Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
is easily Marvel Studios' riskiest venture to date. Everyone says the company took a chance on the first Iron Man film, which featured a non-mutant/wall crawling protagonist and whose star was best remembered for stints in jail at the time, but Guardians was a gamble of gargantuan proportions. Say what you will about the popularity of Iron Man (or Thor or Cap) pre-MCU, there's no denying that the Avengers' roster is far more recognizable to the average person than the C-tier characters in Guardians. The fact that Marvel transformed this, The Bad News Bears/Little Giants of super hero squads into such an awesome sci-fi film is astounding.

This is technically a super hero, "comic book," movie, but Guardians of the Galaxy feels akin to a light hearted Star Wars, more western/space opera than sermonizing caped crusaders. The film follows a bunch of scruffy looking thieves, bounty hunters, assassins ( nerf herders?) and a giant tree /Wookie, who reluctantly band together in order to stop an intergalactic zealot called Ronan The Accuser, from acquiring an infinity stone and using it to ethnic cleanse an entire planet. At first, Lonestar is only in it for the space bucks but overtime, he slowly starts to care for Princess Vespa and the rest of the gang. By the time they join forces with Star Command and engage Zurg's TIE fighters in an epic aerial dog fight on Naboo, they've become a fully functional and kick ass team.

Yes, it's all a hodgepodge of older sci-fi themes and plot devices Frankenstein-ed together...who cares. From the moment the movie's insane 1970's pop rock soundtrack kicks in, you know you're in for one wild, and thoroughly entertaining ride. Guardians of the Galaxy has so much irreverent humor and face peeling action sequences it will leave even the most ardent popcorn junkie in awe. Aside from the infinity stone connection and an appearance from a certain mega evil villain, Guardians has nothing to do with the rest of the MCU films. What it does have however, is a talking raccoon brandishing a machine gun and a shit ton of laughs. Honestly, I feel like this is the best action-comedy since Rush Hour. There's explosions and CGI critters doing all sorts of fantastical stuff, but there's also copious amounts of lolz and yuk yuk moments that had me rolling in my seat. Most of the laughs are shared by Chris Pratt's dopey Star Lord and Bradley Cooper's rambunctious Rocket Raccoon. They're like Abott & Costello in space. WWE superstar turned actor, Batista, and current Na'vi & USS Enterprise crew member Zoe Saldana both deliver some unexpected laughs ["pelvic wizardry" has now entered the pop culture lexicon] while Vin Diesel's Swamp-Thing with a heart of gold character Groot turns in one of the most touching performances of the entire movie....and he's a talking CGI tree that says about three words.

Sound ridiculous? It is...but it's damn entertaining. The sweeping score (plus 70's pop rock), Rocket's lifelike CGI, the costumes and wide array of bright, trippy colors onscreen, the entire cast's great performances and superb dialogue, not to mention all the geeky Marvel Comics references thrown in for fanboys [NOTE: never in a million years did I think anyone other than fellow dorks would learn about The Kree Empire, the Nova Corps. or fucking Celestials...but here they are in the number one movie in the country. Excuse me while my brain explodes], director James Gunn has crafted one of Marvel's best films and puts on a veritable masterclass in summer action/blockbuster filmmaking. I simply can't recommend Guardians of the Galaxy enough.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is easily the most unique and entertaining sci-fi action flick since Pacific Rim. Comparing the two movies would be pretty pointless however, Pacific Rim was a blockbuster homage to B-rated kaiju films of old and was purposely campy. Although adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer feels fresh and excitingly original. While watching the film's many action spectacles and curve ball plot twists, I couldn't help but remember my first viewing of The Matrix. Snowpiercer is nowhere near as complex or self serious as Neo's Simulacra and Simulation inspired computer madness, it's just a damn thrilling movie that found me sitting on the edge of my seat and smiling ear to ear throughout its duration.

do not fuck w/ Captain America: EVER
The film takes place in the not too distant future, where a failed global warming experiment backfires and ends up freezing the entire planet, killing all life in the process. The last remnants of humanity live on a globe crossing train called, the Snowpiercer. For the survivors, Earth and the outside world no longer exist, their only reality is the train. Like in our current times however, life on the Snowpiercer sucks if you ain't in the top 1%. The huddled masses in the back of the bus/train are living all the worst post apocalyptic dystopian cliches, while the fat cats in the front stroke their beards and sniff hallucinogenic toxic waste til their hearts' content. Chris Evans leads a rag tag rebellion on board who try to overtake the engine and end their life of squalor and misery.

