Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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War Dogs: Movie Man Jackson

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Every dog has its day. David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t had his yet. He’s a college dropout who massages Miami’s biggest clientele (which sounds better than it seems), and a failing entrepreneur who hitched his wagon attempting to sell blankets to unneedy retirement homes. Cash flow is sparse, and he’s going to need more of it with a baby on the way from his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas).

Just at the right time, his old best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) returns to the cocaine capital, doing very well for himself. Efraim has gotten into the arms dealing business, bidding on U.S. military contracts to supply wartime squadrons. He’s a one man operation, but needs another guy to get this operation humming. David makes the decision to work with Efraim, eating off of the crumbs that other guys brush off to the side. Before you know it, the duo are rolling in dough, and taking on progressively bigger, and progressively more dangerous and unethical, contracts.

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An evolution, in any arena of life, rarely happens overnight. Rather, it is gradual and incremental. While striking out with some, possibly most, comedies here and there, director Todd Phillips has helmed some of the more memorable ones of the 21st century in The Hangover and Old School. His latest in War Dogs still retains some of the style that those movies had, but also is a tad more serious. Though not flawless, the final product indicates that there is some real potential for Phillips to tackle something really substantial down the line.

Even in Hollywood where many biographies take liberties, War Dogs takes the cake and might as well be an original screenplay. Okay, not exactly, but it is clearly less about the facts and more about the “unfathomable-ness” of the whole ordeal. Hell, it doesn’t carry the requisite character facts at the end of a feature that accompany so many biographies! Perhaps any real emotional impact or stabs at political commentary is lost, but looked at as another story of how the largest American dreams are often seized by the people who lack morality the least, War Dogs works just fine script-wise.

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For the most part, Phillips paces War Dogs well, moving at an efficient clip. The narration done by Teller’s character is a nice addition, the cultivated soundtrack fits nicely at the right times, and the visual direction approaches fourth-wall breaks without going all of the way there. It is only at the end where the movie begins to drag on the inevitable fallout and consequences, and the last 15-25 minutes become very elongated. Again, Phillips sort of struggles with the resonating aspect of the film. Unlike, say, The Big Short which really stuck with me personally a few days/weeks after viewing, despite Phillips’ best efforts, War Dogs never comes close to leaving an emotional imprint.

But who cares about emotions when what is being viewed is constantly entertaining? Credit really goes to the cast. It would be fair to call Miles Teller a little dry and dull in this one, but it works perfectly for who he plays off of, and near the end he does have some great dramatic moments. Ana de Armas is just begging to be unleashed in the right role; her housewife isn’t though she does what she can with it. Bradley Cooper adds more name value than anything, but he actually appears interested to be in a Phillips production again, and his character is a big part of the movie. With more screentime, he really would have left a mark.

But undoubtedly, “fat” Jonah Hill (because there is a difference between the rotund version and the svelte version) makes War Dogs worth remembering. He goes all in as his Efraim character, and imbues the events on screen with an infectiousness that is hard not to appreciate and fall for, just like the many he comes across in the movie do. Teller is certainly important here, but Jonah Hill is first billed for a reason. As much as this may seem to be a buddy movie, this is purely Jonah’s vehicle for the first time in his career.

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War Dogs never truly hits introspectively or emotionally, and yet it is pretty intriguing from beginning to end. Tasty crumbs. Anyone else feel like this is going to be a staple on HBO for years and years?

B-

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, rollingstone.com, and metacritic.com.

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10 Cloverfield Lane: Movie Man Jackson

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Save a person’s life, do whatever you want to do with them afterwards. After an unseen fight with her partner, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) decides she’s had enough and leaves her place, off to somewhere presumably to blow some steam off. Before she is able to do so, her car gets absolutely totaled in a collision, one in which Michelle should be dead from.

Somehow, she survives, though waking to less than ideal situation in being chained to a location seemingly in the middle of nowhere, along with another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). She’s been saved by Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that the surface level is no longer safe due to some undetermined attack by military or even martians which has left the air unbreathable. It becomes clear quickly that Howard is a control freak, and off of his kilter. They have to get out of this underground bunker…but is the crazy man actually telling the truth?

