Thursday, March 22, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Ten- "Guardians of the Galaxy" 2014)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Ten

Guardians of the Galaxy
I don’t know how many people remember when this project was announced, but it was quit the deal at the time. It seemed like too big of a risk at too fast a time for Marvel. Nobody was expecting some kind of space opera in the middle of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel fans predicted we’d see “Black Panther,” or “Doctor Strange” maybe. But “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Why would Marvel reach so far toward the bottom of their character barrel to dig them up? I mean, once people really started digging, they realized that they’d see a movie about a talking raccoon, and a Treebeard-like character who only said “I am Groot,” would characters that weird end up being entertaining?

As the film got further and further into development and production, everything around the world felt weirder and weirder. Many people thought that Marvel would drop the ball for the first time with this movie. Chris Pratt hadn’t particularly proven himself as a leading man yet (Granted, this was before the one-two punch of “The LEGO Movie” and this), and when looking at the rest of the cast; which included Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, I loved the casting but it didn’t seem like your normal blockbuster cast. That’s not particularly the cast you fill a movie with. What was Marvel thinking? The marketing for the movie was smart to not really give much of the film away, including the film’s overall attitude, no matter what the first trailer held. Could Marvel’s big bet turn into a winning hand?

The answer was yes, and that yes was huge. What looked like it was going to be filled with characters with ticks and mannerisms instead of genuine character development ended up the exact opposite. Every character was just right, in development and realization. The movie is fun, but it still makes the audience feel emotions. It still forced the audience to be at the edge of their seats. It still allowed the audience a challenge and a confirmation of their belief systems. Marvel proved on that weekend in late August in 2014 that they truly could do anything. They took a walking tree who only knew five words and gave it the most meaningful scene in the entire movie. They took that talking raccoon and made him a hilarious highlight. They took a character that made some very corny puns and gave him a powerful emotional arc. And they took a human with a close tie to his tape-player and made him a great character, while also launching the actor who played into a bigger career. No easy feat.

I’ve been told that there are no mysteries left in the world. Filmmaking isn’t structurally complicated, if you tell a story and make your audience care about the characters, you will be able to win them over. I think anybody can make a movie about anything and make it great, no matter what it is they are trying to produce. Getting your audience to fall for the characters and the story is key. James Gunn, who has been in charge of all things “Guardians of the Galaxy” since 2014, did an impeccable job of making the audience care for these characters. He also did a great job of telling a story that people would care about. He created some genuine stakes for the characters, but also told a story in a fun way. It’s not hard, and that’s the type of high that Marvel has been guiding itself with for more than a decade now.

What could have easily been just another “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” retread becomes something else entirely. I don’t think you could honestly look at “Guardians of the Galaxy” and honestly think of those two things. Sure all three of these stories take place in outer space, but just because a movie features a particular setting doesn’t automatically mean that it’s the same thing. I love that Gunn took a genre we recognize and did something totally different with it.

One of the obvious missteps is something I’ve discussed on this forum before. Lee Pace is a great actor, but Ronan The Accuser is a lame villain. He was given a fairy generic evil villain plot. He moans on and on about his backstory like some kind of WWE wrestler. He’s all talk and not much walk. Sure, the brief glimpses of Thanos in the film are well done. Further teasing the big showdown with the Infinity Stones that is about to payoff in roughly a month now. I liked Nebula and Karen Gillen did a good job here, I think she eventually got looser in the role, but that is to be expected in a first movie. Housnou is really good in his brief runtime in the movie. Benicio del Toro work as The Collector is genuinely haunting. It was amazing enjoying these performances on another viewing, But on another viewing, it becomes clearer and clearer how weak Ronan was, and just another name on a list of villains that Marvel could have done better.

But a weak villain won’t take away everything James Gunn accomplished with this movie. The best thing being was from this point on, I never second guessed Marvel. I never thought that they’d fail. No matter what their plan was in the future, no matter what their plan is moving forward after Avengers 4, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be interesting. They earned trust in a big way with the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Marvel has been delighting audiences ever since. Risks are great for business, no matter what. We don’t get too many risks these days. So if Marvel wants to start taking risks like this again, I sure salute it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Eli Roth's "Death Wish" is yet another meaningless, needless remake.

Death Wish Review

If there ever was kind of a perfect time to remake "Death Wish" it would be right now.

After all, we are unfortunately at the head of yet another gun debate in this country. As always, I don't see any genuine change in sight. This will sadly play out as it always does, politicians and civilians will draw their lines in the sand, and savagely point fingers at the politicians and civilians on the other side of beach, claiming this is all their fault. I see very few people coming up with positive changes to this problem, just posting meaningless memes on their social media accounts and lots of ignorant name-calling. Even the independents in this country can't seem to really explain who they are and what they want.

The original "Death Wish" came out in 1974 and it starred Charles Bronson. I love the movie, and I wonder how many people would get it confused with a revenge thriller. The original "Death Wish" is NOT a revenge thriller, it's a vigilante movie. Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, an architect with a wife and daughter whom he loves very much. One day at random, while Kersey is away from home, muggers attack his family in his home. His wife dies and his daughter is comatose. He goes to the police but they are no help. He buys a gun, learns how to use it and then goes into the night to kill criminals. He never kills the original muggers who attacked his family, in fact, we never see them again in the movie. This isn't about Kersey getting revenge. This is about a man trying to find a cure for the pain he's feeling. That painkiller was the gun he bought and the bullets he put into any criminal he could find.

I wish I could say the 2018 remake of "Death Wish" was worth your time. I wish I could say it had something significant to say about our uneasy relationship with guns right now, hell I wish it had something to say about it at all. But from the direction by Eli Roth, working from a script by Joe Carnahan, I really don't know why I figured these two sensation junkies would even remotely try to dig deep with this text. I knew they wouldn't challenge their audience. What's worst is that, as a piece of pop culture entertainment, "Death Wish" fails on that front too. This is just your standard revenge fantasy with the "Death Wish" label slapped on it. The only thing that really ties itself back to the original film is that sly finger gun that Charles Bronson did right before the credits rolled. This is the most shameless example of cashing in on a name that I cant think of.

Instead of an architect, Paul Kersey is a doctor in Chicago, Illinois in this new film. He is played by Bruce Willis. Even though I have to admit that "played by" is an understatement. Willis lurches around this movie as if he has a hockey stick shoved up his rectum. Most scenes feature Willis making awkward faces, like he's a teenager who is constipated on the toilet. He doesn't look like he's enjoying himself, doesn't look like he undertook this project for any other reason besides money. He's got the same gloomy facial structure etched on his face throughout the whole movie. When Kersey's family is attacked, his wife killed, his daughter in a coma, just like the original, he never feels or looks like Kersey goes through any genuine change. He's suddenly bent on revenge because the script calls for it, not for any type of emotional development from the movie.

Instead of being a random attack, the bad guys in this remake target the Kerseys, and the film boils down to Paul finding the bad guys who wronged him and killing him. Sorry folks, but come on, I didn't spoil anything. We all know this is how this was going to go. Safe. Predictable. Missing the entire point of the original movie. Sure, Willis kills a drug dealer who hurt a young boy in a crossfire. Sure, he kills some carjackers because he was in the right place at the right time. But all this boils down to his killing those who killed his wife. This being a movie by Eli Roth, Willis' Kersey is more of a moral slasher, killing the bad guys in interesting ways, pumping up the sound mixing. The original film was so simple, and that was a reason to why it was so successful. There was something haunting plain about a regular man with a regular handgun killing so many muggers in New York City. Here, Willis is a just a brooding version of John McClane here.

Over the years, I've seen enough revenge thrillers to know how this thing goes. It's sad that Roth and Carnahan wanted to do something painfully ordinary instead of really digging like the original film did. Sadly, this "Death Wish" isn't even entertaining. I mean, technically, the film is well made. Rogier Stoffers really created an ugly grittiness with his cinematography. Ludwig Goransson's score haunts each scene and Mark Goldbaitt really knows how to punctuate Roth's action sequences. But the technical aspects of the film don't save it from its big problems. Elisabeth Shue is fine as the wife who dies, but any actress could do it. Dean Norris doesn't get nearly as much screentime as the detective from the first film did, and I think this film could have used more Norris, and finding out how a detective adjusts to a city with a killing vigilante in it. Norris is a great actor, and he's utterly wasted here. As is Vincent D'Onofrio who plays Willis' brother. He's got a stupid subplot which is the lynchpin to why the Kersey's are attacked, and its kind of a lame way to get the movie going. But D'Onofrio acts his ass off here and its slightly admirable.

If a classic movie is really good, what's the point in remaking it? If somebody got something so great the first time, how can you honestly be pompous enough to believe you can outdo that? Obviously its for money, and Hollywood has never put creativity before credit. "Death Wish" is a movie that just plain goes through the motions, with a lead actor who hasn't been himself since 2013. Eli Roth's obnoxious style has ruined another movie, and sadly, he had nothing of substance to say.


March Madness: Heroes vs Villains Four, Sweet Sixteen

Well, the first batch of voting is in. There have already been some big match-ups and now we are moving into the Sweet Sixteen. On the heroes side, Batman advances over Andy Dufrescne, Marion Ravenwood edged out over Caesar. Iron Man beat El, Wonder Woman beat Captain John Miller, Ferris Bueller beat Aslan, Harry Callahan just edges out Luke Hobbs, Shuri beat Eggsy and Rey beat Moana. For TV heroes, Arya Stark beat Jack Pearson, Jessica Jones took out Emma Peele, Rick Sanchez beats out Offred, Daisy Jonhson beats Steve Austin, Eleven beats Coach Taylor narrowly, Worf beats Cap. Ray Holt, Rick Grimes beats Olivia Pope and Agent Dale Cooper beats Black Lightening.

On the villain side of things Saruman beats Biff Tannen, Auric Goldfinger beats Alex Forrest, Leatherface narrowly escapes Dolores Umbridge, Regina George beats Nurse Rached, Jafar beats HAL 9000, Erik Killmonger advances over Anne Wilkes, Pennywise advances over Patrick Bateman and Kylo Ren defeats Ivan Drago. On the TV side of things, Dr. Hannibal Lecter beats the Christmas Critters, Killgrave beats The Penguin, Claire Underwood beats Amanda Woodward, Simon beats Clay Marrow, The Borg beats Killer Bob, Stringer Bell beats Damien Darhk, Aunt Lydia beat J.R. Ewing, and The Night's King destroyed Al Swearengen.

The following match-ups are as followed. Voting begins tonight and will continue until March 24th. You can email me your votes or comment on the comment section below.

Movie Heroes (Top Left Bracket)

Batman (1) vs. Marion Ravenwood (9)
Iron Man (5) vs. Wonder Woman (4)
Ferris Bueller (6) vs. Harry Callahan (3)
Shuri (7) vs. Rey (2)

TV HEROES (Bottom Left Bracket)
Arya Stark (1) vs. Jessica Jones (8)
Rick Sanchez (12) vs. Daisy Johnson (13)
Eleven (11) vs. Worf (3)
Rick Grimes (10) vs. Agent Dale Cooper (2)

Movie Villains (Top Right Bracket)
Saruman (1) vs. Auric Goldfinger (8)
Leatherface (5) vs. Regina George (13)
Jafar (6) vs. Erik Killmonger (3)
Pennywise (7) vs. Kylo Ren (2)

TV Villains (Bottom Right Bracket)
Dr. Hannibal Lecter (1) vs. Killgrave (8)
Claire Underwood (5) vs. Simon (4)
The Borg (11) vs. Stringer Bell (3)
Aunt Lydia (7) vs. The Nights King (2)

Have fun voting!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Sicario 2" Trailer

Over the weekend was my 29th birthday. It was a momentous occasion. I went to brunch with my parents and wife, saw a movie, got lots of cool stuff. Later in the evening, my in-laws came over for some ice cream and cake. They got me a movie trivia game for my birthday, and we spent part of the evening playing the game. Of course, yours truly killed it!

There was a question that came up regarding "Sicario," a movie from 2015 that I ended up loving more than I thought it would. While the film didn't make my top ten of that year, it was certainly in the running. I dug out the movie on Amazon Prime and closed my birthday watching it with my wife. It's still a brutally brilliant drug thriller that was much better than it had any business being. That's extra impressive since the film is quite a dark piece of thriller movie-making. I never would have ever guessed we'd be getting a sequel to the movie.

Hollywood, take notes, this is how franchise filmmaking should be working. We should be more sequels to movies like this instead of taking something like "50 Shades of Grey" and turning that into a franchise.

So no Emily Blunt this time, seemingly. But Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro return for another go, it looks like we are going to get some more stark drama from over the boarder.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Trailer

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I remember the puppets, the fun and colorful world that Mr. Rogers created and just how different it was compared to other children's shows. I watched Sesame Street and Barney and many other children's shows of the time. I always thought it was amazing that there were lots of shows for children that had to have make-believe creatures in the cast, just so the children in the audience knew that what they were watching was a children's show. While Mr. Rogers had his puppets and his make-believe world, its extraordinary what he pulled off when it was one-on-one with the children in the audience. That's what made him special.

I can hardly remember much from the show, so I was a little surprised by how this trailer affected me. There is a documentary coming out this summer about Mr. Rogers and how he was able to change the world, little by little, with his low-budget, low-tech television show for kids. It looks much better than I would have ever thought to give it credit for. The reviews out of Sundance, the annual film festival which this film premiered, have been outstandingly positive. It might do you good to keep an eye out for this one, whether you grew up with him or not.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Road To Infinity War Archives

If you've been reading my blog since January, you've noticed that I've been taking a look back at all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This is all a build up to "Avengers: Infinity War" which will be a conclusion and an accumulation of several story threads playing out across the franchise. I've been such a big fan of this franchise that it inspired me to write this big piece.

What started as a one movie per week has changed slightly. And its not entirely my fault. Marvel Studios moved the release of "Avengers: Infinity War" to April 27th instead of May. So now, I don't have as much time to watch everything. But don't worry, I rewatch everything in time. Whether its two or three movies a week, I'll get it done.

Oh and I gave it a slight name-change, Marvel hardcore fans will like it.

Here is the series so far: Enjoy.

