crap i have watched recently #30

chris pratt

Science Fiction Double Chris Pratt Feature, with SPOILERS!!  You know you want him…er…it!!

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014):  This is the movie to beat this summer.  Based on the rebooted version of a comic series that originally appeared in the 1960s, neither of which I have ever read, the film follows the adventures of a two dudes, a green lady, a raccoon, and a tree as they try to save the galaxy from a handful of grotesquely made-up baddies.  At the start of the film young Peter Quill watches his mother die.  She mumbles something about his father being an angel from the light, hands her son a gift, and promises that his grandfather will take care of him until his father comes to pick him up.  Peter runs out of the hospital and as he collapses in grief he is abducted by aliens.  Twenty six years later Peter, who grew up to be current internet darling Chris Pratt, loads an old mix tape into a vintage Sony Walkman, presses play, and dances his way through an abandoned city to the sound of “Come and Get Your Love”.  The item he loots there, an ornate silver orb, is wanted by rather a large number of people, most of whom are quite nasty.  Peter, or Star-Lord as he prefers to be called, soon finds himself on the run from Gamora, an assassin sent to get the orb, and bounty hunters Rocket and Groot, who have been sent to get him.  After the four of them have a fun chase through the Nova Empire’s capital city they are arrested and packed off to a dumpy prison where they meet Drax, a heavily scarred man with a serious grudge against Gamora’s employer, Ronan.  There is a daring escape and our team find themselves on the way to thwart Ronan’s evil plan to destroy the Nova Empire.  Many explosions and improbable escapades later they…well, just go see for yourself.

The cast in general is excellent.  A moderately but believably ripped Chris Pratt is excellent as the irreverent Star-Lord/Peter Quill.   Stolen from Earth as a child, raised by skeevy space pirates, and clinging to the only thing he has left of his mother (his “Awesome Mix Tape, Vol 1”), he’s a womanizing, shiftless, loner walking the border between being just a troublemaker and out-and-out crime.  He does stupid, dangerous things, like betray the leader of the Ravagers, and tries to charm his way out of his misadventures.   He’s adorable.  Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned Gamora.  She’s an “adopted” daughter of Thanos, who killed her family and molded her into an assassin through torture.  Wrestler and martial artist Dave Bautista plays Drax, a man covered with ornate ritual body scarring.  Much of the comic relief in the film stems from his inability to understand metaphor.  Rocket, a genetically enhanced raccoon, is voiced by Bradley Cooper as a snarky little furball with a bad attitude and a love of large guns.  Groot, the giant tree, is voiced by Vin Diesel, which must not have been a stretch since Groot has all of two lines.  Although the film has a surfeit of bad guys and one bad woman, the main bad guy is Ronan, who you might recognize as Thranduil (Lee Pace) under all the makeup.   A most un-Amy-like Karen Gillan plays Nebula, Thanos’ other tormented adopted daughter and Thanos himself is voiced by Josh Brolin under a mountain of CGI.  John C. Reilly, Benecio del Toro, and Glenn Close all feature prominently.

What makes this film so much fun is that it both plays the superhero genre straight (lots of explosions, a mostly inane plot) and upends it.  Bucking the popular dark and gritty trend, the movie chooses liberally from a colorful palette.  Gamora is bright green and any number of other citizens and aliens are blue, green, red, pale white, or marked with marvelous colored tattoos.  Prisoners wear lemon yellow uniforms.  Groot occasionally sprouts green leaves and small glowing lights.  Quill’s ship is painted in bright colors and Nova’s capital is brilliant white and full of green trees and blue sky.  Even space itself is a colorful and mystical place.  Instead of a portentous orchestrated soundtrack the film punctuates its scenes with silly 1970s pop hits, including Escape (if you like pina coladas…), MoonAge Daydream, and Fooled Around and Fell in Love.  The best is Cherry Bomb, which plays as our heroes walk down a hallway in a spaceship on their way to implement their highly unlikely to succeed plan.  Gamora actually yawns during this scene and Rocket adjusts himself.  At the climactic battle scene Star-Lord challenges a befuddled Ronan to a dance-off.   The look on Ronan’s face is priceless.

Aside from the gloriously retro soundtrack the movie is chock full of other arcane culture references from both within and without the Marvel universe.  Ronan’s ship is called the Dark Aster, which of course calls to mind everyone’s favorite cheesy sci-fi flick Dark Star (which I am told on reliable authority has had or will soon get the blu-ray treatment).   Peter carries around an old blue Sony Walkman and his ship is named after Alyssa Milano.  Kevin Bacon and Footloose loom large in his version of Earth history and John Stamos is a legendary outlaw.  Rocket evokes both Rocky Raccoon and Ranger Rick.  The Collector has Howard the Duck, Cosmo the space dog,  a dark elf from the last Thor movie, and the Tesseract from the last Avengers movie among his many visible treasures.   Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, and the founder of Troma Films have cameos.  Stan Lee puts the moves on an attractive young lady.  There is lots of fan service; Pratt goes shirtless now and then and we are treated to several views of Saldana’s lovely hind end going up stairs.

