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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.

“Hateful Eight” Roadshow is an oil painting of wonder and blood

Not just a movie. It is an experience!

Not just a movie. It is an experience!

In regards to my recent experience with Quentin Tarantino’s latest Western, “The Hateful Eight,” I didn’t come back from seeing just a movie. I came back from seeing an experience. Something that I will never see again in my lifetime unless another tries to duplicate it. So I come before saying that I didn’t just see one of the best movies this year but present to you a review of one of the best “film” and theater experiences I have ever witnessed in my life. Like Haley’s Comet flying above our heads in one night, this is the kind of experience that is worth seeing for the dire hard cinema fans. Just because you go to the movies, doesn’t mean you get a great movie going experience. The latest offering from the controversial yet engaging film fan brings to the table what he feels should be the ultimate theater experience. And sadly, I doubt other studios will follow suit. But rest assured I can’t be more thankful to witness a spectacle of amazing cinematography and gritty bloodshed.

Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson are caught in a tussle of trust

Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson are caught in a tussle of trust

Set during a post Civil War, Kurt Russel plays a bounty hunter named John Ruth who sets his sights on going to the little town of Red Rock to turn in an outlaw for reward money. The little darling Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is set to be hanged but pulls a feisty personality even if she does get hit for it. Along the journey in a six horse stagecoach, they run into the town’s soon to be new sherif Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) an African American Major named Marquis Warren (the always warm-welcomed Samuel L. Jackson). Both characters set their sights on going to the small town as the reluctant John has them on board.

This descends into a long sequence of these four despicable people playing of each other while the coach rider (James Parks) carries on through the snow. As they talk and exchange some dark dialogue expressing their personalities, we feel a part of this as the carriage rocks back and forth and a slew of racist commentary is present. This sets the tone for the rest of movie as we know we can’t trust these people. We merely watch them knowing they can’t stand each other’s guts and wonder how much they can stomach each other. Some may consider this portion of “Hateful Eight” long but I feel it adds to the cold and harsh environment. Trust the last thing you would expect from a racist sheriff, a Major with tall tales and a bounty hunter that holds no shame in beating up a defenseless woman with a criminal record.

Tarantino setting up the dinner scene in the little lodge where most the movies takes place

Tarantino setting up the dinner scene in the little lodge where most the movies takes place

With a powerful blizzard on the march, the four have no choice but to see refuge in a stagecoach lodge placed in the middle of nowhere. As they make an uncomfortable stay for the night, they have to deal with a British hangman with the personality of a snake oil salesman (Tim Roth), a bigot Confederate General (Bruce Dern) that is selfish, a shy cowboy (Michael Madsen) and a Mexican (Demian Bichir) that acts like the butler of the place. As the snow piles on, suspicion raises among the group as they start to wonder how “welcoming” these people are. And as expected, it all descends into traditional Tarantino fair with extremely graphic violence and some big twists that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

“Hateful Eight” is a straight to the core and nearly flawless film with engaging storytelling and breathtaking cinematography. The whole narrative has a throwback feel to not just Westerns but also classic mysteries and traditional “old dark house” features where people would gather at a single place and start to either back-stab each other or show their true dark nature. We get instead is a combination of many things as one starts to suspect the other and the once the body count increases in Act II, the tension raises as we start to wonder who will be left standing.

The only element I can think off that might turn viewers off is not just the usual overabundance of gore (as heads explode and some get badly gunned down), but the racial tension along with some mistreatment towards the female lead. I didn’t mind this much seeing this is meant to be a true gitty Western along the lines of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and the 2010 remake of True Grit. There are no limits in preserving how harsh and cruel the past was. To be fair, the racism has a point of existing for one character arch that works very well. Just keep in mind nothing is held back and those sensitive might be turned off.

As for the rest of “Hateful Eight,” I can’t praise this movie enough. I love the characters and desolate location. I like the idea and concept of pitting these terrible people that all have a connection to each other. They don’t get along well and it makes the interaction all the more engaging. You don’t know if one will be successfully teamed up with another or if betrayal is on the horizon. Its well acted, as Kurt Russel sprouts a John Wayne-ish accent that gives nostalgic flair, beautifully shot on 70mm film and hands down the best of the year.

The incredible Somerville Theater. Worth a visit if your in the Boston area

The incredible Somerville Theater. Worth a visit if your in the Boston area

Now something I must point out is that if you plan on seeing “Hateful Eight,” I highly recommend viewing this the way Tarantino meant it to be. Photographed on actual film and in Ultra Panavision 70, Tarantino went to great lengths to have this presented on theaters with 70mm projectors. As a result, nearly 100 theaters nationwide are given a special “roadshow” presentation of the movie that hasn’t been done in over fifty years. For those too young, a “roadshow presentation” would be a gala showing of the movie where viewers would dress up like they were attending a Broadway play and be giving a free souvenir program. The presentation would be complete with an opening overture, a 10 or 15 minute Intermission and a brief piece of music before the beginning of the second act. Not only that but even certain scenes that would be included in this version only which would later be removed for its general release.

