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Is there a more instantly iconic cast in Hollywood?

I am pleased to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (I’ll refer to it simply as Vol. 2) is, as many of you have found out for yourselves over the past week, every bit as good and in some ways much better than even the first one. Vol. 1 was a great surprise and still the boldest movie Marvel has yet made. Vol. 2 doubles down on the world it created and the characters that inhabit it, losing the freshness a little (which is being overstated as a complaint) but managing to improve on those few significant weak spots the first one did have.

One of those is the way certain characters were shorted much of an arc as the plot took over the movie. In Vol. 2 this never happens and no character, and there are so fucking many of them, gets shorted. They all have satisfying arcs, even Kraglin (Sean Gunn), wisely depending on interactions with each other. For people who like Marvel movies and fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will feel familiar. It’s in pairings, parallels and polar opposites, that juggling so many characters and arcs becomes possible. Vol. 2 pulls this off with aplomb and manages to weave through tonal shifts, some of which are pretty shocking and risky. A stronger commitment to the sadness and loss hinted at in Vol. 1 is also demonstrated here, giving this goofy space movie an emotional core that is hard to find even in serious dramas. If I could compare that to something, it’d be a Pixar movie, where they definitely understand that the juxtaposition of light heartedness, humour, and fun against deeper, darker, and unresolved feelings provides a strong base for engaging drama and characterization. Not only this, but James Gunn managed to infuse this one with some pretty heavy existential and philosophical weight, which I’ll get to later on. I didn’t expect that.

All the way back when testing revealed that Vol. 2 was the MCU’s first movie that scored 100s (whatever that means), the hype has been real. There’s already a pretty misguided mini-backlash against this movie, fixated on gags that don’t quite land or the way the second act dismisses the overarching plot in favor of briefly becoming a shaggy hangout movie, but this stuff seems nitpicky to me. At the same time, I totally understand just how hard it is to deal with a movie as anticipated and hyped up as this one was. Your mind always wants to find that one thing wrong with it, so I take these nitpicks as a great sign personally. If the worst someone can say is that the space fruit ripeness joke feels a little forced then this is one helluva movie, right? It so is. Read the rest of this entry »



What a bunch of a-holes.

This is the best Marvel movie. It’s funny how each has been better than the last. It’s amazing that you can actually subcategorize each one to say what they’re best at, because it isn’t simply a matter of hierarchy. Each of these movies is after something else. This is why The Avengers can be the best out and out superhero movie and The Winter Soldier can be the best proof of concept that Marvel movies can and should be genre movies alongside being superhero movies. But as a complete, self-contained whole, Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the best. It’s no contest.

But why is Guardians the best? Because it’s got it all. It’s fun, exciting, action-packed, heartfelt, and so well executed that you get that awkward feeling about other big budget movies where you sort of want to pat them on the head for trying. Guardians makes being a blockbuster look easy. Maybe it’s the love affair with the 80’s that James Gunn (writer and director) infuses in the movie. The 80’s was the time of the fun, high concept blockbuster with heart. The 80’s was the time of Star Wars and of Steven Spielberg, really.

And, well, Guardians has Spielberg and Star Wars beat too. Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably thinking hard about whether that claim has some merit. Especially these days. If you haven’t, you’re probably shaking your head. Go see Guardians. Don’t read this review until you have, because I’ve got to gush. I mean it when I say this is a definitive blockbuster movie. Every now and then, a movie comes along that makes you believe in the awe and spectacle possible if more filmmakers and studios put real love into their creations.  This kind of shit is the reason blockbusters exist at all. How wonderful, then, that it pays the debt it owes to Star Wars and Indiana Jones by surpassing them? It is the bastard child, the space-faring orphan, of the precious movies that influenced its creators and us. All parents exist for their children to surpass them and that’s why it’s beautiful when they do.


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Ryan Gosling doesn’t star in this movie, he haunts it.

I actually saw The Place Beyond the Pines before the last two movies I reviewed (Evil Dead and Oblivion) but it’s taken me a lot longer to conjure a review. This is partly because I wanted to like this one more than I did. It’s also because, whether it works for you or not, The Place Beyond the Pines is one you have to sit with for a while. It’s thematically dense and takes itself very seriously. It mostly succeeds in expressing its themes effectively and leaving the audience with the semi-melancholy feeling that pervades it. That said, the structure undermines the movie and it seems like they should have presented it for what it is rather than hiding its generational scope behind the promise of its leads doing impressive dramatic work, which they do.

Overall, The Place Beyond the Pines is hampered by the conceits that don’t work. On a deeper level, though, it’s a movie that should connect strongly on the strength of its essential theme: what sons inherit from their fathers, good and bad. I think that The Place Beyond the Pines is probably a more enjoyable experience if you know about the plot and a pretty major character death before actually seeing it. Without this knowledge, the feeling is that Pines is trying to be surprising and it ends up feeling frustrating instead. Because of this, I won’t caution you to avoid spoilers on this movie unless you are just fundamentally against them on principle. With this opening scrawl, I’ve respected that as usual but I will be including spoilers in the main text of the review. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t let the stupid image above fool you. This movie is full of inventive special effects and camera work.

Limitless is a movie that should be profoundly lame and stupid, yet somehow isn’t. The premise was idiotic and I thought it would be shallow movie using bad science to veil some over-familiar narrative arc about learning the value of not cheating to get ahead. Or something like that. I’m happy to say that Limitless is surprising. It’s a well-constructed thriller where a huge part of the pleasure is seeing how enhanced Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) deals with the world when unrestrained by limitations of personality or cognitive function. It does not dwell on the ethics or the imminence of exactly this type of technology, rather giving us a more personal story that manages to remain more thoughtful than thoughtless. Read the rest of this entry »


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