Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 Review

The Plot

The Guardians of The Galaxy find their newfound dysfunctional family challenged by old adversaries and strange new interstellar dangers. The fate of the Universe once again rests in the oddly assembled hands of Marvel’s instantly beloved band of wisecracking space mercenaries.

The Good

With Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel was supposed to be taking a risk on one of their least well known and strangest comic book commodities. Cynical sceptics feared talking trees and gun touting racoons would easily slip into the shadow of household names like Iron Man or Thor.  Instead director James Gunn and his expertly assembled cast surpassed the wildest expectations of fans and critics alike to deliver a wildly popular box office smash that reaffirmed everything special and fun about Marvel. Establishing the wildly imaginative cosmic scope of Marvel’s shared cinematic universe the first Guardians film turned its eclectic characters into instant fan favourites. Armed with a soundtrack of iconic classic rock and a steady stream of genuinely hilarious quips the film struck a remarkably well balanced tone between epic space adventure and a surprisingly sincere emotional core.

So when an inevitable sequel was announced it’s hard to understate just how high levels of expectation were. Could Vol.2 possibly replicate the unprecedented success and unique charms of the first film? The answer is a big frickin Yes… obviously.

From a euphorically fun opening title sequence set to ELO’s catchy classic Mr Blue Skies, Vol.2 plays out like an accomplished and almost note perfect second album. Returning director James Gunn consistently delivers everything fans want, combining much of what worked so effectively with the first film with interesting character development and imaginative new worlds. It undoubtedly helps that unlike recent Avengers adventures this self-contained film is able to focus exclusively on the Guardians without the distraction of servicing the needs of increasingly complex interwoven Marvel storylines.

Vol.2 reunites the combined talents of a truly special ensemble cast. Chris Pratt is yet again on delightful charismatic form as self-proclaimed legendary outlaw Star-Lord, romantically bickering with Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Bradley Cooper gives smirking ill-tempered Rocket Racoon subtle depth and Dave Bautista is on utterly brilliant scene stealing as hilariously literal Drax. However in truth all their obvious combined charms are eclipsed easily by Guardians smallest secret weapon… Baby Groot.

Responding to the intense fan reactions to the brief appearance of the infant form of Groot during the closing credit of the first film, Vol.2 turns the Vin Diesel voiced character into ten inches of adorable awesomeness. It’s impossible to quantify just how amazingly cute Baby Groot is, but what’s even more special is the way the diminutive character lends the film both hilarious comedy and heart-breaking poignancy. Evil cynics may be quick to try and dismiss Baby Groot as shameless fan service but in truth it provides an even more powerful and sincere family dynamic for the Guardians.

Director Gunn has been quick to point out that the second Guardians adventure is very much an ensemble piece focusing on the variously dysfunctional emotional dynamics between friends, sisters, fathers and sons. Baby Groot is an invaluable component in that family tapestry, frequently lending the film heart and literally wide eyed wonder.

It’s a true testament to the strength of the cast and script that amongst epic space battles and the fate of the universe each of the Guardians explores their own individual emotional journeys.

Kurt Russell’s mysterious newcomer Ego and Michael Rooker’s morally ambiguous space pirate Yondu both provide a surprisingly complex paternal dynamic for Peter Quill. With Vol.2 promising to resolve the lingering mystery surrounding Star-Lords true parentage and continue the emotional catharsis surrounding his mother’s death. Likewise reformed assassin Gamora and her homicidal adoptive sister Nebula violently confront their own painful shared past. Meanwhile Drax enjoys a sweet new friendship with endearingly naïve new hero Mantis. Finally an ill-tempered Rocket is forced to confront his self-destructive tendencies and seek redemption after his rash actions catalyse a somewhat disastrous turn of fortunes for the Guardians setting them all on a dangerous path.

