The Silver Bullet ~ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Synopsis: The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage.

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Thoughts: Surpassing the expectations of audiences and even, I think, its own studio, Guardians of the Galaxy was a late summer splash in 2014.  Elevating star Chris Pratt to A-List status (further cemented the next summer when he headlined Jurassic World) and bringing to the screen heroes that didn’t wear a red cape or a cowl, GoTG was slick, funny, exciting, and fueled with enough adrenaline to power several city blocks.  The hype is big for Vol. 2 when it arrives in May 2017 and this first teaser is but a taste of things to come (not to mention multiple full length trailers).  In all honesty, like the trailer for the original this one is too jokey for my taste but as a whistle whetter, it gets the job done.

Movie Review ~ Furious 7

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his family for the death of his brother.

Stars: Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Vin Diesel,Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Dwayne Johnson,Nathalie Emmanuel, John Brotherton, Iggy Azaela

Director: James Wan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 137 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  While preparing to write my review of the seventh film in the lucrative Fast and the Furious franchise, I went back to my review of 2013’s Furious 6 to make sure I didn’t self-plagiarize that entry.  Turns out I was in for a challenge because reading over my thoughts on the previous chapter confirmed my suspicions…that Furious 7 is nearly the exact same film.

Now if this were the newest release in any other long-running series I likely would have gone after the filmmakers for lack of creativity or the general laziness that can befall a cash-cow like these films have been for Universal Studios.  What started in 2001 as a run of the mill action film with a lack of brain cell activity has come a long way, arguably getting better and more assured with each passing episode.  There’s a decidedly set formula in the way the Fast & the Furious vehicles are assembled and why mess with something that works so well?  The answer to that question?  You don’t.

Before we move forward I need to put a disclaimer that it’s impossible to discuss Furious 7 without giving away some spoilers on events that happened in the first six films.

Picking up not quite where Furious 6 left off (but before the third entry The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place – figure THAT one out!) it’s not long before Dom (Vin Diesel, Riddick), Brian (Paul Walker), Letty (Michele Rodriguez, Turbo), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, Hercules) and the rest of their comrades are targeted by the brother of the villain featured in the last film.  Proving that revenge is a dish best served at 180mph, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Expendables 3) is mad as hell and out for blood against those who nearly killed his baby brother (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold).

What I’ve enjoyed so much about these movies over the years is their ability to maintain a consistent crew of familiar faces that keep coming back film after film.  Maybe introduced as a minor character originally, each entry seems to shift the power around and plays off the strengths of what each actor brings to the table.  Not that this is high art requiring application of the Meisner technique to each line of dialogue, but even with certain limitations on acting expertise no one embarrasses themselves…well, almost.

The star of the show where action is concerned continues to be Vin Diesel and, bless his heart, he tries so dang hard in this one to bolster his cred by delivering his lines with sincerity.  However, with his cue ball cranium and muscles that can’t be contained in any shirt large or small, he’s maybe the one person that swings and misses while attempting to be the dramatic heavy.  With the tragic death of co-star Paul Walker halfway through filming, it’s evident that large parts of the script were re-written and I’m guessing Diesel was tapped to lay the groundwork for the film’s touching send-off and, to his credit, Diesel is never anything less than totally committed to getting the job done.

This isn’t a film that has the ghost of Paul Walker hovering above it, however, even though you can easily tell which scenes were shot with a double with his face being CGI-ed in later.  The overall feeling of the movie is onward and upward and I think Walker would have been proud of how it all turned out.  He’s involved with several of the film’s crazy action sequences, passages that include souped-up cars being dropped from airplanes and flying through skyscrapers.  These are impressively staged, totally ridiculous, and supremely enjoyable.

It’s when the film slows down that there are problems.  With director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious) taking over for Justin Lin there seems to be an effort on Wan’s part to balance high-impact action with treacly familial drama…and who knows how much of that was influenced by Walker’s death.  Seems like poor Jordana Brewster (who seems to add two new teeth with each film, I swear she has 32 teeth on the top row alone) suffered the most, with the script sequestering her away from the action to protect her pregnancy…which is a ludicrous sham they don’t even bother to make believable.  Brewster is supposedly far enough along to know the sex of the baby but has a stomach so flat you could play Jenga on it.