The auditorium seating from the inside gives a very unique feel as if one were transported to the past

The auditorium seating from the inside gives a very unique feel as if one were transported to the past

I was able to attend a screening of the 70mm, 3 hour Roadshow cut in Somerville Theater near the Boston district and for that one hour drive, it was worth it. I can’t even begin to explain how incredible it was. The inside of the theater was basic yet felt like an old fashioned theater. The ticket price was reasonable seeing a $12 matinee price for a 70mm presentation is not that bad considering the majestic treatment. And probably the first and only snack bar I have attended that has handmade ice cream. Let me tell you, two scoops of peppermint ice cream was perfect to have once the Intermission was over. But most importantly the care and craftsmanship really shinned here with the auditorium seating giving you that nostalgic feel of what previous moviegoers were experiencing decades ago.

On top of that, the film presentation of “Hateful Eight” is the true star here. I can’t tell you how much I have missed seeing traditional film being projected onto a large cinema screen. Dare I say the lighting from the projector almost gives this warmth glow for scenes in the small lodge as small drops of sunlight pour in. Even texture and detail on faces and clothing really pop at you in a near 3D presentation. In fact, the presentation almost makes you feel like you are part of the movie. When Marquis points his gun out to the camera, we feel the tension of his hand on the trigger as if he was interrogating us. Even outdoor scenes as the carriage trots in the snow and wide shots of the lodge work well with every shot filled with characters and things that literally swallows us into each frame. Compared to digital film which looks flat, the film presentation gives more depth and perception as if we are seeing an oil painting come to life.

The special souvenir program that was handed out to audiences attending. Truly a wonderful memento to an enchanted evening

The special souvenir program that was handed out to audiences attending. Truly a wonderful memento to an enchanted evening

The only nitpick I do have is the lack of parking save for some coin meter spots and a “private property” lot. Unless there was a parking lot close by and it was missed, I can safely say there were a few open spots with a coin meter so all was not a loss aside from some quarters. But looking pass the one hour trip down and the lack of solid parking, it was all worth it just for this incredible experience. If you live close to a theater exhibiting the “Roadshow Cut,” chances are you might want to catch it while you still can. Or at least check to see if your local theater is presenting this 70mm film version. If you have no availability to this version, the only elements missing in the General Release Cut (according to some reports) is the Overture, Intermission, a special souvenir booklet, six minutes of scenes Tarantino deemed would be better viewed in 70mm film and the ultimate experience of a lifetime. Despite what version you see, “Hateful Eight” is a great way to end 2015 with an explosive and gory bang.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

Horror-wood

 

Truly the ultimate horror movie

Truly the ultimate horror movie

John Carpenter’s The Thing is by far one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Its the movie that got me back into the horror genre during college and got me thinking there is much more than a monster to make a movie scary. Its that good to the point I feel one single analysis can’t do it justice. It needs to be seen to be believed to know just how all the tension and craft is perfect. I can’t think of another time when I felt so satisfied with a horror movie like this. There’s a lot to talk about but I will try to cover what works so well.

I guess I should start by saying its based on John W. Campbell’s novella titled Who Goes There, which depicts a group of scientists in Antarctica that are trapped with a alien that can assimilate and mimic its victims. It was later adapted loosely into The Thing from Another World where the beast was humanoid but was able to grow limbs back and be something close to a walking vegetable. But the strange thing is that this adaption takes place in the North Pole as opposed to the novella’s South Pole placement. Unfortunately, I was unable to get time to view this version but I have heard before its been highly praised as a science fiction classic. Perhaps next year I will get the chance to bring a deep review but for now, let’s discuss the 1982 adaption.

Its funny how John Carpenter’s take really reflects the darker aspects of the novella by not only being set in Antarctica but also having the creature being able to assimilate its victims. The creature effects were done by Rob Bottin and he really pushes the limitations of what practical effects can do. When the Thing starts to shapeshift and “devour” what ever it comes into contact with, its absolutely disgusting. Instead of seeing its true form, we can a hint when it starts to consult its various forms. There are times when it forms into a blob of organs and times when it mutates into such nightmarish forms that are far too horrific to even mention here. In short, the creature is nasty while being a show stopper at the same time. You really have to admire just how much effort was put into the anamatronics. Gore fans won’t be disapointed.

MacReady (Kurt Russell) tests to see who is truly the Thing in this classic scene

MacReady (Kurt Russell) tests to see who is truly the Thing in this classic scene

The characters we get are also interesting too. Carpenter regular Kurt Russell leads the team of scientists as MacReady who is not only anti-social but alienates himself a lot from the group. Is it out of fear for tolerance among the group or is he bad at socialization? That’s what makes his character interesting. As cold as the snows and ice of Antarctica gets, so does his thoughts on humanity and doomed he feels about it later. At the very least, he plays it smart knowing that anyone could be inhumane. Even himself. Expectations are played so much that we wonder if he’s truly alien himself or just to those around him.

