FlixChatter Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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I have to admit that I wasn’t remotely interested in seeing this one from the moment I first heard about it. For one thing, I was beginning to get bored of yet another Marvel superhero movie, and another reason is I have never even heard of who these characters are. Though it seems that a lot of my fellow bloggers are getting superhero fatigue, clearly the average movie goers are still gung ho about them, as GOTG has proven itself to be another big hit for Marvel. According to Box Office Mojo, by Friday estimates, it already out-earned two of Marvel’s sequels: Captain America 2 and Thor 2 and on its way to make close to $100 mil by the first weekend, wow!

The audience in the packed advanced screening on Tuesday seemed to have a good time with this movie, and I was surprised too how entertaining it was. The protagonist this time isn’t a superhero, he’s a regular boy-next-door human named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who got abducted by a space ship just minutes after his mother died at a hospital. Fas forward twenty six years later, we see Peter on planet Morag stealing an orb that turns out to be a highly-coveted artifact wanted by the master villain Ronan (Lee Pace). The scene is reminiscent of Raiders Of The Lost Ark opening sequence and you could say Peter has the kind of swagger and cheeky attitude of Indiana Jones. Needless to say, Peter then gets embroiled in a manhunt, not just from Ronan but also from a group of space pirates led by Yondu (Michael Rooker) who apparently the same folks that snatched young Peter from earth years ago.

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I think people who read the comics would appreciate this movie more, as they’d be more familiar with the cosmic universe where everything takes place. A lot of the things happening here baffles me but I went along for the ride anyway. Peter suddenly ends up in planet called Xandar and ends up getting arrested by Nova Corps, the space militia led by Glenn Close, sporting similar hairdo as in 101 Dalmatians. It’s in the Xandar prison that Peter meets his would-be teammates: a wisecrackin’, gun-toting, raccoon called Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a tree-like humanoid named Groot (Vin Diesel), bad-ass assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who has a personal vendetta against Ronan. It’s an unlikely quartet that constantly bicker and fight, but of course they have no choice but to work together.

Guardians of the Galaxy is more of a space action comedy, akin to Galaxy Quest or The Fifth Element. But the irreverent and at times cheesy humor works here and there’s such a fun spirit throughout that is contagious. The one-liners are packed with goofy 80s pop-culture references (Kevin Bacon, John Stamos) to self-satirical ones like “I’m gonna die, surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.” Director James Gunn and writer Nicole Perlman (first female writer of a Marvel movie, yay!) are certainly aware of the its inherent silliness and the movie definitely works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Perhaps this is an antithesis of sort to the standard superhero fare as none of the characters here possess any kind of super powers. But what the characters have in spades is humor, charm and even warmth, as the unlikely group slowly bond together.

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Now for the cast, I have to say that Chris Pratt [now part of the Marvel trifecta of Chris-es w/ Chris Hemsworth & Chris Evans] is a hoot and no doubt this movie will launch him to be a star. There’s a scene where a space henchman calls him Star Lord and Peter quips ‘finally!’ It’s almost art imitating life as Pratt has been in a bunch of major movies in supporting roles, in fact, three of them were nominated for Oscar 3 years in a row: Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball, and Her. But now it’s his moment to shine and he’s such a charming, affable dude you can’t help but root for him. The rest of the cast is pretty good in their roles and I have to say Cooper as the fast-talking raccoon with a chip on his shoulder is quite the scene-stealer! I wonder just what the heck Cooper was thinking taking this job after a two Oscar nominations back to back, as he could easily play Peter Quill as well, but y’know what, I think he did a smashing job as Rocket. Diesel too, surprisingly makes the most of his only one line in the movie, ‘I am Groot’ all the way to the end.

It’s always nice when a movie surprises you in a pleasant way when you have such little expectations about it. But still I’m surprised by the stellar reviews that seem to surpass even Captain America: The Winter Soldier which I think is a better movie. Yes of course GOTG is a lot of fun and I was genuinely entertained, but it’s hardly flawless. Some critics call it edgy but the plot is not exactly fresh, we’ve got a space psychopath hellbent on destroying the world and it’s up to these unlikely heroes to save everyone, nothing new there. It doesn’t help matters that the villains are pretty ho-hum and lacking real menace. Poor Lee Pace is rather wasted here as Ronan is as boring as the villain in Thor 2. Same could be said for his female sidekick Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Thanos (uncredited Josh Brolin), which to me makes more impact in The Avengers‘ post-credit scene than here. I do like Rooker as Yandu, his performance reminds me of Michael Wincott who’s no stranger to playing bad guys.

