Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by: James Gunn Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hrs 18 mins

Studio: Marvel Studios Screenwriter: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Teaser Trailer from Marvel Studios

So here we find our Guardians of the Galaxy, again, as the MCU’s tenth film. The Guardians are hired by a race called the Sovereign to save their planet’s power supply from becoming a dimensional-jumping onto-slug’s dinner feast. That plays out how it does, with the Sovereign chasing them across space for offending them. Remember, Rocket (Cooper) is a part of this group.

Along the way, they encounter a pair (Russell and Lementieff) who claim to know Quill’s (Pratt) father. Vol. 1 focused on Quill’s mom’s issues, so it follows that James Gunn would make Vol. 2 about his father’s issues. So, Peter, Drax (Bautista), and Gatorade (Saldana) go with the pair. Rocket and Groot (Diesel) have another task, including dealing with the incredible Karen Gillan’s Nebula.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Pom Klementieiff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana Credit: Marvel Studios via IMDb.com

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the characters explore places and ideas that change how they view family and the universe. It’s touching moments like when Rocket gets a therapy lesson from Yondu of all people, with the humor and action that ground the story and moves it along with ease. The soundtrack helps too! Gunn’s starship of misfit toys and the well-selected tracks mesh so well. It’s another dose of quirk, the opposite of the Avengers ensemble, and it’s incredible how it all comes together. Plenty of people have posed the question ‘team Iron Man or team Cap’ over the years. What they should have been asking is, are you team Avengers or team GotG? Really, who would you want to save the universe?

As a sequel, the surprises of the characters’ personality traits and Gunn’s outlandish style is gone for the audience in Vol.2. Thankfully, it’s not gone-gone. Gunn’s focus is always the characters so the story feels like it’s organically in response to them.

Michael Rooker and Bradley Cooper in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Credit: Marvel Studios via Forbes.com

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is a fun, energetic, semi-dirty follow-up to Vol. 1. While not all the jokes hit their mark, plenty still do. The comedic style is still there, just like the tone and spunk of the first one. The story is solid, considering it focuses on Quill’s daddy issues. Full of sass and wit, it also has substance and continued character development, which is essential when characters will be seen again and again.

Personally, I think that Yondu and Baby Groot steal the film overall. Share your thoughts on your favorite Guardian character in the comments!

If you enjoyed Vol.1, you’d love Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 just as much. So it should be on your watchlist!

—a pen lady


Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Directed by: Rob Marshall   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 25 mins

Studio: Sony Pictures      Screenwriter: Robin Swicord

Based on: Novel of same name by Arthur Golden

Cast: Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Suzuko Ohgo, Kaori Momoi, Youki Kuhoh, Kôji Yakusho

Memoirs of a Geisha is an American Hollywood film about the mysterious lives of a class of people within Japanese culture. It’s directed by a white man. The art and costume departments were also led by white people. The book upon which this film is based was written by a white man. The main cast is Chinese. So, yes. Let’s get the points of cultural impropriety out of the way first, shall we? 

This movie would most likely not be made today without Japanese cast members as the leads. It would undoubtedly involve someone behind the scenes as a consultant. This would remove the tarnish this film suffers from culturally, at a minimum. As it is, the cast looks and sounds Chinese. One of the original points in casting was that there were not enough Japanese actors who could speak English well enough to be considered for specific roles. As a white American, I’m not so stupid; I can’t tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese people. Apparently, I am an exception, as the thinking was many Westerners are too dumb and close-minded to notice. Is that true? Yes, but how many possess the intellect and patience to sit through a film like this anyway? So, if you can get over the casting issues, keep reading.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a dramatic period piece (1920-the 1940s) that follows the path of a young girl, Chiyo (Ohgo), who is sold to a Geisha house. Such a place is where certain girls/women train to dance, play music, pour tea, and master the art of conversation. To be a companion to men in public settings. Not physically or sexually at all. They are a status symbol, moving displays of art and grace. It is said to be a great honor. And yet, what is unspoken is that this lifestyle is a form of modernized indentured servitude. Which makes me wonder if that’s historically accurate. 

