No slowing down for Dom, Brian and company in “Fast & Furious 6″

If Steve McQueen were alive today it would be interesting to hear what he thinks of the evolution of fast cars in movies. The chase scene on the streets of San Francisco in the classic McQueen-starrer “Bullitt” has been considered the breakthrough in auto stunt driving that has led to marvelously choreographed high-speed maneuvering displayed in so many movies now,  contributing to the success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise.

The adventures of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) began with “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001, a Southern California-based caper that pitted O’Connor as an undercover cop against Toretto, a street-wise guy with strong family ties but a little wide of the law. The series had humble beginnings with a fairly low budget of $38 million, while taking a chance on its stars. Diesel at the time had been seen in his first starring vehicle, portraying Riddick in “Pitch Black,” and Walker was known only for his role in “Varsity Blues.” But things clicked between these two and a money-maker was born.

Now, several movies later, Dom and Brian are family, with O’Connor in a relationship with Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and a child on the way. As “Fast Five” wound down, Dom and Brian and their group had taken down a kingpin in Brazil andstolen $100 million from him. However, they all are fugitives in the U.S., with dedicated-to-duty U.S. agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) promising to haul the gang in if they ever step foot on U.S. soil again. But in a brief teaser at the end of part five, Hobbs is told of a case of an international hijacking ring in which one of the members is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s presumed dead girlfriend.

So part six begins. When this hijacking group takes down a military convoy, Hobbs is back on the job. But even with all the resources of the U.S. government at hand, Hobbs concludes his best move is to recruit Dom and his group, plus he has the leverage of presenting to Dom the possibility of getting Letty back. After all, why would Dom, Brian, et al, want to get involved now that they are comfortably well off financially?

The script by Chris Morgan, who wrote the “Tokyo Drift” movie of this series, sets aside any dramatic tension — such as Mia, even with a baby boy in tow, willing to allow Brian to risk his life again, and Elena (Elsa Pataky), Dom’s current girlfriend, honorably ready to step aside should Letty and Dom reunite.

After all, we’re here to see Dom, Brian, Hobbs and the rest do death-defying things with speedy cars to vanquish another bad guy. Dom summons his team: Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludicris), and Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot).

They are going up against Shaw (Luke Evans), another cookie-cutter villain, molded by some government to be a killing machine but who has gone rogue, and surrounded by a mercenary payroll, has formed a formidable group capable of making any country’s security forces look like amateurs. Shaw and company are in pursuit of some software that can wreak havoc and would draw billions of dollars in open-market bids from some buyer intent on nasty government-crumbling tactics.

Morgan’s script allows for the usual humorous exchanges between Roman and Tej, a soft-spoken but tense macho-posturing confrontation between Dom and Shaw, and the volatile mix of Hobbs’ by-the-book procedures and efficient if sometimes sloppy operations of Dom’s group.

The action sequences are expertly handled by director Justin Lin, back for his fourth turn in the “F&F” series — lots of cars get crunched; there is also a tank and a cargo plane that need to be taken down. The face-to-face punch-and-kick battles are there also. Hobbs’ latest recruit is Riley (Gina Carano) and she has two violent encounters with Letty — it’s a great match-up between two actresses who have proven themselves as expert battlers in previous movies (Rodriguez in “Girlfight” in 2000 and Carano in “Haywire” in 2011). Place your bets.

The excitement factor in the final action sequences has been ratcheted up and one would think “”F&F” has played itself out. But nope. Even as Dom and company settle back down to some normalcy, the credits roll and here comes another teaser. A real hook, given the person who appears in this mini-preview as the next foe. “Fast & Furious” is not going away yet.

 

In ‘Aftershock,’ Mother Nature and human nature go bonkers

The underlying message of movies written and/or directed by Eli Roth seems to be this: Perhaps it is better just to stay home.

His “Cabin Fever” centered around biological and human-bred terror unleashed upon people seeking the quiet and beauty of the woods. The “Hostel” films displayed graphically the perils of traveling or studying abroad.

In “Aftershock,” which Roth co-wrote with director Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo, once again people in a foreign country face incredible terror, putting a damper on their good times.

“Aftershock,” in limited theatrical release but also available on pay-per-view, is based upon the magnitude-8.8 earthquake that shook Chile in February 2010 and its aftermath. The movie is a hybrid, recalling the disaster flicks of the 1970s, and mixing this with the horror of brutal human behavior.

