Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Box office champions tend to have the last laugh.

(2017) Science Fiction (Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Rob Zombie, Rhoda Griffis, Seth Green (voice), David Hasselhoff, Gregg Henry, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames, Chris Sullivan, Elizabeth Debicki. Directed by James Gunn

 

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, Da Queen loves everything Guardians, particularly Rocket Raccoon. If I were to say anything negative about either the franchise or the characters, I am likely to get the cold shoulder for weeks on end at best or a heavy object upside my head at worst. Thus, I waited for her to go out of town on business before publishing my review for this massive hit.

Taking place only four months after the first Guardians (making this 2014), the nascent team continues to bicker like, well, family. They are getting set to take on a CGI alien tentacle thing that is kind of a cross between a squid and the machine ships of the Matrix trilogy. Incongruously, Baby Groot (Diesel) sets up a boombox and dances along to the strains of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while all around him is chaos. That kind of sets things up and sums things up at the same time.

Rocket (Cooper) being a raccoon has a distinctly kleptomaniac kind of attitude and before long their former employers, the genetically perfect (but not too bright) Sovereign are after them and they are saved by a mysterious figure but are forced to crash land on a primitive planet to make repairs. There the mysterious figure reveals himself; his name is Ego (Russell) but more to the point, he’s also Star Lord’s (Pratt) dad and he invites his boy over to his planet for a bit of father-son bonding time. Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the Merano and guard their prisoner Nebula (Gillan) while Gamora (Saldana) – sister to Nebula – and Drax (Bautista) go along for the ride, joining the ultra-empathetic Mantis (Klementieff) who works as a kind of valet for Ego.

Things being what they are for the Guardians, Ego turns out to be a God-like Celestial and as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely and Ego’s power is as absolute as it gets. The Guardians are once again called into battle but can they overcome the power of a god?

This is everything fans of the first film hoped it would be; there’s a lot of Easter eggs in it for Marvel fans in general (like a cameo appearance of Howard the Duck) and Guardians fans in particular like the appearance of the original Guardians team of Yondu (Rooker), Starhawk (Stallone), Charlie-27 (Rhames) and Aleta Ogord (Yeoh).

The downside of that is that it feels at times like Gunn is trying to cram a bit too much into the movie; not only is he setting up future Guardians movies as well as, indirectly, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War but he’s also trying to throw in a whole lot of Guardians lore while trying to tell a coherent story of his own. There is also a whole lot of carnage and some impressive battle scenes – a ton of them in fact – and for some it might end up being geek overload.

Gunn also wisely spreads the wealth among his talented cast; we get to learn a whole lot of backstory for all of the characters and while Peter Quill is the ostensible focus, Drax ends up getting almost all of the laughs while Nebula and Yondu are given some scenes of tremendous pathos. And yes, the sci-fi spectacle is all there from the art deco splendor of the Sovereign to Ego’s planet which the most ambitious computer effect is ever created to date with something over a trillion polygons of computer graphics.

The chemistry between the cast continues to be strong and while the story sometimes might be a little hard to follow, there is still some investment and I’m sure that Marvel’s lords and masters over at Disney were smiling at the theme of family which is one of their sweet spots. This year’s summer blockbuster slate has been inconsistent in quality but certainly it has had its share of smart and entertaining successes and this is one of the biggest so far.

REASONS TO GO: One of Kurt Russell’s best performances in years. The song selection is masterful. The special effects are truly special. Baby Groot nearly steals the show.
REASONS TO STAY: Gunn tries to pack in a little bit too much into the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence (of the sci-fi nature), some mild profanity and a little suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Glenn Close filmed scenes as Nova Prime but they ended up on the cutting room floor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Ice Pirates
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale

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Super


Super

Rainn Wilson is getting tired of all the Dwight Schrute cracks.

