Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ll start with a tweet-sized summary.
 
“Saw Guardians of the Galaxy 1000 days after US release. There was a lot of hype, but in the end it felt, just okay. Points for being unique.”
 
Now let’s break that down thought by thought. Why did I wait almost three years to watch this movie? Because I didn’t see anything super appealing to me in the trailers. Chris Pratt wasn’t yet sold to me as a leading man. I did not recognize Zoe Saldana as Gamora. I had no idea who any of these people were. In the end, not great reasons to skip out on an acclaimed movie.
 
Waiting all this time had an affect on the hype factor. In three years I didn’t run into a single friend who didn’t love this thing. Over and over I had friends who couldn’t believe I didn’t see Guardians of the Galaxy. “You have to see it.” “You HAVE to.”
 
So I finally saw it, in anticipation for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 — and it’s an okay movie. A solid 3 or 4 out of 5 depending on what day you ask me. It’s unique in some of the ways Dr. Strange was unique. It plays with comic book movie expectations and tropes, while still conforming to a lot of them. The music, great! Chris Pratt, great! Another Marvel movie that ends with too many enemies on screen? Yup!
 
Now, the version of me that wants to give this movie a 3 out of 5 is the one who “hates fun.” I like my characters dialed back a little bit. Fun is good, but constant quipping is irritating. It’s a sliding bar between Batman v. Superman (no fun) and Avengers 2 (Black Widow saying “beep beep” out loud). I don’t want superhero movies to go all the way in the no fun zone, nor all the way in the everything-is-a-joke direction. There are stakes in Guardians of the Galaxy, and dark backstories, but they take a back seat to the humor. The movie was on one level, and I wanted to be on another.
 
But the part of me that want to give this a 4 out of 5 enjoyed the comradery of the Guardians. They’re a family the same way that the Fast and Furious crew became a family. I forgive the movie’s overly jokey tone for the genuine bonds presented. I am, in fact, kind of excited to see what the sequel can improve on. Lower stakes, more one-on-one fights, fewer mass armies. Please, for the MCU’s sake, please don’t make another mvoie that ends with a huge CGI army.

2016 In Movies

I saw some movies in 2016. Let’s review them all with Tweet-sized reviews.

Honorable Mentions: Movies I saw In 2016 That Weren’t Released This Year

  1. Ex Machina
    Seriously beautiful and atmospheric sci-fi that makes you think. You’ll remember the music, and the performances of Isaac and Vikander. 5/5
  2. Bladerunner: Theatrical Cut
    Iconic cyberpunk aesthetic meets noir detective with cheesy voiceover and all too happy ending. AI themes surface level interesting. 4/5
  3. Only Yesterday (1991 Japanese Release, Dubbed in 2016)
    Kids in the audience probably hated this slow-paced emotionally gripping take on how childhood haunts our adult lives – but I cried. 4/5
  4. The Big Short
    This movie will make you laugh, and it will make you angry. Bale, Carell and Pitt deliver great portraits of the 2008 financial crisis. 5/5

And Everything Else…

  1. Hail, Caesar!
    Funny movie seriously hurt by misleading marketing. I enjoyed the film but felt duped by the commercials and I can’t get past that. 1/5
  2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    John Goodman will haunt your nightmares in this claustrophobic movie. I liked the controversial ending. More Cloverfield please. 5/5
  3. Captain America: Civil War
    Zemo is the best villain a Marvel Movie’s ever had, and this movie is a shining light in a MCU that I’ve been losing interest in. 4/5
  4. Star Trek Beyond
    The best character moments a Star Trek movie has had, and a fun movie to boot – but the movie seriously lacks a good villain. 2/5
  5. Weiner
    Have you ever wanted to see a man’s life fall apart on camera? Then this documentary about Anthony Weiner’s mayoral race is for you. 4/5
  6. The Magnificent Seven
    Nice to see an action movie with some real stakes. Love Denzel and Pratt, the villain is appropriately slimy, and the crowd loved it. 4/5
  7. Doctor Strange
    Cumberbatch and Swinton make this origin story more than bearable, but the best part of the movie is that it breaks the MCU mold. 4/5
  8. Arrival
    I was captivated by the logistical problem that was at the center of the movie’s conflict, and emotionally stunned by the ending. 5/5

2015 in Movies

I saw a few movies in 2015, though I’m quickly running out of time to review them before the end of the year. My solution? Review all the movies I saw in 2015 in Tweet-sized reviews. 140 characters or less.

