Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw *** 2019


There’s never been a Fast & Furious film that wasn’t likeable in some way; there have been genuine rewards those hardly souls who gathered round the flaming dumpster fire of 2 Fast 2 Furious, complete with it’s interactive DVD opening, allowing you to join the story has various characters. For the record, the best are probably the decidedly untypically small-scale Tokyo Drift and the epic Rio Heist, but there’s decent action scenes in them all. These are old-fashioned popcorn movies, self-contained, drawing in fading stars like magnets, leavened with crude humour and stereotypes, topped off with doses of sentiment about family; this latest has a speech about how machines are not important that’s about as hypocritical as Rocky IV’s focus on Russian technology vs spartan American training techniques; ie the picture is completely inverted.

Fast and Furious is largely about the toys, but there need to be men to drive them, and with Paul Walker’s demise, these men must be bald and middle aged. Vin Diesel presumably has other things to do, so The Rock and Jason Stratham are drafted in to fuel the testosterone. Both have charisma and a great comic touch, but Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t make much of these natural resources, nor do much with Idris Elba’s superhuman villain. Taking the family theme from the last few Fast movies, the focus is on Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirkby) who has injected herself with some kind of plague virus that might end all human life. Hobbs and Shaw put aside their differences to save her, turning to Hobbs’s mother and brother in Samoa. The climax involves a clutch of vehicles attached to a helicopter over a cliff-edge; in the days of CGI screen-work, there’s no sense of danger involved, just excess. Other set pieces, on the side of a London building, a chase around the streets of Glasgow (doubling for London), a disused factory in Moscow, are impressive without offering anything unique.

Ryan Reynolds, presumably as a favour to director Deadpool director David Leitch, gets dragged into the ongoing action, as does Helen Mirren. It would be nice to think that a few of Hobbs and Shaw’s audience might feel inspired to see Mirren’s earlier work, like Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man or Age of Consent. She’s here, one supposes, as a sop to older audiences dragged along by their kids, and puts on a ridiculous accent as some kind of gangster fairy godmother. She’s having a laugh, which is probably the only thing to do in such ridiculous circumstances.


Phil Spector 2013 ***


Only David Mamet would be so deliberately obtuse as to make a feature-length film about a famous trial and halt the action before the trial even starts; the great playwrights focus is on something other than courtroom melodrama in this television drama about the trail of Phil Spector. Played by Al Pacino in a variety of ever-more outrageous wigs, Mamet positions the notorious producer as a man out of time, ranting and raving about the injustices of the music industry while somehow unaware of the bigger picture of his impending conviction for the murder of Lana Clarkson. Pacino is on top form, matched every inch of the way by Helen Mirren as attorney Linda Kenney Baden, who puts aside her own drowsiness with the flu to consider whether Spector has a case to defend. Mamet balances trail by jury with trial by media, and uncovers some outlandish facts, including the reasons for Spector’s bizarre wigs in this wordy by fascinating production.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover 1989 ***


Peter Greenaway’s brief flirtation with the mainstream produced his most accessible and shocking film in 1989; although his usual visual tropes are on show, with nudity and fruit forming part of his painterly compositions, The Cook, The Thief is a chilling tale of gangsters and retribution. Michael Gambon is Albert, the crime-boss who uses his ill-gotten gains to live a gluttonous lifestyle, and Helen Mirren is his wife, who finds herself drawn to one of the patrons of the restaurant that Albert frequents. Writer/director Greenaway is a class act, but that doesn’t stop him from exploring the darker side of human nature in this violent, hypnotic film. It may be theatrical in conceit, but it’s a perfect analogy for the excesses of Britain in the late 80’s.

The Queen 2006 ****


Stephen Frears has made a virtue of highlighting unusual double-acts, from the gay couple in My Beautiful Launderette to the theatre-managers in Mrs Henderson Presents. Peter Morgan has done the same with Frost/Nixon and Rush, and the double-team works beautifully in this study of how Britain reacted to the death of Princess Diana. On one hand, The Queen displays a stiff upper lip and wants to keep her grieving private, while prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) is media savvy enough to know that there’s political capital to be made from the nation’s mourning,, and a banana skin in wait for anyone who doesn’t toe the line. Playing a character who is constantly in the public eye, Helen Mirren is remarkable as The Queen, capturing the mannerisms but also suggesting the inner turmoil of a monarch who has to take seriously the demands of her job. Those who observe the UK political scene will find much to amuse in the depiction of both the royal family and the Labour party in this witty yet empathetic drama.