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.

Reviews of “The Big Short” and “The Hateful Eight” 70mm Roadshow Version

The Big Short

Seeing the impending collapse of the housing market, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) creates a fund that bets against the massive mortgage funds sold by the biggest banks called a credit default swap market. Believing they will rack up huge fees and never have to pay off his investment, many major banks agree to the fund. Meanwhile, investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears about Burry’s fund and begins finding his own investors for the credit swap market. A chance wrong number phone call catches the interest of stock trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and he invests millions with Vennett. Two young investors, Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), see a prospectus for Vennett’s fund and approach friend and retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get in on the growing market betting on the failure of mortgage funds. Through greed, manipulation and lax regulation, the American economy and millions of home owners, retirees and small investors were about to lose trillions of dollars while a select few were reaping huge profits from their misfortune.

“The Big Short” is not a film for someone with a short attention span. The labyrinthine collection of funds, abbreviations and acronyms for various packaged mortgage debt is dizzying but essential to having a grasp on what’s going on in the film and why it led to the meltdown of the world economy. Director/co-writer Adam McKay (best known for his work with Will Ferrell) and writer Charles Randolph have done their best to explain what happened in the simplest terms and using Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez as themselves explaining the more complicated concepts directly to the camera in ways the audience can understand. It is a brilliant way to take a hugely complex issue and turn it into somewhat understandable nuggets with humor and a fair amount of rage.

The main cast is broken up into three segments with Bale’s Burry starting things off by figuring out the mortgage market was a house of cards with a time bomb ticking away at its base. Gosling and Carell get involved once the debt market is opened. Magaro, Wittrock and Pitt bring up the rear. While the three groups never interact, they are all dancing in the same financial ballet. The entire cast is pretty brilliant with Gosling and Bale delivering standout performances. Gosling is a slimy Wall Street investor with a slick pitch, spray tan and an utter disdain for his assistants. He berates them when they say anything during his sales pitch. He’s the boss from Hell that still manages to inspire loyalty. Bale has probably the most difficult role as he plays Michael Burry as if he was on the autism spectrum. In the film, Burry displays obsessive behavior, often staying up for days at a time, working in his office with loud heavy metal music playing through speakers or in his earbuds. His ability to focus on the intricacies of subprime mortgages and wade through mountains of reports allows him to see what others cannot. Bale makes subtle decisions with the character that keep Burry from turning into some kind of “Rain Man” caricature. While Burry clearly is wired differently from most others he doesn’t come off as someone who is completely out of place.

If there is any part of “The Big Short” that struck me wrong it was Steve Carell’s Mark Baum. Due to a personal tragedy, Baum is a constant ball of anger and frustration who can’t keep his opinion to himself. He has an investment firm with three other people and works directly with one of the major banks. It seems unlikely he could keep any of these business arrangements considering how quickly he flies off the handle. Carell does the best he can with the part and despite my finding his character grating, Baum is still one of the more sympathetic figures in the movie as his frustration at the impending collapse is based on his revulsion at how the system is so thoroughly corrupt; however, that doesn’t stop him from profiting from the suffering of others. Carell is also wearing an odd wig that looks like it doesn’t quite fit. I found his hair to be a distraction.

“The Big Short” is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. There are two scenes involving strippers. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Much like a liquid medicine that has a flavor added so your first impression is pleasant then once you swallow the bitterness causes you to shiver, “The Big Short” wraps its message of utter contempt for the banking industry and those who oversee it in a humorous package. There are some decent laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Once you reach the end, that shiver begins to run down your back as you realize the sins of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s are probably being committed again as you read this. There’s a saying about learning from history otherwise we are doomed to repeat it, making “The Big Short” required viewing for anyone with a mortgage.

“The Big Short” gets four stars out of five.

The Hateful Eight

Eight people are waiting out a blizzard at a store/way station called Minnie’s Haberdashery in the mountains of Wyoming in the late 1800’s. John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter who has Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) manacled to his wrist. She is on her way to Red Rock to be hanged. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a bounty hunter with three dead outlaws strapped to the top of a stagecoach he was sharing with Ruth and Domergue. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) was picked up walking through the snow by that same stage coach. He claims his horse broke its leg as he was riding to Red Rock to be sworn in as sheriff but both Ruth and Warren have their doubts about his story due to his family history. Arriving at the store to wait out the storm, they find Oswoldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who identifies himself as the hangman for the territory, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way to visit his mother for the holidays, General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a Confederate general who is on his way to visit his son’s grave, and Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican handyman who is watching the store for the Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave while they go visit family on the other side of the mountain. Ruth is not the trusting type and suspects one or more of the people at the store are working with Daisy to kill him and set her free. Despite his reservations, Ruth enters an agreement with Warren working together to make sure Daisy meets her maker at the end of a rope.

