Bradley Cooper

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Joy

Unknownimages

29/12/15

David O Russell seems to have the knack of creating great films from fairly unpromising material – Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle are two movies that rose far above their IMDB outlines. On paper, the true life story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the ‘Miracle Mop’, might suggest that the average viewer should take along a pillow in order to sleep comfortably through the whole experience. But Joy is actually a riveting slice of cinema, made especially enjoyable by a luminous central performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

When we first meet Joy she’s a child, obsessed with building imaginary worlds out of scraps of paper; but very soon, she’s grown up, stuck in a dead end job, and divorced from her husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who still lives in the basement and shares parental responsibility for their young children. Joy’s soap-opera-obsessed Mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her room, while her wayward husband Rudy (Robert De Niro) has just insisted on moving back into the family home after breaking up with his latest partner. All-in-all, this has to be one of the most dysfunctional families in America and Joy is the one tasked with making everything run as smoothly as possible.

In the midst of the chaos, she gets an idea for a self-wringing mop and persuades the rest of the family, plus Rudy’s hard headed but minted new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to back her invention with hard cash. But the path to bringing it to reality is not an easy one and there are shady business people out there queuing up to steal her idea. Joy soon discovers that if she’s going to take her dream to fruition, she’s going to have to be as tough as the sharks she’s sharing the water with…

Russell’s take on the story is quirky, assured and never loses its sense of pace. There are great supporting performances from the ensemble cast (how lovely to see De Niro finally getting a decent role after a string of one-note cameos) and Bradley Cooper also shines as QVC pioneer, Neil Walker. But make no mistake, this is Lawrence’s movie and she makes the most of it. The camera loves her in this and you will too.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

American Sniper

MV5BMTkxNzI3ODI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjkwMjY4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_

1/2/15

The unprecedented success of this film at the American box office, displays the depth of feeling that the US audience (especially those who vote Republican) have for Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Chris Kyle, proclaimed on the poster as the ‘most lethal sniper in history.’ Interestingly, it’s not something that Kyle himself ever wanted to boast about and as the film makes clear, it’s a legacy that took a terrible toll on the man himself and, indirectly, even led to his own death. There are many liberal-minded people who have been quick off the blocks to denounce this as dumb, Republican rhetoric, a recruitment film for would-be psychopaths, racists and the NRA, but I honestly feel that those who denounce it are failing (perhaps deliberately) to see it for what it is – a grunts-eye view of the war in Iraq from the perspective of somebody who had the unenviable task of actually being there.

The film begins with a young Chris being taken hunting by his daddy and making his first ‘kill,’ a deer. (So far, so redneck.) We then gallop on some years to find an older Chris (a beefed-up Bradley Cooper) witnessing the attack on the World Trade Centre and promptly enlisting in the Navy Seals. The man is a unabashed patriot who doesn’t hesitate to do what he perceives as ‘his duty to his country.’ He undergoes a brutal training regime and his gift for target shooting some comes to the fore. And all to soon, he’s in Iraq, on the first of four punishing tours, working as a sniper, only to discover that his first target is a little boy carrying a lethal weapon…

Now, if there is a criticism to be made of the film, it’s this. We only ever see the ‘enemy’ from the point of view of the American soldiers and, to a man, woman or child, they are all duplicitous, evil villains, every one of them intent of killing the infidels at any cost.  Common sense tells us that that simply can’t be the case and it would have been nice here to have witnessed some Iraqi characters portrayed in a more sympathetic way, but that clearly wasn’t Eastwood’s objective here and he ignores it.

But don’t go thinking either that this is a film that glorifies or whitewashes the war in Iraq. It’s a savage, visceral recreation that horrifies as much as it thrills and Eastwood makes it clear how such a career exacts a punishing price on those who live it, something that is clearly demonstrated by Kyle’s fraught relationship with his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), whenever he comes home on leave. Cooper plays Kyle as a big, genial giant, a quiet man who constantly hides his inner turmoil from the world and who only eventually finds release by working with veterans who have themselves been damaged by the war. Whatever your political take on this (and there’s no doubt that Eastwood pitches his tent squarely in the Republican camp) the film surely doesn’t deserve the approbation that’s been heaped upon it. It’s well directed, its battle scenes are unflinching in their graphic detail and at no point does anybody stand up and make a speech about how America has done the right thing.

War is always a tragedy and American Sniper never pretends that it’s anything else.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney