“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.

“Live By Night”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Ben Affleck is one of my very favorite film directors, an artist with a distinctive, impressive style (that is on grand display in his previous films “Argo,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Town”). His latest effort is the bloated, big screen adaptation of Dennis Lehane‘s crime novel “Live By Night.” And it is a disappointing, chaotic mess. The movie looks gorgeous but not quite good enough to completely carry the rest of the familiar story.

There’s an overwhelmingly arrogant, stuffy feeling that surrounds the entire project. The sprawling movie is unfocused and aimless, with mediocre performances from his horribly miscast actors (including Zoe Saldana as a Cuban love interest, Elle Fanning as a drugged-out ingénue who finds Jesus, and the unbelievably irritating Sienna Miller as a top gangster’s gal who speaks with a grating Irish accent).

Affleck himself seems divided into two halves: half of his onscreen acting scenes are good and the other half are terrible, and his performance is more than a little distracting. It’s the same thing with his direction: for every handsome, sweeping camera movement, there’s an oddly abrupt fadeout. It’s as if a split personality Affleck acted in and directed this movie. Just like its figurehead, the movie has no clear vision and rambles on and on and on — but somehow the story still manages to feel meagerly thin.

I will say this: Affleck has an incredible eye for directing, especially when it comes to thrilling car chases and elaborate, showy shootouts. These scenes are expertly crafted and choreographed in “Live By Night,” and there’s no denying his eye-popping visual style. Add to that the stunning costumes and impressively detailed set design and it’s impossible not to be wowed by the sheer visual beauty of this film.

Unfortunately, the movie quickly gets lost among every other crime drama from the last 30 years. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it notable or even memorable. “Live By Night” isn’t rotten, it’s simply forgettable.

Save

“Star Trek Beyond”

LOUISA:  2 STARS  MATT:  3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

One of the best elements of the new “Star Trek” reboot films is that you always feel the characters are in real danger. This sense of peril keeps the engine humming for a while in “Star Trek Beyond” but before long, the film runs out of gas. Early in the movie there’s a spectacular attack on the USS Enterprise which sets up expectations that this was going to deliver a kick-ass ride. Too bad it’s all downhill from there.

With an ancient artifact on board the Enterprise, a surprise attack from lizard skinned Krall (Idris Elba) forces the crew to crash on a mysterious planet. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (the scene stealing Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the rest have to battle their way through the aliens to escape the hostile planet. Herein lies the real problem with the movie: the storyline is mediocre and there are far too many fistfights.

Most disappointing is the lack of character development and interactions that made the 2009’s “Star Trek” and 2013’s “Into Darkness” rise above this film. Instead of snappy dialogue and meaningful scenes between the characters, we get frantically paced, jumpy, pitiful excuses for action scenes and miscellaneous dizzying 360 aerial shots. The editing is so frenzied that I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time so I quickly lost interest. Fast cuts do not make up for a lacking script (written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung).

Director Justin Lin (who has helmed several films in the mega successful “Fast and Furious” series) has a knack for similar material, but it’s obvious that J.J. Abrams is much better at handling such big films. I’m on board with a new director for the franchise, but the film feels different in a bad way and suffers.

The special effects are respectable but a little too cartoonish at times, with a heavy reliance on CGI. Everything feels loud and expensive, but unfortunately other elements suffer. There’s far too much emphasis on explosions and hand-to-hand combat and not enough of the magic that lies in the character development (as seen in the previous reboot films). The actors don’t have much interaction unless it’s punching or shooting or grooving along to a classic Beastie Boys track that blasts through the theater at full volume (this extended music video scene felt out of place). The costumes and makeup in particular seem slapped together too; Spock’s wig is actually crooked in the final shots of the movie!

Summer movies are supposed to be fun, and I didn’t have fun watching this movie. It simply didn’t feel cinematic enough for me (and I saw it in IMAX)! That’s a red flag when a big budget film feels more like a television episode than a grandiose blockbuster. I do think that part of the problem is that the first two films in the reboot series were just so good that this third installment pales in comparison. The writing and direction is not as polished as the first two, and there’s just nothing that special nor memorable in this disappointing film.

MATT SAYS:

Jim, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov are back for a welcome visit in “Star Trek Beyond.”

The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. Some bad guys with really advanced technology lure the Enterprise to their really remote planet in order to enslave the crew and destroy a Federation Star Base. How did the alien technology get so far ahead of the Federation’s, such that the invading ships are able to easily cut through the Enterprise’s force field? With such technological advances, why did the bad guys need the Enterprise to attack the Federation? Why have they been waiting on a remote planet for all of these years, just biding their time until they have a chance to attack? Why is the artifact at the center of the plot so essential to the alien weapon, and why is it even necessary, given the obvious starship-defeating technology they already have?

These are questions that apparently will remain unanswered. But that’s okay. The movie isn’t really about the plot; it’s about the crew of the Enterprise and their chemistry. Happily, that chemistry remains firmly intact.

I love seeing this crew working together. All of them — Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (McCoy), John Cho (Sulu), and Simon Pegg (Scotty) — do a great job working together. Seeing them play off of one another in the very well-established “Star Trek” way is welcome enough, regardless of the silly excuse for a plot. And seeing Anton Yelchin in one of his last roles brings a bittersweet note to the film; he’s so damned likeable as Chekov and it’s hard not to be frustrated and sad at the talent we all lost in a stupid accident.

Plot-wise, “Star Trek Beyond” is only marginally better than the disappointing “Star Trek Into Darkness.” But seeing these characters (and actors) back together again in another iteration is such a pleasure that I can overlook the film’s flaws.

Save