R.I.P. Helen McCrory (1968 – 2021)

Helen McCrory as ‘Narcissa Malfoy’ in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

Damian Lewis has announced the tragic death of his wife (and occasional-co-star), Helen McCrory, at the age of just 52, stating that she passed “peacefully at home … surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family.”

Technically, the first time I saw her on screen must have been her film-debut as ‘2nd Whore’ in Interview with the Vampire (1994), but the first time I actually became aware of her was when she stole the show in North Square (2000), a Ch4 ensemble drama about a barristers’ chambers in Leeds. Since then, of course, she’s gone to appear in (and storm) a slew of hugely popular/acclaimed productions, such as Peaky Blinders (2013 – 2019), Inside No. 9 (ep #1.6) (2014), Penny Dreadful (2014 – 2015), and the later/gothier instalments of the Harry Potter series. Along the way she earned numerous award wins and nominations, as well as an OBE for “services to drama” in 2017.

In short, McCrory was a fantastically talented/prolific performer, and will be sadly missed.

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Rant: Monthly Dee-Lights (3/21)

Just a quick note of some of the funnest content I consumed last month (in no particular order):

Carrie Brownstein circa 2021– Fender (the guitar people) posted a socially-distanced chat with Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney) about how their song “A New Wave” came into being. Although I didn’t understand a lot of the technical-talk, it’s heartening to see how much joy they still get out of making music together, after all these years. Many, many years ago I heard a radio DJ (possibly Mark Radcliffe?) talking about how silly it is for songs to simply fade out at the end of recordings, because if the band plan to play those songs live then they’re still going to have to figure out how to end them properly… and I always think of that whenever a song ends on a fade-out, so it’s great to see Brownstein discussing that very issue here, and joking about possible solutions.

Sumo Cyco produced a very colourful (potentially seizure-inducing) video for their new single “No Surrender”, with lead singer Skye Sweetnam playing four separate characters… so, kudos on the hair and costuming, though I think Harley Quinn’s lawyers might have a thing or two to say about the “red-haired roller-girl” look!

– The reliably hilarious Taskmaster returned for its 11th series (though only its 2nd on Ch4, since deserting Dave), which continued the in-studio social-distancing, and boasted Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack, Mike Wozniak, and Sarah Kendall as panellists. I know there’s still plenty weeks to go, but so far Wozniak is probably my favourite, both to win and to watch.

‘Val Thundershock’ in "Trolls: Trollstopia" (S1) (2020)– I finally finished the first season of Trolls: Trollstopia (2020), after rationing myself to one episode a week, only to realise that the second season has already started on PeacockTV! D’oh! This flash-animated series is a direct sequel to Trolls World Tour (2020), picking up the story with ‘Poppy’ (voiced here by Amanda Leighton) inviting all of the different music-genre-themed tribes to send their ambassadors to live/learn/laugh together in a specially-built village, called “TrollsTopia”. Naturally, my fave character is ‘Val Thundershock’, a Hard Rock Troll voiced by Lauren Mayhew, though I also have a soft spot for ‘Holly Darlin’’, a Country-and-Western Troll voiced by Megan Hilty. Each episode features separate stories, focussing on different tribes/characters/conflicts, and I have to admit to skipping through any that Val didn’t appear in… but the (grudging) friendship that developed between her and Poppy was very sweet, and a major sub-plot throughout the season, so I caught plenty of the series overall, and found it to be very amusing, and extremely efficient at warming this old, grey heart of mine.

Nova Twins scored two shout-outs as part of Alternative Press’s celebration of International Women’s Day… ranking in both their “10 women and non-binary pop-punk bands who are taking over the genre” listicle and “10 rising all-female bands making waves across each alternative sub-genre” listicle! The subtitle for the latter was “A woman’s place is in the music industry”, and amen to that! Although I was familiar with a couple of the other bands mentioned, such as pop-punkers Bad Cop/Bad Cop, most of them were new to me, so I’m grateful for all the new leads to follow…

Kelly Marie Tran in Elle's “Who Said That?” (3/21)Elle challenged Awkwafina and Kelly Marie Tran to guess “Who Said That?”, matching isolated lines of dialogue to previous co-stars, including a couple from their current high-profile project, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)… and I can’t help feeling sorry for any parents who have to steer their kids away from checking out the rapper’s earlier work, after watching her playing an adorable dragon in that Disney flick… her tracks really aren’t very child-friendly! The artist-formerly-known-as-Nora later went solo to chat with InStyle Editor-in-Chief Laura Brown about various “firsts” in her life/career, including her break-through hit “My Vag”. Ahem.

– St. Patrick’s Day inspired me to revisit the work of my favourite Irish singer (and arguably one of the most entertaining front-people of all-time) Róisín Murphy… not only are there plenty mind-bending Moloko viddies to enjoy on the web, Murphy has also been posting “live” performances of tracks from her latest chart-topper Róisín Machine, to keep the locked-down masses entertained. Bless ‘er.

Garbage released a video for their sweary new single “The Men Who Rule The World”, to herald the upcoming release of their album No Gods No Masters on June 11th.

– As part of their “Festival of Funny” season, the Beeb posted recent stand-up specials by Rose Matafeo (“Horndog”) and Fern Brady (“Power & Chaos”), who have very different vibes but are equally hilarious, imho. There’s also a selection of shorts, including the brilliant horror-comedy skit “Asparagus Tips”, starring Cariad Lloyd.

Nichole Sakura as 'Cheyenne' in "Superstore" (6) (2021)– Before Superstore‘s tear-jerking series finale aired, the main cast (including America Ferrera, Lauren Ash, Nichole Sakura, and Kaliko Kauahi) shared some of their favourite memories from their time together… played their own game of “Who Said That?”… and gave us a glimpse of their original “casting tapes”, from back in the day. Various other retrospective vids have been posted to the show’s Facebook page, and there’s also a compilation of extra unused interview footage of Sakura responding to unheard questions and drumming-up support for the proposed “Bo & Cheyenne” spin-off, which is sadly a non-starter for now. I have slightly mixed feelings about that, because I always enjoyed Johnny Pemberton‘s appearances on the show, and hoped that ‘Bo’ would keep his job at the store once he landed one, but I’m not sure if he was ever really “main character” material, y’know?

– [SPOILERS!] Kathryn Hahn talked to Seth Meyers about the fan-reaction to her scene-stealing heel-turn in WandaVision, and how her kids helped acclimatise her to the MCU… then ponders the contrast between playing a super-powerful witch (with her own catchy theme song!) on-screen, while spending her off-screen time cleaning up foster-cat poop. Ew.

– Oh, and I’m reliably informed that Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat (1974), starring Erica Gavin, Rainbeaux Smith, and Barbara Steele, is now streaming for free on Pluto TV, so yay for that! Now I just wish Arrow (or whoever) would release a fancy DVD/BR edition, with all the trimmings…

– Perennial faves include Meg Tilly’s Cozy Tea Time chats, Ryan George‘s Pitch Meeting skits, and Bailey Meyers‘s gaming streams!

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Rant: “Fast & Furious 7” [SPOILERS!]

Nathalie Emmanuel as 'Ramsey' in “Fast & Furious 7” (2015)Although Fast & Furious 7 (2015) boasts the “freshest” rating of the series over at Rotten Tomatoes (with 82%, compared to the original’s 53%), I wouldn’t rank it nearly so highly myself… partly because two of my fave characters (‘Han’ (Sung Kang) and ‘Gisele’ (Gal Gadot)) were killed off in the previous instalment, and partly because my least favourite character (‘Roman’ (Tyrese Gibson)) is still living large. Personally I find him intensely irritating and painfully unfunny, but apparently I’m in the minority on that one, because they keep bringing him back, and allowing scenes to grind to a halt so he can do his schtick. I vaguely recall him being a lot cooler when he was first introduced in F&F2… a button-pushing rebel, rather than a cowardly clown… but maybe my memory’s playing tricks on me? Either way, I don’t want to focus on the negative, because there was still plenty to enjoy in this instalment…

I’ve always had a soft-spot for Jason Statham, and he’s great fun here as ‘Deckard Shaw’ (the vengeful brother of F&F6’s (now comatose) villain ‘Owen Shaw’ (Luke Evans)), who keeps popping up and pursuing the heroes like he’s ‘The Nemesis’ from Resident Evil 3 (the game, not the movie). It’s funny how “God’s Eye”, the big macguffin everyone’s fighting over in this flick, is a computer program that supposedly uses digital devices to instantly locate/track a person anywhere in the world, when Shaw appears to be able to do that already using nothing but, er, The Force? Kurt Russell also has a scene-stealing cameo role as ‘Mr. Nobody’, the apparently benign “covert ops” agent who recruits the gang to recover God’s Eye and rescue its creator ‘Ramsey’ (Nathalie Emmanuel) from yet another forgettable cookie-cutter baddie.

Ronda Rousey as 'Kara' (and back-up fighters) in “Fast & Furious 7” (2015)Meanwhile, ‘Letty’s amnesia gives Michelle Rodriguez some meaty acting scenes, as she struggles with the imbalance between her and ‘Dom’ (Vin Diesel), feelings-wise… she also gets to kick ass in a fancy dress, and smash up a billionaire’s schmancy apartment, so that was a highlight for me, even if it felt like a step down from her face-off with ‘Hicks’ (Gina Carano) in the previous movie, since her main opponent here is a generic bodyguard (Ronda Rousey) we’d never met before, and would never see again, rather than a recurring antagonist. I also think it’s kinda lame that only (unarmed) female guards were allowed to pursue her, because god-forbid she fight a man!

Tragically, series star Paul Walker died in an unrelated car accident mid-way through the shoot, forcing the film-makers to rewrite the script, repurpose old unused footage, and even hire his brothers, Caleb and Cody, to serve as stand-ins. Despite actively looking for “the seams”, I can’t say I noticed anything awry until the very last scene, in which Dom races against a slightly ghost-y digitally-pasted-in ‘Brian’. Personally, I think they should have left him playing on the beach with ‘Mia’ (Jordana Brewster) and their son, which seemed like a happy enough ending to me… even if it does mean consigning Brewster to the stay-at-home-off-screen-worried-wife-y role.

Michelle Rodriguez as ‘Letty Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious 7” (2015)As for the extras: No commentary track, sadly, but there were a couple Letty-centric deleted scenes following her side-quest to “find herself”, including a grainy flashback co-starring the otherwise-absent Gadot! It took me a second to figure out where it was supposed to fit in the series’s continuity, until I realised it was set immediately after Letty’s explosive “death” in F&F4… which would mean that Gisele knew Letty was secretly alive the whole time she was hanging out with Dom and the gang in F&F5/6, but never bothered to tell them? Confusing! There’s also a big She’s-All-That-style walking-down-the-staircase reveal of Letty wearing her swanky red dress, with all the men drooling over her… which is a worn-out/regressive movie cliché, I know, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time M-Rod’s ever received that sort of attention on-screen! I still prefer her in “grease-monkey” mode myself, of course…

In the “Talking Fast” featurette, M-Rod notes how much the franchise has grown since the early days, muses on what a person is without their memories, and identifies the now-iconic cross-necklace as a symbol of the “unbreakable bond between [Letty and Dom]”… she also credits Diesel for his “relentless” campaign to keep her character “alive in the franchise”, with the “very special” and “beautiful” wedding scene as a “cool kicker” to their 14 years together. Bless. Away from the lovey-dovey stuff, she enviously enthuses about how much “fun” the stunt-performers must have getting shot at and blown up… an attitude echoed in a featurette about the “flying car” sequence, where she claims to be jealous of Gibson for getting to ride a big gimbal-thingy and be “tossed around like [he’s] inside a washing machine! I thought that was the coolest thing ever!” M’kay.

Gal Gadot and Michelle Rodriguez on the set of “Fast & Furious 7” (2015)In “Back to the Start”, M-Rod reiterates how much she’s enjoyed seeing the characters “evolve” over the course of the series, and how much she values the “rapport” she’s built with the other core cast members… though she also thinks it’s cool when new people join the party, and praises Russel thus: “He’s got some swag!” Indeed.

The “Girl Fight” featurette focusses on Letty’s rumble with the gender-segregated security-squad… a sequence that M-Rod describes as “the ultimate expression of girl-power”, asserting that “even though she’s in a dress for the first time, she’s still Letty. Which means, if the situation calls for it, she’s always ready to throw down!”. Though she concedes that fighting in a gown and high-heels “was definitely the challenge part, ‘cuz you know I don’t wear them often!”, newbie director James Wan was interested in contrasting the glamour/glitz of their clothing with the brutality of the brawl, which he insists is “just as hardcore as any of the guy fights”! Meanwhile, Stunt Co-ordinator Jeff Imada praises M-Rod’s dedication, as she often powered through two intensive training sessions a day to get her moves down.

Michelle Rodriguez as ‘Letty Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious 7” (2015)Fyi, I couldn’t help flinching every time someone mentioned “Race Wars” (the illegal desert drag-racing competition that our heroes attend in the first act), because… well, that’s not the sort of thing they should be bragging about starting irl! A featurette on the BR proudly acknowledges that the scene was straight-up fan-service, with M-Rod marvelling that the extras must be true fanatics “to be screaming in 110-degree weather, while the sun is bearing down on you, take after take, and still be showing love. I can see it in their eyes.”

Being an obsessive-completist myself, I felt compelled to buy the Tesco-exclusive DVD version solely for its bonus disc, to augment the BR version I already owned. You only get another 30-mins-or-so of extras on there, but it’s fun watching the Weta Workshop SFX crew blow up a scale model of the Torettos’ home a couple times… while also revealing that they only built the house/front-lawn itself, rather than the entire street, which explains why the surrounding buildings are completely unscathed in the finished composite shot! Oopsie! In her introductory spiel, Brewster claims that the house has come to symbolise what this franchise is about: “Family, trust, memories, hope.” So now you know.

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Plug: “Three Busy Debras” (S1) (again)

Mitra Jouhari, Sandy Honig, and Alyssa Stonoha as/in “Three Busy Debras” (2020)Apparently the first season of surreal short-form sitcom Three Busy Debras (2020) is now available to stream via HBO Max in various countries… and I’ve just discovered it’s also available on Channel 4’s All4 app here in the UK! Hurrah! In theory, Adult Swim has renewed the show for a second season… but I’m guessing that’s dependent on the Covid-restrictions in Lemoncurd…?

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Rant: Monthly Dee-Lights (2/21)

Just a quick note of some of the funnest content I consumed last month (in no particular order):

Awkwafina for "Vanity Fair" (circa 2019)Awkwafina appeared on a socially-distanced episode of Hot Ones, “the show with hot questions, and even hotter wings”, where guests are expected to answer Sean Evans’s thoughtful queries while attempting to swallow increasingly savage hot sauces (and not vomit/“shart” on camera). She acquits herself very well, and ably promotes her forthcoming animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon (due to drop on March 5th), in between bigging up Charles Bukowski, and the culinary multiculturalism of New York City.

– A couple days later, Vanity Fair subjected her to their “Proust Questionnaire”, based on a parlour-game made popular by the eponymous French novelist, featuring “35 questions designed to reveal the nature of Awkwafina‘s true personality”. Eep!

Aubrey Plaza starred in an advert for Bumble, “a location-based social application that facilitates communication between interested users”, that basically amounts to a vicarious video-date with the actress. Yay! The company’s website doesn’t state how many world-famous celebrities/sex-symbols you’re likely to hook up with by using their app, but apparently Sharon Stone actively fought to be listed as a user, so the odds are a lot higher than I would’ve assumed!

Nichole Sakura as 'Debbie' and 'Kiko' in "Debbie is Single" (2021)Nichole Sakura wrote and produced a new short film, Debbie is Single, in which she takes on the dual roles of a middle-aged mom looking for love, and her adopted daughter from Japan (both of whom were first introduced in a previous skit, Kiko in America, where she played four separate characters, all interacting with one another!).

Sandy Honig linked to a field-piece she recorded for Comedy Central last year, in which she and comedy-partner Peter Smith attempted to “[Track] Down the Legendary Groundhog in Punxsutawney”. Going in blind I’d expected it to be a little more cynical/experimental than it actually was… I mean, they clearly have their tongues-in-their-cheeks a lot of the time, but they’re still getting into the spirit of the event, and even enhancing the fun for others rather than undermining it, so snaps to them for that. And (spoiler?) the scene at the end with Smith calling out for their van in the car-park like it was a lost dog was absolutely adorable.

Taylor Momsen (from The Pretty Reckless) in "And So It Went" (2021)The Pretty Reckless posted a properly-fancy promo video for their super-catchy new single “And So It Went”, swiftly followed by the (plague-delayed) release of the album it was plucked from, Death By Rock And Roll… which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart, and is a total banger, as the kids these days would say.

– Perennial faves include Meg Tilly’s Cozy Tea Time chats, Ryan George‘s Pitch Meeting skits, and Bailey Meyers‘s gaming streams!

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Rant: “Fast & Furious 6” [SPOILERS!]

Michelle Rodriguez as 'Letty Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)Fast & Furious 6 (2013) begins with ‘Hobbs’ (Dwayne Johnson) conscripting ‘Dom’ (Vin Diesel) and his crew to help take down an ambitious mercenary squad led by ‘Owen Shaw’ (Luke Evans), who apparently rescued/recruited the amnesiac ‘Letty’ (Michelle Rodriguez) after her near-fatal car-‘splosion! Sadly, they then all relocate to one of the least exotic locations of the series so far: London, England… and while I’m generally not a nationalistic sort, it did kinda bug me that there wasn’t a single heroic/honourable Brit to be found anywhere in this movie… just villains, cowards, and arrogant/insulting a-holes! Ah well, it was great to have M-Rod back in action… and even if the explanation behind her return was sorta dumb, it did at least lead to some sweet scenes with Dom, as he tried to jog her memory and rekindle their romance via the international love-language of street-racing! She also got to have two knockdown, drag-out brawls with Hobbs’s new side-chick ‘Riley Hicks’, played by Gina Carano*, and inexplicably survive ‘em both! I mean, M-Rod’s my girl, but I’m pretty sure the MMA veteran would destroy her irl… and even in the movie world, Hicks is a hulking, highly-trained federal agent, while Letty’s just a petite street-rat with a spunky attitude… but it was cool to see them going toe-to-toe, all the same.

