Tagged: Chris Pratt

Box Office Democracy: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an amazingly charming movie.  The characters they’ve constructed over these two movies are each a delight.  There’s an infectious camaraderie that makes it feel like it must be the best movie set to work on the there ever was.  The infectious joy and prodigious joke density easily carries a slightly disjointed script through the murky bits.  I don’t need everything to make sense or even be particularly important as long as I’m having fun and the rest of the theater is having fun.  There aren’t many movies more infectiously fun than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

There are two separate stories being told in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In one Star-Lord meets his father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), and goes to his home planet (or his self? There’s nothing in the MLA rules about this) along with Gamora and Drax.  Why do Gamora and Drax come with him?  It would appear to balance the crew between the two stories because both of them barely interact with this story from the time they land on the planet until the third act.  In the other story, Rocket Racoon and Groot are captured by Ravagers and are going to be turned in for some sort of bounty involving stolen batteries.  This storyline is mostly about making baby Groot jokes and having people mistake Rocket for another kind of rodent.  It eventually hooks back up with the rest of the crew— not because it needs to, but more because they’re done.  These plots are not grand adventures in storytelling but rather a frame for character moments and jokes and they’re just fine for that, but I think they deserve to be called out for being a bit sparse.

The Guardians are such wonderfully distinct characters though.  Drax’s laugh is the glue that holds the first half of the movie together.  It isn’t what I thought would happen to the Drax character on the big screen, but he’s basically all comedy at this point with little action in sight.  Bradley Cooper is never going to get any recognition for this, but he’s doing fabulous work as Rocket.  He imbues a lot of humanity in to a character it would be so easy to not take seriously.  Rocket has a tearjerker of a line near the end that could easily fall flat.  The best scene in the whole film is between Gamora and Nebula talking about their familial relationship.  I never thought it would be believable to transition Nebula to the side of the Guardians after all the bad blood in the last movie and they accomplish it in three lines.  It’s the best scene between two women in any Marvel movie and I understand I’m not setting a particularly high bar.  It’s high now.

James Gunn has made a great looking movie.  There are so many shots with so much going on and they’re especially fun to take in in 3D.  There’s this concerted effort to have stuff going on in the background of shots and it’s a great way to sneak stuff in.  It looks an awful lot like a 1970s cosmic comic book.  I wouldn’t say Kirby-esque, I think we’re too liberal with Kirby-esque, it doesn’t look like Jack Kirby drew it but it looks an awful lot like Walter Simonson and that’s no slight.  The sequence that caps off the Rocket Racoon plot is the best of the whole film, it’s a great bit of elaborate camera work and fun violence.  The climax of the main plot is a little less impressive if only because there are a lot of supposed to be dramatic moments of people facing down grey goo.  Grey goo is not that scary.

Go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  It’s a great time.  Get a big popcorn and a smaller drink (it’s a very long movie) and just enjoy being in an air conditioned room with other people having a good time.  My wife remarked that the emphasis on family and reforming some former adversaries makes this Guardians feel like a step toward transitioning to a sort of Fast & Furious in space thing. I agree, and there’s nothing I would rather see from Marvel than something that leans so in to that kind of joy and absurdity.  I hope they can do it.

Molly Jackson: Omaze Me

Scrolling through your Facebook feed, I’m sure you see them. They catch the eye with promises of grand adventures with exciting people. Sometimes you even see a fun video, with celebrities doing crazy things to unsuspecting people. That’s exactly what caught my eye when I saw this video of Chris Evans leading comic fans through an surprise escape room. It isn’t just a jest though. This prank is part of the pitch for his latest fundraising effort through Omaze.

In case you don’t know, Omaze is what celebs use to raffle off experiences to raise money for various charities. People can enter to win for as little as $10, which gets you 100 entries. If you want to spend more, you can get more entries as well as perk items like t-shirts, DVDs, key chains, and so on.

Like I said, you have probably seen links or videos for this website. And you’ve been intrigued by the chance to try your luck. It started with two guys who had a dream to meet Magic Johnson and an opportunity to win it in an auction. They realized there was no way they could afford to bid to win a chance to hang out with them. Rather than just let their hopes be dashed forever, they turned their frown in something positive and Omaze was born.

I’m still super curious about how they got that name though. Omaze sounds more like a stage magician obsessed with alliteration. The Amazing Omaze!