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So the good guys definitely have more fun, even John C. Reilly is a hoot as a Nova Corpsman, especially in the hilarious finale. For sure the heroes were never in any danger in being upstaged by the villains. Visually speaking it’s as good as I expect from a big-budget Marvel movie, the 3D is pretty good but at the same time I honestly can’t think of an action scene that stand out to me. What’s truly awesome is the soundtrack! As a big fan of 80s music, the retro soundtrack is pure nostalgic fun! The gist is that Peter’s mom made an Awesome Mix Vol. 1 tape for him that he constantly plays on his walkman. Most Millennials probably think of it as some ancient artifact ahah, but hey I definitely remember those and making tapes of songs from the radio [oh boy am I dating myself or what?] The song played in the trailer, Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, will be forever associated with this movie, and there are others I definitely recognize even if I can’t remember them by name.

Amidst all the clutter of all the goofy actions, there’s actually a bit of emotional touches here and there. So overall this movie proves to be a pleasant surprise and one I don’t even mind watching again. Not as spectacular as people led you to believe, but still worth a look if you’re initially skeptical. Everyone of all ages should enjoy this, just don’t expect too much in the way of plot and you’ve got yourself two hours of a rollicking good time.

3.5 reels


So what do YOU think of Guardians of the Galaxy? 

FlixChatter’s AVATAR review


To say Avatar is like nothing you’ve seen before is a quite an understatement.

Back in June, I list Avatar as one of five must-see flix of the rest of 2009 and ever since then, the hype promised it to be something of an epic thrill ride. Well, I can confidently say that fifteen years after his still-unmatched blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron delivers on that promise. Really folks, it’s like NOTHING I’ve ever seen in my 30+ years of movie-going experience. I felt like a kid again being whisked to a cinematic ‘ride’ on a jaw-dropping-ly beautiful planet that is Pandora, a journey that never cease to amaze me for the full 2.5 hours of the movie running time. The movie doesn’t feel long at all, in fact, there wasn’t a dull moment from the time we put our 3D glasses on.

No wonder it took Cameron more than a decade to bring this project to light as according to Wikipedia, filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Titanic, and the film would have been released in 1999, but according to Cameron, “technology needed to catch up” with his vision of the film. That span of time also allowed the ambitious director to invent a new language (like Tolkien did in The Lord of the Rings) with the help of a linguistic expert. All that hard work and a whole lot of moolah (all $300+ million of ’em) paid off. The first time a couple of the Avatar program participants’ took a tour of that distant planet, the female pilot (played by the fiery Michelle Rodriguez) snickered at their wide-eyed wonder, ‘you should see your faces.’  The same could be said for much of the moviegoers, as for much of the time, I too was blown away by the spectacular visuals. The world that is Pandora is so spellbinding words cannot do justice, you simply have to see and experience it for yourself. One critic said it’s as if Cameron took a trip to an real island somewhere and took his video camera out, they’re that lifelike. If it’s beyond gorgeous during daytime, it’s pure magical at night. The Pandora jungles are filled with luminous phosphorescent plants and creatures, the ethereal airborne jellyfish especially, they’re ever so graceful and downright mesmerizing. Then there’s the alien creatures themselves. Five years ago, The Polar Express used a similar motion-capture technology — where live actors’ motions are digitally recorded and then applied to 3D models — but the result was a cold, inhuman, even creepy computer-generated characters with inexpressive ‘dead’ eyes. In Avatar however, the cat-like eyes of these blue aliens actually have realistic, even emotive expressions, and their movements are seamless and graceful.

Lovebirds Neytiri and Jake Sully

Now, how about the plot? Well, I made this comment in response to ‘the five reasons to see Avatar’ posted on an unofficial movie fan site: “How about the story? All those special effects without a compelling story we can root for would be meaningless. Would I care for the Na’vi people? Empathize with Jake Sully’s journey and the predicament he finds himself in? I’m pumped to see this movie but am hopeful that there is a ‘heart’ underneath all the techie mumbo-jumbo to balance things out.” Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed.

