Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians-of-the-galaxy Hey Nerdpocalypse faithful, I'm Tim, one of the hosts of the new Mouthful of Toast podcast for anime and manga fans.  I'll be posting reviews here every once in a while, so I hope you enjoy!

Let me preface this review with two details: 1) Despite being under the Nerdpocalypse banner, I have never read a single issue of anything Guardians of the Galaxy related. <insert comments about me not being a real nerd here>  This review will not reflect whether or not Guardians was accurate to the source material. 2) Typically there’s a post credits scene, aka “stinger,” for the next Marvel film.  This screening did not have one.  This either means there’s no scene or there’s a major scene that they did not want leaked before the movie comes out.  Definitely stay after the credits just in case.

When the first trailer aired, many wondered if Marvel could work its magic on one of their lesser known properties.  Director James Gunn has a mediocre filmography at best, so my expectations were low.  Personally, I thought the trailer was a bizarre Parks and Rec spin-off with Chris Pratt’s character taking over a new space division of Pawnee government.  Despite odd first impressions, this film proves Marvel Studios is capable of tackling anything it wants.  Guardians shows how the key to a great movie experience is simply treating the script with the right attitude, in this case, with a tongue in cheek version of their proven formula.

Young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens and we fast forward to him (Chris Pratt) as a spacefaring scoundrel looking for loot.  He finds an ancient orb that will fetch a high price, but as it turns out, everyone in the galaxy wants this orb.  The rest of the team is introduced through various fights in the span of half an hour as we zoom through five locations showcasing all of the quickly unfolding intergalactic drama.  The pace is dizzying at first, but once the initial setup is over, scenes get more time to breathe (just don’t take any bathroom breaks).  There’s plenty more to tell about the story, but moving into the second half is where there’s some nice treats for dedicated Marvel fans and I’d hate to spoil any part of that experience.

Chris Pratt delivers a hilarious performance as the self-absorbed Quill.  The mostly goofy team is balanced out by Zoe Saldana’s stern take on the living weapon, Gamora, but even she eventually joins in on the silly antics.  Groot is easily the most lovable of the crew, due in no small part to Vin Diesel’s impressive and nuanced voice delivery of his one, repeated line.  Rocket, played by Bradley Cooper, steals the show with some of the best quips Guardians has to offer.  Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer provides another angle of comic relief and works well as the team’s bruiser.

Seeing this movie in 3-D was a surprising treat, considering the last movie I bothered to watched in 3-D, Avatar, did nothing to impress me.  Certain shots take great advantage of the 3-D to immerse you in scenes, such as one early scene where you feel like you’re spying on Quill from afar behind rocks that pop out in the foreground.  The space battles might make you flinch, but don’t close your eyes too long or you’ll miss the incredible CGI.

Guardians runs for about 2 hours, which was surprising for the volume of material presented.  Extending the run time would have eased the hyperdrive pacing in the beginning, but the movie honestly does not suffer too much from it.  It’s a welcome relief to have a blockbuster not clock in at 3 hours or more.  Some consider Guardians to be kid-friendly, but the humor is raunchy and phallic enough to place it somewhere in an older teen demographic.

Let’s be clear; this is not a grand space opera.  The plot is merely a vehicle to get us from one cool action sequence to another. For the purposes of this film, it works.  The amount of style and humor oozing from this movie make it very easy to overlook the simple teambuilder storyline and Macguffiin orb.  The soundtrack elevates this movie from the usual superhero romp to a galactic groovefest.  Guardians feels like the lovechild of the Avengers and Spaceballs with a dash of I Love the 80s.

Overall, Guardians shines bright at the end of the summer blockbuster season.  Whether it was Marvel guiding James Gunn that lead him to movie gold or if all he needed was the right script, but all of my expectations of his directing were shattered.  Concerns about pacing don’t detract from the sheer amount of fun you’ll have the entire time.  Guardians doesn't pretend to be an epic; it's the story of unconventional heroes banding together and having a really good time.

[easyreview title= "Review of Guardians of the Galaxy" cat1title="Tim's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: American Hustle

american-hustle-posters-sony I love movies that run you through a series of emotions and aren't afraid to bring humor to thrilling drama. I love movies that seem like the roles were written for the people who ended up casted in them, a great combination of smart writing and stellar acting. I love movies who blur the lines between heroes and villains and have you completely invested in the story from start to finish. American Hustle does all of these things and does them in expert fashion. It's a terrific movie and is a wonderful coda for cinema in 2013. American Hustle is directed by David O. Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame. It tells a tale (loosely based on a true story; as it says at the beginning of the film: "Some of this stuff actually happened.") of two low-level con artists loving life in New York in the late 1970's. Things are going great for Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) until they get pinched by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper): an ambitious FBI agent looking to make a name for himself. DiMaso's grand plan is to use the couple to help take down a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) desperately trying to revitalize Atlantic City. The three quickly find themselves over their heads and struggling to keep control of the unraveling events, the least of which isn't helped by Irving's estranged wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who gets roped into the plot and becomes its biggest wild card.

