[REVIEW] ‘F9: The Fast Saga’ or Stupid Action is as Stupid Action Does…

There’s a scene in Furious 7 where Dwayne Johnson decides “Daddy’s got to go to work” and he muscles a cast off of his arm and what was once broken is ready to go. This scene is ridiculous. Of course, but it was also funny and cheeky without being annoying. It is scenes like these that made the Fast and the Furious movies work. I even own all 7 on bluray (the tire collection (ad)!). If people ask me for advice I tell them to just watch 5-7 because I think that is the best trilogy of the series. 1-4 are watchable action flicks but nothing special. Then we got to 8 and the franchise started to lose me. Charlize Theron did not work for meĀ  as a villain and most of the action felt predictable, staged with no stakes. The only part I liked in Fast 8 was the scene with Jason Statham as Shaw dealing with a baby as he is escaping. That’s like the cast scene from 7. Action mixed with enough humor to make me smile.

Now we have F9 and the wheels have completely come off the franchise and it’s not even trying to ground the action in any kind of realism. Whether that is a good thing will be up for debate but in the opinion of this critic it made for a long 145 minutes. Also the action was shot and edited in such a choppy way that it started to make me nauseous. Practically every action scene involves the characters diving off a cliff with complete confidence they will be saved from the ravine below or pressing a button and magnets saving them. There’s no sense of risk, pain or strategy behind the action and even in something crazy like Mad Max Fury Road you need that or it’s bland. Honestly I think Superman is more nervous than these guys.

Also having your characters constantly point out the ridiculous nature of the scenes doesn’t help. Tyrese can say all he wants that ‘maybe we are invincible?’ but that doesn’t make the action any more interesting or the characters any more deep. I know you are just supposed to have dumb fun with this movie but again without any sense of risk or stakes for the characters it’s like watching a demo reel for a vfx company not an actual movie. Tyrese and Ludicrus also go into space which is just as ridiculous as you might expect but it’s not just a winking quick scene for fans. It’s a long sequence that gets more insane by the minute.

I am also well aware this franchise prides itself on being about family. I love family. I love movies about families. What I don’t like is Vin Diesel treating this material as if he is in a tragedy with his gravely voice scowling through the self-serious dialogue I also don’t like John Cena being his estranged brother yelling every cliche from the villain handbook only waiting for his all-too easy but inevitable redemption. His plan could have killed millions of people (not too mention all the property destroyed a long the way.). Anyone who is after our team of heroes makes stormtroopers look like good shots. You can’t save everything by just yelling family all the time. It’s bad, really bad.

They also spoil a popular character coming back to life in the trailer/poster and then jump over backwards to try and make it make sense but it doesn’t.

Some people will probably have fun with this movie. I think we all have our thresholds of stupidity and this one (and the last) certainly surpassed mine. If you enjoy it more power to you. I will put it with Transformers and other movies that report to be full of big fun but lack any real entertainment value. No thanks!

3 out of 10

PS. Charlize Theron should never use this hair stylist again…

Pixar 45: ‘LUCA’ or Some Fun in the Pixar Sun

It goes without saying that any Pixar film is going to have a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. Their latest film Luca is perhaps getting the most discussion because it is not getting a theatrical release but going straight to Disney Plus. Some have seen this as a sign of a lack of faith by the studio in the project while others have deemed it a compliment as it is being singled out to market the streaming service, which is so key to their current business strategy. I guess it depends whether you see Disney Plus as more of a dumping ground or shining platform which side you land on.

VIDEO: New Trailer for Pixar's

Anyway, beyond it’s release let’s talk about the movie itself. What’s interesting is a lot of the feedback I am hearing I do not agree with. I know I’m in the minority but Soul wasn’t a favorite of mine. I still recommended it (and certainly don’t hate it) but the script became muddled and the message felt all over the place- particularly when it comes to the mid-section involving a cat. At one point it seemed to be saying to embrace your spark, find out what you are meant to do in life but in other ways it said that spark alienated you from other people and led to unhappiness: that a normal life is better than a creatively inspired one.

So Soul is a movie I admire for the music and animation but the script let me down. Now Luca, on the other hand, has much smaller ideas and it in my opinion does a better job in executing that simple vision. To put it simply Luca is a story about friendship, summer and growing up. That’s it. No big emotional punches or big action scenes. Just a simple sweet story.

To be more specific Luca tells the story of a young fish creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who bristles up against his controlling parents and wonders what can be in the world above the ocean (obviously a plotline I love. The Little Mermaid die hard fan!). One day he meets a boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and he realizes they become human when dry on land and turn back into fish creatures when wet.

Both Alberto and Luca’s dream of racing around Italy on Vespas and when they meet a girl named Gulia (Emma Berman) they enter a race to win their own vespa. There’s a ‘villain’ Ercole who challenges them in the race and plays the part of the bully needed for this kind of narrative. The bigger threat is any of them getting wet from the ocean or even worse rain!