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In our 21st century digital age where information travels so fast to everyone, it almost takes an act of God to be surprised with anything. Movies are no exception. How many times over the years have release dates been set in stone…for sequels in which the parent movie hasn’t even released yet? Or the trailer that reveals every single good aspect of a movie’s plot and action? A very, very slow clap should be given to 10 Cloverfield Lane. It has achieved what few movies have tried to do, springing up out of nowhere two months before release, and shrouding itself in secrecy with its hooking and mysterious trailers. It is also, and most importantly, a pretty good movie.

To say a whole bunch about concrete story details should always be frowned upon in any review, but especially so for 10CL. It is best for the viewer to go in with as little knowledge as possible. It is also key to know that this is no carbon copy of 2008’s Cloverfield, and the link between the two is existent, but not clearly so; “Cloverfield” didn’t even need to be put in the title, it is that much different than its “predecessor.” The movie can be a little disappointing in the sense that 10CL brings up just as much questions as it does answers by the end of the runtime, but two movies into this series, its accepted that the how and why isn’t this series’ aim. It’s the what that is.

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The what in 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed by Dan Trachtenburg. In his first feature film, Tractenburg has delivered with a methodical, slow burn (term has been used ad nauseam with this, but it is applicable) of a thriller. Perhaps a tad too slow in a small stretch during the second half, but it remains gripping mostly for the whole time. Definitely much more claustrophobic and uneasy than yours truly ever imagined, and there’s a point in the film where the final shot of the trailer occurs midway through the runtime. I bring this up to highlight the fact that I had no idea of where 10CL was headed, and as such, the tension remains throughout.

Even with a great directorial effort, there’s a version of 10 Cloverfield Lane that exists in an alternate reality that is subpar because the casting wasn’t up to snuff. Not to discredit Trachtenburg who does a lot of good, but this movie belongs to its cast, sans Bradley Cooper, but at least his voice sounded good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great heroine and shows off a lot of strength. She’s not overly in your face, or even all that talkative, but she has strong screen presence and is truly mesmerizing. John Gallagher, Jr. has nice chemistry with Winstead and does a nice job at keeping things light when needed. The undisputed star of the show is John Goodman, however. Goodman provides menace, dry humor, and even towering physicality into the Howard character, and shifts along the spectrum of audience perception so effortlessly. He’s undeniably off, but maybe he has a reason to be? In a most basic sense, he’s just a blast to watch.

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Hailed as the spiritual successor to Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds that film in nearly every aspect, to the point where it is almost a shame to have that in its title, if only because it implies things fairly or unfairly. Little desire to return back to this address again, but boy, it is worth one-time visit.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, telegraph.co.uk, and comicbook.com.

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Burnt: Movie Man Jackson

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 “I don’t want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat.”

If I ever need to punish myself for any reason, I’ll make sure I find a seafood shack and clean 1,000,000 oysters. Superstar chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) has lived a superstar life in Paris and all of the vices that it can entail in drugs, women, and extreme arrogance. Realizing he needs to get away, Adam decides to do his self-imposed “time” in New Orleans, cleaning clams.

Some years later, he decides it is time to make amends with the people he’s wronged, and just as important, get back into the culinary game by serving as the head chef in a restaurant owned by a old friend’s son (Daniel Brühl). His ultimate goal? To obtain an elusive three star Michelin rating, an honor bestowed upon the best chefs in the world. Never one to appreciate those who worked with him, Adam is going to need every bit of culinary talent, from up and coming sous chef Helene (Sienna Miller), to old kitchen co-worker Michel (Omar Sy) to fulfill his redemption story.

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Even with the success of something like Chef, I think it is fair to say that the culinary arts isn’t an area that is featured a lot in film. That is kind of a good thing, as there’s an air of freshness whenever a film about cooking, and in this case the real profession of it, comes along. With Burnt, there’s some good and fresh ingredients on the plate, and just as many that are little reheated.

Burnt and director John Wells (August: Osage County) are most satisfying when in the kitchen. Not a surprise, but likely due to real chefs being utilized (Gordon Ramsey himself is a consultant on the film) as extras with no such “toy” props to be found, there is a real authenticity to the happenings that occur where food is prepped and made. It is every bit as fast-paced as one could imagine, and the editing seems to reflect that. Depending on the preference of the viewer, the rapid splice cutting could be an annoyance, but for yours truly, it seemed to enhance, for the most part, what it would be like in working in a high-volume restaurant, and seeing each character in the fire is fun to watch.

