Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

10 Stars

Don’t be fooled by my review.

Guardians of the Galaxy won’t help you achieve enlightenment, fall in love or lose weight.

Especially if you’re the chick who sits beside me, crushing a popcorn tub singlehanded.

But if you’re looking for a great movie this weekend, you won’t find anything better on the big screen. Guardians delivers what it promises, and more.

That being said.

As is always the case with Marvel Studios productions, some won’t enjoy it. Guardians isn’t part of the superhero genre, however.

It’s science fiction. None of the characters are ‘superheroes.’

Technically thus comprises the ragtag band: one human, two aliens (one genetically enhanced), one anthropomorphic raccoon and one humanoid plant.

It belongs in the intergalactic genre; the same barrel as Star Wars and Star Trek.

If that sounds displeasing, you may be in the same boat as the douchey dude two seats down from me.

The opening scene’s a tearjerker, and I’m ‘swept up,’ so to speak.

It takes place on Earth and involves nothing extraterrestrial. At the emotional climax he speaks.

“Is this when the raccoon shows up?” Douchey Dude asks the Popcorn Vacuum.

Not only is it unfunny and in bad taste, it’s illustrative of his mindset. He’s completely unwilling to buy in.

His wrap-up comment post-viewing is, “It was all corny.”

If he’s so above it, why go in the first place?

I try to avoid personal yarns but am endlessly astounded by the behavior of other adults. If you can’t let yourself enjoy the movie, then don’t go see it.

James Gunn, the writer/director is just a great guy. He’s been on the Adam Carolla Show twice recently. He’s enthusiastic, intelligent and wants to do the sequel if the first is received with public favor.

In his latest appearance on Carolla’s podcast, Gunn claims they cast Chris Pratt as the lead when the actor was out of shape. But it’s clear Pratt got physically fit by the time shooting rolled around.

Zoe Saldana is the queen of science fiction. She plays a major role in both of the more recent Star Treks and wears similar makeup in Avatar. Saldana’s phenomenal as Gamora, and you can tell she does a lot of her own stunts.

Plus she’s enchanting. It’s odd how lovable she can be with all that makeup on.

Bradley Cooper is almost unrecognizable as the voice of Rocket, the raccoon everybody’s been talking about. As per the usual, Cooper’s great.

This is Vin Diesel’s second voiceover role as a humanoid being. Not only is he the voice of Groot in Guardians, he’s also the robot in The Iron Giant (1999).

Karen Gillan’s performance is particularly noteworthy. She’s a Scottish actress who’s quite prevalent in Doctor Who, and played a role in last year’s Oculus.

Gillan’s terrifically menacing as the bionic woman. She’s creepy and evil and fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Hopefully we see more of her in the future.

It’s overall a balanced, vastly diverse cast of characters. The sum total of which makes for a well-acted movie.

Guardians does a lot of things right. The writing constantly defies convention and satirizes common sci-fi themes.

For example, when the heroic outlaws ask for help from the authorities, it’s a relief to see their call’s considered, rather than immediately dismissed.

Much like the humorous discussions of plan creation, Guardians masterfully navigates clichés.

Location and contextual details are presented in a cool and efficient fashion. Digital readouts accompany interstellar approach shots of planetary environments as the perspective transitions between settings.

The shooting, editing, cinematography, music and score are all impressive. I think it’s time we retire “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from all future soundtracks, though. That song belongs to Remember the Titans.

Despite some overcompensating laughter in the theater, the humor is strong and consistent.

Although the end credits leave much to be desired, the opening credits are informative and wildly entertaining.

There is a lot of action, both hand-to-hand and aerial combat. It’s well choreographed and thrilling.

I wonder what percentage of the on-screen material is CGI. It must be upwards of fifty, but it all looks realistic.

My only criticism regards the scene after the credits.

It’s a major disappointment if you don’t understand the reference. I’m almost twenty-five and despite my vague familiarity, I’m still outside the joke.

If the reference is slated toward an audience older than me, why can’t this movie be rated R?

I know all the answers to my question; they’re just infinitely dissatisfying.

And I was hoping for something that gets us looking forward to the sequel.

Regardless. It’s a tiny failure in an otherwise remarkable film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is cute, thrilling and fun.

It’s everything we can ask from PG-13.

American Hustle (R)

10 Stars

Yes, for God’s sake, I’m aware of the similarities to GoodFellas.

It’s a strange human trait, but if an individual in a group professes love for American Hustle, there’s always that one dude – The guy who believes he’s most ‘in the know.’

