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Schultz reviews: ”Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw" and "Gone With the Wind"

Schultz reviews: ”Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw" and "Gone With the Wind"

Carl Schultz

“Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw” Distributed by Universal Pictures, 135 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Aug. 2:

When the fast-moving crime adventure picture “The Fast and the Furious” was released during the summer of 2001 and quickly earned over $200 million in box office dollars on a budget of $38 million, plans were quickly made for a sequel. Seven installments later, the “Fast & Furious” films have earned well over $5 billion globally at the box office.

Now embracing video games, toys, and even theme park attractions, the “Fast & Furious” phenomenon continues to earn money faster than additional sequels can be produced. To accommodate the overflow of incoming cash and develop means of making even more, Universal Pictures decided to create a second series of films, related to the original series but not “officially” part of the continuing “Fast & Furious” storyline ... sort of like “Solo” and “Rogue One” are not “official” Star Wars pictures.

The first “Fast & Furious” spinoff is the new $200 million “Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw,” released Aug. 2 and starring action film superstars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in their peripheral “Fast & Furious” roles. Dwayne Johnson is Luke Hobbs, a federal agent working for the CIA, and Jason Statham is his longtime rival Deckard Shaw, a former Special Forces assassin now working for Britain’s MI6.

When Hobbs and Shaw are forced by their respective government services to team up and recover a genetically modified virus stolen by bionic superman Idris Alba, the two spend the next couple of hours of screen time in a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby adventure of globetrotting bickering and mayhem, with Shaw’s sister Vanessa Kirby tagging along in more or less the old Dorothy Lamour part.

Thankfully, co-producers Johnson and Statham had the good sense to surround themselves with an unusually-capable production staff, including director David Leitch and screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce. Between them, the writers and director have toiled on the “John Wick” and “Mission: Impossible” pictures, as well as “Atomic Blonde” and “Iron Man 3.”

The end result is a rollicking, exciting and enormously entertaining Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon of a movie, a seamless blend of action, comedy, adventure, and bloodless car crashing violence that aims for the sweet spot where exhilaration and silliness intersect, and scores a direct bullseye. Johnson’s in-your-face insouciance and Statham’s slow-burn competence might not be exactly Stan & Ollie or even Abbott & Costello, but they’ll do nicely until something better comes along.

Released to 4,200 theaters across the United States and Canada, “Hobbs & Shaw” was expected by distributor Universal Pictures to earn up to $65 million in box office dollars over its opening weekend, but settled for $60.8 million, still enough to score a first place spot on the Box Office Mojo Top Ten over “The Lion King,” in second place with $38.246 million.

As an added bonus, superstars Johnson & Statham have invited along a few of their superstar friends to appear in small supporting roles. There are also a couple of mid-credit scenes.

In the end,“Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw” is like a ride on a Ferris Wheel — after it’s over, you might still be in the same place as before you got on, but you’ve enjoyed enough excitement, thrills and laughter to last the rest of the week.

“Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw” is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material, and some strong language.

“Gone With the Wind” Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, 221 Minutes, Rated G, Released Dec. 15, 1939:

No other motion picture in history has ever equaled the impact on American popular culture of “Gone With the Wind.”

The mammoth 221-minute historical romance epic from 1939 became a phenomenon in its era, and over time earned more box office dollars than any other picture in history. It’s a distinction the picture retains to the present day — with gross profits adjusted for economic factors such as inflation, “Gone With the Wind” beats its closest rival, 1977’s “Star Wars,” by over $200 million.

The winner of a then-record ten Academy Awards — a mark finally bested in 1959, when “Ben-Hur” won 11  — ”Gone With the Wind” was withheld entirely from television broadcast until 1976. Instead the picture was re-distributed to theaters periodically throughout the second half of the 20th Century roughly once per generation until it’s eventual debut on home video in 1985.

The picture was so exalted at the time of its release that the title itself was never revealed onscreen in its entirety, instead “sweeping” across across the credits one word at a time at the beginning of the film, a means of fabled producer David O. Selznick’s emphasizing that his production was bigger and grander than the motion picture medium itself.

Adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling 1936 novel, the American film classic in which a manipulative woman and a roguish man conduct a turbulent romance during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras is currently celebrating its 80th year in release. In commemoration of the film’s anniversary, “Gone With the Wind” is now playing limited engagements on the big screens of selected theaters in major cities around the United States.

And while the picture retains much of its impact as an “event” picture — with the inclusion of its overture, intermission, and exit music, “Gone With the Wind” runs just shy of four hours in length — the movie’s historical accuracy and narrative content have over the years become more than a little ... well, problematic. In fact, certain of the film’s issues might ultimately prove as harmful to the picture’s legacy as the burning of Atlanta was to the Confederate Army.

The difficulties begin with the picture’s screenplay, no real surprise in a movie adapted from a 1,037-page novel. The script itself was the result of the work of about a dozen writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, coalesced into a disjointed, barely-coordinated whole by the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Sidney Howard. The plotline of Margaret Mitchell’s novel mostly survives intact, but the film never successfully manages to flow smoothly as a narrative, appearing instead to be a selection of well-known scenes, sort of a “greatest hits” collection of sequences adapted from the book.

