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A wave of geek pride swept popular culture sometime in the latter half of the past decade — regrettably, long after many of us really needed it (damn those high school years). We've seen the phenomenon unfold in the form of Lucasfilm buzz, Star Trek reboots, and (most notably) the Marvel Universe on the big screen. Comic book devotees were not only seeing their favorite stories and characters take faithful shape in Disney's behemoth film franchise, but were sharing this love, for the first time, with everyone else. The mainstream.
As a subtle form of counterculture against an existing blockbuster fare so devoid of brains and heart that it bordered on nihilism, Hollywood grabbed for the passion that so many comic fans had been thriving on just below the scope of public awareness. Studios stumbled upon the pure gold that had been funding comic fandom for years, enlisting not those who might dilute the nerd lexicon with accessibility, but bona fide fluent-speakers to translate the language to the big screen: Joss Whedon, Matthew Vaughn, Joe Johnston, and the like. And the result wasn't an alienation of the American majority, but its integration with the flavorful subculture that had for so long offered shelter to those otherwise homeless. At last, being one of these long ostracized few was the key to popular authority. Encyclopedic knowledge about S.H.I.E.L.D., Asgard, and the Extremis virus became a bejewled anchor that'd dock you a coveted spot in any party conversation. Being a geek — historied, analytical, and didactic about these precious worlds — was finally in. So that would make it the perfect time to launch one of the Marvel Comics world's more obscure (at least compared to Iron Man) properties, Guardians of the Galaxy.
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A film version of the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning creation was first mentioned as a possibility back in 2010, ascending to the altogether surprising, exciting, and worrisome green light platform two years later, breaking public via an announcement at 2012's San Diego Comic-Con. We had only a few months prior seen The Avengers sock the American people with a regime of jingoistic solidarity that you'd ordinarily need a national tragedy to instill, but apprehensions remained: could Marvel Studios — yes, even that very Marvel Studios — get geeky enough for this wacko publication? But we might not have been asking the right question. A year and a half later, we have our first authentic taste of what the suits at Disney and their latest on-lot artisan James Gunn are offering with Guardians of the Galaxy. The trailer came forth via the good graces of Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live! (on the Mouse-handled network ABC), hitting the Internet moments later and eliciting every conceivable response from the Twittersphere: looks great, looks dumb, looks fun, looks weird, looks like magic, looks like trash, looks too... too...
"Geeky" wouldn't be the right word — far from it — though no one could claim that this seemed like your average blockbuster. Its hero, a sitcom star with a new vault-load of Lego Movie money (Chris Pratt), humorously laments the meager scale of his reputation and doles out the bird without reservation. Its second-in-commands are a cool-handed assassin (Zoe Saldana) and a shirtless bulge on a perpetual revenge quest (Dave Bautista). And then there's a raccoon and a tree (the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). A gallery of rejects, introduced by John C. Reilly and a disapproving Peter Serafinowicz all in perfect tempo with an action montage and the musical stylings of Blue Swede. It's all pretty f**king gosh darn ridiculous, as such bound to ordain contesters: the vein-deep geeks so rigidly affixed to the spirited but sincere masterworks of Stan Lee, the Avengers franchise fans confused by the apparent shift in the comic book movie machine's gears. But just as Phase I came about as an act of defiance to the stoic norm, Guardians seems to be speaking on behalf of its own breed of second-class citizen. A legion from the social culture underbelly with even less claim to fertile territory than the geeks had. This is the beginning of a new wave for dork culture.
Marvel/Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube
Call it semantics, but you'll just be proving how estranged you are from each locale (although despite what the message boards tell you, there's no shame in not being any kind of nerd). Where the geeks are proud members of a long oppressed and unappreciated kingdom, dorks are more "man without a country" types. Perhaps more accurately identified as schmoes, goons, oddballs, outcasts, dinks, freaks, or (if you want to stick with the classics) weirdos, those in the dork variety don't boast the benefits of a grounded underworld, nor a bible to which they might adhere. The dorks — proverbial loners — have only themselves. Their intellect, their sense of humor. Where many geeks stray to science fiction and fantasy, dorks stray to comedy, a medium as readily conducive to inward speculation and innovation as the comic book scene's is to outward. As such, with action and adventure laying claim to the most popular of the cinematic world's genres (and no traditionally unified voice, by nature), it's been hard for the dorks to really get their blockbuster out there. But Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it, in a number of ways.
First, this is a movie about dorks, not geeks. Although The Avengers saw a spat of dissimilar heroes coming together for the greater good, that central conceit is what identifies them as members of the geek class. Separately or together, they're all part of something larger than themselves: justice. An element that is often shunned and cast away by the powers that be, but that holds strong and electric beneath the surface until inevitably erupting with righteous power. In Guardians, we have a collection of criminals. Vandals, renegades, murderers. People (and aliens, and rodents, and trees) whose only unifying quality seems to be strength in numbers, or maybe just a distaste for the very idea of authority. That doesn't mean we won't root for 'em, but you can bet it won't be the same old band-of-brothers story that we saw back in May '12.
On the same token, not a one of them seems to belong anywhere. Again, we compare with the Avengers crew: Steve Rogers reigned supreme in the WWII-era American Army, Tony Stark was the Steve Jobs of his own electronics industry, Thor staked claim to a literal throne back in Asgard. But look at the Guardians: Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) lost his planet and family, Gamora (Saldana) abandons her evil upbringing in favor of an existential (albeit still quite violent) journey, nobody's heard of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill (Pratt), and... again, do we even have to say anything about the raccoon and the tree? As Serafinowicz harumphs in the trailer, this team doesn't come off as your motley band of underdog heroes. They look like "a bunch of a-holes." (Hey, maybe that's the new subculture that Guardians is aiming for.)
