2017 Summer Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Guardians are back to save the galaxy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Source: IMDb)

Oh—it’s great to see these band of misfits back together!

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy became a surprise hit among general audiences. It featured the most unusual groups of heroes. Ranging from a man from Earth raised by aliens, a green-skinned alien assassin, a superhuman warrior, a humanoid tree whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot”, to a trash-talking raccoon. Seeing it three times in theaters, I had an awesome time seeing these characters interact with one another while saving the galaxy and the planet Xandar from Ronan the Accuser. The movie had a lot of laughs, thrills, sharp character development, and visual wonder. So far, I think it’s my favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s already a contemporary classic.

Three years later, writer/director James Gunn returns with the same main cast to do the sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With Vol. 3 now in development, I’m actually looking forward to see more adventures of the Guardians rather than the Avengers. As far as sequels go, Vol. 2 is easily one of the better ones.

With a new kick-ass mixtape given to by his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his team of Guardians—Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); now reincarnated to a size of a tree bark, and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper)—travel through the galaxy, in search of something good and bad. They are assigned to protect the Sovereign, a gold-skinned alien race led by Heiress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), and their precious batteries from various enemies. When Rocket is accused of stealing the batteries, their spacecraft crash lands on a deserted planet until being saved by a man known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who happens to be Peter’s father (no surprise there). He, along with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), brings them to his colorful planet while a lot of stuff happens.

If I go on about the plot, it would lead to many spoilers.

With the first movie, Gunn introduces the characters getting together to form as a family. Here—they are an assembled group of outlaws. He also brings forth the father-son dynamic into the MCU. While Pratt is the ideal choice to play Star-Lord, there would not have been a better choice for Kurt Russell to play his dad. Or, in this case, a celestial who falls in love with a human on Earth and eventually creates his own beautiful world. For years, Quill always wants to know his true heritage. With the characters we have come to know and love, we get to know more about them, particularly Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gilan) with scenes with Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) bonding with each other. And also, Drax gives more of an emotional weight, who explains more about getting revenge on Thanos after witnessing the death of his family. He begins to ponder more about his simple past on his home planet. He may be tough on the outside, but he is also soft on the inside. Oh—and his laugh is just legendary!

Speaking of laughter, Vol. 2 is a nonstop laugh riot! One of the reasons why Vol. 1 is not just the splendid visuals and action set pieces, but the irreverent sense of humor. Vol. 2 is no exception. Drax, Rocket, and Groot steal the show here. As I described him before in my review for Vol. 1, Rocket is the Joe Pesci of the MCU. He has a filthy mouth (but not too filthy) and he is unpredictably crazy. “They told me you people were conceded douchebags,” he says to the Sovereign (who make pretty bland villains, despite Debicki’s massive stature–standing at a whopping 6’3″). “But that isn’t true at all.” The wink he gives to Quill cracks me up so much. Almost just as much as him making fun of Taserface (Chris Sullivan), which had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Vol. 2 cannot be complete without an awesome soundtrack—cleverly titled Awesome Mix Vol. 2. What the predecessor did with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, you know you are in for a treat if the movie opens up with ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. It’s nearly impossible not to grin while watching it. Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” serves as an appropriate theme for the Guardians. This line sums it up right here, “If you don’t love me now / You will never love me again / I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.” Bring on, Vol. 3!

3.5/4

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2016 Summer Movie Review: War Dogs

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Two arms dealers (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) make a deal of a lifetime in Todd Phillips’ latest war comedy-drama War Dogs (Source: New York Post)

Fresh from created The Hangover trilogy, director Todd Phillips takes a step into a satirical yet darker reality: the war in Iraq. From the invasion to Saddam Hussein’s execution to the rise and fall of ISIS, it’s hard to figure out when the war will end. Of course, we can’t predict the future. The story about two arm dealers making a deal with the Pentagon has been all over the news in 2007. Unlike Due Date and the obnoxious sequels to The Hangover, Phillips crafts an amusing yet fascinating outlook on the arms industry.

Loosely based on a true story, David Packouz (Miles Teller) lives in Miami with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). He wants to do something rather than living his life as a massage therapist. He meets up with an old buddy of his Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. Together, they exploit a government initiative where they bid on military contracts. Little by little, they make deals internationally. Eventually, they make a $300 million contract to the Pentagon supply weapons and ammunition to the U.S. government in Afghanistan. They begin to face some serious business including arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper).

It does sound like a discount version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Apart from the fact that both movies star Jonah Hill, War Dogs is definitely less filthy yet quite informative. Phillips brings enough energy into his direction, some impressive shots of Miami, Las Vegas, and Albania, and a perfect rock soundtrack. However, it does fall short from some lousy attempts at laughs, Iz being the typical girlfriend, and the pacing feels a bit rushed. What makes the movie worth seeing is the chemistry between a scene-stealing Jonah Hill and a solid Miles Teller.

2.5/4

Movie Review: Joy

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Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) and his family try to get out of debt in David O. Russell’s latest “Joy”

The quadrio–Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell–of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle return in this semi-autobiographical film of Joy Mangano. Lawrence plays the titular character who grew up in an Italian-American family. As a child, she always comes up with great ideas. However, the single mother of two children starts a business dynasty and invents the Miracle Mop. She meets QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), and the product is shown on QVC. While this is happening, Joy struggles with her marriage with Tony (Édgar Ramírez) and debt.

For someone who loved Silver Linings Playbook and enjoyed American Hustle (although being slightly overrated), I consider Joy being David O. Russell’s weakest film. Is it a terrible movie? No; it has its moments of greatness (especially the scene in which Joy shows her product on television), but there are times in which the movie feels like a soap opera, which is ironic considering there are occasions in Joy where Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) is confined in her room watching soap operas all day.

Russell’s previous movies had an offbeat sense of humor. In Joy, the comedy feels as incredibly forced as the drama. It’s hard to resist the stellar performances by Lawrence (in her most mature performance to date), the great Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. Joy left me with mixed feelings.

2/4

2015 Summer Movie Review: Aloha

Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone try their best in Cameron Crowe's

Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone try their best in Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha”

If you hire A-list actors and your movie has a great soundtrack, it must be Cameron Crowe. He’s the director who made the famous Tom Cruise say the most famous line, “Show me the money!” in Jerry Maguire, and eventually collaborated with him again in the enigmatic Vanilla Sky. This decade, he made Matt Damon and his family live on a zoo in the decent albeit likeable We Bought a Zoo. In his latest, Aloha, he captures his actors going on vacation in Hawaii. It’s refreshing to have a movie without any overblown effects every once in a while. Unfortunately, it’s not the case with this movie. I don’t know what the hell Cameron Crowe was thinking.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor who used to work in Afghanistan. He’s now working for a wealthy industrialist (Bill Murray). His task is to launch a satellite into space. He immediately becomes attracted to a fast-talking, energetic Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who is one-quarter Hawaiian (don’t ask). However, Gilcrest tries to reconnect with his old girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), but she’s married to a mute Air Force pilot (John Krasinski), who Gilcrest has an amusing conversation with near the end of the movie with their thoughts and gestures.

One of the biggest problems with Aloha is the direction. It has no idea what it wants to be. It goes from being a “romance” between Cooper and Stone to a family drama with Cooper getting along with one of McAdams’ children who has an obsession with Hawaiian Gods and carrying a video camera. Then, there’s a subplot with a satellite launch. If the actors share no chemistry whatsoever, that’s also a major problem. It’s not funny, not romantic, and not surprising. Thank God this movie flopped.

1/4

Movie Review: American Sniper

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Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”

It’s hard to believe how Bradley Cooper got huge to play the role of Chris Kyle in American Sniper. In order to do the role justice, he had to eat 8,000 calories and worked out four hours a day. In one scene, we see him actually deadlifting 425 pounds a few sets at a time. We see Cooper disappear into the role of the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Born and raised in Texas, Kyle never knew he wanted to become a NAVY Seal. After getting married to Taya (the lovely Sienna Miller), he ends up going on four tours in Iraq. His spot-on accuracy with a rifle made him save countless lives. Back home, however, he struggles to get back to his regular self after embracing his part as a sniper.

Clint Eastwood has made a harrowing character study that doesn’t just focus on the war. But more on the effects of war, and how hard it is to let go on what you have fully embraced. The war scenes have a Zero Dark Thirty vibe to them (to be fair, this is a much better film). They are raw and intense, and it feels like we are in the middle of the action. The small parts involving Chris at home are equally powerful. However, using a fake baby instead of a real one sounded a bit lazy. This is Eastwood’s big step-up after Jersey Boys.

3.5/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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Chris Pratt and his group of A-holes team up to save the galaxy in “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Finally! A comic book movie with a new group of heroes!

Guardians of the Galaxy has been one of my most anticipated movies of the year. After spending six years of releasing movies featuring the members of “The Avengers”, it’s about time for MARVEL to give fans something they haven’t seen before. A group of outlaws featuring a talking tree and a talking raccoon…it couldn’t get any more awesome than that. Sure, it might seem an unlikely group, but indie director James Gunn brings enough wit and charm into these memorable characters to make us become emotionally connected to them. He makes our inner child burst with satisfaction.

After the death of his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) gets on a spaceship to leave Earth. Years later, he’s adopted by an alien race called the Ravagers, and grows up to be a bounty hunter taking the alias of Star-Lord. While discovering his home on the planet Morag, Quill finds an orb in an abandoned building (cleverly paying homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark). He steals the orb, brings to the planet Xandar to sell it for a good amount of units, and gets arrested for stealing it from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

After hearing the news of Ronan using the orb to destroy the entire galaxy, Quill teams up with four other companions. They are:

  • Gamora (Zoe Saldana, using green makeup rather than motion capture), an alien assassin trained by Ronan.
  • Drax the Destoryer (Dave Bautista), a maniacal warrior with tattoos seeking vengeance after his family tragically died.
  • Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree humanoid with very limited vocabulary. The only words he says are “I am Groot.”
  • Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a foul-mouthed, genetically engineered raccoon who is a bounty hunter invested with weapons.

Together, they come up with a plan to save the galaxy.

There have been several movies this year in which I would have a blast seeing them in the theater. However, there isn’t a movie quite like Guardians of the Galaxy. It made me feel like a kid watching perhaps the best movie in the world. Gunn provides some of the year’s most stunning visuals and exhilarating action sequences. What makes the movie fun, however, is the characters and their interactions with each other. When Pratt’s Quill puts a mix tape containing popular songs from the ’70s (including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”) in his Walkman and starts dancing to the beat, it gives a reminder that the audience is in for a treat.

Peter Quill is like the brother Han Solo never had; he’s handsome, witty, charismatic, and bit of a wiseass. It’s impossible not to get a kick out of him when he uses his charm as the only way to get out of a certain situation. Whenever he interacts with the computer-generated characters, I feel as if he is actually interacting with them. Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon is like the Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. Not only is he funny, he’s also insane. The supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro couldn’t get any better. With an ending leading up to a sequel, I think it’s safe to that Guardians of the Galaxy is the best MARVEL movie since The Avengers.

4/4