Iron Man

The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 2


Captain America: The First Avenger

The Avengers

Iron Man 3

Thor: The Dark World

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Guardians of the Galaxy

I'll be updating this regularly! So check back periodically!

Review: "Tomb Raider" sets a new standard for video game movies, but is far from great

Tomb Raider Review
I say this much before we really begin this review. I like video games, but I am not a huge gamer. I don’t obsessively play for hours and hours at a time, movies are my thing and I spend more hours plucking away at movies compared to games, but I do like video games. I can see why video games never go over very well when they are adapted into movies. Character development is pretty thin on video games, but that’s actually okay. It comes with the territory, because since you are the one at the controls of a character in a video game, you kind of establish a piece of yourself on that avatar. So, it can sink or swim when a movie writer is asked to give a blank avatar a personality. Not only that, but video game adaptations have felt like an afterthought to studios since the beginning, so why would it end now? I never played any Lara Croft: Tomb Raider games, so I don’t have much perspective on them.

There was some dumb fun to be had in the first half of Angelina Jolie’s movie from 2001, and after the first thirty or so minutes, then it just became dumb. I actually have the movie sitting in my parent’s house in my hometown of Peoria, and I remember getting the movie as a teenager. I am sure that more for my attraction to Jolie then it was for anything in the movie. But the sequel, yeah, I barely could make it through that one. I never would have expected to see the movie being rebooted for a new franchise, and I honestly didn’t know what to think about it.

Out of all the video game adaptations I’ve seen, I have to say that “Tomb Raider” is my favorite. Now, does that mean it’s a great movie? Not necessarily. It just means that out of all video game adaptations made so far, I like this one the most. One of the highlights of this film is how they handle Lara Croft. First of all, Alicia Vikander came to play. It seems each and every new film she stars in is a mission statement for her, how can she push herself as an actress more and more? She’s already starred in a wide-range of films, like “Ex Machina,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” “Son of Gun” and “The Danish Girl.” Here, she does her own stunts, which is pretty impressive no matter who you are. Second of all, Vikander is playing a very vulnerable Lara Croft here. The film takes its time setting up this Lara Croft, doing everything she can to forget the passing of her father, to forget the inheritance she can have at any time. There is a good portion of the movie focusing on Lara being herself, something we don’t get a lot of in action movies.

You could kind of think of this as a “Batman Begins” version of Lara Croft, and that’s definitely something that appealed to me. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, there are many out there who are tired of the more kid-friendly superhero and franchise films coming out, and perhaps this will be more up your alley. There is a heavier, more stern tone to this film. Those seeking a fun Indiana Jones-like movie should keep trucking, because that’s not what got made. The vulnerability of Vikander’s Lara Croft is what sold me on much of this movie. She isn’t an invulnerable superhero here. She isn’t a great fighter at the beginning of the movie, in fact, she isn’t a great fighter throughout the movie. That gives her time to think things through, becoming a fighter as she goes along, studying herself and her environment. When she gets hurt, she doesn’t just pop back up like nothing happens. The movie takes its time for her to assess the situation, cry and heal. It’s a movie that isn’t afraid to take its time developing Croft as a character.

The story itself? Well, it’s okay. Lara finds a hidden compartment at her home belonging to her deceased father Lord Richard Croft (Dominick West) who leads her to a remote island in Japan that holds the tomb of an ancient witch who could kill people with her very touch. Seems like there is an organization called Trinity who is obsessed with finding ancient artifacts of destruction, and if Trinity finds this dead witch, bad things will happen. Fascinated, Lara goes around the world with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and of course Trinity is there, lead by the always awesome Walton Groggins. It’s okay. It gets pretty predictable pretty fast. There is a scene that lifts so shamelessly from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that I kind of laughed. Lara goes around the island, fighting bad guys with little to no effort at all. For an island that is apparently dangerous to get off, they sure wrap things up effortlessly. For an action adventure movie that has roots in Indiana Jones, it’s an oddly passive experience.

One of my biggest pet peeves of modern movies is the over-abundance of franchise building. Simply put, it’s starting to affect the way movie storytelling is being told. The end of “Tomb Raider” doesn’t feel like the conclusion to a motion picture, but more like a finale to the first season of a television show. Movies aren’t TV shows though, and it’s starting to get a little annoying when movies don’t really conclude like they used to do. It’d be nice if a studio made a franchise movie without a sequel in mind, even if that is a part of the plan. Make sense?

But hey, Walton Groggins is appropriately slimy as the bad guy, and he isn’t necessarily the mustache-twirling baddie we come to expect in movies like this. If they decide to make more “Tomb Raider” movies, then I’ll definitely be in line. I like Vikander’s vulnerable Croft and I like how they’ve humanized the characters in this movie. There are moments that are big fun, I just hoped it went deeper with its characters and premise.