Saving the Galaxy One Classic Tune at a Time
When the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was released in 2014, it was a huge gamble. Sure, it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which had been lighting up the box office ever since Iron Man kicked things off in 2008, but none of the Avengers would appear in the movie. The characters picked to be featured in the movie were so obscure that few people outside of comics aficionados probably realize that the characters who make up the Guardians in the movie—Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot—are not even the original Guardians in the comics. They are obscure characters from an already obscure comic. And yet, the movie became a monstrous hit thanks to its charming lead characters, brilliant comedic flourishes, and glorious soundtrack. Fortunately, all of those elements are back in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, another space adventure that is just plain fun.
Percival of Bolivia
With so much of today’s cinematic efforts being put towards fictional superheroes, there seem to be fewer and fewer movies made about real human heroes from history. Now, there would be those who might balk at calling soldier-turned-explorer Percy Fawcett a hero—after all, his belief that he had found the remains of the lost city of El Dorado was met mostly with ridicule until recently—but his story is an important one in history and has served as an inspiration for many. With Fawcett being something of a real-life Indiana Jones, it is also a story that seemed destined to be a movie and that movie has now arrived in the form of The Lost City of Z.
Welcome to the Ricochet Party
Action movies set in singular locations have been popular since Die Hard established the framework for it back in 1988. Since then, there have been dozens movies that could be described as “Die Hard on a (fill in the blank).” Popular examples include “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege) and “Die Hard on a bus” (Speed). The new action comedy Free Fire also takes place in one location, but this time it would be difficult to compare it to Die Hard, because there is no one worth rooting for this time around. Just a lot of criminals with a lot of guns in a confined space.
Are You Not Entertained?
To attempt to write a critical review of a Fast and the Furious movie is something of a fool’s errand. Perhaps there is no more critic-proof franchise in the history of movies. Like Russell Crowe yelling out in Gladiator, the only real way to judge these movies is to ask, “Are you not entertained?” And they are often very successful at being that. A franchise that seemed to have run its course after the first three movies suddenly found new life with the fourth entry and has since continued to get bigger and louder with each entry trying to outdo the last when it comes to large, elaborate, and unbelievable action-set pieces, while at the same time focusing on the bond of its central “family.” The latest entry, The Fate of the Furious, does all of that, but by this point the formula is really beginning to feel as if it has run its course.
A Belated Sequel Worth the Wait
Decades-in-the-making sequels have been all the rage lately. Recently, we have received belated sequels to hits like Independence Day, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and The Blair Witch Project. Even the last two Star Wars movies fall into this category. Joining their ranks now is this sequel to the 1996 cult favorite Trainspotting. While most of these sequels feel more like cash grabs than anything else, T2 Trainspotting actually feels like a story that is worth telling. The characters are ones whom we are interested in catching up with and director Danny Boyle—then an up-and-comer, now an Oscar-winner—peppers the movie with the same creative flourishes that made the original so much fun to watch.
Long Live the King
Marvel may get credit for kicking off the current cinematic universe trend, but giant monster movies did it first when the two biggest stars of the genre, King Kong and Godzilla, faced off in 1962. So it makes sense with the current trend that the giant monster movie genre would join the party. It is largely thanks to the success of 2014’s Godzilla, America’s second and much-improved attempt at a take on the Japanese icon, that we now have Kong: Skull Island, the adventure film that will officially kick off what is currently being called the “Monsterverse.”
Creepy Horror Done Right
Actor and comedian Jordan Peele is best known for his recently-ended comedy sketch show Key & Peele and the basic premise for his new movie Get Out sounds like ripe material for a sketch. The concept of someone taking their significant other of a different race home to meet their parents has certainly been mined for comedy before, but for his first movie behind the camera, Peele decided to go in a different direction. Taking his inspiration from movies like Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives, the writer/director instead gives us a nerve-wracking, creepy horror flick of the first order, while still remembering to give us a break every now and then with some perfectly timed comic relief.
Not so Great
We all like to say that filmmaking is about art and expression, but the truth is that, for the most part, moviemaking is about making money. Lately, one of the easiest ways for the studios to make a lot of money is to make a movie that has mass appeal in China, a country with a large population that is ready to spend their money on big-budget blockbusters. The new action fantasy The Great Wall may just be the most blatant attempt to capitalize on that financial gold mine.
Gun Fu with Style
The original John Wick movie came out in 2014 with little fanfare, but very quickly became a word of mouth hit, especially on home video. It revitalized the career of Keanu Reeves, giving the actor his most talked about role since the Matrix trilogy. Following its surprise success, making a sequel was a no-brainer. John Wick: Chapter 2 is immediately poised to become a much bigger success than its predecessor and fortunately, that success will be justified. This is a film that will have the audience oohing, ahhing, and cringing in equal measure.
Not Very Shiny
In the middle of the last decade, Stephen Gaghan seemed to be a filmmaker on the rise. He won an Oscar for writing the script for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and then directed George Clooney to an Oscar in Syriana, a movie which earned him another screenwriting nomination. But after that he disappeared from features for a full decade before returning this year with Gold, the latest in what has been an ongoing parade of Matthew McConaughey award-season bait over the past few years. It is a very showy performance from the actor in what by all accounts should be a fascinating story, but unfortunately it is told in such a way that it is not at all interesting.
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