Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Disclaimer: I have tried but there are a few spoilers ahead, so be warned.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a surprising gem of a movie, with James Gunn bringing a smaller, more obscure Marvel team to the big screen and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos. It’s among my favourites of the Marvel movies and so this follow up arrives with additional pressure the first didn’t.

Luckily it never allows this pressure to effect it’s performance and while a couple of gags are revisited, this strikes out into fresh territory.

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Having saved the universe Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovered his father was not of Earth. This mystery continues to bug him, but he pushes it awau as he leads the Guardians. We find them defeating a gigantic space beast to the backing of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, the action largely in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the child reincarnation of the team’s living tree, dances about happily.

The team has been hired to stop the monster by the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Sovereign, a gold skinned race have bred their people to be the best they can be, and so view their citizens as too precious to risk. Their fee is the handover of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) villainous adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who they plan to hand over to the Nova Corps.

All goes well and they leave. Aboard the ship Peter apologises to Gamora for having flirted with Ayesha, but she brushes this off. Drax (Dave Bautista) advises Peter that he has no chance with Gamora and should instead find someone “pathetic” like he is. Shortly after the Sovereign chase them as on their way out the gruff, gun toting raccoon Rocket  (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole valuable and powerful batteries from them.

Rocket and Peter argue about who is the better pilot and their struggle for control damages the ship. Luckily, the remote controlled pursuers are destroyed by a mysterious figure who arrives astride his own ship. The Guardians escape but crash land, their ship severely damaged.

Ayesha’s next move is to recruit Yondu (Michael Rooker), the alien who abducted Peter as a child to capture the Guardians. We learn that some of the crew think Yondu is going soft and that his team of Ravagers are outsiders to the other clans, with his old friend Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who says he is an exile because he broke the code, and traded in children.

The Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who is Peter’s father and a Celestial, beings with great power who live for millions of years. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and the musclebound Drax to teach Peter more of his past.

Rocket and Baby Groot remain to fix the ship and keep an eye on Nebula. Unfortunately, the Ravagers arrive. Yondu announces he has no intention of handing over the Guardians, as there is more money to be made from taking the batteries and selling them on. The crew view this as proof he is too soft on Peter, and they mutiny. Nebula, released by Baby Groot, intervenes and Yondu and Rocket are imprisoned.

Nebula heads after Gamora for revenge, and Yondu and Rocket learn they will be sold to former enemies. Yondu is also not happy to learn that Peter has gone to Ego’s home world.

Ego’s planet is an idyll where he lives almost alone aside from Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who he treats almost as a pet and who has no social skills due to being alone for so long. Ego reveals he is the planet and that Peter shares his ability to create things, and Ego wants to teach him about his powers and his purpose.

Gamora, however, is suspicious which causes friction between her and Peter. After an argument she storms off alone where Nebula attacks, they fight and then discover something Ego has hidden from them.

Can they trust Ego? Can Yondu and Rocket escape? Will the Sovereign ever stop hunting them?

I loved this movie, which captures the same vibe of the original, with solid action sequences, likeable characters and a funny, clever script. The plot hooks you in because early on the characters win you over, particularly Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, who’s cocky swagger is still in place but mention of his father in an early scene obviously hits close to home. It’s a great performance with Pratt managing to make the character cool despite his buffoonery and the fact that he often trips himself up.

The rest of the Guardians are solid throughout, and it’s a nice touch bringing Nebula back as her relationship with Gamora is fleshed out slightly. Also, the “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora develops nicely, and a lot is gained by underplaying it.

A lot of the publicity for the movie has focused on Baby Groot, and it’s easy to see why as he is straight up adorable and centre stage for some of the funniest moments of the film.

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For me, however, the film’s strongest asset is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker is consistently dependable on screen (Cliffhanger, Mallrats, The Replacement Killers, The Walking Dead, Tombstone), and has far more to do this time round, which is good as he impressed me in the original. Here we learn more of Yondu’s past and it adds to the character, as does the development of his relationship with Star-Lord and Ego. The plot that sees him in exile from the other Ravagers gives him a certain vulnerability, and he’s brought low early on.

His comeback is impressive and one of the strongest parts of the film, and the sequence where he and Rocket escape, and he gets revenge on the crew who mutinied is a masterpiece, one of the most visually impressive, inventive and darkly funny action sequences I’ve seen in years, and worth the ticket price alone. And his “magic arrow” weapon is just badass.

