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Why That ‘Fast & Furious 9’ Reveal Weakens the Franchise

Han is alive. Take a moment, Fast & Furious fans, to let that sink in.

Sung Kang’s character returned to the franchise in the final moments of the Fast & Furious 9 (or F9, if you prefer) trailer, which arrived Friday via a massive Miami-set concert showcase that reunited fans with longtime stars Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel.

F9, which also marks the return of popular series helmer Justin Lin, pits Diesel’s Dom Toretto against John Cena’s Jakob, a villain who is revealed to be (surprise!) Dom’s brother. The familial connection proves that Fastisn’t straying from its soap opera-like formula, but the resurrection of Kang’s Han Lue was the out-of-nowhere twist that left the largest impression, considering the character was last seen in the driver’s seat of an exploding Mazda RX-7.

The winding, continuity-challenged framework of this franchise — charming to fans and headache-inducing to others – is difficult to follow, but for the uninitiated, here is where things stand.

Han was introduced and killed off in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a film that, outside of a Vin Diesel cameo, was thought to have no connection to the original. However, Han returned for 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. It’s later revealed that Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6, with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw taking credit for Han’s murder. The same death sequence is also replayed at the beginning of 2015’s Furious 7, sending Dom into a fury and serving as the impetus for the film’s revenge plot. 

Now, three sequels and one spinoff later, Han returns in F9, still munching on potato chips — a character trait that lets the audience know it’s really him.

Following the trailer’s release, “Han Is Alive” and “Justice for Han” became top trending topics on Twitter, with fans rejoicing at the return of the franchise favorite. While Han’s return should be a celebratory moment, it raises an important question: What happens when there are no stakes left in this series?

Fast has pulled the back-from-the-dead stunt once before, with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz returning in Fast & Furious 6 after her character was killed off in 2009’s Fast & Furious. Letty’s death, like Han’s, was a game-changer, but, as fans know, the franchise is all about family, and the creative forces behind the scenes just can’t seem to move on.

Even the villains of Fast & Furious live to antagonize our heroes another day, with Statham among those who have taken on anti-hero roles in subsequent films. Charlize Theron is back in F9 after her cyber-terrorist villain, Cypher, survived the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Knowing what we know, it would be truly shocking if John Cena’s heel turn lasted more than one film, as the WWE star will surely survive the events of F9.

It should be noted that the death that most impacted the franchise occurred offscreen, when Paul Walker was killed in a car wreck in 2013. His character, Brian O’Connor, was “retired” and given an emotional sendoff at the end of Furious 7

Nine films in (10 if you count spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Fast & Furious has taken great care to preserve its remaining core. But at what cost? How can characters evolve if every tragedy gets a do-over?

Star Wars fans just went through a similar experience in December, with Chewbacca’s “death” in The Rise of Skywalker. The iconic character was thought to have been killed when Daisy Ridley’s Rey zapped a First Order prisoner transport with Sith lightning. Just as the emotional weight of Chewie’s death was sinking it, Rey learned she zapped a different transport, and the Wookie was still alive. For a moment, fans thought Star Wars had actually gone there. The filmmakers had the rug pulled out from under the audience, only to have Chewbacca reappear, still alive and waiting to be rescued.

No tears. No loss. No risk. Luke Skywalker even drives it home, proclaiming, “No one is ever really gone.” 

Fast & Furious revels in its melodrama and “family is everything” attitude. But its unrelenting loyalty to the family comes at the expense of advancing the story and its characters. The franchise turns 20 years old in 2021. Its Day One fans have grown up, maybe it’s time Fast did too.

January 31, 2020 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Why That ‘Fast & Furious 9’ Reveal Weakens the Franchise

Everything Coming to Now Playing Podcast in February 2020

If there’s one thing we love about February 2020, it’s an extra day (thanks Leap Year!) to listen to Now Playing Podcast. The month features a pair of new theatrical releases, bookended by new entries in the show’s King Kong retrospective, and the final episode in Now Playing’s 2019 Fall/Winter Donation Drive. 

Mark your calendars, listeners, here’s everything coming to Now Playing Podcast in February 2020:

Tuesday, February 4 – King Kong Lives

It took 10 years to produce a sequel to the Dino De Laurentiis King Kong remake, and after you get a taste of King Kong Lives, you’ll wonder why the hell anyone bothered. The 1986 monster movie, starring Terminator icon Linda Hamilton, was a notorious bomb in theaters, putting the ape on ice for nearly 20 years. King Kong Lives could be “so bad it’s brown arrow good,” but we’ll have to hear what Arnie, Stuart, and Jakob think. Their review arrives on February 4.

