Tuesday, August 26, 2014


It was sometime around July of 2007 when a friend of mine, along with his son, wanted to go seeTransformers.  Now, I wasn’t a big fan of the cartoon or toy line, but my friend was and, even more importantly, his kid was as well.  I didn’t want to let the little guy down and said I’d go along with them to watch the movie.  We all know how that film turned out—some of us knew what it would be way before seeing it on screen—but some people, like my friend and his son, loved it.

Why am I talking about theTransformers movie I saw seven years ago?  Well, that’s when I first saw the trailer for JJ Abrams new—well…new at the time—movie,Cloverfield.

Now, this trailer made a big splash even though it was just a teaser and didn’t show much of anything besides the decapitated head of The Statue of Liberty careening from the night sky to land in some street.  But it wasn’t what we saw—or didn’t see—in that short trailer, it was the lack of a title.  Basically, the trailer began, showing some destruction with people screaming and yelling, then the head landing and rolling to a stop.  The odd thing about it?  Where usually a title will pop up, showing the name of the movie, there was only a date: 1/18/2008.

Now, this trailer caused quite a stir throughout the geek community, as well as exciting fans of JJ Abrams…and even myself.  I was sitting there, floored, and wanting to see that movie.  Being so intrigued and fascinated by it, I didn’t want to sit through the Transformers movie at that moment.  Well…I didn’t want to sit through it in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.

During the rest of that year, the internet went wild with scenarios and speculations about what this movie could be about.  One big one was that the film was going to be a retry at Godzilla or something to do with the “Lost” television show.  Most sites analyzed the trailer, frame-by-frame, trying to pick out aspects and details, zooming in and showing these pictures continuously throughout the web.  Then the theories and guesses as to what the title was going to be started making the rounds.  I’ll give Abrams this—he really set the World Wide Web abuzz with this little trailer.

Of course, viral sites started popping up, coming out with static-filled videos that starred some unknown individual who gave out clues about the upcoming film.  I don’t know if these videos were made by the studio or filmmakers, or if it was just some nerd out there with too much time on his or her hands. 
Nevertheless, the attention this upcoming film had garnered was interesting and helped it tremendously.
Finally, it was revealed—at least the title was—and fans became even more excited, chomping at the bit to see this movie (myself included).  We saw more of an in-depth trailer and a title was given—Cloverfield.

Although I was excited to see this film, there was one thing that concerned me and that was the choice for Abrams to have this filmed as a found-footage type of movie.  In my opinion, the found-footage genre came and went withThe Blair Witch Project back in 1998, so I was worried it was going to be a disadvantage to this film.  I’ve always had a concern when it comes to films that use this technique, because what the characters do with the camera throughout the story never makes perfect sense.  But I waited patiently and tried not to be prejudiced in any way towards this film until the day it arrived.

The film opens with Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), setting up a surprise going-away party for his brother, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), all the while using a camcorder to film everything.  Once at the apartment where the party is to take place, Mike gives the camera to their friend, Hud (T.J. Miller), to film the party and having everybody leave a personal goodbyes to Rob.  Soon after Rob arrives, and after a blowout with a former girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman), sudden rumblings are felt and blasts are heard, leading everyone to the roof to see what’s going on.  In the distance, the partygoers see large explosions and feel more quakes, frightening them all to run downstairs to the ground floor.  All the while, as Hud is filming, everyone sees something enormous crash through the buildings in the distance and starts running for cover, trying to get away from the threat.

I’ve got to say, before getting any further into this review, the best way to watch this film is in the theater or if you have a big screen television with some great sound.  You’ll definitely lose some of the excitement and enjoyment if you see this on anything less.  But even if you’re still living in the dinosaur age of TV viewing, you can still appreciate the film for what it gives you and that’s unrelenting thrills. 

So, I mentioned the found footage aspect of the film and thought it might’ve been a detriment.  I was wrong…the first person perspective was exactly what this film needed.  You actually feel you’re right there with the main characters, running from this monstrous menace and trying to steer clear from it.  Although it’s clear the concept was intended to keep special FX costs down as the camcorder filming avoids looking at the creature too long.  However, it’s easy to believe that the characters wouldn’t want to just stop and gaze at this giant monster, but move their ass as far away from it as possible, so it’s not totally noticeable.