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Rooker’s softening of the character doesn’t mean that Yondu loses anything, and in fact, the character’s slow acceptance of his softer side coincides with the film’s major theme, which is about creating our own families. Yondu and Star-Lord’s father and son vibe, is well handled and Yondu is thereby placed opposite Ego, who slowly reveals a more sinister, cynical nature.

Ego is brilliantly played by the legendary Kurt Russell, who brings an easy charm to his early scenes. His laidback, jokey manner is similar to Star-Lord’s character and their bonding over the music Peter’s late mother loved is gentle and sweet.

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Kurt Russell, legend

Of course, all is not as it seems. Having won over Peter, his facade slips and the invented history he has created is shown to have been romanticised, but the film holds back one more revelation which delivers a gut punch to Peter and the audience, and serves as the turning point for the film.

The action, set on strange new worlds is glorious, the fights have energy and verve, with moments of humour dotted between the blows. The visuals are striking, and there are some nice nods to other Marvel worlds throughout.

But more than just looking great and keeping the laughs flowing, this movie has a strong emotional core. Ego’s shocking statement leaves the audience reeling, but come the end of the movie the other characters and how they work together has you emotionally invested, and breaks your heart. I’m not ashamed to say that during a sequence soundtracked by Cat Stevens I found myself welling up.

Thanos, the villain Marvel have been hyping since the first Avengers movie still lurks in the background, but this serves less as a movie to move the MCU forward, and more a film to move the characters forward. The films pulls the team closer together and the promise at the end that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” is one I’m very happy about.

A strong contender for the best Marvel film yet, and current frontrunner for film of the year.

Verdict: Builds well on the first movie, adding more to the characters and their relationships. It’s entertaining from start to finish, with superb action, humour and a decent plot. An utter gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s a sign of Marvel’s confidence in their cinematic universe that this, the tenth installment revolves around a lesser known title and is only loosely linked (so far) with the other movies. While the other films all built up to the Avengers team up and were Earth based this follows a separate team far across the cosmos.

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It’s a gamble but it pays off magnificently, resulting in a ridiculously entertaining sci-fi romp which is easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while. Humour has been a key component in the Marvel movies, and I think is part of the reason for their success, but this is definitely the closest they’ve come to an all out comedy.

The plot revolves around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who we see being abducted from Earth following the death of his mother in the late 80s. Twenty six years later and light years away, Quill operates as a petty thief and outlaw styling himself as Star-Lord. However, the theft of a mysterious orb lands him in higher stakes. Turning on his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) he decides to go alone in selling it.

The orb is actually sought by Ronan (Lee Pace), a fanatical Kree who wishes revenge on the Xandarians, a rival race. If he can give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) then in exchange the Xandarians will be destroyed. Ronan is assisted by Thanos’ two adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and sends Gamora to retrieve the orb.

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Gamora tracks down Quill and attempts to get the orb back. Her attempts are hindered as Quill is also the target of a pair of bounty hunters seeking the reward Yondu has offered- Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cynical, sarcastic genetically engineered raccoon and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. All four are arrested and transported to a maximum security prison space station.

At the prison Gamora’s association with Ronan makes her a target for many of the inmates, including Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a hulking brute who seeks revenge for the death of his family. Quill intervenes, saving Gamora by arguing that keeping her alive is probably a better way of getting to Ronan.

Gamora reveals that unable to go along with Ronan’s plan to murder billions she intended to betray Ronan and had found another buyer. She joins forces with Quill, Rocket and Groot to escape and get the orb away from Ronan and Thanos. They escape and Drax joins them.

Meeting the buyer they discover that the orb contains one of six infinity stones, immensely powerful and destructive objects that can only be wielded by the strongest beings and can destroy whole planets. Drax, drunk and desiring revenge gives away their position to Ronan, who discovers what the orb contains. After defeating Drax in one-on-one combat Ronan leaves.

Quill calls Yondu in order to be captured to save a stranded Gamora. Groot and a remorseful Drax want to rescue their comrades, and convince Rocket. When they reach Yondu’s ship, Quill’s fast talking has got him and Gamora out of trouble. The five are reunited and knowing that Ronan now knows about the infinity stone will head to destroy Xandar and other worlds, Quill suggests that they need to stop him, despite it being seemingly impossible.

Can Quill unite the misfits and rally them to make a stand? And will it be enough if they and Yondu’s ships do face down Ronan? And will the forces of law believe that Quill and the others are telling the truth and want to help?