Director Bong Joon-ho has created the perfect storm of drama, action and over the top absurdity in this flick. The film's all-star cast (John Hurt, Korean star Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, Ed Harris and fucking Captain America himself) serve up amazing performances which anchor this film's otherwise flimsy premise to some much needed reality. The violence depicted onscreen is both jarring and titillating. People drop like flies in this movie and it seems like each death is gnarlier than the last. Finally, the set design and costumes of each train car makes the protagonists journey feel like something out of Alice and Wonderland. The film shifts gears from scenes with awesomely done stylized violence, to somber depressing ass drama, to laughably over the top zaniness and it somehow all works. If you're looking for an intelligent alternative to the Transformers type drivel we're spoon fed every summer, you cannot go wrong with Snowpiercer.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

If you enjoyed 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you're going to friggin love this new installment of the Apes franchise. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare sequels that just annihilates the original in every possible way, like Empire Strikes Back or The Winter Soldier from earlier this year. The first film had a lot of ground to cover and although it was thoroughly entertaining, felt a tad rushed overall. You see the apes being experimented on, watched James Franco (because he always plays James Franco) raise Caesar, yadda yadda yadda, ape revolt in the streets and a civilization ending virus begins spreading. That's a lot of ground they had to cover. Part two doesn't suffer from this, Dawn of the Apes takes place ten years after the events of the first film and is an entirely self contained, world building phenomenon of a film. That, and there's talking apes with machine guns on horseback.

So the simian flu virus has wiped out most of humanity. Caesar and his gang of genetically enhanced apes live in the forests outside San Fransisco, hunting, learning and generally building a pretty chill primate civilization. That is until, they encounter some desperate humans in the woods one day, pitting the wants, needs and personalities of each species at odds with one another. This leads to both external and internal conflicts between apes and human alike. I don't want to spoil the plot because the less you know about the film the better, just hold on for the most surprising film of the summer.

I jokingly implied that Andy Serkis should have received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Caesar in the first film. Now, I'm dead serious...Andy Serkis deserves a best actor nod. Caesar is by far, the most complex, charismatic and down right coolest protagonist I've seen in a big budget Hollywood tentpole film in ages...and he's a CGI chimpanzee for Christ's sake! He's not the only badass this time around either. Advances in motion capture technology, and the plot device where pretty much all the humans are dead, allows for Dawn of the Apes to focus on, you guessed, even more apes! Caesar has a family and a (kind of a wussy) son, they have a little ape school led by Maurice the giant/genius orangutan from the first film and then, there's Koba. He's the freaky looking ape from Rise, with visible scars from years of being abused and experimented on by humans. Well homeboy is back with a vengeance in Dawn of the Apes. He goes from victim of circumstance to full on super villain rather remarkably. Again, I'm trying to keep the plot under wraps as much as possible here, but there is some serious philosophical pondering and straight up historical allusions going on in this film [Reichstag fire anyone?], plus it also has talking apes with machine guns on horseback. It literally has everything.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Boyhood of the year or best of the decade? I don't know but Richard Linklater's newest film is unlike anything I've ever seen before. A true marvel of filmmaking.

Boyhood is Linklater's decade plus passion project about coming of age in modern America. Filmed intermittently over a period of twelve years, the movie follows the life of a Texas boy named Mason Jr. from age six to eighteen. You watch him grow before your eyes in a stunning display of time lapse cinema. Linklater captures the subtle joys and debilitating hardships of life, as Mason, his family and the entire county changes throughout the 2000's. Watching this defenseless tike clad in Dragon Ball Z pajamas suddenly transform into a functioning adult before your eyes is simply mind blowing.

