2022 TheGrio Awards: Inaugural event honorees include Dave Chappelle, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Tyler Perry, Patti LaBelle, Kenan Thompson

November 21, 2022

The following is a press release from CBS:

African American-focused news, lifestyle, sports and entertainment platform theGrio (www.thegrio.com) recently celebrated icons, leaders and legends at Byron Allen’s inaugural TheGrio Awards, a star-studded, black-tie event held at the Beverly Hilton. Co-hosted by Sheryl Underwood of “The Talk” and Taye Diggs, “Byron Allen Presents TheGrio Awards” will be broadcast Saturday, November 26, 2022 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live on Paramount +*.

“Byron Allen Presents TheGrio Awards” celebrates excellence in film, music, comedy, television, sports, philanthropy, business, fashion, social justice, environmental justice and education, and the cultural icons and innovators whose many contributions positively impact America. The special pays tribute to and amplifies the history makers, change agents and artists who define and influence our world.

Honorees include Dave Chappelle (Cultural Icon Award), Ben Crump (Justice Icon Award), Allyson Felix (Sports Icon Award), Jennifer Hudson (Trailblazer Icon Award), Patti LaBelle (Music Icon Award), Queen Latifah (Television Icon Award), Norman Lear (Champion Award), Alena Analeigh McQuarter (Young Icon Award), Don Peebles (Business Icon Award), Tyler Perry (ICON Award), Robert F. Smith (Philanthropy Award) and Kenan Thompson (Comedy Icon Award). Also, the special features musical performances by Yolanda Adams, Tyrese, Fantasia and Patti LaBelle. Greg Phillinganes serves as musical director, and DJ Kiss acts as both D.J. and announcer for the awards special.

“I created theGrio Awards to celebrate and amplify African-American excellence and the incredible champions from other communities who truly support us,” said Byron Allen, founder/chairman/CEO of Allen Media Group. “As a child, strong, positive African-American icons such as Berry Gordy, Jr., Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr. helped me see myself differently and changed the trajectory of my life. Celebrating and amplifying iconic individuals is something we can never do enough of, especially for our children.”

“TheGrio Awards” is co-produced by Allen Media Group and Backhand Productions. Byron Allen, Carolyn Folks, Jennifer Lucas, Jeff Atlas and Michelle Willrich are executive producers.

*Paramount+ Premium subscribers will have access to stream live via the live feed of their local CBS affiliate.

About Allen Media Group

Chairman and CEO Byron Allen founded Allen Media Group/Entertainment Studios in 1993. Headquartered in Los Angeles, it has offices in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Charleston, SC. Allen Media Group owns 27 ABC-NBC-CBS-FOX network affiliate broadcast television stations in 21 U.S. markets and twelve 24-hour HD television networks serving nearly 220 million subscribers: THE WEATHER CHANNEL, THE WEATHER CHANNEL EN ESPAÑOL, PETS.TV, COMEDY.TV, RECIPE.TV, CARS.TV, ES.TV, MYDESTINATION.TV, JUSTICE CENTRAL.TV, THEGRIO, THIS TV, and PATTRN. Allen Media Group also owns the streaming platforms HBCU GO, SPORTS.TV, THEGRIO, THE WEATHER CHANNEL STREAMING APP and LOCAL NOW–the free-streaming AVOD service powered by THE WEATHER CHANNEL and content partners, which delivers real-time, hyper-local news, weather, traffic, sports, and lifestyle information. Allen Media Group also produces, distributes, and sells advertising for 68 television programs, making it one of the largest independent producers/distributors of first-run syndicated television programming for broadcast television stations. With a library of over 5,000 hours of owned content across multiple genres, Allen Media Group provides video content to broadcast television stations, cable television networks, mobile devices, and multimedia digital. Our mission is to provide excellent programming to our viewers, online users, and Fortune 500 advertising partners. Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures is a full-service, theatrical motion picture distribution company specializing in wide release commercial content. ESMP released 2017’s highest-grossing independent movie, the shark thriller 47 METERS DOWN, which grossed over $44.3 million. In 2018, ESMP also released the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Western HOSTILES, the historic mystery-thriller CHAPPAQUIDDICK and the sequel to 47 METERS DOWN, 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED. The digital distribution unit of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, Freestyle Digital Media, is a premiere multi-platform distributor with direct partnerships across all major cable, digital and streaming platforms. Capitalizing on a robust infrastructure, proven track record and a veteran sales team, Freestyle Digital Media is a true home for independent films. In 2016, Allen Media Group purchased The Grio, a highly rated digital video-centric news community platform devoted to providing African Americans with compelling stories and perspectives currently underrepresented in existing national news outlets. The Grio features aggregated and original video packages, news articles and opinion pieces on topics that include breaking news, politics, health, business and entertainment. Originally launched in 2009, the platform was then purchased by NBC News in 2010. The digital platform remains focused on curating exciting digital content and currently has more than 100 million annual visitors.

