‘Silicon Valley’ Season Premiere Review: A Whole New Internet

silicon valley season premiere

The most brilliant comedy on TV returns! The fourth season premiere of HBO’s Silicon Valley is titled “Success Failure,” which is a pretty accurate description of the show so far.

Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper crew have seen tiny pieces of amazing success and attention thrown at them that promise to make them enough money to live the rest of their lives, only for them to lose it all each and every time. After three seasons of this, it’s hard not to get a little bit disinterested in this motley crew, but this season started off by doing something pretty brilliant – they’re rebooting it. Or at least, they’re changing the direction of the show.

A New Title Sequence

One of the most underappreciated parts of each Silicon Valley episode is its title sequence, which changes from season-to-season. The sequence shows the Valley being built up with corporations in a mere ten seconds, so quickly that it takes a few rewatches to catch the many in-jokes each contains.

For instance, near the space where a Napster balloon floated up before imploding and falling to the ground, a massive Uber balloon rose up in season two. In season three, a smaller Lyft balloon rose up to bounce against Uber, futily. But at the start of the season 4 premiere, they’re both about the same size and knocking against each other, probably due to Uber’s incredible snafus made earlier this year and Lyft taking advantage of their rival’s bad press so expertly.

Last season, there were a couple of drones delivering bottles of champagne to buildings. This year, they’re all over the skies, delivering six-packs of beer and individual pizza slices.

Another building now has a sign for Theranos, which immediately starts to peel off the building, probably due to the multiple FBI vans outside. The company isn’t doing well, lately. There are probably a dozen more tiny references taking place on the rooftops and streets, just a small hint of the brilliant depths of the show.

SV Gavin

The Most Silicon Valley Moment

If you think a $ 400 juicer is a stupid waste of money (it is), how about what Hooli CEO Gavin Belson gets up to in this episode? We see him with his new hire Jack Barker on the way back from a successful trip to China. Gavin becomes incredibly angry when Jack convinces him that it would be faster to drop him off at his destination first, even though it’s clearly farther. Gavin becomes so obsessed with this slight that he sends his right hand man on the exact trip from China to San Francisco to time how long each leg of the journey it takes. When he returns and confirms that it was indeed 28.3 minutes shorter if they had gone Gavin’s way, Gavin sends him back out to take five more private transcontinental flights in order to sum up the average time, to account for headwind and other variables. The purpose of this? He’s concerned with Barker’s corporate spending.

Barker ends up delightfully punished for this at the end of the episode, demoted to an “office” in the fourth sub basement next to the servers, facing the door of a men’s room.

SV Russ

The Doors of a Billionaire

With each of these weekly review, I plan to single out the best one-liner of the episode, so color me surprised that this one didn’t belong to something from the mouth of Erlich Bachman. We all know that T. J. Miller is king of the one-liners and will usually dominate this section, but we can’t blame him because this episode features an appearance by Chris Diamantopoulos’ Russ Hanneman, the billionaire who put radio on the internet. He appears in his ridiculous car to meet with Richard outside of his kid’s school. His greeting?

“Thanks for meeting me here. My fucking nanny got a D.U.I. and lost her license and I’m stuck picking up my own kid like an asshole. So what’s up?”

This is perhaps the tamest portion of his dialogue, which is delivered in front of horrified children and parents. Russ may be crazy, but it’s only because of this interaction that Richard realizes that he’s not fully behind the new direction of Pied Piper, and he has only one thing he can do – quit.

By far the best joke in the episode is Russ peeling out in his car after his chat with Richard, blasting Papa Roach’s “Last Resort,” the way we all wish Paul Ryan did.

SV Leader

The Most Inspiring Speech

Dinesh and Gilfoyle have the best (lack of) chemistry on the show, so it was perhaps shocking to think that Gilfoyle would ever back Dinesh as the new CEO of Pied Piper. But after Dinesh’s rousing speech, he had no option but to fall in line.

“Gilfoyle, can I please be CEO of Pied Piper?” pleads Dinesh.

“Spoken like a true leader,” replies our favorite anarchist. “But, since your failure as a leader is a virtual certainty, tolerating your short reign as CEO in exchange for a front-row seat to the disaster seems fair. Plus if I’m wrong, which I’m not, I get rich. So I’m down with Dinesh.”

