Category Archives: Movies

Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: Guardians of the Galaxy #5

I’ve been following this comic since its release, and I have to admit that unfortunately I am unimpressed. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the upcoming Marvel movies, and as such, the company saw fit to re-launch the long-defunct series, this time paring down the cast and adding tentpole character Iron Man to the mix. Thus far, the results have been lackluster.

The original GotG was an epic space-faring story featuring spectacular cosmic battles and reality-bending plots. The Guardians were conceived by half-human, half-alien Peter Quill as a trouble-shooting force whose responsibility would be to protect the galaxy from cosmic-level threats. (By cosmic, I mean the kind of thing it usually takes a TARDIS to sort out.) The comic was high on humor and adventure, and the charm of the stories came from this band of misfits and renegades facing down such things as a giant spaceship powered by faith and an enormous space octopus from an alternate reality.

Now, under Brian Bendis’ direction, the cast has been pared down to it’s bare essentials, and the team’s adventures have become pretty much pedestrian affairs. Once headquartered in the decapitated head of a Celestial and backed by a telepathic Russian space dog, the Guardians now tool about in a much-less impressive stolen space battleship and fight threats so underwhelming they would barely attract the attention of the Avengers.

This issue featured the debut of Angela, a Neil Gaiman creation from the independent comic series “Spawn”. Entering the Marvel Universe for reasons somewhat vague, Angela begins by taking on Gamora in a decidedly unexciting battle, while GotG leader Peter Quill finds out about a potential reality-threatening event. The entire issue is singularly uninteresting. Everything from Rocket Raccoon’s boring conversation with Tony Stark to the appearance of GotG favorite Mantis seems to be stripped of veneer. Rocket is supposed to be the funniest of the characters but his dialogue falls flat in the face of Tony Stark’s somewhat predictable Star Trek references about his tryst with Gamora. The situation is exacerbated by Bendis’ lack of attention to detail, for Rocket claims no knowledge of Earth pop culture, when the 2008 run had him admitting to purchasing a collector’s edition copy of the movie “Beaches” on ebay.

The problem is that Bendis has effectively sucked all the mind-boggling concepts that made GotG impressive in the first place. Plus, he doesn’t get Rocket, and if you don’t get the Raccoon, you really shouldn’t be writing Guardians. It has been said that GotG was chosen to be a film because Marvel wanted to go in a more fantastic, cosmic direction, but this will be made difficult if the comic series insists on becoming mundane and pedestrian.

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Geeksquirrel’s Nutty Review: Man of Steel

It is, I think, an axiom that every hero is a reflection of their generation. Back when Superman was first created, he was pretty much a tougher-than-average strongman who had no reservations about bullying people into submission. As time wore on, the character grew to become the archetypical boy scout that dominated his persona for most of his existence. In the Superman films of the 70’s and 80’s, this persona was used to provide humor. The naive hero who said he fought for truth, justice and the American Way was rebuffed with a caustic “You’re going to be fighting every politician in the country!”. Such was the cynical post-Vietnam climate the these films were created in. Over time, the comedy overran the series, to the point where the idea of Superman and his enemies was hardly something to be taken seriously, but rather an opportunity to be cornball and show dumb sight gags involving super-breath. As beloved at it rightfully is, the Christopher Reeve Superman was still a trifle campy, so much so that the original director Richard Donner was fired over trying to keep things serious.

Given that, how will Superman fare in a gritty, terror-ridden world where everything alien is viewed with suspicion? That is the question that Man of Steel tries to ask, and I think this is why so many of the negative reviews of the film seem to pine for the whimsical style of the Reeve era. This is Superman taken as realistically as possible. It is very much a darker film; even the brilliant whites of Krypton have been replaced by a moody Matrix-style planet. But within this dark environment there is still at the core the same message of hope that has always been there. Superman’s purpose is to inspire us to be better people, to reach for an ideal even if we constantly falter in the process. Such an inspiration is sorely needed in the post-911 world, and it is no mistake that Clark’s efforts to defeat the Kryptonian General Zod are inter-cut with individual heroics by humans both civilian and military. It’s as if our real-life heroes are suddenly granted an superpowered ally, or as if Superman himself has become a metaphor for the heroics that we witness in every catastrophe. Those who were wishing for the kind of flights of fancy that the original films did so effectively will be disappointed. There are no romantic moonlit flights with Lois Lane, nor any pathetic criminals getting their just desserts in comedic fashion. What we get is as close to a real-life Superman as you can get; one who is surrounded by tragedy but who still strives to do the right thing, and in the process he inspires others to do the same.

