Fast & Furious 9

Genre: Action

Director: Justin Lin

Screenplay: Daniel Casey & Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel, Sung Kang, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Nathalie Emmanuel, Chris “Ludcaris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Thue Ersted Rasmussen

Running Length: 144 minutes

Synopsis: Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena).

Review: Given that there are 10 movies already in the Fast & Furious universe, it’s not rocket science (we’ll be getting back to this topic in a bit…) to figure out what you’re getting yourself into when you choose to watch something with Fast & Furious in its title. While Fast & Furious started as an undercover cop movie, it has long since departed its roots in reality, and has become what essentially is a superhero franchise. It’s now par for the course for the Fast films to feature extremely over-the-top action sequences, lead characters that can shrug off almost any fall from any distance, and for all laws of physics to be defied. It’s pure escapist, absurdist fun, but with F9 it seems like the franchise has finally outstayed its welcome.

Some of the biggest issues with F9 has to do with its length and pacing. It’s a bloated mess of a film, and for something that’s clearly popcorn entertainment, takes forever to get started, mired in unnecessary flashback after unnecessary flashback. While the films have always harped on the concept of family, in F9 the numerous throwaway, meaningless mentions of “family” almost turn the film into a parody, especially when logical fallacies abound – would someone who truly cares about family deign to leave their child alone, while both parents dive into danger with reckless abandon? If you suspect that your sibling had something to do with a loved one’s death, would it not make more sense to hash it out by talking about it, instead of assuming the worst of your sibling from the get-go?

One could argue that there’s just too much soap in this opera, and the seeming desire to make the film More Meaningful actually detracts from the viewing experience. It really doesn’t help that much of the cast aren’t here to display their acting chops (and rightly so), yet are forced into awkward scenes which would have been better left to actors with more thespian talent. And don’t even get me started on a scene where a key character is thrust into a life-or-death situation, and actually experiences a vision that somehow proffers up an alternative point of view of an event long past which is then accepted as truth. It’s almost as though we should expect F10 to feature some sort of Biblical-level revelation a la a burning bush or similar.

The action sequences have always been part of the draw of the Fast franchise, and while “peak Fast” was probably around Paul Walker’s last film (Fast & Furious 7 in 2015), there was generally enough action in every movie to satisfy fans of the genre. While being true-to-life has never been something that these scenes needed to adhere to, it feels like F9 has finally jumped the shark for the franchise, with some truly bizarre action setpieces that not only bends reality but breaks it entirely.

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that all a movie needs to do is to maintain an internal logic that works within the confines of the film’s universe, but unless Fast & Furious is now set in an alternate universe, it should at least try to respect the basic laws of physics – or acknowledge that they exist. The way the electromagnets work in the car chases are just so farfetched that it just feels stupid – it is almost like the producers decided that the audience is not going to care about logic at all as long as the action delivers the goods, but that is an excessively dim view of your target audience which I hope isn’t close to the truth. While Justin Lin is a veteran director of the franchise, here he does seem to succumb to the rapid-fire edits that are so prevalent these days, making some of the sequences rather confusing to follow.

And then there’s the space sequence – not really a spoiler if you’ve seen the trailer, but yes, the meme about Fast and Furious going to space actually happens in this movie. It’s so ridiculous and so far outside the bounds of reality that it once again feels like self-parody, and again begs the question of what ridiculous things they would need to do in the next installment to up the ante. If this is the trajectory that the films are taking, however, then I don’t feel like I really want or need to find out the answer.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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A Quiet Place Part II

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Director: John Krasinski

Screenplay: John Krasinski

Cast: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, Scoot McNairy, John Krasinski, Dean Woodward

Running Length: 97 minutes

Synopsis: Following the deadly events at home, the Abbott family must now face the terrors of the outside world as they continue their fight for survival in silence. Forced to venture into the unknown, they quickly realize that the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats that lurk beyond the sand path.

Review: When A Quiet Place was released in 2018, it was one of the freshest takes on the horror genre I had seen in a very long time. While the premise wasn’t groundbreaking, it was a masterclass in horror done right, without having to resort to jump scares and other cheap tactics. Add to that an excellent performance by the ensemble cast, and it was easy to see why A Quiet Place did so well at the box office. It didn’t really necessitate a sequel (and John Krasinski had admitted as much in his interviews for QP2), but at least this next installment manages to retain most of what made A Quiet Place such a great movie, even if it doesn’t feel as original as the first. It’s also one of the best arguments one can make about making their way back to the cinemas – this is a film which really shines when viewed on the largest possible screens with the best sound systems (something that home theatres can only be a weak facsimile of, unless you’re a millionaire). There’s also something special about being in a dark hall and hearing the screams of fellow cinemagoers that again cannot be replicated elsewhere.

There’s great economy in storytelling in A Quiet Place Part II – audiences are dropped right into the thick of things on “Day One”, when the alien invasion happened. This segment is an excellent reminder of what made the first film so good – Krasinski manages to re-establish emotional connections with the Abbott family with minimal exposition, and still creates an excellent, white-knuckle action setpiece that truly delivers. A caveat, however, that A Quiet Place is required viewing beforehand, or little of what ensues will make much sense.

