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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

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GotG2Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not perfect.

But it is damn close.

Marvel Studios continues its run of fun, thrilling and engaging movies with this sequel to the surprise hit of the late summer of 2014. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel took a risk and put B and C List characters with little to no name recognition front-and-center in a film and it worked better than anyone could have anticipated.

Could lightening strike twice with this second volume?

It is a very near miss. The original film has almost no missteps. The sequel has but one.

There is a little too much going on. It is not that the movie is impossible to follow or that there are so many characters, the audience does not care about them. It is not that more means less. It is simply that Vol. 2 feels like too much of a good thing, like it is about to burst its seams.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels a bit bloated but, to be clear, it is bloated with more good things so is that really a bad thing? This is a minor quibble, to be sure, but the movie perhaps could have been edited a little tighter.

Thought I do not know what I would recommend cutting out.

The whole engaging gang from the first installment is back and it is terrific to spend another couple hours with Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bausita (Drax) and the voices of Vin Diesel (Baby Groot) and Bradley Cooper (Rocket), not to mention the always worth watching Michael Rooker (Yondu) and the savagely fun Karen Gillen (Nebula). Much like the creators of last summer’s Star Trek Beyond, writer/director James Gunn makes a decision that serves his movie very, very well: he splits up the team.

Peter, Gamora and Drax go off on their own A story adventure (connecting with new character Mantis played by Pom Clementieff and with Kurt Russell – more below) leaving Rocket and Groot on their own to hook up with Yondu on a B story of their own.

It does not matter that much if you know all the characters by name. By the end of the film, you’ll know them as family. That is the key here: the Guardians function as a family and this movie brings that theme home.

Gamora’s sister Nebula is back. A new character (played with gusto by welcome addition Kurt Russell who seems to be having as much fun as anyone) who may or may not be Peter’s father is introduced. Rocket learns he wants to be a part of something (like a family) and Baby Groot begins to grow up. Could Gamora and Peter even acknowledge what has gone unacknowledged between them?

There is tremendous fun to be had in all of this and a surprising amount of character development for a summer action movie. That might be the greatest trick that Gunn pulls off. Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sometimes plays like a television show in terms of its plot structure, the proceedings supremely bananas but in the most pleasant way imaginable.

Chris Pratt was born to play this role and he steals focus in every scene – well, almost every scene. Kurt Russell gives Star Lord a run for his money. But it is Pratt’s movie and he carries it very, very well. He has said he would play this character for 10 more movies and I say “more power to him.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not afraid to break new ground and, while it cannot possibly hope to match the shock that was the original film, it does at least one thing better than most Marvel movies: it gives the audience a concluding battle to care about and an antagonist who is out for something more than destruction for destruction’s sake. It also manages to give audiences the most aptly named protagonist, perhaps of all time.

The soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy was spectacular and an integral part of that film. It was so influential that Vol. 2 is a play on the title of the mixtape Peter received at the end of the first movie. Therefore, the soundtrack of the second installment was hotly anticipated. Rest assured, it does not disappoint. From Fleetwood Mac to Cat Stevens to The Electric Light Orchestra, this one works. Track-for-track, Gunn turns the volume up to 11 on the tunes and on the emotions of the audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is terrific fun. It is the perfect summer movie and an almost perfect sequel. That it is bigger than its predecessor is obvious. That is it better is debatable.

But it is very damn good.

Be sure to stay in your seats for the FIVE beginning, mid and post credit sequences!



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Passengers – A Movie Review

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passengersHave you heard how bad Passengers is? It’s currently at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a slightly better Metascore rating of 41. Slightly better, indeed. This reviewer does not agree.

Is Passengers the best movie I’ve seen this year? No, that honor is currently claimed by Hell or High Water (though that all may change when we see La La Land later). Is it the worst? No, that distinction is all Allied.

But is it a bad movie? No, it is not. Frankly, Passengers is a pretty good movie. In some ways more complex than the previews led one to believe, there is a level of complexity that Passengers approaches was a surprise. There are some interesting themes at work in Passengers and a fairly deep moral question around which the movie revolves. I was not expecting that.

