Original concepts are few and far between these days. It isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that they aren’t marketed like remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It doesn’t mean there aren’t people still pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, and finding new ways to tell compelling stories for the sake of art. It’s just that the public rarely sees the films that push these boundaries. Are audiences blind to new compelling media? Yes and no. Your average person watches film to escape from their everyday life, and usually want something familiar. Boyhood is a bit of a conundrum, it has the familiarity of life, but the sincerity and the lack of a defined plot will keep it from becoming a financial success. People will likely feel the film too closely captures real life, even though that is exactly the point.
In 2002, Richard Linklater set out to make a movie about growing up, which on the surface may not seem like an incredible undertaking, but make no mistake, it is an incredible feat in filmmaking. Rather than rely on special effects and multiple actors to tell the story of a boy in a short period of time, Linklater had the idea to film segments of the film over a twelve year period using the same cast. It’s an incredible commitment that pays off in the film, as we see a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family evolve throughout the years. There isn’t one definable plot thread throughout the film, and instead we focus on a number of important pieces of Mason’s life. We see him struggle through school, deal with an alcoholic step-father, find his passion, lose his first love, and many other moments. The film never creates shocking moments that are meant to be plot devices to move the story along. Are there shocking moments? Sure, but they aren’t defining moments of the film. The defining moments are the small moments where you see just how much the boy you’ve been watching has changed.
Most industry insiders were a bit baffled a few years ago when Marvel announced they were putting Guardians of the Galaxy into production. Even with Marvel not owning the rights to many of its top franchises, surely weren’t there better choices to help expand the Marvel cinematic universe? Even more baffling was the choice of hiring James Gunn to write and direct the film. Gunn wasn’t known as a big budget director; in fact Gunn got his start in B-movie heaven, Troma Entertainment. Many people, myself included, thought Marvel was heading for disaster. After a second viewing of Guardians tonight, I can say without reservation that my pessimistic thinking was as far off the mark as one could imagine. Marvel has hit a home run that should result in one of the biggest releases of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a self-described outlaw by the name of ‘Starlord’ as he attempts to navigate a wide galaxy. The film opens with Peter being abducted shortly after his mother’s death, with only the clothes on his back, and his trusty Walkman at his side. The film catapults 26 years into the future where Peter is now calling himself ‘Starlord’, and is a skilled thief in search of a mysterious orb. Unfortunately for Peter, this is no ordinary orb and is being sought out by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), two of the most feared aliens in the galaxy. Thanos quickly dispatches his cybernetically enhanced daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to recover the orb. Getting in her way are bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a foul-mouthed racoon, and his muscle Groot (Vin Diesel), a giant tree with a limited vocabulary. Rocket, Groot, Peter, and Gamora have a beautiful fight for different motives that lands them in a high security prison. It’s only at the prison that our merry band begins to bond after figuring out the orb Peter has stolen is much more valuable than any of them could have imagined, and they must do anything to keep it out of the hands of Thanos and Ronan. Upon their eventual escape, picking up a beefy over-literal alien, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy must race against powerful foes, and deal with more power than any of them could have ever imagined.
Sex Tape is yet another film that is destined to be panned by critics, but reasonably enjoyed by audiences. Most moviegoers will head to their local cinema, enjoy a popcorn, and have a few laughs and wonder why critics hated this movie so much. At the time this review is being written, the film sits at a score of 16% on the movie review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com. Many will find this score low for a movie that entertained them for a bit of their free time. Sure, a few will share the derision of the critics, but most people will be able to find enough to enjoy. There are a number of laughs, a couple outlandishly funny characters, and enough racy humor for most adult moviegoers. So, why do critics hate it so much?
Let’s start at the beginning. Sex Tape follows Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel), a couple fast approaching middle age, who like many people with children, find their sex life almost non-existent. This is in stark contrast to the early portions of their relationship where sex was a driving force in their love for each other. Annie’s thoughtful narration takes us through this early portion of their relationship, where she describes every scary detail of their sex life, including items like Jay’s constant erections. Their current situation of parenthood has robbed them of the time and energy, and most importantly the sex life they thought they would always have. This situation leads to an inspiration by Annie. A night away from the kids to rekindle the romance. Despite many false starts, the couple finally spices up their life by creating a sex tape using their iPad. Unfortunately for them, the video is uploaded to the cloud, and to numerous devices they’ve given people over the years. The couple must quickly track down all their devices, and erase the video before their closest family and friends see their special moment.
Michael Bay is a bit of a conundrum. His films are consumed greedily by audiences, and near universally panned by critics. Even the critics who give his films a pass do so begrudgingly. Transformers: Age of Extinction could get a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and it will still likely be one of the biggest releases of the year, if not the biggest. Audiences are enthralled with Bay’s explosion filled visions, and are happy to ignore many of the lesser sins of storytelling to get their action fix. Bay’s films are pure escapist fantasy and aren’t meant to be films for the artistic elite. Despite the overall silliness, I loved the first Transformers film. It had a lot of heart, and numerous thrilling action set pieces which appeared to my inner child that lives a bit too close to the surface. I found myself bored by the second film, and saw a slight bit of redemption with the third film in the series. My hope was that the series could reach the heights of the first film, and ditch some of the baggage brought on in the first trilogy. As I quickly found out, it was the hope of a fool.
Transformers: Age of Extinction takes place 5 years after the events Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s a bleak time that sees government operatives hunting both Decepticons and Autobots alike. After the destruction of Chicago at the hands of Megatron, shady government figures have found an excuse to target Transformers and hijack their tech. The unlikely intervention of a failed inventor, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), and his discovery of the injured Optimus Prime set in motion a series of events that finds our heroes facing new foes.
Ahh, January we meet again. Most savvy filmgoers will know that January is a month of award season holdouts and a studio wasteland. Studios tend to release projects they have little to no faith in during the January slaughter, in hopes that they will gain traction with an audience ready to move on from the holiday season. Usually there will be one breakout of the month, but usually along the lines of Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Kangaroo Jack. With standouts like these, you can imagine that quality is a limited source throughout January. Coming off the high of the best films of the year, critics are deemed with the task of enduring the few new films that are released throughout the month. So dim is the prospect of quality, that a by-the-numbers action flick can seem like a great lead-in to a new film series.
Many are familiar with Jack Ryan, either by reading Tom Clancy’s books featuring the characters or in films like The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears. This film isn’t a continuation of any of the previous films, rather an attempt to restart the franchise. This time actor Chris Pine steps into the role of Jack Ryan, shoes previously filled by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Ryan’s story might not have the same exact background as his predecessors, but it is close. Ryan is still an economics student who joins the military only to be pushed out of action by a helicopter crash. Many other details are the same, while others are changed in an effort to modernize the character beyond the original Cold War beginnings.