More like The Midnight Mess Train. Man this was a royal disaster. I get that there was a Clive Barker short behind it and yeah it’s probably a cool one as he’s a great storyteller but man if you’re going to adapt something that scant you at least have to give it more than just a vague blueprint and an endless, grinding parade of gratuitous, painfully CGI gore that serves no other purpose other than to perpetuate itself in scene after scene of disgusting, unsatisfying carnage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gore-hound and a horror nut but there’s something called pacing, context and artistic style and the violence in this has none of that, it’s as flat, drab and unpleasant as I’d imagine the meat slaughterhouse we see multiple times is.
Bradley Cooper used to do a ton of cool genre stuff before he went Oscar titan on us and he’s engaging enough as an NYC art world photographer who is searching for those perfect, edgy shots of the city’s underworld, a vocation that pushes him into nocturnal escapades where he inevitably sees something he shouldn’t. That something here is well dressed, mute, homicidal bulldozer Mahogany, a spectacularly violent serial killer who rides the late subway train and literally butchers people like cattle for some unseen, hidden purpose. Of course he starts to notice Cooper tailing him and isn’t too stoked. His life begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with finding out Mahogany’s deal to the point that it affects his relationship to his girlfriend, played by the lovely Leslie Bibb in one of the rare times they actually give her a role deserving of her untapped talent.
The problem with this is it makes not a goddamn lick of sense. Why is Mahogany killing people on the train? Does he have an employer or is he just a wild card loner? The film makes a half assed attempt to answer those questions but unfortunately it’s way too preoccupied with torture porn to tell it’s story clearly, succinctly or even remotely in a way that grabs us. There’s only so many shots of Jones bashing people’s heads in with a giant meat tenderizing hammer before our brains turn to the same mush it inflicts and we just. Don’t. Care. And the gore is often done in this really weird, closeup/slo-mo/lame way like the film was meant to be seen in 3D or something but they never bothered to even finish the process and we’re left with video game cutscene gore. It’s a shame because there are aspects that shine. Jones is incredibly menacing, he’s always had a terrific presence as an actor and the Mahogany character on his own terms is pretty frightening, until the film does his shtick to death. Bibb is terrific and I really felt for her as the poor girlfriend dragged into a nightmare, it’s also not one of those horror flicks where the significant other doesn’t believe the protagonist’s wild predicament to the point of abandoning them, she actually tries to help and I liked that character choice. I really liked Brooke Shields as an art world shark who talent scouts Cooper’s work, there’s a directness and genuine intelligence to her acting that turns a quick cameo into something very memorable. But holy shit man, most of the film is just ridiculous, poorly lit bloodshed and I get they’re on a dark subway train underground but even then dude… find your angles, set up your lighting, set aside time to colour grade… have some fucking pride in your craft. And for god’s sake know when enough gore is enough and your audience just wants to tap out and go watch Candyman again, another film based on Barker lore that knows when to use violence to shock or frighten, not to beat us over the head with it like Mahogany and his hammer until we’re in a vegetative state and just want to turn the tv off. A midnight meat train wreck if I ever saw one.
Hit & Run was a huge blast, and the key ingredient that makes it work so well is the real life couple dynamic of Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell, who keep the relationship banter fresh, realistic and adorable. This is a passion project for Shepherd, he writes, directs and stars in the kind of scrappy, bawdy highway car chase crime caper that feels cut from the same cloth as stuff like Vanishing Point, Smokey & The Bandit, Cannonball Run and old McQueen/Reynolds muscle car fluff. They also pulled it off on a budget of two million and most of that went to securing music rights, so what we have onscreen is a barebones, character driven, practical effects based screwball action comedy that just hits the spot. Shepherd is Charles Bronson, (picked for the famous British delinquent inmate, not the tough guy movie star) his chosen name in the witness protection program after testifying against his former bank robbing crew whom he was getaway driver for. When his wife gets a hotshot job in LA he’s forced to rear his head, her asshole ex boyfriend (Lex Luthor from Smallville) stalks them along the highway, they’re also pursued by his clumsy dipshit federal marshal case worker (Tom Arnold) and soon his old partner (Bradley Cooper) catches wind and it’s all one ridiculously cluttered, madcap extended chase sequence that’s is somehow totally nuts yet follows a cohesive plot in the same breath. Dax and Kristen anchor it, you can tell they are together in real life because sparks literally fly in any dialogue scene scripted or improvised, and there’s a ton of the latter speckled throughout the film. Tom Arnold does his wacky klutz routine, sometimes to effect and sometimes seeming just like a prop that trips over other props. Bradley Cooper steals the fucking show with greasy dreadlocks, a volatile bitch of a girlfriend (Joy Bryant) and enough homicidal attitude to spare, whether violently berating a guy twice his size for buying cheap dog food or lamenting the fact that he got ‘butt fucked’ in jail, after which Dax and Kristen have a guessing marathon as to the ethnicity of his rapist in the films funniest sequence. There’s colourful supporting work from Kristen Chenowith, David Koechner, Ryan Hansen, Beau Bridges and a couple juicy last minute cameos from big names I won’t spoil. This is easy breezy R rated comedy fun at its best with a fast, loose and organic feel, it barrels by briskly, brings tons of laughs and even gets a few quick sweet moments in too. Good stuff.
