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

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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.

“Kong: Skull Island”a jungle of fun

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If anything “Kong: Skull Island” proves is that monster movies are not dead. Nor is the genre of jungle adventure films. In today’s age, Hollywood has been giving us more superhero and reboots to the point of overkill. Now, Legendary Pictures is getting its “MonsterVerse” into gear and I can thankfully say I wasn’t disappointed with this entry. It was about time the big ape got a fresh start and I had a blast watching it. The movie in a nutshell is the war tone of Apocalypse Now meets the characters from James Cameron’s Aliens.

Set during the Vietnam War’s end, a government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeks a plan to visit an mysterious island for study and proof that monsters exist there. He gets teamed up with Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and a bunch of soldiers to take a trek via helicopter. At first we are led to believe this is some sort of study when it turns out Bill wants to blow up the island in a fiery rage. All plans are halted when Kong arrives showing he’s not only king of the island, but also a protector of his home.

The moment Kong shows up and smashes some helicopters, everything changes as the war movie turns into a monster movie. While stranded and seeking an exist, soldiers fend their way through thick jungle and avoid the wraith of giant spiders and demonic lizard monsters seeking to munch on them. Each creature is well designed by ILM and its a shame we never get to see many in action. With the only exception being a bunch of monsters called “skull crushers,” that look like a crossbreed between Cubone from Pokemon and a gila monster. When these monstrous being attack, I was greedy in hoping for a big action scene with a whole horde of them. On the other hand, this movie is dedicated to Kong, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Also stuck on the island is a former British Captain (Tom Hiddleston)  and a photojournalist (Brie Larson) who get the better part of the journey. Most of the time, they run into peaceful beasts and kindly natives that have a Buddhist-like personality. They later come across a World War II pilot played by John C. Riley, who crashed landed on the island in 1944. Riley proves to be a lot of fun with a manic performance that is funny and touching. Of course, they joke around how he has no clue about current events but they work for the most part.

“Kong” is very much your run of the mill monster movie stocked with cliched characters, rampaging beasts and all tossed into a thick jungle. What sets itself apart is the directorial style and fun performances. The choice of placing the story during the Vietnam War gives way for some creative scenes of solders blasting off to a tape recording playing Black Sabbath. The soundtrack itself is packed with psychedelic rock music from Creedence Clearwater Revival to David Bowie and the color scheme is put to great use with intense sunlight and cold blue nights.

Aside from the eye candy, I can’t think of single performance or character I disliked. Most of the people there are stock characters and cliches, but not in an annoying way. You have the one person who knows what is going on but is ignored, the war crazy Colonel, the guy who promises to make it home but doesn’t and so forth. In a way, I wish the characterization was given more depth but I wasn’t too disappointed in the light development. Actors like Sameul Jackson and John C. Riely really soak up the screen and knowing this is the kind of movie not to take seriously. In honesty, it works.

The revamped Kong is a big highlight differing from any other version depicted before him. The ape stands like a God of the sky and will defend his home in anyway he can. The special effects really convey the emotion and determination of this creature in how far he will go to protect Skull Island. Unlike Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from 2014 (which the enjoyment is starting to wear off), we get plenty of Kong scenes paced perfectly throughout the movie. From brawling monsters to taking down choppers, this variation is sure to please.

I found myself overjoyed by the time the end credits came along. I’m a dead sucker for monster movies as much as jungle adventure films. Maybe this will start a revival of interest in monster movies or maybe it won’t. All I can say is that I saw a good monster movie and enjoyed every minute of it. Even during the intense moments, “Kong” doesn’t lose its fun luster. From beautiful visuals that will stay with me to engaging creatures fights, this is one eight wonder that I will never forget.

Also word of caution, as stated before this is the first in a planned “shared film universe” meaning the movie ends with a setup for the next entry right after the end credits. Unlike everyone who left the theater, I stayed through every name of the crew members just to see what lay at the end. Sure enough, I got a nice surprise but couldn’t believe how many missed such a great tease. And the fact I was the only one in the movie theater that waited so patiently to see it really shows how determined a filmgoer can be. Do yourself a favor when seeing this in theaters. Don’t walk out during the end credits. The patience is worth it.

