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JxSxPx

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I'm Jason. I'm a film, literary and pop culture enthusiast. Got a soft spot and deep love for animation, comics and nerdy things that go in tandem with them.

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Extant

Posted : 6 days, 7 hours ago on 24 September 2014 08:50 (A review of Extant)

Extant borrows liberally from various sources -- Artificial Intelligence, Rosemary’s Baby to name just two – and tosses them together into a puree. The show is entertaining, solidly crafting, but does suffer from a sense of bloat during the middle run of episodes. At only thirteen, I would think that they would have been able to maintain the suspense and moral inquiries much easier with a smaller set of episodes.

There’s actually a lot of juggling that any episode of Extant is trying to keep in the air at any given moment. In-between the main premise of Molly (Halle Berry) returning to Earth from a 13-month solo space mission pregnant, there’s also her husband’s career in android and robotic machinery results in the creation of the world’s most advanced android child, government conspiracies and corruption, and a late in the game terrorist. That last addition wasn’t particularly well thought out or executed, appearing for only a handful of episodes before being wrapped up unsatisfactorily.

For much of the first half of the show, Molly is an unreliable narrator. Much of what she does and sees doesn’t make any logical sense, and no one else can see what she does. But her paranoia and hallucinations are eventually proven to be accurate reactions to the phenomena around her. Berry is clearly game for everything the show can throw at her, and it’s nice, refreshing even, to see her actively engaged with material. She’s never been a consistent actress, but when she’s on-point she can be quite effective, and she’s very effective in Extant.

The other major players are Goran Visnjic as Molly’s husband and Pierce Gagnon as the robotic son. Visnjic is very pretty to look at, but limited as an actor. And many of his scenes detailing how Ethan’s programming is capable of making him like a “real boy” feel borrowed over from better franchises, and any worries about an android uprising are a foreign concept to him. Apparently he’s never read or watched any sci-fi in the last 50 years. Visnjic cannot overcome the weaknesses of his character and make something better from the material. Gagnon, on the other hand, should join the creepy kid annuls based on his ability to keep his face emotionless while providing ominous inflections in his voice. It’s a pity that the darkness surrounding his character is never fully explored or allowed to shine, and he winds up feeling more like a plot device in the end than a realized portrait of artificial intelligence gaining humanity.

Yet Extant does manage to ready itself for a satisfying conclusion to the major story-lines, even if certain characters that seemed to be bigger deals are revealed to have faintly ridiculous backgrounds and disappear entirely from the series (Hiroyuki Sanada’s Yasumoto being the primary focus of this). The show wraps up the major plot points, while leaving the faintest possibility for a second season. I feel like Extant is the kind of story that cannot sustain itself over several years, and having a fairly artistically successful 13 episode run is what’s best for all involved.

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Green Lantern: The Animated Series

Posted : 6 days, 7 hours ago on 24 September 2014 08:50 (A review of Green Lantern: The Animated Series)

When it comes to the big screen, superhero properties are display incredible longevity across various franchises, their television counterparts can’t seem to make it past one or two seasons though. This is a real goddamn shame because Green Lantern: The Animated Series is a great little show. A one season wonder from the brilliant mind of Bruce Timm, the man behind great shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, Green Lantern alternately explored every facet of the comic book history and mythos while laying the groundwork for a deeper dive into this material as well.

The series begins not with an origin story, mercifully, but with Hal Jordan already an established hero and cosmic presence as part of the Green Lantern Corps. With the emerging presence of the threatening Red Lanterns, Hal is called away from Earth and sent out on a mission to help bring the Red Lanterns down before they reach Oa, home world of the GL Corps. But an even bigger threat emerges in the form of the Anti-Monitor and a rogue piece of artificial intelligence that goes berserk.

Each episode, which balances the neat trick of continuing a larger narrative arch and a nice introduction to the series, takes our heroes to a different planet where they must fight off the Red Lantern forces, recruit new members for the Green Lantern Corps, meet newly emerging Lantern Corps (Blue, Yellow, and Orange), or finding a way to destroy the Anti-Monitor. The odd episode works as a complete stand alone, like the one where Hal finds himself in an alternate universe with a “Steam Lantern” that’s a wonder of charming and smart character and production designs.