I was expecting great performances from the major cast members and got them. The lead here is clearly Chris Pratt. He is very capable of handling the lead in Passengers. His Jim Preston is a distinct creation from his other roles and that’s good to see. Pratt could have let this character drift into similarities his Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy and that does not happen. Pratt is a very good actor, akin to an early Tom Hanks, and he is becoming worth watching in whatever he does.

Jennifer Lawrence is, of course, excellent as Aurora Lane, a writer who tries to deal with the fact that she may well be on the last voyage of her life. She is typically worth the price of admission to any film she’s in and she does not disappoint here. The rage and sadness, the helplessness she conveys during the movie are deeply felt and give the movie some emotional grounding.

Pratt and Lawrence have great chemistry, the kind that makes one want to see them together in another film. They play very well off each other in all of the varied circumstances the plot contrives to put them in and they carry the movie ably. Passengers would not have been as good in the hands of lesser actors.

Michael Sheen deserves some recognition as Arthur, the android bartender who, for much of the first act of the film, is Preston’s only companion. Sheen, like Lawrence and Pratt, takes what might be a one-note performance and makes it more than that through his work. I am glad to hear that rumors of his retirement from acting were just rumors.

Great performances and a very good hook help the movie from being a let down. The plot, in some ways, does not. As the movie progresses, the realization that something is very wrong with the starship Preston and Lane are on drives the story and the characters are forced to become reactionary. Their character development is shunted by the wayside for plot development and, while that is not always a bad thing, one can see a bit too readily where these plot points will take the characters and where their arcs will conclude.

I liked those conclusions and I liked the characters. The draw back of Passengers is that all is wrapped up a little too nicely.

However, that does not mean it’s a bad film. Well acted, well directed and visually arresting to look at, Passengers is not the disaster it has been made out to be.


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Jurassic World – A Movie Review

Jurassic World Poster

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Did the world need another iteration of Jurassic Park? Did audiences need to see more terrified people running away from more ridiculous dinosaurs? Did movie-goers want to watch another set of children running from rampaging beasts? Did we need an additional wise-cracking Chris Pratt action hero?

As it has turned out, we did.

How do we know? Jurassic World is now the third highest grossing movie of all time. It lags behind only Titanic and Avatar as a money-maker and, while it’s not likely to catch either of those James Cameron juggernauts, the fact that the fourth movie in a dormant franchise can reach these heights is very impressive indeed. No other sequel has come close to making this kind of money. But is the movie any good?

It is some good. It might even be mostly good. It is not great.

Jurassic World shares the DNA (forgive the pun) of the first film in the franchise, Steven Spielberg’s rightly beloved Jurassic Park. This movie, in fact, serves as a more direct sequel to that one than even Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park did. The massive failures of planning for the first amusement park worked out, the dinosaurs better tamed and controlled, and the infrastructure of the facilities refined to almost perfection, Jurassic World is an interactive wonderland with a high-tech rides, dino-petting zoos and luxury hotels on site.  No longer run by Wayne Knight and Samuel L. Jackson from a dark computer bunker, Jurassic World is maintained from a NORAD-like control center peopled by dozens of high-tech nerds under the direction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, a Jurassic World power-player who can barely be bothered to look away from her cell phone when her two nephews arrive for a weekend visit. It should also be pointed out that all of these computer geeks are terrible at their jobs. Jurassic World exists because its vision of humanity is that people are dumber than the dinos and even armed with technology and weaponry, they will be lucky to survive their interactions with creatures from the Jurassic Era.

Sound familiar?

It should. Jurassic World doesn’t actually try to cover much new ground. It is almost beat-for-beat a copy of Jurassic Park and knowingly so. It’s homages to the original film are nice to see, but remind the audience that Spielberg and Michael Crichton did this a whole lot better with a whole lot less money 25 years ago.

What’s the same? We have a profit hungry CEO. We have kids in danger. We have dinosaurs on the loose. We have company employees with secret agendas. We have Velociraptors. We have our returning hero (Sam Neill? No – the Tyrannosaurus Rex).

What’s different? No much, just take all the original components and set the dials to “11.”

