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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2014 | Action, Sci-Fi
2014 was a damn fine year for Marvel Studios in terms of quality, their two outputs being The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. They're just a big double-whammy example of how comic book movies can get things right.

GOTG was a very niche property before hand. A bunch of little know Marvel characters galavanting around space, with revolving line ups involving inconsistent degrees of absurdity. The fact that batshit crazy characters such as Groot and Rocket Raccoon are now household names is an indication of just how effective this movie was.

James Gunn proves that he is the man for the job by melding together his own signature style (alongside his regular collaborator Michael Rooker of course) with the tried and tested Marvel formula of big action, and frequent humour. It's a toss up between this and Thor Ragnarok for funniest MCU movie for sure. Nearly every joke lands well, and unlike the sequel, the humour is never overdone. The balance is near perfect.
The cast are mainly to thank for that of course. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voice talents of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel make up the titular Guardians, and they are all unique and have intriguing back stories. They are well developed as the film plays out, and together make for an irreplaceable band of misfits.
The supporting cast include the aformentioned Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Lee Pace, Glenn Close, Peter Serafinowicz, Sean Gunn, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio Del Toro, and a first appearance by Josh Brolin as Thanos... It's another undeniably impressive ensemble cast for the MCU.

The special effects on display here are incredible. The whole film looks amazing and the big set pieces are hugely entertaining, and emotionally charged...These characters make a quick impression!
The only real criticism I have is that Ronan the Accuser, this films main antagonist, feels a little wasted. He looks great, and Lee Pace does the best with what he's given, but by the time the credits roll, he unfortunately joins the big pile of disposable MCU villains.
It's a small gripe when compared to all the good in this movie - that includes it's fantastic soundtrack by the way.

Guardians of the Galaxy is wonderful. It's proof that studios no longer have to rely on the big A-list names to make a great film, and as a result, this opened the doors for even more weird and wonderful characters to make their way into this behemoth of a series. One of my personal favourite MCU entries.
Spielberg (2017)
Spielberg (2017)
2017 | Biography, Documentary
8.7 (3 Ratings)
Movie Rating
On making Drew Barrymore cry.
“Spielberg” is an HBO-produced documentary by documentarian Susan Lacy. You’ll never guess who the subject is?!

Steven Spielberg is a product of one of the most surprising revolutions in Hollywood in the late 70’s: one of a set of wunderkind directors alongside such luminaries as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorcese. These men (only men, it should be noted!) were ready to cock a snook at Hollywood’s traditional studio system to break rules (case in point, Star Wars’ lack of opening credits) and move cinema into the format that would last to this day.

As this excellent documentary makes clear, Spielberg was one of the least rebellious of the movie-brats. Even though (astoundingly) he blagged himself a production office at Universal (after hiding during the Tram Tour toilet stop!), his path to the top was through hard graft on multiple Universal TV shows, after recognition of his talents by Universal exec Sidney Sheinberg who speaks in the film.

Before we get to that stage of his life, we cover his childhood back-story as a reluctant Jew living in a non-Jewish neighbourhood, driven to fill his time with tormenting his sisters and movie-making with a Super 8 camera. Scenes of home videos, photos and his early attempts at special effects are all fascinating. The impact of his Bohemian mother Leah and workaholic father Arnold, and particularly the very surprising relationship breakdown that happened between them, go a long way to explain the constant return to ‘father issues’ in many of his films such as “E.T.”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Hook” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

The majority of the film though settles down into a roughly chronological review of the highlights of his movie career, with particular emphasis justly being placed on some of the key watershed moments in that career. Most of his films get at least a mention, but “Jaws”, “E.T.”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Color Purple”, “Jurassic Park”, “Munich” and “Empire of the Sun” get more focus. It is such a wonderful trip down my cinematic memory lane. I also forget just what cinematic majesty and craftsmanship is present in these films: I just hope that at some point this will get a Blu-Ray or DVD release so it can be properly appreciated (rather than viewing it on a tiny airplane screen which is how I watched this): the combination of film clips in here is breathtaking.

As might be expected for a documentary about the great director, there is plenty of ‘behind the camera’ footage on show, some of which is fascinating. Spielberg could always get the very best performances out of the youngsters on set, from Cary Guffey (“Toys!!”) in “Close Encounters” to a heartbreaking scene where he reduces the young Drew Barrymore to howls of emotion in “E.T.”. A master at work.

All of the movie scenes are accompanied by new interview footage from Spielberg himself, as well as warm platitudes from many of the luminaries he has worked with in the past. Directors involved include many of the the directors referenced above, as well as those modern directors influenced by him such as J.J. Abrams; his go-to cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Janusz Kaminski; his ‘go-to’ composer John Williams; and stars including his go-to ‘everyman’ Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Opray Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Dustin Hoffman and James Brolin. Some of these comments are useful and insightful; some are just fairly meaningless sound bites that add nothing to the film. What all the comments are though is almost all uniformly positive.

And that’s my only criticism of the film. Like me, Susan Lacy is clearly a big fan. It is probably quite hard to find anyone who isn’t…. but perhaps Ms Lacy should have tried a bit harder! There is only limited focus on his big comedy flop of 1979, “1941”, and no mention at all of his lowest WW grossing film “Always”. And there are only a few contributors – notably film critic Janet Maslin – who are willing to stick their head above the parapet and prod into Spielberg’s weaknesses; ostensibly his tendency to veer to the sentimental and away from harder issues: the omitted “Color Purple” ‘mirror scene’ being a case in point.