Friday, February 7 – Rush Hour 3

The third (and so far, final) entry in the East-meets-West buddy cop franchise caps Now Playing’s 2019 Fall/Winter Donation Drive, a 20-episode run that includes the I Am LegendZombielandJu-on/The Grudge, and Rush Hour franchises. The second Rush Hour sequel sees Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan take their act to Paris, where audiences are treated to, presumably, a series of comic misunderstandings, stunt sequences, and old married couple bickering between the two leads. 

Tuesday, February 11 – Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn escapes the stench of Suicide Squad and splits from the Joker in this DC Extended Universe team-up, which partners the villain with Black Canary, Huntress, Gotham PD’s Renee Montoya, and future Batgirl Cassandra Cain. The Quinn-tet will face off against Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask and a new iteration of serial killer Victor Zsasz. We’ll see if there are any other cameos in store for loyal DC fans. 

Tuesday, February 18 – Sonic the Hedgehog

Now Playing’s long running video game retrospective makes a return in February, as Arnie, Stuart, and Justin chase down Sonic the Hedgehog. The 90s video game mascot makes his big screen debut in a hybrid CGI/live-action caper that, so far, is famous for botching the hero’s familiar design. After social media-induced hysterics forced the filmmakers to retool Sonic’s look, the film will finally hit theaters on Valentine’s Day, with Now Playing’s review arriving on February 18.

Tuesday, February 25 – King Kong (2005)

Peter Jackson’s 2005 take on King Kong grossed more than a half-billion dollars back in its day and remains one of the most critically acclaimed in the franchise. How the CGI spectacle holds up in the era of the Monsterverse will be one of the topics up for debate when Arnie, Stuart, and Jakob review the picture on February 25. If you missed the first episodes in the King Kong retrospective, which covers the 1933 original and its sequel, along with a pair of Toho-produced sequels, you can hear them in the Now Playing archives. 

But wait, there’s more!

February Patron Review – Closer

Now Playing gets serious – seriously romantic – in February with a new review chosen by one of its listeners. The hosts will cover Mike Nichols’ acclaimed 2004 romantic drama Closer, starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen as part of its monthly Patron-sponsored series of reviews. This one comes courtesy of listener Jeff Roy, who chose the movie after backing Now Playing on Podbean.

January 26, 2020 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Everything Coming to Now Playing Podcast in February 2020

Now Playing Podcast Host Arnie’s 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

It seemed in 2019 I was anxious each month for a new film. From Glass (a super-villain team-up!) to Avengers: Endgame (how can they follow up infinity war?) to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino back with DiCaprio and Pitt in a Charles Manson story!) to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (can they end on a high note?) there were so many films that had me hyped.

As we start 2020 my list is much shorter than 2019’s, but there are still some films that have me shivering with antici…….pation. Here’s the top 10:

10. The New Mutants (April 10)

Anticipation doesn’t always mean I expect it to be good. The X-Men films have been on a steady decline since First Class, and the years of delays, rumors of reshoots, then rumors that the reshoots didn’t happen, mean this film is likely to be a incomprehensible mess. Still…after wondering if it would ever come out, that they released a new trailer and it looks to actually be happening has me ready.

9. Fantasy Island (Feb 14)

How I picture a few dozen Valentine’s Day conversations (or maybe just mine):

Him: “Hey honey, for Valentine’s Day let’s go to Fantasy Island!”
Her: “Sure!”
Him: “This Fantasy Island has Hostel like torture and Wishmaster level ironies”
Her: “Ummm… How about dinner out instead?”

I can’t imagine why Blumhouse took a license like Fantasy Island only to make something so vastly different from the Aaron Spelling cheese-fest that ruled early ’80s television.

It could be laughably bad, or it could actually be Happy Death Day level fun. I’m hoping for the latter.

8. Black Widow (May 1)

Post Endgame I find little excitement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its stars have left. They’re in what a sports team would call a “rebuilding year.” So they’re banking on their biggest marquee star, Scarlett Johansson, to launch us into Phase 4 with the second female-led Marvel film.

But…why? Didn’t she die in Endgame? If this is, as Marvel claims, a movie set in the past, between Civil War and Infinity War, what does it have to offer the Universe?

It looks exciting, the jokes in the trailer are funny, but there’s lots of funny action films. That alone wouldn’t put this movie on the list.

Two things make me ready for the Widow‘s sting–first, Johansson has taken Black Widow from a horrible inconvenience (Iron Man 2) to a rich main player (I still think The Winter Soldier featured her best). She deserved a solo film, and it will likely be very good.

