Movies

The Rundown: ‘F9’ Star Dame Helen Mirren Only Does Cool Stuff Now

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Helen Mirren rules

What’s cool about Helen Mirren is that she looks and sounds almost exactly like you would imagine the Queen of England looks and sounds like if you were only loosely familiar with the monarchy, but she’s also awesome. Both of these things, which seem a little incongruous on paper, are pretty explainable. The first one, the royalty thing, is probably a combination of age and hair and posture and voice and the fact that she has literally played a queen about half a dozen times and the thing where uncultured Americans like me are susceptible to seeing all of those things and immediately becoming colonists again. It’s probably more on us than her. But still.

The other thing, the one where she’s awesome, is also explainable, although we can’t just wave it away as a result of appearance and 400 years of history. For that, we will need specific examples. Evidence, if you will, to make our case. And the good news here is that we have plenty of it because, for about five or so years now, at least, Helen Mirren has been doing some extremely cool stuff.

Start with the Fast & Furious movies. Helen Mirren — excuse me, Dame Helen Mirren, winner of an Academy Award for playing, you guessed it, the Queen, in a movie literally titled The Queen — straight-up openly campaigned to be in these movies. She more or less begged Vin Diesel through the press. And then she got her wish, landing the role of Jason Statham’s crime lord mother in the eighth movie and reprising it in the Hobbs & Shaw spinoff. Which was cool, for sure, but still not enough for Helen Mirren, because, dammit, Helen Mirren didn’t want to be in these movies as window dressing to class-up the joint. Helen Mirren wanted to drive. Fast. Possibly even furiously.

Which brings us to the ninth movie. And, specifically, to this scene, which was highlighted in the second official trailer.

Universal

Hell yes. Helen Mirren is playing Jason Statham’s street racing mother in a franchise that started with Vin Diesel stealing DVD players and now features Ludacris and Tyrese going to space on behalf of the United States government in what appears to be a homemade NoS-powered spaceship. I challenge you to find a single flaw anywhere in that sentence.

And Helen Mirren is not just an action star now, either. She’s also lending her well-earned gravitas and status to one of our silliest comedies, Documentary Now. I hope you are familiar with Documentary Now, both because it is a terrific show and because trying to explain it from a blank start is difficult. I’ll try. Documentary Now is an IFC series produced by Bill Hader and Fred Armisen in which they kind of do parodies of famous documentaries. My favorite example of these is “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken,” a season two episode that adds goofs to the general idea of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s so good. It’s on Netflix. It’s 30 minutes long. Go watch it.

Anyway, Helen Mirren. The premise of the show is that Documentary Now — a fake show within the real show — is a real program that has been making real documentaries for over 50 seasons and this series is just a selection of some of the best. And to sell all of this to a degree that is just wonderful on a few levels, each one is introduced by, you guessed it, Helen Mirren in the opening moments of the episode. And she is deadly serious in these openings, as she explained to Variety.

Though the “Documentary Now!” titles and scripts are aligned with the show’s satirical tone, Mirren must pretend to be unfazed when she reads each line from the teleprompter live for the first time. She doesn’t see them beforehand — she likes to be surprised.

“You just have to put to one side that this is anything to do with comedy — this is nothing to do with comedy,” Mirren said. “This is very, very serious, and I have to think that I’m presenting an absolutely, profoundly serious documentary and treat it with that sort of respect and seriousness that I would if that was what I was presenting.”

So there’s that. Which is great. But there’s also this: Helen Mirren just started narrating a nature show on ABC called When Nature Calls With Helen Mirren. It is silly and informative and airs directly before America’s Finest Television Program, Holey Moley. That would be enough to warrant the discussion in this section about her doing awesome stuff. It gets better, though. As part of the promotional tour for the show, she appeared on The Tonight Show, and did two notable things:

  • Showed a home video of her attempting to shoo off an actual black bear by shouting “naughty bear”
  • Zoomed into the show from her damn bathtub

Remarkable. Look.

It’s the best. Helen Mirren is the best. It’s not always easy for actors and actresses — especially actresses — to land quality roles as they advance in age. Hollywood tends to spit people out quickly. But Helen Mirren appears to have made a decision a few years ago that she’s only doing cool stuff that seems fun and she ended up bending parts of Hollywood to her whims. I respect it so much. Helen Mirren is the greatest.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — This is either the worst or best idea I’ve ever seen

This is the trailer for a new Netflix dating show called Sexy Beasts. It is maybe, and I mean this with all the love and affection I can possibly muster, the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Please, if you have not watched it all the way through, take a moment and do that now. Witness dating show perfection. Ignore the fact that the basic premise of this has already been done, at least once, most notably by the show Love Is Blind, because Love Is Blind did not, at any point, to my knowledge, feature anything on the level of a man in a full-on beaver mask listing his priorities in a potential mate thusly:

