Sundance Film Review: The Tale (dir by Jennifer Fox)


With this year’s Sundance Film Festival getting underway in Colorado, I’m going to be spending the next two weeks looking at some films that caused a stir at previous Sundances.  Today, I’m taking a look at 2018’s The Tale.

The Tale is all about memory.

Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) is, as her mother (Ellen Burstyn) often reminds her, nearly fifty years old and childless.  She’s been engaged to the sensitive Martin (Common) for three years but she’s in no hurry to get married.  As for children — well, she decided a long time ago that she didn’t want to have children.  Jennifer is a documentarian and a teacher.  She not only records real life but she also teaches others how to do the same thing.  She makes films that, in the decades to come, will be used by future students of history who want to know what it was like to live in the late 20th and early 21st Century.  And yet, it’s her own history that Jennifer has never come to terms with.

When her mother comes across a school essay that a 13 year-old Jennifer once wrote about her relationship with her riding instructor, Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki), and her running coach, Bill (Jason Ritter), Jennifer dismisses her concerns.  As Jennifer explains it to Martin, her mother is just upset because Jennifer once had a boyfriend who was “older.”  Of course, that older boyfriend was in his 40s.  What’s obvious to everyone but Jennifer is that her coach took advantage of and raped her.  Jennifer, however, refuses to accept that.  She refers to the coach as being her “lover” and, more than a few times, she attempts to dismiss the whole topic by shrugging and saying, “It was the 70s.”

It’s not that Jennifer doesn’t realize the truth about what actually happened.  Laura Dern gives a fiercely intelligent performance as Jennifer, one that slowly and deliberately peels away at the layers of defensive protection that Jennifer has spent the past 35 years developing.  Jennifer knows what happened but she’s allowed her memory to cloud the reality of it, largely because that’s the only way that she could deal with the aftereffects of Bill’s sexual abuse.  When Jennifer thinks back to the summer that she spent with Mrs. G and Bill, she first sees herself as she was when she was 15 years old, curious and headstrong.  It’s only when Jennifer looks at a photograph that was taken that summer that she sees starts to see herself as she really was, an introverted and vulnerable 13 year-old (played by Isabelle Nelisse) who was groomed and abused by two predators.

As Jennifer investigates her past and finally begins to understand what really happened over the course of that summer, her memories begin to change.  Hazily-remembered conversations take on new meaning and she begins to understand that terrible truth between the looks that were often exchanged between Bill and Mrs. G.  At times, the older Jennifer finds herself interrogating her memories of Bill, Mrs. G, and even her younger self.  She demands to know how they could have done what they did and their answers leave you wondering whether you’re hearing what they would really say or if your just hearing what Jennifer would hope they would say.  When Jennifer talks to others who were around that summer, she’s shocked to learn that she wasn’t the only one who Bill abused and her insistence that she was Bill’s lover (as opposed to his victim) sounds more and more hollow.  When Jennifer finally does track down some of her abusers, you wonder if their somewhat confused reactions are due to guilt or if it’s possible that there were so many victims that they don’t even remember what they did to Jenny Fox.  And if they do remember, they seem to be either horrifically ignorant or curelly unconcerned about the consequences of their actions.

It’s a brave and powerful film, one that is made all the more disturbing by the fact that director and screenwriter Jennifer Fox is telling her own story.   At least year’s Sundance Film Festival, it premiered to acclaim and controversy.  There was also some surprise when, instead of securing a theatrical release, the film was instead sold to HBO.  At the time, there was a lot of concern that the film’s power would somehow be diluted as a result of playing on television as opposed to a big screen.  However, in hindsight, the small screen — with its unavoidable vulnerability — was the perfect place for this uncompromising and emotionally raw film.

The Tale is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one.  It’s a film for anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with the past.  It’s both a reminder that you’re not alone and a warning to not ignore or laugh off your suspicions.  It’s also a good example of the type of film that probably would never have been discovered if not for Sundance.  There’s a lot of legitimate criticism that one can direct towards the Sundance Film Festival but occasionally, it does do what it’s supposed to do.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Swings Into The Hearts of the Utah Film Critics!


On Sunday, the Utah Film Critics reminded me why I love awards season.