Roth and Lopez also star in “Aftershock” as two of three men who hook up with three young women for a night of clubbing. Roth is Gringo, an American tourist, accompanied by Pollo (Lopez) and Ariel (Ariel Levy), who serve as sort of tour guides. Gringo, who is divorced, finds himself striking out all over the place in meeting women.

Still, the three men eventually get chummy with three young ladies — Irina (Natasha Yarovenko), a Russian model, Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), a wild partier, and Monica (Andrea Osvart), a Hungarian and overprotective half-sister of Kylie.

In a slow-moving first half of the movie, these six people make the rounds in Chile in a travelogue-character development segment. They head to Valparaiso on the coast, where tensions between Kylie and Monica explode inside an underground nightclub, but get interrupted by Mother Nature as the massive quake is unleashed. Amid the death and destruction the six people manage to escape the nightclub although one of them is partially dismembered.

But outside even more horrors await them. A siren screeches, warning of a possible tsunami, and as if that is not bad enough, there are aftershocks and very bad people going on rampages.

Roth and his collaborators based their script on true incidents during and after the quake, such as convicts from a prison escaping and roaming the streets looking for businesses to loot and  victims to rob or assault. Roth’s scripts do not hold back on showing the dark side of human nature. Many stories come out after disasters about incredible heroism and charity in the wake of disasters. Viewers will not find that kind of behavior in “Aftershock.”

Make no mistake: “Aftershock” is a horror movie and once the chaos ensues there is no letup on the nastiness. In fact, the movie originally was rated NC-17 but was toned down to achieve a hard R rating.

Product  news: “The Walking Dead” has branched out to an industry of its own with tie-in items. TWD-based board games Risk and Monopoly will be available in stores this spring. Also, McFarlane Toys, which issued individual Merle Dixon and Daryl Dixon action figures, plans on offering a “Dixon Brothers” two-pack featuring these two characters from “The Walking Dead.”

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Disney’s “The Sword and the Stone” will be released on Blu-Ray in a combo pack that also includes “Oliver and Company” and “Robin Hood.”

Don’t forget: Just in time for Halloween in October will the Screamfest Horror Film Festival, dates to be announced,  in Beverly Hills, www.screamfestla.com, and on Oct 3-6 will be Shriekfest in Los Angeles, www.shreikfest.com

In ‘No One Lives,’ the title almost tells it all

Most horror movies do not rely on subtlety in their titles, usually employing such descriptive monikers as “massacre,” “slaughter,” “terror” or “blood.” Director Ryuhei Kitamura’s latest film does not use any of those words, but the title is just as ominous: “No One Lives.”

The viewer, then, can assume that most of the cast members will not make it. The only mystery is who will be eliminated, in what order, and how.

The movie opens with a terrified young woman trying to flee something or someone in the woods but gets snared by a trap. She has the presence of mind to carve a message into a tree and it is revealed she is the daughter of a publishing company magnate and apparently has been kidnapped.

Based upon a debut script by David Cohen, “No One Lives,” then sets the tone initially as one of the staples of the horror genre — a young couple, burdened by emotional issues and facing an uncertain future, have to set all that aside upon becoming untangled with some nasty people who want to do them in.

In this case, there is Driver (Luke Evans, who will be featured in the upcoming “Fast & Furious 6″) and Betty (Laura Ramsey), on the road, pulling their worldly possessions in a trailer. Betty is not sure this move is the right thing to do. Driver is guardedly optimistic. Betty is quick to point out Driver’s quirks but seems paralyzed by her love for him.

Meanwhile, a gang of burglars are cleaning out a fancy house when the family that resides there arrives home unexpectedly.  Hoag (Lee Tergesen), the leader of the gang, figures he can talk his way of the predicament but Flynn (Derek Magyer), the typical loose cannon of the group, overreacts violently, spoiling the job and not endearing himself with his colleagues.

Predictably, the not-so-happy couple of Driver and Betty happen to stop in for dinner at a restaurant/bar just as the gang members pile in to drown their frustrations in some beers. The chafed Flynn confronts Driver and Betty in a tense scene that goes nowhere, but later, on the road, Flynn attacks the couple, assuming they are rich and this might produce a nice payoff of money and property.