Regardless of any real opinions, he’ll say, “Yeah, I thought it was pretty good. But it draws too much from Scorsese’s early work; namely GoodFellas.”

If you hear this in a professional business environment, at home, in the church confessional booth or what have you; I urge you seek out this monster, and silence their blowharding with a crescent kick.

Because David O. Russell’s most recent effort is a spectacular film.

I don’t think I can oversell this character study, with its ten Oscar nominations and three wins at the Golden Globes.

One is for ‘Best Comedy or Musical.’ Here’s a diabolical scheme waiting to hatch: Remake The Producers (again) and secure a nomination for this award. No matter what the competition, it’d have to win by default, no?

Amy Adams took home a Globe for Best Actress and Jennifer Lawrence nabbed the gilded sphere for Supporting Lady.

As it pertains to performance in film, those were three of the most deserved awards distributed for the previous year.

I walked into the theater with my nose held high in the air. The movie looked overwrought with cliché, but I had seen the trailer several dozen times.

Plus, I was only familiar with one David O. Russell film by then; Silver Linings Playbook. For further reading on my historic disappointment in SLP check out my review.

(I caught The Fighter a month later; solidifying my certainty in Davey Russ’s directing ability.)

If you haven’t seen American Hustle, it’s #2 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list, so go into it with reasonable expectations and you should be swept away.

What else can be said? It’s a great movie that’s sure to delight.

So if you haven’t seen it and you’re sensitive to potential spoilers, stop reading now.

There is plenty of material up for discussion surrounding this film. For now, I’ll focus on several plot aspects I found noteworthy, and then talk a little smack about Jared Leto, before wrapping things up.

Jeremy Renner, who deftly performs a tense unfolding of his character’s arc, plays what is potentially the most compelling role, Mayor Carmine Polito.

The opening title card before Fargo, the Coen brothers’ film, is a comedic take on a common trend in modern movies. The appearance of the words, “Based on a true story,” is a complete red herring. Fargo’s entirely fictional!

David O. throws his hat in the ring with another satirical take on the opening title card. At the beginning of Hustle the words read: “Some of this actually happened.”

The message triggers a hearty laugh, and it’s a great reveal (especially being unacquainted with the story’s connection to reality.)

As I mention in my review of Elysium, the ‘parable’ is a prolific plot device often utilized in a clumsy fashion. Therefore, it often comes off as cliché or contrived. Neill Blomkamp avoids this by having the protagonist interrupt another character’s allegorical narrative with a summary of the conclusion. (To astounding effect, I might add.)

O. Russell’s version of the parable is a fishing story that Louis C. K.’s character (Stoddard Thorsen) tries to tell Bradley Cooper (as FBI agent Richie DiMaso) throughout the film. It’s uproariously comedic, eloquent and dynamic.

While it serves to reveal subtle character traits, it’s also a brilliant and original take on an ancient plot device.

Turns out I like my Cooper like I like my women: Unhinged and antagonistic.

That’s a dumb joke but the sentiment towards BC retains credence. On top of his roles in Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, Brad’s shown impressive villain chops, and we should all appreciate him a little more next holiday season.

Cooper, and by the same token Michael Fassbender (for 12 Years a Slave), were snubbed for the Best Supporting Actor Award.

But not to worry, because Matthew McConaughey, a handsome straight Caucasian depicting a character of similar description, will be winning an award, so they’ve reached their limit on that demographic.

I’m reminded of an award season several years ago, when Milk was getting a lot of press. Okay, yes, Sean Penn depicts a convincing portrait of a gay man. But the movie’s boring! (And, side note, Harvey Milk wasn’t the greatest guy in real life.)

Jared Leto (whom I don’t mean to criticize, unless we’re talking about acceptance speeches) did a fine job of depicting a transsexual. But I found his character enormously off-putting, and as much I appreciate the effort that went into the performance, Leto just doesn’t do it for me.

But that’s DBC, not the hustling Americans.

Ready for a strong opinion?

All of the cast’s main players are wildly prolific in modern cinema, and judging by their performances in previous films, are among the most talented actors working today.

Every single performance I’ve seen by Christian Bale, J-Law, Coop-A-Loop, Amy Adams, J. Renner and Louis C.K., has been spot-on, nuanced and (for all intents and purposes) near perfect.

If that doesn’t tell you anything about this film, nothing will.

Go out and catch American Hustle before it loses its crispy freshness!

Silver Linings Playbook (R)

4 Stars

Everybody apparently loves this movie.

I do not.

It’s alright. Not okay, not good, not even close to great.

