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Finally, I get to see Guardians of the Galaxy while it's still in
theaters, and I'm glad I did. It's the story of a ragtag band of five
heroes fighting against evil in the universe. The fact that one of them
is a raccoon and other is a tree is immaterial, as is the fact that
each of them is a criminal of little repute. Point is, they're good
guys taking on the evil Ronan, a being who seeks a legendary Infinity
Stone, an ancient artifact that can grant the possessor devastating
powers (and often death).
The Infinity Stone is held inside something called the Orb, about the size of a softball. The Stone itself is a gem on the same order as the Cosmic Cube seen in Captain America: The First Avenger. So, yes, the universe in which The Guardians exist is the same one in which Cap and the rest of the Avengers exist. Seeking the Orb is Ronan (Lee Pace), at the behest of the mighty Thanos (an uncredited Josh Brolin) so that Thanos will help eradicate the planet Xandor for him. In any event, it's a middling thief named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star Lord, who grabs the Orb himself in a cave on an abandoned planet. Ronan's thugs, led by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), attack Quill, but the latter manages to escape in his chrome spaceship.
Quill tries to sell the Orb to a broker, but when it's learned that Ronan is involved, the broker declines, which leads to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin, attacking Peter in order to retrieve the Orb, under the orders of Thanos, her adopted father. Ah, but at the same time, two bounty hunters - a riotous raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a sentient tree named Groot (Vin Diesel) spot Quill, who by this time is a very, very wanted man. They, too, join the mêlée, but all four of them wind up captured and sent to a high-security prison called Kyln, which seems like a combination of "killing" and "kiln," and which in any event looks like a bad place to be. And, if you're Gamora, it is, because she's Thanos' daughter, and much of the criminals in Kyln have had their planets, homes, and families destroyed by Thanos. It is also at Kyln that our quartet meets up with the fifth member of their tribe: Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who has a personal vendetta against Ronan. Drax is huge, sort of blue, and is deeply sensitive - although he has no idea how metaphors work.
Not only is the action fast paced, the dialog - perfectly delivered by a top-notch cast - is terrific and hilarious. Sure, a prevailing theme is the old chestnut about people from diverse backgrounds coming together to fight a common enemy, but think of this as a higher-tech Star Wars, except with fewer robots. There are cultural references to the 80s (when Quill was abducted, as a young boy, from Earth), too. The chemistry among all of the leads is spot on; with each taking turns at saving the lives of the others. Even the plant-like Groot, who's often described as the muscle of the operations, shows plenty of savvy and a willingness to sacrifice himself to save others. There may be a lesson there somewhere.
Along with Pratt, Saldana, Bautista, and the voices of Diesel and Cooper, the supporting cast features Benicio del Toro as a collector of rare objects, Hounsou, Michael Rooker as a fellow scoundrel to Peter Quill, John C. Reilly as a Xandorian official, and Glenn Close as Nova Prime (ruler of Xandor).
In the end, good things happen. It's a comic-book movie, for goodness sake, so that's not a spoiler. But it's not really the end. Guardians of the Galaxy is a huge success as a standalone movie, and it leads into not only its own sequel but also that of The Avengers. If you look closely, you can spot some remnants of other Marvel Comics, items that may (or may not) indicate who or what will be involved in future cinematic stories from the studio.
Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly fit to be in the same, ahem, universe inhabited by other blockbuster superhero films, like The Avengers, Thor, and Iron Man. It's visceral entertainment.
Primer is alternately fascinating but puzzling, tedious but exciting,
intriguing but flawed. It's a shortish film (78 minutes) that manages
to plod along until a big reveal is made about halfway through the
movie; then, just as it arouses some interest, it becomes a frustrating
exercise in nonlinear storytelling. That's a shame, because the left
turn that the plot makes at that midway point could have opened up a
world of possibilities. It's even possible that the idea introduced in
the movie could have been expanded more efficiently to cut down on some
incoherence and unnecessary overplotting.