The group looks at the charred corpse of the alien from the campsite

The group looks at the charred corpse of the alien from the campsite

Some viewers of today might be uneasy to see an all male cast instead of something more co-ed like Alien but I think it works. The fact these guys have been out of society for so long raises the stakes when the creature appears. Being out in the tundra could drive one insane seeing how little interaction there is out there. The pace of the movie is slow on first watch but on repeated viewings you start to realize its part of the atmosphere of the film. It sets you in the mood considering how chilling and cold a place like this can really be.

Its a much darker film and its a nice change of pace seeing the original 1951 version set in the suspense well. But it does make some reference to the original movie as some form of sequel which is more interesting itself when they discover the remnants of the alien are from a Norweigian camp site. This is a really great scene from the movie as our characters look through the burnt down base. We don’t need flashbacks or an explanation. The images of fozen corpses and a block of ice where the creature burst out of is all we really need.

The Thing in its true form. A bit of stop motion that sadly never made it in the final cut of the film

The Thing in its true form. A bit of stop motion that sadly never made it in the final cut of the film

Speaking of which, its interesting we never get to see the Thing in its true form. There are hints along the way with how huge and twisted it looks but we don’t know if its trying to form into what it really is or just constantly morphing. There was originally a bigger climax that alludes to its original form with the use of stop-motion animation by David Allen and it does look impressive But unfortunately, most of the animation was left on the cutting room floor when John Carpenter felt the effect was too obvious and less seamless with the Rob Bottin puppet. In the final cut, a few seconds remain but the full sequence can be seen on the DVD as a bonus.

Perhaps the less said about this one, the better because this movie is too good of an opinion. Its a pity it didn’t do well at the box office and I can understand why. With today’s movies and TV shows relying on darker elements, its fair to say that The Thing was way ahead of its time. Over time, it has grew a better appreciation with home video sales and given the audience it truly deserves. What else can I say but this one is a true must watch.

If its a prequel, why does it have the same name as its predecessor?

If its a prequel, why does it have the same name as its predecessor?

Now there hasn’t been a sequel to this outside of video games and comic books but there was a prequel that came out in 2011. There were many proposed ideas before then to give it a franchise feel like an abandoned Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. At first, I was hyped considering how much potential there was. This one was set before MacReady and the gang find out about the Norweigan campsite and also show what happened. I was even impressed to hear there would be English and Norwegian dialogue thinking it would get a foreign horror film feel. Well, I was unable to see it theaters but by the time I was able to rent it, I found myself to be really underwhelmed.

Not only does it answer questions and shows what happened at the campsite but it demystifies the Thing as a monster that is beaks and tentacles. It doesn’t explain its reason for being on Earth which is good but at times, it seems to appear too often than it should. In John Carpenter’s take, the Thing appeared not as frequent as the viewer was kept in suspense wondering who the alien would take next. In the prequel, the creature seems to pop out for no reason at times. Most notable is when a group is escaping in a helicopter and for no reason the Thing morphs out of its disguise and kills the crew. Why not wait till it goes to the base or why even bother transforming now? It doesn’t make any sense.

Our characters look clueless on the site

Our characters look clueless on the site

I expected the effects work to be CGI and was surprised to hear how at times they would use practical effects in certain scenes. Unless they blended the two well, all I say was mostly computer effects all the way. Shame seeing how great the effects in John Carpenter’s film were compared to this one which becomes more of a generic haunted house and less of an intense thrill ride. The characters are honestly forgettable to me. Outside of having a female in the group, that’s really about it. And the Norwegians I mentioned become easy “red-shirt” bait in the second half. Wouldn’t it been more interesting if they were all NOT American to heighten it? Its sounds ambitious but you never hear of a foreign film made by an American studio. It also doesn’t help we certain story elements that I feel harm the intense nature. Going inside the spaceship it came in really robs the mystery of the creature and I wasn’t a fan of seeing what many speculate as his “true form” near the end.

The spaceship in the original 1982 film. Sure its only a model but its a damn good one

The spaceship in the original 1982 film. Sure its only a model but its a damn good one

But the final nail in the coffin of crap is how THIS prequel is called The Thing. No subtitle or anything added on. Just “The Thing.” Its clear they wanted to cash in on the Carpenter classic and nothing else. Even weird is how at times I feel like I’m watching a remake of the Carpenter film and less of the prequel trying to be its own movie. It recycles everything from the dogs being assimilated to even the infamous blood test scene. Why bother labeling it a prequel when you do stuff like this anyway? Unlike how the original builds character and tension, this one just rushes the story to answer questions than give us time to take in the atmosphere or get to know a character before they are killed off. Its about as fast as how the Thing moves way too swiftly in this one.  Bottom line, skip it. Stick with the Carpenter film for something truly chilling and really on the edge of your seat terror.