Buying a chance to win like the old school raffle makes it more affordable while raising more funds for those in need. Granted, with the popularity of this site and its wares no one has the best chance to win. I’m guessing that is why they also have some products for sale, both through individual campaigns as well as in the store.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is also a great promotional tool for films as well. It’s become quite the popular site with many of the geek-related films. Ben Affleck raffled off a chance to join him on set at Batman V Superman to support three global charities. Chris Pratt used Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to help build a teen center in his hometown. Both did fun videos that entertain. Honestly, you could fall into a Omaze youtube video hole for a bit. Watch Bon Jovi surprise karaoke singers and Robert Downey Jr. hop around in a bunny suit.

Seriously. A bunny suit.

So, yes, this may just be a PR stunt. But geeks are well known for their charitable giving and activism. I’ve even spent time writing about how great our geek community is about fundraising. This site makes that even easier for more people around the world to take part. And for those who need the incentive, celebrities are willing to give their time to see it happen. And it has worked. Over 170 countries have given to over 150 charities around the world.
The video I shared earlier where Chris Evans kinda tortures comic fans? He is doing it to raise money for Christopher’s Haven, a group that helps support families who have children being treated for cancer in the Boston area. In today’s society, we need all the support that we can provide to charities and people in need. The world is a scary place. If we all come together and support each other, the world can be made better. Every person can make a difference.

And if I can make a difference while hanging out with Captain America, that’d be cool too.

Box Office Democracy: Passengers

One of the easier ways of showing that you’re a sophisticated consumer of entertainment is to lament that nothing ever changes in Hollywood.  It’s true that the entertainment machine doesn’t particularly care about artistry as much as it cares about profit, and that the easiest way to make that profit is by giving people what they’ve already enjoyed, but that doesn’t mean things don’t change.  A movie released today isn’t like a movie released 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 10.  Passengers is a movie that was written in 2007 and took nine years to produce… and in that time it’s become as much of a time capsule as the frozen people the movie is about.  Passengers wants to be about the far future but instead is a relic of the past.

I’m just going to go full on in to spoilers from here on out.  I think you should probably skip Passengers but if you want to go and if you want to be surprised this is your exit.  Thanks.

I could never get over the fact that our main character Jim (Chris Pratt) essentially murders the other lead Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) when he purposely wakes her up from suspended animation to spend whatever portion of the 90 year journey they survive through.  I get that we’re supposed to feel Jim’s desperation and later in the movie they slap an analogy about how a person that’s drowning will pull other people down with them, but it never satisfied me.  The catalyst for the entire events of the movie is an incredibly selfish act.  They try to wave it away with rationalizations and by giving them a big thing to fight against and the characters get over it, but I never did.  Our main character is an obsessive stalker who escalates until he irreparably changes her life without her knowledge or consent.  I would watch this as a thriller or a horror movie but it falls flat as a quirky romance.

After the story fails to hook you, Passengers doesn’t have a lot to offer.  The looming menace lingers on the edge of the story so gingerly that it feels like it’s afraid to pull focus, so when it becomes the big deal in the third act it seems thrown together.  We go from little glitches and malfunctions to one catastrophic breakfast to the whole ship is going to explode right now.  It felt like they knew they needed a big third act and that they couldn’t make it come out of nowhere, but they never much cared to make it all make sense.

Perhaps it’s just because the rest of the movie never quite clicked for me, but I felt like I had so much time to nitpick the lazy construction of the universe.  Why would an essentially unmanned ship filled with people in suspended animation not simply fly around the giant asteroid field?  Why is this ship not programmed to wake up a mechanic or something when systems start to fail?  Why are the crew members we see older men?  If you consider that a round trip takes 250 years and the crew is only out of suspended animation for a few months on either side wouldn’t that mean that after a few voyages they would be thousands of years old?  250 years ago we were riding horses and lighting candles, how are these technologies relevant enough to do multiple centuries-long voyages?  Why was the observatory programmed to give facts about a part of the journey that no one would be awake for?  Every movie has these problems, no script will ever be tight enough to escape silly questions, but Passengers was slow enough and irritating enough that I spent a lot of time sitting there in the dark asking how any of it made sense.

I keep coming back to the idea that it took nine years to make this movie.  Maybe in 2007 I would have found this movie cute or romantic or even non-horrifying.  I’m much more weary of romance stories starting with fucked up behavior than I was then.  I’ve simply gotten used to a higher caliber of Hollywood science fiction over the last few years.  Passengers is a movie that I’m not sure anyone is asking for, so it lingers like an unwanted guest.  It’s overstayed its welcome and it needs to go.

