Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Week In Horrifying Movie Theater News

This week several major movie chains in China announced that they're experimenting with a system that will allow real-time commentary– during the film. Audiences can now text their opinions about the movie they're watching and they'll be flashed on the screen for everyone to read. 

These "Bullet Screens" are meant to appeal to younger audiences "who can't spend five minutes away from their phones." Apparently most people in China watch movies on their phones and are already texting their opinions to everyone they know, so theaters have apparently thrown up their hands in defeat and have begun catering to them.

The new screens are already in use in select theaters in Beijing and Shanghai.

On the other side of the globe, a Lodi Stadium 12 movie theater in LA was temporarily closed after moviegoers complained they were bitten by bedbugs during a film. A pest control company was called in, and found "small pockets of bedbugs in limited areas of the theater." The theater was fumigated and management plans to perform regular inspections from now on.

Jesus wept

Honest to god, I'm having trouble deciding which of these stories is more horrifying.

What kind of self-important asshole thinks that anyone else in the audience cares what they think about a film? And who would pay to have half the screen covered up by some idiot's texts? 

It's bad enough that you have to endure people talking, babies screaming and idiots kicking the back of your seat while you're trying to watch a movie. Now they want us to have to deal with audience members' "hilarious" texts? If this trend ever reaches our shores, I'm afraid it'll have to happen without me. I'll be home watching movies on DVD and blu ray in peace and quiet.

I blame Mystery Science Theater 3000 for this unholy trend. As much as I love that show, it's had the unfortunate side effect of making everyone think they're a world class comedian whose every utterance is comedy gold. The cold hard truth is that few if any audience members are at the level of Joel, Mike and the bots, and their "funny" comments thud to the floor like bricks. Keep your goddamned texts to yourself, please and thank you.

As for bedbugs in theaters– how the hell is this happening? I've lived my entire life without ever hearing a peep about bedbugs, and suddenly in the last five years they've become an epidemic. 

I could understand it if this was the 1800s, but it's the goddamned 21st Century! We should have moved past this kind of thing hundreds of years ago. What's next, smallpox? Consumption? Spanish flu?

Excuse me while I board up the windows and refuse to ever leave my house again.

Looking For Mr. Batman

Saw this today on Yahoo.

The number one thing you never knew about Diane Keaton: in 1989 she starred as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton's Batman! Fascinating!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Lucy

Lucy was written and directed by Luc Besson, whose impressive resume also includes La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional, The Fifth Element, District 13 and the Taken films.

Lucy is typical of Besson's films, which are generally visually impressive and filled with over the top action sequences, along with strong female characters (often with superhuman powers).

The entire plot of the film hinges around the theory that humans only use 10% of their brain power, and that we would all be supermen if we could only access the other 90%. Of course this is a completely erroneous  and boneheaded concept that for some reason just will not die. No matter how many times this cockamamie idea is debunked, it keeps on rising from the dead in "Mind Blowing Facts" lists on the internet every few weeks. It's the Jason Voorhees of bogus theories.

So how did the 10% idea ever get started? Some believe it started way back in the 1890s, when Harvard psychologists studied a child prodigy named WIlliam Sidis, who had an IQ of between 250 and 300. From this they posited that most people don't meet their full mental potential. Then in 1929, an ad in the World Almanac proclaimed that humans use only 10% of their brain power (the writer having apparently pulled the figure right out of his ass) and claimed that were we to use the other 90%, there would be no limit as to what we could accomplish. Others simply blame the origin of the myth on poorly understood early studies of neurological science.

However it started, it is most definitely false. Modern brain scans have shown that no matter what we're doing, our brains are always active. There's never any part of our brains that is not functioning. Even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity.

Plus, the brain consumes up to 20% of the body's energy, despite making up only 2% of its mass. If 90% of the brain was dormant, there'd be no reason for it to be so large and natural selection would have caused us to evolve smaller ones long ago.

Despite the fact that the entire film is built around such a ridiculous and laughable premise, it somehow manages to work. And why not? It's not like this is the first time a movie's plot has centered around absurd science. You can't get arachnid powers from a radioactive spider bit, but people still like Spider-Man, so why shouldn't Lucy use the 10% theory? The film
 sets up its own set of rules, however erroneous they may be, and then plays by them, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies.


The Plot:
Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson) is a young woman studying abroad in Taiwan, who is coerced into delivering a briefcase full of an experimental drug to Mr. Jang, a Korean drug lord. Jang (played by Choi Min-sik of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil fame) captures Lucy and has a bag of the drug sewn into her gut, so she can smuggle it into Europe. During her recovery she's attacked by one of  Jang's thugs, which causes the bag to burst inside her, and she absorbs the experimental drug.

The drug, a synthetic form of CPH4, allows Lucy to access all of her brain, which gives her superhuman powers. She then exacts revenge on Mr. Jang, and tracks down the other bags of CPH4 in order to ingest them and develop her brain even further. She contacts Professor Norman (played by Morgan Freeman), an expert in neuroscience, who tries to guide her as her brainpower increases exponentially. 