About Backhand Productions

Jeff Atlas founded Backhand Productions with a contract to produce 14 hours of live TV content for the Democratic National Connvention. From there, Backhand went on to produce a series of diverse, high-quality productions for ABC, NBC, FOX, TNT, Nickelodeon, MTV, and more. Notable projects include Kevin Hart’s theatrical blockbuster, Laugh at My Pain, the launch of YouTube Space LA, and the National Urban League’s National Annual Conference and NAACP Image Awards. His virtual event credits include The Gracie Awards, the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions, and the go90s live stream of the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. In addition, he co-created, and executive produced the limited series Blood Ivory for Animal Planet, which focuses on the non-profit group of American veterans (VETPAW) and their first mission to Tanzania to support the elephant anti-poaching effort. More recent projects include the Biden Inaugural in 2021, the NBA All-Star Game, and project launches for Instagram and Facebook. Backhand is represented by Robyn Lattaker-Johnson at A3 Artists Agency and Kerry Smith of Smith Entertainment Legal Group.

Review: ‘Morbius,’ starring Jared Leto

March 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jared Leto in “Morbius” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Morbius”

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the New York City metropolitan area (and briefly in Costa Rica, Greece and Sweden), the horror/action film “Morbius” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A brilliant but illness-plagued biochemist named Dr. Michael Morbius finds the cure to diseases and death, but it comes at a price of becoming a superpowered vampire who craves human blood. 

Culture Audience: “Morbius” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies adapted from Marvel comic books, but the movie’s weak screenplay ultimately lowers the quality of this already-mediocre film.

Jared Leto and Adria Arjona in “Morbius” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Columbia Pictures)

“Morbius” works better as a horror movie than as a vampire superhero origin story that’s supposed to have a place in the “Spider-Man” franchise. “Morbius” has too many plot holes and not enough personality for it to ever be considered a classic superhero film. In fact, “Morbius” recycles so many familiar vampire clichés and action battle scenes, viewers will feel like they’ve already seen the movie before it even ends.

And so, what’s a stereotypical movie to do when it doesn’t have a lot of new ideas to offer? It usually has to rely on the charisma of the cast members to engage viewers in a way that will make audiences feel personally invested in what happens to the characters. But that charisma is mostly lacking in “Morbius,” which has a very talented cast that is limited by uninspired dialogue that renders their characters as nothing more than generic and hollow. “Morbius” was directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.

That’s not to say that “Morbius” is a complete waste of time. The movie’s visual effects, although not spectacular, still get the job done well enough that they look convincing in most parts of the film. And the acting isn’t terrible. The performances in “Morbius” just are not up to the memorable standards they could be for audiences who have become used to superhero movies where the main characters have strong and distinctive personalities.

Even as an origin story, “Morbius” falls flat. Dr. Michael Morbius (played by Jared Leto), a brilliant biochemist, is first seen in Costa Rica with a team of people, as he entices a cave full of bats out of the cave, by taking a knife and using it to slice the palm of his hand with a superficial wound that draws blood. Considering that bats wouldn’t just swarm out of a cave because they saw or smelled a human being’s bleeding hand, this scene is supposed to show these are no ordinary bats. They’re vampire bats.

“Morbius” then abruptly cuts to a flashback that takes place 25 years earlier in Greece. Michael (played by Charlie Shotwell), at the age of about 12 or 13, is in a children’s ward of a hospital when he gets a shy new roommate who’s about the same age. The newcomer’s name is Lucien Crown (played by Joseph Esson), although Michael insists on calling him Milo. This new roommate quickly goes along with being called by this new name, with the implication being that he’s got self-esteem issues and is desperate for a new identity. Milo uses crutches to walk and needs a machine to help him breathe.

