Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sing Street: Full of Soul and Character

Movie Review: Sing Street (2016)
Version: Library borrow

Sometimes it's good to get away from Hollywood blockbusters and watch an independent film. Sing Street is a delightful film from Ireland full of grit and character and soul.

Director John Carney made a movie about all the things he wanted to do as a teen in Ireland but was never able to do. It takes place in the mid-1980's, when music was in a transition to video, its sound and lyrics also in transition, which becomes the pathway for a boy's dreams of meeting a mysteriously beautiful girl by creating a band and writing music to woo her.  Carney's homage to his unfulfilled boyhood lives out in a film about life during the hard times in Dublin, Ireland, that is as much art as it is entertainment.

Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays the lead as Conor, the teen lad forced to change schools because financial times are hard at home. Jack Reynor plays Brenan, the drop-out older brother whose dreams have faded but rediscovers them in mentoring his younger sibling. School is a jungle enabled by abusive Catholic priests trying herd to rebellious youth, including a handful of young men who find a common bond in '80's music. Lucy Boynton plays Raphina, the girl who dreams of a career in modeling in London and plays along with Conor and the band, told she can be in their music video, the idea being it could help her modeling career.

With the exception of Boyton, the acting in the beginning of the film is amateurish, but as the film moves along and the plot and the music progresses, the acting improves and melds seamlessly into the background. The lads mature as characters and performers, their costumes and music maturing before our very eyes as the story becomes more real. Boyton is flawless throughout. Walsh-Peelo at first is hesitant as a singer, but quickly takes to the role as lead singer in the band. Mark McKenna who plays Eamon, Conor's music and lyrics collaborator, who can play every instrument in the band, and helps Conor write the music that will attract Raphina's attention, is flawless as a supporting actor. The other members of the band create a winsome ensemble of lovable characters. You even come to like the school bully by the end of the film.

Most independent films, especially foreign films, are more character driven than the Hollywood blockbusters we're driven by marketing efforts to see at our local theaters. Sing Street is full of character. It has the grit of the streets and alleyways of downtrodden Dublin. And it has the soul of a lost nation seeking direction, seeking a way out of its misery, and seeking young love. There is so much to love about this film. The final scenes will steal your heart away.

Do yourself a favor and watch Sing Street. It's what good film making is all about.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Einstein: His Life and His Universe: He Was Brilliant But He Had Relationship Issues

Book Review: Einstein: His Life and His Universe by Walter Isaacson
Version: eBook library borrow

I watched the series Genius, on National Geographic Channel I believe, that delved into the life of genius physicist Albert Einstein. I was so enthralled that I wanted to read the book on which the series was based, Einstein: His Life and His Universe. Now I wish I hadn't done either.

As a science nerd all my life, I held Albert Einstein as one of my heroes. He died in 1955, six years after I was born. We shared the same initials (A.E.). I wanted to be a physicist, because of him. Then I saw the series and read this book. It turns out, Einstein was kind of a cad.

As the series and the book details, he didn't mind misusing people to further his personal goals and complete his work. He relied on the adept mathematical skills of his first wife to proof his own, but he didn't give her credit for his discoveries, even though they discussed his ideas and she was key to the efficacy of his calculations. They married and had children, and he forced her to care for them instead of furthering her own science and mathematics career. Many of his discoveries picked up from the ideas and work of other physicists rather than being original. And he cheated on both wives, one of whom was a cousin. Now, creatively he was a great thinker and was able to extend the work of others because of his keen insights -- no doubt about it.  Einstein was a visual thinker and did several key thought experiments to concept physics in ways other scientists of his time couldn't. That really was his gift. But he had relationship problems.

As we learn in the made-for-TV series and in the book from which it was closely developed, Einstein misused the people around him, from his professors to his wives, to his children. He rarely saw his sons. He had mistresses while he was married. He even led on a fiancee who was the daughter of a family who took him in while he attended university when others forsook him, carrying on a long-distance relationship while he carried on with the woman who would become his first wife, whom he would then divorce for his second wife, a cousin.

The book is well researched and well written. I don't mean to detract from it or the well-produced television series. In the series, it is well acted and well written. But when I realize what a horrible person he was even into later life, well, sometimes your idols are better off left unexplored.

