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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

6 May

In 2014, Marvel took a gamble and released Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured a team of heroes that were way more under the radar than any of the Avengers. Since it’s release, everyone can confidently say who Star Lord or Groot are because the film was so much fun. It made a killing at the box office and stands as one of the MCU’s greatest entries. It was inevitable that a sequel would be made featuring the beloved intergalactic crew, and it was up to James Gunn to once again capture everything we love about the first film and make something new. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as excellent as the first film, this is still a worthy sequel that provides a lot of laughs, action, and heart.

Peter Qull (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are known far and wide as the Guardians of the Galaxy. After helping the Sovereign race to protect important batteries from a space monster, and robbing them soon after, the Guardians find themselves stranded on a planet with Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as their captive. They are soon met by Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Ego informs Quill that he is his father and brings the Guardians back to his planet. As the team learns more, they begin to discover that this planet may not be what it seems, so they have to set aside their differences and team up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to stop a force that threatens the entire galaxy.

There’s plenty to talk about with this movie because this is kind of an odd entry into the MCU. It has all of the energy that the original film did and it’s excellent to see the characters all together again, but the story in this one if very different than the first one, which is actually kind of a good thing. Let’s start with the negatives. For one thing, the pacing of this movie is really off. Things start off with a bang, but the team soon splits up and the story kind of loses track of itself. There’s what’s happening on Ego’s planet, but than there’s also a story involving Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and some Ravagers who hold a mutiny. Both of these stories seem equally important, so I was unsure where the movie was going. Luckily, the narrative finds itself again after some time and really makes up for some of the odd pacing. Another issue I had with this movie is the fact that it got a little mean spirited. Sure, the original movie had a lot of off color humor, but this one makes some of the characters (mostly Drax and Rocket) just come off as obnoxious and overly rude at times. It was a bit of a departure in tone, and I wasn’t really fond of it. Fortunately, this happens in just a few scenes and isn’t really a big deal for most of the movie.

Despite some weird narrative issues, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decides to let loose, it gets crazy. This movie has some really wild action that made me smile so hard I thought my head would rip in two. The best part of the movie features Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot getting the best of some mutineers. That scene alone was just blockbuster perfection and is the reason why these movies are so beloved by fans. For all of the action and humor, this movie also has a lot of heart to it that gives it the emotional weight these comic book movies really need to be taken seriously. Forget how Captain America: Civil War made you feel. This movie has some real drama that may not leave a dry eye in the theater. It’s one thing to make a major CGI fest that focuses on wowing you with the action and the spectacle, which Guardians does, but it has so much more to it than that.

Speaking of CGI, this movie has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. The ships whizzing through space engaging in over the top dogfights made it hard to blink. There’s so much happening in some of these set pieces, it’s hard to believe that actual humans created these scenes. What’s excellent about this movie, and this is no surprise knowing who James Gunn is, there are some really excellent practical effects and make up as well. The Sovereign race is painted gold, but it looks perfect. The same can be said about Gamora and Yondu’s make up. I spent some of the time just trying to find one flaw with the make up, but there were just none to be found.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as good or exciting as the first film. The first one was honestly just perfect. It was such an epic story it would’ve been hard to beat. Still, this is a really good sequel that captured the heart of the first film and reworks it to create something different. The story feels a bit smaller and disconnected from the rest of the workings of the MCU, but it also feels more personal to the Guardians. Any fan of this universe should have a blast with this movie. I know I sure did.

Final Grade: B+

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Star Trek Beyond – Review

26 Jul

Let me just say this right off the bat. I love Star Trek, and by “love it,” I mean to say it’s one of my favorite things in the entire United Federation of Planets. That being said, I’m completely fine with admitting that it is certainly not a perfect franchise. A perfect case and point would be the 1989 stinker, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. But that was a long time ago, and now we have movies in this continuing series made with a much bigger budget and newer, younger actors playing the iconic roles. The reboot of Star Trek was pretty good and Star Trek Into Darkness was great. So where does that leave Star Trek Beyond? To put it simply, this is not a perfect movie, but it’s a more than adequate summer blockbuster and a nice fit with the previous lore that was established in the original series.

