A viewing order For The Fast and the Furious franchise.

Film Having very much enjoyed Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, not to mention his subsequent Fast & Furious films, I have considered a rewatch of the whole series, except as fans know, and there are a couple, the whole timeline is messed up because of Han's fate in Tokyo Drift, which has been somewhat explained in Fast & Furious 6. Nevertheless, here's a short viewing order for the Fast & Furious films and their various spin-offs.

The Fast and the Furious

{Better Luck Tomorrow}

[Turbo-Charged Prelude]

2 Fast 2 Furious

[Los Bandoleros]

Fast & Furious

Fast Five

Fast & Furious 6

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Of course watching them in this order for the first time creates a massive plot spoiler for Tokyo Drift in much the same way as The Empire Strikes Back is presumably a bit underwhelming if you've had to sit through the prequels for the first time. There are people who've done this. I've seen the online complaints.

Plus for this to work, you have to assume that all of the films between Better Luck Tomorrow and Tokyo Drift either happen within about four years or that Tokyo Drift was set in the future when it was made. Considering its locale that's not too much of a stretch.

Perhaps if I do rewatch this lot, I will look out for dates and see if the continuity people have been paying attention.

Beyond that, you do have to at least admire that Lin's determination to keep the Han character within the films led to its biggest biox office successes actually being midquels to a franchise outlier with about as much to do with the other films as Season of the Witch does to the other Halloweens. Or judging, by F&F6, at least it did ...

The Films I've Watched This Year #9

Film Surprise. Since this weekend I've decided to binge on Orange is the New Black and some ballet in the evenings, here we are on Friday instead. As you can see it was a bit of an updown week with about a fifty percent success rate, though you could argue that statistic is thrown off slightly by the presence of two best picture nominations at the Oscars and a documentary which has won every award available.  Apart from that one.

Summer in February
Captain Phillips
Stories We Tell
The Woman In Black
Kick Ass 2
Pain & Gain

What this selection does prove is that in the best films, the very best films, the filmmakers and that can stretch from writer through director to executive producer to studio are aware not just of the kind of story they want to tell but the best way to focus that story. But on a couple of occasions this week it became obvious that what could and should have been the focus of the story simply wasn't, that the people in that chain hadn't realised what they'd had. That was particularly noticeable in both Kick-Ass 2 and Pain & Gain.

In the case of Kick-Ass 2, we witness a writer-director, Jess Wadlow, who's seen the first film, read the comic books and then fundamentally misunderstood the source material. The first film worked because it purposefully fought against the comic book film cliches whilst simultaneously utilising them as a touchstone and offered in Kick-Ass, a loveable lead character. This sequel, which also suffers from "too late" syndrome (four years in this case), dumps all of that and simply ends up being a cliched comic book film.

As is so often the case when creating sequels to surprise successes, everyone got cold feet. So rather than continuing with the same ballsy attitude, Kick-Ass 2 plays it safe in an attempt to keep the larger, more homogeneous audience who turned up anyway last time, not least in such things as the blanding out of comic book references to only include characters who've appeared in recent film adaptations and choosing a plot rather than character based approach.

But the main problem is the lack of focus. Rather than closely adapting the comic as the first film did and which would have foregrounded Hit Girl, Wadlow is all over the place, keeping Kick-Ass as the narrator when Hit Girl would have been the more natural fit and as I suggested, adding a massive fight scene at the end when the film calls for a much more downbeat ending just as the comic has.

You can see how this might happen. The studio and Aaron Taylor-Johnson presumably couldn't see how a film called Kick-Ass 2 would have him as a supporting character, plus having hired Jim Carrey as the head of Justice Forever, there's the presumed need to give him enough material to justify his salary. So what could and should have been a coming of age story about a teenage girl who just happens to be slightly psychotic and well, kick-ass, it all become a bit of mess with loads of disconnected scenes and cutting back and forth between weaker storylines.  Sigh.

With Pain & Gain, it's possible to blame the whole thing on Michael Bay, the man who destroyed the Transformers franchise, so I will. Here the problem's an even more fundamental misappropriation of a great story, turning what might have been an excellent neo-noir about a retired PI investigating an increasingly ludicrous and unbelievable crime which has been ignored by a disbelieving local police department, the stuff of Robert Towne or David Mamet, into a leery sub-Soderbergh mess.