That said, the movie is far from technically perfect. The third act suffers from the kind of over-extended action sequences that plagued Star Trek: Into Darkness, leaving the viewer longing for a breather. The muted color pallet also makes it difficult to follow the faster-than-a-bullet action sequences, with Superman’s darkened uniform sometimes blending into the background. On the plus side, the film is stacked from top to bottom with Oscar caliber actors, all of whom invest completely into their roles. Henry Cavill, while admittedly limited in his dialogue, is able to convey the mystery and loneliness of the alien searching for his place in this world. His one performance flaw is a tendency to yell a lot, much like a Spartan out of director Zack Snyder’s previous film, 300.

Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline are both wonderful as the much-bullied younger versions of Clark Kent. Amy Adams turns in her usual charming performance as a somewhat muted Lois Lane. She is less grating and irascible than Margot Kidder’s take on the character, but she occasionally lacks the same fiery spirit, and her chemistry with Cavill is not nearly as electric as that between their 70’s counterparts. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe are both impressive as Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, two very different men who nonetheless share the same core values and share the responsibility for fathering the fledgeling hero.

Critics of this film should not be surprised that we got a darker, grittier take on Superman. It is, after all, the reason why Christopher Nolan was involved in the first place, and it continues the realistic take on the characters that Nolan began with his Batman trilogy. It is somewhat ironic that DC Comics, once considered the more traditional, brighter and lighter of the two major comic firms, has begun a series of films that will undoubtedly be much more grounded than their original source material, while Marvel has for the most part gone for the flashy, humorous and more whimsical approach that DC was once known for. Superman was the first of comic superheroes, and hopefully the proposed films of the long-floundering DC universe will follow his lead, giving us grounded, realistic stories that still carry a message of hope.

Man of Steel gets Four Acorns out of Five!


In Which Rory Continues to be Awesome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xkQkPo7KRU

So there’s the trailer for the last half season of Doctor Who as it premiered at Comic Con.  Lots of  WTF moments there…the Doctor in his tux, Amy Pond going all Samurai on what looks like Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Then there’s River Song with an eye patch looking very much like Madam Kovarian.  Some monsters, cybermen, a big ugly minotaur kind of thing, some quality time between the Doctor and Craig Owens and then…and then…

Rory.  Punches.  Hitler.

Click on the .gif for more Rory Punch Out Action!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Captain America is also out this weekend.  Sure, Captain America did punch out Hitler in a 1940’s comic cover:

Thud

And here’s one of Superman:

GUUUURKK!

….and Daredevil…..

POW!!!!

…and a freakin’ ninja turtle

CHOK!!!!

….and uh….yeah…..

<insert gay porn soundtrack here. Or My Sharona>

The thing is a lot of people have been depicted punching out the worst evil of the 20th century, but you know what?  Rory Williams is just some bloke from Leadworth.  Sure he’s defied death, been plastic and been resurrected more times than bell bottoms, but at his core he’s just an average guy.  I mean, he wasn’t even wearing his Lone Centurion outfit!  No costume, no superpowers, not even a shoe and a BDSM fetish.

Just a punch in a face from your average bloke to the guy who most deserves it.  Awesomeness.


GeekSquirrel’s Nutty Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

What a long strange journey it’s been….

I jumped into the Harry Potter phenomenon round about the time the fifth book, “Order of the Phoenix” was coming out. I spent some time catching up on the series before the book’s release and was impressed to find that for the most part the hype was not unjustified.  The books were fun, engaging, and had a wonderful cast of characters.  True there were faults, but these could be easily overlooked because the strengths of the story overcame the weaknesses.  The same cannot always be said of the movies, which to be honest have been an uneven series at best.  The child-like magical realm of the first two films gradually evolved into the adolescent anxieties and darker tones of the middle films, and while all had entertaining bits, none seemed to completely get it right.  Until now my favorite of the bunch has been “Prisoner of Azkeban”, the film that broke away from the fairy tale feeling and injected the series with a grittiness and realism that had been sorely lacking. I did not much enjoy “The Half-Blood Prince”, which felt rushed and seemed to cut out some major backstory, and I was more than a little concerned that director David Yates had been retained for the final two installments.

