Tag Archives: Bradley Cooper

Saving the Galaxy…Awesome!

Family matters in ‘Guardians’ sequel, but mostly it’s a wild ride of bonkers space-rocket fun 

nullGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker & Kurt Russell
Directed by James Gunn
PG-13
In theaters May 5, 2017

“We’re saving the galaxy again?” asks the rascally raccoon known as Rocket. “Awesome!”

Many fans will have the same giddy reaction at the return of Guardians of the Galaxy, the 2014 blockbuster about a ragtag, Robin Hood-ish crew of Marvel Comics space mercenaries. The gang from the original, which raked in more than $773 million at the box office, is also all aboard for the sequel, including writer/director James Gunn.

Leading the pack again is Chris Pratt as the cocky, roguish pilot Peter Quill, who still has an “unspoken thing” for the emerald-skinned she-assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Former professional wrestler Dave Bautista is a man-mountain of red-tattooed muscle as Drax (the Destroyer), whose hearty laugh sounds like it could rattle the rings around Saturn. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the mouthy raccoon genetically altered to become a master of weaponry and fighting, is given his own mini-story spinoff—which includes an especially zesty verbal spar with a dreadlocked baddie named Taserface (Chris Dowd, who plays Toby Damon on TV’s This is Us).

nullAnd even though you really can’t tell, that’s Vin Diesel once more providing the voice of Baby Groot, the new, little-sprout incarnation of the hulking tree creature that was part of the Guardians crew in the first film.

Baby Groot pretty much steals the show—and certainly every scene in which appears,  dancing, wiggling, running, grunting or simply saying the only thing he ever says: “I am Groot.”

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Rocket & Baby Groot

This time around, the Guardians get into serious trouble when Rocket double-crosses some gold-skinned aliens, the Sovereigns, led by the imperialistic Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).  That sets off an intergalactic bounty hunt by the Ravagers, a group of motley thieves, smugglers and space pirates.

But Peter Quill’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell), zooms to the rescue. When he takes the Guardians to his fabulous celestial home, a world he created, he lays the news on them: He’s actually a cosmic deity, a “celestial.” That makes Peter, his spawn, a bona fide star child.

“You’re…a god?” asks the incredulous Peter.

“Small g, son,” says Ego. “At least on days I’m feeling humble.”

The matter of Peter’s mixed DNA—his mother was an Earthling who died of a brain tumor when Peter was a child—looms large. And as most everyone knows, family matters can be complicated.

There’s a difference and a distinction between fathers and daddies, Peter is reminded by Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned bandit who raised him. And Gamora is reunited with her sister, the cybernetically enhanced Nebula (Karen Gillan, Dr. Who’s Amy Pond), who has some major childhood grudges she still wants to settle.

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Gamora

All of this zaps and zooms along, as did the first movie, to a witty stream of pop-cultural riffs and references. Peter compares his slow-burn relationship with Gamora to Sam and Diane from the iconic rom-com Cheers, and he tells her how much he longed for his dad to be like dashing Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff. A wild, warping ride through space zones, in which characters’ faces contort in crazy, eye-popping ways, is a meta-reference to the work of legendary Looney Tunes cartoon animator Tex Avery. There’s a visual joke about Pac Man, and another very clever running gag that takes drone weaponry to an alien-videogame-arcade extreme.

And there are VIP cameos, one by someone Marvel fans always expect to show up in Marvel movies, and another by Sylvester Stallone, who mumbles a few mushy lines and then disappears for most of the rest of the movie.

Just like the original Guardians rocked out to Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mixtape Vol. I” cassette on his beloved Walkman, this one has an equally cool overlay of classic-rock gems to set the tone. It starts out with the Looking Glass super-70s hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” and continues through “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Jay and the American’s “Love a Little Bit Closer,” Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” and several more.

And you’ve probably never thought of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” as the musical backdrop for the battle of a gigantic glop monster, or Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” as the soundtrack for a moonlit evening of finely orchestrated defensive-perimeter mayhem. But you probably will now.

It’s noisy, colorful, jam-packed and it ends—like a lot of superhero flicks—with a big, boom-y, blowout bang before a much softer, sentimental coda, one orchestrated to the meditative strains of the Cat Stevens song “Fathers and Sons.” But it’s a practically nonstop cascade of fast-paced, bonkers, high-spirited fun, a far-out space-rocket ride with a cast of endearing characters that have definitely found their movie niche and intend to hang onto it.

