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Movie review: ‘The Fate of the Furious’ way too serious

“The Fate of the Furious” (PG-13)

While it’s not a total spinout, “The Fate of the Furious” – the eighth film in the seemingly endless “Fast and Furious” franchise – seems to have lost its way following the blockbuster worldwide success of “Furious 7.” After an entertaining 10-minute race scene to kick off the film, “The Fate of the Furious” quickly loses the type of self-aware sense of humor that made the last film such a joy; and remains stuck in neutral with a formulaic action movie plot until it miraculously pulls itself out a funk for the third act of the movie.

Diesel is back for his sixth “Furious” film as Dominic Toretto, the cocksure street racer who has evolved over the film series into the leader of a band of international mercenaries whose jobs often find them trying to save the world from disaster. But when Dom is coerced by notorious super hacker Cipher (Theron) to go rogue, he’s forced to turn against his crew in order to secure an EMP device that has the power to shut down a major city and turn the scene into complete chaos. And that’s not all …

Convinced that Dom is taking commands against his will, the crew (including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Michelle Rodriguez – whose Letty is now married to Dominic) takes up an offer from government shade Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new right hand, dubbed “Little Nobody” (Scott Eastwood, who appears to be filling the void left by late Paul Walker) to recover the EMP and other potential weapons of mass destruction to clean their crime-riddled slates.

While its far inferior to “Furious 7,” “The Fate of the Furious” isn’t a bad movie – the action in the final third alone will give audience members what they’re looking for with subplot that involved a Russian nuclear submarine. Thankfully stars like Johnson, Jason Statham, Russell and Helen Mirren (who sadly appears for about 5 minutes in a pair of scenes) didn’t wait that long to let you know they’re in the joke.

On the flip side, Vin Diesel and the film’s new villain, played by Charlize Theron, are trying to play it straight throughout  the film; proving that even Oscar winners can’t act their way out of horrific dialogue.


Listen to Tim’s review of “The Fate of the Furious” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show.”

A little sense of humor clearly would have gone a long way, and while Diesel attempts to charm his way through the opening scene, playing it straight for most of the way exposes all of the actor’s weaknesses (mainly, that he only knows how to play one type of character – a wiseass tough guy) and he hits a low point as he barely squeezes out a couple crocodile tears.

Theron’s turn is almost more painful to watch, though, as her over-the-top madwoman questing world domination borders on a mustache-twitching villain that revels in evil. Theron, like everybody else in “Furious 7” should have been reveling in the ridiculousness of what the franchise it has become. It’s too bad, because Theron has proven otherwise that she’s an extremely talented actress.

True, no amount of criticism will stop “The Fate of the Furious” from being another worldwide blockbuster (“Furious 7” grossed $1.5 billion worldwide two years ago) out of the gate, but the shift in gears to a semi-serious film (“The Fate of the Serious”?) will no doubt be a drag on the long term prospects of the box office and the films that come after it.

Lammometer: 6 (out of 10)

Interview: Director James Mangold talks ‘Logan’

Don’t kid yourself: Even though the newest entry into the “X-Men” movie saga, “Logan,” draws its inspiration from the “Old Man Logan” storyline in the Marvel Comics series, this isn’t your grandpa’s Wolverine.

Starring the man who defined the role of Logan/Wolverine — Hugh Jackman — for the ninth and perhaps final time in the “X-Men” movie saga, it’s clear from the beginning of “Logan” that Jackman and director James Mangold, his collaborator on 2013’s “The Wolverine,” were going to make a decidedly different mutant film. Rated R and presented in gritty and brutally realistic fashion, Mangold and Jackman were intent on making sure Logan — as well as Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier — had a deliberately harder edge to them.

Most importantly, however, unlike anything the saga’s fans have seen with the characters before, “Logan” finds the aging duo tired, ill and sadly, facing mortality. To do the film, Mangold said in a recent phone conversation from New York City, that sort of narrative was a must.

