Fast X

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/8/23;
Universal;
Action;
Box Office $145.96 million;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, $34.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some suggestive material.
Stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Scott Eastwood, Daniela Melchior, Alan Ritchson, Helen Mirren, Brie Larson, Rita Moreno, Leo Abelo Perry, Jason Statham, Jason Momoa, Charlize Theron.

As over the top as Fast X may be, at least they don’t go into space this time. New franchise director Louis Leterrier brings the action back down to Earth a bit while finding new ways to push the audiences’ suspension of disbelief to its limits.

As shown in the bonus material, Leterrier seems excited for the chance to put his stamp on a franchise that has had a tenuous relationship with verisimilitude for a number of films, if only for the excuse to bring to life action concepts ruminating in his head since he was a child.

The story stems from the events of Fast 5, which set the stage for the series’ outlandish change of course with its ridiculous heist climax featuring two muscle cars dragging a multi-ton vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The villain of Fast 5 was killed during that final chase, and 10 years later his son, Dante (Jason Momoa), wants revenge.

Setting out with the flamboyancy of a 1960s Batman villain, Dante must first level-up his resources in order to go toe-to-toe with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family, who since that film have morphed from simple street racing hustlers to global secret agents. To demonstrate how dangerous he is, the film has him take over the high-tech operations of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the villain of the last couple of “Fast” films, and arranges to split Team Toretto apart on different missions. From there Dom and his family are subjected to an elaborate series of death traps around the world designed to make them suffer until he can maneuver them into one final improbable battle.

Almost lost among the spectacle is that the massive cast has managed to bring together two actors who have played Aquaman — in addition to Momoa, there’s Alan Ritchson, who portrayed the master of the sea on “Smallville,” on hand here as an Agency supercop whose skepticism of Team Toretto’s loyalties provides another wrinkle to the plot.

This film was touted is the beginning of the end for the franchise, as the first part of a grand finale for the characters, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the film ends with a series of cliffhangers and teases for more movies to come.

Still, as exhausting as Fast X can be at times, it can at least be admired for the sheer audacity of the stunts we are expected to believe are happening within the realm of a real physical world. The mayhem looks great in 4K, though the vivid explosions and the exploits of Dom’s seemingly indestructible super-car tend to verge on the cartoonish side.

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In addition to a solo commentary from an enthusiastic Leterrier, the Blu-ray also includes a five-minute gag reel, two forgettable music videos, and nearly 75 minutes of informative (but repetitive) behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The general making of the film is covered in the 35-minute “This Is Family.” Additional featurettes include the 13-minute “Xtreme Rides of Fast X” that profiles the vehicles in the film (which are actually described as the superhero suits to the films’ characters); the seven-minute “Belles of the Brawl” that looks at how the women of the film prepared for their action scenes; the five-minute “Tuned Into Rio” looks at the film’s connections to Fast 5; The two-minute “Jason Momoa: Conquering Rome” focuses on the actor’s role in the franchise, his stunts and a key sequence set in Rome; the three-minute “Little B Takes the Wheel” takes a look at Leo Abelo Perry joining the franchise as Dom’s son; and the minute-and-a-half “A Friend in the End” looks at the film’s post-credits sequence.

Finally, there’s a nearly eight-minute segment of Leterrier breaking down specific action scenes.

Cinedigm Secures North American Rights to Horror-Comedy ‘Shaky Shivers’

Cinedigm has acquired all North American rights to the 1980s-inspired horror comedy Shaky Shivers, from actor/director Sung Kang (Fast X). The distributor plans to release the movie in theaters this fall, followed by an exclusive release on its horror streaming platform Screambox.

After winning the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Fla., the film is now set to have its Canadian premiere in June at the Dark Bridges Saskatoon Horror Film Festival.

Cinedigm image

Kang’s directorial debut takes viewers on a journey to an abandoned camp where two young women (Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen) stumble upon a book of magical spells. Surrounded by classic monsters and drawing inspiration from 80s horror films, the women find themselves facing a series of supernatural occurrences after a fateful encounter with an old woman. As zombies, werewolves, and Big Foot wreak havoc, the duo must navigate a wild night, armed with an unfamiliar spell book, to restore order before their lives unravel completely.

“It’s been a great festival run thus far with the film, finding our audiences who have loved the film at the screenings,” Kang said in a statement.

The director, who plays Han in the pending Fast X, said he took time off during the pandemic to make Shaky Shivers.

