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Guardians of The Galaxy is the Quirky Box Office Hit You’ve Been Waiting For

Every couple of years or so, I end up falling in love with a completely brilliant film that almost no one ends up seeing. It started back with Serenity in 2005, but the tradition continued with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Cabin in the Woods, and Pacific Rim. I know the staying power of movies isn’t all based on box office sales, but it can be kind of frustrating when you know people should be seeing a particular film and they’re just… not.

I had a similar worry for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. When Phase 2 was announced at San Diego Comic Con a few years back, I was curious about the property, but I remember most of the reaction being somewhere between derision and confusion. It’s a risky property for sure since not a lot of people really know about Cosmic Marvel as a whole, let alone the Guardians. Hell, I’d probably be ignoring Cosmic Marvel too if it wasn’t for the fact my favorite superhero is half-Kree by way of a scientific wishing machine.

Still, the more the film ramped up, with Slither writer and director James Gunn being brought on board and Chris Pratt being announced as Star-Lord as season 5 of Parks and Recreation was coming to a close, the more I was looking forward to the film. I think the phrase ‘frothing at the mouth’ is appropriate. I couldn’t help but wonder though if it was going to go the way of Pacific Rim though. After Edgar Wright walked from Ant-Man over creative differences allegedly over Marvel not wanting to take another risk so soon, I couldn’t help but wonder if Marvel even had faith in either film in the first place.

Well, that media machine worked because Guardians of the Galaxy has brought the summer box office out with a bang with a $94 million opening weekend. Which is $20 million ahead of the original projection.

LOOK AT THIS MOTLEY CREW OF SPACE ASSHOLES (credit for that line to Film School Rejects)

LOOK AT THIS MOTLEY CREW OF SPACE ASSHOLES (credit for that line to Film School Rejects)

Is the film any good though?

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy three times already. It’s Monday, August 4th. It opened on August 1st. I’m already planning on seeing it again at some point(s) before it leaves theaters and I bought the soundtrack off of iTunes after I watched it the first time. I think that tells you a lot about my own personal enjoyment of the film. (And if you want to berate me for spending money on one film three times: 1.) I only paid out of my own pocket once, and 2.) It’s my life and money, jackass.)

Guardians of the Galaxy is a lot like those cheesy 70s and 80s adventure movies we all love so much mixed with a few beloved sci-fi TV shows. I don’t know how a film can be the spiritual successor to both Star Wars AND Firefly, but dammit, it some how does it. This is definitely in part to the sharp writing from Gunn and Nicole Perlman, who is the first woman to be credited with writing a Marvel film (Maurissa Tancharoen did some re-writes to The Avengers script along with Jed Whedon, but neither were credited). I can’t tell you how many lines I missed on my first view because I was laughing so hard at the line before it. Well, me and the rest of the theater. It’s instantly quotable and moves with a great pace that never drags, but never feels too rushed either. Not to mention when it gets sad, it gets sad.

Of course, any good script isn’t much if you don’t have a great cast to act it out. And oh boy, does Guardians have it in spades. Chris Pratt is charming, goofy and surprisingly emotional at some points as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord. I knew he had charming and goofy down pat thanks to Parks and Recreation, but he evolves from dumb sweet puppy dog to lovable rogue right in front of my eyes. It’s astounding and even though I had faith in Pratt the entire time, he still managed to exceed my high expectations.

You're so handsome and it's terrible. [moviepilot.com]

You’re so handsome and it’s terrible. [moviepilot.com]

The most surprising performance for me though was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Wrestlers can be hit or miss in films sometimes, but Bautista was a definite hit as the extremely literal alien searching for vengeance for his wife and daughter. I really didn’t expect to become so emotionally connected with him by the end of the film, but yet there I was, cooing over a man who could easily rip my spine out. I also became rather fond of Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta. I really don’t know why, but maybe it’s because I could see where Star-Lord got his roguish charm from.

I think it goes without saying that the two runaway characters of the film were Rocket and Groot. Part performance capture, part CG, and part voice acting, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel (with a lot of help from Sean Gunn on set for Rocket) managed to create characters with a lot of heart and a significant amount of attitude. Don’t believe you’ll be crying over a sentient tree who can only say “I am Groot” and a fast-talking raccoon who loves guns and alcohol? You will be. Oh, you will be.

The only complaint I really have about this film is the treatment a lot of the female characters receive. Gamora is probably one of the most interesting and most competent characters in the film, but so much of her story gets pushed aside for Peter’s and I don’t really understand why Drax had to call her a “green whore” after he established they were friends (though he calls Groot “dumb tree” as well, so I don’t know what his deal is there). The same goes for Nebula and every freaking conversation she and Gamora had boiled down to either Thanos or Ronan. We also could have used WAY more Nova Prime Rael than we got. You have Glenn freakin’ Close. USE HER. Hopefully for the sequel, this will improve. Maybe we can even get a Phyla-Vell by then? Oh, who am I kidding? We can’t even get a Carol Danvers or a Black Widow movie because Kevin Feige won’t move his ass on a female led superhero movie.