The tragedy about that is Ed Harris's performance, which has, despite Bay's best efforts, it's usual integrity and whenever he appears you simply wish that the whole film was about him, perhaps with the messy details of the crimes presented in testimonial flashbacks from the key witnesses.  That certainly would have been a more sympathetic approach to the victims in this true story, whose deaths are mainly treated as a joke.

Compare those with Gravity and Captain Phillips, both of which are made by filmmakers which also have, yes, integrity, know exactly what their films are about, focus on a single character, structure the story around them and provide the audience with an tense but thematically resonant entertainments (if that's the right word).  True it's unfair to compare what amount to films for teenagers with films for adults, but why shouldn't the former aspire to greatness?

I've probably said quite enough about Gravity already, but I will quickly recommend the blu-ray release which has a pleasingly nerdy set of documentaries attached which focus on the screenwriting and technical achievement of the thing, only stopping short at naming the brands of camera and software.  Luckily that's here in a thorough interview on the ASC website.

It's also a testament to Sandra Bullock, who having become one of the most famous actresses on the planet, still agreed to spend three months in a light box and on wires, with mostly just her face visible in shot, and totally alone for most of the shoot taking direction via earwigs.  Admittedly she's done well for herself from it (or "the causes that need it"), but it was still a major commitment for someone who could have continued to coast in rom-coms.

If I have to mention something new, it's that I don't think Gravity would have worked as well with Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr.  Although both are capable of playing against type, in tiny narrative and characterisation crawl space the Cuarons had, Bullock has the instant element of vulnerability and Clooney the warmth neither or which quite fit Jolie or Downey Jr, who tend to work more as "character stars", in quite the same way.

It's odd to think of Captain Phillips being made by Ron Howard.  The concept, to present a hijacking from the point of view of the ship's captain as a drama-documentary which investigates exactly why Somali pirates exist is very Paul Greengrass, certainly more than Rush which was the production that he and Howard essentially swapped with each other.  Would Howard have included the initial scenes about the hiring under threat of the lead pirate played by Barkhad Abdi?

What Greengrass's film demonstrates is that it's possible for such a film offer that kind of backstory for other characters without losing focus on who the protagonist is.  In nearly every scene, Phillips has narrative agency, with Greengrass cutting back to Tom Hanks as our viewpoint character and his reaction.  Despite the subtitles, it's always clear that Philips is studying and following his captor's body language, and  Abdi's fisherman's inner conflict.

All of which discussion about telling stories is a reflection of my favourite new film of the week, Sarah Polley's brilliant, brilliant Stories We Tell.  A documentary meditation on how real life becomes a story through the viewpoints and opinions and memories of the people involved, it's a brave, exciting, involving and raw piece of filmmaking that's leaps and bounds ahead of her fictional work, though you suspect that it's also the kind of piece which can only be done once.

It's also something which should be seen without much prior knowledge (if possible), because like one of the best stories from This American Life, for example, the twists and turns are just as important as the fundamentals of what occurred, how information is revealed to the audience and the flipping of our expectations.  Like Gravity, there are moments of pure visual and aural poetry which demonstrate just what films and their creators can be capable of.

Shakespeare at the BBC: More of The Hollow Crown?

At Illuminations, sorry @illuminations, noticed a good case of burying the headline in a Michael Billington column about BBC radio's adaptation of O What A Lovely War. Towards the end he addresses some of my usual complaints about the lack of theatre on television before smuggling what feels like a pretty impressive leak:
"TV, on the other hand, does little to acknowledge the existence of theatre. You might get the occasional news report if there is a startling controversy or the opening of a big musical. The Review Show has been shunted on to a little-seen monthly Sunday-evening slot on BBC4. But, although I'm told there is a second season of Shakespeare history plays being planned for BBC2, it is rare to find a play from the theatrical canon being televised. And none of the big companies, such as the National or the RSC, has established the kind of link with television that they have with cinemas that allows their work to be seen not just around the UK but across the world."
As @illuminations says:

Let's hope so. The first series did well in international sales, especially in the US where it got huge press, certainly more than it received here. As with the other pieces, it has the perfect shape for a series of films, brilliant parts not least John of Arc and ends with Richard III as the finale. The Jane Howell version for the BBC Shakespeare filmed against a venture playground backdrop with hobby horses with Brenda Blethyn as Joan and Ron Cook as Richard is still a high televisual watermark for this material (and only appearance I think for Henry VI), but it is a very stylised piece and it'd be interesting to finally see it with massive casts and no double (even though as the recent Globe productions and the Howell version have shown that can create interesting thematic resonances).