I can see why some think the story of Luca is too simple but I don’t agree. I liked being with Luca, Alberto and Giulia as they ate gelato and raced around the Italian countryside together. And it’s not like there aren’t deeper themes which can be pulled from the story. Obviously the idea of hiding who you are and being fearful of being discovered is something that will ring true for LGTBQ audiences and more.

But mostly it’s a story about friendship and I’m a huge sucker for those kinds of stories. There’s something special about the friendships we make as children. The free spirited nature and lack of agenda give a purity to the relationships that is tough to impossible to replicate as adults. Luca captures this magic, and I really enjoyed it.

And hey it made me want to go to Italy so nothing wrong with that!

Fortunately if you have Disney Plus you don’t have to decide whether to watch Luca or Soul. You can enjoy both to your hearts desire. Someday I hope to see both in a theater but for now I’m grateful for the artists at Pixar and their incredible track record of touching films.

Luca is a delightful tale of summer friendship the whole family will love

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tribeca Film Fest 2-7 (A-ha, Anthony Bourdain, No Man of God, ClayDream, Dating & New York, Wolfgang)

This week is a busy one for me. I am covering 2 festivals: the Annecy Film Festival for rotoscopers.com and the Tribeca Film Festival here on this blog. I’ve already given my first review for Tribeca but have watched 6 other films. Here are my quick reviews:

Wolfgang

This is a pretty basic bio-doc about celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck but as a wanna-be foodie I enjoyed it. It’s interesting to learn Wolfgang had a very abusive stepfather and left his family as a teen and didn’t contact them again for almost 2 years. It was also great they got his first employer Patrick Terrail on the doc with him still upholding the old idea of a restaurateur makes the restaurant not the chef. Again, this doc doesn’t reinvent the wheel but I enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

A-ha: The Movie

This film is very similar to the Sparks doc at Sundance this year or the GoGos documentary last year. This formula follows a forgotten band and goes back through their highs and lows. This time it is the 80s hit band A-ha and just like Sparks they are still together performing music (although they did break up a time to two unlike Sparks).

One of the most interesting parts of this documentary is seeing how much a band like A-ha meant to their homeland of Norway. While we have a number of Swedish bands I don’t think there have been many from Norway.

I could have used more info about their iconic music video but they do weave animation throughout. If you have interest in this band and their music I bet you will like it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Dating & New York

On surface Dating & New York should be my jam. I love romantic comedies and there are many great ones set in New York City. I also like indie romances like Sing Street or 500 Days of Summer. Unfortunately this film didn’t come together to make a satisfying romcom.

The biggest problem with this film is its stars Francesca Reale and Jaboukie Young-White didn’t have any chemistry and the script feels aggressively indie: like it is trying to hard to be twee and dare I say hipster.

I honestly found the movie to be quite annoying so you could say the script just didn’t work for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

ClayDream

I have a fondness for animator Will Vinton. My friend Stanford and I have reviewed the Puppetoon movies compiled of his films and interviewed Arnold Leibovit about them. We also reviewed his trippy The Many Adventures of Mark Twain for Obscure Animation. This documentary tells us Vinton’s story and how he almost became a mini-Walt Disney (which was his goal).

Then he becomes in bed with Phil Knight of Nike fame and his studio ends up becoming what we now know of as Liaka Studios invested in by Knight for his son Travis. I loved seeing all the old claymation by Vinton and his life was fascinating. This is another documentary that is basic but the subject matter is interesting enough to make it worth a watch

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

No Man of God

I have no idea why Hollywood seems so fascinated with Ted Bundy? It seems like practically every day we here of a new movie or docuseries being made about him and his crimes. Maybe because he seemed handsome and charming? But why do we assume handsome and charming people cant be serial killers?

It’s weird and I was hoping this film might shed some light on the fascination but it really doesn’t. Elijah Wood plays Bill Hagmaier, an FBI agent sent to ‘profile’ Ted Bundy. This film is a lot better than the recent version starring Zac Efron (which I hated) but it still left me cold. What are we supposed to take away from this evil man? The script should have given me that insight.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain-

Kitchen Confidential is probably the first R rated memoir I’ve ever read. I picked it up at an airport in 2007 and despite the author Anthony Bourdain’s crass style I found the book to be completely mesmerizing. Evidently I wasn’t alone because Bourdain became a huge star on show after show after writing his memoir.

Bourdain, however, wasn’t entirely comfortable with the spotlight and sadly committed suicide in 2018. It’s all too prosaic at the beginning of the film when he says ‘this isn’t a story with a happy ending’. I appreciate this documentary doesn’t make him a squeaky clean character. He’s flawed, rude to his friends, difficult but so many people still loved him.

This film is done by the same people who made Won’t You Be My Neighbor which I adored and even though Bourdain is no Fred Rogers I feel both films get to authentic places about their subjects even if it is much sadder ending here.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am extremely busy right now with my podcasts, open water swims, traveling and more. I am also covering both the Annecy Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival so things are busy for yours truly. Today I have 3 mini reviews for you with much more to come. Enjoy!

Wish Dragon

After 2 huge successes from Sony Animation in Spider-man Into the Spiderverse and The Mitchells vs the Machines I was eagerly looking forward to their next picture Wish Dragon, and it is probably my high expectations that led to disappointment.