And the new crew gets almost immediately to work on their video conferencing app, with a new gung-ho leader who’s actually interested in the product they’re creating.

SV New Internet

Building, Not Sustaining

Richard’s problem has always been that he’s a weirdo genius. He’s an amazing engineer and the rest of the crew has admitted many times that they can’t code like he can, but he has absolutely no social skills. This is what makes the show so fun to watch, but it also means thatany time he tries to steer the ship, it’s destined to smash into pieces against rocks he didn’t even see.

Richard finally realizes that in this episode, and breaks off from the new Pied Piper video chat direction (which Dinesh is excited about, since it’s his!) to do his very own thing – and that thing is to build a new internet using his algorithm.  He doesn’t even know how this will work, so this should be interesting. Will he achieve an engineering miracle, only to fall back into the same self-defeating problems? Or will he finally give up the front-facing roles of the company to people that are actually good at it? We still have a whole season ahead of us to find out.

The post ‘Silicon Valley’ Season Premiere Review: A Whole New Internet appeared first on /Film.


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Voice from the Stone Review

Voice from the Stone Review

Voice from the Stone Review: Emilia Clarke gives a solid performance in this beautifully crafted romantic horror film

If you’re a fan of Roger Corman‘s first few entries in his classic series of ’60s films based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, you know that writer Richard Matheson was fond of marrying those opulent tales of dread with Henry James’ influential ghost story The Turn of the Screw. In 1960’s House of Usher, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum and in the “Morella” segment of 1962’s Tales of Terror, a hero would travel for whatever reason to an impossible Gothic European manor or castle, nestled in the middle of nowhere and soon be swept up in a supernatural psychodrama of some sort. And it was true that — especially in regards to Usher — like in the James tale (and the film version, 1961’s The Innocents), it wasn’t the twists of plot that left viewers spellbound, it was the remarkable way in which Corman and production designer Daniel Haller created an immersive, haunted world, where every creak and whisper hit the nerves like a dagger.

Stuntman and pyro FX artist-turned-director Eric D. Howell’s delicate new ghost story Voice from the Stone (based on the novel by Italian writer Silvio Raffo), similarly mines that Corman/James marriage and ladles on plenty of creamy pulp paperback intrigue, creating a distinctly feminine fright movie that is more in love with baroque architecture, swirling mists, broken statues, intricately-designed costumes and suffocating supernatural mystery than it is jump scares or genre cliches. It’s a beautiful horror movie, truly, one made for patient grown-ups and with every technical element refined and buffed to a high gloss.

Game of Thrones‘ Dragon Queen Emilia Clarke doffs her platinum wig and dials down her amazonian warrior act to play Verena, a gifted teacher and nurse who, like a non-fantastical Mary Poppins, drifts in and out of the lives of a myriad European families, assisting children in need and drawing the previously-fractured units together. And though her young wards are devastated when she checks out to go to her next gig, Verena never takes it personally. She walks away and doesn’t look back. Work is work.

Voice from the stone

One day she’s summoned to the estate of a widow (Marton Csokas) and his young son in the Tuscany countryside and, as she wades through the dense fog surrounding the home, she immediately feels something is off. So do we, but Peter Simonite’s handsome photography makes every image a masterpiece worthy of framing, so we don’t mind much. Turns out the boy hasn’t uttered a word since the death of his mother and the grieving patriarch is so shell shocked by his loss, he hasn’t had the energy or ability to reach him. But Verena is up for the challenge, gently bonding with the mute boy, day by day. But when first the boy, then Verena, hears harsh whispers coming from behind a stone wall of the house, Verena becomes convinced the dead woman is haunting the house and that somehow she is slowly, surely becoming the mother.

Voice from the Stone is a gorgeous bauble of a chiller, with a sensual, minimalist cello and piano-based score by Michael Wandmacher (Underworld Blood Wars) that aids in building an ambiguous, romantic and melancholy world for the emotionally-troubled characters to inhabit. The cast is just as on point, with Clarke reveling in her role, playing a woman who unlocks both her sexuality and primal maternal instinct in the face of the arcane; and she’s matched by Csokas’ work as the broken husband who becomes smitten by the new woman in his home and Italian genre film legend Lisa Gastoni (War of the Planets) who creeps around the peripheral as the steely, elderly matron who passive aggressively steers Verena more and more to accepting the fact that she’s “becoming” someone else.

