Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: August 01, 2014
Director: James Gunn

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw and treasure hunter who calls himself Star-Lord. When he nabs a mysterious artifact in the form of a powerful orb, he discovers that it is being sought after by a powerful individual known as Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who will stop at nothing to get it. The orb, as well as Peter’s outlaw status, puts him in contact with other misfits like Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) – all of whom must band together to survive Ronan’s crusade.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always a fringe title. It never really registered with me. I was pretty familiar with most of the characters, especially Rocket, Gamora, and Groot – but Spider-Man was usually the title I gravitated toward with mainstream comics. Maybe some Avengers or X-Men stuff. But not Guardians of the Galaxy. And if they are lesser-known to me and I’ve been reading comics since I was a wee lad, I can only imagine the reactions of some folks to these characters who are new to comics or who have no idea about the franchise. A musclebound killer? A green-skinned femme fatale? A walking tree in desperate need of a dictionary? An angry, anthropomorphic raccoon who fires guns? A sarcastic, egotistical human male flying around space like he’s a badass? Who knew it’d be so good and work so well as a film?

The key to the whole film’s success is the fact that the above characters sure ARE cool – but also the film’s resonance with our pop culture psyches via Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix-Tape that he plays on his Sony Walkman. (He was abducted by aliens in the late 1980’s – long story, and I don’t want to give anything away – so go see the film and see for yourself). The soundtrack had people swaying and bopping their heads in their seats during the showing I went to. It also makes Peter Quill accessibly human. Music is an access point that knows no language boundaries to be enjoyed.

Aside from the interesting characters and the amazing soundtrack, the casting was well done. The only complaints that I really had about the film were actually the villains. The heroes were well-established and had screen time together so that we really felt like they bonded, but Ronan’s motivation was flat and predictable. Ditto with Nebula (Karen Gillan). I would have liked to see more established backstory and/or screen time for those characters. As it is, they are very generic “we want ALL the power” villains. That is a really small gripe, though, because the main focus was really supposed to be on the Guardians themselves –  and Gunn (as well as the cast) not only excelled at that but as of right now, this is my favorite Marvel film to date.

Go see it, and make sure to stay for the end credits for a surprise cameo!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Guardians Of The Galaxy

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Bronson (2008)

Bronson (2008)

Original Theatrical Release: March 13, 2009
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Michael Petersen (Tom Hardy) aka “Charles Bronson” is the U.K.’s most violent convict. Based on a true story, this biopic delves into the psyche of a truly twisted individual who was sent to prison for seven years after a robbery at a post office and then managed to up his sentence to over thirty years in solitary confinement due to his violent nature and poor life choices.

Nicolas Winding Refn creates a very snappy and stylized account of this man’s life, treating major points in his life as if it were performance art, while Tom Hardy bravely and brilliantly inhabits the role of Bronson completely and most convincingly with his bald head and handlebar mustache. The feel of this film, to me, was essentially Drive mixed with Warrior.

If you’re not into full frontal male nudity, however – beware…because apparently every time Bronson decided to fight someone in prison he had to get naked to do so. This resulted in a lot of fights where Tom Hardy just swings away, in more than one sense of the word. For me, it didn’t detract from the film because it seemed like a logical thing for Bronson to do and melded with the whole “performance art” theme going on.

For the most part, this film seemed like a vehicle to showcase Tom Hardy’s terrific acting, but the other actors involved played their parts well. Though the film wasn’t straight action, Hardy carried himself so kinetically that it’s hard not to keep watching and be invested and see what crazy thing he’ll do next to get himself into trouble.

This is really a beautiful film, let alone an interesting biopic. Go check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Bronson

 

Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

A stunt driver and wheelman-for-hire (Ryan Gosling) finds himself drawn to his neighbor, the damaged and vulnerable Irene (Carey Mulligan). Though he is a loner by nature, he ends up in the middle of way more contact than he bargained for when Irene’s ex-con husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), returns from behind bars and “Driver” needs to step in to ensure that Irene and her boy are safe from thugs trying to extort money from the newly-freed con. After agreeing to help Standard with a heist, it goes belly-up and Driver finds his own life in danger as he tries to make his way to the source of all the trouble.

First of all, this movie is based on the novel Drive by James Sallis. The film’s plot and the movie’s plot have virtually the same identical plots but many of the book’s characters have been combined to form singular characters in the movie for the sake of film, which for me, works.

Ryan Gosling is hit or miss with me. I have no doubt about his acting chops, but he often seems relegated to the same non-speaking roles aside from a few exceptions. I was looking forward to his role in this film after seeing him in Lars and the Real Girl, which is the complete opposite of his role in this film. The normal charm and boyish innocence were gone in this movie, which was refreshing, and I think he held up great next to the presence of Ron Perlman. It was nice to see Bryan Cranston in something, since he’s so great in Breaking Bad.

The soundtrack was great and the opening scene was intense and made my heart rate go up, which is a nice achievement. The whole film had sort of a 1980’s feel about it, from the movie’s logo writing to the music and dress. It was neat.