The scope of the show is big as it explores various parts of the cosmos, creating new worlds populated with their own races, flora and fauna. The Star Sapphires, a group of females with lantern-like powers operating like deadly sirens from Greek myth, make several welcome appearances, as does Larfleeze, the sole Orange Lantern who are associated with greed, and a small group of Thanagarians, fans of Justice League will remember them as the race that Hawkgirl belonged to. These appearances serve as expansions of the universe, small seeds being dropped for eventual stories to blossom in later seasons. Alas, that wasn’t to be, but it’s wonderful to see the creators playing such a long game with their choices.

While the Green Lantern film may have been a diet version of the material, commodified to the essentials for popular consumption, the animated series gives us some of the weirder aspects of the comics. Cameos from Lantern Corps such as the alien squirrel and living planet are included, but the strangest trip may the central emotional core of the show. That core is the love story between a reformed Red Lantern named Razer and the ship’s AI, dubbed Aya, which takes on humanoid form. The entire series tracks a progression in their characters, highs and lows, and their romance eventually becomes the central story in the climatic episodes of the series.

It must be said though, that Green Lantern is a gorgeous show to look at. The character designs are clever and smooth, a transformation of Bruce Timm’s Silver Age drawing style into three-dimensional life. It looks better than I ever would have thought, and the animators get a tremendous amount of depth and range of emotions from the character using very little. Occasionally fluidity of movement or anatomy can go a little strange, but that can be forgiven. They had to produce 26 episodes at roughly 23 minutes each, which is a ton of work to complete. The landscapes are gorgeous and the action scenes are thrilling. The action scenes are also logically edited. There are no fizzy quick cuts and murky camera angles which make it hard to discern what is going on. Every scene is a work of clarity where each character is clearly located to a building or another character. Sometimes everything does have a smooth, flat texture so that rocks and flora look less like stylized versions of these things than plastic versions, but I never found it too outwardly distracting.

It makes me sad that Green Lantern didn’t last longer. I wanted more from this show. I loved what Timm and company had managed to create and pack in with these 26 episodes, but what else were they planning on doing? Hints and clues are peppered throughout, but I’d love to see what the major plans were for season two. Timm took Superman into more Jack Kirby-esque territory as the show went on, eventually ended up with a third season that featured Superman and Darkseid and all of Apokolis throwing down. It was thrilling stuff, and Green Lantern could have gone anywhere. Shame we’ll never see it.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Posted : 6 days, 7 hours ago on 24 September 2014 08:50 (A review of Star Trek: The Next Generation)

After a rocky first two seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation eventually emerges as a smartly acted ensemble piece. It’s a giant science-fiction space opera which is happier to let characters talk and explore their moral quagmires than it is to have them shooting lasers at each other. I welcome this change of pace, and by the end had grown very attached to this motley crew.

The first season is an unsettled affair with many of the actors unclear on their characters and trying to find them. The various plot strands feel messier than they would in later seasons, but this does mark the first appearance of Q’s many guest roles as an antagonist and helper of the Enterprise crew. The death of Tasha Yar, a character I never warmed up to or cared much about (mostly thank to Denise Crosby’s poor performance), sets up what would become a major conflict later on in the series.

And the second season doesn’t offer much better. Gates McFadden left for the second season only to return in the third. During this interim she was replaced by Diana Muldaur, a perfectly fine actress who never seemed to find her groove with the rest of the cast. Both seasons had a bad habit of wrapping up an episode with boy genius Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) coming up with some crazy scientific solution to the conflict. Mercifully this became less prominent as the series went before jettisoning the character off to the academy towards the end of the run.

But by the time the series had entered its third season everything was beginning to come together properly. The ratio of good, some even great, episodes to mediocre or bad ones tips largely on the positive side by this time, and the cast finally found their specific voices. Patrick Stewart’s academic and pacifistic Picard is a complicated man, and a two-part episode where he is kidnapped and tortured for information is a highlight. It’s the kind of work and material that would win an actor an Emmy in a straight drama, but this being a space opera, he went woefully ignored. Jonathan Frakes as the randy, roguish Riker plays like an infinitely more mature and complex variation on Captain Kirk. But no two actors shined brighter throughout the series than Michael Dorn as Worf and Brent Spiner as Data.