The plot is irreverent. It's just life. Boyhood avoids all the milestone/hallmark moments we've seen in other movies. The awkward first kiss, learning to drive, graduating high school, that's all been done before. Boyhood focuses on the in-between; those fleeting, ephemeral moments that make up most of our real lives. While the plot might not be compelling in a "traditional" sense, the cast deserves some serious accolades. They all invested such huge portions of their lives into this project, as the film's runtime winds down and the years pile up, their attachment to their characters and their legit vulnerability onscreen is uncanny. Patricia Arquette delivers the performance of her career, playing Mason's continually struggling mother. Ethan Hawke and Linklater are just peas and carrots at this point. Watching Hawke slowly transform from the hip weekend dad to full blown middle aged family man was like getting smacked by all three incarnations of Jesse from the Before Sunrise films at once. Of course you can't forget the boy of Boyhood himself, Ellar Coltrane. Although his body [and hairstyles] changes throughout, his remarkably consistent performance never waivers. Somewhere along the way this wide eyed boy obsessed with elves and sorcery becomes an introspective photographer, bent on capturing the magic of everyday life with his camera. Good luck trying to pinpoint when this transformation takes place. Things just happen and time just flies by.

Also, for anyone under 30, Boyhood should prove to be quite the nostalgia trip to the wonderfully strange world of the early millennium. The movie's rockin' zeitgeist soundtrack serves as the film's main demarcation points and really anchors the characters to a specific time. Except for the McCain scene. No music needed there.

In short, this movie is phenomenal and Richard Linklater is unstoppable. Go see it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise finally makes a rad movie again...and no one seems to care. Bummer.

Yes, I've chastised some of Tom's most recent films, like the uber repetitive Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the sci-fi clusterfuck that was Oblivion, but that doesn't mean I'm rooting for the man to fail. In fact, there was a time when I was a huge Tom Cruise fan. His output between 1988 and 1999 is pretty much unfuckwithable. Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Interview with the Vampire, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia to name a few. That's the Tom Cruise I grew up watching. The cunning, fast talking everyman who charmed the shit out of audiences. I'd say he hit his stride in 2004's Collateral, playing the cold as ice hitman Vincent. This role combined all the best elements of Tom Cruise's cinematic repertoire, the Type A personality rambler and his impressive physical work from years as a Hollywood "action star." He should have gone out on top in 2004 and hung up his holster after that film. Instead, Cruise seemed determined to cement himself as a legit action icon with botched/bloated sci-fi attempts and action/thriller type flicks  (War of the Worlds, Knight and Day, two more Mission Impossible sequels, etc etc). You had a good run Tom, but you're 5'7 and 51 years old now buddy, nobody buys the rugged action hero schtick anymore.

That being said, Edge of Tomorrow is a rollicking, special effects driven extravaganza and one of the most entertaining "action" films I've seen in forever, easily Tom Cruise's best film in years. You know why he's so good here? Because he's not the aging try hard hero character we've seen him recycling through for the past decade. Instead, Cruise is back to his quirky, quasi-sleazy 90's self again. He plays a military public relations/media officer who gets thrown into the middle of a raging war zone and does what any normal person would do: he panics, he tries to talk his way out of it, and he dies. He dies a lot actually. Edge of Tomorrow turns the usual Tom Cruise sci-fi action premise on it's head, his amazingly gorgeous co-star Emily Blunt is battle hardened soldier while ol' Tom is the bumbling Wile E. Coyote figure who dies more than a dozen or so gruesomely hilarious deaths.

The film's plot is kind of irrelevant, this movie is all about watching Cruise yuck it up on screen again. He's clever and does his best onscreen ranting since "show me the money." There's some big war between humans and vague alien invaders (who look like Transformers rip offs)  that can somehow manipulate time. Cruise's character dies in combat at the start of the film but somehow gains access to the aliens cosmic reset button that allows him to be reincarnated everyday and learn from his previous battlefield mistakes. It's best not to think about it really, just turn off your brain and watch old school Tom Cruise light up the screen like it's 1996 all over again.