The Fate of The Furious

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2017

Universal Pictures

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell/Chris Morgan

Written by Chris Morgan
Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If way back in 2001 when the first movie in the franchise “The Fast and The Furious” hit the theaters you had told me that movie would be the first in a series of (so far) eight movies and that the eighth movie would feature a better James Bond villain than most of the recent Daniel Craig James Bond movies….

And fans of the Daniel Craig/James Bond movies are right now rolling their eyes or tuning out this review. But what can I say? To a large degree, “The Fast and The Furious” movies (as well as the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” series) are giving me what I used to go to James Bond movies for. Insanely over the top action sequences. Astounding fight scenes. Lush, exotic locations. Cool gadgets and gizmos. More gorgeous women than one movie should be allowed to contain. Batshit insane plots that at once seem perfectly logical yet utterly nonsensical. Colorful, larger-than-life heroes. Brilliantly deranged multi-billionaire supervillains bent on taking over or destroying the world. All this and more is in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, a movie that despite being the eighth installment still manages to provide something new. A lot of it is improbable and some of it I do admit, baffling (the character development and relationships between Deckard Shaw, Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs is something that you’re either going to just have to go with or reject as total BS) but the movie delivers on what it promises and since I’m a fan of these movies, that was good enough for me.

Hard to believe that this series started off as a knock-off of “Point Break” ain’t it? In the course of eight movies we’ve watched Dominic Toretto and his crew morph from street racing hi-jackers into a gonzo, hyperactive mash up of The IMF and The A-Team and it’s been fun to watch. This movie ups the ante considerably as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue and turns against his own team, forming an alliance with international cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) who has a plan to become her own nuclear superpower, a rival to both the United States and Russia.

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Dominic’s team is naturally baffled and mystified as to Dominic’s defection. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) thinks they should go get Brian O’Connor to help them out. Dominic’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) nixes that idea. Brian is out of the game (but it’s nice that they took a minute to acknowledge his character is happy in his retirement). The newest member of the team, hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) thinks they should give him up as a lost cause. The team’s technical expert Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) frankly doesn’t know what to make of the situation.

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Fortunately assistance arrives in the person of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) the government shadow operative and his protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) who brings along Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to capture both Dominic and Cipher and stop her nefarious plans.

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Oh, naturally it’s a little more complicated than that since you’ll remember (or maybe you don’t) that Deckard Shaw was the Big Bad of the previous movie and spent a considerable amount of the running time trying to kill Dominic and his crew. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy involving the circumstances of Shaw’s joining the crew and I think that writer Chris Morgan could have done better than to simply not address the issue at all. But since there are two more movies left to go as the current scuttlebutt says that the series will wrap up with the tenth installment I’m thinking that maybe there will be more to this.

And actually, considering that Statham steals the movie every chance he gets with such energy and humor I don’t think anybody will mind too much. His bickering back and forth with Dwayne Johnson provides much of the humor with Tyrese Gibson picking up the rest as he seems to have settled comfortably in the role of the series’ comedic relief. And Statham has a fight scene on Cipher’s flying headquarters that is among the finest of fight scenes he’s done. Seriously. It’s that jaw-droppingly good.

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As for the set-pieces: there’s a race through the streets of Havana that’s a nice callback to the roots of the series. A wild sequence in New York where Cipher takes remote control of hundreds of cars in Manhattan and uses them as weapons and the insane final action sequence which finds Our Heroes in Russia, being chased across a frozen sea by a nuclear submarine, barely staying ahead of it while fighting off hoards of enemies in vehicles just as tricked out as theirs.

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Some are going to say that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS goes way too far. I’m not one of them. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to deliver. It’s not embarrassed or ashamed of what it is and director F. Gary Gray handles his cast and his movie with a sort of delirious, goofy glee as if he’s having the time of his life and wants us to join in the fun. I know I did. Highly Recommended.