  1. Age of Ultron
    Vastly underwhelming sequel with the same plot as the original that left me feeling like I would never see another Marvel movie. 2/5
  2. Black Mass
    A movie with fantastic actors yet a pretty terrible plot. Should’ve been an hour longer because I think they forgot an ending. 3/5
  3. Furious 7
    I’m not ashamed to admit that this dumb movie about cars falling from the sky and bromance, made me cry in the theatres. 4/5
  4. Inside Out
    This movie sets out to do something more complex than any other Pixar movie. Eh plot. It mostly works, even if it’s not my favorite. 4/5
  5. Irrational Man
    I’m a sucker for Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. This movie is up my alley, dark humor, romance, philosophy, poison. 4/5
  6. Jurassic World
    Oh my god. This movie was fun. Silly, stupid, turn off your brain fun. I clapped during the middle of the movie, that’s how fun it is. 5/5
  7. Mad Max: Fury Road
    Mad Max is probably my top movie for the year. Furiosa is probably my second favorite character of the year. What a lovely day. 5/5
  8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
    Tom Cruise movies are still a lot of fun to watch. Somehow the Mission Impossible franchise is still stylish, clever, fun every time. 4/5
  9. Spectre
    A disappointing final film for Daniel Craig’s 007. It’s a weird movie. Not full camp, but can’t take it seriously. Worst use of Waltz. 3/5
  10. The Martian
    Over-the-top pop science flick. Matt Damon’s perfect as cocky scientist who we mostly view in solitude. Really funny too. 4/5
  11. Trumbo
    Opposite problem than Black Mass. Great story, really interesting biopic, but Bryan Cranston is the only one who appears to care. 3/5
  12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    Easily in Top 3 Star Wars movies. Dumb, retro plot structure, but Rey, Finn, and Poe are so great it hardly matters. Star Wars is back. 5/5

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I’m glad I saw the second Avengers movie, but I also feel like I’ve seen my last Marvel comic-book-movie. Superhero fatigue is a very real thing for me; for most franchises there is an end in sight, yet the superhero movie genre is a wheel that seems to keep on spinning. Toby Maguire will be Spiderman for three movies, Andrew Garfield will be Spiderman for two movies, and somebody else will be Spiderman in the Avengers and countless movies beyond—the Spiderman wheels will keep on spinning, and it only ends when you hop off that ride. If Avengers: Age of Ultron  (AOU) is the last superhero ride I take, I’ll be okay with that.

See, AOU is a very middling experience. Its highs remind me why I see comic-book-movies. When a Marvel movie is good, it makes you laugh, it makes you want to cheer, things feel right, and you leave the movie theatre—not just satisfied—but ready to watch again. However, the lows of AOU remind me why I stayed home for the Captain America and Thor sequels. Yes, it’s partially superhero fatigue, but beyond that AOU gives me this feeling of “I’ve seen this before,” so the movie is fatiguing in its own right.

There are a few things that feel outright insulting, like how the second Avengers movie ends in the exact same way as the first. The Chitauri and the endless hordes of Ultron-bots presented the same amount of challenge in each of the film’s climaxes. It’s basically a videogame. There aren’t stakes per se, or any hint of tension, the waves of robots just keep coming and each of the Avengers will do what they do to endless hordes. Cap will throw his shield, Natasha will use her guns, Thor his hammer, and Ironman will use those damn hand-cannons that I can’t stand anymore (I swear, I’m so done with their high-pitched whines). Black Widow being turned into Bruce Banner’s love interest and basically, a tool to calm down the Hulk; I mean what happened there? In the last Avengers movie she had things under control and kicked ass—in this movie she says “Beep beep” out loud while driving a motorcycle, has to be rescued from a cage by Bruce Banner, and has a crisis about her inability to have children. All the while, I’m just never that excited by what’s going down in AOU.

The movie is called Age of Ultron, but if I had to guess, I think Ultron lives for all of two or three weeks tops—less an era and more like a flash-pan-reign. Ultron, while a screen-stealing villain, was never defined well enough for me too care that much about him. Stark and Banner invent him via montage, he’s born, and he’s immediately evil and I never, ever understood his motivations other than “I will not allow myself to be Tony Stark’s puppet.” He’s not that interesting, and in the end, not that frightening—he turns into a character who sees the Hulk coming to kill him and says “Oh, come on!” The same character that’s threating to wipe out humanity should not also be comic relief; it makes the threat feel empty.

In the end, I guess I can sum up my feelings like this: I’m glad I saw AOU, as one final Avengers romp, but if I had cut myself off after the first Avengers, I think I would have been a happier person. Instead I came along for one last ride in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while it was fun at times, it was mostly bumpy.

