Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017): Trying Too Hard (Review)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2-Main-CastDirected and written by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (which uses a whole slew of characters created by other folks from Marvel) is entertaining but it does seem to be trying a tad too hard to keep up with the first volume in the franchise.  The music from the mix tape is not as catchy as the first film’s and Baby Groot is used far too much when things get slow.

(In the instance of Groot, the character feels like a Marvel version of Lassie, or the kangaroo with a heart from Down Under, Skippy. “I am Groot” is now understood as a language all its own. Sort of like Skippy making kissing noises or Lassie barking. “What’s that Skippy/Lassie? Old Mrs. Wilson has fallen down the well?” Or…in the parlance of this setting, a myriad of meanings is derived from the twig’s single utterances.)

The film does entertain. It was always, however, going to have a hard time living up to the first GotG. In 2014 when the movie about lesser known Marvel  characters opened, one left the cinema in a state of joyous euphoria. In 2017, the film is slower, although somewhat grandiose in plot – Kurt Russell does play a seed implanting planet, after all – but it loses something betwixt the first film’s fun open.

Chris Pratt’s character is less precocious and Zoe Zaldana’s Gamora is less everything. Dave Bautista’s Drax is funnier but less literal and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket comes across much calmer than before. Michael Rooker stays pretty much the same as the blue skinned Yondu and Kurt Russell, as the omnipotent daddy figure has apparently had a lift and a tuck after working on Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight.

The plot, in volume two of Guardians of the Galaxy allows a family reunion between Peter Quill and his daddy; Ego. Rocket annoys the heck out of the Creel (a group of genetically engineered gold skinned people) by stealing some their batteries. This places a death sentence on all the guardians and they must flee/fight their former clients while  dealing with Ego.

While the film does appear to be trying too hard to please, it does still entertain. There were a number of laughs, a few teary moments and a clever bit of plot interweaving going on. Karen Gillan reprises her role as Nebula to fine effect and Elizabeth Debicki is splendid as Ayesha, the leader of the Creel.

Stan Lee appears on a rock talking to some Watchers, Sylvester Stallone has a cameo as does Michelle Yeo and Ving Rhames.  At the start of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 utilizes some “Tron-like” CG to rejuvenate Russell into a younger version of himself. This would have been more impressive had Russell not had his wrinkles ironed out to play the immortal Ego.

Essentially, Volume Two of the franchise is a bit of a rehash of the first film.  There is an overwhelming enemy hoard to deal with and a big bad that almost kills everyone. In terms of trying too hard, there are a slew of cameos in this second film.

The first movie had John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, along with Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro to fill out the cameos. (Nathan Fillion voiced a character in the prison scenes and this go around Miley Cyrus was the celebrity VO artist.)

Perhaps the only real “sin” committed here was that in terms of originality and freshness, Volume Two was always going to have an uphill struggle after the magical open of “Volume One.” Peter Quill is less funny this time around and Drax laughs far too much.

Still…the film is great fun and while it drags just enough to notice things like how big and beautiful Zaldana’s hands are, compared to Pratt’s, and observing how intricate Gillan’s Nebula make up is, Gunn’s effort is still worthy of the big screen Marvel-verse.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a cracking ride, despite its overall tone of trying too hard the film earns a full 4.5 stars. It is still playing in a cinema near you and even with a few loud people in the audience, it is well worth the price of a ticket and the two hours and 16 minute length is acceptable.

(Note: Stick around for the end credits to completely play out. There are a number of teasers at the end.)

Passengers (2016): Lost and Found in Space (Review)

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in Passengers

Written by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) and directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Headhunters), Passengers is a spectacular offering that runs the gamut from a Robinson Crusoe theme to one of heartwarming romance. In-between these two scenarios the film offers some brilliant action and soul searching moments. 

Chris Pratt is Jim Preston is the “everyman” engineer who wakes 90 years early because of the spaceship hitting a very large meteor. His existence is lonely, frustrating and desperate. In the year he faces life on his own, he finds Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and after an agonizing time of indecision, opts to wake the writer up early. 

Michael Sheen is Arthur, the ship’s robotic bartender. (A clear nod and wink to the film Arthur which was  about an alcoholic millionaire played first by Dudley Moore and later by Russell Brand.) The three spend their days interacting until another person wakes early; Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne). 

Gus, the only crew member to wake early, tries to find out what is wrong with the ship and works to fix it.

Passengers skillfully and deftly moves between its four acts and allows us the opportunity to really care for each character as they appear. Preston grabs our sympathy from the very start and later, when he and Aurora bond we feel for each person in this unlikely romance.

As the characters grow and change the atmosphere melds into one of unease as things go on in the background.  Each shift in the tale increases our interest in the people and their fate.