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It is the rest of the story that is underseasoned, with stale humor as well. Except for one unforeseen and pleasant twist, Adam’s comeback (SPOILER ALERT) is never in question. The story is just there, with the common romance and comeback clichés. There’s a semi-bizarre part in the 3rd act that seems like it will go somewhere with a couple of the characters, but doesn’t. And the three Michelin star goal is obviously a major honor for one as well as a restaurant to receive, but in Burnt, a two star restaurant and a three star restaurant do not seem that different. It is curious to know just how receiving the honor will change Adam’s life, to which Wells and writer Steven Knight (Locke), do not really explore. Honestly, Burnt is Southpaw with frying pans and julienne cuts, but with a lesser and somewhat abrasive lead character.

No real fault to Bradley Cooper, though. This will likely not rank high on the “Best roles of BCoop list” when all is said and done, but it is a solid performance with some impressive moments. He’s totally believable as a hothead and hotshot chef even if the audience is only told that Adam is the best chef, as opposed to actually seeing it. Cooper is a presence in almost every movie he appears in. But, it is odd that he and Sienna Miller, co-stars in American Sniper, lack chemistry.

The scenes where they are paired together make Burnt blandit would have been better if Cooper’s character was more of the mentor type to Helene. Supporting roles are filled by Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy, Alicia Vikander, and Emma Thompson to name a few. They are all accomplished thespians, but expect for Brühl, none gets a substantial shot at adding to the movie, notable names more than anything.

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How does the old saying go? If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Burnt is best when it is in the kitchen, in the heat, serving as an obvious fictional, but still kind of grounded in reality showcase of what the culinary business is like night-in and out at a popular restaurant. It is outside of the kitchen where most of the rest of the film is bland in taste.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to blogs.indiewire.com, comingsoon.net, and http://www.movies.ie.

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The Hangover Part III: Movie Man Jackson

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“Someone needs to burn this place to the ground.”

If The Hangover Part III is “The epic conclusion to the trilogy of mayhem and bad decisions,” it only makes sense for it to take place in “The Capital of Second Chances.” Not much has really changed with three-fourths of the Wolfpack members since their last adventure in grungy Thailand. Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms) are all fully adjusted to marriage life, effectively putting the bad choices, memories, and shocking happenings behind them.

The last fourth of the Wolfpack has undoubtedly lost it (did he ever have it?). Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has just killed a giraffe, and is increasingly irascible as a result of being off of his medication. After a argument with his father leads to his father’s death, everyone agrees that Alan needs to go into rehab, which Alan agrees to only if the gang drives him to the facility in Arizona. What is to be a smooth ride turns into another mess, as the three are kidnapped by characters connected to their past. They are set free, but to survive, they are going to have to reunite with another character from their past in Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has just escaped prison and is the key to setting things straight.

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When the mid-credits scene might very well be the funniest thing in the entire film, which is supposed to be a comedy, said film has a huge problem. The Hangover Part III has that problem, to the point where the viewer may very well wonder whether it is even a comedy at all. In many ways, it runs the gamut of genres of everything but comedy. Whatever it is, even a drunken stupor will likely not be enough for a viewer to enjoy this one.

With the complaints many had about the second one being a carbon copy of the first, some credit has to be given to franchise writer (of part 2 & 3)/director Todd Phillips for trying to flip the script and offer something different than what came before. That said, it is very puzzling to have ‘hangover’ in your title and not use one in your movie. And if you don’t use one, you better be able to deliver the comedy. At the very least if this new direction is taken, rename it to The Hangover III: We’re Sober B***hes!, or something, anything to note that this is a different direction taken.

What ends up being really odd is how “straight” Part III is presented. It is possible that if one knew absolutely nothing about the trilogy and III served as the entry point, there would be a strong likelihood that this would be seen as a light action and thriller before a comedy. Decapitating a giraffe and breaking dogs’ necks after sedating them comes off as a lazy attempt at humor. There are lines that hit here and there at the beginning and the end to make a viewer remember that this is in fact a comedy, but the middle could be right at home in any generic crime thriller, with less polish to boot. Hearing John Goodman’s crime boss character essentially describe the plot of why the foursome are in the predicament they find themselves in sets the tone, in a bad way, for the majority of the rest of the movie.

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Every franchise cannot be The Fast and the Furious and reinvent itself a few films in, staving off the inevitable sickness known as franchise fatigue that sinks its teeth into just about every film series that has at least three installments. Not only does the writing and overall cinematography appear uninspired, so does the work of key stalwarts Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms. Whether they knew this was going to be underwhelming from the start of filming or just decided to mail it in regardless after the second, both give performances that are equivalent to that of a high-priced free-agent in sports (especially in the case of Cooper), understanding that they are contractually obligated to complete the string of their deal, but knowing they are bolting when it expires.