Netflix

The harsh truth here is that I doubt I will ever watch a full episode of this show. I’ve already extracted everything from it I could possibly ask for, just here, just from this teaser. Anything beyond this feels like a case of rapidly diminishing returns. But I could be wrong. Lord knows I have been wrong before. Many times. Loud and in public. This is pretty good, though. I’m happy for everyone involved. I hope a couple from this show hits it off and gets married and has a slew of kids and grandkids, and I hope to be watching when one of those kids or grandkids asks them how they met. Eavesdropping at minimum.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — It’s good to see Conan going out with a bang

Conan is the best and has been for a long time. Take a spin through YouTube and run through the highlights. Look around and see his fingerprints on the world of comedy in 2021. He’s influenced an entire generation of people who are now influencing the next generation of people. He’s the Letterman of people who were a little too young for Letterman, and he’s forging a similar career path by moving onto something else once he felt he’d done the late-night thing. His final episode on TBS aired this week and now he’s moving to a whole new thing on HBO Max. I’m excited to see what he does next.

But before he does any of that, he’s taking a much-deserved victory lap. There’s that clip up there with human charisma bomb Paul Rudd showing up in a tuxedo and pulling the same Mac and Me ruse he’s pulled dozens of times. There’s this clip of Conan smoking weed with Seth Rogen on-air and, yes, please do imagine explaining the concept of any of this to a person watching the earliest iterations of his show.

It’s all pretty great. Conan has somehow had both a triumphant and sympathetic run over the years, with high-profile successes and failures playing out extremely in public. His influence is everywhere, first as a writer on The Simpsons and SNL, then as a goofball talk show host, then as someone who hooked into his fandom and the internet to make something new. And he’s not done. I kind of hope he does it forever.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Why did it take so long for us to cast Regina King in a Western?

This is the trailer for an upcoming Netflix movie titled The Harder They Fall. It looks incredibly dope in a lot of ways, as you can tell by watching it or by reading the description and names of all the cool people in it.

When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge. Those riding with him in this assured, righteously new school Western include his former love Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), his right and left hand men — hot-tempered Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and fast drawing Jim Beckwourth (R.J. Cyler)—and a surprising adversary-turned-ally. Rufus Buck has his own fearsome crew, including “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), and they are not a group that knows how to lose.

My only complaint here, to the extent I have one, is that it took us all until 2021 to cast Regina King in a Western. What have we all been doing? Why didn’t we get on this earlier? Regina King is great in everything. She’ll obviously be great in a Western. And I say this as someone who doesn’t even like Westerns that much. Deadwood, Tombstone, I mean, it’s a short list for me. And I’m still stoked. I was stoked at “Idris Elba and Regina King in cowboy hats,” regardless of context. They could have been having lunch al fresco in cowboy hats — not even for a movie, just to chat and eat Caesar salads — and I would have been thrilled. This is even better than that.

I do have one request, though: I’m going to need her to drop at least one emmeffer in here. I’ve said this before, many times, but Regina King is one of her generation’s great cussers, especially when it comes to tossing around an MF or two. Need proof? Won’t just take me at my word? Fine, consider this: This is just a screencap of her saying it, without audio, and it’s already hundreds of percent more convincing than anything you or I could pull off in our angriest and most passionate moment.

HBO

Let Regina King cuss. In a cowboy hat. Just once. Or many times. Preferably many times. For me. Thank you.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Let’s check in with Vin Diesel on the F9 press tou-…. oh, yes

UNIVERSAL

I have terrific news: The F9 press tour is still taking place. We talked about it last week when Vin Diesel discussed his plans to release an entire album of original music, but we are going to talk about it this week, too, and every week for all of time if, Lord willing, the cast and crew continue doing interviews to support it. That would be fun, if it’s like November and the movie has been out for five months and Vin Diesel is still popping up on magazine covers to give incredible quotes to lucky journalists. Quotes, for example, like the ones in this blockquote, taken from a profile in Men’s Health.

“It was a tough character to embody, the Hobbs character,” Diesel says. “My approach at the time was a lot of tough love to assist in getting that performance where it needed to be. As a producer to say, Okay, we’re going to take Dwayne Johnson, who’s associated with wrestling, and we’re going to force this cinematic world, audience members, to regard his character as someone that they don’t know—Hobbs hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s something that I’m proud of, that aesthetic. That took a lot of work. We had to get there and sometimes, at that time, I could give a lot of tough love. Not Felliniesque, but I would do anything I’d have to do in order to get performances in anything I’m producing.”