As the teaser at the end indicates, they’ll definitely be back—to save the galaxy again.

To quote Rocket the raccoon, “Awesome!”

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Hop To It

Hip, heartwarming ‘Zootopia’ shows how far House of Mouse has evolved

Zootopia

Starring the voices of Gennifer Goodwin & Jason Bateman

Directed by Brian Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Rush

PG

A little girl dreams of leaving her rural hometown, moving to the city, becoming something no one else has ever been and making the world a better place. Sounds like a cliché, you say. Well, maybe—except in Zootopia, the little girl is a bunny, she wants to be a cop, and the city is full of other animals, but no people.

And there’s this: Rabbits are “prey,” like 90 percent of the population of the mammal metropolis of Zootopia, which is also home to predators—lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, jaguars. But over the centuries, prey and predators have evolved past their primal, biological instincts and learned to coexist…mostly.

And Zootopia, the latest Disney film, shows just how far the House of Mouse has evolved from dreamy prince-and-princess fairy tales of decades past. There’s bold new energy and excitement coursing through the studio, and it’s everywhere in this hip, ingenious, wildly creative tale full of wit, emotion and a message of inclusion, understanding and diversity.

To see where the movie gets its mojo, start at the top. Co-directors Brian Howard and Rich Moore’s credits include Disney’s Tangled, Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph as well as The Simpsons.

Zootopia’s first bunny officer Judy Hopps finds herself face to face with Nick Wilde, a fast-talking, scam-artist fox.

The smart, super-sharp story (Jennifer Lee, one of the writers, won an Oscar for Frozen, and Phil Johnson wrote the new Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Brothers Grimsby and the underrated Cedar Rapids) begins with the departure of buoyantly optimistic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) from pastoral Bunnyborough for the teeming Xanadu of Zootopia, where she aspires to become a police officer, the city’s first bunny cop. She does, and quickly hops smack into some deep-rooted prejudice, fears and stereotypes.

An elephant refuses to serve a fox in his ice cream parlor; a tiger is told, “Go back to the forest, predator!” It’s no stretch to substitute racism, sexism and other “isms” for the “species-ism” that Judy finds separating animals that are otherwise friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens.

After Judy encounters Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox who makes his living running small-time scams and hustles, she soon must enlist his help investigating a mysterious case that’s baffled the police chief (Idris Elba, a blustery cape buffalo).

To say much more about the plot—which deepens and thickens considerably—would give away its many delights. The animal animations are outstanding, and the computer artists create special-effect magic melding the menagerie with the personalities of the actors—J.K. Simmons as a lion, Jenny Slate as a sheep, Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) as a “naturalist” yak, pop star Shakira as a sexy gazelle (who sings the movie’s theme song, “Try Everything”).

The movie is a visual feast full of fun, suspense, surprise and adventure. It delivers its uplifting, more serious theme of unity and togetherness in a way that will rarely feel preachy or ponderous for kids. Grownups will keep busy tracking the dozens of pop-cultural riffs, sight gags and in-jokes, including meta-references to other Disney flicks and nods to classic Hollywood, like an especially clever Godfather scene and one of the best cop-doughnut jokes in any movie, ever.

From a talking mouse mascot to a flying elephant and 101 Dalmatians, Disney has always had a thing for animals. In Zootopia, they’re not only running the show, they’ve taken over the world. And they’ve got a very important, oh-so timely message for us all.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Bull’s-eye

‘American Sniper’ aims for entertainment & something deeper

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper

Starring Bradley Cooper & Sienna Miller

Directed by Clint Eastwood

R

If you were one of the millions of people who read Chris Kyle 2012 bestseller American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, you might have thought, “That’d make a great movie!”

Steven Spielberg, thought so, too, and wanted to direct it. Bradley Cooper, who’d already ventured into executive roles with his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, agreed, and wanted to produce it—and wanted Chris (Guardians of the Galaxy) Pratt to star in it.

But in Hollywood, things don’t always end up the way they start out. Spielberg decided to take a pass, and Clint Eastwood stepped in. And Cooper decided not only to produce, but also to play the leading role of the highly decorated U.S. Navy SEAL, who killed more than 160 “hostiles” during four tours of duty in the Iraq War—before his life took its own ironically tragic turn.

