For gearhead purists, the Fast and the Furious franchise is an ongoing heresy, the sins adding up with each new sequel. The appeal of the genre has always been its simplicity: Greasers racing for pink slips, their muscle cars grinding and screeching and speeding into the horizon.
The Fast and the Furious has moved the genre into the digital era, replacing the force of metal against metal with the unreal bobbing and weaving of an arcade game. And now at five sequels and counting, it's become freighted with the mythology of a George R.R. Martin series, with characters and incidents cobbled together like so many spare parts under a giant chassis.
The 2011 entry, Fast Five, intelligently accommodated the bloat by bringing the gang together for an Ocean's Eleven-style heist in Rio. The streamlined plot had the effect of channeling the series' excesses into a handful of giddily over-the-top action set pieces. The CGI ballet of flying sports cars and twisted wreckage may insult the physics of gearhead classics — to say nothing of the laws of Isaac Newton — but no one could say director Justin Lin doesn't go full throttle.
Now, with the series' lovable rogues dispersed to various tropical locales, each living high off their share of $100 million in ill-gotten money, Fast & Furious 6 has to find a new reason to bring them all together — and it's not nearly so graceful with the heavy lifting.
Porting over a plot from some generic spy thriller, Furious 6 opens with Dwayne Johnson's DDS agent from Fast Five coaxing Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and the rest of their crew (Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot, among others) out of early retirement to stop a powerful mercenary with terrorist designs.
Former British Special Forces operative Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), now an underground operator with deep connections, seeks a computer chip that could lead to mass destruction in the wrong hands. The authorities, naturally, are are too weak and/or corrupt to bring him to justice.
Dominic and Brian have no interest in risking their necks for Johnny Law, but when it's revealed that Dominic's deceased former girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is actually alive and running with Shaw's gang, they're eager to rescue her and bring her back into the family. (Fans will recall that Letty died in Fast & Furious, the fourth of the series, and the groundwork for her return was laid at the end of the last entry; death has about as much finality in Fast times as it does in a daytime soap.)
Fast 6 pits Shaw's crew against Dominic's in a high-tech battle royale, but it has a devil of a time explaining why everyone should hop into their cars. The obligatory underground racing sequence here — in a London that looks no different from the scenes in Miami or Rio — is such an afterthought that the big race has no finish line and no winner. Lin peppers the film with action beats, including a good piece of hand-to-hand combat in a subway station, but the fact is that the surveillance work necessary to track down Shaw is more practically accomplished on foot.
That leaves Fast & Furious 6 to invest the lion's share of its resources in a highway duel that's as cheerfully ridiculous as any sequence in the series. (One word: tank!) For a 15-minute stretch, Lin and his effects team cut loose with high-speed jousting, massive explosions and countless feats of derring-do no actual human could survive.
It's glorious while it lasts, but then the film goes back to figuring out how to keep its oversized vessel from taking on water. And that's more hard work than it's worth.
A jury considering a sentence for Jodi Arias, convicted earlier this month in the brutal murder of her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander.
Arias, 32, faces a possible death sentence on her first-degree murder conviction.
According to The Associated Press "a new panel likely will be seated to try again to reach a decision on a sentence — unless the prosecutor takes death off the table [and] agrees to a life sentence."
Most of us are used to thinking that the evolution of living organisms takes millions of years. But in the case of cockroaches, scientists say the resilient pests have a developed a fast-forward mechanism to save their own exoskeleton.
In a newly published study in the journal Science, a group of researchers conclude that cockroaches have evolved to avoid sweet-tasting poisons by making a subtle change in their body chemistry that makes the bait taste bitter to them.
Cockroaches don't have taste buds, but instead taste hairs. According to The New York Times the researchers:
"... concentrated on those [hairs] around the mouth area and on two types of nerve cells that sense tastes and respond by firing electrical signals to the brain. One responds only to sugars and other sweet substances; the other responds only to bitter substances. Whenever a molecule of something sweet attaches to a sweet detector, it fires electrical impulses and the roach brain senses sweetness, which makes it want to eat whatever it is tasting. Whenever a molecule of something bitter attaches to the bitter detector, that cell fires and the brain senses bitterness, which makes the roach want to avoid that substance.
But somehow the roaches had changed so that the glucose made the bitter detector fire."
How long did it take for cockroaches with a sweet hair to go sour on glucose?
The cockroach glucose aversion "first appeared in the early '90s," Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, was quoted by The Times as saying. That's shortly after exterminators started using poison baits instead of spraying as the main method of battling roaches, the newspaper says.
If ever there was a man who made a virtue out of failure, it was George Plimpton.
He played quarterback with the Detroit Lions without even knowing where to put his hands to take the snap. He had his nose bloodied by knockout king Archie Moore. He sweated through performances as a triangle player for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Tennis great Pancho Gonzales properly destroyed him in a singles match, and Plimpton once threw a pitch at Yankee Stadium that was pounded into the third deck.