Do better, Marvel. DO IT FOR HER. [liveforfilms.com]

Do better, Marvel. DO IT FOR HER. [liveforfilms.com]

Still, even with that gripe, I still love this film way too much. It’s smart, fun, and completely uncynical. It may be the spiritual successor to Star Wars and Firefly, but it’s totally spiritual bros with Pacific Rim as well and maybe a bit of a spiritual rival for how colorful they are. They’re the movies our inner kids need and deserve. I’m glad that Guardians of the Galaxy is getting the success it deserves because we need more films like it in the world. Ones that spark the imagination, can bring a smile to our faces, and an extra pep to our steps because we can’t get ‘Come and Get Your Love’ out of our heads.

Oh yeah, you might want to get the soundtrack too. It’s all 70s pop and it just works in that very perfect Tarentino-esque way. I’ve pretty much had it on repeat all week, especially the middle part of the soundtrack that starts with ‘I Want You Back.’ You’ll know why.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Comics, Film

 

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I Think Pacific Rim Ruined Godzilla for Me

I went to see Godzilla last night on a hot date with myself. I dressed up nice, wore black stockings and blue lipstick along with my Gipsy Danger shirt, and treated myself to a movie and cheese sticks.

While I do enjoy hot dates with myself from time to time, I realized after I finished the film and drove home that I needed someone to sound off to. Because while I ended up liking the film and it was certainly better than that 1998 one, there were so many things about it that bothered me the more I thought about it. Maybe because I was so spoiled by Pacific Rim last year that the things that bothered me about it, I kept comparing to how Pacific Rim did it.

This is a list of all my grievances about the film compared to things I enjoyed in Pacific Rim. Note that this is only my opinion and I would still suggest seeing the film. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD FOR GODZILLA. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

GO GO GODZILLA! [hdiwallpapers.com]

GO GO GODZILLA! [hdiwallpapers.com]

1.) Godzilla was barely in the damn thing – Say what you will about Pacific Rim, but the film delivered on the trailer promise of giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Which, hey, made me enjoy it on a base level even without the cast and storyline. If you call a film Godzilla, I kind of expect him to be there more than the MUTOs that were trying to destroy San Francisco with their mating and radioactive babies. When Godzilla was on screen kicking MUTO ass and telling those damn teenage kaiju to get off his lawn, it was amazing! But there wasn’t enough of it.

2.) Everything the Navy did was basically what the Pan Pacific Defense Corps learned not to do – I kept jokingly referring to the film as “The Pan Pacific Defense Corps: The Early Years” in my head. I know that they don’t have a lot of experience dealing with ancient creatures from beneath the sea sucking on radiation to survive, but how do these people really think “Shoot bullets at the giant monster while people taking refuge from a tsunami stand nearby. That’ll slow it down.” There’s a reason the Jaeger program exists and it’s because it was assessed to do the least amount of damage and be more cost effective in the long run than trying to have the army shoot down a kaiju in a three day battle and irradiate a metropolitan area to the point no one could live there anymore. At least there was some damn sense to take the bomb attempt as far away from land as possible. You know, if it had worked. Which brings me to my next point…

3.) Does no one listen to scientists? – I understand that Dr. Serizawa was working on a hypothesis that Godzilla was the alpha predator coming ashore to fight the MUTOs and establish his dominance. He had no way to confirm it until the very end of the film when that’s actually what happened. However, you think with how many times Serizawa and Dr. Graham said the monsters feed off of radiation, you think the Navy would want to come up with a better plan besides “Put some old bombs that run on clockwork on a train to San Francisco, then put them on a boat as far as we can possibly get.” I mean, they were also working on a hypothesis that the force from the blast would kill them instead of the radiation making them stronger. Or the radiation from the bomb attracting one of the MUTOs to the train. You think when you’re dealing with people who have studied these creatures for YEARS, you might want to consult them on plans for minimal damage to both the city and your men.