Not for horror fans seeking a quick in and out, Voice from the Stone is a slow burning, absorbing and carefully-crafted Gothic gem. With its rich cinematography, bodice-heaving sensuality and grandiose sense of decay, it’s a film admirers of this sort of thing will want to eat, slowly… so slowly, savoring every shivery second.

Voice from the Stone opens in theaters, VOD and Digital HD on April 28th from Momentum Pictures

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Review: Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’ is a Crazy Fun and Comical Ride

Ben Wheatley's Free Fire

It’s difficult to say which is sharper in Ben Wheatley’s latest film, Free Fire: the bullets being fired by the nefarious characters found within or the witty jabs those characters tend to fling at one another between the continual barrage of deadly gunplay. One may kill you, but the other may actually hurt your feelings. As with his previous films, Wheatley presents Free Fire with a gleefully dark sense of humor, the ridiculousness of events playing out made all the more senseless when you take into account where everyone’s mindset is at. That sense of humor – not to mention the aberrantly comical characters – washes the onslaught of violence down all the easier, though, and, with Free Fire, Wheatley once again proves to be a unique voice ›››

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Phoenix Forgotten Review

Phoenix Forgotten Review: New Ridley Scott-produced found footage horror film is full of sound and fury and paranoia

Phoenix Forgotten Review: New Ridley Scott-produced found footage horror film is full of sound and fury and paranoia

Found footage horror movies are a dime a dozen and have been since Paranormal Activity traded on the success of the previous decade’s The Blair Witch Project and rode it all the way to the bank. With the film industry in a less-than-healthy state, found footage horror movies cost nearly nada to make, with rarely a known star in site and a visual palette that demands incompetence for it to even function.

Yeah, I don’t like them. If I want reality, I’ll look out the window.

But every so often a film of this type comes out and surprises, mixing cinematic craft with the urgency of found footage. Enter Phoenix Forgotten, director Justin Barber’s Ridley Scott-produced faux docu-thriller about the purportedly “true” events on March 13th, 1997 in Phoenix, Arizona when a bunch of locals swear that the glowing light saw in the distant night sky weren’t government jets but a big ‘ole UFO dropping in for a quick hello.

Barber’s film works because it’s a film first, by that I mean it’s produced and presented as an actual piece of dramatic journalism, with score and ace editing as various talking heads (are they real? actors? The lines here are rather ingeniously smudged) debate the authenticity of the footage and tell tales of other such sightings that might lend credence to the tin-hat set.

Woven into this is a narrative about a trio of teens who had obviously seen and enjoyed The Blair With Project enough to pack up some snacks and video gear and hightail into the desert to find potential evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Of course, they’re never heard from again. That is until 20 years later when the makers of this movie find a tape buried in the sand containing the last few minutes of the kids’ lives… on Earth at least.

The makers of this movie are cruising for a critical bruising when reviewers get hold of the title. I can just see the cynical headlines: “Phoenix Already Forgotten!”; “Forget it Phoenix!”. But the truth is, Phoenix Forgotten is really rather good. It’s expertly-paced and immersive and cynical about its subject before blossoming into a fiery horror movie for the shaky-cam finale. Unlike many of these movies, post-production is solid, especially the sound design and that last reel is a real hackle-raiser because of those alarming sound FX. The pro-am performances are pretty good too and ultimately its these controlled, presumably semi-improvised performances that elevate the movie, making us feel genuinely sad at the stressful fate the three kids endure.

While Phoenix Forgotten won’t change your life, it is a damn sight better than last year’s Blair Witch sequel and it gives hope that there is SOMETHING out there: a better breed of found footage film.

The post Phoenix Forgotten Review appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review

Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review

Ingenious socially volatile horror omnibus Tales from the Hood hits Blu-ray on Tuesday from Scream Factory

When one is critiquing a film, the thinking is that objectivity is key. A proper review must not reflect the writer’s personal tastes but must evenly judge if the film is successful at its chosen level and respond accordingly. Well, f**k that. If you eat, sleep and breathe cinema, if you love it so much that it keeps you awake at night, if it makes your pulse pound faster and in many respects informs your view of the world, then objectivity is impossible. In fact, I think the very concept of a piece of film writing being removed from one’s life experiences and leanings is an abstract one, even on an academic level. Art provokes response and every single human being who views that art will respond differently. That’s the beauty of art.