I freaking loved this movie, the plot is a fairly standard sci-fi adventure, and the idea of misfits having to team up to save the day is hardly new, but it’s executed brilliantly. The script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn is a delight filled with nice ideas and great touches, and Gunn (Slither) has serious comedic chops, but also handles the action brilliantly.

The characters are realized wonderfully, especially the CGI duo Groot and Rocket. Groot, despite only uttering three words (“I am Groot”) is strangely endearing and the sarky Rocket is a delight. This is the third Dave Bautista movie I’ve seen, and this is the best performance he’s given (underused in Riddick and just there as muscle in The Man with the Iron Fists),  but here not only does he bring the muscular presence to Drax but he’s gloriously deadpan as a character who inteperets everything literally. It’s a sign of the film’s class that despite these ridiculous characters you warm to them all and get genuinely invested in them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

Zoe Saldana also deserves praise for her role, capturing Gamora’s ferocity but also a bizarre naivety. Raised as a weapon she seems uncomfortable with emotions and experiences confused irritation towards Quill. Saldana does a good job of slowly allowing the character to develop and reveal her emotions and form relationship

As Quill, Chris Pratt is the stand out. Coupled with The Lego Movie (review coming soon) this is definitely his year, I’d been impressed with his work in the show Parks and Recreation and supporting roles like in The Five Year Engagement, but I was really surprised by how well he handled the leading man role here. Slimmed down and buffed up, Pratt looks the part but his winning quality is the way he marries Quill’s cocky swaggering with goofy failure. It could have made the character look utterly delusional, but Quill is just about talented enough to justify the confidence, even if he sometimes emerges victoriously by luck rather than judgement.

Pratt’s easy charm carries much of the film, he’s constantly out of his depth and his roguish facade, and “Star-Lord” posturing is blatantly a cover for a man who is lost and basically a decent bloke. When the chips are down he rises to the challenge, however long the odds, with a combination of fast talking, courage and fluke. He’s clearly cut in the Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Malcolm Reynolds mode but far goofier. There’s something almost childlike at times in the character, or at least adolescent, and this extends to his relationship with Yondu, who despite constant threats gives him a lot of slack and treats him like a favoured, indulged child.

Pratt in action as Quill

Pratt in action as Quill

The back story adds some mystery, (why was a small child abducted? And why is his father so shrouded in mystery?) but also gives the movie one of it’s nicest, most idiosyncratic touches, the soundtrack. When he’s abducted one of the few possessions Peter has is a walkman with an mix tape in, which includes a plethora of great, cheesy 60s and 70s hits, including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” which appeared in a trailer. During the opening robbery Peter dances and lip syncs with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. It’s a hilarious sequence and sets up the movie’s quirky, fun tone and had the audience I was with laughing, which they continued to do throughout.

I know I’ve pushed the comedy side, but it’s still a rollicking adventure, with great fights an intimidating villain and a class supporting cast. I eagerly await the sequel, and seeing if they have a Guardians-Avengers crossover.

Verdict: A goofy triumph, Gunn mixes humour, action and sci-fi with great skill and the cast are sensational. A brilliant soundtrack and weird, but endearing characters makes this one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a while and up there with the best of Marvel’s cinematic output, and in the mix for my favourite movie of the year. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Riddick

Recently I wrote of my love for the first outing of space criminal Richard B Riddick (the B surely standing for “badass”), Pitch Black. It was a fun, low key sci-fi action flick about an anti-hero convict played by Vin Diesel leading a group of survivors against some nasty critters. The movie was a big success and a sequel was made but The Chronicles of Riddick, was a bit of a misstep, trading the simple thrills for an overreaching plot about intergalactic empires and whatnot. It wasn’t well received, although isn’t as bad on repeat viewings just rather daft.

Now, Diesel gets the shiny eyes out of retirement for this third installment, which takes a step back to the character’s more simple roots.

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We catch up with Riddick left for dead on a seemingly desolate world, and a flashback reveals that the Necromongers who had installed him as their leader betrayed him and he wound up there. The planet seems uninhabited save for a variety of nasty creatures- reptilian vulture things, jackals on steroids, creepy looking eels and some nasty, poisonous scorpion like things, aka Mud Demons, that live under water. Riddick is injured but soon starts relying on his wits once more, deciding that he needs to make up for letting himself go soft and making the mistake of getting civilized.

