Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 

Released: May 5, 2017. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be as fun and original as its predecessor.

It feels fresh as it sets itself apart even in its opening action sequence as a space beast tries to take batteries the Guardians are protecting.

These batteries are a power source for the Sovereign, a race that’s hired the Guardians to kill the beast and in exchange they’ll release a thief to them: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

We get a different perspective as Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight the behemoth in the background and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) does a dance to “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground. It’s creative as we watch his antics and it’s like a great opening act before the main event.

After they complete the job, Rocket steals the batteries and naturally, they want them back. The leader of the golden conceited douchebags, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki) pursues the Guardians. Our heroes are helped from the situation by Ego (Kurt Russell), who ends up being Quill’s father and we learn about Peter’s familial lineage.

We learn the source of Peter’s charm and slight arrogance from Ego. He’s portrayed well by Russell, and the character takes superiority and egotism to the max – his name is literally Ego. Pratt plays Quill so well and has the charm for the role and gets some really good laughs. It’s intriguing learning about his background and their relationship is one of the many interesting dynamics and a focus of the film, and Pratt and Russell carry it well.

The narrative is fast-paced but it’s more complex than the first film’s simplistic story. It gets unfocused on the road to the end, but it finds its way back on track. It’s still a really entertaining story, and the same zany sense of humour and creativity in writing shine through. The characters themselves drive the action-packed space opera.

The dynamics between characters work well, especially as we learn more about the sister rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Saldana and Karen Gillan play their respective characters well and are both kickass, and Nebula is a stronger character this go around. Gamora doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this sequel – at least compared to the first film.

Guardians

The Guardians of the Galaxy. (Source)

Rocket gets slightly serious as we understand him more, and his chemistry with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is good. Yondu has a bigger role and he’s a pleasant surprise as he becomes integral to the story. It’s delightful learning about his backstory, and he’s a memorable part of many scenes.

Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax, though his growth as a character is stalled – most of his backstory was handled in the first movie, so we don’t go much further into his development and he’s mostly a source of humour here. He ribs on new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) a lot, and they’re fun together. She’s a good addition and the make-up is great considering she’s lovely outside the character. Drax points out multiple times Mantis is only beautiful on the inside.

Baby Groot is also great. He’s adorable and a joy whenever he’s on-screen. They’re able to create such a different character with the baby version since he’s aggressive instead of his calm, adult version of himself. This Groot is always up for a fight. Vin Diesel does the inflexions of “I am Groot” so well that it’s believable when Rocket translates for us.

I love that the characters are fractured in some way emotionally with their pasts, and it’s nice that they get through it together. The group’s closeness and how they create their own family makes the film surprisingly moving. The family dynamic enriches the chemistry, and it’s just so endearing because they’re all so different.

I just love the relationships director James Gunn and the cast bring to life. Gunn is such a good fit for the franchise and his comedy flows through the story well. This has so much heart and all the characters have a chance to shine, and it all leads up to a visually dazzling finale.

Plus, the soundtrack is great. I hadn’t heard a lot of the songs before the film – my favourite has to be Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack basically on repeat since seeing this. You probably will, too.

Score: 80/100

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: August 1, 2014. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel. Runtime: 2hr., 1 min.

If a time traveller had told me that the writer of Scooby-Doo, James Gunn, would co-write and direct one 2014’s most enjoyable films, I would be hesitant to believe them.

But with co-writer Nicole Perlman, he does so with Guardians of the Galaxy. And it hits a perfect strike in every aspect. The Marvel comic book films’ humour fits this film like a glove.

Its laugh-out-loud funny consistency suits the film’s easy-going tone. The humour is clever and often literal. The simplistic story follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), subject of a manhunt after he finds a powerful orb. The orb has caught the eye of Ronan the Accuser (a strong Lee Pace), who is to deliver it to the powerful Thanos.

Ronan, a Kree who takes the beliefs of his people very seriously, has been pillaging planets motivated after his people signed a Peace treaty with the planet Xandar. Djimon Hounsou portrays one of Ronan’s henchmen. His villainous side is fun to watch.

Also on Peter’s tail is Yondu, portrayed by The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker, leader of the Ravagers and the man who abducted Peter 26 years ago. His deadly power allows him to control a tiny spear with varying whistles.

Even with the two crews are after him, the film doesn’t feel over-crowded with multiple antagonists. Impressively, this introductory film has great pacing. The characters fit superbly into the Marvel universe, in between the characters of the Avengers group.

