Tag Archives: Kurt Russell

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight posterHeading into the film billed as ‘The 8th Film From Quentin Tarantino’ it was inevitable that a lot of questions would be floating around The Hateful Eight. While I have enjoyed all his movies, its hard to argue that he peaked way back in 1994 with Pulp Fiction and, with this coming with the extra added bonus/burden of being shot and screened in 70mm Ultra Panavision/Cinerama and in a so-called ‘roadshow’ format.

Of course, not all screenings feature the ‘roadshow’ edition with the 70mm projection, not many cinemas are equipped to deal with such, but either way, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this paraphernalia might be designed to distract from what was actually on screen.

That said, as I headed into the Odeon Leicester Square’s huge ‘Premier’ screen, it was hard not to feel a sense of anticipation. This was only further heightened as the lights dimmed and the vintage, stylised image of snow-capped mountains and a stage-coach, along with the word ‘Overture’, appeared on screen and Ennio Morricone’s specially written intro music blared from the speakers.

After some typically Tarantino opening titles that set the stage of this being not only an attempt at evoking elements of Leone’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ but also Tarantino’s own big budget exploitation movies, we get some genuinely fantastic snow-covered vistas introducing us to the semi-mythical winter mountains where we will spend the next three hours.

Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Russell and Jackson

As the name suggests the main body of the cast is something of an ensemble, but it is the first two major players we meet who really lead the pack, in the form of Major Marquis Warren, aka The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth, aka The Hangman (Kurt Russell).

As soon as these two begin their discussions its clear that, while the settings may change, there’s no mistaking Tarantino’s unique dialogue and we are firmly in his universe once more.

As we meet Daisy Domergue, aka The Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Chris Mannix, aka The Sheriff (Walton Goggins) more of the Tarantinoisms come to light with the typical controversial language and a particularly nasty streak of violence directed at Domergue. Coming from one of the characters who seems to be the movie’s hero these are shocking and brutal, though as the film continues and we realise the title certainly holds true, and the violence is, at least, in keeping with the character and some level of comeuppance is had.

Tim Roth, Kurt Russel and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Roth, Russell and Leigh

Following some more impressive landscapes we arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery where we meet the rest of the titular cast and, thanks to a convenient blizzard, all are marooned on their journey and things take on something of the feel of a period set Reservoir Dogs with the players stuck in kind of limbo.

It’s while at the Haberdashery that the ingenious use of the 70mm format really comes into play as we are constantly aware of the finite confines of the location that really helps in building the pervading sense of isolation and paranoia needed to drive the plot.

As the paranoia and uncertainties pile up Jackson really takes the lead and is hugely impressive. He manages to do what many struggle with in taking Tarantino’s cartoonish characters and dialogue and imbuing them with a real genuine presence that here plays on ideas of racial tension (somewhat fitting for current real world political events, though that feels coincidental) as well as building a kind of analytical streak for the character that really pays off as the film goes on.

Tim Roth and Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight

Roth and Goggins

In the roadshow edition an intermission cuts the action on a real cliffhanger and, along with the overture, added to the sense of this being something special and a cinema event like few others.

15 minutes later, following another mini-overture to get us back in the right mood, we get a recap voiced in knowing style by Tarantino that reveals a fairly major plot point and I’m interested to see the movie in a more standard screening to see how this is dealt with without the intermission.

With the paranoia and tension suitably elevated things descend into a fairly typical Tarantino style Grand Guignol Danse Macabre. Every time I thought it might become predictable some twist or other came to play and it managed to balance this to lead to satisfying dénouement that lived up to the title’s suggestions excellently.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Samuel L. Jackson

While surrounded by much pomp and circumstance The Hateful Eight is just what you’d expect it to be from Tarantino as it plays with cinematic cliché and convention with a rich seam of knowing exploitation and controversy baiting violence and language.

Along with that Jackson and Russell steal the show while all the other members play their parts in solid fashion with Goggins and Tim Roth as other standouts in that regard.

In all though it once again feels like simply just another Quentin Tarantino film with him almost playing to his own reputation rather than building on it. So, while enjoyable and in places technically impressive, its falls short of his best, but I’d say stands strong alongside Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Reservoir Dogs in his second tier of films.

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The Thing

The Thing posterThere are horror movies that make you jump, there are horror movies that gross you out and there are horror movies that creep into your head and catch you unawares – then, every now and again, there are horror movies that do all of these things, and a little bit more.

I was already familiar with John Carpenter’s horror work thanks to Halloween, one of my favourite films since I first saw it in a drafty shed in The Forest as a teenager, and so had high hopes for The Thing.

The story centres on the invasion of a remote Antarctic research station by the titular creature, an ancient alien recently revived from the ice, and the attempts of the team to deal with it in the face of the onset of winter.

The first portion of the film immediately sets up that all is not right with some great aerial cinematography, following a title sequence that tells us this ‘Thing’ is certainly ‘From Another World’.

The Thing 1982In some hands this portion could feel like a protracted series of exposition sequences as all the characters and elements of what is to come are set up, in Carpenter’s hands however we don’t have long to wait for the horror side of this science fiction tale to kick in as a dog transforms before our eyes in gruesome style and we get our first view of The Thing and the balance between exposition and horror is perfectly pitched.

Kurt Russell as MacReady

Kurt Russell as MacReady

Even as we build up to the initial reveal the sense of unease that comes to the fore in the second half of the movie is well set as clues and counter clues as to the true nature of both the monster and some of the characters are laid. This is a very clever trick that is used to make what could otherwise be a fairly episodic story into a cohesive whole that draws the viewer in from the start and never lets go.

Character-wise Kurt Russell’s MacReady is our hero but, throughout, his status as such is constantly undermined then reinforced, then undermined again, and Russell plays this excellently, at times even coming over as a crazed madman, as he forgoes sleep to try to keep control.

Alongside Russell the real star of the show is the creature work.

The ThingMade before CGI made monsters ‘easy’ to realise, but often disappointing, here puppetry, makeup and physical visual effects are used to create some truly horrific images as The Thing develops from Dog/Spider to giant alien monster all dripping with blood and a fair share of various other gore. This is combined with some astonishing design work to create some monsters that really, along with Giger’s Alien, have set the stage for all movie monsters to follow.

Not wishing to spoil the movie but, much like many horror movie classics, it doesn’t end in a way that would satisfy the story in a traditional manner, but, leaves a much more satisfying ending for the viewer with the horror remaining real in our minds as the credits roll over a continuation of the sinister synth drenched soundtrack that has permeated the best part of the previous hour and three-quarters.

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