What We're Watching: June 11, 2021

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Arnie: "As we prepare for F9 I have started a Fast & Furious rewatch of the entire movie series. Of course, you can hear our reviews of the movies in our archives, but this time I have a slightly altered view of the original film. Paul Walker’s tragic death really casts a shadow on the original The Fast and the Furious (2001) as you see his character Brian O’Conner learning to race. He spins out, loses control of his car, and Brian’s overconfidence gives him a verbal smackdown by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). I couldn’t help but equate some of those scenes with Walker’s real-life accident, putting the brakes down hard on an otherwise fun movie. Walker’s passing was a tragedy, and trailers tease that F9 will deal with it in some fashion as Jordana Brewster returns to the series without her movie husband. But I just take a moment to honor the actor whose too-short life so closely resembled his most well-known screen performance."

Brock: "Laurence Olivier's 1948 Best Picture winner Hamlet is more interesting and compelling than I expected given its age. He constantly keeps the movie fresh utilizing a constant variety of shots, long and short takes, smart edits, remarkably surprising camera angles, simple yet effective sets, and almost all the actors breathe life into their words; none of them came across pretentious or "actorly". Olivier in the lead role says some of Hamlet's most famous lines, and especially the famous soliloquy, with such believability that I was astounded. Shakespeare can certainly be dull when not presented properly - on film or stage - but I was never bored watching this classic rendition. In addition, this week the family assembled for an enjoyable rewatch of 2012's The Avengers in preparation for the Disney+ series Loki."

Stuart: "Screen musicals are tough to pull off, but nostalgia and Lin-Manuel Miranda admiration brings me to In The Heights (2021) this weekend. Spending the day with a lovestruck bodega owner clearly doesn't have the dramatic heft or political scope of Hamilton. But Washington Heights was my home during my initial weeklong visit to New York City 23 years ago, and I remember locals expressing excitement and skepticism about some unknown Broadway talent soon mounting a show about their ethnically diverse enclave. Here's my chance to go back in time and see the hood as it was, as well as that Tony-winning production reconceived for the screen by Step Up 3D director Jon Chu."

Jakob: "Director Alexandre Aja’s Oxygen (2021) is a sci-fi version of Buried—replacing Ryan Reynolds stuck in a casket with Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) awakening in a cryogenic chamber with only 90 minutes left of oxygen. The high concept is great but it was the little details that hurt the film. For example, Laurent never acts like she is trying to conserve oxygen as she only huffs and puffs more every time she’s told the breathable air levels have dropped. The film does attempt to ramp up the stakes as the mystery is revealed which may provide some mild entertainment. However, the film should feel claustrophobic and tense but rarely does."

Jason: “Robert Redford’s anti-war drama Lions for Lambs bombed in 2007, perhaps because the public had no appetite for another film telling them what they already knew about the government and media’s role in selling the 'War on Terror' or perhaps because it’s a film that really doesn’t go anywhere. Tom Cruise is a GOP senator trying to convince reporter Meryl Streep to buy into his latest war strategy, while another plot line follows a group of soldiers carrying out said strategy, and Redford’s poli-sci professor shows up in a third plot as he lectures Andrew Garfield on the merits of activism. In the end, more lives are lost, nothing is resolved, and the debate isn’t deep enough to change minds on either side of the aisle. The actors are great, Cruise especially, but there’s not much here. The 92-minute runtime was a red flag from the jump."

Heath: "I did a Stallone double feature this week and checked out two of his 80s efforts. First up was Escape to Victory (a.k.a. Victory) (1981), a quaint, old-fashioned WWII movie co-starring Michael Caine that revolves around a soccer game between POWs and the Germans that the good guys plot to use as an escape attempt. It's no classic, but a pleasant enough throwback to war movies of old. Then I revisited the arm-wrestling extravaganza Over the Top (1987) for the first time since the 80s and given its wretched reputation, was surprised to find it's actually a fun piece of 80s nonsense, that is much more watchable than Rocky V at the very least."

Santiago: "The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) is a movie that came and went with no real impact, but it's so good! It's an epic told in three parts, each with a different protagonist (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan... I don't think I need to tell you they're great), exploring fatherhood and how the sins of the father can affect so many lives. The cinematography is stunning, especially in the opening tracking shot and the motorcycle chases. Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne have small roles but they do a lot with them and it's some of their best work. While the film's last third stumbles a little (okay, more than a little), and the female characters are very much neglected, director Derek Cianfrance still manages to make a compelling, epic drama that deserves a revisit."

Adam: "Last night I managed to watch the delightful Disney short film, Us Again (2021). Brilliant animation, and a delightful soundtrack, with a heartwarming message. The best bit? Not a single piece of dialogue! I already have the soundtrack and can’t wait to see what director Zach Parrish does next. Antoine Fuqua’s new film Infinite (2021) comes out this weekend, the concept doesn’t seem too fresh, but I like many of the people involved."