  • Why have one employee working to subvert the amusement park when you can have 2? Vincent D’Onofrio (so very good in Netflix’s Daredevil) comes off as a one-note, mustache-twirling villain and BD Wong takes a wholly odd turn to the dark side not at all suggested by his original appearance in the series 25 years back.
  • Why have Velociraptors that are one the loose and wild when you can put them in captivity and train them to be heroes? Hello, Terminator II.
  • Why have “real” dinosaurs when you can have genetically spliced together super-dinosaurs like Indominus Rex?
  • Why have an island where fewer than a dozen people can be terrorized by rampaging dinos when you can have an island of tens of thousands at the mercy of said rampage?
  • Why have anyone in authority with the slightest sense or ability to learn from past mistakes?

Okay, so sequels are designed to give the audience the same beats of the original film but with, you know, more. I get it and Jurassic World does, too.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t try to also give us something new. The closest the original films came to Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady was Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm in terms of the wise-cracking hero and, though Pratt is pretty much held in check throughout the film and not as engaging as he was in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s very watchable here. Affable and comedic, Pratt is making a career out of these types of characters and there’s nothing wrong with that. While the script doesn’t give him much to work with, Pratt makes the most of the role. My guess is the recently announced sequel will take of Owen’s training wheels and we’ll get the full Pratt.

Bryce Dallas Howard has a much less rewarding role as Claire, the Julie McCoy of Jurassic World. As things fall apart around her, Claire is taught the true meaning of Christmas as she realizes she’s placed her nephews in mortal danger, placed the guests in Jurassic World at similar risk, placed herself at the hands of the corporate monster. It’s too bad so many people had to die for her to learn the lesson John Hammond learned two decades earlier. Howard is good, but it’s hard to overcome the ridiculous sight of her running around Jurassic World in high heels. As a role model for women and as a woman action hero, Claire Dearing is given a few moments, but she leaves something to be desired.

The audience is expected to understand that Pratt’s Grady and Howard’s Dearing have some sort of history because of a throwaway line about a date that went awry but that shared past means absolutely nothing in the larger context of the film and is pretty lazy screenwriting. When the fit hits the shan, it matters very little whether these two characters are meeting for the first time or are star-crossed lovers, what matters is that they can run from dinosaurs, scream really loud and look cool doing so. Pratt and Howard acquit themselves well on these counts.

The movie is meant to be a thrill ride and director Colin Trevorrow delivers. The computer graphics are top-notch, the tension is engaging and the dinosaurs (especially the ones that Spielberg and company didn’t have the tech to deliver in the earlier films) are very cool. The questionable decision to revisit the original movie at various points throughout Jurassic World – both in terms of plot, locations and set pieces – actually takes away from this film. It makes the audience familiar with the first movie wish they were actually watching it.

There is a dubious flirtation with themes here – don’t mess with Mother Nature, don’t trust the para-military, don’t prostitute yourself to the almighty dollar, etc. – but they are so obvious and so broadly written that they seem like they came from a piece of creative writing from a high school freshman. That’s okay because that’s not why we’re coming to Jurassic World.

We’re coming to be entertained. We’re coming to be amazed. We’re coming to see dinosaurs eat some people.

Well, as Maximus once said at a similar gathering: “are you not entertained?”

I am, thank you. Just enough.



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Avengers No Longer Rex

This picture says it well… Marvel is a good sport.


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Jurassic WORLD Teaser… I’m In.

The long-awaited (by me, anyway!) sequel to Jurassic Park III, seems to be shaping up very nicely, thank you.

jurassic world

The teaser is pitch-perfectly reminiscent of the earlier films, especially of the original.

Dinosaurs and motorcycles? John Williams’ theme? Chris Pratt?

Count me in.

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Guardians of the Galaxy – A Movie Review

GuardiansoftheGalaxyThis review is over a month overdue. I am bailed out, though, by the fact that movie I am review has become the highest grossing film of the year, has the hottest soundtrack of the year and is STILL the Number One movie at the box office this weekend, six weeks after its release. That’s a pretty rare feat.

The movie is, of course, Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s a gas.

However, initially, I really thought Marvel Films had made its first mistake with this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy and, if I am not the target audience, no one is. I eat up comic book movies (and merchandise) with an over-sized spoon. I knew who the Guardians were before they became the subject of a film.

But I saw the early images, heard about the storyline and dismissed both as pretty silly. A talking raccoon? A walking tree? Vin Diesel?

I tried to resist the entire thing.