He snatches one of the space coyote pups and trains it, and works out a way to make himself immune to the Mud Demon stings. Then he escapes the desert into a more lush valley where he discovers an abandoned mercenary station. He raids it for supplies and then sees an approaching rain storm, which allows the MDs to come out.

Riddick activates the station’s beacon which scans his face, planning on attracting bounty hunters who’s ship he can nick. Two ships respond to the signal, the first being Santana’s (Jordi Molla) crew of rough around the edges bounty hunters (including former WWE star David Bautista), shortly followed by a smaller but more polished and professional crew led by Johns (Matt Nable), the father of the merc who’d captured Riddick in the first movie. He wants answers about what happened to his son, and offers to help, but Santana rejects it.

Riddick picks off a few of Santana’s crew and the teams join forces under Johns’ leadership, with his second in command Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) clashing with the unstable Santana.

Riddick pinches power cells from both ships and offers a deal- he’ll give them one so they can leave and take the other ship for himself, warning them that something more dangerous is coming. Riddick is taken down and wakes up just before the rainstorm hits, bringing the Mud Demons out in force.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Can they all work together to get off the planet? Can Riddick trust the bounty hunters, and can they trust him?

I really dug this movie, but then as a Riddick fan I was already in the zone. It’s a definite step back towards the first movie in terms of scale and plot- a fairly tight, no frills sci-fi action flick. It quickly gets Riddick off the throne and back down in the mud and then after he slowly gets back into the zone the action kicks in and it doesn’t let up.

Diesel is allowed to have some fun with Riddick again, the wolfish grin and swaggering badassery is back in a big way, and his sarky narration helps things along at the start, and allowing him to be by himself for the first section of the movie allows the film to build up his aura of ingenuity and resilience. He starts the movie with his shin bone poking out through the skin and employs some Rambo-style rudimentary first aid.

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

When the mercs show up he’s clearly having fun taunting and outsmarting them and they use the Pitch Black trick of having him skulking unnoticed within feet of his pursuers. Vin Diesel has the muscular charisma to pull it off and is in his comfort zone, with easy toughness and nailing the anti-hero likability from the off.

He’s given good support from the actors playing the two team leaders, Molla and Nable. Nable doesn’t look old or grizzled enough to have been Cole Hauser’s dad a decade ago as the movie suggests, but he does a good job nonetheless as the tough leader of the pro hunters and his relaxed confidence himself was quite cool, and he exuded natural authority.

Molla is clearly having a ball as the nasty Santana, who’s a caricature scumbag villain- he shoots a woman in the back, harasses and attacks Dahl, and is generally unhinged, you’re in panto hissable villain territory. My one problem with the character was that he never seemed a genuine threat to Riddick- physically he was kinda small, but also he was way out of his depth. I know this was deliberate, with his crew being distinctly bush league and aiming too high going after Riddick, but he was a little too inept, at times seeming almost willfully stupid.

The rest of the bounty hunters are largely unremarkable cannon fodder, with the only three standing out being Sackhoff, Bautista and Nolan Gerard Funk (cool name) as the religious kid on Santana’s crew, with everyone else being generic tough guy types.

Bautista only really stood out because of his hulking size, dodgy mohawk and the fact I’m a WWE fan. He does alright as the heavy, but disappointingly doesn’t do much for most of the movie, and when he does finally throw down against Diesel their fight is rather short and a little lame. Why hire someone with such physical presence and not let him use it?

Underused- David Bautista

Underused- David Bautista

Katee Sackhoff as the only female on the planet does well enough with a hugely cliched role as the “badass chick”, to be fair she does both parts of this genre trope well enough- she’s hot and she actually looks like she can handle herself in a scrap.  I know that sounds sexist, but this film is definitely in the teenage boy market and as a former teenage boy I can confirm that there are few things sexier than an attractive woman who could kick your ass.

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

But the character and the treatment of her is also one of the most problematic They make it plain she’s a lesbian early on, but then she has an odd flirty relationship with Riddick. I say “flirty” but some of our slapheaded hero’s dialogue to her is seriously creepy- I doubt complimenting anyone on their toenail polish and comparing it to the colour of their nipples which you saw while perving on them in the shower would ever go down well.