Einstein did do one other thing very well. He understood the power of the atom and the menace the German physicists presented in their search for the atom bomb, preparing the United States for the eventuality of the development such a weapon in their hands. And as the United States prepared for such a weapon themselves, Einstein joined other scientists in opposing it. In this, he became a voice of reason, finally using his celebrity and his prominence for good. So, perhaps, this story isn't entirely a disappointment.

Still, I have many mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, we should acknowledge knowledge gained. On the other, we should be grateful for the unsullied images of long past heroes whom we cherish. Nothing can be changed having finally understood Einstein's personal shortcomings. He was still brilliant in his science insights. In sum, I'm sorry I read this book.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Go, Go, Gorillas: A Romping Bedtime Tale: Ten Smiling Gorilla Thumbs Up!

Book Review: Go, Go, Gorillas: A Romping Bedtime Tale by Patrick Wensick
Version: From the bookstore

Ever wonder why the gorillas are always laying around or sleeping when you visit them in the zoo? Author Patrick Wensick answers this curiosity in his brilliant new children's picture book, Go, Go, Gorillas: A Romping Bedtime Tale. It is illustrated with rambunctious fun by Nate Wragg.

Maybe you've noticed when you visit the zoo that the gorillas laze around a lot. Patrick Wensick has an interesting idea why, and I'll guarantee you, it's not what you're thinking. In this fun bedtime story for your little ones, Wensick takes you on an imaginative journey through the zoo when most little eyes are asleep, providing your little ones' minds with a fun transition to their own pleasant dream time. And you will have as much fun reading it to them or with them as they will have taking the journey with you.

I found Go, Go, Gorillas in the Children's Picture Books section at my neighborhood Barnes and Nobles store and online at It didn't take long to get caught up in the amazing adventure of the story and I know that children everywhere will, too. I can give it ten smiling gorilla thumbs up!

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Great Gilly Hopkins: An Emotional Ride Through the Lives of the Characters

Movie Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins (2015)
Version: Library borrow

I last saw Sophie Nelisse in the exceptional lead role in The Book Thief. She returns in the amazing lead role as The Great Gilly Hopkins.

Gilly is an unruly unwanted 12-year-old foster child hoping to reunite with her mother. But for a schoolyard-wise, book-smart child, she just doesn't have a clue. She has been through the foster care mill and landing in the home of foster mother Maime Trotter (played by charmer Kathy Bates) and the classroom of Ms Harris (played by invincible Octavia Spencer), Gilly puts up a battle to beat the system and find the mother who abandoned her. But through all her devious plots and plans, she outsmarts herself and loses the only real home she's finally found love. You see, in walks her grandmother Nonnie (played by steelie-eyed Glenn Close), who has only recently discovered she has a granddaughter, just as everyone Gilly cares about is sick with the flu, leaving the home in a mess, and Nonnie is determine to rescue the daughter of her daughter. Also in the mix is Gilly's mother, who abandoned Gilly at a very young age and shows up briefly for Christmas.

Now, Kathy Bates overacts as a country-bumpkinish caring foster-care mom, but Octavia Spencer is smart as whip as the teacher who can't be fooled and Glenn Close is adept as the distant grandmother reaching out to connect with the daughter she never really had. Also fine in this cast is Bill Cobbs as Mr. Randolph, the blind older neighbor who shares his wisdom and compassion with a confused and rebellious youth desperately seeking love in all the wrong places. Sophie Nelisse provides that delicate vulnerability her character needs, which she was so good at showing us in The Book Thief.

Although the setting is current, The Great Gilly Hopkins has an old fashioned feel with themes and tones that last the test of time. It could have taken place at any time over the last 50 years and still been current. I predict this movie will still stand up in the next 50 years. The cars may look a little old by then, but there are few of them in the movie and your focus is really on the characters, which is what this story is really about.

The Great Gilly Hopkins is one of those movies where you don't watch for the dazzle, the scenery, or the action. You watch it for the emotional ride through the lives of the characters. See it! 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Collide: A Cheap Fast and Furious Ripoff and Disappointing

Movie Review: Collide (2016)
Version: Library borrow

Collide turned out to be the second of two bad movies of a double feature at home. I would call it a cheap Fast and Furious ripoff, with Nicholas Hoult as down-and-out American Casey Stein trying to reboot his life of poor choices in Germany, where he meets bar keep Juiliette (played by Felicity Jones). She isn't into this loser, but he inserts himself into her life and he promises to change his ways as an errand boy for East European Geran (played by Ben Kingsley), which he does by quitting that work and working in a metal reclamation center. Then Casey learns that Juiliette is seriously ill and as an American she isn't covered for the kidney transplant she needs to stay alive and requires six-figure money fast. So he rejoins Geran in a scheme to heist drugs and cash from money laundering kingpin Hagen Kahl (played exquisitely by Anthony Hopkins). From there, the story becomes a car chase movie with smoke and mirrors, but without the ensemble cast of a Fast and Furious.