When Lucy reaches 100% of her brain capacity, she travels throughout the space time continuum, becoming like unto a god as she tells Professor Norman and his colleagues that she is now everywhere.

• The film is filled with dozens of fast-cut visual metaphor shots, apparently included to help those of us in the audience who aren't accessing 100% of our brains to understand what's happening. 

For example, at the beginning of the movie, Lucy nervously delivers a briefcase to Mr. Jang's penthouse. She's quite obviously in danger here, as Jang's black-suited goons converge ominously around her.

Besson needlessly hammers this point home though by splicing in shots of a cheetah stealthily sneaking up on an unsuspecting gazelle.

These kinds of shots pop up all through the movie, and become grating after a while. We get it, Luc, you don't have to draw us a picture.

• When the CPH4 is first absorbed into Lucy's bloodstream, she reacts by recreating Lionel Richie's Dancing On The Ceiling video. She writhes around in agony, eventually rolling up the wall and then squirming around on the ceiling. Apparently one of CHP4's side effects is anti-gravity

• As Lucy begins accessing more of her brain's potential, she gains more and more powers, becoming virtually invincible. Note to future filmmakers: Invincible characters are dull. When a character can't be hurt, then there's no tension, and they become boring. This is why Superman has kryptonite.

They tried to introduce a bit of vulnerability by mentioning that Lucy's powers would cause her to die within a set number of hours, but it was too little, too late.

• When Lucy escapes her cell, she approaches two Taiwanese cab drivers. She asks one if he speaks English. When he says no, she coldly and nonchalantly shoots him. She then asks the other, who nervously exclaims that indeed he does speak English and agrees to drive her. 

As they get into the cab, a voice on the soundtrack moans, "My leg..." Apparently this was supposed to be the voice of the first cab driver. 

A couple of things here. First of all, if he didn't speak English, how is he saying, "My leg?" Secondly, his voice was obviously dubbed in after the fact, as he's not even onscreen when he says it. I'm thinking they crudely dubbed this line in to make Lucy seem less cold-blooded, and imply that she just incapacitated the driver instead of killing him for no good reason. It reminds me for all the world of the G.I. Joe cartoon. Every time the Joes would shoot down an enemy Cobra plane, they always had to show the pilot parachuting to safety to prove he hadn't been killed.

I honestly don't know why they bothered to dub this line in though. At this point Lucy had already killed at least four of her captors, and would go on to kill dozens more. I don't see how sparing this one man made any difference one way or the other in our perception of her character.

• Lucy goes to a hospital to have the bag of CPH4 removed from her abdomen. She walks briskly through the hospital corridors while carrying a handgun in plain sight. She makes absolutely no attempt at hiding it, but no one pays the least bit of attention to her. Is she mind controlling everyone there so they don't see her gun?

She then barges into an operating room in the middle of a surgery. She gives the patient's X-ray a quick once-over, then shoots him dead and shoves him off the table (he didn't even get a chance to groan, "My leg!"). She tells the stunned surgeons that they wouldn't have been able to save the patient anyway, because his tumor had spread too far.

That may well have been, but I'm sure he had at least a little bit of time left. Time he could have used to say goodbye to his family and make his peace with whatever god he worshipped.

• Lucy forces the surgeon to remove the leaky bad of drugs from her gut. The surgeon does so and tells her the drug is a synthetic form of a naturally occurring drug called CPH4. He says it's normally produced by pregnant women in small quantities and "jolts" fetuses into growing brain tissue or something.

So is CPH4 a real thing? According to Luc Besson, yes. He claims there is a hormone that pregnant women produce that affects developing fetuses like an "atomic bomb." But he says he changed the name because he doesn't want people taking it to try and increase their brain power. So who knows if any of it is true or not.

• I don't get why Lucy was so determined to have the leaking bag of CPH4 removed from her abdomen in the first place. At this point she knew it was responsible for the changes in her, which she seemed OK with. So why remove it? Why not continue to absorb the rest? Did she just want the vinyl bag out of her gut?

• Throughout the film Lucy has several opportunities to kill the evil Mr. Jang and his gang, but doesn't. In fact she goes out of her way not to kill them. She shows no hesitation killing anyone else; so why spare them?

The ONLY reason for sparing them is because the script says so. The story needs a big shootout at the end, so she seemingly saves them only so they can show up and cause trouble in the third act.

• When Lucy first contacts Professor Norman, her face appears on his TV screen. She explains that her newfound powers allow her to control and manipulate simple electronic devices. Oddly enough, the image on Norman's flatscreen includes very visible scan lines, like it's a video monitor from the 1970s. Scan lines aren't visible on modern TVs.

I suppose I could be generous here and say that Lucy's control of TV waves hasn't yet reached 1080p levels yet. I suppose I could say that, but...

• During Lucy's flight to Paris, her body begins to disintegrate for some reason. Why this happens is never explained. Maybe her brain is cannibalizing the rest of her for fuel? That doesn't seem very logical, as a brain without a body isn't going to be much use, no matter how smart it is. Anyhow, she locks herself in the lavatory, which greatly agitates the stewardesses.