Gal Gadot as ‘Gisele Yashar’ in “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)Meanwhile, Gal Gadot returned as ‘Gisele’, only to later exit the series (?) in a blaze of glory and bullets, deliberately dropping from a speeding plane so that she could shoot a baddy sneaking up behind ‘Han’ (Sung Kang), thus saving his life but leaving him broken-hearted… which, if you were being very generous, could retroactively explain his idiotically self-destructive behaviour in F&F3, I guess? Either way, the actress has since gone on to claim her rightful place as a super-heroine-headliner, so hurrah for that! Jordana Brewster and Elsa Pataky also return, but they’re both cast as baby-burdened damsels-in-distress, and don’t get to have any fun at all… though there is a weird pseudo-sisterly moment at the end of the flick, where Letty thanks ‘Elena’ (Pataky) for looking after Dom while she was “away”, as if the woman was just boyfriend-sitting for her! Apparently there’s no hard feelings though, because the police are Elena’s real “family”, and she’s re-joining them now (after hiding-out with fugitive criminals for a couple months!?). Oh, and there’s a barely-worth-it cameo by (Lady) Clara Paget as ‘Vegh’, Shaw’s own side-chick, who Wikipedia describes as “a highly trained female assassin”, but all I remember her doing is driving at people in a ramp-car, and winking at ‘Brian’ (Paul Walker) one time… so, really, her character should’ve been called “Mehg” instead… (ho-ho!)

Michelle Rodriguez as 'Letty Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)As an easily-confused old-man who’s (apparently) unable to read opening credits, when I initially heard the heroes discussing a British baddy named “Shaw”, I was expecting it to be Jason Statham, but he doesn’t show up until the very end (playing Owen’s vengeful brother, ‘Deckard’), in a mid-credits scene intended to tee-up the then-already-in-production sequel (while also retconning Hans’s death in F&F3). By a wacky co-inky-dink, the boxset’s bonus disc features a “pre-viz” animation of an alternate opening heist for F&F6 (produced months before they started filming), in which the lead baddy does infact look suspiciously like Statham…!

There’s also plenty fun bonus content on this movie’s disc, including a 5-min featurette dedicated solely to Letty, and a “making-of” about her big throwdown with Hicks, which director Justin Lin intended to be “the most memorable female fight in the history of cinema”! Apparently prepping for their face-off took a couple months of intensive training, and the scene itself took several days to film. Lin reckons the subway fight allows Letty to “learn” more about herself… specifically the fact that she’s a scrappy survivor, who can hold her own against a bigger/stronger opponent by fighting dirty. As M-Rod asserts, when Letty’s in “fight or flight” mode, she’ll bite and scratch and do whatever it takes to win, whereas Hicks is all about technique…

Gina Carano as 'Riley Hicks' and Michelle Rodriguez as 'Letty Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)Suprisingly, M-Rod claims no one told her about the tag-ending of F&F5 (involving Letty’s miraculous re-appearance) before it was released in theatres! Still, she was happy to return to the franchise, because she loves playing such an “independent woman”, and is always fighting for her character’s integrity/street credibility, relishing the challenge of keeping Letty’s behaviour consistent despite her current amnesia. She also jokingly (?) claims that the reason she got into show-business in the first place is so she could do crazy illegal stuff she’d never get away with irl (such as street-racing), and praises Diesel’s efforts as a producer, crediting him with giving the series its “heart”. Bless.

This time around Gadot actually gets a little coverage in the “making-of” featurettes too, admitting that she’d been pushing for more action scenes and stunts since she first joined the cast, and was glad when her pestering finally paid off, even if it proved to be her character’s swan-song! At least she went out on a high-note, with Gadot describing her death scene as “very cool, very different”… and (prophetically?) suggesting that making this movie made her feel like a “superwoman”.

Oh, and Lin comments on how miserable it is to film the trademark “cool cars and hot chicks” scenes, because it’s usually a cold night where the poor extras (who he salutes as “troupers”) are wearing very little clothing for hours at a time. That didn’t seem to deter him though…!


* On his commentary track, Lin claims that Carano is “the nicest person you’ll ever meet”… which is patently untrue. She isn’t even the nicest person in this movie’s cast whose first-name begins with the letter “G”!

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Rant: “Fast & Furious 5” [SPOILERS!]

Gal Gadot as 'Gisele Yashar' in "Fast & Furious 5" (2011)Fast & Furious 5 (2011) was where the series started pivoting towards what ‘Roman’ (Tyrese Gibson) succinctly describes as “some 007-type shit”, adulterating the street-car racing antics with increasingly absurd physics-defying set-pieces and spy-fi shenanigans. Nothing makes any damn sense if you think about it for longer than a second, but it’s the sort of hilariously fun screen-candy that makes me thrill at the eye-popping spectacle, even as I’m laughing at the stupidity of it. And veteran director Justin Lin is well aware that his movies scoff at reality, but he seems quite sincere in his commitment to the core characters and their relationships, even if he does apply the “Rule of Cool” to pretty much everything/everyone else… such as in F&F5 and F&F6, where the villains both start out as ruthless-but-shrewd pragmatists, before going bat-crap-crazy and throwing everything at the wall in the third act, so that the film-makers can stage bigger and louder finales.

Anyhoo, F&F5 finds ‘Dom’ (Vin Diesel), ‘Brian’ (Paul Walker), and ‘Mia’ (Jordana Brewster) tearing around Rio, attempting to steal $100 million from a corrupt businessman (Joaquim de Almeida), while being pursued by a relentless (and intimidating) federal agent named ‘Luke Hobbs’, played by newcomer Dwayne Johnson. Our anti-heroes are abetted by various returning characters, including the ever-living ‘Han’ (Sung Kang), and the gun-happy ‘Gisele’ (Gal Gadot). Hurrah! Lin notes on the commentary track how proud he is to be able to discover/cast actresses from around the world, such as Gadot and Elsa Pataky (who plays ‘Elena Neves’, a local police officer working with Hobbs, while pursuing a dangerous romance with Dom)… which is very commendable, but he also claims that he tried to tailor the script to showcase Gadot’s strengths as an actor, and that the scene of her acquiring the villain’s finger-prints by strutting up to him in a skimpy bikini and allowing him to grope her bottom is somehow “empowering”, because she’s playing him for an idiot! M’kay.

Paul Walker as 'Brian O'Conner' and Jordana Brewster as 'Mia Toretto' in "Fast & Furious 5" (2011)He also highlights Brewster’s bravery/tenacity for performing a risky roof-jump despite having cut her hands just before the stunt… and on the F&F1-6 boxset’s bonus disc, the actress picks this as her proudest/happiest memory from the first six movies, because she toughed it out with an injury and “earned her stripes” (she also notes that Walker was very patient and sweet with her). Aside from the action, Lin commends the delivery of Mia’s pregnancy reveal, and stresses how much importance they all placed on the actors’ performances in these quieter emotional scenes, between all the flash-bangs. Still, the most suprising/exciting twist for me came during a post-credits scene (featuring an uncredited cameo by Eva Mendes), in which it’s revealed that somehow ‘Letty’ (Michelle Rodriguez) has returned from the grave. Gasp!

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Rant: Monthly Dee-Lights (1/21)

Just a quick note of some of the funnest content I consumed last month (in no particular order):

London Hughes in "History of Swear Words" S1 (2021)– Netflix released a short (comedic) documentary series hosted by Nicolas Cage, exploring the History of Swear Words. Besides actual experts in etymology/history, the show also featured guest appearances by the likes of Sarah Silverman, Nick Offerman, Nikki Glaser, Patti Harrison, and London Hughes!

– I discovered an old CollegeHumor skit called “Girlie Slumber Party” (2011), starring the mighty Michelle Rodriguez, Bonnie Morgan, and Tara Macken as sorority sisters who [Spoiler!] take an innocent pillow fight to absurdly violent extremes!

Awkwafina revealed “everything she eats in a day” to Harper’s Bazaar, giving an insight into the award-winning actress’s far-from-glamorous food-cravings.

Sandy Honig in "Á Toi, Adelaide" (2021)Sandy Honig posted a très chic trailer for Á Toi, Adelaide, the “French indie film” she claims to be starring in, modestly asserting that “I had to learn French for the role and think I did a pretty good job.” Fluent Francophones may beg to differ…!

– Adult Swim posted Scrunchie, a lockdown-shot horror-comedy short starring Amy Zimmer as both the retired scientist recruited to study a threatening new lifeform, and the no-nonsense agent/love-interest sent to cajole her. Apparently Patti Harrison has a voice-only cameo as a microbe being studied… or something…?

Amber Ruffin started a “Question Party” series on her show’s channel, where she endeavours to answer viewers’ queries, beginning with “How Does The Amber Ruffin Show Get Made?” [Spoiler: Apparently she only gets one rehearsal before they record the show, which is crazy considering how many musical numbers she and co-host Tarik Davis perform every week!]

– The Beeb dragged Frankie Boyle out of lockdown for his reliably-caustic New World Order Review of the Year special, co-starring recurring panellists Sara Pascoe, Sophie Duker, and Miles Jupp.

Jenny Nicholson in "THE Vampire Diaries Video" (2021)Jenny Nicholson posted her feature-length deep-dive into The Vampire Diaries TV series, after a protracted behind-the-scenes copyright strike dispute (concerning all of the clips and songs she uses – legitimately – within her presentation). Clocking in at 153 mins, I’d planned to portion this out over a couple different nights (using her super-handy chapter markers), but it was so damn entertaining I ended up just bingeing it down in one sitting! Since then it’s quickly racked up over 1.5 MILLION views (and counting), which I found a little surprising considering the intimidating runtime, but clearly Jenny’s got her pointer-stick on the pulse of her audience!

