Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guardians, Vol. 2

As promised, after the first Guardians review comes the current one. I know this movies has been received with a mild lack of enthusiasm by many critics but, conclusions spoiler, I mostly disagree with the negative opinions. In fact, I had a great time with this colorful, sentimental, unapologetic spectacle.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Category: Movies

What it is:
A continuation of the Marvel space opera Guardians of the Galaxy, this time focusing mostly on Peter Quill and his daddy issues and repeating over and over again until the dumbest audience members got it, how the Guardians are each others’ family.

How I found it:
How could I not, with the marketing and the trailers all over the internet and my friends waiting for the sequel of the movie they loved.

Summary judgment:
I was surprised by how much I liked it. I left the theater quite happy and my positive impression only grew over the day.
I was the more surprised because I had zero expectations of this movie. Or no positive expectations anyway because I was steeling myself for all the shooting and explosions and sensory overload with no real storytelling and no real character moments and wondering how boring it would be. Well, it wasn’t boring.

Best things about it:
I loved Yondu and his story and I loved the actor’s portrayal.

Worst things about it:
Eh, read my lips: the fight with the planet wasn’t great, even if it was much less obnoxious than I’d expected.

Other pluses:
There are actually so many! The casting worked again and even though I didn’t expect anything good to come from expanding the core cast, it actually didn’t hurt: Mantis was an alright one-note character and some who didn’t work last time, worked a bit better now. Looking at you, Nebula.
The visual side was delightful again, with the animators letting their imagination loose. Especially Ego’s planet looked impressive.

Other minuses:
Some humor wasn’t top notch but I guess you have to cater to all kinds of audiences, not just those with refined tastes like mine. I’ll let it slide because a lot of the jokes were actually funny. I could have lived with a few less “we are your family” speeches but again, all the sentimentality worked at times. At least it was very much not a cynical movie and nobody needs more cynicism in this world. I didn’t love the space pirates, whatever they were called, and did there really have to be so many of them? (Okay, I know they’re called Ravagers.) And speaking of too much: Baby Groot. We get it, it’s great merchandise, I’m sure it would sell just as well with half the screentime. And the music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea: it worked and I like that they made it important but it’s a bit grating to listen to.

How it enriched my life:
It made me quite happy. I also liked the Jay and the Americans song, much as the rest of the music wasn’t my type.

Fun fact:
Fun is probably not the exact right word but the movie totally made me cry! I’m always embarrassed to cry in the theater and try to keep it to minimum (which is usually not that hard). And I almost did during the emotional ending but then that SPOILER Stallone I completely forgot about had to come with his fleet and salute Yondu and suddenly there I was desperately looking for tissues and feeling quite awkward.

Follow-up:
I still have very low expectations of the third movie. In fact, this would make a good franchise finale except it’s barely franchise with two titles. But I will gladly see this one again.

Recommended for:
People who like Disney movies and space operas but are not too serious about the quality of their enertainment (Bergman this movie ain’t). People who are not allergic to Hollywood psychoanalytic-friendship moments. People whose expectations were not overly high to begin with.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Mockingbird

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

This comes about 3 years too late but we rewatched the first Guardians before watching Vol. 2 so I decided to share my opinion about both movies in two entries.

er-guardiansofthegalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy (the first movie from 2014)

Category: Movie

What it is:
Marvel’s introduction of space heroes into their cinematic universe. A band of misfits and outlaws comes together for less than respectable reasons and becomes a group of friends whose friendship is the strongest power in the universe. More or less, you probably all know that story anyway.

How I found it:
The trailer won me over even though I hadn’t known anything about those particular superheroes and it really felt like Marvel scraping the bottom of the barrel. However, the tone of the trailer suggested that they might still have something good down there.

Summary judgment:
The people I went to the theater with were really excited when we were leaving, convinced that it was the best movie in ages. Me… not so much though I mostly liked it, too. In fact, I liked everything up to the big fight in the decadent, messy planet (sorry, I really don’t know those names) and only bits and pieces afterwards.

Best things about it:
The fresh breath of air in the superhero genre, with the lighthearted tone, the colors and the new, relatively unknown characters. Also, the banter.

Worst things about it:
You know I’m going to say it and I’m not going to pretend otherwise: the big fights. Look, these reviews are personal and the big fights are always going to be the worst part for me because they are soooo boring. Particularly the grand finale exhausted me. And Ronan is another repeatable, unexciting, plot-device kind of villain.

Other pluses:
I liked most of the jokes, the relationships within the group and casting. Various places we got to see in space had their unique visual flavor, with the utopian Xandar (see, I remember something) and the prison being most memorable (to me anyway). I liked Chris Pratt, aka Andy Dwyer In Space, and some secondary characters, particularly Yondu (I’m glad the second part proved the creators also liked him).

Other minuses:
Some of the characters didn’t get enough time and attention, to the point of being (unlikable) caricatures – looking at you, Nebula.

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it convinced me that the space part of the Marvel universe is not as bad as the old X-Men animated series made me believe.