But…is it possible Marvel is lying? Could there be bigger surprises in store? The glimpse of a very de-aged General Ross (William Hurt) in the trailer makes me hope there will be some Universe-impacting surprises yet to come…

7. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5)

The DC connected movie universe has more hits than misses, but the original Wonder Woman was one of the brightest spots. I was skeptical about this sequel when I heard Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters 2016, SNL) was hired to play Cheetah…but when that first trailer arrived I was hooked.

The ’80s aesthetic, the idea that the bad guy is what defined the ’80s–ambition–and the humor in the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) makes this look like a DC movie that would actually be fun! So let’s go to the mall…today!

(But, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for New Order and so putting “Blue Monday” under any trailer is likely to get my hype level up.)

6. Underwater (January 10)

This movie seems to have no buzz about it. The premiere showings are tonight as I write this, but no one is talking about Underwater…and I don’t know why.

Kristen Stewart has proven herself a capable actress, and was practically the only good part of last year’s Charlie’s Angels. To see her take on a Ripley role in this film that looks completely like Alien underwater has made this a must-see.

5. Bill & Ted Face the Music (August 21)

When we last saw the Wild Stallyns they seemed ready to become a global phenomenon of hair metal music. Unfortunately their music never lead to nirvana as Nirvana brought a new sound that changed public tastes.

I’ll admit on paper the idea of bringing these two righteous dudes back together 31 years after their Excellent Adventure seems like a bad idea. And I imagine Alex Winter wasn’t one to turn down a gig. But Keanu Reeves has had his (2nd? 3rd?) career renaissance. He doesn’t need Bill & Ted. Something in Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon’s screenplay (the writers of the two original Journeys) must have captured his imagination. He even shaved his beard for the role!

I’ll be there opening weekend, ready to air guitar with this blast from the past.

4. No Time to Die (April 10)

At 51 Daniel Craig may feel a little old to play Bond…James Bond, but he’s still six years younger than Roger Moore in A View to a Kill so let’s have some optimism!

Craig has produced two of the best Bond movies in Casino Royale an Skyfall (still my favorite all-time Bond film). Then there were the forgettable Quantum of Solace and ill-advised Spectre.

If the pattern holds, then Craig’s odd-numbered films are the great ones…and Rami Malek impressed the hell out of me with his performances in both Mr. Robot and Bohemian Rhapsody. No Time to Die has me ready to be shaken, not stirred, by another spy flick.

3. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

I hate saying bad things about the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot because the issue has become so politicized by ugly people (one of whom was so butt-hurt by the idea of women Ghostbusters he leaked naked photos of Leslie Jones). Still, if I’m being honest, that movie didn’t match the quality of Ghostbusters 2, let alone the classic original.

The trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems to reach for an ’80s Spielberg vibe–or at least a variation on Stranger Things. Having Egon Spengler’s grandson rediscover a spectral world both honors the original (including the late Harold Ramis) and feels fresh for a new generation.

That the original Ghostbusters are also returning (for a cameo? bit part?) for a proper reunion has me very anxious for this new film.

But…please…can they not hire any more modern bands to play Ray Parker Jr’s song? Please?

2. Tenet (July 17)

Christopher Nolan has a large contingent of fans anxious for whatever his next project may be. I’m not one of them. Several of his movies, especially period pieces, failed to excite me. (You can hear me, Stuart, and Jakob review every Nolan film at

But when Nolan does sci-fi tinged action films like The Dark Knight and Inception I feel he has no equal. While the teaser trailer for Tenet doesn’t give me much to go on, I get a big Inception feel from the trailer.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being my favorite film of 2020.

1. Top Gun: Maverick (June 26)

It’s been 34 years(!) since Tom Cruise lost that lovin’ feeling at the Top Gun academy in a film that tends to polarize modern audiences. It’s a movie I’ve come to adore (along with that near-impossible to beat NES game)…but Cruise donning his Maverick helmet again wasn’t something I need.

Besides, do we still need fighter pilots? It seems the future is here and fighter jets have been replaced with drones, our servicemen safely in a building, not at risk of dying in a dogfight.

Still, when Cruise partners with Christopher McQuarrie the results are usually good (I’ll forgive them The Mummy). I do wish McQuarrie was directing Maverick, not just co-writing, but he knows a tight script.

But what really got me excited is when Paramount announced only one shot in this movie is CGI. Nearly all aerial stunts took place with real FA-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets. The dogfights, the navigating through a canyon, it’s all real. The actors are even in the planes pulling the G-forces (though, no, they didn’t fly the planes) and I can feel it in the trailer.