The two boys have health problems that mostly confine them to their rooms, so they know what it’s like to feel like outcasts. From their hospital window, Michael and Milo can see bratty schoolboys, who are about the same age, taunting them for having health issues. Milo asks Michael after one of these tauntings: “What would you do if you could be normal for just one hour?” Michael curtly answers, “I don’t think about it.”

Milo and Michael become fast friends, with Michael being the more assertive and confident of the two. Michael tells Milo that they’re both in this hospital because they have the same blood disease and because “there’s something missing from our DNA,” so they are undergoing experiments. A scientist named Dr. Emil Nicholas (played by Jared Harris) is the leader of these experiments.

Dr. Nicholas is kind and paternal to Michael and Milo. Where are these boys’ parents or other family members? The movie never answers that question. However, people familiar with Morbius from Marvel Comics already know that Milo comes from a wealthy family, while Morbius was raised by a single mother. The Morbius in this movie never talks about his family or anything else about his background.

One day, Michael saves Milo’s life. When Milo’s breathing machine malfunctions, and Milo loses consciousness, Michael is able to quickly solve the problem. He fixes the machine by removing a tiny spring of coiled wire. Dr. Nicholas is so impressed with Michael’s problem-solving skills, he tells Michael that Michael will be sent to a school for gifted children.

Before Michael leaves, he writes a letter to Milo in which he promises that they will see each other again. Soon after Michael leaves, Milo is outside and being harassed by some of the bullies who have found Milo carrying this letter. The harassment turns into an assault that’s halted when Dr. Nicholas comes to Milo’s rescue.

The movie then flash-forwards to the present day. An adult Dr. Morbius is on stage in Sweden and about to receive the Nobel Prize. At this point in his life, he uses arm braces to walk. While a Nobel Prize official makes an introductory speech, it’s mentioned that Morbius was a prodigy who completed his doctorate at the age of 19. Viewers never get to see what happens next, but it’s described in the next scene.

“Morbius” then makes an abrupt time shift once again. He’s now back in New York City, where he lives. Morbius works at a hospital and has built has a scientific lab on a cargo ship, where he can do his top-secret experiments. While attending to a patient—a girl named Anna (played by Zaris-Angel Hator), who’s about 9 or 10 years old—she says to him, “I can’t believe you dissed the king and queen of Sweden.” Morbius then makes an anti-monarchist comment in response.

What happened on the way to Morbius getting a Nobel Prize? A newspaper headline reveals that he refused the prize, after going to all the trouble of being at the ceremony. This was a missed opportunity for the filmmakers to show Morbius having an irreverent, maybe mischievous side that made Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man so fun to watch for many fans of superhero movies. Unfortunately, what happened on that Nobel Prize stage stayed on that Nobel Prize stage, only to leave it up to viewers’ imagination what kind of uproar Morbius caused at that event.

Morbius’ closest colleague is Dr. Martine Bancroft (played by Adria Arjona), who is more cautious than Morbius is, when it comes to his radical experiments. She warns him that she knows he’s doing experiments that mix good DNA and bad DNA, and he could lose his medical license if authorities found out. Morbius is undeterred by Martine’s concerns. Martine later becomes Morbius’ obvious potential love interest, even though Leto and Arjona have little to no romantic chemistry together.

Meanwhile, Morbius’ former childhood friend Milo (played by Matt Smith) and Dr. Nicholas are both in New York City too. Milo (who is now a flashy extrovert, in contrast to how introverted he was as a child) is eager to get the same serum that Morbius has been working on to cure them both of their blood diseases. Morbius tells Milo that he can’t have any of the serum until Morbius tests it on himself first. You know where this is going, of course.

Because “Morbius” is a comic-book movie, viewers have to suspend disbelief that within this hospital, Morbius works in a lab with a large cylindrical cage full of bats. It’s implied that these are the same bats that Morbius got in Costa Rica. Morbius wants to see if he can solve his health problems by infusing his DNA with bat DNA in a serum, so that Morbius can not only eliminate his illnesses, he can also possibly live forever. Try to read that without laughing.

A trial test on a mouse proves to be successful. And the next thing you know, Morbius and Martine are on the cargo ship off of the coast of Long Island, so she can inject him with the serum. Why have the lab on a cargo ship, which is out in the open and would put it on the radar of the U.S. Coast Guard or other entities that monitor sea vessels? Don’t expect an answer for that either.