Maybe by choice, or sensing two of his four stars less than enthused to be there, Phillips decides to beef up the characters of Alan and Mr. Chow. The results are honestly pretty disastrous. In carefully measured doses, Galifianakis and Jeong’s over-the-top, off-kilter characters are the perfect contrast to the relatively even-keeled rest of the Wolfpack members. Since two however, both have become more abrasive and unlikable, effectively removing most of the pleasure that existed previously. It would be one thing if The Hangover Part III were more of a ensemble effort, but in reality this is a story revolving around Chow and Alan with everyone else pushed to the background. They’re the two best friends that anyone could have, but that doesn’t mean an entire script should be focused on the duo.

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Not as dark as two but not as funny as its predecessors, it is for the best that The Hangover Part III is the end. It is time to get sober. Don’t feel bad for turning your back on the Wolfpack.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to allposters.com, cinema.theiapolis.com, aceshowbiz.com, and screenrant.com.

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American Sniper: Movie Man Jackson

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“You can only circle the flames so long.”

Behind almost every pull of a trigger lies a lot of weight and impact. Not just on the person pulling it, but those connected to said person. American Sniper is the story of Texan Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). As a youngster, it is clear Chris has a desire to protect those around him, a value instilled in him by his father. Still, the Texas lifestyle lends itself to making a good and fun living as a cowboy, a living Kyle enjoys.

It isn’t until he sees a television report of a terrorist attack that he begins to question what he is really doing with his life, which leads to enlisting into the Naval program. In training, Chris hones his raw and already-existing marksman skills, and finds a woman in his down time in Taya (Sienna Miller) who eventually becomes his wife and mother of his children. Shortly after marriage, Chris is deployed to Iraq, where he quickly makes a name for himself in combat; being hailed as “The Legend.” But the horrors of war are real, and no matter how many times Chris is home, each tour takes a little something out of him.

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Films about war and patriotism seem to pierce viewers different ways. With any, there are those who may be offended with said war film’s message and deride it as propaganda, while others may not see one. Yours truly can only speak for himself, but American Sniper is pretty devoid of—let’s call it a visible slant. It is tense, tightly directed, well-acted, and one of the best of 2014/2015.

Instead of focusing on the politics or the glory that comes with performing miraculous deeds, director Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima) chooses to focus upon the man and the mental aftermath that arises because of the acts he commits. He accomplishes the former by presenting a substantial yet still brief look at what made Kyle who he is and why he is so. During this beginning part of the movie, the investment into the main character is forged. He isn’t perfect by any means, but the duty he possesses towards protecting others is one to connect with. This duty factor is a question that is continuously asked as the movie progresses. To where should Kyle’s duties lie, and are they nestled together like he believes?

And for the latter, while the reasons of fighting will never be universally agreed upon, almost everyone would likely agree that war more often than not leaves an indelible mark that is a struggle to deal with for all involved. Nothing here is glorified or lessened in effect. The realities and subsequent effects of war are cold, harsh, and unforgiving.

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With that said though, the movie looks and sounds pretty splendid. Eastwood certainly knows how to capture full-scale warfare. No dazzling flair, which would have likely cheapened the intended grounded effect, is found, but the approach is suitably straightforward. Every trigger squeezed and RPG launched carries audible weight, but the moments where nothing but silence exists are true high marks. They carry insane amounts of tension and make the firefights all the more impressive. It all adds up to effective pacing, with the only misfire being near the end. The last 15-20 minutes do feel a tad rushed.

Bradley Cooper completely immerses himself into the role of Chris Kyle. His adopted Texas accent never wavers, he physically looks the part, and he superbly displays the difficulties Chris has to grapple with, often in split seconds, throughout. He is a killing machine, but not a completely soulless one. He never relishes in carrying the title of “The most lethal sniper in U.S. History,” he just goes about his business. Cooper has been gaining praise for his skills for a while now, but if anyone were looking for another, perhaps really serious and transforming role from him, this work would be the evidence shown.

