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Marvel’s Winning Streak Continues with Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2!

Like almost everyone else, I was blown away by Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2014, and I have been eagerly awaiting writer/director James Gunn’s follow-up.  Three years later, it’s here, and it does not disappoint.  Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is visually astounding, extremely funny, and the film finds a way to deepen our understanding of and affection for pretty much every single one of its large cast of characters.  I’m not sure what more anyone could want!

The film picks up a little while after the end of the first film, with the Guardians working as heroes-for-hire (see what I did there?).  But when Rocket double-crosses their golden-skinned, perfect-looking employers called the Sovereign, the Sovereign exact fierce retribution that leaves the Guardian’s ship (the Milano) destroyed and the gang marooned.  To the rescue arrives Ego, the celestial being who is, apparently, Peter Quill’s real father.  Quill soon finds himself torn between his biological father and his adopted family.  Meanwhile, all sorts of other enemies threaten to tear the motley Guardians crew apart.  Gamora’s sister Nebula tracks her down, seeking vengeance.  Rocket and Baby Groot find themselves captured by the Ravagers, who have mutinied against their former Captain Yondu.  And, in the end, once again, the fate of the galaxy rests in their unlikely hands.

Whereas the Marvel cinematic universe has made an art out of creating interconnected films, what’s remarkable about Guardians vol. 2 is how stand-alone it is.  Thanos is mentioned a few times as Gamora and Nebula fight about their shared torturous childhood being raised by that monster, but otherwise Guardians vol. 2 is surprisingly separate from the way the Marvel movies have been building towards Infinity War.  It’s a surprising choice, but it pays off well, allowing this film to be able to dig deeply into this cast of characters without having to sacrifice valuable time towards pitching future movies.

In the paragraph above, I described some of the film’s plot, but in another surprising choice, Guardians vol. 2 is pleasantly light on plot.  For the most part, the structure of this film is something of an extended “hang” with all of the characters who we loved so much in the first Guardians film.  Here, too, this could easily be a weakness, but James Gunn and his team turn it into a strength.  First of all, this cast of actors are so terrific, and they have created such wonderful characters, that it’s a joy just to watch them bounce off of one another.  There are a number of scenes in the film that have a somewhat “shaggy” feel, as if either at the writing stage or the performance stage, Mr. Gunn and this … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Three!

What fun this has been, revisiting a great year of movies,  Click here for the numbers twenty to sixteen, and click here for numbers fifteen to eleven.  And now, on to my top ten!

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10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens This was the hardest film to find the right place for on my list. I briefly had it in my top five, and then for a while had it all the way down at number twenty.  This is a film that has me very much of two minds.  There is so much about it that works spectacularly well.  The tone is perfect — this is a Star Wars film that is actually FUN (and funny!) again, a welcome relief after the stiff and dour prequels.  The film is wonderfully paced, carrying the audience along from one great action bit to the next.  The new cast is magnificent, with each actor perfectly chosen, creating a group of new young characters who I can’t wait to follow through additional adventures.  The film looks gorgeous, with beautiful special effects and top-notch work from every production department.  Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo and gives the best performance he’s delivered in two decades.  And yet… there are so many little things about the film that bug me, that don’t work as well as they should.  All of the coincidences and plot-holes.  The muddiness regarding what exactly the situation is with Resistance, the Republic, and the First Order.  The way Han Solo’s final scene works but not nearly as well as it should have worked (something I touched on in both of my articles about the film, and that I’ve been struggling to express to friends when talking about the film.  Thankfully, BirthMoviesDeath’s Devin Faraci absolutely nailed what was frustrating me in this terrific analysis.)  The fact that for the third time the Rebels have to blow up a Death Star-like thing.  This is a film with a lot of imperfections, and yet I do still sort of love it despite how rough around the edges it is.  J.J. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have brought Star Wars back to life in a big, big way, and for that they have my thanks and appreciation.  (Click here for my original review, and here for my follow-up post.)

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9. Bridge of Spies When Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks work together, you know you’re in for a treat, and Bridge of Spies does not disappoint.  This quiet, intelligent film tells the story of Jim Donovan, a lawyer tasked with defending a Russian spy caught in Brooklyn in 1957 (an act that then  leads to Mr. Donovan’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Creed

I don’t have any attachment to the Rocky series.  In fact, the only Rocky film I have ever seen is the very first one, the 1976 original.  I loved it, but I never had any burning desire to continue on to watch all the sequels.  When I first read about Creed, I wasn’t interested.  But I’ve really enjoyed the work of Michael B. Jordan (cast here in the lead role as Adonis Johnson Creed), and over the past month I have seen review after review heaping incredible amounts of praise on the film.  And I must admit that the film’s trailers made it look great, something of interest to a non-Rocky-fan like me.  I finally decided that I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  I was not disappointed, and that’s putting it mildly.  Creed is phenomenal, a rich and resonant film that actually got me quite choked up in a few places.  Holy shit, I can’t believe the seventh film in this boxing franchise made me cry!!

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Michael B. Jordan, as I’ve already noted, plays Adonis.  When we meet him, Adonis is using the last name of Johnson, but we quickly learn that he’s the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in the first several Rocky films).  Adonis has a good life.  He has a loving mother, a nice house and a good job.  But in his heart he wants to be a boxer like his father, even though in most other ways he tries to deny everything about his father, most particularly his famous last name.  Adonis moves to Philadelphia to track down his father’s rival and friend, Rocky, begging Rocky to coach him.  Rocky has tried to put his life in boxing behind him, living a quiet life running a small restaurant (named after Adrian).  Rocky initially refuses, but Adonis persists, and eventually Rocky begins to warm up to him, agreeing to help.

The over-all plot of this film is familiar, but it works because that familiar structure is used to tell a surprisingly emotional story about the relationship forged between these two men, Adonis and Rocky, and the powerful demons they each still carry with them.

Sylvester Stallone is magnificent in the film.  I can’t believe how good he is.  Writer/director Ryan Coogler (the script was co-written by Aaron Covington) has crafted a perfect role for Mr. Stallone, putting Rocky into the Mickey role as Creed’s wizened, elder-statesman trainer.  It’s a brilliant idea, and Mr. Stallone absolutely kills it.  He plays Rocky with such sadness and loneliness that he makes it impossible for the audience not to root for the big galoot.

After seeing Star Wars: The [continued]