The first thing that has to be said about American Hustle is that Russell and co-writer Eric Singer do a wonderful job at developing these characters. All of the principal characters are firmly anti-heroic, yet you find yourself feeling a great amount of sympathy for them throughout the film. A great example of this comes in the portrayal of Richie DiMaso: a guy that is meant to come off as an asshole, yet there is a scene in the movie that explains in about 2 minutes his motivations and immediately changes how you feel about him, even if just for a brief period of time. The dynamic between Rosenfeld, his mistress, and his wife, which doesn't even really get delved into until the latter half of the movie, is pulled off in such an impressive manner by the actors involved. It's quite ironic that the most noble character (relatively speaking) in the movie, Renner, is the one you end up feeling the least amount of desire to see succeed. Lawrence in particular deserves special mention for the job she did. Her ability as an actress has never been questioned, and it's a cliché to say something along the lines of "this role is like you've never seen Jennifer Lawrence before!", but there is truth to that sentiment here as she delivers in a role as complex as she has ever had to play (note: I do say this having not seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I have heard she is equally excellent in).

Much needs to be said also about the intangibles in the film, which is another area where Russell excels. The cinematography is dynamic and adds so much to the source material. Equally great is the soundtrack selection which seems perfectly tailored to the film. It felt very Tarantino-esque. I love when directors pay so much attention to the little things, and seeing American Hustle makes me want to run out immediately and watch Russell's other directorial endeavors. There are also a couple of really fun cameos here that I won't spoil, Richie DiMaso's boss at the bureau especially (don't cheat by looking on IMDb!), that were unexpected and actually added a lot to the movie. My only real criticism of the movie is the fact that is was a slow starter. It was a necessary evil to really give the exposition needed to understand the relationship between Bale and Adams' characters, but it drags on a bit especially when compared to the breakneck pace of the latter two-thirds of the film.

All in all, American Hustle was just fantastic. Whether or not you are a fan of Russell's other films, it's just such a well-done movie that you owe it to yourself not to miss it.

[easyreview title= "Review of American Hustle" cat1title="Brad's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: The Words

The Words can be summed up in one made up word: book-ception. This refers to Christopher Nolan’s dream laden action movie, Inception, where people worked in a dream world inside a dream world inside a dream world. It was a very heady and interesting to watch. The Words is no Inception, but its not trying to be. Writer/Director Brian Klugman presents what I like to refer to as a perfect concept movie. To me concept movies are ones that focus more on the idea of a slick or interesting hook than the details. Here, Klugman is hellbent on getting you focused on how intriguing it is to have three layered stories. Will that be enough, or do we need to go deeper?

I will be honest, I went in thinking The Words would be this year’s The Notebook, a mostly vapid romance-a-thon with slight underpinnings of tolerable acting. I can truthfully say, that I was wrong. The movie is better than that, but not much better. The multi-layered idea works to a degree, and I found myself looking forward to the back and forth moments from one universe to another. Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is the creator of this book-ception, as he is the writer of a book conveniently called The Words. When we start on this adventure we find ourselves listening to Hammond recite the first two chapters of his book to an adoring crowd. That book focuses on a couple, Rory and Dora Jansen (Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, respectively) as they go through their mundane lives as Rory struggles to become a published author. When Rory finds an unpublished book and passes the work off as his own the story finally gets going. The moments before really only kept my interest because I was waiting for the dramatic moment of plagiarism. When Rory is confronted by an old man (Jeremy Irons) about his theft this becomes the most compelling portion of the movie. When Irons is on screen no one else matters. I found myself wanting the old man to be the only character in the movie delivering multiple soliloquies while sitting on a park bench.

The other layer that we haven’t talked about is the one that lives within the stolen book. That story focuses on a young man (Ben Barnes) who has a textbook love affair with Celia (Nora Arnezeder), a french woman who he met during WW2. Their lives are polar opposite of Rory and Dora’s. They suffer unbelievable turmoil as their marriage goes on, and this apparently makes for a fantastic read to everyone in the higher universes. When Clay Hammond wrote his story it was clear that in order for Rory to truly connect with the stolen story it had to be outside of him. This is the most obvious reason for the stark character differences in an slew of otherwise straightforward character creations by Clay. When we are at the top level of the book-ception with Clay, we see him cavorting with Daniella (Olivia Wilde). She is eager to hear just how Clay’s story ends and his real motivation behind it. There are a lot of casual glances and quiet moments between the two, but it never seems particularly genuine. Of the three universes the top level was the least interesting. You get a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. Perhaps this was Klugman’s way of building suspense, but I found that it just seemed lazy. Throw it to the audience to deduce without having to make the effort...thanks. At the end of the day, The Words isn’t a horrible movie, but rather a concept...a great one actually. The idea of wrapping multiple stories together like this is intriguing. I think with a lot more care in developing each universe instead of just connecting them would have gone a long way. The acting and screenplay were serviceable to get us through the 96 minutes. As I mentioned previously, Jeremy Irons steals the show. Between his absolute master ability to emote, he delivers lines as if he is in a far better movie that he was; a real standout. This is a movie that works better in a intimate setting, catch it on cable television or as a rental.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Words" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.5" overall= false]

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