Talk about laidback and low key. I knew by the trailers that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule wasn’t going to be an outright thriller or anything intense despite the subject matter but I really appreciated how wistful, elegiac and at ease with itself this film was. Eastwood is knocking at 90’s door and is still spry as a sprite, once again taking both acting and directing duties in the story of Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturalist turned drug mule for the Mexican cartel. Earl is an egocentric social butterfly who could never seem to find time for his family or put them before his needs. His wife (Dianne Wiest) resents him, his daughter (Alison Eastwood) full on abhors him for missing her wedding. Only his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga keeps getting more fantastic with each new role) holds out hope and still welcomes him with open arms. He’s all but broke when his garden centre is foreclosed upon, until a chance meeting puts him in touch with underworld operatives and before he knows it he’s ferrying lump sums of narcotics across the states for very dangerous people. This character fascinated me because even when he gets this extremely lucrative opportunity that allows him to partly buy his way back into his family’s life, he doesn’t understand or ignores the fact that if they knew where he got all this money from he’d be more in the doghouse with them than when he started off. This is essentially a story about a guy who never took responsibility, who never took life seriously enough to have a proper legacy until he gets an eleventh hour chance to do so. There’s a workaholic DEA agent played excellently by Bradley Cooper and they share a few chance encounters that capture the essence of this story nicely. They’re two men on opposite ends of the law and very different places in their life who are nonetheless able to share a few moments, enlighten each other’s perspectives and be all the wiser because of it. I loved this story because it ably showed how even in one’s twilight years when one is *still* making mistakes, it’s not too late to reconcile or turn it all around. Great film.
“I’m most intrigued by how you remember all that shit? It is just astounding to me,” joked Sam Elliot with his token southern drawl to TMC’s Dave Karger who moderated the Virtuoso awards at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Elliot, along with John David Washington, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant and many more were honored with the prestigious award as the awards season campaign comes to a close. Elliot was the flagship honoree, saving his Q&A for last.
“He’s the most brilliant director I’ve ever worked with,” he said speaking of Bradley Cooper, who after their initial meeting, became text message buddies and that is how the two communicated all the way up until filming. Elliot was concerned that he was going to be unable to film his role in A Star is Born, due to his commitment to Netflix’s The Ranch, a four-camera sitcom that is filmed before a live audience that has a lot of moving pieces. Elliot expressed his concern to Cooper via text message and Cooper instantly replied: “I’m not going to let you go. We are going to work it out.”
Filming for The Ranch ended on a Wednesday and the following Friday Cooper arranged for a set to be constructed in the parking lot of the Greek Theatre in LA, where they filmed their first scene together, the emotional brother v brother moment where Cooper punches Elliot and knocks him to the ground. Elliot did not once say “Lady Gaga”, instead he referred to her as “Stefani” and spoke of her very affectionately.
The first time he saw the film in its full cut was at its premiere in Toronto, recalling how he was weeping throughout the film and was surprised at how much screen time he had in the final cut because when he had seen the rough cuts prior, his role was reduced substantially. Backstage, before the Q&A at TIFF, Stefani came up to him and asked if he was okay because he was still crying because he was so affected by the film.
“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Elliot candidly said about his first Academy Award nomination as the audience of over two thousand people erupted in thunderous applause. “Awards are great. Awards are a wonderful thing, but it’s all about the work.” Elliot turns his phone off at night and was awakened by his wife, Kathrine Ross, at seven-thirty in the morning the day nominations were announced. When asked by the moderator what it was like for his wife to be the one to tell him, Elliot instantly responded, “it was pretty cool.”