Plus Cruise seems surrounded by a great cast, with Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, and Miles Teller (forgive him his Fant4stic mistake, he was amazing in Whiplash and Bleed for This).

So enlist me now for an opening weekend seat back at Top Gun!

Will these movies live up to my expectations? You can follow me on Letterboxd where I log and rate every movie I watch.

Do you agree with my list? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

January 9, 2020 Posted by | Movies, Movies & Television, News, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | 1 Comment

Where to Watch the ‘Ju-On/Grudge’ Series Online

As Now Playing Podcast winds down its Ju-On/Grudge retrospective series with the January 10 review of 2020’s Sam Raimi-produced Grudge remake, curious and casual fans may be surprised when they look back and see just how deep the J-horror retrospective goes. 

If you’re brave enough to look closer, you’ll see there’s much more than the 12 episodes covered by hosts Stuart, Jakob, and Arnie. Some of the Japanese films can be found and watched on YouTube, others are harder to hunt down. The American versions are floating around on DVD and can be streamed on some websites. Here’s a roadmap to help you find and navigate the series. 

Katasumi (片隅In a Corner) and 4444444444 (Ten Fours)

These two 1998 short films, precursors to the main Ju-On series, were released as extras on The Grudge (2004) DVD. Both were directed by Takashi Shimizu and can be found on YouTube.

Katasumi (片隅In a Corner)

4444444444 (Ten Fours)

Ju-On: The Curse

Takashi Shimizu brought The Curse into homes in 2000, and the installment kicked off our retrospective series in November 2019. You can find the Ju-On: The Curse review at the Now Playing Podcast website, but the full movie has been removed from YouTube. 

Ju-on: The Curse 2

The sequel to Ju-On: The Curse, released direct-to-video the same year as its predecessor, can be watched in its entirety on YouTube with English subtitles. Check it and then hear the Ju-On: The Curse 2 review at the Now Playing Podcast website

Ju-On: The Grudge

The first in the series to be released theatrically, 2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge made a tremendous impact when audiences first saw it, and its success helped spawn the American remake series. The Grudge can be watched with English subtitles on YouTubeand you can hear the review at the Now Playing Podcast website.

Ju-On: The Grudge 2

Takashi Shimizu’s 2003 sequel to Ju-On: The Grudge was a monster hit in Japan, grossing $1.1 billion Japanese yen. Finding the film online isn’t that easy, however, as it’s been removed from YouTube and cannot be rented or purchased from sites like Amazon. You can hear our hosts thoughts on Ju-On: The Grudge 2 at the Now Playing Podcast website

The Grudge (2004)

Our hosts were not too fond of Sam Raimi’s 2004 The Grudge remake, but listeners know the worst horror movies often make the best Now Playing reviews. If you’re looking for the film, you can easily find it on DVD, or watch a very low quality version on YouTube. 

The Grudge 2 (2006)

Takashi Shimizu came back again to helm the sequel to his own American remake, and though 2006’s The Grudge 2 did conjure about $70 million at the box office, it was not a critical success. The film is available to rent or buy online.

The Grudge 3

A second American sequel to The Grudge went straight to DVD in 2009. It failed to impress our hosts and is probably best left forgotten. But if you’re a completist, there’s a version on YouTube that you can watch for free.

Ju-On: White Ghost and Ju-On: Black Ghost

While American audiences were treated to a direct-to-DVD stinker, Japanese Ju-On fans got back-to-back sequels in honor of the franchise’s 10th anniversary. Now Playing listeners were treated to separate podcasts for Ju-On: White Ghost and Ju-On: Black Ghost but both films only managed one green arrow between them. You can watch both on YouTube.

Ju-On: White Ghost

Ju-On: Black Ghost

Ju-on: The Beginning of the End

The Beginning of the End kicked off a new reboot continuity for Ju-On in Japan. It still mustered just one green arrow from our hosts, but you can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube and judge for yourself.

Ju-On: The Final Curse

In 2015, Ju-On: The Final Curse promised an end to the series, but as horror fans know very well, franchises very rarely end. The film is streaming free on YouTube, and you can hear our hosts analysis at the Now Playing Podcast website

But wait, there’s more!

YouTube even has a nearly two-hour video of the Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator game. If you like walkthroughs, you might like this.

January 6, 2020 Posted by | Now Playing Podcast | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Where to Watch the ‘Ju-On/Grudge’ Series Online

Everything Coming to Now Playing Podcast in January 2020

The arrival of the new year brings new episodes of Now Playing Podcast, with fresh takes on The Grudge and Bad Boys franchises, along with the King Kong and Rush Hour retrospectives.