Data’s a fascinating character, occupying the Spock-like role as a more human-than-human other in the series. And his season two episode “Measure of a Man” is a highlight. It presents every issue and reaction to the android that the series had brought up to that point, and a few interesting debates and moments which the series would then go on to explore in greater detail. And Dorn’s Worf transitions from more ferocious warrior to softer father figure and lover by the end, forming a strange familial unit with his son and Deanna Troi.

Deanna Troi, however, was always a problematic aspect of the show for me. She’s an interesting enough character, but the show constantly made her the object of sexual harassment, mind-control, and the repeated victim of kidnapping. This problematic aspect stood out very brightly whenever an episode would feature her in a leading role. Not all of her episode dripped with such casual misogyny, but more than enough of them did to wonder why the writer kept forcing Marina Sirtis to act this stuff out.

But by the seventh, and final, season everything on the Enterprise was running smoothly. The chemistry between the characters was what kept the series engaging and fresh. Various guest stars kept things interesting, and some like Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Jones were incredibly successful characters adding interesting dynamics in their episodes. But The Next Generation is beloved for that core group, and the creators knew this. They managed to craft the perfect finale which looked to the past, a possible future, and the present at the same time.

It’s another dynamite showcase for Stewart’s great talents as an actor. I swear, he can take any material thrown at him and give it a gravitas and meaning well beyond the worth of the words. But The Next Generation frequently gave him chances to give intelligent, hopeful monologues about numerous topics disguised as a fun action/adventure science-fiction series. And everything that was great about the series is located in the two hour finale. It’s a large time investment, at 45 minutes each and 176 episodes to get through I think that may qualify as an understatement, but if you can manage to ride out the flabby first two seasons then you’ll be in the perfect spot to enjoy what may just be one of the finest shows of its kind, ever.

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Lust, Caution

Posted : 1 week ago on 23 September 2014 08:57 (A review of Lust, Caution)

Call me crazy, but I didn’t find the sex scenes in Lust, Caution all that graphic. I take it as a case of the MPAA blushing at the first sighting of pubic hair, clutching their pearls, and clucking their tongues. What struck me about these scenes wasn’t what one could or couldn’t see, but the emotional context and complicated feelings going on underneath. Lust, Caution knows, like Last Tango in Paris, that a sex scene is only truly successful if it somehow connects to an emotion in the story.

Lust, Caution tells the story of a young college student who joins in with a group of political radicals who band together to plan an assassination, and how the closer she gets to the target, the more complicated her emotional stakes become. The film spends far more time with scheming and subtle maneuvering than it does with pelvic gymnastics, and it’s all the better for it.

The film is alive with detailed and ornate costumes, production design, and warmly textured cinematography. Director Ang Lee manages to make a game of mahjong feel loaded with political subtext, as if the slightest twist of the tiles could doom a character. All of this populates the world with believability, and then there’s the tragic doomed heroine at the center, Mak Tai Tai (Tang Wei).

Her story is a two-pronged one of tragedy and doomed love affairs. She begins to work with the revolutionaries for the love of one man, who happily uses her as a prostitute to gather intelligence with the enemy, and she spends so much time with the enemy that she begins to view him with something close to love and fondness. Lust, Caution explores the consequences of sleeping with the enemy, both literally and figuratively.

As the central figure, Tang Wei is absolute dynamite. Her character’s transition from naïve innocent to convoluted seductress to doomed lover is a seamless transition. The scenes of emotional confusion in which she must act without words the complicated feelings of revulsion and pleasure for the sexual acts is a master class in subtlety. Wei makes Mak Tai Tai’s final acts feel like the logical conclusion of a woman thrust into her position. I apologize for the pun, but the film’s intense sex scenes only become clearer as the central relationship spirals out to its inevitable end. Here is a doomed romantic film put together with the artistry afforded a more blissful and romantic one.

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Downfall

Posted : 1 week ago on 23 September 2014 08:57 (A review of Downfall)

Downfall positions Hitler’s final days inside the bunker as alternately a labyrinth and a series of death traps slowly going off. Surrounding by his madness and the closest members of his Nazi party, the film focuses in on the grim specter of death that haunted Germany at the time coming back to its root. Numerous young characters can easily be seen as a generation preparing to comprehend tremendous guilt, and as innocents swept up in hysteria beyond their understanding.