So with that verbose preamble, I’ll say right here, right now that I am crazymadinsane in love with Rusty Cundieff’s savage, smart and socially potent 1995 omnibus Tales from the Hood beyond all reason. Many say Scream saved and redeemed horror in the ’90s. I hate Scream, that self-aware, sneering, smart-ass sitcom thing. And if the studio that released it had been savvier with their marketing campaign, they’d be saying that about Tales. It should have been “the one” that spawned the franchise, that kick-started the trends and Clarence Williams III‘s wild-eyed hell spawn mortician with his Satanic Don King hairdo should have been the guy people were dressing up as for Halloween.

TalesHood2

But it was just too black. I mean, look at Scream, with its gaggle of pretty, porcelain white faces staring smugly at the pundits on that copied-to-death poster. A far easier sell to America than the ebony skull with the glowing gold tooth that grinned at you on the awesome Tales one-sheet. Savoy Pictures saddled the movie with a marketing campaign and tagline (“Chill…or be chilled…”) that positioned the picture as a spoof, like a Wayans Brothers skewering of HBO’s then-popular, campy series Tales from the Crypt. Ironically, those Wayans lads would find great success lampooning Scream a few years later.

No, Tales from the Hood is no spoof. It’s not a send-up. It’s funny, certainly, but often that humor — as it should always be in horror films — stems organically from the absurdity of the situations. What Tales really is, is a primal scream about black Americans in the urban ’90s landscape, both marginalized and — even more potently — cannibalizing themselves. And revisiting the film today via Scream Factory’s marvelous Blu-ray presentation, it’s important to note that its power and relevance has not dulled an ounce.

The film sees a trio of macho, tough-talking and pistol-wielding gang-bangers descending upon the wildly Gothic funeral home owned by the aforementioned mortician Mr. Simms, so deftly essayed by The Mod Squad‘s Clarence Williams III, who they think has a stash of cash and drugs. The punks demand that Mr. Simms cough up “the sh*t” to which the potentially insane embalmer retorts, “you want the sh*t? You’ll be KNEE DEEP in the sh*t!”

Over the next several hours, Williams stalls his antagonists with the grim, supernatural stories of the young, black men who fill the coffins in his basement. We get the story of the crooked, murderous cops (one played by the great Wings Hauser) who beat, frame and murder a crusading black DA while a young rookie cop watches in horror… and ultimately turns a blind eye. Years later, the unjustly slain victim rises from the dead to exact revenge with the now homeless and substance-addicted ex-cop’s help. Another story sees a teacher worried about a little boy who swears his bruises and broken bones are the result of a monster that hides in his home. Meanwhile, the kid’s dad (comedian David Alan Grier in a very dark change of pace role) is getting plenty angry at the images his boy is drawing. The next story sees a sniggering former KKK-linked politico (Corbin Bernsen) defiantly moving into a former plantation slave house and running afoul of ghostly marionettes who demand bloody justice. And the final story, the corker, sees a lethal gang banger left for dead after a bloody street brawl and whisked away to a secret clinic where a majestic doctor (The Omega Man‘s Rosalind Cash) subjects him to a mind-bending, gut wrenching “Ludivico” -esque treatment to make him aware that the real enemy to “his people”…is him. And then there’s that ending…

Oh, that ending. It’s one for the books, baby. Wow.

In style, structure and tone, Tales from the Hood is more of a kissing cousin to Freddie Francis‘ still chilling 1972 Amicus adaptation of EC’s Tales from the Crypt comics, with its somber tone, intense morality plays, Grand Guignol gore, black (in every sense) humor and supernatural punishments. But it’s something else. Something angry and upsetting. Something sad. If Jordan Peele’s brilliant current smash-hit Get Out is about the way racism now hides behind America’s current grinning, faux liberal facade, Tales is about the pulse on the street, of how poverty and ignorance are causing young black men and women to fall into a chasm, one in which they rage war against themselves.

Cundieff and co-writer/producer Darin (From a Whisper to a Scream) Scott’s film is a masterpiece. It’s a perfect horror film and its messages aren’t so heavy handed that they overtake the pleasures of the genre elements, rather the social spine enhances the film’s fright factor. Scream Factory gives Tales from the Hood the dignity it deserves by commissioning an absolutely first-rate documentary about the making of the movie on the Blu-ray’s back end. In it, Cundieff and Scott have a blast discussing the film’s legacy, it’s unfortunate marketing and the legion of fans it now commands; FX wizard Kenneth J. Hall cheerfully discusses the movie’s many gags and it’s great to see Hauser and Bernson comment on their work in the movie, both citing their performances as career highlights.