Each actor in the film knocks it out of the park. Fishburne is brilliant as the last minute guest. The casting of the actor must have been a homage to his doomed captain from the 1997 space film Event Horizon

Michael Sheen manages to not only shine as the android bartender who seamlessly blends in with the only two passengers on board but he also offers a delightfully odd air throughout the film. His drink and wisdom dispensing robot, with those overly pink lips, comes dangerously close to stealing every scene he is in.

Passengers offers up moments that feel like loving homages to scenarios in other films. Basketball, from Prometheus, the robotic cleaners; a nod to Silent Running, and other nods and winks are there for the movie fanatic to pick out at their leisure.

Tyldum, who specializes in the offbeat tale, manages to put everything together perfectly. The film looks brilliant and epic. The sets are spectacular while the editing and lighting are absolutely spot on.

This is a visual treat that may rely too heavily on a few cliches in order to offer up a pleasing payoff. Overall the film entertains, pleases and thrills so the manner of delivery does not, in the end, matter.

Rather interestingly, Andy Garcia has a cameo as the ship’s captain and his silent presence is somewhat puzzling although welcome. One can only assume that whatever lines the actor may have had wound up in the cutting room floor.

At almost two and a half hours long, the film could have drug in places but Tyldum keeps things interesting and the pace, while not too fast, works to keep the interest of the viewer at a constant rate.

This is another 5 star film. It could have suffered a half star loss, just for that “Hollywood” ending, but because we care about the characters there really was no other way for the film to finish.

Passengers is available on a number of platforms, i.e. Amazon, i-Tunes, et al and should be viewed immediately if not sooner.

Why the New Magnificent Seven Fails

Film Poster for 2016 Magnificent Seven

As Hollywood continues to travel on the remake train, with a rumored re-imagining of The Wild Bunch still bouncing around the ether, despite the demise of Tony Scott who was to helm the picture, the new Magnificent Seven fails on several levels. Not as a western, per se, but as a remake of an original classic that was itself a remake.

Akira Kurosawa was a fan of the American western, specifically John Ford’s films.  He made Seven Samurai and also went on to make Yojimbo; the film that Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone turned into A Fistful of Dollars (which started Clint Eastwood on his rise to stardom and eventual transmutation into a film icon.)

Hollywood liked the western premise of “Seven Samurai” so much that they decided to make their own “westernized” version of Kurosawa’s love letter to the American West. John Sturges directed a script adapted by William Roberts; presumably based upon Akira’s original screenplay. 

The original film, “Seven Samurai” feels very western-ish with its Samurai heroes, who are in reality Ronin (Samurai without masters who are roaming the land and accomplishing little for money.) that still have the “code of honor” that they live by, or at least try to live by.

“SS” is slow and meandering and quite epic. It is also very verbose, all Japanese films at that time, even “Yojimbo,” featured heroes and villains who talk a lot. There are prerequisite (and long) speeches about everything, even before an attack, and the participants will talk the issue to death before turning to sword play.

The Sturges film got rid of all the heroes long winded pontification and kept it to a minimum. Yul Brynner, who plays the main gunfighter (Samurai) recruits the other six men who help the beleaguered villagers, and does so without resorting to long speeches.

Later in the film, when the time comes for a “long” speech, Brynner and the other gunfighters explain why their life is not one that anyone should envy. Each of the “Seven” give their short spin on the lifestyle.

Each of the gunfighters in the Sturges remake are like the Ronin (Samurai) from the Akira Kurosawa film. All have a code and each one has accomplished little in the recent months. The men not only have a sort of honor that they follow but they also find that their worth has diminished somewhat.

As the Charles Bronson character; Bernardo O’Reilly says, “Right now $20 is a lot of money.” All the men, after Brenner’s character Chris states that no one has given him “everything” before, follow for little money and the chance to do the right thing for people who need their help.

While Mexico was not overly pleased with how the Mexican villagers were depicted in the film; men with no weapons and little knowledge of the world outside their farms and families, the tale was intimate, simple and epic.

Sturges understood that the epic nature of this film depended on the intimate nature of the village and the naivety of the people who needed help. This naivety even extends to the bandit leader who really steals from the unfortunate villagers in order to feed his men.

It is a case of survival for both the heroes and the villains. Even Chris and his magnificent seven gunfighters are doing the job for the “food and board” more than anything else.

The bare minimum of recompense and reward is what turned this film into an instant classic. That and the performances of all the players, Brynner, Steve McQueen, Bronson, Eli Wallach, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn all turned in brilliant performances, each a shaded nuance of their Samurai counterparts, and this, along with the script and direction made this slow moving and simple western a massive hit.

The remake, however, and Antoine Fuqua work on the premise that bigger is better. The screenwriters (Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto) hark back to the original screenplays and the overall feeling is a mishmash of Spaghetti Western ambiance with a lot of Hollywood Western cliches.

Chris is now Sam Chisolm Denzel Washington, a warrant officer for the court and he has a connection with the villain of this piece, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Somewhat irritatingly, in a bit of backstory, Sarsgaard’s character hired men who hung, somewhat unsuccessfully, Sam Chisolm. This act turns the whole thing into a Hang ‘Em High type scenario at the end which detracts from the whole message of both the original and the 1960 remake.

This new version moves the action from south of the border and turns the farmers into town folk being terrorized by the greedy Bartholomew (Sarsgaard) who wants the gold and all the land to himself. This move alone creates a problem in that after the Civil War, many of the townspeople were not helpless sheep, as depicted in the 2016 film.

As Louis L’Amour pointed out in many of his books about the old west; towns were filled with old campaigners who had fought in several wars, including taking on the indigenous population that the white man forced off their tribal lands. No one, in the real west, would have allowed Bartholomew’s hired guns to run roughshod over their town.

(In this film’s move to make corporate greed and gold the main motivation for the villain, they also inadvertently entered “Pale Rider” territory.  Even the film’s opening shot of Washington’s character has him riding through a heat shimmer, very similar to another Clint Eastwood western, “High Plains Drifter” – a western that also dealt with gold as its prevailing plot line.)

None of the original characters are transferred wholly from either film to the new “Seven.” There is the Robert Vaughn character Lee, being played by Ethan Hawke, but he is a sniper, not a gunfighter at all. James Coburn’s character, a variation on the master swordsman in Kurosawa’s classic, has been taken over by Korean actor Byung-hun Lee and there is no Horst Buchholz  character at all.

There are things that stand out with Fuqua’s vision of Magnificent Seven. He has included some Native American characters and his Mexican member of the team is no neophyte but is instead a hardened killer. He also allows the token female – Haley Bennett, who plays recently widowed Emma Cullen, to be one tough piece of work.

What is missing are the clean lines put forth by Sturges’ film. The intimacy has gone and been replaced with huge shoot outs that includes all the well-armed townspeople. By including dynamite, a gatling gun (Oh so reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch) and a 150 strong army of hired gunfighters, the epic intimacy has been thrown out the window.

In this version of the film, the villagers are not so much learning what they must do to survive against an outside evil, not that much different from them, but are fighting against corporate greed and an inflated ego. Sarsgaard’s character in this film is an old west version of Donald Trump, in essence, and this move exacerbates the change of victim.

Ultimately, the film lacks the oomph of Sturges’ version and feels more like a homage to Sergio Leone than Akira Kurosawa.  The Elmer Bernstein score, from the 1960 film is only used during the end credits and this also effects the film.

The actors in the film all do well but lack the stoic and taciturn quality of the western heroes brought to screen in the original “Seven” and while they all bring much to their roles, the screenplay lets them down.

The 2016 Magnificent Seven, despite a huge shootout which leaves the streets of the one-horse town littered with bodies from both sides, is, in the end, a little boring and more of an oddity than a brilliant re-imagining of two classics.

By having a connection between the new and not improved version of the Mexican bandit and the new Yul Brynner character  the film loses the nobility of the characters and the storyline of both Sturges’ film and Kurosawa’s.

Despite the high scores on IMDb, with Rotten Tomatoes being a bit less enthusiastic, the film, with so many influences (including a bit of Tarantino) is only a 3.5 star film. It is enjoyable but not overly so. Watch once and then move on…

Indiana Jones Film Confirmed by Lucasfilm

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
According to Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, Disney will be remaking, or re-imaging, or re-booting Indiana Jones as one of the many properties that the studios now own. Kennedy was speaking to Vanity Fair about Star Wars when the question of relaunching the Harrison Ford franchise came up and she confirmed that a new version of the Lucasfilm property would be made.

Read the rest of the article at Viral Global News…

Saturday Night Live Hosted by Chris Pratt Not Hooked on the Feeling

Saturday Night Live Hosted by Chris Pratt Not Hooked on the Feeling

Saturday Night Live (SNL) hosted by Chris Pratt did not leave a “hooked on the feeling” aftertaste when the show ended. Pratt, as much as he was allowed to, pretty much rocked it. Even his opening monologue (sing-o-logue) felt pretty comfortable, and why not, he has cut his teeth on television so the format is one he would feel comfortable with. On a side note, who knew that Chris was in a relationship with that girl from the Scary Movie franchise (and My Super Ex Girlfriend, Lost in Translation…) aka Anna Faris, what a surprise. It was also very touching that she was in the front row for his “open.”