It’s all just a way for Morbius to end up killing people when the serum experiment goes very wrong, and he finds out that he has become a homicidal vampire who craves human blood. A massacre ensues that leaves eight people dead on the ship, with Morbius and Martine as the only survivors. Martine’s injuries (she was knocked down by one of the ship’s crew members) leave her recovering in a hospital. It won’t be the last time she gets seriously injured in this movie.

Meanwhile, the formerly sickly-looking Morbius finds out he’s now healthy with an athletic physique and superpowers, but he’s also a vampire who now craves human blood. Morbius is horrified and deeply ashamed of what he’s become, and he wants to make things right by trying to reverse the serum. However, he’s the main suspect in the cargo ship massacre, so he goes into hiding. And where does this fugitive go when authorities are looking for him? Right back to his workplace, where no one seems to notice that he no longer has to use braces to walk.

Two agents from the FBI are hot on Morbius’ trail: Simon Stroud (played by Tyrese Gibson) and Alberto Ramirez (played by Al Madrigal), whose names are not Mutt and Jeff, even though they act like Mutt and Jeff stereotypes. Agent Stroud is the stoic, no-nonsense type. Agent Ramierz is the goofy, nervous type. Agents Stroud and Ramirez are assigned to the FBI’s Department of Enhanced Individuals.

That’s why these FBI agents don’t really seem shocked when Morbius is brought in for questioning, and he starts to partially transform into a vampire right in front of them. Agent Ramirez brings holy water to protect himself in this interrogation, while Agent Stroud somewhat scoffs at Agent Ramirez’s fear of vampires. It’s enough to say that Morbius’ stint in a detention center is short-lived, and he goes on the run again.

The rest of “Morbius” is essentially a “vampire on the loose” story, with the FBI trying to capture Morbius, who gets blamed for some more vampire murders that he did not commit. The movie falters in how certain fights involving Morbius (such as a major brawl that happens in a subway station) are treated as everyday occurrences and certainly not investigated adequately by law enforcement that has launched a massive manhunt (or is it vampire hunt?) for Morbius. But viewers can’t really take this “massive manhunt” seriously when Agents Stroud and Ramirez are the only FBI officials who seem to be available to show up and investigate the vampire crime scenes.

The action sequences in “Morbius” liven up an otherwise dull storyline that lacks originality. Smith seems to be having some campy fun in his role as the adult Milo. Leto has done much better work elsewhere, although “Morbius” certainly isn’t his worst movie. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their average roles.

Two mid-credits scenes tease Morbius’ involvement with a character who was in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Who this character is not a secret, but it won’t be mentioned in this review anyway, so as not to spoil the surprise for viewers who don’t know. Spider-Man and Venom both get briefly mentioned in “Morbius.” It’s enough to say, based on what the underwhelming “Morbius” has to offer, any future “Morbius” movies—just like many other superhero movies—might have to rely on Spider-Man to bring more excitement to the story.

Columbia Pictures will release “Morbius” in U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022.

Review: ‘F9,’ starring Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jordana Brewster

June 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“F9”

Directed by Justin Lin

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Azerbaijan and the nation of Georgia, the action flick “F9” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy in law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A daredevil team tries to save the world from a group of criminals that includes an assassin who is the estranged brother of the daredevil leader. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to fans of the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, “F9” (the ninth movie in the series) will appeal primarily to people who want to a predictable action flick with high-budget stunts and low-quality screenwriting.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Vin Diesel, Thue Ersted Rasmussen and John Cena in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Unviersal Pictures)

At this point, movies in the “Fast” movie franchise (which began with 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious”) are no longer rooted in reality and have become over-the-top spectacles for people who want to shut their brains off for a couple of hours while they watch. And that’s okay, if there’s a coherent plot and the stunts are truly creative. But “F9” (the ninth film in the series) is an example of a sequel that’s too bloated, too self-satisfied and too lazy. This movie needed less stunt casting and more impressive stunts that don’t insult people’s intelligence.

Directed by Justin Lin (who co-wrote the abysmal “F9” screenplay with Daniel Casey), “F9” is best described as a live-action movie written and directed like a sloppy cartoon for people with no attention span and no expectations to see an intriguing thriller beyond predictable chase scenes, shootouts and explosions. It’s another “we have to save the world from a power-hungry villain” story, but there’s no real creativity or suspense in this overstuffed, 145-minute movie that tries to distract viewers from the weak plot by zipping around the world to different locations. Too bad with all that globetrotting in search of the villain, the “F9” team couldn’t find anything resembling a suspenseful story, because almost every twist and turn can be easily predicted.

