I played ‘Journey’ yesterday. It’s a platforming game on the PS3, focused on visual beauty and abstract emotions, kind of like porno. While there are very few specifics about who you are, or where you are, you do, in a sense, know where you’re going. I mean, whatever your culture, you get the gist of what ‘toward the light’ means, ya know?
It’s a Hornswoggle short game, but upon beating it, I found myself filled with a warmth I’m pretty sure wasn’t pee. You know how when you hear a song with no lyrics it still makes you feel…things? That’s Journey. You don’t know why, but without a single line of dialog, it reaches out and touches you like that time at Summer Camp.
As I continue to tackle the mountain of movies I haven’t seen as a proper adult, I’m gravitating to the unique, visually interesting, or foundational – Like Journey is. Casablanca, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, and more modern movies that transform a camera lens into a portal to impossible sights and unexpected thoughts are the word of the day. I’d rather watch a flawed movie like Ender’s Game over something like ‘Primal Fear’ which is a more profound movie, but ultimately kind of flat in the visuals department. Big Fish entertained me more than Good The Bad and The Ugly, even though Ugly is clearly the more important and ‘better’ film.
Thus, presented for your dada-esque entertainment, another selection of movies seen by me in the past couple of weeks. Lets get started.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Run Time: 122 minutes
‘Well, on my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It’s called
Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire
city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is
the greatest thing there is.’ – Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, ‘Guardians Of the Galaxy’
Southeastern Massachusetts is not a hotbed for comic nerdom. In 2013 I
attended the ‘Avengers’ marathon in a packed theater in Chicago, and a few months later attended a “Dark Knight Rises” marathon
near my hometown, and there were seven people total.Yet
within an instant of buying my ticket, there was a strange energy
surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy.
I’ve never seen so many ‘admit ones’ in my life. This
means we were all pencil-necked geeks with no life, hoping to get a gleam at Zoe Saldana’s perky gamoras, or we
believed so hard in the Marvel Cinematic universe, we chose the closest,
crappiest theater, one that still had ‘Ride Along’ standees in the lobby and
arcade game charging 75 cents…erm, ‘3 tokens’ a play, to show our support.
And my Thanos, was our faith rewarded. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a ribald, silly, and ultimately warm space adventure that feels a bit like Star Wars had a baby with a Disney animated movie.
Our Guardians are Star Lord / Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt who
brings a nonchalant but cocksure vibe to the role. There’s a lot of Han
Solo and Mal from Firefly in his character. Abducted from Earth in the
1980s as an adolescent, his most precious possession is a walkman and tapes of classic pop
songs his mother made for him before dying of cancer. In fact, it’d make
sense if he modeled most of his adult ‘persona’ on Solo considering his frame of reference.
There’s Rocket Raccoon and Groot, who give off a strange “Of Mice and
Men” vibe if Lenny was allowed to be willingly violent and George
was…a raccoon. Rocket is great, and Groot steals the show
multiple times, yet again adding another notch in Vin Diesel’s belt of
awesome performances where he has less than a page or two of true dialog
(see also: The Iron Giant).
Then there’s Drax, played
by Grandpa Dave with a deliberate earnestness. His character is reeling
from the death of his wife and child, and revenge is on his mind. He
also has trouble with metaphor, which results in a bevy of creative one
liners and gags. Imagine if Spock
had an anger problem and an HGH prescription, and you’ll get the idea
Saldana adds green to her color-coded career, after Avatar blue and
Star Trek Red, and is a perfectly serviceable straight man to the
surrounding cast of crooks, losers, and fauna.
The cast has great
chemistry, especially when you consider two of our Guardians are
computer generated voodoo. How this group of misfits grows together and eventually fights and cares for one another I’ll leave for the movie to explain, but it’s worth noting that it never felt forced, the characters bicker and annoy each other for a majority of the run time, and the antagonism is great fun.
The plot is complex, and involves all manner of Macguffiny names and objects and characters, but the casual chatter between the characters and rapid fire gags keep everything from feeling self important or exposition heavy. Even if you’re not invested in things like the infinity stones, Thanos, or credit cookies, you’ll have a great time here based soley on how well this cast plays off each other – to the point where you almost bemoan the fact it’s an action movie with space battles.
A little thing about action movies; Generally speaking you’ll have 2-3 ‘set pieces’ per action flick. Iron Man 1: The escape from prison, the Iron Man flying around taking care of business bit, and then the big fight with Iron Monger. The Incredible Hulk: The fight in the factory, the fight outside of the university, and then the big showdown with Abomination. This is the language of action cinema, and while Marvel is many things, they are not in the business of breaking the mold regarding how action movies are structured and escalate.
And while the action falls into familiar tropes of escaping a prison or saving a planet or assaulting a space station, at least they’re done in a left-of-center way that makes them pop. James Gunn has his roots in indie cinema, and happily subverts cliches while at the same time delivering some great action movie visuals, like a sequence where Star Lord ventures into the bleakness of space to save a character he isn’t even sure likes him. Interesting is the fact this scene works. A moment ago he was mumbling about Footloose, and now, bathed in the vastness of space, he looks like an actual action movie hero.