The “Best of the Decade” lists have been filed and the big ball dropped in Times Square, so that means we’ve officially entered the 2020s. With the new year comes a fresh look at the Now Playing Podcast schedule, which will continue to churn out weekly (and frequently bi-weekly) episodes of ongoing and anticipated retrospectives. 

For those listeners who are always looking forward to Tuesdays and Fridays, here’s a look at what’s coming to Now Playing Podcast in January 2020.

Friday, January 3 – Ju-On: The Beginning of the End

Now Playing Podcast’s The Grudge/Ju-On series kicked off in November 2019 as the Gold Level series of its 2019 Fall/Winter donation drive, and marked the show’s first extensive foray into the J-Horror genre. January 3 sets up The Beginning of the End for the retrospective, as Now Playing hosts Stuart, Jakob, and Arnie examine the 10th installment of the Ju-On franchise, a reboot that debuted in Japan in June 2014. 

Sunday, January 5 – Ju-On: The Final Curse

Picking up where Beginning of the End left off, Now Playing’s review of Ju-On: The Final Curse drops on January 5, the same weekend that the American reboot hits theaters.   

Tuesday, January 7 – King Kong vs. Godzilla

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t arrive until November, but Now Playing’s King Kong retrospective will sate your desire for giant movie monsters while you wait. The first Tuesday of 2020 brings a review of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho Studios’ 1962 mashup of the two characters, a film that also marked their first appearances in color. Having already covered 1933’s King Kong and its sequel, Son of Kong, one of the most discussed subjects will likely be Kong’s design, which changed drastically when Toho brought the monster into its universe. 

Friday, January 10 – The Grudge (2020)

After the buildup that began with the Ju-On: The Curse, Now Playing will cross another long-requested horror franchise off its list when producer Sam Raimi and Piercing director Nicolas Pesce unveil their reboot of The Grudge. The new film arrives in theaters on January 3, with Now Playing’s review to follow a week later. 

Tuesday, January 14 – King Kong Escapes

Spoiler alert: King Kong survives his brush with Godzilla and makes another appearance in 1967’s King Kong Escapes. The Toho production not only features classic Kong but also Mechani-Kong, a robot replicant of the giant ape, which debuted in the 1966 King Kong animated series. This film would mark the last of Kong’s Toho film appearances, as the Dino De Laurentiis reboot would be coming in the 1970s. 

Tuesday, January 21 – Bad Boys for Life

Now Playing dropped its Bad Boys retrospective in June 2017 when, at the time, it looked like a second sequel to the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence franchise had stalled permanently. “I’m thinking this is never gonna happen,” Arnie said of Bad Boys for Life, but Smith and Lawrence eventually reunited, with Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah taking the reins of the franchise. Bad Boys for Life sees Miami cops Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett ending their longtime partnership before teaming again to take down a new villain. There will be explosions.  

Friday, January 24 – Rush Hour

With The Grudge capping the Gold Level of Now Playing Podcast’s 2019 Fall/Winter donation drive, the hosts press the accelerator on Platinum Level and bring you the first episode of the Rush Hour retrospective series. A mismatched buddy cop comedy in the vein of Beverly Hills CopLethal Weapon, and the aforementioned Bad BoysRush Hour was a monster hit when it bowed in September 1998, setting up big paydays for star Chris Tucker and spawning two sequels, both of which will be featured on Now Playing Podcast in February 2020. Donors of $35 or more can hear the entire Rush Hour retrospective, as well as all episodes in the Ju-On/GrudgeZombieland, and I Am Legend retrospectives when they donate via PayPal or Now Playing’s Podbean page.  

Tuesday, January 28 – King Kong (1976)

For many Now Playing Podcast listeners, their first exposure to King Kong came in 1976, when Dino De Laurentiis tapped stars Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and then-unknown Jessica Lange for his version of the giant ape tale. This time, the explorers setting foot on Kong’s Skull Island homeland are in search of oil, and the hosts will certainly discuss the influence of 1970s culture and politics on the finished product. 

Friday, January 31 – Rush Hour 2

The final Now Playing Podcast episode of January follows Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan from Hong Kong to Las Vegas and beyond in 2001’s Rush Hour 2Tucker famously held out for a $20 million salary to star in the sequel, but the box office results speak for themselves. How does it hold up nearly 20 years later? That’s for Now Playing’s hosts to decide.

Want to talk movies with Now Playing Podcast? Join your hosts and fellow listeners at the Now Playing Podcast Facebook Page.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Now Playing Podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Everything Coming to Now Playing Podcast in January 2020