Fast X

Posted on May 18, 2023 at 5:10 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action, language, and some suggestive material
Profanity: Strong language, including a child using the s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and brief humorous drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action, peril, and violence, some disturbing and grisly images, very sad death of a major character
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 19, 2023
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2023
Copyright Universal 2023

I’d love to talk to the person whose job is Googling or visiting some of the world’s iconic locations and then imagining how they can be trashed with car chases and explosions. Ten movies in (with apparently at least two more to go), the “Fast and Furious” series that began with a comparatively modest story about street racing has morphed into one of the most successful film franchises of all time, with a complicated trajectory and a lot of characters going undercover to chase Mcguffins for the CIA, but never wasting much time on whether the plot or the physics make sense. As a character says, “If it violates the laws of God and gravity, they did it twice.”

Next to the chases and explosions, the most creative part of the series was stripping down the original title, “The Fast and the Furious,” so that now part one of what is supposed to be the final saga is simply “Fast X.” They have to stop now, or the only title they will be able to use is just “FF.”

In order of importance to the filmmakers and the audience:

1. Let’s literally cut to the chase, or chases. Many, many chases and races. Many fabulous locations including Rome and Portugal. Bridges, helicopters, Much hitting and smashing through various barriers, some amphibious many ticking remote controlled bombs, one gigantic bomb sphere that looks like the rock that chased Indiana Jones in the first film crossed with the Death Star. Lots of fight scenes including two of the toughest women in film: Michelle Rodriguez as Letty and Charlize Theron as former and perhaps future supervillain Cipher, who shows up on Dom’s doorstep because “the enemy of my enemy….”

2. With so much star power on the side of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel, occasionally adding slight movement to the one basic facial expression that signifies approval and determination), the villain in these movies has to be not just over the top but over the top of the top, doing a triple gainer, and then coming down to the top of the top again. Jason Momoa does all of this and more as the most completely bats times coo coo-bananas bad guy since Jack Nicholson as the Joker in “Batman,” with a touch of Jim Carrey as the Riddler and Heath Ledger as the Joker added for spice. Anyone remember the villain from #5? Anyone? It was Brazilian drug dealer Herman Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who was killed at the end of that film. We get a retcon flashback here to learn that Reyes had a son named Dante, and that he importantly told Dante that killing opponents was not as important as torturing them by hurting those they love. Dom loves a lot of people. More than racing cars, his sense of himself is entirely based on his ability to keep them safe. As they say, this time it’s personal. Dante is the most dangerous of all because he has no normal bad guy goal like making money or amassing power. He just wants to destroy people and for that he cannot be intimidated, redirected, or persuaded.

3. The fans will enjoy many, many references and callbacks to the earlier films including everyone making fun of Roman (Tyrese Gibson) for not being very smart or super-good at anything There are also knowing winks at some of the film’s conventions, like those in law enforcement who initially come after Dom’s found family for breaking the law ending up on his side (Brian, Elena, Jacob), and many nods to the past nine films like nitrous oxide push, the return of various characters (Han/Deckard remix), the re-appearance of the “God’s Eye” (the ultimate McGuffin) and, a deeper cut, computer whiz Ramsey suddenly knowing about cars. There’s also something that almost rises to the level of a theme of children, including adult children, trying to please or carry on the work of their fathers, including Dante, Dom’s son “Little B” (for Brian, played in the earlier films by the late Paul Walker), and Brie Larson as the daughter of the mysterious spy Mr. Nobody, played in the earlier films by Kurt Russell but not in this one — I predict that he will be back in part 2.

4. Stakes: The very qualities that make Momoa’s Dante a great movie villain ramps up the stakes in a way that some viewers may find uncomfortably, even distractingly, transcends the genre. Usually, in these films, the McGuffin concept is quickly explained as something critical our team needs to get away from the bad guys and then we’re on to the chase and explosions and jokes about Roman. And the bad guy usually wants something evil but rational, like money or world domination or revenge. But, as they say, “this time it’s personal.” When the villain is just in it to mess with everyone, to make things as emotionally devastating as possible, even the paper-thin characters, only slightly more fleshed out than the thingamabob everyone’s chasing after, we can’t help making an emotional connection that may interfere with the fun of the race and chase scenes.

5. There’s a surprise cameo I won’t spoil. And I don’t think anyone anticipated this one: “Fast X” features four Oscar winners, Brie Larson, Dame Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, and Charlize Theron, bringing their A game as always. I could happily see a whole movie about any of their characters and the way things are going, that just might happen.

Parents should know that this film includes non-stop peril, action, and violence with many (mostly faceless) unnamed characters injured and killed and large-scale mayhem with crashed cars, bombs, fire, and explosions. Characters use strong language (including a child), drink alcohol, and briefly use drugs.

Family discussion: How do Dom’s, Little B’s, Tess’s, and Dante’s relationships with their fathers affect their life choices? Should Dom have let Roman lead the group? Who would you pick for your found family?

If you like this, try: the entire “Fast and Furious” series

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Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow — Tonight on Lifetime!

Posted on November 21, 2015 at 8:00 am

Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company and daughter of Jim Henson, discovered an unproduced script by her father, a Thanksgiving story. Tonight, it premieres on Lifetime. “Turkey Hollow is an unproduced gem from our Company’s archives. I have fond memories from my childhood of my father planning and developing this production. He was delighted by the idea of magical creatures living in the woods and was excited to portray them in a more realistic way than his other well-known puppet characters,” she said.

