Tag Archives: Zoe Saldana

Part Man, Part Monkey

Missing Link

by George Wolf

Like its titular character, Missing Link is a bit of a mixed breed. An animated family adventure, its humor is more dry than zany, with a stellar voice cast and an often sophisticated air to its snappy dialog that is centered around a lonely Sasquatch.

And it looks freaking gorgeous.

Hugh Jackman brings charming life to Sir Lionel Frost, an ambitious, self-centered 1800s explorer on the trail of any big discovery that can get him admitted to the prestigious adventurer’s club led by the aggressively pompous Lord Piggot-Dunceb (Stephen Fry).

A hot tip leads Frost to a face-to-face with the fabled missing link between man and monkey who, as it turns out, provided that hot tip.

See, “Mr. Link” (an endearing Zach Galifianakis) is lonely, and figures Sir Lionel is just the guide savvy enough to lead him to his people, the equally urban-legendary Yeti tribe of Shangri-La.

So our heroes set off across the globe, enlisting the help of Frost’s old paramour Adelina (Zoe Saldana) while they try to outwit Stenk (a perfectly villainous Timothy Olyphant), the assassin sent to stop them.

This is the latest animation wonder from Laika studios, and the follow-up to 2016’s amazing Kubo and the Two Strings. Even if Mr. Link’s adventure wasn’t as engaging as it is, the film would be worthy on visuals alone, as you’ve barely digested one “wow” moment when another is there to blow your hair back.

From the texture of Frost’s gloves to the ripples in a puddle, from a slow dissolve into a binocular lens to a wide, eye-popping set piece on an ice bridge and beyond, Missing Link serves up a hearty feast of cutting-edge stop motion technology.

And while the pace may leave the youngest viewers a tad restless, writer/director Chris Butler (Laika’s ParaNorman) crafts a heartwarming, witty and intelligent tale anchored in the layered relationship of Frost and Link.

Jackman and Galifianakis make them a wonderfully odd couple, and play off the indelible supporters around them (including a gloriously droll Emma Thompson) to keep all the globe-trotting character driven, leaving just enough room for the messages about inclusion and progress to be subtly effective.

The result is a film that’s confident but unassuming, fun without being silly, and satisfying from nearly every angle.

 

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

Cruel to be Kind

Live by Night

by George Wolf

The jury on Ben Affleck’s skills as a filmmaker came in about one and a half films ago. After Gone Baby Gone and halfway through The Town, it was clear this guy can direct. Argo hammered that point home but good. And don’t forget that Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting.

But after all that’s good about Live by Night, seeing Leonardo DiCaprio’s name in the producer credits instantly makes you wonder how much more effective he might have been in the lead role.

Instead, Affleck casts himself as Joe Coughlin, an “outlaw” in prohibition-era Boston who runs afoul of the local crime boss after getting cozy with the wrong dame (Sienna Miller). A few years and double-crosses later, Irish Joe is working Florida for the Italian mob, cornering the rum market and laying complicated groundwork for a sprawling casino.

Give Affleck credit for challenging himself with a big slice of genre filmmaking, and he comes close to pulling it off. In adapting the novel by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone), Affleck pens a smart script that’s full of juicy twists, satisfying callbacks and requisite noir touchstones that never feel overdone (though the questionable voiceover pushes it). We also get consistently interesting characters brought to life by a stellar supporting cast. Through Brendan Gleeson and Zoe Saldana to Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning and beyond, we see soul after soul facing serious moral compromises, and, to the film’s detriment, all resonate more deeply than Affleck.

This is Joe’s journey, rife with sin, judgement, hypocrisy and redemption, but Affleck never makes Joe worthy of being the center of all this gravity. Though the character isn’t that far removed from the outlaw Affleck played effectively in The Town, his move to genre actor, classic jawline aside, is clearly unnatural.

The film often looks fantastic, with nifty period details, sweeping panoramas, nicely backlit interiors and exciting shootouts, but Affleck’s incessantly gradual pace eventually takes a toll. In reaching for a sweeping gangster saga, Affleck includes too much plodding exposition that makes the film’s just-over two hour running time feel a good bit longer.

Though Affleck makes sure his film pushes all the genre buttons, Live by Night ranks as an ambitious overreach, never quite finding the right mix to make it truly memorable.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

The Frontier Strikes Back

Star Trek Beyond

by George Wolf

Kirk. Spock. Bones. Wisecracks, a villain, and some heroic space swashbuckling. We’re pretty familiar with the Star Trek setup by now, and three flicks into the J.J. Abrams-fueled reboot, the latest seems the most comfortable in its journey. And though Star Trek Beyond doesn’t quite boldly go, it is a fun, satisfying ride.

Three years into a five-year mission, the crew of the Enterprise stops for some downtime at an immense new space station. Kirk (Chris Pine) in awaiting a promotion, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is mulling a return home to Vulcan, and Bones (Karl Urban), good God, man, he has some fun needling Spock about a botched romance with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

The gang gets back in action to answer the distress call of a stranded crew, but falls into the trap of the Kahn-like Krall (Idris Elba), who’s after a very powerful artifact that Kirk just happens to be holding.

Fast and Furious vet Justin Lin takes over for Abrams in the director’s chair and, working with a snappy script co-written by Simon Pegg (“Scotty”), has the film feeling like a fun Trek TV episode beamed up to the multiplex.

Though the adventure is a little tardy getting its legs, things only get better as they go along. The banter is crisp, the derring-do daring, and the chemistry of the ensemble, so important in a franchise such as this, is undeniable.

Spectacular only in spots, what Beyond does best is honor its own heritage while planning for the future. The nods to its TV past run from cheesy to ingenious, even finding a clever way to acknowledge the effect the entire Star Trek phenomenon has had on popular culture.

After the trying-too-hard reach of Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond strikes just the right note. More of this? I’m on board.

Verdict-3-5-Stars