Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Recently, I've noticed a trend regarding my reactions to certain Disney movies as of late. Initially, I tend to rank them a little lower, perhaps allowing for their flaws to dictate my opinion on them a bit more than is fair. But then as they begin to really settle in, I find myself getting the urge to revisit them. And upon that revisit, I find that all of the emotional moments in those movies really start to hit home big time, in ways they didn't even touch on in that initial viewing. And it's then that these movies begin their gradual ascent up the rankings, until, before I know it, I've got another new favorite movie on my hands. This has happened with Tangled, it happened again with Frozen, and now it's currently happening with Guardians of the Galaxy as well.

The first time I saw this movie, I really did think it ranked somewhere more in the middle in comparison to the other Marvel flicks to date. But then I saw it again, and I was honestly left scratching my head as to where to place it at all. Certainly somewhere near the top, but I wasn't entirely sure. Because, while tonally this is certainly a Marvel movie, at the same time, it's very much its own beast, and is the most removed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in many regards.

For one thing, I really can't even call Guardians a superhero movie at all. Quite frankly, it's a full blown space opera through and through, and honestly has more in common with the Star Wars franchise (fitting, seeing as Disney also owns that as well now) than it does with any other superhero movie I've seen. And unless we're willing to start referring to Jedi as superheroes, then I'm not willing to consider Guardians of the Galaxy to be a superhero movie.

But even more than that, genre issues aside, I think the one big, major aspect that sets this movie apart from the other Marvel movies is that one aspect that it also just so happens to share in common with its Disney side of things, and that one big aspect is the sheer emotional impact this movie leaves. Good as all the other Marvel movies may be, the one big thing they all lack is any form of stirring emotion. Sure, they make you laugh and they make you feel good, but more than that, Guardians of the Galaxy makes you really feel. This is a movie that'll hit you in the gut and come after your tears in many ways.

And this is actually probably the most shocking thing about Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I went into this fully expecting just a really fun, if perhaps emotionally shallow movie, as has typically been the case from Marvel to date. Hell, the trailers, amazing as they were (seriously, the trailers to this movie are among the best movie trailers I've ever seen. Simply brilliant stuff!), essentially sold this movie as such. But man, this movie will surprise you from the very first scene!

I keep talking about the emotional impact of this movie, but let's not also forget that aforementioned fun I've referred to. Because really, this movie is an absolute blast throughout. The writing is a bit more risque than we're typically used to, but it truly works, and all of the actors are great here, and really sell the hell out of this material.

Chris Pratt is believable in the lead role as Star-Lord, and does a tremendous job balancing his performance as a man who you can still take seriously despite the fact that he's a total goofball. And though Zoe Saldana is mostly the straight man of the group, even she has a number of really good comedic moments scattered about.

But then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Lee Pace just goes over the top serious as the villain Ronan in a way that really just works as a nice contrast to all the bright fun happening around him. And a second viewing really helped my appreciation of his performance a lot, to where I think he may well be the most underrated thing going on, given the sheer amount of comments I've heard about how weak a villain this movie has. But give this one another look and see if Ronan doesn't stand out as actually one of the better and more memorable villains in these Marvel movies yet. (Certainly not Loki good, but will anything reach that level?)

And then you've got the surprises. Dave Bautista I honestly didn't expect much from at all, but man is he a hoot here! His character is so cleverly written, and his delivery and comedic timing are spot on, making him one of the most consistently hilarious characters in the whole thing. And Bradley Cooper's Rocket is obviously the fan favorite, and for good reason, because his voice work is quite frankly phenomenal. Seriously, if I didn't know that was Bradley Cooper, I would never have guessed it was him, because the guy is simply unrecognizable, completely disappearing into his role.

But in my opinion, the standout performance here belongs to none other than Vin Diesel as Groot, in what I believe to not only be Diesel's greatest performance in his career to date, but also the single most impressive acting performance I've seen in any movie this year so far. He has one line that he repeats throughout the movie. And yet even so, he is able to convey so much with only that one line. It's simply remarkable, and a true achievement for him as an actor.

