You stroll into the darkness and pick out a seat that will give you the maximum viewing experience. You settle in, careful not to spill your popcorn.
The previews are on, and there turns out to be a lot of them. That’s OK, though. Previews – or, trailers if you prefer – can be a lot better than the movies they promote, as long as they don’t give too much away. (“Gee, what’s that floating in the sky in the ‘Flash’ trailer that looks like a giant yanked tooth?”)
But then you remember what’s coming, and you cringe. It’s going to hurt. It always hurts. You try to come up with a remedy. “I’ll stick my fingers in my ears,” you think. The visuals are bad, but the words, and the delivery of them, are what cause the most pain.
Then it arrives. You stick your fingers in your ears, and it doesn’t work. Sometimes you have trouble hearing movie dialogue, but, nooooo, that’s not the case here. The fingers don’t help. You still hear everything. It’s loud and obnoxious, and it makes you almost physically ill.
I’m talking, of course, about the Regal Cinemas-Pepsi collaboration celebrating Regal theaters (where you can buy Pepsi) by proclaiming “Great movie lines live here.”
That declaration comes at the end of the promo. Before that, there’s the torture of watching a bunch of actors (including Danny Trejo) playing movie-theater patrons who blurt out lines that are familiar (“…And don’t call me Shirley,” “I know it was you, Fredo”) and (to me) not so familiar (“You guys!”) as if their renditions are so uproarious you’ll be doubled over.
Only, they’re not funny, at all – and you just want to throw something at the screen.
As far as I can tell, this promo ad precedes every screening at Regal.
I’ve got nothing against Regal, or such promos. I actually like Regal’s animated roller-coaster one – it’s an oldie, but I’m still tempted to throw up my arms as if it’s a real amusement-park ride. And it’s short.
But the famous-movie-line promo? Please, someone, make it stop. Please.
And now, notes on a few feature films …
Not so fast, Vin Weasel!
A bomb rolls through narrow streets of Rome on its way to blow up the Vatican.
Dom Toretto races in a car to stop it.
For the moviegoer, it’s not a matter of if he will stop it. It’s a matter of how.
This is just one of the absurd action sequences in “Fast X” (PG-13, 141 minutes, in theaters), which, as fans of Roman numerals might guess, is the 10th movie in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. It won’t be the last, given it’s the first of at least a two-parter.
Directed by Louis Leterrier (the first two “Transporter” movies), “Fast X” is pretty much critic-proof. Just like most people know what they’re going to get when they walk into a McDonald’s, you have an awfully good idea of what’s in store for you in an “F&F” movie: fast cars, macho posturing, a bit of T&A, ludicrous action stunts and lots of chatter about family. You’re either excited to take this ride, or you’re not.
Count me among the “not excited.” But, as a critic, I try to walk into all movies as open-minded as possible. Besides, even though they’re essentially the same, some Big Macs taste better than others. That said, “Fast X” didn’t make me any more excited for “Fast XI,” or whatever the next film will be called.
“Fast X” is packed with action and familiar faces. Vin Diesel (aka, Groot) returns, of course, as Dom, along with other regulars playing Dom’s gang of heist artists: Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, Nathalie Emmanuel. Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron and John Cena also play returning characters and newcomers Brie Larson and Rita Moreno show up.
Theron and Cena stand out, but best of all, by far, is Jason Mamoa, who plays flamboyant villain Dante Reyes. Dante gleefully goes on a mission of sadistic revenge against Dom and company for something that happened in “Fast Five.”
Dante knows how to bend people’s will in his direction (by kidnapping beloved family members) and he doesn’t care how many people he kills to get his way. As for that, he’s a typical movie villain. But the way he dances about and laughs and chides opponents as he goes about his evil deeds makes his scenes easily the most fun in an otherwise routine film.
Well, maybe sub-routine. The dialogue is atrocious, with lines such as “Sometimes fear is the best teacher” and “The fallout will be existential!”
And there’s something troubling about the collateral damage here. Granted, lots of movies feature bit characters, often unseen in crashing cars, apparently dying violent deaths to amp up the action. They may be cops in cruisers, or random drivers minding their own business. But for some reason their implied deaths are supposed to be OK – if anything, they’re for our amusement.
Um … pass. ** (out of four)
Another triumph for rising star
If you’re not familiar with Eliza Scanlen, you should be – and probably will be before long.
Now 24, the Australian native was phenomenal as the unstable younger sister of Amy Adams’ investigative reporter in the 2018 HBO miniseries “Sharp Objects.” She had the lead role, and gave a beautiful performance, as a teen with cancer in the 2019 Aussie drama “Babyteeth,” and delivered impressive supporting work in 2019’s “Little Women” (as Beth March) and 2020’s Southern Gothic “The Devil All the Time.”
Now she’s back as the lead in “The Starling Girl” (R, 117 minutes, in theaters), a character study of girl, 17-year-old Jem Starling, who struggles with conflicting emotions when her fundamentalist Christian values are tested by her burgeoning sexuality and her crush on charismatic, married youth pastor Owen Taylor (Lewis Pullman – son of Bill). (By the way, this Owen Taylor is not to be confused with Owen Taylor, the ill-fated chauffeur, in “The Big Sleep.”)
A teenage girl. A youth pastor. Christianity. Can you guess where this story is going? Wouldn’t the obvious Hollywood pattern be: temptation, sex, discovery, judgment, hypocrisy, disillusionment, and finally … well, I don’t want to spoil the ending in case you don’t know.
Sure enough, that is the path that writer-director Laurel Parmet travels with this film. Yet, the results transcend the overall predictability, thanks to Scanlen’s compelling portrayal, the complexity of Pullman’s character, and Parmet’s avoidance of simple solutions or heavy-handed condemnations. Plus, the film does keep us guessing how things specifically will turn out for Jem – though the ending is a bit of a cop-out.
“The Starling Girl,” then, is a mixed bag. But Scanlen alone makes it worth checking out. And I suspect that will be the case with most movies she makes. ***
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.