Perhaps my old plan to do the whole of Shakespeare in this format doesn't look so silly after all. Um.

Updated  25/03/2013  The Hollow Crown Season Two commissioned.

"Sarah Polley, She Likes To Tell Stories..."

Film One of the hidden gems amongst the morass of God and food channels clogging up Roku and other streaming boxes is the one marked with the odd logo ONF/NFB (you tell that it's under subscribed to because it hasn't floated to the top of availability lists which are sorted by the number of subscribers).

You should subscribe right now.  It's the streaming service for the National Film Board of Canada, their equivalent of the BFI, but unlike BFI Player it's completely free and seems to contain all of their films.  The IMDb has a pretty decent list of the productions they've been involved in and a random check suggests most of it is on there.

It's here for example that last night I watched Sarah Polley's instant classic documentary Stories We Tell, which I'll talk some more about at the weekend when I've let it marinade my braincells, though since I don't throw the words "instant classic" around lightly, I think you can see how much I enjoyed it.

Searching to see if the NFBofC has anything else by Polley, I found this really beautiful short film, Stories Sarah Tells, created by Anne Marie Fleming on the occasions of Sarah receiving National Arts Centre Award from Canada's Governor General. You watch her received the award here and her ensuing speech (click "watch speech").

With apologies for posting.  It's a bit of an earwig.  I've just spent the past twelve hours singing the chorus.  "Sarah Polley, She Likes To Tell Stories... faa dee daa dee daa dee daa... "

Suffragette crewed.

Film The IMDb page for Suffragette has now been fully uploaded (assuming it's accurate). Really, really excellent crew. Here are a couple of highlights.

The cinematographer is Eduard Grau, whose work includes the still awaiting release here Arthur Newman starring Emily Blunt, The Awakening and A Single Man.

Barney Piling previously edited Carey Mulligan in An Education and Never Let Me Go. Also The Grand Budapest Hotel, Quartet, One Day and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as well as loads of work with Kudos on television including episodes of Spooks, Hustle, Life on Mars and the first two episodes of Outcasts and back in the day As, If on E4.

The Art Director is Jonathan Houlding who was a draughtsman on Love Actually, but I won't hold that against him.

The IMDb is worth glancing through in general because you can see how a crew is knitted together with the same films keep coming up in the various departments and many of the same names on the various shoots, presumably because producers are aware of their skill and are keen to bring them on to the next project.

Piling is arguably the most interesting hire; he's not worked with any of the producers or the director before but crewed on what are arguably Mulligan's previous two key British works.

Seinfeld Without Seinfeld.

Nothing from LJ Frezza on Vimeo.

TV "Scenes from "Seinfeld" (1989-1998) where nothing happens. A supercut of empty shots. A New York without people." Keep watching, keep watching.

How to also abandon books.

Books Last week, which is about as exact as time frame as I'm able to give you since, as is so often the case when you take major life decisions and they don't often happen just like that, like the films, I realised I wasn't going to read everything, or watch everything or listen to everything and that this was in fact ok. Ever since secondary school I've had a deep seated anxiety about this which has only grown since the invention of the internet which has meant that not only is there an infinite amount of interesting stuff to read/watch/listen to, that most of it is available, right now.

But my psyche has also been polluted by a general, genuine inferiority complex because, and this also began in the secondary school but only really began to flourish in the late nineties, everyone else seemed to have read everything, watched everything and heard everything even though their lives were only as long as mine, or even shorter.  Which put me in the position of wondering what went wrong, or at the very least deciding what I got wrong and dedicating myself to spend the rest of my life catching up.

Which led to a lot of doing one thing when I'd much rather be doing something else.  Last week I came to the conclusion, finally, that it's ok to be doing the something else.  If I'm interested in film, early modern drama and Doctor Who, it's ok if I've never read The Mysteries of Udolpho and that it's ok to spend the next week or so reading David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson's Film Art cover to cover rather than the next three months trying to crack The Barchester Chronicles however much people tell me they're very good even if I can't make head nor tail of Trollope.