First of all, I love it. Everything about it. I love that Vin Diesel talks about these movies like they’re fine cinema. I love that he’s saying this about a character —Hobbs, the government agent played by The Rock who travels to Brazil to hunt them down — who wears what appears to be child’s medium Under Armor shirts at all times in defiance of physics or biology. I love that Vin Diesel says the word “Felliniesque” and now I need to hear him say it in his gravel-coated voice.

But please do me a favor: Close your eyes right now, maybe put on some white noise really loud so it’s just you and your thoughts, and get a clear mental image of The Rock’s face as he read those words. I’ve been doing this all week and it’s sustained me to a degree that I’ve barely needed to eat food.

And it gets better. Vin appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show this week, too. Here, look:

What we have here is Vin talking about the casting of John Cena as his secret brother, which is already an amazing collection of words. But let’s really highlight the magic here. Let’s look at these words in their printed form.

“Obviously I’m multicultural. You could’ve cast anybody to be my brother. For two months before I went into filming, I created a shrine where I could do all the combat training, all the stunts and I had the Charger there to simulate the garage to get into the Dom state of mind.”

I need, more than anything else in the world, to see this Dom Shrine, possibly as a DVD extra for F9, possibly via a guided tour by Vin himself. I need this for a bunch of reasons but, mostly, I need it because it appears to be a magical place.

“[Cena] comes into the shrine one morning, and I had this strange feeling…that Paul Walker had sent him.”

Perfect. It’s a perfect movie franchise. None of you can take this away from me. I’m so happy I might float off into the clouds in a homemade NoS-powered spaceship.

ITEM NUMBER SIX — Your periodic reminder to watch everything with the captions on

Disney+

Luca was a fun and sweet movie with a nice message. These bastards at Pixar made me get all misty again. Their batting average is almost too good with that, like in a way that’s bordering on suspicious. Like they’ve unlocked a cheat code somehow. Or they’re using subliminal messages. Either that or I am just an emotional basketcase with these kinds of movies, which can’t be true because I am a big strong man.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that, at multiple moments in the film, a caption like this would pop up on the screen and delight me to no end. Always watch movies and television shows with the captions on. There’s gold in there if you dig a little. I love to exclaim in Italian.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Bill:

I just wanted to thank you for recommending Mythic Quest. It’s become the show my wife and I watch together on Friday nights to unwind after the week. It’s a great strategy most weeks, except for this week when the show left me emotionally spent and on the verge of tears in the final scene where Poppy sings to Ian. There should be a warning for that stuff like there is for violence and language. I need to prepare myself, man!

This email is all true, from beginning to end. I too got a little choked up at the end. Although, to be fair, they did shoot an arrow straight into my soul with the song selection…

APPLE
APPLE
APPLE

If you can watch someone sing “Rainbow Connection” to a scared friend in a hospital bed without feeling things, you need to evaluate huge parts of your life. That sucker got me really good. This makes two sections in this week’s column where I’ve discussed sweet shows or movies that made me cry in the last week. And in two others, I discussed the Fast & Furious franchise. This is, more or less, everything I am about boiled down to a sticky and concentrated paste. I feel okay about it.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To California!

As Touchstone Pistachio Company ran through its routine audit earlier this month, something wasn’t adding up.

More than 42,000 pounds of pistachios had vanished.

21 TON NUT HEIST???

The company soon enlisted the sheriff’s office in Tulare County, Calif., for help and on Saturday, law enforcement officials said they had found the missing nuts and arrested the thief. Police said Alberto Montemayor, 34, was hiding the pistachios in a tractor trailer parked in a nearby parking lot and then repackaging them to sell.

21 TON NUT HEIST!

The case is just the latest heist of pistachio nuts in Central California, where the nuts were a $5.2 billion economic engine tied to more than 47,000 jobs last year, according to studies commissioned by the industry. Last August, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 23-year-old man and accused him of stealing two trucks full of pistachios valued at $294,000.

STRING OF NUT HEISTS!

Heists skyrocketed between 2014 and 2017, resulting in the loss of more than $7.6 million worth of nuts, according to CargoNet, a company that tracks truck thefts. But during the past few years, thefts have declined as the farm industry has become savvy to the schemes and larger growers have adopted new policies, such as taking photos and thumbprints from drivers, according to Capital Press.

So, three things here:

  • It is deeply, deeply hilarious to me that there have been so many nut heists that truck drivers are out here using fingerprint scanners like they’re carrying top-level military technology
  • It’s fun to imagine a world where the first Fast & Furious movie was about them stealing many tons of pistachios instead of DVD players
  • I cannot get over how satisfying it was to type NUT HEIST in all-caps like that

I need to see a movie about a nut heist task force and I need it to star Regina King in a cowboy hat. I do not think this is an unreasonable ask. I will show up on set and give notes if it will help.

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