This is a recommended watch for Spielberg fans. On the eve of the launch of his latest – “Ready Player One”, a film that I am personally dubious about from the trailer – it’s a great insight into the life and works of the great man. It could though have cut a slightly harder and more critical edge.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
2019 | Sci-Fi, Thriller
It has "all the feels"
***There will be NO SPOILERS in this review***

AVENGERS: ENDGAME is an emotionally and artistically satisfying conclusion to 11 years and 22 films of the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE.

Closing out "Phase III" in the MCU, the concluding chapter for most of the "original" MCU characters/actors, ENDGAME picks up the Avengers story right after the conclusion of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR - a film which saw our heroes lose the battle to Thanos, who snapped his fingers and half the living beings in the Universe vanished.

Instead of downplaying the grief that a survivor would feel, Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (veterans of many MCU films) wisely decide to "lean into" this grief which gives this film something that is surprising for a SuperHero film - emotional resonance. You grieve with these characters that you have come to know - and love - and share their pain and sorrow.

It's a wise choice for it adds a layer to this film that many Superhero films fail to achieve. Along with action, fun characters that you want to root for, interesting visuals and (are you listening DC?) - HUMOR, this film has "all the feels" (to steal a phrase) and will leave the MCU fan (both hardcore and casual) satisfied with the experience.

Also...interestingly enough...this film stands on it's own quite well. The guy next to me in the theater was a "newbie" to the MCU, dragged to the theater with his friends to be "part of the crowd" in this experience. Over the first 5 minutes he was asking his buddy a million questions about who is who and what is what...but after that he just settled into his chair and enjoyed the ride for what it is - even jumping up and cheering at a spot late in the film where EVERYONE in the sold out IMAX showing I was in was tempted to jump out of their chair and cheer (yes - there is THAT kind of moment in this film).

There is also I said..."all the feels". I don't usually tear up at movies, but I felt some glistening in the corners of my eyes and a lump in my throat on more than 1 occasion - sometimes with sadness, but, sometimes, with joy and exuberance. Yes! I had tears of JOY jumping out of my eyes at a few moments in this film.

But, if it is Special Effects spectacle you are looking for - no worries. There are PLENTY including a finale that is worthy of being the Final Battle in the Final Film for this Phase of the series.

And...the humor...this film has a surprisingly large amount of light, happy moments as well. I give the Russo Brothers - and the MCU - credit for realizing that humor is a good counterbalance to sorrow, action and suspense. I also give them credit for what character they decided to use as the "comic relief" in this film. It's a good choice - and the performer tapped to play the humor is equal to the task.

But, of course, none of this matters if the characters aren't interesting enough to root for - and this film has it in spades. We've watched these characters grow, develop, bond and tear apart over the course of these past 11 years, so there is quite a bit of emotional investment in the characters - and this investment pays of handsomely (again...if you are a "casual" fan or a "newbie", you'll be fine). But...if you are like me and are "into" the MCU then there is payoff after payoff in this film that is extremely satisfying.

The actors in ENDGAME are, of course, at the top of their game. They know they are capping a special moment in their careers and they "bring it". Starting, of course, with Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. His character goes through a wide variety of emotions through the course of this film and - if this is his last MCU film - he's going out in style. As is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America. These two are at the heart of this film - and at the heart of the MCU - and they take center stage with aplomb, tweaking their characters while respecting all that came before. To be honest, I never really bought into the Iron Man vs. Captain America "Civil War" storyline, but they tie that up nicely.

Of course the other 4 "Original 6 Avengers" - Chris Hemsworth's THOR, Scarlett Johansson's BLACK WIDOW, Mark Ruffalo's BRUCE BANNER and Jeremy Renner's CLINT/HAWKEYE/RONIN - are on hand and they all have their moments and take their bows as appropriate throughout. I also have to give some "props" to Don Cheadle's James "Rhodey" Rhodes/WAR MACHINE - kind of an unsung performer in these films and is a welcome sight who would have been missed had he not been there.

The other "survivors of the snap" - Bradley Cooper's ROCKET RACOON, Karen Gillan's NEBULA and Paul Rudd's SCOTT LANG/ANT MAN - fit in with the "original" Avengers quite well. This group of 10 is fun to watch. Add to them Brie Larson's CAPTAIN MARVEL to mix the drink and the concoction was intoxicating to me. A small "quibble" and I do mean a "quibble" - Danai Gurira and her character OKOYE is underutlized/underused for my tastes, but...that is just a "quibble".

Oh...and James Brolin is back as "big bad" Thanos - a worthy adversary, both emotionally, intellectually and physically for this group of SuperHero's to outwit/outlast/outplay.

Finally...without giving away any plot points...this story figured out a way to reflect on/pay homage to previous films in this Universe. It was a clever way to bring back stories/characters/moments from the past and to give some of these performers and moments a nice "cameo" curtain call.

I better stop now before I give away plot points - needless to say I LOVED THIS FILM - it was a very satisfying way to say "thank you and goodbye" to 11 years (and 22 films) of marvelous film making.

I'm looking forward to what the next 11 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer - the bar has been set at the highest level.

Letter Grade: A+

10 stars (out of 10) and you can take that to the Bank(ofMarquis)