“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

If your Playstation isn’t enough to keep you entertained this weekend, you can go to the theater to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” a 2 hour and 16 minute video game of real people shooting at CGI garbage. It’s another superhero movie that strives to be funny and loved simply by being different when in reality, it’s just the same as every other raucous, overstuffed Marvel exercise.

In this unbalanced sequel, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) is searching for his lost father (Kurt Russell). All the Guardians gang is back, including love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), superstrong Drax (Dave Bautista), the loyal friend-yet-jerk Rocket raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and the baby version of Groot (Vin Diesel).

Audiences are treated to yet another annoying performance from abrasive jackass Pratt (remind me why this guy is a movie star again?), and the movie milks the cuteness of baby Groot to the max (the character is visibly meant to appeal to the smallest of children; take note as the doe-eyed Groot shimmies and shakes his way through the opening credits). Jokes are repeated from the first film, including referring to Rocket as a rat. It feels old and stale.

Director James Gunn is relentless in his insistence on using obscure 70s ballads to score the film that the music choices sticks out like a sore thumb, being used so much that the movie at times feels like an overly long music video. Half of the scenes don’t mesh with the (supposedly) tongue-in-cheek accompanying songs, and the soundtrack is as irritating as it is distracting. I lost count of the number of times a character is seen walking in slow-motion to a crappy retro tune.

The movie also tries to steal the core message of the meaning of family from the popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, taking their earnest, heartfelt sincerity and pushing it to the point where it comes off as awkward, phony, and forced. The irreverent humor flops as often as it succeeds, and the film at times resorts to lazy reference jokes (yeah, yeah, we get it, but just name dropping 80s-era icons like Pac-Man and David Hasselhoff doesn’t a genuine laugh make).

Thankfully it’s not all bad. The action-packed storyline kept me engaged with characters that I find hugely unlikable, the special effects (read: cartoon drawings) are colorful and cool, and the ending is absolutely fantastic — but none of these things can completely excuse what comes before.

This movie is really nothing more than a flashy and boisterous Saturday morning cartoon on steroids, something by design that’s made to appeal to adults and kids alike. You can take your whole family and everyone will probably agree that it’s the best movie they’ve ever seen because it’s the last movie they’ve seen. There’s not much craft nor artistry to “Guardians Vol. 2”, but it’s as good as the first movie and it’s still fun enough to not become a total disaster.

“Passengers”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I love movies that make me start to internally question myself by asking what I would do in a certain situation, and “Passengers” did just that. (Interestingly enough, all three people in my party had different answers to that same question). The movie is sort of a morality play / sci-fi romance that offers plenty of food for thought as well as entertaining escapism.

The film is set entirely on a gigantic spaceship that’s carrying thousands of paying passengers and crew members in sealed hibernation pods. Everyone is asleep for the 120 year journey to a distant planet that they will later colonize. When there is a serious onboard malfunction, a couple of people are awakened 90 years too early, including mechanical engineer Jim (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). The pair struggle to solve the problem with the ship but are soon faced with the harsh reality that this is how and where they will live out the rest of their lives.

The ambitious story cleverly explores the idea of loneliness by inserting the character of android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen). Arthur doles out advice (sort of) and keeps the humans company. In what is undoubtedly going to be viewed as a misogynistic turn, Aurora and Jim begin a romantic relationship and supposedly fall in love. But are they really in love, or just faced with such desperation and grief that they sort of have to be romantically linked? This is slightly offensive to me as I’m sure it will be to others. Why settle for Mr. Right when Mr. Right Now is inhabiting the space station with you? We all know women are stronger and smarter than being forced into a romance simply because he’s the only game in town.

This is what makes the movie so damn odd. It can’t quite seem to make a firm decision as to where it wants to go and is a weird mix of uncomfortable, begrudging sci-fi romance but also a controversial tale of questionable morality. There are countless interesting ideas swirling around in the screenplay, but it’s next to impossible to overlook the fact that this story is more than a little sexist. I won’t say more to avoid giving away any spoilers because yes, there are some big surprises that are eventually revealed.

