Review of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Sorry this is late as I am on vacation.   There will also be no video for the time being.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and baby Grout (voiced by Vin Diesel) successfully prevent an inter-dimensional monster from stealing extremely powerful batteries from a race called the Sovereign.  In exchange, the Sovereign turn over Nebula (Karen Gillan) who was captured while trying to steal the batteries.  When it is discovered Rocket took some batteries the Sovereign launch remotely controlled fighters to destroy the Guardians’ ship.  On the verge of destruction, their ship is saved by an egg-shaped craft that appears to have a man riding on top of it destroying all the Sovereign’s fighters.  The Guardian’s ship crashes on a planet and the egg-shaped craft lands nearby.  The occupant calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell) and says he is Peter Quill’s father.  Ego is accompanied by Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath Ego found orphaned on a world in his travels.  Meanwhile the leader of the Sovereign meets with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and hires him to capture Quill and the others and deliver them to her for execution.  Quill, Gamora and Drax travel with Ego and Mantis back to his planet so he and his son can establish a relationship; but Yondu and the Ravagers capture Rocket and Groot.  Yondu’s crew mutinies when their captain appears to be trying to protect Peter while discussing what to do next and a Ravager named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) takes over after Nebula, who managed to convince Groot to let her go to help Rocket, shoots Yondu.  On Ego’s planet, Gamora has a bad feeling about the situation but Quill is entranced with his father’s abilities and his own latent talents that Ego is bringing out in him.  Is there something going on under the surface that Quill doesn’t want to see?  Will Yondu manage to extricate himself from the angry clutches of his former crew?  Will Rocket ever not be mean to his friends?  Will Groot ever get bigger?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” managed to do something many other recent blockbusters have failed at:  Not giving away their entire story in the trailers.  We get a few tidbits and a look at a few new characters but otherwise seeing the movie isn’t ruined by watching the trailers.  I have to commend James Gunn and Marvel for managing to keep their trailers entertaining without showing all their cards.  Having now seen “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” I can confidently state there are many surprises as well as a few scenes that might cause a tear to roll down your cheek.  This installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more heart, more emotion and some of the most powerful reveals of any film for any hero in the series.

There is a great deal going on in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”  There are several surprises, cameos, mentions and possible future films suggested along the way.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I will speak in only the vaguest of terms but to fully enjoy all the Easter eggs make sure you stay to the end of the credits.  True Marvel Comics fans will be dissecting every frame of the film for all the clues they can.

While I do really enjoy the movie and think it may be one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in some time, there are some issues I had with the pacing and story.  First, the movie, while it rarely slows down, does feel a bit too long.  With a running time of 136 minutes, the movie is overstuffed with battle scenes that drag at times.  Watching Peter and Rocket argue over who’s the better pilot while they are being chased by what seems to be thousands of fighters and performing wild maneuvers is cute for about 10 seconds.  After that the movie begins to enter the territory of beating a dead horse.  The climactic fight scene also feels repetitive with mini-conclusions.

While the movie is a bit too long, the story feels hurried.  Gunn and his team appear to be more concerned with giving all the big effects sequences plenty of room to breathe while rushing the story to get out of the way.  A few emotional beats are short changed and hence feel unearned.  The section involving Peter and his dad’s growing relationship is severely under developed.  Of course, no one goes to see a movie like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” looking for a deep and emotional story; however one is there that could have really packed a punch.

Despite the movie’s shortcomings it is a very good time at the theatre.  Both Drax and Groot steal the movie out from under everyone with whom they share the screen.  Both characters get the biggest laughs and both manage to provide some emotional moments as well.