I said that Anthony Hopkins is exquisite as Kahl. If there is a saving grace to the movie, it is Hopkins who, as ever, is the consummate professional actor giving depth and range to his character. There are hints of Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal as well as William Parrish from Meet Joe Black in this character. He is menacing in parts, elegant and patrician in others. Contrast him with Ben Kingsley who, fine actor as he has been, seems to have become stereotyped as these slimy accented characters with little dimension. In Collide, he plays a caricature of a character, almost a comic relief to Kahl. Geran could have been so much more dangerous, so much more threatening, so much more scheming. There is also not all that much depth to the Juilette character. Casey gets by as a schemer and it isn't until the end that we find out he's really much smarter than he lets on. And this is probably as much a scripting problem as an acting one. For an actor, it's in the portrayal, in the facial expressions, in the voice and pauses. In the script, it's the situations created and the dialogue provided. In Collide, the script certainly failed.

The big reveal at the end is plainly a cheat. Again, this is a scripting problem. Why wait till the end to surprise your audience? Why not give us hints along the way so we can say, "Ah, yes, now it makes sense!" Instead, we say, "Oh, thanks, now you tell us!" Perhaps the title Collide is about the collision between audience expectations and reality when you get to the end of a disappointing movie.

Viewer beware: Watch Collide at your own risk. Perhaps fast forward to the Anthony Hopkins parts and you will be just fine. Otherwise, I suggest you give it a skip.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul: New Cast Flop

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017)
Version: Library borrow

This is going to be short and -- well, not sweet. We've enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies as a family, in the way any family can. They've been fun. The characters have been interesting, the stories pitting everyone in one calamity after another and teaching young viewers a lesson by the end. And the actors playing the characters have been charismatic in their parts. We "grew up" with them in their roles. The Long Haul is da bomb, but as in a bomb. It screws with everything we grew to like in the series, changing the entire cast.

It's understandable to the extent that all the youngsters were growing too old to play Greg, Rowley, and gang. But why fool with Mom, Dad, and Rodrick, who were perfect as cast? I'll give credit to Jason Drucker as Greg, who comes the closest to being likable and emerging as a realistic replacement. And Alicia Silverstone isn't horrible as Mom, but she still just doesn't cut it with the persona. Tom Everett as Dad is so far off the mark as the frenetic Dad and Charlie Wright doesn't begin to play the sloth and evil that his predecessor did as Rodrick.

The gist of the story is Mom and Dad packing Greg, Manny, and Rodrick into the family van for a trip to visit "Meemaw" in celebration of her 90th birthday. Greg and Rodrick only give in to the trip with the hope of secretly visiting a gamer conference, changing the van's GPS to get them there without Mom and Dad knowing. There is, of course, the usual lame parental effort to make the trip fun and the kids doing everything they can to ignore it all, and there's the stopover at a less than one-star-rated motel plus an encounter with a less than friendly family to add conflict and humor.

So, while the scenarios are pure Diary, the cast is clueless and spoils it. We just couldn't get over the new cast enough to enjoy this movie. Sorry, guys, but you pulled the rug out from under us on this one and the movie ended up as a flop on our floor.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Good Writing Makes This Book

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Version: Library ebook borrow

I saw the movie Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children directed by Tim Burton, so I decided I should read the book. Usually, the book is full of greater insights into the tale and has more depth and you get to know the characters better. Not so here.

For well into the first three-quarters of the book the movie and the book track nearly identically. It's the story of the boy who has grown up being told the most fantastic stories by his grandfather, and when his grandfather dies a mysterious and horrific death and tells him he must seek out a teacher from earlier in his life, the boy goes to Wales with his father to seek her out. When he gets there, initially all he finds is an old ruin of a home for peculiar children. But upon further investigation he finds a portal to the past and visits both the teacher and the peculiar children, and in doing so he discovers the answer to the mystery of his grandfather's death and why his grandfather was insistent on his seeking out the teacher. We meet the wonderful teacher and the very interesting children. And we meet the beasts at whose hands the boy's grandfather meets his death, who want to kill the teacher, the peculiar children, and the boy.

