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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional

gotg-vol-2-cast

THE FOLLOWING IS SPOILER FREE! YOU’RE WELCOME!

Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.

“Jurassic World” thrills expectations

Jurassic-World-poster-MosasaurusAs the first shot of an egg hatching was shown, I felt “Jurassic World” would be a different movie all together. Compared to the awe of seeing a baby Raptor hatch, the feeling here is more terrifying and unsettling. For those who knew what happened in the first film, we expect chaos and destruction like Pandora’s box opening again to the world. Sure enough, this entry raises the stakes with plenty of action and adventure to keep you on the edge of your seat. However, for every good movie, it has those rough spots.

The first half of the movie focuses on building its main heroes but it feels between rushed and cliched. Brothers Zach and Gary are sent off to visit their aunt who runs the new theme park. Needless to say, I would be thrilled to be going to a place full of extinct creatures but it seems like Writing 101 is taking the old “siblings who want nothing to do with each other” routine. Even more awkward is exposition of a possible divorce that really comes out of nowhere.

Bryce Dallas Howard is their aunt Claire who lets them run almost freely around the park as she makes her usual rounds. In a sense, I should be annoyed how this character acts for the first 20 minutes as they play the workaholic card but at least it doesn’t last too long. But midway, a jarring transition of her character turns into an aunt that cares while trying to one up Chris Pratt in being the dominate action hero.

jurassic-world-pratt-howardBeyond that, everything sails on fine as it builds and builds to a satisfying roller coast ride. First implication is Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, an expert on Velociraptors who trains them to act like dolphins at SeaWorld. He easily commands the screen while trying to show how smart of a character he can get. He’s not just some animal trainer but understands animal instincts enough to know how they work.

Second implication is the new I. Rex who is really a hybrid monster of many “mystery meat” parts. While some of these aspects get revealed in the final act, they mystery of this monster is still intact by never describing what animal genes are in this beast. Needless to say, when ever he is on, you already feel a frightening presence that matches that of the Predator as the creature remains one step ahead. Unlike the first film, when someone gets munched and it looks cool, the body count is so high that it really brings a darker stride which only makes things more complex.

jurassic-world-super-bowl-10Instead of 5 or 8 visitors in the park, we get thousands of theme park customers who only wish to have a good time from seeing predatory attractions being fed to a small petting zoo full of baby dinos. These moments are so good its hard not to laugh and appreciate the creativity. In a sense, this feels more like a commentary on animal amusement parks and less about tampering with science. Yet, its set in a new direction as we question just how much effort does one have to go to bring a dead dream to life and see it all crumble again.

I guess I was easy to forgive the faults of the first third because things get better. As I. Rex stomps around and tears the park a new one, we wonder just what is going to be offered that we haven’t seen in the previous films and no stone is left turned. The problem with the sequels I feel is that they tried to offer something new but either had little characters to care for or a story that didn’t have enough meat on it. Here, we get so many twists and turns that we wonder how it will all end.

Sadly, I wish I could describe the satisfying conclusion that so easily vanquishes the sequels. It doesn’t trump the power of “Jurassic Park” but enough to show the franchise will be in good hands. As we get such an epic display that makes up for the lackluster entries and makes us question why didn’t the writers come up with something like that. It is this reason alone that makes me give it a high recommendation to see.

Jurassic-World-12As I walked out of the theater, I almost felt like a kid again with my love and appreciation for the first move and its creative whim. Here, nearly every thing was satisfying and didn’t miss a beat. Had the first half of “Jurassic World” focus more on developing characters as opposed to the environment they get placed in, it would have been a grand sequel. But still, there’s enough material to at least let me say its an explosive popcorn film that snowballs into an unexpectedly entertaining summer blockbuster. Already this and “Mad Max: Fury Road” are in a good run for its money to who is the better summer film. If you can, I best say do a double feature with both and you will get your ticket money worth. As John Hammond would say, spared no expense.

“Guardians” saves summer!

On August 1, 1986, Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck, one of the first Marvel Comic adaptations  to ever hit the big screen. In my opinion, its a campy, goofy B-movie that has flaws but doesn’t take itself seriously with the idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck stuck on Earth. Unfortunately, audiences were split over to take this movie seriously or not at all while critics were far harsh with the film.  Why do I bring this movie up you ask? Again, this was released on AUGUST 1ST and was the first Marvel Comic “comedy” of its time. For a good bulk of the 1990s, we mostly got DC Comic adaptations while Marvel stayed in the shadows till Blade and X-Men showed how comic adaptations can be fun but realistic at the same time with thought provoking messages of finding acceptance and good amounts of action.

