Blind Spot 47: ‘Cowboy Bebop: The Movie’

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One of the difficult things about reviewing anime as a movie critic is so many of the films require investment into their accompanying series. Some like My Hero Academia Movie try to get you up to date on what is happening and others just throw you into the fire and hope you can figure it all out. Now, in my recent Downton Abbey review I said I didn’t think it was the job of the movie to please non-fans of the show. I’m fine with a film having a narrow audience; however, it does put me in a bit of a tough situation when I an admitted bystander doesn’t like the end product. Do I toss it up to not being in the intended audience or do I  review it for the problems it has? It’s a tough dilemma but in the end I can’t imagine what the intended audience will think. I can only know what I think and share my experience in my review.

This rather long-winded lead-in, is my way of saying: I did not like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. It clearly has lots of fans, and I respect that, but it didn’t work for me in some fundamental ways. Let me explain:

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Cowboy Bebop: The Movie tells the story of a group of bounty hunters that live on the planet Mars in 2071. They are hunting down a mysterious man in black named Vincent who is intent on destroying all of humanity (supervillains are so ambitious these days). The main characters are leader Spike Spiegel, femme fatale Faye Valentine, punk kid Ed, brooding Jet Black and super intelligent dog Ein. These are an eclectic group of characters (much like Guardians of the Galaxy), but I never felt like I got to know any of them very well. Plus, we spent a lot of time on stuff I didn’t care about like what type of microwave noodles they each liked.

I never got the sense they were developing a case to follow Vincent but instead they kept accidentally running into him which made the momentum drag. There is some cool animation and some violent action scenes but rarely was the futuristic setting used to its advantage. Most of the events could have been done in any modern situation on any planet. This made the world-building and scifi elements feel generic to nonexistent.

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Vincent is a cool character and his scenes are engaging, as his motivations are complex and troubling. I also really enjoyed how he was animated with the feel of an outlaw in an old-fashioned western. There are scenes some Johnny Cash tunes would have fit right in, which was a fun aesthetic.

Unfortunately a good villain can’t save a film. I found myself getting sleepy while watching Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and losing interest. The story is probably compelling for fans of the series but here in the film it felt pedestrian and bland. It was a lot of time of people sitting around, talking, mixed in with some enjoyable action, which isn’t enough to make a compelling movie for 2 hours (it’s at least 20 minutes too long).

The only reason I could recommend Cowboy Bebop: The Movie it’s one of the few anime films that has a lot of Halloween in it, which makes it an eclectic holiday choice. But even then it is more ornamentation than an actual interesting part of the plot. This movie just didn’t do it for me. It’s crazy how something with so many pieces can still feel so slow and bland? I’m sure some anime fans will be horrified by that statement but there it is.

Are you a fan of Cowboy Bebop? What do you think of this movie and should I watch the show before making a final judgement? Let me know what you think.

3.5 out of 10

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Blind Spot 45: ‘Son of Saul’

Originally when I made my 2019 Blind Spot selections my plan for September was to finally watch the 2002 film The Pianist. I had avoided it because Holocaust movies aren’t exactly a joyride, but more importantly, I have no desire to support criminal director Roman Polanski. However, at the time, in an effort to support the art and not the artist, I thought I’d check it off my list. But then Polanski won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and I felt sick. I decided I didn’t want to watch any of his movies, so I asked my friends what would be a similar film to The Pianist not made by Polanski. Their resounding answer was Son of Saul, so that’s what I am reviewing today.

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Son of Saul is a 2015 Hungarian film from first time director László Nemes. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film that year as well as many other prizes. The film stars Géza Röhrig as the aforementioned Saul who works as a Sonderkommando in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. In an attempt at some humanity he tries to find a rabbi to bury a small boy who survives the gas chamber only to be killed soon after.

We see the film from Saul’s perspective in almost a shaky cam technique and it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. To say Son of Saul is brutal would be an understatement. I honestly had to take pauses in order to collect myself. Nemes spares no detail as we see the gas chambers in full operation and it’s all done from such an intimate perspective, as if we were on the ground right there, that it is very upsetting. I think you’d have to be a sociopath to not be very unglued by what you see in this film.

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Son of Saul is the type of film I will never watch again but the experience will always remain with me. It’s so well made yet unrelenting that it needs to be seen to be understood. Please just make sure you prepare yourself mentally and physically for what you are going to watch (if that is even possible). I’m not overstating it. This film is a tough sit.