This is one of those movies that's tough to summarize without giving away crucial parts of the plot. So let's try for a gist instead. Four friends, who work for the same corporation during the day, also work together nights and weekends on pet science projects. Two of the friends, Abe and Aaron, decide to work on a project independently of their comrades after the foursome disagrees about which direction the group's interests should follow. The project that Abe and Aaron work on, in Aaron's garage, is to design technology that allows physical objects to lose weight. But as with much scientific studies, the research has some unintended consequences, yielding an invention that's beyond the wildest imagination of Abe and Aaron.
That they make this discovery is pretty awesome, and the subsequent efforts to harness/utilize the discovery, even profit from it are plausible and sincere. But for me, the movie had two major flaws, one for each half of the film. In the first half, much of the necessary exposition comes in the form of dialogue, often between Abe and Aaron. However, a pervasive characteristic of the dialogue is that each character routinely talks over the others. Considering the complexity of the plot, it was a little frustrating to hear a lot of dialogue that simply couldn't be parsed. This made it quite difficult to follow even the genesis of the plot, let alone the complications that follow. In the second half, after the Great Reveal gives the viewer a whole new movie, there are so many strands of logic and off-screen permutations that again, it's easy to get lost. And because the characters weren't sharing everything with each other (or the audience) anyway, there's so much confusion here. So, so much confusion. But that's what the Internet's for.
In the future (the year 2022), crime is essentially nonexistent and the
unemployment rate is 1%. But one night a year, the country's fine
citizens are permitted to commit any crime they wish, without penalty,
including murder. It's the ultimate way to blow off steam. Twelve hours
of mayhem, and then the population surplus is reduced. That's life with
The Purge - the event, not the movie - is sold as a good thing, something that keeps everyone in harmony for the other 364 days in the year. No crime? Almost everyone's employed? All due to The Purge, apparently. Some see it with a more cynical eye, though; those who can afford to defend themselves, their family, and their property against the onslaught of violence will probably be just fine. But those who live in the poorer sections of their city...well, they're there to be Purged.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) lives with his family in a gated community. James sells security systems, which as you might guess becomes a lucrative business around the time of The Purge each year, on March 21. The Sandin family has a very nice, expansive house, nestled among a plethora of other "haves." Thus James, wife Mary (Lena Headey), son Charlie (Max Burkholder), and daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) feel safe, removed from the anarchy of the annual ritual.
Until, of course, a still-unsure-if-he-supports-The-Purge Charlie decides, after the sirens have signaled the beginning of the madness, to let a bloody homeless man (Edwin Hodge of As Above, So Below) into their home. Ooh, bad call. See, some devout, well-armed Purgers are looking for the guy, and sure enough the Sandins' neighbors have ratted them out as harboring the guy. Does James hand over the man, or do the mercenaries take the house by force? Like You're Next, The Purge centers on a group of people being attacked unexpectedly. James does have weapons, but it's quickly apparent that his security system is more of a nominal deterrent than anything. The villains find it surprisingly easy to get inside. And with the lights out - yep, no power except for the generator that's somehow powering only the multiple cameras - and the family separated from each other, it's utter chaos at Chez Sandin.
Also like You're Next, there's a nifty twist at the end. Sort of makes up for plot holes or just missing information. Here's a question: Since all weapons at Level 4 and below are legal during The Purge (and presumably illegal the rest of the year), how do law-enforcement officials discern whether a higher-grade weapon has been used outside of the annual Purge? It's not explicit in the movie, but I guess crimefighting is just that good in the future. But then I was thinking, what if it's good by virtue of instilling fear in the populace? That might control everyone for much of a year, but when it came time for The Purge, wouldn't cops be the first ones on the firing line? (Note: in a prologue voice-over, we're informed that elected officials have immunity.) The Purge offers some interesting food for thought. Would you be willing to live in a complete police state in order to have a crime-free society with jobs for everyone? On the plus side, you get to steal/vandalize/rape/pillage/murder to your heart's content. On the negative side, you could be the victim of all of that and not live to see another Purge. Kind of a dilemma, eh? But make no mistake, this isn't a movie that dwells on heavy issues. It's a thriller designed to shock and entertain, and to that end The Purge does a bloody good job.
In 2008's Wanted, James McAvoy plays an anxious computer jockey, taken
advantage of by all who know him, who discovers not only that his
long-lost dad has been murdered and that said dad was actually an elite
assassin but also that he himself has super-spy skills and must be
trained to harness them. And one of his fellow assassins is Angelina
Jolie. So it's basically a fantasy aimed at shlubby white males.
McAvoy's Wesley is an office drone who takes medication for his anxiety and is bullied by his abusive stapler-clicking boss and whose buddy (played by Chris Pratt) has been boinking Wesley's harpy girlfriend. He lives in an apartment alongside an elevated railroad. His life sucks. So you can imaging his surprise when he's confronted by a mysterious woman named Fox (Jolie) while getting his prescription filled. A man has tracked him to the drugstore, she purrs, and he's about to kill you. A shootout ensues. Fox and Wesley escape, and he's brought to a textile factory to meet the suave Mr. Sloan, who gives Wesley the lowdown on his origins (every hero needs one) and gives him a motive to find and assassinate the man who murdered his father.
But before that can happen, we must endure a training montage. Wesley learns how to fight with knives and gets plenty of slices of his own. Wesley learns how to take a punch while being tied to a chair. Wesley learns how to fire a gun so that the bullet curves around obstacles. You know, standard-issue stuff. And then he's ready! Wait, no he's not. Sloan makes him do some killin' missions. You know, to keep up appearances with the other assassins. The basic idea is that the looms in the textile factory contain coded messages that, when decoded, provide the name of the assassin group's next target.
The story is based on a comic book, or graphic novel, whichever is appropriate, so suspension of disbelief is paramount. Take the idea behind curving bullets. Or that Wesley can suddenly get ripped and become great at hand-to-hand fighting. Or that there's a magical soaking tub that heals everything from scratches to broken bones. Gotta just buy into it. Fail to do so at your own peril, is what I'm getting at here.
Anyway, I liked the movie. A lot of exhilarating action, and then there's Jolie. Hardly says a word for the first hour of the movie. Easy work if you can get it. Come to think of it, she doesn't say much in the movie, and I'm betting a stunt double helped in some of the action scenes. Now that's a good career choice.
Wanted was as outlandishly high energy as one might expect, so I'd recommend it for action movie fans, or comic-book fans, and especially Jolie fans.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, answering all of those questions
from the end of #1, is silly fun. Which is a good thing, seeing as how
it's a cartoon aimed at little kids. And me, naturally. This was right
up my alley.
It's a simple story. That wonderful machine created by Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) that bestowed food falling from the sky for the island town of Swallow Falls has been deactivated, thanks to a plethora of food and a desire for people not to be harmed by chunks of sustenance dropping on them. Now the island must be cleaned up, and the corporation Live Corp., run by Flint's idol Chester V (Will Forte) gets the contract. The town's citizens are relocated temporarily while Flint realizes his lifelong dream and becomes an employee at Live Corp. The problem? It seems that the food created by the machine has become...sentient. And it's fighting back! Flint and his friends - Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), policeman Earl (Terry Crews, stepping in for Mr. T), Chicken Brent (Andy Samberg), Steve the Monkey, and Flint's dad Tim (James Caan) - head back to the island. The mission: locate the machine and shut it down. But it seems that Chester and his orangutan assistant Barb (Kristen Schaal) have other plans, plans too devious to mention in detail here, lest your eyes be singed.
Anyway, here's the cool thing. The sentient foodstuffs are basically tangible portmanteaus of food and animal, like the wild tacodile, the watermelephant, the pie-thon, the cheespider, and the bananostrich. Luckily, most of these creatures were benign to begin with. I mean, there aren't any lions or tigers or bears or scorpions. Now, setting aside the question of what these Foodimals would eat, since they themselves are made up of food, these are creative inventions. Almost makes you want to buy one or two as stuffed animals.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, Tim bonds with sentient pickles over fishing. I swear, I am so glad this movie was rooted in reality. I mean, sure, pickles probably couldn't cast that well, but still - kudos are deserved here.