On the other hand, this type of filming leaves the door wide open for disbelief, making it very difficult to suspend it while watching the movie.  I mean, who would video record all that time while some colossal beast was terrorizing the city, threatening your life in the process?  Wouldn’t any sane person drop the
camera and run for their lives?  I know I would.  Also, that camera appeared to be filming for an hour or so already, before the creature appeared in the city.  We see Jason filming while he and his girlfriend are buying food and drinks for the party, then Hud takes over the camera before Rob shows up, then all those scenes running from the monster…?  By movie time, that camera was recording for at least three or four hours.  How did the battery last so long?  Especially when the light was being used most of the time…that camera should’ve died out before the commotion in the city.  Also, most people would be more pissed off than the characters in this film when Hud continues to record at very inappropriate times.  Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had people rip video cameras out of my hands and shut them off because they felt I was overdoing it.  So, for Hud to get no flak for recording as much as he did seems a little hard to swallow.

Though, if you can set aside those criticisms for the found footage style of filming, the film is very engaging and doesn’t lose the viewer.  The story gets going right away and once we’re in motion, it becomes a roller coaster ride of crazy thrills.  From the quick views of the weird monster to the main characters trying to get to another individual by way of climbing up a leaning skyscraper, your nerves will be on high alert, waiting to see what the filmmakers will throw at you next.

The special effects are pretty magnificent with no obvious fakery going on.  Even though you don’t see much of what’s happening, as a lot of the action is implied, what you dosee is spectacular.

Director Matt Reeves really made a name for himself with this film, going on to direct Let Me In and, most recently, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  He’s certainly a great director with a good future ahead of him.
Finally, as I talk about the best thing I loved about this movie is the end credits.  The whole movie doesn’t feature a music track (besides the music you’ll hear during the party scene), but there’s one hell of a theme that you’re going to hear at the very end.  What conjured up in my head is perfect music for a monster movie.  Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

My final “bit” on Cloverfield?

Besides my gripe about this movie being a found footage motif, I really liked it.  I have no problem suspending my disbelief on certain things, so I can enjoy the film as a whole and I think you’ll feel the same.  It doesn’t take long for the story to get started, only lulls for a bit at the beginning to set up the tension between the main character and his love interest, giving him a reason to get to her, so it doesn’t disappoint.  If you haven’t seen this film, you shouldn’t miss it.  Basically, any film that JJ Abrams is involved in should be trusted that it’ll be entertaining.

As a side bit, make sure to pay attention to the final footage, where the film reverts to what was covered as we see Rob and Beth at Coney Island.  All I’ll say is watch the sky behind them and you’ll see what most people believe is the genesis of the monster.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

War of the Worlds

If there’s any movie star in the last decade or so who seems to always star in big money-makers and movie blockbusters you’d have to think of Tom Cruise.  Although he really has little depth or wide range of acting skills, he definitely knows how to pick an interesting film to star in and distinguishes what will be a big payout.  It seems that ever since his starring role as Ethan Hunt in the first Mission: Impossible film, he’s made action hit after action hit, with quite a few sci-fi extravaganzas here and there as well.  And one such futuristic film Cruise starred in was the successful 2002 film, Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg.  So, probably realizing the perfect team-up they’d made, Cruise and Spielberg collaborated once more in 2005 with War of the Worlds.

Now, what I’d mentioned about Cruise’s acting skills is in no way meant to disparage him.  I actually enjoy his performances and look forward to most of his films nowadays.  Although I highly admire Cruise and the films he’s been featured in the past ten or fifteen years, there had been a time when I disliked him and that was during the 80s and early 90s, when he was younger and seemed like a douche bag in most of his films.  These days, I certainly can relate to his films where he plays the everyday type of guy—your Average Joe—and in War of the Worlds, that’s sort of what you get.