Then the first preview hit with Spirit in the Sky thumping in the background and Chris Pratt pleading “I’m Star-Lord, man,” in the foreground and I found myself smiling, my feet pounding in time with the music and I thought, “maybe this won’t be terrible.”

Yet I was still very sure that Guardians was not going to be big. In fact, I was pretty sure that it was going to be a bridge too far for Marvel – their first comic book flop.

But the marketing continued and the thing got in my head.

Later in the summer, The Cinnamon Girl and I attended a free, 15 minute preview of the movie. And it was great. And I got excited for the film.

Now, six weeks after the film opened, it’s the highest grossing movie of the year.

I’ve seen it three times. I’m hoping to see it in theater again before it concludes its run.

It’s unlike any other comic book movie I’ve ever seen.

It has more in common with Ghostbusters than The Avengers. It is far more Romancing the Stone than Iron Man 3. It is an action comedy that simply makes no missteps. Every choice director James Gunn makes works. From casting Chris Pratt to assembling a truly remarkable soundtrack (a soundtrack so good it doesn’t even include Spirit in the Sky), from giving Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voice roles to creating visuals that are quite original, Gunn’s Guardians fires on all cylinders.

The self-named Guardians are a collection of miscreants thrown together by the type of circumstances that only movies can generate. Forced together in a quest against impossible odds, Peter Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Drax and Groot… blah, blah, blah… does it really matter?

No. It absolutely doesn’t.

Guardians of the Galaxy works because it has heart. The characters, to varying degrees, endear themselves to the audience because they are sympathetic, three-dimensional and relatable. The performances are strong top-to-bottom. The movie plays in two acts, the first half a classic jail break caper, the second a race-against-time culminating in a deus ex machine that is completely forgivable in light of the overall proceedings.

I loved the characters. I loved the sweetness. I loved the music. I loved the movie.

I guess Marvel Films gets the benefit of the doubt from here on out. Until they screw up (will it be Ant-Man? Dr. Strange?), bite off more than they can chew or simply make a bad movie, I will line up for their movies on opening night.



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Guardians of the Galaxy – 11% Of A Review

Last night, The Cinnamon Girland I went to a free screening of 17 minutes of next month’s The Guardians of the Galaxy. It was in IMAX, I had to have popcorn and the clips left me wanting MORE.


Photo from Marvel.com. Free posters were given out last night.

First, we knew in advance that this screening was just 17 minutes. Unlike many in line who thought they were about to be treated to an advance look of the entire film (because the information about the screening wasn’t clear enough, I guess, when it stated “see 17 minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy before it’s released in theaters!”), we knew what we were in for.

Oh, and let me take a moment to thank my lovely wife for coming with me to stuff like this. I feel bad for anyone in a marriage who doesn’t experience the support that I do on a daily basis.

The footage was RIDICULOUS and, by that, I mean ridiculously cool. Funny, smart and explosive, the scenes on display from Guardians of the Galaxy suggest that the movie itself is going to be fast paced, tongue-in-cheek fun. I will be both surprised and disappointed if it’s not.

When I first saw this film project announced, my initial take was “why this property?” Marvel has all kinds of different characters to put on film, why choose this odd and pretty obscure group to feature? Though, honestly, I knew I would see the movie (I am the guy who saw Green Lantern in the theater. Twice.), I didn’t think it would have broad appeal.

Watching the previews including last night’s footage, listening to the soundtrack, paying attention to the tone of the project, I begin to think that Guardians will be the hit of the summer.

My reactions to last night:

  • Chris Pratt is awesome as Peter Quill – Star Lord – and will be the perfect center of the movie.
  • The walking tree called Groot is cuter than the anthropomorphized Rocket (the Bradley Cooper voiced raccoon) and will steal every scene he’s in. It’s already destined to be Vin Diesel’s greatest role.
  • The action is very well done.
  • The movie – at least the 17 minutes featured last night – somehow has an Ocean’s Eleven feel. That’s a good thing.
  • Zoe Saldana wasn’t featured too prominently in the footage… I look forward to seeing what she does with Gamora.
  • There was a brief glimpse of Thanos… the big bad from Avengers. Very cool.

It’s been a weak summer for movies. The market is primed for Guardians of the Galaxy and I think it’s going to hit. Big time.

Marvel released a new preview – the final one, I am sure – last night.  Take a look.

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