Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

‘Guardians’: Fanboys get Their Movie

posted by jtotey
Guardians2

Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax ( Dave Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel). Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios took a risk in 2008 with a big budget project called Ironman. At the time, the comic book character was considered a lesser-known or a second stringer unlike Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or The Hulk. It was debatable if audiences outside of the traditional comic book fan would bother to see such a movie. Well, we know how that story ended. Since then, Marvel has been spitting out new movie versions of their comic characters left and right and most have succeeded with the general population.

. It was debatable if audiences outside of the traditional comic book fan would bother to see such a movie. Well, we know how that story ended. Since then, Marvel has been spitting out new movie versions of their comic characters left and right and most have succeeded with the general population.

This weekend, the studio is taking another risk by bringing a fairly obscure franchise to the big screen: Guardians of the Galaxy.  Many have never even heard of these characters until just recently, except for the diehard fans. It will be interesting to see how the masses will respond this time around. I too am unfamiliar with the Guardians, so I can only judge the movie based on what I saw on the big screen. I have no idea if the film is faithful to the printed material or not.

Though technically a comic book movie, Guardians has its own look and feel that is unlike any other Marvel franchise, except for maybe Thor.  The humor is ramped up a bit, though not as campy as you would find in the 1960’s version of Batman and it is not even close to the seriousness of the latest Superman flick, Man of Steel. And for being a brand new story for most people, Guardians is sort of an anti-origin story.

The movie opens with Peter Quill, a little boy who witnesses his mother’s death due to an illness at a hospital. So distraught by the incident, he runs out of the hospital and immediately gets abducted by aliens. The film then fast-forwards about 30 years and Peter is all grown up looking like Chris Pratt scavenging through rubble while listening to his Sony Walkman that he had while he was on earth. (How that device held up all these years is also a mystery.) Like the missing years of Jesus in the Bible, we don’t know what happened to Peter or how he ended up where he is.

We do know that Peter is looking for a mystery orb of some kind for a dealer willing to pay big bucks for it, but he is not the only one. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), doesn’t seem to realize that he is indeed a raccoon, and gets offended when people refer to him as a rodent. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a walking tree trunk-type being who only utters the phrase, “I am Groot.” When his tree branches get yanked off, he just grows back new ones. And then there is Gamora (Zoe Saldana in green instead of Avatar blue). She is the step-daughter of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a well-hated man who also wants the orb. I don’t even know what Drax (Dave Bautista) is.

Guardians looks more similar to Star Wars than it does The Avengers – and weak version to boot. Since both Marvel and Lucasfilm are not under the control of Disney, one has to wonder if this is any indication of what we can expect with the new Star Wars film being shot right now.

Guardians has been getting a lot of press and hoopla the last few months and it is bound to please the true fanboys, but it may leave other scratching their heads. It isn’t a terrible movie, but there isn’t much to it. The characters are likeable, but we don’t know anything about any of them. Pratt is actually very good in the role of Peter or “Star Lord,” as he refers to himself and insists that “everyone” knows him by that title, although only a few actually do. He is sort of the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo of the story all rolled up into one character. He is cocky and heroic. The budding romance between Peter and Gamora seems to come out of nowhere. Rocket and Groot are fun to watch, but again, we don’t know anything about the pair. (It is interesting to note that the studio choose Van Diesel to voice Groot in that it have been played just as well from a non-name actor. He only says three words, albeit over and over again, throughout the whole movie. Impressively though, Van Diesel did record the phrase in a number of different languages for foreign distribution of the film, being the only character to not have his voice dubbed by another actor.)

Don’t expect to find any heavy themes or meanings with this movie and be aware that this flick has a little more harsh language than other Marvel hits. At least good triumphs over evil once again and during the end credits, it is spilled that the Guardians will be coming back soon with a continuing story.

Film Misses the Highs and Lows of ‘Boyhood’

posted by jtotey
IFC Films

IFC Films

Some films are so impressively made that they are fascinating to watch but not great to recommend to others. Unfortunately, that is the case with Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” film. The movie premiered at numerous film festivals across the country and won as many awards along the way and rightly so. What makes this film so special is that it took over 12 years to create using the same cast so that we seem them literally age right before our eyes.

“Boyhood” tells its tale from the point of view of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who was six years old when the project began, and his journey from boyhood to manhood. For the most part, the story is realistic. Mason is a child of divorce. His mother (Patricia Arquette) does her best to make her house a home for Mason and his bratty older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), by putting herself through school in hopes of making better living. Along this journey she meets and marries a couple of abusive husbands. Mason’s father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), has been in and out of the kids’ lives, but vows to make a more concerted effort to be there for them and does a reasonable job of it too.

“Boyhood” is an interesting experiment in filmmaking. Mason’s and Samantha’s looks change constantly. Hairstyles go from long to short to long again. (This includes Arquette’s long hair to the drastic bob she wore while filming NBC’s “Medium” and Hawke’s appearance and disappearance of a creepy mustache.) Through all of it, Coltrane proves that he can act at any age. Ironically, Arquette’s acting gets better as the film goes on. Her lines seem forced at the beginning but become more natural as the film goes on. The parents aren’t perfect, but they “are there” for their kids and that says a lot. Still, when Mason comes home drunk, it doesn’t faze his mother much and throughout the film, Mason Sr. speaks highly about the usage of condoms so that Jr. and his sister don’t make the mistakes he did. Surprisingly, there are a few scenes where church and religion is brought up and they treated with respect.

Ethan Hawke shoots a selfie with co-stars, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane. (IFC)

Ethan Hawke shoots a selfie with co-stars, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane. (IFC)

Linklater creatively uses pop culture references and music to help show the timing of the story. Within seconds you know what year the story is set in. The film also features some worthwhile scenes of teachers trying their best to help Mason reach his true potential as an artist.