I prefer this crew over them, which surprises me because I don’t usually favour these space movies. Peter Quill is a great character and an outlaw who calls himself Star Lord. He’s an average hero with cool gadgets and a great sense of humour.

Chris Pratt brings his charisma and training to the role, after losing sixty pounds to take on the role. There is a familiar character arc with Quill where he has a letter and gift from his late mother that he doesn’t open. Though, he does like music from the 1970’s and 80’s, which enables this to be my favourite soundtrack from 2014.

Gamora, Zoe Saldana, is like a living weapon who works for Ronan. She is also the adopted daughter of Thanos, and her sister, the villainous Nebula, portrayed by Karen Gillan, is badass in her own right.

Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper who only vaguely sounds like himself, is a bounty hunter driven by money. The character is given poignancy through the fact that he is the only one of his kind – half-machine, half-raccoon, the result of an illegal experiment.

Vin Diesel portrays Raccoon’s best buddy Groot. “I am Groot” is a phrase he regularly says in varying volumes and emotions, actually recording the phrase about one thousand times. Groot is among a species of walking trees who could have just come out of Middle Earth. The quiet character is surprisingly funny. Rocket is like a translator of Groot’s tones. Diesel is just as effective as he was when he voiced the titular Iron Giant back in 1999, also a character of few words.

The final piece of the group is Drax the Destroyer, a great Dave Bautista, who is driven by vengeance for his wife and daughter. Ronan killed them. Money is the group’s main drive, but Groot seems like he’s just along for the ride. Their drives make them relatable, and they work so well because they’re an unlikely cast of characters.

The make-up specialists, in special effects and in general, outdo themselves, especially with Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace and Karen Gillan. The story’s heart in such a compelling and easy-going film is just astounding. Due to the film’s great visuals, top-notch writing and its ability to surprise its audience, it just has to be seen.

Score100/100

American Hustle (2013)

Am hustleReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: David O. Russell. Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Runtime: 138 min.

With “American Hustle,” David O. Russell creates a heavily stylish look at the lives of con men and an FBI agent trying to reduce corruption in late 1970’s New Jersey; but ridding the city of corruption might not be so easy when one is working so closely with con men. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his seductive mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) make their living by selling fake reproductions of great art, and getting checks from people who give them a deposit of $5, 000 who think they will receive $50, 000 in return because Sydney creates an alias (Lady Edith Greensley) where she has connections to British banking.

When the pair gets caught by the Feds, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) says they will get out of it if they help him bring down some powerful people in the government in New Jersey, such as Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The powerful folk can be tempted by the funding to rebuild Atlantic City. The con artists are led into this world of powerbrokers and mafia that is dangerous, but enchanting. One of the only people who can jeopardize the whole operation is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who doesn’t appreciate her husband having a so-called whore on the side.

This world of powerbrokers and mafia is only enchanting to me because of the style and the cast. Director Russell creates quite the vision with the help of cool hairstyles (maybe not Irving’s combover), tans and cleavage. Russell is a great director, but I do like his last outing “Silver Linings Playbook” a lot better than this. The cast helps keep audience members interested because they’re great screen presences. The plot itself is slowly-paced some of the time, where I just thought it would be a good place to get to the point and bust these baddies already. But no, Richie keeps wanting more people to take down. For some of it, the actors on-screen are some of the only aspects that keep this from being a snoozefest. The  character developments are interesting, and I like how unpredictable working with career liars can be.

I like the tension between Irving and Richie; it gets created by Richie putting moves on Sydney, who Richie thinks is actually named Edith – her alias. Richie is a bit of a crazy character, who gets in over his head a bit often, and his behaviour might just be better suited for a film like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Bradley Cooper is showing more and more versatility with each role, so that’s really great. He’s worthy of the Academy award nomination with this performance, but this isn’t winning material. The only other character who might be crazier than him is Irving’s wife Rosalyn. Jennifer Lawrence fits this character because she makes a lot of different kind-of character choices, so the two unpredictable personalities fit. Lawrence is funny as the character, when she consistently starts fires – but more than a bit odd for me when she’s talking about how the best nail polish smells great but has a hint of a garbage smell.

The character dynamic between Irving and Rosalyn is interesting because she doesn’t want to divorce him because no one in her family has been divorced before, and Irving doesn’t want to divorce her because he adopted her son. I think Rosalyn’s reasoning is a bit more immature, so she should just take her gross-smelling nail polish and hop on someone else’s dingaling; because they’d both be happier. Irving is trapped in this situation, especially when Sydney would just much rather have him all to herself and get Rosalyn out of the picture entirely.

