[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 me 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 involving 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 along 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 its 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

Blind Spot 66: Beverly Hills Cop

Recently I watched Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy Coming to America and really enjoyed it. It was genuinely funny and had a sweet romance to it. Naturally when looking at another one of his classics, Beverly Hills Cop, I wasn’t expecting a romance but I did expect it to be funny. Now I have seen it and…I didn’t laugh. Maybe I’m missing something but it seemed like an ordinary police procedural?

The film definitely earns its R rating with language and some strong violence for a comedy but the story is pretty bland. Murphy plays a Axel Foley a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to try and look into the murder of his friend shown at the beginning of the film. While there he meets various local cops including detectives Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Aston).

The case involves a drug ring led by villain Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). It was all extremely obvious and by the numbers. What surprised me was how serious the movie took itself? I was expecting to laugh more and the jokes were hardly there. I guess something like Foley putting bananas in the officers car tailpipe is funny? I’m not sure why but they referred to that incident several times as a sign of Foley’s wild ways. Huh?

I guess you can enjoy it as a cop procedural and there is some chemistry between Murphy, Reinhold and Ashton but if that’s the strength of the movie I wish they’d given them a more interesting case. Maybe they do in the sequels?

A lot of 80s comedies fall flat but this one didn’t even seem to be making jokes so I evidently am missing something? It felt long and was under 2 hours. It just did nothing for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Cruella’: It’s Weird but Ok I Guess?

I know people like us as critics to be sure about our opinions. To come out of the gate with a confident ‘masterpiece’ or ‘garbage’ about every film. Indeed, I know some critics who seem to be able to always know how they feel with ease. However, in my case I often struggle weighing the pros and cons and trying to decide how I actually feel.

Cruella is one of those moments. Even as I am writing this review I’m not entirely sure what grade I am going to give it. Smile or frown worthy? Hmmm.

Part of the problem is Cruella is a very strange movie. To begin with it tells the backstory of one of Disney’s most notorious villains Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. But it’s not really for children and it doesn’t try to humanize Cruella in the way that Maleficent did. They aren’t telling you that she actually had the best interest of the puppies in mind or something like that.

It’s basically a Devil Wears Prada story but with both characters being wicked or ending wicked. What I liked about is both Emma Thompson and Emma Stone are having a blast in their roles. It’s a battle of wits in who can be the most cutthroat and evil and that’s fun to watch.

The fashion is also absolutely stunning and guaranteed an Oscar nomination come Awards season. Both the costuming and the hair and makeup are outstanding and very memorable.

It is also fun to see a series of heists staged during the fashion shows/galas but I wish they had only had 2 instead of 3 because it started to feel repetitive after a while. The music, for the part, works (they spent a fortune on the soundtrack) although it can be sometimes a little too on the nose and obvious.

In general the movie is way too long at 134 minutes and like I said feels repetitive after a while. Some of the nods to the original film are fun and others are cringeworthily obvious. In the end, it had a hard time overcoming the bizarre premise for a children’s film.

See Cruella for the fun performances and the fashion. I would love to see it do well because we need hits at the box office but just as far as quality I’d wait and watch it on Disney Plus. At least they tried something different rather than a remake like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Maybe that’s a low bar but there it is. It has fun moments and is a weird experiment from Disney. If it sounds like your jam check it out and let me know what you think

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy (Barely)

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Got a quick 3 mini reviews for you today.  I am making more of an effort to see live theater these days so I will probably be a bit pickier when it comes to new movies. You can find my live theater reviews on my personal blog here.

I will have a review of Cruella tomorrow and Spirit Untamed for you on Friday but for now here are 3 new movies I’ve seen but haven’t been able to review yet.

Demon Slayer- The Movie: Mugen Train

Some movies based on anime shows can stand alone others need more backstory. Demon Slayer is the latter. I wish I had seen the show before watching the movie but I still enjoyed the film and it has inspired me to watch the show. This film takes the demon slayers from the show and puts them on a train that is possessed by demons. As they travel on the train and fight the demons we get to learn more about each of the slayer’s backstories and lives. It’s emotional, intense, violent and beautiful. The animation is gorgeous and as I saw the dub it was well done.

