I’m on Pop Culture Happy Hour today for the first time since our bummed-out post-election Pop Culture Serotonin Spectacular. And it was all the way back in December 2015 that I last shared the studio with the great Gene Demby of the Code Switch blog and podcast, when we broke down Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I always feel things have gone well when I’m with Gene; he’s a calming presence I guess. Most of this week’s episode was recorded live on stage in Chicago at last week, and neither Gene not I were present for that, so we’re in the first segment only. The topic is The Fate of the Furious, a film I reviewed… unfavorably.
One thing I said in the studio that didn’t make the cut was to cite an example of a wackass movie that has what I called “a guiding intelligence” on the show: John Wick is set in a bizarro world that screenwriter Derek Kolstad has taken care to imagine vividly, letting us see some of its weird economy and language. In Wick, The Continental is a hotel (played by that Flatiron Building) frequented by assassins. To commit any act of violence on its grounds, or even to make arrangements on Continental property for “business” to be conducted elsewhere is forbidden on pain of excommunication. John Wick is no more “realistic” an action film than any entry in the Fast & Furiad, but it’s a much more richly imagined one, and to my mind, substantially better. But to confine our comparison to the action flick meat-and-potatoes, Keanu’s stunt driving and hand-to-hand fighting are—like his, you know, acting—much more persuasive than Vin Diesel’s. Man, I do not get that guy at all.
Neither Wick nor Fast can touch something like Mad Max: Fury Road, of course — but I do think it’s fair to compare the Furiosities to the Missions: Impossible. And that comparison does not favor Fast.
I read Bee Shapiro’s New York Times interview with Diesel this week, and I spent most of it thinking maybe I’d misjudged him. He was a theatre kid! He aspire to work with Sidney Lumet! Thank god he reaffirmed his essential d-baggery right at the end, where he put Dom and Letty into the canon of Western literature.
Ben Wheatley’s new comic thriller Free Fire is a feature-length-gun-battle-as-anti-gun-PSA. I enjoyed it, as far as it goes.
We all know the deathless The Fast & The Furious series can’t touch Mad Max: Fury Road or even its closer competitor the Mission: Impossible franchise, right? We all know that?
Even by the series’ own standards of allegedly intentional badness, the new The Fate of the Furious is a sour lemon. (136 minutes, four good scenes.) Here’s my NPR review.
Two of my main beats—aviation/space and theatre—overlapped last week when I attended a reading of Ad Astra, a new play by James Wallert about the life of pioneering rocket scientist—and Nazi—Wernher von Braun. I wrote a post about that for Air & Space/Smithsonian, but at my editor’s suggestion we removed a paragraph where I named the four actors who performed the reading. That was the right call for Air & Space’s audience; after all, when Ad Astra gets fully staged it will likely be with a different cast. Still, the cast—all members of New York’s Epic Theatre Ensemble, which Wallert co-founded—was terrific, so I’d like to name them here. Continue reading
My review of Forum Theatre’s “Nasty Women Rep,” comprised of Ruby Ray Spiegel’s Dry Land and Monica Byrne’s What Every Girl Should Know, took longer to appear than it should have, but it’s up now. These two shows sustain Forum’s reputation for bold, timely work, and I recommend them—Dry Land, especially.
Life, the new anti-space-exploration space movie from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa and starring my beloved Rebecca “Ilsa Faust” Ferguson plus some other famous people, is no Gravity. Or Interstellar. Or The Martian. But it’s aight. I reviewed it for NPR, and then, having finished reviewing Life, I recalled The Onion‘s lovely backhanded obituary for Roger Ebert from 2013.
Studio Theatre is putting on a ballsy experiment for the next month or so, running a new production of Three Sisters and No Sisters—Aaron Posner’s companion play—not in rep but literally on top of one another. I review both in this week’s Washington City Paper.
FURTHER READING: My April 2015 review of Round House’s Uncle Vanya. My January 2015 review of Posner’s Life Sucks, or the Present Ridiculous at Theatre J. My June 2013 review of Stupid Fucking Bird. And my August 2011 review of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya, starring Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.