Rental Corner: “Big Hero 6” packs fun and emotion

Baymax, one of the most original yet best robots put to film

Baymax, one of the most original yet best robots put to film

It was about time I finally got to see “Big Hero 6” after so many of my colleagues have been talking about it and recommending it left and right. And I’m going to be honest, I went in with extremely low expectations with the feeling of another “Frozen” ordeal. “Frozen” had great ambition and some unique elements but it seems its stay of praise has over extended. The Snow Queen adaption was good to my taste but not to the point where it stands like timeless classics along the lines of “Beauty and the Beast” or “Mary Poppins.” So you can imagine how I was feeling for the most part. Even I felt its win for Best Animated Feature was sketchy but then again Disney has had this streak and I’m not a fan of the Oscars to begin with. Though to my surprise, it wasn’t the first half that makes me recommend this but more of what happens in the second half that won me over.

Set in a futuristic San Francisco that is combination of American and Japanese elements, a robot prodigy named Hiro Hamada uses his technology skills for underground robot fights as opposed to something more. His brother convinces him otherwise after introducing Hiro to his college pals that his robotic work could be more than just street fighting. After inventing a set of microbots to get the notice of the professor, things go from good to bad as a tragic incident kills his brother and his invention with it. But a masked villain appears with his tiny robots as he plans to unmask the culprit for the memory of his older sibling. Equipped with a robot his brother made and his pals, Hiro plans to make a superhero team out of team in hopes of capturing the masked man.

What works best about Big Hero 6 is the two leads and their chemistry; Hiro and his sibling’s robot Baymax. The boy and robot angle is something Disney would do and easily make for a family film. But there is something here that makes it more unique and fresh. Hiro is trying to coupe with the loss of his brother while Baymax tries to stick with his nursing/hospital program that his brother made. There is no implication of Baymax wanting to be human or anything of that angle as his monotone voice and personality leads to some comedic moments as well as some touching ones. Instead of giving Baymax a human personality, we often question his emotion being a machine without human features as his actions go either way.

Hiro is different as his character is given a lot to work with. He is trying to move on from a traumatic moment in his life while also using his abilities for a different cause or trying to find one. Its the typical stuff till midway the movie shifted to a parable about how unfulfilled revenge can be. Without giving too much away, this is this big plot twist that changes the attitude of the story. No longer is it about trying to deal with loss but trying to move on. It wasn’t till right at this moment, I was immediately sucked in and interested. Not only does Hiro have to deal with what is around him but also what path he must take with his life. I thought it was clever and certainly added a lot of heart to the movie.

So, your probably asking what about the rest of the characters and that is my biggest problem. For the first 24 minutes, we do get introduced to these supporting characters and elements that come into play later but with so much focus on Hiro and Baymax that they feel underdeveloped in my opinion. We get the lazy surfer dude, the hyper excited inventor, the cool one, the muscular one that worries a lot and so forth. I kept thinking why the other half worked more and I just kept going back to Hiro and his robot. Its clear they are the better focus of the movie but I felt like there could have been more elements with the other characters. There’s a big twist with the reveal of the masked man which does work but I felt it could have been a lot stronger.

Aside from that, I will admit the animation is good as always. Its Disney so you know there will be effort involved. The fight scenes are done with style like out of Astro Boy or Battle of the Planets while the futuristic version of San Francisco looks like a cleaned up take from Blade Runner. Even without end credits, Big Hero 6 is roughly 90 minutes long but I wish it went on a little longer. Again, maybe give some breathing room to the side characters and perhaps a little more to the story. To compare, The Incredibles spent a good bulk setting up its characters, the relationships and at least was able to craft a plot to tie everything together. But on the upside, “Big Hero 6” is a delight I’m sure everyone will enjoy.