SLP is alright.

And I find this extremely disappointing. The plot holes, the oddly dull characters, and the plodding narrative add up to a unsatisfying movie.

It gets nominated for Best Picture, I read about how touching and spectacular it is. Yet it’s neither smart, nor enjoyable enough to be a nominee.

First of all, Bradley Cooper is terrific, and J-Law is even better…but that is where the goodness ends.

De Niro’s acting isn’t bad, but it’s by no means exceptional.

It’s a Dromantic Quirkedy (dramatic and romantic quirky comedy); not a recipe for success for this writer’s tastes.

There are quite a few moments that are written to be cringe-worthy: dark comedic scenes that ask a lot of the viewer in exchange for a half-hearted chuckle. That being said, on to a more in depth look at the film.

Now if you haven’t seen SLP, beware the spoilers, and long-winded complaints below. But if you also haven’t seen American Hustle, I’d suggest you watch that instead.

Here’s my big thing: The reference to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is inaccurate. B. Cooper’s character talks about how he likes the part in which the characters are dancing but doesn’t like the ending.

There is zero dancing between Henry and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. I know because I read the novel immediately after seeing the film.

Perhaps Cooper’s incorrect use of the word dancing or his false reading of the story is intentional. In fact, it better be intentional.

If we are to accept the reality we’re being shown on screen, Bradley Cooper’s character misinterprets the book, or he’s lying about reading it. Either way, this seems wildly incongruent with the rest of the film.

If it’s not that, we can only assume it’s a mistake in the screenplay, yes?

It upsets me that a movie gets nominated for Best Motion Picture with such a glaring error in the writing.

A lot of strange stuff is going on when Jennifer Lawrence’s character is introduced to Cooper’s family near the end of the film. She helps herself to a beer from the fridge, when she’s never been to his house, nor met his family. This scene seems crazed, hazy and diluted, like we’re interpreting some sort of illusion through the veil of BC’s consciousness.

During that same scene, his father’s best friend invests in a nonsensical parley with De Niro. Why would he force such a thing on an old friend? Seems astonishingly cruel. Why would the bookie just go on her word about the scoring system for the dance competition? They haven’t been introduced, yet he’s already disrespecting and adding pressure on the romantic interest of his best friend’s son? (BC was never any concern to the bookie in the first place!)

Do these people have nothing more important in their lives than to invest all of their time and energy into this semi-serious attempt to place in a professional dance competition?

Why would the ex-wife show up? If anybody in this movie were in their right mind, they’d recognize the lingering potential for problems between BC and his ex-wife. This would not be the appropriate time for him to approach her.

Another major issue is with the psychiatrist. Even if I saw my psychiatrist at a football game, I wouldn’t go bother him for more than a hello and a handshake. And I would expect the same from him.

There would be no tailgating and hanging out for the game. And he would most certainly not walk into my living room (where he is familiar with nobody) without a shirt on, and sit down on the couch. My best friends who walk into the house without knocking wouldn’t dream of sitting shirtless on the sofa. (Even if they were in the highly unlikely situation to walk in the house without one on.) This is one of the dumbest fucking scenes I have ever seen in a movie that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

Best Picture? Really?

Also, the shrink would never play the song to purposely upset Cooper. In retrospect, it’s rather cruel (and dangerous apparently, to the other people in the waiting room.) A psychiatrist doesn’t play mind games with their patient. And getting such a strong reaction, I truly doubt Bradley’s actions would be taken lightly.

I don’t appreciate the letter; it’s a misleading central plot element. It’s dissatisfying to build mystery around what’s going to be inside the envelope, when the answer is nothing. J-Law wrote it, as we expect all along.

There is some strange stuff going on with Chris Tucker’s character. The mother doesn’t acknowledge his presence in a way. She never looks at him, or engages him in a conversational manner. This recurs with Tucker’s character throughout the movie. He is never really acknowledged by another individual, except J-Law. Even then, their interaction is odd. It’s incredibly misleading. I thought Tucker was potentially an extension of BC’s personality, a figment of his character’s imagination.

But this doesn’t jive with certain portions of the plot. So all I’m left with is a confusing mess.

Finally, the ending is painfully nonsensical. The last judge is portrayed as tough beforehand. You expect a harsh rating from him. Yet, he’s the one who equalizes the score to just barely win it. If he is passionate about his job as a critical judge, he’d be consistent. He would not have much patience for such a terribly executed final move.

David O. Russell, I know you devour all of my reviews, so I’m sorry for crapping on your film.

But American Hustle is much better.