Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel's latest, Guardians of the Galaxy, is the most fun you'll have at the movies all summer, bar none. Director James Gunn's "crash-bang!" entry into the ever-expanding Marvel superhero universe is a fresh, often hilarious, action-packed thrill ride full of colorful, eye-popping visuals and purely delightful performances.

In a cinematic universe full of super-powered baddies looking to conqueror and destroy, Marvel's superhero films all tell the same tale: saving the day. In this way  'Guardians' follows suit. However, no Marvel film has been able to tell this tale in such a fresh, exciting way since Joss Whedon's The Avengers, so far proving that more is in fact better.

What makes Gunn's film stand apart from other Marvel superhero movies is its consistent brand of self-referential, outright hilarious tongue-in-cheek humor; not to mention its brilliant use of some of the cheesiest classic songs of the 1970s. Even from its amusing title sequence featuring Chris Pratt's endearing Star-lord letting loose to Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love," it's clear that Director James Gunn is interested in showing his audiences a good time.

The casting of this band of misfits tells you everything you need to know about the offbeat tone of this movie. From Chris Pratt's charming take on Star-lord to Zoe Saldana's straight-faced Gamora; to Vin Diesel's Groot, who is capable of communicating so much with such a limited vocabulary; through even Dave Bautista's tormented Drax, who also gets a lot of laughs. However, it is Bradley Cooper's wisecracking Rocket Racoon who steals the show. Each character in this motley crew is given a plethora of opportunities to make us laugh out loud as well as garner our sympathies in a handful of truly touching, heartfelt moments.

The good times keep on rolling with some of the best choreographed action sequences this year. From beginning to end, there is an abundance of "crash-bang!" action. Combine that with these first-rate visuals and you've got yourself one aesthetically pleasing picture.

Even if you find yourself scratching your head at some of the more complex details of the story, such as the Kree (did I say that right?) peace treaty or the origin of the universe and its infinity relics, Guardians of the Galaxy is a pleasurable outing for anyone looking to have a good time at the movies.

Grade: A

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Hercules

Hercules, or more correctly "Heracles," is one of mythology's most powerful and most iconic tragic heroes. He has slain the Nemean Lion, severed the many heads of the beastly hydra, and, perhaps most sickeningly, washed clean the Augean stables in a single day. Despite his numerous triumphs, however, there still remains one labor that the mighty son of Zeus just cannot seem to conqueror: Hollywood.

Despite past trials, the demigod has not wrought much success out of box offices. Least I remind you of the god-awful (pun intended) flop that was this year's The Legend of Hercules? Let us not forget either the Disney animated feature that was beloved by the children of its generation and laughed at by everyone else. Praise the gods we have Dwayne Johnson and Brett Ratner!

Caught somewhere between Disney's light-hearted, happy meal affair and Renny Harlin's overly dark blunder, Ratner's Hercules is a hammy production that walks the line between a fresh retelling of the myth and a comedic spoof.

Dwayne (as I call him, because we're on a first-name basis) rocks a sendoff of the mythic hero as if he was born to play him. On the outside Hercules struts his well-sculpted, well-oiled physique to waves of adoring villagers like a rock star taking it all in, but on the inside he's tormented by his past and Dwayne express all of it poetically, lending credence to the longevity of his wrestler-to-actor career.

Now having accomplished his twelve labors, Hercules now lives life off his reputation as a contracted killer. He's hired by the King of Thrace, brilliantly portrayed by John Hurt, to lead a band of would-be soldiers against a warlord who threatens his lands. Hercules goes about his business, cutting through armies like butter, tipping over horses, and snapping the jaws of rare breeds of blood-thirsty wolves as if there were nothing, all the while we're lead to believe that he's not really the son of Zeus, he's really a mortal, and that his warrior friends helped him accomplish all those labors. Yeah, right.

Despite the committed performances from both Dwayne and Hurt, the true Scene-stealer Award goes to Ian McShane. He plays Amphiaraus, a well-known oracle of sorts who catches fragments of what's to come from the gods. In  addition to providing a large bulk of the comedic relief, Amphiaraus also provides a large majority of the heartfelt exchanges with Hercules. From consoling Hercules on his demons to motivating him in dire times of need,  McShane's Amphiaraus is an all-around pleasure.

And perhaps that's the best thing about this film: not only does it deliver as a solid bit of popcorn entertainment, but it's also full of heart and nobody in the bizz does tormented teddy bear better than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Add to that Ratner, who can also string together cohesive action sequences as good as anybody, and you've got yourself a well-balanced romp.

Grade: B