Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2 and how it came very close to being a near-perfect superhero ensemble movie

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a very a fun and consistently pretty movie which emotes really well, and it comes very close to being almost a perfect ensemble movie. It left me very impressed but I wasn’t going to write anything about it until I felt like someone should appreciate how close it comes to perfectly serving everyone in the titular team of superheroes with the story and its action and the music. Spoiler alert: it comes very close. I’m going to discuss it now. Don’t read past this  point if you haven’t seen it. I mean it.

Okay, so I was one of the very, very, very few people who thought that the first movie was NOT that great. I mean, it just didn’t hook me. I think I might have been overhyped for it and it just wasn’t as good as I was expecting. The majority of the jokes fell flat for me and I thought the music, while obviously very good, was used too fleetingly to be truly effective (which is something that happens a few times in this one as well). I also thought it was quite clear where the story was going to go and nothing really truly surprised me. I was honestly expecting more of the same in this movie but Vol.2 feels fresh and like its treading new ground almost constantly. The twist about Ego was also very cool and quite satisfying. The action incorporates humor, music and bombastic set-pieces really well. Baby Groot causes the audience to lapse into contented sighs when all the “AW”‘s are pulled out of them in the first 20 seconds of the movie. It looks great and hence better than any Marvel movie that has come before it. But what’s truly cool about it is that it manages to develop and incorporate into its story almost all of its characters, besides probably Drax, whose main purpose is just to provide comic relief by laughing uncontrollably and get beat around by all of the bad guys. He’s still great though!

SO, the team in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is made up of 7 characters, and the story of the movie manages to serve (almost) all of them with quite satisfying arcs. Each character has about 20 minutes (give or take) allocated for their screen time and very little time is wasted which makes the movie feel packed and keeps the pace of the plot satisfyingly fast. There is just too much going on in Vol.2 for the viewer to be able to get bored. There isn’t any time left in the movie for it to make the viewer feel like “When is this thing going to end I wonder?”. It helps that the settings of the movie are so diverse. In 30 minutes we go from a monster fight to a space battle to an encounter in a forest and it impressively doesn’t feel like you’re just going through a slideshow of exotic alien locales like the beginning of Rogue One did (I’m sorry for saying that I just don’t like Rogue One). The team is split into two parts for most of the movie too, with Peter, Gamora and Drax going with Ego and Rocket, Yondu and Groot having their own separate tussles. Oh, Nebula sort of does her own thing and moves between the two groups halfway though the movie. This splitting up of the team helps in keeping the plot going, as like, for example, while Gamora is just skulking around Ego’s planet with a sense of foreboding and cutting some alien weeds in anger, we cut to Rocket and Yondu having an awesome escape scene from an enemy ship. It works very well and about two-thirds of the film, I felt like I was having the time of my life. It was that good. Peter’s arc with his father and Gamora was strong and, ofcourse, very surprising. Gamora’s relationship with Nebula and her unaddressed thing with Star Lord gave her a prominent role in the movie. Rocket and Yondu working together and finding out they were not so different was very well done. Mantis’ bucked her fear of her master for her new friends and set up the plot twist a little. Baby Groot finally grew up a bit in the end (I mean, he did manage to press the right button) and Drax, well, I guess he cried a little bit in the middle didn’t he? Also, he did a lot of this too: (I got this GIF from We Minored in Film)

drax-laugh

And, the villains were certainly better in quality than a lot of other marvel villains. Ego and the twist that he had a really big, er, ego (I’M SORRY) was fantastic. The gold lady was fine (no, not in THAT way). I think the twist about Ego was, while very cool, just a little undercooked and this hurt the eventual ending of the film. I enjoyed the first two thirds so much that the ending disappointed me. Yes, it did.