But it is definitely worth having that raw experience. Hopefully if more people see films like Son of Saul something so horrific won’t happen again. For that purpose I’m glad I saw it and would recommend it to anyone who is prepared for the experience. This film will certainly stick with you. That’s for sure.

10 out of 10

It feels weird putting a smile worthy graphic on here but obviously it would be a recommendation.

‘Downton Abbey’ MOVIE REVIEW

Outside of animation my other favorite style of storytelling is period pieces. So, when the hit show Downton Abbey premiered I was immediately hooked. During its 6 season run the show had its highs and lows (problems mostly caused by cast departures) but it always won me over with terrific acting, lush production values and sparkly writing. Now 4 years later creator and writer Julian Fellowes has gifted us fans with a feature film for the series, and a gift it is. I don’t think that Downton Abbey as a film will win over newcomers to the franchise, but I don’t think that it needs to. For those of us that love these characters you will be as delighted as I was.

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It may seem like an odd comparison, but think about the recent Avengers: Endgame. Are the makers of Endgame responsible to make a film that pleases someone who has never watched a Marvel movie? I don’t think they are. In fact, if they did, they would more than likely waste a lot of time in boring exposition that would drag the movie down. It’s the same here. It is perfectly reasonable for the creators of Downton Abbey to assume the vast majority of its audience will be fans of the show; thereby, validating their choice to basically make a Christmas episode of the show on the big screen for those fans

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That explanation out of the way, let’s talk about the movie. The premise is rather simple. All of our family and staff at Downton are thrown into a tizzy when they find out the King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine Jones) are coming for a visit. Mary (Michelle Dockery) has been running the manor along with her brother in-law Tom  (Allen Leach) but she is starting to wonder if it is all a waste of energy. Many other large homes are being sold and households are economizing. Meanwhile each of the family members from Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) to Mary’s sister Edith (Laura Carmichael) have their own stories and events happening in their lives.

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Downstairs the staff at Downton is thrown into even more upheaval as they plan for the royal visit only to find out the royal staff has little to no interest in working with them. Now-retired butler Carson (Jim Carter) comes back to help make things run well and his wife Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) struggles to keep the peace between the new and old staff. Just like upstairs, each person in service has their own stories as the royal visit impacts them each differently.

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We also get some new characters like the Crawley’s cousin Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) and her maid Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton). They definitely bite off a lot of storylines, but for the most part I was pleased with how they all played. There’s one involving Princess Mary (Kate Phillips) I probably would have eliminated but everything else I found very entertaining.

Most importantly Julian Fellowes gives his incredible group of actors a terrific script full of cracking dialogue. It honestly made me wish we could get a series of movies every few years and keep following these characters. All the performances are fantastic with Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton (as Isobel) stealing any scenes they are in. It’s also not just a fluffy movie but there’s some real heart and moments of growth. I was particularly pleased with how things played out for poor Edith who always seems to get the short end of the stick.

It probably goes without saying but if you’re a fan of Downton Abbey go see it! You’ll love it just as much as I did! It’s a worthy follow-up to our favorite show and well executed in nearly every way. My friends are having a tea party on Saturday and then we are going to see it together and I can’t wait. Rarely do I get to have such fun with a film, and I am going to relish in it. It’s an event worthy of the Queen. 🙂

8 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Ad Astra’ REVIEW

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

If you are a regular reader of this site you know I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to the scifi genre. Still, I try to have an open mind when I go to see any film. Thus, was my attitude going into to seeing the latest space epic Ad Astra. This film is directed by the always ambitious James Gray and stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut of the future trying to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) in space.

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The first thing I have to say about Ad Astra is it is beautiful. Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema has done a stunning job creating both the vistas of space and the futuristic imagery of the space stations on various planets. The way he uses color is quite mesmerizing. I was particularly awestruck by a sequence at the planet Mercury where the blue was so bright it could have been made out of candy. It really feels like you are in space while watching the film and that they actually went to Mercury during filming. Amazing.

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The story for Ad Astra I’d say is serviceable while you are watching it. I was curious the entire time to find out what was going to happen and how Brad Pitt’s character was going to deal with all of the challenges along the way. There are also some surprising elements that I won’t spoil for you but they brought in some fun unexpected action.

Unfortunately much of the enticing questions of the plot were not answered in a very clear or satisfying way. Perhaps I need to see it again but there’s a lot of nonsensical randomness in Ad Astra. Scenes looked cool but what their purpose in the story was felt unclear. The movie also uses women very poorly. Both Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler are there only to be objects of hope for Brad Pitt’s character. Like literally they have no other character than to stare profoundly at Pitt and fill him with regret/hope.

