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The Fate of the Furious is Dumb Fun

Jeremiah

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I have to make a confession: I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast and Furious (F&F) franchise. It happens. There are a lot of movies out there. There are movies I’ve seen and some I haven’t.

So I went in cold, except I knew the F&F movies had a rich and tortured mythology. At the start of the film, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon in Cuba. This was a shock to me because I could’ve sworn Dom and Letty were siblings, so either I was out of it, or the movie was. It turns out both can be true.

The technical term for movies like the F&F franchise is a Latin word that roughly translates into “bananas.” Throughout most of the first part of the movie, I felt like someone who started watching a soap opera in the middle of its twelfth season. I tried to make sense of the goings-on while also attempting to figuring out the character’s relationships to each other.

This was a fool’s errand, and I quickly just gave up and allowed the absurdity to watch over me. I had realized the F&F movies aren’t action movies, they’re not comic book movies, they’re not car chase movies, they’re not soap operas, they’re not live action cartoons, and they’re not a throwback to the old black and white serials that used to play before the movie. No, they are all of that rolled into one. Each new entry is trying to figure out a new way to wring meaning out of the word ‘family’ while also trying to show you how puny and silly the laws of physics truly are.

This movie is nuts. And Dumb. Really dumb. And really nuts. But man oh man is it a blast, most of the time.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, Dom, and Letta engage in outlaw street racing, tow truck disputes, high stakes gambling, cuddling, and baby talk. And this is only in the first ten minutes. While on his way back from the store, Dom runs into a stranger. No matter how crazy a movie may be, everyone has to go to the store, EVERYONE.

The stranger turns out to be Cipher (Charlize Theron). A global terrorist, a renowned hacker with no digital footprint, scourge of the underworld and law enforcement world alike. She also comes with a Rastafarian inspired head of dreads, accessories not included. It’s one of the great pities of the film that Theron’s hairstyle seems to be having more fun than she is.

Cipher poses as a stranded motorist just long enough to lull Dom into talking to her before showing him a picture on an iPhone and before you can shout out, “Let me see too!” she’s blackmailed him into joining her team, betraying family, and leaving him to mope in Cuba while she goes back to her untraceable ghost plane/palatial pad/office. This is right about the twelve-minute mark for those following along at home.

The writers of Fate of the Furious at the very least realize time is of the essence. Every scene seems to just layer on more and more information, an impressive feat considering I still had no idea what in the blazes was going on! But then the movie cuts to Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) coaching his daughter’s soccer team during the championship game, and I was kind of okay with that.

More information is dumped into our laps concerning something about an EMP and those pesky Germans, exactly what I didn’t know then and I know less now. All I know is Hobb’s daughter’s team the “Red Dragons” won. So really I retained all the information that mattered.

Now we’re off to Germany where we meet with the rest of the F&F team in the midst of gloriously impractical and improbable car chase/escape scene. Which then leads us to Dom’s sudden and inevitable betrayal of the ‘family’ as he crashes into Hobb’s car, steals the EMP, and rendezvous with Cipher. Props to Letta for weathering what has to be one of the more rocky starts to a new marriage that I’ve seen in a good long while. As Del Griffith once said, “She’s a real trooper.” These movies being what they are, a chain of fateful events are set into motion.

Hobbs is sent to prison for treason for stealing the EMP. The rest of the team…something happens to them I’m not really sure what. On his way to prison Hobbs is greeted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Hobbs is then reunited with Deckard (Jason Statham). Deckard escapes prison, Hobbs follows suit to catch Deckard, and both are found by Mr. Nobody and brought on board to stop Dom and Cipher.

Mr. Nobody takes the two to his secure and undisclosed base where Letty, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are there as well, handcuffed. Oh hey, there’s the rest of the team.  Before you can say ‘Bob’s your Uncle,’ Cipher and Dom break into Mr. Nobody’s secure and undisclosed base to steal his super duper, uber duber, top secret surveillance tracking system, ‘God’s Eye’, for her own nefarious purposes.

Her nefarious purposes involve stealing the nuclear football from those other reliable movie villains, those pesky Russians, hacking into a cold war nuclear sub, and holding the world superpowers in check. Her reasoning is if she holds them at nuke point they will behave more reasonably and be more accountable. Plus Dom has a kid! I think.

Look I’m going to be completely honest with you, I’m not entirely sure what happened exactly. I am sure it doesn’t matter. What happened isn’t really the point. The point is stuff goes ‘ka-blooie’ cars go ‘vroom vroom’ and the movie swings from objectifying women to empowering them while still traveling in some age old classic patriarchal tropes.

F. Gary Gray keeps the movie pumping at full speed as best he can. The brakes are only applied because of Theron’s performance. Cipher is a mainstay in every action/adventure/whatever the hell this movie is, but Gray and company don’t ever seem to allow Theron to let loose. This could also be the script’s fault. She’s given reams of exposition to pore through ranging from her own variation of “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond!” to a bizarre expositorial dump that involves the deconstruction of the historical, psychological, and biological evolution of the family unit.

