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 The ironic wit has been replaced by scatology, plot has been left behind somewhere in the other galaxy and George Michael’s bouffant hairstyle has been repurposed to fit Kurt Russell who is Ego,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 The ironic wit has been replaced by scatology, plot has been left behind somewhere in the other galaxy and George Michael’s bouffant hairstyle has been repurposed to fit Kurt Russell who is Ego,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

 

DEEPWATER HORIZON****One to Gush About


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THE DECISION BY director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Hancock) to recreate an 85% scale facsimile of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig (it took eighty five welders eight months to weld it all together) was a brilliant one. There’s an authenticity and a frightening immediacy to the movie that’s a high-water mark of cinema craftsmanship (and one of the best disaster movies ever)

This is of course the movie version of the tragic blow out in the Gulf of Mexico… that resulted in a loss of eleven lives, a spillage of 3 million barrels of oil in the gulf and a £62B bill for BP. “Beyond Petroleum” indeed.

The movie centres on – real life – Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the popular head maintenance engineer on the rig… and an ideal role for blue-collar everyman, Wahlberg. Mike, like his boss Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and various other experienced rig crewmen have an uneasy feeling about things from the get-go. Core safety procedures are being bypassed by BP, in the person of a Mr. Vidrine (a sleazy scheming John Malkovich), intent on saving time and money; and indifferent to the hazards their shortcuts pose. Realistically, Mike is no rebel. He’s worried about the risks being taken, but the murky chain of command allows pretty much everyone an escape valve (no-one was prosecuted for the disaster). Mike simply keeps his head down, mutters his concerns and gets on with his job.

Though the happy-happy scenes of him and wife (Kate Hudson…Kurt’s real-life daughter) are corny and unreal, by and large, the pre-disaster drama is skillfully handled. Writers Matthew Carnahan (World War Z) and Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin) weave the macho banter of the rig crew and the technical discussions about bore pressures and what have you with what seems to be a real ear for the balance between the personal and the professional. Scenes of massive pipes being connected and multiple underwater shots of the three miles of pipe descending into the murky depths of the gulf deliver both veracity and a feeling of dread. It’s old fashioned movie craft that when you introduce a gun in the first scene, somebody’s going to get shot in the second or third. So too, the initial almost fetishised images of the rig (which is actually a vessel) as a massive impregnable steel erection (pun intended) simply foreshadow its fragility once things go awry.

Berg’s version of the story omits all those troubling details about Halliburton’ incompetence and simplifies things to a binary storyline: good, responsible Americans who manage the Transoceanic-owned rig have their better judgments countermanded by the henchmen of the irresponsible Brits (BP: the rig’s Client) ever ready to put profit over process.

This simplification was probably less about chest thumping jingoism and more about centering the drama on the fight to survive and less on the politics of the industry. And what a fight to survive it is. For in the end, the tug o war between Transoceanic and BP is small potatoes compared with the almost Biblical vengeance unleashed when built-up pressures explode in an Armageddon of mud, explosions, thundering noise, flying projectiles and falling cranes. The once so cocky humans now running, dodging and scampering for their lives is heart-stopping movie making.
You can almost feel the heat.

But it’s not just Berg’s terrific visual direction that delivers the punch, it’s Harry Cohen’s (The Hateful Eight) superb sound design – of the rig’s mechanical clanking; the otherworldly sounds of the deep water; the hisses of the fire etc. – that helps make it all so tangibly and nerve-tinglingly real.

Berg also allows us to feel for Wahlberg’s character, who is both (the expected) fearless hero and, at the end of it all, a very ‘unheroic’ quivering mess. Mark Wahlberg has never been an actor capable of exuding a lot of emotional nuance, but here, near the end, his anguish is almost touching; unexpected in such a testosterone-fuelled movie.

To Berg, the morale to this story is more to do with the necessity to follow procedures at all times even at the expense of profit. But to me, there’s a deeper question we must ponder: deep water drilling, fracking, nuclear power, genetically modified agriculture…what could possible go wrong?

 

Deepwater Horizon: Dir: Peter Berg. With: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson. Cinematographer: Enrique Chediak (“The Maze Runner”). Editors: Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker Jr.

 

THE HATEFUL EIGHT*** There Will be Blood


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IN THE HATEFUL EIGHT, director Quentin Tarantino assembles his characters to marshal his grand conceit, like a master chess player.

We first meet the two bounty hunters: John – the hangman – Ruth (Kurt Russell as John Wayne) with his bounty, murderer Daisy Domergue (a welcome return to from, form from Jennifer Jason Leigh) are on a stage coach trying to out gallop the coming storm and seek refuge in the lonely hilltop shop come hostelry, Minnie’s Haberdashery. Along the way, they encounter and rescue the other bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson as Samuel L Jackson), an ex-cavalry officer carrying a – putative – letter from Lincoln (his letter of freedom), along with three corpses, his bounty, piled one upon the other like pelts (Unlike Ruth, Warren prefers to kill his prisoners. Keeping them alive is “too much work”).

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But it’s a crowded road. Yet another straggler joins the party: Chris Manix (a tremendous Walton Goggins), a confederate rebel and the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, the (typically named) town they’re all headed for.

Ruth’s prisoner has a bounty on her head of $10,000. Major Warren’s corpses have bounties on their head of $9,000. They agree to look out for each other to protect their assets.

So here you have it – Tarantino’s concerns are aligned and spread out before you like a warm blanket against the cold tundra (freshly blown in from The Revenant). The Hateful Eight continues (from Django Unchained) his exploration of the underlying tensions that were born with the union of North and South and that continue today: racism, freedom and the amoral spirit of capitalist enterprise – the three sides of the American idea.

Once they’ve entered Minnie’s Haberdashery and we meet the other key players (they aren’t so much characters per se, but symbols…of racism, greed, murder, rape etc; that’s why they’re the “hateful eight”) the issue of racism takes centre stage. Within the snow battered cabin are a lying Mexican, a morose embittered confederate officer, livid at the presence of a Black man in their midst (a beautifully quiet performance from Bruce Dern), a hangman (Tim Roth channeling Christoph Waltz) and an enigmatic gunman (Michael Madsen rendered near invisible amongst the grandstanding of the other cast).

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Within the cabin (sealed off from the outside world…from outside influences) they recreate the civil war, dividing the cabin between a North and a South. The hostility between the races, in particular between the Black free Northerner Major Warren and the White Southern “nigger-hating” confederate officer (Tarantino revels in his freedom to use the ‘N’ word without being branded racist), is fused to the venom that the White South feels by the liberation of the – Black – North.

Freedom is threat.

To Tarantino, there’s an almost symbiotic relationship between the hated and the hater.

It’s a mutual hatred that, like the storm imprisoning them all, denies them any real sense of freedom (no matter, as one character says to another, “… it’ supposed to be a free country”). Indeed, the arc of the entire narrative and the story’s Agatha Christie-type mystery is all about trying to free someone (the murderous Daisy Domergue).

Amidst all this enmity and hatred lies a common territory. It’s that of commerce. For it’s not just the captives, dead and alive who have resale value, they all do; interspersed amidst the racial taunts and the bloodshed are financial calculations and the promise of deals and counter deals. Characters who are natural enemies bond over bonds of commerce. They are after all imprisoned in a shop – about as potent symbol of America you can find.

If murder will out, so too will money.

And in the end, murder does out. This is BY FAR, Tarantino’s most gruesome venture. Brains are blown out, blood gets vomited here there and everywhere, Daisy Domerge’s face is slavered with blood for most of the movie; the whole of Minnie’s Haberdashery is, by the end, awash in red. His characters are bound not only by the handcuffs that join them, but by the (bad) blood that links them… as a nation.

Tarantino’s movies are always excessive; the action, the comedy, the bloodshed always extreme. Usually it works just fine. But The Hateful Eight feels unrestrained, his characters given over to stock archetypes. It’s an excess of self-indulgent, rambling, bloated storytelling. It’s almost three hours long; and at times, especially during the longeurs of the middle chapters (Yes “chapters”: this is after all a Tarantino movie) it feels like four.

And the orgy of blood. So much of it – like a child wallowing in mud; a gleeful attempt to outdo anything Saw or B-movie horrors can conjure up.

Pity, because it’s a visual treat and the score is tremendous.

If you choose to go, don’t eat before

 

The Hateful Eight: DIRECTOR; Quentin Tarantino. WITH: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell; Jennifer Jason Leigh; Walton Goggins; Tim Roth; Michael Masden; Bruce Dern. CINEMAOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson (World War Z); COMPOSER: Ennio Morricone (For a Few Dollars More, The Mission etc)