By looking at only the last ten days of his reign of power, Downfall manages to remind us that evil does not exist or grow in a vacuum. Presenting Adolf Hitler as a man may sound like a squeamish prospect, how could one of the greatest monsters in all of history be presented as human? Because he was a human, in all of the mass contradictions present in that. He cracks a joke to calm his newly appointed secretary, he’s playful with a youth, and yet he rages hysterically about his impending defeat and where his rule went wrong. Yet his defeat wasn’t his fault, it was the people of Germany’s, they had turned traitor against their beloved Fuhrer in his eyes.

Is presenting Hitler as a mad man, but still as a man, an appropriate thing to do? I believe so, if only to remind us that this kind of thinking is not some mythological creation, it is born from a reality. And what Downfall excels at is exploring the various characters differing levels of mind-control. To view the film is to watch people swept up in the hysterics and mania of dangerous political ideology, and to witness how far down that hole some of them had fallen.

Perhaps none of them had fallen as hard as Joseph Goebbels and his wife, who with robotic indifference and steely reserve force their six children to swallow suicide pills before killing themselves. It’s a disturbing scene for several reasons, one of which is fever of which they believed in their cause, and fear of reprisal from the enemy that they would slaughter their own children with such quick and calculating efficiency. Goebbels, like Hitler, is seen as a twisted man, one still believing that their cause is not entirely lost until after Hitler’s committed suicide and the Allies are tramping down the dirt over their heads.

Downfall follows the ins and outs of life in the bunker, and it is scattershot as such. Some characters get sufficient development, while others are briefly glimpsed throughout, and they can be hard to keep track off. A roll-call of what happened to the various survivors of life in the bunker closes out their stories, but it’s hard to remember how big or important a role they had played previously. This does hamper the film a bit, but does not weaken it.

These people were under the spell of a mad man, who seethed with rage-filled fits, laid blame upon everyone else, and continued to fight the war despite no longer having an army or the resources to do so. Hitler was smart enough to align himself with great propagandists and military minds, but his racism, xenophobia, nationalism, and grand-standing are not original within him. Downfall presents a glimpse into the final days of Hitler’s life and the Third Reich, but it could just as easily be a mirror holding up and reflecting back the worst impulses within our society. After all, it’s not like any of those traits have vanished in the years since.

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Agora

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 22 September 2014 07:12 (A review of Agora)

Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I’m not quite sure how Agora adds up together. Mostly an examination of religious demagoguery gone insane, but contains a female character who was a mathematician, scientist, astronomer, philosopher, and teacher trying to figure out the earth’s rotation. And much of Agora is just watching as the crazy, murderous Christians begin killing the intellectuals and pagans for daring to not convert.

It all adds up to a lot of pretty images and not much else. On a technical level, the film is utter perfection, but it gives its three main actors nothing to do besides act out as caricatures or, mostly in Rachel Weisz’s case, stare soulfully into the distance. Her character spends much of the film wrapped up in her various academic studies and theories, mumbling that they are “definitive proof” of something (she’s not quite sure of what herself), and being indifferent to the obvious love triangle she’s trapped in.

The costumes, cinematography, production design, makeup/hair are all top notch, but that does not a movie make. It’s hard to know exactly what they were trying to sell us on in this film. Were they trying to tell us how the rise of Christianity and religious zealotry killed away a more philosophical, reasoned way of thinking? Or is that just the background noise for the story of Hypatia, a historical figure who deserves a better treatment than this? Basically, it boils down to this fairly simple-minded philosophy: “There are more things that unite us than divide us.” It’s a pity that this film couldn’t find a united, coherent whole to present to us then.

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The Pianist

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 22 September 2014 07:12 (A review of The Pianist)

The Holocaust is an exhaustively done subject matter in popular culture, one that by this point feels like there’s nothing left to discover or witness about the atrocities. The Pianist is interesting because it doesn’t present itself as a grand sweeping statement on the time period, but rather presents us with one man’s personal journey through the hell and quest for survival. It is admirably restrained, and deeply felt. It quietly hums with a personal pain and knowledge of first-hand experience.

Roman Polanski lived through the Holocaust, admitting that only his own death will purge the memories and pain of his mother going to the gas chamber. What he brings to The Pianist is a tremendous sense of detail and guttural emotion. The story is about Wladyslaw Szpillman, but parts of it could easily be Polanski’s own autobiography. That amount of empathy makes The Pianist truly special.

