The Fast and the Furious

2001 | dir: Rob Cohen | 106 m

Though The Fast and the Furious has left an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape as the progenitor of one of the most successful and well-known action blockbuster franchises in the world, when it was released in 2001, it was simply a fun movie about street racing, a criminal underworld, undercover cops, and the shameless promotion of undying brand loyalty to Corona. I use "simply" here not in the pejorative sense but in the nostalgic. Now that the franchise that The Fast and the Furious spawned - seven sequels, a spin off, an animated show, and an eighth sequel being released this year - has become so ubiquitous in pop culture, it has become increasingly difficult to separate The Fast and the Furious the movie from The Fast and the Furious the cultural phenomenon. It's nearly impossible to watch the movie now without seeing it through the filter of the incredible success of its sequels and the iconic status the entire series currently enjoys among audiences who watch these movies with the right eyes. It's also so far removed narratively from what its sequels have evolved into, and the connective tissue between this and later entries in the series is so malleable, that it's also still entirely possible to enjoy the film on its own merits. Watching The Fast and the Furious now is almost like watching two different movies simultaneously, which, depending on your point of view, is either incredibly tiring or worth its weight in nitrous oxide.

The first version of The Fast and the Furious is an early-2000s action/crime movie, and one that can legitimately lay claim to the descriptor "high-octane." The parallels to 1991's Point Break are painfully apparent, but the similarities in the stories fall squarely in the camp of homage, and never cross the line from inspiration to plagiarism. The Fast and the Furious is the story of undercover police officer Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) who infiltrates the high-octane (See? It fits perfectly.) world of street racing as part of an investigation into a gang of thieves who conduct precision, high-speed robberies of transport trailers in souped-up sports cars. As part of this undercover operation, Brian is able to befriend one of the gangs involved in the street racing scene, led by the no-nonsense Domenic Toretto (Vin Diesel), whose skills at driving are matched only by his propensity for violence and his loyalty to his friends, family, and Corona beer. Things are complicated by Brian's growing emotional connection to the crew, which includes Dom's equally talented girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodrigues), and his romantic connection to Domenic's sister Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), that call into question where his true loyalties lie, both to the people in his life and to his choice of brew.

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Red Planet

2000 | dir: Antony Hoffman | 106 m

If you had to choose a movie to aggressively push out the door from the party that was the 1990’s, then I guess it would have to be Antony Hoffman’s Red Planet, starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer in a perilously blundered trip to Mars. With this much nineties star power fueling the trip, I could see myself and friends eagerly going to see this on a crisp November evening, expecting high stakes sci-fi adventure, featuring the latest special effects and near-future fantasy of humanity’s quest to step foot on our planetary neighbour. Indeed, the poster hints at a silhouetted menace awaiting our crew, as our fearless Kilmer drags his crewmate across the arid landscape toward a multi-legged monster, all drenched in blood red, speaks volumes for intriguing poster design and an action packed thriller at hand.  

Just as quickly as I can envision us heading into that theatre, I can imagine the group of us solemnly leaving the multiplex with, scratching our heads, while somebody said “at least we got to see Carrie-Anne Moss topless” while the rest nodded slowly in agreement, still in shock at the misfire of a film we just took in. Indeed, it’s pretty easy to take Red Planet apart. From the beginning moments of Moss’ narrative where her character gives a brief bio of the assembled crew, including such scathing hot takes including: “a hot head, but a fine copilot,” “soul of the crew” and “world’s greatest bioengineer, his own greatest hero”, our expectations for the film are immediately lowered for the remaining 100 minutes. Red Planet immediately tells us the type of film it’s going to be by telling us who everyone is instead of showing us and right after this narration, reaffirms that you won’t be caring about any of these people when they start acting like rude creeps. I was thinking maybe this was the backup crew but nobody told them this before taking off. 

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Underworld: Awakening

2012 | dir: Björn Stein | 88 m

After taking a little break, Kate Beckinsale drops in from a rooftop to fill in the role of Selene again for this series fourth iteration, and I couldn’t be more excited. While I had some fun with Rise of the Lycans, it was ultimately a letdown as it retreads familiar story, so I was eager to pick up Selene’s story for Awakening. As the film’s prologue played out, I tried very hard to stop myself from questioning the direction that the filmmakers decided to take things, and by the end of the film I found surface level overall satisfaction, yet I couldn’t stop wondering if they had done things a bit differently. To be fair, I hate doing that. I hate thinking and advocating that the filmmakers could make a better story, or an entirely different film: I’m no screenwriter (nay, barely a writer at all) so I certainly couldn’t do any better, but that doesn’t stop me from spewing forth some my “better” film ideas. It also makes me feel icky in this day of age where the fandom stumbles into creating online movements toward studios to release director cut versions of films that may or may not exist; sometimes it’s just better to accept that the film is bad and move on – it is after all, how I manage to sit through and actually enjoy many of these series. 