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After passing the two and a half year mark of their five year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to lose sight of this mission’s purpose. While the USS Enterprise is docked at the Federation’s most technologically advanced starbase, Yorktown, a distress transmission and escape pod is received which prompts Kirk, Spock (Zacahry Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the team to travel to the source of the distress call. While en route, the Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a vengeful being looking for something of high importance on board Kirk’s ship. Now stranded on the planet’s surface and on the run from Krall and his army, the crew of the now destroyed Enterprise must band back together after being separated and stop Krall from unleashing his master plan upon the Federation.

The first thing I noticed after the movie was over and I began thinking about it was that it felt like a really long Star Trek episode, and isn’t that really what it’s all about? If the formula of something is so good and malleable that it has lasted 50 years, why change it now? There have been countless episodes with people stuck on a planet with some sort of antagonist, and it usually ends up with their clashing and Kirk’s shirt ripping. This takes that premise and ups the ante by a lot. The budget for Star Trek Beyond was obviously huge and it shows in some of the more impressive action set pieces. One scene in particular involving a Beastie Boys song on full blast kind of stole the show for me. This is a very exciting movie, and might be the most action packed of the rebooted movies thus far. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Star Trek Into Darkness because of some key reasons that bothered me a little.

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Right from the trailer, I knew that most of this movie would not take place on the Enterprise, and it turns out that I was correct. This is a little disappointing for me because a lot of the joy I get from Star Trek is watching these incredibly skilled characters work and operate as a team on their starship. The team work is still there in this movie, of course, but most of it happens on the planet’s surface instead of on the bridge of a ship. This is quickly rectified in the last third of the movie, which is stunning to say the least, but I would’ve like to see more on the Enterprise. Also, I feel like some of the characters were underutilized. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are pretty much held hostage for a large chunk of the movie while McCoy and Spock are just walking around trying to find people. The characters that get to see most of the action are Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who really seem to be at the center of the action for most of the film, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) who meets a really cool character named Jayla (Sofia Boutella) and helps her repair her ship. Krall doesn’t even have much to do until the very end, but like I said, that third act is a real wild ride.

It’s surprising that it wasn’t very widespread that year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that this film was pushed back so it could be kind of a celebration for the franchise. Star Trek Beyond, and really all of the movies in the rebooted series, pay a lot of respect to the original television show and movies. For one thing, Leonard Nimoy has been in them, and even is given plenty of recognition in this film, which was great to see since Nimoy passed away early last year. I already mentioned that this film felt like a long episode of the original series, and in a way that’s the perfect homage to a show that changed t.v. and get people talking. There’s one scene in particular near the end that recognizes the original show and pays tribute so well, it plastered a great big smile on my face.

Despite some mild disappointment with certain aspects of the story and characters, it’s impossible for me to say that Star Trek Beyond was a bad movie. In fact, it was a very good movie, and I liked it way more than I thought I would. All of the actors really know who their characters are and play them really well, while also interacting with each other very well. The passing of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin does add some sadness to the experience, but nothing is lost because of it. Star Trek Beyond provides fans and newcomers alike with some great action, entertainment, and drama while the franchise keeps succeeding at its mission of boldly taking audiences where no one has gone before.

Blood Ties – Review

28 Jun

A little while ago I reviewed a movie called Contraband, directed by Baltasar Kormákur, which was based off of an Icelandic movie called Reykjavik-Rotterdam, also starring Kormákur. I wasn’t a huge fan of Contraband, and now we have a very similar situation. In 2013, Blood Ties was released which was directed by Guillaume Canet. This movie is actually a remake of a French film called Deux frères: flic & truand, also starring Canet. Much like my reaction with Contraband, I thought this was a pretty subpar film, even though there were a few great scenes and memorable performances. It just wasn’t enough to completely save the movie.

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The year is 1974 and small time criminal Chris (Clive Owen) is released from his 12 year prison sentence with the hopes of starting his life anew. Part of this means reconnecting with his estranged brother, Frank (Billy Crudup) a New York policeman who disapproves of Chris’ choices and lifestyle. While trying to hold onto a job, Chris once again falls into a life of crime, but also catches the eye of Natalie (Mila Kunis). The two quickly begin a serious relationship, but Chris’ criminal doings often put a strain on it. Meanwhile, Frank begins to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) after her husband Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) is arrested by Frank. As the two very different brothers try to keep their lives on track, they are frequently getting into small battles with each other, with much more extreme violence always seeming to lurk around the corner.

