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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The Circle (2017)

The Circle poster

The Circle. Released: April 28, 2017. Directed by: James Ponsoldt. Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega. Runtime: 1h 50 min. 

The Circle is a familiar and generic corporate thriller about the dark side of technology, but it’s disappointing because it doesn’t go into enough depth.

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a dream job as part of the customer experience team at a tech company called the Circle which creates one single online identity for users. The work environment looks a lot like Google, which seems obsolete in this near future (we never get a specific year). The campus itself is in the shape of a circle – obviously to remind workers they’re working at the Circle, not the Pentagon. Eventually Mae uncovers a nefarious agenda, but she takes awhile to get to that.

The Circle’s world is working towards transparency, where you can’t have moments alone or private conversations. Everything you do is public and there are cameras everywhere. It’s like everyone’s a celebrity and there are paparazzi at every turn. The lack of privacy is also like the Edward Snowden conspiracy of the government watching, but taken to an extreme and it becomes far-fetched.

It’s a generic sci-fi thriller with an intriguing high-concept. The writing never creates compelling dialogue and its attempts at suspense are predictable. Its themes of the importance of privacy it tries to depict don’t feel significant enough, and the film generally places concept above any substance or in-depth character development.

The Circle itself is led by charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who’s like Steve Jobs if he were a social media obsessed cult leader. The Circle feels like a cult, especially when people think it’s weird Mae hasn’t connected her social media accounts to the Circle after her first week.

It’s a weird scene as Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talai) tell her that she’s an enigma because people across campus don’t know her. They question why she wasn’t here on the weekend doing activities, and when she says she went kayaking they’re surprised because that’s not on her social media. Matt says, “I love kayaking. We could have gone together.” It’s awkward, drawn-out scenes like these that show everyone’s super weird.

Mae’s initially a breath of fresh air because she likes privacy and she’s a cute little guppy (what newbies are called at the Circle), but she soon gets eaten by the weird piranhas. Like the rest of them – she drank the damn Kool-Aid.

The Circle has a high-tech allure, but it’s not convincing when Mae willingly gives up her privacy because of a dumb reason.  Emma Watson’s great as Mae, but if it any other actress were playing her, she wouldn’t get much sympathy or have the same kind-of magnetism. She commands a crowd in public speaking and brings a natural charisma. Mae isn’t well-developed, and at times it feels like the only thing we know about her is that she likes kayaking when things get too hard.

The Circle movie

Emma Watson in The Circle. (Source

The only time I cared about anything happening is because I feel like it affected Emma Watson. She’s a great actress, even when she plays a poorly developed character whose motivations are hard to understand.  It’s surprising the film manages to create such a good cast, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in any other aspect.

Tom Hanks is fine as Bailey, even though he’s a generic CEO wanting to change the world. He gets less screen time than one might expect. Patton Oswalt is more generic as the company’s Chief Officer of Operations, Tom Stenton.

John Boyega gets a disappointing amount of screen time as his character, but he’s fine when he’s there. Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father with MS in his last theatrical film. His character is a reason Mae is more developed than most, since she wants to help him get better. Karen Gillan’s a good surprise as Annie, too, and she gets to her use her natural Scottish accent here.

I must talk about Mercer. His sub-plot about making deer antler chandeliers and Mae’s parents trying to play matchmaker for him and Mae is silly. His character could be written out entirely and wouldn’t be missed. He’s played by Ellar Coltrane, the kid who grew up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. He plays an everyday worker man who likes privacy, and Coltrane looks incredibly uncomfortable on-screen. He’s so bad and awkward, and it reminds me of how uncomfortable Kristen Stewart looks in the Twilight films.

Director James Ponsoldt doesn’t bring any charm from The Spectacular Now. He and Dave Eggers co-write a screenplay based on Eggers’ own novel that’s a mess. The Circle’s plot wanders around aimlessly and doesn’t find a coherent storyline. It’s like Ponsoldt and Eggers played Hide ‘n Seek with a good story, couldn’t find one, and gave up.

Score: 40/100

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

Oculus (2014)

OculusReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackoff. Runtime: 105 min.

Oculus is a film directed by Mike Flanagan, partly based on his own 2006 short movie called Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, an idea that sprouted into something more complex seven years later. Just plain Oculus seems to be the better choice for a title. It’s an impressively original horror film dealing with a young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who tries to exonerate her brother, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) who was convicted of murder ten years ago. She plans to do so by proving the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon responsible for the death of 45 persons over the span of four centuries. The phenomenon harbours inside an antique mirror.

The premise is what’s largely intriguing about the film. It’s one of the aspects that lends to its originality. What is also original of the film is that mirroring embodies another meaning in this film, which is engaging to me. I won’t get into it, but it’s something that contributes to some food for thought discussion of the film. The narrative is original, because what happened in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood is told basically at the same time as when they are trying to catch the mirror’s crazy activity on camera in the present day. It might sound a bit haphazard – but I assure you, writer/director Mike Flanagan (co-writing with Jeff Howard) maintain control and focus throughout. The intelligent narrative is quite a success.

The narrative is even cooler because actors of the young versions of Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, respectively) get a significant amount of screen time, because it goes back and forth between old actors and the young actors. Karen Gillan is good as the controlling and motivated Kaylie. Basso acts with the same maturity as Gillan. Thwaites is good, as far as horror films go. Katee Sackoff is effective and creepy as the maternal Marie Russell, and Rory Cochrane is compelling as the paternal Alan Russell. 

It’s great when a horror film actually has a good, engaging story to tell. The characters in the film are good. Kaylie’s motivation to prove his brother’s innocence is because she is tired of being ridiculed, and people calling her brother a murderer and her father crazy. The brother did his time in a mental asylum, so this film isn’t like that movie Conviction where Hilary Swank’s character tries to prove his innocence while he’s doing his time. 

Kaylie needed her brother’s help, because this evil mirror is very testy, and going against the mirror alone would be an impossible battle to win. This makes the film a psychological horror film that is left open to interpretation, as well as a supernatural horror flick. Stupid decisions by characters should be excused because the mirror makes them think they’ve stuck together, but they really aren’t. It’s a tricky villain in this way. The meaning of the word oculus intrigues me further into the mythology of the film. The mirror screws up the character’s perception, and they see what the mirror wants them to see. Perception is a big thing in this mildly scary and very creepy feature.

These aspects make this an effective mystery. It taps into fears first explored in The Shining, and haunted artifacts. It’s atmospheric and cool, and makes viewers question throughout what is reality and what is a conjuring of the mirror’s tricky mind games. It’s a creepy film that sticks with you, especially some bloody imagery, and a good, if repetitive, score. It’s an entertaining horror film that is scary enough to give me another excuse not to eat apples and to not let an antique mirror in my house for a little while. 

Score80/100