– Perennial faves include Meg Tilly’s Cozy Tea Time chats, Ryan George‘s Pitch Meeting skits, and Bailey Meyers‘s gaming streams!

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Rant: “Fast & Furious” 3-4 [SPOILERS!]

My slow saunter through the Fast & Furious series continues…

Nathalie Kelley as ‘Neela’ in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) is another sorta-sequel, starring Lucas Black as a delinquent gear-head sent to stay with his father in Japan, where he quickly falls in with the capital’s car-racing criminal community. I actually found this movie far more enjoyable than I was expecting to, thanks largely to Sung Kang’s performance as ‘Han Lue’, an old friend of Dom’s who takes Black’s character under his wing, and teaches him how to “drift” like a pro. The guy has super-cool star-quality to spare, though I think his actual character is kind of an a-hole here: Specifically, when a local gangster discovers Han’s been ripping him off for years and challenges him to explain/justify this betrayal, he just obnoxiously shrugs it off like “Thieves gonna thieve”… leading to a prolonged car-chase which ends with his painful, fiery demise. D’oh! Meanwhile, there’s very slim-pickings on the female side of things, with Nathalie Kelley playing Black’s blah love-interest ‘Neela’, and literally no one else worth mentioning. Meh. My fave “trivia” about this movie is that (according to legend) when the studio approached Vin Diesel to make a cameo as ‘Dom’ in the final scene, he haggled for them to give him the rights to the Riddick series/character, instead of paying him any money… which I find very endearing, for some reason.

Gal Gadot as ‘Gisele Yashar’ in “Fast & Furious” (2009)The confusingly-titled Fast & Furious (2009) is technically set before Tokyo Drift, and sees many of the original cast members returning (however briefly) to continue The Toretto Saga… though, sadly for me, the “inciting incident” that brings them all together is the ruthless murder of ‘Letty’ by a border-running drug-lord. Nooooo!!! Yes. Despite her character’s untimely and ignoble exit, Michelle Rodriguez does get to play a pivotal role in the epic opening oil-transporter heist, and a couple flashback appearances after that, so she actually scores a fair amount of screen-time overall… and I appreciate the fact that Letty’s death was treated as a very serious and important event that devastated them all, rather than just a throwaway write-off… in fact, Dom is so upset by her death, he even turns down one of the most gorgeous women alive (but more about her in a minute…)! There was also a lot of praise for M-Rod in the making-of featurettes, with Stunt Co-ordinator Mike Gunther describing her as “an athlete” and a “go-for-it girl”, who director Justin Lin agreed showed “no fear”, and Jordana Brewster envied for “[having] the guts that I don’t have”. Hardcore! As I say though, Dom got a potential new love-interest in the form of the villain’s carelessly-cast-aside-assistant ‘Gisele’, played by future-Wonder-Woman Gal Gadot! At the time she was a total unknown acting-wise, most famous for being crowned “Miss Israel” in 2004, but Lin was greatly impressed by her audition, noting on the commentary that her military training (two years mandatory service with the Israeli army) meant that she was already very confident with weapons, and totally unintimidated by Diesel when she was asked to read lines with him. Because of her relative anonymity when the movie was released, she barely appears in this disc’s extra features, but there is a brief interview clip of her complimenting Lin for being such an open and collaborative director… which is presumably why she was willing to return for so many sequels…? On the supporting side of things, Brewster’s comeback as ‘Mia’ built-up to a proper stunt-driving sequence in the final scene, and Liza Lapira had an enjoyable (but never-to-be-repeated) role as an FBI agent working with ‘Brian’ (Paul Walker) to identify/locate the baddies.

Michelle Rodriguez as ‘Leticia "Letty" Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious”The F&F4 BR also boasts one of the bestest bonuses of all time: Los Bandoleros (2009), a short prequel showing how Dom got his crew together for the opening heist, directed and co-written by Diesel himself! Although it’s clearly set in the same universe as the main movie, it’s shot in a far more laid-back, low-budget “indie” style that I found very charming. I mean, I’m clearly pre-disposed to love any flick that shows M-Rod in a romantic light, but it’s also a fascinating glimpse into an alternate reality, where everyone’s a little quieter, calmer, and warmer (emotionally)… the equivalent of an “unplugged” acoustic album, if you will…?