Visually, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a technicolor wonder to behold.  A vivid color palate with an apparent prohibition against muted shades and greys rocks the eyeballs along with some wondrous digital creatures.  The big monster that kicks things off may cause a few nightmares while the amazing aliens created by makeup and digital manipulation rival anything seen before.  It is mind boggling how such a production, using hundreds if not thousands of technicians in various locations and in numerous fields, could come together in such a visually cohesive way.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.  Energy weapons are fired frequently and a great deal of stuff blows up violently.  Yondu’s whistle-controlled flying arrow is used to kill several people.  We see it passing all the way through victim’s bodies.  One character is shown severely burned.  Many characters are shown being thrown around violently and slamming into trees and the ground without any apparent injury while may encourage children to try to mimic the action.  Yondu is shown after an encounter with what appears to be a robot prostitute.  Foul language is scattered and mild.

There are several references to TV shows and actors that were very popular in the 1980’s.  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a very 80’s vibe to it.  From its vibrant colors to the “will they or won’t they” nature of Peter and Gamora’s relationship, many things in the movie have a nostalgic feel.  I think that works for “Guardians” since Peter is kind of stuck in his adolescence from when Yondu abducted him.  That 1980’s feel is what sets these films apart from the rest of the MCU…that and the setting in outer space.  The dayglo colors and the “anything can happen” attitude allow this part of the franchise to take more chances and that’s something comic book movies in general can learn from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” just as long as everyone understands the story must be given as much consideration as the special effects.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword” for WIMZ.com and “Snatched” for stanthemovieman.com.

King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX9y5JPuRHY

Snatched–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sY6NpLrbtbM

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “War Dogs”

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is struggling trying to find a purpose in life. He’s a licensed massage therapist and is also trying to sell Egyptian cotton sheets to nursing homes in Miami. Neither is going very well. At a funeral he runs into childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who has recently moved back to Miami after living and working in California. Efraim is selling guns, ammunition and other supplies to the U.S. military, using a government website to look for small contracts on which the larger weapons manufacturers don’t bother to bid. Efraim invites David to join him in his new endeavor called AEY, Inc. after David is told by his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) she’s pregnant. Quickly, Efraim and David are making deals and selling supplies to the U.S. military. They are also making huge amounts of money. A big contract providing Beretta handguns to the Iraqi police force runs into a snag when David and Efraim discover Italian law prevents the guns be shipped directly to Iraq. Efraim arranges for them to be shipped to Jordan then transported to Iraq but that deal falls through. Desperate to fulfill their contract, Efraim and David go to Jordan and hire a driver named Marlboro (Shaun Toub) to get the weapons to Baghdad and discover (when they are attacked) that they are travelling through the infamous Triangle of Death. Efraim thrives on the danger and borderline illegality of the job while David would prefer to stay out of the hot zone. The possibility of a huge military contract to resupply the Afghan military puts David and Efraim in touch with legendary arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) who will help them put the deal together with Cold War weapons and ammo from Albania in exchange for a cut of the profits. Girard can’t deal directly with the U.S. Government since he is on a terrorist watch list. The possibility of a huge payday lead Efraim and David to make compromises and take short cuts that could land them in prison.

The thing that makes “War Dogs” so scary is it is based on a true story. Two twenty-something bros managed to get involved in arms dealing at the perfect time. The Bush administration was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed to equip millions of U.S. soldiers then needed to re-equip Iraqi and Afghan forces for the post war. The possibility of making enormous amounts of money led not just Packouz and Diveroli but many others to take short cuts in procuring weapons and supplies. “War Dogs” in some ways is like “The Big Short” in that it’s a cautionary tale that will likely be ignored the next time a major conflict breaks out involving the United States. Money has a way of making people forget past mistakes.

Jonah Hill has an amazing and somewhat scary ability to play utterly corrupt individuals with enormous style and believability. His “Wolf of Wall Street” character, while slightly less dangerous, is equally morally bankrupt to Efraim Diveroli. Hill can show us both sides of Diveroli as both the caring friend and the uncaring business partner. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear Diveroli is running a con on everyone he encounters as he tries to take people for whatever he can get out of them. His friend David is no exception. The beauty of Hill’s performance is we hope Diveroli is a decent guy when it comes ot Packouz and, for a while, we believe he is. It is only later in the film it becomes apparent Diveroli only has room in his heart for himself. Hill does an amazing job with the character.