"We are the Guardians of the freakin' Galaxy"

“We are the Guardians of the freakin’ Galaxy”

Skip to August 1, 2014 to the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy and it happens to the second attempt Marvel takes a crazy idea like Howard the Duck and make it work. When you think about it, Marvel has given us a long line of films that are dark yet have this uplifting vibe to them from Iron Man to Captain America. While comic book in tone, these movies were serious with its material while taking basic concepts and making them fun and engaging. Guardians is so absurd, so out of this world and strange on paper that it feels like it might turn one off. Yet, everything about it works well. Surprisingly, this is by far the most uplifting, funniest and by far the best one of the batch.

Chirs Pratt plays Star Lord (or Peter Quinn if you want his real name), who was a  human abducted as a kid by aliens and now grows into a bandit of the galaxy that has a bounty so big, it makes Bobba Fett look shallow in comparison. Chris’s take on the character is close to the heroic whim of the Rocketeer meets the space hero serials of the 1950’s but if he was a playboy and a lovable jerk. What keeps Star Lord from being unlikable is his child-like quality with roaming about the universe while still having a smug attitude. He even has a Walkman from the 1980’s and it still works interestingly. But yet, he is just the basic every man trying to make a quick buck with a strange relic that he doesn’t even know if its dangerous or mostly harmless. If he walked into the Cantina bar from Star Wars, I’m sure him and Han Solo would hit it off big.

Also in the ragtag group is Bradley Cooper’s stealing the show as a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket. He may have a mouth that matches the personality of Joe Pesci but carries weapons so huge that complement his furious attitude more than his size. This critter is less about wisecracks and more about blowing stuff up and keeping his personal needs in play. This is a really funny character and I’m sure there will be a growing fan base out there quoting his cynical but humorous quips as well as wishing there was a spin-off made. It also helps that he is more smart when it comes to fabricating things from weapons to even hijacking security systems. In short, Rocket is one creature you don’t want to mess with.

Aiding the fierce Rocket is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant tree like humanoid that grow to any size and even grown back a limb. The humor from this character shines a lot from his visual actions and the fact his vocabulary is only limited to saying “I am Groot” which acts as a form of language that only Rocket can understand. While technically the Zoidberg of the group, Groot gets a lot of memorable moments being a giant that can be destructive but also innocent and kind at the same time.

Dave Batista shines as Drax the Destroyer who looks and talks like a major brute but yet takes things way too literally for granite. Dave manages to make the character his and even go as far to take his own wrestling moves into the action scenes. Again, the quirk that shines the most from Drax is how his species don’t understand metaphors well and even have a poor understanding of knowing when to joke around or even know how to describe sympathetic feelings. His personality matches Strax the Sontaron from Doctor Who so well that it makes me wonder what a barfight between the two would be like.

Lastly is Zoe Saldana donning the green skinned Gamora who is one sleek assassin that questions the amount of brains in the leader of the group and everyone else. With a bad attitude and sometimes one step ahead, she can have a heart too when it comes to trying to being righteous and is not cold hearten as you think. She can be fun to watch when the sleek killer plays off of Star Lord’s devilish personality but even she knows when to show she has a heart.

The reason these guys are all together is because they are after an object Star Lord obtains early on that again could either destroy the universe or maybe be a cheap antique. One or another is after each other because of prejudice or one has a higher bounty quality and it honestly works. The first half of Guardians feels a bit slow but what holds it together is the way these people work off each other. They are schemers and pull heists but yet somehow you can see them working together for something like trying to save the world while other characters feel this is the last thing they would expect from them. I’m saying little about the villains as well as the other characters as it would ruin a lot of expectations. I admit, I was confused as to who the real antagonist was but when they got to reveal the true nature of the orb, it all made sense to who was in it to make a profit and who wanted to harness it to rule the universe. By midpoint, everything clicks and we know our good guys from our bad guys.

For me, I never read the comics themselves or see any cartoons with their appearance in them. But this movie is really a solid introduction. Again, it drags in the first half but I feel its because viewers have no idea who or what this universe is like. So that is understandable and by midway, we begin to relax and enjoy the bickering between Drax and Rocket while knowing how this alien universe works. I must highly complement director James Gunn’s decision to use practical sets, effects and make up while knowing when to use CGI for characters like Groot or Rocket. This gives the environment of Guardians a more realistic feel and not video gamey like Avatar or the new Star Trek films where CGI sets are the norm. Its a breath of fresh air to see a movie use more practical work for things like blue skinned aliens and even studios sets to look like a desert planet. I had a great time looking at these places and even feel robbed wishing these existed despite some feeling desolate and in ruins.

But even looking pass the special effects and story, what holds this move together are the Guardians themselves. These are average joe’s from their own worlds who you don’t expect to see form a team but yet they all have something in common. As Star Lord puts it, “I see losers…folks who have lost stuff. Our homes, our families.” And is with this, they have a reason to save the galaxy from this huge threat. They have had a hard time and this is their chance to at least do good for someone even if they had the worst of it. Even during the climax, I noticed none of them backed down when it came to a point they knew an action they would do would have little chance of survival.  They put their own life on the line just to save a world full of people and I find that is a rare trait in today’s film characters who would go far to take risks like this.