Fun fact:
That mix tape that Star-Lord listens to? In high school for a too-long time I used to listen to a German “Grössten Oldies” radio when studying, until I knew all those songs by their first chords. So I guess the soundtrack wasn’t such a discovery for me as it was for some people.

Follow-up:
Obviously, I was willing to watch Vol. 2 but without any great expectations. I mostly prepared myself for even more explosions and “epic” battles. Oh, also when Guardians appeared in All New X-Men‘s Battle of the Atom I knew who they were.

Recommended for:
Fans of MCU, space opera, bands-of-misfits movies and people who like their movies loud, colorful and explosive.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Vol. 2

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Ghost in the Shell

er-ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)

Category: Movie

What it is:
The 2017 adaptation of the Japanese story that was already comics, an anime show and an animated movie. Now, I will be a slightly incompetent recapper because I only know the movie but it tells a story of a near(?)-future Japan, where experiments are made to transfer human consciousness into extremely high-tech robot bodies. Major is the first success (more or less) and works for a security agency, slowly developing doubts about her past and present. Told you it would be imperfect.

How I found it:
It was on all the billboards, of course. But mostly R really wanted to see it and so we left the son with my mom and went for a morning screening.

Summary judgment:
It was better than I’d expected.

Best things about it:
I liked the image of the city: its colors, noise, messiness and how it would give you true sensory overload. It was quite believable and yet very tastefully fabricated.

Worst things about it:
No, not the whitewashing – I don’t feel competent to discuss that. Actually, I disliked the action elements: shootings and explosions and the grand finale in the temple completely lost me.

Other pluses:
I liked the cast, even Scarlett Johansson, who’s normally not my favorite (I know you disagree, please don’t try to convince me, it’s useless). I was impressed with how she was not shown in an overly sexual way (plus, I really liked her hair). I also liked the visual side of the story: how everything was consistent and yet split into different visual landscapes – city streets, business offices, people’s homes, all had their distinct flavors.

Other minuses:
Did I mention the shooting and the explosions? Yep, that. But also I felt there were maybe too many characters and so some didn’t get anything at all to do and some didn’t get enough time for their stories to develop. Also, I’m so over corporations as villains, it’s such an obvious solution.

How it enriched my life:
I add the city from the movie to my list of inspiring portrayals of cities in science-fiction. But also, it was great fun to go out in the morning, have popcorn in the theater and then coffee, all before getting down to daily duties.

Fun fact:
So that animated movie I mentioned? I saw it once but I barely grasped what it was about and I think I was falling asleep as I was watching. So now that you know, you may disagree with me with even more vehemence, if you feel so inclined.

Follow-up:
I don’t really feel encouraged to learn more about the franchise so I think for now this is where it stops.

Recommended for:
People tangentially interested in (any of) the originals, people who like their action movies with one or two thoughts on the side or people who are fascinated by the idea of living in a robot body. But especially Johansson’s fans, which was pretty obvious, I suppose.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Regency Love

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Rotten Tomatoes

The Heart Is a Lonely Fighter: Bogowie

Every now and then I let a trailer or a word of mouth for a Polish movie fool me into going to the cinema. Every time I leave telling myself: “nevermore.” Nevermore shall I be so naïve as to fall for hype only to leave disgusted (and slightly glad that  my firm belief in the suckiness of Polish cinema still holds true because we like our beliefs to turn out right, don’t we).

Well, the day to eat my words, and gladly, finally came. Bogowie (Gods) interested me with its trailer but I still expected to be heavily disappointed. Then I heard enthusiastic reviews and I thought “ugh, people are always so easy to please.” And then I saw the film.

Bogowie is the story of Zbigniew Religa, a legendary heart surgeon who carried out the first successful heart transplant in Poland when everybody considered it an unnecessary and unethical risk. I’m simplifying, Google it or watch the movie if you’re interested in the history. But even if you’re not, watch the movie because it’s damn brilliant where it has no right to be, proving me wrong. I hate medical dramas, their predictability, sentimentality and how genuinely scary they are but this film kept me engrossed and not grossed out (despite the very realistic – or at least bloody, I’m not a heart surgeon, as I’m sure you’re aware – depiction of operations on hearts). I think I ate a half of my scarf out of sheer suspense.

And here go even more reasons to watch the movie:

Actors. A wonderful lead in the person of Tomasz Kot with strong supporting cast. They create characters which are both realistic and likeable.

Tone. Despite the fact that the subject matter seems to invite sentimentality, pathos and gloom, the movie avoids all of this almost entirely (well, it retains the necessary amount, I guess). It’s dynamic, sometimes humorous and quite exciting. It is also, all in all, a very positive story which manages not to become hagiographic.

Interiors. The drab interiors of Polish apartments and public places of the 80s come to life. The movie is, in fact, a very good period drama.

It makes me really happy that Bogowie managed to revive my faith in Polish cinematography and I can try to look at the awfulness and cheerlessness of an average Polish movie as merely a failure and not a given.

