strangely innocent in the face of serving a story about lovable misfits finding a higher purpose. There’s no mean-spirited marrow in the movie’s funny bone. Gunn has managed to top the comedy done by the likes of Joss Whedon, Shane Black and Jon Favreau in past Marvel movies, so when we spoke with him recently, we asked him how he’d pulled it off.

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Walt Disney Studios

Earth, 1988, and a young boy named Peter is watching his mother die. As her final breath passes her lips he runs out of the hospital and collapses on the fog-shrouded lawn… at which point a spaceship appears, sucks him in and streaks off to who knows where. 26 years later we’re introduced to the now adult Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who prefers people call him by his much cooler moniker — Star Lord. Quill is a roguish adventurer — think a half-assed Indiana Jones or an insecure Han Solo — who makes a living acquiring things for people willing to pay for said things, but his latest attempted theft lands him in prison alongside a quartet of equally morally-suspect individuals including a fierce female warrior, an even fiercer male warrior, a verbally-challenged tree and a genetically-modified raccoon. The group soon realizes that the item holds a highly destructive power and that they may be the only ones capable of stopping it from falling into the hands of an intergalactic madman bent on doing the kinds of crazy shit madmen typically do. If Serenity and Ice Pirates spent a drunken night of debauchery together without using protection, the result would be something like Marvel’s latest (and least Marvel-like) feature, Guardians of the Galaxy. To be clear, that’s a good thing. Hell, that’s a great thing as the resulting film is a vibrantly exciting, immensely entertaining and frequently hilarious sci-fi adventure.

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On some days, social media provides a terrific set of tools for our modern world. And on other days, social media provides us with six minutes of Vin Diesel awkwardly shuffle-dancing around his living room to a series of pop songs.  Today, of course, brings the latter. The video (posted to the actor’s Facebook page), begins without warning or explanation. Diesel simply starts up Katy Perry‘s “Dark Horse” and begins to gyrate around, seemingly unburdened by rhythm, stopping only to thrust his face uncomfortably close to his webcam and mouth the lyrics. What could possibly inspire such a fervent display of dance-thusiasm? Had Mr. Diesel accidentally come into contact with the hallucinogenic Colorado River Toad immediately beforehand? Once “Dark Horse” dies down, the answer becomes clear: the cause for celebration is Diesel’s 2013 release, Riddick, which had just been crowned number one on the DVD sales charts. This rousing success prompted a call from Universal, who shared not only the good news, but also pledged their support for a fourth Riddick film: “They want to develop the next one,” says Diesel. From here, the actor discusses the Grammys before clicking over to Beyonce‘s “Drunk in Love” and releasing his inner dance demons once more.

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Fast And Furious 6

According to Vin Diesel, Fast and Furious 7 will see theaters in April 2015. It was planned for July 2014 until Paul Walker’s death put the project on hiatus. From his Facebook page, Diesel shared a picture that including this message: “The last scene we filmed together… There was a unique sense of completion, of pride we shared… in the film we were now completing… the magic captured… and, in just how far we’ve come…”

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furious6-commentary1

After fourteen years, the Fast & Furious franchise has gone through quite a few changes. The first three films struggled with changing casts and somewhat unconnected storylines. However, after Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, director Justin Lin took the series in a very different direction. He brought back the original cast, then morphed the series from some street racing flicks to a bona fide action franchise complete with international villains and bigger-than-life action sequences. This second trilogy (!) in the series culminates with Fast & Furious 6, which was one of the highest grossing movies of 2013. Lin lends his voice to the commentary track on the film, which was recorded before the tragic death of Paul Walker. Similarly, the DVD and Blu-ray of the film were produced before this event, making a lot of the matter-of-fact comments in the film, the bonus features and the commentary naturally bittersweet. Still, there’s a lot to be learned from Lin’s commentary, which serves as a look back not only at the film, but the franchise as a whole with a great emphasis on the dynamic of those involved behind the scenes.