The above scene (and many more) because the movie is flat-out funny. There’s gags and pop culture references galore, and it’s easier to make you cry for someone after you’ve laughed with them. By not taking itself very seriously, and making us laugh so hard, this flick ends up
getting you in the feelings quite a few times, mostly because we didn’t
expect to be got there at all. You will feel true empathy for Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and Quill, and
will likely relate to them all in personal ways, too. At one time or another, haven’t we all felt like an alien amongst our people?
I find myself forgetting that these Marvel movies are for kids too. Sitting in that theater, giggling out loud at the ballad of the great hero Kevin Bacon with a group of 60 admit ones, feeling sad for Rocket, or mouthing “What..the.fuck..?” uncontrollably every time Drax opened his mouth, made me feel like a kid, I can’t imagine actually being one, and how wide open my mind would be blown.
If I was 10, or 11, or 12, seeing this movie would have been foundational to my personhood. It’s silly, sweet, edgy, poppy, and above all else, actively wholesome – It would be the movie I’d play with friends while running around the back yard, arguing about who got to be Star Lord and wear my dad’s leather jacket, tasking the tallest kid to stick some twigs in his hair to be Groot, and arranging the chairs on the front deck like the cock pit of The (Alyssa) Milano.
I’d hate to be JJ Abrams right now, because I think Guardians just out Star Warsed, Star Wars.
Director: James Gunn
A lot of folks probably haven’t heard of, or blew off, James Gunn’s indie film Super. Super follows Rainn Wilson’s religious Frank, a well
meaning but weird (and he knows it) fellah whose Wife, played by Liv
Tyler, leaves him for a drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon. After mourning, and a feeble attempt to get her back,
a vision of God and his friendly tentacle helpers cut Frank’s head open
and touch his brain with apparently devout power.
He decides to become a
superhero, and we’re off to the races. If by some chance
you have seen the trailer, you’re probably thinking of it as a farce and
a knock off of 2010’s Kick Ass. It’s not. This is Taxi Driver in Spandex.
Early in the film a young
Frank is whipped by his dad for having naughty pictures of Heather
Locklear under his bed, because it wasn’t right in the eyes of God. This
scene explicitly details how Frank could become a person mentally
unbalanced enough to put on a red suit and hit people in head violently the name of
justice and God.
is profound in that it works on several levels. As a new-moon dark comedy,
character study, and yes, superhero movie too. There are creative and brutally realistic action sequences, but perhaps
the most surprising level is one of poignancy. If Guardians of The Galaxy is warm and wholesome, Super is understated and painfully somber. We feel for Frank and understand him.
See, Frank is very binary. Whether you’ve killed, or cut in
line, or dealt drugs, you’re getting the same punishment; a pipe wrench
to the skull. You’re either in the wrong, or you’re not. There’s no
degrees, no slaps on the wrist, and as Frank says, “The rules were written a long time ago,
they do not ever change” – we just assume certain rules are more breakable than others. Frank does not.
clearly a mental case, but an understandable one. By the end of the
movie, after everything has resolved itself, you’re left feeling the kind of peace that gets caught up in your throat as you try desperately not to say something retarded like “that was beautiful,”.
Frank and the other characters are unbalanced and flawed, and the fact that this
movie is, well, a movie and not a franchise, I found myself caring for
the fate of everyone. In Batman you never felt Batman
was in any real danger. You really think they’ll knock of Spider-Man
anytime soon? Here, all bets are off and there is no smart money.
loved this film, and I loved Rainn Wilson in it. Director James Gunn takes us into the nitty gritty of a well intentioned sociopath who thinks being a super hero is a good idea, and when Wilson takes on a side-kick, who is equally as crazy, played by Ellen Page (who does a truly frightening maniacal laugh) you get a sinking feeling these folks are not long for this world.
Special mention goes to the music and score, and the ‘two perfect moments’ theme that runs throughout the movie is uplifting, serene, and the kind of melody you hear in your head when pondering the life, universe, and everything. Two Perfect Moments
Anyway, if you’re looking for something a little insidious that pairs well with psychological study or a big fat pound of existentialism, this is for you. It’s an adult movie
for adults about the fine line between nobility and insanity. No tie-ins, no action figures, no happy meals. This isn’t a
franchise, it’s a film, and a damn good one at that.
Big Fish (2003)
‘And what I recall of Sunday school was that the more difficult something became, the more rewarding it was in the end.’
Big Fish is essentially ‘It’s A Wonderful Life” if none of that bad stuff ever happened to George Bailey, and Frank Capra dropped acid watching The Wizard Of Oz, then made a movie right after. It’s the story of a son who’s attempting to make heads and/or tails of his Dad, who has a habit of telling a story about his life, then expanding it in a way that is seemingly impossible. He tells tall tales. Big fish stories, if you will.