The film begins with Chiyo being sold and taken from her home, a small fishing village, to a place with more rooftops than she’s ever seen before in her short life. Where she’s expected to scrub, clean, sew and do anything else that’s demanded of her. To serve. Until one day when she meets a man who shows her an ounce of compassion and kindness. No one else has in a long time. From this, the film is a springboard for Chiyo’s resolve to become a Geisha so she can see the man again. 

Ken Watanabe, Suzuko Ohgo in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Credit: Sony Pictures via Cinemaholic.com

That moment is one I have an issue with. Chiyo is still a child, and her life’s ambition to become a Geisha is entangled with her desire for this man, known as “Chairman” (Watanabe), to become her patron. Someone who will look after her for the rest of her life. The narrative frames this as a love story, but it’s not. It’s a girl’s infatuation with someone just because they were kind to her. It carries on like this for years as her motivation for everything she does afterward. It’s a dangerous, unhealthy obsession. She never even learns his actual name. This obsession is encouraged by Mameha (Yeoh), who reminds Chiyo that Geisha are not entitled to love or have a life of their own. It makes a person wonder what it is all for. 

As Chiyo gets ready to make her Geisha debut, she is given a Geisha name, Sayuri (Zhang). 

The beginning of the film’s vantage point of Chiyo/Sayuri as a child (ideally) lets the audience appreciate all that she’s endured and put up with as a young woman about to become a Geisha. How she deals with an established, jealous rival from her own house, Hatsumomo (Li). An angry, vicious viper who clearly can’t handle the competition. Her character is a constant point of conflict for Chiyo/Sayuri. She causes much treachery and deceit throughout the film. This back and forth is just one of the many areas that provided layers of detail and cultural nuances. Often adding to the pace of the film so it shifts from beat to beat with ease. 

Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Credit: Sony Pictures

If the cultural nuances of Geisha or Japanese culture haven’t been bastardized for the period as a whole. I do wonder how much is wrong and what is accurate. 

Many of the characters are given some back story to grant their place in the plot with more relevance than they deserve, but they all serve a purpose. No one seems like a throwaway character. That said, the cast all deliver a performance that is as good as could be expected. It’s not difficult to understand anyone in their attempts to speak English clearly. Gong Li and Suzuka Ohgo are probably the most energetic actresses, with the most ability to branch out emotionally. As such, their depictions of Hatsumomo and young Chiyo are the most engaging to watch. 

Memoirs of a Geisha has this pull. From the start of the film, there is a tone that is set. One of seriousness and mystery. Where the further in you go, the more layers are pulled back to reveal this atmospheric bubble where dance, cherry trees, kimonos, and tea are the only reality that matter. Where women are locked in battles of words and wit to acquire a patron. 

Gong Li ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Credit: Sony Pictures via IMDb.com

The ending to this film is like the book. So, the fault or questions that creep in at the conclusion are not solely those of the filmmakers. The movie’s last act takes place at the end of world war two. History explains how that went for Japan. My question is, how would Arthur Golden resolve his Sayuri and Chairman storyline without the crutch of adding in the war as a copout? He created this story that eludes and divulges the secrets of the lives of Geisha. With all the rules and taboos therein. I think this story could have been stronger if the main plot was resolved without U.S. soldiers coming to Japan. If the story had been set sooner in time. How would that have affected the trajectory of the character’s endings if he had kept Sayuri on her delusional path? I have no idea. It’s a question you can think about if you see the film for yourself. 

Is Memoirs of a Geisha terrible? That depends on how you feel about the casting, first and foremost. Overall is the acting unwatchable? Not at all. The set designs and costumes are all remarkable looking. Elegant. Detailed. The choreography… ask someone with knowledge.  

For an American-made film with an all-Asian cast, I can see its desire to expand beyond what gets typically made here. To provide a film that would expand Westerners’ mindsets on the notion of ‘foreign films.’ Because if this film was made with a Japanese cast, spoken in Japanese, with English subtitles, virtually no one in America would have gone to see it. That’s assuming it made it to smaller local theaters at all. American’s are idiotic, lazy, snobs when it comes to the idea of reading and watching at the same time during a film. Well, the entire film. 