Poor Serizawa. He had this look on his face that said 'The Sound of Silence' should have been playing anytime he was on screen. [everythingkaiju.com]

Poor Serizawa. He had this look on his face that said ‘The Sound of Silence’ should have been playing anytime he was on screen. [everythingkaiju.com]

4.) The film doesn’t even pass the Sexy Lamp Test – I know it’s a huge point of contention over Pacific Rim and the Bechdel Test. And it’s a valid concern. However, the Bechdel Test isn’t the end all, be all test for female representation in film. I also Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Sexy Lamp Test concurrently. The Sexy Lamp Test is simple: if you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp and still get the same plot, maybe you should go back and rewrite those characters. Mako Mori may not interact with any other women in the Shatterdome on screen, but she is a central part of Pacific Rim’s plot. Replace her with a sexy lamp and Raleigh doesn’t get back in the pilot seat nor does Gipsy Danger win the day against Otachi.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Godzilla. There are three major female characters in Godzilla and on top of not interacting with each other, it feels like there’s not a whole lot of reason for them to be there. Ford’s wife Elle mostly sits around and waits for him to come back, even keeping herself in danger to wait on him instead of getting the hell out of dodge with her son. Replace her with a sexy lamp and you can easily change all of Ford’s motivation for getting home to his son. The only part where it would be hard to replace her with a lamp is when she hands her son over to her co-worker instead of going with him. Mom of the year, everybody. I guess it was Elizabeth Olson prepping herself to be Wanda Maximoff.

Dr. Graham keeps being presented as Dr. Serizawa’s partner, but she often comes across more as an assistant to him more than anything else. She has a few lines of exposition, but I feel like if you gave her lines to Serizawa, you still got the same movie. Which is disappointing because I would have loved to have seen more of a kaiju studying lady scientist.

I guess you couldn’t replace Joe’s wife Sandra with a lamp, but her whole character was basically set up to die and motivate Joe to find out what really happened the day she died. She may not be a sexy lamp, but she’s certainly the woman in the fridge.

I DEMAND MORE FOR LADY SCIENTISTS IN FILM. [freshnessmag.com]

I DEMAND MORE FOR LADY SCIENTISTS IN FILM. [freshnessmag.com]

5.) At the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot of diversity – You know, for a film that starts in the Philippines and Japan and features a monster created by three Japanese men, there’s not a lot of Asians in the main cast. In fact, the only one is Ken Watanabe. Even San Francisco, a city with a high Asian population, looked pretty white. I’m glad Bryan Cranston was there and the acting was well done for the most part, but would it have really killed the studio to have some people of color coming together to assess the MUTO threat?

At least the two black men we see on screen don’t die horribly. In fact, one of them was sensible enough to bypass a police blockade and drive a schoolbus full of children over the Golden Gate Bridge before it collapsed. In fact, I think that bus driver was the smartest guy in this film. Four for you, dude!

Still, it was beautifully shot and when the monsters were on screen, it was amazing. Especially the mating ritual between the MUTOs and Godzilla just being his badass King Kaiju self. It’s a good dramatic popcorn flick for yelling at the screen. Give it a shot. You might enjoy it.

Or go watch Pacific Rim again. That’s cool too.

YEAH. [ghostlittle.com]

YEAH. [ghostlittle.com]

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Film

 

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Discussing Dreams and Reality with The Wind Rises

“Would you like to live in a world with or without pyramids?”

After a lot of thought, I realized that this is the essential question asked in Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film The Wind Rises.

The Wind Rises is an interesting film. I haven’t seen every single one of the films he’s directed or worked on with Studio Ghibli, but I’ve seen enough to know that his final film is a very different film from the rest of his work. Where Miyazaki’s work is usually people with very real issues in a very magical situation, The Wind Rises is very much grounded in reality, but enhanced by the main character’s dreams.

Jiro and Naoko. [theverge.com]

Jiro and Naoko. [theverge.com]

Perhaps it’s because of the film’s background. The story of The Wind Rises combines the work of aerospace engineer Jiro Horikoshi and the novel The Wind Has Risen by Hori Tatsuo. It tells a fictionalized version of Horikoshi’s life leading up to World War II with his work on the Mitsubishi A5M and is inspired by his quote, “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”

Which brings me back to that essential question.

Part way through the film, when it’s implied that Germany and Italy are leading up to the war, the dream mentor of Giovanni Caproni asks Horikoshi if he would prefer to live in a world with or without pyramids. The implication is this: would you rather live in a world with beautiful things that are rooted in hardship, or would you want to live in a world where our dreams remained untainted by the outside world and therefore unrealized.

It’s an interesting way to look at the realization of dreams and makes me wonder why so many have seen this as an anti-war film. It doesn’t really take a stance either way and certainly doesn’t go into how the war affects Horikoshi’s life in the way Grave of the Fireflies looks at how the war affected Japan. In fact, it seems to look at war as a necessary evil at some points. For all the horribleness and hardship it brings, it also produces technological advancements the world has never seen. Technological advancements that Horikoshi dreams about when he sleeps at night. It reminded me of the Wernher von Braun quote about the V-2 rocket he created being used in the Blitzkrieg: “The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet.”