Through good luck and survivalist instincts, we watch Szpillman survive the Warsaw ghetto, escapes going to a concentration camp, smuggles in weapons for the failed uprising, and hiding out as Warsaw falls. Not only that, but Szpillman watches his entire family gets torn apart, only dodging the camps because of a friend on the Jewish Ghetto Police, and managing to survive the Uprising through the discovery of a kindly German officer. Szpillman’s story is the kind that not even a great novelist could invent.

The only problem I had with the film, and even then it wasn’t a huge one, was Adrian Brody’s lead performance. Gravitas and seriousness aren’t his strongest assets as an actor, he’s more alive when tasked with playing mischief like his cameo as Salvador Dali in Midnight in Paris. While he is disturbingly gaunt, depressive, and stoic, most of his big acting moments are undercut. The scene where he is discovered by Thomas Kretschmann’s good German and plays the piano for him puts the focus on Krestchmann instead of Brody. Here was a chance to see the various emotional undercurrents going on in Szpillman’s mind as he plays his beloved instrument for the first time in ages, but instead the focus is put on someone else. This does not mean that Brody’s work isn’t moving, on the contrary, it is frequently deeply felt and moving, rather that The Pianist makes his character a walking/talking symbol more often than not.

The Pianist does a great job showing us the changing morality, in which the narrative of Szpillman transformed from praying that the interference of outside forces will save the day to his personal choices to save himself at all costs. This impassive quality displays the randomness and chance involved in so many of the stories of survivors. Perhaps Polanski is even holding up his cinematic gifts as a mirror, refracting his lingering guilt over living while his mother died. Either way, The Pianist is a deeply felt and moving work.

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The Mill & the Cross

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 22 September 2014 07:12 (A review of The Mill and the Cross)

The story isn’t the point, nor is the dialog. The Mill & the Cross is a visual poem, a deep dive into one particular painting and making it come to fully realized life. Words don’t entirely matter in the face of such stunning imagery, and the film works best when you consider it as a fever-dream of swirling lights and colors.

The film stars Rutger Hauer as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the painter behind The Procession to Calvary, Michael York as his patron, and Charlotte Rampling as Mary, Bruegel’s mother and model for the Virgin Mary in the painting. To say that they “star” is something of a misnomer, as the film really stars the painting, going into detail on some of the people caught in their daily lives who found themselves immortalized in the work, or imagining some of those who may have posed for it. Hauer, York, and Rampling contain the most dialog in their scenes, this mostly consists of them providing expository background details on the era or the goals of the work.

Numerous times throughout the film, the actors and extras seem to be walking straight out of the painting. And while many of the visuals are hypnotic and perfectly realized, a few, it must be said, are the obvious work of green screen and have the actors sitting on top of the backgrounds in an inorganic way. This is a minor complaint, as they only announce themselves when compared to the fluidity and beauty of the rest. The Mill & the Cross is a quiet, meditative examination of a work of art and its creation, and it is a glorious film to be enraptured within.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted : 1 week, 1 day ago on 22 September 2014 03:58 (A review of Guardians of the Galaxy)

I admit that I have been sometimes hard on Marvel for creating films by committee and being aggressive about a house style that inhibits the amount of creativity that it allows creators. I still maintain this can, and is, a problem, how hard is it to create something that stands on its own when it must also tie in with eight other films and a television show? Practically impossible is what I would say. This is why so many of their films have a fast food level of flavorlessness – immediately satisfying but lacking in any nutritional value.

Guardians of the Galaxy comes damn close to escaping the formula and doing something unique with the material. Preferring to jettison comic book movie tropes, mostly, in favor of comedic space opera is a smart idea. Guardians has a real sense of fun, like Rio Bravo-meets-Star Wars, but it still comes into direct contact with the mandates of Marvel’s cinematic universe. These additions announce themselves easily, distinctly feeling like the additions of Marvel/Disney upon the material instead of an organic outgrowth of it.

For example, the film’s depressing opening note is in stark contrast to more anarchic sense of fun that permeates the rest. Peter Quill, our future Star-Lord, is but a preteen watching his mother die of cancer before being abducted by aliens. This tragic hero opening feels like a mandate from Disney, a company known for its dead parent trope, to make the hero more sympathetic, not allowing Quill to fully emerge as the charming, sarcastic, tough rogue hero that he is in the rest of the film. He must be sympathetic from the opening scene until the last.