I’ve seen that a few other people have been irritated by this and it was rather disappointing and a misstep for the movie, although I personally think that Riddick’s coarse dialogue with her was deliberate as part of his MO in trying to throw people off their game. Still, it was a bit suspect and the fact she was flirting back at the end was dodgy (I assume she was flirting back, I couldn’t make out her last line to him). There was gratuitous nudity as well, with her showering but I missed this because I’d stupidly necked two bottles and a coffee before going into the movie.

The lesbian being won over by the hero’s manliness wasn’t cool back when Fleming had Pussy Galore fall for Bond, and it’s definitely not legit in the 21st century, however, I liked that they didn’t consummate the relationship and hope that her flirting back was intended as her being tongue in cheek and slightly mocking of his cockiness, which is how I initally read it. She seemed to treat his claims that they’d end up shagging with amused irritation more than anything. Whatever, it wasn’t necessary- either make her a lesbian and ditch the flirty stuff, or make her straight and a proper love interest, you can’t have it both ways and I can understand why lesbian viewers and female audiences in general might not like the way the character was handled. It just smacked of teenage boy fantasy.

Also, calling her Dahl was a mistake as I thought they were calling her “Doll” throughout the movie.

It really is a shame as Sackhoff was quite badass in the role and did banter well with Diesel and hold her own around the others, but these scenes did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Other than this the film is executed well enough, David Twohy knows how to shoot a decent action sequence, and while it lacks the “dying light” tension of the original the critters are still quite creepy and it’s a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. The script is cliched in places but there are a few decent lines and nice touches throughout (one character berating another for jinxing them, one of the kills that Riddick predicts before he does it, etc.)

Verdict: Diesel is on fine form and the simpler plot suits the character better, it’s generally very good fun even if the treatment of the female characters does cause a few problems. A step in the right direction, but if Riddick gets another outing maybe give him a decent human foe and better supporting players. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films 23: Pitch Black

This is a corker of a sci-fi movie, shot for a relatively small budget ($23m according to Wikipedia) with a relatively unknown cast at the time and a wonderfully simple premise.

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A space ship on a long journey with it’s crew and passengers in stasis is hit by meteors and nosedives towards a nearby planet. With the captain killed during the meteor strike pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) takes the controls and tries to bring the ship down safely. With the ship overladen she wants to jettison the passenger compartment, but her navigator Owens (Simon Burke) stops her by blocking one of the safety doors.

Carolyn brings the ship in for a crash landing, but many of the passengers are killed leaving a small group of survivors. Owens is mortally wounded in the crash and with the first aid cabinet lost in the wreck dies a painful death. The survivors are grateful to Carolyn and make up a rag tag bunch- Muslim Imam (Keith David) is taking three young charges on a pilgrimage, settlers Zeke and Shazza (John Moore and Claudia Black), posh antiquities dealer Paris (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) and teenager Jack (Rhiana Griffith). Also aboard is cop Johns (Cole Hauser) who has in his custody Riddick (Vin Diesel) a notorious and violent criminal.

The gang have problems- they need a way to broadcast a distress signal and to find water, and things get worse when Riddick escapes. The planet they find themselves is a desert and they discover it orbits three suns, meaning that there is no nightfall.

Water is not found, but they discover an abandoned mining facility with an old ship which Carolyn believes she can get running with parts from their ruined ship.

While half the group is away, Zeke who is burying bodies is killed and suspicion falls on Riddick, who warns them that they have more things to fear on the planet. Carolyn investigates a series of caves near Zeke’s death and is attacked by alien creatures. She escapes and they realize the things hate the light.

Consulting the left over info in the facility they discover that something happened 22 years ago and when they move a solar system map they discover that every 22 years an eclipse occurs, with a larger planet blocking the suns and plunging the world into darkness, for what appears to be a considerable length of time.

They leg it back to their ship where they plan to get all the energy cells but the eclipse occurs and thousands of the aliens burst forth.

pitch black rise

With the group getting picked off they realize they must make a run for their escape ship, using whatever lights they have left to protect themselves and keep the critters at bay. Armed with a dwindling supply of torches, welding equipment, flares and flammable spirits they head off.

Adding to the problems is growing mistrust between Carolyn and Johns, who she discovers is a bounty hunter posing as a cop to make transport easier, and the fact that they must trust Riddick to be their guide, due to him having undergone a surgical procedure while in an underground prison to enable him to see in the dark.

Riddick and his shiny eyes lead the group

Riddick and his shiny eyes lead the group

Will Carolyn and Johns be able to keep their secrets from the rest of the group? What other secrets do the survivors hide? Can they pull together to survive? And will their lights last until they get to the ship?