There are times I was confused but for the most part I got what was going on. So if you don’t have time to watch the series I still think it is worth seeing for the animation alone. The series is available on Netflix for all interested.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Top End Wedding

The first third of this Australian wedding romcom is very chaotic and random and I wasn’t sure it was going to be my thing but once it gets to the actual wedding it really works and I was invested. Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) have such great chemistry and you are really rooting for this couple to succeed.

There are all kinds of shenanigans from difficult parents who have to be hunted down, bachelorette parties that get out of hand and a boss with Cruella hair. Like I said, some of it is a too much but the core is so heartwarming and sweet I couldn’t help but love it.

It ends in one of the most satisfying weddings in recent memory. 2 good people have found and committed to each other and isn’t that what it is all about? A rom-com win that will leave you cheering.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Today

Some movies just have bad timing. Here Today is one of those films. Directed and starring Billy Crystal it has the best of intentions and is trying to be a sweet film about a man getting dementia. The problem is we just had an Oscar winning film about a man with dementia that was far superior in The Father. It’s impossible to not compare the two and find this one lacking.

Tiffany Haddish costars with Crystal as his friend who helps him with his family and come to terms with his dementia.We also get flashbacks to him and his kids and ideal wife (Louisa Krause).

Some people might compare Here Today with a Hallmark movie but honestly I think it lays on the sentimentality even too thick for Hallmark. I appreciate what they were going for but it gets lost in the cliches and trite characters I had trouble relating too. It’s too well-meaning to be awful but it didn’t really work for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you go. Did you get to see any of these films? Let me know what you thought!

[REVIEW] ‘In the Heights’ or You’re Not Taking Away Their Shot

Most of you who know me well know I absolutely love musicals. Whether it is animated musicals from Disney and other studios, original films like Sing Street or The Greatest Showman or Broadway adaptations like Hairspray or My Fair Lady I am down with musicals!

In fact, this summer I am making a goal to see and support as many local musical and theater productions as I can. I have already seen 9 since I was cleared after my vaccination with more to come. You can read my theater reviews on my other blog here.

With this being my summer of musicals It is such kismet that 2021 is fixing to be the best year for musicals at the movies ever. In both live action and animated films we have practically a musical film opening (or going to streaming) every month! This includes filmed musicals like Diana and Come From Away to animated films like Vivo and Encanto! I can’t wait!

The first up in the live action department is In the Heights. This is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tony award winning musical of the same name and tells the story of Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic and run a bar there. Meanwhile he is grinding it out running a bodega in Washington Heights with an array of friends and family in the rapidly changing area.

Gentrification is coming and even the beloved hair salon is being forced to move. There is Nina back from Stanford. Abuela Claudia who Mothers and Grandmothers the entire street. Usnavi’s cousin Sonny helps him at the bodega but he has his own share of troubles. Usnavi also has a crush on Vanessa who can’t wait to get out of Washington Heights.

In the Heights is directed by Jon M Chu who is at his best in these spectacle musicals. He made the Step Up movies entertaining to watch despite their somewhat flimsy plots and he made the best rom-com in a long while with Crazy Rich Asians. (We won’t talk about his abysmal Jen and the Holograms adaptation. Yikes…). With him at the helm, it should be no surprise that the big bombastic (people are literally dancing on the side of buildings) dance and musical sequences are where In the Heights shines. They are so much fun!

There is also a nice heart to the film. I saw the show years ago and really enjoyed it and the team has done a great job translating the energy and sense of community of the stage musical into this feature film. The whole cast has an effortless chemistry (including Miranda as Piraguero, the piragua guy or shaved ice salesman).

They manage to touch on important issues facing areas like Washington Heights in effective ways and juggle a lot of characters without it seeming cluttered or flimsy. Watching In the Heights will leave you smiling but also reflective on what we can do better as a society to support communities especially with minority populations.

The only real flaw in the film is for the non-musical buffs the 143 minute runtime may be a bit wearing. They could have definitely cut down a few numbers and made things tighter- even for a musical fan like myself it ran a bit long.

Nevertheless, I loved In the Heights. It’s an energetic burst of song and passion at the movies. It promises to be the movie event of the summer!

8 out of 10