The thing about Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2 is that it sort of feels in the end like everything that had come before didn’t really have any direction. For the majority of the film, there’s no main plotline driving everything. Peter Quill goes to learn about his father and Gamora and Drax join him. Rocket and Yondu meet and really getting back to the rest of the team isn’t really a priority for them until they see the golden people drones. They just try to escape from their prison and kill the evil ravagers. Nebula is after Gamora and that’s it. There’s no main plotline to the film. The side stuff is great and very strong but none of it yet feels like its what the movie is about. It’s only after the Ego twist that movie gets a sense of direction and we understand what the movie is really gearing towards: The guardians have to stop Ego the living planet from destroying the galaxy and have to try and get out alive. The side stuff is strong but its all geared too much towards individual characters. When you talk about Vol.2, you’re not going to say “Oh, that’s the one about Rocket and Yondu escaping from a prison”, or “Yeah Vol.2 was all about Gamora’s struggle with her sister and their issues”. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2 is the one where the guardians have to defeat a living planet and save the galaxy again but you don’t know that until about 3 quarters through the film. Now, like imagine if, for example, instead of Rocket and Groot staying behind of their own will, they are instead captured by the golden people, with the help of Nebula and Ego himself (but secretly). There they find out that the Ravagers have acted against Yondu and are working with the golden people. Suddenly, Ego shows up and says he can help the remaining Guardians get their friends back but only if they come with him. Oh, and he’s Star Lord’s dad. Then while in prison, Rocket and Yondu find out Ego is actually in cahoots with the golden people and assisted in their capture and know they have to escape to save their friends. While on the planet, Ego forgets about helping the rest of the guardians and shows interest only in Peter. This angers Gamora and would be a more suitable reason for her to suspect foul play than “Yeah, idk, Mantis was about to say something and I don’t feel good”. This kind of set up makes the golden people the main bad guys of the film and sets up a goal for the guardians: getting each other free. It also allows for almost all of the strong side stories but with more agency. The twist about Ego would also have been better set up. Aw man.

While thinking about Guardians of the Galaxy, I think about how it could have been the greatest superhero ensemble movie ever made. But it isn’t. It’s fun and occasionally poignant but it isn’t a masterpiece. But it had the potential to be so and I feel like it should be commended for it. It was a good movie, but it could have been great.

Logan

A movie with some of the most satisfyingly violent and pulse pounding action I’ve ever seen in a film, Logan carries the burden of spelling the end of the Hugh Jackman’s iconic, near 2 decade spanning turn as Logan/James Howlett/ The Wolverine (all names that are used for him in this one) and succeeds admirably in what it sets out to do. The story is weighty, the action is spectacular, and Logan cuts more limbs, severs more heads, drinks more alcohol and screams in rage more times than he’s ever cut/severed/drunk/screamed in a singe film before. He also says ‘fuck’ enough times to make up for all those times in previous movies when he was really angry and wanted to say fuck but had to settle for ‘shit’ or ‘asshole’ cause of that pesky PG-13 rating. Jokes aside, the freedom granted by the R-rating really works in Logan’s favour and to celebrate, we too will curse as much as we want in this review to make up for all those times in previous reviews when we wanted to say fuck but couldn’t because if Logan could contain himself, so could we. Not this time though. So let’s get this fucking review fucking over with.

Patrick Stewart too reprises his role as Professor X. His performance is unexpectedly different from the Professor X we’ve seen before and feels very fresh. His dynamic with Jackman is, of course, very well established, having been co-starring alongside the guy with the claws (that metaphor was proprietary) for about 9 and a half fucking movies. Dafne Keen is incredible as X-23. Granted she doesn’t speak much, but the young actress really manages to make the characters’ eyes express themselves, which is very impressive. Also, her introduction as a mutant is one of the most badass power reveals you’re ever going to see. X-23 gives Logan a run for his money in the badass department. Caliban, a character you didn’t know you’d seen before in X-men Apocalypse cause that movie was boring as all fuck, is played here by Stephen Merchant and Boyd Holbrook plays that guy with the robot hand. And that’s all the characters in Logan you’ll actually give two shits about so lets move on.

