Summer blockbusters haven’t been much fun this year. Sure, we’ve had giant robots, action galore and some edge of our seat moments, but from the xenophobia of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to the daddy issues and nuclear nightmares of “Godzilla” the season’s tent pole movies have been a bit gloomy.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” the new Marvel adventure, is a tonic for the troops. An old-fashioned space opera, it’s a wild ride and the most pure fun blockbuster since the first “Iron Man” movie.
Chris Pratt is Peter Quill, a cosmic Indiana Jones style adventurer. After stealing a mysterious metal orb that containing an “infinity chip,” he becomes the target of Ronan (Lee Pace in full-on wrestling bad guy mode), an intergalactic Genghis Khan with ambitions to destroy his mortal enemies, the Xandarians. To avoid capture Quill forms an uneasy alliance with a genetically engineered raccoon and bounty hunter Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), a plant-based humanoid, the deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a revenge hungry warrior named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). As the chip’s power becomes obvious, the band of misfits slowly bond, becoming the Guardians of the Galaxy as they battle to keep the orb from Ronan.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” has a playful tone. From Pratt’s signature line, “Peter Quill, people call me Star-Lord,” to a soundtrack stuffed with 70s era pop music—like “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede and Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”—and actors in blue-headed alien masks, the movie feels like a throwback to old-school action-adventure.
It’s filled with one-liners, sight gags and funny moments that play off the more standard blockbuster-style action and battle scenes. Pratt has an offhand delivery that recalls Harrison Ford in Han Solo mode, Cooper does wisecracks like a skilled Catskills comic and (ALMOST A SPOILER) there’s Baby Groot to up the cute factor. They supply the light moments, but despite Cooper’s presence, this isn’t “The Hangover” in space, it’s an all out action movie with a blithe spirit.
On the downside, origin stories require set up and “Guardians of the Galaxy” has loads of backstory. There are characters with funny names, warring cultures and treaties to be enforced and broken. The exposition gets in the way of the story sometimes, but only occasionally. Director James Gunn doles out the information with spoonfuls of humor and action to keep things interesting.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is clearly expected to be the beginning of a franchise. Near the end of the film Star-Lord says, “What shall we do now? Something good? Something bad? Bit of both?” and while that kind of presumptuous writing usually annoys me, in this case I wouldn’t mind seeing what they get up to next time.
He was called many things. The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite, and The Hardest Working Man in Show Business but he preferred to be called Mr. Brown.
James Brown is probably best remembered as the hit maker behind “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “I Feel Good”; a larger-than-life, cape-wearing showman who made funk a household word over a career than spanned six decades.
A new film, “Get on Up,” aims to fill in the blanks, detailing Brown’s rise from poverty to the top of the R&B charts.
Chadwick Boseman, who, after earning accolades for his performance as Jackie Robinson in”42,” seems to be making a career of playing 20th century legends on screen, plays Brown from age 16 to 60.
In non-linear, cut and paste style, the film tells of an abusive South Carolina upbringing at the hands of his sharecropper father (Lennie James) and a mother (Viola Davis) who abandoned the family early on to career highlights like the incendiary T.A.M.I. Show performance where he upstaged the Rolling Stones, (whose singer Mick Jagger produced this movie). It covers his close friendship with singer-songwriter Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), a brush with death on a USO show and a young James pulling two-tone loafers off a lynched man.
“Get on Up” is the second musical biopic of the summer but the first one to vibrate with energy, spirit and soul. Where “Jersey Boys” felt staid and straightforward, “Get On Up” is as loose-limbed and funky as one of Brown’s groove-heavy singles.
Some may find the non-linear time jumping scenes that bookend the film arrhythmic, but the randomness of those sequences—it jumps, willy nilly from the 1940s to Brown’s 1970s heyday to a wild scene that lead to his 1988 arrest—breaks the standard rags-to-riches-to-arrests biopic formula. Director Tate “The Help” Taylor takes an impressionistic view of Brown’s life, integrating some magic realism and fourth wall breaking dialogue direct to camera in a bold approach to a very mainstream genre.
Stylistic flourishes aside, there are the usual biographical “one day everyone will know your name” show biz clichés, but the movie is smart enough not to rely on those elements to tell the story. Instead Tate relies on an extraordinarily charismatic performance—one guesses it’s a liberal mix of fact and fiction, life and legend—from Boseman to illuminate Brown’s angels and demons.
He’s called a musical genius more than once, and given his legacy it’s hard not to agree, but some of the more unsavory parts of Brown’s life are glossed over. The drug use and domestic abuse that checkered his life (and arrest record) are touched on but not explored with the same interest as the upward trajectory of Brown’s musical career.