It's the last quarter of the book where the story diverges from the movie. There is no gigantic battle scene at a seaside entertainment midway. And there is no emotional reunion with the grandfather at the end. But there is more to the romance with the grandfather's former peculiar love interest, which is this case is the girl who can light fire with her hands and not the girl who can fly. And the book includes all the peculiar photos which inspired the writing of the book in the first place. (Note: In creating an ebook out of an original book file, it isn't always easy to include images and graphics. It was integral to story, so bravo to Riggs for including them!)

I think we can blame the lack of additional depth to this series of stories being in the young adult or teen genre, which tend to be shorter, less complex stories. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, however, is well written, with wonderful descriptions and imaginative passages. It's worth the read just for that. There are sequels to this book. I'm not a fan of horror or peculiar stories, so I haven't decided whether to read them, but if you want to read good writing, I suggest you give this book and the others a try.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Shack: It's Not About Religion, It's About Healing

Movie Review: The Shack (2017)
Version: Library borrow

If you're turned off by religion-based films ... hold on, The Shack is different! This one doesn't try to convert you and, at least in my mind, this one isn't sickly sweet. It actually answers some pretty basic questions on a lot of peoples' minds about God and when bad things happen, and it addresses how we heel as wounded individuals. It ministers to a character but it doesn't preach to us. It's a story.

Mack Phillips has suffered some tragedies in his life, the most traumatic the recent loss of his youngest daughter Missy while under his care at a camp. Someone abducted her while he was rescuing his older daughter and son during a canoe incident on a lake, and while police find evidence of her abduction at a nearby shack, the body is never found. Mack feels a deep remorse that tears him apart, also pulling him apart from his other family relationships. Months later, still mourning, he receives a letter he assumes is a taunt from the abductor inviting him to encounter him back at the shack, and he goes to take on the killer of his daughter. But when we goes he finds an encounter of an entirely different kind. There, he meets God in three persons, who challenge his notions of loss, guilt, judgment, revenge, and forgiveness. As an audience, we may find ourselves challenged in our notions as well, including of who God is and how God works in our daily lives.

The Shack features a very good cast, including Sam Worthington as Mack and, very interestingly, Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer as Papa (God the nurturing "Father") as well as Native American Graham Greene as Papa (God the "Father" when you need strength). Avraham Aviv Alush plays Messia (God the Son) and Sumire Matsubara plays Sarayu (which means "the wind", God the Holy Spirit). It's a fine ensemble cast that plays heavenly intervention on a strictly human level -- casting no lightning bolts, no fire and brimstone, only serenity.

There is also an amazing garden filled with wild flowers, in which Sarayu asks Mack to help her prepare the area for a big event the next day. To say more than that would be to provide spoilers, but what follows the next day can be gut wrenching and beautiful at the same time.

This is a film that I warn you starts off kind of cheesy but soon becomes beautiful and then powerful. I challenge you to watch it all the way through. If by the end you decide I was wrong, I'll allow you to wag your finger at me and tell me I was wrong. But I think you'll find The Shack is much less about religion and way more about healing. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie: Not as Good as the Original But Still Fun-tastic

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Version: Library borrow

What would happen if The Joker rounded up all of Batman's most sinister enemies and brought them together to battle the night crusader? Uh, the lone crusader? Uh, the LEGO version of the lone night crusader? That's sorta kinda the theme behind The LEGO Batman Movie, with the added twist that Batman has unwittingly adopted a teen who idolizes him and he can't shake the capable young crusader wannabe. Also add into the twist a lot of other familiar bad guys, like Sauron from The Lord of the Rings... oh, you have to see this fun-tastic stop-action animation film to believe it.

Now, my daughter and I agree this isn't as fun as the original LEGO movie, but it's still great entertainment for every age group. There are the usual sight gags, hilarious dialogue, generously quirky characters, and amazing LEGO land creations set to motion. You even have your choice of super duper bat machines to drool over. It's simply great fun. And this time, there are no human characters to get in the way of the story line. Well, there is the voice cast, featuring Will Arnett as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Cera as Dick Grayson/Robin, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth, Siri as 'Puter, and Zach Galifianakis as Joker, but the add, not intrude. Only thing missing is a catchy tune like "Everything's Awesome", as we had in the original. Oh, well, you can't have everything.