Airline employees should know that a lavatory door can easily be opened from the outside, even if it's locked from the inside. All you have to do is lift up the "Lavatory" sign on the door and pull the latch under it.

• When Lucy first contacts Paris policeman Pierre Del Rio by phone, she proves she's legit by identifying him by name and describing what's on his desk. How she does this is not explained. There are no cameras in the office. Is her brain power somehow allowing her to see through the phone lines? Or is she accessing Del Rio's brain and seeing through his eyes?

• Lucy tells Del Rio where he can find the various drug mules who are also carrying CPH4 in their guts. When he asks her for details about the drug, she tells him it's in powdered form. It looked a lot like crystals to me.

• Speaking of Del Rio, he's a bit of an odd character. He speaks French, his name is Del Rio and he's played by an Egyptian actor (Amr Waked). In a similar vein, the first half of the movie is set in Taiwan, but Mr. Jang and his gang are Korean. It's A Small World After All!

• As Lucy's powers grow, she begins manipulating the world by swiping at everything she sees with her hand, exactly the way one controls an iPad or iPhone. Funny how the best way to control the world exactly mimics Apple's interface design. Steve Jobs was right!

• When Lucy reaches 100% of her brain capacity, she begins traveling through time. She goes far back into the past, eventually confronting the oldest recorded ancestor of humanity, who was coincidentally nicknamed Lucy. The two touch fingertips, and the shot perfectly mimics the pose from Michelangelo's The Creation Of Adam, because of course it does.

Lucy is based on a ridiculous and debunked premise, but if you can get past that it's a decent sci-fi action film. I give it a B.

Rejected Lay's Potato Chip Flavors

This week Lay's® Potato Chips announced the four finalists in their second annual Lay's® Do Us A Flavor™ contest, in which you, the general public, are asked to come up with brand new flavor concoctions for their consideration. 

This is no penny-ante little contest– the winning entrant not only gets to see their flavor put into production, but will also receive a cool one million bucks!

The four finalists are Cappuccino, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese and Wavy Mango Salsa. Really? That's not a mistake, those were really the winners? Dear lord... Whatever happened to a plain chip with salt on it?

The staff here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld has managed to get ahold of a partial list of some of the flavors that didn't win. We proudly present the Top 15 Rejected Lay's® Potato Chip Flavors:
• Black Licorice Blast

• Wavy Wax Lips

• Liver & Onion Taste-Sation

• Colored Chalk Concussion

• Ketchup Water Rumble

• Coppery Blood Conniption

• Quince Combustion

• Grilled Durian Blast

• Brackish Pond Water Gust

• Tin Foil & Mercury Filling Fling

• Vulcanized Rubber Wail

• Licked Battery Taste-Splosion

• Rhubarb-Radish Roar

• Mashed Potato & Gravy Grind

• Pencil Lead Percussion

Looks like we all dodged 15 bullets!

Monday, August 18, 2014

George Carlin Was Right

Saw this on the internet superhighway today. Facebook is considering labeling posts from The Onion as satire, so as not to confuse and bamboozle their dimmer readers.

Please tell me this is an article from The Onion.

Friday, August 15, 2014

It's All In The Title UPDATE!

A while back I wrote about Edge Of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise's recent scifi action opus and its horrible, horrible title. 

In brief, I thought the title was bland and told you absolutely nothing about the story and predicted it would hurt the film's box office. It ended up making $370 million worldwide, which sounds like a lot to you and me, but isn't all that much in the movie biz. Just think how much more it could have made if people knew what it was about.

The film was based on a popular manga called All You Need Is Kill. So why didn't they use that odd, but much better title? Supposedly they were going to, but Warner Bros. president Sue Kroll gets icky bad feelings when she sees or hears the word "kill," hence the change to incredibly bland and vanilla Edge Of Tomorrow moniker. Sadly, I'm not kidding.

It's beginning to look like I'm not the only one who hated the title. This week Warner Bros. revealed the DVD/Blu Ray art for the movie, and it looks for all the world like they've changed the title again.

It appears to have retroactively been renamed Live, Die, Repeat. This was formerly the film's tagline, but it now seems to have been promoted to the full title. It's still not a particularly good name, but at least it gives you a vague idea of what the movie's about, and it's a thousand times better than the previous one.

Note that Edge Of Tomorrow is still on the cover, but it's been relegated to the very bottom, after the stars' names. Confusing!

The spine would seem to indicate that the official title is now Live, Die, Repeat / Edge Of Tomorrow. I guess Live, Die, Repeat / Edge Of Tomorrow / Being A Fictional Moving Photoplay In Which Tom Cruise, Favorite Actor Of The Masses And The Ostensible Star Of The Opus, Battles Strange Beings Of An Unsavory Sort From Another World And Is Tragically Killed Over And Over, Only To Find Himself Resurrected The Next Day, Much Like Our Lord And Savior, And Uses His Knowledge Of Coming Events To Defeat The Godless Hordes And Drive Them From Our Fair Republic was too much.