Wan’s trademark loop-de-loop cinematography seems like a nice match with the action onscreen though it’s overdone in the lengthy finale that has our gang racing around a downtown cityscape straight out of Grand Theft Auto as they try to keep a valuable piece of technology out of the hands of a villainous terrorist (Djimon Hounsou, How to Train Your Dragon 2) while avoiding getting run down by Statham.  I’m skipping over a lot of plot twists and turns that I simply don’t have the time or the word count to explain in full…it’s beside the point anyway because the film is really about getting to that next action sequence.

I’ve no doubt that eighth, ninth, and tenth entries of this series will be produced and if they can maintain the forward motion of their predecessors I’m all in favor.  Leaving several loose ends dangling while tying up one big one, there’s more gas in this Furious tank and I’m happy to buckle up for more.

The Silver Bullet ~ Furious 7

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Synopsis: Ian Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his crew for the death of his brother.

Release Date:  April 3, 2015

Thoughts: Hi, my name is Joe and I’m a fan of the Fast and the Furious franchise.  This wasn’t as hard to admit as one might think and it’s an admission made easier by the fact that what started as a B-movie rip off of Point Break (trading surfboards for cars) has evolved into an engaging action series that improves with each passing installment.  Sure, 2 Fast 2 Furious stumbled and I may be the only one that enjoyed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift but the last three films (especially 2013’s breathless Fast & Furious 6)  have upped the ante without turning the whole affair into a self-aware camp fest.  Though the dark cloud of star Paul Walker’s tragic passing will likely hang heavy over the film, I’m hoping that the extra production time allowed director James Wan (The Conjuring) and writer Chris Morgan (47 Ronin) to orchestrate a fitting torch passing that allows the series to continue.

Movie Review ~ Guardians of the Galaxy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Director: James Gunn

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: If I’m being honest (and c’mon, we’re close enough friends that I’ll always tell the truth) I’ll admit that at first I just didn’t know what to make of Guardians of the Galaxy.  After several years of recognizable Marvel comic book properties making their way to the big screen (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers) I wasn’t certain where this new franchise film would fit in.  Not being well acquainted with the source material, I couldn’t quite warm to the first jokey preview that set fan tongues a waggin’ but had me scratchin’ my noggin.  And what was up with the raccoon and talking tree?

So I find myself hunkering down for a screening of Marvel’s latest attempt at superhero domination a little grumbly and prepared for my worst fears onscreen: an overblown yuk fest of an actioner with copious one-liners and inter-galactic battle sequences that pummel you with lots of noise and digital effects.  Who knew that’s exactly what this summer needed?

If the previous Marvel superhero films equate to a stretch limo with your cool aunts and uncles, then Guardians of the Galaxy is the party bus transporting your crazy cousins.  I ask you…which ride would you rather take?

Starting with an emotional Earth-bound prologue that segues into a silly credits sequence showcasing the first of several 80s musical hits, Guardians of the Galaxy hits its stride early on and never lets up as audiences are taking to various points throughout the solar system.  When overgrown kid/space pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, now primed for A-List stardom) steals a mysterious orb that looks like the Omegahedron from 1984’s Supergirl, he gets into all kinds of hot water from blue hued baddie Ronan (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) that wants to use its powers to do some planetary damage.  Additionally, Quill has a bounty put on his head from another Smurf colored character (Michael Rooker) that sent him to retrieve the orb in the first place.

Bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines) and deciduous sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel, Riddick, in possibly his best performance…heard not seen) aren’t the only ones after Quill.  Sent by Ronan to fetch the orb, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace, trading her Avatar blue for wicked green) may have plans of her own for the strange object.  It all turns into your standard case of multiple people wanting to possess the orb for numerous purposes.  From prison breaks to narrow escapes, the movie has a breathless pace but never feels rushed or out of balance.  It’s a full meal of a film that blessedly doesn’t wind up feeling like a franchise jumping off point (which of course it is).

Director and co-screenwriter James Gunn packs a lot into his film and there’s a welcome point of view sorely lacking in films made from comic book tales.  He backs up strong characterization with an assembled design team that should get ready for Oscar nominations in visual effects, make-up, and costume design.  From the mechanizations of the evil Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) to the body art of logic driven He-Man-esque Drax (Dave Bautista, who maybe would have been a better choice for Hercules), there’s a follow-through and attention to detail that acts as the sprinkles on top of Gunn’s visual sundae of a film.