Of course, this vehicle is Cooper’s, but Sienna Miller is good and does what is needed as Kyle’s wife. The role is somewhat cookie-cutter and there are one or two moments in which she is sort of wooden, but for what the character is nothing is glaringly off-putting. This sentiment can be said for most everyone else in the movie as well, with the only difference being they don’t stand out like the wife does. Sure, a few are remembered more so than others, but the large majority just fill out the spaces needed.

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American Sniper is basically the film yours truly expected it to be after viewing that initial trailer where so much silence was utilized. Gripping, intense, and a no-frills take at what the warzone does to one’s mental state. 132 or so confirmed minutes of exceptional drama.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to heavy.com, blogs.wsj.com, and Collider.com

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Man Jackson

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“You said it yourself, b***h We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Not many movie studios are as hot as Marvel is at the moment. Since 2008’s Iron Man, their tightly yet expansively crafted cinematic universe has amassed crazy amounts of money on what some would call similarly structured films with established and recognizable heroes. The template is flipped a bit with Marvel’s latest feature Guardians of the Galaxy. In it, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is your average fortune hunter and legendary outlaw known to very few as “Star-Lord,” scouring the vast pockets of space for potential treasure. The potential treasure manifests itself in the way of a mysterious orb, valued by many unknown to Quill.

After others catch word of the galaxy-altering orb being temporarily in Star-Lord’s possession, an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saladana), and bounty hunters Rocket Racoon/tree-like Groot (Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel), all get into the mad dash for the crown jewel. Unfortunately, they all end up in jail where they come across Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who is after some personal vengeance. With the orb still up for grabs, villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) targets the five for elimination. Despite having no true ties to each other, the individuals soon find that their and the galaxy’s best chance for survival is their cooperation, no matter how reluctant and hard that may be.

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Hyperbolic as it may sound, the general thoughts and feelings in the months leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy appeared to be of the either/or variety: Either it was going to be an impressive success which would build toward the future and further cement Marvel Studios, or it would be a critical and even commercial failure that would knock said studio down a few pegs. With its release, the concerns are alleviated. Guardians of the Galaxy is over-the-top and unconventional fun.

Story-wise, this isn’t much different than past fare, most closely resembling the fight for the Tesseract in The Avengers, the first Captain America, and Thor. But the execution? Nothing is predictable about the way events play out. As a famous wrestling legend once said, “Just when you think you have all of the answers, I change the questions.” This movie revels in doing the opposite, being zany and flat out peculiar. And you buy into it despite the wackiness, because it is highly amusing, yet also carrying more emotional heft than anticipated, giving the sort of familiar “chase” story some weight.

Back to the main aspect that distinguishes this from others: comedy. GoTG is written with a ton of wit that hits consistent laughs, sometimes very hard. In most respects, the dialogue itself between the ragtag group is lightyears better than the action, which is solid if kind of unimpressive. What is great about the humor is that it isn’t limited to just one person. Sure, some characters just lend themselves more to comedy than others, but all have certain styles and specific moments where they shine front and center. Everyone in this played the comic relief at one point, which is a welcome surprise not often seen.

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95 times out of 100, Marvel gets it right with casting, and this film is no different. Chris Pratt is Star-Lord, convincing as the sort of everyman (albeit outfitted with a slick costume and snazzy gun) that is really just trying to survive daily in the harsh galaxy. As seen in Parks and Recreation, Pratt knows how to elicit laughs, but it is his turn as a galvanizing leader here that is most intriguing. Zoe Saldana at this point seems pretty comfortable playing alien-like creatures in movies, but that doesn’t take away her overall effectiveness. Even Vin Diesel voicing three-worded Groot is memorable, though that may be more due to the technical achievement than anything Diesel does.

These three are great and without their contributions Guardians isn’t as impressive, but the two scene-thieves are Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Raccoon. The former, played by Dave Bautista (known to wrestling fans as simply Batista) is in many respects the deepest and most versatile character. Drax slides effortlessly into rage and deadpan humor at the drop of a dime, and Dave never seems stretched when doing so or out of place among his more accomplished stars. Last but not least is the hothead Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is allowed to be unhinged as Rocket, an anarchist wrapped in an animal’s body, akin to Conker from the Nintendo 64 days. You can tell Bradley is enjoying this, and so did I. Even with his diminutive stature, it isn’t hard to imagine Rocket being the face of the Guardians in regards to marketing.

