The quirkiest antiheroes in the universe are back and funnier than ever in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” a sequel that often times matches the greatness of the original if not exceeds it.
The whole crew — Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) — are back, this time to encounter Star-Lord’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell).
Listen to Tim’s review of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” on “The KQ 92 Morning Show” with Tom Barnard.
While writer-director James Gunn’s film gets serious at times as it confronts family issues in and outside of the core group, Bautista and Cooper are laugh-out funny throughout, and easily keep the film from being dragged into the doldrums.
“Vol. 2” has it all: The special effects are beyond compare, the action is engaging and most important of all, some big twists make the film unexpectedly poignant.
Like the first “Guardians” film, “Vol. 2” is loaded with nostalgic songs from the 1970s, which once again sets the perfect tone during the entire picture. Be sure to stick around at the very end as there are not one or two, but five post-credits scenes. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is already in the works, and it can’t come soon enough.
Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)
Watch Tim’s review of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” with Alicia Lewis on KARE 11.
Screen legend Diane Ladd does double-duty, in a sense, in director David O. Russell’s critically acclaimed dramedy “Joy,” both as the wise grandmother of the title character, Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), and as the film’s narrator. The amazing thing is, Ladd’s enlightened sense of storytelling — which establishes a larger-than-life presence of her character throughout the film — wasn’t originally in RussellR
Ladd, who was already done with filming “Joy,” said she actually got the call from Russell just as she was wrapping up her upcoming film, “Sophie and the Rising Sun.”
“David put the producers on the phone and they said they tested the picture,” Ladd said in a phone conversation this week. “They said, ‘Without question, everybody adores Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. But after testing the picture, we need more light in it, and you are everybody’s favorite character in the movie because you constantly give Joy hope. Because of that, we want you the narrate the whole picture.'”
Now playing in theaters nationwide, “Joy” is based on the true-life tale of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two who defied the odds in the early 1990s with her invention of the Miracle Mop, a product that helped the burgeoning inventor lay the foundation of what would become a business dynasty. “Joy” also stars Robert De Niro as Joy’s hard-edged dad, Rudy; Virginia Madsen as her sheltered mother and Rudy’s ex-wife, Terry; Bradley Cooper as QVC executive Neil Walker; Edgar Ramirez as Joy’s ex-husband and loyal advisor; and Isabella Rossellini as Rudy’s new wife and Joy’s principal investor, Trudy.
Ladd stars in the pivotal role of Mimi, Joy’s faithful grandmother.
The actress, who earned Oscar nominations for her work in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Wild at Heart” and “Rambling Rose,” said narrating “Joy” was the hardest work she’s ever done because she had “already put the character aside” to work on her role in “Sophie and the Rising Sun.”
“I went off and created a whole new character, so when I came back, David was quite incredible in guiding me,” Ladd said. “He helped me lower my voice three octaves so I would sound older, and give off more wisdom and age. To prepare myself, I would do a bit of method acting, or more specifically, method narration. I would sit in meditation and put myself in a state of unconditional love so I would never judge (the people that wronged Joy).”
Ladd, 80, added that the image Russell gave her to narrate the film was Clarence from the Frank Capra Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“It was almost if Mimi was an angel and not a human. Maybe her soul had come in ahead of time so she’d be there to help Joy and this family,” Ladd observed. “Maybe she was there to help because if Joy succeeded and fulfilled her destiny, she could put a minimum of 500 people to work, and the people she picked were Spanish and Latin people who needed jobs. Suppose she hadn’t been there to fulfill her destiny, like George Bailey did in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’? What would have happened to those people, and a lot more now? The spiral goes on and on.”
As far as her character’s physical presence in “Joy,” Ladd said she absolutely loved how Russell and co-writer Annie Mumolo created a strong Bond between a grandmother and her grandchild. As the mother of two-time Oscar nominee Laura Dern, Ladd knows the bond between generations very well.
“I told David right away that American Indians have a saying: ‘The soul of a grandchild’ lives in the heart of a grandmother,'” Ladd said. “As a mother, it took five friends of mine to help tell Laura what to do. But if my mother, Mary, said something to Laura, she was right there. They had such a connection.”
Now, Ladd says, she has the same sort of relationship with Dern’s daughter.
“Once Laura and her daughter had a fight and Laura went off, and I said, ‘Come on, Jaya,’ and I think she thought I was going to preach at her. But instead I took a blanket and we went outside, and we laid on the ground and looked up at the trees and the sky — and in a little while Jaya was telling me all of her feelings,” Ladd recalled.
Having lived those vital, real-life roles, Ladd said she’s developed a clear understanding of how the grandmother and grandchild dynamic works, and was more than happy to bring that knowledge to her work with Lawrence in “Joy.”
“I think grandmothers see clear because responsibility isn’t always on us,” Ladd said, laughing. “A grandparent can pull back and relax more, and have a little more detachment. The parent’s on the line, man. God’s got your backside pinned to the wall.”
Ridiculous scenarios and a paper-thin plot and characters aside, it’s hard to, well, fault “San Andreas” – a wildlyconceived and thrillingly executed natural disaster movie that is pure summer popcorn drenched with gobs of butter. Starring the affable Dwayne Johnson and featuring megatons of earth-shattering visual effects, “San Andreas” is certainly not the best movie of this young summer movie blockbuster season, but ranks among one of the most entertaining.
Johnson stars as Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department Rescue chopper pilot who has no boundaries when it comes to risking his life to save others. Despite his achievements in the field, Ray is haunted by a family tragedy that led to the separation from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) and estrangement from their adult daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) — so he’s willing to face hell on earth when “The Big One” hits.
The problem is, the event is not one big earthquake, but a series of them that begins at the Hoover Dam. Intensifying in power with each earthquake, the series of ultra-destructive events continues with a run up the entire San Andreas fault line. The biggest and worst one – along with a tsunami — is set to hit San Francisco, where Blake is holding on for dear life.
Amid the crumbling buildings, people scattering and the earth shattering, “San Andreas” follows three sets of characters: Ray and Emma, who plow through hazards in the air, land and sea in a desperate attempt to find their daughter; Blake, who forms a bond with aspiring businessman Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as they battle the harsh elements; and a reporter (Archie Panjabi) who helps an earthquake scientist (the always great Paul Giamatti) warn the residents of San Francisco of their impending doom.
Unlike Johnson’s previous action movie blockbuster “Furious 7,” “San Andreas” does its best to assemble a story amid all the chaos involving the characters. But as evidenced by the film’s nail-chomping opening rescue scene, “San Andreas” is all about the action and effects, and the intensity rarely lets up for the film’s 114-minute run-time.
The characters, while all likeable (apart from Ioan Gruffudd, who is perfectly slimy as Emma’s weasel boyfriend), are really only pawns to support the film’s majestic visual effects, which to director Brad Peyton’s credit, sometimes boom out of nowhere so loudly that you can’t help but jump out of your seat. “San Andreas” is one of those movies that has to be seen on the big screen if you want to experience its full effect, and for Californians, it’s one that will leave audiences quaking in their boots.
“Aloha” (PG-13) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)
God only knows what exactly writer-director Cameron Crowe’s intentions were with the ambitious but ultimately ambivalent “Aloha,” a disappointing dramedy that has all the right talent but can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. Awkward, disjointed and sometimes just plain confusing, “Aloha,” which stars Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Is it a romance? Is it a comedy? Is it a tale of redemption? Is it a tale about Hawaiian spirits? Is it a cautionary tale about weapons of mass destruction?
As odd as it sounds, all of those elements are dancing inside the frames of the 105-minute film, but never quite seem to gel.
Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a former, starry-eyed Air Force veteran who fell from grace while making a shady living as a defense contractor in Afghanistan. Despite a stormy past with billionaire businessman Carson Welch (Bill Murray), Brian, a gifted private aerospace contractor, is recruited once again by the shrewd industrialist to oversee a game-changing, super-secret satellite project. Seems that Brian not only has the technical wherewithal to launch the risky project, but has a rapport with the Hawaiian natives to calm their fear and skepticism about it.
Cold and removed, Brian’s return to Hawaii after 13 years seems to soften him up, as he encounters an old flame (Rachel McAdams), who is now married with two kids; and a flaky but intelligent Air Force Captain, Allison Ng (Stone), who possesses the same enthusiasm for space that Brian lost years before.
For the sake of the story, Brian’s potential future with Allison eventually leads us to the film’s predictable third act, where Brian is forced to confront his past misgivings and make a decision that could save his soul but ultimately ruin his life. Coming far too late in the proceedings, it’s the only part of “Aloha” that seems to make any sense.
Cooper, coming off the blistering success of “American Sniper,” is likable in “Aloha,” but the problem is, he’s not supposed to be. Cooper’s natural charm and charisma overshadow Brian’s shifty demeanor, and it’s shame to say, but he was simply miscast. Starting off as an annoying character, Stone’s character softens enough by the end to become tolerable, even though her motivation in the film is horribly contrived.
In supporting roles, Murray is his usual great self as Carson, and Alec Baldwin is a hoot as a hot-headed Air Force general. McAdams’ character is more or less a functional role, which spins off into a subplot involving her dejected husband (John Krasinski), who becomes jealous of Brian.
Ultimately, the pitfalls of “Aloha” fall squarely on the shoulders of Crowe, who seems to have peaked with his brilliant autobiographical 70s music tale “Almost Famous.” With “Aloha,” it just feels that he’s desperately trying too hard to tell a unique story, yet he never quite gets his arms around the sprawling narrative tight enough to rein everything in. There are mere flickers of Crowe’s brilliance in “Aloha,” but nothing near to “Almost Famous” or his memorable sports agent movie “Jerry Maguire.” For all the talent “Aloha” has in front of and behind the camera, the film is hardly a movie fan’s paradise.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers