Seven times a charm 

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The seventh film in a franchise is rarely a big deal, but Furious 7 opens this week at the Whistler Village 8 to quite a bit of fanfare, mostly because it's our last look at franchise star Paul Walker who died tragically in September 2013 before filming was finished.

Production continued using stand-ins (including Walker's own brothers), CGI, and unused clips of Paul from the previous installments of the franchise.

And it looks like it worked. Furious 7 is action packed and the cast is action-stacked. Walker, Vin Diesel, The Rock, Jason Statham, Djimon Houston, Taye Diggs, Michelle Rodriguez, even Stuntman Mike himself, Kurt Russell, makes an appearance. Narratively though, Furious 7 rides a slightly less even road — it's part high-tech global spy flick, part muscle-bound buddy actioner, all mixed together with overt dramatic moments reinforcing themes of family and brotherhood.

Plus, there's also the good parts: bikinis, expensive cars skydiving, machine guns (both vehicle mounted and handheld) and multiple building-leveling explosions and utterly improbably stunts.

Which all sounds pretty awesome and judging from the trailer this one, like the previous six Fast and Furious films, will be worthy. Horror director James Wan (The Conjuring, the first Saw) directs, and while the two-hour-20-minute run time is most certainly way too much of a good thing, overall this trip should still be worth every mile. Wan pieces together a well-salvaged picture considering the circumstances, and a great tribute to Walker's legacy.

It's also the only new flick opening this week so we may as well take a deeper look. The Fast and Furious franchise is easy to chalk up as throwaway escapist bullshit for street racer jocks and wealthy custom-car gear heads (a.k.a. dudes with small dicks), but from a film-lover's perspective it's a bit of an anomaly — few ideas are actually good enough to milk seven movies out of so when studios continue to throw that kind of money around to keep a project alive (and profitable), it must say something about society, or Hollywood, or something.

Historically, Godzilla is the clear franchise winner, with 29 films under its belt and James Bond is up to something like 25, so obviously a strong central character is key to franchise longevity (see also: Jason, Freddy, that thing from SAW and Michael Myers.) Fast and the Furious is not about one star though, it's always been an ensemble cast hung on Walker and Diesel. Ensembles make good franchises apparently. Since the original Fast and the Furious dropped in 2001, three other contemporary ensemble franchises hit seven or more films: American Pie, X-Men (if you count The Wolverine) and Harry Potter. The Star Trek franchise (12 films since 1979) just rebooted with it's third ensemble of characters, which is good because audiences can get sick of the same people — 1994's Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow retained only a few original ensemble members (plus Claire Forlani in her big screen debut!) but is also widely regarded as one of the absolute worst sequels ever.

What does any of this mean? Very little, except that with the perspective of hindsight Fast and the Furious seems to have earned every inch of it's success (coming up on $3 billion) by maintaining a tight core ensemble and letting the cars and action be the real draw. It will be interesting to see what happens next, but with the successful CGI face implanting used for the late Paul Walker in this one, how long will it be until we get a new movie starring someone like Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall with remixed audio and CG effects? If hologram Tupac can play Pemby Fest then anything is possible right?

The Download of the Week is actually a TV show. The Royals is a drama on the E! Network about an alternate (and amazing) universe much like our own, except Elizabeth Hurley is the Queen of England. In amongst the scandals, conniving and the everyday problems of being the richest family on Earth, there's actually a half-decent show developing (episode 4 drops this coming week). It's not rocket science and obviously not a documentary, but The Royals does have that sort of "Dallas in the Palace" vibe that makes for good TV. And of course the best thing about the show is Whistler actress Merritt Patterson, who shines as the outsider on the inside, the strong "commoner " and love interest to the Prince. Support local talent and check this one out, The Royals is good fun.

(Also, I made that up about Hologram Tupac at Pemby Fest, although one can always hope.)



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