The Fate of the Furious
Runtime 136 minutes
OK for children
I am not an aficionado of these Fast and Furious films, although one or two have been mildly entertaining. This one is a surprise, more James Bondish than car crash centric (although there are car crashes and chases aplenty). Mostly it’s a steal from Ian Fleming with an evil egomaniac (Charlize Theron) out to take control of the world by finagling Vin Diesel into working for her and against his Fast and Furious Gang, headed by Dwayne Johnson and including Jason Statham and Michelle Rodriguez.
While it starts out with a really silly car race through the streets of Havana, it morphs into a thriller with more story than the others have presented. The quality of the acting is elevated by the presence of people like Helen Mirren who, even though she just appears in a cameo, outshines everybody else. Kurt Russell is back in his continuing role and adds good acting to the group.
The light-hearted repartee is appealing and greatly enhances this fast-paced actioner. Needless to say the special effects are pretty amazing.
Lovingly photographed by Stephen F. Windon, Theron has never appeared more beautiful, malevolent though she may be.
The Lost City of Z
Runtime 140 minutes
OK for children
In 1906, British explorer Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) was in a National Geographic Society expedition to trace the source of South America’s Rio Verde River to its source. During the trip, he discovered pottery and evidence of a lost city. Returning to London he got the assignment to return and find out more. One of the people who accompanied him, however, was wealthy adventurer James Murray (Angus Macfayden) who, predictably, turns out to be a pain in the neck. Also accompanying him is his aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattison).
However, every time he undertook one of these expeditions he left behind his faithful wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) and their children for years at a time. Had I needed to make the choice of spending years in a forbidding jungle full of headhunters and poisonous snakes and rivers filled with Piranhas on the one hand, and staying at home with the gorgeous Miller, well, I wouldn’t have had to think about it for more than two seconds. But I bet Nina didn’t look a thing like Miller, so Fawcett kept going back to his jungle.
Directed and written by James Gray and based on David Grann’s bestselling novel, the film is far too long. But the cinematography (Darius Khondji) and locales are captivating and the story compelling.
The Zookeeper’s Wife (4 out 5 swans): Jessica Chastain shines as Antonina ?abi?ska, a working wife and mother who, along with her equally heroic husband, Dr. Jan ?abi?ski (Johan Heldenbergh), became a hero during WWII saving Jews from the Nazis. The recreation of their tense life in Warsaw, with a Nazi constantly lusting after her, during those dark years is spellbinding, based on Diane Ackerman’s book and Antonina’s diaries.
Beauty and the Beast (4 out 5 swans): A terrific entertainment combining live action with animation; the outstanding production numbers and orchestration make up for mediocre melody. Romantic enough, I thought Dan Stevens had a lot more sex appeal as the Beast (achieved through performance and facial capture technology, not makeup) than as the Prince. Visual and special effects are award quality.
Kong: Skull Island (4 out 5 swans): Well directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (only his second film), the special effects, production design, and cinematography alone are worth the price of admission, buttressed by the symphonic score that greatly enhances the action. And they should be since the estimated cost of production is around $185 million. Final kudos should go to the editor. I’m constantly carping about films needing good editing. This one got it, thanks to Richard Pearson.