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ff6truth_5

Whether you get into the Fast & Furious franchise or not, there is no denying its massive popularity and ability to rule at the box office. A lot of the success of the franchise has come from the fact that in the past three movies, it has moved from a street racing series to basically a mix of muscle-car James Bond with the Oceans Eleven films hopped up on NoS. This past summer, Fast & Furious 6 went head-to-head in the summer box office with some of the biggest names in blockbusters, including Iron Man, Superman, and Gru’s Minions. While there’s no comparing the characters in Fast & Furious 6 with the Minions (although Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson try their hardest to be that charming), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) gave Superman a run for his money. Not only did Fast & Furious 6 best Man of Steel’s international box office, Dom performed his own Superman-like stunt to save his amnesiac lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) from certain death. This got me thinking: Is Dominic Toretto actually Superman?

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russell

Fans of the rapidly expanding Fast & Furious franchise were initially elated to learn that action movie legend and all around awesome guy Kurt Russell was going to be the latest name to join the series’ ensemble come Fast & Furious 7. But somewhere around the time when Djimon Hounsou also got cast in the movie, conflicting reports started to float around as to whether or not he was actually going to be able to appear. Some thought he would just have a small cameo in 7, some thought he wouldn’t show up until 8, and there was even a fear he wouldn’t end up being involved in the franchise at all. As you can see from the picture above though—which Vin Diesel posted on his Facebook page along with the caption, “Kurt Russell, such an honor to work with… P.s. One from set…”—Kurt Russell is indeed on the set of director James Wan’s Fast & Furious 7, and he will indeed be sharing scenes with franchise stars Diesel and Paul Walker. So it’s not likely anyone is going to stop gushing about these movies anytime soon.

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lucasblack

If we can all agree that “jumping the shark” has undeniably become an actual term that really exists for describing the point where an entertainment property strays too far from its initial concept and loses its relevance, then it seems reasonable we would also have to agree that the Fast & Furious franchise seems to be the one property out there that looks to be completely immune from experiencing the phenomenon, no matter how many giant sharks it jumps its souped-up muscle cars over. Most successful movie franchises can spit out three, maybe four films before they start to feel completely tired, but here we are in the pre-production phase of Fast & Furious 7, and the series seems to still be picking up steam. Already we’ve heard about plans they have for a Fast & Furious 8, after all. If there was any period where it looked like the Fast & Furious franchise was actually going to fly off the rails and lose its profitability, it was with the third film in the series, Tokyo Drift though. That’s the film that failed to sign up franchise stalwarts Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for featured roles, and had to instead rely on telling its story through the eyes of a new protagonist played by Lucas Black. This didn’t work out so well because Black was terrible in the movie, everyone missed Diesel, and Tokyo Drift ended up making less than half of what the next-least profitable film in the series […]

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djimon

As if the next installment in the rapidly expanding and increasingly ridiculous Fast & Furious franchise, Fast & Furious 7, didn’t already bring enough star power to the table with returning favorites like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Tyrese Gibson (and likely Dwayne Johnson, though his role looks to be be relegated to a cameo) and newcomers to the fold like Jason Statham and Ronda Rousey (and maybe Kurt Russell, though there are disputing reports as to whether his part had to be cut), first-time Fast director James Wan has just expanded the cast to also include a man who’s not only an Oscar nominated actor, but also a chiseled stud that made a lot of people blush when he posed in his underwear for Calvin Klein. According to a report from Variety, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, In America) is the latest actor who will go from being a mere mortal to becoming a fast-driving, explosion-surviving, over the top superhero in the Fast & Furious universe.