Amy Adams is just great as her character, one who is caught so in the lies that she seems to get lost in her character of Edith; and she gets to sport a great British accent, so that’s fun. I think her true motivations are love, freedom and money. She’s the eye candy for Richie, and there’s so much tension in her and Irving’s relationship because of that. Christian Bale is also great as his character, one who seems honest to his friends and seems like a kind-enough con man. So as you can see, this cast is pretty great. A comment on the only main cast member who didn’t receive an Oscar nomination: Jeremy Renner’s character is easily the most noble of them all, because whatever he does is either for his family or New Jersey.

There seems to be an ongoing theme of how everybody has to cheat and lie alittle to get their way. There’s also an interesting theme of reinvention. These characters get so into the role they’re playing that they seem like they might eventually lose sight of themselves. Maybe they like the role they’re playing more than they like their actual self. If you think about it, actors aren’t so different from these con men.

Of course, actors actually make an honest wage while playing a role – but they reinvent themselves to make others believe the role. That’s what I think great acting is, where you, as the audience member, simply believes the actor is the character they’re playing. That’s why I don’t really like reading all those tabloid magazines and gossip about the actor, so I can more easily believe that they’re really character they’re playing. (I also don’t read them because I don’t think they’re interesting at all.)

I think method acting really utilizes that, when even the actor changes their appearance to fit the character – that’s why I like Christian Bale a lot. He goes through the craziest transformations, like when he was as skinny as a pterodactyl in “The Machinist” and then bulked back up for “Batman Begins.” Now he has a big belly and a combover for this film. I really appreciate when people go so far for their art – as long as they don’t do it too dangerously, because then they might not be around to make enjoyable films much longer.

Score: 77/100

December 20-22 Box Office Predictions

American Hustle“American Hustle” looks like it will be a great movie, and it has a dynamite cast – it features Bradley Cooper sporting a perm, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. It’s the new film from David O.Russell about con artists. Films similar to this open at $13.97 million; and this opened to $740 thousand at six theatres. So, to say this has quite a bit of anticipation behind it is a bit of an understatement! It’s coming to 2507 theatres this weekend, and I think it will do well because adults don’t have many films out right now directly for them. They could also wait for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” My prediction is $19.6 million.

Anchorman 2“Anchorman: The Legend Continues” looks freaking awesome! (And it was, expect a review soon!) I’ve been excited for it all year and I was very pleased to find out it’s coming out tomorrow now instead of Friday! I loved the humour of the first and I’m sure I’ll love this. Films similar to this open to an average $31.14 million. Since the first film has established itself as a comedy classic, I’m sure this will do very well over this five-day frame. “The Hangover Part III” mustered $42.6 million in its three-day opening and something like $62 million in its five-day frame, to give you an idea of how comedies over five days do. And even though that was a bad movie, it did well at least in its opening. Sequels nine years apart is never a great thing, but for this it might work out okay – because people love their Will Ferrell and this character. I’m one of those people. The first film opened at $28.4 million, and I think this do near $40 million in a normal three-day weekend, and $54 million in its five-day frame, because even though the opening date was changed to December 18 three weeks ago, I didn’t realize it until today – and I wonder if I’m not alone on that.

Saving Mr. Banks“Saving Mr. Banks” looks like a very moving live-action Disney flick. It looks like an entertaining biography film, and it will really appeal to fans of “Mary Poppins.” It’s a family film that has a lot of competition with “Frozen” as well as the “Walking with Dinosaurs” film also coming out this weekend. My prediction for this is $15.4 million.

Walking with Dinosaurs“Walking with Dinosaurs” is the only movie being released this weekend I’m really not interested in seeing. It looks like an incredibly lame 3D sort-of cinematic event for the kiddies. I think the kids will want their parents to take them to this. Dinosaurs are awesome, but this looks boring. Films similar to this open at $25.13 million. “Jurassic Park 3D” opened to $18.62 earlier this year. I think since it is going to 3200 theatres or so this weekend, it will do around those numbers. My prediction is $18 million.

What are you most excited about seeing this weekend? Or are you just going to wait for all of those movies being released on Christmas day?

Limitless (2011)

LimitlessReleased: March 18, 2011Director: Neil BurgerStars: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie CornishRuntime: 105 min.

A writer (Eddie Morra) discovers a top-secret drug which bestows him with super human abilities.