“Deathly Hallows Part 1” was a wonderful surprise.  For the first time the acting and story were not overshadowed by the special effects, and we all got to see what happens when a group of child actors spends a decade working with the cream of the crop of British acting.  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all matured into strong performers, who know the acting craft even if they do not possess the charisma of their cast mates.

“Deathly Hallows Part 2” continues the story, and again the actors take center stage.  Everyone from the leads on down pours their acting guts out for this last hurrah, and even the spectacular and extended Battle of Hogwarts cannot overshadow the very human drama that is taking place.  Radcliffe puts in his best work of the series as Harry is confronted by the truths he never expected to find. Watson and Grint are able as well, but just about every member of this long-standing ensemble gets their moment to shine.  Here are a few of the standouts:

Helena Bonham Carter: after having gleefully chewed scenery for four films, she is presented with the challenge of playing Bellatrix as impersonated by Hermione Granger.  Carter’s imitation is so spot on that you could actually believe it’s Emma Watson hiding behind her.  At one point Ms. Carter has to portray Hermione impersonating Bellatrix, and while a lesser actor might have parodied the character of Bellatrix, Ms. Carter keeps her performance firmly grounded in Hermione’s shoes.  It almost makes you believe in polyjuice potion.

Evanna Lynch: Most Potter fans know how Ms. Lynch won the job of Luna Lovegood.  While not as strong in the acting department as her castmates, Ms. Lynch takes full advantage of the opportunity to stretch her wings a little, standing up to Harry when he fails to listen to her and sharing a bit of shipper-inspired romance with Neville Longbottom.  Which brings us to….

Matthew Lewis: For the win!  Who would have thought the dumpy kid we were introduced to in the first film would grow up into a total romantic hero/spell-kicking badass.  Readers of the series wanted to be able to cheer for Neville all the way in this movie, and he gets several moments to shine…delivering an unexpected “it ain’t over til it’s over” speech and basically leading the charge against the Death Eaters.

I could mention everyone in the cast and pick out a moment where they were brilliant, from Jason Issac’s portrayal of a broken and terrified Lucius Malfoy, to the unspoken love between Tonks and Lupin, to the tragedy of the twins Fred and George and to Julie Walters in the best-choreographed fight scene in the film.

But Alan Rickman steals the show, both in his final death scene (rewritten to include a line that I felt was sorely missing from the books….you’ll know what I mean when you hear it), and in the flashbacks where Harry finds out the truth about Severus Snape.  Rickman brings both the tragedy and the bravery of the character to vivid life in just a few small scenes.

It’s a tribute to this cast that none of them appeared to slouch or stroll their way through the film.  Everyone took their job seriously and the fact that they actually outshine the special effects is a testament to their skills.  In fact if the film does have a shortcoming it is that the effects department comes up a bit short in places.

But perhaps the best surprise for me was the infamous epilogue.  The “Where are they Now?” scene as presented in the book feels clunky, saccharine, and highly lame, but here the filmmakers actually manage to turn the scene into a very tender moment by focusing most of the attention on young Albus Severus Potter.  In  so doing we are returned for a moment to the child-like wonder of the first films, and we get to relive how the story began in the excited but nervous eyes of Harry’s offspring.

The biggest strength of this film is that it actually improves upon the source material.  Some of the weakest parts of the book (like the epilogue) are transformed into wonderful moments, others, like Snape’s death, are given far more weight and drama, and the Neville and Luna sequences are an obvious nod to the fans who thought J. K. dropped the quaffle by not having them together in the first place.

So one acorn for the writing, one for the supporting cast, one for the leads, and one to Jo for bringing this world to life.  And half an acorn for awesomeness….

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 gets Four and a Half Acorns out of  Five!