Guardians of the Galaxy

best-gifs-guardians-galaxy-trailerGuardians of the Galaxy is one of those movies made after a popular comic. Therefore, the standard statement from a devout fan will be “you don’t get it unless you read the comic.” Suffice it to say, I don’t read the comic. Despite that, the movie raked in well over 90 million dollars it’s opening weekend and that is nothing to sneeze at. The Summer of 2014 has been lackluster for movies and lower than projected in box office sales. Guardians of the Galaxy will probably fare better than anything, including my personal pick Edge of Tomorrow. But, does box office mojo equal entertainment value? Not always.

This is not specifically for kids. The cute raccoon had me thinking it would be good for young kids. While there is nothing abhorrent in it that might confuse kids, it has long stretched where nothing to engage children happens. It’s a comic book geek movie, not a family/children’s one. It has a goofy protagonist trying to make a living outside the norms of his society. He reminded me of Han Solo. There is a band of characters who are all out to make their own ends meet. They get together and battle an evil force who threatens to destroy all that is good. Comic book anyone? It has some fun throwbacks to 70′s and 80′s music which offsets the space war activity happening throughout. You’ll have to see it to see how they make that work. In conclusion, I was entertained but not blown away. This is another Green Lantern or other recent cgi space action movie. Nothing overly creative or innovative. The box office is being kind now but not so sure the march of time will remember this one so well. I give it 3/5.

Some Inspiring Movies For Your Consideration

2732753049_1288b9707e_oI love movies that inspire me. After watching them I feel like I can take on the world. They say those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually do. By that logic, movies change the world when they bring out that “craziness” in us that we can make the world better. If you look at history, inspired people have changed the world, even when thought crazy. Here are 14 inspiring movies that I really enjoyed and got inspired enough to write reviews. They are in no particular order or category. I’ve seen many more but these made the publish button. Here they are for your inspiration. For information on them, check out my reviews. For inspiration, I recommend watching them and you will be, guaranteed ;) Got a recommendation? Leave it in the comments, I’ll watch and review it.

Edge of Tomorrow

eot1I have to tell you about this movie, it’s a breath of fresh air in a 2014 Summer of mostly dull movies. This one flies above the rest. It’s concept is not unique but if you see this movie, you’ll be talking about it for days. It’s a bit like Groundhog day in concept. By that I mean, the same way Bill Murray’s character has to keep reliving the same day over and over again until he gets it right. In this case, the conflict is fighting aliens, and scary ones at that.

We see a funny Tom Cruise for a change. I recently saw “Oblivion” and absolutely loved it. ALL YOU NEED IS KILLHe was the rough and tough sci-fi action hero. In “Edge of Tomorrow” it’s a lot of that but with laugh-a-minute deadpan humor thrown into the mix. Much of this humor consists of Emily Blunt beating him to a pulp to train him day after repeated day: hence the title “Edge of Tomorrow.” I liked this movie for many reasons and therefore highly recommend it. I am going to try and avoid spoilers on this blog because I know a lot of people like to leave the movie a mystery as they watch it unfold. Suffice it to say, the critics of all the major movie sites are saying the same thing I am.

One final note: This is not playing at the Cinemarks in the High Desert where I live. This is a crime! If you want to see it, I recommend heading to an AMC or Regal down the hill. I saw it with my wife at Ontario Mills Mall. Below you’ll see those high scores I was telling you about. Have you seen this film yet? What are your thoughts?

eot3

Gravity

gravity-largeMovies about space always freak me out but documentaries showing real footage are worse! Gravity looks like both. I watched a documentary of the Hubble telescope a few years back and the space walking really had me taken aback. Imaging weightlessness. Now imagine momentum that doesn’t stop! In other words, in space if you start twirling, there is no resistance so you keep going at that same velocity. Gravity makes us all too aware of this law of physics. It also takes us on a terrifying journey to the satellites, unencumbered by the title.

Sandra Bullock is mystifying. She is dedicated to her tasks in space and that keeps us hopeful she may get home. Still, we are reminded by George Clooney and her failed attempts that the ship cannot re-enter the atmosphere. Without giving spoilers, I will say this is a movie you cannot turn your eyes away from. I had the notion it might be boring when I saw the previews: no way man. Besides stellar effects like you have never seen, This is a thriller, adventure, and drama experience. What’s more, it’s all done with only two characters! I highly recommend this flick.

