The big news this week is that Mad Max: Fury Road was just released on Netflix. Directed by original Mad Max creator George Miller, this one stands up as not only the best movie of the past few years, but also one of the best car-chase flicks of all time. Miller sets up a fully realized and incredibly detailed dystopian future wasteland then populates it with badass automobiles, ground shaking practical effects, and a fearless cast led by Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, one of the best heroines in recent memory.
Theron must have enjoyed getting out for a rip because she's back this week in another auto-driven flick, The Fate of the Furious, now playing at the illustrious Village 8. The eighth instalment in The Fast and the Furious street-racing franchise, the plot here is beside the point (there are hot rods jumping over nuclear powered submarines that bust up through a sheet of ice) but the cast is noteworthy: all the usual suspects plus Theron and even Helen Mirren (who apparently campaigned to be included in the film because she also loves street racing so much).
Of course the actual film is all pretty stupid, which is OK — expected even. The sad issue here is that F8 is kind of disjointed in a way that none of the previous Fast flicks ever were. The stunts are on point but the problem is the characters. Theron isn't given much to do as the chief baddie/hacker/cyber terrorist and the core gang forgetting that the idea of "family" has kept this motor running much longer than anyone expected. These car-thieves-turned-international espionage agents might cheat in their street races and operate outside the law (especially the laws of physics) but they have always championed their loyalty to each other. Until now: Vin Diesel is blackmailed into betrayal while ex-bad guy Jason Statham is welcomed into the fold. The gang ain't as tight as when Paul Walker was around.
The burnin' rubber action is best in the intro and the climax (too much CGI in the middle), but the lack of team cohesion ultimately hurts this one. Which is surprising because director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Italian Job) generally handles the human element quite well. The Fate of the Furious is still dumb fun for anyone not heavily invested in the franchise, but to real fans it might feel like someone blew a camshaft.
(Sidenote No. 1: Fast Five is the consensus for best film in the series, but I like Tokyo Drift better. Sidenote No. 2: Charlize Theron keeps the action train rolling this summer with Atomic Blonde.Go watch the trailer right now.)
Also opening this week, and based on a non-fiction best-selling book, The Zookeeper's Wife, which stars Jessica Chastain as, you guessed it, the wife of a zookeeper. The film is set in 1939 in Warsaw, Poland so the idyllic zoo we see in the beginning does not last long — the bastard Nazis bomb it and occupy the city. A lover of animals and good people, the zookeeper's wife helps hundreds of people take refuge in the basement of what's left of her beloved space and sanctuary. As a true story of courage and tenacity in the face of human evil and hardship, The Zookeeper's Wife is really inspiring; too bad it's not a better movie. Chastain shines and director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) crafts both beautiful and terrifying visuals, but the script just isn't quite there. The secondary characters don't have the same bite and this one doesn't quite make it to a level of tragic brilliance like Life is Beautiful or Schindler's List.
The Download of the Week is the Cities episode of BBC's Planet Earth 2. It's shot and edited incredibly, with crazy zooms, tilts, time-lapses and one-shots (often combined in a single shot). The most beautiful episode by far, this one will have the local camera kids drooling.
But the best parts are the sequences featuring wild animals who thrive within our man-made urban environments. The world's greatest concentration of wild leopards is in Mumbai, India, and they stalk the streets at night for wild pigs, or kids. The most Peregrine falcons per square kilometre are in New York City, where they feast on pigeons and nest on skyscraper ledges (and probably those Gargoyles from Ghostbusters). This episode looks a lot like a dystopian sci-fi film, one where humanity is on the ropes or extinct altogether. Seeing animals thriving in the human space offers a grim reminder: they adapt to us faster than we do to them. They will hustle and steal and kill and feast... and they seem like they'd be perfectly happy if we all just disappeared.