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It’s all resting on his shoulders now!

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t a chance to see The Fast and the Furious 8 or otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious (I’ll refer to it as Fast 8 as we go) when it first came out. Weird time of year for me, what can I say? I’m seeing more movies now, though, and I finally got around to the latest entry in one of my absolute favorite franchises. This is a key entry, too. When Paul Walker died, everybody asked “how the fuck is this thing gonna work from now on?”. Many critics wondered whether the series would focus more centrally on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) with the beloved ensemble taking a back seat. The central relationship of the series was always Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and it seemed like there were two possible directions for this to go: try and replace Brian, or center it on Dom alone (at least for now). It looks like they decided to focus on Dom after all, and the results are just fine though that central relationship is certainly missed.

In many ways, Fast 8 feels more thematically grounded and focused than the last few. This was a bit of a surprise, and worked better than I think a lot of people might have expected given the general attitude about Diesel’s ability to shoulder a movie. I think he’s pretty good, though, and while he isn’t stretching the emotional range of Dom much here, there are a few nice subtler moments and we’re definitely seeing Dom in a new situation. With the key relationship of the series missing, Fast 8 decides to trouble the very thing that has kept the characters and the audience along for this very bizarre and now very lengthy ride: fambly.

Is Fast 8 better than the last few movies? Not really. As always, the highs are pretty high but I think this is maybe the least light-hearted of all of them and offers less of the jokes, camaraderie, and goofy warm heart the series is known for. Of course, all this stuff is still here, but this is also the entry where Fast 8 goes darker. That’s not going to work as well for some people, but I think this movie is less uneven than Fast 7 was (particularly the action). The important question isn’t even really if this movie lives up to the rest of the franchise, because of course it does, it’s more about whether it leaves you with a sense that this franchise can keep going without Paul Walker. I think it can, but I think Fast 8 is unable (and probably this is intentional) to fully get to a new stable dynamic on its own. There are seeds of it, but it’ll probably take the next movie before we see where they’re going with certain elements, which this review will explore in detail.

DOING SPOILERS A QUARTER-MILE AT A TIME Read the rest of this entry »

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The most beautiful movie of 2016.

I saw Pete’s Dragon and Kubo and the Two Strings within a day of each other and they were wonderful companion pieces. Both films represent the very best in movies for kids, even as they give the adults tons of thematic richness potentially too complex for the kids to fully understand. They’ll feel stuff that stays with them, that they won’t recognize as coherent until long after its taken root. That’s the power of movies like these.

I have been a fan of Laika since Coraline and I would argue that ParaNorman is a masterpiece… but Kubo and the Two Strings blows all their other work out of the water. This is a movie that bleeds ambition, beauty, confidence, and grace. Every frame is a work of art and the kind of spectacle that will leave you scratching your head when you realize just how much of this movie is stop-motion with paper dolls and puppets. In Laika films, CGI is used only to enhance and to give backdrops, but you will have a hard time believing that.

Kubo is one of the best adventure movies since The Lord of the Rings, featuring the same tropes of quest narratives that are so well established but also very much taken for granted. It’s also heavy in a way that might surprise you. More even than Pete’s Dragon, which has an indie movie softness of tone, Kubo presents moments of powerful emotional weight that are punctuated by wonder, happiness, and humor. This movie is so well realized that it’s almost shocking how good it is. 2016 has been kind of a dismal year for films, but kids’ movies have consistently been great and Kubo is the best of them.

SPOILERS WILL NOT MAKE THIS MOVIE BETTER Read the rest of this entry »

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The sense of scale in this movie is often breathtaking, especially having seen the trailers where the immensity of it really is just teased.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece, and will go down as an instant classic in a landscape that seems to produce fewer of them every year. This is a singular movie, the product of a revitalized 70 year old director who has seemingly lost no steps in the years between the unfairly maligned Beyond Thunderdome and now. If anything, Miller has raced ahead of pretty much anyone else making large-scale action epics. There’s a sense of the old school that prevails throughout Fury Road, not only in its consistent use of real stunts over CG, but also in the style of its action, performances, and storytelling. In spite of the heavy stakes and cruel acts of the villains, Fury Road never stops being vibrant, fun, and alive. It’s refusal to over-indulge the grim realities of its setting nicely underlines the the theme of hope that runs through the movie. All of this combines to create a mythic epic, the kind of movie that seldom gets made now packaged in what seems like something not even a little bit appropriate for that approach. The Mad Max films have always been back-pocket Westerns, and that still holds, but it’s also somehow an insane travelogue into a post-apocalyptic Wasteland that has loomed large in our imaginations for decades. But that isn’t even what is most astonishing or surprising or unlooked for in this film. It was always gonna be a post-apocalyptic action movie… but I don’t think anyone expected a feminist post-apocalyptic action movie.

