Fast & Furious 8 (AKA The Fate of the Furious)

For F*** Magazine

FAST & FURIOUS 8 

Director : F. Gary Gray
Cast : Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Elsa Pataky, Scott Eastwood
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 16min
Opens : 13 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

The driving force behind the Fast and Furious franchise – besides international box office – is ‘family’. Groan-inducing though it may be, many moviegoers have warmed to the crew led by Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Diesel), and audiences around the world feel a kinship with this team. In this, the eighth entry in the franchise, we watch the family get torn asunder.

Dom and his wife Letty (Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. The couple is called away for a mission in Germany, where the team must prevent an Electromagnetic Pulse generator from falling into enemy hands. Dom, Letty, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson), motormouth Roman (Gibson), mechanical whiz Tej (Bridges) and hacker Ramsey (Emmanuel) pull off the mission without a hitch – until Dom betrays them. The woman who has somehow convinced Dom to cast aside his loyalty is elusive, powerful cyberterrorist Cipher (Theron). To track down Dom and Cipher, spymaster Mr. Nobody (Russell) places the team’s nemesis Deckard Shaw (Statham) alongside them. Everyone, especially Hobbs, is upset that they must work with Shaw, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This latest adventure takes the team from New York City to the frigid Russian tundra, as they try to stop Cipher and win Dom back to the side of good.

Director F. Gary Gray, who helmed Straight Outta Compton and the remake of The Italian Job, takes the wheel from Furious 7 director James Wan. While it’s officially titled ‘The Fate of the Furious’, it’s promoted as Fast & Furious 8 in several territories. With the superstar cast and key behind-the-scenes personnel including writer Chris Morgan, cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, composer Brian Tyler and second unit director/stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos returning, not too much has changed, even with a new director.

Under the guidance of Justin Lin, who helmed the third through sixth entries in the franchise, the series has morphed from being ostensibly about car racing culture into a globe-trotting military action/heist behemoth. Fast & Furious 8 opens with a street race in Havana, to remind viewers that the series hasn’t forgotten its roots. It takes confidence to open the film with a relatively humble set-piece, especially when compared to the mayhem that follows.

When the sixth film came out, some viewers were wondering just how the series would continue to top itself in the outlandish car stunt stakes. Just when it seemed there’s nothing new under the sun, Fast & Furious 8 launches a submarine at the crew. This is a series that’s always in danger of swallowing itself up, but Gray presides over things with a firm-enough hand. A sequence in which Cipher orchestrates unbridled vehicular chaos on the streets of New York City is inventive, and in between all the big-budget bombast, we get to witness a good old-fashioned prison brawl. Once again, Razatos deserves credit for staging grand, entertaining spectacle.

Watching the action scenes is like watching a penguin glide gracefully through the water. Sitting through the dramatic scenes is like watching said penguin waddle on land: it’s ungainly, but endearing. The soap opera quotient is even higher than before. Dom goes rogue! Shock, horror! While Morgan’s screenplay heaves with cheesiness and Gibson’s ad-libbing tends to make scenes less funny, we have to admire the logistics of it. Not just the logistics of staging the action, but the sheer mechanics of constructing the screenplay, such that each member of the ever-expanding cast gets their time to shine. There are a few twists, a cameo or two and a reasonably clever gambit is put into play, but it’s nothing as audacious as the chase with the safe(s) in the fifth film. While the seventh film made a fair few viewers tear up with its closing tribute to the late Paul Walker, the emotional scenes here make considerably less impact.

The massive ensemble works like a well-oiled machine, anecdotal murmurs of friction between Diesel and his castmates notwithstanding. Gray wrings a good amount of tension from the premise of Dom turning against his teammates, with Rodriguez’s Letty naturally being the most hurt.

Johnson and Statham play off against each other wonderfully, trading juvenile barbs. Having the big bad villain of the seventh film get all chummy with the crew does run the risk of diminishing Shaw’s intimidation factor, but that’s not too much of an issue because there’s a new villain in town.

Said villain is played by Theron, reuniting with her Italian Job director and co-star Statham. Theron’s awesome in pretty much everything (we like to pretend Æon Flux doesn’t exist) and she has just enough fun with this role. Cipher is coolly evil and her dastardly scheme is very Bond villain-esque. However, unlike the Shaw siblings from the last two instalments, Cipher is mostly a passive villain, standing in front of a bank of computers, shouting things like “hack ‘em all” to her minions. It’s not the best use of Theron, but we’re glad she’s in the series anyway.

Perhaps it’s because she was only introduced in the previous film, but Emmanuel’s Ramsey doesn’t really feel like a part of the team yet. Scott Eastwood plays Mr. Nobody’s apprentice who gets picked on by the crew and feels extraneous. But if you’re already invested in the series and its characters, this is a fun ride that feels shorter than its 136-minute running time. Gray does a fine job of preserving the series’ personality while furthering the team’s delightfully ludicrous exploits.