I want to get the good stuff out of the way first. The whole reason I was drawn to this movie in the first place is the outstanding cast. Besides the name I’ve already mentioned, the movie also stars Marion Cotillard as Chris’ ex-wife and James Caan as Chris and Frank’s father. Each and every one of these actors give great performances. Owen gives a very subtle but believable performance as Chris, which only reminded me why I think he’s one of the better actors working right now. I also have to give a lot of credit to Saldana for really owning her role, and I’m confident in saying she gives the best performance in the entire movie. Crudup also has a strong performance and plays all of the complications and troubles of Frank very well. There is absolutely no faults to be given to the cast, and they’re probably the only real reason to watch Blood Ties, to see these A-list actors in a role you’ve probably never heard they were in.

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The biggest problem I had with Blood Ties is that I felt I was watching it for the thousandth time when this was the first time I ever saw it. This is a story that has been told countless times in a variety of different ways, and for the most part, much better. This movie is a remake, but it feels like it could be a remake of many other different movies. The whole crime genre has a lot of cliches attached to it, and Blood Ties seems to be an amalgamation of all of them. It’s actually pretty astounding how familiar this movie is. From the two brothers with different ideals, to the aging father who actually does know best, all the way to love triangle with criminal elements. It’s all been seen before.

The characters themselves also sort of lend to the problem of familiarity. While they were interesting at points, I could tell exactly where their paths were going to lead. Crudup’s character is the most fine tuned person in the whole movie, and while some of his arc is predictable, he plays the role with confidence and makes the movie all the better for it. The same can be said for Saldana’s character, who shares a very similar and close arc with Crudup. The biggest disappointment is Owen’s character who is, for the most part, completely one dimensional. He’s the criminal with the heart of gold, and it’s such a tired cliche, I really couldn’t get into his character despite his performance being strong.

I really wanted to like Blood Ties a lot more than I did. I mean, just look at the cast. It’s absolutely fantastic, and all the actors do a fine job. The problem is that the whole story it’s trying to tell is played out and has become far too predictable. If you’re going to tell a story like this, there has to be something in there that disrupts the formula and adds something new. This film felt like a clip show of cliches that other movies perfected. I can’t even say this movie’s worth watching for the cast because it feels like more of a chore than entertainment.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

7 Aug

It almost feels like Christmas when a trailer for a new Marvel movie comes out. Following the first viewing comes months of speculation on how the movies going to be and what might possibly happen based on our knowledge of the universe, the comic books, and the characters. When I first saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, a title which I knew next to nothing about, I immediately began preparing and even went out and bought some of the graphic novels so I could learn the characters. My hopes were high going into this film and were raised even higher when I left the theater. This is a spot on Marvel film that nearly earns perfection.

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As a young boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by an alien ship and turns into one of the more underestimated space pirates in the galaxy. After finding a priceless orb, Quill, now calling himself Star Lord, becomes the bounty if his former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker). Not only is Yondu after him, but so is a trained assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is apparently working for the evil Kree Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his bodyguard, a humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). These unlikely future heroes soon collide and end up in a prison with the vengeful Drax (Dave Bautista), who is hell bent on finding Ronan and killing him for the atrocities done to Drax’s family. With the band of misfits finally formed, they begin to realize the power that the orb really has and who is the puppeteer who has his eyes on it as a weapon of macrocosmic destruction.

As soon as the trailer was first revealed, it was obvious that this was going to be a movie that isn’t even really in the same ball park as The Avengers. Yes, there are major connections to the previous films that are going to be important to the overall story, but the feeling of this movie is completely different. This is an excellent conglomeration of super hero action and science fiction wonder. There’s space travel, dogfights, aliens all in the universe of all the other Marvel heroes. Needless to say the universe that has been created already just got a whole lot bigger with Guardians of the Galaxy what with all the new characters and plots. This was a big project that was successful because of all the people that were involved and the intelligence with which it was produced.