PG-13

137 minutes

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of 2015.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

A Million Ways To Die In The West

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Jason Clark

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

I’ll give Seth MacFarlane credit for his ambition in making a western comedy. Mel Brooks pretty much had the last word in that genre with his side-splitting “Blazing Saddles” a film that to this day I still consider the funniest movie ever made. And Mel Brooks is safe as A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST comes nowhere near the level of hilarity that “Blazing Saddles” does. Oh, it tries hard and there are some touches here and there that are homages to “Blazing Saddles”: the overblown theme music that sounds as if it were scored for a straight-up Western Saga. The townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the antics of the main characters. The gleeful politically incorrect jokes.

But where Seth MacFarlane goes off course that there are long stretches of the movie where I think he forgot he was supposed to be making a comedy. I appreciate his efforts to give us an honest love story in there but he had no idea how to smoothly integrate the two. So we get a comedy that stops dead in its tracks for the love story which in turn has to be put on hold when MacFarlane realizes he hasn’t given us a joke in the last five minutes.

It’s Arizona, 1882 and as failing sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) puts it; “Out here everything that isn’t you is trying to kill you.” People in the town of Old Stump die in horrible, sudden ways and Albert is miserable. The only light in his life is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a foppish dandy with a wicked mustache.

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During a bar brawl, Albert saves the life of Amanda (Charlize Theron) who has come to Old Stump with her brother. The two of them work on a friendship and Amanda encourages Albert to challenge Foy to a duel for Amanda’s hand in a week. Unfortunately, Albert is the worst shot in the West but luckily, Amanda just happens to be a markswoman of near supernatural skill who assures Albert she can teach him to shoot by then. Albert will need to be able to shoot but not for the reason he thinks. Amanda is the wife of Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunfighter in the territory and when word gets back to him via Amanda’s brother (who really isn’t her brother but a member of Clinch’s gang assigned to keep an eye on her) that Amanda and Albert are getting way too close for comfort, Clinch comes to town intending to kill him.

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This actually is a pretty good Western story and if you took the comedy out of the movie entirely you still would have a solid Western, especially when the situation gets complicated with Albert and Amanda actually falling in love and Albert having to sort out exactly which woman and which life he wants. But where the problem comes in is that first of all the movie is simply too long to support such a slim story. Clocking in at 116 minutes there just aren’t enough jokes to justify that running time and as a result we have long stretches devoted to the love story which is actually kinda sweet and charming.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Seth MacFarlane’s performance but I myself didn’t have a problem with it. No, he’s no great actor but he has a sincerity and unpretentiousness about him that I like. He knows he’s no Marlon Brando and doesn’t try to be. He does the best with what he’s capable of doing and for me that was good enough. Liam Neeson is terrific as always but I think somebody must have slipped him an alternate version of the screenplay as he acts as if he’s in a serious Western. It’s Charlize Theron who walks away with the acting honors in this one. She looks like she’s having a ton of fun being in a Western and glides back and forth between the comedic and the dramatic without a hitch or a bump.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman provided a lot of the laughs for me as a Christian couple who have a truly unique relationship. She’s the town’s favorite whore who insists that she and her fiancé (Ribisi) wait until they’re married to have sex. The highlight of the movie is the many cameos sprinkled here and there. Some of them you’ll get right away. Some you won’t. I had no idea Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor were in the movie until I read the credits at the end and there’s one cameo that had the audience we saw the movie with cheering and applauding.

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I have to say that the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. MacFarlane shot most of this movie in Monument Valley where so many classic Westerns were filmed and MacFarlane takes full advantage of the location. There are many scenes that are simply beautiful and it goes a long way to making A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST look and feel like a grown-up motion picture instead of like a TV pilot on steroids like “Ted”

So should you see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST? I say yes, but if you haven’t seen it yet, try and catch a matinee instead of paying full price or even wait to rent. It’s a funny movie but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. The too-long running time and thinness of the story means that there’s no way to justify the long lag time between the jokes. Still, the cast is fun to watch and what the hell, it’s the summertime. You won’t hear me say this very often but I will in this case; go see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST and be sure that when you turn off your cell phone before the movie starts, turn off your brain as well.