Regardless of the sexism, the movie is quite entertaining. There are some original and nifty set pieces, including a spectacular CGI scene of a total loss of gravity in a swimming pool and a thrilling space-based action climax with some fiery explosions and edge-of-your-seat situations. Laurence Fishburne turns up in a far too brief supporting role as crew member Gus, and the two leads have substantial chemistry that makes the uncomfortable romance element of the story much easier to swallow.

I  guess you can say I have a love / hate relationship with “Passengers,” but I do appreciate its passion and creativity. See this movie if you want something to talk about because I can guarantee this will spark many a heated discussion and impassioned debate with friends and family.

“The Magnificent Seven”

LOUISA: 2 STARS MATT: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I was more than a little excited to see Antoine Fuqua‘s remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” a remake (of a remake) by a director who should’ve been the most crazy amazing choice to handle this material. Well, I didn’t anticipate just how humdrum of a movie this would be. It’s surprisingly poorly directed and is just about as unexciting as movies come.

The classic story of a band of outlaws who come to the aid of desperate townspeople is certainly enjoyable enough, but that’s where my enjoyment of the movie ended. The problem is that there’s absolutely nothing special about this particular retelling of the classic story that makes it a standout. It’s just blah blah blah, more of the same, and has zero reason to exist. Note to Hollywood: I’m so sick of this bland rehashing that’s running rampant in the film industry. If you’re going to remake / reboot a movie or tell a well known story, then take the time and the care to make something special. Don’t waste everyone’s time with a commonplace snooze fest like this.

This film is packed with some of the most mediocre dialogue and acting that I’ve seen this year. The roster of talent is impressive and includes Fuqua alums Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington, as well as Chris Pratt (his wisecracking cowboy shtick here is even more annoying than usual), Peter Sarsgaard (as a scenery-chewing, ridiculously over-the-top villain), and Vincent D’Onofrio (as a loveable Grizzly Adams type). Rounding out the seven outlaws are Byung-hun Lee, Martin Sensmeier, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. The overall tepid performances make me wonder if any of the actors really wanted to be here. It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Adding to this disconnect is the astonishingly poor character development. We never learn much about any of these characters, including their motivations or backstory (with the exception of Washington’s). These are surface characters, people we can’t connect with or understand. Because of this, I didn’t care about any of them. The film’s PG-13 rating doesn’t help either; the gunplay is toned down as a result. By the time the big shootout in town happens, it’s just too late to make anyone care. Admittedly, the shootout is still pretty awesome — but aren’t all Western shootouts pretty awesome?

I can’t think of much nice to say about this film. The costumes are ordinary, the jumpy editing is obnoxious, the religious imagery is too ‘in your face,’ and the original score by Simon Franglen and James Horner is awkward with its rapid-fire hand clapping. Yes, clapping.

Even if you are a fan of the genre, you’ll want to skip this one. It’s simply a dull movie all around.

MATT SAYS:

As late summer movies go, “The Magnificent Seven” isn’t half-bad. But that’s about the best thing I can say about it.

Denzel Washington is Chisolm, a bounty hunter with a sense of justice. Chris Pratt is Josh Faraday, an outlaw with a knack for getting under people’s skin. Together, they round up a band of five other skilled marksmen and fighters to join them on a fight against robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his small army of men who have taken over a small western town and murdered several of its inhabitants in cold blood.

As revenge tales go, “The Magnificent Seven” makes an unsatisfying meal. Its gutless PG-13 violence is tame. As westerns go it’s pedestrian, with cinematography that disappoints by refusing to pay much attention to the landscape. The script is unremarkable, too. There are some nice bits of dialogue, but those are mostly highlighted in the trailers and there’s precious little else that is worthy of notice.

Compared to director Antoine Fuqua‘s last outing (“The Equalizer,” which also starred Washington), “The Magnificent Seven” is a lackluster affair. It’s also somehow very appropriate end to a disappointing summer movie season, an unexciting bookend to a string of (mostly) lifeless films that will soon be forgotten. I’m hopeful that the fall season will bring us higher-quality entertainment.

“The Magnificent Seven” isn’t boring, but it’s barely worth watching.