Category Archives: Movie Review

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” a deeper look into the heroes

In my opinion, the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film is the best entry of the MCU. It pokes fun at the superhero tropes that have become so familiar while offering some truly emotional moments (the death of Star-Lord’s mother, the death of Groot, the heroes joining together as a makeshift family after so many years of hurt). So I’m happy to say that it’s sequel still has that extra deeper layer that makes it more than just another forgettable superhero movie (sorry, Dr. Strange).

The film opens with the Guardians working for hire. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) all return and encounter a new threat to the galaxy that comes from a more personal place. While the first film had a rather bland villain, the sequel tackles an antagonist that reveals a personal connection to Star-Lord and in so doing draws in each of the Guardians. This emotional heft adds to the story.

Also along for the ride are a returning Yondu (Michael Rooker) in an expanded role, Peter’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell) and his assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

Writer/director James Gunn obviously has a close attachment to these characters and it shows as he gives each of them a deeper context. All of them must grapple with their past (Peter’s parentage, Gamora’s sister issues, Drax’s lost love, Rocket’s anger, Yondu’s regret) and the results are not clear-cut or easy to accept. They feel real, more real than a super soldier, a billionaire playboy or a thunder god. Perhaps we feel such a strong attachment to these characters and empathize with their journey more because they are so flawed and so similar to us.

Many critics say that the film is forgettable, but I wholeheartedly disagree. There are real stakes in the narrative beyond just life and death and that sticks with an audience. Themes of parentage, familial bonds and regret are tested and the characters emerge changed from their journeys. The growth in Peter especially from lost youth to surrogate father to baby Groot is great to witness. This makes these films deeper than the standard Avengers fare, where a viewer can generally miss an entry here and there, and be no worse the wear in the grand scheme of things because the characters do not change.

This is not to say that “Guardians 2” is perfect. There are pacing issues, some jokes that don’t pay off, a little too much going on, some relationships that needed to be beefed up to generate a stronger emotional impact, too many explosions and a villain twist at the end that is entirely predictable. The first film in general is stronger.

But this second entry does what any good sequel should do: elaborate on the first’s themes and delve deeper into the characters.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ a strong entry in MCU

It seems as though a new superhero movie is coming out every few weeks. Most of them pass by and out of memory just as quickly as they came, but there are a few superhero films that stand above the rest, that peak more interest than the normal reboot/sequel, and fans had circled “Civil War” on their calendar ever since it was announced.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the film features Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) struggling to keep the Avengers together as the government cracks down on their exploits as civilian casualties pile up. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor of registering with the United Nations and the proposed Sokovia accord, but Steve is not sure. When his friend Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is implicated in a terrorist plot, the Avengers fracture between those siding with Captain America and maintaining their independence and those siding with Iron Man and starting public accountability.

Some of the action scenes are a bit nauseating as shaky cam takes over in place of actual dynamic action, but the set piece between the two rival teams of superheroes is one of the greatest in any superhero film; fun, interesting, action-packed and dramatic.

Marvel has always had a problem with maintaining dramatic stakes in its films. They are not going to kill off Iron Man or Captain America (they are worth billions of dollars) so how do you keep a movie engaging when there is literally no chance of your heroes biting the bullet? “Civil War” solves this issue by focusing on the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man. The characters may not die, but the relationship between them may come apart and the audience is kept interested by focusing on how Steve Rogers and Tony Stark develop as friends, turn enemies and how they will ultimately end.

Captain America is not a complex character. It is difficult to give him an internal dilemma and once he makes his decision in “Civil War”, there is not a lot going on internally. This is a detriment, but not a fatal one for the film. His actions serve as a counterpoint and seeing how far he is willing to go to maintain his friendship with Bucky and his independence is engaging enough.