So this movie was chock full of a ton of great performances, but in the end, the real star of this movie was the music. And in fact, that's another thing that's been a weak spot for Marvel movies, is that they all really lack any form of memorable tune. We all know the classic Superman and Batman themes, and even the Spider-Man theme tends to sticks with you after the movie. But can anyone really recall any sort of memorable theme from Iron Man? Captain America? Hell, The Avengers? Not really. I mean, the music in those movies is serviceable, and it works well enough while you're actually watching the thing. But once the movie's over? Yeah, let's just say that no one's humming the theme from Thor, whatever it may be.

And sure, in this movie, the actual score itself sorta suffers a similar fate. However, it's made up for in the way of an especially awesome soundtrack. The same classic music that did such a good job in selling this thing in the trailers plays a big role all throughout, as Star-Lord keeps his Awesome Mix Vol. 1 tape with him and cues it up at the most pristine of times.

The music selection and the way that it's incorporated is just brilliant, and really makes this movie resonate all the more. And I think that it's because the music is utilized in such a way that it actually plays a role in the movie itself, rather than merely accompanying it as would traditionally be the case, is what sets it apart here. I'm always a fan of when movies do this, such as how the score from Inception actively impacted the events of that movie, not to mention how music comes into play in musicals such as Tangled and Frozen mentioned above. And here, every track that we hear, the characters on screen hear as well, which then makes us able to connect with them that much more.

The soundtrack is so good, in fact, that it was a rare instance where I actually went out and bought the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 itself. And while I was driving down the road listening to it, the scenes that these songs accompany in the movie started playing out in my head. And once we got to a song that happened to accompany a particularly emotional scene, I found that just listening to the song was stirring that same emotion without me even watching the movie. And I know I've been using this word a lot here, but it was at about that point when it really hit me in just how brilliant the decision to incorporate these songs in the way that it does actually was, in a way that'll stay with you well after the movie's ended.

After I first saw the movie, I was left thinking it was good, and it was fun, but it really didn't do much to make it stand out among the pack. But, as you can well see by now, after giving this movie some time to really sink in, boy was I wrong in that initial assessment. Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredible movie. It may well be the best of the Marvel movies to date, and yet, after giving it quite a bit of consideration, I'm not even sure it's even comparable to any of them anyways.

This movie is its own beast. Sure, it may not be perfect, but it's loads of fun throughout, and I haven't even touched on the action scenes, which are a thrilling sight to behold, particularly near the end when the movie starts to get a video game vibe to it, like watching a live action Space Invaders.

But my appreciation of this movie has only grown, and if it's anything like those other Disney flicks I've mentioned, it will only continue to soar upon subsequent viewings. The movie poster for this thing has a tag line that cheekily says "You're welcome". Well, right now, I'd like to respond to that tag line with a very sincere, "Thank you."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hercules

Okay, so yeah, the new Hercules was seriously fun as hell.

I had a feeling that this would be a pretty fun flick from the trailers alone, which saw The Rock comically screaming "I AM HERCULES!" in an over-the-top manner. In fact, the worst (or best?) instance of this was when a friend and I saw Noah earlier this year, in which this trailer acted as the lead in to our movie, and we were left in absolute hysterics during Noah's quiet opening, as the trailer for Hercules and that line in particular continued to linger fresh in mind. But the thing is, fun as the trailers looked, they don't even scratch the surface to just how much fun this movie actually is.

For one thing, without giving away too much, this movie actually gives a pretty different take on mythology behind the Hercules legend, and one that continues to be interesting all throughout. In fact, I was pretty surprised to find that almost the entirety of the footage from the trailers only makes up maybe the first five minutes of this thing. They really don't give away anything in the marketing, which makes for an especially pleasant experience, as you'll find you really aren't quite so sure what you've gotten yourself into relatively early on.

But what you've gotten yourself into, thankfully, turns out to be a blast from start to finish. The ever increasingly over-the-top action is simply awesome and exciting throughout, and in classic action movie fashion, our heroes spew out some absolutely epic one liners at every turn.