And unlike films that have multiple endings, when you think its going to end and it doesn’t, you are glad to see it keeps going. Not once did I feel Guardians dragged on for too long or even wish it to end sooner. It knew when to expand and conclude at the right spots. Its a very uplifting and humorous movie that I do hope many get the chance to see. It has something for everyone from great special effects to really great writing. August is normally the dead spot for summer blockbusters but I feel its appropriate for Guardians to end this dead and desolate summer season with a bang so big you feel satisfied. And…remember what I said about Howard being the first Marvel comedy. Want to really know why I bring it up? Stick around after the end credits of Guardians and you’ll see why. Because I do feel some things can come full circle. Regardless, Guardians is the best fun I’ve had at the summer blockbusters season and I’m sure to pre-order my ticket for its squeal way in advanced.

Rental Corner: “The Lego Movie”

For me, everything was NOT awesome with this film.

For me, everything was NOT awesome with this film.

Earlier in the year, moviegoers were treated to “The Lego Movie.” A big-screen adaption based on the famed toy many have been using to build all sorts of things and places brick by brick. Legos are still a hot product and sure enough this movie was a massive hit. “Lego Movie” got unanimous praise all around from viewers and Lego fans alike. The only question I have is that if such a film could get so much praise and appreciation, how come I’m not in the majority of those who keep claiming this is the next Toy Story? Or simply, how come I didn’t like this movie when it offers so much that I can enjoy but in the end I only felt it didn’t come together for me?

Well, sure enough this movie establishes its set in a universe where everything is made of Legos. From the people to even right down to the buildings, as the citizens casually go about their daily lives by means of instructions given to them. One inhabitant name Emmit (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a causal everyday construction worker gets suddenly pulled from his average day of following the rules to a chosen one plot. Eventually, he meets up with a group of Legos that are part of a rebellion alliance that plan to save the Lego universe from the clutches of the world’s leader Lord Business (performed by a surprisingly under used Will Ferrell). Lord Business plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to glue down the Lego universe to keep it “perfectly still” in his view. With Emitt tossed into the mix as a supposed “Chosen One,” he is the only thing that can save the Lego world but the problem is that aside from living life by the book, he doesn’t have a single creative thought in his plastic noggin aside from creating double decker sofas and ogling the love interest Wyldstyle who has Batman (Will Arnet) for a boyfriend.

And that’s very much just a portion of the plot as it feels like a first grader wrote this idea and I feel that’s kinda the point of this movie. Its meant to be outlandish and absurd to the point you feel like your watching a kid playing with his toys. And that’s one of the problems I had with “Lego Movie” as I felt like the whole movie was being made by a kid and I couldn’t distinguish if I should treat this as a kids movie or a self-aware parody of kids films considering the tone and style of the movie is addressing how aware it is. And I don’t want to be reminded of that. I want to watch a film and its universe.

After seeing “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street,” I think I finally caught on to what directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are doing with their movies. They are making their flicks “self-aware” in thinking the more satire that gets injected, the more funnier it feels. Now, I love satire and I can see this form of writing working for things like Futurama or Mel Brooks movies. But the problem I have is that their material feels too “self-aware” when addressing a joke on a film cliche or how the scene is obviously parodying the common criticisms filmgoers have about today’s movies (as seen in 21 Jump Street when the chief officer comments on how people are rehashing old things and making them new…because that is about as clever as peanut butter toast).

I don’t mind “breaking the fourth wall” or being “self-aware” of yourself. But it has to work in a way so it doesn’t hamper with the environment of the movie. Mel Brooks took on the old West (Blazing Saddles)  and future space (Spaceballs)  without nudging to the audience frequently of the stuff they are parodying. The Muppets did riff on their own films but not the point they were constantly calling shots on which cliche was next or poking holes at the plot at a heavy pace. I can understand the form of comedy its going for but it just didn’t feel right for me here. I wanted to enjoy this world of living toys in their own world but because of the constant “film nudges,” it kept pulling me out as I was reminded it was a movie and I really don’t want that feeling.  I didn’t even laugh or smile at a single joke. Not one. And trust me, I do have a sense of humor. I’ve enjoyed recent kid/family films like Despicable Me 2, Frozen, and Muppets Most Wanted so perhaps there’s something with the comedic style that is not engaging to me.

Sure it has a social commentary on how unoriginal things are today and people are literally “going by the book” to get through life but it felt done before with movies like Brazil or Wall-E. Wall-E had it edgy with the human race babied down to computer obsessed beings as Brazil showed a totalitarian nightmare where the simplest computer error can create much havoc. With “Lego Movie,” I didn’t feel like I was getting anything new as the mini-toys go about their life and act like there is nothing wrong by sticking to what they read from a set of instructions.

