Tag Archives: Kurt Russell

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge surprise hit in 2014, one that I enjoyed a lot but didn’t love as much as most. It was fun, quirky, referential and vibrant, with a fantastic cast that catapulted Chris Pratt to superstardom. Naturally, this made me concerned about the inevitable sequel, Vol, 2,  because I knew it would be facing unreasonable expectations and must find ways to rekindle the magic of the original while also coming up with something fresh.

For the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to the bare minimum of expectations without doing much more. It builds upon the mythology of the first film, giving us a new adventure with a more personal slant, further opportunities for character development and building team chemistry, and still plenty of nostalgia and irreverent humour to put a smile on our faces. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 was a fun couple of hours, but it also did not wow me in the way the best Marvel films tend to do.

Set no long after the events of the original, the Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Badley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) — are now working together to fight an inter-dimensional monster at the behest of the Sovereign race, basically a bunch of uptight people in gold paint led by the statuesque Ayesha (Aussie Elizabeth Debicki). When the Guardians fall out of favour with the Sovereigns, Quill’s adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker) is hired to capture them. This leads to an encounter with Ego the living planet (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who reveals himself as having a connection to Quill. By Ego’s side is Mantis (Pom Kleentieff), a socially awkward girl with emphatic powers and antennae on her head.

Guardians has a different vibe to the other Marvel films because of its unabashed wackiness and irreverent tone. Groot and Rocket aren’t supposed to work as characters, but they do because of the superb writing and direction of James Gunn, whose talents are again on full display here. With bright colours, well-choreographed comic book space action, likable characters, fast and furious jokes, classic 80s music, and the cuteness of Baby Groot, Vol. 2 is a light and fun popcorn experience.

The cast is of course fabulous. Pratt looks very comfortable as Quill and spews out a bunch of witty wisecracks, though the majority of the comic relief this time goes to Drax, especially in his interactions with Mantis. And while cute doesn’t usually do much for me, Baby Groot does have a few nice moments. Yondu gets a bigger role this time and Rooker really shines by giving the character a lot of heart. Bradley and Saldana provide more of the emotional punch this time around with their character arcs, in particular Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  That’s already a great cast, and I haven’t even mentioned legends Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone (who has a cameo), in their first reunion since Tango and Cash 28 years ago!

That said, I do have quite a few issues with Vol. 2. For starters, while I did laugh quite a few times at the gags, I found the humour a lot more hit and miss this time around, with some of the jokes coming across as too obvious. The biggest issue I had, however, was the actual plot, because it feels like not much actually happens. There’s a long lull after the Guardians encounter Ego, and I actually found myself a little bored by some of the slower sequences during this phase. It just didn’t feel like there was enough substance to justify a 136-minute running time.

So yeah, though I wasn’t disappointed in Vol. 2, I was hoping for a bit more. In terms of quality and entertainment value, the drop-off from its predecessor is not huge, but at the same time it felt like a somewhat safe sequel that does not go beyond to deliver what could have been a special experience. Instead, it’s just a solid albeit unspectacular continuation of the story.

3.25 stars out of 5

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I finally got around to watching Deepwater Horizon, hailed by many as one of the biggest “pleasant surprises” of 2016. I intentionally avoided the trailer and the poster looked fairly generic, so I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I had seen Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg collaborate on Lone Survivor, which was pretty decent, and I heard their next project, Patriots Day, is a real winner. Incidentally, all three movies are based on true stories.

Anyway, while I knew Deepwater Horizon was about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I had expected the movie to be an action flick where Marky Mark springs into action to save the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got instead was a pure disaster movie with incredible tension and spectacular visuals, while at the same time remaining respectful to those who sadly lost their lives in the tragedy. There are heroic elements, but the characters are not painted as heroes, merely victims.

The film begins as you would expect a film of this kind to begin, introducing us to the key characters and their normal lives. There is a bit of a lead-up to the beginning of the disaster itself, though it never comes across as time filler. The ominous vibe is handled really well, and even though you know what’s about to happen there is still a sense of unease and dread.