And I found I really enjoyed the cast of characters we come to follow, cliche as they may be at times. The Rock does his thing, and he's just as awesome as you'd expect, but who really steals the show here is Ian McShane, whose antics as he embraces his inevitable demise are simply a thing of glory. But in addition to the movie's fresh take on the title character that even pokes fun at other incarnations of the character at times, there are some nice twists and turns to the plot itself, even if it is relatively simple enough for the most part.

Simply put, I wasn't exactly in the best of moods going into this thing, but this movie was just what I needed to lift my spirits. This latest Hercules completely surpassed my every expectation of it, and if you're in the need for just an all around good, fun time at the movies, then I could not recommend this one highly enough.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Queen Elsa Compilation

So this is a thing that I've been up to lately. I decided to work on a little Elsa project, which I've been calling the Queen Elsa Compilation (or in some circles, merely The Elsa Project).

Basically, this all started up when I was talking to my Ninja Kat Helper, Nikki, at Hamacon about a month ago. We were talking about some of our favorite cosplayers we had seen at the con so far, and I brought up someone who was dressed as the absolute perfect Elsa from Frozen the day prior.

I then went on to say how at all the cons I've been to so far in the year, Elsas had been surprisingly relatively uncommon, with only one that I've seen making an appearance at each of them. But oh what an appearance it was, as time seemingly stood frozen in place as they stepped into the room, and my heart would skip a beat as, there she was! And all eyes would be drawn to her, as she commanded the attention of the con-goers around with her stunning presence. And really, that's been my experience with all of the best dressed Elsas I've come across so far.

So anyways, I mentioned something to Nikki along the lines of what if I were to take a picture with every Elsa I came across and post it online, like some sort of an internet meme or something. And she thought it was a great idea, urging me to go through with it. And so I have. And these are the results to date.

Now as I share these pictures with you, I'd also like to discuss the movie itself a little. I've come to really love Frozen quite a bit. I love it even more with each new viewing, and its inherent flaws seem to diminish that much more as well, to the point where, in their own little way, they actually sort of compliment the film as a whole.


This Elsa just couldn't take her eyes off me.

Frozen may well have come to the point where it's now my favorite Disney animated film to date. And even if it's debatable as to whether or not it's actually the best, it most certainly is the most important film to come out of the studio in its entire history. So many people say that this is a movie for little girls, but really, its message is so strong and so powerful, but more importantly, its universal. It's a message that speaks to people of all ages, of all genders. And just because it's being told in what's technically a Disney Princess film does nothing to diminish its powerful message.

But not only has Frozen become my favorite Disney animated film, but Elsa is also most certainly my favorite Disney Princess at that (though she technically becomes a Queen, but I assume she would still count, right?). I just find her and her struggle so relatable on so many levels, and there's such a compelling amount of psychological depth behind all of her trauma that shaped her into the person she would become. Not to mention that she's a total knockout (though I guess you technically couldn't call her hot!), and not just in looks, but her voice! No matter how many times I listen to "Let It Go", I still get chills. And I've especially come to appreciate "For The First Time In Forever", how timid and reserved she is in the original rendition, and how comparatively open and full of emotion she sings in the reprise.


It was around this point that I realized that I'm such a socially awkward penguin, I never know what to do with my free hand until well after it's too late...

It's things like that, as well as the cleverly well thought out, foreshadowed, and recurring lyrics that string throughout all of the songs that really make me love the movie more as a whole in subsequent viewings. And even the songs I initially didn't like I've come to appreciate for similar reasons, for what they bring to the whole. And yes, as I mentioned before, even if the movie is flawed at times, the fact that it's about the struggle of these very flawed and broken characters coming to grips with their deep, personal issues actually sort of compliments the film in its own charming way.


... though I did figure it out eventually.

And as much as I love the film, it's probably no wonder that I hate just how severe the backlash against it has become as it has risen in popularity. I dunno, I guess I just really can't even comprehend how so many people can claim that it's a legitimately bad movie, when most criticisms I've heard from its harshest viewers seems to ultimately boil down to the movie daring to be something different from the norm. The thing is, I can easily come up with a rebuttal against almost every critique against the movie from the crowd of active haters, I just kinda wish that I didn't have to, and I truly wonder if there would be so many openly rallying against it like they are if the movie hadn't become as insanely popular as it has.