The narrative then cuts to “The Present”, which is almost right where the first movie ended. And here is where the film falters a bit – while the surviving members of the Abbott family all manage to put in relatively strong performances (although Emily Blunt feels a little sidelined with the increased focus on Millicent Simmonds), the new additions to the cast feel less developed and fleshed out, and pretty much exist more as plot devices. Cillian Murphy does a decent enough job as “new” father figure Emmett given the razor thin character development, but Djimon Honsou is really nothing but a glorified cameo appearance. There’s also a couple of plot diversions that I felt didn’t really add much to the mix at all apart from being changes of settings, though overall the film still builds enough momentum, with great thrilling sequences,  for me to overlook all these niggles.

Despite its flaws, A Quiet Place Part II is still compelling viewing, and if there needed to be a sequel to the original film, this is really the best possible iteration one could have come up with. However, it’s clear that it will be increasingly challenging for the films to be built into a franchise, and I cannot imagine that the third film (dated for March 2023) and beyond would be able to outdo or even come on par with its predecessors.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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Oscars Predictions 2021

What a strange year (actually 14 months for the Academy Awards, since the broadcast was delayed by 2 months) it has been for the movies. The pandemic that doesn’t seem to end had put a stop to most movie releases, so the majority of nominees this year have been titles that either launched on streaming services or saw very limited exposure at the cinemas. It begs the question of whether anyone would actually care much about the Oscars this year, given that far fewer people have actually seen anything that’s been nominated. Still, the show must go on, and from what I have read, Steven Soderbergh has pulled out all the stops to make this not a “Zoom with friends” awards ceremony like every awards ceremony since the pandemic, so here’s hoping.

Now, on to the predictions:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Should win: Nomadland

Prediction: Nomadland

Nomadland is a beautifully shot movie that resonated during the pandemic because it focuses on the need for human connection. The timeliness of its release and the fact that it has won basically every major award so far means it will stand the best chance for this category, even though there are several potential dark horses like Promising Young Woman and Minari.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Should win: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Prediction: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins turns in an astonishing performance in The Father and in other years would have probably clinched the award with ease. However, it’s hard to imagine the Academy voters not awarding it posthumously to Chadwick Boseman, especially since Hopkins has already won before.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Should win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Prediction: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This could be the most hotly contested category of the night, and could really go any of a few ways. I suspect the Academy is not going to give McDormand her third statuette so soon, so it would likely go to a very promising young woman with a very memorable role, or more likely, Viola Davis because of the physical transformation that took place in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – the Academy seems to love these roles more than anything else.  

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Should win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Prediction: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

It’s unlikely the award would go to anyone else but Kaluuya, and his SAG, BAFTA and Globes wins practically seals the deal. It’s unlikely that the presence of Lakeith Stanfield in the same category would split the votes too much.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Should win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Prediction: Yun-Jung Youn, Minari

It was quite an open category but the deal was sealed with her SAG win and the memorable acceptance speech during her BAFTA win.

Best Achievement in Directing

Should win: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Prediction: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

One of the most locked categories of the night in my point of view, and deservedly so.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Should win: Promising Young Woman

Prediction: Promising Young Woman

A very captivating screenplay that somewhat fizzled out near the end, but still it will be the consolation prize for Promising Young Woman as it has much lower chances of winning anywhere else.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Should win: The Father

Prediction: The Father

While Nomadland would be a safe bet here, I believe The Father’s late resurgence will lead to it at least getting the consolation screenplay prize here.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Should Win: Nomadland

Prediction: Nomadland

By far the most beautiful film I’ve seen this awards year, and I would be surprised if anyone else manages to win, despite this being Joshua James Richards’ first nomination.

Best Achievement in Editing

Should Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Prediction: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has the most visible editing touches amongst those nominated. While Sound of Metal won at the BAFTA I don’t think the feat would repeat itself at the Oscars.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Prediction: Mank

While I wasn’t a fan of the movie, it’s easy to see Mank eke out a win in this category given it’s essentially a love letter to a golden age in Hollywood.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Given that the film has won multiple awards in this category, plus a chance to make history by having Ann Roth be the oldest woman to win an Oscar, the choice seems quite clear to me. It’s not period in the strictest sense (that would be fellow nominee Emma), which usually wins this award, but the odds are still in Ma Rainey’s favour.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Prediction: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Viola Davis’ transformation would not have been possible without the magicians in hair and makeup, and I don’t think any other film would be able to steal the win.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Prediction: Soul

That Soul has built up an incredible amount of word of mouth and goodwill, plus it being a story about musicians, gives it a clear edge over the other nominees in the category.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Prediction: Speak Now, One Night in Miami

I would love for Husavik to win this category but it seems safer to stick with best supporting actor nominee Leslie Odom Jr’s performance in One Night in Miami (since it’s clear he will not be able to win in the acting category).

Best Achievement in Sound

Prediction: Sound of Metal

The Academy had collapsed two categories back into one (it was the norm for the same movie to win both awards anyway), and a film dealing with a musician’s loss of hearing and relationship with sound seems like a shoo-in for the category.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Prediction: Tenet

It’s the nominee with the flashiest visuals, and given that it’s really one of very few blockbusters to actually make it to the cinemas this awards year, feels like the clear frontrunner in the race.  

Best Animated Feature Film

Prediction: Soul

Given the strong word of mouth and resonance it had, this award is Soul’s to lose.

Best International Feature Film

Prediction: Another Round (Denmark)

It was a well-liked film featuring a known actor (Mads Mikkelsen), making it front runner for the award.

Best Documentary Feature

Prediction: My Octopus Teacher

Best Documentary Short Subject

Prediction: Colette

Best Animated Short Film

Prediction: If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Live Action Short Film

Prediction: Two Distant Strangers

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