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Also, I feel like any good scifi films should have something to say: a metaphor for what the world is coming to if we don’t shape up. For example, Blade Runner is all about what gives a human their humanity. Wrath of Khan has themes of death, vengeance, and friendship. I have no idea what Ad Astra is trying to say. There are illusions of mental health and forgiveness but it’s unclear.

In the end, I feel very mixed on Ad Astra. I did enjoy watching it but left frustrated. It has so many good pieces that it easily could have been a masterpiece but it falls short. Still, if you like space movies and the visuals look appealing I can recommend it. It’s not perfect but I’d say the good outweighs the bad. It’s so pretty!

6 out of 10

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Best Movies of the Decade

A few weeks ago I saw a video or article about the best movies of the last decade. Most of the choices were hipster indie choices, which is fine, but they definitely didn’t capture my favorites of the decade. It gave me the idea to make a video of my list but that felt boring. On a whim I decided to reach out to my fellow youtubers on twitter and see if anyone else wanted to contribute. I asked each person to make a 1-2 minute video about their favorite movie and to my shock the response was massive. I ended up with 14 contributors and it made for a video I really love. I love how different everyone’s picks are and how heartfelt their explanations behind their picks. It’s definitely one of my favorite videos I’ve ever done on my channel so check it out.

My favorite can be no surprise to all of you: 2016’s anime masterpiece Your Name. However, I thought I would give you the rest of my top 10 for here on the blog. I am not going to include a pick from this year because they haven’t had a chance to sit long enough but if I did I would probably pick Avengers: End Game, which is a film I love.

1. Your Name– beautiful in every facet with a layered story about what happens when we understand the humanity of the people around us

2. Wonder Woman– not just a superhero story but a story about why God loves us mortals despite us being pretty awful towards each other. I loved Diana. I loved the message. I loved everything about it

3. Perks of Being a Wallflower– my favorite coming of age movie. I love the message. I related strongly to the group of teens and its not about finding love but believing we deserve love in the first place

4. Inside Out– brilliant metaphysical film that has the guts to teach us all that sadness matters. It’s funny, sweet, with devastating yet effective endings for 3 of its characters- Joy, Riley and Bing Bong

5. Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse– I loved the animation. It still blows me away on each watch. I loved the character of Miles. I loved the meta story with the different Spider-man. I loved how funny it is. Perfection!

6. Tangled- Disney’s first romantic comedy and done so well. I love the witty banter between Flynn and Rapunzel. I love how indecisive she is and how he grows and changes. I love Mother Gothel as a true dishy villain and I love the songs.

7. Sing Street– Speaking of songs few films filled me with more musical-enhanced joy than Sing Street. What a lovely film about growing up, making music and finding love. The original songs are super catchy and the relationship between the brothers feels so authentic

8. Paddington 1 and 2Paddington and Paddington 2 are near perfect family films. They both have humor, huge hearts and characters that are so charming. I wish we could get one each year.

9. Song of the SeaSong of the Sea is the film I cried the most in the theater. What a touching film about grief and how little Ben can learn to forgive his Mother for dying and his sister for being the cause. The animation and music are stunning. So lovely.

10. Arthur Christmas– For my money the best holiday film of the last decade is Arthur Christmas. Such a sweet, heartfelt movie that captures the innocence and kindness of Christmas. Even the “villain” brother is just trying to run things well. It’s perfect to watch at Christmas

Honorable Mentions- Mary Poppins Returns, Crazy Rich Asians, STEP, Hacksaw Ridge, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lean on Pete, Boyhood, Frozen, Moana, The Avengers, Paranorman, Mud, The Martian, Hidden Figures, The Lego Movie, Harry Potter 7 pt 2, Toy Story 3, Gravity, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor Ragnarok, XMen Days of Future Past, Interstellar, American Sniper, Pitch Perfect, Brooklyn, 45 Years, Creed, Cinderella, and many more.

What would be your favorites?

Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the end of your summer. I have been writing a lot of reviews lately but, I still have a few films that I need to catch up on. This means it is time for one of my ‘Current Movie Reviews’ posts. If you got to see any of these films let me know what you thought of them.

Sure love ya!

