Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Baby Groot

I have stated before that I never grew up reading a single comic book. My childhood knowledge of Marvel (as well as DC) came from movies and TV shows. Perhaps this maybe the reason why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did not appeal to me as much as the first (though it is still worth watching).

GOTG V2 starts off with all the Guardians (Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) defending a battery source from a giant monster. This is all done as Groot dances to ELOs “Mr. Blue Sky”, providing one of the movies many pleasant scenes.

Eventually, the Guardians are persued by a group of Golden people called the Sovereigns, led by their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They are after batteries stolen from them by Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper, who gives us an even deeper character this time around). The Guardians are forced to crash-land, and are met by Peter’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell).

Ego takes Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista, who gives the film some of its most immortal quotes) to his home planet with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Staying with the ship is Rocket and (the ever cute) Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) as they watch over Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Eventually, they are tracked down by the familiar face of Yondu (the always underappreciated Michael Rooker). He is still after Quill, after being denounced by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).

What made the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie so endearing was the humor, and Vol. 2 is no different (the same can also be said for the immaculate soundtrack). I won’t ruin any moments, except to say the scene stealing belongs (again) to Groot. When sent to find an item, what he returns with goes from hilarious to even a bit disturbing.

My main issue with the movie is the villain. Without saying who it is (thought it will become rather obvious), the actor is indeed a far talented one. It just seems like the Guardians have more than enough character and spunk to deserve a much menacing villian. In Vol. 2, the villian is downright forgettable.

Parents, if you kids have seen the first movie, they are fine with this one. There is some action/violence (mild), swearing, and one awkward (though funny) scene about where babies come from.

I know there are probably a lot of nods to the comics that would make GOTG V2 very appreciated by comic book fans. Good for them. I am more of a movie fan. That being said, the movie does give us some good slow moments of reflection (especially at the end, which took me off guard).

While it is not as good as the first one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has certainly started the 2017 movie season with a bang.


Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers

From left, Trini (Becky G), Billy (RJ Cyler) Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), and Zack (Ludi Lin) disccover their path to become Power Rangers

There is no way for me to review Power Rangers without any form of bias.

I was seven when I was the Red Ranger for Halloween back in first grade, so I am the perfect target audience for this reboot. It is hard to say if the world of the Power Rangers will be able to move on from generation to generation (like Star Wars, which is the gold standard in that category), but I have no doubt that nineties kids like myself will feel a fresh breath of air with this reboot.

Basically, Power Rangers tells the story of five teenagers: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G). All five hardly know each other from their High School in Angel Grove, but one day all stumble upon something in the mountains that leads them to an ancient spaceship. It is run by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his robot helper Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader). Zordon warns the teenagers of the oncoming threat of his former teammate Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

Aside from the original TV series (those were so the days), another clear inspiration for this movie is actually John Hughes 1985 masterpiece The Breakfast Club. It is not hard to see each of them resemble one of the original five (the jock, the beauty queen, the nerd, the punk, and the basket case), as they all meet for the first time in detention for their own different reasons. There is a scene where they all are around a camp fire to get to know one another better, and I honestly felt more moved than I thought possible.

All of the actors do rather fine work as well (Cranston actually was originally a villain in one of the original series’ episodes). For me, the key stand out was RJ Cyler as Billy. He is on the autistic spectrum (which he says to Jason, though I don’t think he needed to because it would not be too hard for us to find out). Being on the spectrum myself, I tip my hat to RJ Cyler for his portrayal.

It should also be noted that there is talk of one of the other rangers (Trini) on being a homosexual. This is mentioned, but does not go much further.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 for good reason. There is obviously a good amount of action (which was awesome to look at), some swearing (like that a normal junior high kid would hear), and a little bit of revealing clothing (we see Kimberly take her shirt off to jump in a lake, wearing only her underwear. This lasts a few seconds). Basically, middle school or above.

Though my inner seven-year old would love to say this is one of the best movies in the world, I am old enough to know it does have flaws (the scenes for Jason having to be on house arrest were not supportive, nor made much sense when thought about). Still, this is one reboot I hope has some good longevity to spare (and is far better than the 1995 film).

All nineties kids, you know what I am going to say…

It’s morphin’ time!

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Kong: Skull Island (2017)


Kong Skull Island

The King has returned.

Were he alive, I would think my dad would have loved this movie.

Back as a kid, he got me hooked on King Kong with the 1962 Japanese film King Kong vs. Godzilla (a movie you can never convince me is anything but great). If I remember correctly, I wanted Kong to win while my older brother was rooting for Godzilla (SPOILER: Kong wins).

Over the years, I have seen a few other monster movies, from the great King Kong remake in 2005 (a film my dad did not like) to the Godzilla films of 1998 (a let down) and 2014 (mildly good).

In Kong: Skull Island, the movie is set in the 1970s just after the Vietnam War. A researcher Bill (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) get the ok to explore a new island found on satellite photos. Of course, they need a military escort, which is led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, of course). Joining their crew is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, proving he can be more than Thor’s adopted brother Loki) and photographer Mason Weaver (Oscar winner Brie Larson).

What I liked about this film was that, unlike other films when we had to wait a while to see the star (and really, who else would steal the show over Kong?), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives us a look at him rather soon into the movie. The same can also be said about some of the other creatures in the movie (I feel I should note there are some giant ants that look like spiders, for those of you who have arachnophobia).

Parents, the movie is rated PG-13 mainly for the swearing (I counted one F bomb) and the action (the violence is there, but is not any worse than that of The Lord of the Rings movies). Middle School and up is fine.

There are some scenes that seem tacked on that make the movie go on a lot longer than it needs to, but there are plenty of action scenes that make the movie more that worth recommending. There are some scary moments, but not any that will haunt your kids for days. If anything, they are the sequences that make kids turn away, yet look back in an instant.

To see the cast and crew treat a film icon like King Kong with this much honor and respect (which is really all Kong ever wanted) is a breath of fresh air.

(Note: There is a scene after the credits, which, if it is telling the truth, will have me buying tickets in a heartbeat).


Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2


Hidden Figures (2016)


(From left to right) Mary (Janlle Monae), Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) are enjoying some downtime.

I was asking myself the simple question of “Why?” a lot when I was observing Hidden Figures. That is not meant to be taken as a negative comment. The “Why?” is for why it took so long for this movie to be made. I mean, these women seem to be far ahead of their time, trend setters that are (in my mind) not even that far behind names like Rosa Parks. At the beginning of the film, they experience the “God ordained miracle” of seemingly chasing a police car in 1961.

There are good reasons and bad reasons why the true story of Hidden Figures finally came to the big screen in 2016. One of the best reasons is the casting. The trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as friends who have the brain power to work for NASA are played brilliantly. Henson is the main role as Katherine G. Johnson. She is a mathematics wiz who is brought to work for getting the numbers right on upcoming space launches to keep up with the soviets in the space race. She is under the rather tough but kind eye of her boss, Al Harrison (the always lovable Kevin Costner), as well as many of her cohorts. It is mainly her co-worker Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, aka “The Big Bang Theory”s Sheldon Cooper) who can’t stand her.

Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy helps with assigning other African-American women to tasks, yet she does not have the title of supervisor, despite her requests from Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Monae’s Mary is the one who can blow her lid at a moment’s notice, yet needs to complete some High School level classes to be a full engineer.

We also get Mahershala Ali (who was brilliant in Moonlight) as Col. Jim Johnson, who fancies Katherine (she lives at home with her mother and three daughters: her first husband is mentioned but never reveals how he died).

One thing that I must admit is a negative about the film is that, being released in 2016, we have seen so many movies reminiscent of this before. Of course, we know of the racism in the 1960s (the violence is hardly mentioned since the film is PG), and the movie really does not give us anything completely surprising that we have not already seen in other movies.

Parents, when I went to see this, I had my heart warmed when I saw a lot of young children at the movie (no older than 9 years old or so). It is a good history lesson of a movie, with a few bits of swearing that is not heavy. Basically, if your kids ever learned about this period of history, they would be more than fine seeing this movie.

Undoubtably, there is another positive about this movie coming out in (late) 2016. Everyone knows the past year was hard on a lot of people, and we as a nation (and worldwide, really) have forgotten more than to just love one another. We forgot that there is another thing we most do before that: it is called respect. For those who forgot that, Hidden Figures is for them.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Lion (2016)


Dev Patel as Saroo, with Rooney Mara as Lucy, in “Lion”

Sometimes, the simple power of the story overtakes your criticism. While Lion has some moments that I would question, there is no doubt that the end result of the narrative is simply engrossing and human.

Directed by Garth Davis, Lion tells the amazing true story of Saroo, a young indian man who was adopted by Australians as a child, only to venture out to find what happened to his family he lost as a five-year old (with much help from the wonders of Google Earth). The film starts with Saroo as a child (played by a wonderful newcomer named Sunny Pawar). He ventures out with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to gather food when circumstance force Saroo to be taken away. Some of these scenes do tend to drag on a bit for me, but Pawar is more than up to the task of carrying it all on his small shoulders. Eventually, he meets his foster parents, played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman. They also adopt another child, Mantosh.

The second half of the film is showing Saroo as an adult (now played by Dev Patel). He juggles trying to cope with his family problems (his brother Mantosh is rather uncontrollable), he wishes not to tell his parents about his yearning to find his birth mother, and even has trouble expressing himself to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). All the actors handle themselves well, especially Patel and Kidman. There is a scene between these two that I felt was a little unneeded at first, but it is affective nonetheless. It reminds us that Nicole Kidman is not a past Oscar winner for nothing.

Parents, the movie does have some rather mature themes, and a bit of sensuality. There is not much swearing I can remember. Basically, middle school and up would be ok.

Again, I mention that there are some parts of the movie that did not work for me and may have dragged on, but by the end (which I won’t give away), I did not care. It is still a heck of a story that is more than worth being told.

(Note: The meaning of the title Lion was something I was questioning, but it does make sense by the end).

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Moana (2016)


To tell Moana no when she asks for help is not a good idea…

The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)

Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.

Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)

While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).

Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.

Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.

Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).

At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)


Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander, on a trip through New York that is not as he planned it…

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them does what it is meant to do: introduce us to characters that are magical in a magical world. It does not do much more than that, but what it does do is done pretty dog gone well.

For those of you who know nothing about the Harry Potter universe (and if you are one of those, just stop reading now and read the original books, see the movies, and then come back to see this film), Newt Scamander (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, proving yet again to any naysayers that his talent as an actor is quiet something to watch) is a magizoologist. He arrives in New York in 1926 (in the Wizarding World, this is seventy years before Harry Potter ever attended Hogwarts). A mishap occurs with a no maj (a non-wizard, aka “muggle” in Great Britain terms) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), resulting in many of Newt’s kept beasts are let loose in New York.

At the same time, Grindlewald (who will eventually confront Dumbledore) is on the loose, killing no majs and wizards alike (whether he shows up or the rumors about the actor who plays him are true, I will not say, though you may have heard by now). Investigations are led by the Wizarding President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and auror (a wizarding version of the police) Perceveil Graves (Colin Farrell). Graves is also trying to get help from a troubled boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, from The Flash). Graves is also trying to stop the dangers of Newt’s beasts. Assisting Newt and Jacob  are witches Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. Others with minor roles include Oscar winner Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny).

I admit a lot is happening on the screen, both special effects wise (which is obviously something spectacular to see) and screenplay wise (which is not too much to handle, but is close). Creator/writer/household name known everywhere J.K. Rowling wrote Fantastic Beasts and where to find them back in 2001 one for Comic Relief (it is meant to be one of the eventual text books at Hogwarts). I have never read it (though the original Potter series I consumed like oxygen), so I can’t say whether or not it is true to the source material completely or not. However, Rowling herself wrote the screenplay (her first), so really, who are we to disagree with her?

Parents, the PG-13 rating is not meant to say that you can’t take kids to this. If they have seen the original films (and if they haven’t, what are you waiting for?), then they are ok with this. There are a few curse words, nothing at all sexual, and quite a bit of action/peril. It is a little more on the side of the last few films of the original series, which makes sense, since films five six seven and eight were done by the same director, David Yates.

I hear now that we are getting more films to follow-up on Fantastic Beasts and where to find them. This does not excite me so much as it worries me. When The Hobbit films came out, I thought it was a mistake to add so much that it took three films to make the story complete (by the end, it all seemed superfluous). The same could be said for franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean (we are getting another one), Star Wars (kidding! kidding!) and Transformers (totally not kidding, and sadly another is coming out next year). Thankfully, if J.K. Rowling is still doing the writing, I have some hope for the Wizarding World.


Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Queen of Katwe (2016)


Like any good coach, Robert (David Oyelowo) teaches lessons beyond chess to Phiona (Madina Nalwanga)

It should surprise no one how many movies are made of underdogs in sports, so it is a shame when a movie like Queen of Katwe comes out. It is a movie that is bound to be overlooked, while it is fresh, encouraging entertainment for the whole family.