TA3A6997.dngIt would have no doubt been different, with a different director and a different leading man, but it’s hard to imagine it being much more successful, dramatically stronger or more emotionally visceral. Eastwood and Cooper both bring their A games for this taut, tense, terse drama that depicts Kyle’s trajectory from Texas good ol’ boy to one of the military’s most effective killing machines, as it also bites down hard on the psychological effects of war, violence and combat that linger long after the fighting is over.

Cooper is an undeniably versatile actor; he’s done serious drama as well broad comedy. But this role is unlike anything he’s ever undertaken, requiring him to bulk up with 30 pounds of muscle and take on a vowel-stretching Lone Star drawl to play Kyle, who knocked around as a rodeo cowboy before enlisting in the SEALs after watching TV coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Sienna Miller

Sienna Miller plays his frustrated wife, Taya, who watches helplessly as her husband wrestles with emotional demons she can’t fathom each time he returns home from a tour.

Eastwood, 84, is a Hollywood icon best known as for his portrayal of a “hall of fame” of iconic cowboys, cops and other classic characters—but he’s also directed more than 30 movies, beginning back in the early 1970s, for which he’s won two Oscars.

Working with his longtime cinematographer Tom Stern, he sets up every shot with solid, no-nonsense precision. Every detail feels right: the paint on the scope of Kyle’s rifle, worn away by thousands of minute focusing adjustments; the makeshift U.S. outposts on the outskirts of Fallujah or Sadr City, where the plywood on the barracks for the troops looks so fresh you can almost smell it; the quick red splatters of blood, which splash across the bleached-out, blanched background tones like crimson punctuation marks, whenever Kyle’s aim is true.

Kyle’s reputation as a deadly marksman makes him feared among the Iraqi opposition—and highly valued as a trophy. Other snipers, including one known as Mustafa, have their sights trained on him. And then there’s a shadowy terrorist henchman, the Butcher, whose torture instrument of choice is a power drill. Be warned: There’s one particularly harrowing scene, involving an hysterical Iraqi family, whizzing bullets, dueling snipers, Kyle’s wife on a cell phone, a growling dog, and the Butcher and his drill. Eastwood doesn’t rub your nose in it for any longer than necessary, but it’s a terrifying reminder of atrocities of war.

“It’s a heck of a thing to stop a beating heart,” Kyle tells his young son, taking him on his first hunting trip, making him understand that killing anything is not to be taken lightly. Is American Sniper pro-war or antiwar? Is a sniper a hero, or just a soldier doing his lethal job? Where’s the line between civilization and savagery during wartime, and what’s the price of walking it? Can there ever be enough good to overcome evil? Eastwood wants viewers to watch, think and decide. American Sniper aims for entertainment as well as something even deeper, and hits its mark.

 —Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Across the Universe

Marvel’s newest superheroes are an inter-galactic gas

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana & Dave Bautista

Directed by James Gunn

PG-13

Marvel Comics gives their all-stars a breather with Guardians of the Galaxy. But Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and other tried-and-true, brand-name superheroes had better watch out: This flip, witty, wily, cheeky, action-adventure sci-fi yarn—which introduces an all-new Marvel team of cosmic crusaders—is all set to become one of the summer’s biggest, most buoyant mainstream hits.

Based on little-known Marvel characters that first made a brief appearance in the 1960s, the Guardians are a motley crew of space misfits led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks andguardiansofthegalaxy530439f7bb98f Recreation), who was abducted from Earth by alien pirates as a youngster and taken to the far reaches of the galaxy, where he grew up to become a rogue smuggler with an intergalactic price on his head, a taste for retro FM rock and a weakness for extraterrestrial hotties.

When Peter swipes a silver orb that turns out to be something Very Powerful Indeed, it puts a series of events in motion that eventually congeal the other guardians around him—although not necessarily as teammates, at least at first.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a genetically mutated, green-hued assassin sent to retrieve the orb. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a motor-mouthed raccoon bounty hunter, is in cahoots with Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature that speaks volumes with the one sentence he can speak, “I am Groot.” And pro wrestler Dave Bautista is Drax, a hulking wall of red-tattooed muscle.

guardiansofthegalaxy5371066e4ab7aTheir adventures bounce them, like interplanetary pinballs, across the galaxy, racing away from—and sometimes into—an ever-growing cloud of trouble. Director James Gunn, at the helm of his first mega-budget, major studio project, creates a teeming sci-fi cosmos of colorful creatures, humanoid hybrids and dazzling digital effects for a totally immersive eye-candy experience. Everywhere the movie goes—and it’s constantly going somewhere—it’s a wild, exuberantly fun new kick.