The Interview (2014)

Feeling defeated after the Detroit Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys, I watched “The Interview” (2014). It’s something I don’t feel amazing about. I had a rather morbid curiosity with the film after the media made it the center of a controversy superstorm. Nobody was expecting a masterpiece, so despite the hype, the film had a very low bar to reach. It’s a Seth Rogen/James Franco movie – that’s not to say it’s bad, it just means – well you know… You need to be ready for a certain kind of stupid.
In this regard, “The Interview” met my expectations of  being a big dumb movie. The characters are quickly defined as soon as they’re introduced. Rogen’s character has perhaps one of the least interesting character motivations… ever? He’s a entertainment-news producer who’s celebrating his 1000th episode. He bumps into Anders Holm from Workaholics (a show I dislike) who’s a producer for 60 Minutes. They throw insults at each other about their respective shows, and Rogen’s feelings are hurt. Now Rogen is motivated to make his tabloid show more newsworthy. It’s the kind of slow start to a comedy that’s hard to watch. And the slow stuff just keeps coming. For the first twenty minutes or so, I had lots of regrets about renting “The Interview.”
Things pick up, and I laughed at a lot of things in this movie. Mostly Lord of the Rings jokes, which I didn’t see coming. I’ll say another thing I didn’t see coming was racist humor? I’m sure it doesn’t come as a shock to many people that a bunch of white guys made jokes at the expense of Asians. I just honestly thought we were past the point when a movie could come out in 2014 where a white guy goes “Me so sorry.” It just feels so tired, on top of being wrong. I get that Rogen and Franco’s characters are idiots, but surely they can be funny idiots who aren’t also racist, right? Those types of jokes aside, well, funny things happen in “The Interview” and I don’t feel like doing them an injustice in text. Despite the frequent stupidity which I can’t stomach, there was plenty of stupidity that was right up my alley. Amazon’s reviewers have given “The Interview” a three-star rating out of five-stars. I couldn’t agree more. “The Interview” is the epitome of an “okay-to-average” movie which will forever be remembered because of a most bizarre controversy.

Office Space (1999)

I watched Office Space for the first time last night, and I thought I’d give my general impressions of the film. Though the category is called “movie reviews,” I don’t think these should be considered as such. What I’m doing, and what I think I’ve always done with my reviews, is try to express what I felt and took away from a particular work; not rating, ranking, or suggesting that something is or is not worth watching.

What I got out of Office Space was mostly a good time, an anti-establishment, rebellious blip of a movie that’s fun but not exactly deep. It plays out like an alternate history version of Fight Club (which came out the same year) wherein the nameless narrator finds peace at work, rather than group therapy sessions and street fights. Peter, hero of Office Space, is basically hypnotized into taking it easy at work, and finding the confidence to ask out Joanna the waitress (played by Jennifer Aniston). I had absolutely zero idea that hypnotherapy had anything to do with the core concept of Office Space, but it’s really just a means to get Peter to become rebellious through acting in his own interests. That he doesn’t come around to making this decision on his own, but rather through an unfortunate hypnotherapy accident, was something I expected to come up at some point in the movie. Peter’s office-disturbing antics, perfectly set to Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” (1992), are richly therapeutic, and fun to watch, but all a result of hypnosis and not a personal decision – so while Peter’s fun to root for, he’s not a great character.

While I’m on the subject of not-great-characters, I want to talk about Joanna. Introduced as the pretty girl that steal’s Peter’s heart (but he can’t ask her out because he might be in a relationship already, with a woman who gives off a might-be-cheating vibe), Joanna never moves past the point of being an object for Peter to win. Joanna and Peter both hate their jobs, and they both like Kung-Fu movies, and that’s the extent to which they’re a good match. Joanna has dialogue for when Peter wins her over, when she’s talking to her male boss at the restaurant, when she’s defending herself from Peter who rudely yells at her for sleeping his boss (years ago), and for when she (of course) accepts Peter’s apology. Joanna and Peter’s relationship is otherwise fit into to the previously mentioned “Peter is a rebel” montage.

Office Space is better than decent, it has a great 90’s hip-hop soundtrack, and there are some really great laughs to be had (Diedrich Bader’s character is gold every brief second he’s on screen), but the core “I got hypnotized into becoming a likeable rebel” premise, and the incredibly shallow stapled-on romance plot leave the film short of what I’d consider a great comedy.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

On December 22nd 2013, I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at 3:15 PM Matinee. Catching Fire is a much better film than the first, though I’m not sure whether or not this has to do with the change in Directors, or the shift in source material. I don’t particularly remember the first movie doing a great job of explaining the circumstances of the post-apocalyptic Panem, and I thought the film wasted a lot of thematic potential. I remember thinking that too much time was spent explaining how important sponsors were, making the children from districts 1-4 seem straight-up evil, and milking the death of one particular child for all it was worth. I was frustrated at the end of The Hunger Games, because it wasn’t as good as I thought it could have been and to be clear, I haven’t read the books, my high expectations were completely born from my interest in the premise of the world itself.

