Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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[Early Review] The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggested content, and language.

 

Trust me, you need to understand what kind of film you are about to see.

Dom (Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) and new wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, The Assignment) are enjoying their honeymoon in Cuba when a mysterious woman shows up and tells Dom that he is going to work for her. When Dom is on a mission with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, Moana, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and the rest of the crew, he turns on them, showing allegiance to the mystery woman called Cipher (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kubo and the Two Strings) and in the process, shattering his familial bonds. Now, Hobbs, aided by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) and forced to join up with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Transporter, Spy), must track Dom and Cipher in an effort to save their fallen brother or take him out.

As I’ve stated before, the important thing to remember about this franchise is that it is very unique. Action spectacles are no new thing in Hollywood, The Fast and the Furious, as a franchise, is a B-Movie franchise with an ever-expanding budget. That sort of thing just doesn’t really happen. What sets it apart from others is the focus on a recurring theme (family) and the set pieces that aren’t focused on realism in the slightest but instead, these action beats are asking the question: How can we make this more ridiculous? And that’s what works here.

The cast does admirable work here as the likable family members while newcomers Scott Eastwood (Gran Torino, Snowden) as Mr. Nobody’s new recruit and Charlize Theron as Cipher. There is a notable exclusion made by the absence of Brian O’Connor (played by the late Paul Walker) but I completely understand what happened and I still feel like his character is honored here in a pretty touching albeit predictable way.

Incoming director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton), fresh off his recent success with the NWA biopic, teams up with previous collaborators in Diesel, Johnson, Theron, and Statham creates a kinetic energy that runs rampant through this film, creating some of the darkest plot threads of the series while also some of the most hilarious action scenes too. Gray’s direction results in a unique experience without pushing too far.

Through it all, though, there are times when The Fate of the Furious feels unusually restrained (hear me out), as if the film itself is trying to top the craziness from the superior Fast Five and Furious 7 but just can’t quite get there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something felt off at times throughout, and perhaps that’s due to Diesel’s character being tied up with Cipher rather than the crew we all find him more enjoyable with. I was very happy to discover that the unusual plot line of betrayal actually kind of makes sense within the larger scope of The Fast and the Furious franchise (I had been very worried when I saw the initial trailer).

I was very impressed with The Fate of the Furious. This entry in the series isn’t the best one to come along, but it definitely rest higher on the ranking. This is a franchise that isn’t trying to win over new fans (though it doesn’t seem to need that), and this newest installment only proves that this is a franchise for the fans. I enjoyed it and the numerous surprises that this film has in store. I highly suggest an opening weekend viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

For my review of F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

167 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Jennifer Jason Leigh) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Pending]

 

What happens when eight morally ambiguous humans find themselves snowed in for the weekend? You get The Hateful Eight, the newest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained). We are first introduced to Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chi-Raq), a famed bounty hunter known for his past transgressions in the civil war. He is out amongst the snow when he is met by John Ruth (Kurt Russell, The Thing, Bone Tomahawk), a fellow bounty hunter known as “The Hangman” who is delivering the notorious Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Machinist, Anomalisa) to the proper authorities in Red Rock. Along the way, the three come across the new sheriff of Red Rock, or so he says, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, TV’s The Shield, American Ultra), and the group make their way toward Red Rock before being stranded at Minnie’s Haberdashery in the blizzard. Now, John Ruth is under the impression that one amongst the group snowed in is out to free Daisy and kill anyone in her way in this thrilling whodunit.

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There’s no way to get this film confused with the work of any other filmmaker. This is pure-laced Tarantino from its deepest core. There are all the stylings of this one-of-a-kind director like the gripping dialogue, the extreme violence and Samuel L. Jackson, who eats up the screen. He is matched in prowess with Kurt Russell, who proves to be perfectly matched for our director in style and wit. Jennifer Jason Leigh also steals her scenes as the morbidly chilling Daisy, but to be fair, everyone is playing their A-game here, from regular performers Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Selma) and Michael Madsen (Kill Bill vol. 1, Hell Ride) to Demian Bichir (TV’s The Bridge, The Heat) as the hilarious Bob and the Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Twixt) as the racist General Sandy Smithers.

Then there’s the cinematography, expertly handled by DP Robert Richardson. The film, if you hadn’t heard, was shot using an Ultra Panavision 70 and projected in a 70mm cut, which is absolutely excellent. The frames are stark and beautiful and rich and actually help to drive the story even if a large amount of it takes place in a single shack. If you didn’t get the chance to see it in 70mm, let me assure you that both cuts of the film are terrific, so don’t feel too bad.