I can think of only one other time that a movie title has been changed after the fact– when George Lucas, the king of retroactive tampering, changed Raiders Of The Lost Ark to Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark (so all the films would have Indiana Jones in the title).

Anyway, make sure you pre-order the film today, before Warner changes the title yet again!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Into The Storm

Into The Storm was written by John Swetnam and directed by Steven Quale. 

Swetnam also wrote the classic 2014 film Step Up All In. Quale previously directed Final Destination 5: Even Finaler. What's that? I'm being told the title is just Final Destination 5.

The movie was filmed back in 2012, which seems like an oddly long lead time. It was originally titled Black Sky, but New Line eventually changed it to Into The Storm. The film was shot in Michagan, including two weeks of filming in Detroit. Insert your own "Detroit looks like the aftermath of a tornado" joke here.

Into The Storm is a virtual remake of 1996's Twister. Pretty much everything from that film has an analogue here. There's a group of life-risking storm chasers, endless scenes of tornadoes disintegrating barns and an experimental vehicle that will allow them to see what's inside a vortex. 

Even the pattern of the tornadoes is the same; it starts out with a small one, then a larger one, then several at once, finally culminating in a pants-soiling mile wide F5. There's even a brief glimpse of a flying cow! The storm chasers are even "in it for the money," just like in Twister! At least this time none of the tornadoes roared like tigers.

I'm betting the only reason this film isn't called Twister 2 is because hiring Bill Paxton would have strained the budget too much.


The Plot:
A suspiciously improbable rash of tornadoes breaks out in the town of Silverton (I don't think they ever specify a state), endangering the small hamlet. A group of storm chasers cross paths with an assistant high school principal who's searching for his teenaged son. They team up in order to survive the deadly tornadoes. That's pretty much it!

• This film feels a lot like a Siffy Channel movie but with a bigger budget and better effects. It even features mostly TV actors, with the exception of Richard Armitage (of The Hobbit films).

• It's no secret that I am not a fan of "found footage" films. My main beef with them, apart from the shaky camera work, is that the filmmakers have to bend over backwards to think of reason as to why the characters are filming the events instead of running for their lives as a sane person would.

The movie begins with a found footage scene of a tornado encounter, causing me to let out an exasperated moan as I thought the entire thing would be filmed that way. Fortunately that wasn't the case. It's an odd combo of found footage and a regular narrative. 

Funny thing is, in the found footage scenes the camera predictably shakes and wanders all over the place. But as soon as a tornado appears, the camera work suddenly becomes rock solid so we can get a good look at the expensive effects.

• I'll admit the tornado scenes were very well done, and one of the film's few highlights. 
I'm guessing most of the events aren't scientifically accurate, but it all looks nice. With the theater's sound cranked up it was all very immersive. As close as I ever want to come to a real tornado.

• Sarah Wayne Callies stars as tornado hunter Allison Stone, and proves she can actually be likable when she wants to. This is in stark contrast to the years she spent annoying the hell out of the world as Lori Grimes on The Walking Dead.

• Some have complained about the film's paper-thin characters. Eh, that's been par for the course in disaster movies since the 1970s. People go to these movies to see disasters. If you want compelling human drama, look elsewhere.

• The film touches ever so briefly on the subject of climate change, saying that giant storms used to happen once a century, but now seem to pop up several times a year, and we need to do something about it before they start touching down in large cities.

It's like the filmmakers want to make a statement about climate change, but either don't know how or don't want to alienate the deniers in the audience. In the end the matter was given so little lip service they might as well not have included it at all.

• Vice Principal Gary (played by Richard Armitage) has an argument with his teen son Trey (played by Nathan Kress of iCarly fame). Hilariously the only reason the writer can think of for all the friction is that Trey is secretly carrying a pocket knife, of which his father disapproves.

Do teens even carry pocket knives these days? You can't make a call, text or take selfies with a knife, so I wouldn't think so.

This knife ends up becoming the Most Important Thing In The Universe. Gary angrily confiscates it from Trey, then later on uses it to cut through a strap and rescue his other son Donnie from a watery death. At the end of the film Gary solemnly gives the knife back to Trey, with all the reverence and importance of a general presenting a purple heart to a wounded soldier.

• Donnie and his crush Kaitlyn (oy, one of those "clever" spellings) are filming a video in an abandoned factory when a tornado hits, trapping them under tons of rubble. Every time the movie cuts to them and their plight, it absolutely grinds to a halt.

• Jeremy Sumpter (of 2003's Peter Pan) plays Jacob (does anyone in this film have a last name?), a twitchy and inexperienced storm-chasing intern.

Jacob is deathly afraid of tornadoes, which of course seals his doom from the start. He might as well have been wearing a red shirt or had a target painted on his back.

• Well into the film, probably around the 3/4 mark, a man named Lucas suddenly emerges from the back of the storm chasers' van. Where the hell did he come from? I swear he wasn't in the film up to that point. He must have been ducking just out of camera range for most of the movie.