So maybe it’s not entirely her fault.

Theron aside, the movie’s own sense self-importance both delighted me at times and wore on my patience at others. But every time I began to lose patience with the movie Dame Helen Mirren would show up as Deckard’s mother and do a cartoonishly over the top cockney accent, and I’d be okay again.

As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but smile. This is the eighth movie in a franchise that has always had a rich multi-cultural, ethnically, and gender diverse cast and crew. In an age where Hollywood seems to be doubling down on whitewashing one thing after another, the F&F franchise stands like a giant middle finger to the establishment as it rakes in millions time and time again.

The Fate of the Furious isn’t perfect. It drags here and there. But seeing Dame Helen Mirren slap Jason Statham up the side of his head while it literally rains cars in downtown Manhattan is worth the price of admission alone.


Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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The Official Trailer for ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Is Here

Kori

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And my inner fourth-grader cannot stop crying. Based on the eponymous 1963 classic by Madeleine L’Engle, Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle in Time gives us a sneak peak on what to expect from her visionary imagining of the tale.

I’m probably not unique in my reaction. My aunt gave me this book as a Christmas gift when I was nine. She’d read it when she was a little girl and really enjoyed it, and she wanted to pass it on to me, because “you remind me a lot of Meg.” I fell in love with the book and over the next few years voraciously read L’Engle’s other works in the Murry (Kairos) series and in the Austin (Chronos) series.

Duvernay’s trailer does not disappoint. Stunning visuals and character insights await as we see Meg (Storm Reid), her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) journey across the universe with Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, Meg’s father (Chris Pine) disappears when testing out his theory of bending the fabric of space, leaving Meg, her siblings, and her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) behind. Meg struggles in his absence and then meets the three Mrs. They reveal that Meg’s father is being held prisoner by a growing darkness, and they need Meg to help save not only him but the universe as well. This is a bold step from the House of Mouse, who have recently seemed content to rely on reboots of existing classics and established franchises for new film content.

A Wrinkle in Time is set to premiere on March 9th, 2018 and also stars Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, and Rowen Blanchard. 


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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‘Justice League’ Is Flat Out Magical

Jeremiah

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Justice League is bad like Road House is bad and great like The Highlander is great. In other words, it’s really not that good, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a great time. A fact Justice League seems more than okay with.

There is a debate about how much of the success, or failure, should go to Joss Whedon and how much should go to Zack Snyder. For simplicity’s sake, we will go with the name on the title card. Regardless of the obvious Whedon touches here and there, in an odd way this feels like vintage Snyder.

But the fact there were two different directors at the helm, both with vastly different styles and personalities, lends Justice League a distinctive flavor all it’s own. Justice League hums with a wonderful if bizarre, idiosyncratic manic energy. Yet, there’s a tonal consistency throughout the whole thing that makes it all feel part of one whole.

The opening scene is one of the more unusual moviegoing experiences this year. Superman (Henry Cavill) is being filmed and questioned by two excited kids. The scene itself is fine; the problem is Cavill’s mouth. After production wrapped, Cavill began filming another movie and grew a mustache. When Cavill was called back for re-shoots, the other studio wouldn’t let him shave the mustache off. The result is our being denied a beautiful mustachioed Superman and being gifted one of the most terrifying uncanny valley effects of an upper lip I hope to never top.

The phantom lip aside the opening credits are vintage Snyder. I would venture to say the opening credits are some of the best visual and narrative storytelling Snyder has done in a good long while. It sets the mood and gives us a feel for how the world is post-Superman.

The movie has the look and feel of a comic book movie. As Justice League steamed ahead, I found myself wondering why I felt so anxious. It was then I realized I was having good old fashioned fun. The type of fun that has the Batman (Ben Affleck) beat up a low-level thug just to use him for bait to attract a flying man-bug only to leave the thug on the rooftop after he kills the creature.

Justice League hits the ground running. It’s origin story devoid of laborious exposition. We start off with flying humanoid insectoids (parademons), move on to Mother Boxes, and then it’s on to Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Steppenwolf is what is known as a MacGuffin; he’s necessary but only to propel the plot forever onward.

As onward as a script with essentially three stories mashed together can go. Disjointed as the stories may be it’s never dull and often times kind of charming. I loved how Justice League opens up by showing us the arrival of yet another harbinger of the apocalypse only to abruptly switch to a story about a group of emo loners finding each other and start a band. It’s even better when that story stops cold and turns into a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure as the gang robs graves and breaks into Lexcorp labs to enact a Frankenstein-esque ascension.

I wouldn’t say Justice League forgets about Steppenwolf, but I would say it’s clear it’s only using Steppenwolf. But this is all fine considering Steppenwolf is hardly that interesting or fun of a character. How much time do you really want to spend with a villain who can easily find Mother Boxes in Themyscira and Atlantis but is so stumped by the location of the third in Metropolis that he takes hostages to suss out its whereabouts?

Thankfully we have Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Justice League outright makes the argument that Diana is actually the Superman we deserve. Even as Batman, of all people, talks about how much Superman was a beacon of hope, a shining light on a hill, he points to Diana and says “But you’re a leader.” So for much of the Justice League, we have essentially Bruce Wayne giving Diana Prince pep talks about essentially running for student council president. It’s amazing because fuck yeah Diana Prince is amazing and people should be telling her that every damn second of every day.

So when they finally do bring Superman back from the dead he’s basically utilized for his abilities, the leading is done in a wonderful sort of co-captain way by Diana and Bruce. Gadot is forced to play a different Diana, but it’s not markedly different. Because the story seems to be worked on by men at almost every stage of the process her arc has more to do with getting over the loss of Steve Trevor; literally a hundred years ago.

The fingerprints of men are all over this film. From the hilarious costume changes for the Themysciran Amazons to the numerous low angle butt shots. Some of this seems accidental. The Themysciran armor seems designed to show off the muscular abs and biceps of the warriors. It’s an attempt to show literal strong women. I’m not excusing it so much as trying to figure out why the hell they went in such a bizarre situation.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is reduced to the grieving girlfriend who doubles as a third act signifier. Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is made to utter some preposterous overly countrified things. Mera (Amber Heard) does, I don’t know what she does actually. But she’s onscreen for a couple of minutes, and she guilts Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) into doing the right thing.

All this only heightens the fact that men were clearly the head of every decision making process. Despite all of this Gadot proves herself, once again, a movie star. She walks through every scene of this movie with confidence, poise, and a fierce badassery. Not even the male gaze can diminish her presence and ability. No matter the outfit Gadot emerges unscathed as we are left desperately pining for Wonder Woman 2.

Everyone from Affleck to Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg gives an enjoyable performance. Fisher is given little to do aside from trying to out-brood the Dark Knight.  But he manages to find moments in the rubble. “Why have you not told them I’m alive?” He asks his father, Silas (Joe Morton). “Are you afraid they would see a monster?”  Silas assures Victor that he’s not a monster.  “It’s odd that you thought I was talking about me.”

There are great bits of dialogue strewn throughout as well as some howlers. Such as when Ma Kent utters “You know bankers. They pounce like cougars on a dime.” But even when the dialogue ventures into the outright corny the characters are recognizable. For the first time in three movies, Superman feels like Superman. There’s such a joy when Kal-El shows up to the final battle I felt like a child again. The phantom lip comes and goes. It’s never as bad as the opening scene, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat as it reappears, like a jump scare.

There’s a lunacy to the whole Justice League affair, but it wears its lunacy on its sleeve with unabashed pride. It all works. The stuff that doesn’t work, the bad special effects, corny dialogue, hilariously misplaced music homages, it all comes together for a singular joyous, raucous good time.

Justice League feels as if people who love comic books got together and made a comic book movie that’s not ashamed it’s a comic book movie. There’s an undercurrent of despair undercutting most of the first half of Justice League. A feeling that the world is not as it should be and that basic justice and decency have fled for warmer climates. To Joss Whedon, Chris Terrio, and Zack Snyder’s credit Justice League never gives in to these feelings.

Instead, they have the audacity to be funny, sad, dorky, cheesy, and sincere. The heroes are actually heroic even if like Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) they need to be mentored along the way. Justice League is demonstrably hopeful as opposed to theoretically hopeful. The characters and story aren’t bogged down by ponderous, boring pseudo-intellectualized ideas about heroism.

The movie is a mixed bag to be sure. Sometimes what’s so great about it feeds into what also makes it so bad; like a Klein bottle. It’s a wonderfully nutty alchemy in which it’s hard to parse one from the other. Justice League is not the Citizen Kane of superhero movies, but then again it’s not trying to be. It is what it is, and what it is is something all it’s own.


Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Finally, the Incredibles 2 Has A Trailer

CJ

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Disney is about to give me a heart attack with this teaser for The Incredibles 2.

Featuring Jack-Jack and Mr. Incredible in this long (LONG) awaited snippet, the rumors are finally real: The Incredibles are making their return to the screens and super-crashing right into our hearts again. This has been the longest gap in Pixar sequels to date—a whopping 14 years. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would ever see it, and we still have some time to go.

As someone who watched the first Incredibles film way too many times, I am now absolutely giddy with excitement. From the looks of things and what has been confirmed, we’ll be picking up right where we left off. Although it is fresh off the presses, this trailer highlights what we already knew: Jack-Jack has powers, and destructive ones indeed. Now I’m sure the bulk of the film will feature how the Incredibles family will have to deal with him and controlling them, hopefully with the backdrop of a big bad that our leading little man can use for target practice.

My only true, real request is that the ensemble cast is just as good as its predecessor. The original film’s charm came from the ensemble. While I loved the family dynamic, Edna, Syndrome, and Frozone all made it memorable and gave Pixar fans a collective vendetta for a reprise.

The Incredibles 2 bursts into theaters next summer on June 15, 2018.


Images and Video Courtesy of Disney and Pixar

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