This is about Flint's needing to choose between his idol and his friends and family, between doing what he knows will help his inventing career and what he knows is right. It's about being reminded about those closest to you, lest you disdain their influence. It's also about being able to change one's mind in light of new evidence, and it's about not killing anything that has eyes and/or talks. It's also about 95 minutes.
Hader is terrific, as is the supporting cast, even when they're not given much to do but run and hide. Or cackle evilly. I was more impressed with the vocalizations of the Foodimals, such as Barry the strawberry or the pickles, voiced by codirector Cody Cameron. Kind of thought Frank Welker had stumbled on set.
No meatballs, ironically enough.
Last night I checked out the terrific The Haunted Strangler, in which
Boris Karloff plays a novelist (!) and social reformer who believes a
man was wrongly executed for a series of strangulations twenty years
prior. James Rankin connects the murders instead to a doctor who
performed the autopsy on the condemned man and who was present at the
burial. Naturally, his investigation takes him down a twisted path in
which he more or less becomes the strangler himself.
At first, this seems like a typical low-budget Karloff horror movie, but in addition to his talents it has a couple of things going for it one is the transformation from normal Mr. Rankin into the Strangler, and another is the major plot twist about three-fourths of the way into the movie. Seriously, did not see that coming. I clearly underestimated the depth of this plot.
Karloff doesn't ham it up, slowly evolving from a calm, thoughtful chap into an unhinged obsessive, and he's surrounded by capable actors (Elizabeth Allen, Anthony Dawson, Tim Turner). And there's truly an old-school horror feel to the movie. It both looks and feels fearful.
Last night, it was Oldboy's turn on the viewing screen. This would be
Spike Lee's 2013 remake, not the original Korean masterpiece. Josh
Brolin stars as a man who's inexplicably imprisoned for 20 years and
then, just as inexplicably, allowed to escape. Also among the cast are
Elizabeth Olsen as a kind-hearted clinic worker and Samuel L. Jackson
as himself. (Okay, not really.) The trouble? If you've seen the
original bloody mess (in a good way), then you have no reason to see
this. Much like Gus van Sant's remake of Psycho in 1998, 2013′s Oldboy
is pretty much the same as its predecessor. That's fine if you're
making a horror movie, maybe, or an action movie films that can skate
by with gaps in plot. But if one of the highlights of the premise is a
shocking twist, then either you're counting on your audience not having
seen the original or you think it doesn't matter even if they have.
True, Chang-wook Park's movie was in Korean with subtitles, but it had
(and continues to have) a strong cult following in the U.S. as a
visceral, alarming masterpiece with a truly malicious twist ending.
That's what made that movie so special. Spike Lee's version merely
copies a winning formula, but if people have an idea of what the
out-of-left-field plot twist is, the impact of that twist is somewhat
Here's a second problem. In the original, the violence is over the top camp. In the remake, it's less over the top and more of a cheesefest. Picture this one iconic scene in both films has our protagonist trying to escape from the evil clutches of his captors. Seemingly scores of henchmen pour out of elevators and doors, trapping our man in a hallway. In Park's version, the bloodletting seems to be intentionally comical. In Lee's version, it just looks comically stupid. You don't have to slow down the DVD to notice that, while waiting their turn to attack, the thugs will jump up, down, ahead, back, to give the impression that they're in on the action. If Lee was trying to poke fun at how a group of crooks never attacks all at once, then lack of subtlety hurts the scene; instead of a fine tweak with a wrench, we get bludgeoned with a sledgehammer.
As the movie progressed, I kept in mind the Big Twist. As I noted above, it's still there, essentially unchanged. I'm not sure what Lee could have done to make his twist differ, even a little, from Park's twist. Maybe there was nothing to do. In which case, my question is simple Why remake the movie in the first place? Brolin is really good and carries the film in some scenes. Olsen is even better here than she was in Martha Marcy May Marlene; she has a strong screen presence and more than holds her own with Brolin (and Jackson, although they have scant time together). The problem here isn't the acting. The problem is the writing and the directing. This Oldboy is generic, lifeless, and redundant.