In a similar vein, around this same time Daryl, the driver of the van, walks off the screen and completely disappears from the rest of the film.

• Watch for the flying cow, which of course is a shout out to Twister. This time though it's a fiberglass cow from a billboard, and not a real one.

• Scott Lawrence plays high school principal Thomas Walker (Hey! A last name!) and looks a lot like President Obama. In fact for a few seconds I wondered if he was supposed to be Obama visiting a high school graduation for some reason.

• As happened in Twister, the characters don't seem to be all that affected by tornadoes that are virtually right next to them. Unless the script calls for it, that is.

At one point Gary and Allison are almost sucked into the air by a tornado that's a block or so away. A few minutes later they and their group are surrounded by four or five tornadoes, and they're able to run unimpeded into a church. 

So which is it, guys? Do tornadoes suck you into the air or can you casually stroll away from one?

• The F5 heads toward a nearby airport, causing the planes on the runway to slowly lift into the air and spin around the vortex. Not just prop planes mind you, but giant 737s. It's an awesome scene, but I don't know... can a tornado really lift a commercial airliner into the sky?

• Pete (played by Matt Walsh) is the film's Designated Asshole, whose sole trait is that he places storm chasing above people. He's also the inventor of the Titus, an indestructible tank-like vehicle that can anchor itself to the ground and survive being mowed over by a tornado.

At the end of the film he decides to redeem himself by positioning the Titus so it will protect the rest of the cast, who are cowering from the massive F5 twister in a convenient storm drain. He anchors the Titus to the ground with metal spikes and even a winch. 

Unfortunately for him the tornado sucks the top half of the tank into the air, leaving the chassis (complete with spikes and winch) on the ground. I guess he must have forgotten to tighten the screws?

• The F5 tornado lifts Pete (inside what's left of the Titus) high into the atmosphere and above the storm clouds, into the peaceful, sun-filled skies for a few seconds before he comes crashing back to earth. Again, awesome scene, but I have a feeling it's not very scientifically accurate.

• The most cringe-worthy part of the film were the two amateur redneck storm chasers, Donk and Reevis (sigh... yeah, those are their names). They were ostensibly the movie's comedy relief, but their antics were nothing but grating and their "jokes" thudded to the floor like sacks of sour laundry.

At the risk of sounding like a jittery Soccer Mom, not only were these scenes irksome, they seem ill-advised and dangerous. Somebody out there's going to watch these two morons survive a tornado plowing over them and think they could do the same.

Into The Storm is mindless, action-packed storm porn in which the tornadoes upstage the humans. Honestly if you've already seen Twister, there's really not much reason to see this one. I give it a B-.

Milking The Who Cow

The new season of Doctor Who, starring a brand new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi,  starts up on August 23. Right now Amazon is taking pre-orders for the DVD of the first episode.

Not the entire season, mind you, but just the first episode.

Talk about milking the franchise! I don't like the sound of this at all. Of course the BBC has been selling Classic Doctor Who episodes individually since Day One, instead of by seasons as god intended. Up to now they've never done so with the new series (apart from the Christmas and Anniversary Specials). They've always sold them by seasons or occasionally half seasons.

Hopefully this isn't part of some new insidious cash-grab marketing scheme from the BBC. Because if they're going to sell all thirteen episodes one at a time, it's gonna get pricey around here real quick.

Let's all vow to ignore these single ep discs, and just wait for the inevitable season collections and teach the godless capitalists at the BBC a lesson they won't soon forget.

This Week In Movie Posters

This week Dimension Films debuted yet another character poster for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the sequel to 2005's Sin City. This one prominently features a sultry image of actress Alexa Vega (or PenaVega, as she's billed here).

You may remember Alexa Vega from the Spy Kids films. Yeah. Carmen Cortez and the woman in the poster are one and the same. Sigh... excuse me while I go take my rheumatiz medicine.

Oddly enough, earlier in the year the MPAA (the ultra secret film organization that knows what's best for all of us) banned this poster for the film, saying it was too risqué.

I'm honestly not seeing much of a difference. They both feature half naked women in provocative poses. I'm having trouble seeing why one's OK and one's not, especially since the new one contains even more bare skin. I guess that's why I'm not part of the MPAA. 

So for the record kids: Gauzy boob = bad. Shadowy crotch and ass cheek = just fine.

Hooked On A Feeling

It's official! The Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack is now the number one selling album in America! Woohoo!

According to Billboard, it sold over 100,000 copies last week and is notable for being the first soundtrack that contains nothing but previously released music to ever hit #1.

I couldn't be more pleased. The soundtrack is comprised of songs from the 1960s and 1970s, and they're all still just as catchy today as they were back in my youth. In fact most of the songs are still rattling around in my head nearly two weeks after I saw the film.

This confirms my belief that current pop music sucks. For a long time now I've thought that today's vapid, overproduced and auto tuned music is double plus ungood. But I couldn't tell if it was truly bad, or if it just seemed so to me because I'm getting old. After all, it's only natural to feel that things were better in the past.