But anyways, now that I've gotten my updated feelings on Frozen off my chest, going back to The Elsa Project, I did find it interesting how some people decided to change things up a bit as well. For instance, here's Rainbow Elsa:

Hipster Elsa:

And even King Elsa:

And there were also times when Anna got in on the action...

... though that didn't always end up with the best of results.


Or did it? ;)

But through all the fighting and bickering, we've all just gotta remember that, in the end, only true love can thaw a frozen heart.

So that's about it for the Queen Elsa Compilation for now. And no, I didn't quite manage to get a picture with every Elsa I came across, though for those that I missed, I guess I've gotta learn to just let it go. Until next time!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Color me surprised, but Transformers: Age of Extinction is easily the best one yet. And really, it's not even close, it's the best Transformers by a ridiculous, stupidly large margin at that. Frankly, this is the Transformers movie that fans have been clamoring for from the get-go, it just took Michael Bay four tries to finally get it right.

That's not to say that this movie is perfect, not at all. It certainly has its flaws throughout. But the thing is that none of those flaws really stick out too badly and hold this thing down, as had become the case with the prior installments. In fact, for the first time ever, it actually appears that Michael Bay has finally learned from the countless number of errors that he continued to make over and over again throughout the first three, as most of the issues that gradually made those films worse and worse are either greatly diminished here, or outright gone.

To give a quick rundown on my thoughts of the first three movies, I actually do like the first movie. Sure, it's a problematic one, particularly with the editing and quick-cuts that made the action scenes a mostly incomprehensible mess, but it was still a mostly enjoyable movie I thought. And as hated as Revenge of the Fallen is, I actually didn't mind that one, either. That may well have been due to a handful of scenes, such as the fight in the forest, which was so awesome and an action scene that we could actually see for once, but overall, while it's certainly overly long and filled with a lot of stupid moments, I didn't all out hate it, though it doesn't quite hold up on multiple viewings. Dark of the Moon, however, I thought was awful, as it was not only needlessly longer than the other two, but also really forced the worst elements of those two to the forefront, making for an insufferable experience to sit through.

Basically, though, each new movie was essentially the same movie all over again, only much longer and much worse. And yes, while the trend of being even longer does hold true for this newest one, they actually do finally change things up quite a bit, as it's not just the same movie again, taking a different, more darker yet still appropriately fun approach in tone, a new, more likeable cast of characters, and more focus on the transformers themselves for once in these movies that are supposed to be about transformers.

Most of the groan-inducing, immature silliness from the first three is thankfully gone. Yes, there are still some comic relief, but there's no "enemy scrotums" or Ken Jeong shenanigans to be had here. It's a much more held back approach, which is a very welcome change of pace. And while there's still quite a bit of focus placed on the humans here, it's not nearly as dominating as has been the case up to this point. It's pretty much an even split of equal time given to both humans and transformers, which is much more favorable. And the fact that the humans this time around are much more bearable to spend such extended amounts of time with certainly helps in this regard.

Mark Wahlberg is such an infinitely better star for these films than Shia LaBeouf ever was. He's actually a likeable guy, and plays a likeable character who is also actually believable in the role he's playing. And the supporting cast including the likes of Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer are all played really well as well. In fact, the only character that I found getting even mildly under my nerves was the boyfriend character, and that was mainly due to the inconsistency of him supposedly being this daredevil risk taker who also happens to be the biggest coward in the whole movie, but even that's not that big of a deal all in all.

Also, for really the first time in this series, the action scenes are all shot completely clearly and coherently throughout the entire duration of this thing. There are no quick-cuts of the sort to be found, and in fact, there's quite a number of longer takes that even pull back the camera to really show you all of the exciting action on screen. And that's key there, as technically Dark of the Moon had fixed some of these action editing issues already, and yet I found myself bored by the action in that movie. Not so here.