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riddick 4

Initially I set out to compile a list of specific movies to watch after you’ve seen Riddick, in the same fashion as I’ve done for other new releases. But in an attempt to pick out titles worth recommending, I couldn’t choose. The thing about Riddick is that it’s not too directly derivative of any individual precursors. While the original movie in the franchise, Pitch Black, could mostly be traced back to 3:10 to Yuma given its central setup involving a prisoner transport plot, Riddick is more of a typical Western with tropes found in too many examples to mention. Part of the problem might be that it’s kind of all over the place. In the first act we follow Riddick (Vin Diesel) through a solo outing on a desolate planet. He faces trials of survival against monsters, making the early section more like a Harryhausen movie than a cowboy flick, though I guess that means a nod to Jim O’Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is in order, and going back further The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which features effects by Harryhausen mentor Willis O’Brien. Both of these deal with dinosaurs in the Old West. There’s also Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which is a prequel revealing how the subterranean Graboids (or “dirt dragons”) were around as far back as 1889.

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diesel_1_of_2

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Many know the origin story of Vin Diesel, how he broke into Hollywood by not only showing true acting talent but also writing and directing his way onto the scene with both a short film and a feature. How the former went to Cannes and (eventually) was seen by none other than Steven Spielberg, who cast the struggling 30-year-old, who was getting by working as a bouncer, for a breakthrough ensemble role in Saving Private Ryan. And how he’s been mostly racing cars and fighting alien creatures on the big screen ever since. But the Riddick star was around for a while before his short start, which is titled Multi-Facial. And not just as an extra in the 1990 Best Picture nominee Awakenings (see those three seconds of fame here). He’d been acting on the stage since a kid and in his teens had begun rapping and breakdancing. His rhyming skills can be heard and seen in two separate songs in Multi-Facial, one on the soundtrack titled “Middleman” and another on screen performance during an audition scene. As for his moves, they were thankfully recorded seemingly only for future embarrassment purposes in 1984. Still going by his given name of Mark Vincent at the time, the 17-year-old appeared in the Sony VHS release Breakin’ in the USA: Break Dancing and Electric Boogie Taught by the Pros. The […]

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Vin Diesel Sub-Mariner

Just when we thought the dream casting stage was over, Vin Diesel‘s true Marvel Studios role is back up in the air. Yes, the Riddick star is set to voice Groot in next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but according to his statements in an interview with Extra host Maria Menounos this week, Diesel is also still on board for an actual physical part in the Avengers franchise universe. Specifically, he reiterates that his initial meeting with Marvel was for a Phase Three character that will debut in 2016. We’d heard that clarification previously but it was thought the Groot voice casting had replaced that other gig. Instead it seems Groot was just to appease Diesel’s fanbase while Marvel continues to work with the actor on the other 2016 thing. So, let the speculation ensue once again. What Marvel Studios Universe character could, should, would, will Diesel portray? The names on the table before are back on the table now, with good guy Vision and bad guy Thanos topping the predictions. Diesel hints that the role would involve a “merging of brands,” but that could be interpreted a number of different ways. He could be starring in a reboot of Blade for all that means, so long as they bring the vampire hunter into the Avengers world. He could be Namor, which would be another fine jab at DC’s weakness in getting their big properties onto the big screen (because Namor is Marvel’s Aquaman). Rights to a Namor film are […]

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review riddick

Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) awakens on a dusty and deserted planet and immediately starts yammering on about how down on his luck he is, how nobody likes him, and how he may as well just die. But if there’s one consistent thing about Riddick (there are actually nothing but consistent things about Riddick) it’s that he is one difficult bastard to kill. Seems like just yesterday he was pouting on his throne as leader of the Necromongers, but after refusing to partake in a fivesome, he’s shipped off ostensibly to search for his home planet of Furya. Joke’s on him, though, as the bullies actually abandon him on the otherwise empty planet of Not Furya where he’s forced to avoid becoming dinner for creatures from land, sea, and air. He soon grows tired of performing his one-man show, a mash-up of The Lion King and The Naked Prey, for an ungrateful non-humanoid audience and triggers a beacon to lure in nearby mercenary ships for a lift. Two squads of competing mercs arrive, both intent on hunting him down (and at least one pretty dead-set on putting Dick B. Riddick’s head in a box), but soon members of a third party rear their ugly heads and the concept of sides goes right out the window. If you like your sci-fi/action movies filled with interesting characters, intriguing plot points, and exciting action sequences then stop reading and go re-watch Aliens. If however you prefer they feature plenty of laughs, cost-conscious visual effects, […]

