Thursday, August 21, 2014

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Yesterday, my friend Chris Sanders challenged me to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Here are the results:

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."