Of the picture’s content, less said is probably better. The movie’s famous prologue — a contribution of writer Ben Hecht — speaks volumes to the film’s accuracy to historical events. Presented as an opening “crawl” similar to the customary opening the “Star Wars” pictures, Hecht’s words describe “ ... the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave,” where “gallantry took its last bow.” It remains unsaid that this “land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields” existed mostly in the imagination of the filmmakers.

In its depiction of some rose-tinted notion of benevolent slavery, “Gone With the Wind” is silent on the issue of human subjugation and indifferent to human suffering. The Emancipation Proclamation is mentioned not at all. While never as jaw-droppingly insensitive as D.W. Griffith’s similar “The Birth of a Nation” from 1915 — another “event” picture once considered a classic but excoriated and reviled more than a full century after its original release — the racial stereotypes presented in “Gone With the Wind” are more representative of Hollywood during the 1930s than the American South during the 1860s.

Howard’s adaptation is skillful enough to camouflage some of the more objectionable content. A scene in the picture’s third hour refers to the picture’s “heroic” male characters taking refuge in a brothel after being ambushed by Union soldiers following a clandestine nighttime raid on a shantytown of displaced slaves. The men were avenging a rogue attack by one of the slaves on the picture’s “virtuous” central female character. Howard’s skillful writing deftly downplays the detail that the men were collectively members of the outlaw Ku Klux Klan terrorist organization.

The film’s inconsistency of tone is also a result of multiple filmmakers contributing to the picture during its production. Original director George Cukor was summarily dismissed from the production at the insistence of actor Clark Gable for his preferential treatment of the film’s female stars, Vivien Leigh and Olivia DeHavilland. Cukor’s replacement was Gable’s own favorite director, Victor Fleming, who eventually suffered a nervous collapse as a result of the studio’s merciless production schedule (Fleming also directed the equally-troubled “The Wizard of Oz” for MGM that same year).

During his convalescence, Victor Fleming was temporarily replaced on “Gone With the Wind” by MGM staff director Sam Wood, primarily remembered today as the director of the Marx Brothers’ 1935 comedy classic “A Night at the Opera.” While Fleming alone receives the director’s credit on “Gone With the Wind,” Cukor receives a separate onscreen acknowledgment for his contributions to the picture: At nights and on weekends, the dismissed filmmaker had continued to privately coach Leigh and DeHavilland in their roles as Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton.

Of the film’s leading performers, Vivien Leigh probably fares best as the picture’s central character, Scarlett O’Hara, cast in the film after a highly-publicized nationwide talent search had led to over 1,400 actresses being interviewed for the part. Coquettish in demeanor during the film’s opening scenes, Leigh’s manner as Scarlett disguises an unshakable inner resolve and steely determination, making the character surprisingly contemporary when viewed today, if never sympathetic or even likable.

It’s a virtuoso performance. The British-born Leigh contributes an impressive interpretation of the quintessentially American role, allowing Scarlett O’Hara to transition persuasively from an irresponsible teenager during the picture’s opening scenes to a cynical middle-aged tycoon by the end, a feat the actress accomplishes mostly without the aid of makeup effects.

Toiling less successfully in “Gone With the Wind” is actor Clark Gable as the dashing blockade runner Rhett Butler, presented in the film as a sort of Civil War version of “Star Wars” hero Han Solo. Ironically, Gable originally refused to participate in “Gone With the Wind.” His resistance to the role actually delayed the production for some two years, until after producer Selznick had negotiated a complicated distribution deal for the picture with Loews Incorporated — parent company of MGM, and Gable’s employer — and the actor was effectively ordered into the set by MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer.

Gable’s enormous popularity at the time had led to the American public to virtually insist on his casting in the role, over such contenders as Gary Cooper, who refused the part, and even Basil Rathbone, who sought the role of Butler but was eventually rejected in favor of Gable. In the end, Gable succeeds in the role of Rhett Butler not because of any particular ability he possesses as a performer, but because he’s Clark Gable, able to retain his heroic image even after his character drunkenly threatens and then rapes Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara during the picture’s third act.

Given the film’s embodiment of offensive stereotypes, the picture’s most impressive performance might be that of actress Hattie McDaniel as the slave Mammy. Belying the subservient nature of the role, McDaniel’s authoritative characterization even transcends slavery. A valued member of the household, the film’s most consistent character, McDaniel’s Mammy is the solitary character in the picture who’s present during every major scene, and whose opinion is always heeded and whose directions are invariably followed.

McDaniel’s contribution to “Gone With the Wind” resulted in the actress winning the 1939 Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, a first for an African-American performer. McDaniel herself was seated far from the rest of the “Gone With the Wind” contingent during the awards ceremony, and was compelled by MGM to deliver a humiliating acceptance speech, scripted by studio publicist Russell Birdwell and later repeated for newsreel cameras, in which the actress pledged to continue to be “a credit to (her) race.”

Best viewed from an historical perspective, to show contemporary audiences how we once saw ourselves and how we once viewed history, “Gone With the Wind” when not playing in commemorative or memorial editions on the larger screens of the nation’s theaters can be easily found on DVD at your local Walmart, at a price of around $5.00. The picture is also available for rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Vudu or iTunes.

Despite its sometimes seamy content, “Gone With the Wind” has been assigned a G rating by the MPAA.

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