In case I have not made this clear: I LOVE TALES FROM THE HOOD. It’s a major work. If you’ve missed it, fix that grave error as soon as humanly possible.

Pick up Tales from the Hood on Amazon now

The post Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Tales From the Hood Blu-ray Review

TalesHood

Ingenious socially volatile horror omnibus Tales from the Hood hits Blu-ray on Tuesday from Scream Factory

When one is critiquing a film, the thinking is that objectivity is key. A proper review must not reflect the writer’s personal tastes but must evenly judge if the film is successful at its chose level and respond accordingly. Well, f**k that. If you eat, sleep and breathe cinema, if you love it so much that it keeps you awake at night, if it makes your pulse pound faster and in many respects informs your view of the world, then objectivity is impossible. In fact, I think the very concept of a piece of film writing being removed from ones life experiences and leanings is an abstract one, even on an academic level. Art provokes response and every single human being who views that art will respond differently. That’s the beauty of art.

So with that verbose preamble, I’ll say right here, right now that I am crazymadinsane in love with Rusty Cundieff’s savage, smart and socially potent 1995 omnibus Tales from the Hood beyond all reason. Many say Scream saved and redeemed horror in the ’90s. I hate Scream, that self-aware, sneering, smart-ass sitcom thing. And if the studio that released it had been savvier with their marketing campaign, they’d be saying that about Tales. It should have been “the one” that spawned the franchise, that kick-started the trends and Clarence Williams III‘s wild-eyed hellspawn mortician with his Satanic Don King hairdo should have been the guy people were dressing up as for on Halloween.

TalesHood2

But it was just too black. I mean, look at Scream, with its gaggle of pretty, porcelain white faces staring smugly at the pundits on that copied-to-death poster. A far easier sell to America than the ebony skull with the glowing gold tooth that grinned at you on the awesome Tales one-sheet. Savoy Pictures saddled the movie with a marketing campaign and tagline (“Chill…or be chilled…”) that positioned the picture as a spoof, like a Wayans Brothers skewering of HBO’s then-popular, campy series Tales from the Crypt. Ironically, those Wayans lads would find great success lampooning Scream a few years later.

No, Tales from the Hood is no spoof. It’s not a send-up. It’s funny, certainly, but often that humor – as it should always be in horror films – stems organically from the absurdity of the situations. What Tales really is, is a primal scream about black Americans in the urban ’90s landscape, both marginalized and – even more potently – cannibalizing themselves. And revisiting the film today via Scream Factory’s marvelous Blu-ray presentation, its important to note that its power and relevance has not dulled an ounce.

The film sees a trio of macho, tough-talking and pistol-wielding gang-bangers descending upon the wildly Gothic funeral home owned by the aforementioned mortician Mr. Simms, so deftly essayed by The Mod Squad‘s Clarence Williams III, who they think has a stash of cash and drugs. The punks demand that Mr. Simms cough up “the shit” to which the potentially insane embalmer retorts, “you want the shit? You’ll be KNEE DEEP in the shit!”

Over the next several hours, Williams stalls his antagonists with the grim, supernatural stories of the young, black men who fill the coffins in his basement. We get the story of the crooked, murderous cops (one played by the great Wings Hauser) who beat, frame and murder a crusading black DA while a young rookie cop watches in horror…and ultimately turns a blind eye. Years later, the unjustly slain victim rises from the dead to exact revenge with the now homeless and substance-addicted ex-cop’s help. Another story sees a teacher worried about a little boy who swears his bruises and broken bones are the result of a monster that hides in his home. Meanwhile, the kid’s dad (comedian David Alan Grier in a very dark change of pace role) is getting plenty angry at the images his boy is drawing. The next story sees a sniggering former KKK-linked politico (Corbin Bernsen) defiantly moving into a former plantation slave house and running afoul of ghostly marionettes who demand bloody justice. And the final story, the corker, sees a lethal gang banger left for dead after a bloody street brawl and whisked away to secret clinic where a majestic doctor (The Omega Man‘s Rosalind Cash) subjects him to a mind-bending, gut wrenching “Ludivico” -esque treatment to make him aware that the real enemy to “his people”…is him. And then there’s that ending…

Oh, that ending. It’s one for the books, baby. Wow.