I also fell in love with Ennio Morricone’s original score, the first original score from the famed composer in decades. He is almost ensured to win the Oscar for it.

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The Hateful Eight could have been shorter, but I really loved the feel and grandeur of such a simple and intense whodunit like this. After two viewings, the film has continued to grow on me, and while it isn’t top-tier Tarantino, it certainly is still one of the best films of 2015.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 30 – The Thing (1982)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David

Screenplay: Bill Lancaster

109 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language and violence.

IMDb Top 250: #164 (as of 03/04/2016)

 

Last year, I discussed remakes that add something new and become better than the original. The Fly came up, and I was also thinking about The Thing, a 1982 remake from director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward).

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At a remote Antarctic research station, a creature has been discovered; an alien creature from another world is terrorizing several Americans with its ability to mimic their look perfectly. As paranoia sets in, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, Grindhouse, Furious 7) has decided that the Thing needs to be stopped before the rescue party arrives and It gets out of Antarctica.

The Thing is one of my absolute favorite films. John Carpenter’s emphasis on practical effects by using effects master Rob Bottin is shockingly elegant and horrifying.

Kurt Russell leads an all-star cast of individuals, each able to perfectly exemplify frightened man lashing out at an almost unwinnable situation. He is aided by some terrific work from Wilford Brimley (Cocoon, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) as the unhinged Dr. Blair and Keith David (TV’s Community, Platoon) as the anger-filled Childs.

Carpenter understands what needs to be said in his film. His usage of themes like paranoia, isolation, and violence explode in this colorful and scary presentation of people without the proper resources to handle a situation.

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Seriously, there isn’t enough praise for this perfect piece of horror cinema. As far as the prequel goes, I would avoid it if you haven’t seen the original. Check out 1982’s The Thing. I know you’ll love it.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

Furious 7 (2015)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.

 

And here we are, after six films, we arrive here at Furious 7, the latest installment in the high-octane series of car action films started with The Fast and the Furious some many years back.

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In the newest adventure, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Saving Private Ryan, Guardians of the Galaxy) and his family have returned to the United States after gaining amnesty for their previous offences. As new parent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) adjusts to the simple life with wife Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV’s Dallas, Home Sweet Hell), he and Dom discover that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Transporter, Spy) is seeking vengeance on them for his comatose brother. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, WrestleMania) is dispatched, the group realize that they need help. In comes a mysterious government agent (played by Kurt Russell, The Thing, Poseidon) who need them to find a piece of high-tech gadgetry that has been stolen by the villainous Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son). The deal is simple: retrieve the tech in exchange for cart blanche to defeat Shaw.

I really enjoyed Furious 7. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious: Chapter 2), known for his abilities as a horror director, supplies the film with much-needed cheese with an incredibly exhilarating experience. The returning cast has grown so close that the chemistry here is great. Diesel’s journey of reintroduction with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills) is one of the better stories to come out of this series, and it ties into the franchise well. I had a lot of fun watching the banter between Roman (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers, Black Nativity) and Tej (Chris Bridges, New Year’s Eve, No Strings Attached). Newcomers Kurt Russell and Jason Statham provide a lot of fun to the equation. Russell’s Mr. Nobody is an interesting new character I’m excited to see further fleshed out. Statham’s Shaw comes off a bit on the cheesy side, especially with his introduction, but overall it works.

Now onto what most people are interested in hearing about: dealing with the death of Paul Walker. Did it work? Suprisingly well, actually. I expected Walker’s role to be relegated to a glorified cameo, but I was wrong. With brothers Cody and Caleb, alongside some terrific digital effects, helped to provide some resolution to Brian’s story in an appealing way. The finale of the film definitely pays tribute well with a closing musical number with a montage of Walker’s role in the franchise served to button up his story and send him off to the next place without coming off as a wasted opportunity. Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” works well here, too.

I like that Furious 7 helps tie the franchise back together with references to Toretto’s relationship with Letty before her “death” and the rarely-seen Race Wars from the original film. The best thing about this franchise is that the crew learns from previous mistakes to make the best film possible.

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Furious 7 isn’t the greatest film in the series (that honor lies with Fast Five), but it definitely takes a step in the right direction after a few missteps with Fast & Furious 6. It serves to provide closure to Paul Walker’s character and career well without sacrificing plot and sets the series up for further adventures which will continue with the upcoming Furious 8 (yeah, it’s happening).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

 

You can follow Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

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