And the plot, convoluted as any of the other Marvel films but always quirky and whimsical, once again falls squarely on the impossibly handsome shoulders of another white male savior. Marvel is at the forefront of comic book cinema, they have the creative and financial freedom to make films expanding away from the obvious properties like Iron Man and Captain America. To their credit they got more adventurous with Guardians of the Galaxy, but we’re roughly 15 movies into their cinematic universe (either already released, upcoming, or announced as in active development) and not one film has starred a person of color or female character in the main role, nor has one been announced as in active development. Guardians populates it’s world with plenty of unique and colorful characters, it’s to its credit that you walk away feeling the most amount of sympathy for a talking raccoon and a sentient tree that can only say three words, but this is a valid criticism against them and the current landscape of blockbuster entertainment.

But enough about my criticisms of the film, Guardians is a merciful reminder that comic book cinema, and science-fiction/fantasy stories, can be bright, colorful, and fun. Christopher Nolan’s grim, realistic and gritty The Dark Knight Trilogy is a great template for Batman, but that dynamic doesn’t work for every character. So thankfully, Marvel went with a goofier, more freewheeling spirit for this property. It’s a refreshing reminder that these films can be high-spirited and tongue-in-cheek.

Much of the success of Guardians goes to a terrific ensemble led by Chris Pratt. His oddball charisma is on full display, as is a previously unknown capability to essential play a variation of Han Solo like gangbusters. His introduction scene has him listening to a mix-tape while lip-synching and cheekily dancing while trying to steal a mysterious object. The four most successful performances belong to first time actor David Bautista as Drax, Lee Pace chewing the scenery with menacing relish as Ronan, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel as Groot. Diesel’s ability to infuse “I am Groot” with various emotional resonances is commendable, that is not an easy task to ask of an actor to perform. And Cooper’s manic Rocket is a deeply sarcastic and strangely wounded singular creation. Pace, not given much to do besides bellow and rock ridiculous makeup, plays it up for all its worth as the primary villain. And who knew a wrestler like Bautista could be such a great comedic actor? Maybe it’s just a great marriage of actor and role, but it’s a charmingly literal character who gets a good share of the laughs.

Like many of Marvel’s films, the villains get lost in the shuffle and the female characters may not be fully realized as they change allegiances as needed by the plot. Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora are nicely made-up, but they’re not terribly compelling as characters. Introduced as a secondary villain, by her second scene Gamora is already willing to switch sides and take down Thanos. There appears to be a few scenes missing in her back-story or a smoother transition from ally to enemy against Thanos. She’s also the least interesting of the five main characters. We are told repeatedly that she is a deadly assassin and bounty hunter, yet she is easily taken out of commission or throw into a damsel-in-distress situation repeatedly. Nebula and Nova Prime (Glenn Close, getting to essentially be the Nick Fury of outer space as leader of the Nova Corps) are given little to do besides wear freakish outfits and rock fantastical makeup. All three actresses commit fully and try valiantly to overcome their underwritten roles, but hopefully in the sequel this problem will be addressed and their characters given more to do.

As for Thanos, Josh Brolin’s voice works well with the visual of the character, but he’s still not a very interesting or credible film threat. All he has done is chose various lower-level mercenaries to do his business and sit back on his floating throne as each of them betrays or fails him. For being a supreme entity of enormous cosmic power and a character that should inspire awe and fear in equal measure in us, he’s thus far been a non-starter. Marvel’s taking too long to get to the point with him. Not to mention that we’ve only come across three of the six Infinity Stones.

I know it seems like I’ve criticized a lot of this film, and maybe I have over-thought it, but Guardians does so much that’s right and fun, that the problems become more glaringly obvious upon second-thought. At its best, Guardians blows off the shackles of Marvel film clichés and comic book movie beats to act out it’s freak flag inclinations as a space opera. What the film needed was even more of those moments, and maybe more fleshed out and credible threats to our heroes. It’s a good time, but too much of it does evaporate shortly after viewing.