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First of all, I have to commend the writing of this movie. Not only is it really cool science fiction, it’s also hilarious. The one liners in this movie are enough to make a Vulcan chuckle with mild delight. It’s mostly on point, but there were a few times where some of the jokes dragged on a little bit and lost the luster it never really had. It’s not good if a joke falls flat, but it’s bad if they keep running with the dead joke. This happens only once or twice in the movie so it isn’t even that big of a deal. But with the comedy and the action comes really good scenes of drama. The opening scene is dramatic enough to carry the entire movie, but when the Guardians are at their lowest, the audience feels it, and that’s due to the work of the writers, the director James Gunn, and the perfectly casted group of actors.

These characters are very distinct in their own way, and to nail them each perfectly isn’t an easy task. Pratt is the obvious choice for Peter Quill with both the way he looks and his personality, and anyone who saw The Iron Giant wouldn’t be surprised to see Diesel as the role of Groot. The only person who gets a little awkward at times is Saldana as Gamora, even though she evens it out with some terrific acting towards the end. The real scene stealers, however, are Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Dave Bautista as Drax. I was expecting Cooper to knock it out of the part as the wise cracking raccoon, and he did, but Bautista delivered some of my favorite lines in the movie. His completely serious attitude was perfect for Drax’s moments of being unintentionally hilarious.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great looking movie, a well acted movie, and also expertly written and directed. Marvel took a gamble on this one. This isn’t the most popular comic book they ever created and it would’ve been easy to stick with the heroes they’re already using. Instead, they went out on a limb and made this film which has proved to be the definitive blockbuster film of the year, in my opinion. It has action, laughs, heart, and characters who are easy to love. This is an excellent film that I can’t wait to see again and again and again.

Colombiana – Review

3 Jan

I don’t really like judging action movies too hard. There are some that are actually excellent pieces of film making, but then there are others that can only be seen as popcorn entertainment. Colombiana belongs in the latter category. Although it tries to be something more than it actually is, I feel like everything in the movie is recycled and the pieces don’t always fit to form a perfectly clear bigger picture.

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As a young girl, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), sees her mother and father gunned down by men sent by Don Luis (Beto Benites), a powerful cartel boss. Sworn to avenge her parents, she is trained by her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) to become a powerful assassin. Now that Cataleya is older and more experienced, she finally targets Don Luis and tries pushing him out of his hiding spot so that she can attack. This may prove to be a more difficult task since Don Luis has a connection that he is willing to use in the CIA.

The best way I can describe Colombiana is that it’s a combination of Léon: The Professional and La Femme Nikita, both of which are Luc Besson films. Well, what do you know? Colombiana was written by Luc Besson. I have great respect for the guy. He has created many fantastic action films that are both fun and memorable, but this is a pretty lazy attempt when it comes to creativity. I haven’t just seen all of this before, I’ve seen it in movies of the same writer and they are completely recycled ideas.

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Everything about this movie is pretty ho hum including the performances.  Zoe Saldana is beautiful, but nothing really special, even though she definitely has the ability to be a believable leaden lady. Part of it has to do with the dialogue she was given to work with. Cliff Curtis has some dramatic scenes that are easy to get into and Jordi Mollá is more interesting than the main villain. None of these performances are what I would call bad, but the writing by Besson is surprisingly dry and cliché.

A point I will give the movie is that the action can be really cool. There’s one fight that happens in a bathroom that abandons all filmic style and tries to play as real as possible. The choreography isn’t overly stylized, like a lot of the gun play in the movie, but actually looks like a fight of this kind would look like. The stylized violence can be pretty fun, with a surprising scene involving a rocket launcher being a high light for me. I feel that maybe Besson and directer Olivier Megaton both really just wanted to make a really cool looking action movie and didn’t really think worrying about the script would be too much of a concern.

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I can’t recommend Colombiana. It has its moments of fun, but the rest of the movie is a stereotypical mess. I didn’t care about the villain or Cataleya’s main mission. All I really wanted was to see the next cool action sequence. Quiet moments of dialogue that were used to create drama turned out to not be dramatic at all and even stale some of the performances. Zoe Saldana is beautiful and some of the action scenes are really cool, but there are much better action movies out there to watch than Colombiana.