And not only that, but they really went out of their way to give all of the Transformers very distinct looks to themselves and their characters, so that there was never a moment where I was confused as to who I was seeing in action at any given time. And they actually do some really interesting things as well, such as the man-made transformers that posses additional transforming abilities that even manage to wow the transformers themselves, not to mention how cool it is to see robotic dinosaurs running rampant on the big screen.

I gotta be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this one. Dark of the Moon had let me down so badly, and I was expecting more of the same here. And unlike prior installments, the trailers for this thing did nothing to dissuade that. And yet, I came out of this thinking that this was the best one yet, and the Transformers movie that fans of the franchise have been asking for all along. Sure, it's still a big dumb action flick that you could nit-pick to death if you were to be so inclined, and it is still a very long one at that at almost three hours in length, which could have easily been cut down to two. Yet even so, I was still very impressed this time around.

And as we now approach the halfway point of the year, I gotta say that, while this time last year I was pretty let down by the seemingly endless barrage of disappointments we were getting in theaters, 2014 has honestly been a really awesome year for movies so far, and that definitely continues with Transformers: Age of Extinction. It's not quite among the best I've seen this year, but it's definitely on the higher end of the spectrum, though if I were to give a quick Top 5 so far, it'd probably include the following: Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, The Raid 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and a toss-up between Need for Speed and 22 Jump Street. So yeah, pretty great year so far, and here's hoping it continues to hold up moving into the second half!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rest in Peace, Stan

When I woke up and got out of bed this morning, I never imagined it would be the day that I had to bury our old cat, Stan.

I guess I just never really saw him growing old like he did. It still feels like it was just yesterday that he was the kitten of the house, back when Charlie and Velcro were still running around. He was such a skinny little thing back then, as he always followed Charlie around. It wasn't too long before he really fattened up, though, and before we knew it, he winded up becoming the senior cat in a house overflowing with cats. But he didn't just grow in size, but also in heart, as, even being the eldest cat, he never did lose that kitten-like innocence of his.

He was just always such a happy, carefree kitty, the one cat who all other cats could get along with, who never picked on or started trouble with anyone else. He was just the sweetest thing, and he never let up his whole life. But I guess that, though he remained youthful in spirit his whole life, time eventually had to catch up with him, and the past few weeks have been really rough.

He gradually began to decline in health, which was heartbreaking to watch, and even his girlfriend ended up leaving him in the end, right when he needed her most, that bitch. (Or perhaps he had asked her to leave, so that she wouldn't have to see him in his weakened state, in which case she's not a bitch.) But just last week, one night before I left for my trip this weekend in Alabama, I was about to go to bed when I heard a weakened version of Stan's high pitched meowing at my door.

I opened it up to find him sitting there, calling for me. And though I typically don't allow cats in my room these days, I scooped him up and brought him to bed with me, where he just purred and purred the night away. So even in the end, though he was suffering, it is at least a little comforting to know that even so, there still was that happy spirit residing somewhere within him.

Stan was a great cat, and he lived a great, happy life. And though he's gone now in the physical world, his legacy will continue to live on as I chronicle his own story within my Velcro: The Ninja Kat series, so that he may warm the hearts of everyone else who reads about his sweet, loving nature.

Rest in peace, Stan. You were one of the good ones.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The last 10 or so minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't just amazing, it's absolutely incredibly well crafted and executed. It brought the movie to a closure with genuinely stirring emotion, in what is quite possibly the absolute best ending I've ever seen in a superhero movie. It's just a bit of a shame that everything prior to this pivotal moment doesn't even come close to matching this level of quality.

This movie's biggest problem really was that it just tried to do way too much. And I gathered as much from the trailers, which made this out to be a complete train wreck of a movie. Well, I'm happy to say that, while still a bit messy, this movie is hardly a total disaster, but at two and a half hours, there was far too much going on, and far too much of it just does not work at all.

The worst offender would have to be the whole plot revolving around Peter's parents. None of this is from the source material, mind you, but that's not the issue here. If this plot was still actually well handled, then it being an original idea for this Spider-Man universe wouldn't be a problem at all. But the thing about it is, is that it completely changes the idea of what Spider-Man is supposed to represent, which is a big issue.