Miles Teller is also great as David Packouz. While his character is less complex than Hill’s, Teller is able to play Packouz as a likeable guy that is looking to become something greater than what he feels he is. He also has a girlfriend and daughter to provide for and that often makes him look the other way as their business dealings get progressively shadier. Teller is the emotional anchor of the film. He is the everyman that represents the audience and gives us a way into this world. Teller’s scarred face, from a near fatal auto accident in 2007, makes us almost immediately feel empathy for his character. This is a face that has seen some hard times and taken on difficulties. While the scars have nothing to do with the character, it adds a layer of sympathy and concern and the audience cares what happens to David.

The underused supporting cast, including the always great Kevin Pollack, fills in the holes of the story quite nicely. Ana de Armas, used primarily as both David’s conscience and eye candy, is locked into a traditionally female role. The loving girlfriend and caring mother to a new baby girl, de Armas gets the dirty job of nagging her boyfriend to not lie about what he’s really doing. I suppose it’s a necessary role to keep the character rooted in the real world. Bradley Cooper is understated as international arms dealer Henry Girard. Girard is quietly dangerous and makes that clear in a scene late in the film. Cooper, who is also a producer on the film, makes the most of his brief appearances and gives the movie a villain other than Diveroli. Kevin Pollack plays a minor supporting character but is always a joy to watch. As he learns exactly the kind of business partner Diveroli is late in the film, the subtle changes in his face make a very tense scene somewhat comical.

The story in “War Dogs” is a bit dense with layer upon layer of deception and misdirection. Quite frankly, the minutiae of their business dealings get a bit tedious at times. Export licenses, government websites and trade embargoes often fill their conversations and it slows down the story quite a bit. When Efraim and David are getting their hands dirty transporting guns across Iraq or visiting a warehouse filled with Cold War weapons and munitions in Albania, the movie feels much more alive and dangerous.

“War Dogs” is rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references. Drug use is very common throughout the film. Both Diveroli and Packouz are shown smoking weed and snorting powder on numerous occasions. Sexual references are scattered but explicit. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“War Dogs” is an example of how huge amounts of money corrupts everything it touches from friends to governments. It turns people into greedy, heartless monsters and governments into…greedy, heartless monsters. While many of the events of “War Dogs” were either exaggerated or invented from whole cloth, it only takes looking at the news or knowing more than one other person to show the basic idea of the film is played out every day in real life all around us. Money is a driving factor for many of our lives as we need it to procure food, shelter, transportation and, to a degree, relationships. Most of us can keep our lives in perspective with the kind of incomes average people make; however, when millions of dollars are within the grasp of someone who places personal wealth above all else, judgement and decency can be considered faults that cannot be afforded. As the old saying goes, the love of money is the root of all evil.

“War Dogs” gets four guitars out of five.

This week your entertainment options consist of dark horror, biographical athleticism and an action reboot. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Don’t Breathe—

Hands of Stone—

Mechanic: Resurrection—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “Inherent Vice” and “American Sniper”

Two very different movies about two very different subjects left me with two very different opinions. Let’s start with a film based on a Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Inherent Vice.”

Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is not your usual private detective. His office is located in a walk-in medical clinic and Doc spends more time stoned than working on any case. Arriving at his home unannounced is his former live-in girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). She is concerned her boyfriend, millionaire real estate developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) is the target of a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to put the businessman in a mental institution and take all his money. Doc tells Shasta he will look into it and she leaves. At the office the next day, a former prison inmate Tariq Kahlil (Michael K. Williams) hires Doc to find a former cellmate named Glen Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson) that owes him some money. Kahlil tells Doc Charlock works as a bodyguard for Micky Wolfmann. Doc heads out to a new residential development being built by Wolfmann called Channel View Estates where he finds nothing but desert and the beginnings of a strip mall containing only one business: A massage parlor that is actually a brothel. Doc asks Jade (Hong Chau), the receptionist, if she knows Charlock and she says yes, that he comes around with the rest of his Aryan Brotherhood biker gang when they are protecting Wolfmann. Doc looks around the business briefly but is knock unconscious. He wakes up lying next to the dead body of Glen Charlock in front of the strip mall and is surrounded by police. Doc is taken downtown to talk with Lt. Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a no-nonsense, beat-the-truth-out-of-you cop who also aspires to be an actor. Bigfoot tells Doc he is his prime suspect in the murder of Charlock and the recent disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann but the interview ends when Sauncho Smilax, Esq. (Benicio Del Toro), Doc’s attorney, arrives and stops the interrogation. Bigfoot doesn’t have enough to charge Doc so he lets him go. Soon after, Shasta also goes missing putting Doc into a panic as he hasn’t fully gotten over his feelings for her. During his investigation, Doc encounters drug smuggling dentists, back-from-the-dead musicians, political shenanigans and memories of Shasta, all of which make his job that much harder.

Based on Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, “Inherent Vice” is another of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s microscopic looks at a tiny segment of American culture and how greed, lust and power tend to be corrupting aspects in the lives of his characters. Anderson has done similar examinations in his films “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.” While those films had fascinating characters and riveting stories, “Inherent Vice” is stuffed with dozens of often bizarre characters and a story that is so dense and complicated I had a hard time keeping up with who was who and how they were connected. Despite there being a resolution that directly or indirectly ties all the characters together, it is a thoroughly unentertaining two hours plus to arrive at the finish line.

The best part of “Inherent Vice” is Joaquin Phoenix. His performance is that of a man on the edge of mental and physical collapse, living on pizza, beer, cigarettes and weed. He approaches his work as a PI as nonchalantly as you and I toss away a used paper towel. Doc always has a cover story ready as he talks to people on the down low during his investigations. He will put on his one good suit and top it off with an obviously phony toupee should the need arise. Still, he is never so on the job that he would turn down a drink, or a joint, or a roll in the hay should it be offered. Doc is of such loose moral character he seems like the last person who would be hired to investigate…anything. Phoenix is so loosey goosey in his performance he makes it impossible not to watch him.

Sadly, Phoenix was the only thing I found enjoyable in the film as it moves at a rather leaden pace and so many conversations are hushed and whispered it makes hearing all dialog nearly impossible. Not that it would matter if you clearly heard every word as the story is so complicated as to require the audience to keep notes just to maintain some degree of order. I don’t mind a film that challenges the audience to pay attention but “Inherent Vice” acts like it gets bonus pay for every audience member that leaves confused. The movie isn’t really about what the audience is led to believe in the opening minutes. Exactly what it’s about is still something of a mystery to me.

“Inherent Vice” is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence. Numerous drugs are shown being smoked, snorted and shot up. There is one sex scene that is far from sexy. One woman is seen fully nude. There is another scene where two women are suggested to be having sex. There are also numerous depictions of nude women in art, advertising and neckties. There is some scattered violence including one man beating another man with the lid from a toilet tank. There’s also a shooting. Foul language is common.

I guess “Inherent Vice” is beyond me and I’m not smart enough to get it. Whatever the reason, I didn’t like the movie other than Joaquin Phoenix performance. It’s like swimming in wet concrete: If you work really, really hard, you’ll get somewhere with it but it isn’t worth the effort.

“Inherent Vice” gets one star out of five.