Horikoshi on his first "meeting" with Caproni. [filmjunk.com]

Horikoshi on his first “meeting” with Caproni. [filmjunk.com]

However, the film doesn’t really try to justify the war in that sense either. With the focus on this fictional Horikoshi’s life as he creates the A5M and falls in love with a woman doomed to die, it ultimately becomes less about the war and more of a bittersweet lesson. That sometimes our dreams don’t work out exactly how we hoped, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to live them out.

This was a hard film for me to process. It’s not that it wasn’t beautiful. It was gorgeous both in scope and story. It also sneaks up on you because I found myself tearing up a lot at it when I least expected. It was challenging and quite the shakeup for Miyazaki in a good way.

I just don’t know where it falls for the rest of Miyazaki for me.

I know he can handle mature subject material just fine. You only need to see Princess Mononoke to see that and this film does it well too. It’s less that it’s bad in my book, but more of if it’s going to be my next Children of Men: A film I love and admire, but could only watch once due to the number it did on my mental health. I don’t think it will be that bad, but I don’t see myself revisiting this film a lot in the future just because of the context and content of the film.

I would like to rewatch it at least once though to hear the original Japanese with Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno as Horikoshi. I love Joseph Gordon Levitt, but his performance as Horikoshi felt a bit flat. Perhaps that was intentional and I would love to get some perspective.

Horikoshi and his dream of the A5M. [highsnobiety.com]

Horikoshi and his dream of the A5M. [highsnobiety.com]

It’s a film worth watching though, and it’s a shame that many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dismissed this film (and the other films in the category) as for children without giving it a serious view. It’s a very different film from Frozen and could have been a serious contender for the win if it had been looked at more seriously. Because really, it is a film that deserves to be watched, no matter if you think it’s an anti-war piece of garbage or the best film Hayao Miyazaki ever made. Even if I remain forever unsure about it, I’m glad I saw it because it reminded me to go forward with my dreams and live.

Because even with the most important question, there’s an even more impression that overrides that coming from Caproni.

“Is the wind rising, Japanese boy? Then we must try to live!”

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in Film

 

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Ashley’s Favorite Movies of 2013

In 2012, I feel like I spent most of my summer at the movies, watching nearly every big release between May and July. Well, at least the ones I felt like seeing.

This year, not so much.

Last year, I saw a total of nine new releases. That means I’m leaving off a total of three movies. One of them because I’m horribly biased towards it, the other because it was an awful, horrible misogynistic piece of crap, and the last one being just okay.

So out of the nine films I saw last year, which ones did I actually enjoy?

Warm_Bodies_Theatrical_Poster6.) Warm Bodies

Well, I never thought I’d say this, but who knew that a zombie movie could make me coo so much? Especially one based on Romeo and Juliet!

Warm Bodies was an interesting turn on the zombie movie. Told from the inner monologue of a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult), the film turns from one creature’s acceptance of his de-evolution into a ravenous monster into finding something worth fighting for all thanks to THE POWER OF LOVE.

Which does sound pretty cheesy when I type it out, but it’s a really sweet film that’s extremely funny too. I don’t think I’ve stopped laughing over Rob Corddry as M since last February. If you haven’t seen Warm Bodies yet, add it your watch list for Valentine’s Day this year.

5.) Thor: The Dark WorldTHURS_003B_G_ENG-GB_70x100.indd

I still haven’t made up my mind over if I liked this movie more than the first Thor film, but there was still a lot of fun to be had along the way. Marvel continued into Phase 2 of the Cinematic Universe by showing us more of Asgard and throwing in the fact that other dimensions do exist within the MCU. Which makes me want some hilarious MCU/616 crossovers.

The film wasn’t perfect. Some characters felt pushed to the side and Christopher Eccleston sure as hell wasn’t used to his full potential as Malekith, but the humor was spot on and it was fun to watch Thor and Loki banter, argue, and annoy the ever loving crap out of each other. My favorite past-time while watching the film was utter “Loki, you little shit” over and over again until I screamed it by the end.

Of course, if you really wanted to see me dork out over this film, it was for Idris Elba as Heimdall and the post credits scene that sets up for Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. If you want my more complete thoughts on the film, scroll down to the end of Therese’s review at Nerdophiles, but prepare for spoilers!

MV5BNzA1MTk1MzY0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjkzNTUwMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_4.) The World’s End

Well, the Cornetto Trilogy came to an end this year, but man, did it go out with a bang.

Once again, director and co-writer Edgar Wright was there to turn genres on their heads, this time with the friendship comedy-drama with an secret alien invasion movie ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The action was amazing and the comedic timing was so spot on that I could barely keep up to the next joke sometimes. However, the most astounding part of the film were the more dramatic moments. The Cornetto trilogy has had them in the past, but never as tragic as the ones in The World’s End. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost carry the film beautifully as Gary King and Andy Knightly, but the supporting cast is just as amazing too.

With an unexpected ending that made me stop and think for a bit after the movie was over, The World’s End took the unofficial trilogy that started with Shaun of the Dead almost ten years before out on a high note. Plus, the action scenes that made me notice that Wright learned a thing or two from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World made me super excited to see what he has in store for us in Ant-Man.

3.) Iron Man 3She's a damsel. She's in distress. She can handle it.

So nice I saw it twice in opening weekend. I’ve already talked about the aspects of the film relating to Tony’s anxiety, but this is exactly the kind of film Marvel needed to kick off Phase 2. Complain about the ending all you want, but it’s not going to take away the fact that we needed a film that explored what being Iron Man means to Tony and how it affects his life after what happened to him in The Avengers. Shane Black delivered that film in spades, and probably better than what Jon Favreau could have done.

Also, if you don’t like Rhodey being the best in this movie, I don’t like you.

2.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This is another film I’ve probably said all I need to say about it, but it was just so damn good that I saw it twice in the same day! No, really.

As a fan of this franchise, I was super proud of this adaptation of my favorite book in the series. It was so spot on to what was happening in the book and all the changes made for the movie adaptation made sense and actually made the story better. That’s rare and beautiful. I just hope the Mockingjay movies will be just as good, but they’re already ahead with Natalie Dormer.

1.) Pacific Rim

I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO HARD. So much so to the point my friends automatically associate the film with me. My review of this movie even got me my job at Nerdophiles, so that’s another reason I have to thank Guillermo Del Toro for making this film. It was prettiest, most fun summer blockbuster I’ve seen in a long time and it was well worth the three times I paid to see it. Including IMAX 3D.

Striker Eureka reporting in!

Next up will be my favorite TV of the year. Heads up, it’s going to be a little more intensive than this one.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2014 in Film

 

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“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a Thrill For Fans and Possibly Confusing For Others

This post was originally written for Nerdophiles. You can read it here and more of my writings for the website here.

There’s something that every Hunger Games fan goes through (besides numbing pain of everyone you love suffering horrible PTSD and/or dying), and that is people who’ve never really read the series saying, “Oh, it’s just a Battle Royale ripoff.”

Now, I like Battle Royale, but I have to say that I’m more than pleased to send those people to this film and tell them to can it. Because if anything, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire lives up to the book it’s based on by showing that surviving the Games doesn’t just end when you win, and that one person’s actions can be the spark of revolution, whether that was the intention or not.

Katniss pretends to shine for the camera. [cinemablend.com]

I have to say that my rating of the film is probably closer to a 4.5 than 5 stars. Much like the first film, Catching Fire sort of suffers from being a companion piece to the book rather than just a straight up adaptation. Which is great for fans like me who consider the books among their favorites. It’s super faithful to the book and all the changes are actually pretty reasonable. For example, Katniss finds out about the rebellions in other districts seeing video that the train conductors are watching instead of seeing a news broadcast at the Mayor’s house and Gale is flogged for trying to protect someone at the Hob instead of being caught hunting. It condenses the plot, but keeps the film moving while still making sense within the universe.

However, there are several things that might be a little lost on casual viewers if they haven’t read the series. Mutts still aren’t explained and neither is the significance of the Mockingjay as a symbol of revolution besides the fact Katniss wore the pin during her first Games. It probably could have stood to have a few interludes from Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith much like the first movie did after Katniss entered the arena for exposition purposes.

(Also, there was way too much of Katniss macking on Gale. I know I’m already biased against him, but I don’t remember her kissing him as much as she does in this movie.)

Why do you suck so much, Gale? [quarterquell.org]

Still, with that weakness, the second film also shares the two greatest strengths of the first movie: it manages to be in Katniss’ head without having her there to narrate it, and it isn’t afraid to step outside of her POV to show us what else is happening. There aren’t as many outside of the arena scenes as the first movie, but the scenes of President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee are delicious. Meanwhile, while Francis Lawrence’s style is less docudrama than Gary Ross, there are still these moments of quiet focus on Katniss where we can feel her fear and see the gears turning in her head. There are also more moments of Katniss crying in this one, so if you broke down watching her cry after Rue’s death in the first film, be prepared to bawl multiple times in this movie.

I was a little worried that some of the growth of the side characters would be cut in favor of focus on the Quarter Quell, but luckily, that wasn’t the case. Prim starts to come into her own as a character, Effie starts to show some emotion and care for her victors, and Haymitch shows himself as a mentor by helping Katniss and Peeta survive after the games. Which makes it even more tragic that his backstory of how he won his games was cut from the film. I’m not even going to get into Cinna. It hurts too much still. And while his character doesn’t really grow, Stanley Tucci gets to ham it up even more as Caesar Flickerman and I feel like my life is better for it.