At the close of the evening, Elliot was asked what film came out this year that he thought that everyone should see, after thinking for a moment he said Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman and said that the film is very important and more relevant now than the period for which it took place. He was also asked what accent he thinks would be impossible for him to do, where he quickly quipped “anything that isn’t a south-western accent.”
Sam Elliot is effortlessly cool. He’s been a cinematic mainstay for five decades. He’s been a lifeguard, the President’s chief of staff, and countless cowboys and military brass. After all this time Elliot has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nomination for his finest role to date. He may not win the gold, and that is okay because Sam Elliot will always be Sam Elliot.
I’m a huge fan of the Hallmark style drama films, and anyone who scoffs at the inherent melodrama or perceived schmaltz is missing the point completely and deliberately robbing themselves of the therapeutic, diversional catharsis one can find in them. When you’re feeling shitty about the world, your problems or any other negativity, they can be a life affirming escape because they almost always are just small stories about kind people, families overcoming trouble or getting together for various holidays, just pleasant, earnest entertainment for entertainment’s sake, simplicity itself. Joyce Chopra’s The Last Cowboy is a fine example, and especially a treasure for the way it casts usually edgy, frequently villainous character actors in sympathetic, against type lead roles. The great Lance Henriksen is Will Cooper, a stubborn, salt of the earth old school rancher whose land is in danger of being seized by the bank. After his estranged daughter Jake (Jennie Garth) returns home with her young son after many years absence, it becomes clear that it’s up to her and Will to reconcile their differences, put the pain of the past behind them and work together to save the ranch before it’s too late. Henriksen is always a dynamic actor and imbues Jake with grit and grace, while Garth, who I haven’t seen in a single other thing, does a great job too. The real scene stealer is character actor M.C. Gainey as Amos, Will’s lovable farmhand, friend and confidante. This is a special role for him because he’s almost always found playing roughneck bikers, evil criminals or redneck truckers, but here he’s an honest to goodness decent human being and he just nails it. Bradley Cooper shows up as well in a more subdued role as a horse owner who brings business to Will and stirs Jake’s heart. This is a small, very low budget TV movie and has barely ever seen the light of day in terms of exposure (it took me like five years to track down a DVD), but it’s heartfelt, really well acted and if you’re a fan of anyone in this cast it’s a rare gem.
My first thought a few moments after seeing Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born: Isn’t it so cool that one of the most poignant scenes in cinema this year is shared between Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott, two artists who couldn’t be more far flung from each other or born of different backgrounds within the industries. That’s a testament to the eclectic cast Cooper has rallied for this absolute fucking diamond of a film and as assured a director’s debut as ever. Filled with many more poignant scenes, instant classic songs, heartbreak that will have you bawling, beautiful direction, believable characters, naturalistic free flowing writing and at least three mega Oscar worthy performances, this is the best film of the year so far and will no doubt sweep said awards.
This story dates back a few versions to the 50’s, but Cooper makes the story seem so fresh and organic that one can hardly even call it a remake, especially when you consider how much brand new, totally inspired music composed and sang live. Cooper is Jackson Maine, an Eddie Vedder-esque rocker who discovers and falls in love with Lady Gaga’s Ally, a young waitress with the voice of an angel and a firebrand of a personality. While her star is on the rise with songwriting, performance and poise, Jack’s is falling from the heavens of fame due to alcoholism and drug addiction, fast approaching the nadir and eventual exodus of his career. Cooper and Gaga have chemistry that fills up every frame until it leaps off the screen, a warm, conflicted and symbiotic relationship blossoms, is put to the rest and weathers a very heavy storm as Jack drifts in a sea of his demons, struggling to hold on. They both give the kind of immersive performances that some actors strive their whole career towards; watching the film I believed that here was Ally and Jackson onscreen, two fully formed, human characters and not simply Cooper and Gaga in their respective roles. Their voices are magic too, especially in an earth shattering duet of one of Ally’s original compositions, a gorgeous tune that practically demands the Oscar for original song.