The movie starts with Wolverine driving along a limo, earning money by being a limo driver. Events occur that end up with him going on a road trip with a really fucking cranky Professor X and a psychotically violent, seemingly mute girl called X-23. I won’t spoil anything else but there a few cool surprises in the film that are fun and VERY intriguing. At a high point in the middle of the film, you can’t guess what in the hell is going to happen next and while that feeling unfortunately doesn’t last until the end, Logan is extremely successful in maintaining constant tension and anxiousness in the viewer about what turns the story is going to take. It achieves this by being extravagantly, gorgeously, viscerally violent. I found it to be thrilling and thought it gave real weight and consequence to the action scenes, but the people who saw it with me thought the violence was unnecessary. IT’S NOT FUCKING UNNECESSARY. All of the violence in Logan feels motivated. It gives something to the story or the scene or the emotion of the characters. It’s great.

The action scenes in Logan are filmic embodiment of the crazy things your brain comes up with when you think “R-rated Wolverine movie”. I was not expecting the action to be this good or this effective but it is and its magnificent. It really is. If you payed for the ticket and for some reason all you got was a video slideshow of the films action set pieces, I promise you you would not be disappointed. In fact, I was slightly disappointed by Logan’s ending. The story is great, but the set pieces outshine them. Terrifically directed and put together, they are the highlight of the movie. It’s action fine dining, and I felt it has a lot in it inspired by the amazing Mad Max: Fury Road.

Logan can be really morose and sullen at times but can also be quite funny in places. One point at which it unintentionally made me laugh was when Logan gets into a fight and one of his claws only comes out half way and he has to pull it out later. I thought that could’ve been comedy gold and has been probably been done in the past by some comedian or other. It was funny. The ending shot could actually have been pretty funny too if you hadn’t been c- uh, I’ll leave that alone. The film also takes some very interesting thematic and story turns in regard to the overall mythos of the Fox X-men universe but doesn’t dwell on them too much. Logan prefers to focus on Wolverine instead and the tremendous twists it pulls on the X-men movieverse go by pretty much unaddressed. It feels like a stand alone film. I doubt any other X-men movie is going to return to its world and in that regard too it feels very special.

I didn’t really have high hopes for Logan. The Wolverine didn’t really excite me that much and I saw it was basically the same team and my hopes dropped. I’ve been seeing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in X-men movies since I was a kid (I’m still a kid but I have a pseudo beard now so let me fucking say what I want) and wanted his last movie to be the best one he’s ever been in. And it is. It really fucking is.

Oxenfree

When I was playing through Oxenfree, I felt somewhat happy and excited, even though its supposed to be a creepy-ish game about a group of teenagers stuck on an island with unsettling supernatural stuff going on all around them, which should be cliche but is a really cool setup for a game. The teenagers are so well written and so well voice acted that they really felt like real people I was having a really cool adventure with. Developed by Night School Studios, which is made up of former employees of Telltale and Disney, the former of which has a clear influence on the mechanics of this game, Oxenfree is a very fresh, very well paced experience that takes 4 hours to end max. And it’s made so well that, for those 4 hours, it felt like I had, like, actual friends. Yeah…

Wait, WHAT?!

*A BRIEF HIATUS WAS TAKEN FOR THE WRITER TO DEAL WITH THE FALLOUT OF THE DEPRESSING REALITY CHECK THAT THAT LAST LINE BROUGHT ABOUT*

Ahem, so yeah, Oxenfree is so well made, it felt like I was hanging out with SOME of MY MANY friends, OF WHICH I HAVE MANY, ALRIGHT? 

