DECEMBER 9TH, 2014
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY // Marvel wins again with their biggest gamble to date, “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. Taking an almost unknown comic book team and giving them their own film without any precursor does not scream general audiences. Add in a talking raccoon and a walking tree as two of the main characters, and on paper, “Guardians” does not sound like a moneymaking machine. Not to mention, the world of “Guardians” only loosely runs alongside the Marvel’s shared universe, with no real connections to the previous films besides the existence of the infinity stones and a distant foe in Thanos that was only briefly touched on in the finale of “The Avengers”. But director James Gunn rises to the occasion and finds a way to make this original universe and these unique characters the driving force of the film.
Not quite the space Western I was hoping for, the characters and their adventures are still refreshing and give Marvel their own unique iteration of “Star Wars”. Chris Pratt is unrecognizable in the role of Peter Quill aka Star Lord, leaving his old “Parks and Recreations” persona behind him and becoming a completely capable, although often flawed, leader. Basically the Han Solo of the group, Star Lord was abducted from Earth by bounty hunters called Ravagers when he was a boy and raised to lie, cheat, and steal. Piloting his own ship, Quill finds himself to be the first in possession of a metallic orb, which several groups are after including his employer Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and the rest of the Ravagers, the villain Ronan The Accuser, played by the unrecognizable Lee Pace, and also Ronan’s cohorts Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). With a bounty on Quill’s head, Rocket the raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot the tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) also become intertwined, eventually getting themselves, Quill, and Gamora thrown into a high security prison alongside the monstrous Drax The Destroyer (Dave Baustista), a warrior with a personal vendetta against Ronan and all those who follow him, including Gamora. Even Glenn Close and John C. Reilly find themselves in the middle of the struggle for the orb, as part of the Nova Corps military group, inhabits of the planet Xandar in which Ronan plans to decimate.
With such a strange cast of characters, it is astonishing that the group jives together so well. The lovely Zoe Saldana plays the green Gamora and paired with some amazing costumes, it is impossible to take your eyes off of her every time she graces the screen. Providing the perfect love interest for Quill, the chemistry between the two is undeniable and despite Saldana’s work in the similar space odyssey “Star Trek”, she delivers a completely separate and reinvigorated performance in “Guardians”. Bradley Cooper’s vocal performance as Rocket combined with some impressive visual effects in bringing a raccoon to life, also produces one of the most unique characters in any film to date. The relationship Rocket has with Groot zeroes in on the film’s distinct humor and heartwarming nature, providing the true Han Solo-Chewbacca pairing. Despite his lack of dialogue, Groot also supplies plenty of humor and emotion through just his facial expressions alone. Finishing out the group is Drax, who supplies the muscle needed to give them an edge over their competition and whose literal take on everything carries its own form of comedy. By the end of the film, all their differences together are what makes them such the perfect team, making their changes of heart and eventual understanding of each other that much more powerful along the way.
As much as I loved “Guardians”, it does rely on its comedy way too much, which is a growing fear I have for all future Marvel films. With punchline after punchline, it becomes more of a comedy than an action, sci-fi film, and for that it loses me at times. I understand this to be a nod to the comic books, which were cheesy and comical in their own right, but this often does not translate for me on screen and takes me out of the moment. That being said, James Gunn’s humor shines through and for every joke that falls short there are plenty that land perfectly. One element that continuously lands home throughout the film is the soundtrack, which is comprised of mostly eighties tunes that directly tie to the narrative, as Quill carries with him a portable cassette deck and headphones for the entire film. Creating different moods with different songs, the overall tone would have drastically changed without this retro quality. Giving way to the action adventure score during fight sequences and epic moments, however, is a necessity of any large production and Gunn balances the two forms of music perfectly.
Ideally, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” would have resonated emotionally stronger for me, but by relying on its humor too heavily, the film remains mostly surface level. James Gunn thankfully avoids the typical superhero origin story that uses the entire first film to form the characters into the heroes they will be in the next installment. Instead, he focuses on the building of their bond as a unit and lets the audience get to know the characters gradually and more so through their interact with one another. As we continue to touch on Thanos as the mega-villain in both “The Avengers” and “Guardians”, and as we come across more and more infinity stones, I grow extremely excited for the distant “Avengers 3″ which will likely combine both of these worlds. But even if the worlds did not coincide, James Gunn and Marvel do succeed in creating a perfectly standalone franchise out of a group of misfits that most audiences have never even heard of.
FRANK // The mythos of the Midas Touch tells the story of a king that is granted the power of turning everything he touches into gold. Obviously this sounds like an awesome idea, but once you turn a few of your friends and family members into gold, you start to realize its not such a great gift. Sometimes I wonder whether the power exists in some people (myself included) to turn everything they touch into shit. Now I don’t mean literal shit, because that’s disgusting. What I mean is, every time that person enters a situation, whether it be a relationship or occupation, every thing seems to fall apart. It’s a big reason I could not see myself in a high stress job like a surgeon or a pilot, because I never quite feel like I could excel to the highest levels of that profession without completely messing something up. At the heart of the festival film “Frank” is the same idea.