American Sniper

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy in Texas when he sees news coverage of the US Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Kyle joins the Navy and enters the SEAL program, enduring rigorous and brutal physical and mental training. One night at a bar after training, Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and the pair begins a relationship that leads to marriage. At their reception, Kyle gets word he and his unit will be shipping out to Iraq where he will provide security for Marine patrols by being a sniper. Kyle is very good at his work and over the course of four tours of Iraq tallies 160 verified kills and possibly another hundred more. Also during his tours, his reputation led to a bounty being put on his head by the insurgents. An Olympic gold medal winning sharpshooter who is called Mustafa takes on the challenge and nearly succeeds. Mustafa is also responsible for the deaths of many US soldiers and he becomes as big a target for Kyle as Kyle is for Mustafa. The violence and stress causes Kyle to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he becomes distant from Taya and his two kids and unable to relax and settle back into a normal life.

“American Sniper,” based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle, has been adapted by director Clint Eastwood into a thrilling, tense and painful movie to watch. The battle sequences are very tense and often caused my chest to tighten with anxiety and my hands to grasp the armrests until my knuckles were sore. Even when Kyle and another soldier are sitting on a roof overlooking a patrol with nothing happening, the atmosphere is rich with dread and possible disaster. Eastwood is also able to show Kyle in his home with his wife and their painfully domestic life in such a way that it becomes more understandable why some soldiers have such a difficult time transitioning back to normal civilian life. The film shows us how Kyle slowly sinks into depression when he’s home and how he comes to life again when he goes on another tour. It seems counterintuitive but the movie explains Kyle had a deep feeling of responsibility to his fellow soldiers. Kyle is asked by a VA doctor if he felt guilt for anything he did and Kyle replies he only feels guilt for those soldiers he couldn’t save with his talents. That may make Kyle sound like some kind of saint but he is portrayed throughout the film like just a normal man who had an extraordinary gift when it came to shooting a rifle.

What makes “American Sniper” painful is knowing how the story ends. Kyle was shot to death at a gun range by another soldier who was suffering from PTSD. Kyle had received help from the VA in getting back to himself and volunteered to help other soldiers by getting them out of the hospital or their homes and taking them out to shoot target practice. In the film, Kyle is shown as both a patient teacher and a loving father. It’s this seemingly decent man who we know will die at the hands of a fellow soldier that causes pain despite his successes on the battlefield.

Bradley Cooper, who has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, portrays Kyle as rarely getting very demonstrative for any reason. He is shown as the emotional rock of his family and of his fellow soldiers. Cooper is fantastic in the role and deserves the nomination. His Texas drawl and laid back manner exudes an air of confidence and security. Cooper as Kyle is the kind of man with whom other men want to hang around and knock back a few beers, go hunting and fishing and watch the game on Sunday. He is the quintessential Texan about whom we have all heard but weren’t sure still existed. Cooper’s performance looks effortless and he appears to occupy the skin of Kyle with ease. A couple of reviews ago I said Benedict Cumberbatch was my favorite for the Best Actor Oscar. Now I’m not as sure.

“American Sniper” is rated R for some sexual references, language throughout and strong disturbing war violence. The sexual references are scattered. The violence is consistent with many bloody head and chest shots shown. There is a scene where Kyle is watching video that shows a soldier shot in the lower leg and then the chest. That may be the most graphic of the shootings. Foul language is common.

The book “American Sniper” is based on has been the subject of a fair bit of controversy involving some of Kyle’s stories of what happened both in Iraq and here in the US. One of those stories is the subject of an on-going lawsuit involving former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura who was himself a SEAL specializing in underwater demolition. There are other stories that have drawn some scrutiny for either their accuracy or their veracity. It appears Chris Kyle liked to stretch the truth from time to time; however, what can’t be questioned is his dedication to his mission of protecting his fellow soldiers during his four tours in Iraq. “American Sniper” is both a thrilling and heartbreaking look at a warrior who had his human weaknesses just like the rest of us and should be remembered as a hero.

“American Sniper” gets five stars.

This week, three new movies with decidedly lighter subject matter hope you decide to drop some coin at the box office (and concession stand). I’ll see and review at least one of them.

The Boy Next Door—

Mordecai—

Strange Magic—

Send email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net and follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.