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Message from the King

2016 | dir: Fabrice du Welz | 102 m

I had never heard of Message from the King until it popped up randomly in my Netflix feed, and despite the track record of random movies recommended by the streaming service, I still haven't learned my lesson. I have to say that one of the main reasons I decided to watch this movie late one Friday night not too long ago was specifically because it starred Chadwick Boseman, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last year at the age of forty-three. I don't mean to imply that I watched the movie solely as a way of honouring Mr. Boseman's legacy, though that certainly came into play. It was mostly because he was a master of his craft and a truly captivating screen presence. And also partially because the plot description of a single man on a personal vendetta seeking righteous retribution and beating up and straight up killing a bunch of bad guys who obviously deserve it is like the comfort food of cinema. Watching an action hero walk into a room and lay the smackdown on a bunch of mooks is the cinematic equivalent of sitting down with a big bowl of mac and cheese (Kraft Dinner for my fellow Canadians) or a bucket of fried chicken.

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Elektra

2005 | dir: Rob Bowman | 97 m

Just two short years after being introduced in Daredevil, Jennifer Garner’s Elektra gets the historical distinction of being the first female-led Marvel movies, but also (possibly) stands as a reason why we didn’t get any more female-driven Marvel movies until Captain Marvel nearly fourteen years later. It’s easy to put the blame on the lack of female superhero movies on the failure of Elektra, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t more going on here: when the MCU really got rolling, there’s no valid reason Black Widow didn’t receive her own starring vehicle and there were plenty of interesting female superheroes to pull out of the X-Men series. The fact is, female representation has always been a bit dismal in the comic book realm, and the race to get these adaptations to the big screen had studios picking the most historically identifiable and popular characters from Marvel’s stables, which unironically come from the 1960’s and are all alliteratively named white men.  

That being said, Garner did a decent job – considering the context of the film – in 2003’s Daredevil and the character of Elektra Natchios showed some promise before being sacrificed needlessly to further motivate Matt Murdock’s turmoil and double down on his need for revenge. So maybe an Elektra movie could travel back in time a bit to show us a bit of the story of this mysterious character and the trials she’s overcome to become the fighter she is today. Or, as it turns out, we could just pick up where we left off and just ignore her death for the most part. It’s entirely possible that I just missed a line of dialogue or hazy montage, but Wikipedia is informing me that Stick (a blind martial arts master who trained Daredevil) revived her then proceeded to train her (which I do remember). 

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Synchronic

2019 | dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead | 103 m

Almost invariably, time travel films incorporate some issues of causality into their plot. Essentially, there's some event in the past that influences the characters in the present / relative future and it turns out that the characters in the future were actually the ones who were actually responsible for the later events. And almost invariably, the character who is most directly affected by those past events is usually revealed to be the one that caused them initially. This is a well-worn trope in the time travel genre, and like most tropes, the fun isn't in recognizing it, but in seeing how the author/creator finds unique ways to deploy that trope within the worlds they've created.

Synchronic is no different. Which is to say, it's very different. But still the same.

It's time travel, so admittedly, there's going to be some head scratching. The best advice I can give when engaging with any story involving time travel is to quote the late, great Hunter S. Thompson: "Buy the ticket, take the ride..."

Synchronic is the fourth feature film from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, and one of the few movies I was truly looking forward to in 2021 (and in 2020, but the less said about that particular historical period, probably the better). Not just because I'm a sucker for a good time travel film (or even a bad one), but because Moorhead and Benson have established themselves in the indie film circuit as men of a visionary nature and a distinctive voice. I was hooked immediately after watching their debut, Resolution, last year and was similarly impressed/enamoured with their follow-up to their follow-up movie, The Endless, and their just plain follow-up, Spring. Though Resolution and The Endless have roots reaching deep into the fertile soils of both science fiction and horror (I couldn't help shake the feeling after watching Resolution and The Endless and Ari Aster's Hereditary and Midsommar in the space of a couple months last year that I was witnessing a new age in horror), the dominant genre seems to be science fiction. This is a genre that, like fantasy, requires that rare combination of Big Ideas and Big Imagination and the willingness to, as the character Eames from Inception might have put it, "dream a little bigger, darling."

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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

2009 | dir: Patrick Tatopoulos | 92 m

I always had the impression that Rise of the Lycans was a misfire in the Underworld series fueled by the loss of Kate Beckinsale. Maybe I was barely paying attention, but the advertising of the film definitely led me to believe that Kate was in the film, and when I discovered she was replaced by someone who looks pretty similar (Rhona Mitra), that I had lost most of my interest in going to see the prequel. The same thing happened in the previews of the film Doomsday, also starring Mitra and mistaken for Beckinsale, except that I couldn’t pass up Doomsday in theatres and was happy to revisit the film fairly recently to appreciate what a ride it was (and Mitra kicked a ton of ass in that film). This was my first viewing of Rise of the Lycans and I’m still not quite sure why this film exists. Didn’t we cover most of the ground here before in the previous two films? 