High production is par for the course with Marvel, and this once again applies. It is a visual treat to look at, reminiscent of Mass Effect in many places. The only issue that pops up from time to time is that of the noticeable CGI in hand to hand fight scenes. It is fully realized that this is less rooted in reality than, say, The Winter Soldier, and it isn’t a huge qualm, but it is visible. What is audible is the old-school music vibe from beginning to end throughout this, giving a retro feel to a futuristic backdrop. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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It is a little easier to take risks when you have a deep well of past successes , but the fact that Marvel was willing to do something like this to shake up the template is a small marvel in of itself. Guardians of the Galaxy embraces being offbeat and wears it like a proud badge of honor. Add another money making film galaxy to the comic book universe .

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, and nydailynews.com.

Limitless: Movie Man Jackson

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“Why is it that the moment your life exceeds your wildest dreams, the knife appears in your back?”

Just how much of our brains do we actually use? In Limitless, we as humans are only capable of accessing 20% of it, and for writer Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) it may be less. He is essentially at rock bottom with a severe case of writer’s block, low motivation, and the victim of a recent dumping by Lindy (Abbie Cornish), his now ex-girlfriend. Through a random occurrence on the streets of the Big Apple, he reunites with an old acquaintance, a shady character who gives Eddie a new not-yet-administered-by-the-FDA drug called NZT. This pill is a wonder, hitting the bloodstream and unlocking every doormat crevice in the mind.

Eddie is immediately transformed and hooked on the effects after an initial usage. A loser before, he now is a suave, confident, and erudite individual. Forget writing, the possibilities are truly limitless for the man. But with bigger opportunities come bigger people, and with bigger people come bigger problems. Mr. Mora has no idea as to the depths of this rabbit hole.

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Limitless brings an original and really intriguing premise to the table. It is not a flawless piece of science fiction, but it does more right than wrong. There is sort of a noteworthy message here, in that having the power to do meaningful things for yourself and others doesn’t exactly mean you will. The narrative of Eddie becoming a new man through artificial means is loaded with potential different avenues that it could have went down, but actually devolves into something that is just OK. Furthermore, there are some events within the narrative that are overly coincidental and/or hard to see occur in the way they do. As a result, so much that goes down evokes the feeling of only happening because there would be no movie without it occurring. Make sense?

While the general plot may be disappointing from a potential standpoint, what isn’t disappointing in Limitless is the cinematography. Without a doubt, it ends up being the greatest thing about the film. If I could best describe the style in two words, I would say vivid and frenzied. Director Neil Burger makes use of various camera techniques to really embody what the main character is experiencing while under the effects of NZT.

Going one step further, the movie is clear in its visual palette as well. In places, it carries a feel of a comic book coming to life on screen. NZT-infused moments are defined by precise, warm, and a razor sharp popping color. Alternatively, “normal” moments are evidenced by extremely cool/blue-gray color tones and hues. Not only does it look visually pleasing, but it paints an obvious distinction that almost gives the audience a feel as to how the drug would be.

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The film does have ready and able supporting stars, but Limitless is Bradley Cooper’s to own. Aside from The Midnight Meat Train when he was still sort of an unknown thespian, this is his first starring role post-Hangover fame. And, he really brings all of his skills on display in this one. Whether selling shock and fear, or confidence and charisma, he switches quite effortlessly through the gamut of emotions. Through the course of the movie, I went from cheering for the guy to badly wanting to see his comeuppance.

He also is tasked with giving narration to the film. Sometimes this is an unnecessary addition, but here it adds more depth and understanding to not just the drug but of his character Eddie without feeling too expository. From the moment he appears on screen, Cooper has a sort of magnetism (audibly and physically) that seizes your attention and doesn’t let go, in spite of the sometimes tired plot.

Also of note are co-stars Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro. Both of their characters are not anything amazing, but they make do with what they have. Cornish’s chemistry with Cooper is very believable, and she is definitely the most grounded and realistic character in the entire movie. De Niro plays of the big figureheads on Wall Street, and he does good as the cold and calculating businessman. His square-offs with Cooper are some of the better scenes. Not one of his best roles simply because it lacks in what he is presented with, but still enjoyable. Everyone else is pretty standard, either playing yes-man tycoons or thug & gangster types, though there is one Russian character that injects some humor and danger into the movie.

Limitless (2011)

Thanks to the performance of Bradley Cooper and overall directorial wizardry, Limitless is a fun enough watch, even if the compelling premise does fall short of its promise. The entire brain may not be unlocked when watching, but it will keep it engaged.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, thebuzzmedia.com, blu-ray.com, & gonemovies.com.

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