Ziyi Zhang in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Credit: Sony Pictures via Slant Magazine

The non-American Asian community will undoubtedly find faults with this film enough to not want to see it. That’s fair. However, there are plenty of factors about Memoirs of a Geisha that land it on the watchable list. Again if you don’t mind the casting flubs and a story around women and their issues, it’s a good watch. Just make sure you’re not distracted while viewing. 

—a pen lady


Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Directed by: Ivan Reitman     Runtime: 1 hr. 45 mins.     Rated: PG

Studio: Columbia Pictures     Screenwriters: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd

Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver

There’s no denying when a film’s following endures over the decades, someone did something right. When someone utters the term ‘movie magic,’ you can look to such a film as an example of what that means. Almost four decades after the release of the first film, Ghostbusters is such a movie. 

A supernatural film caters to a particular group of movie-goers, which can make money, sure. What made Ghostbusters such a hit was the notion of the supernatural being blended with comedy. Yet not in an offbeat or cheesy manner. This melding of genres, first and foremost, as successful as it was, is because of excellent story crafting.

Official Trailer for ‘Ghostbusters’ Credit: Columbia Pictures via YouTube.com

I’m a proponent that every film project begins and ends with the story. How well a script is executed in cinema (or television) is the foundation to success. Yes, many other factors can ruin a project, but it starts with the story. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis birthed the idea of Ghostbusters to the page, and Ivan Reitman ran with it. It was a perfect melding of story and vision coming together. 

Simply put, Ghostbusters is about a group of scientists that go into business for themselves who are the animal catchers of the supernatural. For a price. Some jobs are easy, some are more involved, but when the world’s fate is at stake (with New York City as the epicenter), who ya gonna call? 

Part of the magic of this film is the technical jargon and gadgets used. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or if scientifically, it’s easily debunked. The way those attributes are utilized makes it seem believable and seamless into the world they belong to. That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone want to watch in a more critical world of films today. That’s as adults. As a child sees it, who wouldn’t want a proton pack? 

‘Ghostbusters’ image from Columbia Pictures via Denofgeek.com

The stunts, special effects, and cinematography are all other components that add to the movie magic within Ghostbusters. Creating the proton streams, Slimer, any of the spooks and specters, and a hundred plus tall marshmallow man add to the story and magic. Crafting the right camera shots and angles really help sell the tone of the film. From wide-angle shots of the city to the close-ups of characters’ reactions to the action, it all works together. 

Ghostbusters is one of those films that is gifted with a memorable musical score, and as a bonus, it has a theme song. I play some of this film’s music on my front porch every Halloween with other music because it’s just so fitting. 

For a movie that is close to four decades old, it’s still funny. Most films will show their age over time with the character’s lines/references, but Ghostbusters doesn’t really suffer from that. The worst that can be said is that it highlights the styles of 1980s America. 

Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd in ‘Ghostbusters’ via Vanity Fair

The most significant component is cast chemistry. When the casting for each role is bang on, it’s fantastic. When the entire cast meshes well and feeds off of one another’s performances, the project is all the better for it. Winston (Hudson) and Egon’s (Ramis) presence and humor balance out Ray (Aykroyd) and Peter’s (Murray) more eccentric personality attributes. To that end, you have polar opposites in Dana (Weaver) and Janine’s (Potts) characters, but they still have a place that belongs in the film. Even though he’s the odd man out, Louis (Moranis) is this endearing, naive neighbor that gets caught up in the action and adds to the comedy. 

Ghostbusters is a movie that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s meant to be a fun sci-fi/comedy that you enjoy with popcorn that happens to be a well-constructed story with great acting. It absolutely is worth a place on your watchlist! Enjoy. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews, Uncategorized

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Directed by: Josh Boone   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hr 39 mins

Studio: 20th Century Studios     Screenwriter: Josh Boone, Knate Lee

Cast: Maisie Williams, Blu Hunt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Alice Braga

Movies adapted or based on comics have a wealth of material to work with when choosing which direction to take when crafting a script. Some characters, or ensembles, have exceeded expectations at the box office. Others have crashed and burned, making audiences cringe, even purging the experience from their memory. The New Mutants, however, created a whole new category, scripts that should be used as toilet paper. The numerous trailers are misleading as fook. I cringe even adding one.