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Television

Furious 7

Posted on April 4, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Copyright Universal 2015
Copyright Universal 2015

Who would have picked the Fast & Furious series as the one that would defy the odds and just keep getting better? In part that is because the first one was not very good.

And the second wasn’t either. It didn’t even have Vin Diesel. And then there was that crazy detour chronologically and geographically with “Tokyo Drift.”

But somewhere around the fourth or fifth one they made two important decisions. They jettisoned any vestigial commitment to believability in storylines. And they tossed out any thought of complying with the laws of physics. In this seventh and last film, twelve years after the first one, there are so many flying cars amid the chases, explosions, and assault weapons it might as well be titled “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang.”

Okay, the cars don’t actually fly, but they hurtle through the air.

Inspired by a magazine article about street racers, the series has morphed into a sort of “Mission Impossible.” The lovable band of rogues is now on the right side of the law, not because it is the right side, because they would not be rogues anymore, but because of some personal threat or affront, which is what makes them lovable. “I don’t have friends,” says the leader of the pack Dom (Vin Diesel). “I have family.” And those who live their lives a quarter mile at a time, now expanded to include anyone who shares their ineffable coolness and unconditional commitment, qualifies as family.

The talking and the acting and the story aren’t very good, and the comic relief (mostly courtesy of Tyrese Gibson) is weak at best, but that’s not why we’re here, now, is it? It does not have a plot, just a McGuffin of a plot-ish, concerning that most venerable of action-franchise go-tos. The bad guy our heroes took down at the end of #6 turns out to have a brother who is (a) determined to get revenge by killing every one of our group, (b) trained in special ops as a former government assassin with a special affection for explosives, and (c) he is Jason Statham. He even beats up FBI agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who by now has become a sort of unofficial member of the group and kills another member. “No more funerals,” everyone agrees, except of course for Statham’s character.

Like characters in a fairy tale or a video game they have a series of tasks to accomplish in order to achieve their goal of taking out the bad guy. They have to rescue an extremely hot hacker from a supervillain with infinite access to armored vehicles and assault weapons, including armed drones. They have to retrieve her super-duper thing she invented, which is only on a hard drive in the — of course — super-duper car owned by a prince and stored in the upper stories of a skyscraper. And then they have to get the bad guy, involving a fight that comes down to mano a manly manly mano.

Okay, now that’s out of the way and we can get to the flying cars. This is a movie that has cars parachuting out of a plane. Let’s say that again. Cars parachute out of a plane. A guy gets stuck in a bus teetering over the edge of a cliff and I won’t tell you what happens next except to say it is awesome times two. There are big arms, deep voices, crazy chases, girls in very skimpy clothes, heavy artillery, crazier chases, and did I mention the cars jumping out of the plane? There’s some romance, though the only thing cheesier than the brother of the bad guy coming back for revenge storyline is the amnesia storyline, not forgetting the pregnancy she is too noble to tell him about storyline. But the action scenes are cool and the tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end is genuinely touching. Plus, cars jump out of a plane. Bang bang bang bang.

Parents should know that this film has non-stop, intense action sequences with peril and violence, some strong language, beer drinking, and some skimpy clothes and sexual references.

Family discussion: How do the characters measure loyalty? What do you think about the way they handled the real life tragic death of one of the series’ stars?

If you like this, try: the rest of the series

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Action/Adventure Series/Sequel

Ludacris at the National Press Club

Posted on October 25, 2009 at 10:00 am

IMG_6173.JPGMy good friend and fellow critic Tim Gordon and I went to hear hip-hop artist/actor/philanthropist Ludacris speak at the National Press Club on Friday. He was there to talk about his foundation and the work it does in Atlanta and around the world to help provide opportunities, guidance, and inspiration for young people. His opening remarks were impressive as he described programs that provided 20 cars to people who needed them in order to do their jobs and take care of their families and described his goal: “Not so much to see what nobody has seen as to think what nobody has thought about what everybody sees.” He spoke about his family’s “deep-rooted tradition of service that underscores the responsibility we all have.” He was grateful that his own commitment to giving back was underscored is his first job, working for Radio One. Boss Cathy Hughes insisted on community service from her employees each week, establishing a precedent for what Ludacris would do after he became a successful recording artist.
The best part was his responses to the questions from the audience, which included local teenagers and fans as well as seasoned reporters. He told the audience not to attribute violence to hip-hop but to ignorance. And he spoke of the way the hip-hop community came together in a matter of hours to help him when one of his projects needed support. My favorite moment was his answer to a question about the most important lessons he learned from his mother, Roberta Shields, who now serves as president of the foundation. He said he could not count the important lessons he learned from her but he would tell us one. He always did well in school, especially in math, but she would give him extra work to do and he did not like it, especially one annual assignment to write down his expectations and goals. He hated it at the time, but Ludacris (born Chris Bridges) attributes his success to her insistence that he be specific and concrete and accountable for his aspirations. He learned from that to “stop quitting.” If he did not achieve the previous year’s goals, he had to think about why he did not and how to do better next time. I looked over at her and saw her beaming with pride. IMG_6177.JPG

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