Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-wallpaper-25

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

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – (2014)

the amazing spider man 2 (5)

Original Theatrical Release: May 02, 2014
Director: Marc Webb

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) enjoys the freedoms of being Spider-Man – slinging webs through the city and showing off for the crowds. He tries to balance his two lives, with some success, as he forges a stronger relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and a childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). However, when the villain known as Electro (Jamie Foxx) appears – someone so powerful that he’s made out of energy – Spidey realizes that he may not be able to protect everyone and that even when you have superpowers, it might not be enough.

Being a Spidey fan is a roller coaster ride in this day and age. Marvel is making cinematic gold with films like Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy – with more on the way. Spider-Man is pretty much the mascot of Marvel Comics. Well, at least he is to me, so I’d like to see him represented better in his film incarnations.

Sam Raimi had a decent run with his own trilogy back in the early 2000’s, starting with Spider-Man back in 2002, which was decent. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was even better. Spider-Man 3 was pretty terrible. Webb’s first film in this new reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, was actually pretty good – although I had problems with it being a reboot so soon after the original trilogy. I wish they’d gone in a different direction rather than re-hash the origin story yet again. Still, the dark qualities of the film drew me in and Andrew Garfield was the only thing I really didn’t like about it (because Peter Parker isn’t supposed to be a “hot” semi-popular hipster/skater kid. He’s supposed to be awkward and picked on). I was willing to give Fox (the studio which owns the film rights for Spider-Man) a chance on the second film.

That being said – The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a huge disappointment.

First off, the script was a chaotic mess. There were some redeeming qualities but ultimately the story felt fractured and disjointed and by the time the movie actually ended I felt nothing and I just wanted it to be over with, I wanted the movie to have ended an hour before it did – which is never a good thing. The movie felt like part rom-com, part action flick and part advertisement for Oscorp Industries. Peter’s relationship with Harry seemed solid enough at first, but it wasn’t focused on long enough to make much sense later in the film, with how their dynamics changed. Some of the character motivations were just flat-out unbelievable, especially Foxx’s nervous and emotionally unstable Max Dillon/Electro.

Andrew Garfield did a better job at being Spider-Man this time around, but did an even worse job of being Peter Parker. Emma Stone was decent as Gwen Stacy in the first film, but became an annoying, nagging foil to Spider-Man’s every move in this sequel. Dane DeHaan did a great job as Harry, at first, but the manic side of him just wasn’t believable in the film itself (though this wasn’t necessarily the actor’s fault). Jamie Foxx can act but he basically played one of his bumbling characters from the old comedy sketch show he used to be in called In Living Color – which isn’t a good thing for the character of Electro. And Paul Giamatti makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as the villain Rhino. I have no idea how that casting choice happened. I love Paul but he basically just screams into the camera for a half hour and spouts Slavic-sounding gibberish.

The fight scenes are pretty much the only saving grace this film has, aside from a switch to a more classic-looking costume (thank you!). The rest of the film is really underwhelming. I honestly hope that Marvel can somehow get back the film rights to Spider-Man so they can do it some justice, because if not – Fox Studios is going to run this character into the ground, which stinks for those of us who have been longtime fans of the character and want to see him treated well.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier in a country that’s healing after the American Civil War and the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln – and he’s searching for his wife’s killers, most of whom were Union soldiers during the war. Leaving a bunch of corpses in his wake, Cullen finds himself one of the individuals living in Hell On Wheels – the temporary, mobile town following the progress of the Transcontinental Railroad as it spreads west.

When I first saw the description of this show on Netflix, I thought it might be some sort of cheesy programming reserved for late nights at home. I was wrong on that count.

Hell On Wheels, at least the first season, was pretty enjoyable overall. The main character, Cullen, shrugs off traditional southern “Rebel” stereotypes and in a way flips it so that the Union has a few bad eggs in it, too. Cullen has his low points but overall seems to use his own code of honor.

One thing I have to say is that for a man searching for his wife’s killers, he seems to take a while to really get into the hunt. We have a few instances early on in the season where he really digs in but then it almost seems as if he forgets his mission while he’s moving on down the rails.

Since Deadwood hasn’t been on the air, I’ve been looking for similar programming and while this show isn’t as great as Deadwood, it has some of the same, dusty, late 1800’s flavoring that made Deadwood so cool. I’ll definitely be checking out the second season. Hell On Wheels, like many of its characters, is likable even if it has some flaws.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: May 3, 2013
Director: Shane Black

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, hasn’t been the same since the events in The Avengers. After somehow surviving the wormhole and helping to mop up the invading aliens, he has developed post traumatic stress disorder, unable to sleep and letting his tinkering get in the way of his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). When a terrorist calling himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) starts to attack America with a series of explosive attacks and inadvertantly puts Pepper’s bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) into a coma, Stark issues a challenge to the terrorist, resulting in a chain of events that will force Tony to confront his issues with himself and with his creation Iron Man, as well.

