Family & Fan Belts: The evolution of the “Fast and Furious” franchise

For characters that live “a quarter mile at a time,” it’s been a long, strange trip for the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Starting in the drag racing scene of downtown L.A., it has since become a global enterprise that has grown with every entry. There’s even talk now that the series may go into space, and the weirdest part is that such a concept isn’t even that strange in the “Fast and Furious” film universe. But it’s important to regard the series as a whole, and with the eighth installment (“The Fate of the Furious“) opening this weekend, now is the perfect time to chart its bizarre evolution from action film knockoff to genuine pop culture phenomenon.

Before going any further, it has to be noted that there’s a clear delineation in the series: the first four movies, and “Fast Five” onward. There’s a clear shift in narrative approach and visualization used in the latter half of the franchise that simply isn’t evident in “The Fast and the Furious” through “Fast & Furious.” But despite that separation (which will be explored below), it’s all part of a (mostly) coherent whole that has its most basic elements in place from the first film. It’s surprising how many of the themes carry through despite the films’ various permutations, but it’s also clear that audiences are dealing with two different beasts when considering the entire series.

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Cool tribute to Carrie Fisher

Here’s a great tribute to Carrie Fisher posted on the Star Wars YouTube channel. R.I.P.

  

Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring
Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Kristofer Hivju
Director
F. Gary Gray

Following the untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013, it would have been completely acceptable had everyone involved in the “Fast and Furious” franchise decided to call it quits, particularly because “Furious 7” works so well as a bookend to the family saga. Despite the loss, the series has soldiered on with another installment (and two more on the way), but while “The Fate of the Furious” proves that the mega-franchise can still function without Walker’s character, it definitely suffers from a Brian O’Connor problem.

Much like how the Avengers curiously never show up to help each other in their respective solo movies, the attempt to explain Brian’s absence in this film (especially considering the personal nature of the main plot) only serves to open old wounds. It’s a void that director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan try to fill with some new additions to the team, and though it’s not entirely successful, the movie gets by on the charisma of its cast and the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from the series.

The story begins in Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are busy soaking up the culture on a much-deserved honeymoon, only to have their vacation cut short when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) enlists their help in retrieving a stolen EMP device in Berlin. But when Dom suddenly double-crosses the team and gets away with the weapon, they discover that he’s secretly working for a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who Letty believes must be blackmailing him. Beaten, bruised and betrayed by their friend, the team reunites under the direction of shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and is forced to work alongside former adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own history with the notorious hacker and wants revenge, in order to track down Dom and Cipher and prevent them from starting World War III.

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Blu Tuesday: Hidden Figures and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Hidden Figures”

“Hidden Figures” is a crowd-pleaser in the purest sense – it’s a charming, heartwarming and inspirational tale that skillfully combines light-hearted comedy with racially-charged drama to shine a light on the African-American women who helped put John Glenn and others into space during a time when neither African-Americans nor women were given those kinds of opportunities. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are excellent as the real-life mathematicians on which the film is based, while Kevin Costner provides good support as the NASA boss in charge of the space program. Although the movie hits a number of familiar beats along the way (after all, it’s basically an underdog sports drama for the STEM crowd), there’s nothing ordinary about the incredible true story at the heart of it.

Extras include an audio commentary by director/co-writer Theodore Melfi and actress Taraji P. Henson, a five-part making-of featurette and more. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Going in Style”

Starring
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Joey King, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz, Christopher Lloyd
Director
Zach Braff

Zach Braff must be desperate for work; it’s the only logical reason why he would agree to direct a remake of 1979’s “Going in Style,” a movie so unmemorable that most people have never even heard of it. It’s completely out of character for a filmmaker like Braff, whose first two features (“Garden State” and “Wish I Was Here”) were such deeply personal pieces of work that it’s very surprising to see him slumming it as a director-for-hire. Then again, he probably couldn’t resist the opportunity to work alongside three Hollywood legends, and it’s hard to blame him, because the casting of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin is pretty much the only thing that this movie has going for it.

The actors play a trio of lifelong friends and former co-workers who have just been informed that their pension fund at the local steel factory is being dissolved, leaving the already financially-strapped retirees in a tough spot. Without a pension to pay his mortgage, Joe (Caine) is at risk of losing the home that he shares with his daughter and grandchild to bank foreclosure, and Willie (Freeman) is in desperate need of a kidney transplant that his insurance won’t cover. The curmudgeonly Albert (Arkin), meanwhile, has practically given up on life already, despite the romantic advances of peppy supermarket clerk Annie (Ann-Margaret). But when Joe witnesses a bank robbery in progress and gets the idea to pull a heist of his own, he convinces Willie and Albert to help him rob the bank that’s responsible for screwing them over.

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