I saw the much hyped 70mm version of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” The things you won’t get in the regular version that will play in most theatres is an overture before the film, some alternate versions of some scenes due to the way they will look on smaller screens and an intermission. What you may miss most is the intermission as even the shorter cut is still two hours and 47 minutes. “The Hateful Eight” is filled with beautiful scenery, long tracking shots of characters crossing the one large room in which most of the action takes place and buckets of blood with chunks of flesh added for realism. It is an orgy of set and costume design as well as special effects provided by Greg Nicotero, the man behind the zombies of “The Walking Dead.” And despite all the cursing and racial epithets, the script is something akin to poetry as Tarantino has structured each bit of dialog to be like a verse of a song, providing both information and entertainment. We learn a great deal about most of the characters in “The Hateful Eight” and often times we are taught in a humorous way. And, as with all Tarantino films, there are homages to the westerns of the past that shaped the director’s vision in his youth and, of course, he uses a soundtrack done by Ennio Morricone, the man behind the music for Spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone. This is probably the most “Quentin Tarantino” movie the director has ever made. Why then was I not that impressed.

Probably the biggest issue was the length. At just over three hours (overture and intermission included), “The Hateful Eight” is a film that takes its sweet time getting moving. Early on we get long views of snow-covered mountains and trees. There is a shot of a statue depicting Christ on the cross that agonizingly slowly pulls out to show us a stagecoach approaching the camera (this includes the opening credits but it still felt leaden). Later, there long dialog scenes that last an eternity. While I praised the script earlier, there are a lot of scenes that are unnecessarily long with Tarantino showing off how he can make his characters say awful things to one another, so much so that after a while it fails to have much impact.

The ending of the film I also found disappointing. After investing one-eighth of a day in watching these characters dance around each other and then endure an orgy of blood and viscera, the movie staggers to a conclusion that fails to deliver any kind of meaningful emotional payoff. It lays there like a fish out of water, the life slowly oozing from it as it gasps for a last breath. Tarantino asks a great deal from his audience in “The Hateful Eight” and he puts on, for the most part, quite a show; however, when he should have put forth his best effort, he seems to have done just barely enough to get to the closing credits. It’s like being on a plane for 18 hours thinking when you land you’ll be on the other side of the world but finding out you’ve just been circling your home airport. You’ve spent an awfully long time traveling but discover it really wasn’t worth the trip.

“The Hateful Eight” is rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic nudity, language and violent sexual content. It’s a Tarantino film so the bloody violence is a given. I won’t give specifics as not to spoil it for you but there are numerous shootings with various degrees of bloodiness and goriness. Some limbs get separated from bodies at times as well as one head. One character is punched numerous times producing a great deal of blood. There is a scene showing a naked man walking through snow and there is full frontal nudity. A sex act is shown and graphically described. Foul language is common.

Tarantino has been interviewed numerous times in the run-up to the release of “The Hateful Eight” and has described in glowing terms how much better film is than digital photography. In the past, Tarantino has called digital projection “TV in public.” Having seen this film in 70mm widescreen, I would point out to the director I could see the graininess of the film. The print I saw already had nicks and scratches in it during what was only its fifth screening. Using a lens that hasn’t been on a camera since Charlton Heston’s “Ben Hur” was filmed is great for nostalgia but doesn’t really do anything to advance the art of filmmaking.

Tarantino loves old movies so much he bought a theatre in Los Angeles, CA and programs only the films he thinks should be seen and remembered. That’s great if you’re a rich director and need a hobby. As a moviegoer, I want directors to push the envelope and use all the tools science and industry gives them to create images and stories I’ve never seen before. While “The Hateful Eight” is a beautifully shot and impeccably designed movie, it lacks an emotional connection that Tarantino should be a master at creating by now. His desire to show just how good of a moviemaker he is has gotten in the way of connecting his story to his audience. It was nice to look at but I didn’t want to live there.

“The Hateful Eight” gets three stars out of five.

No new movies are opening this week so it will be two weeks when I review my next film and that is the horror movie, “The Forest.”

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