Cooper has carefully chosen his supporting cast and the result is some moving, interesting work from a troupe who are all cast refreshingly against type. I can’t speak highly enough of Sam Elliott’s work here as Jack’s older brother Bobby, a stormy yet compassionate fellow, this film gives the quintessential cowboy something to actually do with his role, the result being the best, most vulnerable work I’ve ever seen from the guy. Andrew Dice Clay is resurrected to play Ally’s father and brings both warmth and jovial comic relief, Dave Chapelle has a brief but very sweet bit as Jack’s friend and voice of reason. Even the smaller roles are brought to life well, from Greg Grunberg as Jack’s trusty driver to character actor Ron Rifkin, excellent as a kindly rehab counsellor.
Cooper should be proud of his work onscreen, and prouder still of that behind the camera. There is no showboating, no gimmickry, no bells and whistles or arbitration in his direction here, he’s crafted a passionate, heartbreaking, streamlined and beautifully character driven piece of work, full to the brim with love, music, conflict and ideas without seeming overstuffed or cacophonous. Coasting on the heights of the original music, sailing through the rivers of torment and turmoil between the two characters and walking the paths they walk through their relationship, Cooper’s eye captures this tale adeptly, doing things with the camera that seem fresh and different but never taking us out of the story. This is a film that will no doubt go down in history and, despite being one of several iterations, become a classic in cinema for generations to come.
For a film in its fourth incarnation, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is an endearing and remarkable film that contains every familiar trope, cliché, and prepackaged plot narrative possible. It embraces exactly what it is, it is self-aware with both subtle and tongue and cheek nods to previous versions as well as to the rich ensemble of actors who bring their own homages to their own roles. The film is a triumphant spectacle; it is visually stunning by being shot and crafted with command authority and passion. The musical scenes, which were filmed with live singing, only add to the powerhouse of the film that ushers in urgency to its melodramatic plot. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a beautiful showboat of cinematic achievement.
The film is stocked with a wonderful ensemble who richly detail their respective characters. Bradley Cooper is the best he has ever been as the washed-up country auteur (not stadium popstar) who is hell-bent on destroying his life with pills and alcohol, as he is rapidly approaching the twilight of his career. He is in limbo between burning out and fading away. Lady Gaga is a marvel in her most mature screen performance to date. While watching her performance, it is insane to think that there hasn’t been a filmmaker prior to Cooper that has tapped into her raw talent and beauty on screen. Sure, her metamorphosis as a live performer is one thing, but her screen presence is something completely different; it is a sight to behold.
Aside from the two showstopping lead performances, Sam Elliot and Andrew Dice Clay are respective counterparts to Cooper and Gaga. Elliot is the older brother who is Cooper’s handler, and the Diceman is Gaga’s father. Both bring their own on-screen gravitas to the picture, Elliot commands the screen in sobering moments as Cooper’s firm-handed father figure while Andrew Dice Clay is the affable and warmly supportive father of Gaga, offering quite a few appropriately humorous moments to the film. Elliot gives one of the finest and most vulnerable performances of his career, while Clay is consistently becoming a formidable supporting player since his scene-stealing performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
For all the conventionality to the film, it is rather perplexing with its unorthodox self-awareness of the casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle (who gives a very sweet and touching performance). The musical performances feel genuine. They are photographed with a sense of urgency and emotion by cinematographer Matthew Libatigue (who also shot Sony’s Venom which bested A Star is Born opening weekend at the box office).
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is so grandiose, that he has poised himself to be the next Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Robert Redford, having the ability to direct himself while creating a magnificent film that will remain relevant for decades to come. When the awards season dust settles, there more than likely will not be a more nominated film, and could very well sweep all the major awards. Regardless of Oscar buzz and cultural momentum, A Star is Born will stand the test of cinematic time and be remembered as a film that is filled with boundless love and passion.
The films of Paul Kyriazi hold a special place in my cinema-viewing adventures throughout the years. I, naturally, encountered them during the heady days of the era of VHS – I still have my copies in that format of Paul’s work. Then, not unlike Terrence Malick, Paul disappeared, and I lamented his absence having come to admire his film-making style and diversity.
So, rejoice I did, when I learned that he had returned to the director’s chair. Eagerly I sat down to watch Forbidden Power – and I was not disappointed. With his new film, Paul returns with his unique voice, his visual dexterity and his great command of unfolding an exciting thriller that doesn’t release its grip on you till it’s time to fade to black.