At the end of Catching Fire, I was again frustrated, but for different reasons – but I’ll get into that later. Catching Fire spent about 2/3rds of its time outside of The 75th Annual Hunger Games, and I really loved that. Outside of the games are where the conflicts between the Districts and The Capitol really shine. I felt like the first movie rushed through this time to build thematic interest, and glorified the games perhaps a little too much. In steps Catching Fire, which paces itself oddly, I’ll admit – but in a way that I really liked. All of this build-up and dread leading towards the games; you understand that the stakes are higher – The Hunger Games mean more than just another gesture of power this time around – it’s about eliminating the rebellious victors. The action of the games is shot better, no more shaky-cam, and the games end in a pretty dramatic and surprising fashion that I never saw coming.

I still don’t understand why a love triangle was written into these books, at all. At all. Really, when people’s lives are at stake, when we’re on the brink of war, why am I supposed to care about whether Katniss loves Peeta or Gale? When Katniss gives Peeta a kiss on the beach, during a moment of peace during The 75th Hunger Games, an entire row of pre-teen-to-teen girls gave “oh’s” and giggles. How reductive is that? Lives are at stake and there’s a entire audience of Hunger Game fans who can only think in terms of “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale.”

I love Jennifer Lawrence as much as her next fan, though mostly for work in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and Winter’s Bone (2010), but her performance isn’t the best of the film – and that probably has more to do with what Katniss is given to do in this movie. When Katniss is reduced to a pawn, and lacks control of her fate, is then any surprise that the actors who walk away with this film are the ones playing characters with power? Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s Plutarch Heavensbee steals every scene he’s in, a suspicious, seemingly devious imp with something up his sleeve at every turn. Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman who’s delivery of the words “Hunger Games” rings forever in my ears, who’s fanboydom for Katniss is at once cute and ironic, in that she’s bringing down the very games he loves, and who’s world starts to crumble around him – as even his circus ringmaster tactics can’t stop the victors from showing their strength against The Capitol. Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy, Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, and oh my goodness, Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason. Why isn’t Johanna the star of The Hunger Games? Unhinged, wild, rebellious, brave, committed; she got out of her Hunger Games alive and isn’t happy about the Quarter-Quell rules that forced her back into the games, and she isn’t afraid to let President Snow and the citizens of The Capitol know the full extent of her fury.

So at the end of Catching Fire, I’m frustrated for a few reasons, spoilers obviously. In Katniss’ biggest moment of the film, and maybe of both films up until this point – she chooses not to kill Finnick – a character she had little reason to trust, has seemed shady the entire movie, and had not entirely trusted before  – all because he tries to remind her who the real enemy is. Great acting from Lawrence here, as an internal argument inside of Katniss leads to a hard decision to let her guard down, and to release her arrow once pointed at Finnick, towards the sky. In doing so, Katniss destroys the arena made to host The Hunger Games, and her barely conscious body is air-lifted away; in a twist I honestly didn’t see coming the air-lifters turn out to be Plutarch, Haymitch, Finnick, and Gale. There had been a conspiracy all along to free her from the games, because Katniss is key to the revolution… somehow. I suppose she’s a symbol of rebellion, but here’s where I’m frustrated. I don’t think this is what Katniss was exactly going for, ever – she was turned into a symbol for rebellion, even forced into one.  I’m excited to see where it goes (ended on one hell of a cliffhanger) though I’m not stoked about the third book being split into two movies (which is the worst trend in Hollywood). Thank goodness Katniss vents some anger at Haymitch because, my god, she has the right to. Can somebody tell me why she couldn’t be in the loop for this whole, let’s break Katniss out of The Hunger Games plan? The girl has PTSD, and she could have killed any number of her secret allies if she wasn’t so quick to trust. I thought it was a great plot twist and all, but a little cheap, right? The wool was pulled over our eyes because Katniss is who we follow and if she’s kept in the dark, so are we – but was she only kept in the dark so that there could be a twist ending? Wouldn’t it have made sense to keep her in the loop?

Catching Fire isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the first – but both entries in The Hunger Games series of films right now, don’t always make a lot of sense all of the time. There’s a solid idea at the core of the series, perhaps ruined by sloppy premises and not entirely water-tight world building done by the books’ author.