After a few weeks of the same three or four films winning award after award, the Utah Film Critics decided to go against the conventional wisdom and, as best picture of 2018, they selected the animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse!

Obviously, the Utah Film Critics aren’t as influential as the National Board of Review or the Golden Globes or even the Critics Choice Awards.  If I had to choose between the two, I’d say that Black Panther has a far better chance of becoming the first comic book movie to be nominated for best picture.  Still, it’s always fun to play what if.

(Also, Utah deserves credit for giving acting awards to both Elsie Fisher and Hugh Grant.)

Anyway, here are all the winners out of Utah!

Best Picture: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (RU: Roma)

Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (RU: none)

Best Documentary Feature: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (RU: Minding the Gap)

Best Non-English Language Feature: Roma (RU: Burning)

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (RU: Ryan Coogler, Black Panther)

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed (RU: Christian Bale, Vice)

Best Actress: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade (RU: Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born)

Best Supporting Actor (tie): Hugh Grant, Paddington 2 and Russell Hornsby, The Hate U Give

Best Supporting Actress: Olivia Colman, The Favourite (RU: Elizabeth Debicki, Widows)

Best Original Screenplay: Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade (RU: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (RU: Audrey Wells, The Hate U Give)

Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (RU: Rob Hardy, Annihilation)

Best Original Score: Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury, Annihilation (RU: Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk)

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association Embrace Roma, Debra Granik, and Steven Yeun!


The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their picks for the best of 2018 earlier today and guess who picked up their award for Best Supporting Actor?

Steven Yeun!

That’s right.  As sad as we all were to see Glenn brutally murdered on The Walking Dead, at least we can find some happiness in the fact that Steven Yeun’s career has prospered since leaving the show.  Yeun won the LAFCFA’s Best Supporting Actor prize for his role in the Korean film, Burning.  The LAFCA liked Burning quite a bit actually.  It also came in second for the Best Picture prize, an award that was won by Roma.

Finally, Debra Granik won Best Director for her work on Leave No Trace, making her the first woman to win the directing prize of a major critics group this year.

Here are the winners!

Best Picture – ROMA
Runner up: Burning

Best Director – Debra Granik (Leave No Trace)
Runner up: Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA)

Best Actor – Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Runner up: Ben Foster (Leave No Trace)

Best Actress – Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Runner up: Toni Collette (Hereditary)

Best Supporting Actor – Steven Yeun (Burning)
Runner up: Hugh Grant (Paddington 2)

Best Supporting Actress – Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Runner up: Elizabeth Debicki (Widows)

Best Screenplay – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Runner up: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (The Favourite)

Best Production Design – Hannah Beachler (Black Panther)
Runner up: Fiona Crombie (The Favourite)

Best Editing –  Joshua Altman and Bing Liu (Minding the Gap)
Runner up: Alfonso Cuarón and Adam Gough (ROMA)

Best Cinematography – Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA)
Runner up: James Laxton (If Beale Street Could Talk)

Best Music Score – Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Runner up: Justin Hurwitz (First Man)

Best Foreign Language Film – Burning and Shoplifters (tie)

Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film – Shirkers
Runner up: Minding the Gap

Best Animation – Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
Runner up: Incredibles 2

New Generation – Chloé Zhao (The Rider)

Special CitationThe Other Side of the Wind

Douglas Edwards Independent/Experimental Film/Video – Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson and Guy Maddin (The Green Fog)

Career Achievement (previously announced) – Hayao Miyazaki

Here Are The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominations For 2018!


On Friday, the Chicago Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the best of 2018!  The winners will be announced on Saturday night.

Here are the nominees!

