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The films that make up the “Fast and the Furious” fran- chise — inexplicably on its eighth installment — are review-proof. There is likely no Rotten Tomatoes score that could affect the box office take. But more than that, the often silly, always outrageous, comfortably formulaic films about fast cars and chosen family have a charm that manages to permeate the crusty exterior of even the most curmudgeonly of critics. Most of us got into this gig because movies are fun, and the “Fast/ Furious” movies are some of the most fun of all.
F. Gary Gray takes his turn behind the wheel directing “The Fate of the Furious,” but directors come and go. It’s the appropriately named star, Vin Diesel, who always remains the same. Diesel plays Dominic Toretto, who has risen from the Los Angeles outlaw street racing scene to a sort of career as a freelance international driver specializing in the extraction, transportation and removal of highly sensitive material. He’s always being pulled out of an idyllic retirement to do one last job, because, of course, he drives real good.
In the “Furious” franchise, Diesel is never the most interesting person on screen, but as a producer, he has a talent for assemblage, surrounding himself with some of our most charismatic performers. Diesel brings out the best in tough girl Michelle Rodriguez, and found an easy groove with the late Paul Walker. Who knew Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris had such great comic energy before they joined Dom’s crew? He’s collected Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and even Snake Plissken himself (Kurt Russell) along the way, and in “Fate,” he taps no less then two best actress Oscar winners in Charlize Theron and (no joke) Helen Mirren to come along for the ride.
At first it seems as if Gray might be grounding things in a more realistic world, only because he doesn’t open on sky-diving cars, but rather, on an almost quaint street race in Havana featuring cars from the 1950s. It’s a throwback to the good old days, the essence of what made Dom who he is. But that assumption of a grounded realism turns out to be extremely wrong. The last act involves a high-speed chase across a frozen sea, featuring snowmobiles, a tank, a neon orange Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine, among other things.
Gray doesn’t shy away from some seriously dark material and moments, though that’s balanced by the light-hearted banter that crackles between Johnson and Statham, Gibson and Ludacris, and everyone razzing rookie agent Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Tonally, it’s a bit all over the map, but it doesn’t detract from the fun. There are a few cringeworthy moments watching Diesel act across from Theron, as an unblinking, blond-dreaded hacker, and Mirren, who delights in her role as a tough Cockney mum. But Diesel has always been a good sport about letting others steal the show.
“Fate of the Furious” doesn’t achieve anything new for the franchise, and even seems to downshift a bit. Gray fails to reach some of the rather operatic heights and flights of vehicular fantasy that directors like Justin Lin and James Wan pulled off. But there are a few exceptional action sequences, some laughs, and a barbecue at the end with a toast to family, so in the end, “Fate” does manage to deliver the “Furious” goods.
“The Fate Of The Furious,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content and language.
Running time: 136 minutes. ½
“A Quiet Passion”
Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic “A Quiet Passion” burns with an erratic intensity, like a flickering candle flame. At once impassioned and stoic, the film doesn’t so much depict the events of Dickinson’s life as it sketches the major themes of it — gender, rebellion, religion, family. As portrayed by Emma Bell and Cynthia Nixon, Dickinson is headstrong, impudent and simply incapable of biting her tongue. It’s a remarkable portrait of the artist in terms of performance, but the surrounding film is uneven, more academically analytical than emotionally immersive.
Davies, who wrote and directed “A Quiet Passion,” chooses key, if disjointed, moments from Dickinson’s life to hang the narrative around. We start with her dismissal from a woman’s college for her religious rebellion, a refusal to conform to the school’s idea of a relationship with God, choosing instead to express her own beliefs and values. She’s far from a nonbeliever — in fact, her deeply felt and personally interrogated beliefs are what inspire her willingness to talk back to pastors and clergymen.
Davies uses significant vignettes and interactions to illustrate Dickinson’s singular values and worldview about romance, relationships, poetry and gender — being female is akin to “slavery” she snaps at her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) in her inimitably unfiltered way. She’s not immune to the silly pleasures of courtship, which she observes from the sidelines, tittering with her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle). But her rosy enjoyment of such frivolity slowly turns brittle, cracks and crumbles away over time. Her friend, the equally witty and rebellious Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), eventually gives in to the social pressures and marries, leaving Emily alone on her spinster island, and she shuts herself away, writing her poems.
There’s an odd sense of artifice to “A Quiet Passion” that keeps the viewer at an arm’s length. We can never quite dive into this world and become swept away in the period costumes and rituals when the line readings are delivered so theatrically, the tableaux so deliberately staged. The filmmaking demonstrates a considerable amount of craftsmanship in production design, cinematography, writing and performance, but it is as stiff and stilted as a starched collar, as constraining as a tightly laced corset. Despite beauty in composition, it never softens to let you in, so it feels like observing from the sidelines, considering the events intellectually but never emotionally.
There’s a studious sense of unease throughout “A Quiet Passion,” as Davies lingers on the uncomfortable moments of Dickinson’s life — horrific convulsions from a brutal kidney disease or ugly spats with her parents and siblings. Nixon is nothing if not fully committed to inhabiting the role of this extraordinary and tormented woman, but there’s no easiness to her performance and the filmmaking around her. Both are forced and laborious, which makes Ehle’s wonderfully naturalistic performance as Vinnie stand out, throwing everyone else’s stiffness into stark relief. Ultimately, breaking through the hard outer shell of artifice that encases “A Quiet Passion” ends up quite a chore, and a bore to boot.
“A Quiet Passion,” a Music Box Films release, is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material. Running time: 125 minutes.
Cynthia Nixon, left, and Jennifer Ehlie star in Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic “A Quiet Passion.”