The main characters in the “Fast” saga have become so egotistical and conceited that there are multiple times in the movie where they wonder out loud to each other if their death-defying luck might be because they aren’t mere mortals but might in fact have superpowers. “F9” is not a superhero movie, although it would be a better explanation for some of the ridiculous outcomes of battles where real human beings would die, but these “heroes” just get injuries that are never fatal and they recover in ways that are too quick to believe.

And this wouldn’t be a “Fast” movie without constant use of the word “family.” It can become a drinking game to take a drink every time the word “family” is said in a “Fast” movie. This time around, “F9” is especially enamored with adding more people to the “family,” with some unnecessary stunt casting that looks very out of place. If “F9” is the first movie that people see in the “Fast” series, they might be a little confused, because the movie assumes that viewers will already know a lot of the characters’ backstories. It’s best to watch 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” because most of the main characters in that movie are in “F9.”

Here’s a handy summary of who’s in the movie and how their screen time is used in “F9.”

The Heroes

  • Dominic “Dom” Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) is the leader of the daredevil crew that started out as outlaw drag racers and now have vague duties a security/spy team hired to help out government officials and elite business people who are targets of villains who want to take over the world. Vinnie Bennett portrays a young Dom in the movie’s several flashbacks to when Dom was in his late teens.
  • Letty Ortiz (played by Michelle Rodriguez) is Dom’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. In “F9,” Dom and Letty are happily living together with Dom’s son Brian, who’s about 4 or 5 years old in this movie. Brian’s mother Elena Neves (played by Elsa Pataky) was a Diplomatic Security Service agent who died in “The Fate of the Furious.”
  • Mia Toretto (played by Jordana Brewster) is Dom’s loyal younger sister who goes along with whatever Dom wants. Mia is the love partner of Dom’s best friend Brian O’Conner (played by Paul Walker), who is the father of their son Jack. Walker died in real life in 2013, but Brian is supposed to be happily retired.
  • Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is a nervous and talkative member of Dom’s team. The running joke with Roman is that he’s always anxious about getting into dangerous situtations. Expect Roman to scream at least twice in every “Fast” movie.
  • Tej Parker (played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is Roman’s level-headed best friend who has skills as a mechanic and a computer technician.
  • Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) is a British computer hacker who has essentially taken over from Tej as being the “computer whiz” on Dom’s team.
  • Han Lue (played by Sung Kang) supposedly died in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” but he makes a notable but brief return in “F9.” Han’s return is not spoiler information, since it’s part of this movie’s publicity, and his re-appearance has this explanation: He faked his own death.

The Villains

  • Otto (played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen), a wealthy German mogul with vast political connections who wants to take over the world.
  • Jakob Toretto (played by John Cena), Dom’s estranged younger brother, who works with Otto as Otto’s top assassin. Finn Cole portrays a young Jakob in his late teens in the movie’s flashback scenes.
  • Cypher (played by Charlize Theron), a cyberterrorist who was the chief villain in “The Fate of the Furious.” In “F9,” she spends most of her screen time literally locked up in a glass cage.

The Rest

  • Sean (played by Lucas Black), Twinkie (played by Shad Moss, also known as Bow Wow) and Santos (played by Don Omar) are three mechanics who are in the movie mostly for comic relief. They’re like the Three Stooges of the “Fast” movie franchise.
  • Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell) is a powerful undercover operative who works with Dom’s team. A plane hijacking involving Mr. Nobody sets off the rescue mission in the movie.
  • Elle (played by Anna Sawai) is an associate of Han’s who plays a key role in this mission.
  • Stasiak (played by Shea Whigham) is an FBI agent who works with Mr. Nobody.
  • Buddy (played by Michael Rooker) is a mechanic who raised Jakob after Jakob’s father died.
  • Queenie Shaw (played by Helen Mirren) is the mother of Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), a longtime nemesis of Dom’s team.

Through a distress video found in Mr. Nobody’s hijacked plane, Dom and his team find out that Jakob was one of the chief people behind the hijacking. Otto and Jakob are after a device called Aries, which has the ability to hack into defense and banking systems around the world. It’s the type of device that any self-respecting villain with world domination goals would want to have.

Aries has been split into two. Jakob and Otto have one half of Aries, and they’re in a race against time with Dom and his team to get the other half of Aries. Cypher is being held captive by Otto and Jakob, who try to get her advice on how to find Aries and thwart Dom and his team. The stakes are more personal for Dom and Jakob because of their family feud.