And no MCU film has quite gone to the lengths of digging deep into the character’s soul a la Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Doubtless this is to keep the audience as wide as possible, but there are moments for “Civil War” to go a bit deeper, especially with Iron Man in particular. With Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) out of his life, guilt plaguing him and his best friend leading a resistance against him, the film suggests the depths of his sorrow, but could go even deeper, perhaps hinting at his alcoholism as it does in the comics. It is a wasted opportunity to build some escalating themes into his character.

For those who enjoy the MCU films, “Captain America: Civil War” will be an enjoyable experience, one of the best of entries alongside “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But for those who have issues with the previous MCU films, those issues (lack of deep character revelations, franchise-building, cluttering narratives, uninteresting villains- though that is better in this film) will find more to complain about to some degree.

But kudos to the studio for making “Civil War” more than just another superhero film. There’s heart, fun and dynamism here.

‘Get Out’ delivers interesting social commentary

Horror movies like “The Wicker Man” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” use the “you” against “the world” formula to generate their scares. There’s an eerie strangeness to everyone knows something that you don’t, and everyone is out to get you. What Jordan Peele has done with “Get Out” is to take those same principals and apply them to current themes of race relations.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man, is nervous about meeting his white girlfriend’s parents. Rose (Allison Williams) tells him that everything will be fine. They voted for Obama. Everything will be great. When Chris gets to this faraway, secluded wilderness house however, things start to unnerve him. The black help there don’t act black. They act downright bizarre. The white people ask him probing questions. Rose’s mom, Missy (Catherine Keener), claims that she can hypnotize Chris so that he’ll stop smoking. Her dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), introduces him to a bunch of the family friends in a very strange manner. As Chris learns more and more about those around him, a terrible secret is revealed.

Blending horror and comedy, the film succeeds as biting satire by posing the truth that even though you may not be overtly racist like a Ferguson cop, you can be racist in a very polite, complimentary way. Who knows if any of this based on Peele’s personal experiences or if it’s just a crazy idea he thought up one night, but the film asks interesting questions about what it means to be black, the white eye in regards to black identity and the forces at work behind the friendliest of smiles.

‘Logan’ a haunting ending for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

To call “Logan” different from any other superhero movie would be a disservice. It shouldn’t even be considered a superhero movie at all. A tale this sorrowful and this bone-deep can only be considered a Western and set across the backdrop of the American West, that is exactly what it is.

Directed by James Mangold, “Logan” begins with the titular character (Hugh Jackman) in a rut. No mutants have been born in years. He works as an limo driver just to make small change. He cares for Charles Xavier who is ancient and suffering from some sort of mental deterioration. When a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), comes to him for help, Logan takes Charles’ advice and tries to deliver her to safety from a group of thugs known as the Reavers.

Both Jackman and Stewart have stated that this is their last hurrah in their famous roles and it’s easy to see why, as it gives both characters closure in highly dramatic ways. With a relationship that started in 2000’s original “X-Men”, the film completes the complex arc between them: teacher and student, captain and soldier and father and son. Charles has been trying to find Logan’s humanity throughout the course of nearly ten films and to help him feel joy and completeness once again. Is Logan more animal or man and can he ever recover from a lifetime of pain? The film finally answers that question. Indeed, the finale shows Logan literally fighting¬† with “himself.”

Filled with despair and longing, “Logan” is radically different than previous X-Men films, so much so that it is a tad disorienting. It is welcome in one way because it offers closure, something so few superhero films do anymore. This is definitively the end of the modern-day X-Men as we know them, a blistering monologue on the value of life in old age and the pain of regret. It is incredibly heavy stuff.

And it is incredibly well-timed. It is a film about inclusion, about accepting hope in a bleak world. Logan has to save the last remnants of mutantkind as they search to cross a border to a better world, eerily evoking current times and our need to be a haven for those struggling.

It is not a perfect movie, with some of the violence taken a bit too far and even drawing a few laughs for its over-the-topness. And the lack of any hope really drags on the viewer as I checked my watch a couple of times with just a few too many look-at-the-valley shots. It seems to revel in its misery too much.

I personally enjoy a bit of humor and fun in my X-Man movie, but there’s no denying the emotional power and beautiful story that Mangold and crew have made here.¬† It is a haunting journey of finding retribution in a world of despair, one that will linger with you for long after. Knowing the X-Men universe, death is never really permanent, but for Jackman and Stewart, their journey with these characters ends here, and it is solemnly graceful.

‘The Lego Batman Movie’ a tribute to the character

Batman is awesome. That is in itself the joke that runs throughout “The Lego Batman Movie.” But even the most awesome character ever needs a little help sometimes to feel whole.

Directed by Chris McKay, “The Lego Batman Movie” focuses on the relationship between Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and his fear of having a family again. Though he is awesome and the public adores him, Batman is lonely. When he accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), he is set on the road to accepting family once again.

The film is full of jokes for everyone: kids, adults, Batman-novices and hardcore-Batman aficionados. It is not as strong as the original “The Lego Movie”, with the film serving as more a straight-forward acceptance story and it is pretty easy to see what is coming next. It is also not quite as ingenious, some of the jokes not really landing with the force they should.

But while the plot is rather ho-hum, the icing around the cake is colorful, fun and pleasing enough that the film’s 90-minute run time goes by smoothly.

Batman is a cultural phenomenon, a character that has bypassed the superhero genre into common vernacular. With so much history and such a huge fanbase, the creation of a parody of him in lego-brick form accentuates just how ingrained into our American mythology he has become.

In this age of superhero pandemonium, “The Lego Batman Movie” fits by taking our preconceived notions of Batman and playfully poking fun at him in a way that doesn’t debase the character, but complements everything we love about him: his coolness, his strength and his vulnerability. For those who love the character, it is an enjoyable ride.

‘Moonlight’ an intimate, touching portrayal

“Moonlight” is probably this year’s most intimate film. It focuses on a young man, Chiron, at three different periods of his life, from child to adolescent to adult (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes respectively). As he discovers his sexuality and people hate him for being gay, he must find a way to survive, but it may be at the cost of his soul.

The film is a daring exploration into identity. Whether it is about being black, being gay or being masculine, Chiron is constantly challenged to change his natural instincts. He has different nicknames throughout the film, from “black” to “little” to “faggot.” As the world beats him down, he changes for his own sanity, but beneath the tattoos and gold teeth and machismo, he may still be the scared person underneath, searching for acceptance from his best friend.

It is a beautifully shot, poetic film. The different hues of blue echo throughout the story, changing meaning as Chiron changes. The film is wise to linger on shots of the actor’s faces as they deal with their emotions, most of the film told visually rather than through dialogue.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, it is a powerfully acted, beautifully imagined journey into one man’s life, but it is a universal story for all about identity, compassion and acceptance. It may indeed be the best film made this year.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ a strong, if familiar, war film

A pacifist who enlisted in World War II? That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yet it actually happened.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the true story of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who refused to carry a gun yet survived World War II through ingenuity, saving dozens of soldiers along the way during one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, and becoming the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a weapon.

Director Mel Gibson brilliantly captures the titular battle in the South Pacific, utilizing a wide range of cinematic skill to evoke the horrors of war. Indeed, if the film had just been the battle, it would have been great, but the first hour of the movie, setting up Desmond’s character and his backstory, is very slow and filled with cringe-worthy “dramatic moments” (the awkward love storyline with a personality-less woman, the standing up to authority speech, the oppressive father figure who just needs to understand his son). It’s a shame that the characters in the film are one-dimensional and that the script is just so-so. It is a rather cheap way to establish empathy with a character.

Garfield is fine in the lead role, held back by that on-the-nose script. You wouldn’t consider the experience a waste of time; it just is very familiar and blatant. If you walk in expecting a war drama with strong action and don’t mind the rather shallow characters, you won’t be disappointed. Anyone looking for something a little bit deeper or more interesting will be left wanting.