And that’s what Fury Road is. And it makes no bones about that. It starts immediately, with the co-lead credit tags, and follows through into its ethos, in which the patriarchy doesn’t hurt just the women, but also the men. It grinds them up, makes them into savages, all at the behest of old white guys who try and hang on to whatever scraps of power and privilege are left even in a world of fire and blood. The women are our focus, because they are the ones most obviously and dramatically misused. The extremism of Mad Max has always been a reflection of stuff in the real world, like all good science fiction is, but my generation were too young to appreciate that when last this franchise graced our screens. But now, even at 70, Miller perfectly evokes the gender politics of today, where we are becoming more and more aware of not only the ways women are oppressed by unchecked patriarchy, but also how men are. Fury Road makes room for that element, rendering all the bullshit Men’s Rights (not even a thing) complaints utterly meaningless and obviously clueless. They’re just mad that Miller hired Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, to help him make sure the movie gave proper weight to the feminist themes and characterizations (what, he was supposed to hire Adam Baldwin?). It works like gangbusters, half because Fury Road is so confident and uncompromising about it. Just when you think it’ll satisfy itself with a badass female lead standing up against oppression and cruelty, the movie introduces the cheekily named “Vuvalini”, a tribe of female motorcycle warriors.

Anyway, that 90% Fresh rating on rottentomatoes.com is no fucking joke. I don’t care much for review aggregating websites, but I want to mention this because the hype is real this time. Fury Road deserves your attention, and it will reward you with one of the grandest visions of action cinema you’ve ever seen, and tons of thematic weight and subtext you might never have expected in a movie like this one. Fury Road embarrasses other action movies so much that I really hope it begins a revolution in how these movies are approached and made, teaching us again the value of verisimilitude, vision, and perhaps a little bit of madness. I think this is the kind of thing that comes along and inspires a whole generation of filmmakers and filmgoers, much the way that the audacity and strangeness of the older Mad Max films did. Read the rest of this entry »

A visually lavish film, the visuals in Prometheus never disappoint.

It’s just too bad. One one hand, Prometheus will be a victim of hype. There’s almost no way it could ever have lived up to the amount of anticipation that’s been fueling it for over a year. That said, Ridley Scott and writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof are the most at fault for what is essentially 2/3 of a good, possibly great film and 1/3 total fucking bullshit. A lot of people are saying that it’s the 3rd act that is weak and are blaming Lindelof for being unable to stick yet another landing with his non-existent, sequel-bait ending. I’d say that even though I’m somewhat facetiously dividing it in thirds myself, the problems start much earlier than the third act. Prometheus is a huge disappointment but there’s an extent to which we have to look in a mirror to find the source of that. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those movies where anyone’s ever going to be taken seriously for “you didn’t get it” defenses. There just isn’t that much to get. Prometheus is a beautiful film with some great ideas and decent performances, but it is also the kind of film that falls apart the more you think about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Usually seeing one of these “it people” match-ups is a lot less fun.

Snow White and the Huntsman is sort of the anti-John Carter. This is to say that it’s actually a good movie and one not saddled by a number of crippling flaws and ridiculous creative choices. Why compare it to John Carter  (and the many movies like it) though? Let me explain how this works. Read the rest of this entry »

This movie is honest about make-up.

Young Adult is more a bleak character study than a comedy. Because it was written by Diablo Cody, it may also be a pretty personal film. If you don’t like Cody (and honestly, there is no reason on Earth why you shouldn’t), you’re probably not going to like this movie. Then again, there’s a lot of wit to go with the arrested development and the performances are pitch-perfect and scouring in their honesty. Read the rest of this entry »

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