2021 Movie Reviews: F9 / No Sudden Move / Zola

Two duds and a bonafide stud.

F9

Wow. They finally did it. They made the stupidest one. While stupid usually equates to cinematic gold in the Fast and Furious universe, this one somehow forgets to be entertaining. There’s a real shortage of substantial action set pieces in this one besides a brief but hilarious foray into space (thanks to series standouts Tyrese and Ludacris) and that car drifting through that building into the back part of a truck which we all saw on Instagram a year ago. We do get several metric tons of half-committed Degrassi-level family dramaaaaa and re-worked mythos to pave the way for Dom’s brother (John Cena), whose unceremonious departure is supposed to be a major part of Dom’s current psyche, but of course in 9 movies, this is the first time we’re hearing about him. Which is fine, but those expecting some real fireworks between Cena and Diesel will be sorely disappointed, because they don’t even play themselves in the flashbacks. And 30% of this fucking movie is flashbacks! If there was ever a time to cheesily digitally de-age characters or even funnier, slap on stupid fucking wigs from Party City, this would be it! Instead they re-cast younger versions of the characters and we instantly don’t give a shit. People say this series excels at its stupidest but I’d somewhat disagree. It excels when there’s the most commitment behind the stupidity and this one feels completely phoned in. There’s even a sequence where Tyrese confronts Ludacris and Missandei from Game of Thrones with a bullet-ridden t-shirt of his. “This has seven bullet holes in it and I wasn’t even hit once! How is that possible?! Are we actually invincible? What’s going on?” For a moment you think this is a turning point in the series where the characters are actually going to become somewhat self-aware that they are in a movie. That would just push shit to 11 for me. Instead, there’s a long pause followed by Ludacris brushing it off. “Man, you a dumb ass.” Followed by stupid slide-whistle music. That’s the movie in a nutshell for me, the potential to reach an uncharted depth of stupidity for a Hollywood blockbuster. Only for the rug to be pulled out from underneath us. Silly viewer, blockbusters take no risks. Grade: C- (In Theaters)

No Sudden Move

Steven Sodebergh is so far up his own ass at this point I don’t even know what to say. He selfishly doesn’t give a shit about the audience and we all have to strap in while he works his way through his one-person film school where he’s the teacher, the student, the dean and with any luck, the school board that decides to shut the school down Sister Act 2 style. He uses fish eye lenses for absolutely no reason, maybe just to even further obscure the already obscure and underdeveloped characters. There’s several of them and none of them are interesting. It’s hard to believe the same guy that brought us the fabulously entertaining Ocean’s Eleven and the deceptively complex Out of Sight brings us something this cold, composed and downright boring. This movie doesn’t show anything, it merely tells. Good luck keeping up with everyone’s names. Characters burst through doors to be like “Goynes wants us to tell Meredith that Frankie G is coming down the rear entrance with Hank, but only after Maria leaves for Howard Johnson’s family restaurant since Brendan Fraser is in town!” About halfway through I gave up trying to keep track of any of these morons, even as they rapidly started to get killed off or double crossed for God knows what reason. When Matt Damon finally shows up and reveals what all this shit is about, I was really pretty interested and thought, wow, if only they weren’t so coy and made this the plot of the movie. The “why?” doesn’t need to be a big reveal in a fucking heist movie! DON’T BE COY. LET US KNOW. Besides not giving a shit about the story, the acting is all really solid with Benicio Del Toro being vibrantly charismatic even without a coherent script and David Harbour having a wonderful punching sketch comedy moment. The costumes, set decoration, editing, cinematography (minus the fish eye lenses) is all solid, but mark my words Sodebergh-suck-ups, no one will remember this movie in five years. Grade: C (In Theaters and HBOMAX)

Zola

Finally, a movie with a fucking pulse! Based on a wild twitter feud between two Florida strippers, Janicza Bravo‘s Zola follows its titular character (played wonderfully by somewhat newcomer Taylour Paige) as she embarks on an ill-advised road trip with a girl who brain is broke (Riley Keough – outstanding), her pimp (future Oscar-winner Colman Domingo) and her weak-ass Cousin Greg boyfriend (Nicholas Braun – essentially playing Cousin Greg trying to infiltrate the VMA awards) to the Tampa area to earn some $$ on the pole. What broke brain girl doesn’t tell Zola is that the plan is actually to set up a Back Page and do some marathon hooking. Zola is uncomfortable but broke brain girl re-assures her it’ll be fine yo while her pimp violently threatens her. Common complaints about the movie has been its aimlessness and lack of character development, but at 86 minutes its a real breeze from where I’m sitting. It takes place over the course of a single weekend in these people’s lives and while the characters don’t really get much of an arc during this time period, why the fuck would they? People don’t change over the course of a weekend and the movie knows this. Zola, the character and the film, doesn’t have a great moral message or even a point. It’s just a window into the lives of some very real people that exist on the fringes of society. Bravo isn’t interested in making heroes or villains out of these characters, just human beings, extremely flawed, completely self-serving human beings. She adds a modern urgency with the decision to edit the film like an impatient millennial scrolling through an instagram feed. Scenes simply stop when they begin losing our attention and the presence of notification whistles and Instagram heart likes blended within the footage suggests a merging of the mediums. The most shocking thing about Zola is the decision to release it in theaters. The people who are going to see and love this aren’t leaving their houses or their phones. My prediction is that a year from now when Zola finally hits a streaming platform, it’s going to be wildly popular. Grade: B+ (In Theaters)

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