Over a single night at some point in the 1990’s (probably), the player follows 17-year old Alex and a bunch of other kids from her school. Every year, kids from the school get together at Edwards Island as part of an annual party night which involves them drinking and smoking and being rebellious in general. Alex brings along her new step-brother Jonas and they join Ren, Alex’s best friend, and two other girls, Clarissa and Nona at the beach. Nobody else shows up. In order to fulfill their quota of being rebellious for the night, Jonas and Alex decide to explore some nearby caves where and tune into various radio frequencies with Alex’s very handy portable radio to hear weird voices on the other end and lights flashing from deeper inside the cave. Supernatural events and strange happenings follow. The story takes some pretty weird turns but that’s not what makes the game so much fun.

Oxenfree is a 2.5D side scrolling RPG (role-playing game). The player is basically Alex and everything she says in the game is determined by the player. That leads to there being a bunch of different endings that can be achieved. It’s like being a character (and Alex is definitely a character, not just a player-surrogate) in a teen horror movie and being able to choose what happens. It’s awesome. And yes, it’s quite a lot like Until Dawn but much more charming, with its beautiful painterly art style and 2D gameplay, and teen rated. Teenage sex and triple-A gore are not things you will encounter in Oxenfree. The writing here is also a lot better. I disliked most of the characters of Until Dawn. Oxenfree makes you form attachments to all of its characters and really makes you understand them. Alex is and Jonas are both insecure about having a new sibling (and both have issues to deal with) and Clarissa actually has reasons for being a prick.

Oxenfree is supposed to be a horror game but definitely feels more like playing through a Teen film (those are a thing right?). There are a few jump scares here and there but the 2D form makes it difficult for it to really scare the player. What are quite discomfiting however, are the various random radio frequencies the player can choose to turn into. The sound design of the game is really excellent and some of the eeriness you’ll hear throughout the game might actually make you hesitate from turning on the radio if you’re playing alone in the dark. That coupled with the excellent music by sntfc makes Oxenfree exhibit pure brilliance in the sound department.

That’s not to say everything else is somehow over shadowed by the sound. The art of the game and all the backgrounds are really pretty. The voice acting is incredible and makes listening and responding to the well-written dialogue a pleasure. The only thing that I had a little bit of a issue with were the radio puzzles, which seemed a little pointless and just a way of extending the run time of the game. They were pretty boring and prevented me from getting on with the story and interactions with the characters. It’s a very minor thing and I get why it’s there; for sheer variety in the gameplay. However I really felt like the characters and the writing and the acting were so strong the game didn’t really need it.

So far I’ve only played through Oxenfree once but am really excited to go through it again and see what different ending I can get. If you’ve played through Oxenfree, let me know what ending you got and how you liked the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Retrospective Look At: Arrival

Arrival is a sci-fi film directed by the amazing Denis Villeneuve, starring a very purposeful and driven performance by Amy Adams. It also stars Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker and that guy who is in a lot of  great movies but whose name I can never remember…Micheal Stuhlbarg, yeah, that’s it. Based on a short story written by Ted Chiang, that was very capably adapted for the big screen by Eric Heisserer, Arrival is a film that manages to do so many things with its interesting premise that it leaves you breathless by the end of it all. The story is a about a linguist named Louise who is contacted by the US government to help them translate the language of and communicate with the alien ship that has landed in Montana, one of twelve that have landed across the globe (there’s even one that landed in Pakistan which is kinda cool. The movie even gives a sort of tip-of-the-hat to Pakistan in the middle, which I thought was unrealistic but very nice of the filmmakers). The first two-thirds of Arrival are  very slow-paced, the script very deliberately and carefully setting up pieces of the films story and themes like dominoes. In the third act, the script gives the very first domino a push and revelations about the film start hitting you like crazy. It’s breathtaking. I realize I’ve said that before. *opens thesaurus* Ahem, it’s amazeballs (I’m sorry). Anyway, Arrival’s scenes and story beats are structured in a way I’ve never seen any movie or book or TV pull off before. To say anything more would be to spoil the magic of the film. The first time you see Arrival, you’ll be blown away by the pure genius of its story’s structure and the films editing and cinematography, as well as the very impressively designed spaceships and aliens. The second time you see Arrival (trust me you WILL want to see Arrival again), you’ll appreciate Amy Adams’ performance, which is delivered with the single-minded goal of preserving the hidden facets of the story. You’ll appreciate little hints the story gives you that act as subliminal messaging about the third act. You’ll also appreciate the terrific score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. And you’ll realize Arrival is a true testament to the spectacular range of the sci-fi genre. It’s about the power of language, the importance of enjoying the good bits of life, and ALSO, manages to carry a message about peace and unity and non-violence. Also, it was because of this film that I found out what a “Zero Sum Game” is, who Abbot and Costello are and that Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is awesome. Arrival is a true sci-fi masterpiece. I really want to go into a spoiler filled discussion of the film so this much should be enough to convince anyone who hasn’t seen the film to maybe think about seeing it at some point in the near future (I’m afraid that’s the best MY writing can accomplish).