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Reel Film Chronicles Podcast

So, Rybeone and I did a thing. Reel Film Chronicles has been humming along pretty smoothly for a couple of years now, so we decided to take the plunge into the world of podcasting. I know that for many of you of a certain age (and who are obsessed with pop culture), there's a specific episode of The Simpsons that probably comes instantly to mind at the mention of starting a podcast these days:

"We've all thought about counterfeiting jeans at one time or another, but what about the victims? Hardworking designers like Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, or Antoine Bugle Boy? These are the people who saw an overcrowded marketplace and said, 'Me too.'"

I think it's safe to say that podcasting has taken on a life of its own since the early days, and if any descriptor fit the podcasting scene these days "overcrowded" could certainly be said to apply. I remember back in the halcyon early days of podcasting when the phenomenon was still just catching on, a few friends and I started a podcast, and managed to put out fifty or sixty-odd episodes before I blew the whole thing up by moving away. In those days, it was a lot easier to stand out, and considering the audience we built up and the success of a few podcasts that started around the same time as us and had reached out at the time for cross-promotional opportunities, I still think about what could have been.

When Ryebone suggested that we expand the scope of our little ongoing project at the Reel Film Chronicles from a website to a website and a podcast (and a bag of chips), my first thought wasn't about being able to climb to the top of the podcast heap and get rich with advertising deals and sponsorships (although, it would be nice). Instead, I was reminded of why my friends and I had originally started a podcast way back when. It wasn't about any delusions of grandeur or fantasies of making it big; it was simply an excuse for us to get together every week and hang out and talk about shit that seemed interesting to us. Without that weekly standing appointment, we might have missed out on each other's company, which I fully admit, I got the better bargain on.

So now, ten years older, and hopefully a little wiser, I find myself embarking on a new adventure in podcasting. This time the endeavour is guided by Ryebone's singular, inebriated vision, but still ultimately driven by the same motivations: we just want an excuse to hang out, if only virtually for the time being, what with the global pandemic still disrupting any sort of in-person social interaction.

I'm a little biased here, but I also think that the Reel Film Chronicles podcast has something to offer to the cultural dialogue, specifically movies in our case. Ryebone and I both share a passion for movies, and as anyone who's spent any significant time in the hobby will tell you, the more you watch, the more you tend to diversify your viewing habits in terms of content. Especially, I think, for those of us who are still collecting physical media and are exposed to a lot of the boutique labels that have sprung up over the years, we tend to get a lot of exposure to films that are a little more off the beaten path. It's not a knock against blockbusters or the mainstream; it's just an acknowledgement that the really popular (and well-financed) movies that make it to the big screen every year in big multiplex theatres are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer amount of content available out there waiting to be discovered and supported.

Because of our experience - and the sheer amount of time we've dedicated to watching movies, going down rabbit holes of increasingly obscure movies and genres, and a disproportionate amount of time spent analyzing movies just for the love of doing it - Ryebone and I have developed a healthy appreciation for films of all varieties and a great many aspects of the incredible effort that goes into making any movie a reality.

That isn't to say that we are somehow the arbiters of what is "good" or "bad" cinema. We have our likes and dislikes when it comes to films, just like anyone else. Though we often get very passionate about movies that we really, really love or really, really hate, I think we've both reached a point in our lives where we acknowledge that just because we love or hate a movie, that those opinions are not an objective indication of that movie's quality. I think that's part of the value that Ryebone and I bring to the ongoing dialogue about film; despite loving or hating specific movies, what we care most about is moving that dialogue forward in a positive way, trying to foster an environment where people can discuss their overall love of film, and engage in that age-old art of civil disagreement. What's important isn't that we agree with each other or anybody else about the artistic merits of any given movie, but that we try to encourage an overall appreciation of the artform.

Hopefully, as we've tried to do with the Reel Film Chronicles website, the Reel Film Chronicles podcast will help to spread our love of movies as Ryebone and I share our insights from the perspective of life-long fans whose lives have been enriched and inspired not just by the movies we've watched, but with the people we've watched them with. 

-Cale Morsen

https://anchor.fm/reelfilmchronicles

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

2020 | dir: Eliza Hittman | 101 m

In an effort to piece together a somewhat coherent top ten list for 2020 movies this year, I embarked on a short journey to watch a few critically celebrated films that I may had missed. This project had me putting on Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an especially impactful film both written and directed by Eliza Hittman whose tale chronicles the journey of two teenage girls making their way to New York city “to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy.” And I can’t tell you why – because I had zero exposure to any element of the film save for the high Letterboxd user ratings and the poster of the film – but I went in expecting a bit of a quirky, if dark, comedy. It does not take long for one to realize how far my expectations strayed from the end product, and I’m happy again that my expectations were upended and the film I did take in was quite thoughtful, emotional and poignant.

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