The New Mutants is a spin-off series of the popular X-Men comic, so it has its spot in the comic world. It has no place in any cinematic universe. This film isn’t a hot mess because it was delayed due to Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, including the X-Men film franchise. It sucks because writers Josh Boone and Knate Lee wrote a shit script. Fox being attached to it in some way is a curse, too; I mean, there are those other X-Men films we want to forget about. Fox let those happen…

20th Century Studios Offical Trailer for ‘The New Mutants’

Writer and director Josh Boone said in a Screen Rant interview he wanted younger people who feel like outsiders to see this (when it was in theaters), to see themselves reflected in it. To reflect the darker artwork of the The New Mutants series. Well, it does have a depressing, worn down, hopeless vibe going on in the film. It’s not a compliment. If I was a younger viewer, I wouldn’t want to relate to any of these characters. The X-Men comics and films reflect guilt when appropriate for damage or harm when a younger person’s mutant abilities manifest. The New Mutants do not. 

Dr. Reyes (Braga) is this “doctor” in charge of keeping these teenagers safe. New mutants can be a danger to themselves and others and need to learn control. That is easy enough to accept, but not when she’s the only person in a dilapidated holding camp, essentially. Unlike the minor afflictions or damage the X-Men characters caused before learning control, none of them had blood on their hands. That aspect is a fresh perspective and an honest one, never previously explored in comic films to date. Moving on from that and finding a place in the world is not the intended outcome for these five characters. 

I liked the idea of what to do with such mutants because let’s be honest, why would it not happen like that? Instead, our five teenagers are tested and assessed for possible inclusion in Dr. Reyes’s superior’s facility. A man who knows when a person manifests in their mutant ability, which is how they found Dani (Hunt). Fans might infer she means Charles Xavier. Given conversations between Dani and Illyanna (Taylor-Joy), it’s obvious this takes place well after X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Also, Dr. Reyes works for the Essex Corporation. If this film hadn’t bombed at the box office, that villain tidbit could have introduced the X-Men into the MCU. It’s safe to say The New Mutants will not be that inlet.

Masie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton, and Anya Taylor-Joy in 20th Century Studios film ‘The New Mutants’

The opening sequence in this film seems like it was chosen because they forgot to shoot the beginning of this film before running out of budget and time. Plenty of films out there require the audience to pay attention right out the gate and catch on shortly after. This movie’s beginning, however, misses the mark. It’s as if I started the film by selecting some random chapter in the movie and started from there. 

Most of the film is slow and offers nothing meaningful, even with the character’s worst memories coming to life. The fight scene at the end of this is a weird patchwork of those memories coming after them. The thing from the begging of the film (that was never really explained) shows up again too. It feels forced as Boone tries to have everyone’s origins come full circle, offering closure and self-esteem boosts.

While I am familiar with some of the cast and know they can act, this film does nothing for any of them. These teenage characters are portrayed as angsty, suicidal, depressed, and confrontational, on top of how they ended up in this facility. It’s a bit on the nose. Even with their feelings resolved some, it’s a stretch to say this movie is for the outsider YA fanbase. Every X-Men film has done better at that. The inclusion of an openly gay relationship between two teenage characters is not enough to save a movie with no clear definition of what it is.

Image from 20th Century Studios ‘The New Mutants’ via The Ringer

The New Mutants is tagged as a horror/fantasy film. Slightly creepy and messed up, yes. Scary? Not a fucking chance. It’s more horrifying that Disney continued to greenlight this train wreck after they acquired Fox. 