The cast is first-rate, even down through the supporting ranks. Glenn Close plays the matriarch of a gleaming utopia on the brink of destruction; Michael Rooker is terrific as the swaggering scavenging scoundrel who abducted Peter all those years ago; Benicio Del Toro is The Collector, a mysterious curator of cosmic odds and ends.

But it’s the Guardians, the mismatched team of “losers,” who command the spotlight. And credit the zippy script, by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, for the steady stream of jaunty comedic banter that just keeps the laughs coming—along with a sprinkling of sweetness, a dash of sadness, and even a flash of romance, orchestrated to Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Will it remind you of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and several other movies, some references to which it just goes ahead and hands you? Sure, but that’s just part of its big, fizzy, movie-lovin’ funhouseguardiansofthegalaxy53bd964656849 spirit. “It’s got a Maltese Falcon kinda vibe,” Peter says of the orb. One scene, when Groot gently gives a young girl a flower, is an obvious nod to a similar moment in the 1931 classic Frankenstein.

You may see classier movies this summer, and you’ll certainly see more serious, sensible ones. But you won’t see another one that takes you on such a rollicking carnival ride halfway across the universe and back, and leaves you with such a big, goofy, satisfied smile when it’s over.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Con-Fabulous

Swirling scandal saga based on real events from the 1970s

American Hustle

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

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Director David O. Russell’s sprawling, swirling ‘70s saga, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, is a tale of con artists, FBI agents, a fake oil sheik, real gangsters, crooked politicians and others hustling to make it or break it against the backdrop of a real-life American scandal. The fabulous ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner keeps the show rolling; the colorful clothes and disco-era hairstyles are dy-no-mite; and the soundtrack rocks with tuneful tracks of the era. Extras include a making-of documentary with the filmmakers and cast, plus deleted and extended scenes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Do The Hustle

A sprawling, swirling period-piece parable of swinging ’70s greed

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

American Hustle

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence

Directed by David O. Russell

R, 138 min.

“Some of this actually happened,” a placard playfully informs us at the beginning of American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s swirling, swinging tale of a pair of con artists in testy, zesty cahoots with an FBI agent to catch even bigger prey in the 1970s. It’s loosely based on the FBI’s real-life ABSCAM sting of the era, which ensnared several high-ranking politicians in a bribery and corruption investigation.

Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx con artist who’s made out pretty well in forged art and bogus loans. But his graft really kicks into high gear when he hooks up with Sidney (Amy Adams), a former stripper who sees a way to broaden their scams—and pave the way to a much bigger, richer life for them both.

But hold on: Irving’s a married man, and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is a real suburban scrapper.

Christian Bale;Amy Adams;Bradley CooperRichie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) is the hyper-adrenalized FBI agent eager to make his bones who brings down both Irving and Sidney, then uses them to make an even bigger sting, an elaborate affair that eventually includes a fake sheik (Michael Peña), a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), a slew of politicians and the mafia.

The movie is a deep, delicious dish of late-’70s detail, from the music to the clothes to the hair—and oh, the hair! Bale’s character sports one of the most outrageous comb-overs in the history of cinema, and agent DiMaso reveals that his teeny curls don’t come easy (or natural).

Amy Adams;Jennifer LawrenceBale is always fascinating to watch as he burrows into a role, but Adams and Lawrence bring the heat that makes this sexy story sizzle. And Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) juggles his ensemble of complicated, conflicted characters with an orchestral touch that often recalls the mastery of maestro Martin Scorsese—especially in a Goodfellas-esque casino scene with a gaggle of Las Vegas mobsters….and a very special surprise cameo.

It’s all hip, humorous, sad, edgy and immensely entertaining, this sprawling period parable about a group of gaudy, needy, greedy people who aren’t who they purport themselves to be—people with fake tans, fake nails, fake hair, fake lives, people who aren’t “real,” who are always conning somebody, everybody, each other, even themselves.

As Irving says, there’s “a lot of grey” in the muddled middle ground between good and bad, right and wrong, between the forger and the artist, in a world where it seems that everyone’s on the make, on the take, on the hustle, on the scam. Especially when, as Lawrence’s character says, all you’ve been dealt in life are “poisonous choices.”

When that happens, as Russell’s outstanding American Hustle suggests, all any of us might do is whatever it takes to survive.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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