Of course, just about every film that Spielberg produces or directs turns to gold no matter what, and when it comes to a sci-fi flick, you know he’s going to put out something special.  Hearing that this film was a remake of the 1953 classic, I accepted it and knew it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill do-over just for a Hollywood studio to make money.  I understood that if Spielberg was attached, he was going to put his heart and soul into it and not do it just to make a paycheck.  So, not only was I expecting some great direction to give us a wonderful human element of the story while having to place that in the middle of an alien invasion, I also knew we were going to get some magnificent special effects as well.

With all that said, I waited patiently for War of the Worlds to be released and watched it on opening day back on June 29th of 2005.

The film starts with Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), working as a loading operator at the local dock in New Jersey.  He arrives at home, tardily, after work to meet up with his kids, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning), as his ex-wife, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), and her new husband, Tim (David Alan Basche), drop them off at his place.  Later, behind the house, a storm appears a distance away that develops
quickly and violently, causing Ray and Rachel to take cover inside the house.  When the lightning and strange thunder sounds abate, Ray investigates the neighborhood, noticing all power has been knocked out—including cars and even his watch.  Seeing everyone gathering at a street intersection because of a crack forming in the street where witnesses saw lightning strike repeatedly, Ray goes to see what’s going on.  Suddenly, the street shifts and the crack opens up with a large machine, on three mechanical legs and appearing hundreds of feet tall, rising from underneath the ground.  Without warning, the machine bellows out a long and deep horn sound and begins to disintegrate everybody in its path.  Ray is able to flee and arrives home in time to get to his children and tries to take them away from the threat that seems to be happening all over, with alien machines rising up all over the world to destroy mankind.

Watching this film in the theater is so much better and fantastical, as you feel the threat and tension a lot more.  When I was sitting in my seat and that deafening horn sounds before the machines start firing their weapons at everyone, I nearly jumped out of my seat.  It was so loud and unlike anything I’ve ever heard—quite alien (pardon the pun), as a matter of fact—so it takes you by surprise when that blast hits your eardrums.  Viewing this at home on your television might not have the same effect the movie puts out when seeing it on a big screen with loud stereophonics going on, but it’s still fun to watch and you can still enjoy it as a great sci-fi popcorn flick.  Perhaps you can try watching it in the dark and close to the screen, using some Beats headphones to duplicate the feel of watching the film in a movie theater (shrug).

At first, I was a little taken aback, observing Tom Cruise as a father of two with his son being a teenager.  Seeing Cruise in all his movies over the years, starting off as a teen heartthrob in his heydays, I’ve always seen him in my age group (even though he’s a few years older than me), so observing him as a father makes me feel old.  But I soon had gotten over that, realizing that it was needed, especially introducing him as a sort of a deadbeat dad that lives like a bachelor, not thinking ahead enough to prepare his household for his regular visitation from his children.  This makes you understand the animosity by his son, Robbie, and how estranged he is from Cruise’s character.

All said, the cast featured did a wonderful job to keep the audience’s interest when there were no alien machines attacking or during the down times of the film.  You really understand the awkward chemistry between Ray Ferrier and his children, really feeling for him when he tries to connect with them—especially during the escape from the city and the alien attacks.

War of the Worlds really features some awesome special effects—jaw-dropping and quite scary in its magnitude.  The destruction of the highway overpass and buildings that you see behind Ray and his children as they’re driving away is amazing.  Unlike the 1953 version, Spielberg chose to follow some of the source
material and have the machines walk instead of flying around.  And what a great choice that was as the machines walking on their gangly limbs is what H.G. Wells described in his novel.  Not only are the machines rendered realistically, but so are the aliens and mechanisms that they—as well as their machines—use.  And speaking of their mechanisms…those ray guns shooting and disintegrating humans?  Awesome!

The genius thing that Spielberg displayed in this film, however, was to take it a step further and show that these aliens not only used machines based on tripedalism, but to show that their biology centered on it as well.  When they’re shown for the first time in the basement of the house that Ray, Rachel and Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) are holed up in, we see that the aliens have three appendages—appearing to be two arms and one leg, but used all together to walk. 