I remember seeing this flick on VHS way back in the day, and being completely blown away by it. I’m a massive sci-fi geek and I loved the idea and the low key way it was executed.

The idea is simple, and anyone who picks “what are the chances” holes is a joyless pedant who should be avoided. The idea of darkness surrounding them means that the filmmakers save a ton by just having us hear and not see the critters as they swarm around, which is a good idea for all low budget filmmakers. It also means that a lot of tension is wrung from the fires guttering out and torch batteries fading.

What I really loved though was the character of Riddick, who ticked a lot of boxes for what a teenage boy would consider badass- he was ripped, spoke with a gravelly voice and was a jaded anti-hero (I also loved Clint Eastwood and Snake Plissken at this point, and still do, and they are clearly Riddick’s forebears).

Vin Diesel was relatively unknown at the time, aside from voice work in The Iron Giant and a supporting role in Saving Private Ryan, but I was deeply impressed with him in this movie and raved about it to all my friends. I predicted he was going to be the next big thing in action cinema and as he followed this up with The Fast and the Furious, it looked as though I was right. That may have not panned out but I’m glad he’s back on top after returning to the Fast series and with Riddick due out soon.

Diesel makes Riddick a total badass with a wolfish smile and sarky one liners, and is aided by the crazy eyes idea. It sounds daft but see earlier comments about “what are the chances” and sometimes you’ve just got to go with it (like ignoring the fact that evolving to be hurt by light on a planet where it’s only dark every 22 years is ridiculous). The badass is built up by having him sneak around the place like some kind of slap-headed ninja, appearing fleetingly in the background or shown to be ridiculously close to other characters, and his penchant for knives. I remember thinking at 16 that the scene where he shaves with a knife and engine grease was one of the coolest things ever.

pitch black riddick

It’s Diesel’s film and he steals the show, but credit should also go to Hauser and Mitchell, who do well in their parts. Hauser is a big bloke so he looks like he could hold his own in a scrap, but his real gift is this dead eyed look which makes his “screw everyone else to survive” attitude and he does a good job of slowly letting the character’s scummier side rise to the surface, all traces of charm being chipped away until a ruthless, selfish bastard remains. He’s a cracking villain.

Hauser as Johns

Hauser as Johns

Mitchell does well as the guilt ridden pilot and is rather tough, taking charge of the situation and controlling her fear of Riddick and the monsters.

The rest of the cast are pretty much all cannon fodder although genre favourite Keith David does the business as usual and Rhiana Griffith is quite good in the role of Jack even though the “she’s a girl” twist is so obvious even the blind aliens could see it coming.

It’s a shame that Claudia Black buys the farm early on as I’m a massive fan of hers thanks to Farscape.

David Twohy directs it in taught, relentless fashion, keeping the action and tension running throughout while still managing to let his characters breathe a little bit in between. The script is terse and no frills but there are a couple of good lines (“How much do you weigh now, Carolyn?”).

It’s basically a brilliant example of a genre film done in a low budget, no nonsense way and an extremely gripping sci-fi thriller with some nice touches and in Riddick, an enduring cinematic badass. I’m totally stoked about the upcoming film and despite initially being disappointed with the at times ludicrous Chronicles of Riddick, I must admit it’s not as bad as I remember and alright fare, still, here’s hoping Riddick’s third outing is closer to his first in style and execution.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

This isn’t going to be a standard review. It’s hard to review a movie which is the sixth installment in a series, because surely by now everyone knows if it’s their kinda thing or not.

fast6 poster

So basically deciding to see this movie comes down to one simple question: Did you like the other Fast and Furious movies?

If you say “no” then this isn’t going to change your opinion.

Personally, I did (well, apart from 3, which I didn’t dig that much) and so I already have a taste for it’s brand of action. Like previous installments its stock full of things that will please teenage males.

Following on from part 5 this finds the group enjoying their new wealth. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has settled down with Brazilian copper Elena, and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a child together. The rest of the gang is spread around the world having fun and living large.

Things change however when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) turns up to ask for Dom’s help in tracking down a highly skilled and vicious gang of thieves. The incentive for Dom is a recent photograph of his old flame Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez), who he believed was killed two films ago.

Dom and O’Connor rally the gang (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot) to go after the gang with Hobbs and his new partner, Riley (Gina Carano), with the promise of full pardons and being able to return home to the US.