Along with the character growth, Catching Fire sees plenty of fan-favorite characters joining the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as the stoically slimy Plutarch Heavensbee and all his scenes of plotting with Donald Southerland’s President Snow make the outcome of his character that much sweeter in the end. Jeffrey Wright as Beetee is so wonderfully smart and snarky that I felt myself gaining a new appreciation for the technical genius from District 3. Plus, in absence of Haymitch’s backstory, he does a good job setting up for the climax of the film. Not to mention the short and sweet portrayals of Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). Seriously, they’re so beautiful and they hurt so much in the end.

The team from District 12 makes their way to the Victory Tour party. [quarterquell.org]

Really though, this film is all about the introduction of Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. I was kind of skeptical of Sam Claflin as Finnick since he didn’t quite match how I saw the pretty boy of District 4, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I liked his character in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I’m glad I did because even if he doesn’t match how I thought he should look, he still manages to be the charming and complicated dreamboat with a trident that we all love. The sugar cube scene made me squeal with delight in both how true it was to the character and how it ends up setting up for Mockingjay in a very subtle way.

The runaway star of the movie though is Jena Malone as District 7’s Johanna Mason. While they don’t talk about how she won her games by pretending she was weak and surprising everyone in the end, you see a lot of that in her character. She’s blunt to the point where she curses out the Capitol on national TV and asks Peeta what it’s like to have everyone wanting to sleep with him, but we do get to see the parts of her that are broken that will be elaborated on in the next set of movies. They could have easily made Johanna just the bitch character to simplify it for movie goers, but I’m glad that they left in the complexities that make her great.

Johanna is too hot and too good for you. [quarterquell.org]

Well, that, and the one scene that I dubbed “just another Friday night at DragonCon” because I’m certain have ridden in that elevator. You can’t fool me, movie makers. I know the Atlanta Marriott Marquis when I see it. That was one thing that took me out of the movie was noticing the filming location shift from North Carolina to Georgia. If I didn’t live here, it wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s a certain thrill in knowing that Hunger Games cosplayers are going to have a lot of fun taking pictures at DragonCon next year.

If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games series, you’re probably going to love Catching Fire. Even with some details left on the cutting room floor or swapped around, it’s a very faithful adaptation that brings life to probably the strongest book in the franchise. There is even some dialogue lifted directly from the book that made me squee inside the theater and details added that make the implications of the universe even more terrifying. For people that haven’t read the book, some of it might be a little lost, but it’s still well acted with amazing action scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew everything that was about to happen. Which, by the way, didn’t make it any less emotional. If anything, see it just for Jennifer Lawrence and Jena Malone’s performances. Especially in the training center elevator.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Books, Film

 

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Out of Focus: A documentary I can’t be unbiased about

Ever since I started writing blogs and reviews online, I’ve had to learn to seem unbiased when writing. Well, maybe unbiased isn’t the right word. Reviews and editorials are a form of writing that ultimately boil down to bias and personal perspective, but it has made me learn to communicate my opinions in a way that isn’t capslocking my way through it, even if I want to. I definitely wanted to after I saw Pacific Rim.

But last night, I saw a film that I realized I could never talk about it in a fair way or communicate how people who aren’t as familiar with the source material might enjoy the film.

I still wanted to talk about it though.

This blog is about Butch Walker: Out of Focus.

MV5BMjI1NzQ3NzA4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDA5NTc3Nw@@._V1_I’ve talked about Butch Walker on this blog before. I’m sure I’m going to talk about him more after this post as well. It’s hard for me not to talk about him, really. He’s been a major influence on my life since I was 16 years old, confused, angry, and tired of living in Cartersville. His music got me through questioning my sexuality, endless crushes, my parents divorce, the death of my great-grandmother and grandpa, depression, and a whole host of other things that I’ve experienced in the last seven years. Several friendships I have were built on a mutual love of Butch Walker and his music. He was a driving force in my decision to move to Atlanta for college and I haven’t looked back since. I even have a tattoo of his lyrics on my leg.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s recognizes me now from all the shows I’ve been to and is happy to see me when I go to say hi to him afterwards. He’s not just a great musician, but he’s a sweetheart to boot.

When I heard that this documentary was happening (in fact, I was right behind the camera guy on the front row when Butch played The Variety Playhouse two years ago), I was pretty excited about it. Butch is kind of a private person about certain parts of his life that don’t involve music, so getting a documentary was exciting. Especially one directed by one of my favorite music video directors Shane Valdes.

It wasn’t until I was sobbing somewhat loudly in the Plaza Theater halfway through the film that I realized there’s no way I could ever talk about this film except from my perspective as a fan.