One thing I’ve never seen before—especially in Spielberg’s films—is the filming technique used during the getaway scene where Cruise’s character drives his children away from the alien attack in the city.  I suppose maybe Spielberg had used green-screen techniques or some sort of mounted camera—maybe he used both.  But the camera goes from one side of the minivan to the other during the high-speed drive down the highway.  It’s quite exciting and exhilarating to witness this scene.

Lastly, you can’t have a Spielberg film without John Williams, right?  It’s quite amazing how long these two men have collaborated on films—forty years and counting!  When looking down the list of films they’ve done together, almost every movie I see, I instantly can think of the main theme in my head, sometimes humming it easily enough.  Alas, with War of the Worlds, the music score is not that memorable and you really don’t leave this movie whistling the tunes as you walk down the street.  Of course, Williams did a fantastic job of putting in the right cues to match what we see on the screen, but it’s no Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark

If there’s one thing I can nitpick about this movie is the lack of expanse we see with the alien attacks.  The film mainly focuses on what Ray Ferrier sees and doesn’t go much further than that—with a few glimpses of news reports peppered here and there.  I think it would’ve been nice to see what was going on in other parts of the world, seeing the destruction of other places.  But I guess Spielberg just wanted to focus on the human aspect of the film, especially the turnaround we see between Ferrier and his son and daughter, so I can’t fault him on that.

So, what’s my final “bit” on War of the Worlds?

The film is a fantastic look at an alien invasion from the point of view of one family.  Once the action starts, it hardly ever slows down, keeping you on edge with the characters.  The ending is a bit of a let-down as it just ends—albeit, pretty cleverly—kind of on a low note and not with much satisfaction.  As a whole, however, the film is great for the whole family and doesn’t disappoint as it goes along full throttle.  I wouldn’t miss it if you haven’t seen it.

As a side “bit” on War of the Worlds, the overwhelming scene that Ray witnesses as he emerges from his ex-wife’s house, seeing the downed jetliner, as parts of the plane are strewn about the neighborhood, was filmed in Universal Studios’ back lot.  In fact, the set is still intact as visitors to the park see it each time they ride on the studio tram tour.  The story the guides give is that Spielberg actually purchased the retired 747 just to have production cut it into pieces to make it look like a realistic-looking crash site.  Also, during Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, visitors to the park get to walk through this set…that was a definite treat for me!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, August 15, 2014

AVP: Alien vs. Predator

Since the late 70s, 20th Century Fox has had a very successful movie franchise make them a ton of money over the years.  In 1979, Alien kicked off a huge movie series, combining science fiction with horror and it spawned three sequels afterwards, making Sigourney Weaver a big star.  The original film scared the crap out of me when I was a wee ten years old, believing—after going to bed—that an alien was in my closet, ready to use its dual jaws to kill me.  But after James Cameron had gotten a hold of the franchise for the sequel in 1986, it turned into more of a sci-fi/action franchise than sci-fi/horror.  Still, it was effective and made the creature a household name.

In 1987, 20th Century Fox, again, introduced another franchise that combined science fiction, a little bit of horror, and a lot of action.  With Arnold Schwarzenegger headlining the cast, Predator hit the theaters and was a worldwide hit (click herefor my May 24th review).  It spawned a somewhat fruitful sequel in 1990 with Danny Glover leading that one and another sequel most recently in 2010.

During the late 80s, Dark Horse Comics started a series of books featuring both title creatures going up against each other in an ongoing versus type of storyline.  Because of the comic book’s popularity, the director of Predator 2, Stephen Hopkins, decided to throw in a little Easter Egg near the end of that film.  If you watch carefully, when Danny Glover’s character is inside of the creature’s ship, he sees a trophy wall off to the side.  Featured on the wall is a display of different skulls from creatures of other planets the Predator had visited.  It’s fairly quick, but one can spot the skull of the title creature from the Alien films.  For viewers with keen eyesight, this was a treat and created a buzz for a movie to feature both characters.

Well, a mere fourteen years later, 20th Century Fox decided to give the proposed project a green light and announced a movie that would pit those two creatures against each other called Alien vs. Predator.  I waited with anticipation for this movie to arrive and thought it was a great idea.  During that time, I was lucky enough to see Lance Henriksen in person, signing autographs at “Things From Another World” comic book shop on the Universal City Walk.  I really, really, REALLY regret not waiting in line for an autograph.  Looking back, I really don’t know why I decided against it.  The line wasn’t that long and I don’t think he—nor the shop—was charging any money.  Alas…(sigh)…it was what it was…but it gave me hope that the film would be awesome when I’d realized Lance Henriksen was going to be in the film.  As it turned out, after he left the autograph session that day, the shop gave out the remaining movie posters that weren’t signed by him and I was able to get one.

Anyway, cut to August 13th of 2004 and the film opened in my neck of the woods, as well as the rest of the country.  So I went to my local movie house, paid my ticket to get in, and sat down to watch AVP: Alien vs. Predator.

When satellites detect a heat signature beneath the ice of an abandoned whaling station of a desolate Antarctica island, billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) assembles a team of scientists to
check out what’s out there and claim it for his company, Weyland Industries.  Along with the scientists—eeing that the temperature is going to be below freezing and might be some rough terrain going below the ice—is Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), an expert in getting through environments such as that.  On the ship-ride over to the arctic, Weyland explains what his satellite had found, showing the team the thermo signatures of what looks to be some sort of structure hundreds of feet below the ice.  When they arrive and make their way down to the ancient building, they soon discover they’re not alone.

I know the one complaint that many fans have is that the filmmakers—or more than likely, the studio—chose to make this film as a PG13 feature and although I agree it was a slap in the face to real Alien and Predator fans, it doesn’t bother me too much.  Yes, you’ll notice most of the humans who are killed have their slayings done off-screen or implied, but this is Alien vs. Predator, right?  When it comes to the title creatures getting gored and slaughtered, it’s all shown up front with no censorship on that aspect of the film whatsoever.  I guess since the Xenomorphs (Aliens) and Yautjas (Predators) are purely fictional and fantastical, they can be shown sliced and diced to one’s delight.  With their acidic or fluorescent green blood looking nothing like human blood, the MPAA obviously had no problem letting this movie showcase it with a PG13 stamp of approval.  That’s what the film is all about, so it didn’t bother me that the human killing was hidden from viewers.

Now, I’m not familiar with the comic book run of stories, so I’m not sure if this plot was lifted from the pages directly.  But it was a great idea and didn’t need to alter the history of either creature’s background to do it.  Well…maybe they altered the Predator’s way of thinking, especially when you see what one does near the end of the film when it encountered the last remaining human.  For the most part, however, the Aliens were still vicious killers with acid for blood, needing human hosts to multiply, and the Predators are simply hunters who kill their challenging prey with pure keenness.

I’ll say this for AVP…the story was well written and the main characters were fleshed out quite well.  We were given protagonists that we had cared about, human villains that we had despised, and the title creatures that were devised correctly and kicked some ass.  I guess all that could be attributed to the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, as he has a pretty good background of hit action flicks.  At the time of filming this movie, Anderson had a pretty good résumé built already.  He hadMortal Combat in 1995, Event Horizon in 1997,Soldier in 1998, and the film he’s most known for…2002’s Resident Evil.  So I’d say Fox made a decent choice in hiring him for the job.

The special effects were done rather satisfactorily for the Aliens as they ran around and caused havoc.  The queen was rendered quite well; seeing as
most of us remember the first time we had seen an Alien queen in 1986, I can say this was quite a few steps up from the puppeteering they had done back then.  Of course, over time, the CGI effects are noticeably a little subpar, seeing how we’re used to the near perfection we see nowadays.  But they’re all still believable and you’ll find yourself squirming in your seat when a character is about to die on the screen.  As for the Predators…the weapons and cloaking ability looks improved and perfect in this film.  Technically, I loved how they displayed the creatures and their attributes throughout the movie.

So, what’s my final “bit” on AVP: Alien vs. Predator?

I enjoy AVP each and every time I watch it and I find myself watching it all the way through when I pop it in, which is more than I can say for its sequel.  The story is original and fresh, as it finds a smart way to bring these titan creatures together on Earth to go up against each other.  There are some surprises, some humor, quite a bit of some “versus” action between the two beasts, and you’ll be delighted by what you see.  Of course, the only complaint I have is something that I don’t want to give away, regarding the ending of the film and the high probability that it wouldn’t happen, knowing what we know about the fictional history of the title creatures.  But you’ll have a lot of fun for what the film gives you.

Thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, August 11, 2014

No One Lives

Every so often, as I scan through titles on the Netflix site, I’ll peer through the recommendations automatically set for me.  Most of the time they’re films I’ve seen or own already, sometimes they’re movies I’ve viewed and didn’t like, but once in a blue moon there’s a diamond in the rough that makes me glad I take the time to look through these titles.  One such film I glanced over and had sent to my house for a viewing was No One Lives.

One reason I decided to have this sent to me was that the average rating was a shade over three stars, but another reason was that some of the written reviews submitted by a few Netflix subscribers highly praised it.  However, the synopsis of the film is what sold me.  It sounded like such an interesting plot and unique story that I felt I had to watch it right away.

The film opens with a young woman (Adelaide Clemens) screaming and seen running through the woods clad in her underwear.  She runs over some broken glass (clearly a trap left for her), pulls out the pieces from her foot and keeps going, continuing on as she sees a roadway in the clearing ahead.  Just as she is about to reach the traffic-busy thoroughfare, she’s caught in a hanging rope snare.  As she hangs upside-down and unable to cut the rope with the piece of glass she kept, she carves a message on the tree, reading “Emma Alive.”  Later, we see a news report that a young woman named Emma, who is the heiress of some wealthy family, has been missing for quite some time.  The film then cuts to a young couple (Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey), travelling across country, towing a small windowless trailer—making us, the audience, wonder if
the girl we’d seen earlier is locked inside.  The couple seems to have some difficulties as they talk about how they had to move due to him having to relocate; the atmosphere between them tells us they’re having a rough time in their lives.  Soon, they stop at a motel for the night and decide to go into town for something to eat.  During their dinner, they get harassed by a group of criminals who target them as a wealthy couple and a potential payday.  But things go wrong for the criminals very quickly as things aren’t what they seem.

I really don’t want to give too much away about this film.  I’ll just say that when I watched this for the first time, the story I thought that was going to play out did not happen in the way I had expected.  Where some aspects were obvious, most of the film goes in a direction you just don’t see coming.  I’ve just got to relay that this film was pretty bad-ass.  But one dilemma you’ll be faced with is that you won’t know who to cheer for as the film gets to the middle and reveals itself.  With the group of undesirables—one of them being a complete douche bag—you sort of root for them towards the middle of the movie…but really don’t want to at the same time.  Again, it may sound confusing, but without giving the plot away, I really can’t explain it.  All I can say is…you’ll see when you watch this.

I thoroughly enjoyed this from beginning to end.  The performances weren’t top notch, but for a film like this, you really don’t need any Oscar-worthy acting.  I was surprised at the beginning of the film where the logo of WWE Films is shown.  Usually, from what I’ve seen from that production company, their films showcase a star wrestler in the lead.  Here, however, there is a wrestler (George Murdoch, going by his wrestling name of Brodus Clay), but he has very little screen time.  I’m also amazed that Luke Evans took this role, seeing that this seems to be a low budget horror thriller.  I’ve seen and heard he’s been in some high caliber films like 2010’s Robin HoodClash of the TitansThe Immortals and the recent Hobbit films, so I thought this might have been beneath him.  But he excelled in this and made it his own.

Sorry, but I have to make this short and sweet.  There’s really not much I can get into without giving away plot details and I think that anyone who ventures into this movie should go into it cold, without much knowledge of the synopsis; it will definitely make the movie experience better if you do that.  But if there’s one piece of advice I can give you is to trust the average rating on Netflix.  With the exception of some of my favorite horror films and others I have nostalgia, the films that are rated on the web site are right on par.  Sometimes I’ll go against it and see a film that was rated as one star and I’ll hate it, but when I rent one that has been rated with three or more I usually love it or like it quite a bit.  So go with the ratings, peeps.

So, what’s my final “bit” on No One Lives?

I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this film, nor do I know if it had any theatrical time.  Maybe it was a straight-to-DVD release…I haven’t the slightest.  Whatever the case, it’s a very interesting and original story, turning the typical thriller formula on its head.  Even if you guess some aspects of the story, you’ll still be shocked or surprised by something else.  You’ll go from caring about one character to despising them—as well as vice versa.  The ending made room for a possible sequel, but I doubt we’ll get one.  Still, trust the judgment of Netflix users—as well as mine—and see this film.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Continuing on with the Marvel Comics movie universe, and really going out ungrounded with a story that doesn’t take place on Earth (well…most of it anyway), it was announced—a couple of years ago—that one of the chapters in the cinematic cosmos they’ve established would be a film calledGuardians of the Galaxy

When discussed, it was said that the story would move towards the otherworldly part of the Marvel properties, introducing more of the heroes and baddies of the cosmos.  Even though I’m quite familiar with most of the titles of the Marvel comic books, this was one I hadn’t heard of before.  So, being the inquisitive beast that I am, I wiki’d and searched for all the info I could on the subject matter and found some interesting tidbits on the comic book title and characters within.  Of course, I had thought it was strange and sort of a weird choice to bring into the ongoing chronicles of heroics, but I was willing to give it a shot.

As I had read some of the background of the group of intergalactic heroes, as well as the characters themselves, one thing caught my eye and that was the character of Rocket—a walking and talking Raccoon.
Now, as I read more and more of the upcoming film, the subject of Rocket came up quite a bit and it was confirmed that the character was definitely going to be featured in the film.  I had thought to myself that there was no way that they can include a talking raccoon believably without making the film look cartoonish and laughable.  But, finally, there was a blurb that I had read, an interview with Joss Whedon shortly after the announcement that James Gunn would be directing Guardians of the Galaxy that made me trust the film to be good.  It was asked of him on what he thought about the inclusion of Rocket and if he thought it would work.  He responded (of course, I’m paraphrasing here) that he had trouble with it at first, but when it was announced that James Gunn would be the director, he knew that it would work, that Gunn would make it work.

So, time went by, a few other Marvel movies came and went, then finally a teaser trailer popped up Guardians of the Galaxy.  It was quirky and funny, showing us Chris Pratt as the lead character of
for Peter Quill, otherwise known as Star Lord (by him anyway), ending with him, and the rest of the gang, in a prison line up, complete with Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” playing as the trailer concludes.  After seeing that, and the subsequent trailers, I was raring to see this film.

The day arrived—August 1st of 2014—and I went to the local movie house, paid for my ticket, sat down comfortably four rows back from the screen and right in the middle, waiting for the film to start.

After a pretty somber opening, the story begins with Peter Quill—self-proclaimed as Star-Lord (Chris Pratt)—finding a mysterious orb to take back with him to the planet of Xandar so that he can sell it to a collector.  But the villain, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), wants the orb and leads a manhunt to go after Quill.  However, Quill ends up in prison and ends up banding with four others—Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)—so that they can escape and take the orb to another buyer.  The ensemble of misfits take the orb to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and discover the orb is too dangerous for anyone to have and decide the best thing is to get it to the Nova Headquarters to be protected and safe.  But with Ronan the Accuser still after them, they discover they’re going to have to work together and fight to bring the orb to safety.


I don’t know any other way to describe a film of this level without using that word…wow.   My synopsis doesn’t do the movie justice, for there’s way too much going on throughout the film that helps the story along.  It’s not overbearing or convoluted in anyway, but to try and write down certain aspects that lead to everything else would take forever and give too much away.  Just trust me that Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the most entertaining and fun entry in the whole Cinematic Marvel Universe.

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is sort of like an apologetic version of Han Solo, but just as tough as he’s able to get out of tough situations and goes up against the best of them.  Pratt has great comedic timing when needed and has the heroic looks to get the girl (even if she’s green in color) and save the day.  The first time we see him as he lands on some abandoned planet and goes into a lip-syncing dance, grabbing and kicking around those alien rats, was hilarious.  Pratt’s interactions with his adversaries and fellow defenders throughout the film put a smile on my face each and every time.