The gang's all here

The gang’s all here

The leader of the gang, Shaw (Luke Evans) is an ex-SAS officer and general badass. Dom chases Lettie down, but she shoots him. O’Connor discovers she is suffering from amnesia and has been recruited by Shaw.

Can the gang figure out Shaw’s moves and bring him to justice? Will Lettie remember her former life?

I had a ball watching this movie.

It’s pretty simple and fun, but it works. The cast all know what they’re doing and Vin Diesel is still cool as Toretto, all gravel voiced intensity and macho swagger, although it’s nice to see him display a slightly softer side in his scenes with Rodriguez.

Similarly Rodriguez has a switch of pace, with Lettie being less self-assured than before and struggling with who she is and what she’s doing, although she’s still something of a badass. Of course, it’s hardly an in depth character study, but it’s more than the hot badass chick she’s played in the past.

Rodriguez- Sexy badass

Rodriguez- Sexy badass

As with part 5 the show is stolen by Dwayne Johnson, who’s hulking form dwarfs Diesel and who’s easy, muscular charm is in evidence. He gets stuck with a bit of exposition work, but he’s still badass when the action starts and shares some nice comedic chemistry with Ludacris. They also give him a decent physical threat in the form of a gigantic henchman.

Johnson and Carano

Johnson and Carano

The rest of the gang are on familiar ground, and all do fairly well with what they get. Walker is still the weak link, but he does well enough as O’Connor, even if he doesn’t convince as a tough guy. Tyrese Gibson is quite fun as the slightly dim car thief and Sung Kang and Gal Gadot are kinda sweet as the lovers in the gang.

Newcomer Gina Carano is quite cool as Hobbs’ partner and has a bruising fight with Rodriguez which was one of my favourite parts of the movie (I just like a good catfight, alright?).

As the villain of the piece Luke Evans is alright, he’s cold and ruthless seeming, but the character is a little on the bland side and underwritten.

It all whips along at a lick, and they keep it light, with lots of gags and tomfoolery along the way. The script is nothing special but I’ve definitely seen worse in the action genre, and there are some nice touches, even if one of the “twists” fails to fully shock.

The action is pretty well done, with some great car chases and some explosive set pieces, but on a simpler level it works with the shootouts done well and some nice hand-to-hand stuff.

The last two chases involving a tank and a plane are over the top to a ludicrous degree, but it’s never been a series built around subtlety, has it? And in a way the ridiculous stunts just add to the cartoony joy of the film, as every other franchise seems to buy into the idea that you have to go darker, it’s nice to see an action movie that knows it’s role as popcorn fodder.

And oddly for a higher numbered sequel, this actually leaves you eager for more, thanks in no small part to a scene in the end credits which teases the villain for Fast 7, the awesome Jason Statham. The Rock vs the Stath? I’m in.

Verdict: Loud and dumb, but great fun. Johnson and Diesel do the action hero stuff well enough, and the supporting cast do their jobs. The villain is lacklustre, and it holds no surprises, but on balance it’s a solid action movie and an entertaining way to spend an evening. Get a pizza and some cans in, kick back and enjoy the show. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Johnny Galecki

One of my favourite shows at the moment is the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which if you haven’t seen it is about these four socially inept scientists and their hot, perky neighbour.

The major characters on the show.

 

Its a really funny show which is chock full of great lines, some wonderful characters and a plethora of geek culture references. I love it despite the fact that one of the major characters, Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) infuriates me immensely and I just want to slap him upside the head.

He’s picky, insensitive, whiny and arrogant, but that’s besides the point.

Anyway, the show’s protagonist is Leonard, who falls for the hot girl across the hall. He’s played by the actor Johnny Galecki, who does a good job of making him an awkward, neurotic yet still likable character.

Anyway, Galecki has apparently been at the centre of some rumours regarding his sexuality, which seems to be par for the course for celebrities (seriously type most celebrities into Google and “gay” is usually in the drop down auto-complete box). Read the comments here and apparently Galecki is suspect because of his “hand gestures”, which is a bit of a stretch especially as on the show he is ACTING!

The reason I’m writing about this is because when asked about why he doesn’t address these rumours Galecki showed some real class delivering the following brilliant response:

It shows real intelligence and understanding, and in a way shows how attitudes towards homosexuality have changed. In the past celebrities who were subject to these rumours would have responded with outrage or as in the case of Jason Donovan have pressed charges against magazines who have published these articles.