Cyrus – 5/5

CyrusCyrus is a lot like the film Step Brothers except that it’s serious and the protagonist and antagonist are not family. It’s a simple little story about power and step-parenting. As I say that, please know that the character played by Jonah Hill is no child, he’s 22 years old. John C. Reilly’s character is the interloper. He begins dating a woman almost instantly after meeting her and he finds out he got more than he bargained for with Cyrus. There are indications that he and his mother, played by the beautiful and wondrous Marissa Tomei, are close in an almost unhealthy way. There is no incest but you can tell Cyrus controls his mom. Like many children in single parent situations, he doesn’t want to let her date. The intensity of Reilly and Hill is incredible. It’s not a family movie and when the issues of power are performed on screen, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or shake your head in ridicule. You can see Cyrus is frightened of losing his mom but the fear is just as evident in his mom and the new suitor. Cyrus is not a typical Hollywood comedy, it’s a look at people we know, or people like them anyway. At the parties and weddings, we are participants among the dialog. There is some romance here and it is a good film for date night but I romance is not the backbone. It is simply part of the backdrop. And there is the question of whether the romance is healthy.

Cyrus is entertaining because it starts with a simple premise and develops an amazing script through brilliant, talented actors. It’s not a “la la la” blockbuster film because it is different and simpler than those. I liked it though and I give it a perfect 5/5 because of the raw simple reasons I have stated. It delivers and fulfills what it aims to be: a people study. It’s one of the best movies I’ve watched this Summer. There are no expensive props or CGI. If you’re in the mood for some incredible acting that holds your interest to the credits, watch Cyrus.

Divergent – 5/5 stars

Divergent-2014-Movie-Poster1Imagine a world where you were placed in a job that your genes dictated. That’s what happens in Divergent. This was a recent bestselling novel that has been adapted for the screen. If you like the Hunger Games you will like this movie. It’s a fight for independence from the opening scene, it’s a fight to not be typecast in your life. Those who control the “factions,” as the separate jobs/communities are called, seek out those whose minds do not fit into a specific category. These people are called “divergent.”

We’ve seen this in Logan’s Run and Hunger Games. It’s another rebellious youthful romance with a hell of a lot of adventure and suspense in between. Sarah tells me there is a trilogy and I can tell you they will be making a sequel soon. One of the high points of this film are its literal “high points.” Some scenes are filmed above a Ferris wheel and others atop giant skyscrapers. It feels like Spiderman only we know the climbers and jumpers are human … and it scares us.

I used to judge teen novels by logic, and I was miserable. I have ceased doing that and I am a much happier and healthier movie goer! This film is a winner, they achieved even more than Hunger Games in reaching out to the teen audience. Us older folks will see that and like it too. As a teen book made into a movie, it succeeds on every level with me.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 4/5 stars

mr-peabody-and-sherman-posterAnyone from Generation X (my generation I should add) is likely to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle on television where you’d hear Bullwinkle open by saying “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” That was the show we watched when our homework was done or after soccer games on Saturday. In the deeper recesses of our pop cultural memory, you find the sub-show inside that was the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was sarcastic yet subdued. Perhaps the time gave it an air of university, peace, and love. Rod Serling? Beatniks? I don’t relly know how to explain it. The era was indefinable. In the show, the ingenious Mr. Peabody has “a boy,” the inverse of a boy having a dog. Yes, Mr. Peabody is a dog but he’s also a history buff, a professor, and a time traveler. This dog got it goin’ on! Still, you never get the impression that Mr. Peabody “loves” Sherman as his son. Trust me, I watched a bunch of old episodes on Youtube this morning and you don’t. Then there’s the new film. A somewhat different animal.