BEST PICTURE
The Favourite
First Reformed
Hereditary
Roma
A Star is Born

BEST DIRECTOR
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here
Paul Schrader, First Reformed

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here

BEST ACTRESS
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Regina Hall, Support the Girls
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
Steven Yeun, Burning

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Elizabeth Debicki, Widows
Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
BlacKkKlansman by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty
The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider & Ian Martin
If Beale Street Could Talk by Barry Jenkins
A Star is Born by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham
The Favourite by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
First Reformed by Paul Schrader
Roma by Alfonso Cuaron
Vice by Adam McKay

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Ruben Brandt: Collector
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
RBG
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Burning
Capernaum
Cold War
Roma
Shoplifters

BEST ART DIRECTION
Annihilation
Black Panther
The Favourite
Paddington 2
Roma

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Cold War – Lukasz Zal
The Favourite – Robbie Ryan
First Man – Linus Sandgren
If Beale Street Could Talk – James Laxton
Roma – Alfonso Cuaron

BEST EDITING
First Man
The Other Side of the Wind
Roma
Widows
You Were Never Really Here

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
First Man – Justin Hurwitz
If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell
Mandy – Johan Johannson
Suspiria – Thom Yorke
You Were Never Really Here – Jonny Greenwood

BEST USE OF VISUAL EFFECTS
Annihilation
Black Panther
First Man
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Paddington 2

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Ari Aster, Hereditary
Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Bing Liu, Minding the Gap
Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Leave No Trace
John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman & Monsters and Men

Black Panther Is A Favourite With The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society


The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, which is one of the newer critics groups, announced their nominees for the best of 2018 earlier today!  Not only did they really like The Favourite but — as you might expect from a group of online critics — they also embraced Black Panther.  Which is good because, if Black Panther‘s going to make history as the first comic book movie to score a best picture nomination, it’s going to need the critical precursor support that wasn’t given to Deadpool, Wonder Woman, or Logan.

Here are the nominations!

Best Picture

A Star is Born
Eighth Grade
Black Panther
The Favourite
The Hate U Give
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
Roma
A Quiet Place
Searching

Best Actor

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Christian Bale – Vice
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Best Actress

Toni Collette – Hereditary
Charlize Theron – Tully
Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Nicole Kidman – Destroyer

Best Supporting Actor

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Russell Hornsby – The Hate U Give
Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actress

Elizabeth Debicki – Widows
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Amy Adams – Vice

Best Adapted Screenplay

Bradley Cooper and Eric Roth – A Star is Born
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Charlie Wachtel – BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
Audrey Wells – The Hate U Give
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay

Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski – A Quiet Place
Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis – The Favourite
Boots Riley – Sorry to Bother You
Adam McKay – Vice

Best Male Director

Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Ryan Coogler – Black Panther

Best Female Director

Chloe Zhao – The Rider
Debra Granik – Leave No Trace
Tamara Jenkins – Private Life
Marielle Heller – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Lynne Ramsay – You Were Never Really Here

Best Animated Film

Incredibles 2
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mirai

Best Foreign Film

Burning
Cold War
Roma
Shoplifters
Girl

Best Documentary

Free Solo
Minding the Gap
RBG
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Visual Effects

Ready Player One
Mission Impossible – Fallout
First Man
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War

Best Cinematography

Linus Sandgren – First Man
James Laxton – If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Robbie Ryan – The Favourite
Rachel Morrison – Black Panther

Best Blockbuster

Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther
Deadpool 2
Mission: Impossible Fallout
Ready Player One

Best Independent Film

Eighth Grade
First Reformed
Sorry to Bother You
Ben Is Back
If Beale Street Could Talk

Best First Feature

Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Ari Aster – Hereditary
Paul Dano – Wildlife
Aneesh Chaganty – Searching

Best Comedy/Musical

Crazy Rich Asians
Game Night
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!
The Favourite
Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Action Film

Mission: Impossible -Fallout
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War
Deadpool 2
Widows

Best Sci-Fi/Horror

A Quiet Place
Annihilation
Halloween
Hereditary
Suspiria

Best Performance by an Actor 23 and Under

Alex Wolff – Hereditary
Lucas Hedges – Boy Erased
Lucas Hedges – Ben Is Back
Noah Jupe – A Quiet Place
Timothée Chalamet – Beautiful Boy

Best Performance by an Actress 23 and Under

Amandla Stenberg – The Hate You Give
Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
Millicent Simmonds – A Quiet Place
Milly Shapiro – Hereditary
Thomasin McKenzie- Leave No Trace

Best Breakthrough Performance

Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman
Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
Amandla Stenberg – The Hate U Give

Best Cast

Black Panther
The Favourite
BlacKkKlansman
Crazy Rich Asians
Widows

Best Stunt Work

Avengers: Infinity War
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Black Panther
Deadpool 2
Upgrade