The origin of this brotherly vendetta is shown through flashbacks. It has to do with the death of Dom and Jakob’s father Jack Toretto (played by JD Pardo), who died during a car race witnessed by Dom and Jakob. Siena Agudong plays a young Mia in these flashbacks.

Various parts of Dom’s team travel to different parts of the world to find the missing half of Aries. Cardi B has a very quick cameo as Leysa, someone from Dom’s past. People might laugh when they see what type of role she has in this movie. (No, she isn’t a stripper.) Along the way, Roman and Tej go into space using a rocket car that was built by Sean, Twinkie and Santos. Now, try say all of that out loud with a straight face.

The Pontiac Fiero that goes into space (by having a cheap-looking rocket launcher attached) is the most ridiculous part of this movie’s dumb plot. But to the movie’s credit, “F9” even knows how stupid this space rocket car gimmick is, because Roman and Tej keep saying while they’re in outer space that they have no idea what they’re doing there. In real life, Roman and Tej would also be dead in space, based on the flimsy-looking spacesuits they wear in this movie. But when a movie is self-aware of how idiotic it is, it doesn’t make the idiocy any better.

There are many examples of how “F9” is wasteful, including how it squanders the great talent of Oscar-winning actresses Mirren and Theron. Mirren’s Queenie character (who is a jewel thief) literally does nothing in the movie but drive Dom somewhere after she’s committed a jewelry heist. The movie makes a point of showing how Queenie is wearing animal print boots underneath her elegant gown and high-priced jewelry. Mirren might as well have been wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m Just Here for the Paycheck.”

Theron spends most of her “F9” screen time as a prisoner in a glass cage, which is the type of cage that people have for large animals. And speaking of sexist depictions of women, the movie has a mansion party scene where only modelesque, scantily clad women wearing white are gathered on the front lawn, as if they’re only there to be sex objects on display. “F9” villain Otto is the host of the party, so “F9” filmmakers can shift the blame to the evil character being responsible for objectifying women. But it just comes across as director Lin deciding to objectify women in this scene just because he could.

Of course, Letty, Mia and Ramsey all embody what it means to be good and strong women. But make no mistake: The men are in charge in these movies. No matter how much Letty, Mia and Ramsey are given to do, all three women are ultimately under Dom’s leadership. So much for female empowerment.

“F9” is one of the worst of the “Fast” franchise because even the chief villain Otto is forgettable and badly written. He comes across as a spoiled wimp, with the wardrobe of a dorky playboy, including wearing tacky leisure suits with loafers and no socks. There’s absolutely nothing scary about Otto. However, look for Statham’s Shaw character to make a mid-credits cameo in “F9.” Statham’s appearance is a reminder of how much better this movie series is when it has a truly menacing villain.

As for Jakob, he’s all brawn and very little brain, just like many characters Cena tends to play in action movies. The flashback scenes take up a lot of time and some could easily have been cut out of the film and still made their point. Diesel continues to display wooden acting. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The movie’s flashbacks serve as the emotional core of the over-used theme in “Fast” movies: family.

And the return of Han doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie. The not-very-believable explanation for Han’s “return from the dead” is so cringeworthy, even actor Kang seems a little embarrassed to utter the lines. You’d have to believe that Han (who supposedly died in a car explosion) had a similar-looking replacement corpse nearby before the car exploded, and that he was not only able to jump out of the car in time but also put another corpse in the car instead. You’d also have to believe that a medical examiner wouldn’t be able to detect through DNA or dental records that Han’s body wasn’t the body that was found in the car.

With all that being said, die-hard fans won’t care how bad “F9” is because they just want to see fight scenes, car chases and explosions. And in that respect, “F9” does deliver, but not as well as previous “Fast” films that Lim directed. He also directed 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” 2009’s “Fast & Furious,” 2011’s “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6.” Those other four movies have something that “F9” severely lacks: a story with some genuine and unique surprises, not coasting entirely on past glories.

Universal Pictures released “F9” in U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021. The movie was released in various other countries, beginning on June 19, 2021.

Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort to include participation from Kelly Rowland, Terrence J, Regina Hall, DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin and more

April 8, 2020

Updated April 17, 2020

The following is a press release from BET:

BET announces an array of high impact initiatives to support communities of color impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Americans are being disproportionately harmed by the health and financial devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. BET, in partnership with the NAACP, United Way Worldwide, leaders in the African American creative, civil rights and business communities will provide critical financial, educational and community support directly to the African Americans hardest hit by this crisis.