The film Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) creates the duo well and we are given much adventure in the process. Unfortunately, for this viewer who came with high hopes, it fails to recreate the cult feel of the 1959 animated shorts. It’s sort of like that but set to Jimmy Neutron styled animation. They also make a huge deal out of Sherman being his “son.” This gets odd, even for me an adoptive father. I think they took that “new” slant on the time traveling story and made it the bedrock of the movie, It should never have been added. The feel of the old cartoons was enough to build without additions. Still, the animation is incredible. The kids of today will also get some historical references they may have not heard in their short lives. I took all three of my kids and they seemed to enjoy it beginning to end. For me as their dad, that says a lot about how I will rate a family movie. 4/5 Stars.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Documentary Review)


PussyRiot_APunkPrayer_PosterThe lives of three young women and why they became punk revolutionaries is the main idea of this “Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer” documentary. It’s a real situation and a real “group” (instead of a band) that protests the Soviet Union through punk songs and performance art. They claim to be non-violent, which is good. In some of their protest situations they have been threatened and violence has been enacted against them. Three visionaries of the group: , , occupy the film’s content and their stories are inspiring or enraging depending on your political and moral point of view. I found these three women and their art hugely inspirational. I think we forget in America what freedom is and that at some point, it needs to be sacrificed for.

Pussy-RiotThese three women feel that Russia needs to get more progressive. By that I mean, women should be allowed to have a life with or without men. They also feel there should be a clear separation between church and state. More than anything, they detest the policies of Vladimir Putin, the current leader of the Soviet Union. Many of their songs decry his regime. I liked the open and forward thinking of the women but some of their techniques, such as the naming of their group and some past indiscretions on film, in my opionion are not as universally embraceable as they could be. I’m writing a review about their documentary but I cringe a little creating the title with the word “pussy” in it. Is there another way we could name this group without fanning the flames of the conservatives? I am no revolutionary but I might recommend to Pussy Riot a slightly more marketable and palatable approach to its persona.

o-PUSSY-RIOT-570-ukraineThese women spend at least 6 months in jail (I lost track after all the updates and frankly am too lazy to look up this significant particular). When they address the court or the press, it is breathtaking. They scribble tomes while behind bars and nearly every time they read their words, they are met with unguarded applause. These is something to these revolutionaries but the movie feels at times as if much of it is staged. If not staged, the movie sometimes feels like HBO camera crews are betting on a worldwide interest in a documentary. This to me is gauche. Not everything can be captured in a documentary. pussyriot02Would Johnny Rotten want to be followed by HBO? How about Ghandi? Hmmm, maybe? Having said that, this movie reminds me of the times I fought to be outside the “system.” So many people these days, especially our youth, accept their position playing video games and being bored. We don’t have to accept the role society gives us. We can break out and be original. It could start by protesting the things we dislike in society. I wonder if many American kids would risk going to jail to try and make the government change. I hope I would as a 44 year old and let’s hope more American kids get that message from Pussy Riot.

Riddick (Movie Review)

4.5/5 stars
riddickI saw Riddick today with my son and I must say: it rocked! It had all the fun elements of the first movie, Pitch Black, with less of the boring things that slowed The Chronicles of Riddick down last time (the second in the series). When the second film didn’t fare well in movies, many people probably thought that was the end for Vin Diesel’s Riddick character. To their surprise, it set records on DVD viewing and a third movie happened as a result.

The first half of the movie is full of cgi creatures and Riddick kicking ass. He is in survival mode and as a viewer you don’t just watch him, you feel you are among the action. He develops a friendship with a hyena-like pup that is truly touching, especially in the end when the pup is grown. We learn how smart Riddick is in this half. Some might argue this survival segment is too long but I was entertained the whole way through. Fans of special effects and action suspense will love this segment even if Riddick is the only actor we encounter here.

The second half brings us back to what we are familiar with: Riddick being pursued (unsuccessfully) by a group of people. Riddick of course evades the bounty hunter (who is killed in an especially grotesque yet original way) and the military hunters who prove no match for the survivalist Riddick. There are some scenes that lag in the second half which is why I didn’t give it a perfect Riddick 5/5. Some character development could have been better and the villain wasn’t a very good actor. Ironically, the less characters there were in the story, the stronger it was for me.

This movie is full of gadgets, weaponry, and creatures. In addition, we get Riddick at his best kicking ass and taking no prisoners. I wouldn’t blame the franchise if they made another. I’m a solid Riddick fan after this third installment.