It tells the true story of missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is a coach to some of the kids of Katwe, Uganda in soccer (an injury has sidelined him from play). Other kids are unable to play, so he shows them another game, Chess.

One of the kids is a stand out. Her name is Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga). Along with her brother Brian (Martin Kabanza), they manage to use chess as an escape from their life in the slums with their mother (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’O). There is also their older sister Night (Taryn Kyaze), who is in and out of the house on the road to a life in the slums.

Basically, it is the same underdog story told in countless other movies, but what makes the film work is, above all, its heart. It really goes all in on the story of a young girl whose only real handicap is where she was born. The performances work (especially Oyelowo and Nyong’O), and the “action” of the games never results in a stalemate of any kind.

Parents, there are some dramatic moments (one character is in a road accident and is taken to the emergency room), but that is it. I don’t recall any swearing (some kissing, but nothing more). This is a feel good family film that deserves more attention.

I would say more, but I want you to discover the film yourself. That, plus I have to revisit my chess app and get practicing again…


Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2


My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

The entire family is back.

As I did every Saturday night in High School, I was watching an episode of Ebert and Roeper when I heard about My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When I saw it, I fell completely in love with it, and spread the word of the film as best I could. It was smart, funny, endearing, and a joy from start to finish. I admit to even being excited about the very little known series My Big Fat Greek Life.

The second one is not as good, but I still found myself smiling through most of it. It was not just because of the jokes (they are there, of course), but mainly because of what both movies did best: it gave us truly engaging, realistic, and authentic characters. From what I could tell, all are back (even Mana-YiaYia, who, though old, still has knowledge to give the young in the family).

The family is still living close to each other (very literally). Toula (Nia Vardalos, who again wrote the screenplay), still helps out at the family restaurant (Dancing Zorba’s), while her husband Ian (John Corbett) is now principal of the local High School, where their daughter Paris (a young talented Elena Kampouris) attends. She starts getting the talk her mother got from her Grandpa Gus (Michael Constantine): “Find a Greek boy soon!”.

There is another plot in which Toula’s parents Gus and Maria (Lainie Kazan) discover the priest never signed their marriage licence, meaning they never got married. Obviously, it is really an excuse to just have a wedding scene (which is nicely done).

Parents, there are some bits of dialogue that have sexual references, but none that are too horrible for anyone over 13. Basically, the rating is justified.

I am aware many critics did not like the film, but I did. It was truly like a family reunion that I enjoyed attending very much. Producers Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson (who also plays a very minor role and is greek) have created characters I am hoping we are not done with yet.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory

Dory, Nemo, and (nearly) all from the first film are back, with sensational new characters…

Perhaps the greatest irony in the Disney/Pixar universe is how unforgettable Dory really is.

Immortalized by Ellen DeGeneres, she charmed every heart on earth back in 2003’s Finding Nemo. You would be seldom to find anyone who had a different character named their favorite from the film. Now she gets her own lead role in Finding Dory, set one year after the original (though thirteen years later in real life).

She suddenly starts getting images back to her mind, which become memories of her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). She is (nearly) one step ahead of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Haden Rolence). Eventually, they are lead to an aquarium that Dory was born in.

As any Disney/Pixar flick, we are introduced to a collage of new characters, from a near-sighted whale Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and her friend Baily (Ty Burrell) to a bunch of lazy, lovable sea lions. Still, everyone has a favorite, and mine has to be the squid named Hank, who is voiced by the wonderful Ed O’Neill. I can only imagine the writers saying that only he could play that role.

Is it better than the first film? No, not at all. The first one was one of Disney/Pixar’s very best films. At the time, the studio really out did themselves with something that has nearly revolutionized the way we see things underwater to this day, while being both visually breathtaking and giving us a heart rendering story. The second film spends a little too much time out of the water, leaving us with a little less wonder than the first one did. It also leaves us with a lack of a real villain, unless you count the fact that humans are the real villian (which was told to perfection a long time ago in Bambi).

Parents: As long as your kids have seen the original (which I hope they have), they are ok seeing this film.

In the end, the film makers do justice to the characters (as in the Toy Story Trilogy). It also gives us a fitting end to the story line (at least for now) of Dory. She is forgetful, but she is loyal. She acts on instinct. She is kind to everyone.

We should all do what Dory does more often.

Note: I missed what happens after the credits, and I regret it horribly. Don’t make my mistake.


Overall: 3 and a half stars *** 1/2