DC Comics. Retailer incentive variant cover.
I had fun with “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, if a little grudgingly. For me, it started quite strong with its introduction of Chris Pratt’s roguish space antihero; I actually had no idea he could be this funny. (I’ve only seen him once before, weighed down by the failed comedic scripting of 2015’s “Jurassic World.”)
I’m sorry to say that my interest in “Guardians of the Galaxy” waned just a bit as it subsequently unfolded as a cartoonish, relatively tame, family-friendly adventure — complete with a heartwarming value-of-friendship lesson. That’s fine, I guess — it’s cool and it makes sense that the Marvel Cinematic Universe should offer films more appropriate for younger viewers. Can you imagine, however, how hilarious this movie would be if it truly deserved its (befuddling) PG-13 rating, and really pressed the envelope? Between Pratt’s wit and these offbeat character concepts, it would be amazing.
I still had fun with this, though, thanks mainly to the action and the impressive special effects. I’d recommend it, and I’m planning on seeing the sequel.
Postscript — people are saying that this is the MCU’s answer to “Star Wars,” and I suppose it could be. But I had a lot more fun thinking that the movie was channeling Harry Harrison’s priceless science fiction book series featuring criminal-antiheroes — the “Stainless Steel Rat” adventures.
I’ll never be able to love “Star Wars” the way its lifelong fans do. After the unexpected magic of the first three films, the subsequent movies almost always seemed to me to be just space fantasies for kids, formulaically developed to hit all the right notes and sell licensed merchandise. (The exception would be last year’s generally excellent “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which uniquely felt like a genuine, human story that a creator wanted to tell, rather than something brainstormed until consensus in a corporate writers’ room.) With that said, I’ll happily report here that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was actually very good — as someone with little favorable bias toward the franchise, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
The movie simply got more right than it got wrong. It’s still a marketing-oriented space opera developed for mass appeal, but it managed to rise above that because its many elements included more hits than misses.
If I had to pick one thing that made this movie succeed for me, it’s the balance it struck between its epic war story and its narrower sword-and-sorcery central plot thread. I like how the film began with an interstellar war — it had ordinary, mortal, relatable human characters fight and make sacrifices. Anyone can relate to characters like that because they are interchangeable with people fighting a war in our world. (It was also excellently rendered, in terms of fantastic visuals and some creative ideas.) Only afterward does the movie layer in the far-out Jedi stuff, which contrasts the war story and adds complexity to it.
The second thing I liked about it was its terrific special effects — I’ve never seen a “Star Wars” movie without them, even if the prequels had a more cartoonish, toylike quality to what they depicted.
The third, I think, was the return of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker. Hamill is actually quite a good actor, and his skilled turn here was alternately funny and dramatically convincing. I found myself more nostalgic after watching Luke’s return to the franchise than after Han Solo’s return in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015). (And I love Harrison Ford just as much as everyone else in the universe.)
Is there a lot to nitpick? Sure. In addition to some plot holes, the character of Rose was rather annoying. (Spunky young idealists can grate on the nerves if they’re too cutesy and seem to ingratiate themselves to the viewer.)
But a far larger weakness is that “the force” has become more of a deus ex machina than ever before. I can’t be specific here because I want to avoid spoilers, but both the Jedi and their Sith counterparts employ incredible new powers in the movie that are absolutely unprecedented. It isn’t explained at all, and it isn’t consistent with any prior “Star Wars” movie. And it feels like a cheat that is both sweeping and … a little strange.
Still, I’d recommend this movie — even if you didn’t love every “Star Wars” movie you’ve seen in the past.
I’ll end with a quick note about the “porgs” — those little penguinesque aliens that are supposedly dividing longtime fans into opposing war-camps. I loved the damn things. It makes perfect sense that Luke’s hideaway planet would have local fauna. And I read that the filmmakers actually did include them for an understandable reason. The island shooting location’s landscape was inhabited by puffins. It made more sense to overwrite them with CGI stand-ins than to digitally remove them altogether.
“The Hateful Eight” (2015) might be the first Quentin Tarantino film that I entirely disliked. I’d rate it a 3 out of 10 for being an overlong, overwrought story inhabited almost exclusively by irritating, overly stylized characters who are constantly shouting. It was alternately boring and grotesque. It even managed to occasionally be glumly depressing, given the violence it depicts against defenseless innocents.
And I’m surprised, because this movie was highly recommended to me by my college-aged nephew — he’s a smart kid whose judgment I trust. I certainly hope that he has seen Tarantino’s classic “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), as that movie seems to be this one’s direct inspiration. Throughout “The Hateful Eight’s” lengthy running time (it clocks in at just over three hours), I kept thinking that this was a failed effort to transplant “Reservoir Dogs'” story setup to the old west.
That probably was the director’s strategy here. You see an attempt to recreate all of the story elements that made the earlier movie a success: quirky characters; idiosyncratic dialogue; unexpected violence; tragedy; and black humor.
Regrettably, it just didn’t work. The movie was so long — and so loud — that it even made priceless performers like Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth come off as annoying.
For me, the movie’s sole bright spot was Jennifer Jason Leigh’s damned terrific portrayal of the plot-driving, brutal gangster, Daisy Domergue. I had no idea that Leigh had such incredible range (not to mention some Vaudeville-style comic timing). Her performance isn’t enough to redeem the movie, but it surprised me and easily stole the show.
Look — if this is the first Tarantino movie you’ve seen, then please don’t let it dissuade you from seeing the man’s other work. Seriously, go watch “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” (1994) or “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996).
I received some nice news this morning — Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine will publish my my poem “Iphigenia’s Womb” in its upcoming December 2017 issue. This poem appeared previously appeared in 2014 in Dead Snakes and 2015 in Aphelion.
As always, I am grateful to Editor Samantha Rose for allowing me to share my work with the readers of Peeking Cat.