Meek’s Cutoff (Movie Review)

4/5 stars
imagesIt’s great when you find a movie by a budding director because you know they haven’t sold out yet. Meek’s Cutoff is one of those movies, directed by Kelly Reichardt. This movie is close to a western but it lacks the John Wayne hero and Tombstone “shoot em up.” Because it is missing the conventions of a mainstream western, it’s tempting to write it off. On the other hand, when you look deeply into the simplicity of it, Meek’s Cutoff has a lot to say about being human. Because of that, I judge it on how well it reflects humanity in its characters and in the story. On that level, it fares well.

indexMichelle Williams is Emily. We see her in the first half of the movie taking orders from the men and in the latter half, all but taking control of the wagon train. Her transformation, or revelation, is important. It shows the importance of women on the trail and in mankind. Unfortunately women in 1845 were relegated to servitude and rarely took command of any larger decision-making. Who knows if they would have gone off course if Emily had the reins. Bruce Greenwood is Stephen Meek. He talks up a storm but can’t seem to deliver. The movie’s title tells us that he has some ownership of the direction they choose. For that alone he is an important character. He is ethnocentic, chauvanistic, and driven by greed. He feels like God is on his side and vice versa. It’s because of him that the Indian is tortured along the trail. If not for Emily, the Indian would have died early on in the film. I think we can all imagine the equivalent of Meek in our modern life.

images2Since I was an English major, I am trained to see symbols in everything. Having said that, I believe there are many symbolic elements in this film. One very strong one being the bird in the cage they are carrying with them on their journey. The bird represents the human being, wanting to escape the trappings of a cage. The keepers of the cage feed the bird and never allow it to escape. It is in essence free in its confinement. Religion is part of that confinement as is the prejudice against other races and by men against women. I hated the ending at first but later I played it back to examine it with a more open mind. I now like the way it leaves things open for the viewer. What would you do? Follow the Indian and accept the fate he has for you or go down your own path as an ignorant and starving person held by convention? Because this film portrays humanity accurately in a rural, quasi-western setting, I give it 5/5 stars.

Grown Ups 2 (Movie Review)

3.5/5 stars
grownups2The four-square poster reads: Sandler, James, Rock, Spade. This is probably because they are the biggest names. After them however you have a cast of thousands and everyone is funny. That sounds like the recipe for any Adam Sandler movie. Grown Ups 2 whips it out of the oven like a pie once again and I sure enjoyed my piece. It lags story-wise middle to the end but the event as a whole is enjoyable.  Besides, you don’t compare Sandler films to normal films. This one is somewhere toward the middle of Sandler’s stuff. One of the best performances comes from Shaq who plays a cop, the “little brother” of Tim Meadows’ character. His comic relief is genius. Taylor Lautner as the rival frat boy leader does some sidesplitting stuff.

You really can’t miss when your promise to the audience is simple and has been played out as far back as Happy Gilmore. This franchise has a lot more fart and puke stuff going on but we know that going in so we can laugh heartily. There’s some sexual stuff going on here as well that I know the males of the world will not complain about. Between the cheerleader car wash and the gay pilates leader, there is something for both straight and … well, you know what I’m talking about. 80′s music, fart jokes, drinking beer, and checking out large busted women are the hallmark of this movie franchise. I think they could produce another one and make a lot of money whether the critics liked it or not. You know how Hollywood is, they probably will. I had a blast watching this film, I recommend it for about age 13 and up (though all ages will like the farts).

Man of Steel (Movie Review)

superZack Snyder directed Man of Steel. He’s known for directing films like Sucker Punch, 300, and some others. Amy Adams was his choice for Lois Lane, Henry Cavill: Clark Kent, Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s mother, and Kevin Costner as his earthly father. It is a relatively star studded cast worth reading from a list if one has the time.

I’ve decided to stop giving summaries in my reviews because I seem to always give spoilers. If you are planning to see this movie, I don’t want to take away the element of surprise. So what that means is they are probably going to be more opinionated in nature and lets face it, those of us turning older have definite opinions about things. I think my reviewer job just got easier.