When we meet Domhnall Gleeson’s quirky main character, Jon, he is attempting to write a new song by observing the world around him. The problem is that none of his ditties are particularly good (“Lady in the red coat, what you doing with that bag?”) although most of them are quite hilarious. Everything changes when he happens across a raving man trying to drown himself in the ocean. The man’s bandmates watch from the shore, expressing their need for a new keyboard player. They find out Jon plays keyboard and that sparks an invitation for him to play Soronpfrbs’ next show. That night at the show, Jon witnesses the insane mess that is the band, including Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the hateful theremin player, Don (Scoot McNairy), the mannequin loving manager/producer, and of course, the papier-mâché head wearing lead singer, Frank, played masterfully by Michael Fassbender.
Who could have guessed that one of the best performances of the year would come from Fassbender hidden behind a fake head for an entire film? Jon eventually abandons his humdrum life to record an album with the band at a retreat in the woods. He becomes transfixed with the enigmatic Frank, who is so creative and musically talented that he can spontaneously write a touching song about a tuft of carpet without a second thought, while Jon cannot even write a song with actual words. This leads Jon to tweeting and YouTubing about his adventures, which includes learning of his bandmates previous mental hospital habilitations, squawking like birds during their practice, and never actually recording for their album. By the time they do record, Jon accepts an invitation for the band to play in Austin, Texas at the South By Southwest Music Festival, to which the only band member excited is Frank, who has secretly been wanting the band to be popular. What follows is the complete unraveling of a band, all with Jon at the heart chaos.
Spanning genres, from wacky comedy to touching drama, and jam-packed with emotion, “Frank” is everything you could want from a dark comedy. Based on the life of co-writer Jon Ronson, with the character of Frank inspired by the real life Frank Sidebottom (the alter-ego of the deceased English musician and comedian Chris Sievey), there is a note of authenticity that is struck by it being based in reality, a story which otherwise feels completely fabricated by its sheer ridiculousness. Perfectly cast, the film has a majestic quality that sucks the audience in and surprises with every new character trait presented, as the self-assured persona of Frank eventually dwindles into a cowering man wearing a broken, make-up smeared fake head that he refuses to take off. So much is required of Michael Fassbender, who expresses more in his body movements and vocal performance than most actors can emote by actually using their face. Domhnall Gleeson also impresses, bringing new meaning to the term anti-hero, as his dreams and aspirations get in the way of his friendship and the well-being of those around him. By the conclusion of the film, you wonder where the band could have gone were it not for Jon’s stirring of the pot. Rounded out by a great soundtrack and impressive direction, “Frank” sneaks in as one of the best independent films of the year and an instant dark comedy classic.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL // One part spiritual drama, one part “Varsity Blues,” neither quite lands their footing in “When The Game Stands Tall”. Based on the true story of the De La Salle Spartans high school football team who had a record-setting 151-game 1992–2003 winning streak, the film picks up around their eventual defeat and the emotional and spiritual journey that follows when trying to get the streak back. Just short of memorable lines like “I don’t want your life,” the film piles on too much, overwhelming with the multiple themes and story-lines that happen simultaneously. A father is angry because his son’s not playing, a black teammate heading off to college is gunned down, and the coach struggles with his own health issues, all of which do not even scratch the surface of the happenings in this film. Following not only in the footsteps of every other football film ever made, but really any drama that has come before it, “When The Game Stands Tall” even tries capitalizing on the recent success of religious based films by tacking on a spiritual themes, as De La Salle is a Catholic high school, but it just ends up feeling blatant and forced.
“Varsity Blues” became the classic that it is today because it was gritty and pushed boundaries in 1999. It reflected what was actually happening in small towns that were only driven by sports. It launched careers for most of the ensemble cast and even spawned several parodies years later. “When The Game Stands Tall” has none of this. The better story might have been following the team with the winning streak, as at least the anticipation of potential losses may have added some suspense. Instead, each football game that is portrayed in the film feels more scripted than normal, telegraphing its moves and stabbing you in the face with its foreshadowing. Everyone in the cast feels like a watered down version of someone from “Moneyball,” with Jim Caviezel and Michael Chiklis offering some of the year’s worst performances, bringing out laughs when there should be tears or heartwarming moments. If anyone was going to shine, it would have been Alexander Ludwig (“Lone Survivor”) as the running back, Chris, but even he feels like a watered down version of James Van Der Beek. So save yourself the disappointment and if you have not seen Brian Robbins’ “Varsity Blues,” pop that in instead, where you will see better performances, hear a better soundtrack, and not be bombarded with a faith-based afterthought.
|Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead|
|Dolphin Tale 2|
|Guardians of the Galaxy|
|When The Game Stands Tall|
TV Box Set
- Doctor Who: Season Eight
- Dragon Ball Z: Season Nine
- Family Guy: Season Thirteen
- Kroll Show: Season One & Two
- Mork & Mindy: The Complete Series
- Under the Dome: Season Two
- Special Editions/Other Releases
- 4 Moons
- Age Of Ice
- Air Boss
- Best Day Ever
- Catch Hell
- Day Of The Mummy
- Exodus: The Real Story
- Little Bedroom, The
- Nativity, The
- Nocturnal Agony
- Out To Kill
- The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears
- Still The Enemy Within
- You Can’t Kill Stephen King