With The Expendables 3, you get exactly what you expect to get, as long
as you're expecting a exponentially cheesy throwback to 80s action
movies that supersedes not only its two immediate predecessors in terms
of one-dimensionality but also those of the earlier era. This is no Die
Hard or Rambo; it's more like an old Jeff Speakman or Wings Hauser
movie, at least in terms of plot. There is that magnificent cast,
however, so if you like seeing a lot of interesting actors in the same
movie, this might be the one for you even if most of the cast is
pretty close to collecting Social Security. Well, if they needed to,
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) takes his team to snag a high-profile arms dealer at the behest of the CIA (in the person of a Mr. Drummer, played by Harrison Ford). On the way, they break an old pal of Barney's, Doc (Wesley Snipes), an original Expendable himself. But trouble awaits when they get to their destination and discover that dun dun DUN the mystery man is actually Barney's old partner Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who Barney thought he'd killed years ago. Yeah, maybe he didn't do that after all. Anyway, Stonebanks fights back, and one of Barney's guys is wounded. They pull back, and Barney reassesses the situation. His solution get rid of the current team (Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren) in favor of a younger, hungrier squad (including Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, and Ronda Rousey) to avenge his wounded mate and take down his ex-partner. Because a third movie in a franchise full of old guys desperately needs a change in direction, you see.
Predictably, the new guys are a little eclectic (one's a woman! one's a hacker!) for old-school Barney, and just as predictably the old guard resents being let go. Ah, what the hell, let's all go! So everyone goes to beat up Mel Gibson; even Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) shows up. Of course, Gibson being the super bad guy and all, he has an actual army awaiting them I believe it was the Azerbaijan military. These guys, who apparently have nothing else to do but attack 10-15 in an abandoned hotel, have tanks, helicopters, RPGs, you name it. I don't want to spoil it for you, but the good guys sort of hold their own. I know, it's a twist.
It's a violent movie, but it's rated PG-13. There are few curse words spoken. At least I think that was the case, because I was distracted by the family of four a row behind me, what with their toddler and four- year-old kid in tow who never shut up. Who takes little kids to The Expendables? These guys. Anyway. It's almost a shame that this wasn't R rated, because we could have had ourselves a relatively good movie. Blood and guts and veins in my teeth, that sort of movie. But no, this one got toned down so much that the writers had to rely on the actors, and come on. These guys aren't actors so much as positionable action figures. There isn't much witty repartee, either, although there are a few nods to earlier movies catchphrases from Schwarzenegger and Stallone, for example. Or to Snipes' personal life.
The Expendables 3 was not a terrible movie, and I appreciate that. Good job on the filmmakers for not stinking too much. But this probably is one that can wait for home video. That is, if parts 1 and 2 left you with so many unanswered questions.
Despite a familiar story, Darren Aronofsky's Noah is dramatically
compelling and visually staggering, featuring solid performances that
are outdone by the special effects, particularly the excess of water.
Even with a big budget, Aronofsky doesn't ignore the importance of plot
development and deftly avoids painting his characters as either Good or
The story begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) seeing his father Lamech (Martin Csokas) murdered by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Tubal-cain is a descendant of Cain, who killed his brother Abel and fled east; Noah is a direct descendant of Seth, also brother to Cain. Noah, unseen by Tubal-cain, escapes; he later marries Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three boys: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah begins to have visions of the end of the world, and when he sees a flower grow where no seed could previously find purchase, he becomes convinced that his Creator (God is never mentioned in the movie) has decided to destroy Man but has chosen to spare Noah and his family - and the innocent creatures of nature. Thus the family, with orphan Ila (Emma Watson) in tow, joins forces with The Watchers - fallen angels turned to anthropomorphic rock - to build an ark to survive a deluge that will wipe out the rest of mankind.
