The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

After being a series primarily about street racing, The Fast and the Furious franchise is now a different beast entirely – featuring heist films, revenge stories and everything in between.

The franchise keeps things fresh as they display huge action set pieces that defy logic and gravity – but they’re high-octane fun because they’re so ridiculous and it embraces the insanity.

When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

The Fate of the Furious, though it pleases, is the weakest film since the franchise shifted direction after the fourth outing. Old characters are brought back that never felt super important, but others like Mia (Jordana Brewster) are left out. She’s off-the-grid with Bryan O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) raising their baby, as Bryan’s alive in the movie universe. They’re in retirement now after the beautiful tribute to Walker at the end of Furious 7. It’s just strange not to have Mia there since she’s actual family of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s always saying he doesn’t have friends – he has family.

A new female’s introduced in the form of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the franchise’s first female villain. She’s a malicious hacker and mastermind who gives hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) a run for her money.

She’s generic in motivation in generally wanting to see the world burn. Everything she says is also a bit of a cliché. It’s totally fine because Theron gives the character such a presence, which makes her a good villain. She’s one of those enemies who does things from the comfort of her high-tech plane and has minions do her bidding, and gets peeved when she needs to leave the office. It doesn’t give her a lot to do, though.

The Fate of the Furious - Charlize, Vin

Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in The Fate of the Furious. (Source)

She’s able to lure Dom to the dark side, make him betray his family and do her bidding. The story packs surprises in characterization, especially since it’s surprising he’d betray the people he loves. I won’t go further into that, because, spoilers.

Films in the franchise between Fast Five and Furious 7 have good stories, but the eighth offering is the most generic plot in recent years, as the villain endgame is so familiar. The story just feels slapped together to work as a frame for the amazing stunts and nutty action.

The story dissatisfies but it’s not the most important part. The big, glamorous action makes this worthwhile and it’s still a lot of fun. From a street race in Cuba that offers a short trip to the series’ roots, a getaway in Berlin, to a fists-flying prison break, the action is great. Hacking plays a cool role in a big action scene in New York City, the film’s main setting.

After things calm down after the New York action, the finale is where things get most exciting and the crew learn that in Soviet Russia, submarine chases you! The franchise also keeps things interesting with diverse settings, as the globe-trotting team spans three continents this go around.

The Fate of the Furious makes Dom feel fresh by giving a new look at the character, but other characters are becoming stale after eight outings – namely Letty. It makes me wonder if they’ll have enough gas left in the tank for two more films.

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns and is good again, and a new character includes Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) rip on him a lot and they’re generally funny, per usual. Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw is really awesome and even outshines Johnson’s Hobbs, who’s trying to fill the leader role of the good guy team.

Hobbs has memorable lines as talks in puns and silly dialogue. He sees something particularly gruesome at one point and his response is simply “Hmm, nasty.” When he often has such vivid threats and comments, you can’t help but feel disappointed because it’s such a perfect opportunity for a laugh or a pun. It’s almost like the writers stop trying.

Score: 65/100

 

Draft Day (2014)

Draft DayReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Patrick St. Esprit. Runtime: 109 min.

Kevin Costner stars in Draft Day, the NFL’s answer to Moneyball. He portrays fictional General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr., as he goes through the motions of a generic, off-the-field sports drama. The story follows him on a stressful day: draft day. On this day, many college hopefuls are drafted into the NFL. To express the anticipation of the day, there’s a countdown to the televised event on the screen. Those who don’t like this movie can also use it as a way to estimate how much longer they’ll be in the theatre.

What may give this film a bit more punch is if it were based on a true story. This just feels too much like a commercial flick for the NFL and ESPN. I have nothing against sports dramas that aren’t true, at least if the fiction on-screen is noteworthy. This film is not bad, it just might be better to watch something that will matter history-wise. Football fans might find a stronger merit in this film. During, the pessimist inside me wondered if Ivan Reitman could make the draft day exciting. He does, working suspense into the finale, which is the strongest stretch of the film. It gives the movie more life, and makes it something more than just lightly entertaining. Prior to it, humour and a charming cast make the light entertainment run at a brisk pace.