Though Vol.2 offers a predictably satisfying array of one liners, star cameos, well-chosen songs and imaginative action what makes it such a deserving successor to the first film is that it manages to recapture the heart of the original with nuance and subtle sincerity. Of course the film isn’t always totally perfect but it’s far closer to perfection than is usually considered possible with such large scale superhero blockbusters, especially at the second time of asking.

The Bad

You’ll have to buy another ticket if you want to see it again.

The Ugly Truth

Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2 recaptures everything that is best about Marvel’s cinematic universe providing fans with a deeply satisfying and wildly fun sequel that matches sky high expectation.

Review by Russell Nelson

Resilience Review

The Plot

Resilience is a documentary charting the growing medical evidence surrounding the possible links between childhood emotional trauma and physical health of adults.

The Good

Director James Redford delivers the latest in a growing series of documentaries handling medical subject matter with due sensitivity and care.  In particular Resilience explores the uncomfortable science surrounding the connection between childhood trauma and life altering physical health conditions. The film provides both an informative education of the latest evidence for this new approach to health management with a subtle investigation to some of the deep rooted public and medical reluctance to accept this new premise that relatively common psychological trauma can have serious long term health consequences.

Redford’s approach combining evocative animation with calmly assembled medial and personal testimonies allows the film to cover emotional and taboo subject matter in a clear and concise manner. In a relatively short running time the film succeeds in presenting a picture of a potentially important change in the medical perceptions of the lasting impact of developmental psychology.

The film is also deliberately clear in addressing any potential argument that the notion that adverse childhood experiences have negative health impacts is self-evident or irrelevant. The film seeks to demonstrate that not only is the connection between ‘toxic’ psychological trauma and illness far more concrete than previously understood, it also potentially hold a key to making vital changes n preventative treatments for a wide range of serious health conditions.

The film serves as careful documentation of an originally controversial medical hypothesis and unashamedly seeks to encourage explorations of what the true impact of accepting this new reality may be.

The Bad

Despite the film’s best effort and intentions, no doubt many will find that the subject matter of childhood traumas and terminal illness uncomfortable viewing. If the evidence the film presents is true about the extent to which issues like sexual abuse, violence and emotional trauma affect significant portions of global populations then it’s likely this film may feel awkwardly relevant for a great many people.

While the film does it’s best to focus on the potential therapeutic benefits of this new science it is difficult, especially for those more directly affected by these findings, to ignore the central premise that childhood traumas do even more lasting damage to people’s lives than previously believed. This newfound understanding will likely prove little consolation for adults already living with these potentially devastating and varied health concerns.

The Ugly Truth

Resilience is a concise and well produced documentary that deals with a potentially unpalatable medical subject matter in an engaging and accessible way.

Review by Russell Nelson

Their Finest Review

The Plot

During the grim realities of World War 2 a small team of British creative talents fight their own battle to produce a moral boosting film capable of lifting the spirits of the embattled nation and maybe even inspiring a reluctant America to finally join the fight

The Good

Their Finest is a sincere homage to a classic era of cinema magic, offset against one of the most cruel and horrific times in human history.  This unique juxtaposition of despair and hope allows the film to deliver a satisfying tale of stoic bravery that is both poignantly sombre and frequently amusing.  In particular the film serves as a dramatic and timely reminder of the eternal pride that should be felt by the people of Great Britain for their crucial role in saving the world from evil during the darkest of days.

Director Lone Scherfig has assembled a suitably fine British cast including the beautiful talents of Gemma Arterton and a fabulously moustached Sam Claflin. At the heart of the story their frequent bickering as an unlikely writing team is both playful and convincingly tense. Around these two fine young stars a supporting cast littered with familiar faces and copious amounts of talent fleshes out the film’s comedy and tragedy.

Bill Nighy is on typically scene stealing form as an aging egomaniacal thespian. His trademark flair for dry wit and playful melodramatics inject frequent bursts of laughter into the cinema. Likewise his ability to subtly switch gears during more dramatic and poignant scenes is a rare gift and perfectly evidenced during some of the film’s closing stages.