But the success of this soundtrack would seem to indicate I'm right. What passes for music today is awful, the public's tired of it and they want songs containing actual human voices with talent. 

So I wonder who's buying this soundtrack? Is it oldsters like me on a nostalgia kick, or youngins discovering this music for the first time? Hopefully it's both.

For the record, here's what's on the soundtrack:

Hooked On A Feeling by Blue Swede

Go All The Way by The Raspberries

Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum

Moonage Daydream by David Bowie

Fooled Around And Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop

I'm Not In Love by 10cc

I Want You Back by The Jackson 5ive

Come And Get Your Love by Redbone

Cherry Bomb by The Runaways

Escape (The Pinã Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes

O-O-H Child by The Five Stairsteps

Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Tammi Terrell

Xena, Time Lord Princess

I recently started catching up on Parks And Recreation, NBC's mockumentary sitcom set in my home state of Indiana.

In Season 5 of the show, guest star Lucy Lawless makes several appearances as Ron Swanson's new love interest. By Odin's Beard! Is that really her? Other than her hair color, Lawless looks remarkably unchanged from her Xena: Warrior Princess days. And that series aired a whopping twenty years ago!

The only explanation I can come up with is that Lucy Lawless is secretly a Time Lord who's hopscotching through the decades. Either that or she's in possession of the One Ring.

Idea for future illustration: Xena wonders through 1970s downtown Minneapolis, giddily spins around and throws her circular chakram into the air. She might just make it after all!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

That's A Lot Of Dollars

This week closeout giant Dollar Tree announced it's buying rival store Family Dollar for a cool $8.5 billion. Yeah, I said billion. Now that is a lot of dollars!

So what do you think they'll call this unholy merger between the two discount behemoths?

If we take a part from both names and combine them, we get Dollar Dollar. Hmm. That definitely tells you what the store's all about, but I'm thinking it's a bit too repetitive.

How about Dollar Family? Eh, I'm gonna say no. Somehow it sounds like an ill-fated Old West expedition that ended in cannibalism.

I know! How about Family Tree? It's catchy, it'll appeal to the Mormons and best of all it's got zing! Nailed it!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy was written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. It was directed by Gunn as well.

Gunn wrote the screenplays for the live action Scooby-Doo movie and its sequel, Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, as well as the 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead. He also wrote and directed 2006's Slither.

The Guardians first appeared waaaay back in 1969, in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. Back then they had a completely different lineup and operated in the 31st century. I'm just guessing here, but I bet they were Marvel's answer to DC's Legion Of Superheroes. They appeared sporadically over the years, getting their own book in the 1990s and most recently in 2008 (which was cancelled in 2010, but will no doubt be returning soon). The film is loosely based on the 2008 version of the team, so don't rush out to the comic shop expecting to find a comic exactly like the movie.

Many industry insiders were certain that this film would be Marvel Studio's first big flop, as it featured a very obscure group of characters and its cosmic setting would be too weird for mainstream audiences. I don't know why anyone would think that– Marvel's already made two successful Thor films that feature alien gods living in a super-advanced He-Man world. Fortunately the film appears to have struck a cord with audiences, and is a huge success. So suck it, naysayers!

The film is fast-paced, goofy and probably the closest thing I've seen to the original Star Wars since, well since 1977.

I hope Warner Bros. is watching this film on a continuous loop, studying every single frame. Marvel's superhero films are fun. DC's are full of mopey, navel-gazing "heroes" who resent their powers and kill more people than they save. Warner desperately wants their own Avengers-style franchise, but it's never going to happen unless they lighten up their movies a notch or twelve.


The Plot:
In 1988, young Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by aliens. Cut to 26 years later, when an adult Quill (played by Chris Pratt), who now calls himself Star-Lord, steals a mysterious orb from the planet Morag. Unfortunately for Star-Lord, pretty much everyone in the galaxy is after the orb as well, including Ronan The Accuser, a radical Kree who's working for the evil Thanos.

Star-Lord teams up with a group of alien misfits, including Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), who's Thanos' adopted daughter, Drax The Destroyer (played by Dave Bautista), an alien whose family was killed by Ronan, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered talking raccoon, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a large tree-like alien with multiple powers.

Together these misfits must keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan (and Thanos) while avoiding everyone else who's trying to kill them.

• I think the thing I like best about Guardians is that it doesn't bog itself down with tedious origin stories. Star-Lord comes closest to getting a full blown origin, as we see him get abducted as a child, but that's about all the background we get on him.

Each of the other characters got a line of two of explanation, and honestly that's all that was needed. Star Wars did the same thing. We knew next to nothing about Han Solo and Chewbacca, and we didn't need to. They appeared, we saw what they were like through the actions, we embraced them, and that was that.

I wish more superhero movies would follow Guardians' lead here. We don't need an entire film to explain a character's origin. A brief rundown is all that's needed.

• A big part of the film's success is due to actor Chris Pratt, who lends his goofy charm and +12 charisma to Star-Lord. If you like Pratt on Parks And Recreation, you'll like him here as well. He'll next be seen in the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel/reboot/whatever it is, and I have a feeling that's only the beginning for him.