SPOILER WARNING (I’ve always wanted to write that)

The brilliant bit about Arrival is the concealed non-linearity of its story, a decpetion it maintains masterfully with its incredible structure and the subdued performance of Amy Adams, because of which we mistake Louises’ self-effacement for depression. While I think I figured out the twist just about before the movie wanted me to, it was still incredible. In fact, it’s not so much a twist as a sudden revelation that reveals the true genius of Arrival: how its story has been structured. All of the daughter flash fronts (opposite of flash backs), made us think Louise was being forced to reconcile with the death of her daughter by the aliens and, in a way, she kind of was; just way, way before she would have wanted to have to deal with stuff like that. The short story Arrival is based on is called “The Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang (okay, yeah that’s not much of a spoiler). The name was dropped by the team because it made the film sound too much like a romantic comedy. Story of your life might actually have been a better name for the movie than “Arrival” (which sounds kinda conventional, something which the movie never is), cause it kinda hints at the ultimate revelation that Louise is forced to learn about all the events of her future by learning the language of the aliens. (That’s what the language allowed her to do right? See the future? Well, that’s what I got from it) Presumably, when she started teaching the language to others, students would have had to make a choice: do they want to learn this alien language and hence the story of their lives (hehe), or are they content with learning human languages and leaving the future a mystery? What would motivate students to learn the language? A desire to learn an alien language or a desire to learn about their future? It’s thought-provoking stuff. Did the aliens give the humans the gift of their language for precisely that purpose?  So that they could see into the future and make sure they didn’t make any mistakes that they hadn’t already? That would’ve left the humans in a good position to help the aliens in 3000 years or whatever. Or was it only to bring about unity on earth so the humans could progress? Probably both. It was awesome how the humans couldn’t quite grasp how the heptapods were writing in circles starting at the beginning and the ends almost immediately after hearing a question. It was cause they already knew what they had to write of course! Arrival, while doing all of this, also managed to make its own version of time travel, resulting in the most pulse pounding moment of the whole film. On top of this, it also managed to raise the question of whether fate and destiny is a real thing. Does Louise not change her future because she realizes she just can’t? That it’s all fixed and unchangeable? That seems unlikely considering what she says to Donnelly at the end about changing her life if she knew how it was going to progress. That’s also a pretty depressing ending. The more hopeful version, that she chose to keep the future as it was because of the joy she knew she would receive from parts of it, regardless of how her daughter’s life would end, just sounds so perfect. It is also the perfect message for us as humans living in a world being constantly pushed towards its end. Seriously, this film is incredible. I want to watch it again now. I really want to watch it again.