Summary: It’s as cheesy and outlandish as ever: Fast & Furious 8 sticks to what works for the franchise and even if it doesn’t break ground the same way that submarine did, it’s enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Hollywood Adventures (横冲直撞好莱坞)

For F*** Magazine

HOLLYWOOD ADVENTURES (横冲直撞好莱坞)

Director : Timothy Kendall
Cast : Zhao Wei, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Sarah Li, Sung Kang, Rhys Coiro, Stephen Tobolowsky, Simon Helberg, Robert Patrick, Kat Dennings. Tyrese Gibson, Missi Pyle
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 9 July 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use)
These tourists turn tinsel town topsy-turvy. Say that three times fast. In this action comedy, Huang Xiaoming stars as Beijing car salesman Xiaoming, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Yan Yan (Li) when she up and leaves him to become a production assistant in Hollywood. Xiaoming frantically grabs the last available ticket to L.A., inadvertently joining the “Hollywood Adventures” tour group with garrulous movie buff Dawei (Tong). They arrive in the City of Angels, meeting up with tour guide Wei Wei (Zhao). In the process of his quest to win back the love of his life, Xiaoming stumbles into a smuggling operation, running afoul of various colourful characters including shady motel proprietor Manny Love (Kang), irascible movie director Wronald Wright (Tobolowsky) and diva movie star Gary Buesheimer (Coiro).

            This China-U.S. co-production is half showbiz satire, half “idiots abroad” comedy. Helmed by small-time TV director Timothy Kendall and co-written and co-produced by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame, Hollywood Adventures is Lin’s attempt at breaking into the lucrative Chinese film market. The film plays into China’s growing consumption of and fascination with American popular culture, stuffed to the gills with references to movies and TV shows. The creative team, including Lin, Kendall and co-writers Brice Beckham and Philip W. Chung, are all American, casting three of China’s biggest stars in a bid to appeal to Chinese filmgoers. Unfortunately for Lin and company, the film raked in far less than expected upon its opening in China.

            There is the sense throughout the film that the filmmakers are eager to pander to their target audience’s larger-than-life perception of the United States in general and Hollywood in particular. Hollywood Adventures is filled with depictions of ludicrous film industry shenanigans and it portrays Americans as simpletons easily appeased by mindless violence – in-story, a reality TV show called “Punch Me” is sweeping the nation. There are also several surprise celebrity cameos – Dawei has a massive crush on Kat Dennings, whom he naturally runs into on a movie set, and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg shows up as a translator. The highlight of these is an appearance by a certain Terminator star, who leaves dignity at the door and skewers his most famous role with amusing aplomb.

While often unfocused and very, very broad in its comedic stylings, the film does have a fair number of laughs. The Dawei character is one of those guys who speaks exclusively in movie references and quotes and is the source of fourth-wall breaking meta-fictional humour – you’ll notice that all three protagonists share the names of the actors playing them. It’s often very on the nose – upon first seeing Manny, Dawei remarks that he “looks a lot like Han from the Fast and Furious movies” – both characters are played by Sung Kang. However, this type of winking self-awareness is rare in Chinese comedies and fits right in with the L.A. setting of the movie. The film trades in various well-worn formulas, but every time a familiar trope shows up, Dawei is there to remark on it. That doesn’t excuse its lack of originality but it does make it easier to go along with the romp.

The three leads are excellently cast – Huang Xiaoming plays the strait-laced straight man, Tong Dawei is the silly sidekick and Zhao Wei is the plucky, world-weary lass who has to guide the duo through the unfamiliarity of Hollywood. Tong in particular is admirably game for a variety of embarrassing/dumb scenarios – we somehow wind up witnessing him in drag astride a motorcycle during the film’s climactic action sequence. As is often the case, the de-facto main character is the least distinct, but Huang manages to make Xiaoming adequately appealing. Zhao showcases the comic timing she’s become known for and as she plays the only one of the three leads conversant in English, does most of the interacting with the other characters for the other two. On the other hand, Rhys Coiro is not even a tiny bit convincing as a big-shot movie star involved in some illegal business. We also find it puzzling that the character’s name is a play on “Gary Busey”, of all the “top movie stars” to lampoon.

Hollywood Adventures is stupid, but for the most part, it’s amiably so. As a send-up of typical Hollywood excesses, the film ends up partaking in those same excesses, taking a hard right in its third act into thriller territory. There are still gags, but these take a backseat to a kidnapping, a showdown at an exclusive shindig and lots of cars crashing into each other and flipping through the air. The three main characters also rather conveniently become expert sharpshooters, martial artists and stunt performers by the time the denouement rolls around. Even given all that, there’s a fair amount to enjoy and despite its various shortcomings, the movie has enough raucous energy for it to pass as a somewhat entertaining diversion.