At this point the movie veers off the trajectory of the nice-people-versus-bad-guys plot. An unexpected character shows up, Emma (Adelaide Clemens from “Silent Hill: Revelation” and currently on screen as Catherine in “The Great Gatsby”). Emma has some knowledge about Driver and Betty and tells Hoag and his group that they have made a fatal mistake messing with these two.

So, let the killing begin. The gore level is pretty low for this type of movie although there is one hideous death. Cohen’s script adds a few levels of character development and succeeds in raising ambivalence about Driver. As things progress, Emma passively stands aside with an “I told you so” attitude. She has her own motivations that go beyond basic survival.

“No One Lives” is another in a growing number of horror films that despite a fairly small budget ($2.9 million) nevertheless has good production values. Kitamura is a veteran of 18 movies, including “Versus,” which had its share of zombies.

Per usual, the acting is not as dramatic as it is physical, and the only character that goes beyond the cliche is that of Driver. The rest are pretty much standard for this type of film — fairly thin on development, with just enough to allow the viewers a smidgen of emotional investment in them as they face mortal peril.

 

Mingling with zombies and witches in Texas

Greeting David Naughton from “An American Werewolf in London.”

Suitable for under the Christmas tree? Zombie Barbies.

As people were arriving on Saturday, May 4, for Day Two of the Texas Frightmare Weekend at the Hyatt Regency at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, I stood in line waiting for entry into one of the convention halls and was thinking: Where are all the zombies?

Three weeks earlier, at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, just about every other being I encountered was of the walking dead community. In Dallas they were noticeably absent. But only for a while. Within a couple of hours there were plenty of them lurching around. Maybe they had gathered first for a pre-Frightmare breakfast (brains — scrambled, over-easy or poached). Or maybe there were some security holdups at the airport.

“The Walking Dead” was to be a big attraction at Texas Frightmare Weekend, with nine cast members slated to appear: Jon Bernthal (Shane), Theodus Crane (Big Tiny), Nick Gomez (Tomas), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Vincent M. Ward (Oscar), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Lew Temple (Axel). But by convention time, all but Bernthal, Crane, Gomez, Riggs and Ward had cancelled out, and Riggs would be there only on Saturday.

Still, the most high-profile of those who attended, Bernthal and Riggs, drew long lines of autograph seekers. The two cast members were kept a safe distance from each other, After all, Carl did kill Shane the second and final time, so there might be lingering tension between the two.

Frightmare had plenty of other attractions to keep the horror/sci-fi fans busy. Tom Skerritt (Dallas) and Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) were on hand to meet with fans of the now-classic “Alien” and later appeared for a panel to talk about the film.

Also, the main cast members from Rob Zombie’s recently released “The Lords of Salem” occupied a row of tables and later sat on a panel to discuss the latest Zombie film.

Danny Trejo, a longtime character actor who rocketed to stardom in “Machete,” had a long line of admirers and even convened an informal Q&A. Also making an appearance were Heather Langenkamp from “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Marilyn Burns from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Jeffrey Combs and Stuart Gordon, star and director, respectively, of “Re-Animator,” Denise Crosby from “Pet Sematary,” David Naughton from “An American Werewolf in London,” Steve Railsback from “Lifeforce” and so creepy as Charles Manson in “Helter Skelter,” Diane Franklin from “Amityville II: The Possession” and Zombie film regular Bill Moseley, who also has an impressive list of horror film appearances.

Also on hand were Nick Castle, Lou David, Sean Patrick Flanery, Clu Gulager, Dan Haggerty, James Hampton, Mariel Hemingway, Virginia Madsen, Tom Savini, Chris Sarandon and George “The Animal” Steele.

Vendors were numerous and anybody with a hankering for a T-shirt featuring “The Walking Dead” cast had many selections from which to choose. Horror-themed mouse pads were available, and if your playtime leans toward the macabre, there were zombie Barbies and zombie My Little Ponies offered. In search of an obscure horror movie you cannot find anywhere? Or an old issue of a horror or science-fiction magazine? Chances are you could find it at a vendor’s table.

A packed house crammed into the Enterprise auditorium to hear Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright recall their experiences with “Alien,” which Skerritt said at first was to be a low-budget horror film until Twentieth-Century Fox executives saw dailies presented by director Ridley Scott and poured more money into the film’s budget.