Donovan’s actions were condemned by some as homophobic, but I believe that’s an overly simplified way of looking things, in 1992 being gay was not such an acceptable thing, and Donovan may have been worried that it would negatively affect his career.

But Galecki’s response shows that times have changed, and while there is still a way to go, society in general is more comfortable with and accepting of  homosexuality. I read a great article recently about what would happen if one of One Direction was gay, it addressed what might follow and the writer spoke with Lance Bass, former member of *NSYNC who had to cover his own sexual orientation, but who felt that today’s fans would be more understanding and that they would not have to hide it.

I’d like to say this is the case, and for the most part it is, but with the constant obsession over people’s orientation shows that its still a big deal, and hopefully we’ll reach a stage where its just not commented on.

I mean there are still some who angrily fight accusations or seem to be annoyed by them, like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, but for the most part people either ignore them or laugh them off, and that is progress.

What I find quite funny is how often these rumours seem to come from ridiculously stereotyped views:

  • James Franco- He played a gay character!
  • Kelly Clarkson- She’s not married!
  • Zac Efron- He sings and dances!
  • Michelle Rodriguez- She’s tough!

Of course there are exceptions, I was a bit surprised to find out that faded action star Vin Diesel was the subject of rumours, that one was some out of the box thinking.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Raven

Its been ridiculously foggy around here the last few days, and rather foolishly I took a shortcut through a cemetary the other day which left me seriously creeped out as it was like being in a Hammer horror movie, and I expected Jack the Ripper or Christopher Lee to come lunging from the mists.

The Raven

The new horror-thriller The Raven is similarly shrouded in fog, and does have a slightly old school vibe to proceedings.

The film is set in 1849, during the last days of the life of the writer Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) and finds him in Baltimore, down on his luck and staggering from bar to bar running up tabs and getting thrown out a lot.

A grisly double murder is discovered and Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) gets the feeling that the crime is familiar, and further digging reveals its a copy of an event in one of Poe’s stories. Poe is a suspect, but as another body is discovered with a taunting note and Fields recruits Poe as an advisor.

The stakes are upped when Poe’s love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), is kidnapped by the killer, and that will further clues will be provided at other crime scenes to test Poe’s wits and save her. Poe and Fields begin to hunt down the killer.

The film’s far from perfect, but quite good fun. The crimes are fairly gruesome and the gore is well handled, and the foggy, gothic settings are interesting. The murder mystery is a little basic (I sussed it quite a bit before the reveal) and that’s the film’s major weakness, you feel that the plot could have done with a few more red herrings, the two that are provided fall flat- one is too obvious and the other so minor that I may have imagined the implication as I hoped it would take a new twist.

But the film is still engaging enough and is carried by a solid performance by Cusack as Poe. He gives Poe this odd mix of swaggering pride and ego which seems to be a gossamer thin mask to cover his fragile and melancholic character. Poe’s oddly charming and funny, but you fully understand why he irritates people and that he might be responsible for lots of his misfortunes.

Oddly charming- Cusack as Poe

I think Cusack’s success comes from the fact that he underplays it, there’s no campness or hamming up, even his odder traits never seem forced, it always feels natural to the character.

As the more straight-laced Fields, Luke Evans has a less showy role but I thought did quite well. He brings a kind of clever toughness to the part. Evans is charismatic enough and I liked the suggestion that Fields’ own past was a little murky as well. I can definitely see Evans building from this and could be a good leading man in thrillers and the like.

Clever toughness- Evans as Fields

I’m a little reluctant to big him up too much as a few weeks back I rewatched Pitch Black and was reminded of how I’d thought Vin Diesel was going to be the next big thing.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Emily, the love interest who I’d feared was going to be a bit of a wet blanket but showed sparky wit, toughness and resourcefulness which made it clear why Poe would be drawn to her. Alice Eve, who I was unaware of before, is extremely charming in the role.

There’s also a good supporting role for the ever reliable Brendan Gleeson as Emily’s gruff father, who’s the kind of father-in-law anyone would dread having.

Unfortunately, as someone with next to no knowledge of Poe and his work, I did get the impression I was missing out on lots of little references and in jokes, but even with my limited awareness I found it an enjoyable thriller.

Verdict: A grisly, entertaining if a little daft and simplistic thriller. With good, solid work from all concerned, particularly Cusack who avoids overplaying it. 6/10

Any thoughts? You know what I do. BETEO