Wish Dragon isn’t terrible but I found it to be bland with slow pacing. I liked the bright and colorful animation but the script was lacking. It seemed to take forever to get to the dragon and when he appeared he certainly wasn’t as funny as the Genie in Aladdin but I’d put him below the recent dragon in Raya and the Last Dragon.

The story gets lost in the relationship between Din and Li Na and his attempts to impress her business-man father who has some shady deals behind him. Maybe the humor will work better for a Chinese audience but it didn’t work for me.

Other than the dragon Wish Dragon did nothing for me and I found it kind of a chore to get through. I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but it’s not for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2018’s Peter Rabbit because I felt it wasted all the sweetness of the original stories for this slapstick creation. However, I will own it did have some laughs and I can see why other people enjoyed it and why it was such a big hit.

Now we have the inevitable sequel and I honestly don’t think fans of the original will enjoy this film. It seemed like a big mess if you ask me. The strangest part of this sequel is they take themselves seriously instead of just being the romp people are expecting. They have Peter full of existential dread and worrying about the meaning of life and how he can fit in when aren’t people just expecting a lot of silliness?

They also go meta by the end with David Oyelowo playing a publisher who wants to make Peter Rabbit crass and commercial with rabbits in space all the while them winking at the camera that they know this is what they have done with Beatrice Potter’s sweet books. To say this fell flat would be an understatement.

Peter Rabbit 2 is also part a heist film and I don’t think kids will be all that entertained by Peter and his friends stealing dried fruit from the farmers market. The only part I laughed at is a comedic sequence where Domhall Gleeson rolls down a hill in an attempt to be more free spirited. Isn’t this what people are expecting from this movie?

There are so many good entertainments for children right now so I would give Peter Rabbit 2 a pass

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The First Step: Tribeca 1

My first film of The Tribeca Film Festival is a documentary called The First Step. It follows political commentator and activist Van Jones as he seeks to pass criminal justice reform in the era of Trump.

I have to admit I had no idea Van Jones was the way he is portrayed in this documentary. I thought he was much more radical than this but he tries his hardest to be a ‘bridge builder’ during the years of Trump,which I really admire.

Some on the left condemn him for this but he managed to get all but 12 senators to vote in favor of his bill. That’s pretty impressive and 10k inmates were released as a result. Obviously a documentary like this is going to portray him in the best light possible but he gets so much flack on either side it felt pretty even-keeled in my opinion.

If you want to see a fascinating a look at modern day politics watch The First Step.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Spirit Untamed’: For Little Girls Who Like Horses

In my career as a critic some movies presented before me are complex and challenging with different layers of meaning. Others are not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I believe there can be value in knowing what you are and executing it well. I enjoy simple well done Hallmark movies for example. The new film from DreamWorks Animation entitled Spirit Untamed is such a film. It is made for little girls who love horses and want to watch an adventure. On that level it succeeds and is an animated adventure.

This somewhat vanilla film may be disappointing to those of us who love the original Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was a film that took real risks in its storytelling combined with some of the most beautiful animation DreamWorks has ever produced. If you would like to hear me talk more about the original film my friend Stanford and I covered it last year for Obscure Animation:

Unfortunately DreamWorks has moved on from the original film and created a series called Spirit Riding Free, which I admit I have never seen an episode. This new movie, Spirit Untamed,is a spin off of that show, which given it has 12 seasons has its audience. That’s who this movie is made for.

The story of Spirit Untamed follows a young girl named Lucky who is moving to a frontier town and meets a wild mustang named Spirit while on the train. Her Mother road horses and Lucky dreams of doing the same. When Spirit is caught by ne’re do wells Lucky and her friends, the PALS, go on an adventure to rescue all the horses taken.

If you are wondering why this needed to get a theatrical release I would agree with you. On the story and animation quality it feels more like a direct to streaming feature. However, that doesn’t mean it is bad. It’s perfectly serviceable little movie. I just don’t know if I would pay the big prices at the theater for it. I would probably wait for its inevitable Netflix release along with the series.

It does have a more star-studded voice cast than the series (which again I’ve never seen). This features Jake Gyllenhaal as Lucky’s Dad and Julianne Moore, WalterGoggins and Andre Braugher. I don’t know that I needed these stars for the film but I guess they give it a little more gravitas as a theatrically released film.

I also appreciate the diversity in the film. Almost all young girls should be able to find someone to relate with amongst the PAL characters. The horses are also very beautiful although not nearly as beautiful as the original film. It does have a really nice message about never giving up, connecting with our ancestors, working together and being brave when things are challenging.

In the end, ones enjoyment of Spirit Untamed comes along with your expectations. If you are wanting something along the lines of the original you will be disappointed. If you want something cute for little girls who like horses you’ll enjoy it. It will win the heart of all who love horses.

I also appreciate Spirit Untamed has a female director Elaine Bogan. I hope we keep seeing more female directors in animation (something DreamWorks has been above the curve on with directors like Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy