xXx: Return of Xander Cage

<em>xXx: Return of Xander Cage</em>

When the first trailer for this movie was released about 3 months ago, I was all in. Yes, the movie looked ridiculous but it was the kind of ridiculous I was all about. Fast-forward to January 18, 2017 and well, I couldn't have been more wrong. What I got was a movie that was apparently written by a 10-year-old hopped up on Mountain Dew.

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Review: Furious 7

Furious-7 Making the seventh outing in a franchise that should have seemingly never made it past three films is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. Somehow the Fast and the Furious series has made it this far, and seems to have enough fuel to make it to the obvious goal of ten films. With the lose of Paul Walker, a mainstay since the original 2001 film, it would be a slightly tough road to say goodbye, pay homage, and continue the insane action of the series in one single outing. Furious 7 not only handles these tasks with ease, it actually surpassed anyone’s possible expectations and leaves the audience wanting even more.

New to the franchise was director James Wan, who took over for Justin Lin after his very successful re-ignition of the fledgling series. Wan was able to bring the beloved over-the-top insanity back and in spades. Fans of Justin Lin’s work will be happy to see that there was no missteps in the changing of the guard. Every bit of overly dramatic family focused wink and a smile action beat was present in the series.

The events of Furious 7 pick up right after the previous film. We find Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a hospital bed clinging to life as his big brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vows to get revenge on whomever hurt Owen. Its a simple scene but there is so much more once their 'touching' reunion is over. From there Deckard is on the hunt for information about his brother’s assailants. He visits Hobbs (The Rock) and get information on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew. The close combat action sequences were uniquely shot and brought a level of freshness to the franchise. Rotating cameras, inventive shooting angles, and well choreographed fights made me smile. Its funny to think that we have a film series that is so silly in premise but delivers on action far better than most. There are a lot of lessons modern action films could learn from a couple of DVD player thieves in hooked up cars.

In the midst of all of this, Dom and crew are recruited to help track down and rescue a hacker who has software that could be helpful in stopping Deckard. Once again, the stakes are high and the team needs to use their unique skills of driving to be successful. The length that they go to pull off these elaborate stunts is breathtaking. Its pure fun and adrenaline red lining from beginning to end and frankly I was exhausted by how much fun I was having. After seeing Fast 6, I didn’t know how they could possibly top it, but Furious 7 is much like the Shaw brothers. If you thought the first one was tough wait until you get a look at its bigger and badder brother.

All of the main actors that we have followed since the 2001 film were still great here. Vin Diesel leads his crew of misfits with ease per usual, Michelle Rodriguez has come back and her presence is fully felt as a true member of the team again. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue to be hilarious comic relief and their dynamic is about pitch perfect here as well. Last but certainly not least, Paul Walker. He has never been a stellar actor but he always seemed like he was genuinely having such a great time with his close friends. The film’s final send off to the character of Brian O’Conner and even more so Paul Walker himself, was really quite touching. For hardcore Fast and Furious fans, you can’t help but to get a little choked up as they used the proper story elements to end his time with the crew while simultaneously saying goodbye to their “brother.” Stellar work all the way around, and any fans of the series are sure to love it, and it might convert some newcomers to go back and start from the beginning.

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians-of-the-galaxy Hey Nerdpocalypse faithful, I'm Tim, one of the hosts of the new Mouthful of Toast podcast for anime and manga fans.  I'll be posting reviews here every once in a while, so I hope you enjoy!

Let me preface this review with two details: 1) Despite being under the Nerdpocalypse banner, I have never read a single issue of anything Guardians of the Galaxy related. <insert comments about me not being a real nerd here>  This review will not reflect whether or not Guardians was accurate to the source material. 2) Typically there’s a post credits scene, aka “stinger,” for the next Marvel film.  This screening did not have one.  This either means there’s no scene or there’s a major scene that they did not want leaked before the movie comes out.  Definitely stay after the credits just in case.

When the first trailer aired, many wondered if Marvel could work its magic on one of their lesser known properties.  Director James Gunn has a mediocre filmography at best, so my expectations were low.  Personally, I thought the trailer was a bizarre Parks and Rec spin-off with Chris Pratt’s character taking over a new space division of Pawnee government.  Despite odd first impressions, this film proves Marvel Studios is capable of tackling anything it wants.  Guardians shows how the key to a great movie experience is simply treating the script with the right attitude, in this case, with a tongue in cheek version of their proven formula.

Young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens and we fast forward to him (Chris Pratt) as a spacefaring scoundrel looking for loot.  He finds an ancient orb that will fetch a high price, but as it turns out, everyone in the galaxy wants this orb.  The rest of the team is introduced through various fights in the span of half an hour as we zoom through five locations showcasing all of the quickly unfolding intergalactic drama.  The pace is dizzying at first, but once the initial setup is over, scenes get more time to breathe (just don’t take any bathroom breaks).  There’s plenty more to tell about the story, but moving into the second half is where there’s some nice treats for dedicated Marvel fans and I’d hate to spoil any part of that experience.

Chris Pratt delivers a hilarious performance as the self-absorbed Quill.  The mostly goofy team is balanced out by Zoe Saldana’s stern take on the living weapon, Gamora, but even she eventually joins in on the silly antics.  Groot is easily the most lovable of the crew, due in no small part to Vin Diesel’s impressive and nuanced voice delivery of his one, repeated line.  Rocket, played by Bradley Cooper, steals the show with some of the best quips Guardians has to offer.  Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer provides another angle of comic relief and works well as the team’s bruiser.

Seeing this movie in 3-D was a surprising treat, considering the last movie I bothered to watched in 3-D, Avatar, did nothing to impress me.  Certain shots take great advantage of the 3-D to immerse you in scenes, such as one early scene where you feel like you’re spying on Quill from afar behind rocks that pop out in the foreground.  The space battles might make you flinch, but don’t close your eyes too long or you’ll miss the incredible CGI.

Guardians runs for about 2 hours, which was surprising for the volume of material presented.  Extending the run time would have eased the hyperdrive pacing in the beginning, but the movie honestly does not suffer too much from it.  It’s a welcome relief to have a blockbuster not clock in at 3 hours or more.  Some consider Guardians to be kid-friendly, but the humor is raunchy and phallic enough to place it somewhere in an older teen demographic.

Let’s be clear; this is not a grand space opera.  The plot is merely a vehicle to get us from one cool action sequence to another. For the purposes of this film, it works.  The amount of style and humor oozing from this movie make it very easy to overlook the simple teambuilder storyline and Macguffiin orb.  The soundtrack elevates this movie from the usual superhero romp to a galactic groovefest.  Guardians feels like the lovechild of the Avengers and Spaceballs with a dash of I Love the 80s.

Overall, Guardians shines bright at the end of the summer blockbuster season.  Whether it was Marvel guiding James Gunn that lead him to movie gold or if all he needed was the right script, but all of my expectations of his directing were shattered.  Concerns about pacing don’t detract from the sheer amount of fun you’ll have the entire time.  Guardians doesn't pretend to be an epic; it's the story of unconventional heroes banding together and having a really good time.

[easyreview title= "Review of Guardians of the Galaxy" cat1title="Tim's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]