 

Rated R

116 Minutes

Prometheus

2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Ridley Scott, David Giler and Walter Hill

Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof

Like most of you, upon hearing that Ridley Scott was filming a prequel to “Alien” I got as giddy as a 10 year old hearing that a law has been passed making every day Christmas.  The current age of filmmaking we live in now is one where movies I never dreamed would be made are coming to cinematic life.  And Ridley Scott returning to the “Alien” universe is most certainly one of those things I never thought would happen.  “Alien” is for me the definitive blending of horror and science-fiction film because it works so well as both.  And so many other thing went into it to contribute to its rightful place as a film masterpiece: the look of the film itself.  Between “Alien” “Blade Runner” and “Outland” we would never again have science fiction movies set in the future that looked like movie sets.  We now had future worlds that looked lived in with machines that looked functional and practical, not like priceless sculpture.  The casting of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley who became the template for female action heroes in the movies.  Surely with Ridley Scott directing a new movie set in the same universe PROMETHEUS would be a cinematic experience worthy to stand alongside that work of art.

Sorry to disappoint you but it doesn’t.  At least not for me.  The look of the movie is spectacular with sets that are absolutely amazing and flat-out beautiful special effects, especially during a terrifying sandstorm and a scene where one of the characters discovers a breathtaking holographic star map showing the way to Earth.  PROMETHEUS is watchable and worth looking at but that’s all it is.

It’s the year 2093 and aboard the trillion dollar starship PROMETHEUS, the crew is awakening from cryonic stasis sleep after two years of travel to their destination.  Which is a small moon that archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they’ll find evidence of beings they call The Engineers.  Their theory is that The Engineers are direct forefathers of humanity.  To prove this theory,  the billionaire founder and CEO of the Weyland Corproration, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has had this ship built and sends a crew along with Elizabeth and Charlie.  The crew includes the captain, Janek (Idris Elba) Weyland Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and David (Michael Fassbender) an android who acts as pretty much a glorified hi-tech gofer.  There are other crewmembers but it’s hardly worth mentioning them as they’re there just to have really terrible things happen to them.

Upon landing on the moon, an exploration team investigates a huge structure, discovering that an entire crescent shaped starship is inside.  They discover corpses of humanoid beings they assume are Engineers and strange stone cylinders.  Charlie becomes infected with a strange dark liquid inside of a stone cylinder David has snuck on board the ship and from then on, things continue to go horribly wrong.  So wrong that the crew of the PROMETHEUS are forced to make a decision between their own survival and that of the human race.

Okay, let me get what I didn’t like out of the way so that I can end this review on a high note with what I did like.  PROMETHEUS is one of those movies where people go where they have absolutely no business going and then run around screaming because that decision bites them in the ass.  And in this case I mean that quite literally.  The story really didn’t grab me and the poor characterization didn’t help either.  Most of the characters in this movie are just there, relying on visuals like wearing hoodies and mohawks so that we can tell them apart.  There are some scenes that are meant to be frightening and scary but to me were just laughable.  Especially the scene that inspired me to dub Noomi Rapace’s character ‘Elizabeth the OctoMom.’  If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about.  Idris Elba, one of my favorite actors is totally wasted in this movie.  At least Charlize Theron gets to have some fun playing the icy executive who makes it clear to one and all she doesn’t want to be on this mission.  Theron’s character is the only one displaying any kind of common sense which makes her stand out even more.

Noomi Rapace continues to add to her resume of solid performances as she plays a women of strength with intelligence and compassion.  Her struggle to reconcile her scientific discipline with her religious faith is well done.  But it’s Michael Fassbender who walks away with the acting honors.  For an android, David displays more personality than anybody else in the crew and has more of a sense of wonder about their discoveries than the humans.  He also has a goofy sense of humor that manifests itself in very unexpected ways.

So should you see PROMETHEUS?  Most of you reading this probably already have and are either wishing a pox upon my house or defriending me on Facebook for some of the things I’ve already said.  But for those of you who aren’t let me say this: I’m not saying PROMETHEUS is a bad movie.  It’s not.  It’s a Ridley Scott movie and the man knows how to make a movie, no doubt about it. The problem lies in the story which simply doesn’t live up to the huge cosmic themes it raises and the lack of characterizations.  Everybody turns in solid performances as best they can (but what was up with that accent, Idris?) and technically you couldn’t ask for better.   But on a level with “Alien”?  Nah.  Not even close.

124 minutes

Rated R