GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2** For that space between the ears


SO, IF YOU liked “Guardians of the Galaxy I”, here’s version 2. It’s pretty much the same, but louder and much, much dumber. In 2, the pleasant shock of quirkiness is gone; the idea has become self conscious and laboured. The ironic wit has been replaced by scatology, plot has been left behind somewhere in the other galaxy and George Michael’s bouffant hairstyle has been repurposed to fit Kurt Russell who is Ego, the ‘dad’ of Chris Pratt (who, if there’s justice on the universe, should still be hiding under a rock after “Passengers”).

As expected, there are running gags. Zoey Saldana’s character, Gamora, now has a sister, Nebula (Karen Gillian). She keeps trying to eat some sort of (forbidden?) fruit. Gamora keeps her away from it on the ‘ruse’ that it’s not ripe.  Finally, Nebula grabs hold of the fruit, bites into it and exclaims, “it’s not ripe”. It took ten writers to come up with this gag.

People found this funny.

If you also do, director James Gunn (who also directed the first one), has a BIG treat for you.

If you don’t find this funny and if you aren’t waiting with baited breath to see a cameo with Sylvester Stallone, ’twere best you did something better with your time

 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2. Dir: James Gunn. With: Chris Pratt; Zoe Saldana; Dave Bautista; Vin Deisel; Bradley Cooper; Karen Gillan; Sylverter Stallone; Kurt Russell. Production Designer: Scott Chambers (“Tomorrowland”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”)

 

 

SO, IF YOU liked “Guardians of the Galaxy I”, here’s version 2. It’s pretty much the same, but louder and much, much dumber. In 2, the pleasant shock of quirkiness is gone, the idea has become self conscious and labored. The ironic wit has been replaced by scatology, plot has been left behind somewhere in the other galaxy and George Michael’s bouffant hairstyle has been repurposed to fit Kurt Russell who is Ego, the dad of Chris Pratt (who, if there’s justice on the universe, should still be hiding under a rock after “Passengers”).
As expected, there are running gags. Zoey Saldana’s character, Gamora, now has a sister, Nebula (Karen Gillian). She keeps trying to eat some sort of (forbidden?) fruit. Gamora keeps her away from it on the ‘ruse’ that it’s not ripe.  Finally, Nebula grabs hold of the fruit, bites into it and exclaims, “it’s not ripe”.

People found this funny.

If you also do, director James Gunn (who also directed the first one), has a biiiiig treat for you.
If you don’t find this funny and if you aren’t waiting with baited breath to see a cameo with Sylvester Stallone, ’twere best you did something better with your time

 

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN** Seven, Yes. Magnificent, No


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ANTOINE FUQUA (Southpaw, The Equalizer, Training Day) HAS managed to transform the joyful excitement of The Magnificent Seven into a dull, leaden, sourpuss movie. Unlike the exciting original, with its glittering cast of characters (Yul Brynner going toe to toe with Steve McQueen. Imagine! And backing them up, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach and James Coburn among others) Fuqua’s … Magnificent Seven offers up a mainly charm-free bunch of heroes that go through the motions, energized only by Fuqua’s payroll and by no discernible motivation for their selflessness. Only Chris Platt manages to add much needed swagger and roguish dynamism into this shoot ‘em up by numbers (and there are thousands of them) gang.

The (well-known) story centres around the struggle of a small town, bent under the heel of a land-grabbing, money hungry baron, that appeals to a stranger for help. These simple townsfolk are cowed by the cartoonishly evil Bartholomew Brogue (Peter Sarsgaard, almost twirling his moustachioes in full pantomime villain style), whose henchmen kill at will. One person they kill is the husband of feisty homesteader Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, who also appeared with Denzel Washington in Fuqua’s last outing, “The Equalizer”). Her search for help leads her to Chisolm, a fast-shooting traveling lawman (A bored looking Denzel Washington whose career seems to be trapped in B movie hell). In the best line of the movie, she says she’s seeking righteousness, “…but revenge will do”

Chisolm rounds up his crew of action heroes (motivated by the money? Some existential need to do the right thing? Perhaps some deep-seated grudge against Brogue? His moustachioes perhaps? Who knows?) And then, having set a few traps, the action begins. It finally ends after, it seems, most of the villains on the Eastern seaboard have been blown up, axed, stabbed or shot.

Fuqua, seeking some sort of gravitas opts for ‘meaning’ in place of either verisimilitude or fun. The magnificent seven we meet are a typical group of nineteenth century Cowboys: a perfectly harmonious mix of Mexican (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche (played by Alaskan Martin Sensmeier) Chinese (played by Korean Byung-hun-Lee) and White gunslingers (including Fuqua regular and absolutely lost in a fog of despair, Ethan Hawke) lead by a Black man. Unlike the original, where the round-up introduced us (with great wit and charm) to the characters…as people; here we’re introduced to the characters as symbols of American history: the Mexican and the Indian representing, like Emma Cullen and her lot, people whose land was stolen by a more powerful force. The Chinese man, his back crisis-crossed with knives and swords, like a cowpoke Sheera, is, like Chisolm, a part of the unvalued working man who won the West…now being leveled by the democracy of the gun.

The all round bad robber baron is exploitative capitalism, ever greedily seeking to rip off the country, which has finally found the leadership to take back what’s rightfully theirs under the leadership of an incorruptible Black Man (Obama?)
There’s not a lot of ambiguity at play here

Westerns have always been parables for grand ideas…and in the right hands, like all good movies, they’ve operated on multiple levels: the credibly human and the insightfully metaphorical; all driven by some powerful governing idea. Fuqua’s one level The Magnificent Seven is all dehumanized metaphor without insight, energized by an idea of leaden triteness. And what a drag that is.

It’s not been a great year for reboots: Ghostbusters and Jason Bourne were both tiresome copies, shorn of the original magic. Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven” joins the list. The lightness and sparkle of the John Sturges’ original have gone AWOL. Even Elmer Bernstein’s magnificent music has been relegated to the credits at the end; a mere afterthought and a reminder of all that we’ve missed

 

The Magnificent Seven. Dir: Antoine Fuqua. With: denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun-Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett. Screenplay: Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective episodes). Composer: Simon Franglen and James Horner (Southpaw)

 

JURASSIC WORLD*** Blockbustersaurus Rex


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WHY DO WE never learn? If you try to pen in herds of artificially grown pre-historic animals and show them off to thousands of trusting people, all in search of a bigger, better thrill, shit’s gonna happen.

And so it does in “Jurassic World” the enormously entertaining, thrillingly made re-boot (sort of) of Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic juggernaut. Spielberg didn’t direct this one, that was left to Colin Trevorrow who, like Spielberg made his first short movie when he was twelve. But, as the producer, all his trademark touches are there: For one thing, near the start of the movie we encounter a huge Easter Egg (that’s the term used to refer to an inside joke). Masses of Isla Nublar’s guests are in a Sea World type aquarium, gathered to see the feeding time of a vast aquatic dinosaur. He’s being fed a shark, which he gulps down on one mouthful. That’s Spielberg stating that “Jurassic World’s” going to eat up “Jaws” in one smooth gulp.

Beyond this insider joke, Trevorrow delivers Spielberg’s trademark ‘gentle ordinariness’. It’s summertime in suburbia and we meet Spielberg’s idea of the typical American family (i.e they’re White. Hispanics and people of color never really enter Spielberg’s world unless they’re noble slaves nobly struggling to unshackle their chains). We meet two young boys (Ty Simpkins from “Iron Man 3” and Nick Robinson) off to visit their spinster aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas from “the Help”) who, lucky for them, just happens to run Jurassic World.

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Still located in Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica (but really, Hawaii), it’s the theme park to end all theme parks.

This time, not content with cloning raptors and other dinosaurs, the sly, cunning head of gene sciences at JW (B.D Wong from Will Smith’s miss-hit, “Focus”) has concocted his own dinosaur, the Indominus Rex. It’s guaranteed to amp up both audience thrills and (more importantly), profits for the park. It’s a skyscraper-tall, brain-enhanced beast that’s part animal, part monster that, like the monster in “Predator” has learned to hide in plain sight.

Jurassic

Part of the thrill of a movie like this is we’ve been trained to anticipate what’s going to come next. Young – unprotected- kids, vast crowds, a man-made monster and the arrogance of people thinking they’re in control of nature. At what point will all hell break loose? Or, respecting the science of the franchise, at what point will chaos descend?

And when it does descend, run!

Director Trevorrow (ably assisted by veteran Spielberg producer Frank Marshall of “Raiders…” and the other Indiana Jones movies, Patrick Crowley of the Bourne franchise movies and John Jashni of “Pacific Rim” ) skillfully reprises all those familiar tropes: the shuddering trees, the panicked animals, the thundering footsteps and the bellowing roars of approaching death and destruction.

People are eaten, cars and trucks tossed aside like toys, buildings bludgeoned and profits shattered as the Indominus Rex runs amok.

And against this background of noisy destruction, there’s a gentler storyline about the sanctity of relationships. This is what links the multiple stories that play out, and lifts the movie to provide an (emotional) appeal beyond its obvious visceral thrills. The two young brothers bond in their flight to survive, hunky trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) wins the unlikely trust of four raptors, which proves to be a life saver, estranged sisters (Judy Greer from “Tomorrowland” is Claire’s sister) come together and the cold, all the business all the time, park manager, Claire finally warms to the muscular charms of her savior.

The muscular savior is Chris Pratt, who you may remember from the surprisingly good “Guardians of the Galaxy” (as well as “Parks and Recreation”) exudes the kind of relaxed warmth and sly wit that makes him much more endearingly charismatic than simply a badass with a big gun.

As his love interest, it’s great fun to observe the transformation of Claire in her unsullied all white power suit and her brusque corporate coldness strip off to rediscover beneath the make-up and the manicure, her buried humanity.

Jurassic

What’s just barely buried though is the movie’s deeper environmental message: if a hubristic corporate world continues to think they can mess with and control nature for their own profit margins, think again.

That way lies only disaster.

Jurassic World; director: Colin Trevorrow; with Chris Pratt, Bryde Dallas, Ty Simpkins, Judy Greer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan and Nick Robinson Dir of photography: John Schwartzman (“Saving Mr.Banks”); Production Director: Ed Verreaux (“Looper”);

Guardians of The Galaxy: We’re in good hands


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There’s a lot of sci-fi that brilliantly captures the zeitgeist of our concerns, fears and hopes. It’s as though, because we can’t bear to face realities head-on, the sugary pop of sci-fi makes it all that much easier to go down. So, not unexpectedly, in our jolly world bracketed by global jihad and (often state backed) terrorism on the one side and climate change and eco collapse on the other…to which, just to make it three dimensional, we can now add the spread of Ebola and the reduction in the efficacy of penicillin.

Yep, Armageddon isn’t far away. It’s just across dystopia hill. That’s why we have zombie movies. We’ve now seen (recently) the end of the world via “World War Z”, “I am Legend”, the two recent “Planet of the Apes”, the “Terminators” and the up-coming return of “Mad Max”. And if the zombies don’t make it clear that the end is nigh, there’s always Godzilla, various Transformers, “War of the Worlds” and sundry really bad guys (like Electro, The Lizard, Ra’s Al Ghul etc) who have been held in check only due to a couple of hard-working super heroes.

If that ain’t bad enough, we’ve also had a massive economic crisis papered over by the on-going obscenity of astronomical management and bankers’ bonuses… which continue to drive a wedge between the have’s and the have not’s in a world patrolled by dark, centrally controlled police forces. It’s not such a stretch then for us to fully empathize with what’s going on in “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent” or “The Minority Report”.

These existential fears of our times don’t nearly end there. We’ve always suspected that there was more than a grain of truth in the rise of Skynet, artificial intelligence and robots that will pretty soon become sentient. “I Am Robot”, “A.I Artificial Intelligence”, R2-D2 and Arnold Schwarzenegger prove the point.

So we normal folk who can’t out-gun or out-run the rush of zombies trooping out of the streets or parliaments nearest to you will either become a zombie, get wiped out by someone we thought was human or end up scrabbling for food with Katniss Evergreen.

But that’s sci-fi that’s of this world. There’s also sci-fi that’s out of it. Think “Star Wars”, “Star Trek” “Avatar”, “Battlestar Galactica” and “Alien”. That’s the other future we have to look forward to: the earth has been destroyed and we now live on sundry planets with names like Tatooine or Pandora, running away from sith lords, or (once again) mega corporations bent on destroying all before them in search of precious minerals (coltan probably).

With a future this dark, we all need the tonic of an escape into a world that bares only the vaguest resemblance to ours, but that’s exciting, funny, charming, sexy, and filled with good music.

Introducing the blockbuster fun movie of the summer: Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” featuring a real carbon based life form human person, “Parks and Recreation’s” Chris Pratt as Peter Quill or the Star Lord. He’s a wise-cracking, disco dancing, Hans Solo wannabe that scavenges and steals for a living. The problems come after he steals a mysterious orb – the object of desire of Ronan (Lee Pace, not to be confused with Keanu Reeve’s “47 Ronin” or Robert De Niro’s cheaper version “Ronin”), arch villain and potential destroyer of galaxies. His flight from multiple other dangerous creatures forces him to team up with Gamora (Zoe Saldana, still in her strange colour from “Avatar”), Rocket, a raccoon with attitude and the voice of Bradley Cooper who was obviously enjoying himself, Drax the destroyer, an enormous hulk of a man in the form of ex WWF “Smack Down” wrestling championships, David Bautista (or The Rock part two) and a towering, multi-talented tree, Groot, expertly played by Vin Diesel whose acting style is usually so wooden that he fitted seamlessly into the role.

These five zap here and there, elude and destroy armies of attackers and, thanks to a smart script and James Gunn’s pitch-perfect directing “Guardians of the Galaxy” comes across as a movie that accepts its role as blissful, well-crafted escapism with great gusto.

It’s a difficult act to pull off: keeping the audience gripped and in the thrall of a crew of ridiculous creatures, whilst being a very self aware, and mockingly irreverent.

Alas, after two fun hours, we were back to the dystopian zombie reality of Israel and Palestine, Ukraine, Bank crimes and the other malignancies of a world without moral leadership