But this is not merely a conflict of man versus the elements. Noah believes he's been chosen to facilitate the extermination of all mankind, so he tells his family that after the storm, his sons are to bury him and Naameh and then kill themselves. Complicating this further is Ila, who forces Noah into a terrifying dilemma. Noah, in Aronofsky's view, is by no means a hero. He is, however, quite human and prey to self-doubt and misinterpretation of his Creator's wishes. Should all mankind be eradicated, allowing the plants and animals full domain over the planet? The conflict is handled quite nimbly thanks to the usual strong portrayal by Crowe. Watson and Connelly offer strong support, Connelly particularly indomitable. Maybe having Tubal-cain as an additional antagonist was overkill, but what Aronofsky really focuses on is the family quarrels between Noah and Naameh, Noah and Ham, Noah and Shem, Noah and Ila, and Noah and himself. The family may survive the great flood, but their actions lead to some agonizing decisions and situations.
So Aronofsky chooses to use these internal conflicts as the impetus for the movie rather than go by the traditional Biblical story. That is, the story is more or less intact, but it's often secondary to how Noah deals with his kin. This makes Noah not just a huge spectacle to wow even the least devout but also a deep psychological journey, similar to Aronofsky's earlier works.
Snowpiercer is about a train that circles the globe in a
post-apocalyptic Earth in an infinite loop, carrying the last survivors
of the human race. It's a long, long train, stocked with all the
comforts of life, but there's much more than meets the eye. Well, if
you're looking at the train from the outside, anyway. Inside, a
terrifying class system has erupted. The movie is classic visceral
action, bloody and unbowed, brimming with excellent fight scenes and
The human race is basically extinct because of an ill-fated idea (some 17 years before the events depicted in the film) to combat the effects of global warming by dispersing a special gas in the upper atmosphere. Rather than solve the planet's environmental woes, the gas froze Earth, killing off all life except those in the train, of course. Now the self-sustaining locomotive chugs onward past a bitterly cold landscape.
The train is run by Wilford (Ed Harris), a man who apparently had the foresight to built a metric ton of track all over the world. Many people paid a pretty penny to be passengers, and when the frost finally hit, many others were able to glom on for survival. Trouble is, those poor souls are kept in the rear car of the train, subsisting on gelatinous protein bars, in utter squalor. One of these souls is Curtis (Chris Evans), who carefully plans a coup against Wilford's minions, who include Tilda Swinton as Mason, a liaison between the haves and the have-nots. Curtis's best pal is Edgar (Jamie Bell), a punch-first Irishman with a lotta spunk to go with his brogue; others include the ancient Gilliam (John Hurt), who's missing an arm and a leg, and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), mother to a precocious five year old.
Curtis's plan is simple. Overpower the guards (the tail-section people outnumber them) and then use the skills of Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) to open each subsequent door, or gate. Each car in the train serves a different purpose water supply, food supply, and so on. It's a long journey, longer than you'd think walking the length of a train would be. And they better not mess up, either, lest a Wilford minion stick their arms out of windows into the frozen air the easier to chop them off, you see. (That's why so many are missing limbs.) Where Snowpiercer excels is in its personalization of Curtis's situation. We're not in his head, but we can understand why he's so driven, why he so desperately wants to get his fellow downtrodden to a better place, one where the food and water is plentiful. For the viewer, the excitement builds with each car what's behind door #4? Bad guys with machetes? Or maybe a nice garden? I liked Snowpiercer because of Evans' unflinching performance. He's practically the opposite of Captain America here, so he's fairly unrecognizable. His Curtis seems surprisingly strong for a guy who's been eating Jell-O bars for 17 years, but still. The action is fast and furious, and the body count is high. You might well wonder, too, why the train has to perpetually be in motion. I don't recall it bluntly stated in the film, but I guess the same mechanism that propels the train also sustains the life inside (i.e., clean air, electricity). So there's that.
At times, the action is so frenetic that it's tough to tell who's smacking whom, whether it's bad guy versus good guy or just discerning between two good guys. In low lighting, a lot of these fellas look the same.
What does it all mean? Perhaps the ending is a little too concrete or literal. You have all of these people on a huge, lumbering train that's going nowhere as fast as possible, and the denouement may leave viewers a little empty, as if some existential point should have been made. But whatever the conclusion, the journey is an exciting blast of adrenaline.
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