The silence of the Driver character played by Gosling worked in the context of this movie but I’d really like him to go for roles with more dialogue so I can get more of a feel for his acting ability, aside from his great use of facial expression. Still, this movie (like the book) was all about the noir feel….and Driver not having much dialogue and being so mysterious obviously works for this.

Aside from a few minor nitpicks, this movie delivered on all levels. Good action reminiscent of driving scenes straight out of The French Connection….good acting….good story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

American Horror Story: Season 1 (2011)

American Horror Story: Season 1 (2011)

American Horror Story is in an anthology format, with the first season focusing on a haunted house while later seasons are focused on an asylum and then a witch coven.

The Harmon family, a father-mother-daughter combo, moves from Boston to Los Angeles on the heels of a family scandal. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) has cheated on his wife, Vivien (Connie Britton) and they hope to reconcile things by moving to a new house in a new part of the country. However, things are not what they seem at their new home – it is a dark place full of tragedies and past murders and lurid secrets, and the Harmons soon discover that they may not have the house all to themselves.

The show has an interesting format. I didn’t expect there to be a different focus for each season, which is a nice touch. I thought for sure that they couldn’t go on with the same premise for more than one season so I’m glad of the focus switch. It really allows for some flexibility with later seasons.

The show is sexy, violent and pretty terrifying at times and seems to blend all of the urban legends and horror stories we’ve all heard over the years into a compelling drama.

Sometimes, it can be a bit over-dramatic and somewhat like a soap opera, so I had to look past that at times but overall it was really enjoyable. The acting was solid, especially from veterans like Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy. Some of the characters are likable but most are pretty damaged and only likable because of their quirks as opposed to any humanity they might have.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Original Theatrical Release Date: August 9, 1996
Director: John Carpenter

It’s 2013 and Los Angeles is now an island for undesirables, deported from America by the U.S. Government. Once you go there, you can never get back. The President’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), steals a doomsday device and heads for the island in order to help free the prisoners there and daddy isn’t happy. He gets Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to go after her by having him injected with a disease that will end his life in hours and promising him the cure if he’s successful. However, a revolutionary named Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) and L.A.’s many dangerous denizens stand in the way.

Sequels are rarely ever able to outshine the originals, and this film is no exception.

The entire movie is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the entire culture of Los Angeles, and that it probably the most entertaining aspect of the film. It’s an action film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is fun for the most part but makes for a movie that’s hard to become attached to, unlike the first film Escape From New York.

Kurt Russell really channels his inner Clint Eastwood for this installment, and other actors such as Steve Buscemi and Peter Fonda fall into their roles with seemingly great joy. Who doesn’t want to see Bruce Campbell as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills?

The movie plays out like an Extreme Sports story, with Kurt Russell taking on extreme forms of basketball, hang gliding and surfing, which is really strange in the context of this film, but made for some entertaining scenes.

The special effects have not held up well over time and some of them, while laughably funny, tend to take you right out of the movie. However, at this point in his career it seemed like John Carpenter was just having some fun, and the fun did shine through and it’s sort of infectious.

Still, for those who weren’t introduced to this series of films back when they originally came out, it might be hard to fully appreciate this sequel by today’s standards, though the original still holds up.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Escape From L.A.

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Original Theatrical Release: December 14, 2001
Director: Cameron Crowe

David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a successful publisher who inherited the majority of his father’s money and business and lives a carefree life where nothing ever goes wrong and everyone caters to his every need. During David’s posh birthday party, his friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) shows up with who could very well be the girl of David’s dreams – Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). David has to decide if she’s worth changing his life for. However, there are consequences to every action, and a very manic and depressed “fuck buddy” of David’s, named Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) waits on the sidelines in quiet anger and desperation.

Let me first tell you that I am often not a fan of Tom Cruise. Or Cameron Diaz. Or Penelope Cruz. About the only actor I initially liked in this movie in other projects is the amazing Jason Lee.

None of that matters, though, because this movie completely blew me away.

It’s a remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) in which Penelope Cruz reprises her role. Many think that Abre Los Ojos is far superior, but to each his own. I felt that Vanilla Sky hit harder with me under Cameron Crowe’s direction.

I rented this one night on a lark, not really knowing what to expect. Tom Cruise turns in one of the most memorable performances of his career, donning makeup that makes him look disfigured throughout the film when he’s not wearing the facial prosthetic/regenerative mask. Cameron Diaz has mostly unimpressed me (aside from There’s Something About Mary) but she was perfect for Julie Gianni’s moody, depressed character. Jason Lee was awesome as Brian, the best friend character….and Penelope Cruz was charming as the independent Sophia. Oh, and KURT RUSSEL. Seriously.

I have seen this movie so many times that I can quote it by heart. It made me laugh, it made me cry. The music was amazing (I bought the soundtrack after seeing the film), the cinematography was gorgeous.

This is a highly underrated film and didn’t get much attention when it first came out. I think it has staying power and an extremely strong message that I definitely identified with. It’s commentary on life, on love, on material possessions and existential thought. Go see it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Vanilla Sky