(2010) Comedy (IFC) Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker, Andre Royo, Sean Gunn, Stephan Blackehart, Don Mac, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Gregg Henry, Rob Zombie (voice), Zach Gilford, Mikaela Hoover. Directed by James Gunn

Sometimes we all feel powerless against the forces conspiring to make our lives miserable. All of us wish at one time or another, for the power to right wrongs, to punish the wicked and maybe even protect the weak. It is what inspires comic books and daydreams.

Frank D’Arbo (Wilson) has more reason than most to feel downtrodden. The product of a strict (some would say abusive) religious upbringing, he works as a line cook in a big metropolitan area. His sad sack looks and somewhat dorky demeanor have made him the target for ridicule.

He does have a wife, Sarah (Tyler) that he damn near worships. She’s a recovering drug addict and his marriage to her is one of the two happiest moments of his life (the other is the day he pointed a cop in the direction a purse snatcher ran).

However there is rain on his horizon. His wife has fallen off the wagon and is on heroin, thanks to the drug dealer Jacques (Bacon) that she is now living with. Frank is disconsolate. He can’t sleep, he is moody and irritable and when he discovers what Jacques is he gets beaten up for his troubles.

Apparently Frank has had visions all his life and he has one now; one in which his skull is peeled off and his brain is touched by the finger of God (voiced by Rob Zombie – perhaps the coolest thing in the movie you don’t know you’re experiencing). In that vision, a cable access low-rate Christian superhero named the Holy Avenger (Fillion) tells Frank he has a destiny. Frank believes that destiny is to be a superhero.

Of course, it’s tough to be a superhero without a power but that never stopped Batman or the Green Arrow, so Frank settles on a pipe wrench. He pieces together a costume for himself and voila the Crimson Bolt is born. He hangs out in alleys, waiting for crime to happen (which apparently is a long wait), but when crime happens, he swings into action with his wrench. At first, he goes after obvious criminals but soon his image of absolute justice begins to blur a bit as he attacks line jumpers and car keyers.

He also reluctantly takes on a sidekick – the nerdy geeky clerk at a comic book store, Libby (Page). She’s enthusiastic and a little socially awkward but she quickly figures out what’s going on, especially after Frank gets shot after an abortive attempt on rescuing Sarah. Libby takes on the guise of Boltie and it becomes real evident real fast that she’s very attracted to Frank, particularly in his Crimson Bolt persona – but he still believes he’s very married, although Libby is far too horny to pay attention to such niceties.

Deciding to arm themselves better, Frank gets another vision that brings him to believe that ready or not, they must rescue Sarah now, which turns out to be true since Jacques’ deal with Mr. Range (Mac) apparently includes the sexual favors of the drugged Sarah. Storming the fortress-like ranch of Jacques with well-armed and trained thugs, can the Crimson Bolt and Boltie hope to prevail?

This looks like a superhero spoof on the surface, but it’s far darker than the average spoof. Gunn has created a very realistic look at what superheroes would look like in the real world; there is plenty of blood and viscera here. That might put off the squeamish or the easily offended.

There is something here to offend everybody in that sense, whether it’s the excessive and realistic-looking gore of the wrench assaults, to the somewhat squishy rape of Frank to a vision in vomit. The movie is unrated and probably would have gotten an NC-17 had it been submitted for one although I might have given it an R myself.

Frank is a character not unlike the one Wilson plays on “The Office.” Like Dwight Schrute, Frank isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and he doesn’t quite get that he is the joke. He’s uptight and a little bit on the humorless side, but Frank is a little nicer than Dwight deep down I think.

Page is awesome as the ADHD Libby who turns out to be even more psychotic than Frank. She looks awfully good in her Boltie duds, and she captures the character’s frenetic energy and also her deep-seated need to be somebody, squealing “I always knew I’d be on television” when a police sketch of her and Frank appear on the local news. She can laugh maniacally when she kills a bad guy, but she also seems to have insecurities that Frank feeds into but also bolsters her from in a weird way. It’s a far more complicated role than it looks.

Bacon is great fun as the oily but ultimately evil Jacques. He is smarmy to the point of being a used car salesman, but at the same time he takes delicious fun at testing his new product on his girlfriend. He’s in the great tradition of comic book baddies – he knows he’s bad but he just doesn’t care.

Part of the joke of the movie is that EVERYBODY in it is psychotic or neurotic to one degree or another – except for Sarah, the junkie and even she is an addict. The line between good and bad is blurred to the point that it’s extinct and if we can’t see it, how can a schlub like the Crimson Bolt even hope to figure out where it is?

The reaction I’ve seen to the movie has been polarizing. Some get the joke and laugh loudly while others are simply offended by it. I tended towards the former. Once the Crimson Bolt and Boltie go off to rescue Sarah, the movie goes completely dark and the humor which had been peppering it for most of the film takes a back seat, despite the homage to the comic books a la the old “Batman” TV show with cartoonish BAMs and POWs accenting the violence.

There are religious overtones that some may find offensive, there are fight sequences that some might find offensive, there’s sex and rape that some might find offensive. Those with thick skins however might actually find this cooler than Jesus – literally, since Jesus makes a cameo sitting on a wall during one of Frank’s visions. The point is, if you approach this seriously (as many critics did), then you’re missing the point. Super may lampoon some of the baser elements of superhero conceits, but this isn’t a spoof. No, indeed like Frank himself, this is far more than what it appears to be on the surface.

REASONS TO GO: Darkly funny with lots of laugh out loud moments. Unrepentantly gross.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too ultraviolent for some. Could have used a few more laughs in the final reel.

FAMILY VALUES: Some extreme violence, lots of foul language, some fairly graphic sexuality and nudity and a goodly amount of drug use, among other things, make this so very not for the kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gunn was formerly married to Jenna Fischer, Wilson’s co-star from “The Office” who recommended him for the role.

HOME OR THEATER: Would fit right in on an old battered television set.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Charlotte’s Web (2006)

Halloween II (2009)


Halloween II
You can’t keep a good supernatural serial killer down.

 

 

(Dimension) Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, Howard Hesseman, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Vanek, Margot Kidder. Directed by Rob Zombie

 

Sequels can be very problematic. They’re almost never as good as the original, and when you throw in that it’s the sequel to the reboot of one of the classic horror series of all time, things get even more dicey.

 

Halloween II picks up where Zombie’s reboot left off, with Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) being pulled out of the house in an ambulance, while serial killer Michael Myers (Mane) is being carted off to the morgue, courtesy of a gunshot to the face by Miss Strode. However, you can’t keep a good serial killer horror film franchise down and Myers turns out to be not quite dead yet, escaping the ambulance that is transporting him to the county morgue when the unlucky ambulance hits a cow. Hey, Haddonfield is farm country don’tcha know.

 

He shows up back at the hospital where Laurie is being treated – a hospital that seems unrealistically understaffed – and hacks a few people to death, particularly a nurse whom he seems intent on pounding into hamburger. He corners her in a guard shack and – voila! – She wakes up from a dream. Actually, the sequence was an homage to the original Halloween II which took place entirely in a hospital. Zombie serves notice that this isn’t gonna be your pappy’s Michael Myers.

 

It’s two years after the events of the first film (although, strangely, the theatrical release portrayed it as being one year, but what’s a year between fiends) and Laurie is now living with Sheriff Brackett (Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Harris) who was the only other survivor of the Michael Myer’s previous Halloween rampage.

 

Halloween is approaching once again and Laurie has been beset by strange dreams. She confesses to her therapist (Kidder) that she’s concerned for her sanity, but she has no idea what kind of shellacking her sanity’s in for. That’s because Dr. Loomis (McDowell), Michael’s therapist from the first film, is on yet another book tour and in his new book he reveals that Laurie is actually Michael Myers’ sister (and Darth Vader is their father…but that didn’t make it into the movie). Since Laurie wasn’t aware of it, she goes bonkers and storms out of the Brackett’s happy home which is bad news for Laurie but good news for Michael, who is coming out for a family reunion, egged on by the Gothic ghost of his mom (Zombie) and the specter of his younger self (Vanek, taking over from Doug Faerch who had a growth spurt and became literally too big for the role).

 

All of this means there’s going to be mayhem in Haddonfield on Halloween, complete with strippers getting their face jammed into a mirror numerous times, a bouncer getting his head squashed in by Michael’s brogans, a couple of rednecks finding out the hard way why it is a very bad idea to mount antlers on the front of their pickup and a whole mess o’ carnage too disturbing to get into here.

 

There’s no doubt that Zombie is a visionary director – The Devil’s Rejects proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt as one of the best horror movies of the last decade. However, he seems oddly hamstrung here, which might have been due to the incredibly tight filming schedule (something which he mentions in the commentary track) or perhaps due to his own reluctance to do a sequel which he changed his mind about at the last moment, leading to said tight schedule. Either way, the movie doesn’t live up to most of his other work and has to rank as a disappointment.

 

That’s not to say it’s totally without redeeming qualities. For example, the violence here is excessive and realistic. When Michael Myers plunges the blade into a body, it is with full force, punctuated with an animal grunt. While that might make some queasy, it truly does work within the context of the movie and brings a new dimension of realism to the proceedings.

 

Where the movie doesn’t work is in the endless psychobabble that Zombie sees fit to insert, trying to get at the core of what drives Michael Myers. Now while I’m all for attempting to get inside the head of a serial killer, it gets a little too artsy fartsy for my way of thinking, with his mom showing up as a kind of Goth chick ghost in flowing white robes, accompanied by a white horse. It derails the oeuvre of the movie and takes audience right out of the mood.

 

He goes out of his way to make Laurie Strode shrill and unlikable. While this may be a realistic way of depicting someone who’s been through the kind of ordeal she has, what it also serves to do is alienate the audience from identifying with the heroine and that’s just bad juju. If the audience thinks the heroine is a whiny bitch, they’re not going to care what happens to her and if they don’t care what happens to her, there’s no reason to see the movie other than to watch Michael Myers carve up the citizens of Haddonfield and environs.

 

I also have to comment on the set design which is often incomprehensibly busy. Laurie’s room looks like the inside of a mental hospital cell, with a huge poster of Charlie Manson and spray painted graffiti reading “In Charlie We Trust.” This in the home of a town sheriff  mind you. Apparently Rob’s sense of realism and mine differ by quite a bit, so we’ll just leave it at that. In any case, you wind up with sensory overload in quite a few of the scenes, focusing in on the minutiae of the set design that you almost lose track of what the filmmaker’s trying to get you to notice. It kind of works at odds with Zombie’s vision.

 

I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie and the Halloween franchise both, so it is with a great deal of regret that I have to give this a poor review. I really, really wanted to like this movie and I just flat-out didn’t. While there is a third movie in the rebooted franchise slated for release next year, Zombie won’t be a part of it which may well turn out to be a good thing for both Zombie and the producers of Halloween – Zombie took an enormous amount of crap from the horror film fandom for this movie, much of it undeserved (for example, Michael is unmasked for much of the movie which many fanboys found to be sacrilegious) but some of it justified. I’m hoping his next project blows me away. This one didn’t do the job.

 

WHY RENT THIS: Some very effective scares, and a lot of insight into the background of Michael Myers. The violence is brutal and realistic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The set design is a bit of a mess, often so busy that it distracts from what’s going on onscreen. The plot meanders and gets a little too murky with the symbology.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence here is particularly brutal which works for the movie but may be difficult viewing for sensitive souls. There is also a good deal of crude language, female nudity and much sex. For teens there are scenes of teen drinking and implied drug use. All in all this is not for kids or for most teens.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tyler Mane becomes only the second actor to play Michael Myers in more than one film (George Wilbur is the other one). 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six music videos from the fictitious band Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. There are also some standup comedy performances from Jeff Daniel Phillips, a blooper reel and audition tapes.

 BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $39.3M on a $15M production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Day Four of the Six Days of Darkness