So, what would happen in this scenario? Well, everyone finds his or her right place in the Gotham City scheme of things, and that includes the audience. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and we think you will, too. Buy it, rent it, or borrow The LEGO Batman Movie from the library, but do see it, soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Boss Baby: We Can't Give This Movie Even a Grudging Thumbs Up

Movie Review: The Boss Baby (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Can you imagine Alec Baldwin as cute and cuddly little baby? Me, neither, but he pulls it off in the animated movie, The Boss Baby. It's with his voice, of course, playing a baby sent to a family to solve the big mystery behind the puppy-cute boom that threatens to replace babies among families.

His chief rival is seven-year-old Tim, Mom and Dad's favorite huggable until Baby Boss shows up, and who plots to overcome the competition. It's only when the two reach the conclusion that working together they can both solve their individual problems that the two team up and, as a result, realize they actually like each other.

Animation is often powered by its voice talent. In The Boss Baby, Alec Baldwin is just one of the powerhouses.Tim is well voiced by Miles Bakshi. Jimmy Kimmel plays Dad and Lisa Kudrow plays Mom. But really, Alec Baldwin drives this movie. All of it!

The animation itself is imaginative, but not spectacular. And I have reached the conclusion that without Baldwin to drive this film, The Boss Baby wouldn't have much going for it. OK, babies are cute, puppies are cute, but you can get those with a live action movie -- you can get them on social media any day. The plot is interesting, but the conflicts don't move you. And the art is nothing to draw home about.

As a family, we all agreed we were glad we didn't pay to see The Boss Baby at the theater. It was an "OK" DVD borrow, but we were sure we wouldn't want to pay for it on cable, on demand, or at a rental store, either. Sorry, guys, we can't give this movie even a grudging thumbs up.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Founder: A Phenomenal Story and a Commanding Performance

Movie Review: The Founder (2016)
Version: Library borrow

Sit back and be prepared to be floored by The Founder, the movie and the performance.

It's 1954 and drive-in restaurants -- what we would call junk food havens today -- were the "in" thing across America. The only problem was, they attracted a bad element: rebellious, unruly teens. And for the customers, they were slow and undependable on service. Ray Kroc was a salesman most of his life with a face and pitch most targets of his "charm" could remember, and he was crossing the Midwest selling five-spindle milkshake makers, with no one buying. And then, suddenly, he got an order for six, in San Bernadino, California. So Ray drove out to San Bernadino in his dusty, rusty DeSoto to check out this McDonald's drive-in restaurant and discovered a miracle of innovation and great food with speedy service. He wanted in! Dick and Mac McDonald were skeptical, but Ray put on the charm and with persistence, talked them into franchising their local successful business model across the country. And so the story of The Founder of McDonald's begins.

Michael Keaton puts on a command performance as the tired aging salesman who has tried just about every gimmick to find "the big one" that will make him rich, then nails it through blind ambition, dogged persistence, and sheer ruthlessness. The McDonald brothers, played by Nick Offerman as Dick and John Carroll Lynch as Mac, weren't prepared for the force of nature that was Ray Kroc, and he eats them up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with Keaton playing all the parts with absolute brilliance. Why he wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this role, I have no idea. As the tale starts out Kroc is a likable enough character, struggling to make a sale, disappointed in what life serves up to him. Mid-way through you begin to sense Kroc has become obsessed and is in over his head, and you feel for him. But by the end, he becomes a despicable fiend. The McDonald brothers, at first sticklers for staying true to their vision and intransigent to any change, become pawns to Kroc's mercenary schemes and in the end the victims. 

I don't know how much of this story is true and how much is screenwriter's license to make the film more interesting, but if it's half as true as in real life, unless you are a true dog-eat-dog capitalist at heart, I guarantee you will come away despising Ray Kroc after watching The Founder. I certainly wasn't prepared for the revelations. But you will be amazed at the original McDonalds' innovations and dogged faith to the genius of what they had created. 

There are other side plots to the story that I won't get into here that make the story equally intriguing, along with the actors who played them out. Together, they tell the story of the founding of McDonalds Corporation and the people who made it one of the most successful franchises in America -- in the world. 

I can say, without a doubt, you should see this film. For Keaton's commanding performance if not to learn the story behind bringing you your neighborhood McDonald's. It's a phenomenal story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Saturn Run: Sound Science and Sound Writing

Book Review: Saturn Run by John Sanford and Ctein
Version: Hard cover library borrow

Interestingly, the first time I tried to read Saturn Run, I thought the first few pages were hog wash and I returned the book to the library. Low and behold, a few months later I looked for something interesting to read and didn't recognize the title and borrowed the book again. This time, I fell in love with the book. What's a reader to say?