If I didn’t know that this ensemble was a spin-off from the X-Men comics, I would curse Josh Boone and Knate Lee for associating this film with vestiges of the X-Men universe. It’s beyond embarrassing. I feel bad for the actors who have this attached to their film biographies and that I wasted time watching it. While I yelled and cursed when watching X-Men: Last Stand and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, they at least had better stories, pace, character development, and action. I’d rewatch them than ever watch The New Mutants again. 

This movie should never be on your watchlist, not even if someone pays you. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews, Uncategorized

Avatar (2009)

Avatar (2009)

Directed by: James Cameron  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hr 42 min

Studio: 20th Century Fox  Screenwriter: James Cameron

Cast:  Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni  

Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore

Avatar smashed box office records in 2009 by earning 2.6 billion more than the budget the studio gave director James Cameron to create. That is an insane amount of ticket sales worldwide! Is it justified?

A decade earlier, The Matrix was released and hailed for its innovative story-telling because there had never been anything like it previously. Avatar’s hype is cut from the same cloth. The newer CGI and motion capture technology then enabled James Cameron to create and develop a movie that set a bar for what future films could do. 

‘Avatar’ Official Trailer by 20th Century Studios via YouR

In Avatar, humans seek out a mineral on the lush jungle alien planet of Pandora. The smallest amount sells for a fortune back on Earth. Their efforts are stalled by the natives of Pandora, the Na’vi. Earth scientists create avatars to move more freely on the planet, whose air is toxic to humans, and to aid in communication efforts. At first, the company that runs this operation wanted the help and cooperation of the Na’vi, another reason for the avatar program. 

Avatars are genetically created shells manufactured from human and Na’vi DNA. The human mind is essentially uploaded into the avatar body, becoming a life model decoy (to get Marvel on you). The head of the Avatar program is Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), an exobiologist.

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in ‘Avatar’ Image Credit: IMDB/20th Century Fox/Disney

Greed and impatientness win out, and the company plots to use their hired mercenaries, led by Col. Quaritch (Lang), to force the natives from their home. The Colonel enlists the help of avatar driver and former Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) to give him intel while learning the Na’vi’s ways. In this, the plot is tired. It’s a regurgitated mash-up of Pocahontas (1995) meets FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Or any civilization that has been colonized or almost wiped out from a more significant, more powerful, outside force. 

That outside force also endangers the history preserved in the environment of Pandora in which all life is connected. The Na’vi refer to this as Ewya and revere this connection as sacred. It’s at this point that the plot is redeemed some. All the Pandoran creatures look alien, which creates this more believable sense of being far from Earth. Even plant life aids in this. What sells most viewers on Avatar isn’t the story but the visual. The stunning CGI is the lion’s share of the film. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios via New York Film Acadamy

Neytiri (Saldana) is the daughter of her clan’s leader and is tasked to teach Jake Sully their ways. While Jake Sully’s character interacts with just about every other character in this film, it’s the interactions with Neytiri that show the acting depth. From the facial movements to the jumping from trees to interacting with the wildlife… it’s all motion capture. There is nothing else to play off of onset; it’s all added later digitally. It’s so well acted! Worthington and Saldana give such impressive performances emotionally and physically; it makes you forgive the central plot trope. Instead, focusing on the trope of environmentalism. 

Unlike previous films that single out corporate greed and human waste and consumption issues, Avatar is different. The action and character development move the film along at a pace that doesn’t make you remember you are watching an almost three-hour film. It makes its points without having to over-explain them. Which I find refreshing. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

If you can forgive, or don’t care, about the plot being built upon the same troupes as so many other films before it, have a go and watch this. If you like action/sci-fi or any of the thespians cast in this film, you won’t be disappointed. As a personal observation, mind what device you watch this movie on. I started watching this on my iPad before switching over to a TV. The colors on the iPad were terrible! So if you watch this understand the colors should pop and have a richness to them. If they don’t, watch on something else, or you will cheat yourself out of the essential experience people flocked to the theaters to see. Avatar should be on your watchlist regardless. 

There are two sequels for this film to hit theaters in the next few years. More than a decade later, will Avatar’s reliance on CGI still wow and impress? Time will tell. 

—a pen lady