Tag Archives: cars

F9: The Fast Saga

25 Jun

‘F9: The Fast Saga’ blasts seat-rattling overload with downshifts to a star-studded family drama

By Tom Meek Thursday, June 24, 2021

Less is more, except when it comes to vaccinations, your bank account and movies about jacked dudes driving muscle cars. Hard to believe this living-on-longer-than-it-should franchise about car jockeys doubling as covert agents has made it to “F9: The Fast Saga,” a cheekily oxymoronic title for a series taking on the endurance aspects of Le Mans. It also proves false, as more and more characters and famous mugs are folded into the mix and others are resurrected from chapters that barely made the grade (hello, “Tokyo Drift”). It’s a long drag, lasting more than two hours, that with all its world-hopping feels like the checkered flag is always around the next bend. Even the seat-rattling sensory overload of jittery dash-cam footage, hyperkinetic cutting and all the crash-booms that litter the screen tend to weaken over time. As we should know by now, much of the magic and mayhem is done on green screen, given whoosh and life by an army of CGI coders in Canada, and the ease of turning a key so effortlessly to produce car crash wonderment feels like a cheat. One laments losing the gritty authenticity of old-school stunt work and keen editing of Willam Friedkin’s “The French Connection” (1971) and his day-glo neo-noir “To Live and Die in LA” (1985), real-time car chase capers that will never be replicated – though “Drive” (2011) made a respectable go at it.

It’s not that I had a bad time at “F9,” which puts original “F&F” director Justin Lin back in the driver’s seat, or harbor a serious distaste for the series. I just wish it could be a notch sharper and more entertaining. (And can we please banish the line “Let’s do this” and the like?) The whole ka-bang, kaboom is driven by a MacGuffin: a DNA-coded device called “Aries” that allows its possessor to access and control all computer code in the universe. Russian trolls and Bond villains would literally die for it; here it’s a foppish Euro psycho named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) and an army of faceless commandos in helmets and black Kevlar suits. On the side of good are heroes such as Dom (Vin Diesel) and Lefty (Michelle Rodriguez), tearing up the streets of old world Europe with retrofitted American classics – being inconspicuous ain’t a thing – to stop Aries from morphing into the mother of all computer viruses.

Diesel’s swagger and Rodriguez’s simmer have always been – and still are – the engine of the franchise, and Diesel’s brooding Dom has a massively clichéd yet winning “Rocky” thing going for him, the secret sauce to solid hack filmmaking. But it’s a perk that Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell and Charlize Theron, who had small yet entertaining parts in past episodes, pop up in small bits (Theron, sporting a modish bowl cut, gets to get her vamp on with a dose of camp), while local guy and WWE sensation John Cena shows up as Dom’s baby bro with a dark past, seemingly revving his engine for the opposite side of justice. On paper, the brotherly rivalry has the trappings of a Shakespearean tragedy; in execution, no matter how hard the filmmakers and actors try, the pathos feels like another green screen trick of the light.

Reaching for new highs, the stunts and FX often lurch into hyperbole – there’s a Pontiac Fiero with a jet rocket strapped to its roof – but that becomes one of the charms of “F9,” which doesn’t take itself too seriously. (That scene in the Fiero with Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris is a good example.) Challenging Lin’s pacing is the ton of backstories that need to be told, the most interesting of which is that of young Dom (Vinnie Bennett, impressive) and his brother’s early woes. The film, however, only really moves at two speeds, and it’s a bit unsettling to go from a quiet reveal to Michael Bay-esque barrages of bombast without any shifting of gears. To that end, “F9,” like a Bay flick, is perfectly packaged box office bait, joyous popcorn junk that should drive folks back to theaters after long Covid shutdowns

Battle Over Bike Lanes in Cambridge

3 Dec

 

Fritz Donovan, presiding officer of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, speaks at a Wednesday group meeting on bicycle concerns. (Photos: Tom Meek)

A neighborhood group gathered and voted Wednesday seemingly to form a committee urging city officials to reevaluate and fix recently installed bike lanes it felt weren’t addressing traffic-safety goals. It was similar to the conclusion of a Monday meeting held by a different group.

There was overlap in attendance between the Monday “Safe Streets for All” meeting in East Cambridge and the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association meeting held Wednesday, but Fritz Donovan, the neighborhood group’s presiding officer, said this was “a neighborhood initiative that had been set up before.” More than 60 people attended the earlier meeting; nearly 100 gathered Wednesday at a Spaulding Hospital meeting room, including association members, bicyclists and other concerned citizens.

After many speakers and a near-unanimous association vote to set up a committee, there was little time to discuss how the two groups might collaborate or cooperate in getting more bicyclist traffic enforcement, “revisiting” the installed bike lanes on Brattle and Cambridge streets and playing a bigger role in future installations. Continue reading

Fury Road

15 May

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunck, back in 1985, the “Mad Max” trilogy unceremoniously sputtered to an anticlimactic halt rather than going out on a furious, nitro-boosted blast. That tepid finale, “Beyond Thunderdome,” would become the post-apocalyptic Outback series’ weak link, an unsatisfactory follow up to its crowning production. That film, “The Road Warrior” (1981), not only elevated Mel Gibson to bankable star status in Hollywood, it seamlessly spun together an odd olio of diverse genres without faltering into camp and boasted some of the greatest real-action car stunts recorded on film. What director George Miller and Gibson revved up was an instant cult classic, a box office smash (it covered its budget in the U.S. in one week) and a can-do mashup from Down Under that would become a model that many would try to copy, but few could emulate. With “Mad Max: Fury Road,”(released May 15) the series is back on track, and boldly so. It took decades to get here, but it’s well worth the wait, something well oiled in lineage and ready to sear into the minds of a new generation of thrill-injected converts.

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