Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki
Director
James Gunn

It’s hard to believe that most people had never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to 2014, because in the three years since the release of the first movie, they’ve become some of the most popular characters in the entire MCU. While there was certainly an immense amount of pressure on returning director James Gunn to create a worthy follow-up, you wouldn’t know it from the self-assured confidence that the film exudes. Admittedly, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” isn’t as fresh as its predecessor, but it’s almost as much as fun, and that’s to the credit of Gunn and his excellent cast, who have once again delivered an offbeat, action-packed space opera (with yet another killer soundtrack) that doesn’t skimp on humor or heart.

After saving the universe from Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians have parlayed their newfound fame into a lucrative career as mercenaries. But when they’re hired by a race of pretentious, gold-skinned beings called the Sovereign to kill an interdimensional beast in exchange for Gamora’s captured half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), the Guardians manage to piss off their employers by stealing some of the valuable batteries they were charged with protecting. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Guardians are rescued at the last minute by an ancient celestial entity called Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. Though Peter is thrilled to finally meet his dad and learn more about his secret heritage, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is suspicious of Ego’s true motives. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is recruited by the Sovereign’s High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to track down and apprehend the Guardians for punishment, leading to a mutiny among his crew when he refuses to turn them over.

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Blu Tuesday: Gold and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Gold”

Stephen Gaghan’s long-awaited follow-up to “Syriana” may not have been the awards contender that some predicted, but it’s a mildly entertaining adult drama – inspired by the 1997 Bre-X mining scandal – that boasts some great work from Matthew McConaughey. Though the Oscar-winning actor looks every bit the part as balding, potbellied has-been Kenny Wells, his performance is much more than the physical transformation he’s undergone. He carries the film every step of the way, exuding his trademark charisma to turn Kenny into the kind of loveable loser that’s hard not to admire. The movie itself has some major problems, but McConaughey is such a compelling presence, fervently chain-smoking and guzzling booze throughout the film, that “Gold” just about gets by on his performance alone.

Extras include an audio commentary by director Stephen Gaghan and a series of featurettes on the film’s origins, location shooting in Thailand and star Matthew McConaughey. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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What’s Space Opera, Doc? How “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” fits into the subgenre

Since people first looked up at the stars, they dreamed of traveling amongst them. Not knowing what they were or what it all meant, there was always a sense of longing to explore the glittering abyss of space. And as imaginations raced, they were quickened and informed by advances in science and an understanding of the world around us. Soon, science fiction was born, and within that a subcategory of these fanciful tales of epic battles and ships piloting the galaxy; it was called “space opera,” and it’s the basis for some of pop culture’s most sustaining works of the 20th century. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” works all explored different facets of the wonders held in the cosmos. As people prepare to re-enter the cosmic fray with the latest massive space opera, James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” it seems a fitting time to look at what a space opera is and how a centuries-old subgenre is still captivating audiences’ imaginations.

For all of its pervasive appearances throughout the years, the definition of space opera is an oddly elusive one. It certainly is a subset of science fiction, taking place in a reality closely related to our own, albeit with interplanetary travel and usually alien species interacting in some ways. The term was first coined back in 1941, a play on the derisive parlance “horse opera” used for melodramatic westerns. However, space opera stories appeared as early as 1854, depicting people navigating strange new worlds with unheard of technology and encountering different life forms in an adventure with space travel as the backdrop.

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Drink of the Week: A Postcard from the Edge (2017 TCM Fest Salute #2)

A Postcard from the Edge.Last year, as we all know, wasn’t so great, and I’m not sure that any of us know what to make of this one. But in a year full of public tragedy and disaster, the saddest purely show business moment of 1996 for many of us was the back-to-back passings of Carrie Fisher and her legendary mother Debbie Reynolds. So it made a lot of sense that TCM Fest 2017 featured a number of Reynolds’ films and one written by Fisher.

1990s “Postcards from the Edge” is an apparently loose adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s own 1987 novel and is a fairly direct semi-fictionalization of her own struggles with multi-substance addiction, debatable romantic choices, and life itself. Directed by Mike Nichols, it’s a solid piece of inside-Hollywood comedy on the precipice of tragedy in which a working actress (Meryl Streep) tries to check out of rehab and back into some kind of emotional stability. Standing in the way is whatever it was that was making her drug herself to oblivion in the first place and her own loving but overly complex relationship with her formidable Hollywood legend of a mom (Shirley MacLaine).

The movie does a solid job of bringing the sun-dappled, stress-filled world of workaday Hollywood to life, even if it only hints at the mental health demons that Carrie Fisher would later discuss in admirably frank detail. It’s also not afraid to make drinking look pretty fun. After all, no one would develop a problem with the stuff if it wasn’t so damned attractive.

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Blu Tuesday: La La Land and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“La La Land”

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” was my favorite film of 2014, so the bar was set pretty high for his next project, a loving homage to the big, bold and colorful musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age featuring two of today’s brightest stars. Thankfully, “La La Land” is every bit as enchanting as you’ve heard. Though it doesn’t have the most original story, the movie gets by on the strength of its delightful musical numbers and the irresistible charm of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who radiate the kind of old-school glamour that feeds into the film’s nostalgic spirit. For a movie about chasing your dreams in a town known for crushing them, “La La Land” is surprisingly optimistic until its bittersweet end, providing the kind of Technicolor escapism that the world needs more of these days.

Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, over an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a look at filming some of the musical sequences) and much more. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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