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twohy

Riddick is clearly a passion project for writer/director David Twohy. The third entry in the series took its sweet time arriving to theaters, following 2004’s underwhelming The Chronicles of Riddick, but while that sequel has its fan, it didn’t stay in touch with what arguably made the first movie (Pitch Black) so appealing. Riddick isn’t a blockbuster character but an antihero monster slayer. We see the character return to those simple animalistic traits in the new film where he faces off against a batch of mercenaries and monsters on an unknown planet. But it wasn’t easy getting there. Twohy more than likely could have made a bigger sequel with a PG-13 slapped on, but he set his sights on a dirty R-rated Riddick film. And we’re all the better for it. Here’s our chat with Riddick director David Twohy:

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Riddick 2013

In the 90s, Vin Diesel pulled himself up from bootstraps in order to finance bootstraps to pull himself up from. First it was his short film Multi-Facial, and then it was Strays, the hard knock movie that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. It was a potent move that got the attention of Steven Spielberg who cast the young actor in Saving Private Ryan. That’s where the story starts. Obviously Diesel is no stranger to GSD (Getting Shit Done), so it’s not totally surprising that he risked his own wealth to make sure Riddick happened, and to make sure that it was rated R (as the character deserves). “I had to leverage my house. If we didn’t finish the film, I would be homeless.” Getting a reverse mortgage or a home-equity line of credit is another bold where-your-mouth-is tactic that brings the self-financing full circle. It’s commendable. No doubt. Especially since the character and series is clearly a passion project for the actor and for writer/director David Twohy.

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Kurt Russel

Might Fast & Furious 7 be taking a page out of the Expendables playbook? The upcoming sequel in the CGI-cars-driving-really-really-fast franchise has already cast Jason Statham, Tony Jaa and UFC fighter Ronda Rousey; now Kurt Russell may be the newest addition. Variety is reporting that Russell is in talks for a role that, while unnamed, is the same role the franchise previously offered to Denzel Washington. So it’s probably a pretty big part. And like The Expendables movies, all these newcomers are either actions stars, former action stars, or professional fighters. Perhaps they’ll band together to form their villainous celebrity crew that will rival the one led by Vin Diesel? The smart money would be on Russell as some kind of murderous driver a la Death Proof, but whoever he is, we know he won’t be the main villain. That slot’s already taken by Statham, who’ll be playing Ian Shaw, the older brother of Fast & Furious 6 villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Or maybe Russell, Jaa and Rousey are the start of some brand new racing crew that’s being primed to take over when the regular Fast & Furious cast finally keels over from old age, or spin off into a sister series so Universal can churn these things out at double the pace. Considering that Fast & Furious 6 made more than $750M, I wouldn’t put it past them.

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Rocket Raccoon

We reported last week that Bradley Cooper had entered into negotiations for the part of Rocket Raccoon in James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy. But for anyone waiting on the results with baited breath, hoping and praying that Cooper would sign on for the part, here’s some good news (or, if you’re not a Cooper fan, horrific news)- Marvel has just offered official confirmation that Cooper will be playing the walking, talking rodent in next summer’s superheroes-in-space epic. Count me among the cautiously optimistic. Before Silver Linings Playbook, I’d be among those clamoring for a quick recast, arguing that the only thing worse than Cooper as Rocket would be having the guy from Phantoms play Batman (and we all know that’ll never happen in a million years). But then Silver Linings happened, and Cooper knocked it out of the park as a man struggling with mental illness. Kevin Feige has described Rocket as a “genetically and mechanically altered… experiment,” while Gunn called him “the heart of the movie.” If Cooper can pull off something even remotely close to what he did with Silver Linings, then Guardians might be something truly special. Although it’s also got Vin Diesel as a walking, talking tree. So I guess it was already special. Guardians of the Galaxy will be in theaters August 1, 2014.

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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