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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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Yeah, Bilbo, sit there and think about what you did.

I was wrong last year when I wrote that An Unexpected Journey would improve with subsequent viewings. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s sort of like some leftovers that happen to biodegrade very slowly, if at all. They are there if you need them, and they are kinda nice, but mostly you can’t even taste them anymore. Watching An Unexpected Journey is exhausting. Sometimes a good, long movie should be exhausting. I’d put The Return of the King in that category. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to Jackson’s personal prequel trilogy. Both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug are exhausting in the bad way.

I didn’t originate the comparison but I pretty much agree that the Hobbit films are Peter Jackson’s personal failure to meet the same tests once undergone by George Lucas to the detriment of all save Sam Jackson. Cuz, to be fair, that guy has survived worse than Mace Windu.

I went easy on An Unexpected Journey when I wrote about it. I’d be less charitable now. Doubling down on all the mistakes he made there, Jackson has created a slapstick cartoon full of so much “why in fuck?” that it erodes the sense of fun and whimsy that I was pretty much okay with going in. I mean, I understand that these are not as grimdark as The Lord of the Rings tended to be. That said, these Hobbit movies now feel almost like they take place in a different universe. There was a tangibility to the locations, costumes, and creatures in The Lord of the Rings that feels railroaded here. An over-reliance on unnecessary CG hampers the verisimilitude that made The Lord of the Rings so fucking influential and successful that it single handedly made high fantasy mainstream-viable. The Hobbit movies now feel like the lesser work of some other asshole who’s trying really hard to be Peter Jackson.

But it’s not all bad or anything. Obviously, this is an extension of the same flaws that have plagued all of these films. You’re probably going to enjoy Smaug. I enjoyed the majority of it. It’s just hard not to be super critical when there’s all that “why in fuck?”

In The Desolation of Smaug, the dial on fucking everything gets turned so much over the limit that it’s broken off. Nearly every reel of the film recalls the chaffy enormity and excess of the Pelennor Fields sequence from King and not one of them has built up the anticipation or emotional investment to earn that excess or at least mitigate it with catharsis. There will never be a “Last March of the Ents” or a “Rohirrim Charge” moment in the Hobbit films. So why all the impossible camera angles, badly composited establishing shots, and grandiose rehashing of lines from The Lord of the Rings? It’s a mystery. Read the rest of this entry »

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The word is family.

Something to get out of the way: this series has no naming convention, with each entry reinventing the titling to such a point that I’ll just refer to them with the word “Fast” and numerically by order of release. This will hopefully be a lot less confusing for everybody!

Every Fast and Furious movie echoes a specific movie. With the sixth entry of what has become one of the best original cinematic franchises out there, that movie is The Avengers. It turns out that it’s not only superhero movies that now exist in a post-Avengers world. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Fast series is that it’s been made by filmmakers who dearly love movies. Cohen, Singleton, and then the long (but now complete) run Justin Lin had all have that in common. Though not as much a love letter to The Avengers as the first one was to Point Break, the signs of Lin’s, and writer Chris Morgan’s, appreciation for the most recent blockbuster game-changer is a prevalent and noticeable ingredient in their superhero team-up movie.

We’ve watched all these characters, and the actors who play them, grow up with the franchise. Each Fast movie is, if not better, more self-assured than the last. The commitment to continuity and the themes of its ridiculous universe has always been a major strong suit for the series. It’s surprising every time, especially rewatching the whole shebang, at just how well this thing supports itself.

In Fast 6, everything that makes the series what it is has been dialed up to eleven. Lin is going out with a bang and here proven himself to be one of the highest potential action directors out there. For all that Fast 6 contains the familiar humor, themes of family and redemption, and ridiculous sense of its world, the place where this movie really outdoes itself is in the action. While this has always been an action series, Fast 6 is the first one that features not just one or two great or iconic moments but a dozen of them. Just as the heroics echo The Avengers, the action feels like Lin picking up elements he loves from other movies and floating them through the world of Fast. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow the Bourne-style fisticuffs and Michael Mann gunfights (this is one of the rare movies with loud, realistic gun SFX) are less welded on and more breathed in. The confidence with which Lin includes these touches is breathtaking and makes you completely believe in the action, which in turn ripples through everything else in the movie no matter how ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry »

Is this movie worth seeing? Depends how you feel about airship battles.

The Three Musketeers has been given a new coat of paint. It’s sort of the same coat of paint that Disney gave the pirates mythos but has more in common with what Guy Ritchie did with (to?) Sherlock Holmes. Did you like Sherlock Holmes, gentle reader? I was pretty meh about it, but I liked aspects. It’s hard to fully knock such a solid bromance, after all. On the other hand, The Three Musketeers lacks the scope and writing of the Pirates movies and nine tenths of the charm of Sherlock due to the absence of anyone of Robert Downey Jr’s caliber putting in a Robert Downey Jr performance. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t charming actors in Musketeers because they are. And they are even having a lot of fun throughout the movie. Unfortunately, there are many pieces that don’t connect and the movie sort of deflates after the first half, driving itself to a completely unsatisfying ending with the self-assured mania of Orlando Bloom’s (fairly awesome) Duke Buckingham.

If you know your shit, you already have a pretty good idea about the story. Basically, shit is a bit crazy in 16th Cent France. King Louis is incompetent and under the power of Cardinal Richelieu who has his own private army, personal assassin, and big plans for war and mayhem in continental Europe. The musketeers, of which there are apparently much fewer in this movie, have been decommissioned after they are double-crossed by ally Milady de Winter (Milla Jovavich who is not terrible for a change but not all that great either) and the aforementioned Buckingham. Together, the two dastardly villains steal the plans for a big ol’ steampunk airship from one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s secret vaults. This is after a pretty wicked three-way infiltration by the musketeers (my that sounds dirty) which introduces us to the concept that this is the same kind of “what if” technological Renaissance as posited by other recent successful properties like Assassin’s Creed 2 or Sherlock. So yeah, we’re down for airships. Read the rest of this entry »

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