Some of the stuff in the film, I had seen before or known about from reading Drinking With Strangers. Some of it I had even seen in person. But the film itself really was a bit of a pull back of the curtain to a side of Butch rarely seen by fans. Focused around the recording of The Spade and a gig Butch played solo in England later that summer, Valdes and Peter Harding let us see the man at some of his most personal moments. From the in between moments that made up the recording sessions of The Spade to a strangely transposed rehearsal of ‘Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought of You’ in his hotel room to moments of him being a father to his son Jamie, it was parts of Butch I always knew were there, but had never gotten a chance to see. There are also very personal moments with just him and the camera that really assured me of how genuine Butch is as a person. He’s not in this industry for fame, money, or to even to try and change the world. He does it because he loves it, and he struggles with family and day to day like the rest of us, success or no.

Then there was the part with his dad.

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There’s a part in the film where the crew goes to speak with Big Butch and Melissa Walker, Butch’s parents. This was done two years ago when Big Butch’s health was failing, but he passed away at the end of August before the release of the film. I’ve heard stories about Big Butch through the years. I even have one myself from when I briefly met him after the release of I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. It was always easy to see where Butch got it from and the stories I’ve heard of his parents’ support made me extremely happy to hear. It made it heartbreaking when Butch announced that his dad had passed away.

It was going in with that knowledge that made the ‘Day Drunk’ scene in the film harder to watch.

There’s a song on The Spade called ‘Day Drunk’. It’s essentially about Butch coming to terms with his dad’s condition and having to be away from Georgia because of work and family. He talks about it more in the film and reveals parts of the story I had not known about. I always knew it was about his dad. It’s right there in the song. When it came out though, my grandfather had passed away two months earlier after his struggle with lung cancer. That always made it hard for me to listen to ‘Day Drunk.’ My emotions about the time I didn’t get to spend with my grandfather or the fact I never really got to say goodbye to him would get conflated in the song. At best, I’d feel kind of sad before going into ‘Synthesizers.’ At worst, it would be actual crying. When I listen to The Spade casually, I sometimes skip over ‘Day Drunk’ depending on how I’m feeling.

In Out Of Focus though, it’s something I couldn’t skip. It’s Butch talking about the song overlaid with the recording of it, then overlaid with Big Butch talking about his own relationship with his father, hoping that Butch knows how much he loves him, and that he’ll always be there for him and Jamie. It’s the words of a man who knows his time is limited, but he still takes time to tell his family that he loves them more than anything else.

So when I cried, it wasn’t just for Butch and his father. It was for our shared hometowns. It was for the fact I miss my grandpa and wishing I had gotten to say my goodbyes before I left for Alaska that summer.

There were things I wish had been in the film. Maybe interviews of other past band members like the one with Darren Dodd. An introduction to Shovels and Rope instead of their brief cameo recording ‘Are You Getting All The Love You Need’ without saying who the hell Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are to Butch. More concert footage, especially since the Atlanta show they recorded ended up relegated to the credits. Perhaps even interviews of people Butch has worked with.

In the end though, I realize that as much as I want those, the film was exactly what it needed to be. It was a portrait of a man I admire and getting to better understand who he is as a person and not just as an artist or producer. How his life fuels his passion and how he affects the people in his life and how they affect him. I know I’ll definitely watch it again, especially since it comes out tomorrow on iTunes and on VOD.

I don’t know how to recommend the film though because I’m so thoroughly invested in Butch that of course it was something I was going to watch. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth seeing. If you’ve heard of Butch through other artists like Pink, Panic! at the Disco or Fall Out Boy, but don’t really know who he is, it’s a good introduction to his life outside of that. If you have no idea who he is at all, then I really don’t know how you’ll view the film. Maybe it’ll bore you or pique your interest to look more into his music.

Which I kind of hope it will.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Film, Music, Personal

 

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Find me in the Drift: A Pacific Rim review

There’s a rather infamous Guillermo del Toro quote from about three years ago when Scott Pilgrim vs. The World came out. That quote was, “Anyone that didn’t see this is a motherfucker.” He even signed a fan’s blu ray with that.

That’s generally how I feel about anyone who picked other films to watch this past weekend besides Pacific Rim. Because it probably was the most fun I’ve had at the movies since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Yes, it was even more fun than Cabin in the Woods.

Some SPOILERS exist below the picture, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. I really do want to encourage people to see this film since it’s pretty much the best summer blockbuster to come out in a while.

Striker Eureka reporting in!

When Pacific Rim opens, we’re right on board the exposition train. The first ten minutes or so of the film get the basics of this universe out of the way. The kaiju, the Jaeger program and how they are viewed, and our introduction to Marshall Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who are two of our three perspective characters. This part could have been boring or rushed, but the way its played off by showing the hero worship of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and then quickly contrasting it with the new reality of the ever evolving kaiju, we come to a better understanding of the drastic shift five years later.