Cartwright still marvels at the intricacies of the sets of the interior of the doomed space ship Nostromo and shudders at the memory of her death scene. Even though she knew the alien was just an actor in a costume, she still felt chills as it approached her for the kill. She admitted she had to do little acting to appear frightened in that scene.

Skerritt in jest dismissed the film as just scenes of a person wanting to rescue a cat, Jones, the pet aboard the ship. Cartwright added that the cat portraying Jones had an attitude because even though it looked like the then-famous Morris the cat, was lacking that kitty celebrity’s stature.

Skerritt expressed annoyance at all the commentary back when the film was released in 1979, as it was seen as a groundbreaking movie in which a woman, Ripley — played by Sigourney Weaver — plays a strong, self-reliant character who ends up prevailing over the alien while all the others are victims. Skerritt said all the analyses were overblown. Either you liked the movie or you didn’t, he said. Just leave it at that.

James Wallace, the moderator, pulled a fast one on the audience, saying that another special guest was joining the panel. He then produced  face-hugger, a replica of the nasty organism that attached itself to the face of Cain (John Hurt) for breeding purposes. The face-hugger elected to sit quietly and allow Skerritt and Cartwright to do all the talking.

Following the “Alien” panel was a presentation on “The Lords of Salem,” featuring the main cast members except for Sheri Moon Zombie: Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Bruce Davison and Patricia Quinn.

Zombie’s films are known for their explicit violence, and moderator Kristy Jett from HorrorHound Magazine asked the stars if they had reservations about being in the movie. Wallace admitted that she hesitated. She had worked with Zombie before in his remake of “Halloween,” dying horribly in that movie. While she enjoys working with him, her role as Sonny in “Lords,” in which she brutally beats a man to death with a frying pan, had her concerned. After all, she’s likely most known for her role as Elliott’s mother in “E.T.” Also, as an internationally known healer, she worried about how this would affect her reputation in that field. Despite this, once she was into the filming, she said she urged Zombie to let her cut loose with some vile dialog.

Judy Geeson had the audience chuckling when she said she didn’t even know who Rob Zombie was. Geeson, whose career dates back to 1962 and has had experience in the horror genre (“It Happened at Nightmare Inn” in 1973 among others), said she did not hesitate to take on the role of Lacy Doyle, the seemingly sweet landlord in the apartment house where Sheri Moon Zombie’s character Heidi Hawthorne resides, but who has sinister motivations.

All of the cast members had praise and respect for Zombie and acknowledged that Rob and Sheri are a solid couple.

“You can tell how much they love and respect each other,” Wallace said.

“They are steadfast, loyal and sweet,” said Patricia Quinn, who plays Megan, another woman with evil plans, and is universally known as Magenta in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” She added that the set had an atmosphere, despite the horrifying subject — a modern coven of witches in Salem set to extract revenge on the ancestors of those who executed witches centuries earlier — that was “bright and humorous, and lots of tea.”

“It’s a comfort to work with a husband and wife team that is so solid,” said Meg Foster, probably the scariest of the characters in the movie, the risen-from-the-dead lead witch Margaret Morgan. “Rob holds so much space,” she said. “He touches and tweaks.”

Moderator Jett asked Foster how she felt about the scene in which during a ritual spits on a newborn baby. “I didn’t know that’s what I was doing,” she said. Foster also spoke in the low, growling voice she employed in the movie.

Before the panel convened, I had a chance to chat with Meg Foster. In “The Lords of Salem” (spoiler alert), the fate of Heidi is never revealed. So I asked Foster, “What did you do with Heidi?” She smiled and said, “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?” Foster called the movie a “labyrinth” and said when she saw the final cut, “I stopped breathing.”

“I need to see it again,” she admitted.

Texas Frightmare Weekend also allowed me to indulge in being a fan. I appreciated the graciousness of David Naughton — I told him I had sat in on the “American Werewolf in London” panel at Monsterpalooza in April 2012 — and Diane Franklin as they signed autographs and posed with me.

Another weakness drew me in. Representatives from Vintage Stock had bins of used DVDs of horror movies dating back decades and were on sale for $3.99 each with a buy-two-get-a-third-one-free special. That I could not resist.