Likewise Rachel Stirling is a very welcome presence, playing a stereotype defying character that most directly contrasts with the unapologetically repressive social and sexual politics of the era. She frequently provides both dry humour and articulates some of the films more poignant insights.

The Bad

Their Finest seeks to strike a careful balance between the truly tragic hardships of war and the whimsical escapist joy of the cinema. While the film does a mostly fine job of this it’s hard for the moments of genuine humour not to end up becoming somewhat overridden by a more pervasive sense of melancholy.  The film is admirable in its message but falls short of being the outright comedy which some audiences may have been more optimistically anticipating.

Leading lady Gemma Arterton remains radiantly beautiful and an accomplished stage actress, however her big screen performances persist in being noticeably theatrical. In particular her thick welsh accent in this role is a slightly inconsistent distraction which in truth adds little to either the story or character. It may have been better to merely allow Arterton to use her well suited natural voice and allow her to focus even more fully on the rest of her performance.

Overall the film has many fine qualities and is poignantly inspiring in places; however particularly during its final stages the introduction of both predictable and unexpected plot twists ultimately steer the film in more sombre directions. Audiences my wonder why a film that celebrates the magic of feel good entertainment can’t offer up a little more of joy and a few less tears. But then perhaps that is entirely the point of the film, that cruel distinction between cinematic satisfaction and real life.

The Ugly Truth

Their Finest deals sensitively with an untold side of one the most epic struggle in mankind’s history between the forces of good and evil. Although the story has quintessentially British qualities its core message of the inspiring power of art and cinema is universally entertaining and important.

Review by Russell Nelson

The Fate Of The Furious Review

The Plot

Legendary street racer Dominic Torreto finds his newfound happy existence turned on its head when he’s forced to betray his crew of friends and government agents by a mysterious woman with a powerful hold over him. In order to stop Dom and this new threat the team will need to rely on the usual array of supercars and some unexpected alliances…

The Good

The obscene global box office success of the Fast and Furious franchise is based on an increasingly refined formula of expensive supercars, recognisable multi-national cast, minimal acting and knowingly silly high speed CGI mayhem. Ironically a lack of complex plot and a heavy reliance on big explosions and gravity defying cartoon car action has allowed the franchise to grab huge audiences worldwide. It seems undeniable now that nothing smashes through a language barrier with quite so much success as Vin Diesel repeatedly defying the laws of physics with a car and a few well-placed rockets.

The 8th film in the series boasts the addition of at least a couple of new A-List names in Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron as well as significant roles for Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood and Jason Statham. Their presence goes at least some way to offsetting the notable absence of some of the franchises more established figures such as Jordana Brewster, Gal Gadot and the most tragically absent Paul Walker. Dwayne Johnson and Statham at least bring some real muscles to a world of largely absurd CGI.

The biggest weakness in previous Fast and the Furious films has always been the at awkward attempts at actual drama in between the copious high octane action set pieces. At times those scenes have proved painful cringe fests that have come dangerously close to stalling any entertaining momentum entirely. Thankfully this latest adventure rarely dwells on attempts at serious acting, instead moving briskly between cheesy one liners and the next far-fetched car chase.

The Bad

The original Fast and The Furious was a thinly veiled Point Break rip off loosely inspired by a Vibe magazine article about a real life Washington Heights street racer. It’s hard to truly express just how strange it is that after 16 years and countless overhauls a modest guilty pleasure has succeeded in becoming a seemingly unstoppable multi-billion dollar franchise on its 8th instalment.

After a couple of predictable sequels of diminishing returns  the series has survived this long by clinging onto a grateful core cast and shamelessly reinventing the characters as ridiculous globetrotting super agents. With each passing film the franchise gets increasingly detached from reality though and it’s important to put in some context just how ridiculous this evolution has been.