What would you do if the president of the United States asked you to join a crew headed to a distant planet in our solar system to beat the rest of the world to tap into a suspected alien base? And what would you think if one of the other major powers jumped into the race to beat you there, and their crew was most likely filled with military personnel, while yours was filled with scientists, engineers, and just a few security personnel? And what if on the way your head of security had a good-odds suspicion that there was a spy on board your ship sabotaging your engines? That's part of the story line behind Saturn Run, about a U.S. rocket headed to Saturn attempting to beat the Chinese there to secure alien technological secrets before anyone else. The crew is made up of engineers, scientists, an anthropologist, a video photographer, a news reporter, a national security operative, and a handful of assorted others. On the China ship is a military crew hellbent on beating the Americans there. Along the way, the U.S. ship loses an engine and a chief engineer, slowing its progress, but not enough for the Chinese to beat them. But when the China ship arrives, it's apparent their ship is disabled and the U.S. ship must decide whether to give them aid. Along with the hard science in this space adventure, then, is also political intrigue. And who in the end wins the alien technology. And what about the aliens at the base?

Saturn Run is well thought out and plotted, and the authors put a lot of effort into making the engineering as accurate as possible so the space ships could reach Saturn in months instead of years. The characters are realistic, although I kept wondering, would the United States really send amateur space travelers or would it send seasoned astronauts who also trained in the other disciplines? The U.S. ship is a reworked International Space Station, and I have some doubts about the feasibility of that as well. Still, it doesn't get in the way of a good story. It includes a great surprise at the end, making the long slog through 486 pages worth the read.

Ever have one of those books it takes more than once to become vested in? That's the way it was for me with Saturn Run. I think you should give it a try. It's a great story and worth a read.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Fate of the Furious: A Swift Kick in the Gear Box

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Version: Library borrow

The Fate of the Furious isn't your daddy's Fast and Furious, little buddy. The eighth movie in the franchise series starts off on the fast and furious streets of Havana, Cuba, with a street race, but that's where the hot-car thrills end. Dom (played as always by Vin Diesel) is recruited by a bad-ass fem antagonist to go after world-class weapons of mass destruction, even betraying his closest friends who go in hot pursuit. And no one can figure out what turned him from a good guy into a bad guy. It turns out bad-ass fem Cipher (played by Charlize Theron) has a couple of hostages in tow who are close to Dom's heart, and she won't release them until Dom helps her capture a Russian submarine along the coast of the frozen Barents Sea.

Back are Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom's former love interest and now wife; Tyrese Gibson as Roman; Ludacris as Tej Parker; and Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, the new crew member rescued in episode 7. Also back are Dwayne Johnson as Federal Agent Hobbs and Jason Statham as Deckard, who were at each others' throats in episode 7 but now reunite to go after Dom to stop Cipher. Shepherding resources to support the crew is Mr Nobody (played by Kurt Russell), who now has an assistant, Little Nobody, played by Scott Eastwood. Helen Mirren gets a cameo role as Magdalene Shaw, Deckard's mother, whom Dom meets to enroll Deckard's help.

Now, even without the street races, there are still plenty of thrills in this film with lots of hot cars and military hardware to pump up the action, on the streets, in the air, and across the ice. And what would a Fast and Furious movie be without some male bravado and back talk? Yep, that's there, too.

As always, it's the action that makes this movie, but it wouldn't be the Fast and the Furious without the characters, with their sassy interplay. After seven episodes, the actors have the mojo down pat, and this ensemble cast is perfect in making everything work. You can even let the glaring plot holes pass because the action and the characters are so fun to watch. Mentioning the plot holes would require telling more of the plot, which would entail spoilers, so I won't go into detail, but I'm sure you won't have any trouble spotting the plot holes on your own. Anyway, you don't go to see a film like The Fate of the Furious for airtight plots, you go for the action.

The Blu-ray version of the movie includes a set of very interesting extras, including some insights into the Cipher character. If you can afford to buy or rent it instead of the standard DVD, I would do so. And by all means, for a fast and furious evening of fun without spending a lot of time thinking, pop in The Fate of the Furious and enjoy the show. It's a swift kick in the gear box!