But really the plot is just a setup for awesome vignettes, all delivering an old-fashioned
earnestness that harkens back to simpler times that never really were. There’s
a scene where Ewan McGregor ganders at a girl at a circus. Their eyes meet
in the crowd, time slows down, and in a flash, she’s gone. He falls instantly in love with this woman in the way we were told
it would happen, but rarely does.
What follows is a series of events that would make anyone’s heart grow three sizes that day. To a bright smile juxtaposed elephant poop, to a field filled with a sea of bright yellow daffodils, to a monologue that is so sweet it gives you cavities, to a fist fight McGregor refuses to take part in because ‘he made a promise’, Big Fish becomes movie Synethesia.
Synesthesia causes your brain to correlate sounds into shapes, colors, and patterns, you see. It’s nature’s Winamp visualizer, and only one in two thousand people have the right hardware to run it. This movie does the same thing, but it goes from your eyes and ears to your soul. On the surface this means the flick wants to make you feel sad, or excited, or scared, but there’s an involuntary element, too.
There’s no telling what specific sliver of your psyche a powerful scene will slam into windshield of your mental dashboard. In this case, the scenes involving this grand romance will remind you of the one who got away, or the one you caught and held onto.
Big Fish is great at doing this kind of thing, all the while never explaining its motivations, so everything is ambiguous enough to keep you guessing. Is Spectre a metaphor for heaven or hell? Does it matter? Does it matter if the stories real as long as the morals are?
And God help you if you’ve lost a parent at any point in your life, getcyha tissues ready. By the end of the flick you never do get the answers to the questions the movie asks, but that’s okay. In this case, the questions let your imagination fly high and wide, and answers would only bring you back to boring, bland, droll, reality.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
“Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”
for some bizarre reason you wanted a window into the
kind of thing me thinks is sexy, look toward the scene
above, in which three ‘sirens’ sing an old Irish lullaby and prowl
toward the three protagonists of O Brother, Where Art Thou, drenched in
water and bathed in sultry allure. If everything but my voice hadn’t already hit puberty, the
sequence depicted in the above picture would have kicked it through.
the past week or so, my subconscious has barnacled itself to this
scene, and this movie. The acting, the music, and the dialog. Especially
the dialog, as characters
talk in a southern-fried poetic verse. It’s fitting a movie
based on an epic poem (Homer’s Odyssey) is
written in this tense. The whole endeavor is an LP in movie form. Like an album, it stirs your emotions without being specific, with the poetic nature of the dialog allowing for
some wonderful lines that would only make sense in such tense,
including my favorite, “They desecrated a burning cross!”, which is a
turn of phrase worthy of celebration.
Because the dialog and images and motions of the movie are unfamiliar, they’re more stark when you see them. Even if you don’t like this movie, you have to admit there’s nothing else quite like it. As a bonus it serves as a great gateway to getting into old works that
may be a little…tricky on the ears. It may take a moment to parse the
accents and the vernacular, but once you do, you’re treated to some
sparkling exchanges. Even better, if you can get into how cool this
movie sounds, I would suggest running to your closest theater company
that specializes in Shakespeare and take in a show.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope
around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting.
At one point I found myself in the mood for an old movie. I gave The Thomas Crown Affair a shot and disliked it quite a bit after sitting through the whole thing waiting for a payoff that never came and sitting through Faye Dunaway’s ‘acting’, and figured the mother of all westerns would be a nice change of pace.
And that it was. I’ll avoid getting into an argument about iconography here, but I will say the impact of the whole ‘dollars’ trilogy on our world is too massive to quantify, especially the music, which has been heard in so many different places I didn’t even know it was from *this* movie until watching it.
Specific mention who goes to Clint, and seeing this flick is sort of like seeing the genesis point for literally every stoic action protagonist ever. Snake Plissken, Aiden from Watch_Dogs, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, and on and on and on and on and on.
If you take all that extra-textual stuff away and survey it as a regular movie, it’s pretty good, but a bit dated, and really long. Both of which are fine with me. I enjoy movies that are ‘epic’ and good and ‘different’, and this got me itching to see Lawrence of Arabia again, and put Patton in my Netflix Queue.
The finale of the movie is a classic stand off with a twist for the ages, too, and worth the ride alone if you’re into seeing foundational films that are great in their own right.
Coming Soon: Casablanca / Enders Game / Face/Off / Now You See Me / Thor: The Dark World / Desperado / Jackie Brown / Reservoir Dogs
/ Dusk Til Dawn / Pulp Fiction / Inglorious Basterds / Death Proof /
Django Unchained / In Brughes / No Country For Old Men / The Fifth
Element / Zodiac / Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 /Apocalypse Now /
Pain & Gain / The Talented Mr. Ripley / Das Boot / The Fan / The Departed