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A Night in Casablanca

Posted : 1 week, 4 days ago on 19 September 2014 04:57 (A review of A Night in Casablanca)

The Marx Brothers had a five or six film run of greatness. A zany run through holy cows in society like college, the opera, and high society in which the brothers unleashed all various forms of hell on the unsuspecting straight men. But after A Day at the Races the Brothers never truly recaptured the same amount of magic and manic comedy that they trademarked in. This can be directly pointed towards the influence of Irving Thalberg, who insisted that they needed a stronger story structure and to be more sympathetic characters.

This formula would be the template for the rest of the films that the brothers made together, mostly to help Chico out with his gambling debts. A Night in Casablanca is proof that you can’t really mess the formula up too terribly, but that doesn’t mean the results are all that memorable. If I even mentioned film titles like Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and A Night at the Opera the amount of sight gags and classic moments will flood the imagination, and Casablanca could have used a greater sense of inspiration for some of its comedic bits. There’s some good ones, a climatic plane battle comes to mind, or maybe even the extended sequence where the brothers keep stealing clothes from the bad guy and throwing them out of his room.

And perhaps that’s the major problem with the film, there are good moments but they’re never quite polished off enough to really become that next level of great. There’s way too much plot going on with this movie, and it’s rather unfortunate that the Marx Brothers play a supporting role despite being above the title. Call me crazy, but a Marx Brothers movie needs to star them and have as many scenes of the group of them together raising hell. It’s pretty entertaining, but the romantic lovers occupy too much of the running time and they’re wooden. Most egregious of all is the lack of Margaret Dumont, who was the perfect springboard for their particular brand of insanity. A Night in Casablanca has plenty of entertainment value to make it worthwhile, but it feels like it’s trying hard to keep its central absurdist heroes in check too often. I’m against it.

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JxSxPx posted a review of Extant

Extant

“Extant borrows liberally from various sources -- Artificial Intelligence, Rosemary’s Baby to name just two – and tosses them together into a puree. The show is entertaining, solidly crafting, but does suffer from a sense of bloat during the middle run of episodes. At only thirteen, I would think” read more

6 days, 7 hours ago

Green Lantern: The Animated Series

“When it comes to the big screen, superhero properties are display incredible longevity across various franchises, their television counterparts can’t seem to make it past one or two seasons though. This is a real goddamn shame because Green Lantern: The Animated Series is a great little show. A on” read more

6 days, 7 hours ago

Star Trek: The Next Generation

“After a rocky first two seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation eventually emerges as a smartly acted ensemble piece. It’s a giant science-fiction space opera which is happier to let characters talk and explore their moral quagmires than it is to have them shooting lasers at each other. I welcome ” read more

6 days, 7 hours ago
JxSxPx posted a review of Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution

“Call me crazy, but I didn’t find the sex scenes in Lust, Caution all that graphic. I take it as a case of the MPAA blushing at the first sighting of pubic hair, clutching their pearls, and clucking their tongues. What struck me about these scenes wasn’t what one could or couldn’t see, but the ” read more

1 week ago
JxSxPx posted a review of Downfall

Downfall

“Downfall positions Hitler’s final days inside the bunker as alternately a labyrinth and a series of death traps slowly going off. Surrounding by his madness and the closest members of his Nazi party, the film focuses in on the grim specter of death that haunted Germany at the time coming back to i” read more

1 week ago
Extant
 Extant 7/10
1 week ago
JxSxPx added 2 items to their collection
Prime Suspect: The Scent of Darkness

have watched

9/10

Prime Suspect: Inner Circles

8/10


1 week, 1 day ago
JxSxPx posted a review of Agora

Agora

“Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I’m not quite sure how Agora adds up together. Mostly an examination of religious demagoguery gone insane, but contains a female character who was a mathematician, scientist, astronomer, philosopher, and teacher trying to figure out the earth’s” read more

1 week, 1 day ago
JxSxPx posted a review of The Pianist

The Pianist

“The Holocaust is an exhaustively done subject matter in popular culture, one that by this point feels like there’s nothing left to discover or witness about the atrocities. The Pianist is interesting because it doesn’t present itself as a grand sweeping statement on the time period, but rather p” read more

1 week, 1 day ago
JxSxPx posted a review of The Mill and the Cross

The Mill & the Cross

“The story isn’t the point, nor is the dialog. The Mill & the Cross is a visual poem, a deep dive into one particular painting and making it come to fully realized life. Words don’t entirely matter in the face of such stunning imagery, and the film works best when you consider it as a fever-dream” read more