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APOLLO 11-

I was very disappointed I didn’t get to see the documentary Apollo 11 at Sundance this year but I missed it. Now catching up to it I think I prefer it more as an interesting experiment than an actual movie but it still has lots to recommend. What they do is they use archival footage, interviews, sound/video recordings merged together, to recreate the events of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. They do it in a way that feels like real time including each step along the way from politicians, to training, to the accounts of the astronauts themselves. While I missed having a narrator to guide me through some of the moments it still is a fascinating documentary with a very unique approach.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I honestly wasn’t going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because it didn’t interest me. It is only the 2nd Tarantino film I have seen; the first being Pulp Fiction, which I did not enjoy. I understand why other people love it but it was not for me. However, enough people wanted to know my take on Once that I decided to give it a watch. My thoughts? It was fine. It has a lot of problems but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. I loved Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in their roles. I love the sense of time and place Tarantino evokes and much of the dialogue and recreated media from the 60s made me smile. Julia Butters from American Housewife practically steals the film as a young actress who inspires DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to give his best performance. What I didn’t like was the exorbitant running time, the meandering story and the long sequences of driving and walking for no purpose at all. That said, it was a fun lark but mostly forgettable if you ask me.

As for the violence, particularly at the end, it is so over the top and ridiculous it didnt bother me much but I know others will find it alarming so you’ve been warned.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

When I was in middle school I remember my friends reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Being a scary movie/book wimp they didn’t interest me, but I definitely was aware of them especially their creepy illustrations. Now director André Øvredal has made a movie version of these stories with a pg13 rating designed for teens. I am no horror pro, but I found this film to be quite entertaining. I liked the 1960s throwback. I enjoyed the teen performances and found all the horror set pieces to be quite well done and scary. It’s the kind of scary you get going through a haunted house. You know it is silly and not realistic at all but it’s done with enough style to get you and make you smile. That’s how I felt watching it. Sure there are flaws but the overall experience was fun.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

I had mixed feelings about the original Angry Birds Movie. I liked the animation and some of the characters but I felt the messaging was off and the story wasn’t my favorite. Now in the sequel they have improved upon the original in most ways. The story is equally as bland but the characters are better, messaging more nuanced and the humor is way funnier. I particularly liked any of the jokes involving music. Overall, I had a good time with The Angry Birds Movie 2 because it kept me laughing throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! I am quite the positive person on this week’s mini-review post. Smile Worthy for all of the films! Let me know what you thought about any of these films.

‘The Kitchen’ REVIEW

Since I became a critic on rottentomatoes I have been trying to diversify the films I review. I know if I want to work full-time at this someday I need to be a well-rounded critic that covers more than just family films. In general, pushing myself outside my comfort zone has been a good thing and produced many great experiences. However, occasionally I hit a dud I know was not made for me and then I have to wonder ‘was it made for anyone?’ Such is the case with the new crime drama The Kitchen.

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There are positive aspects to The Kitchen but unfortunately they are not put together in an effective way.  It honestly felt like a more brutally violent version of a Lifetime mafia movie (like the recent profile they did of Victoria Gotti called Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter) rather than a gritty organized crime profile. I know I am supposed to champion this film because it stars and is made by women but it is way too problematic for me to do so.

First of all, the film cannot decide on a tone. Of course, 2 of the leads, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are known for their comedy, which they try to work into these more serious roles but to no avail. They and Elizabeth Moss play 3 women in the 1970’s running the Irish mafia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Oddly, Moss’ character tries to be the funniest, which completely misses the mark coming across as bizarre instead of the intended dark humor. For example, a scene where we are instructed how to dispose of a dead body in the Hudson River is played for laughs while we see her severing limbs and her hands covered in blood. What on earth?

Domhnall Gleeson plays Moss’ boyfriend and is the only thing that seems remotely Irish about this supposed Irish mafia syndicate. Not a single character has an accent and our 3 leading ladies sometimes talk like they are from New York and sometimes use their normal voices, which made the whole thing feel very cheap. The Italian characters are equally lame. Cops in the 70s New York sure wished the mafia was like it was portrayed in this ridiculous movie. So instead of being immersed in a time and place we are waiting for the next brutal murder while the ladies do power walks down the street collecting money. This isn’t good storytelling! (If Don Corleone hit as many people as these women there’d be nobody left to collect the money! Give me a break).

Also the portrayal of Haddish’s character felt like something out of a blaxploitation picture like Shaft instead of a real character. Perhaps that’s what they were going for (which could be fine) but then the movie tries to be real and gritty; thereby, creating a muddled mess. For example, there’s almost no attempt to show any kind of racism against Haddish’s character, outside of her husband, which is the same domestic violence the other 2 women face with their husbands. The same is true for Common as a detective (is he always a cop these days in movies?). The Jewish characters are equally shallow and stupid. The longer the picture went on the more it felt like it had to be violent in order for it to feel relevant and edgy instead of actually having a story that is relevant and edgy.

