F9: The Fast Saga

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $173.01 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and language.
Stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron.

By continuing the trend of its predecessors, the latest entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is a contender for one of the most absurd movies of all time. In addition to the franchise’s repeated assaults on the laws of physics, F9 adds long-lost family members and yet another character’s return from the dead.

Marking the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious, F9 is the 10th film in the franchise, but the ninth in the main storyline, with 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw being a spinoff. It also features the return to the director’s chair of Justin Lin, who previously directed the third through sixth entries. Lin had previously directed the 2002 crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow, which could be considered the unofficial 11th film in the franchise as it introduced the character of Han (Sung Kang), who went on to appear in all of Lin’s “FF” movies and makes his return here, bringing the franchise’s main arc full circle as it prepares for its finale.

The story finds Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) living in seclusion with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and son, but he’s called back into action when it turns out his brother, Jakob (John Cena) is the leader of a clandestine group trying to steal a device that can hack into every computer on the planet. So the usual “FF” gang reunites for another round of car chases, explosions and quips from Tyrese.

The screenplay injects some pathos into the mix by exploring the sibling relationship between Dom and Jakob, in the form of flashbacks to when they were teenagers and their father was killed in a race, for which Dom blames Jakob. The flashbacks account for the “saga” aspect of the title as the film tries to connect nearly every character and plot thread from all the earlier films.

Once upon a time, these were movies about thieves in a street racing gang before it became about international missions to save the world. Now the characters are basically acknowledging they’re in a movie, joking about how they always survive against impossible odds, and pointing out the structure of the plot as a reason to switch sides for a third-act swerve.

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The film’s home video editions include a director’s cut that runs about six minutes more and improves the movie with important character moments, as well as another scene in Cardi B’s cameo.

Lin provides a good commentary track in which he discusses his return to the franchise, his desire to provide some weight to whatever drama exists in the franchise’s margins, and hints at future revelations.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel and more than 70 minutes of comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurettes.

There’s also a three-and-a-half minute featurette on the “Justice for Han” movement that influenced the film, and the fun four-and-a-half-minute “John Cena: Supercar Superfan,” in which the wrestler-turned-actor shows off several high-performance cars, including some used in the film.

The 4K disc contains the same bonus content as the regular Blu-ray.

 

 

Sony Romantic Comedy ‘Holly Slept Over’ Due on Digital and Redbox March 3

The romantic comedy Holly Slept Over will debut on digital and exclusive DVD rental at Redbox March 3 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the film, when Audra (Britt Lower, TV’s “Man Seeking Woman”) confesses to her husband (Josh Lawson, Bombshell) that she once had sex with Holly (Nathalie Emmanuel, TV’s “Game of Thrones), her college roommate, their lives take an unexpected turn. Holly’s surprise visit and undeniable charm enliven both Noel and Audra, sparking new insight into their relationship. A door opens for the three of them to experience something they never could have anticipated.

The film also stars Ron Livingston (Office Space).

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Game of Thrones: Season 8

DIGITAL REVIEW:

HBO;
Fantasy;
$19.99 SD; $26.99 HD;
Not Rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen.

The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is certainly its most divisive, setting off a wave of Internet debates as to whether the final run of episodes was worthy of the extensive storytelling that had been laid out before.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the creative decisions made by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in mapping out the final story arcs of the various characters once they no longer draw from the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin, which formed the basis of the first five seasons.

A noticeable shift in the show’s pacing occurred in season six, once it was clear they had to create their own after reportedly receiving outlines from Martin about how he envisioned the saga more or less ending up. After season six, it was announced the show would wrap up in 13 episodes split into two seasons, with seven in season seven and six in season eight.

In hindsight, the argument goes, this timeline was insufficient in setting up the character development needed for the plot twists of the final episodes, leaving the final storylines feeling rushed while retroactively weakening the earlier seasons by both devaluing their story development and making it clear (particularly to readers of the novels) where the show missed opportunities to lay the foundation for the plot points the writers eventually decided to pursue.

The series has spent seven seasons seemingly maneuvering every character into two factions. One is the army gathering at Winterfell to fight the Night King and the White Walkers. This is the faction commanded by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who joined forces last season. However, their truce may be complicated by the lingering truth of Jon’s true heritage, which could present an obstacle to Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile. Queen Cersei has fortified her hold on King’s Landing through an alliance with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and a mercenary army.

The first two episodes deal largely with various characters reuniting, setting the stage for the battle against the Night King, which takes place in the third episode. The final episodes involve the battle for King’s Landing and its aftermath.

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So, is the final season as problematic as the darkest corners of the Internet would make it out to be? Well, mostly no, but a little bit yes.

The ire seems to fall into two categories. The first, as mentioned, is the show rushing to get to the end. The second is the specific outcomes for some of the characters, which may have differed a bit from what some of the more entitled fans envisioned in their heads.

As to the second point, such is often the refrain of toxic fandom, and seems misguided. The character arcs themselves are fine and completely understandable, particularly when it comes to the most divisive of the individual stories, that of Queen Daenerys and her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne on behalf of her family.

The show has always been an examination of the dangers of tyranny and absolutism, even when the results of such governance may seem beneficial. The cycle of inherited power is itself the problem, not the potential for harm a new ruler may bring.

That being said, it’s hard to disagree that the final march to the end was a bit rushed, and perhaps could have used a few episodes to show events for the characters to experience that might reinforce their motivations in the final battles.

The final season is fine as it is, as easy as it is for fans to pick it apart, and will likely come to be better regarded once absorbed into the bulk of the show as fodder for binge viewing. While the asinine suggestion of fan petitions to “remake the season with competent writers” is beyond the realm of credibility, it’s hard not to at least entertain the idea of filming a few more episodes of material to expand on the character development, then re-editing them into the final couple of seasons (though, realistically, that ain’t happening either).

The show’s critics are also quick to overlook the many strengths of the final season, which offers some of the most stunning visuals of the series. This includes the purposefully dark and moody third episode, which uses its nighttime setting to great effect give viewers the same sense of unseen dread the characters would experience in fighting off wave after wave of undead armies.

There was some concern about the cinematography being too dark upon its initial airing, but this isn’t much of a problem with the digital HD presentation.

The other aspect of concern in fan circles were all the memes pointing out Starbucks cups and plastic water bottles left on the set for key scenes. The prominent coffee cup was subsequently digitally erased from episode four, but a few water bottles spotted under the chairs in the “Council of Lords” scene in the finale were still visible in the digital copy of the episode, at least within the first few days of its digital release. It will certainly be something to keep an eye out for in the eventual Blu-ray release that should arrive in a few months.

The digital package of the final season also includes a four-minute production featurette, a 17-minute profile of a key season from the third-episode battle, and The Last Watch, the feature-length documentary chronicling the making of the show’s final season that provides an enlightening look at the filmmakers and craftsman who brought it all together.