1 week, 1 day ago
JxSxPx posted a review of Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

“I admit that I have been sometimes hard on Marvel for creating films by committee and being aggressive about a house style that inhibits the amount of creativity that it allows creators. I still maintain this can, and is, a problem, how hard is it to create something that stands on its own when it m” read more

1 week, 1 day ago
1 week, 2 days ago
JxSxPx added 5 items to their collection
Star Wars: The Clone Wars

have watched

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis

owned

8/10

Astonishing X-Men: Exogenetic TPB

owned

8/10

Song of Solomon

owned

8/10


1 week, 2 days ago
Hopscotch
 Hopscotch 8/10
1 week, 3 days ago
JxSxPx posted a review of A Night in Casablanca

A Night in Casablanca

“The Marx Brothers had a five or six film run of greatness. A zany run through holy cows in society like college, the opera, and high society in which the brothers unleashed all various forms of hell on the unsuspecting straight men. But after A Day at the Races the Brothers never truly recaptured th” read more

1 week, 4 days ago
JxSxPx posted a review of El Dorado

El Dorado

“Basically a remake of Rio Bravo with only two of the same players involved – director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne – and immensely inferior in just about every aspect, I think only the biggest and strictest of fans of Wayne will find much to enjoy about this. Maybe it’s that this exact sam” read more

1 week, 4 days ago
JxSxPx posted a review of She Done Him Wrong

She Done Him Wrong

“In the presence of Mae West, the story is smart enough to take a backseat to her ribald sexuality and zest for quips. A ham of the highest order, West was goofy on the blonde sex goddess persona before it was even solidified as an iconic image of the cinema. After all, this was around the same time ” read more

1 week, 4 days ago
JxSxPx posted a review of Here Come the Girls

Here Come the Girls

“Look, no movie that features Bob Hope doing what he does best and Rosemary Clooney is going to be entirely without any merits, but damn does Here Come the Girls come close. It’s a musical comedy without any memorable musical numbers or funny gags. Yet I still find myself welcoming any chance that ” read more

1 week, 4 days ago
1 week, 5 days ago
1 week, 5 days ago

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Comments

Posted: 11 months, 1 week ago at Oct 26 17:23
Posted: 1 year, 5 months ago at Apr 8 14:36
hi friend check out my new list .
hope you like it and thanks for your
time
http://www.listal.com/list/love-these-posters
Posted: 1 year, 6 months ago at Mar 30 14:02
This might just sound schize, but thanks for re-writing my "Pocahontas" review-- saves me the trouble of figuring it all out *again* myself, a-hahahaha....
Posted: 1 year, 6 months ago at Mar 18 22:57
Thanks for participating in my lists.
Sorry, but you can't do another top, really sorry.
But thanks.
Posted: 1 year, 6 months ago at Mar 10 18:22
Thanks for taking part in my musicals list!

I also know how you feel, I found it hard to limit my choices down to 10.
Posted: 1 year, 8 months ago at Jan 19 23:47
hey friend check out my new list. hope you like it
http://www.listal.com/list/reflecting-beuty
Posted: 1 year, 9 months ago at Dec 21 16:14
Hello there! I enjoyed your review of Dracula and took myself the freedom to link it to my Universal Horror Films - Best to Worst list. Hope you're fine with that!
Posted: 2 years, 2 months ago at Jul 21 2:52
Thank u 4 your comment on the muses list. Suggestion added.
Posted: 2 years, 8 months ago at Jan 27 21:05
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

http://www.listal.com/list/around-usa-listals-members

(I may have asked you this already earlier, in this case, apology for the inconvenience!)
Posted: 3 years, 2 months ago at Jul 16 13:06
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

http://www.listal.com/list/around-usa-listals-members
Posted: 3 years, 10 months ago at Nov 18 1:19
O.O Thanks!!
Posted: 5 years, 8 months ago at Jan 12 20:17
cool reviews =]
Posted: 5 years, 10 months ago at Nov 15 17:51
Posted: 6 years, 1 month ago at Aug 12 18:48
Hey man, I see you're pretty new, I'm loving the reviews though! Great job.