Like the expert backing bands that supported Brown throughout his career, here the character is supported by very good actors. As life-long friend Bobby Byrd, Nelsan Ellis shows he has more range than simply playing Lafayette Reynolds on “True Blood” every week and Dan Aykroyd has fun with the role of Brown’s manager. It’s a shame that good performances from Craig Robinson, as sax legend Maceo Parker, and Viola Davis as Brown’s mother, are limited to extended cameos.
“Get On Up” is one big chunk of funk with a gold standard performance from Boseman and music that will make you want to… er… get on up.
“Magic in the Moonlight” feels like a Woody Allen movie. The main character, played by Colin Firth, is a misanthropic man, there’s a muse in the form of Emma Stone, there’s even a psychoanalyst and lots of talk of Freud and Nietzsche.
So far, so good, but there’s also a tepid romance and one liners that have Allen’s trademark rhythm—“I always thought the unseen world was a good place for a restaurant,” says Stanley (Firth). “Spirits get hungry.”—but few of the laughs we would expect.
Set in 1928 Firth is Stanley, a world famous stage magician with “all the charm of a typhoid epidemic.” He is also a genius with a special interest in debunking fraudulent spiritualists. When his friend and fellow magician Howard (Simon McBurney) approaches him to investigate a mystic named Sophie Baker (Stone) who he thinks is bilking a wealthy ex-pat American family out of their money, Stanley gladly accepts. Travelling to the south of France the skeptical magician meets Sophie—described by her love-sick suitor Brice (Hamish Linklater) as “a visionary and a vision.”—and is soon won over by her mental abilities and physical charms. “I’ve always believed that the dull, tragic reality of life is all there is,” he says. He comes to believe Sophie is proof there is more, but will his change of heart last?
Despite tackling some of life’s big questions, “Magic in the Moonlight” feels like a trifle. At his best Allen illuminates the human condition, using equal parts humor and pathos to shine a light on how and why people do things they do.
Here he asks, “Is the rational choice always the best choice? Is a dash of rationality is what makes life interesting?” but frames those queries with a story so light and fluffy it threatens to float off the screen and into the ether with every passing scene.
Too many easy twists—He’s a skeptic. Now he’s not! Now he is again, but he’s also in love!—mar a story that is already just barely as plausible as Sophie’s psychic ability. “Here comes the usual theatrical fertilizer,” Stanley smirks during one of Sophie’s trances, but he could just as easily been talking about the movie.
Firth and Stone, with their Allenesque twenty-eight year age difference, anchor the movie easily enough; he with his stiff upper lip, she with eyes the size of saucers. The real magic, however, comes from the lush set and costume design—Stone looks like she was born to wear the floppy hats that frame her open face—and the supporting actors.
Simon McBurney is spot on as the baffled illusionist Howard and Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa is all warmth and life, despite several overlong stagy speeches.
Thematically “Magic in the Moonlight” suggests delusions are essential to a happy life. Movies, by their nature, are delusions, but this time around director Allen may not make audiences as happy as he’s done in the past.
SYNOPSIS: Chris Pratt is Peter Quill, a cosmic Indiana Jones style adventurer. After stealing a mysterious metal orb that containing an “infinity chip,” he becomes the target of Ronan (Lee Pace in full-on wrestling bad guy mode), an intergalactic Genghis Khan with ambitions to destroy his mortal enemies, the Xandarians. To avoid capture Quill forms an uneasy alliance with a genetically engineered raccoon and bounty hunter Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), a plant-based humanoid, the deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a revenge hungry warrior named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). As the chip’s power becomes obvious, the band of misfits slowly bond, becoming the Guardians of the Galaxy as they battle to keep the orb from Ronan.
Richard: 4 Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, summer blockbusters haven’t been much fun this year. Sure, we’ve had giant robots, action galore and some edge of our seat moments, but from the xenophobia of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to the daddy issues and nuclear nightmares of Godzilla the season’s tent pole movies have been a bit gloomy. Guardians of the Galaxy is a tonic for the troops. An old-fashioned space opera, it’s a wild ride and the most pure fun blockbuster since the first Iron Man movie. Did you have as much fun at it as I did?
Mark: Richard, I generally don’t care for space operas, but this one’s a game-changer. It’s debt to Star Wars is enormous, with Chris Pratt as Luke Skywalker, Zoe Saldana in the Carrie Fisher role, and the raccoon and the tree as R2D2 and CP3O. But then its originality takes flight—literally—and the movie becomes its own unique creation. Unlike Star Wars, it has a great sense of humour about itself, and if you don’t fall in love with the talking raccoon with the Brooklyn accent, you’re as villainous as the bad guys in the movie.
