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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

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‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ Delivers Spectacle Without the Heart

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is over-the-top in all the wrong ways. Spectacle and charisma attempts to justify a forced narrative.

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In a world of cinematic and extended universes, one franchise that has seemed poised to expand is the Fast and the Furious series. No one could have expected it to turn into the well-crafted car action franchise that it has become, and after introducing Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in Fast Five and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in Furious 7, the two have now formed an unlikely alliance since they broke out of prison together in The Fate of the Furious. Forced to work together in order to save the world from a deadly virus, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is over-the-top in all the wrong ways. This excessive-to-the-point-of-draining spin-off demonstrates the fine line between absurd machismo and melodrama that the Vin Diesel-starring series has been walking to both box office and critical success.

When a virus called “Snowflake” gets into the hands of Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), it’s up to Shaw and Hobbs to put aside their differences in order to get the virus before Brixton (Idris Elba). If it isn’t readily apparent before the movie begins, Hobbs & Shaw is a very different beast than the street racing franchise it has spun off from. Sure, there are cars involved, and the final set piece contains a fairly decent amount of vehicles, but this is action-first, and director David Leitch will get there no matter how much logic he has to destroy in manufacturing a spectacle. Which is what puts Hobbs & Shaw at a severe disadvantage compared to virtually every other acclaimed action movie — there’s nothing even remotely close to “family” to care about, and there’s no relationship that doesn’t feel forced into existence.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

That being said, the spectacle is sometimes enough. The final set piece is entertaining and actually feels like a logical next-step in absurdity from a franchise known to lean into comically over-the-top action. A lot of the choreography is well-done, which lends to some great fist fights, and the banter between characters — though the cheesiest it has ever been — adds a lot of levity to the brawls so that they maintain a summer blockbuster feel. Also, each character’s fighting style being different makes more interesting action.

There is a problem with the choreography getting lost amidst some pretty shoddy camerawork, but it’s a crapshoot as to when that will happen. Occasionally the composition is great, and other times it’s indecipherable; even though they are aided by obvious CG-effects and an abundance of slow-motion, the action scenes struggle to maintain a level of quality. And when momentum is stopped for whatever reason, it becomes clear that Hobbs & Shaw is a movie forcing itself to be engrossing. It clearly can’t do it with interesting characters or engaging subplots, so the screenplay instead forces a romance, makes characters work together, conjures up a rationale for the heroes to not be killed, and then just does whatever it wants. It can be painful.

This also highlights the main struggle that the Fast & Furious franchise has had since it entered the upper echelon of action movies: how much logic is necessary for things to still feel tense? When a character jumps off a building ten stories high (at least), he should not live — even if he does land on another person’s body. But in Hobbs & Shaw, logic and physics are absolutely tossed out the window right at the beginning. Brixton refers to himself as “black Superman,” has implants that allow him to deflect bullets, and can see an enemy’s movement before it even strikes him. He’s not just superhuman; he’s a supercomputer with super-strength — and a superego to boot. That last point is extremely vital to why the film often flounders when it comes to creating any connection with the audience. There are three big, burly men who all think they’re the greatest at what they do, and the difference is that one of them is the villain (which Brixton explicitly identifies himself as in the first scene of the film). Where is the empathy? Where is the concern for any of the characters’ livelihoods when there is never a real threat to their lives because they’re all so good at what they do?

Of course, all concern for every character comes from how much fun the actors are. Some great banter and chest-beating moments make the performances uniformly charismatic and enjoyable to watch. Vanessa Kirby probably gives the best turn of everyone, though Elba is also a lot of fun as the cocky bad guy. And Johnson and Statham have already proved they have chemistry, so there’s a reason this movie exists. However, the grating cameos — while yes, adding humor — also contribute to the grossly excessive attempts to entertain. They add nothing other than bringing characters into the F&F universe who are likely be forgotten in future films.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Besides the chemistry of the main characters and last thirty minutes, however, there is no reason to call Hobbs & Shaw a ‘Fast & Furious Presents’ joint. It’s unlike the films in almost every regard, save perhaps The Fate of the Furious’s airplane-baby-shootout or Furious 7’s Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner-esque plotline involving Shaw chasing down Toretto and crew. It’s the distillation of all the Deckard Shaw moments, stretched out and forced to be over two-hours long. The silliness of driving cars between skyscrapers pales in comparison to driving cars up weapons factories in the middle of the Ukraine, or transforming motorcycles, or any of the other wild stunts that happen. But that doesn’t make for a better movie — it just makes for more movie.

For those who have never watched a Fast & Furious film, or like your movies with no thinking necessary, this may be your cup of tea. It’s the summer blockbuster done wrong, where the only effort put into it was action worthy of a big screen. Without heart, however, this side story will lose most fans of the series pretty early on after the spectacle wears off. The extravagant set pieces will continue, but the rule of diminishing returns exists for a reason. Hobbs & Shaw is one step away from breaking the fourth wall at every turn, asking the audience one simple question: “Are you not entertained?”

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot

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Imelda Marcos in The Kingmaker

The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.

The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.

The Kingmaker Imelda

Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016. 

For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.

We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them. 

But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein. 

The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day. 

And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.

The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory. 

Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject. 

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

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Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

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Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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