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 and “Snatched” for

King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword–


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Review of “The Magnificent Seven”

Matthew and Emma Cullen (Matt Bomer and Haley Bennett) live in the small frontier community of Rose Creek. The nearby gold mine is owned by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and he wants to force out all the residents of Rose Creek and take over the entire valley. During a meeting at the church of many of the town’s residents, Bogue walks in and offers only $20.00 per property to the remaining families. His cadre of armed men forces everyone into the street and set the church on fire. When Matthew stands up to Bogue, Bogue pulls out a gun and kills him. Since the town’s sheriff is on Bogue’s payroll, nothing is done to stop his reign of terror. Emma rides to the next town and witnesses a bounty hunter named Chisolm (Denzel Washington) wipe out a bar full of outlaws and ask him to help her. Initially reluctant Chisolm agrees when he hears Bogue is involved. His first recruit is a hard-drinking poker player named Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Then they find an outlaw named Rulfo Vasquez (Manuel Garcia), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The group heads to town and quickly wipes out all of Bogue’s men. The sheriff is left alive and Chisolm sends him to tell Bogue what happened and challenge him to return to town and face Chisolm. The seven convinces the townspeople to join them and prepare for the coming bloodthirsty hired gunmen that Bogue will lead to town.

“The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of a 1960 film of the same name that starred Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach. It was recently named for preservation by the Library of Congress and the soundtrack contains one of the most recognized, used and copied theme songs in the history of film. While this modern version may not be quite the classic of its predecessor, director Antoine Fuqua and writers Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk have delivered an entertaining and, to some extent, thought provoking film.

The cast is full of people (with a few exceptions) you’ve seen in many, many other films and TV shows. From lead actors Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt to character players like Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard, the entire group of main actors is spot on and firing on all cylinders. Both Washington and Pratt play characters with silent strength and menace but in different ways. While Washington’s Chisolm is a man viewed as dangerous on first meeting, Pratt’s Faraday is more like comic relief until there’s a threat and then he is a force to be reckoned with.

Vincent D’Onofrio steals the film in every scene he’s in. A bear of a man with a disarming high, squeaky voice, D’Onofrio’s Horne quotes scripture as he’s driving a knife repeatedly into the body of one of Bogue’s henchmen. The contrast is disarming and makes anything Horne does a bit of a surprise. I would have liked to see more of Horne in the movie and Fuqua (or someone else) could maybe make a solo film of Horne’s life prior to him joining the seven.

Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue is a character that does nothing but evil throughout the film and it almost feels like he’s too much of a villain to have lived as long as the character has. Someone that evil must have made more than a few enemies over the years and someone should have taken him out before now. Still, Bogue is a great villain for this movie. He’s easy to despise and impossible to root for. He appears unstoppable with all the wealth and resources necessary to wipe the town and its people off the map. Bogue, like Chisolm and Faraday, is quietly dangerous. He listens to someone’s complaint then quickly makes the decision to take the life of whoever is complaining. He doesn’t tolerate failure or cowardice in others despite letting surrogates do his dirty work for him. He walks into town surrounded by half a dozen or more ruthless killers and shoots an unarmed man. He has succeeded by intimidation, theft and murder. For him, it is simply the way he does business.

Speaking of business, Bogue gives a speech early in the film that implies the writers and director had a political agenda they were trying to get across. Bogue talks about how capitalism is kind of a religion and the townspeople are violating God’s law by standing in the way of Bogue’s empire. If one applies this bit of thinking to the rest of the film, it might seem like Antoine Fuqua and the screenwriters are looking at the story as an allegory for the struggle of the working class against the power and control of big business. The seven fighters brought in to try and dismantle the greedy corporate interest could be seen as labor unions using whatever means necessary to make the company treat the workers with respect and to share the wealth. This might be me putting too much thought into a minor plot point but the sledgehammer-like subtlety of this monologue seemed to have been purposeful.

“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. The shootout that ends the film is probably close to 30 minutes long. There are numerous scenes of people being shot, some bloodier than others. There are also scenes with people being killed by arrows. The suggestive material is very mild and brief. Most of the characters are shown smoking at some point. The language is mild and widely scattered.

Despite what felt like a ham-handed attempt at social commentary, “The Magnificent Seven” powers through to deliver a fun and exciting Western adventure. With massive explosions, huge gunfights, bad guys with bad aim, galloping horses and majestic scenery, the film is a kind of throwback to an earlier time when the good guys and bad guys were easy to identify, the ladies in the saloon were always hookers with a heart of gold and the townspeople needed a good kick in the butt to make them see they needed to fight for their futures. It may not be perfect but it was fun.

“The Magnificent Seven” gets five guitars out of five.

This week a couple of movies based on true stories and the return of Tim Burton arrive in a multiplex near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Deepwater Horizon—


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—

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Review of “Juassic World”

For some, older movies are like a warm blanket: Once you’re wrapped up in it you don’t want to move. My wife and I have a personal combined favorite of “Sixteen Candles.” If we are flipping around on the channels and see it pop up we’ll watch it no matter where we come in. We often quote lines from the film to each other when they happen to fit in the conversation. Personally, I have a warm spot in my heart for 1993’s “Jurassic Park.” While computer generated effects had been used in prior films, Steven Spielberg incorporated them both sparingly and perfectly. The scene where Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s characters first spot the three Brachiosaurus gave me the chills as it appeared to be as lifelike as one could have hoped. Many other scenes of dinosaurs were done with giant animatronic puppets and looked as good as the CG. What really sells that movie is the relationship between Neill and the younger characters he is forced to look over when things begin to go wrong. That gave what could have been a fairly average monster movie a bit more heart. In the franchise reboot “Jurassic World” we once again have impressive creatures running amok and a couple of younger characters in need of saving. In this film, the heart comes more from the relationship between a human and four velociraptors and the movie suffers a bit for it amongst other reasons.

Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are brothers headed out on an adventure by themselves to visit their Aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who manages day to day operations at Jurassic World. Claire and the head of the conglomerate that owns the attraction Simon Masrani (Irfan Khan) are preparing to open a new feature with a hybrid dinosaur called Indominus Rex. The combination of T-Rex and other DNA has created a massive beast bigger than the T-Rex. Masrani wants Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former military man that now works for the genetics company InGen that created the dinosaurs, to inspect the enclosure and make sure it can hold such a beast. Claire and Owen have a bit of history that makes the thought of working with him unpleasant for her. Owen and InGen’s head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) are working on a project to teach velociraptors to follow commands and that appears to be making progress. Hoskins wants to use trained raptors to replace some ground troops and go on search and destroy missions for the military. Owen thinks it’s a bad idea and unlikely to work. During his inspection of the enclosure, the I-Rex can’t be found on any of the heat sensitive monitors. Scratches on the wall appear to show the animal has climbed out. Owen and two others enter the enclosure and soon discover the I-Rex is still inside. Owen survives but the other two men are killed and the I-Rex breaks down a partially opened gate and escapes. Not wanting to cause a panic and hurt future revenue, Claire begins a partial shutdown of the park closest to where the I-Rex is but Zach and Gray break off from a tour in a rolling geosphere and go where they shouldn’t. Owen needs to know more about the kind of DNA used to make the I-Rex but is told the information is classified. Owen can tell by its behavior the I-Rex is far smarter and more adaptable than any other creature and fears all the measures taken to subdue it will fail.

“Jurassic World” makes a valiant attempt at recapturing the magic and wonder of “Jurassic Park.” Showing us the park through the eyes of young Ty Simpkins’ character along with the soaring music of the soundtrack which recycles John William’s original theme initially establishes a nostalgic connection with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic. Using Chris Pratt as a kind of mashup of both Sam Neill’s dino expert and Jeff Goldbloom’s mathematician is also a smart play. The super popular Pratt as the voice of calm and reason in the midst of either cold-hearted business decisions or deadly dinosaur chaos helps keep the audience grounded in at least a realm of reality in this very unreal situation. Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard work well together and have a chemistry that really shines when they are sniping at each other. The more they fall for each other (as inevitably happens in nearly all movies) their spark begins to die a little.

Initially, the idea of Pratt as the savior and protector of the two boys seemed to be a major plot point based on the first film; however, for most of the movie, the boys are on their own even after the park begins to fall into chaos and that actually works pretty well. They show some smarts and bravery that appears to be lacking in their relationship initially. Zach being the older and a teenager shows the prerequisite lack of interest in his younger brother. When the world begins to fall apart they become closer and while it’s cliché it was also nice to see as these two young actors seem to mesh quite well. Unfortunately, that also leaves Pratt’s main character stuck with playing daddy to four velociraptors.

