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    How 'Fate of the Furious' gave F. Gary Gray the highest grossing opening by an African American director

    With the $532.5 million global opening of "The Fate of the Furious," F. Gary Gray broke the record for the highest grossing opening ever by an African American director. (Ron Eshel / Invision / Associated Press)
    With the $532.5 million global opening of "The Fate of the Furious," F. Gary Gray broke the record for the highest grossing opening ever by an African American director. (Ron Eshel / Invision / Associated Press)

    “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth installment in Universal’s “Fast & Furious” series, sped to more than $100 million domestically and $532.5 million internationally — notching the biggest global opening of all time — thanks to its muscular star power, fast cars, furious action and the kind of over-the-top spectacle usually reserved for summer blockbuster season.

    But the record-breaking franchise, built on physics-defying stunts and fervent fan loyalty across the globe, is also fueled by the one not-so-secret idea more potent than a well-timed blast of nitrous oxide: family.

    The recurring motif gets a workout in “Fate of the Furious,” the first sequel without the late Paul Walker, whose character was last seen driving off into the sunset — some might say toward heaven — in 2015’s emotional “Furious 7.”

    “As the films have grown and the world’s gotten smaller and we’ve gotten more global in scope, the [characters’] definition of family has widened a lot,” said series screenwriter and producer Chris Morgan, who scripted the last six “Fast & Furious” films.

    In the first film, 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” the word “family” was sparsely spoken in a story focused on the brooding bromance between gearhead criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker).

    As the sequels charged on, new members joined the cast (Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Sung Kang in “Tokyo Drift,” Gal Gadot in “Fast & Furious,” Dwayne Johnson and Elsa Pataky in “Fast Five,” Nathalie Emmanuel in “Furious 7”) and original members came back (Michelle Rodriguez in “Fast & Furious 6”).

    “Fate of the Furious,” directed by “Straight Outta Compton’s” F. Gary Gray, leans further into the “family” theme by making it a plot point and adding Helen Mirren as Magdalene Shaw, mother of the brothers (played by Jason Statham and Luke Evans) who’ve been battling Dom’s crew since the final moments of “Fast 6.” . . .

    Rodriguez sees another reason the loyal “Fast & Furious” fandom has grown exponentially as the franchise’s episodic story arc has taken its heroes global, from racing the streets of Los Angeles a quarter mile at a time to saving the world from nuclear annihilation on the icy plains of Russia: diversity.

    “There’s a void in the market,” said Rodriguez, pointing to Hollywood’s market-dominating presence worldwide. “When you have that kind of penetration but everybody who’s leading your movie on the big screen is white, a lot of people don’t feel included. Don’t you think they’re going to buy more tickets to those movies where they do feel included?”

    The series is not only known for its multiethnic cast, but for the diversity of its directors, starting with John Singleton taking charge in “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Justin Lin steered four chapters in the series through “Fast & Furious 6,” James Wan took on “Furious 7” and with “Fate” Gray has broken the record for the highest grossing opening ever by an African American director.

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