But maybe the characters will be interesting right? Unfortunately, they were predicable and standard to me. We get Emmit, the everyday worker who enjoys being part of the system and will  find out just how important he is to this big conflict that is up ahead. He’s got a bright cheery attitude that makes him goofy but morale heart to know how to take his average life and put it to use. He’s very much the every man cliche and I didn’t find much interest in him. What I couldn’t understand was how Emmit could be so energetic and happy when he knows so many people and yet they don’t acknowledge  him as a close person. For a character this upbeat, I can’t picture him being socially awkward or devoted of people even considering how he interacts with them in the opening scene like he knows EVERYONE personally and yet they later regard him as just another average joe. Yeah, we know he’s going to save the day. There’s not competition there.

Wyldstyle is the feisty female love interest who wants to be great but misses her chance like Tigeress from Kung Fu Panda but less mystique. Vitruvius is the wise Obi Wan that guides the group and is blind (which in a possible reference to Ray Charles where he plays the piano I found rather questionable…either that or maybe I’m looking it too much. your choice), Batman is the Gaston that tries to prove how heroic he is and yet is wrong, Benny and Bad Cop are there for comic relief and then there is Lord Business. First, you can’t make a villain like this have a name with less subtly. Seriously? Lord Business? Guess executives are in open season for being kid movie villains.

Second, for an antagonist who has plans to freeze the Lego world and plays a huge part, I didn’t think much of him. Will Ferrell does his usual shtick and does fit the personality of  a “I want things my way” form of character but I didn’t find him funny or even threatening. I didn’t even feel like he was in the movie that much the more I think about it. The focus is more on this world of Legos that is doesn’t think twice when it comes to character depth that often.

But the biggest problem I had was the twist near the end which reveals the truth behind the Lego world. I won’t give too much away for those who have yet to see it but I will put it like this. Remember how I said this movie feels like it was written by a kid? I’ll leave it at that. By the time we get to this part, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from us. This Lego world is vast and when they reveal the truth behind it, it feels somewhat last minute and not well fleshed out. It feels like a last minute tag for emotion that comes right out of nowhere.

But there is a bigger problem to contend with and that’s my familiarity with Legos. I’m going to admit it right on the fly. I knew about Legos as a kid. I heard about this as a kid. I even saw commercials about them as a kid. But I never had them in my toy chest growing up or even think much of them. I was more of  a castle playset/action figure/plushie kid. When ever I had the chance to play with Legos, it would either be with the Duplo set or Kenetix. I even got annoyed with how there were so many small pieces in such a big box. Yeah, I didn’t have much patience nor have the Lego building skills. I just wasn’t into Legos that much and it shows how much I wasn’t into this movie because of my childhood experiences and the style of the screenplay. Even looking at as a movie on its own, I can’t separate it seeing it prominently has Legos as the center and feels like a half movie/half commercial. I can already picture kids running out and finding sets for the Unikitty’s cloud palace or trying to hunt down an Abraham Lincoln figurine.

But still are there some positives? Well I do admit, the animation is good. Seeing the way these worlds are made brick by brick and the movements of the Lego figures almost give the feel of a stop-motion flick and you have to give credit for their research. Even on the close ups, you can almost see scratches and signs of wear on the characters giving the feel of animated plastic right in front of you. Again, the idea of a world with nothing but Legos is a unique concept until the revelation kicks in that diminishes all wonder and I do like the idea of how they keep taking anything in this world and crafting something out of it like a pirate ship or a hot rod car. And you can tell the performers are having a good time regardless of one’s attitude towards this movie. They know its a movie about Legos and not limiting themselves while going all out and childish like spaceman Benny’s crazed obsession for making a spaceship or Unikitty’s urge to keep her emotions bottled up like how a kid would refused to explode into sadness or rage.

However, when I look back upon this movie, it reflects my feelings with the movie’s number “Everything is Awesome” where it feels too hip and energetic for my taste. Sure its a nice looking film but story and characters are the biggie when it comes to a feature film and I feel those elements didn’t live up to my taste. Maybe 2013’s crop of bad family films left me to resort to a form of cynical film snob or maybe the director’s comedic writing style didn’t work for me. Either way, I can’t chalk this up as a bad movie considering the amount of effort placed into it and considering the huge amount of respect and praise it has behind it. I’m sure kids will really love this one but for me, I’m more of a Toy Story guy as the world of people and toys melded together perfectly in that film and I had better connections with the characters and plot. “The Lego Movie,” on the other hand, just didn’t do much for me aside from its animation and creative environment. Even going in with an open mind and viewing it just as it is, I still didn’t like this one no matter what.