I will say that I think there are far too many movies out there depicting the White House being destroyed. It’s not that I am overly patriotic but I think the movie makers do it simply for shock value. This movie doesn’t attack the White House but there is that same unorthodox violence being done. I really felt at times I was experiencing the destruction of the twin towers at 911. Those were the violent times. When this film started out it was endearing. I leaned over to my wife and told her they were getting it right. There is one scene where Clark saves the school bus that has plowed off a bridge. That was awesome and made me want to learn more about this Clark Kent! Unfortunately the long segments of gratuitous destruction and violence (reminiscent of White House destruction) are so boring and off-putting I contemplated walking out. If it weren’t for my wife who never walks out, I would have.

There are three parts to this film: escape from Krypton, Clark growing up, and the longest part: when the Krypton people arrive and destroy earth (almost). When the destruction segments begin, the movie is nothing more than GI Joe. I have noticed the movie public is paying to see these sorts of military films so I won’t slam them too hard. As for me, I am really not into the Army commercial type movies. I know some of my friends are so I won’t get judgmental here. I would hate to alienate friends and the movie going audience. This opening weekend it is doing way better than expected. I could be wrong but I sensed a right wing, religious agenda as well. There were many places I saw this but one example was when Faora, one of the Kryptons, said something to effect of they will win because they represent the strongest of evolution and “evolution always wins.” After that Superman is able to destroy her mask and kill her. There are other places I could use as support: for example Clark Kent says he’s just a guy from Kansas and yet he is not human and ready to lay down his life for all humans. Just a thought, feel free to dismiss it.

One thing that is sure about this movie is the destruction. It lacks the love story, humor, and humanity of previous Supermans. I thought I was going to love it and they explained the origin of baby Superman well. Unfortunately, when the destroyers come in, it’s just another overly patriotic (sappy) Independence Day/GI Joe formula. I wanted a modern telling of Superman but it was a bait and switch.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Movie Review)

3.5/5 stars
oz1If you want to bring people in to see your movie, make it a prequel or sequel to a box office explosion like the Wizard of Oz. Additionally, cast mega actors in the lead roles. Oh, and of you really want to blow it up, get the best CGI into it. Voila, you’ll have a monster hit. Will Oz, the Great and Powerful be “monstrous” successful at the box office? Probably but time will have to tell. On opening day, the critics are divided. Some are saying it’s bad writing but should that matter with a fantasy family movie like this?

This Disney film was directed by Sam Raimi, known for the Evil Dead and the Spiderman Trilogy. It stars James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda. In addition to those giant-name actors, there is cast of lesser-known known yet famous actors.

To summarize the plot with minimal spoilers: Oscar Diggs is whisked away from Kansas and ends up in Oz (familiar?). He meets three witches who he must contend with to stay alive. In the process, her learns about believing in himself as he saves the Emerald City. He uses his skills of illusion to foil the bad witches impress the inhabitants of Oz. An important note is that he never returns to Kansas.

Prequels contain certain unavoidable things. For sure you are bound to hear the origins of things. Oz the Great and Powerful is no exception. My wife was surprised there was no backstory of the slippers but no other stone is left unturned. It’s as if the screenwriters had a checklist and went right down the line. Even though the script seems canned and simple at times, the movie doesn’t need depth to please viewers. We are talking about a prequel to the Wizard of Oz here, the name along with the Disney moniker is enough to bring in the minions. I was there opening night and I have never seen our small town Cinemark that packed. Will it have staying power? Time will tell but I think but probably. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun. Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography.

Bless Me, Ultima

5/5 stars
ultimaBless Me, Ultima is a movie version of a novel written in 1972 by Rudolfo Anaya. It tells the story of a young protagonist coming-of-age with the guidance of his curandera, mentor, and protector, Ultima. The film was directed by Carl Franklin known for a couple Denzel Washington films including Devil in a Blue Dress and a variety of other films. I remember him for his acting on the A-Team tv show (Captain Crane) and Roseanne (Gil / Officer Robbins). Looking at his resume, it’s clear to see he’s played an array of roles through the 80′s and 90′s and directed many films as well. He was therefore in my opinion an excellent choice to direct this controversial yet heart-felt story.

Bless Me Ultima has a cast of actors that are mostly unknown to the mainstream. This fact just belies the power of their spellbinding performances. Ultima herself is played by a known actress named Miriam Colon. She does an excellent job as Ultima, a “curandera” caring for a family in her sunset years. The boy Antonio was played by Luke Ganalon who has been on episodes here and there of shows including Grey’s Anatomy and a few movies. Looking through the cast bios, I am sure you would find a host of stellar, if not largely known, performance history. It is an endearing cast made up mostly of hispanic actors since the novel is about a rural hispanic subculture in the WWII era.

There is much to talk about here. Most obvious is the message against dogmatic catholicism in hispanic culture. Ultima might represent the “earth” side of the Mayans and Incas that the Spaniards encountered upon the discovery of Mexico. The Catholics of course represent the traditions of the church thwarted upon the indigenous by Cortes. Each has mutated and changed through the years by the time Ultima starts. She uses magic, herbs, and spells to take care of her family and as a result, people judge her. A veritable witch hunt follows her all of her elder years. Whether she deserves it is up to the viewer I suppose. I say no. I found this theme against the Catholic church well warranted but some may find it offensive. We live in strange times where many people eschew human reason for the dogma of religion. This is true even despite all our scientific progress. The novel has in fact been banned at various times since its inception, the outcry coming from religion.

One cinematic criticism I’ve read out there about this movie is that is watches like a TV movie. I would agree in some aspects but this movie doesn’t require special effects and moments that make you jump out of your seat. It loses no points from me for appearing quaint. It is heartfelt and you are taken on a road of spiritual and life questions. It simply and effectively addresses the issue of finding truth in life. At one point Antonio asks his dad in the truck, “How can I have understanding.” The father clearly does not ascribe 100% to the teachings of the church and answers him with an alternative as such,

“Understanding comes through living life.” The father’s connotation seems to hang in the air that understanding does not come through the church. I recommend this film as a conversation starter. Go see it early enough to go somewhere afterward and talk.

Life of Pi (Movie Review)

3/5 stars
Life_of_Pi_2012_PosterLife of Pi is a fantasy film that is dramatic and also philosophical in nature. The film covers a lot of ground. It begins as a chronicle of one boy’s life and how he grows into a man that decides to believe in God. The God part of this film makes it somewhat predictable. It certainly wasn’t written by Ernest Hemingway who seemed to hint at an atheist reality. Instead, this film, which began as a bestseller book, takes us through the fantasy story of a man who survives a shipwreck and over 200 days at sea with a Bengal tiger. We are given two stories and offered the choice which to believe. In that way, minus Pi’s God theme, it reminded me a lot of K-Pax, which wasn’t a “God” themed film but also a fantasy film with 2 options to believe. K-Pax led you closer to the truth of the dual story In my opinion. In K-Pax, the fantasy option is a lot more easily swallowed (pardon the tiger pun). We are actually told by Pi in the end that if the fantasy story is preferable to the real story by a listener, then that listener is choosing to believe in God. Hmmm.

There is a touching and romantic scene where “Pi” asks a girl what her dance symbol meant. She tells him it was meant to show a Lotus flower in the jungle. When there is an allusion that God will enter the story, that would have been a perfect chance to include a Lotus flower. Sadly, we get an explanation more suited to Tim Burton’s Big Fish: Nonsensical albeit human. Believing in God is such a personal activity I certainly don’t think a fantasy film can help me perform it. If one is looking for emotion and fantasy to believe in, church and the Life of Pi will fill that desire well. On the other hand, if one wishes to look at things as they are, neither church nor the Life of Pi will open any heavens.

While it started out intriguing and the middle scenes were nothing short of cinematic beauty, Life of Pi failed to address the real question which is: “How can a man have faith when he is alone against nature?” I would have liked to see that study continue throughout the film. As it is, it stops half-way through. Those who believe in God will find a warmth in this film that may strengthen their beliefs. At the same time, despite the amazing cinematography, atheists and shades in between will enjoy only that: a big screen version of Nat Geo HDTV. All will be entertained but no philosophies will be turned.