These initiatives include the “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” broadcast special; the creation of a relief fund in partnership with United Way Worldwide to assist people of color most impacted by this health and financial crisis, and our support of the NAACP’s Town Hall Series.

For 40 years, BET has been rooted in a legacy of helping afflicted communities of color, raising $12 million for Katrina victims and millions more for Haiti earthquake victims.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BET will use their global platform to provide critical educational and financial resources directly related to the African American community.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is savagely compounding the profound health and financial vulnerabilities many Black Americans face. Every day, there are new reports of how this pandemic is killing African Americans at much higher rates than other communities.” said Scott Mills, President of BET.  “BET is using all of our resources – our capital, our media platforms, our relationships with the creative community, sponsors, businesses and charitable organizations to support our community in this time of crisis.”

The “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” broadcast special, will air on Wednesday, April 22nd at 8 pm EST. The special, co-hosted by Grammy Award-Winning singer and actress Kelly Rowland, TV personality Terrence J, and actress Regina Hall; will feature virtual appearances and musical performances from some of the biggest names in music and entertainment as they share tips on how to manage, cope and help during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Celebrity guest appearances and performances will include DJ Khaled, Charlie Wilson, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Fantasia, Melvin Crispell III, and many more. The special will give up-to-date information and drive viewers to needed resources during this unprecedented time.  In partnership with United Way, proceeds are being donated to African American communities severely impacted by COVID-19.

“Our goal for this special is to come together in a collective spirit of strength, community and hope. As we unite in harmony and compassion, through the collective healing power of music, comedy and entertainment, we can bring restoration and inspire the world that our brighter days are ahead,” said Connie Orlando, EVP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy at BET.

Connie Orlando, EVP Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy at BET  will serve as Executive Producer for the “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” broadcast special along with Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment.

To support these initiatives, BET has established a COVID-19 relief fund in partnership with United Way Worldwide to support African Americans that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  United Way, the largest private funder of human services in the U.S., has a presence in 95% of communities across the country, and has, for more than 130 years, mobilized the caring power of the community to advance the common good. United Way is unparalleled in its power to convene local partners, providers and resources to address the needs of vulnerable communities on the ground.

Financial donations from the joint fund will allow United Way to disburse resources to local organizations under United Ways in New York City, Atlanta, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago, regions that have been most impacted by this crisis.  There are long-term plans to expand these resources to other markets going forward.  In particular, United Way will be supporting families in crisis who are experiencing food insecurity and are in need of emergency assistance.

“United Way is deeply embedded in communities across our country, and our ‘local-ness’ means we know the needs on the ground and how to get the right kind of help to those who need it most,” said Stan Little, Chief Experience Officer of United Way. “We look forward to partnering with BET to bring much-needed relief and long-term recovery to already vulnerable communities that are being hit especially hard because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

BET is also providing resources and content on COVID-19 across multiple digital platforms including a four-part virtual town hall series in partnership with the NAACP.  On Wednesday, April 8, at 8 PM ET/ 5 PM PT, “Unmasked: A COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Series Powered by NAACP & BET” will stream on NAACP.org and focus on how the pandemic is affecting African Americans and what steps the community can take to build an action plan for positive change. The first town hall will focus on the health, emotional, economic toll, congressional response and how activists can apply pressure to ensure legislation is equitable. Additionally, BET.com is reporting daily on what the African American community needs to know about COVID-19, and how it is impacting our lives.

You can donate to the fund beginning Friday, April 10th.  More information on BET’s partnership with UWW and additional extensions of our relief efforts are forthcoming. For further details, please visit BET.com.

April 17, 2020 UPDATE

Anthony Anderson (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for VH1)

Today BET announces comedian and actor Anthony Anderson as the fourth host of the upcoming “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” special.  Anderson joins stars Kelly Rowland, Terrence J, and Regina Hall as host for the two-hour special broadcast. “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” is set to air on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 8 PM EST.

Performances include Alicia Keys with a special tribute to New York City, and a Gospel moment with Kirk Franklin featuring Fantasia, Jonathan McReynolds, Kelly Price, Tasha Cobbs, Le’Andria Johnson, and Melvin Crispell III.  Exclusive performances by John Legend, Usher, Jhene Aiko, Chloe X Halle, CeeLo Green, H.E.R., Ella Mai, Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, Swae Lee, Tyrese Gibson, Buju Banton, DJ D-Nice, SiR, D Smoke, and Charlie Wilson.