Summary: This rampage through Hollywood is brash and very silly, but the strength of the three leads and a good dose of self-aware humour carry it to the finish line.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Fast & Furious 7

For F*** Magazine

FAST & FURIOUS 7

Director : James Wan
Cast : Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Lucas Black, Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 137 mins
Opens : 2 April 2015

Big wheels keep on turning, the rubber keeps on burning and Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew are rolling, rolling, rolling down the road in the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Dom and his “family”, comprising Brian (Walker), Letty (Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Gibson) have been pardoned for their crimes in the previous films. Now, they’re sent hurtling back into their dangerous, high-speed existence when the lethal Deckard Shaw (Statham), looking to make the crew pay for almost killing his brother Owen, comes calling. With the assistance of spymaster “Mr. Nobody” (Russell) and Special Agent Hobbs (Johnson) of the Diplomatic Security Service, Dom and co. ride for their lives, this adventure taking them from L.A. to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back.

            We’ll get straight to the point – the untimely passing of star Paul Walker has cast a dark pall over a franchise built on pure escapism. What should have been yet another fist-pumping, all-out action spectacular is now a bittersweet affair. Director James Wan, taking the baton from Justin Lin, has managed to create a flick where the audience is reassured up front that it’s okay to have fun, it’s okay to just go along for the ride – and yet Brian O’Conner’s exit from the series is handled with as much grace and sincerity as the series can muster. The film displays a level of self-awareness – early on, Brian tells his young son Jack that “cars don’t fly”. Later in the film, they absolutely dofly. Screenwriter Chris Morgan supplies dialogue that is as overripe and clichéd as ever and yet, there is an undeniable charm to it all. Surprisingly, the 137 minute run time passes at a decent clip.


            There’s something that makes this franchise very different from the Transformersmovies, even though they are aimed at exactly the same demographic and contain cool automobiles, explosions and leery shots of scantily-clad women. There’s an earnestness here as opposed to the cynicism that pervades the Transformers films. This is movie #7 and yet there’s the sense that all involved are still invested and are determined not to phone it in, embracing the over-the-top stunts with all they’ve got.

Wan must’ve broken out in hives trying to devise vehicular set-pieces that would top those of Fast & Furious 6, which involved a tank and a massive cargo plane. Here, we have cars inserted into a treacherous mountain pass via air drop, a Lykan Hypersport sailing out a skyscraper window and crashing into the adjacent building, and a finale in which our heroes are pursued by a stealth attack helicopter and a souped-up Predator drone. Props go to second unit director and stunt coordinator Jack Gill for putting it all together – those cars were dropped out of a plane for real. Unfortunately, as adrenaline-pumping as these signature sequences still are, there is a conspicuous increase in the reliance on computer-generated imagery, especially for the Etihad Towers jump and the helicopter attack. The scenes in which Paul Walker is digitally doubled also stick out. It’s not enough to pull one out of it completely, but it does lack polish.

For all of screenwriter Morgan’s unsubtlety, he’s done a fine job of distributing the spotlight among the ensemble cast. The moments of pathos are cheesy – Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is still coping with her amnesia – but all parties involved know that’s not why the audience is present. Even then, the loss experienced by the crew following the deaths of Gisele and Han in #6 is palpable and does lend the proceedings an emotional backbone, however slight. The film serves a great swansong for Walker; he gets to go mano a mano with Tony Jaa in two blistering martial arts showdowns. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue to have amiable chemistry as the constantly bickering Tej and Roman, but Tyrese’s comic asides border on the excessive here.  

Jason Statham is a fittingly intimidating villain, essentially Frank Martin from the Transporter series if he had no moral compunction whatsoever. There’s a nice appearance by Djimon Hounsou as a secondary baddie even though the character doesn’t do much. Dwayne Johnson revels in the exaggerated action hero persona the material presents him with, trucking out one-liners like “you’ve earned yourself a dance with the devil, boy” and “I’m gonna put a hurt on him so hard, he’ll wish his mother kept her legs closed.” Ronda Rousey shows up as a bodyguard to furnish the requisite catfight with Michelle Rodriguez, a role fulfilled by fellow MMA fighter Gina Carano in the previous film. The show is well and truly stolen by Kurt Russell. The 80s action icon has still got it and looks like he’s having a ball. When he slips on the night-vision shades and draws twin pistols to get in on the fun himself, prepare to cheer.

As film critics, we hear the “it’s not meant to be Oscar-worthy high art” defence a whole lot. Well, for the Fast and Furious films, especially #5onwards, it applies. We’re not about to give the cheesy dialogue and sometimes-intrusive visual effects work a free pass, but Wan makes sure it all comes together nicely and delivers what was promised – a really good time for action junkies. In addition, the director shoulders the responsibility of fashioning this loud, brash extravaganza into an emotional send-off for its recently-deceased star. Vin Diesel has been open about how truly distraught Walker’s death left him and we do see some of that laid bare on the screen. We’re not ashamed to say we were left misty-eyed and in that respect, Wan has succeeded. There are no stinger scenes during or after the end credits and while this does seem like a great place to call it a day, Universal is intent on doing at least three more. Better to ride off into the sunset while you’re ahead, but that’s not how studios work, we suppose.

Summary: The spectacle is as bombastic as ever and the laws of physics are as irrelevant as ever; the series continuing to entertain. Fast & Furious 7 also manages to provide some genuine heart amidst all that cheese, bidding a fond farewell to Paul Walker.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5Stars
Jedd Jong 

We are fast. We are furious. We are Groot.