Going back to the “Fast Females” (2009) featurette on the F&F2 disc, Brewster agreed with M-Rod that it’s cool to be able to embody women who are “gritty and tough”, and praised director Lin (F&F3-6) for being so intent on making the female characters such a powerful force in the series. For his part, Lin frequently insists that the movies aren’t just about “fast cars and hot chicks”, and that the female characters represent their “heart and soul”. He also joins Kelley in defending/boosting Neela, who they both wanted to demonstrate some serious car-related knowledge and skills, instead of being standard-issue arm-candy… while stunt/rally-driver Verena Mei (who appeared in F&F3 as ‘Beautiful Girl in Skyline #1’) suggests that characters like Neela and ‘Suki’ (Devon Aoki) illustrate to the audience how women can actively participate in motor-sports and still be “feminine”. Again, Gadot is sadly/short-sightedly overlooked…

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Rant: “Fast & Furious” 1-2 [SPOILERS!]

Michelle Rodríguez as ‘Letty Ortiz’ in “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)A lifetime ago I bought the first eight Fast & Furious movies on Blu-Ray, so I could gear myself up for the theatrical release of the ninth instalment, which was due to drop in May of 2020, before the whole world went to Hell. Now it appears that the movie might actually be inching its way back into the release schedules, so I’m going to dust off these blog posts I’ve had sitting in my “drafts” folder for the last couple months!

Note: Obviously I’ll mostly be talking about Michelle Rodriguez here, because I’m an obsessive fanboy… and, quite frankly, the plots/villains aren’t really all that memorable… I just like the vroom-vrooms, and the boom-booms!

First off the starting-line was The Fast and the Furious (2001), starring the late Paul Walker as ‘Brian O’Conner’, a hot-headed young cop sent to infiltrate L.A.’s illegal street-racing circuit, in order to identify and arrest a gang of highway hijackers led by imposing alpha-dude ‘Dominic Toretto’ (Vin Diesel). In a previous post I mentioned director Rob Cohen’s assertion that, in terms of screen-presence, the mighty M-Rod is worth (at least) ten men in this movie… and that definitely still stands, though I couldn’t help frowning at the way Dom literally describes her character (‘Letty’) as his “trophy” while lifting her in the air after a victory! Then again, his delivery is kinda deadpan, so we can probably chalk that up to “banter”, and excuse it as a lingering remnant of an earlier, lamer draft that was expanded and evolved to better suit/showcase M-Rod’s innate badassery? Either way, she gets a couple shining moments here, including one of the greatest introductory reveal shots in cinematic history, so there’s plenty of re-watch value for her fans. Meanwhile, Jordana Brewster doesn’t get to have nearly as much fun playing Dom’s sister (and Brian’s standard-issue love-interest) ‘Mia’, though Cohen is very complimentary about the intelligence and charm that she brings to the role, and frankly I’m still amazed that she hasn’t become a much bigger star off the back of these movies… I mean, she’s got it all, so what’s the hold-up? Gah!

Devon Aoki as ‘Suki’ in “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) was a sorta-sequel, which was originally supposed to feature both of the previous movie’s male leads, but Diesel decided he’d rather make The Chronicles of Riddick instead, leaving Walker to team-up with Tyrese Gibson as a bickering (disgraced)-cop-and-criminal odd-couple going undercover to bring down a super-generic drug lord (Cole Hauser). No M-Rod in sight, and Devon Aoki’s street-racer ‘Suki’ is a very poor substitute, imho… though her hot-pink Honda S2000 is a gorgeous ride, and well worth immortalising in die-cast model form! Meanwhile, Eva Mendes has a slightly more substantial role as ‘Monica Fuentes’, a covert Customs agent working as Hauser’s aide, who also kinda serves as Brian’s half-hearted love-interest. Seeing Aoki and Mendes together here made me feel weirdly nostalgic, because those two actresses seemed to be everywhere back in the day, before their careers tailed off in the 2010s. It appears that Mendes has been on an intentional hiatus since becoming a mother, whereas Aoki was apparently tapped to play “Katana” (aka ‘Tatsu Yamashiro’) in the CW superhero series Arrow, but she departed the project before her character’s debut “due to a scheduling conflict”, and was replaced by Rila Fukushima (who went on to appear in 16 episodes over a span of 5 years, which ain’t a bad run, all things considered). For better or worse, Gibson eventually became a mainstay of the F&F franchise, while Mendes and Aoki were pretty much left behind in the dust… and the next sequel would drift (pun!) even further from the roots of the series…

Oh, but there’s a great (slightly spoiler-y for the first four movies) featurette on the F&F2 disc all about the leading ladies, titled “Fast Females” (2009). Highlights include M-Rod expressing her desire to represent the (many) “girls who aren’t scared to kick-ass… or get their hands dirty… or put their lives on the line in the name of excitement or fun”. She also praises Cohen for allowing her to build a stronger character, noting that of all the films she’s made to date, the two that everyone always brings up are Girlfight and F&F1… while he reciprocates the love by lauding her for the truth she brings to her performances. Amen. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t exactly wowed by the Suki character, but Aoki hypes her up as a “fun-loving, girl-power heroine”, so at least she’s happy with the work she did here.

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