Director Ivan Reitman tells this drama with style. There’s a main editing style used when characters are on the phone. Sonny will be on one side of the screen, and the person he’s talking to on the other side. Sometimes their arms will go on the other person’s side of the screen. It’s cool because it looks like they’re in the room together, but this effect also shows how much people talk on the phone. It’s a funny contrast to teens who would just text each other if they want to make a trade for their NFL fantasy draft. I’ve literally seen my brother do this so maybe one of the reasons he enjoyed this film is that he can relate to the stresses of having to get a good team together. Some food for thought: are fantasy drafts and this movie NFL draft really that different in this case? This film has fictional football players who have decent backstories, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the longrun, as far as history goes. Same as fantasy drafts, or maybe Madden video games would work better for my argument; if you have one player on your roster for the Cleveland Browns – that doesn’t mean they’re really going to be playing for the Browns in real life.

Anyway, about the characters. Jennifer Garner portrays a pretty exec who manages the salary cap for the Browns. She’s also in a relationship with Costner’s Weaver. He plays the character with charm. Weaver’s ass is on the line because he’s been general manager of the Browns for two seasons, and he hasn’t been leading the team to many victories. If he doesn’t do a good job this year, the city will request his head, so to speak. Sonny is a character living under his father’s shadow. He is the loved, recently deceased coach of the Browns, Sonny Weaver Senior. Junior has people in his ear all day telling him who to pick for the team, so they can be victorious. The film has a message of following you heart and doing what you think is best. This seems like a realistic portrayal of the job of a general manager on draft day. The generic characters in this off-the-field underdog story are likable enough to make viewers root for them to pull out a win. In this, there’s a deeper exploration of trying to differentiate personal and professional life. There’s a sub-plot that’s irritating. Sonny’s mother wants to spread the ashes of her deceased husband today, of all days. She could simply wait one day, but it’s too urgent as it is. It feels too uninspired to contribute to the story very much.

Draft Day has some interesting aspects. The assistants of Sonny spend hours looking for weaknesses of players they want for their team. If you know that weakness and no one else does, that’s an advantage. It’s entertaining to see these managers play mind games with each other and have different strategies of how to get really good players. These strategies are also ways to show some football playing (through archive footage of old games) in a film that largely takes place off-the-field. Draft Day shows that these type-of sports dramas have an okay future. They’re all right for those who enjoy easy viewings, but not usually as good as on-the-field sports films. This is just a harmless film that has good intentions, but ends up being average. You might be better off watching the real 2014 draft.

Score58/100

The Last of Robin Hood – TIFF 2013 Review

Released: September 6, 2013 at Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon. Runtime: 94 min. 

The Last Of Robin Hood“The Last of Robin Hood” chronicles the final months of Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline), the iconic Robin Hood star and well-known ladies man. During this time, he had a romance with the under-age starlet Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), his last love, and he was her first. Susan Sarandon portrays the world’s worst Mom, Florence Aadland, who agrees to go around with Errol and her daughter so the press doesn’t think anything fishy is going on.

The tale is told in a stylish and entertaining manner. Beverly and Florence’s personality clashes are interesting. Florence is willing to do just about anything to get the spotlight shone on her, while Bev is completely indifferent about fame. Fame is Flo’s dream, not Bev’s. This lifestyle is shoved onto Beverly. Flo lost her leg in a bad car accident when she was younger. I theorize that Florence would have liked to eventually pursue an acting career, but couldn’t because her prosthetic leg held her back. No matter the case, she is the world’s worst mother.

Beverly is also one bad actress. When Beverly is on-screen shooting a movie, it’s hilarious because during her one shoot, she’s absolutely terrible – but Dakota Fanning’s performance is good. You can tell when she’s acting well, and acting purposefully bad. As her father says in one powerful scene, Bev cannot act her way out of a paper bag. The father is portrayed by Patrick St. Esprit, who is effective in one scene. Sarandon brings it to her role, and it must be challenging to portray a mother that pretends to make sacrifice after sacrifice for her daughter, but it’s mostly just what she wants.

The romance between Errol and Bev might be controversial because of their age difference, but it seems real, and makes for an interesting subject. Kevin Kline is the perfect choice for Errol Flynn, and it’s interesting to learn all of this about the original Robin Hood. His performance, and the rest of the primary cast, elevates the film to a whole new level. It’s stylish and there’s a decent amount of comic relief. This is an enjoyable passion project from directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. It’s never boring, but the content is repetitive. Much like “My Week with Marilyn,” this bio pic is light on just about everything. It’s good that way, but it doesn’t help it stand out.

Score74/100