Marvel/Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube
Second, this is a movie for dorks. Not only is it championing the agenda of these walking, shooting, and tree-ing bags of nonsense, it's doing so with the attitude that a dork approaches his or her every thought with. Sure, The Avengers was funny — and irreverent, no doubt — but it was sincere. Genuine all the way through in everything it shepherded from source to script to screen. Guardians, as much as we can tell so far, is an explosion in goofiness. It introduces its central hero with a joke — not only at his expense, but at that of the movie itself. It undermines its own severity over and over, with cursing intergalactic agents, an eruption of '70s pop music, and a destruction of all the principles on which the ideas of traditional heroism are founded. Logically speaking, it doesn't seem like we're supposed to root for or believe in these dinguses. They don't have the inherent nobility of your geek heroes — the moral fiber that stems from a grounding in worlds of tribalistic fantasy. These guys are free agents, and the movie looks like it is embracing that in its delivery of character, story, ambiance, and comedy. And that last one is the most important indicator here. Geek culture is riddled with fun, but takes its staples very seriously. There's no room for that when you're talking about dorks.
So why now? Why is a dork movement on the rise as a counter to the very uprising that dissipated mainstream nihilism? Really, its a breakdown of subcultures altogether... or a step toward this notion. Geek culture came about to usher in a "different" group. Movies had long spoken to a specific populace, ignoring the creative, deserving, eager collections of comic book aficionados. Geek culture gave rise to the Second World. But dork culture is the Third World, or maybe no World at all. The dork wave is about true individualism. No adherence to any cultural law above survivalism. Where the geeks spent decades building speakeasy churches in which to decree their gods and psalms sanct — quietly, lest the ruling classes catch wind of this heresy — the dorks have been working corners for a bite to eat, not buying into the political reign or to the defiant uprisings. Not worrying about (or successfully abetting the demands of) what demanded of either the mainstream or the geeky, just looking for the things that made them laugh, feel, and think.
They haven't been looking for a band with which to take up — as if they'd be welcome into one if they had — reveling instead in inimitability... not without a healthy sum of self-loathing, mind you (again, damn those high school years). Throughout, they knew, or hoped, that they had something figured out. That someday, past the downfall of the mainstream, past the uprise of geek culture, they'd get to tell their story on the biggest screens imaginable. And it all starts here. Crank the ooga chakas.
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A ludicrous script is usually the hurdle you find yourself trying to jump in an effort to enjoy an action-heavy science fiction in the character of Riddick. Surprisingly, it isn't the story that holds Vin Diesel's third Richard Riddick movie back, but what launches it forward through a dust cloud of other shortcomings and malfeasances. Kicking off with a wordless first act involving the lone criminal's determination to survive on a wasteland planet and progressing very gradually toward and through an intergalactic bounty hunter team's stakeout for the wanted man, we find ourselves adhering reluctantly to the slow-burning but densely packed drama. It'll get you. The claustrophic, death-on-the-horizon mission facing the band of lowlifes hunting down Riddick — and the intercepting troupe of more ostensibly "righteous" law enforcement officials (there's a guy who speaks calmly, a woman, and a kid who prays, so you know they're the good ones) — coughs up pissing contests, gender politics, and strategy debates in the valley of meaty sociological sci-fi like classic Star Trek episodes. Meanwhile, Diesel is hiding out in the adjacent caves, plotting his next move.
After a uniquely primal introductory chapter, wherein we're engrossed by the vivid hell that is "Not Furya" (Riddick's affectionate name for the world within which he is prisoner) in the same way that we connect to the first chapter of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we're relieved to welcome in some new characters (and, of course, actual dialogue). While Diesel can muster charisma taunting Jordi Mollà's bounty hunter creep Santana or Matt Nable's stoic (with a breaking point) officer Johns, he's not the sort of actor who can carry long stretches of wordless, pensive survival on his own. Luckily, he gets a dog pretty early on, so that picks things up a bit.
But problems are not absent when the film duodecuples its population. Once the talking kicks up, so does the occasional weaving of mythos. Even those familiar with the old films will find themselves boggled by the convoluted, cantankerous backstory building that pops in obligatorily, wishing that the film would just get back to the quavering stakeout. However, there is a far bigger issue at hand.
While the heated issues presented Within the tiny world of the battling teams sent to the planet to hunt down Riddick are a banquet for the viewer, some of the problems actually traverse beyond the screen, and All of them involve sole female player Katee Sackhoff and her character Dahl. It says everything that the only woman in this film bears a handle that is homophonous to "Doll." While we can expect the no nonsense officer to be treated with a dearth of respect (and worse) by money hungry, lustful bounty man Santiago, the film itself doesn't seem to have a much more forgivable attitude toward the character, her gender, or her sexual orientation (which is, inscrutably, one of the most revisited topics of conversation).
Present through the movie as soon as Dahl steps onscreen, Riddick's misogyny will get in the way of its otherwise enjoyable and interesting foray into gritty sci-fi, but stands as its sole indefensible problem. Had a more diligent, progressive eye in the edit bay relinquished David Twohy's screenplay of this outrageously persistent repulsion, we might have a film altogether triumphant. With a cherished character readily available for returning fans and a new stock of interesting set-ups for any genre aficionado, not to mention palpable tension — and, yes, the dog — Riddick really only suffers from its misshapen approaches toward gender and sexuality. It's one problem, but it's a damn big one.
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.