Tag Archives: Rocky

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

Mapping The Legacy Of Boxing On Celluloid With 10 Boxing Films Picks

7 Aug
Published in WBUR’s ARTery

Paul Newman in

Paul Newman in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” (Courtesy)

The recent release of “Southpaw,” the new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the ring rat of the title, again floats the paradigm of the American Dream realized in the toughest of all venues. Largely due to the primal, violent and intimate nature of pugilism, boxing has always been a storied staple of film throughout history.

“Southpaw” tries to achieve a post of solemnity and seriousness by playing against the archetype but in execution, it’s so heavily riddled with cliched jabs it never even flashes the mettle to reach the heights of any of the narratives it aches to be. One can understand the allure to Gyllenhaal, an actor who regularly seeks the challenge of off-the-beaten-path roles (take “Brokeback Mountain” or last year’s turn as a career-minded sociopath in “Nightcrawler”), as many an Oscar has been won by stepping in the ring (Robert De Niro and Hilary Swank to name two).

By definition, the sport demands blood and sweat, and total immersion by any thespian hoping to sell the gritty gut-pounding reality of the ring. It’s been a well-noted undertaking — the extremes actors go to in conditioning and preparation — and something De Niro took deeply to heart (going from a toned and ripped fighter to flabby nightclub host by tossing on 50 pounds) in immersing himself into the volatile persona of middleweight Jake LaMotta for Martin Scorsese’s heralded bio-pic, “Raging Bull” (1980). It’s one of the great fight films, if not the greatest, and while the bold choices by Scorsese — shooting in smoky black-and-white and a framed narrative arc — provided grounding and context, it was De Niro’s indelible turn, employing extreme method acting to soulfully get at the turbulent embodiment of LaMotta, that ensured the film of its mantle spot as a timeless American classic.

In looking back at the legacy of boxing on celluloid, three other Oscar winning films would likely hang at the top of anyone’s top 10, the most obvious of which, besides “Bull,” being “Rocky,” the 1976 Best Picture fairy tale and Cineplex-sweeping crowned pleaser which also capped an incredible real-life underdog story for screenwriter/actor Sylvester Stallone who had toiled thespian Palookaville before, and more recent hits about the gritty downside to ring life, “The Fighter” and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

Below, arranged in alphabetical order, is a list composed of some other great pugilist profiles with a conscience lean to include the eclectic and the classic. Five receiving serious consideration but not making the bell: “Cinderella Man” (2005), “The Set-Up”(1947), “The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Boxer” (1997) and “The Great White Hope” (1970).  Continue reading

Southpaw

30 Jul

Lots of expectation here by pairing peaking star Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s compiled an eclectically impressive resume over the past decade or so (“Zodiac” and “Brokeback Mountain,” and let’s not forget the uber-creepy “Nightcrawler” oozing out from under a stone last year) with director Antoine Fuqua, who’s been all over the road (“Shooter,” “King Arthur” and “The Equalizer”) since making his mark with “Training Day” back in 2001. Fuqua has the gift of folding urban hip in seamlessly with the mainstream. His works possess auteur flourishes while notching much off the blockbuster checklist. In short, he’s an anomaly and a blessing during these dog days of summer.

072415i SouthpawAnd while that old dog might not want to learn a new trick, he might like to witness one, which is why “Southpaw” nearly disappoints – it’s about as clichéd a retread as you can ask for. The plot feels like something right out of a middle “Rocky,” with the champ on top before he loses it all in a single stroke and has to go toe-to-toe old-school in a dingy gym to get back to his regal perch. But because of the sharp partnering, “S’paw” dances around a lot more nimbly and entertainingly than its pat regime would otherwise indicate. It opens with a bouquet of roses for Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) and his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). They grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, met at a home for wayward kids and now he’s the light heavyweight champion of the world and they live in a spacious New York manse. Not to give too much away, but there’s a serious tumble that happens early on, and the people who were around Billy and getting paid large scatter, pretty much leaving him for dead in the aftermath. It’s the perfect spot for the venerable Forest Whitaker waltz-in as the reluctant Titus “Tick” Wills, a boxing gym owner and former pro trainer who now works only with troubled youth. To get an “in” with Tick, Billy’s gotta get back to the basics – no, not bobbing and weaving or defense (he never had much, and his face looks like a tomato at the end of most of his battles), but cleaning the toilets and getting clean and sober. That’s the launching point for a shot at the guy who took his belt and fairy-tale life (Miguel Gomez, trying hard to channel Mr. T’s menace). Continue reading

The Final Chapter

17 Mar

The final chapter

Sylvester Stallone discusses Rocky Balboa

By TOM MEEK  |  December 19, 2006

It’s been 17 years since Rocky V and 30 since the original. This week, Rocky Balboa opens, and you can almost hear the comics and late night TV hosts sharpening their knives. After all this time, why make another beat-the-long-odds boxing movie, especially when the franchise’s star, Sylvester Stallone is 60?“The fifth one ended with no emotion,” said Stallone, looking fit in jeans and a white button down during an interview at the Ritz Carleton. “It did not come full circle. The optimism that is usually associated with Rocky was not there. There was no moral message, nothing uplifting, zero.”

John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid) directed the first and fifth Rockies, while Stallone, who cooked up the series and penned each script, helmed the others. Balboa, he says, will be the final chapter, and a tone of therapeutic necessity marks voice of the ’80’s icon. “I just wanted to end the series on the right note, and to do that, you’ve got to do it yourself. You go back to basics. If it stumbles, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.”  Continue reading

Rocky Balboa

17 Mar

Rocky Balboa

Solid for 15 rounds

It’s been 16 years since the last Rocky, and even then, most thought of star/creator Sylvester Stallone as a has-been kicking a dead horse. But we’re talking boxing, a sport propelled by kitsch and lore. So into the ring the 60-year-old actor goes again, outdoing George Foreman’s return by nearly a decade and a half, but before the big brawl against the undefeated champion (generic, real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) there’s the Rock update: Adrian has passed (perhaps Talia Shire got tired of being a shrew in the later Rockys), and as we learned in Rocky V, the aging pugilist is of humble means and estranged from his son. Stallone, who also writes and directs, is still able to conjure the rough and earnest underdog with infectious results. And the film is surprisingly wry, especially when Burt Young as Rock’s morose brother-in-law, Paulie, is on screen. It’s no knockout, but it does go a solid, nostalgic 15 rounds.