Tag Archives: James Gunn

Awesome Mixtape: Side 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Three years ago, James Gunn and Marvel became superfriends, making use of inspired casting, crisp writing and some classic 70s jams to make Guardians of the Galaxy the most fun to be had at the movies in 2014.

But is that second mixtape ever quite as awesome as the first? Rarely, and that’s the Catch-22 of the original film’s surprising blast of space zaniness. While we never saw that one coming, this new one arrives with weighty expectations.

No, Volume 2 can’t match the ruffian charm of the first, and there are some stretches of not-much-happening-here. But Gunn’s sequel shares a lot of heart, swashbuckling visuals and more than a few solid belly laughs.

But please, stop trying to make Howard the Duck happen.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, rugged everyman dufus) and his band of misfits-for-hire run into some troubles here and there across the galaxy. Yondu (Michael Rooker – hooray!) and his crew of Ravagers are still on their tail, and some pompous gold people from Sovereign (so they’re “Sovereign citizens” – well played) want Rocket dead.

But all might be well when Quill finally meets his father, Ego (who else but Kurt Russell?) and learns the surprising news of his lineage.

What – a comic book movie inspired by daddy issues? Stop it!

It may be a logical character arc for Quill, but when one too many tragic backstories build at the expense of fun, the running time starts feeling a bit bloated. Good thing Gunn has a fine instinct for when enough is about to become too much, pivoting from the dramatics with dazzling derring-do or exactly the right gag.

He also knows we’re already invested in these characters, and doesn’t mind spending some of the capital he earned last time out.

Bradley Cooper again offers ripe sarcasm as the voice of Rocket, but Dave Bautista is the breakout comedy anchor of GOTGV2. As the hulking Drax, Bautista’s booming guffaws or deadpan one-liners are a consistent treat. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems the odd Guardian out, too often given little more to do than deny Quill’s claim that they’ve got a “Sam and Diane unspoken thing” goin’ on.

And then there’s Groot (Vin Diesel).

As a baby.

Baby Groot.

For the win.

There are more great classic hits to re-discover (or, for you kids, get to know), including a fantastic piece of action set against the backdrop of…wait for it…Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer.” Stingers? Oh, yes, during and after the credits, so just plan on staying around til the staff sweeps you out with the candy wrappers.

Does Guardians 2 seem like a rehash? Sure, at times, and there’s never any doubt whoever’s shooting at our heroes is bound to have horrible aim. But when a rehash serves up this much wit, eye candy and escapist fun, you know what they say….

“I am Groot.”

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Killing Time at Work

The Belko Experiment

by Hope Madden

Back in 2005, Aussie director Greg McLean made a name for himself with the brutal but brilliant Wolf Creek. A year later, writer James Gunn would make his feature debut behind the camera with the underseen and wonderful creature feature Slither. (You may know him better for a little something called Guardians of the Galaxy.)

Regardless of whether you do or do not know these two, the fact that they worked together on the new horror The Belko Experiment meant one thing to me: hoo-effing-ray!

There’s the ripe premise: office workers hear over a loud speaker that they have a few minutes to kill two people or the unseen speaker (a royal we) will kill 4. Things escalate. People go a little nuts. It’s Darwinism at its most microcosmic.

Plus McLean and Gunn have assembled a fine cast full of excellent character actors: Tony Goldwyn, John C. McKinley, James Gallagher, Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry, among others.

So what went so blandly, forgettably wrong?

The biggest surprise in The Belko Experiment is the utter absence of surprises. Each actor plays exactly who you’d expect him or her to play. Their Stanford Prison Experiment meets Lord of the Flies exercise turns people into exactly what you’d expect them to turn into.

There’s not even a single inventive death scene to distract you from the fact that you had really high expectations because you totally love these filmmakers and now you’re just wasting yet another lovely evening a darkened movie theater.

Sigh.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZNfwayNLL0

Day 24: Slither

Slither (2006)

Writer/director James Gunn took the best parts of B-movie Night of the Creeps and David Cronenberg’s They Came from Within, mashing the pieces into the exquisitely funny, gross, and terrifying Slither.

A Troma alum with writing credits ranging from Scooby-Do movies to the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Gunn possessed all the raw materials to pull it off. The film is equal parts silly and smart, grotesque and endearing, original and homage. More importantly, it’s just plain awesome.

Cutie pie Starla (Elizabeth Banks) is having some marital problems. Her husband Grant (the great horror actor Michael Rooker) is at the epicenter of an alien invasion. Smalltown sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) tries to set things straight, as a giant mucous ball, a balloonlike womb-woman, a squid monster, projectile vomit, zombies, and loads and loads of slugs keep the action really hopping.

Gunn lifts certain scenes – the best scenes – directly from both the Cronenberg and the lesser Creeps effort, but never steals. His film brims with affectionate nods, including the great early scene where white trash Margaret sits on her couch with her toddler watching Troma’s classic Toxic Avenger. Classy, mom!

Gunn would go on to helm the hilarious fun of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s this film that shows just how perfect a choice he was for that effort. Consistently funny, cleverly written, well paced, tense and scary and gross – Slither has it all. Watch it. Do it!

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Scary-Movie-a-Day Guide to October! Day 25: Slither

Slither (2006)

Writer/director James Gunn took the best parts of B-movie Night of the Creeps and David Cronenberg’s They Came from Within, mashing the pieces into the exquisitely funny, gross and terrifying Slither.

A Troma alum with writing credits ranging from Scooby-Do movies to the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Gunn possessed all the raw materials to pull it off. The film is equal parts silly and smart, grotesque and endearing, original and homage. More importantly, it’s just plain awesome.

Cutie pie Starla (Elizabeth Banks) is having some marital problems. Her husband Grant (the great horror actor Michael Rooker) is at the epicenter of an alien invasion. Smalltown sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) tries to set things straight as a giant mucous ball, a balloonlike womb-woman, a squid monster, projectile vomit, zombies, and loads and loads of slugs keep the action really hopping.

The cast is superb, especially Gregg Henry as foul mouthed Mayor MacReady. It helps that he gets all the best lines. Like, “If this shit’s contagious and I turn into a fucking mollusk, I’m going to sue those bastards!”

Gunn lifts certain scenes – the best scenes – directly from both the Cronenberg and the lesser Creeps effort, but never steals. His film brims with affectionate nods, including the great early scene where white trash Margaret sits on her couch with her toddler watching Troma’s classic Toxic Avenger. Classy, mom!

Consistently funny, cleverly written, well paced, tense and scary and gross – Slither has it all. Watch it. Do it!