Did I mention it’s incredibly funny as well?  I was worried that the laughs would trump logic but from Gunn’s clever music selection and his willingness to capitalize on Pratt’s comedic gifts, there’s the sense that everyone is on the joke and relishing their chance to participate.  Gunn doesn’t let the humor rule the picture but instead picks wise moments to break up some of the overly nerdy bits.

In a summer of ups and downs, Guardians of the Galaxy emerges as the most satisfying big studio film I’ve seen all year (my favorite films of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, don’t count seeing as they’re independent endeavors) and goes a long way in saving the Summer of 2014 from being remembered as three months of mediocre-to-terrible offerings like A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended, Jersey Boys, and the cinematic Ebola virus called Tammy.  It’s a mammoth sized two hour superlative treat – the one film of the summer worth seeing twice.

The Silver Bullet ~ Guardians of the Galaxy

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Synopsis: In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Release Date:  August 1, 2014

Thoughts: I should start out by saying that I’m totally familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy comic and all of the characters introduced within.  Teased first at the end of Thor: The Dark World, the full trailer for Marvel’s latest “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” film has an awful lot of impressive looking images that we’ve come to expect from an effects driven superhero film.  What I find it’s lacking, however, is some justification for being so tonally blasé.  It’s seems preciously desperate to come across with the same structured sarcasm as Marvel’s The Avengers even though that blockbuster already earned its stripes by bringing characters together already established in solo films.  With a meaty cast like Chris Pratt (Her), Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace), Lee Pace (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), and Vin Diesel (Riddick) on board the film isn’t lacking in star power…I just hope it’s not nearly as comic-booky as it looks.

Movie Review ~ Riddick

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Stars: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson

Director: David Twohy

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:

You just can’t keep a good (bad) guy down…and this third outing for Vin Diesel’s muddled anti-hero proves that  point over and over (and over and over).

I was a fan of the 2000 low budget sci-fi thriller Pitch Black which introduced the Riddick character, finding it to be a schlocky B-Film with more than the usual dose of character development, setting itself apart from its contemporaries.  Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on Diesel’s rising star, Universal threw a lot of money into the 2004 follow-up The Chronicles of Riddick, only to see the film not make good on its prospects with its misguided attempt to give its central character a ton of back-story.  By doing this, they took a character that was interesting because we knew little about him and made him toothless, virtually indistinguishable from any countless other sci-fi heroes.

Now, with Diesel riding high after returning to the Fast and the Furious series (the summer 2013 installment, Fast & Furious 6 did crazy good business…and was pretty fun too) Universal is taking another chance on Diesel/Riddick with this modestly budgeted film that has the good elements from Pitch Black and some of the bad elements of The Chronicles of Riddick.

Abandoned on a barren planet, Riddick spends its first thirty minutes or so with nearly no dialogue as our light-averse ex-con struggles to survive the climate, his own inner torment, and a handful of icky creatures rendered with decent success to be a few notches above something you’d see in the SyFy channel.  Comparisons to 2000’s Cast Away are inevitable and not too far off the mark as Riddick learns how to survive and makes nice with a feral dog-like creature (which looks like the offspring of a zebra that mated with a Doberman), eventually winding up at a deserted outpost which could be his way to freedom.

Riddick uses the outpost to initiate a beacon that will alert bounty hunters to his whereabouts, figuring he’ll be able to overthrow any crew that comes-a-callin’ and steal their ship to do a little planet hopping.  That’s when the movie has to switch things up and introduce a crew of new characters that only serve as distractions rather than make their own contributions to advance the plot.

Two crews find their way down, battling not only the one man wrecking crew of Riddick but each other as well. These characters are drawn so broadly that I wondered if they themselves were CGI animated …because only that could excuse the inexcusably awful performance of head bad guy Jordi Molla.  Every line he says, every breath he takes, every desperate mug he makes renders Molla almost unwatchable…made worse by the film being projected on IMAX screens.  Matt Nable is the captain of a rival crew of mercenaries and it seems like the role was meant for a bigger name…while Nable is just fine in the part it just seems like he was the 25th choice for the role.

As for any female presence in the film, I counted about four women in the movie and three of them take their clothes off at one point, including Katee Sackhoff’s hilariously out of place topless scene.  Though Sackhoff’s character is supposedly a tough lesbian, that doesn’t stop the film from making her as weak a presence as the other females…seen either as a sex object or at the mercy of their male counterparts.

Diesel, for his part, seems to be achieving what he wanted by providing his character some good moments of growth…but it’s really time to hang up the night vision goggles.  As it stretches to nearly two hours, the film isn’t ever boring but you begin to feel the time creeping by before the conclusion arrives.

Best left for a watch in the comfort of your own home, Riddick should be the end of the series given its middling box office returns and a general consensus that the character has gone as far as he needs to go.  Vin, take my advice, focus on your other franchise series that miraculously still has legs after six outings.

Movie Review ~ Fast & Furious 6

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Hobbs has Dom and Brian reassemble their crew in order to take down a mastermind who commands an organization of mercenary drivers across 12 countries.

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans, Gina Carano

Director: Justin Lin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Big. Dumb.  Fun.  These three words describe not only Fast & Furious 6 (or is it Furious 6 as the title credits suggest?) but also its star.  Though the film franchise has had its occasional bumps in the road, the movie owes much of its successful entries to Vin Diesel (Riddick), a modesty decent actor that is at least smart enough to know his limitations.

Coming off a surprisingly impressive fifth entry that showed there’s more than a little gas left in the tank, the sixth chapter keeps things speeding along so fast that the plot holes and implausible stunts just appear as roadside distractions on the way to your final destination.   That’s mostly thanks to Diesel and director Justin Lin who returns for his fourth film in the director seat.  By this point, Lin is old hat at highlighting the best assets of a muscled cast while still giving the audience what it came for – high octane action sequences that provide lots of popcorn entertainment.

This globe-hopping film brings back many of the characters from previous entries…being somewhat familiar with the series will benefit any viewer so you’re able to keep things straight.  In fact, there’s someone from each of the preceding films that play a part here so the more you know who is who the better…especially for the post-credits scene that hints at where the seventh film (coming Summer 2014) is headed.

Wait…I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Furious 6 takes the characters in a slightly different direction as Diesel and his crew team up with the federal agent (Dwayne Johnson, Pain & Gain, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) that was after them in Fast Five.  Why do they join forces you may ask?  Well (spoiler alert) it seems that Diesel’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who seemed to meet her end at the beginning of #4 is alive and well with a case of amnesia.  She’s working for the bad guys though (headed by Luke Evans, The Raven) that are out to steal a top secret government weapon.

That’s really all you need to know before heading into the film because after that basic set-up it’s primarily just a lot of well-staged action sequences that lead up to a ear-splitting finale involving a helluva lot of cars and one large airplane on what seems to be the longest runway in the history of modern cinema.

These films have a proven formula that’s rarely deviated from…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because with each entry there’s a strange sense of refreshment from all involved.  While some franchises can’t even spit out three films (see The Hangover III) the Fast and Furious flicks are doing well at #6 and looking forward to a seventh entry that’s already in pre-production.  Back in the day I wouldn’t have attributed the success to Diesel and company but after sitting through this decidedly good natured film I must give credit where it’s due.

True, there should be a drop box as you enter the theater where you can deposit your brain and sense of logic but isn’t that what some of the more fun summer movies are all about?  Don’t think too much about the stunts that would break the backs of everyday men and women but bask in the joy of seeing the stunts executed so realistically.  Though it seems this entry has less car action than in the past, there’s some ingenious stunt work done when it comes time to rev those engines.

Franchise fans are in for a treat with this entry that isn’t quite as good as the last film but still makes a strong impression for those that have followed the series for the better part of a decade.  One note…make sure you remember that #3 (Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) takes place AFTER the events of this film…you’ll enjoy the final tag more.

The Silver Bullet ~ Riddick

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Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Release Date:  September 6, 2013

Thoughts: The character of Riddick must be one that haunts actor Vin Diesel (Fast and Furious 6) because he’s tried to set up a quasi franchise with the night-seeing anti-hero for well over a decade.  First introduced as a secondary character in 2000’s modest hit Pitch Black, Diesel returned to the character in 2004 (bringing Judi Dench with him!) for The Chronicles of Riddick.  I found that second film to be a bit of a mess so let’s hope that in the nearly ten years since the sequel was released this third film learned from the mistakes of its predecessor.