 

 

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Rotten Tomatoes

Girl out of Water: Fish Tank

er-fishtankYesterday, rather uncharacteristically I watched a movie without superheroes. Every now and then I will watch a gritty social drama about growing up in a worse district of a generally nice place, ever since Fucking Åmål enchanted me many years ago. My newest addition to this collection is British Fish Tank about Mia, a dancer wannabe from a more or less pathological family and the relationship she develops with her mother’s boyfriend. Of course, to make matters sufficiently gritty, Mia is fifteen and the boyfriend’s approach degenerates from paternal to decisively different.

The movie excels in the acting department. Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend manages to be both repulsive and intriguing. Obviously, he’s got the charisma (and, let’s face it, the looks) to make a viewer sympathetic where another actor would only come off as a predatory creep. I’m still not sure if that’s all Connor was or if he started as well-meaning and lost control later on. (Side note: never ever do I accept the explanation that sex is something that just happens and so dirty particulars can be excused; my uncertainty is about how much his actions were premeditated, not whether they were innocent because they obviously weren’t.)

Katie Jarvis as Mia also deserves praise for how she mixes strength with vulnerability. You can’t exactly like her but you can’t help wanting her to find luck in the end. She’s also wonderfully real, with her unflattering hairdo and far-from-perfect dance moves. Finally, the supporting actors are pretty great: the mother suffering from arrested development and male-dependency (not to mention other dependencies) and the little sister, already fated to repeat the same mistakes. Even though written more or less as clichés, they manage to appear human.

While actors work overtime to make this movie memorable, writing proves a little weaker. The movie is terribly predictable. From the array of characters you know the outline of what will happen. There are points in the story where it could take a different route but it simply doesn’t. The only thing that surprised me, and this gives the movie at least a star more in my assessment, was restraint when it came to violence. For instance, I was groaning internally – spoiler alert – expecting the little girl to drown, especially after the movie made sure we knew Mia couldn’t swim. What happened next was the only surprise of the movie and I really liked it.

Subtlety is also sorely missing when it comes to symbolism: what with the dead horse, and the fish eaten by the dog and especially the escaping balloon at the end… But I’ve come to expect that from Bildungs…films, I guess. It was still not nearly as bad as in a certain Polish film where a boy made carton angel wings for the girl he liked. Well, that’s not what teenagers did centuries ago when I was one.

All in all, Fish Tank might not make it to the top of my favorite movies but for a two-hour-long film without any spandex in it, it proved interesting and thought-provoking and made me appreciate Fassbender’s skills yet a little more.

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Legos Are Awesome: The Lego Movie

er-thelegomovieIf you think liking Lego bricks past the age of twelve is embarrassing, please be done with this post lest your opinion of me is irrevocably damaged, thank you.

For the rest of you: yes, I find Lego bricks one of those things you’re lucky not to grow out of and I know more such people. And four of us, all serious adults, went to see The Lego Movie without even taking neighbors’ kid for cover and unselfconsciously enjoyed it a lot.

To me the greatest attraction of the movie is visual: how the whole world is built from well-known, recognizable pieces. The first time we saw it done were Lego video games (full geek alert, we loved those, too): Harry Potter and Marvel Superheroes and, really, it shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is to recognize brick models remembered from childhood used as parts of, for instance, Hogwarts scenery. A clever, funny idea, like using coffee mugs for helmet elements, always surprises you and makes you smile. The movie works in the same way and we still enjoyed it a lot, especially that it can use so many more kinds of scenery than the games. Allegedly, were you a millionaire, you could build all the sets from actual bricks. The creators of the movie also drew inspiration from those fan-made stop-motion Lego shorts, which shows e.g. in sea scenes. Even though the movie is not stop-motion (because if it were the world would have to end from too much awesomeness), it often feels like it with the attention to textures and detail: such as bite marks on the bricks. The hardest thing to 3D-animate always seem to be human beings and The Lego Movie didn’t have that to deal with, but it feels like they took all the resources they would normally use for animating humans and used them to make the brick world feel tangible. It also reminded me a lot of an earlier animation, Wreck-It Ralph, which uses old video game imagery for building its world. This kind of visual game of reassembling the whole world (get it?) of something well-known really speaks to my designery soul.

With so much visual candy you hardly need a plot but you still get one. It’s not all that surprising but both you and that neighbors’ kid will enjoy it. It’s about Emmett, a regular construction figurine, who gets himself involved in an adventure, blah blah hero quest, blah blah shooting and car chases, blah blah happy ending. But while the grand message is obvious (believe in yourself, be loyal to your friends and you’re a special snowflake just like that guy next to you), I liked the anti-corporate jabs that abound especially at the beginning. In Emmett’s everyday world you need to follow instructions, buy overpriced coffee and enjoy the same TV show every day. This was a little more surprising, and more glum, than one would expect from this kind of movie – or, you know, a movie that only grand corporations with their money could ever produce.

Anyway, The Lego Movie quickly rose among the ranks of my favorite animated movies (up there with Tangled, Ratatouille and a few others) and I’m sure I’ll re-watch it, at least just to gorge on the background details I didn’t catch the first time.

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