Box Office Democracy: “The Magnificent Seven”

If The Magnificent Seven had a title like Seven Cool Cowboys, I would be here writing a rave review. This remake is a good, fun western that might employ a lot of well-worn tropes, but has a good enough cast and a light enough tone to make it work quite well. I had a great time watching it almost the entire time I was in the theater. The problem comes from using the name of an older movie, a different movie, a better movie, and most importantly a movie with a point of view entirely ignored for this iteration. The Magnificent Seven is a fine movie but it’s an awful take on the original and it needs to carry that weight.

The Magnificent Seven hits all of the basic bits of the original film. Outlaws take over a town, townsfolk enlist a ragtag band of assorted cowboys and ne’er-do-wells to fight off the incursion, they train the civilians to help defend their town, and then a big battle ensues. What it misses is the thematic hit. The original Magnificent Seven (and the Kurosawa masterpiece it’s based on) ends with the heroes remarking that while they won the battle that they lost because their time is over, the world isn’t going to need gunfighters forever. The remake discards all of this: there’s no sense of ennui or longing, the surviving heroes ride off confident in their work and their status of heroes. Again, in any other western this wouldn’t be a problem— but for this one it seems like they took the name, they took the premise, and then they discarded the theme. I hate that they did that, it makes it look the name was a cheap ploy to lure in an audience that probably hasn’t seen the original but can be brought to the theater just on name recognition.

It’s a shame that no one thought this movie could make it on its own steam because there’s a fine cowboy movie here. Denzel Washington is one of the best actors alive and he’s fantastic in this movie, even though he can sometimes feel a little crowded out by the ensemble. It’s unfair to make Chris Pratt play across from Washington, because even though Pratt is charming and funny he withers from the comparison. Vincent D’Onofrio is playing the strangest part I may have seen in a movie all year but he’s inexplicably crushing it— I guess talent is the great equalizer. The rest of the cast is good (with the possible exception of Ethan Hawke, who might just have nothing to show me anymore) and they do an above average job playing some broad genre stereotypes. Do I wish that the two strong silent types weren’t also people of color? Yes, but I suppose I can live with it.

There’s nothing in The Magnificent Seven that particularly reinvents the wheel (reinvents the horseshoe?) when it comes to western action, but I’m ultimately fine with that. We don’t get westerns very often lately, and when we do they’ve been by either Quentin Tarantino or Seth MacFarlane and those haven’t exactly been typical westerns by any means. There’s a part of me that doesn’t mind seeing the same showdowns, the same bits of dialogue, or even the same shots. I miss the western… and if I can only get it in small doses, I can understand if they only want to play the hits.

John Ostrander’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up


Labor Day 2015 is upon us. Technically, the season’s change on September 23rd but for all intents and purposes, summer closes shop right after Labor Day. The summer movie season is over and the fall seasons are gearing up. Among things to look forward to is the new Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, coming out around Christmas. However, we’re going to look back at the offerings from last summer, specifically the ones I saw and most enjoyed.

I freely admit I haven’t seen all the cinematic offerings that were out. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation got missed, for example. I saw a fair amount, though, and I’m prepared to talk about those. You should be prepared for spoilers since I may reveal plot elements. That’s okay; you should have seen these films by now anyway.

There are six films on the list – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Mad Max: Fury Road. All entertained me, some surprised me, and I’ll want all of them on disc for repeated home viewing, some more than others.

Remember: these are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

Avengers; Age of Ultron moved the whole Marvel franchise forward and, together with Ant-Man, rounded out Phase 2 of the Marvel Conquers the Cineplex movement. The Avengers film had everybody and then some (played by their usual thespian counterparts), and included the Falcon in the mix and debuted Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, always a personal favorite of mine. The Big Bad was the nasty computer program in the crisp robotic shell, Ultron, voiced by the always silkily threatening James Spader.

Did I like it? Yes. Did I like it as much as the first Avengers film? No. It seemed more disjointed to me. There were also odd additions – a possible budding romance between the Black Widow and Bruce (The Hulk) Banner (?). The suggestion that Black Widow had relationships with most of the other male members of the Avengers (because – why?). The fact that Hawkeye has a wife and kiddies out in the hinterlands. None of it seemed very central or even germane to the plot and seemed only to pad it out.