“Boyhood” has a rather melancholy feel to it. It is never really depressing but it never really gets to be very jovial either. There are some laughs and a few tense scenes involving an alcoholic step-dad, but for the most part, the movie just glides from one scene to another. And this is where the problem lies. There is no real arc to the storyline. The film is supposed to capture all the events of a boy growing up, and the film does that but not in the way that one would hope. There are a few scenes of Mason playing with his friends, swinging on a swing, enjoying a birthday party, the holidays, but those scenes are rare. For the most part, the film is very “talky.” Near the end of the picture, Mason asks one of his friends, “Is this are there is?” and for this reviewer, he was beginning to think the same thing.

There is a lot to take in the 164 minute film, but with the absence of highs and lows and, it is not a very satisfying ride. None of the characters appear to be especially happy throughout the film and in the end, Mason’s mom is downright miserable. Perhaps this is Linklater’s view of life. That the meaning of life is just a mystery and we are to just endure it. However, for those believe in something bigger than themselves, we know that there is more to look forward to.

Hospital Documentary, ‘Code Black’ is Intriguing

posted by jtotey
Dr. Ryan McGarry sits and comforts a patient. (Photo: Ryan McGarry)

Dr. Ryan McGarry sits and comforts a patient. (Photo: Ryan McGarry)

Running at just 82 minutes in length, the hospital documentary, “Code Black” is already getting the attention it deserves. Unlike other documentaries, “Code Black” is at times interesting, sobering and frustrating, but never is it dull. During the film festival circuit, the movie has received numerous awards including Best Documentary Feature (Los Angeles Film Festival and Hamptons International Film Festival), the Audience Award (Aspen FilmFest) and the People’s Choice Award (Starz Denver Film Festival).

Physician-turned filmmaker, Ryan McGarry escorts viewers through Los Angeles County Hospital, home of America’s busiest Emergency Department. The “stars” of the movie are fellow residents who thrive at their jobs but are also frustrated by the limitations of it. The bulk of their training has come from working in the “C-Booth,” a trauma bay and “birthplace” of Emergency Medicine in general. Each of them takes a turn in front of the camera to describe details of their job and their life in general. One has lost a father to Alzheimer’s; another personally had stage 4 cancer, but was cued. Some of the footage shows the doctors in action. They are students in their fourth year ready to embark into medicine full time.

Most hospitals operate on a color-code system where different colors represent the business and stress level of that day. Code Black refers to the highest level of stress.

McGarry and his friends acknowledge their lack of understanding all of the issues and red tape that surrounds today’s healthcare system, but that doesn’t stop them from coming up with new and unique ways to come up with better systems and processes to speed up waiting time for patients. They each long for a time when people can focus on the importance of healing people, not focusing on the money it takes to do it.

For a first-time director, McGarry does a fantastic job of showing us what it is that we want to see and implores the audience to not see healthcare through political eyes. He expects them to help find creative solutions to today’s healthcare crisis. The film ends on a positive note as well.

‘Apes’ Movie Surprises Again

posted by jtotey

 

(20th Century Fox)

(20th Century Fox)

Do you remember the ending credits to Rise of the Planet of the Apes from three years ago? It showed graphics on how a deadly virus was sweeping across America and around the globe. The beginning credits for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins with those same graphics and then the story is fast-forwarded ten years.

Though technically a sequel, “Dawn” is actually a stand-alone film with only a few of the original cast members from the first movie. It is a whole new story based on the events that happened in the first film. Ten years have passed and the apes are living in peace in their own community that they built in the forest just on the other side of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Their leader is Caesar (Andy Serkis), who is celebrating another son being born to him and his mate, Cornelia (Judy Greer). Some of the primate’s younger generation does not really know about they even got there in the first place and all they really know about humans are legends. It’s been at least two years since any ape has seen a human. Koba (Toby Kebbell) is still angry over the mistreatment he endured by the humans years ago while Caesar still has good memories of the human who smuggled him out of the testing lab and taught him how to read. It is an interesting message on how one can see the same world differently depending on how one is raised

On the other side of the bridge, the remaining humans, who were somehow immune to the deadly virus, live together in an uncertain world. Their leader of sorts is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the former Chief of Police for San Francisco. The younger residents too are uncertain about the community living across the bridge. And just like the younger apes, all they know about local history is what they are told from the older ones. The community’s power sources are dwindling and the only hope for human survival is to start up the power station located at the river dam…up in the woods. A brave Malcolm (Jason Clarke) offers to go and try to negotiate with the apes to allow the humans to start up the power station once again. A small group of volunteers join him including a nurse (the never-aging Keri Russell), Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who is just as untrusting of the apes as Koba is of the humans and Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Like the first movie, Dawn is tension-filled and yet it has a lot of messages about family. There are even shades of The Lion King. Both come to realize how similar the others are to their own families. Both humans and apes struggle with what they know in their hearts and what others tell them about the other community. It is a story about trust and deception. The movie raises the question, “Can both men and apes live together in harmony?” and explores whether it is wiser to try to negotiate with others or is it better to show force and conquer the others before problems start? Some in the religious community can also see the story as an example about how we see others outside of the church. Is it better to welcome them in or smile at them from a safe distance?

The scenes shown of the urban jungle forest are beautiful while the scenes of destruction of what is left of San Francisco are quite sobering. It isn’t exactly Mad Max, but it is getting there. The first twenty minutes or so feels as if one is watching a foreign film. The apes communicate with each other with hand gestures and what not. Subtitles are shown below. The 3D effect adds a nice touch. For a movie with such an unbelievable story line, Dawn is quite smart. Overall, it is very enjoyable. The violence isn’t especially bloody and swearing is kept to a minimum, but It may be too intense at times for younger viewers.

 

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