Fascinated by his study in the field of personal empowerment, Paul takes us on a journey where the achieving of super-human abilities is contracted via sexual intercourse. The character at the center of the story is a mysterious and provocative woman – who seemingly hypnotizes her partners with a type of mystical persuasion. The character we follow, after his eerie yet passion-fueled encounter with the female antagonist, wakes to find her vanished, but also having left behind for him a gift of sorts.
In this superhero-movie-saturated age we find ourselves, it was refreshing to witness a different spin on the getting of super-powers. Our hero, just like in any superhero origin story, has a delightful time discovering the extent of his new-found abilities. But, as it is with the coming of great power, there comes along with it, great responsibility.
Thus we go along on the adventure, and soon discover that plot is deeper than one might first imagine. I’ve no intention of spoiling it for you here, because I want you to see the movie. What it will say is – this is well crafted film-making that you can definitely become immersed in.
It was a true honor for this fan, not only to talk to Paul, but also to two of the film’s stars – the stunning and talented Nazanin Nuri and the man, the legend, Harry Mok (another exceptional, multi-talented performer whom I too, like Paul, encountered first in the heyday of home video).
I encourage you to seek out Forbidden Power, if you are a fan of Kyriazi cinema or not. I promise you, you will not be disappointed…
At age 8, I see The Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on Disneyland TV and decided to become a movie director. Age 16, I start filming 20 minute action stories using my father’s 8mm camera. Age 18, my father bought me a used Bolex camera. I film a 30 min color action movie titled Trapped and it wins the Berkeley Film Festival. I start taking karate to be like James Bond. My Sensei introduces me to samurai movies. Seeing that action with great film techniques of the Japanese directors, moves me into martial arts movies, even before the TV show Kung Fu. I transferred to San Francisco State University making more 20 minute karate stories and placing 3rd in the next Berkeley Film Festival. I graduate with a BA in film. I join the Air Force movie department and film space launches for NASA. I take leave to film my first feature Drawn Swords in 35mm black & white Techniscope. It’s about 3 samurai going to England to enter a fencing tournament. I use all my cash and credit cards, loans, and refinancing my car. I get out of the Air Force and return to San Francisco unable to sell my movie. I promise myself if I get another break I will make a color movie that is so commercial the distributors will have to buy it. I meet karate tournament fighter Ron Marchini who has me re-edit and sell his Philippine produced movie Murder in the Orient. Ron then hired me to write and direct Death Machines. To be commercial, we come up with a story of 3 karate killers (white, black, Asian) to cover all markets. Then we add a cop/gangster plot, big fight scenes in a karate dojo, bar, and police station, and we actually blew up a piper cub airplane. The completed movie is immediately picked up by Crown International Pictures with big advertising. It opened in 50 theaters in LA making it a #14 top grosser. However, I still can’t raise the money to produce my own movie, so I direct a sequence for Sesame Street. I pick up a copy of The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind by Anthony Norvel. I take his classes for three months in LA, then return to the San Francisco. In 10 days I raise the money to produce and direct Weapons of Death. The panavision film plays all over the USA breaking a house record in a New York theater. I next produce and direct Ninja Busters. This was followed by the cops and gangsters story One Way Out. Next came writing and directing Omega Cop starring: Adam ‘Batman’ West, Troy Donahue, and Stuart Whitman. An actress from Weapons of Death hires me to produce a travelogue in Phuket, Thailand, Thailand Adventure proving you never know what contact will end up getting you movie work. I write two novels in hopes of getting them produced as movies. When many people ask me “How do you survive as a freelance?” I write How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle. In 2003, I produce In the West – a 90 minute travel production for Japan. Appearance by Pat Morita. In 2005, I produce my novel Rock Star Rising as an audio-book narrated by Rod Taylor, performed by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Robert Culp, James Darren, and Kevin McCarthy. It has full effects and music, making it an “audio movie” of sorts. In 2006, I direct the largest production in audio-book history, McKnight’s Memory. Narrated by Frank Sinatra Jr, it stars Robert Culp, Nancy Kwan, Don Stroud, Henry Silva, Alan Young, David Hedison, and Edd Kookie Byrnes. In 2007, I Direct Edd Byrnes’ My Casino Caper audio-book. It’s Edd’s memoir of being stalked for his 3 million dollar Las Vegas win. With Alan Young, Henry Silva, and David Hedison playing themselves, recreating the incident that happened in 1977. Michael Callen plays the part of criminal that stalked Edd. In 2008, I direct Barbara Leigh’s The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine audio-book. Her memoir of being a top model involved with Elvis, Steve McQueen and MGM president Jim Aubrey. Joe Esposito introduces it and plays himself in the dramatizations. In 2012, I update & expand the James Bond Lifestyle on Kindle, Nook, iTunes & Kobo. In 2013, I write & produce – 3 Wild Thrillers – Three fiction stories on Kindle that includes the audio-book. In 2014, I produce The Mexican Swimmer, a 3 hour audio-book performed by Julian Scott Urena. I also write Wicked Players, a story of gambling and survival in wild Las Vegas