Best Score

Justin Hurwitz – First Man
Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat – Isle of Dogs
Ludwig Göransson- Black Panther
Terence Blanchard – BlacKkKlansman

Best Original Song

All the Stars – Black Panther
Shallow – A Star is Born
Hollywood Ending – Anna and The Apocalypse
Revelation – Boy Erased
Hearts Beat Loud – Hearts Beat Loud

Best Editing

Adam Gough and Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick – Searching
Yorgos Mavropsaridis – The Favourite
Barry Alexander Brown – BlacKkKlansman
Hank Corwin – Vice

Best Visual Effects or Animated Performance

Ben Whishaw – Paddington 2
Jason Liles – Rampage
Josh Brolin – Avengers: Infinity War
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Solo: A Star Wars Story
Tom Hardy – Venom

 

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January!


How early can one predict the Oscars?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  You can predict the Oscars at any time during the year.  However, predicting them correctly is next to impossible before October.  That said, I’m going to give it a shot!

Now, to be clear, this is not an attempt to predict who and what will be nominated later this month.  Instead, these are my predictions for what will be nominated next year at this time!  I’ll be updating my predictions every month of this year.

So, with all that in mind, here are my way too early predictions for what will be nominated in January of 2019!  As of right now, these predictions are a collection of instinct and random guesses.  For all we know, some of these films might not even get released in 2018.  In all probability, we’ll look back at this list in December and laugh.

 

Best Picture

Chappaquiddick

First Man

Lizzie

Mary Queen of Scots

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Mortal Engines

A Star is Born

Widows

Wildfire

The Women of Marwen

 

Best Director

Desiree Akhavon for The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Paul Dano for Wildfire

Steve McQueen for Widows

Robert Zemeckis for The Women of Marwen

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in The Women of Marwen

Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Joaquin Phoenx in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

 

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Widows

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Carey Mulligan in Wildfire

Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots

Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie

 

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Daniels in The Catcher Was A Spy

Bruce Dern in Chappaquiddick

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Robert Duvall in Widows

Hugo Weaving in Mortal Engines

 

Best Supporting Actress

Elizabeth Debicki in Widows

Claire Foy in First Man

Leslie Mann in The Women of Marwen

Kate Mara in Chappaquiddick

Kristen Stewart in Lizzie

 

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (dir by James Gunn)


(MINOR SPOILERS!  SPECIFICALLY, THE IDENTITY OF THIS FILM’S MAIN VILLAIN WILL BE REVEALED)

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back!

And this time, they’ve brought some new friends with them, friends with names like Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, and … David Hasselhoff?

That’s right.  David Hasselhoff is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and somehow, it feels totally appropriate.  For all the words that have been written comparing Guardians of the Galaxy to the Star Wars franchise, it’s true ancestor is the 1978 Italian film, Starcrash.  (Perhaps not coincidentally, Starcrash was Hasselhoff’s film debut.)  Watch the trailer below and just try to tell me that you can’t imagine Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana in the lead roles.

But enough about my obsession with Italian exploitation films.  I know the question that you want answered.  Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as good as the first one?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is an absolute blast, a wonderfully entertaining film that mixes subversive comedy with sci-fi action.  Everyone from the first film — Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel — is back and they’ve still got the same winning chemistry that made the first film so much fun.  Everyone is still committed to their roles, delivering even the strangest of dialogue with undeniable flair.  Nobody’s gotten bored with saving the universe yet.  The new additions to the cast are all well selected.  Kurt Russell totally disproves the assumption that MCU villains are never as interesting as their heroic opponents but, then again, it helps that he’s playing a character who has a memorable and odd backstory.  Once again, director James Gunn combines crowd-pleasing moments with his own sharp sense of humor.  If the pompous tone of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman made you sick, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the perfect antidote.

Unfortunately, Volume 2 doesn’t provide the same thrill of discovery as the first film.  It’s easy to forget that, before the first film came out, a lot of people were predicting that Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first MCU film to flop at the box office.  The conventional wisdom was that, as opposed to a character like Captain America, no one, outside of a few comic book readers, knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were.  Chris Pratt was just the goofy guy from Parks and Recreation.  A talking raccoon?  A walking tree?  It was all way too weird, the naysayers proclaimed, to appeal to a mainstream audience.

However, James Gunn proved them wrong.  Guardians of the Galaxy was not only the most successful MCU film to that date but it was also my pick for the best film of 2014.  I can still remember watching it for the first time and immediately falling in love with both the film’s skewered sensibility and Chris Pratt’s funny but soulful performance.  As opposed to a lot of films that were nominated for and won Oscars that year, Guardians of the Galaxy actually holds up after repeat viewings.

(Seriously, has anyone tried to rewatch Birdman lately?)

Going into the sequel, everyone now knows who the Guardians are and Chris Pratt is now a beloved film star.  Volume 2 has a lot to live up to and, for the most part, it succeeds.  It’s a tremendous amount of fun and, at the same time, it has a heart.  (The heart at the center of the Guardian of the Galaxy films is perhaps the biggest heart in the MCU.)

What is the film about?  Much like the first film, it’s about family.  After years of telling everyone that his father was David Hasselhoff, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally meets his real father (Kurt Russell), a God-like figure named Ego.  Charismatic, cheerful, and just a little bit odd, Ego seems like the perfect father figure but he has some secrets of his own.  Russell gives a wonderful performance, making Ego one of the few MCU villains to be as interesting as the heroes.

While Peter is bonding with his dad, he is also being pursued by his adoptive father, the blue-skinned space pirate named Yondu (Michael Rooker).  Yondu has been rejected by both his adopted son and the rest of his adopted family.  The other space pirates are no longer loyal to him.  His former boss (Sylvester Stallone) wants nothing to do with him.  As silly as it all may sound, it’s also unexpectedly poignant, thanks to Michael Rooker’s performance.  Rooker has appeared in several of Gunn’s films.  He’s almost the Cary Grant to Gunn’s Alfred Hitchcock.  Rooker gives one of the best performances of his careeer in the role of Yondu.  It’s tempting to be dismissive of Yondu, with his blue-skin and his Alabama accent, but Rooker makes him one of the most compelling characters to ever be found in an MCU film.

Meanwhile, Rocket Raccoon (voiced again by Bradley Cooper) has become a surrogate father figure to Groot (voice by Vin Diesel), who is still just a baby tree.  (Groot, a living tree, was reduced to just a twig at the end of the first film.  Fortunately, Rocket planted the twig and, in another few movies, we’ll hopefully have a fully grown Groot.)  Yes, Baby Groot does get to dance, again.  At one point, one of the film’s villains forbids any of his henchmen from attacking Baby Groot because he’s just too adorable to destroy.  And he’s right!  After this movie, everyone will want a Baby Groot of their own.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has been reunited with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gilliam) and, once again, they spend most of the movie trying to kill each other.  I have three older sisters so I related to their relationship.

And finally, Drax (Dave Bautista) is still mourning his family.  Fortunately, he gets to spend some quality time with Ego’s odd assistant, an empath named Mantis (Pom Klementieff).  Drax and Mantis both have no idea how social interaction is supposed to work and their scenes together are definitely a highlight of the film.  Bautista and Klementieff share a really likable chemistry.  Bautista is one of those actors who can make you laugh just be giving the camera a quizzical look.  Drax may not be as a complicated as the other Guardians but that simplicity often makes him as interesting as his more complex compatriots.

The film’s not only about family.  It’s also a strike against elitism and a celebration for freedom.  Over the course of two films, the Guardians have battled against both an actual god and a fanatic who claimed to speak for God.  At a time when so many movie heroes are tools of authoritarianism, the Guardians of the Galaxy stand for freedom.  In many ways, Peter Quill is as much of a symbol for liberty as Captain America.  Captain America makes his point with a shield while Peter Quill makes his case by dancing.

As might be expected from an MCU film, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is full of thrilling visuals, exciting battles, and quotable one liners.  Even if it never reaches the heights of the first one, it’s a blast of a film and, as Arleigh told me it would, the finale brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  See it and have a good time.

Also, be sure to stick around through the entire end credits.  Along with a lot of clues about what might happen in the future of the MCU, there’s also one final Groot joke that made me laugh out loud.

Enjoy!