This whole storyline makes the series of events within this universe way too convenient, way too coincidental, and ties things together way too tightly. But where as other tightly woven narratives can do so in a seamless fashion, this one is left in knots, and goes so far that it stretches believability, even within the confines of this sort of movie. Every moment involving the mystery behind Peter's parents dragged this movie down, and left me wishing that this series just never even attempted to touch the subject. Even back with the first movie I saw this new addition being a problem, but it's never more problematic than it is here.

This movie is also attempting to set up a Sinister Six scenario moving forward, and as such, there's a number of villains here, and even more hinted at for future installments. The main bads are Jamie Foxx's Electro (who apparently plucked his name from the same strange place in a galaxy far far away that Darth Sidious came us with Vader's moniker. There's a reason that villains typically don't name themselves in these kinda movies, because it just comes off as silly, as is the case here), who's actually an interesting and humorous character before he undergoes the transformation.

And we're also introduced to Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, who I have mixed feelings about. At first, his acting comes off as really awkward and forced, especially his earlier scenes with Peter. And not only that, but I found the character's inclusion here strained a bit by the fact that, at no point in the first movie was he ever even referenced to in passing. He's supposed to be an old friend from Peter's past, and yet, despite all the stuff Peter was doing with Oscorp and what have you in the first, at no point does Harry come to mind? As a result, their scenes together feel like they're trying to overcompensate for this blunder a little too much. However, as the movie progresses and Harry goes full blown villain, DeHaan's acting chops that he's shown in other movies did come to light, and he even showed shades of Leonardo DiCaprio during some of his more intense scenes.

But there are other elements at play here, and like I said, this movie is a really long one that tries to do a lot, and there are certainly moments when it does try to do too much. Such as, for example, during the final big action scene, there's a side plot that we keep cutting away to involving two airplanes that are about to crash into one another. Except, Spidey's entirely unaware of this scenario, and remains so even as it becomes resolved. This was an instance of the movie trying to add in a false sense of tension, which ordinarily wouldn't be too bad of a thing, but in this movie that's already way too long as it is, its inclusion really only serves to unnecessarily drag things out even further.

And I suppose I could go on about how the action scenes were mostly forgettable, and the shots of Spidey swinging through the city feel over-done this time around, no longer carrying with them that exhilarating feelings that they once had. Not to mention how cheesy the Green Goblin himself is once he shows up. But enough about the bad, I wanna talk about what this movie did right, because when it comes down to it, I actually did mostly like this movie.

Andrew Garfield continues to deliver as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and there were a number of scenes that just slayed me. Like, cartoony scenes when he goes to a convenient store in his Spidey suit and tries to say his name with a cold, or when he hoses down Electro while wearing a fireman's helmet. Plus, just the way he carries himself, I've really come to dig this interpretation of the Spider-Man character.

But where this movie works most is when Peter and Gwen are on the screen together. Their story is the core to this thing, and, especially in hindsight, I really do wish that their tangled web of a love story wasn't quite so tangled up with the rest of the crap going on all around them. And now here's where I gotta get into some spoiler territory, so...

...

... Spidey spoilers: Gwen Stacy dies. And yeah, I saw it coming from a mile away, as will anyone who is even vaguely up to speed on Spidey lore. After Ben Parker's death, I'm not sure there's a single more pivotal moment in Spidey history than Gwen Stacy dying, and this moment was done great justice in this movie. From the moment the Green Goblin lets Stacy fall, this movie jumped from being merely okay, to being absolutely incredible. The scene of her death was stunning, and the emotional overflow was genuinely stirring.

And the aftermath, as Peter grieves over her death and learns to move on, learns to keep on living, was all simply perfect. I loved every minute of this, and thinking about it now continues to give me chills. If nothing else in this movie quite worked, this is one aspect that absolutely did, and is really what saves this whole movie, and holds me back from giving this thing a harsher review.

So yeah, I had quite a few thoughts on this movie, some bad, some good, but when it's all said and done, it evens out to being pretty much just an okay movie. However, if solely for the last 10 or so minutes alone, I'd highly recommend checking this thing out. It's too bad the rest of the movie couldn't have been nearly so good, but things couldn't have ended on a higher note.