“I very much enjoy these movies as a whole, but I do think that they’ve gotten into a bit of a rut, in the sense that you could almost make a Mad Magazine version of these movies, where they always seem to be about some dark force arriving and is going to destroy the world,” Mangold said. “You can almost cut the trailer in your mind where some character is saying, ‘This is the worst we’ve ever faced,’ and if they don’t level a city, they level a continent, and if they don’t level a continent, they blow up the Earth, and the threats, the stakes are always so high and global.”


Audio slideshow: James Mangold talks “Logan”

Quite simply, Mangold sai

d, a movie like that simply has to dial things back not just a bit, but a lot.

“When you’re making a movie where there are 10 protagonists, a supervillain and five, giant set pieces of action, the principal characters end up with about four minutes of trying to sketch out their character problem and eradicate it later,” Mangold said. “It’s no wonder that sometimes we feel like these movies are emotionally flat or thin in characterization. The characters have devoted all their time to other tasks and become people making cameos in these giant spectacles.”

And spreading the characters too thin is only one of Mangold’s concerns.

“At some point, I think for me, that the old adage of ‘Less is more’ comes in,” said Mangold. “It’s where I’ve started experiencing an overload, where I’m sitting in a theater with the sound blasting and spectacular, amazing, insane visual effects, and I start to feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ and I want my eyes to just roll up in my head and pass out because I’ve had enough. We really wanted to make a different film in tone in that sense. Yes, we wanted to deal with the mortality of the characters and their fragility, but we also wanted the space to explore those ideas without the sensory overload.”

Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens Friday, “Logan” finds Wolverine and Charles in the year 2029, where mutants are virtually extinct. Along with Charles and another mutant, Caliban (Stephan Merchant), Logan is forced out of his hiding on the border of Mexico when he is suddenly tasked to protect a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who appears to have the same mutant abilities as he does. On the run from a militaristic government organization seeking her capture, Logan must find a way to transport Laura to a safe haven in the northern part of the U.S.

LINK:  See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Francis Ford Coppola and more on  his new YouTube channel.

With far fewer mutants and subplots to concentrate on, Mangold had the benefit of not only making an “X-Men”-themed movie, but the opportunity to combine the mythology with the sensibilities of the previous character dramas he’s directed.

“Our real goal was to try to create enough space for ourselves, as if I were making ‘Copland,’ ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ ‘Walk the Line’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma’ or another one of my movies, and ask, ‘How can I take these really interesting characters that we have mainly only seen through the prism of these ‘Save the world’ storylines, and view them through a much more intimate storyline?’ Mangold recalled. “My initial proposal to Fox was that I wanted to make very bloody, existential version of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ with Logan and Charles Xavier.”

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Apart from the graphic violence (Logan has adamantium claws, after all, so they’re going to cause some damage), the purposefully R-rated film has its share of F-bombs, and the explosive use of the language doesn’t come from the idea of using the word simply because they can, but because there is meaning behind it. When you see and hear, perhaps shockingly so, that the aging Charles suddenly has a penchant for dropping the F-bomb, you’ll understand why.

“Many people have gone through it — even with very graceful parents — where that moment sets in and your systems are failing you, it’s incredible sometimes to hear ‘The Exorcist’-level of obscenity to come out of an old person’s mouth where their world is losing its moorings a little bit,” Mangold said. “But the use of the language also, honestly, fits in the whole tone of the film from the beginning to the end. It’s just a little bit more raw than what we’ve seen in the other pictures. That was quite intentional.”

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

While Jackman and Stewart are naturally the names on the marquee that people will instantly recognize, there are many times where Keen, whose storyline is quite significant in “Logan,” steals the show from both of them. What’s amazing is that she commands your attention at times even in a non-verbal way, and that was only one of the many requirements Mangold had for the integral character.

“She’s incredible. We searched high and low, and it wasn’t exactly easy. I said I needed someone between 10 and 12 years of age, physically capable, brilliant actress, Hispanic descent and bilingual. Now you try that on,” Mangold mused. “Worldwide, that adds up to producing about five or six kids. When the tape arrived in an email from London of this wonderful 10-year-old at that time who was reading for this part — it was this little iPhone tape that he dad had made of her, climbing around on bookcases and doing a couple of scenes — I knew the second I saw it without even meeting her that she was the young woman for the part.”