But what Plimpton did do exceedingly well was to relate to readers how it felt to be an amateur among these professionals — to be a mere mortal sneaking into the realm of gods. It's hard not to be drawn to a man who was not only so willing to let himself crash and burn for our benefit, but who wrote with such wit and eloquence about the descent. Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, is a documentary obviously made by people under this man's unique spell.
Plimpton was constantly on the move, relentlessly trying on new professions for size, and there's a difficulty in trying to paint a portrait of such an endlessly moving target. Directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling attempt to get underneath the surface of the man, but find it hard to get beyond his work and his persona.
Various associates and various wives appear for the requisite talking-head interviews, describing impulsivity, speculating about darkness within, offering thoughts on Plimpton's difficulty being a supporting character in anyone else's narrative.
But who he was beneath his patrician mien — that immediately recognizable way he carried himself, a factory prototype of the New England man of letters — remains elusive.
That doesn't really work to the film's detriment, though: Even a skin-deep biography of Plimpton is more fascinating than a deep dive about most people. Indeed, just hearing Plimpton lecture or read from his own work — which happens throughout the film, hence the subtitle — is engaging enough for a documentary of its own.
The directors spend much of the film's first half running chronologically through Plimpton's impressive CV: founding editor of the Paris Review; author of popular books and articles on his misadventures in the sporting life; friend to the Kennedys and one of the men who tackled shooter Sirhan Sirhan at the scene of RFK's assassination; star of an eponymous series of TV specials; advertising spokesman for everything from video game consoles to microwave popcorn.
It's these latter ventures that cause some consternation among Plimpton's colleagues and contemporaries. Despite the loving tone of the film as a whole, the directors do address the question of how much damage the prime-time specials and the corporate shilling may have done to his reputation. In an interview, novelist James Salter goes even further, confessing that though he may have been unfair to label Plimpton a dilettante in his younger days, "he was writing in a genre that really doesn't permit greatness."
If Plimpton's chosen genre didn't permit greatness, Bean and Poling make the case that the totality of his unique career and legacy certainly did. Whether it's the importance of the Paris Review in tapping talented new writers, the explorations into the creative mind that he navigated in his interview series for the magazine, or his role as one of the early pioneers of participatory journalism, the film portrays Plimpton as someone devoted to illuminating how talent and creativity work — both for himself, and for the rest of us.
Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.
It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.
Take a peek back at 1995's Before Sunrise, and you'll be reminded of how effortless it all seemed at the outset: a daylong meet-cute flirtation begun on a train and continuing in Vienna, with relationship logistics impossible enough that French gamine and American shlub (and so young!) felt free to invent, embellish, overstate and preen while simultaneously letting down their guards, knowing nothing would ever come of the encounter.
Before Sunset (2004) caught up with them in Paris after a long separation, nine years and some seemingly incontrovertible life choices later. The conversation that time was tinged with regret, longing and — at the tail end — a faint glimmer of hope.
Now another nine years have passed, this time years spent together rather than apart, and the heady buzz of romance has given way to a steadier, less urgent throb. Commitment, is it? Though not married, they're raising twin girls (presumably conceived shortly after we last saw them), and what's quickly apparent from the rhythms and flow of their chatter is that parenthood hasn't changed them.
Before Midnight begins at the tail end of a family vacation in Greece, with Jesse stumbling through an awkward airport farewell. His 14-year-old son is heading home to Chicago and his mom, leaving Jesse in a funk as he drives with Celine (and the girls, asleep in the back seat) to a friend's villa. There, they'll do something we've not really seen them do before — interact with others — in a long luncheon conversation with their hosts that brushes in some exposition about the nine years we've missed. (And that suggests Linklater has been watching a lot of Eric Rohmer.)
Then the two get away by themselves and get back to the discursive, meandering, hyperarticulate and wildly verbose noodling that makes these movies such welcome rarities at the cineplex. Delpy and Hawke workshopped the dialogue with Linklater, and if the result rarely sounds entirely offhand, it does sound heartfelt enough that you may wonder whether bits of their own lives crept into the mix.
Whatever — they're older if not necessarily wiser, more practical, less ardent, more weighed down by life, so it shouldn't be surprising that their conversation would have a sharper, less wistful edge this time, with Jesse brooding about not being a bigger part of his son's life, Celine fretting over her job.
Still, nothing about their sparring prepares them (or us) for the turn things take when they check into a hotel for some away-from-the-kids, shake-out-the-cobwebs sex, only to have the sun take civility with it as it sinks below the horizon. It's as if the weight of 18 years has descended on the couple's Bach-like duologues, inflecting them abruptly with the Wagnerian and putting at risk a partnership that — though we've spent just a few hours with them across two decades — we've been fully prepared to declare rock-solid.
As Linklater exchanges sunny Greek vistas for the artificial light and bland, tight confines of a hotel suite, you'll note the creases that time has etched into the actors' faces, and register how earned the pain seems in their eyes. Delpy and Hawke have never been more persuasive. Nor has the series. (Recommended)