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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The Fate of the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

Racing may have left the franchise, but bald heads never will. With Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally remembering everything, she and husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are spending some much needed R&R time in Cuba, thinking about what the future holds for them in making a family of their own. It would appear that the Dom certainly doesn’t miss the bullets like Brian once did.

Unfortunately, the bullets and high-risk scenarios always seem to find him; this time, via an enigmatic woman known as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron). Cipher, having secret information on Toretto that puts who he loves at risk, forces him to carry out her dangerous plans by using his own team/family to capture a world-altering device…only to take it from them and deliver it into her hands.

Being crossed, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are left to pick up the pieces. And that means going after Dom and figuring out why, with an uneasy ally in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) added into the fray.

If Fast Five was Universal doing Marvel’s The Avengers before that movie happened, the latest in the F&F universe, The Fate of the Furious, feels a little like Captain America: Civil War, or The Avengers 3 or whatever. How so? It manages to bring back almost everyone of note while introducing new characters that are sure to play roles in future offerings, and flips the script a little in making a central character a major antagonist. It definitely lacks the emotional aspect of Furious 7, as well as and the large stakes, character moments, and insane thrill ride that was Fast Five. But, “F8,” though skidding more on the road than past predecessors, doesn’t completely wreck itself.

At eight films deep, the Fast and Furious universe has lore. Lots of it, and the eighth installment uses every inch of trunk space it has to accommodate it. In other words, it has continuity…in a way. Thought God’s Eye was just a MacGuffin to never be seen or referred to again? Put to actual good use here! Believed Elena would just slip into the background? Think again. Everyone knows how ridiculous this franchise can be, proudly wearing that ridiculousness as a badge of honor. But credit to where it’s due; writer Chris Morgan continues to draw up new scenarios that give mileage to the universe.

Don’t mistake that praise as complete support for The Fate of the Furious‘ script. It does enough to get by (a poor man’s version of Civil War, even with a bit of The Winter Soldier), with a familiar theme and intriguing reveal. But for some reason, its story holes and matters unexplained actually make one think about them more in a logical way. That’s not supposed to happen with a F&F movie! And as stated before, the continuity generally works, but the end scene (as well as a few others) does betray much of what the prior movie(s) established in the way of character relationships, making it hard to accept that some sins in this world are somehow forgivable.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Friday) makes the third new different director in the last three Fast and Furious movies to helm the film’s physics-defying action. Having some experience in action with The Italian Job, Gray, like Wan, mostly impresses. It’s hard not to be impressed with the massive set pieces, in large part done practically. CGI gets a little iffy at times for such a big budget production. Like Wan, however, Gray comes up short compared to Lin on a hand-to-hand combat level. Not quite shaky cam, but the angles used can sometimes be disorienting. Still, he makes a case to direct the next one if need be.

Perhaps Vin should give directing a shot, with the amount of power he seems to be wielding as of late. Performance-wise, Diesel simultaneously serves up a surprising job in spots, as well as an unintentionally funny one, often in the same scenes. Unfortunately, Paul Walker is missed, not necessarily in the action scenes where he more than held his own, but in the slower scenes. He brought an everyman presence that is lacking here, especially as the lengthy movie grinds to a halt in spots.

The real news coming into F8 was the legit beef between Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with rumors being that Vin wasn’t happy with Dwayne stealing some franchise thunder. After seeing F8, I can see why. Johnson is the clear star of this series now, bringing his trademark energy, dead-eye one-liners, and larger-than-life persona to the Hobbs character. Jason Statham eclipses Vin as well, his dry and rugged Deckard meshing well with Hobbs and generating interest in a future teamup. Out of the newcomers, Charlize Theron is the most menacing villain the franchise has ever had, if only her Cipher wasn’t as vague in her motivations. Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren add name value, little else, but they’re fun enough. Returnees Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell get little spots to shine, though ultimately take backseats to Johnson, Diesel, Statham, and Theron.

If the Furious series is a mile represented by 10 movies at 1/10th of a mile each, it’s not inconceivable to think it hit top speed a few movies ago, and is decelerating as it approaches the purported finish line. One thing’s for certain, though. There’s no stopping before that line comes, and every drop of gas will be used before it comes.

C+

Photo credits go to irishexaminer.com, birthmoviesdeath.com, and moviepilot.com.

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The Hateful Eight: Movie Man Jackson

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“The name of the game is patience.”

Hate! Hate! Hate!  Not too long after the Civil War, the state of Wyoming is home to a myriad of characters, all nefarious and dangerous. On the way to the town of Red Rock, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) rides in a stagecoach which is transporting a woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Daisy is a fugitive who will be put to death by hanging in Red Rock. Making their ride up difficult is a relentless blizzard that promises to only get worse.

Along the way, fellow bounty hunter and former Civil War participant Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), hitch a ride to the same stagecoach. Eventually, though, that snow storm forces the foursume to seek refuge at a local cabin. It is there where they run into more characters—“Mexican” Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Only one thing is certain amongst these people: They are all bad people. 

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As of this writing, it has been almost 48 hours since yours truly has come out of Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature, known as The Hateful Eight. And, I still don’t fully know how I feel about it. On one hand, it is blueprint Tarantino, infusing his irreverent trademark style in every piece of the movie. On another hand, it can feel like the work of a man feeling himself a little too much, reveling in those Tarantinoisms that don’t feel as inventive and unique as in previous works.

Aside from the script leak, the usual uproar of whether Tarantino is going too far, and the roadshow/70mm intention, the biggest story talking point going into “H8teful “seemed to be its over three-hour runtime. Could QT, one of the best writers of dialogue today in film, quell the concern about length? The answer is no…and yes. It really does take some time for his Western to get going, and to give a quantifiable number, I’d say about 60-90 minutes. While one could say that he is building character, I struggle to remember any key lines, or tidbits of information that moved the story along and/or gave more elements to those characters. It is possible that another watch is needed.

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Still, this stretch is where to look for any material that could have, and probably should have, been cut. But, that isn’t to say that The Hateful Eight is devoid of good writing, because it isn’t. Character-wise, these are really nothing but extremely vile people, though some entertaining (yet dulling over time) dialogue does exist. It, like the gratuitous violence, is more for shock value than anything else. But, Tarantino manages to surround these villains with a highly entertaining script that takes primary focus around the second act. Yes, it is a whodunit, but Tarantino uses a few plot mechanics—even his own narration—to fill some gaps. It is likely that the narration could be jarring to some, but it really adds to the old school style and live play aspect.

H8teful achieves a little bit more than not because it is simply an experience. Yours truly didn’t have the pleasure of seeing in 70mm, but this is one of the more unique watches in quite some time. The locale is amazing, and it being predominantly set in a cabin gives a truly confined and claustrophobic touch. As the runtime goes on, Tarantino’s technical work does begin to shine. Not flawlessly, but the film is a great example of sum greater than its parts. Speaking of parts, Ennio Morricone does his by providing an original score that captures the era of the Spaghetti Western. It is that mesmerizing, and potentially the strongest piece of the entire feature.

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The characters in The Hateful Eight may really be nothing more than caricatures, but that doesn’t mean that the actual work turned in by the thespians is to be scoffed at. Samuel L. Jackson does his Samuel L. Jackson thing here, but there’s a tad more meat than many of his other roles in Tarantino films. Kurt Russell may be the most entertaining individual in the entire production, which is a surprise seeing as where he begins at the start. Other great performances include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, and Michael Madsen. At times, they can go a ton over the top, but that is attributed to QT writing more than a performer not knowing what to do.

Starting to see the picture? As odd as it sounds, I’m interested in watching The Hateful Eight again, just to see if there is anything that was missed, any dialogue that went over the head, etc. Very possible this opinion can change down the line with more views. On a first, it isn’t without flaws, or absent of merit. About the only thing I know is that it is a very memorable experience.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, filmmakermagazine.com, and latimes.com

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