On the other hand, it also had the return of Nick Fury and, at a key moment, the original SHIELD Helicarrier, which I loved. The big fight at the end went on a bit long and didn’t always make a lot of sense. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of it.

Ant-Man was the surprise to me. Like last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy, I would not have bet you money going into it that I would enjoy it so much. But I did. Paul Rudd was a hoot and I bought his heroic side when it surfaced. Michael Douglas took the Famous Older Actor In a Surprise Supporting Role that Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel/Disney really can afford just about anyone it wants to get.

Ant-Man may be better suited to the movies than the comics. The shrinking man and large objects around him works better on the screen than the page. I may be looking forward to this Blu-Ray even more than the Avengers one.

Tomorrowland is based, conceptually, on a portion of Disneyland but, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is so much more entertaining than it needs to be. Part of that can be traced back to Brad Bird, who directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. You may know Bird better as the director on Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and others.

The film stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson as the spunky young gal who is the center of the story. The city of the title exists in a fold between time and space and it’s where the dreams of the future become real. It’s in danger of being corrupted and made prosaic by those who think they are saving it. What it needs is dreamers.

I love this film because, ultimately, it is so hopeful. It’s about the necessity of hope and that’s a message I think we need more of these days. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s message really appeals to me.

I’ve written before about Inside Out, the latest offering from Pixar. Quick summary: very inventive and imaginative, heartfelt, psychologically true (IMO) and wonderfully realized. I loved it.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow. Intense. As reboots go, stunningly successful. Tom Hardy makes a great successor to Mel Gibson and looks very much like him in the early Mad Max films. Charlize Theron kicks major league ass. George Miller is astounding. He’s seventy years old, it’s been thirty years since he last directed a Mad Max movie, and this film had so much raw energy, imaginative action sequences and filmmaking derring-do that you would have thought he was a much younger man taking over a sagging franchise. There’s lots of things that call back to the earlier Mad Max films while, at the same, time, laying claim to it all for a new generation of filmgoers.

Jurassic World. It’s been more than twenty years since the first Jurassic Park movie and about fourteen since Jurassic Park III (which, for the record, I preferred to Jurassic Park II although, from reports, Steven Spielberg did not.) This is essentially another reboot of a franchise although, strictly speaking, it does follow in continuity from the first one. It was a thundering successful relaunch; it made just buckets and buckets of money. It also marked Chris Pratt’s emergence as a bonafide and believable action film star. Oh, he was the star in Guardians of the Galaxy but his Peter Quill was a bit of a goofball as well; he had a strong streak of coyote in him. In Jurassic World, there is a young Harrison Ford feel to Pratt. Charismatic, strong, and a star.

One of the problems for Jurassic World is that, when we see the dinosaurs, there isn’t that same sense of wonder we had in the first Jurassic Park. The plot in Jurassic World mirrors that – the park itself is having problems because having dinosaurs is no longer “new” – not so much of an attraction — so the Powers-That-Be manufacture, by blending DNA strains, a whole new – and very deadly – form of beast. And, of course, it escapes. Jurassic World pleases us, it entertains us, but it doesn’t –- it can’t — give us that same sense of wonder, of discovery, that the first Jurassic Park did.

So – which of these was my own personal favorite? I enjoyed them all but there’s no question that Inside Out is my pick. It’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel, it’s not another link in a cinematic chain; it’s fresh, it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it has its own truths to tell. Tomorrowland comes in second for the reasons I’ve already given. Like Inside Out, it is something new and fresh and that scores a lot of points with me.

So – how was your summer?


Molly Jackson: Where’s MY Science?

Wheres my science

Many, many months ago at Toy Fair they announced that a major trend for 2015 was dinosaurs. This was due in part to the upcoming Jurassic movie. Now, fast forward to last week. I bit the proverbial bullet and went to see Jurassic World.

I admit I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. Let’s be honest: you don’t really go for the plot. Almost everything people are complaining about is true. Poor character development mixed with the misogynistic undertones of the 1970s and the anti-war/government sentiments make for a poor plot. Not to mention, Chris Pratt is wearing eyeliner the whole movie which looks so weird.

Even through all of that, when the dinos came on screen, I loved it. I loved every poorly plotted minute of it.

After the fact, in chatting with some friends, I began to realize part of the reason I loved it was because I saw the original film at the right age. The original Jurassic Park made the happy feelings I had from watching the new one, only because they reminded me of what I felt as a kid. Jurassic Park is the movie my generation just loved. A film that had a leading female scientist as well as a young teenage female computer whiz. That film encouraged young girls like me in the sciences.