The story takes place some 145 years into the future. The term ‘avatar’ in our computer lingo is used to describe an icon that represents a person in virtual reality or cyberspace. But in the movie, it refers to a manufactured body which is remotely controlled through brain waves generated by a human being. Because the air in the alien planet is toxic to human body, a group of scientists led by Dr. Grace (the fabulous Sigourney Weaver) develops a procedure that allows humans to ‘drive’ their avatar whilst they’re asleep, as they’re being transported to Pandora as a 10-foot-tall, blue indigenous people. Their job is to ‘study’ the Na’vi, not simply for cultural research sake however, but because this planet is ripe with a precious mineral called unobtanium (is that short for unobtainable plutonium?), that according to the corporate honcho Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) is worth twenty million a kilo. The goal is to figure out how to get these ‘savages’ to surrender their land peacefully before they do it the ‘hard way.’ Initially, it’s an appealing mission to the paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully, who was initially on board as a replacement for his deceased scientist twin-brother. Instead of being wheelchair-bound, he gets to freely run around, jump, fly about, and perhaps find that ’single thing worth fighting for.’ Oh, did he ever.

It’s quite evident from the trailer that it’s not exactly cinematic groundbreaking. The similarities to Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai are palpable, but it’s not a bad thing necessarily as Cameron chose to go the ‘safe’ route of the tried-and-true tale of a soldier going ‘rogue’ as he falls in love with the people he was sent to conquer. It’s no surprise that he does, as the Na’vi’s harmonious existence and deep, sacred connection with their planet is such a contrast with the world he lives in. It reminds me of the indigenous bush people from The Gods Must be Crazy, who live such a simplistic life yet they’re far more fulfilled and happy compared to those living in the modern world. Like Jake said in his video log, there’s nothing in our world that the Na’vis want, so there’s really no ‘carrot’ to entice them to leave their beloved home. It’s a familiar but still compelling story that doesn’t take away from the state-of-the-art way it’s delivered.

The love story between Jake and Neytiri might not be as feverishly passionate as Titanic‘s Jack and Rose, but their slow-burn romance felt genuine and moving. Jake was drawn to the graceful and alluring Na’vi princess (Zoë Saldana) almost instantly, but Neytiri takes her time before she finally trusts him. It’s a worthwhile journey and makes for a rewarding pivotal scene towards the end involving the princess and the ‘real’ Jake. Another key scene is when Jake learned how to ride a banshee, this colorful flying dragon-like creature (visible in the film poster) that could very well cost him his life. That’s pure movie magic that makes you go ooh and aah with wonder, as well as an emotionally gratifying one as it was a turning point for Jake to be ‘accepted’ by the Na’vi people. Both Sam Worthington and Saldana are convincing as leads, especially the first, as he’s in almost every scene as both human and Na’vi. If I have to nitpick though, it’s the inconsistency of Neytiri’s English. Sometimes she speaks in simplistic ESL English, other times she’s quite sophisticated. The same with Worthington’s on-and-off Aussie accent. But despite that, he’s definitely got that leading man confidence. He’s a strong and manly guy but with a certain earthy quality about him that’s relatable and endearing. No doubt he’ll have a fruitful career here in Hollywood.

One thing for sure, the movie boast one of the best villain we’ve seen since perhaps The Joker. Stephen Lang as Col. Quatrich is evil through and through, there’s not a shred of compassion in that massive body-builder-ish physique. During a heart-wrenching scene involving a destruction of something sacred to the Na’vi, some people in the corporation were shown lamenting the situation, except for Quatrich who praised the pilot for achieving his task. He has no regard for the Na’vi, or their home turf. In one of the most memorable quotes from the movie, he quipped, “If there’s a hell you might want to go there for some R ‘n R after a tour of Pandora.”

The central message of the movie is obviously aimed at corporate greed, though some people will make this out to be a political statement against a certain administration. Again, this flick was conceived back in the mid 90s just to give you some perspective. At the London premiere, Cameron said, “We have this tendency to just take what we want. And that’s how we treat the natural world as well. There’s this sense of we’re here, we’re big, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the technology, therefore we’re entitled to every damn thing on this planet. That’s not how it works, and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural life on Earth.” It seems that the Na’vi is the poster child for the ‘green’ alien (as in environmental, not in skin color, natch). They’re also very spiritual people. So even if I find all the new-age-y and unknown-deity worship stuff unsettling, I consider it part of the fantasy and imaginary world created by the filmmaker, instead of an agenda they’re trying to promote.