In the original film this ‘elite team’ were literally stealing stuff off the back of lorries, now they are disarming nuclear bombs and outsmarting cyberterrorists  with armies of tanks and helicopters to save the entire planet.  Against the backdrop of these ludicrous situations the resulting action sequences have become ever more gravity and logic defying. At least for some there is no doubt a gleeful silliness in watching brightly coloured rocket powered cars leapfrogging tanks, helicopters and submarines. It is still embarrassingly silly and cartoonish behaviour, but that again explains the franchises impressive cross generational appeal. Older and younger audiences are both able to derive pleasure from proceedings, albeit with varying levels of irony.

The Ugly Truth

Fans of the franchise will welcome the latest pit stop on an apparently never ending journey. With another two sequels already confirmed it is increasingly hard to even imagine any more ways Vin Diesel can possibly save the world with fast cars. Though it’s safe to say there are a billion reasons for the studio to unapologetically keep inventing more.

Review by Russell Nelson

The Sense Of An Ending Review

The Plot

An old man enjoying the swansong of semi-retirement is distracted from his otherwise mundane and moderately happy daily existence by an unexpected letter bequeathing him a mysterious item in the will of an old acquaintance. The news triggers a profound reflection on long forgotten memories of first love and lost friends.

The Good

Jim Broadbent brings the full force of his gruffly winsome charm to a leading role that carries audiences along a leisurely voyage of unlikely self-discovery.  It’s hard to imagine many other actors capable of portraying a character who is somehow simultaneously a selfish curmudgeon and yet also still a jovial sympathetic figure. Broadbent’s screen presence is the glue that holds together a relatively straightforward and uneventful story with a sense of purposefully profound gravitas.

Around Broadbent’s typically accomplished leading man a supporting cast including Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery competently do their parts. The film also manages to create at the very least a convincing continuity between Broadbent’s increasingly muddled recollections and his present day preoccupations. Rich cinematography and a close eye for details ensures that the film’s driving message about the fluid nature of time and our most precious memories is not lost amongst the persistent flashbacks.

Most importantly the film also avoids slipping into predictable melodrama or other clichés. The film is neither a heavily romanticized nostalgic romp nor a sad lament of the frailties and frustrations of old age. Instead the film maintains a calm and well considered focus on the more abstract and intriguing theme of memory. At its heart the film is as much about our own daily efforts to write the narratives of our lives and the relative ease with which over time we can begin to become deluded or mistake in even the most fundamental details of our personal histories.

The Bad

Inevitably younger audiences may find it harder to identify with the film’s core musings about old age and the imprecise records of our own memories. Of course the same criticism could be made about the countless coming of age dramas, with older audiences equally disconnected form adolescent anxieties. However, while common experience may make stories about youthful emergence into adulthood more universally appealing, it’s fair to say that stories dwelling on more mature self-reflection are often treated as a far more niche genre.

In all honesty if you strip away Broadbent’s capable screen presence what remains is a slow paced and unremarkable story with most of its more dramatic moments played out off screen. Though the film does well to maintain at least a certain degree of audience curiosity about the true nature of the characters’ pasts, sadly when those answers do finally come they’re revealed in an understated way that is only moderately satisfying.

Of course the elusive nature of memory and the inevitable shortcomings of looking to the past for answers is entirely the point of the story. Nevertheless it often feels like some of the most dramatic and sensational parts of the story are simply missing. Broadbent is a likeable narrator but his character is simply not equipped to deliver the satisfying spectacle of storytelling that audiences are accustomed to being more readily spoon-fed. Ultimately leaving audiences to fill in too many narrative gaps might help the film drive home its message about unreliable memories, but it does risk leaving some spectators feeling at least a little unfulfilled.

The Ugly Truth

A solid cast lead by Jim Broadbent manage to deliver a slow moving but largely satisfying story tinged with both occasional flashes of humour and a wistful melancholy.

Review by Russell Nelson