The new Jurassic World has no female scientist and the only featured scientist is portrayed as an evil, greedy loon. After my extensive years of enjoying science fiction, I know that good science fiction can encourage kids into exploring science. This film did not follow in the steps of its predecessor. It seemed to discourage scientific discovery and promote destruction.

I don’t mind destruction in my movies. I love it, in fact. Still, science fiction used to have the rare talent of showing the wonders of learning without kids realizing it. Educating them in a fun and unassuming way. Now, we just threw it out the window for a bigger killer with more teeth.

Now, going back to that tidbit about Toy Fair. There were some science toys but mostly destructive action figures. Let’s keep hoping those kids pick up the science toy first.

Box Office Democracy: Jurassic World

If I had been given a vote I would not have supported making another Jurassic Park movie. It’s a franchise that I’m not sure even qualified as a franchise until this weekend. The original film is a masterpiece, one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a theater, a movie that defined cinema for an entire generation. The sequels, by contrast, feel like hastily assembled Frankenstein monsters cobbled together from good parts of the first film and whatever script fragments were in the Amblin Entertainment dumpster. All sort of movies in the 90s got two sequels that would never demand this kind of attention but Jurassic Park is special and Jurassic World is a movie that deserves to be a part of something special.

The thing that makes Jurassic World special, aside from the innate sense of wonder that comes from seeing exceptionally rendered dinosaur special effects, is the performance of Chris Pratt. Even though I strongly think that getting so much of handsome action star Chris Pratt is robbing us of the fine work we could be getting from gifted comic actor Chris Pratt it’s hard to deny how effective he is. The movie misses him dearly when he’s not on screen while it bounces between being a little boring and interesting but because someone is in imminent danger of being eaten. The character they gave Pratt, a velociraptor trainer who operates like a circus lion tamer, could easily have been a disaster on par with Indiana Jones in that refrigerator but he somehow makes it believable. Pratt is so good he draws attention away from the rest of the cast being sort of bland and forgettable. No one will ever be quite as good as Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm but it’s fantastic to see someone trying for it.

The original Jurassic Park films were very much defined by the dinosaurs that hunted the protagonists, from the velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus in the first film to the sequels shamelessly reusing all of the same things while adding useless bits of garbage dinosaurs. For Jurassic World the antagonist dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, is the kind of monster a clever eight year-old would come up with trying to one up a playmate while playing pretend. The movie even calls this out when the park’s operation’s manager (Bryce Dallas Howard) says patrons need dinosaurs that are bigger and have more teeth. She’s talking about us, the moviegoers who probably would not have been satisfied with just another chase scene with a tyrannosaurus, we need something with more teeth, with natural camouflage, that hunts for sport. It’s an interesting commentary on modern audiences for sure but it also leads to some rather mystifying moments when very late in to the movie the Indominus is still coming up with new powers tailor made to escape the predicament it’s in.

The film probably leans a little too heavily on nostalgia. The theme from the original John Williams score is used three times in the first twenty minutes and then often throughout including a piano version used to convey sadness. It’s all a little much. They also lean heavily on recycled imagery using similar shots of stampeding dinos or the unnecessary trip through the original visitors center, which has apparently not been touched in all this time. I understand the impulse to lean on this, to wink at the audience, but it isn’t necessary the new stuff in this movie is good enough to stand on its own and it isn’t helping to constantly raise the specter of such a powerful film.

Nothing will ever be like watching Jurassic Park in the movie theater when I was nine years old. That is an unfair standard to hold Jurassic World to even though I would very much like to. Jurassic World gave me everything I wanted, it was suspenseful, it was funny, it looked amazing, the action was thrilling, it was a completely enjoyable utterly riveting piece of filmmaking. I’m looking forward to seeing the next movie in the series, the sequel very obviously set up all throughout this one, and that is an optimism I haven’t felt about a Jurassic Park sequel in 18 years.

Ah, to feel young again.

The Tweeks review “Guardians of the Galaxy”!

1376399043_rocket-raccoon-mvc3u-whiteMaddy saw Guardians of the Galaxy opening weekend and can’t wait to share her love of Rocket Raccoon and Groot with the whole world.  Anya, on the other hand was more enthusiastic about sleeping in, so the only thing she can share this week is what she knows about of infinity stones/gems.  There also may or may not be some sisterly labeling of which twin is more like Nebula and which, by default, is then Gamora.