Additional celebrity guest appearances will include Tiffany Haddish, Idris Elba, Ciara, Don Cheadle, Mike Epps, Deon Cole, Angela Rye, Dr. Rheeda Walker, Charlamagne Tha God, Symone D. Sanders, DJ Khaled and Chance The Rapper.

Expanding the reach of the telecast, BET will simulcast the special across BET and BET Her domestically, as well as their channels internationally bringing awareness to over 90 million homes.  Additionally, BET will join forces with Bounce to help expand the audience to include free, over-the-air broadcast viewers with Bounce simulcasting “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort.”

About BET

BET, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS Inc. (NASDAQ: VIACA, VIAC), is the nation’s leading provider of quality entertainment, music, news, and public affairs television programming for the African-American audience. The primary BET channel is in 90 million households and can be seen in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, sub-Saharan Africa, and France. BET is the dominant African-American consumer brand with a diverse group of business extensions including BET.com, a leading Internet destination for Black entertainment, music, culture, and news; BET HER, a 24-hour entertainment network targeting the African-American Woman; BET Music Networks – BET Jams, BET Soul and BET Gospel; BET Home Entertainment; BET Live, BET’s growing festival business; BET Mobile, which provides ringtones, games and video content for wireless devices; and BET International, which operates BET around the globe.

About United Way

United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. Supported by 2.9 million volunteers, 9.8 million donors worldwide and $4.7 billion raised every year, United Way is the world’s largest privately funded nonprofit. We’re engaged in 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories worldwide to create sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our communities. United Way partners include global, national and local businesses, nonprofits, government, civic and faith-based organizations, along with educators, labor leaders, health providers, senior citizens, students and more. For more information about United Way, please visit UnitedWay.org. Follow us on Twitter: @UnitedWay and #LiveUnited.

About NAACP
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas at naacp.org.

Vin Diesel, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster attend grand opening of ‘Fast & Furious – Supercharged’ at Universal Orlando Resort

May 3, 2018

Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson at the grand opening of Fast & Furious Supercharged at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida on May 2, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)

The following is a press release from Universal Orlando Resort:

Last night, superstars from the Fast & Furious franchise – star and producer Vin Diesel (Dom), and stars Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tej), Tyrese Gibson (Roman) and Jordana Brewster (Mia) – celebrated the opening of Universal Orlando Resort’s new attraction, Fast & Furious – Supercharged.

Diesel joined some of his Fast & Furious series co-stars for a celebratory moment reminiscent of the Fast & Furious films – featuring high-speed car action and an amazing stunt in front of the attraction. The moment culminated with a countdown led by the franchise’s superstars and an explosive pyrotechnics display.

With a worldwide box-office of more than $5 billion, the Fast & Furious film franchise is one of the highest-grossing of all time and has become a global phenomenon that has captivated audiences from around the world with action-packed storylines, unique characters and high-speed cars. Now, in the immersive family attraction – Universal Orlando guests can step into the blockbuster franchise and straight into the heart of the Fast & Furious series right alongside some of their favorite members of the Fast & Furious crew – Dom, Letty, Hobbs, Tej, Roman and Mia – all played by the films’ stars.

During the experience, guests will:

  • join up with the Fast & Furious crew as they feel what it’s like to step into their favorite Fast & Furious film;
  • immerse themselves in an authentic re-creation of the Fast & Furiouscrew’s warehouse headquarters – filled with actual props, iconic scenes, authentic details and supercharged vehicles from the films;
  • ride with the family and crew as the film’s soundtracks pumps, vehicles flip, rockets fire – and the action builds; and –
  • check out more than a dozen of the supercharged cars from the films – including some driven by their favorite characters, like Dom’s classic muscle car, Roman’s super lux coupe and more.

Fast & Furious – Supercharged is now open at Universal Orlando. Guests can save up to $100 on a Universal Orlando Vacation Package and Florida Residents can take advantage of the limited-time Buy a Day, Get a 2nd Day Free offer to experience everything at Universal Orlando Resort, including Fast & Furious – Supercharged. To purchase these special ticket offers and for more information on Fast & Furious – Supercharged, visit www.UniversalOrlando.com/Fast.

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