In style, structure and tone, Tales from the Hood is more of a kissing cousin to Freddie Francis‘ still chilling 1972 Amicus adaptation of EC’s Tales from the Crypt comics, with its somber tone, intense morality plays, Grand Guignol gore, black (in every sense) humor and supernatural punishments. But it’s something else. Something angry and upsetting. Something sad. If Jordan Peele’s brilliant current smash-hit Get Out is about the way racism now hides behind America’s current grinning, faux liberal facade, Tales is about the pulse on the street, of how poverty and ignorance are causing young black men and women to fall into a chasm, one in which they rage war against themselves.

Cundieff and co-writer/producer Darin (From a Whisper to a Scream) Scott’s film is a masterpiece. It’s a perfect horror film and its messages aren’t so heavy handed that they overtake the pleasures of the genre elements, rather the social spine enhances the film’s fright factor. Scream Factory gives Tales from the Hood the dignity it deserves by commissioning an absolutely first-rate documentary about the making of the movie on the Blu-ray’s back end. In it, Cundieff and Scott have a blast discussing the film’s legacy, it’s unfortunate marketing and the legion of fans it now commands; FX wizard Kenneth J. Hall cheerfully discusses the movie’s many gags and it’s great to see Hauser and Bernson comment on their work in the movie, both citing their performances as career highlights.

In case I have not made this clear: I LOVE TALES FROM THE HOOD. It’s a major work. If you’ve missed it, fix that grave error as soon as humanly possible.

Pick up Tales from the Hood on Amazon now

The post Tales From the Hood Blu-ray Review appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Review: ‘The Fate of the Furious’ Delivers Insane Action and Little Else

The Fate of the Furious Review

How much can you really analyze the films of The Fast and the Furious franchise at this point? They know what they are, and the fans of these movies definitely know what awaits them with each, new entry. The formula is evident: fast cars, silly dialogue, colorful but badass characters, and family, always family. The eighth and latest entry, The Fate (F8) of the Furious, is no different from the rest, and, though the film provides an endless slew of over-the-top and impressive stunts and a complete disregard for the laws of physics, it never recreates the feeling of excitement this franchise has delivered so many times before. The motor propelling The Fast and the Furious series may not be completely out of steam, but the check engine ›››

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The Fate of the Furious Review

The Fate of the Furious ReviewRating:

7.5 out of 10

Cast:

Vin Diesel as Dom Torretto
Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs
Charlize Theron as Cipher
Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw
Michelle Rodriguez as Letty
Tyrese Gibson as Roman
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej Parker
Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey
Elsa Pataky as Elena
Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody
Kristofer Hivju as Rhodes
Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody
Helen Mirren as Magdalene Shaw

Directed by F. Gary Gray

The Fate of the Furious Review

So the franchise that was once The Little Engine That Could has become a juggernaut of global record-smashing proportions, with fans who have been there from the very beginning, to more recent appreciators who have only joined since the Fast & Furious series became a massive action-adventure saga that spanned the globe like James Bond on steroids. Even critics have come along for the ride; the fifth, sixth, and seventh films are quite well regarded as delivering on entertainment and thrills without compromising what makes these movies so endearing since the first film in 2001. These movies have not forgotten where they have come from. I’m a fan.

Which is what makes The Fate of the Furious a bit of a letdown, but it was almost to be expected – the last three films have been the pinnacle of this saga, and it was, pardon the pun, fate that the eighth film in the series wouldn’t be able to hold up to the last three films. The tires are starting to show their treads, and while the engine may not need an oil change quite yet, it couldn’t hurt to take the car to the wash. While there is still a lot to love in this series, especially for fans, The Fate of the Furious brings the franchise into more familiar territory, and any films that come after will have to up their game to sustain the fun of the previous films.