• Zoe Saldona is now the official Queen Of SciFi Movies. She's currently starring in 3, count 'em three huge scifi franchises: Avatar, the rebooted Star Trek, and now Guardians. If you need a kickass hot space babe, apparently she's your go-to gal. 

Oddly enough Chris Pratt auditioned for the role of Jake Sully in Avatar, and James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. It would have been cool if both he and Saldona had been in all three films.

• Kudos to the effects team who brought Rocket to life. He looked absolutely real to me, and I never once doubted I was looking at a real raccoon (or at least a raccoon-like creature).

Props as well to Bradley Cooper, who voiced Rocket. When I first heard they'd cast him I thought, "Wow, could they have picked a more random and generic voice?" Who even knows what Bradley Cooper sounds like? After hearing him in action though, I think it was the right call. If they'd gone with some kind of wacky Bugs Bunny/Fozzie Bear kind of voice, it would have been too much.

Part of the credit should also go to Sean Gunn (James' brother), who provided the on-set motion capture for Rocket.

By the way, Rocket's been around in the comics since 1976, and he's always been referred to as "Rocket Raccoon," which of course is a nod to the Beatles' song Rocky Raccoon. Now suddenly he's just going with the singular Rocket, like he's Elvis or Cher. I have to wonder if the filmmakers shortened the name because they were afraid it would sound too silly for modern jaded audiences?

• Although I praised the film for skipping the origin stories, I'll admit I'm a bit confused by Rocket. Is he an altered Earth raccoon? Are there aliens out there whose hobby is modifying Earth wildlife? Or is he some space animal who just happens to look like a raccoon? Who altered him? Are they saving that for the sequel?

• I honestly wasn't expecting much from the Drax character, but he practically stole the show. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise. Dave Bautista is a professional wrestler, and they're all basically actors to start with, so...

• If I have one complaint about Marvel movies, it's that they don't go quite far enough. Take Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example. There they included the Arnim Zola character, but he was just a plain old face on a monitor instead of a headless guy with a face on a TV screen in his chest, as in the comics. 

It's a similar situation here. In the comics Yondu has a big red fin on his head. Here he's got what looks like a pale red soapdish glued to the top of his skull. Embrace your weird side, Marvel! You've already got a talking raccoon in your movie. Are you telling me a guy with a fin head is a deal breaker? Go for it! Trust me, the audience can handle it.

• Speaking of Yondu... I like actor Michael Rooker, but let's face it-- he's pretty much playing a blue Merle Dixon here. He even has a faux Southern accent! I guess he's from the Southern arm of the galaxy?

• One last thing about Yondu– in the comic he's a skilled archer, sort of like an alien American Indian, and can control the path of his arrows by whistling. He does that here in the movie as well, but without the bow.

Looking forward to an Avengers/Guardians crossover and Hawkeye vs. Yondu!

• I feel that this is the movie John Carter should have been. It's got a cool retro vibe, and as I've mentioned many times, it's just plain fun. If John Carter had been even a fraction as much fun as this film, we'd be watching Part 3 by now.

• Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance in the film, playing an aging Xandarian flirting with a young beauty. Troma Studios founder Lloyd Kaufman also makes a brief appearance when the gang is in space prison. Kaufman is a pal of director James Gunn, and has appeared in all his films.

• Back in 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Marvel fans were gypped out of the chance to see Galactus on screen. Fox, who sadly owns the rights to the Fantastic Four, said that the sight of a giant alien in a purple space suit stomping around New York City would look silly and be laughed off the screen. Instead we got a Galactus that was nothing more than a bland, disappointing space storm.

Guardians Of The Galaxy shows us a brief scene of a Celestial (a race of mysterious gigantic aliens who judge other planets) destroying a planet, and it looked amazing. There was nothing silly about it at all, and there's absolutely no reason why the FF movie couldn't have included a proper Galactus. 

Dear God, if you really exist, please let Marvel Studios get back the rights to the Fantastic Four, so they can make the movie the characters deserve and we all want to see.

• So we now know the whereabouts of four of the six Infinity Gems. Two to go! 

It's pretty obvious at this point that Marvel is building up to a film adaptation of The Infinity Gauntlet. It was a 1991 comic miniseries in which Thanos gained possession of all six of the Infinity Gems (giving him virtually unlimited, god-like power) and battled Marvel's biggest superheroes. If this is indeed where they're going, it's going to be mind-blowing.

• We got a brief glimpse of Thanos at the end of The Avengers, and he finally appears here in all his suitably awesome glory. Most fans believe that Thanos will be the Big Bad in The Avengers 3. I can't wait!

• James Gunn is great at writing offbeat scripts with quirky characters, but... he can't direct a fight sequence to save his life. Many times during the battles I had no idea what was happening, or even who was fighting who and had to wait until it was over to see which side won. Maybe he needs to hire a stunt coordinator. Or watch some classic fight scenes to see how it's done.