Limitless has an awesome premise and a cool and thrilling  atmosphere. It’s crime-filled, it’s intelligent, and it it’s never boring. It drags in areas, though, and the political part of it all is underwhelming. There are antagonists coming out the ying-yang; but it’s so awesome that, even for a 14A movie, some of the parts are terrifying and rather realistic. The characters feel under-developed, but one could understand Eddie’s motivations. The drug’s side effects are slightly crazy, and it puts a target on your head, but holy crap… I want some of those pills. I could do so much with them! That’s how the audience can comprehend Morra’s motivations so easily, he doesn’t want to be seen as a waste any more, he wishes to reach his full potential and get his life back in order.

This is a cool sci-fi thriller with some awesome cinematography and style. It’s fun and original. It’ll keep you guessing the whole way through.

Score78/100

The Hangover Part III (2013)

The Hangover 3

Release Date: May 23, 2013

Director: Todd Phillips

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis

Runtime: 100 min

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms star in an original tale of bad decisions and mayhem. The movie I’m talking about is 2009’s The Hangover. The first sequel has a severe case of sequelitis (exact same thing as the first). We now arrive at The Hangover Part III, a movie that suffers from a far more common and simple occurrence: bad movie syndrome.

The movie opens at the prison where Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is now escaping, under the cover of a prison riot. He crawls in the sewer, but comes out clean on the other side. It then changes tone to follow the wolfpack. After the death of Alan’s father, the wolfpack take Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a mental hospital to get his problems sorted out. On the way there, they are assaulted and Doug is kidnapped (again). They must find Leslie Chow and bring him to Marshall, Doug’s kidnapper, in order to save Doug.

This isn’t able to cut ties to the original or the first sequel. The plot afoot, where Marshall (John Goodman) kidnaps Doug (Justin Bartha), in consequence to what Chow did in the first. They go to Las Vegas, again. There’s a trade-off in the desert, again. The filmmakers don’t keep some of the best components: Stu singing a song, Mike Tyson, good comedy, and worst of all, a hangover. These guys are never drunk during the movie! Frankly, these sober guys aren’t so fun to watch. Todd Phillips is so terrified of making the same movie three times; he changes the overall tone. Viewers who are expecting to cry from laughter will be sorely disappointed. It has some funny scenes, because you might laugh at Alan being his idiotic self; but most of the content is so dark, it can’t be considered funny.

Doug (Justin Bartha) has always been a secondary presence, since this Princess Peach-esque character is kidnapped so much. Black Doug (Mike Epps), honorary wolfpack member, has always been the better Doug. He is a star of one of the only hilarious scenes in the entire movie. The other humour suddenly becomes tired because we’ve seen it in the trailers already. One joke that becomes exhausting is when Alan pretends to give someone a high five, but it’s a sike-out and he grooms his hair instead. It’s a little funny the first time; and since it’s not so funny the second time, it sure as hell won’t be funny the third freaking time. Stu (Ed Helms) is relied on to make gagging noises at disgusting parts. The only characters that have should-be funny dialogue are Alan (of course), Chow and Black Doug.

The problem is, both Alan and Chow become more and more irritating as the movie progresses. Alan is more moronic than ever, and Chow is more sociopathic than ever. The hilarious content is limited. The fact that thinking of a truly funny scene in a comedy movie, especially one of The Hangover franchise, is a huge issue. This one is memorable for all the wrong reasons. The first produces a laugh-a-minute, almost, but here you’ll be lucky to laugh every ten. This is truly the most bizarre out of the three; and the plotting is ludicrous, even if if there is an evident plot.

The humour is mean-spirited and, often enough, downright despicable. These sociopathic and passive-aggressive characters only seem to care about retrieving Doug. Alan, an overweight toddler with an awesome beard, has a bit of a heart because he begins to realize his actions have a very negative outcome, and he tries to fix it. Phil is still the calm and collected one, but he’s generally unfunny, here. This will be remembered as that one movie that broke Bradley Cooper’s hot streak.

Do you want to know some really despicable and enfuriating humour at play here? (I’ll tell you anyway.) In the trailer, Alan’s car goes under a low bridge, but the giraffe doesn’t. Todd Phillips shows the giraffe’s severed head crashing into a windshield. At a later moment, Phil says, “I think it’s kinda funny. It’s a giraffe, who the f*ck cares?” Of course this is all for shock, but Phillips is definitely receiving angry calls from PETA this weekend.