I always imagined moving to New York City, before even really knowing what that meant. As a child, I spoke gibberish, pretending to be American, and constantly begged my family to travel to New York. Somehow, without having ever seen any of it in person, I was fascinated by the skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty, and the opportunity New York City had to offer. For as long as I can remember, I had this recurring dream, where I was swimming for so long, exhausted and not sure where I was going, until finally I’d look up and realize I’d swam all the way to New York City. I’d wake up screaming, “I made it! I made it!” I finally left everything in Switzerland behind and made my way to US as an Au Pair. In 2012, with just two suitcases, I moved to San Francisco and lived with a host family. After a year in the states, I began to feel comfortable communicating and expressing myself in English. I extended my job for another year and moved to Long Island, New York. After working for two years as an Au Pair, I was ready to pursue my dream. I moved to New York City and signed up for ESL classes to master my English. As fate would have it, I stumbled upon The William Esper Studio, an acting school that changed my life forever. I was honored to be accepted in Bill Esper’s acting class and enrolled in the two year full-time program. As cheesy as it sounds, acting found me! As I studied the art and spent time learning the craft in my classes, I increasingly realized that my entire journey led me to what I really love. Acting is my calling and all I want to do in my life. At the end of my first year of acting school, I spent the summer of 2016 in Switzerland. I wrote and starred in my first short film entitled “Where Am I”. The film was very well received at the Wellington Film Festival with an honorable mention as it won the “Best Narration” category. I graduated from The William Esper Studio in summer 2017 and was right away cast as the lead – playing Veronica Hawthorn – in Paul Kyriazi’s feature film “Forbidden Power”. After we were done shooting “Forbidden Power” in Seattle I traveled to Utah to film an experimental short film that I wrote, produced and starred in. That untitled short film is in the editing phase and expected to be released in 2018
Harry Mok’s career in the entertainment industry is attributed to his well-known expertise in the martial arts field. His career began as an actor and stuntman, performing and or starring in such films as Rambo II, Uncommon Valor, TC 2000, Talons of the Eagle, Femme Fontaine, For Life or Death, College Kickboxers, The Vineyard, Tiger Claws II, Ninja Busters, and more. In 1987, Harry produced and wrote his first feature film, The Vineyard, which was released by New World Pictures. Shortly after, he began producing, creating, and designing action games for Atari/Time Warner Interactive. During this period, Harry invented a new filming technology, a 180 degree five camera blue/green screen system that would revolutionize digitization of 2D characters. He filed a patent for this technology. In August of 2005 Harry was honored with induction into the prestigious GSKA Black Belt Hall of Fame. In January 2007, he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame. He is currently based in Northern California. He is one of the founders of 10+ Entertainment and is currently involved with producing a new reality show, New Hollywood Stars.
James Gunn doesn’t quite surpass the first Guardians film with his followup, but there is more than enough to love from a sequel that stands monumentally taller than any other Marvel film (save for the first).
Gunn is such a remarkable auteur; his use of seminal popular music, blended with his not only perfect casting of genre actors but knowing how to use them, is what keeps this Guardians film from being a rehash of the first.
The story, while at times has too many plot points running at once, stands on its own, and is not reliant upon any other arc within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is incredibly refreshing. The film is about Star-Lord and his father Ego, played by Kurt Russell who turns in yet another fantastic performance.
Guardians 2 does use a few conventional gimmicks: the token Stan Lee cameo that has worn out its effectiveness sixteen movies ago, and an opening scene with a CGI de-age character which actually works well. Aside from that, and a second act that drags its feet slightly, the film is a lot of fun and you’ll be smiling and laughing through the entire film. Heck, you may even tear up during a few moments.
