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Guardians and handmaids

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Summer blockbuster season starts this weekend with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the first "tent-pole" picture of the year. Tent-pole flicks are expected to be guaranteed moneymakers (anything less than $1 billion worldwide is an underperformance), they're almost always action flicks, they appeal to all four quadrants of the audience (men, women, girls, boys), and they're expected to support huge sales of tie-in merchandise. These days the tent-poles are often comic-book movies and they're almost always sequels. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 checks all the boxes.

Written and directed by Peter Gunn (Slither, The Tromaville Cafe), the original Guardians was a fun, tongue-in-cheek space adventure (think Ice Pirates meets Flash Gordon) that succeeded on a near-perfect script, impeccable casting and a killer classic rock soundtrack. Also, because it was based on an obscure comic book in the Marvel universe, few people saw this one coming.

Part 2 has no such luxury. The story picks up not long after the previous film ended and reunites everyone's favourite dysfunctional space gang (except Vin Diesel's Groot is a sapling now) in another referential-humoured adventure that starts off by battling a savage tentacled space beast before laser-blasting itself into character-based action mixed with themes of family, loyalty, and the value of sometimes trusting your heart over your head.

The action set pieces are fresh and look incredible (far beyond the Marvel/Avengers standard), and the character chemistry is mostly great. Kurt Russell shows up and slays it, but Zoe Saldana's Gamora isn't given the attention she deserves (Baby Groot repeats just a single line the whole movie and he's still given better dialogue than her). Chris Pratt's Star Lord isn't as charming as the first time around but it's hard for lightning to strike twice, even in space, and the law of diminishing sequels can be felt here a bit.

Overall though, even at a hefty 134 minutes, Guardians 2 re-captures the fun and irreverence of its predecessor and is a great way to kick off cinema's richest season. Parents should expect the early shows to sell out quickly and be prepared for the onslaught of Baby Groot everything this summer. Tent-pole season is on!

That's it for new flicks this week at the Whistler Village 8 but iTunes just released the initial episodes of The Handmaid's Tale online. It's a Hulu TV series based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian 1985 novel about the subjugation of women in a totalitarian society reeling from an infertility epidemic caused by environmental contamination.

If that sounds bad, it gets worse. As per Biblical scripture, young fertile women are separated from any family they may have and forced to endure ritualized rape as surrogate birth-mothers for the societal elite. These handmaids are stripped of identity, under constant surveillance, and routinely executed for even the slightest misstep; like reading or writing anything, ever.

Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, Get Him to the Greek) stars as the titular handmaid (named Offred because the dude she is assigned to is named Fred) but she remembers her past life (husband, daughter, freedom) and by the conclusion of episode one it can be assumed she is not ready to go softly into that good night.

Atwood, a Canadian national treasure, has always claimed that everything in her novel was based on real-life events from around the world, past and present, but 35 years after publication, this story has become the most culturally relevant television show since The Wire. The current political climate in the U.S. seems hauntingly anti-women (thanks, Donald Trump) the environment is increasingly toxic (watch Netflix's Plastic Ocean if you want to feel like a total piece of human garbage), Big Brother is watching (see Snowden), and Offred's struggle against a seemingly unbeatable power structure is something billions of people can relate to in any number of countries.

The music and narration of The Handmaid's Tale give it an interesting hard-boiled tone that adds to Offred's character. And as a literary adaptation, the show seems to be quite faithful — a slow-building, character-driven burning narrative riddled with paranoia, control and the normalcy of human evil. "Ordinary is just what you're used to..."

Speaking of, we have a provincial election coming up in B.C. and we also have notoriously low voter turnout rates. So maybe start pushing back against our own crooked power structure by exercising a right our ancestors had to fight and die for. Tuesday, May 9 is voting day. Just sayin'.

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