I can say a whole lot more about this movie, but I feel that the less you know about what happens the better. I’d say even if you don’t normally like sci-fi, give this one a chance just to experience it and simply to find out what the fuss is about. When you do, I’d urge you to see it in the glory of 3D as it’s meant to be (trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way). As this one reviewer puts it, “Immersion is, I think, the new standard being set here. Very few films so completely allow you to block out the rest of the world and mentally live in a fantasyland for several hours. I’d be hard-pressed to recall another movie, outside of ‘Star Wars,’ that so fully transported me to a world that doesn’t exist.” I’m not discounting George Lucas’ work, but I have to admit Avatar did that for me much more so than the last Star Wars film I saw in the theater. I feel that Avatar brought a whole new movie-watching sensation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and for that reason Cameron has elevated the history of cinema up a notch. In fact, all my friends who went with me said that after watching everything ‘pop’ in 3D, watching stuff in 2D just wouldn’t cut it anymore. We’ve already made plans to see it again (and again) in an IMAX theater instead of the conventional 3D-enhanced theater. This is one of those movies that warrant repeated viewings just on the visual spectacle alone.

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Well, what are your thoughts of AVATAR?

Twitter Questions: Gerard Butler

Check out EMPIRE Online’s Twitter questions for Gerard Butler. The British mag asked fans to submit questions for him via Twitter, and here are some interesting bits about the planned Escaped From New York remake, eating deep-fried Mars Bars and if he still kept the 300 outfit.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Funny how he mentioned he almost did The Losers, as I was just reading about it on CinemaBlend. I’m not familiar with that project, but apparently it’s yet another comic-book adaptation (what else is new in Hollywood) about a Special Forces team serving in WWII, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana. Each member of the unit lost soldiers under their command, hence they dub themselves The Losers.

Back to Butler, I sure wish he won’t ever play Snake Plisken (I don’t care enough to check for the correct spelling) and opt to work on getting Burns off the ground! Glad to hear he’s still interested to bring the Scottish poet biopic project to life one day. I was dismayed when I read this report by Deadline Scotland that the project’s been postponed indefinitely so there’s “… no chance of Gerard Butler now becoming involved.”

Butler quipped that every Halloween, he’s always surrounded by his larger-than-life movie characters: Phantom, Leonidas, Dracula, etc. Hmmm, any ideas what the guy himself should be dressed as? How about that diaper thingy he wore in Attila? Or better yet, that shamrock boxer with suspenders from P.S. I love you? He just might upstage King Leonidas with that one.

Btw, if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare, EMPIRE also got this amusing graph of GB’s manliness from a few months ago.

My thoughts on AVATAR Day

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The buzz surrounding James Cameron’s AVATAR flick goes on and on. Whether people like what they’ve seen so far or not, the marketing machine at Fox, including Cameron himself, know that any buzz is better than none at all. According to HDRoom.com, its trailer debut is the most watched on Apple.com trailer site, drawing over 4 million views its first day of availability. Most of you probably already know by now what this supposedly groundbreaking sci-fi flick is all about, I’ve blogged about it around Comic Con time last month and it’s been on my radar ever since.

After the ticket distribution fiasco where the Avatar site server broke down most of the day, I’m surprised that between my hubby and I, we ended up scoring 4 tickets to the free 15-minute sneak peek at the Rosedale IMAX. We arrived exactly 45 minutes prior to the screening as the email confirmation told us to, so I was sort of expecting a long line and hordes of people at the theater, but there’s none of that. It was just another Friday night at the theater, in fact, the place wasn’t even very busy. They’re pretty strict in checking the email confirmation. We had to show our photo IDs and they made sure our names were on their list. They also told us to get our snack or take bathroom breaks prior to going in as they won’t allow us to re-enter once the preview starts. Sheesh, it’s as if we’re about to see some top secret government footage or something.

In any case, once they whisked us in, the preview started with James Cameron’s introduction—in 3D no less—to what we’re about to see. He assured us that most of the footage shown are in the first half of the film, so there’s no spoilers. Thus, I don’t consider my summary below a spoiler, but if you’d rather not know anything about it before you see it in December, then read at your own risk.

The six clips shown were separate scenes much like the deleted scenes in your DVD, instead of a complete scene that runs 15 minutes in length. Here’s the breakdown:

Clip 1:
There’s a military briefing, and the movie protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) enters in a wheelchair as a Colonel was delivering a speech to warn the soldiers of the dangers in Pandora.

Clip 2:
Jake is in a lab with Sigourney Weaver’s character, where he observes a Na’vi creature in a blue tank, which based on the trailer is what he’d end up looking like. Weaver’s character Dr. Grace tells Jake to lie down in an MRI-like machine. Jake appears agitated or overanxious—well if you were in his shoes, you’d be, too—but the doctor keeps telling him to keep his head down for the procedure to work.