What’s very disappointing about this film, is the incredible missed opportunity of reuniting onscreen Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone. Call me shallow, but that’s a moment a lot of us were hoping for going into this film, knowing the kind of genre respect and sensibilities that Gunn has as a filmmaker, it is kind of a shock that this didn’t happen.
Speaking of Stallone, seeing him in a film like this is an absolute joy. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film, he’s mainly being setup for an expanded role in future Marvel films, but you can tell he’s having a lot of fun. Towards the beginning of the film, he shares a scene with Michael Rooker, and anyone who loves CLIFFHANGER will stand up and fist pump in the theatre.
Perhaps the best, and most effective part of the film isn’t the special effects (which are brilliant), or the genre actor cameos (which is even more brilliant), but a scene between Star-Lord and his Ego, as they discuss The Looking Glass’ hit song, BRANDY. It’s a very sweet and emotional moment between a father and son and showcases the star power that Russell brings to the role.
There are a plethora of scene stealing moments. The opening scene, the opening credits, the musical numbers, Baby Groot, Awesome Mix Tape Vol. 2, Michael Rooker – like I said, this film may not be as good as the first, but it’s an awesome experience and do yourself a favor and run the theatre to go see it.
What’s almost hard to understand is how Marvel allows Gunn to make non-templated films that are a part of the MCU, yet really have nothing to do with any of these silly “phases”. The two Guardians films are different, they don’t fit inside of Marvel’s box of conventionality. They take place within a world where Gunn has the absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, and that in itself is a feat that is a cause for celebration, and very much leaves you looking forward to the next Guardians film.
James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, I’m happy to report, blows the first film right out of the water. There’s a subversive, wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour running through both films, as well as a boundlessly creative and colourful canvas of ideas both big and small, coalescing into something just this side of chaos. Picture a stick of dynamite; Volume one is the fuse, fizzling terrifically as it gets off to a great start. In many franchises, by the time the first film uses up the wick and reaches the stick, it’s sequel, the energy is lost and we end up with a dud of a follow-up. Not this baby. Volume two is the stick of dynamite, exploding gloriously across our screens in fits of dazzling imagination, humour that doesn’t quit for a nanosecond and the heart to back it up. Volume one dipped its toe in the water and showed us the roots of what a great space opera might look like, and volume two plunges in to give us just that. We rejoin with the merry band of misfits who now know each other a little better, are more comfortable working as a unit, and blast off into a tale of space battles, living planets and perpetual banter. Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, equipped with a brand new eight track collection of vintage pop songs, is still searching for his real dad when he kind of finds him by accident in the form of Ego, a powerful celestial being slyly played by Kurt Russell. Joining him are the gang we know and love, broccoli hued babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana), deadpan Drax (Dave Bautista outdoes himself in the comic relief department, a true highlight) Rocket (Bradley Cooper, excellent), scowling smurfette Nebula (Karen Gillian), adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, collecting a mortgage-eclipsing paycheque for literally doing nothing) and antihero Yondu (Michael Rooker). Rooker gets far, far more to do here than he did the second time around, becoming a fleshed out character with a terrific arc and a whole pile of scenes, a strong asset to the film. The villain here is way more compelling than Lee Pace’s silly space vampire in Volume One, and I won’t spoil anything but there’s more than a few surprises. Kurt Russell’s living planet is pure delicious eye candy, a vista to rival anything in Star Wars, Mass Effect or similar worlds, detailed and lovingly rendered. As per usual there are cameos, but surprisingly it’s more than the obligatory laundry list of Where’s Waldo fellow Marvel appearances. There are truly inspired name drops here and a few genre titans who show up, none of whom I’ll give away except Sylvester Stallone. He’s given an unassuming supporting role that he plays solidly without tongue in cheek or any hint of a gimmick, just an enjoyable little addition to the cast. James Gunn is a cinematic punk, cracking prudence right in the jaw, throwing caution to the wind and tirelessly churning out the kind of fresh, funny and irreverent films we want to see, scrappy crowd pleasers that people will actually remember, which lord knows is what Marvel needs to shake up their sometimes complacent, too comfortable aesthetic. The soundtrack is obviously a winner, and any film that uses Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain as its main cue has pretty much already won me over. This will probably be the cornerstone of summer blockbuster season, it’s just too much fun and has everything you’d want, with the dial cranked just past what we got the first time around in the best way possible. I am Groot.