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Screen Themes: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw vs One Upon a Time in… Hollywood

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It’s time to suspend your disbelief as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the latest instalment in a movie franchise that was once about cars and what may be the final movie from iconic director Quentin Tarantino.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Directed by David Leitch (2019)

TO DATE, the Fast & Furious movies have made almost $7 billion at the global box office, which is a staggering figure for a bunch of movies ostensibly about car racing. I say, ostensibly, because Hobbs & Shaw has very little to do with racing or, indeed, cars in general. In fact, if I was forced to classify this movie beyond "big dumb action", I would call it a buddy heist romcom — but more on that in a minute.

To be clear, you do not have to have seen previous Fast & Furious movies to understand the plot of Hobbs & Shaw, mainly because what little plot this movie has is lifted directly from Mission Impossible 2. Luke Hobbs is a super-cop, Deckard Shaw is a reformed criminal and Deckard’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is a spy who has injected herself with a virus with the potential to kill everyone in the world. Their nemesis is the mechanically enhanced super-criminal Brixton, played with diminishing relish by Idris Elba. Seriously, when first introduced Elba is chewing the scenery and embracing the "Black Superman" persona; by the end, he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.

Your enjoyment of Hobbs & Shaw will likely be in direct proportion to how much you like the leads, although a strong supporting cast adds to the fun, particularly Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mum and Ryan Reynolds as CIA agent Locke. While apparently accepting every single role he’s offered (Skyscraper, anyone?), Dwayne Johnson is enjoying a killer run as the world’s biggest action star, while Jason Statham continues to build a strong action/comedy resume.

There is an undeniable undercurrent of homoerotic romance between the ultra-masculine leads, but this is far from unique in the Fast & Furious series. While never explicitly addressed, the movie sensibly avoids turning the issue into a throwaway gag. At the end of the day, if you like action and don’t care too much about plot, Hobbs & Shaw is the movie for you.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Directed by Quentin Tarantino (2019)

The phrase "written and directed by Quentin Tarantino" comes with a certain amount of baggage. You know, for instance, that conversations are going to be impossibly erudite, that women will take a secondary role to men, and that both feet and violence will feature prominently. All of the above baggage features in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — but somehow, it works.

Set in Hollywood in 1969, Once Upon a Time is a love letter to movies of a certain era, reminiscent of the Coen Brothers' Hail Caesar, yet starring two of the biggest stars of their generation (no offence to Channing Tatum). Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a big-name actor beset by self-doubt who fears his best days are behind him. Brad Pitt plays Rick’s former stuntman and current driver/dogsbody Cliff Booth, while Margot Robbie plays actress Sharon Tate, a young starlet destined to play an integral role in the murderous rampage of the Manson family. The supporting cast is extensive and features a number of Tarantino alumni, including Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Zoe Bell, also adding new talent in the form of Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant and Luke Perry in his final big-screen role.

To go too deeply into the ot of Once Upon a Time would be a little pointless, as this isn’t really a movie that takes a linear journey from point A to point B. At the most superficial level, it’s about Rick’s struggle to maintain his stardom as the world moves on from cowboys to hippies, personified by the mysterious group of young women who make up the Manson family. One of the best sequences in the film is when Pitt’s jaded stuntman makes the journey out to the Manson family compound — a decrepit movie set where he and Rick used to shoot. The way that Tarantino builds tension throughout the scene is masterful, and a flash of ultraviolence (used sparingly but to strong effect) reminds you how Brad Pitt could probably kick the crap out of you, should he so desire.

At close to three hours (with rumours of a four-hour Netflix cut) Once Upon a Time moves at its own speed, and some viewers may find themselves frustrated by extended sequences of people driving. Sure, they’re well shot and set to some great music (the soundtrack, as usual for a Tarantino flick, is cracking), but did we really need half-an-hour of Cielo Drive and Hollywood Boulevard? Maybe we did.

Anyway, if this turns out to be Quentin’s last movie, it’s a pretty good sign-off.

The Verdict

While I am not above ranking movies based on my own unfathomable set of criteria, the internet has already done the job for me. According to Vulture, Hobbs & Shaw is the fourth-best (or fourth-worst, if you prefer) Fast & Furious movie, while Esquire rank Once Upon a Time at number five out of Tarantino’s ten movies (so far).

While I disagree with the position of certain movies on each list (Death Proof ahead of Django? Ludicrous!) the sentiment seems accurate — both of these movies are pretty good examples of Tarantino and Furious movies.

To be fair, the former films are far superior to the latter, on average, which means Hobbs & Shaw is fun but immediately forgettable, while Once Upon a Time hints at layers that will only be revealed on repeat viewings.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw: 6/10

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood: 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller 'Damnation’s Flame'; action/romance 'Reaper', black comedy 'City Boy' and travel guidebook 'Bar Trek: Europe'. 'Damnation's Flame' by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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