Clip 3:
Jake wakes up as his avatar, in the Na’vi body complete with a long tail, and so excited he could move his legs and walk again he ignores the lab technicians’ orders for him to sit down. In fact, as he’s barely able to control his own body, starts knocking everything over and tells the people on the other side of the glass, ‘this is great!’ before storming out of the room.

Clip 4:
We’re transported to Pandora, a 22nd century world on a distant alien planet filled with 1,000-foot trees, exotic, near fluorescent forests, fearsome predators and an indigenous people known as the Na’vi — tall, blue humanoids who are peaceful until provoked. Dr. Grace and Jake’s avatars are facing a gigantic rhino-like animal. With Grace’s direction, Jake’s able to ‘tame’ the creature, but suddenly a bigger and meaner creature appears and a chase through the jungle ensues. Jake tries as he might to outrun the obviously vexed and hungry beast, and the action sequence is pretty intense and keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Clip 5:
Jake is once again hunted by another creature, this time it’s a wolf-life lizard thing-y. A female Na’vi called Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana) saves him but when he thanks her, she gets kind of irate and tells him in rather primitive English that he’s ignorant and stupid, and that she doesn’t intend to kill the creatures. Asked why she didn’t just let him die, she softens up and tells him that his heart is strong and fearless, but then gets piqued again and tells hims he’s stupid like a child, leaving Jake looking quite perplexed. I guess male/female mixed signals still exists even in a futuristic distant planet, huh?

Clip 6:
Jake, Neytiri and a group of Na’vi people gathers in a path underneath a waterfall as Jake prepares to tame a dragon/pterodactyl. He asks which one of the large group he’s supposed to take, and Neytiri tells him that it’s one that tries to kill him. Just like a cowboy trying to tame a wild horse, Jake undergoes back-breaking struggles to get the creature still enough for him to ride on top of it. The agonizing process is proven worthwhile as he’s finally able to fly off the edge of the cliff, and actually ‘steer’ it to fly straight.

The preview was met with a somewhat reserved applause, not the thunderous enthusiasm Cameron is hoping for, surely. I personally think it’s a much better experience to see it in 3D than seeing the trailer on my Mac. I haven’t seen a lot of movies in 3D, the last one I saw was Superman Returns a couple of years back, but even that was only partly shot in 3D. So I slightly dread that I’d get a headache watching even the 15-minute preview in the 3D environment. Fortunately, I was so immersed in it once the preview started that I actually forgot I was watching something in 3D, that’s how seamless and well-made it was. Not sure how they’ll distribute the movie with less than 400 IMAX theaters in operation worldwide though, or whether people would be charged the IMAX price to see it. In any case, this flick is definitely one that takes advantage of the three dimensional technology to the fullest, and best viewed and appreciated in that environment. No wonder a lot of people, including me, were underwhelmed by its trailer released online last Wednesday, the richness of the visual and the lush color scheme just didn’t translate as well without the 3D aspect. The jungle environment with its fluorescent trees and glowing plants/insects are just breathtaking to look at and the flying sequence is just magnificent to behold. Kudos to Cameron, the whole thing looks pretty darn realistic and blends the real world and CGI seamlessly.

Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana as Na'vi creatures
Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana as Na’vi creatures

The expression of the Na’vi humanoids were pretty lifelike and their movement graceful, which is important to help the audience to see them as more than blue cartoon figures. Which brings me to my hope for what the actual movie to be. So far I’m rather indifferent about the Na’vi creatures and there’s little info about them to feel otherwise. But as the story centers on the battle between them and the humans who invade their territory—with Jake trapped in the middle of it—it’s crucial that we care for these characters, or the grandiose of all that computer technology will fall flat. My hope is that in the actual movie, I’d come to understand the journey of Jake and the whole Na’vi race and be blown away by the story as much as the visual spectacle. Based on what I read about James Cameron’s vision of the movie, he too seems to understand there’s got to be more than high tech mumbo-jumbo to get people hooked in this, that it requires a well-written story to take a curiosity-driven hype to something worth watching or further, a memorable epic. So even though this high-tech stuff has been the only angle he’s taken to promote the movie, I expect that the final result will be far more than that.

In conclusion, I was feeling ‘meh’ after seeing the debut trailer, but the sneak peek sort of get me excited and optimistic again about Avatar. So in that regard, it did what it’s intended to do. But for now though, I’ll let this subject rest on Flixchatter until the film actually comes out December 18th.

So those of you who sees the trailer or the IMAX preview, care to share your thoughts?