Consider this more tempering expectations than a negative review, though. There is still plenty to love about The Fate of the Furious, especially if you’ve become as invested in this silly, brave, loyal, kickass family as I have. Dwayne Johnson is still a blast as Hobbs, all testosterone and tank top, Tyrese is still the class clown, Ludacris is the techie, Michelle Rodriguez is the heart, and then there is Dominic Torretto, full of glower and honor, and Vin Diesel plays Dom as a man who has made peace with the world… that is, until Cipher (Charlize Theron) enters his life and drops a bombshell that causes Dom to turn his back on his beloved family and seemingly go rogue. Cipher’s goal is nothing less than world domination, and Dom is her key to making it happen. Dom actually has a pretty compelling reason to go “bad,” best revealed in the movie, but this isn’t so much a shift in loyalty as it is a shift in priorities. Mr. Nobody recognizes the danger Cipher represents, and brings along Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to help the team stop Dom and Cipher’s plans. Hobbs and Deckard are probably a folding chair short of a cage match brawl throughout most of the movie, and it’s a blast watching Johnson and Statham rage at each other through the film.

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not one big thing, but a few disconcerting minor issues that eventually add up. First, while F. Gary Gray is capable in his direction, one fight sequence in a prison has so much shaky camerawork that it’s almost impossible to see what’s going on, which is a shame because it puts the physical presences of both Johnson and Statham on the sidelines for a bit of fake intensity. These movies also have a hilarious habit of making all the tech almost to the level of Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble. Watching Cipher and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) have what amounts to a hack-off is gloriously, apologetically dumb. The first half of The Fate of the Furious is waiting for all the pieces to come together, and while it’s not exactly a slog, it takes a while for the movie to find its pace.

In fact, much of this franchise’s spectacular action doesn’t really kick in until the middle, during a terrific sequence in New York City involving the team, Dom, and about a thousand automated cars. From that point in the movie, the action is top-notch, but until then, The Fate of the Furious is on unsteady ground. The final climax on an Iceland glacier is just as strong as any of the others, and Gray intercuts various action pieces with all the impact of the best endings in the Fast & Furious series.

Also on unsteady ground – Vin Diesel’s work as Dom this time around, although to be fair he’s the antagonist, and Diesel’s taking Dom into unfamiliar territory. This time, everyone else but Diesel gets to have more fun, while all Diesel gets to do is be sidelined as Cipher’s lackey. Diesel does get a nice moment when the reason for his betrayal is revealed – and I’ll be honest, it surprised me when I saw it in the theater, although I should have seen it coming a million miles away, since it’s practically the central thesis of this franchise – but for the most part, Vin Diesel doesn’t get to play as much as his co-stars.

Another, sadder issue – I really missed Paul Walker in The Fate of the Furious. His earnest, aw shucks heart is sorely needed at times, and in his absence, we can see just how important Walker was to these movies, and not just as Dom’s best friend, either. Without Brian, Dom comes across as somewhat lost, with only Rodriguez’s Letty to anchor him, and while the film tries to give us something of a surrogate character in Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody, he just doesn’t have the same kind of impact Paul Walker had. It’s not Eastwood’s fault, either – Little Nobody is something of a thankless role, and if the character returns in subsequent films, he’ll probably have more to do. It is, of course, always fun to see Kurt Russell again, and I hope he stays with this series, because he gives all this ridiculous bombast some class and, dare I say, legitimacy.

As a piece of the larger franchise, there are some interesting plot twists in The Fate of the Furious, not least of which is the use of Statham’s Deckard and a very Hard Boiled-inspired action sequence involving him at the climax of the movie. We also learn more about Deckard and his goals, and I’m certain that will come into play in later films (at least, I hope it does). These movies have always been about watching enemies become friends, ever since the very first film. There’s something a little forced about how Deckard becomes a part of that theme (Deckard did, after all, kill Han, one of the most beloved characters of the series), but there’s no denying that family is what these movies are all about. It’s obvious, it’s corny, and it works. That’s what makes this series so satisfying, even at its silliest – when the movie talks about family, it means it. It’s an ensemble, it’s a shared joy, and diverse, and it feels like coming home. Even through the weaker aspects of The Fate of the Furious, that sense of love shines through, and it’s why we keep coming back to this family time and time again.

If Vin Diesel is to be believed, there’s two films left in this saga, and the pieces are there to finish off this franchise in grand style. Think of The Fate of the Furious as the breather before the plunge. It’s good, but it’s not as great as 5, 6, or 7… but really, few franchises can sustain this kind of energy and entertainment for this long, so we were due for a film that can’t keep up. But that’s fine – for those of us who have been there since the beginning, these movies are still thrilling, heartfelt, and wildly entertaining.

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