RC: Totally, it’s filled with one-liners, sight gags and funny moments that play off the more standard blockbuster-style action and battle scenes. Pratt has an offhand delivery that recalls Harrison Ford in Han Solo mode, Cooper does wisecracks like a skilled Catskills comic and (ALMOST A SPOILER) there’s Baby Groot to up the cute factor. They supply the light moments, but despite Cooper’s presence, this isn’t The Hangover in space, it’s an all out action movie with a blithe spirit. The only bits that dragged for me were the set-up scenes. Did you find the exposition got in the way occasionally?
MB: I don’t think you watch this movie for the plot anyways. But the very first scene, a waaaay too serious deathbed scene between a boy and his mother, left me with a bad taste and it took me awhile to recover from it and enjoy the movie. It isn’t all that far from the old Flash Gordon serials, except that every piece of technology is beyond state of the art and the makeup is wonderfully imaginative. My biggest beef? The bad guys have bad dialogue. And they deliver their lines in the standard three octaves lower register of villains in hackier flicks.
RC: By the time the end credits roll, however, none of our gripes matter much because the movie is so much fun.
MB: The movie is so much fun it actually enjoys itself.
The Guardians of the Galaxy, who made their first appearance in print in 1969, bear very little resemblance to the team of superheroes who will grace the big screen this weekend.
Conspiculous by his absence in the original book is Rocket Raccoon, the heroic character voiced by Bradley Cooper in the film. The feisty raccoon appeared years later, created by writer Bill Mantlo and illustrator Keith Giffen, who named the masked creature in tribute to the Beatles’ tune Rocky Raccoon.
They confirmed the Beatle’s influence in 1982 with a story that paraphrased John and Paul’s lyrics for the title. Called Now Somewhere In the Black Holes of Sirius Major There Lived a Young Boy Named Rocket Raccoon, the book saw the Hulk and Rocket Raccoon stop a villain from stealing Gideon’s Bible.
Rocket is latest raccoon, but not the only, to become a mammalian movie star.
Recently Liam Neeson starred in the animated movie The Nut Job, playing the imaginatively named Raccoon, the patriarch of a park, who might not have the best interests of the other animals top of mind.
The sixty-two year old Irish actor says he had never seen a raccoon until he was in his thirties, shooting an episode of Miami Vice in Florida. “Seeing this thing use his little paws and actually lifting a lid of a garbage can, peering in,” he says, “was quite sinister because it almost had a human quality to it, quite sneaky. I just had never seen a raccoon in my life before and the impression stayed with me.”
Other animated raccoons have worked steadily. Meeko, the raccoon from Disney’s Pocahontas and Pocahontas ll: Journey to a New World cartoon also makes appearances in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse and in the Pocahontas video game. Then there’s RJ from Over the Hedge, a lovable raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis. “The rascally charm Bruce Willis brought to Moonlighting makes RJ a lovable rogue, or at least a likable one,” said director Karey Kirkpatrick.
Real-life raccoons are also getting work—in films like Rascal and The Details—but according to director Steve Carr they can present some problems. Tough guy actor Michael Rappaport voiced Joey, the consigliere raccoon, in Dr. Dolittle 2. The film featured over-250 four-legged cast members—including wolves, giraffes, bears, possums, raccoons, dogs, and owls—so Carr says, “A huge percentage of our work was waiting for the animals to do what they’re trained to do. And the patience that was needed well, it felt at times as if it were Herculean.”
Richard hosted a “ComedyPRO In Conversation” session with director Nicholas Stoller on Thursday July 24, 2014 at Just for Laughs in Montreal.
From JFL’s website: Filmmaker Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek) is this year’s ‘In Conversation’ subject. His latest film, Neighbors, starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, laughed its way to a $51.1 million US debut over Mother’s Day weekend, and has grossed over $220 million worldwide thus far. In Conversation with Nicholas Stoller takes place at ComedyPRO on Thursday, July 24, 3 pm, at the Hyatt Regency Montreal. It is presented by the Telefilm Canada Feature Comedy Exchange, a CFC initiative in collaboration with Just For Laughs.
In May 2014 Richard hosted the Canadian Music Week Don’t Stop Believin’: A Fireside Chat with Glee Music Supervisor PJ Bloom!
From the CMW website: Move over Elvis and The Beatles. Through his work on Glee alone, music supervisor PJ Bloom has set the record for the most charted songs by a single talent in Billboard history (and made the mag’s annual Power 100 List). One of the world’s busiest soundtrack supervisors, he has shaped the sound of hundreds of TV episodes, movies, video games and ads and is the go-to guy for the likes of Mssrs. Spielberg and Bruckheimer. Nobody knows the symbiotic relationship between music and image like this soundtrack superstar.