And when it finally hits — wow. I have not been so afraid of fire since watching Backdraft as a kid — which incidentally also starred Kurt Russell. In fact, Deepwater Horizon actually reminds me a lot of Backdraft, from the sense of danger to the deft explanations of the technical aspects of the science. Not that you need to know how oil rigs work to enjoy the movie, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m sure Berg took a lot of liberties in the telling of the story, but it felt real, looked real, and sounded real. The visuals and sound are both very important because there are so many explosions and fires, and for the most part, the special effects are seamless. You feel the force of it all, without ever feeling like it’s just CGI.

Sure, there is not much time for character development. That said, you do get a sense of who each character is, though I’m not sure if that’s good writing/directing or just because there are so many recognisable faces. You’ve got Marky Mark and Kurt Russell, of course, as members of the rig team. Kate Hudson plays Marky Mark’s wife, while John Malkovich, as you would expect, plays a dickish BP executive. Gina Rodriguez plays a rig navigation office, and Dylan O’Brien (the lead from the Maze Runner franchise) is member of the drilling team.

In all, Deepwater Horizon is deserving of its “highly underrated” status. Accuracy aside, it’s a shame the film didn’t even make back its budget because it is definitely one of the more spectacular movies of 2016. It’s very hard to pull off a serious disaster movie that is not only gripping but has a bit of heart as well. Berg manages to do it without ever making the film feel exploitative. Definitely worth catching this one if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

The Hateful Eight (2015)

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The Hateful Eight, the eighth motion picture by master director Quentin Tarantino, was one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. Average, good or masterpiece, every Tarantino movie is an event in my cinematic calendar.

And this one certainly appeared to be promising, with a ridiculous cast featuring Old faces like Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as well as new ones like Jennifer Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum.

The premise itself – even though Tarantino movies are usually more about the situations and dialogue than the actual plot – is also intriguing: a Western and whodunnit mystery rolled into one, with a bunch of nasty outlaws, bounty hunters and gunslingers all trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm.

Still, my expectations were kept in check after some lukewarm scores from critics I follow and a friend who called it one of the worst movies he has ever seen! The film also performed poorly for a Tarantino movie at the box office, though some blame that partly on it crossing paths with Star Wars (and besides, it still made money overall).

Now that I’ve watched it I can say that I understand some of the negative feedback. Tarantino has always been a bit of an acquired taste, though if you appreciate his style you’ll tend to love most of his movies. On the other hand, if you don’t have the patience to learn how to appreciate his style, his films can sour in a hurry.

I saw the general release version, which is a whopping 167 minutes, but still 20 minutes shorter than the 70mm roadshow version. In my opinion, it probably would have been better at about 120 minutes. Told in six “chapters”, the film takes a long time to get rolling and didn’t really get interesting for me until the second half. But once it picked up momentum the film became a well-oiled machine that rampaged all the way until its thrilling finish.

As such, The Hateful Eight was a real a mixed bag for me. There were parts I didn’t care for and parts I consider vintage Tarantino. As usual, you have to pay attention to the dialogue, which is mostly sublime, and the dark humour and racism and violence is of course quintessential Quentin. Tarantino also again gets the most out of his cast, and it’s hard to pick a standout from the bunch. Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen seem very comfortable, as they should be, so I’d probably have to go with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell and Justified’s Walton Goggins.

Conversely, the pace of the movie is often slow – at times dropping to snail-like speed – with the conversation occasionally descending into pure convoluted indulgence. I’ve always indulged Tarantino’s ego and self-indulgence, though this time I felt having absolute free rein to do whatever he pleased may have ended up being a detriment.

Having said that, The Hateful Eight does have its cracker moments, those memorable scenes of hilarious mayhem and carnage only Tarantino can pull off to such perfection. My love for those moments does salvage the overall experience to some extent, meaning I will likely remember The Hateful Eight as a more enjoyable movie than it really is.

3.5 stars out of 5