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com.

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Tim Lammers’ new ebook, “Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton,” featuring a foreword by Tim Burton, is here!

You can download the book in several formats — PDF, EPUB (iPad, Nook and most e-book readers) and MOBI (Kindle) — HERE.

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'Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton'Cover photo © Leah Gallo

Throughout Tim Lammers’ career, he’s had many wonderful opportunities to talk with director Tim Burton and the key players who helped bring his stop-motion films “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride,” and “

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The release of “Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton” comes as the 1993 classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” celebrates its 20th anniversary.

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Interview: T Bone Burnett talks ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ Coen brothers

Joel and Ethan Coen on the set of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (inset T Bone Burnett)Joel and Ethan Coen on the set of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ (inset: T Bone Burnett). Photos: CBS Films, Lester Cohen/TBoneBurnett.com

By Tim Lammers

Much in the way Billy Preston was referred to by many as “The Fifth Beatle,” T Bone Burnett has more than earned the same sort of distinction because of his fruitful working relationship with filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

In fact, in a recent interview with Burnett in conjunction with the release of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” I asked the legendary music producer if I could refer to him as “The Third Coen Brother,” and he was more than OK with the distinction.

“I hope they’ll adopt me eventually,” Burnett told me, laughing. “I’ve always felt a real kinship with them, really from the first time I saw one of their films. I like their films so much that I actually called them up. We had friends in common and things like that, but I guess you could say this was a fan phone call to them. We talked films and turned into friends from there.”

The first thing Burnett, 65, said he realized in talking with them was that they have the same sort of sensibilities as writers and directors, as he has as a songwriter and producer.

“I could tell they approached storytelling the exact same way I did from their first movie,” Burnett said.

Now playing in limited release and expanding to more theaters Friday, “Inside Llewyn Davis” tells the story of the title character (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk musician and songwriter in New York’s Greenwich Village a short time before Bob Dylan changed the face of music in 1961.

Burnett’s music-supervisor duties on the film marks the fourth time he’s worked with the Coens, and it’s easily the most extensive project he’s done with them since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in 2000.

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Much like his previous collaborations with the Coens, Burnett, who also co-wrote some music for “Llewyn Davis,” was treated like a creative partner on the film. After all, much of the film is essentially told through song, with live performances by Isaac, co-stars Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, and others — so Burnett was happy to be intimately involved with the production.

“They’re incredibly generous and inclusive people,” Burnett explained. “Generosity is the hallmark of an artist, and they are the soul of generosity. While it’s three-way collaboration, I have to say they’re incredibly good at music, too. I’m just their facilitator. They have beautiful tastes and come up with incredible ideas, so I value them. I can’t do it without them, I can tell you that. While the music is part of the film, the film is part of the music. They can’t exist without each other.”

While “Inside Llewyn Davis” includes songs of the era, it also includes a new, original tune, “Please Mr. Kennedy” — a swinging, folksy tune performed by Isaac, Timberlake and Adam Driver in the film. A satirical ditty about America’s entry into the space race, the song pegs John Glenn as a reluctant astronaut before being sent into orbit.

“The song has a lot of history in it; it has Ogden Nash-style lyrics, John Glenn and John Kennedy,” Burnett explained. “There’s an old song from the ’60s, ‘Please Mr. Kennedy,’ that says, ‘Don’t send me off to Vietnam.’ That was the initial impetus of the song.”

While the success of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is unfolding — the film has already received top nominations from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes, among many others — Burnett said he can see another collaboration with the Coens in his future because there are just too many ideas in their minds that haven’t been tapped into yet.

In turn, Burnett hopes the brothers tap into his subconscious ideas, too, because deep down, he always wants bring something new and exciting to the fore.

“You’re only as good as the other people in your community, so the idea is that we all try to lift each other up,” Burnett said, humbly. “Certainly, the Coens hold everybody up, including themselves, to the highest standards. It’s like how if you play tennis, you play with better people because you want to play better.”

Copyright 2013 DirectConversations.com/TimLammers.com