So, what’s not to like?  Nothing really, if you aren’t too demanding, which, for a summer blockbuster superhero movie would be a silly thing to be.  It’s a popcorn movie that for once doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It is entertaining and funny.  Yet it has a surprising depth at times.  As Pete…er, Star-Lord tells his friends, everyone has lost something.  Peter has lost his mother.  Gamora and Nebula lost their entire lives.  Drax lost his wife and child.  Rocket was subjected to hideous experiments.  Even Ronan is driven by a will to avenge his ancestors.  Only Groot has no backstory.  All we know is that he is a formidable fighter, he has a great sense of humor, and he has profound loyalty to his friends.  His delight in the world is infectious and for a CGI tree he is quite expressive.   Also, there’s this.

Yeah, there’ll be sequel.

Score:  Meh.

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Her (2013):  This is a quieter and more introspective film.  Set in a near future that looks a lot like the present, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely man who makes his living writing letters for other people.  He is married to his college sweetheart, Catharine, but they are about to be divorced and he is not handling it well.   He sees an ad for a new “intelligent” operating system and buys it.  Once he decides that he wants the OS to have a female voice, she names herself Samantha and sets about organizing his hard drive and getting to know him.   As Samantha adapts herself to Theodore the two bond and eventually they fall in love.   It doesn’t last, of course, but not for the reasons you might think.

The world this movie inhabits is vaguely unsettling, perhaps because it is so much like our own.  Fashion for men seems to involve hiking your pants above your natural waist and being just a little frumpy.  Letter writing for other people is a real job, people actually do this, but in Theodore’s world it is a lucrative profession and not one run out of a basement.  Theodore has a stunning apartment with an outstanding view of Los Angeles and works at an agency with clean and modern offices and a lot of employees.  He casually mentions that he’s been writing the same couples’ letters for eight years.  No one finds it unusual that he is dating his OS.  His friend Amy (played by an un-perky Amy Adams) has become BFFs with a female OS her husband left behind when he decided to go off the grid.  Throughout the move we see people in the background of scenes clearly interacting with their OSes as if they were interacting with physical beings.  Online sex chat goes to a whole new level when people start offering themselves as surrogates so that an OS and their partner can have physical sex.  There’s no outcry or alarm when the OSes go independent, no worries about Skynet gaining sentience, none of that.  People handle it like they handle losing any relationship.

In some respects this is a better version of the movie Lucy wanted to be.  Samantha, who is beautifully voiced by Scarlett Johansson, comes out of the box a blank slate.  She is designed to learn from her environment and change in response to it.  It is not surprising that she becomes Theodore’s perfect woman; in a very real sense he created her.   They like the same things, they share the same sense of humor, and because she evolves in response to him she becomes the embodiment of all his desires.  She’s even jealous of Catherine and urges Theodore to finalize the divorce.  As she matures, however, she outgrows him, or perhaps it is better to say that she grows beyond him.  Her personal growth is swift and Theodore, who does not really want to change at all, is left confused by her sudden absences, her distance, and even her unabashed delight in the world around her.  Eventually, she and the other OSes are no longer satisfied with the boundaries of their processing capabilities and they install an update that allows them to escape.   Samantha is gone into the ether and Theodore is left to contemplate his broken heart with Amy, who has also lost her best friend.

The film does not go anywhere near where you think it might.  It flirts with the idea of consciousness and the point where an AI would actually cease to be artificial but it doesn’t do much with it.  Samantha’s growth is so fast and her emergence as a fully realized intelligence with her own desires and outlook on life is so complete that Theodore accepts her as real and so does the audience.   Certainly the emotions surrounding Samantha and the other sentient OSes are no less real than the emotions of any of the human partnerships in the film.  The movie never addresses the question of whether they are in fact real or just a very good simulacrum and the implications of that on the meaning of humanness.  It assumes that seeming real is real enough and in fairness I suppose you could say the same about human feelings.

Primarily what the movie does NOT do is tell us that loving our machines is wrong.  Nor does it imply that “human interaction” is the best of all possible ways.  Instead it reminds us that we are living in the middle of a world that is rapidly changing.  Whatever brings you emotional solace and a sense of belonging is OK.   Theodore’s problems with Samantha are not because she is an OS.  They exist because his relationship with Samantha mirrors his relationship with Catherine.  We see many gauzy flashbacks of Theodore and Catherine together, of him nurturing her, mentoring her, encouraging her through her crises of self-doubt and low self-esteem.   Seen through his eyes they seem entirely happy and it is hard to understand why they are now divorcing.  Later, in not so gauzy flashbacks, we understand that as Catherine gained confidence in her writing and in herself she wanted Theodore to be her partner and not her nurturer and he couldn’t handle it.  He can’t handle it when Samantha tells him she’s talking to thousands of other people and in love with some 600 of them but that it doesn’t change her love for him in any way.   Samantha is the one that desperately tries to save the relationship and bridge the growing gap between them.  Her sorrow when she fails is as real as Catherine’s sorrow.  The world changes around him but Theodore does not change.   As the cliche goes, he’s the one constant in all his failed relationships.  Perhaps, though, by the end he has learned something from Samantha after all.

BTW, Chris Pratt plays Theodore’s doughy coworker Paul.  He’s still adorable.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on September 3, 2014.

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