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The sad part is the production design is nice and all 3 of the women are trying to give good performances. Unfortunately, it is in a failing enterprise with a mess of a tone and an uncompelling story. They all feel miscast, and they don’t have chemistry together, so I wasn’t rooting for any of them. I didn’t care if they got revenge or were kick-butt women in the mafia because they weren’t interesting, funny or compelling in any way. Instead, I was left sitting waiting for the next brutal murder to be over, so that I could be done with it and go home.

I guess you can confidently say this one was not for me, and I do not recommend it to anyone!

3 out of 10

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BLIND SPOT 44: ‘TAKE SHELTER’

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This month for my blind spot pick I watched the film Take Shelter by the great indie director Jeff Nichols. I have loved to liked all of the movies from Nichols I’ve seen including Midnight Special and Mud, but I had never gotten around to seeing this unique entry from 2011.

Take Shelter tells the story of a man named Curtis played by Michael Shannon. He lives in Oklahoma, and one day he starts seeing visions of an apocalyptic storm that is attacking his family. As these dreams and visions become more alarming Curtis becomes more unglued. He becomes fixated on building a tornado shelter for his family and can’t understand why everyone in the town isn’t as concerned about the upcoming storm as he is.

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His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) try to be supportive but struggle to understand Curtis and deal with each step of the mania. It was so nice to see Chastain as the almost ethereal mother again. She is so good at that role and we haven’t seen it in a long time (of course she will be forever remembered as the mother in The Tree of Life, which was also released in 2011).

Take Shelter definitely has a languid pacing I struggled with particularly when we weren’t in the dream sequences and it can feel repetitive (it’s pretty much just dream, mania, dream mania etc) but it also builds tension well and the performances and film-making are so good it’s hard to not recommend it. Adam Stone does a wonderful job with the cinematography leaving the viewer confused if the storms are really happening or if it is another dream.

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The movie is also a bit confused with what it is trying to say. Is it talking about mental health care? Is it talking about religion? Is it talking about family? Mania? I’m not sure to be honest, which I guess you could see as a good or bad thing depending on your taste in movies. On one hand I like the ambiguity but other moments I wanted more clarity.

All that said, I would definitely recommend watching Take Shelter for the incredible dream sequences and the great performances. It will definitely leave you thinking and there’s something to be said for that experience.

Have you seen Take Shelter? What did you think of it?

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

 

‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ [REVIEW]

The Fast & Furious franchise has always been hit and miss for me. They seem to vacillate between an overly serious police drama to insane stunts with people leap-frogging from one building to another in a car. I much prefer the latter.

The most recent entry Fate of the Furious was a disappointment with far too little fun and too many boring scenes of people staring at screens (my greatest action movie gripe!). Now we are getting the franchise’s first spin-off film with the unwieldy title Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. This is no doubt meant to perpetuate the franchise into new avenues but also allow feuding cast-members to make their movies in peace. So what’s the result of this new Jason Statham/The Rock vehicle? I’d say it is as unwieldy as its title but mostly a good silly time at the theater.

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I’ll spare you much of a plot summary. Basically there’s a convoluted reason that Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) have to work together to fight a mutanized Idris Elba and help Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) clear her name and save her life. Along the way we go to London, Moscow, and Samoa with over-the-top action and lots of witty banter between the charming cast. I was particularly impressed with Kirby who holds her own in both departments.

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The film does a great job surprising the audience in ways that really paid off and had me smiling (no spoilers from me!). I also liked there wasn’t much standing around staring at screens, which is very boring. For the most part it moved effortlessly from one action set piece to the next and that kept it fun.

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Unfortunately on the downside the movie is way too long at 136 minutes and especially the extended portion in Samoa wares out its welcome. There are some major exposition dumps and the attempts to become sentimental didn’t work. Even though I know appeals to family are part of this franchise the Samoan warrior scenes came off as patronizing rather than heart-warming.

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There’s some impressive sequences in Hobbs & Shaw but also some I have seen before in other movies and the special effects were hit and miss. Sometimes within the same action scene there would be edits that looked like a tv budget and then the next edit would be really impressive. For example, there were definite moments within a fighting sequence I could tell The Rock wasn’t in Samoa but in front of a green screen. It’s harder to have fun when these type of distractions take me out of the movie.

However, I still walked away from Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with a smile on my face, having had a good time. It’s not going to change your life but if you are looking for a silly, over-the-top entertainment with very likable leads than there is more than enough to enjoy here.

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy