Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 7, 2017 at 9:55 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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Vol. 2 is the right signifier for this film, not only because it cleverly hearkens back to 80s mixed tapes but also because this really is just a retread of the first film. It is exactly as entertaining as that one but not an ounce more. James Gunn is the right director/writer for these films. His sense of timing, humor and pacing are well-fitted for this series. But he has found his formula and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in breaking out of it. Given the films’ success, I can’t really blame him. He has gathered the same crew of actors (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan) and essentially put them through 2 ½ hours of more of the same. It is a fast-paced fun ride, full of good laughs, but it isn’t anything different from the last one. We are treated to a dazzling special effects overload (I was particularly impressed by the CGI used to make Kurt Russell look younger– it’s the best I’ve ever seen) and an over burdened plot that is equal parts silly and irrelevant. Marvel has dug deep to introduce us to some pretty obscure characters here (most of whom had a brief moment of notoriety in the 70s), including Ego, Mantis, the Watchers, Howard the Duck, the Grandmaster, and what appears to be a reference to Adam Warlock. In addition to obscure comic book characters, we are treated to a variety of random actors playing them (sometimes just as voice overs), including Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Seth Greene, Ving Rhames, Rob Zombie, David Hasselhoff, Miley Cyrus, Jeff Goldblum, Stan Lee of course, and the entirety of James Gunn’s family. And, like all Marvel movies, this one has post-credit scenes. In fact, it has 5 of them. So, if you are interested in that sort of thing (some of them are very funny), you will want to stay until lights up in the theater. It may all seem like a bit much, but that is part of the fun. The absurdity of it all just adds to the experience. The first film was a great, fun way to spend a couple of hours and this one is also. It isn’t anything new but, then, I guess it doesn’t really have to be. Especially when what it is works so well.

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The Hateful Eight

January 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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When I went to see “Pulp Fiction,” all those years ago, I have to confess that I did really wanted to see it. However, it was one of the defining moments in cinema for me. I can remember actual moments in that theater, staring at the screen, that will be forever cemented in my head. With that film, Tarantino changed movies. He took gratuitous violence, already present in many films, and he elevated it to the level of art. By doing so, he created an aesthetic of violence, wherein the banality of his violence became a detached hipness. But now, more than 20 years later, everyone does Tarantino; his bloody fingerprints are all over Hollywood. As a result, there is nothing revolutionary about it any more. The banality of violence is no longer hip, it’s just banal. The real shame for Tarantino is that he is also a remarkably gifted director. In many ways, this film is a masterwork of building suspense. A small group of shady characters are stuck in a one room cabin in a snow storm in 19th Century Wyoming. Tarantino builds the tension beautifully through tight camera angles, tense dialogue and a beautiful use of space and sound. The wind howls and whips outside the fragile cabin. Steam rises from their breaths and from the cups they hold, sometimes creating a great visual; when you can see the sharp exhalations of breath from words spoken harshly, it creates another level to the tension. Tarantino has always shown an astute understand of the use of music in film. Ennio Morricon’s score fits perfectly and manages to raise anxiety without being heavy-handed or cliché. In one great scene, reminiscence of “Reservoir Dogs,” Demián Bichir, attempts to plunk out a Christmas carol on an old piano while the tension between two characters builds slowly towards an explosion. This is all such brilliant stuff that I was frustrated with how distracting I found the copious amounts of cartoon violence. Tarantino is a strong enough director that he could have made this film with far more subtle violence, had he chosen to. I was also put off by the continuous need for profanity and for “the n-word,” in particular. One might argue that the word was in popular use at the time but, it seems to me, that it is disingenuous to pretend historical accuracy while Samuel L. Jackson plays a character who seems lifted right out of the 21st century. It appears that Tarantino just likes the naughtiness of being a White guy who gets away with using that word. In fact, that seems to sum up the whole problem with his work. In so many ways, he keeps trying to be the young rebel. It really is a shame. If he would just give up the adolescent rebellion that once made him a  revolutionary filmmaker, he might discover that he is actually a great one.

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