Tag Archives: Zoe Saldana

James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Episode 47: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

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Join Frank, Tim, Nate, and Jason as they dissect James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 and speak about the amazing cast, James Gunn, and the future of the Guardians and the MCU.

James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2


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. 

-Nate Hill

My date with TASERFACE and other reflections of Vol. 2

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I’ll say this right off the bat . . . if you don’t have fun watching his movie then there is something wrong with you. GOTG was always going to be a tough act to follow. I admit I am not a devotee of the Marvel cinematic universe as it stands; but Guardians is the exception.

From the get-go the music is perfectly placed. I read another review last night before seeing the film that compared Gunn’s music choices to Tarantino’s, and I have to say that comment is dead on as we begin our story with some very nicely done de-aging, and the set-up to what appears to be a beautiful love story.

BOOM!

Right when my son turned to me in the theatre and asked, “Are you sure this is Guardians of the Galaxy?” We find ourselves years later and we’re back with the family guarding the galaxy against a giant, undulating space monster which filters into a super-cool credit sequence.

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ZIP!

Then we are off the Planet Goldfinger where the locals are not unlike the locals in my home town – you have to watch what you say ‘cause they’re easily offended.  Nebula is back with a vengeance and the crew take her and leave, unfortunately, they manage to piss the Goldfingerlings off before that happens.

KABOOM!

Cue the big space battle.  Rocket and Quill are measuring, Drax is matter-of-facting, Nebula is impatient to eat something that aint ripe yet,  Gamora is the only adult in the room and Groot is living dangerously by not wearing his seatbelt.

Just when all hope seems lost they are aided by a mysterious stranger and his pet Mantis. Hey, that dude looks like Jack Burton. Turns out Big Daddy has a giant Ego and a whole planet to himself. But remember children, remember the last guy who used the line, “I am your father!”

So the team splits up, The Junk-Panda, The Twig and the She-borg get embroiled in a mutiny while Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax jump to Ego’s utopia. Hercules was a son of a God and so, as it turns out, is Peter Quill. If you build it, he will come – so Peter and Big Daddy play catch.

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You’re saying, “Hey you haven’t mentioned Yondu.” That’s ‘cause Yondu is the real heart in this movie. And really, that is what Vol. 2 is all about – heart. James Gunn has again crafted a movie that is visually, musically and splendidly comedic across the board – but what turns out to be the guy’s real strength is infusing an awful lot of heart and soul into these characters. It’s an old school talent from back in the days when movies used to be good. The secret being . . . you give a shit about the characters, you want them to win. You can’t make a movie like that with your mind, but you can with your heart, and Vol. 2 has a big one.

So, like I said about the “I am your father line,” well turns out that Daddy Quill aint that wholesome. This leads to a thrilling, break-neck climax that still has time for luck, for laughs, for the unknown – right before tears and glory.

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Vol. 2’s rich palette explodes off the screen, especially if you see it in 3D. The score lifts and throttles with the great themes set up in the first film. There are fun running gags of which Taserface is one of my favourites; it brought to mind Mel Brook’s Men in Tights and the ‘Mervin’ Sheriff of Rottingham scene. Also, like one reviewer I read said, I kinda wish Tango and Cash could have had a brief meeting, for no other purpose but to have it in there for nostalgic purposes. It was cool to see them both in a movie together, and if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, it will be great to see Sly back in these kinds of movies. I loved Demolition Man and, get ready to burn me, Judge Dredd (1995).

If you don’t have fun watching this movie there is something wrong with you, because it is a whole lot of fun and it was a delight to watch it with my son,  even if the only true highlight for him was hearing someone say the word ‘penis’ in a movie. Both cast and crew have crafted and excellent sequel here. I cannot honestly say that it is a sequel that betters the original, but it is a good, strong follow-up to a film that surprised audiences as well as the powers that be.

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Like any good sequel this film had to be the first film and more than the first film. It does succeed and I can easily see how it scored a perfect 100 during the test screening process, as it has all the elements come together in the right place, at the right time – action, laughs, light and darkness.

The guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet has come a long way. Some have greatness thrust upon them, some are born to it, but James Gunn has, without question, achieved it. I watched his little gem Slither again recently. You get shades of what he would go on to do with GOTG in that film which is at once shocking, funny and touching all thrown into the mix.

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Vol. 2 is great and I, like with the first Guardians, will watch it again and await its Blu Ray release. I think Vol. 3 will be the true challenge for Mr. Gunn now, but, with the success he has garnered, he has earned the right to do it his way. Really, I think I am more eager to see where he goes after he’s done guarding the galaxy.

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

Go see Vol. 2 and as ever . . . happy viewing

THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE

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Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace 


While not quite in the pantheon of powerhouse that the filmmakers intended it to be, Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace is still a bleak, devastating picture. This is a film about endings, and not resolute, satisfactory ones either. Set in a borderline derelict mining town somewhere in the rust belt, industry has come to a grinding halt, giving way to the inevitable rise of rural crime, spreading like a cancer across land that once flourished and prospered. Every character in the film meets their bitter end somehow, and what’s fascinating is that earlier in life they all could have been more whole, and come from some other, brighter genre film, but the lives they’ve led set them on the same course as their county, and one by one we see them reach the last bend in the road, and the light in their life unceremoniously flicker out, leaving a cold shell. If I’m making this sound depressing, I’m doing my job well. This is a soul crushing film, with no light at either end of the tunnel and all glimmers of hope already extinguished before the opening titles even show up, so just make sure you have Finding Nemo or Wallace & Gromit queued up next in line if you give it a go. Opening with a prologue that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you know right off the bat what you’re in for, as we’re introduced to Woody Harrelson’s Harlan Groat, an absolute monster who runs everything from underground fight clubs to an intricate web of meth trade in the region. Groat is at odds with steelworker Russell Baze (An implosive Christian Bale), a hard man with anger issues just looking for an excuse to get fired up. Russell’s brother Rodney (Casey Affleck in the film’s best work) is a broken Iraqi war vet who got on the wrong side of Groat’s gang, and has since disappeared. Since the law won’t venture into the near mythic backwood hills where Groat skulks, Baze goes vigilante, waging personal war and raging against a light that has long since gone dead. This is a big cast we’re looking at here, and some of the subplots either distract from the main show or just seem like overkill, like Zoe Zaldana as Russell’s ex who has since shacked up with the local Sheriff (Forest Whitaker), or an underused Sam Shepherd as his uncle Red. Willem Dafoe has a nice bit as a seedy but sympathetic local gangster though, it’s always nice to see him, as well as Tom Bower as the salt of the earth bartender. It’s all about Woody and the danger he brings, he’s terrifying in the most mundane of exchanges, and lethal when he gets worked up. The feeling of economic decay follows him like a noxious cloud, his brittle ruthlessness a mascot for the hard times that many a town in the US has fallen on in recent years. One need only look at the poster to see the obvious and intentional shades of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, and though the film wears its influences on its heavy flannel sleeve, it finds its own dark, despairing poetry, and leaves you gutted in the final, anticlimactic frame. 

-Nate Hill

“You got a problem with me?” – A review of Out Of The Furnace by Josh Hains

Scott Cooper’s sophomore film Out Of The Furnace follows Russell Baze (Christian Bale) through the empty, broken down streets of Braddock Pennsylvania like a lonesome ghost. He works in the local steel mill where his slowly dying father once worked, using what little money he makes to pay off his brother Rodney Jr.’s (Casey Affleck) gambling debts to sleazy local bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe), all the while trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend Lena Taylor (Zoe Saldana). That all comes crashing down when Russell gets into trouble with the law and spends the next four years in prison, getting periodic visits from Rodney with updates on the state of their father’s health, Lena, and Rodney’s own exploits overseas in Iraq. Both men are broken and trying to keep it together for the sake of each other.

In due time Russell is released back into Braddock, the once thriving city on the verge of death with the mill soon to be closed. Things are different now for Russell, the times have changed, people have changed, and he has no other choice but to suck it up and trudge forward into the unforeseeable future. Rodney has picked up a deadly new habit, bare knuckle boxing, his way of violently paying off his debts to Petty before the stack gets too high. Russell tries talking him into a “normal” job to no avail; after multiple horrific tours of duty in Iraq, Rodney has been left shaken, twitchy, and is a mere shell of the man he once was. All that seems to be left is violence, anger, and undying love for Russell. Rodney begs John Petty to get him into bigger fights in backwoods New Jersey, dirtier, bloodier fights held under the watchful eye of local sociopathic hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

By this point in a standard issue revenge thriller, Rodney would have been long dead, but Cooper wisely makes the decision to give us time to settle into this world, and come to understand characters who feel like people, and not just cardboard cut outs. That the latter half of the movie devolves somewhat predictably into the same kind of movie it was previously avoiding replication of, is a disappointment. However, what does occur is given room to breathe. Cooper might be following the tropes of the genre, but he at least has the sense to let it unfold slowly and organically. Very little feels forced.

Things quickly turn ugly for Rodney and Petty, and when both go missing, the local law led by sheriff Wesley Barnes, exhausts all possible means in an attempt to find the pair, but can only go far because law enforcement lives in fear of DeGroat’s brutal reign of the area, and the fact that it’s outside of Braddock police’s jurisdiction doesn’t help matters either. So Russell and his uncle Red (Sam Shepard) cautiously take matters into their own hands the only way they know how.

Christian Bale delivers his most believable performance to date, fully embodying the heart and soul of Russell Baze, right down to the slightest nuances and subtleties of the man. He’s a truly masterful actor, strutting his stuff in such low-key fashion that because of the deep naturalism, rawness, and intense realism he imbues, within the first few minutes it stops feeling like a performance. It becomes, real, as Russell battles his inner demons and carries the weight of the world on his lean shoulders right up until the final frames fade to black.

Woody Harrelson knocks it out of the ball park as Jersey backwoods hillbilly sociopath Harlan DeGroat, topping his wildly over-the-top performance as Mickey in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. If you thought Mickey was a bad dude, wait until you watch DeGroat force a hot dog down the throat of a woman at a drive-in movie theatre in the films unnerving opening sequence. Harrelson has an uncanny ability of inhabiting even the most repulsive of villains with some semblance of humanity, and toward the end of the film does so with nothing more than an all-knowing expression upon his face and burning in his eyes as he delivers a couple heartfelt lines.

With this performance, Casey Affleck shed the boyish light his previous performances have always been garnished with, trading it in for a toned body and volatile outbursts of pent-up rage. He gives the more energetic performance of the two brothers, effortlessly capturing Rodney’s broken down mannerisms. Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard each provide the right amount of nuance and naturalism to their perfomances that blend evenly with their bleak surroundings and the trio of astounding lead performances.

In a scene near the midsection of the film, Russell and Lena have a conversation on a bridge about their future after Russell has been released from prison. Despite Russell’s plea to make things right between them, Lena cannot commit to him anymore because she’s carrying Barnes’ child. In a moment that ought to shatter even the hardest of hearts into a million pieces, Russell congratulates Lena, assuring her she’ll be a good mom amidst tears from both of them. This scene assuredly carries the finest moments of acting we’ve seen from Bale and Saldana to date. 

The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey) is impeccable, capturing beautifully and quite often starkly, the dreary and dirty grit of Braddock, the crispness of the violence, the cold bitterness of the dialogue dripping from the tongue of the people inhabiting the film. Scott Cooper directs this film with ease, honestly and authentically capturing the bleak essence of the dying town, the harsh realities of the effects the economy is having on the people, and the brutality that is the violence that twists their worlds upside down in the blink of an eye.

 

J.J. Abram’s Star Trek: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.