Friday, April 3, 2015

Top 5 Films Featuring Paul Walker

 Paul Walker

This list is in no particular order

These are just some of my favorite films that Paul Walker, the actor and one of the stars of the new film Furious 7 has been in over the years that I enjoyed either based solely on their performance or it was just a generally well made and enjoyable film that they happened to part of in a supporting capacity.

There are certain actors who go through their entire career and never get the recognition they deserve. One such actor that comes to mind is Keanu Reeves, who despite the copious amount of jokes in regards to his acting range, has delivered a number a memorable performances in some of Hollywood's biggest films. Paul Walker is also in this category, and unlike Reeves who still one day may get that recognition while he is still alive and working, must settle for posthemus praise as his untimely death has robbed film fans everywhere of an actor who was only beginning to show us what he was capable of.

It is always a sad day when I have to do one of these lists knowing that I will never have a chance to update it down the road as the actor progressively turns in better work throughout their career. But in the case of Paul Walker, he has a surprising number of bright spots during his early years that have gone either unnoticed or have just been forgotten that fans of the monumental Fast & Furious franchise would do best by checking out. So, as a final farewell to an actor I only had just begun to respect, here are what I believe to be the five best films for Paul Walker that I believe best represent his talent.

The Fast and the Furious

Ok, you knew this had to be on here in one form or another. The only real difficult choice was picking which one. For a moment I thought about using this spot for the entire franchise, but then thought it would be best to focus on just one. Then came the hard decision of which one, as everyone would agree that the 6th (and 7th from what I hear) are the best of the franchise. But where would we be if we didn't have the very first film that was given the least confusing title in the franchise, The Fast & The Furious. While this film set up Vin Diesel's career more than anyone else involved in it, it also gave us our first real glimpse of Paul Walker as a leading man.

Let's try to forget that the film was more or less a rip off of Point Break and that Keanu Reeves and Paul Walker shared more in common that both playing undercover cops trying to take down a tight nit group of thieves (no, really...try). Instead let's focus on Paul Walker, who at this time was nothing more than a pretty face who really liked bad tuna ("Nobody likes the tuna!") and wants to bone Vin Diesel's sister. While he doesn't show much range here, it's difficult to hate on him because that cocky young gun attitude he displays here is more endearing now than it ever was before. This first Fast & Furious film may not be the best of the franchise and may not showcase the best of what Walker as an actor had to offer, but it was our first taste of an actor who had a long road to go down before getting the respect he ultimately found after his death.

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Running Scared

Running Scared is my personal favorite Paul Walker movie and performance and it is sad that not many people get or understand what makes both the film and him so great here. First of all, this is a film full of extremes that if you are not prepared for them will kick you in the balls and leave you paralyzed until it is over. Extreme violence, extreme bizarreness, extreme humor and most of all extreme in-your-face energy as it shoots along at a breakneck pace that absolutely never lets up. Director Wayne Kramer gives thanks to other famous extreme filmmakers such Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill in the credits and any fan of those artists should know exactly what they are in for here.

But let's talk about Paul Walker for a second, because until this film he had proven all his naysayers right by playing it safe and never taking a chance. In Running Scared though Walker was determined to break out of his comfort zone and the end result is revelatory. Playing the role of a low on the totem pole thug desperately scrambling around town for a missing gun trying to save his life and the lives of his wife and kid, this was not the same pretty boy from Fast & Furious, this was a man on a mission to show everyone he could deliver a nuanced and complex performance, complete with a Brooklyn accent that he absolutely nails. While many will be more inclined to talk about the film's many unexpected and shocking twists and turns (just wait until the pedophiles show up), it is Walker's performance that really stands out and keeps the audience engaged throughout all its craziness. If you had written this one off in the past for whatever reason, it certainly deserves a second chance if you are interested in seeing Paul Walker out of his usual element.

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Eight Below

I am not really a dog person. I like dogs, but I can't really say I love them. So it would make sense that I don't really care that much about movies featuring a dog, let alone eight dogs. Then you add the fact that most live action Disney films are generally pretty sappy or otherwise emotionally manipulative and over indulgent and that Paul Walker is the star of a family friendly Disney film, those are exactly ingredients for success With all that in mind, this true story about a bunch of sleigh dogs being trapped in Antarctica after their human handlers are forced to abandon camp begins to sound less and less appealing. But wouldn't you know it, sometimes a bunch of negatives combine to make a positive and in the case of Disney's Eight Below they make one massive positive.

Quite possibly my favorite dog movie of all time, this film holds more emotional weight than most human dramas. The reason being are the dogs, who steal the show from minute one. Also, while we do get to see the humans going through the motions to put a rescue together, what really sells it is how much time we get to spend with the dogs during their Antarctic adventure and experience all the danger they encounter while trying to survive the harsh conditions. It should also be noted that while Paul Walker is the human star of the film and does an admirable job playing the part, this film's real stars are the dogs and I guarantee whether you are a dog lover or not, it will be near impossible to fight back the waterworks when the time comes. Is it manipulative? Yes, but it earns those emotions by treating the material with honesty and courage instead of the usual Disney "happily ever after" theory of storytelling. Either way you slice it, this is a great inspirational movie for the whole family and easily a highlight in Walker's filmography that shows a completely different side of the actor.


Joy Ride

Now here is a fun little thriller that has sort of been forgotten about over the years. True, Steve Zahn and Paul Walker are not what comes to mind when thinking of a tension fueled thrill ride, but Joy Ride might just change your mind. Playing two brothers on a cross country road trip who decide to prank the wrong truck driver, both Zahn and Walker are perfect as two siblings and have a surprising amount of chemistry with each other (why these two never worked together again will forever remain a mystery). Making their extremely unsympathetic characters victims in the eyes of the audience isn't as easy as it may seem, but both do a solid job of luring us in to the point of us actually caring what happens to them by the end.

By far though what makes the who thing tick though is John Dahl's confident direction and the level of nail biting suspense he is able to sustain throughout the entire film. It isn't afraid of it's B-movie nature and fully embraces itself as this no frills exercise in paranoia and fear, which in turn lets the audience ease into its exploitative themes of revenge and survival. Not since the Steven Spielberg classic Duel has the idea of being stalked by a mad man driving a 2 ton big rig through the empty desert roads been so terrifying. Like a cat playing with a bird before they finally sink their teeth in for the kill, Joy Ride remains to this day a fun and entertaining film that fans of the thriller genre should get a kick out of.



This is probably the silliest movie on this list and probably not a lot of people's choice for a spot in the top five, but you know what I say to that? Bite me! I really enjoy Timeline for all its silly and completely improbable contrivances involving a group of historians who time travel back to medieval France and must fight for survival as they search for a way back home. First of all, the casting is pretty good with a number of great character actors doing some great work and even a very young Gerald Butler who is the center of the film's main romantic plot (that works way better than it probably should). Second is that there is a certain hokey charm to it, from the method of time travel they use to all the silly rules they must abide by (and eventually break), the whole thing is just too ridiculous to take seriously which in an ironic way makes it that much more enjoyable.

It is exactly that mentality that lets you forget how stupid all the science and time travel mumbo jumbo is and allows you to just sit back and have a good time. As for Paul Walker, out of all the films listed here this is possibly the one film where he sort of stands out like a sore thumb as the one guy who DOESN'T feel like he belongs. That works in his favor though, as the more out of place he seems in all of this the more right he seems for the role. This is without a doubt a guilty pleasure as there isn't really anything I can say to defend it against all the criticism pointed towards it. It is just a silly time travel flick with a solid cast doing solid work with a surprisingly generous budget and it totally succeeds at being a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon if one feels so inclined.


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