The idea that these animals could be trained in a way that they would never kill someone they shouldn’t is just one of the film’s logical flaws. That even plays out early on when a worker falls in the raptor pen and Owen must save him. Any time watching the “Walking with Dinosaurs” series on the Discovery Channel or streaming it will show the viewer that the smartest dinosaur ever had the IQ of a chicken. It makes for an interesting subplot but it also could cause you to concuss yourself slapping your forehead with your hand. The entire set up of the park seems to be designed to get people killed. One scene shows families in canoes rowing down a stream next to large plant-eating dinosaurs. One slip on a rock and there’s a multi ton creature falling on a boatload of guests. The lawsuits for wrongful death and injury would bankrupt that place in a matter of days. Also, keeping the pterosaurs in a glass building seems like a terrible idea and it is shown to be in the film. Also, the park is on an island that can only be evacuated in mass by cruise ships. While keeping the creatures on the island is a good idea, getting people to and from the island seems like it would be a nightmare in an emergency situation. Everyone is stuck until a boat shows up. They don’t exactly move that fast and take even longer to get docked. While the island is accessible by helicopter they cannot handle that many passengers and we never see a landing strip or airport on the island for fixed wing craft. As much as I would love to see dinosaurs in real life, if Jurassic World actually existed and I could afford it, I’m not sure I’d want to go.

All that said, I’m making the mistake I encourage others not to by applying too much logic to a movie. It’s a film about dinosaurs eating people and each other and it’s a great deal of fun. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard work well together in roles that don’t really ask much of their abilities. They breathe a little humanity into their characters when they could have been just Hollywood standard issue action movie leads. Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins aren’t annoying kid characters but characters who happen to be kids. They are allowed to grow and mature a bit as the story goes along and while it is all stuff we’ve seen before they do it very well. Vincent D’Onofrio is slimy from the first frame of film he’s seen in and you know he’s going to be the cause of some trouble. While not the nuanced performance of his recent work in Marvel’s Netflix series “Daredevil,” D’Onofrio gives the movie a bad guy that isn’t a dinosaur. We see his desire for power and prestige and he believes in his cause with a fervor that borders on religious. We know we shouldn’t like him but it’s hard not to be drawn in to his enthusiasm. All these films must have a bit of comic relief and that’s supplied by Jake Johnson, best known as Nick on the TV comedy “New Girl,” who plays a control room operator named Cruthers. He’s trying hard to be the conscience of the corporate entity that runs the park and he’s constantly ignored. His brief appearances are usually quite funny and his character is the everyman who feels unnoticed and unknown. The only character from the original film that makes an appearance is Dr. Henry Wu played by B.D. Wong. Dr. Wu has largely been an exposition machine explaining about how the dinosaurs were made. Now, his character has been upgraded into a borderline bad guy. Wu is a geneticist with no ethics. He’s constantly trying to build a bigger, meaner dinosaur and doesn’t care about the consequences. He sees his research as a boon to mankind that will have applications outside the park. My guess is he will learn he is merely a pawn to corporate greed as we will see him in any future sequels.

“Jurassic World” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and peril. Basically dinosaurs eat people and each other. They chase and attack people and each other. If you’ve ever seen a documentary about crocodiles in Africa waiting for the animals to drink at the river’s edge and then attack them, you’ve seen most of the violence in “Jurassic World.” Foul language is mild and minimal.

While it lacks the awe and wonder of “Jurassic Park,” “Jurassic World” is a perfectly fine summer blockbuster that provides lots of CG eye candy and thrills. Don’t invest a huge amount of thought in what’s going on and the experience will not be spoiled. While ignoring the clichés and some of the sillier aspects of the story might pose a larger challenge, “Jurassic World” will likely provide a couple of hours enjoyment in a cool theatre on a hot summer day or evening.

“Jurassic World” gets four stars out of five.

This week, the trials of being a musical genius, the voices in your head and the making of a 40 year tradition all hit screens and hope you’ll spend your money to see them. I’ll see at least one of them and review it.

Inside Out—

Live From New York—

Love and Mercy—

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