While not my favorite of the three Iron Man movies, this one was decent and I don’t really have much in the way of complaints, aside from a few sequences that could have been more exciting and the ending being wrapped up too neatly.

The film is much darker in tone than the previous movies, and it also deals much more with Tony Stark than it does with Iron Man. He must decide if it’s Tony that’s in control or if it’s  the armor that dictates who he is. It’s a journey of self-discovery for Stark, and Shane Black seemed to be able to capture the inner struggles that Tony is facing since the insane events taking place in The Avengers.

Robert Downey Jr. was amazing, as always, and likewise for the rest of the cast. We got to see more of Don Cheadle as Rhodes, and his character was developed a bit more in this film than in previous entries into the franchise. Likewise for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. She wasn’t just cast to banter back and forth with Tony like in the first and second films. Here we got to see her as more of an independent character with her own motivations and goals.

It was neat to see all the different armors, and the special effects were pretty great as usual.

Don’t go into this film expecting straight-on Marvel canon. The storyline for this film, at least part of it, was taken from the Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis….but it has its own spin, as is usually the case with film versions of comic book properties.

Like The Dark Knight Rises, this film was more about the man than the superhero. Keep that in mind, because some people are bound to be disappointed with the lack of actual Iron Man screen time as compared to Tony Stark screen time. However, the journey is worth it. Go see it. It’s a nice cap to the trilogy and should make things more interesting once Avengers 2 rolls around.

JOE Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Movie Trailer For Iron Man 3

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

Release Date: September, 1990
Publisher: Victor Gollancz Ltd
Author: William Gibson, Bruce Sterling

The Difference Engine is a novel set in 1855, primarily, and concerns the invention of an analytical engine (essentially a computer by today’s standards) by a character named Charles Babbage. This sets off a spur of military and industrial advances that didn’t actually come until about a hundred years later in actual history. In this alternate history, Britain/The UK is vastly more powerful than they were in reality because of this and there are also lots of other little changes like America being fragmented (due to Britain’s involvement in hindering them in fear that they would rise in power as America does in actual history).

The Difference Engine felt more sci-fi than I am normally used to (I’m primarily a fantasy reader). Rather than dealing with time travel, like in books such as The Anubis Gates, it’s just characters from Britain in the 1800’s and the way they supposedly spoke. It was initially difficult to read because of this, and because of all the idioms and terms the characters used (One example being the word “flash” which in context meant “cool”, I think, how we use it today. One of the characters saying to Sybil, the main character, “A gal looks very flash in bed, with black silk stockings,” was the only exception to that rule. In any case, some of the idioms were a bit confusing to my American eyes, and that’s okay because it’s another time these characters live in and it’s good if they don’t sound modern. If one of us went back in time today we probably would barely be able to understand folks back then, and vice versa.

The setting was very detailed and rich in this novel. There were all sorts of little nods to things that weren’t immediately obvious but impacted how I viewed the scene. There was one part where a character named Huxley was walking back and forth and the writers threw in the fact that he was walking on a Turkish carpet. The novel was filled with examples like that, and it really helped fill out the world. It’s all in the details, man.

The characters were the real draw to The Difference Engine, and there were lots of them. We had Sybil Gerard (she’s the primary main character) who is essentially a prostitute, or a fallen woman who courts politicians and affluent men. (Sybil also happens to be a character borrowed from another novel by Benjamin Disraeli; Sybil, which I’ve never read). There is also Edward “Leviathan” Mallory and he is somewhat of an explorer/paleontologist. Finally, there is Laurence Oliphant, who is the literary version of the actual author Laurence Oliphant from the 1800’s. As in The Anubis Gates, we get to see the fictional/alternate versions of historical figures (which I always find interesting) other than Oliphant, too…including Lord Byron, who also appeared in The Anubis Gates and John Keats, who is a kinotropist…essentially someone who operates mechanical screens. Sam Houston, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Karl Marx are all mentioned and appear at various points, too.

This novel is complicated, but in a good way. If you can get the hang of the lexicon that the authors use, you’re sure to enjoy it. You may even pick up a few more words to use in your own vocabulary. (I kind of want to use “flash” now). The novel seems dense at times….but also mostly in a good way, though I did have to wade through some of it because I’m not very cerebral or sci-fi oriented. As a fantasy reader, I could definitely still appreciate the amazing alternate history world of fantastic machines and technology that Gibson and Sterling have created. Give it a shot, it’s definitely worth your time!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check out a free preview of The Difference Engine HERE

If You’d Like To Know What A Difference Engine Actually IS – You Can See It In Motion Here