The intro we’re given for the film also gives us an intro the beautiful balance this film has: it manages to be cerebral and emotional while still giving plenty of the robot/monster beat ’em up that we were promised. del Toro created this wonderfully lush universe with strong, interesting characters. I felt more drawn in and intrigued in this universe than I do for most TV shows, and I was only there for two hours and eleven minutes.

Highway to the Danger DriftAfter the intro, the film splits off into two plots that weave with each other and come together in the end. The main plot is Raleigh’s return to piloting the Jaeger Gipsy Danger five years after the death of his brother and co-pilot Yancy. Co-pilots are very important in the world of Pacific Rim since the neural load for piloting a jaeger is too much for one person to handle for very long. Two hemispheres of the brain. Two pilots sharing memories and thoughts in space known as the Drift. That’s how it works. However, each pilot team has to be compatible with each other in order for it to work. This leads to a lot of sibling teams (such as the Wei Tang triplets of the Crimson Typhoon), father and son (Chuck and Herc Hansen of Striker Eureka), and possible lovers (Aleksis and Sasha Kaidanovsky of Cherno Alpha).

This is where the relationship of Raleigh and his new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) becomes super interesting. It is very obvious from the moment they meet that there’s a connection between the two that makes them drift compatible. It could have been so easy for them to become lovers in some point of the film. I kind of expected it due to how often that comes true. But no, it was left perfectly open ended and that made so happy. Could they become lovers? Maybe. Could they just be best friends who just found each other? Perhaps. And that was awesome because platonic male/female friendships are so rare in film. Usually, that connection you feel meeting someone for the first time is often written off as sexual or romantic in films. It’s refreshing to see that two people can be close without making out at the end.

Of course, her relationship with Raleigh is the start of a mile long essay I could write about Mako Mori. If anyone tells me she wasn’t strong, I want to ask if we watched the same film. Mako was smart, skilled, and a pure natural at piloting. However, she was ruled by emotions for better or worse and mixed in with her lack of experience, it made her vulnerable and human. Mixed in with the respect and love she has for her commanding officer and father figure, it made her feel less like a “strong woman” and more like an actual complicated human. There’s a great Tumblr post by MadLori about writing interesting women vs. strong women that sums up how I feel about Mako Mori. Would have I liked to have seen more women in this film? Oh hell yes. But having a female character that’s complicated and interesting instead of being just “strong” is a good start for me.

"It's not obedience. It's respect."

Then, of course, there’s the magnificent and extremely complicated Marshall Stacker Pentecost. Gods bless Idris Elba. Gods bless him for making Stacker be able to walk in a room and demand attention and respect. Gods bless him for being cool under pressure, but still vulnerable enough for us to see that Mako is his heart and that like any good father has a hard time letting his little girl go. And gods bless him for making that “Canceling the Apocalypse” speech the coolest thing ever instead of cheesy as hell. Because it could have been, but it wasn’t. And bless the casting directors for picking him instead of Tom Cruise for the part.

The second plot of the film deals with the science division of the PPDC trying to find a There is no Pepe Silvia!way to end the Kaiju attacks. Mostly with Charlie Day’s hysterical turn as Dr. Newton Geizler. Seriously. With a manic energy that reminded me of Jeff Goldblum, Doc Brown, and all four Ghostbusters, Newt was a legitimately funny character with the genius chops to prove why he was working for the PPDC in the first place. Mixed in with his delightfully antagonistic relationship with fellow scientist Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and his journey to find the mysterious and eccentric black market dealer Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), it was fair to say that Newt stole the show. Well, Chau did a little as well, but Newt took it right back. I would see a whole movie of Day and Perlman being exasperated by each other in their own unique ways.

But with all this talk of characters, you’re probably wondering if I forgot about the robots punching the giant sea monsters. The answer is no, I didn’t. Every fight scene in this film is a giant love letter to giant monster films and giant robot anime. I had a big, doofy smile on my face watching the penultimate fight between Gipsy Danger and Otachi in Hong Kong and was on the edge of my seat in the finale, waiting to see if the humans would come out on top. If the whole film really had just been these giant robots punching vicious inter-dimensional undersea lizards to death, I still would have been satisfied with the film.

With a diverse cast (again, props to del Toro for putting the “Pan” in “Pan Pacific Defense Corps” and not making everyone white americans), amazingly done fight scenes, and a masterfully told story with great characters, Pacific Rim will probably be the most amount of fun you’ll have at the movies for the next few years. I left the theater feeling like a kid in a theme park wanting to go on the ride again. I want all the stories about this universe, but I mostly just want to watch it again.

Though, I will admit, after a week of playing Portal and Portal 2 in my downtime, I did expect the Jaeger AI to be a bit more passive aggressive. Or at least have a slow clap processor.

brb taking this to the atmosphere

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Film

 

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