• As much as I love this movie, I can't help feeling that it's pretty much just a big budget episode of Farscape. Earth man gets transported to the other side of the galaxy and becomes part of a crew of wacky aliens who are on the run from a space empire (and everyone else). It's the exact same story! 

You've got the smart ass human leading man, the beautiful and deadly female assassin, the stoic, hulking strongman alien, the wisecracking diminutive alien, and the serene plant-like alien.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are no new ideas under the sun by this point in history. I just think it needs to be said.

• Star-Lord and Gamora pay a visit to the Collector, and outer space Liberace with a museum full of rare cosmic artifacts. This scene is a treasure trove of Marvel Easter eggs. 

Among the items in his museum is a Chitauri from The Avengers and one of the Dark Elves from Thor: The Dark World. Supposedly Adam Warlock's cocoon (from the comics) is in there as well, along with a space slug from James Gunn's Slither. Some say they saw Beta Ray Bill (don't ask) in the museum, but it hasn't yet been confirmed.

Cosmo the Space Dog also makes an appearance in the museum. He's a test animal from the Russian Space Program and plays a big part in the comics. Kudos to the filmmakers for making the movie version look exactly like his comic counterpart.

• The film also features an awesome soundtrack full of 1970s and 1980s songs (which are all on Star-Lord's "Awesome Mix" cassette tape). Music from vocalists who could actually sing and didn't need autotune to record a song. 

• Marvel's "12%" in-joke makes another appearance here. In The Avengers, Tony Stark tells Pepper to give herself 12% of the credit for designing Stark Tower. She coyly brushes off his advances, saying they were having 12% of a moment. In Guardians, Star Lord says he has 12% of a plan.

• Peter Quill's prized possession is his 1980s Walkman, which he listens to constantly. He even risks his life to retrieve it from an alien guard.

I'm assuming he's found a way to recharge his double A batteries even though he's on the other side of the galaxy. Maybe he's found an alternate power source? Also, cassette tapes don't last forever. After over twenty years of constant use, his one and only cassette is probably in serious danger of breaking. He needs to transfer those song to CD or whatever they have in space, pronto!

• The film plays fast and loose with the effects of the vacuum of space, as Star-Lord leaps out of several airlocks, wearing just his street clothes and his trademark mask. At one point both he and Gamora drift unprotected in space for a few minutes before being rescued, and apparently suffer no ill effects afterward.

Scientists believe you could survive unprotected in space for about fifteen seconds or so before losing consciousness. You might survive a few minutes more before your blood began to boil. No one's a hundred percent sure how long you could survive though, as it's tough to find volunteers to test the theory.

We're talking about aliens and half-aliens here though, so who knows? Maybe they're not as vulnerable to the effects of open space.

One might question why I'm bothering to bring this up in the first place. It's a film about talking raccoons and walking trees, for god's sake, and I'm nitpicking this particular point? Well, yeah, I am. See, my suspension of disbelief is like a rubber band. It can only stretch so far. If you want me to buy a talking raccoon, fine. That's no problem for it. Throw in a walking tree and space gems and aliens who all speak English, and it gets stretched almost to its breaking point. Add in humans cavorting in the vacuum of space, and SNAP! my suspension of disbelief breaks. You have to ground your film at least a tiny bit in reality.

• At the end of the film we learn that Star-Lord is only half human (on his mom's side). So who's his daddy? In the comics his father is  someone called Prince Jason of the planet Spartoi, and I almost fell asleep before I got to the end of that sentence. I'm assuming they're planning something bigger and more exciting for the film, especially since his dying mother said his father was "an angel made of shining light."

• In the final act, Groot envelopes the rest of the team to save them from certain destruction. A teary-eyed Rocket begs him not to, as he'll die in the process. A few scenes later we see Rocket carrying a flowerpot containing a live cutting of Groot. 

So based on Rocket's initial reaction, I'm assuming he didn't know Groot could survive and regenerate. It feels like a scene's missing here; they should have included a shot in which Rocket finds a piece of Groot and plants him.

• Why the hell is there no Dancing Groot toy? Seems like such a thing would be a no-brainer. Every kid that sees the movie would buy one. Marvel could be selling truckloads of them right now. Somebody in their marketing department dropped the ball big time.

• At the very end of the film we get a title card saying, Guardians Of The Galaxy Will Return. Just like in a James Bond movie!

• The after credits scene features Howard The Duck, of all characters. He was voiced by an uncredited Seth Green.

When Howard first appeared in his eponymous comic, Disney went ballistic and threatened to sue Marvel, saying he looked way too much like Donald Duck. Which was true. He did look a lot like thin. Same curved beak, blue hat and blue jacket with no pants. Disney demanded a list of changes to the character's look, which Marvel implemented.

Now that Disney owns Marvel though, I wonder if all is forgiven and it's OK to use Howard again? Could we even see another, better Howard The Duck movie someday? Time will tell I guess.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is a fast-paced space adventure in the vein of the original Star Wars, but most of all it's just plain fun. I give it an A-.
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