“The whole idea was to make this for the old school horror hounds and for them to share it with their families today. Little by little, we’re doing that,” Kang said in a statement.

Brad Miska, managing director of Bloody Disgusting/Cinedigm, said the movie’s eclectic mix of quirky humor, chilling moments, monstrous creatures, and a captivating throwback atmosphere, promises moviegoers “one hell of an experience” this fall.

“This campy film transports us back to an era when spooky tales were shared by flashlight during slumber parties,” Miska said.

Written by Andrew McAllister and Aaron Strongoni, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kevin M. Lin, Michael Y. Chow, and Brian Yang serve as executive producers with Jean Shim and Luci Y. Kim acting as producers.

The deal was negotiated by Brandon Hill, director of acquisitions, on behalf of Cinedigm, and Jack Campbell of Jackrabbit Media, who is representing foreign rights at Cannes this week, and John Lepper of Cyfuno Ventures.

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Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-fi;
Not rated.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Vivien Lyra Blair, Moses Ingram, Rupert Friend, Sung Kang, Indira Varma, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Kumail Nanjiani, Grant Feely, Joel Edgerton, Bonnie Piesse, Jimmy Smits.

Shortly after Disney bought the rights to “Star Wars” and announced a series of spinoff films, the character fans most wanted to see return was Obi-Wan Kenobi as played by Ewan McGregor, to see what the Jedi master was up to in the decades between the prequels and the original trilogy.

So, naturally, Disney didn’t do that, instead making Rogue One, about the Rebels stealing the Death Star plans, and a movie about a young Han Solo that no one seemed interested in.

When Solo underperformed at the box office, Disney put all the spinoff movies on hold, including a rumored Kenobi trilogy, according to writer Stuart Beattie.

Had Disney started with the Kenobi movie in the first place, it might have established a solid foundation for the studio to make whatever spinoffs it wanted. Then again, given the lackluster writing of the sequel trilogy, maybe its delay was for the best.

Instead, “Star Wars” spinoffs were repurposed into fodder for the Disney+ streaming service following the massive success of “The Mandalorian.”

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Presented in six parts, the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series tells the story of Obi-Wan 10 years following his exile in Revenge of the Sith. Living in squalor on Tatooine under the name Ben, he has abandoned the Force and seems resigned to his fate under the reign of the Empire, carrying out perfunctory duties to keep an eye on young Luke Skywalker. While he pays lip service to the idea of one day training Luke to become a Jedi to oppose the Emperor, he seems to have no real plan to accomplish it, with his biggest obstacle being Luke’s uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton).

As the last remnants of the Jedi are hunted by Imperial Inquisitors, Obi-Wan remains in hiding, refusing to help. Yet he is guilted into action by his old friend Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) when Luke’s sister Leia is kidnapped from Alderaan. Leaving Tatooine to rescue the other twin who is key to future plans to defeat the Empire, Obi-Wan soon learns not only that her abduction was part of an Inquisitor’s plan to draw him out, but that his former student, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), survived their duel and is terrorizing the galaxy as Darth Vader.

To reclaim his purpose, Obi-Wan is forced to once again confront Vader.

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The “Obi-Wan” series plays a bit like “Star Wars” books did in the 1990s and early 2000s, filling in gaps in the storytelling of the movies. The show not only bridges the span between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, but also seeks to explain some other inconsistencies between the original trilogy and the prequels (while possibly creating a few more along the way, but that’s easy enough to overlook). It is mostly successful in that regard, though the writing and direction isn’t as polished as it might have been had the project stayed a theatrical feature. When binged, the series runs about three hours and 45 minutes, not counting recaps and credits, feeling like a lengthy movie, but more like a fan film than a true epic.

Another letdown is the music. While John Williams returned to provide a marvelous theme for Ben that does most of the heavy lifting, the rest of the score by other composers feels more like generic action music, when there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate other existing themes from the “Star Wars” canon that aren’t really exploited until the final episode.

McGregor shines as Kenobi, delivering the emotion and pathos of a man dealing with the guilt of failing to stop the rise of the Emperor. It’s also great to see Christensen back as Anakin, and the scenes with Darth Vader are some of the best to feature the character in the entire “Star Wars” saga. The standout is Vivien Lyra Blair as li’l Leia, who demonstrates the sass and smarts of her future self but with a childlike curiosity about the universe. Pairing Leia with Ben proves to be an inspired choice, if for no other story reason than it explains why she would name her son after him despite having limited contact in the original films.

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.