This has a few forgettable laughs, but its dark tone makes this memorable for the wrong reason. This really should be excellent, because the trailers make this look promising. Optimistic fans of the franchise will not find a bigger disappointment this summer season. If you are disappointed, don’t make the same mistake I did by walking out of the theatre right when the end credits start to roll. Apparently, there’s a hilarious scene part-way through the credits. This movie is like a cruel, sad little man with a cold, sociopathic heart. The filmmakers give making a good movie the old college try; but giving something ‘the old college try’ shouldn’t mean it will feel like it’s written by mentally disturbed college students.

25/100

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

Release Date: March 29, 2013

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Runtime: 140 min

When one thinks of an epic, they might think Titanic, Braveheart or maybe Avatar. Even though this doesn’t have huge sinking boats, large wars or stunning visual effects; this truly deserves to be called an epic.

Derek Cianfrance (of Blue Valentine fame) brings us an small-town epic called The Place Beyond the Pines; a thought-provoking and realistic tale of generational feuds, fathers and sons, and corruption. It’s set in the small town of Schenectady, New York, that follows two families over a period of fifteen years. It’s essentially a trilogy of tales, going from chapter to chapter.

Glanton is a stunt motorcycle rider who, after finding out he has a son named Jason, begins to rob banks as a way to provide for his son and his lover, Romina (Eva Mendes). He does with the assistance of his employer, an auto repair shop owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), and his superior motorcycle riding skills. His motivation for this is easy to understand as he wants to provide his son and he sees this as the best way fit. He’s a guy who has his priorities in order, even if it implies reckless behaviour and breaking the law time and time again.

Cross’s motivations are harder to comprehend. He’s an ambitious young cop who wants to make his way up in the police force in as little time as possible, as he’s following in his father’s footsteps. The corruption of the police force itself poses enticing decisions for the young rookie.

The strong third act is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but there are a few things that can be said. It’s admirably carried by young, up and coming stars Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cohen plays a character that is an irritating kind-of Eminem-esque wannabe  but he is portrayed adequately and his character is essential to the film.

The third tale explores the idea of legacies and how one split-second decision can send incidental shockwaves through generations. It also explores fatherly influences in a beautiful way; which is a theme that is also highlighted with Glanton and Cross, where Cross has a father figure, and Glanton is the opposite. Corruption and personal gain is best explored in the middle act involving Bradley Cooper’s haunted character. Finally, the bond between fathers and sons and the lengths they’d go to in order to protect their young is very well explored. One of the most prominent themes is, though, is there are (usually) consequences for your actions, admirably said in the movie’s most memorable quote, “If you ride like lightning; you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

The epic crime drama shifts focus a lot, and since it is a trilogy of intertwining stories, it really feels like it could end at any point. In this way, it might work better as a book – but the narrative feels fresh. It’s still one of the lengthy film’s main faults, that the film feels like it’s just coming around the bend to its climax. Thankfully, the ambiguous and hopeful ending at the place beyond the pines is more than pleasing. Some of the characters’ motivations can be also hard to comprehend, but despite the movie’s faults, it’s engaging and it packs a mighty, emotional one-two punch.

The large and talented cast carries the movie extremely well. Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan (Am I the only one who thinks he’ll, at least, be an Oscar nominee someday?), Bruce Greenwood and Emory Cohen are among the cast, and they help carry the film and they make one heck of an ensemble. The tatted-up Gosling is by far the best of them all. The movie’s at its most booming and usually the most intense when he’s on-screen. He is most deserving of an Oscar nomination, and his powerful performance will remain one of the year’s most memorable. His character is as great and as mysterious as The Driver in Drive, and his performance is as good, if not better; he better not be overlooked by the Academy this time around. Even when he isn’t on-screen, his impact and legacy is felt. Other than Cooper and Gosling, DeHaan and Mendelsohn are the most notable. The score is also very memorable; with Mike Patton’s “The Snow Angel” playing in the background of some of the movie’s strongest and most emotionally sweeping scenes. Who woulda thunk one tune could be so haunting, but filled with such poignancy?

Gosling’s tale is by the far the strongest act of the three, Cooper’s sandwiched between in terms of quality, and DeHaan’s is the weakest, but saved by a fantastic ending. With an epic and beautiful drama like this, “weak” is used lightly – because it is by no means a bad act. They all just happen to pale in comparison to the act where Glanton is the focus. The intense crime drama is riddled with great performances, impressive writing, amazing emotional moments; and no matter how much the film may shift focus from story to story, all in a very lengthy flick, it all intertwines admirably in the end and Cianfrance never loses sight of his stunning and beautiful vision.

88/100