A Retrospective look at A Monster Calls

I just saw this movie called A Monster Calls, directed by J.A. Bayona, written By Patrick Ness, starring Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbel, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson’s voice and general presence, edited by Bernat Vilaplana and Jaume Martí, whose photography was directed by Óscar Faura, produced by Belén Atienza, Mitch Horwits and Jonathan King, distributed by Focus Features (according to and copy-pasted from Wikipedia). It is a movie whose sole purpose seems to be to make you want to feel the devastation felt by a small 12-year old boy named Connor who is regularly bullied, abandoned by his father, intimidated by his strict grandmother and forced to deal with the fallout of his mother being diagnosed with cancer.  Oh, and a strange YEW tree monster with the voice and general presence of Liam Neeson (designated, in a stroke of genius by Richard Brody in this article, as TREESON) calls to him regularly at 12:07 AM/PM (a fact that also has devastating significance), manhandles him and tells him three strange, very dark stories which are abstract metaphors for the people and events taking place in Connor’s own life. It’s a deeply emotional movie, emphasis on emotional, not deeply. A Monster Calls can be very sad. But its not depressing. At the same time, however, its not overly optimistic or hopeful per say. You can’t really be either of those things with a story like this. It’s not a story about cancer, not really. It’s more about a boy trying to cope with some serious troubles he’s having. It’s weird, I’ve seen two movies recently with a young protagonist named Connor, Sing Street and this one, and they couldn’t be more different. Sing Street is a movie with a certain child-like optimism and hopefulness that can be quite endearing once you get used to it. A Monster Calls is kind of the opposite. The film has adult-like realism and emotions at play through out its relatively short length. It will make you feel a lot, and if a piece of media manages to make you feel something, I’ve always felt that its achieved its purpose in the moments that it does. A Monster Calls has several moments like those, moments that are very affecting and poignant without resorting to what most people call “oscar baiting”. There are parts where it could be accused of that, but they’re outnumbered by the many parts where I actually had my eyes cloud up (but I did NOT shed a tear… I guess there’s always Steve McQueen for that). The ending was truly one of those moments. God damn, was it one of those moments. I’m not sure I even understand it fully, but I’ve had some time to come to some conclusions. Those conclusions I’ll keep to myself cause everyone should be able to come to their own conclusions. Yeahhh…I googled “a monster calls ending explained” for a solid ten minutes but I couldn’t find anything so I guess my own conclusions will have to do. Maybe I’m just too much of an ignoramus (yeahhh, word use!) to understand it and everyone else was smart enough to get it. Ugh. Anyway, I liked the performances in the movie a lot. Lewis MacDougall is mostly excellent as Conor. I had no idea Sigourney Weaver was in this movie and she was a nice surprise. I thought Toby Kebbel was great and loved his scenes, all of which are with Connor. Felicity Jones is Felicity Jones but she doesn’t have a particular lot to do here besides a few scenes. The cast is, of course, excellent across the board and manage to elevate the already great script. A Monster Calls is a (very) dark fantasy movie and the fantasy part isn’t incorporated in the way you may think. The giant monster’s role in the movie is actually much more sad than you may think. This is NOT a movie in which troubled boy gets a giant tree friend to solve his problems, which I expected it to be and was. Even with the giant tree, Connor has to face his problems on his own and that is the concept at the core of the movie. It’s a rather depressing but very realistic theme. If you haven’t seen the movie, go in expecting to have your heart wrung in a very satisfying way and you’ll possibly like the experience more. This is a great film, but definitely not for someone looking for a purely positive, optimistic film. A Monster Calls is a fantastic coming of age movie, a terrific example of dark fantasy that is not produced by Tim Burton and a great film overall, but not a particularly happy movie. What I can say about it though is that, like Connor, you’ll go through a number of emotions while progressing through the story and will climax (that word being very purposefully chosen) on a bittersweet but strangely satisfying ending, that, while I cannot with surety say you will find fulfilling, is certainly a worthwhile note to end on. I really liked this movie. Sing Street was probably better.

I’m sorry for stupidly calling this a retrospective and not a review. This was pretty much totally a review in one big paragraph. I tried making this more thoughtful than a regular review  and I think it worked….? Yeah, it was stupid. I’ll write my next one soon!