Which isn't to say I shouldn't be open to new things.  I've been very much enjoying BBC Four's season about ballet and so will be watching some more ballet.  I was given this opera about King Arthur for Christmas.  But it's the general sense of needing to work my way through the complete works of Thomas Hardy before I can consider myself a whole person who's not been wasting his life.  Even as I type those words, I feel like I'm abandoning all intellectual pursuits.  My hands are literally shaking.  Except shouldn't it be enough for me to have read and enjoyed Return of the Native once?

So I've had clear out, gone through my books and sent to used book stores and charity shops anything which looks like I feel like I should be reading rather than I want to.  That's included some Shakespeare, because having decided to collect the Arden and Penguin complete works, there's little point in keeping other random volumes, of having eighth different editions of Twelfth Night, especially if I've either already read the introductions or have never gotten around to those introductions after letting the book sit on my shelf for five years.

The other strand are books which I've read but will never read again.  Online and on onkindle, once something is read, it's generally gone, the useful bits of trivia stored away.  With books, there's a natural tendency, especially if we've bought them, to keep them around, just in case, at least for me.  Well, there's only so much room for just in case and so I've ruthlessly cleared out a number of "sacred cows", items which I'd never thought I'd get rid of ever but on reflection for all my love, I haven't picked up since I put them down, unless it's to move them to a different shelf.

The process of getting rid of these precious items is motivated and soothed by the internet and that most of it is available, right now.  If I do realise I've made a terrible mistake and there is something I'd much rather I'd kept, there's a more than likely possibility I can get another copy.  Plus past experience from previous similar epiphanies like the great VHS clearout of 2003 have underscored that you can never legislate for the future.  Then I dumped tapes and tapes filled with off-air recording of tv shows which are now readily available in boxes which are a fraction of the same size.

Seven large bags, and I mean the old canvas Habitat bags, have gone.  Ruthless.  Horrible.  Liberating.  I now have empty shelves, where once I didn't have enough shelves for everything and had resorted to piling them up on the back of my table, this table with my computer on.  Paul Magrs writes here about abandoning books in the middle.  This is abandoning the physical objects and it won't stop there.  I still have several piles of books in holding pattern and once they're read, or at the very least attempted, they'll be gone too ...

Suffragette begins shooting.

Film What looks like the official solicitation for Suffragette has been uploaded to industry PR website Show Films First, including a shot of Carey Mulligan looking bitterly cold sat at a picnic table in a park:
"Pathé is delighted to announce that SUFFRAGETTE started principal photography on 24th February 2014.

"Carey Mulligan stars alongside Helena Bonham-Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw and Meryl Streep.

"Suffragette is directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane), based on a script by Abi Morgan (Brick Lane, Shame, The Iron Lady), and produced by Ruby Film’s Faye Ward and Alison Owen (Brick Lane, Jane Eyre, Saving Mr Banks). Executive Producers are Pathé’s Cameron McCracken and Film4’s Tessa Ross. Chris Collins is the lead executive for the BFI Film Fund."
In other words, contrary to reports, Streep isn't "starring" in this. There's some interesting industry stuff at the bottom:
"The film is produced by Ruby Film for Pathé, Film4 and the BFI in association with Redgill Productions and with the participation of Canal+ and Cine-Cinema.

"Pathé will distribute the film in the UK and France and is handling International Sales.""
Surprised not to see BBC Films in there since Pathe have tended to partner with them lately and this seems more like one of their projects. I suppose it depends what they're prioritising at present. Canal+ must be the continental distributors. Ruby Films's recent successes include Saving Mr Banks, Jane Eyre and Tamara Drewe.

Fargotten the female?

TV Much as I'm very pleased to see a television series based on the film Fargo * and that it features Martin Freeman, because Martin Freeman is excellent, it's a shame that the one element which truly made the film memorable seems to have been expunged. It's interesting to borrow the tone and geographical place from the film, another to also lose the chance for a female protagonist:

Presumably the Coens decided that they wanted to offer a contrast to Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson or that she couldn't be beaten. Or that Fargo's about more than just a policewoman.  I'm making assumptions about creative thought processes based on a bunch of trailers, this I know, but can it actually be possible that they thought, "We can't have another woman because that would be too similar"?

* Which I'll always be fond because it was the film I saw at the cinema the night before my final exam as an undergraduate.  Not for me last minute revising.  If I didn't remember it then, I'd never remember it.

If. Only.

Jennifer Lawrence's presumptuousness.

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