Saldana did well playing Gamora, but with all the other standouts in the film, her performance was a little overshadowed.  However, she had great chemistry with Pratt, even though you still felt that Captain Kirk and green alien chick vibe when they were together.  She kicked ass when needed and, oddly enough, looks pretty hot as some green humanoid  alien girl.

Dave Bautista as Drax was a bit amazing for me.  For one, I was surprised that the filmmakers gave a
wrestler an important part in a film such as this, and two, he did an awesome job portraying the character.  Usually, when some sports star takes a role in a movie, you definitely see how inexperienced they are and it takes you out of the movie.  Here, you really believed he was some powerful anthropological alien with a heart of gold.

The amazing CGI rendering of Groot was superb, looking remarkable at times when the character had to grow its limbs to reach things or sprout extra appendages for certain scenes.  Having Vin Diesel voice the character—even though the only words uttered by the tree creature is “I am Groot”—was probably the best casting choice in this film.  I really can’t picture any other actor out there that would fit the character like he does.  I read that he recorded that sentence in many different languages so that the film would use his voice no matter what country the film plays in.

Finally, Rocket the Raccoon, as well as Bradley Cooper voicing him, was the highlight of the film.  That little temperamental raccoon absolutely stole the show and you found yourself wanting even more of him as the movie went on.  I had my reservations when they had announced Cooper was going to voice the little character, thinking that someone else should’ve gotten the gig (I personally liked the idea of Jim Carrey putting his spin on Rocket when it was rumored they were going to offer him the job), but my misgivings were abated when I first heard the furry mercenary giving his hilarious opinions to Groot on all the people walking around them in their first scene.

Everyone else rounded out the cast nicely, all fitting together in this big quirky comic book outing.  It’s definitely what you see when you watch this, with all the colorful and crazy characters featured, it’s a wonder this film had received the green light to be made.  Even I, after viewing this big fun movie, would probably scoff at it if it were brought to me on paper.  But Marvel Studios definitely knew what they were doing and undoubtedly trusted the directing genius of James Gunn.  It goes to show, when you go into a theater packed with kids and they keep their mouths shut for the whole duration of the movie that Marvel Studios, once again, delivered a top notch comic book film. 

Overall, the film is a standalone, so prior knowledge of the Marvel movies, insofar, is not needed to watch this.  Is it tied to the other movies?  Yes, but it doesn’t confuse you or have any mention of what happened in the Iron man,Thor, or Captain America movies.  Up-to-date viewers will see the ties—especially seeing the main baddie, Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), that we glimpsed in the post-credits scene after The Avengers ended—so it’s fun for us regulars who’ve been watching all the movie chapters as they’ve been released.  But as a whole, it’s fun for the whole family (there is some bad language—but no F-bombs) and kids will be captivated all the way through…I know I was.  The film is available in standard viewing and 3D, but I think the 3D would just get in the way—I saw it in a standard setting, loved it, and didn’t have a raging headache when I left the theater.

So, my final “bit” on Guardians of the Galaxy?

From start to finish, you can’t take your eyes off the screen.  I felt myself go through an array of emotions as the film went on, sentiments I never would’ve thought I’d experience with a quirky film like this one.  With the sad beginning to Peter Quill’s beginning, to the camaraderie you feel as you witness the team getting together and getting along, all the funny quips and one-liners, to even a scene where you see Rocket the Raccoon showing his true emotions for his friend…this film, surprisingly, has it all.  I’m eager to see what’s coming next and what they have in store for the future.  This Marvel train is going full throttle and I don’t think we’ll see it stopping—let alone slowing down—any time soon.  Do not miss this movie!

As a side “bit,” Marvel keeps the tradition going, with an after-credits scene that brings back an oddity in the Marvel Comics world of characters.  It’s pretty funny and worth the wait throughout the glut of credits, so stay in your seat for a funny little cameo.

Thanks for reading and see you at the movies.

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